Thursday, 29 October 2009

#FridayFlash: Riot

by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith

The soul-searching is over. I have been through all the stages: anger, then denial; from there to doubt; eventually to acceptance, and finally beyond that to conviction. I now know what I must do, and that I must act fast. I set off, stopping only to collect the one weapon I will need on my quest. I pass the fires still burning from last night, the broken glass from shop windows, the assortment of charred items strewn across the pavement. This is not a night to be crossing the city, but cross it I must. I am frightened, but I am also bolstered by determination and the hope of redemption.

As I walk up the hill overlooking the Square, I hear the chants getting louder. I get to the top and below I can see the opposing factions preparing for tonight's carnage. On the left, the City Guard is in formation, dressed in full protective gear. On the right, the dissenters with their masked faces shout slogans at the Guardsmen from across the divide. A smattering of small objects fly over the barricades, falling on riot shields like raindrops warning of the deluge to come. It is through this that I must pass, so I can get to the south side of the city - all other avenues have been blocked off by the authorities in an attempt to keep the dissenters under control.

I walk, unseen, down the hill towards the Square. More people join in the chants; their collective voice becomes deeper and louder and drowns out the admonishments coming from the Guard's loudspeakers. I get to the edge of the crowd and take a deep breath. Flanked by riot shields on one side and the rioters' barricades on the other, the divide sits empty and waits - but only for a short while longer. I must go through now, or it will be too late. I hold my weapon in front of me and stride into no-man's land. The chants falter, then stop, and the loudspeakers change their tune.

"Guardsmen, hold your fire!"
"Sir, please turn back and leave the area!"
"Who's that idiot?"
"He's holding a - "
"Sir, turn around and leave the area immediately."
"This is for your own safety, sir."
"What the - "
"What's he doing?"
"Can you see what - "
Some whistles, some cheers, a lot of swearing.

I walk about half way along and the first hurdle of my mission is over. I now must walk through a mob of masked men wielding knives and homemade explosives so I can get to the bridge that will take me to the south side. I turn to look at the nearest masked face. The man understands; he holds out a hand and helps me clamber over the barricade and into the dissenters' space.

"What are you doing that for?"
"He's not one of us!"
"Hang on now - he's not one of them, either!"
"Oh just let him through!"
"Yes, I mean look at him - "
"Get on with it, they'll be on us in a minute!"
"The sooner you let him go by, the sooner he'll be gone - "

Dissenters move aside to let me in; as I walk towards the back of the crowd, masked men clear a path that I can pass through and stare at me as if I'm mad. Perhaps I am - but my madness has a higher purpose and I walk on, leaving the rioters behind me as I head to the bridge. They have already forgotten me, and the chants grow louder again.

There is nothing now that is holding me back. I cross the bridge running like my life depends on it, because it does. I run and run, holding my weapon steady as I go, along avenues and across  alleyways until I reach my destination. My lungs hurt, I have a stitch in my side, and my nerves are shot - but all these symptoms are quick to subside. It is my heart that feels like it might burst, when she answers the door and I see in her eyes how much I have hurt her.
"Forgive me", I say, and hand her the rose.


  1. A rose by any other name never smelt so sweet? Perhaps he'd be safer in no man's land!

  2. All along I wondered what kind of weapon he carried that parted the sea of combatants.

    What one does for love.

    Well done, well done!

  3. The gauntlet he walks for love... Fabulous! I hope she forgives him, since he can't go back.

  4. I love that you let us in early that there was redemption to be had. That acted like a steel thread that pulled me through the story. And then, of course, I smiled at the weapon. Nicely done.

    Jeff Posey

  5. Ha,wonderful...Love is madness. I was thinking what Laura said: just how mad is she? Is she mad enough to send him away? And why am I picturing him naked? :-)

  6. I like the unexpected ending.

  7. Your pieces are always so fine in their detail and emotion. Thoroughly enjoyed!

  8. Alright. You finally gave me a twist that I didn't see coming. I am confused though. Who is this woman? How has he hurt her? In whose mind is a rose a weapon (Side step V for this :P )?

    Else than that, I like the imagery and the speech. I can see the scene quite vividly in my mind. And that's the goal?

  9. Thank you all!
    I don't know why you're picturing him naked, Shannon, but hey - if it works...!

    ED - The rose is a weapon in his quest to win back the fair lady! Do I really need to answer who the woman is, and spell out how he has hurt her...?

  10. Great story, and a real surprise ending. Because of the vivid descriptions of the carnage and destruction around him I had asumed he was part of that too somehow. How could he not be? I think that contrast is what made the twist work so well. Great stuff.

  11. Every week you manage to pull off a full, rich story full of great details like this - "A smattering of small objects fly over the barricades, falling on riot shields like raindrops warning of the deluge to come." Brilliant.

  12. Nice twist at the end. Loved the driving power of this piece.

  13. Great job building intrigue. About 1/3 of the way in I turned from 'what's the riot about?' to 'what the hell is this guy up to?' Either way, you had my attention.

  14. LOVE the juxtaposition of contexts and how they play and resonate with each other. I also love the linking of the stages of grief (with a move into conviction)--to an asking of forgiveness, a try for restoration of what had been lost.

  15. Took me by suprise and took me by the hand. Well done!

  16. Awww, what a sweet story :)

    I'd have been too much of a chicken and stayed at home...

  17. I thought he was going to kill someone, then I thought he was going to get himself arrested. The rose was a surprise.

  18. Yay! I loved it - I needed a good shot of chivalrous love, and you delivered big time. Peace, Linda

  19. Good side of the city to the bad side? Perhaps a wall like was in Germany. Love knows no boundaries. Thank goodness he didn't just text her. We'd have a boring story. Great job. =)

  20. Nice movement. After the guards reactions, I grew more curious about the weapon realizing it can't be for battle. Always enjoy stories about going through hell for love. I like his resolve and openness.

  21. Excellent story. Nice to see even the rioters and police, engaged in their huge struggle, still have time to see the power of love.

  22. Don't take this the wrong way, but if I wasn't already married, and of a different orientation, I'd want to marry you. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but I *love* your writing. Atmospheric, dark, human. Scrumptious.

  23. Ah, a thorny weapon for a thorny problem. I hope she forgives him.

  24. "You mop your forehead with a rose, recommending its thorns" - John Ashbery

    That was really nice. Better than nice.

  25. Ok this is odd because I thought he was naked too....laughing...maybe because then he wouldn't be displaying any identification with a "side" and just be human?

    loved the rose.

  26. This is great. Maybe it's the time of year, but something about this really reminded me of SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

  27. I cared about the riot.
    Then I cared about the kook making his way through the riot.
    The rose at the end? Never saw it coming.
    Is magnificent too large a word for flash fiction?

  28. I loved the ending, if that's not showing how much he loves her, nothing will ;)

  29. I kept trying to figure out what he was carrying. Never saw a rose coming. Ah, but was it a weapon or a shield? A shield from the angry mob, for sure, and perhaps a shield from the woman's wrath. Hope it worked for him after all that. Love overcomes all, they say.