A while ago I tried an experiment. www.oneword.com is a website that gives you one word a day, and one minute to write about it. I decided to string the minutes together into a short story. This is the result; a One Word Story.
Alice - A Oneword Story
1 - collage -
The wall looked like a collage of her entire life. Photos she had no idea had even been taken, all dated, locations noted in the bottom corner. She knew her dad was a photography buff, but this was going too far…
2 - montage -
In one corner there was a montage of events from her childhood. Things even she did not remember, others she thought no one else knew about. She felt violated at first, but then strangely protected, secure in knowing that someone she loved, and who loved her, was watching over her.
3 - undetected -
The microphone had laid undetected under her bed for the last eleven years. She only found it when she was throwing out the clothes her father had told her to keep for her children.
4 - fools -
She asked her father about the microphone, and he responded angrily that the world was full of fools who would try to come between them, and that she should trust no one but him.
5 - coach -
He worked as a basketball coach, but refused to let her play on the team. He said she was too precious to be injured or “damaged”. In fact, he didn’t let her play outside much at all when she was younger, and frankly, she resented this.
6 - decompose -
One thing she thought strange about the photos was that the very oldest ones looked newest, as if they had been reprinted. She knew that photos could fade and decompose when exposed to sunlight, but this was different, the transition from old to new was too sudden, too clear. Some of the oldest photos, she concluded, had been added afterwards.
7 - flee -
Then a feeling of uncertainty came over her. The period where the photos seemed to be new matched up with those dreams she had been having. She was filled with an urge to flee!
8 - wrath -
She turned, suddenly, to see her father standing in the doorway. His wrath was instant. “I told you NEVER to come in here!” He had that look in his eyes that he always had whenever she asked about her mother.
9 - connect -
She had often stared into the eyes of the picture of her mother, the only one her father would let her have. The shot was old, grainy, scanned from a very faded photograph. She would stare at the blurred pixels, trying to see who it was in there, trying to connect.
10 - sleeved -
Then she noticed one photo of herself as a baby, in a short sleeved shirt. What intrigued her was that she normally was not dressed in short sleeves as a child because of the birthmark on her arm. And in that photo, there was no birthmark…
11 - strung -
She decided to ask her father about it, but he fobbed her off, saying that the birthmark just didn’t show up in that photo due to the strong sunlight. Then he smiled, but his eyes betrayed a
cold stare, and his whole face was as tightly strung as a tennis racket. More than ever before, she was afraid of him.
12 - pairs -
There was a box under the bed, filled with mementos, baby clothes, two pairs of baby shoes, some pictures of another family, and a map.
13 - tumble -
She just knew that this had something to do with her. She had always had a suspicion that she didn't belong here, in this family; her rough and tumble attitude could not have been nurtured in the strict, straightlaced family environment in which she now lived.
14 - shells -
She had always wondered if she belonged in this family, all of them like empty shells that were lacking any real feeling for her. They were, she realised, just acting a role, taking the place of her true friends and family; who, she knew now, she had to find.
15 - adorned -
She grabbed the map and ran out of the house. She knew immediately she would never return. All the memories that adorned her life, all the things that made her who she had thought she was,
fell away, leaving a blank emptiness. Now she had to find herself again.
16 - incomplete -
She ran. Down the street, into the station, only then did she look at the map. Her life to this day had been incomplete, now she was about to finish the puzzle.
17 - frenzy -
She boarded the train, and arrived three hours later at what she thought was her destination. But it turned out to be only the start of a frenzy of searching, ringing doorbells, and asking people questions that she hoped would not give too much away.
18 - stilts -
By the time she found the house it was dark. Built on a hillside, held up by stilts on one side, it was obvious the family had money. All the information she had gained up to now pointed to this being her family, but she could not fathom why they had let her go.
19 - arthritis -
The door was answered by a old looking woman, who on closer examination was not so old, but her face was ravaged by years of pain, and her movements had the frail stiffness of arthritis. Not sure where to start, the younger woman introduced herself. “My name is Alice…”
20 - blamed -
She extended her hand and the old lady shook it, noticing the birthmark as she did so. That gave the game away. She withdrew her hand, looked Alice in the eye and said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you blamed me after all these years…”
21 - joyous -
Hours passed, as they talked of a lifetime. Alice had found her real mother, and it was a joyous occasion. The enormity of the event would not hit her for several days.
