The Spark at the Core

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt

120 comments

Drama Urban Fantasy Transgender

Liz gasped and drew on the spark inside her to defend herself. Nothing. The tiny, flickering flame had been extinguished and she couldn’t even feel the embers. 


“I can do that,” said the man looming over her. Her cheek stung from the backhand he’d used. “What I gave you can be taken away.” 


Fear. Bright, blooming fear. It had been so long since she’d felt it and even longer since she’d felt it this intensely. She sat, silently, desperately searching inside herself for the spark of power that would give access to her flames. 


When she’d first been gifted, there had been classes to help her draw out her power and control it. She had, in the beginning, veered wildly between being unable to summon the smallest flame on an upturned palm to unconstrained destruction as the flames engulfed her. There had been exercises in focus and precision and though she hadn’t needed them for years, she ran through them again in her head. 


The man watched, with a small smile and an air of smugness. 


“It’s pointless,” he said. “The sharp prick you felt?” He was referring to the jab that had made her jump when she’d leant back in the chair. Something sharp in her shoulder but when she’d looked, there had been nothing there. “Hidden hypodermic needle containing the antidote to the formula I gave you.” 


His smile widened as her eyes turned round with horror. 


“I warned you and you didn’t listen. So confident that you were untouchable.” He stepped close and ran a finger down the side of her face. “But not so much anymore.” 


She shuddered. 


He was right: she had thought she was invincible. As leader of the American Heroes, the public loved her and, of course, her ability to cover her body with flames meant she was literally untouchable unless she chose not to be. She’d been so cocky about that. 


“No more Solar Flare,” he said, leaning so their faces were level. “I can even take away Liz, too, if you push back with this.” He huffed a soft laugh at the small sound of terror that escaped her. “Oh I can reverse any surgeries, withdraw access to any hormones. I can take away any aspect of your life. I built it; I can bulldoze it.” 


Years of fear and struggle and hope. Years of proving her moral fibre, her bravery, her empathy. Years of applications and interviews and tests. 


The American Hero Association had made her work for it but they’d fulfilled every dream. She had been crafted into the person she’d always wanted to be and, best of all, she’d been able to make a difference. People listened when she spoke and donations to domestic abuse shelters and LGBTQ+ charities had doubled in the two years she’d been at the helm. She had stopped an asteroid from hitting Earth last year and had helped save an entire city from a volcanic eruption only last month. 


People trusted her. Enough to tell her personal stories about Jim Darcy, head scientist. Stories that led to them crying on her shoulder using phrases like ‘forced me to’ and words like ‘dirty’ and ‘ashamed’. 


So she had investigated and had been repulsed by what she’d found. She’d uncovered evidence of crimes leading back to the programme’s origins over thirty years ago. Careers that had flourished or floundered depending on the responses of the young hero. Most of the heroes who could boast two powers had spent time in his quarters as well as his lab. 


She had her own story, too, but she’d assumed that her experience was an isolated one. The statistics were so much worse for people like her anyway. 


He leant forward and pressed his nose to her hair. Bile rose in her stomach. 


“Those files will be deleted as soon as we are done here. I will tell the directors that a virus has interfered with your abilities and if - if - you can show me that you’re a good girl and can follow instructions, maybe I will let you have the formula again.” He inhaled slowly and she felt his grin stretch across the side of her cheek. “This is my kingdom, you little bitch. You take the scraps I throw you and be grateful. I’ll be having the same conversation with all of the interviews on that tape, too.” 


The fear, the horror, the revulsion. They melted away and Liz saw what was left behind. She would not let him touch another vulnerable person, no matter the consequences to herself. 


In all his arrogance, he’d forgotten that she’d grown up in a bigoted neighbourhood, fighting for the right to be counted as a person. 


She didn’t need her flames. 


He lifted his hand to her shoulder and she exploded into action. The heel of her hand rammed into his nose to disorient him, surprising them both with the speed and strength of it. It had been so long since she’d had to use physical violence and she had a momentary pang for the loss of her fire.


Blood flowed freely from his broken nose. She took advantage of the distraction and spun out of the chair. Two steps put her behind him.


Sharp kicks to the back of his knees drove him down and she aimed the same part of her hand at the base of his neck, putting in as much force as she could muster. 


It seemed, though, that he’d given himself the same shot that she’d had all those years ago: his recovery was too quick to be anything else. The results of the formula manifested differently in everyone, activating deeply buried genetic code. Some activations were more impressive than others and though his superpowered agility would not put him on the cover of magazines, it was certainly enough for him to evade her hand and throw her off balance. 


Snarling and flicking specks of blood with every quick twist, his retaliating blows came ferociously fast and it was all she could do to block. The impact of a shoulder hit sent spasms down her left side. An open-palmed blow to her chest sent her staggering back.


Suddenly she was 19 again, afraid and pulling on all the self defence and martial arts that she’d gleaned from movies and through dojo windows. Dodge, parry, duck.


