Pencilled In

My submission to the University of Aberdeen’s Book Week Scotland Flash Fiction competition.


The blankness was intimidating. White vastness like untouched snow. Not a mark, an indentation, or a print. Except for her. This was square one. Of how many squares there might be she didn’t know. She hadn’t seen any others.

She looked at the shadows and lights of her arms and used them as a guide. A drawing from life, still. Finger outstretched, she daubed graphite liberally in front of her. Softly edging out fine lines in a pattern, cross-hatching. This would create the wall. The scale of it made her nervous, but false confidence took hold. It was better than none.

She began to push the lead into the paper with increasing force. When removed to create highlights it would leave a starker contrast. The background had to be not just dark, but like the midnight hours. As if you had your eyes closed with your hand on top too. Her arm was moving quicker and quicker against the resistance of the paper, when it moved. Jolted right in front of her. She froze immediately.

Deliberately slowing down she resumed with conscious care. A crease in the newly drawn wall was throwing the evenness of her lines off. With some more shading in exactly the correct place perhaps she could trick the eyes. Peering very closely, finger all that was separating her nose from patterns in rows, she pushed. It was one push too far, the weakened structure broke, a rip taking a trajectory of its own accord, rapidly splitting all the way down to the ground. Through the space, a solitary eye blinked directly into hers. “I think I’m your neighbour. I drew the square next door?” Like lifting up a bedraggled, loose piece of wallpaper she pulled the paper away and saw a stick drawing in their own line drawn home. Their uncomplicated circle face with oval eyes containing another circle each, and dots for the pupils, nodded her in. She stepped through the paper, careful not to smudge any of herself on either of their designs.

They showed her round, pointing out the garden, sharing ideas, and patterns. They were taken aback at her own appearance. She had worked on herself before her surroundings, creating more depth and detail, practising. Then she had turned outwards, drawing whatever felt right and true. “I’m more words than drawings,” they said. Smiling sympathetically to themselves. They handed her a book. “I wrote that. All from my own imagination.” She gladly took it. She had never seen a book before, and didn’t know what it would contain or if she could make sense of it. Slipping back through the tear in the wall, both agreed to keep it there until she had made her own door and outside, to see if she could get round that way. Until then, she would leave a small gap in the paper rip.

She rocked herself in her newly drawn chair. Ankles rotating in gentle motion, she set out to discover her book.

The story was inspired by the image above, ‘Wood cut ‘October’ by Eric Ravilious from Almanack 1929 Watt 686 209 Lan a


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