Before Daybreak

Pier at dawnIn the last hours before daybreak, everything changed.

It was the sirens that woke us. My mother dragged us, tousle-haired and sleepy-eyed, from the room we shared with our grandmother. My brother and I wrapped ourselves in blankets, tugged on boots over our pajamas, while our father helped Grandmother with her shoes. The first rumblings shook the house as we clattered down the steps.

Our mother met us at the bottom, face pale in the darkness. I reached for the light switch, but she hissed and smacked my hand away. “Don’t.”

That was when I felt the first glimmerings of fear. I was only eight. What did I know? Only that my mother had hit me for the first time in my life. She knelt down and took our hands, my brother’s and mine, one in each of hers.

“We have to run for the bunker,” she said, “quietly and quickly. Can you do that?” We nodded. She looked at our grandmother, her mother. They looked at each other a long while. Finally Grandmother smiled her familiar wry smile.

“I don’t much feel like running today,” she said. “You children go along. I’ll have a cup of tea and watch the sun rise from the porch.” I was only eight. What did I know of sacrifice?

In any case, we were too slow, and the bunker was too far. We hid in the mud under the pier. A pitiful shelter, but it was the best we could do. I peered out through the cracks between the boards. With every flash of light, enormous silhouettes stood out across the purple-black sky, crushing and burning as they passed. The sound was unbearable.

The night began to decay around us, a slow, unyielding collapse. I willed it to stop with all the strength of my child’s mind. As the thunder subsided into the distance, shadows clarified in the unfettered dawn. The world grew silent, and we emerged into the ruins of the day.


I struggled a bit with this post. I had a few sentences and phrases that I really liked, but had trouble building a story around them. It eventually grew into something I liked, but it feels rushed – especially the ending, which is often the case when you only have 333 words to work with. To me this sounds like an excerpt. Something to be added to later, perhaps. Thoughts?


This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge  prompt.

You should write a creative response using the given word. You must use the word in your response, and you must use it correctly. Your response can be no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words. This week’s word is:

DECAY (intransitive verb)

1: to decline from a sound or prosperous condition
2: to decrease usually gradually in size, quantity, activity, or force
3: to fall into ruin

Unintentionally, this post also relates to the Story Dam prompt for this week, at least tangentially. The prompt is as follows:

Write fiction or non-fiction. You can write about the passing of a loved one or you can show us how you would like to leave this world in an ideal situation.

17 responses to “Before Daybreak

  1. Well, I would like to know more – the who, what, and why of the ordeal. 🙂 So, yes, something to be added onto.

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  2. I definitely think there’s more to this story and would like to see it expanded. I really don’t think you’re first graph is even necessary. Graph 2 is much more powerful and pretty much says what Graph 1 does.

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  3. This was beautiful. I absolutely loved it.

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  4. Definitely an excerpt. This was beautiful and terrifying — I would love to see more of what happened. And I think the night decaying around them might be the best use of the prompt word I’ve seen so far.

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  5. trifectawriting

    Thanks for linking up to Trifecta this week. I love what you’ve done with the prompt, even if you’re not so convinced. 🙂 I like the idea of the grandmother sacrificing herself, and I actually really like the ambiguity of the story. Perhaps it’s an excerpt, but I think part of the strength of it comes from being able to fill in the blanks ourselves.

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  6. The grandmother was such a compelling figure! I’d like to know what they were fleeing so I could better understand what fate she gallantly resigned herself to. It shows how well you wrote this that I feel connected to a character after only a few phrases.

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    • If I’d had a few more words, I could have made it a bit more clear, I think. I should have left out that first line, as Kelly said below. This is a piece I might expand – we’ll see!

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  7. Apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic, is one of my favorite genres, so this was really cool to read. I especially liked the image of the shadows clarifying in the dawn. I’d love to know more about what happened, what sort of apocalypse it was, and all. 🙂

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    • I’ve apparently been writing a lot of it lately, unintentionally. It’s been a bit of a stretch for me, in a good way, and I’m having a good time with it. Thanks very much for stopping by and leaving a comment!

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  8. “The night began to decay around us, a slow, unyielding collapse.”

    Swoon.

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  9. Christine, your “decay” sentence is fantastic! 🙂
    This is a powerful, ominous piece, and yes, I want to know more. You could certainly build from here, but it’s a great piece of flash. Congrats on placing over at Trifecta! 🙂

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  10. It’s very deep, dark too, and I’d love to read more, to get more understanding of the characters and the situation. The use of the first person really drew me in. Definitely worth developing! 🙂

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