She relied purely on instinct and slowly, slowly, she began to gain ground. He was a scientist who barely left his lab and no amount of agility could hide the fact that he was not a seasoned fighter.


She sidestepped a vicious jab to her kidneys, feeling the air rushing past her side, and slammed her open hand sideways into his throat. His attacks stopped abruptly as he fought to breathe instead. 


An elbow to the head followed and he slumped to the floor, still struggling for air. She rubbed it, regretting her choice of attack. At least he was down.


Liz looked around, heart beating too quickly at the base of her throat. He should be out for a bit but she needed to make sure he was secured before he woke up. She yanked computer cables from the walls and began looping them around his wrists and ankles. 


When she was finished, she looked at the unconscious man who had ruined so many people’s lives. It would be so easy to end his but that would be a hollow victory. She wanted to see his life torn apart, as he’d promised to do to her. His career, his relationships - all in tatters because of her. 


She looked down at him, scorn curling her lip. He stirred and, realising he was bound, struggled against the ties. She watched for a moment to make sure the ties held. After a moment, he gave up and looked at her with a mixture of despair and terror.


Liz smiled and leaned so that she was looking directly into his eyes. Her voice rang out clearly through the room.


“With or without my flames, you are going to burn.”



September 05, 2020 09:03

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120 comments

Thom Brodkin
15:41 Sep 08, 2020

I loved this story for its depth and simplicity. It was short and self contained to a single scene but there was a back story, social ramifications, and one of life's ultimate truths built right in. The thing I want to concentrate on is the universal truth of your power coming from within. I've never been a super hero but I would imagine there could be nothing worse than losing your super powers. Not just for what they allow you to do but because they become part of your identity. Your story showed that that Liz was a super hero, not be...

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Elle Clark
22:02 Sep 10, 2020

I thought I’d replied to this! Thank you for your lovely words, as always!

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Thom Brodkin
16:48 Sep 14, 2020

I came looking for another story and none yet. You or Johnathan. What about my needs. 😀 I do have a new one posted called “Going Home”. If you could give me your feedback while I can still edit it I’d be grateful. Now go write. 😀😀

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Elle Clark
17:48 Sep 14, 2020

Jonathan is slacking, I agree. Mine is perfectly justifiable - everything is very dramatic and, sadly, more pressing than creativity! The whole 'may you live in interesting times' can do one. I want quiet, boring and predictable. But not in your story, which I will go and read now!

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Thom Brodkin
17:51 Sep 14, 2020

I'm sorry. I'm not sure how much it helps but there are now good thoughts coming your way from Virginia. It may not be much but it is sincere.

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Elle Clark
20:56 Sep 14, 2020

That is much appreciated :)

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Michael Boquet
18:19 Oct 06, 2020

Great last line. Enjoyed the story. It's cool to see a 'male who uses his influence to take advantage of women" sort of villain inserted into a superhero tale. Are any of your other stories set in this superhero world?

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Elle Clark
05:53 Oct 07, 2020

Not in this world, no. I tend to do standalone stories. I’ve got another story (The Masked Crusader’s Turn) that is superheroes and explores right and wrong but it’s not connected to this one. I’m glad you enjoyed it though!

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:27 Sep 13, 2020

I wanted to start a new thread because with, each reply, the comments get more and more bunched up on the side. Reading on a small screen, we’re nearly at a word a line on that old one. So, new thread. Thank you for your screams of excitement. I wish I was half as confident as I make myself sound about my writing ability (future critically acclaimed… ha!) but I’m sure Brad would talk about the power of ‘acting as if.’ I’m very much waiting to hear more about The Dragon-Blood Tree. I had an interesting realization the other day. Did you ...

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Elle Clark
18:41 Sep 13, 2020

Yeah that’s a good point! It’s getting difficult to see! I honestly had to check the BoJo thing as it’s very on brand for him. I did a blurb for the Dragon Tears Tree (playing with blood, tears, breath or life - what do you think?) but the basic premise is a central character believes that all the mythology around this tree is BS. Then the Time Comes and she’s taken to a ritual where she experiences memories from her ancestors, who are all connected to the tree and the mythology around it. So it’s short stories from that perspective ...

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Jonathan Blaauw
05:23 Sep 14, 2020

I think that's such a brilliant idea! For us newbies, writing a novel seems very difficult and daunting. But, any long story is just a series of interconnected short stories, really. So your idea will certainly be more writer-friendly (eating the elephant one story at a time) and also very reader-friendly. Because it's in the sweet spot between long novel commitment and short story quickies. It's also something new and different, which is great. And, the subject matter is perfectly suited to your area of strength - magical stuff! I think it...

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Elle Clark
11:33 Sep 14, 2020

It was in fact inspired by your elephant eating advice. God only knows what it’ll end up being but thank you for your support! I feel a bit better about it now!