22 - decoy -
The man she had called “Father” was not her real father. He was a trick, a decoy, to distract her from her real identity. She had so much she wanted to ask her mother now that she had found her, but her first question had to be; “Why?”
23 - balloon -
Her mother told her the whole story, talking till dawn. She had been taken on her third birthday, and it was bizarre to have been interviewed by the police in a house full of balloons and streamers, the bright colours mocking her dark mood.
24 - instant -
It had been thirteen years since she had been taken, but she knew the instant she saw her mother again that this was her family, her rightful place.
25 - steady -
Once she began to have doubts, it was easy for her to walk out, to try and find the truth. She had to be careful to keep herself emotionally stable, to learn about her past at a steady pace, as to much information too soon would overwhelm her.
26 - god -
She had never been really religious, her father had not encouraged her to believe in god, or in anything really. It was his way of keeping her under his control, to be the only source of authority in her life.
27 - willful -
And now, armed with the knowledge of who she truly was, it was time to go back and confront him, to ask why he had taken her, kept in willful deceit, denied her the right to be herself.
28 - intent -
The room was quiet, still cold in the morning. He had been angry at first, that she had left without his permission, but when she told him where she had been, and her intent to leave, he slumped, as if defeated.
29 - manifest -
He told her why he did it. He had a family of his own once, and when he lost them, he needed someone else with whom to manifest his love, to exorcise the demons of loneliness that possessed and haunted him.
30 - creative -
She listened to his story too. He was said he was sad, lonely from losing his own family, but she could not believe him. He had always been a very creative liar.
31 - collection -
“A family is not something you can replace that easily!” she berated him. “It’s not like that coin collection you value so dearly! You can’t just trade it with your friends!”
32 - wistful -
He finally dropped the pretense and gave her a wistful smile. "The thing is," he said smugly, "what I took from them, what I took from you? - You'll never get it back! Your youth, your LIFE, is mine!"
33 - delight -
It was devastating to her to think that her whole life so far had been stolen from her, but that feeling was tempered by the delight at finally finding her real mother, and her real self.
34 - wrapped -
And yet she still faced some hurdles. She would have to adjust to a new way of life, no longer wrapped up in the cocoon in which her fake father had kept her captive. She would have to make a new life for herself, new friends, new challenges.
35 - derived -
Her father was arrested, and she went to live with her mother. Her livelihood, derived mainly from the sale of her father's possessions, was simple, relaxed, and at her own pace. But more than anything, she was free.
36 - influence -
And yet she always knew there was another life she had never lived, and never could live; without the influence of her "father". As she grew older, she wondered how different a person she would have been had she not been taken that day so many years ago.
37 - submerged -
After a few days, even her personality began to change. A more confident, outgoing version of herself that had been submergedin fear and self doubt for so long was now showing itself.
38 - deft -
As she looked back over her time with him, she was surprised at just how deft he was at the art of deception. She would have to review her entire life, everything he ever told her about herself, to find the real truth.
39 - raven -
The more time she spent away from him, the freer she felt. But when she slept, she saw his face again, his raven black eyes scolding her, warning her, it seemed.
40 - gamer -
Each day brought new experiences, as she saw new things, met new people. She had stopped telling people she spent most of her youth hidden in a cellar, as people tended to assume she was some kind of dropout gamer, a loner. But she wanted so much from life now, she could hardly contain her enthusiasm.
41 - backlit -
Her life now was backlit by a glow of freedom, she could come and go as she pleased. Gradually this became normal to her, and her shyness, her awkwardness when talking to other people, faded away.
42 - wrought -
But then came the trial, where she tried to explain to people the effect he had wrought over her all those years. It was difficult, not only because she had to remember, and relive, a lot of bad memories, but because she had no idea of how her life should have been, as she was only now really beginning to live as she wanted.
43 - stealth -
The trial attracted a lot of press attention, and even some offers of books and movies. But she wanted to get on with her life as normal, or at least what she thought "normal" should be; being able to walk down the street without using stealth and subterfuge to avoid the unwanted attention of strangers. Being able to get through the day without those strangers asking her personal questions. Being able to spend time alone!
44 - doors -
The day came for her to testify. Her chance to tell the world what that man had done to her, what he had taken from her. The punishment, the bullying, all of it. She wanted to shout and scream at him, but her recent interaction with normal people had taught her that being polite was not just a way of avoiding punishment, she found it would also open doors for her. She had decided she was going to use that against him today.
