Life · Market Drayton Writer's Club · Short Story · Writing · Writing Workshop

MDWC – February 2016

Last night was February’s meeting of our local Writer’s Club, and our homework this time was to write something inspired by a selection of Rory’s Story Cubes that we (virtually) rolled on Liberty’s phone.

The dice rolled looked like this:

And the challenge was to use at least three of them in our piece of writing. I LOVE Story Cubes – I have an ever growing collection of them – so this was right up my street.

The three dice that jumped out at me when I sat down to write were the fish, the sketching hand and the electronic keypad. I don’t really know why my brain picked those out when they don’t relate to each other AT ALL but after staring at the dice for a while, an image came to my mind. It was of a girl, looking through a fish tank to the outside world beyond. That was it. That was what my brain gave me as a starting point.

It was one of those times where I just started writing without a plan. I had no idea what I was writing, no plot or storyline, just a girl and a fish tank.

This is what I ended up with:

The Institute

Elissa sighed and turned her attention back to the sketchbook on her knee, pressing harder on her pencil to add some definition to the catfish she had drawn lurking under a log.

The fish tank was the only thing in the whole waiting room that had any life to it and trying to capture the subtle details of the catfish’s mottled skin distracted her from the peculiar silence that had come when the power went out an hour ago.

Sunlight filtered through the fish tank water and she absentmindedly smiled as a fish appeared to swim across the sky outside. Whoever decided to make the window an aquarium had a sense of humour at least.

A loud bang and some shouts echoed in the corridor beyond the door and Elissa flinched despite knowing the door was locked tight. Very tight.

There was a flaw with the electronic keypad system they had installed two years ago – when the power went down, everything dead-locked until power was restored.

Usually this was only for a couple of minutes until the generators kicked in but there weren’t any generators now – she’d seen them being loaded onto the back of a truck and driven out towards the gate earlier.

Putting her sketchbook to one side, Elissa stood up and wandered over to the fish tank to try and get a better look outside. If she peered sideways out of the left-hand side, she could just see the crowd of people with signs and flags that had breached the gates and set up camp on the flat lawns at the front of the building. She supposed they were shouting or singing or something but they were too far away to hear.

She tapped the glass, trying to startle the catfish into moving. They were the same now that the power had gone out – each stuck in their own personal prison with nothing to do but go round in circles and peer out at a distorted world they have no hope of reaching without someone else’s help.

Except usually prisons involved somebody bringing you food and water at regular intervals, and doors that could be unlocked.

She wondered briefly how long it would take before the fish tank stopped looking pretty and started tormenting her with its unreachable water before shaking her head and pushing the thought from her mind.

Someone would come find her before then.


Did The Institute keep a register of some sort? Records of who was where and when? Was there a book somewhere saying ‘Elissa Harper v4, Waiting Room 8b, Optical Wing’?

Did anyone care?

The people outside didn’t look very friendly and taking the generators didn’t seem like the actions of people who cared about fifteen year old girls locked in waiting rooms.

With a sigh, Elissa flopped back into her chair and picked up her sketchbook once more. She turned to a clean page and started to draw another picture. This time it was of a girl with long, wavy hair, unruly eyebrows, full lips and a sprinkling of freckles across a delicate nose.

Elissa paused and looked at the space below the eyebrows – she didn’t know how to draw the eyes. Originally they had been large and brown with an oriental lilt, then a pale blue colour that had made her skin look sickly, and most recently they’d been a peculiar silver-grey which had made her look like some kind of science-experiment gone wrong.

Which is exactly what Elissa Harper v3 had been. She had been waiting to see the specialist in the Mirror Room to see if the last attempt, Elissa Harper v4, had finally produced the result they wanted. They were hoping for some shade of green, it would work with her freckles and fit the character description The Institute had been given by the film company.

It had taken fifteen years and four versions of herself to get to this point, where she could finally leave, play her part and then be free to learn how to really live.

Elissa put her pencil down, leaving the face eye-less and strange, and pressed her face to the fish tank.
There was smoke now, drifting across the sky behind the fish tank, and the people on the lawn were slowly spreading across the grounds. Their signs were readable now that they had moved: ‘FREAKS!’, ‘FUCK THE FILM INDUSTRY!’, ‘THE ART OF ACTING IS DEAD!’, ‘THE INSTITUTE IS AN ABOMINATION!’


Is that what the world really thought? She had been raised believing she was an asset to the Arts. That the film industry was massively improved now that every actor was provided for each film with every personality and physical trait required for the character they were going to play.

There was no more room for people to complain that actors weren’t right for parts based on book characters – the books were studied and then people like Elissa were tweaked until they were perfect. Unwanted children from all over the world were taken in by The Institute and raised and trained for the sole purpose of playing a part.

Elissa’s character was a sixteen year old girl from a book, the quiet love interest of the main hero, and with it being just three weeks until her sixteenth birthday they were running out of time to get her eyes ready. But more than that, it meant that it wouldn’t be long before she could get out of The Institute and out into the world.

It had been a terrifying but exciting prospect and the only thing, apart from her sketching, that had kept her sane through the last few years.

And now… now The Institute was burning.

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