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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Start (01/16/06)

TITLE: Less Is More
By Val Clark


The gate slides closed. The electronic lock clicks quietly home. It is the last one. Doors had clicked closed apologetically. Slammed regretfully. Crashed angrily. Odd that the final door should close with such a lack of emotion. Everything is finished. Packed up. Tucked away. Tied with a double bow for extra security. Those are now the places forbidden to me. I am absolutely alone. Abandoned.

Jodie. Her face flashes before me, almost demolishing the remnants of my resolve.

I have never experienced such an utterly complete finish before and thus, except for the moment of birth, such a thoroughly new start.

Clichés tumble down like broken bricks. One door closes, another one opens. But I know there will be no opportunity when the next door opens.

I strip, as ordered. With mocking smiles, careless eyes scrutinize me. I do not look in the spotted mirror. I do not need to. I am well acquainted with each jutting rib, tiny sagging breasts, collar bones an anorexic model would be proud of.

Fear stripped the fat off me faster than any diet. If I die before my time, I will consider myself lucky.

A woman in a white coat examines every part of me. I give her a sample of my urine, but that is all. I long to empty my bowels.

Later, under their pitiless gaze, I try to dress gracefully; to retain some shred of dignity. But even that is denied me. I am too slow. My fingers fumble at the buttons as they mock me. The fabric, rough and thick, already chafes against my skin.

The door opens. Not the one I came in, but one in the opposite wall. Before and behind me footsteps ring out an authoritative tattoo. My heart takes up the beat. I fear it will burst in my chest, but it is the smell that overwhelms me, causes me to falter in our relentless march. A jab in the back sends me stumbling on. The stench of human excrement, sweat, menstrual blood, boiled cabbage, penetrates every pore. Coats my taste buds.

We stop. One member of my entourage keys in a number and the first gate rises like a medieval portcullis. Another presses a thumb on a pad. The second gate ascends. After a phone conversation the third gate slides to my right. We pass through. I steel myself against the crash of gates sliding home, but there is silence.

My three companions form a triangle around me.

It is nighttime and the corridors are poorly lit. Behind the bars I can feel them silently watching. They can see me. I can’t see them. I don’t want to see them, ever. I hold my head up. Bite my trembling lip into submission. Quiet taps and susurrations eddy around me. I reach for meaning and find none.


When we stop I can hear my breath, shallow and fast. I lock my knees together lest the vertigo of my feelings overwhelm me and I fall. I taste the bile, bitter at the back of my throat. My head aches and my eyes itch from forcing back the tears. I must show no weakness, yet I feel palpably weak.

The door swings open with a creak and I almost laugh out loud at the theatrical cliché. I step inside and bars meet bars with inexorable certainty.

I long to use the toilet but the light from the corridor is brighter now and penetrates to the far wall of my cell. In the cell across from mine another inmate watches, expressionless. During the trial I at least had some privacy and a flush toilet.

Innocent until proven guilty.

I shrug out of my beltless trousers and sexless underwear and sit on the icy cold, solid stainless steel, seatless, lidless toilet. Less is more. I look for non existent toilet paper. My shoulders shake with laughter at the irony of it. Less is more. I guffaw into the hard, thin, stinking pillow and smother the laughter. The tears finally fall. Eventually the hysteria subsides. I blow my nose on the end of my shirt and curl up under the thin blanket.

When sleep comes I am jolted awake with visions of Jodie, new born, sucking eagerly at my plump breast, long artistic fingers pluck at my flesh. Her hands grow. They are grasping a bloody knife. She drops the knife and faints.

I carry her to the bathroom, ease her onto the shower floor, and seal our fate.

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This article has been read 1120 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Crista Darr01/24/06
Intense writing!
Venice Kichura01/24/06
Karri Compton01/24/06
This confused me. At first, I thought it referred to Jews in the concentration camps, but is it that this woman has murdered her daughter? There were some awkward sentences in the first paragraph, also. But I did like your use of first person present.
Jan Ackerson 01/25/06
Yikes. Jodie murdered someone, and the mother is taking the blame for it, I think. Well, even if I'm wrong, this is powerful writing. Love the doors in the first paragraph, and your wordsmithing in general. I'll be reading this one again.
Steve Clark01/26/06
Amazingly powerful writing! You showed the horror of prison so well. The ending lures and teases us to ponder the circumstances that brought the character to this terrible beginning. I, too, see the mother having taken the blame for a murder, the same way Christ takes the blame for every crime we commit. I wonder if the child was defending the mom from an abusive person, or what, but I also wonder if the child would have chosen differently had she known the cost to the mother. You have fixed our gaze upon the story and not on the writing, just as it should be.
Cassie Memmer01/26/06
Very intense and attention grabbing. What love! To lay down her life for her daughter's. Not sure how the daughter could allow it, if she remembers what happened. Descriptive details were wonderful. Great writing!
Suzanne R01/27/06
I loved that first paragraph especially. Such intense writing. Your short descriptive sentences were really effective. And the final one ... wow.
Shari Armstrong 01/27/06
Oh wow -harsh reality. well written.
Julianne Jones01/27/06
Intensely powerful. You have captured the scene so well. Perhaps because I know who wrote this, I was reminded of the case of Lindy Chamberlain. I'm curious as to why the woman is in prison - and yet, in another sense it doesn't matter. The writing is excellent and you draw the writer in. I'll be pondering the ending for days. Well done.
Marilyn Schnepp 01/28/06
If this is a true story, it happened BEFORE modern times. Today's Correctional Institutions (previously called "prisons") now smell of disinfectant. (I know from first-hand experience of working behind iron bars for the past 20 years). This is, however, a very touching and haunting story; and extremely well written!
Laurie Glass 01/28/06
Wow - intense. Amazing descriptions. This is one of those stories that you don't want to blink while you're reading because you're afraid of missing something.
Pat Guy 01/28/06
Wow! And double Wow!! What a read and fantastic work! Good job Yeggs! You've got a good one here!
Sandra Petersen 01/28/06
This was intense! The first paragraph with its doors, the following paragraphs with the strip search and new clothing, the march to the cell, you kept me reading. I also was not sure if this was a mother who killed her baby, or took the blame for someone else. Leaves me with lots of questions, and a feeling that "[c]oats my taste buds" upon thinking of your description. Well done!
Candice Kettell01/28/06
Powerful. Riveting. It was a quick read because I really wanted to see what the next line would be.
Amy Michelle Wiley 01/29/06
This was indeed a riviting entry. The first paragraph confused me a little, not sure if the tenses are mixed. But the rest of it--wow. I'm gonna have to PM you to see if this is the story I think it may be... ;-)
Linda Watson Owen01/29/06
You are simply and wonderfully a master story teller! Such meaningful detail so exquisitely crafted! Amazing.