45 - unwritten -
It had been an unwritten rule in his house that she should avoid taking to strangers, or anyone from outside. So no one knew what had happened in that house, or what had not happened. But ever since she had been rescued, she had talked to lots of people, who asked her lots of questions, and gave her lots of ideas.
46 - meow -
She told them how in her younger years she had only one friend, a cat, and like herself it was not allowed outside without her fatherkeeping an eye on them. He would even get angry if he heard it meow, as if it was talking back to him. She was not allowed to talk back to him either, but he punished her more severely than the cat.
47 - irreverent -
He would punish her for even the slightest display of disobedience, even of independence; not following orders, failing to call him sir, talking back to him in an irreverent tone.
48 - stapled -
She testified that she had kept a diary, but one day he had found it. The pages where she had written her most personal thoughts, where she had really expressed herself, he had stapled together, warning her that even her thoughts would never be free from him.
49 - dot -
And her daily ritual was strictly controlled, restricting her activities to only those he approved of, with rigorous checks on the results; laundry folded just right, dishes stacked neatly, homework done. He even dictated how she should draw school assignments, placing a series of dots on the page for her to join up so that it looked like her own work.
50 - plaster -
But now she was free, to live her own life, her own way. Scrawling on walls, plastering pictures and photos all over the place, making her own home, finally, in the place she had lived so long.
51 - polar -
The difference in her personality, her behaviour, before and after her "release" was polar; but nobody really noticed, because nobody really knew her. It would have been considered a problem if anyone had.
52 - bloomed -
Her father was of course convicted, and sent to jail for ten years. After a small flurry of attention from the media, Alice was left alone to get on with her life. At first she was coping, and bloomed from a quiet, withdrawn, timid girl into a self confident young woman.
53 - vapor -
But after a while, her confidence grew into arrogance, and even hostility. Any attempt by her mother to disagree with her, or give advice, and her rational, balanced demeanor disappeared like vapor, to be replaced by a short tempered, wildly unstable tempest of abuse and foul language. Having spent so long being controlled by her "father", she had lost the ability to control herself.
54 - rally -
Even when talking to her mother, conversations would sometimes disintegrate into a rally of barbs and insults, as both Alice and her mother found it harder to adjust to life together than they expected it would be. Eventually Alice would storm out of the room in a rage, and go somewhere to be alone, where she would realise, again, that she never wanted to be alone again.
55 - captivate -
Her mother suggested that Alice get therapy, to help with her mood swings. She resisted at first, but after a couple of sessions, she was so captivated by the way the psychiatrist could
understand her feelings, she was hooked. After a month, she was notably happier, and part of that was because she now had a goal in life; to become a psychiatrist herself!
56 - peppers -
A year had passed since the trial. Alice decided to go live with her mother. In the days after her release, she had taken to vandalising the place as a way of getting back at her father, literally tearing down the walls of what was once her prison. Even the garden, with no flowers, but rows of spices and red peppers her father had planted, was destroyed, the bitter fruit left to rot in disorganised rows. But now her father's house had served it's purpose, and she wanted to be free of it too. It did not fit with the life she wanted now.
57 - wealthy -
The fact that she now owned her father's property meant that she was wealthy enough to sustain herself for the time it took her to get through college, but the story that went with it meant that for years after, she would be asked about it.
58 - clamp -
Alice sold the land, on condition that the house be torn down. Watching it be destroyed was like having a clamp removed from her heart. That part of her life was over now.
59 - delve -
Alice went on to college, and worked towards her dream of becoming a child psychiatrist. She vowed to leave the past behind her, and would delve no further into the life of the man who had been her "father", even though others would try to. Journalists, and other psychiatrists would try to get her to open up about her childhood, but she just claimed to remember nothing of it.
60 - fasting -
She had spent years letting her mind be abused, and her body. Her father had not bothered much with cooking, so she never had much to eat. Sometimes she had tried to protest his treatment of her by fasting, but he would then keep the food he had made, letting it rot, until she finally succumbed and ate it.
61 - based -
So now she ate whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. It was a refreshing joy to be able to do the little things of everyday life based on her own desires and feelings, and not at the bidding of someone else.
62 - worthwhile -
And Alice went on with her life, not letting the past control it. It had been a hard childhood for her, but she had lived through it.She had suffered, and she had fought to overcome that suffering, and it had all been worthwhile.
- The End. -
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