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:41 Sep 14, 2020

You should, it's going to be amazing! I think the amount of self-doubt a person has is directly proportional to their level of talent. Usually. So it's natural to feel it, just don't let it stop you. How long have I been mentioning you should write something longer now? Long time. And that's only because you have the ability. And the elephant advice wasn't from me. It came from Brad (may he rest in peace).🤣🤣 Here's my favourite writers joke. Publisher: I hope the idea for your new book is better than your last one about a murderer...

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Zilla Babbitt
16:19 Oct 03, 2020

Named Hannibal. I get it, I get it! Haha! Yay!

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23:38 Sep 07, 2020

Wow, Laura, I'm so glad I got a chance to read this! You packed a lot of action, world building, and character development into a short piece. Admittedly, I did have to read it twice to fully understand it, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I certainly hope you have plans to do more with this story, or at least with Liz and her world, because this is a great foundation for a longer story. I usually shy away from action in my writing, so it's interesting for me to see how other authors incorporate action and raise the stakes, especially...

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Elle Clark
06:01 Sep 08, 2020

It actually hasn’t been approved as it’s for this week’s prompt so thank you so much for the editorial critique! I love me some critique so if you’re ever reading others of mine and see anything, please feel free to point it out! I love to learn. Thank you so much for a lovely comment. I’ve never written action before so this was a little challenge for me. Just trying to stretch myself. I’ve had some great critique in the comments to help me improve so I’ll keep trying new things and hoping that people with more experience help out again...

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13:06 Sep 08, 2020

You're welcome, I'm glad I could help! I knew this was for the new prompts, so I don't know why I assumed it had been approved (I'm a judge, so maybe there are just too many stories and prompts swirling around in my head). It's so helpful that we can make edits after submitting. Perhaps I'll take a cue from you and try to write some action soon!

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Elle Clark
14:35 Sep 08, 2020

Ah, me too! I get what you mean about the prompts. I could not tell you which prompts were which week - too many to keep track of. Let me know if you do write any action. I won’t be much use with critique of it but I’d love to readit anyway.

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Waverley Stark
05:58 Sep 06, 2020

Wow, great work! I liked the idea of 'American Heroes' combining superpowers with celebrity stuff like donating to charities. The entire time he was being a creepy asshole, and the entire time she was fighting him, I was silently chanting, "Heel to the nose! Heel to the nose!" which means the heel of her hand smashing into his nose. You got me rooting for the characters, which I applaud you for. I think the concept of your story is really cool and I'd love to know more. Your writing style made her fear seem very real, and you did a great ...

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Elle Clark
17:45 Sep 06, 2020

Oooh, I might edit this so that her first move is a heel to the nose. This was my first foray into a fight scene and I definitely need to practice. Having never been in a fight myself, I have no personal experience to draw on and even though I have read a million excellent fight scenes, I couldn’t remember a single one when I was writing this. Thanks for the lovely comment and thanks for the idea!

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Jonathan Blaauw
09:57 Sep 05, 2020

It’s wonderful to have you back! Have you done flash-fiction before? Because this is short enough to be classified as such, but still tells a complete story, which is extremely difficult to do properly (I’ve tried and failed many times). What made me think of that is you have all the elements – minimal characters, a single scene, one central theme, etc. and it works incredibly well. I love how you’ve reversed the common superhero bit here, by making Liz triumph by not using her powers. Which makes it very relevant and relatable, desp...

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Elle Clark
12:46 Sep 05, 2020

I had to google flash fiction, which should tell you how often I’ve done flash fiction before. I think that the Cost of Honour would probably qualify as it but I didn’t realise that was what I was doing at the time. Thank you for being so sweet about it. I have to confess, I wrote this in a hour and a half and only read it through once. I’m very much relying on critics to help me mop up the loose edges for this one. And possibly smooth out any metaphors that have been as badly bruised as that one. So thank you so much for the typo spot! ...

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:48 Sep 05, 2020

Given one of the meanings of the word ‘flash’ I’m not going to ask what you thought flash-fiction might be. Thank goodness the Usa gave us google! Otherwise, I’d’ve thought NaNoWriMo was you swearing at me in Bislama or something. It looks interesting… I think. With my search pages still showing in Xhosa, it’s hard to tell 😊 Aren’t inside jokes great? Given all that’s happened this year, inside jokes are the safest kind… I’m very intrigued by NaNoWriMo though, I’m going to sign up. I think a valuable lesson has been learned and taught wi...

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Elle Clark
15:12 Sep 05, 2020

You're my favourite Reedsy person - I hope you know this. It's for many reasons (inside jokes and general hilarity included) but part of it is definitely how you picked up on that first sentence and then said something so kind and supportive and analytical about it. If you do decide to do NaNoWriMo then send me a message on there - I'm Laura.Clark and I currently have NO IDEA what I could write. Maybe I'll browse the Reedsy prompts for inspiration (though I usually get inspiration from pictures, if I'm honest and then match what I've wri...

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Jonathan Blaauw
07:42 Sep 06, 2020

I will join soon. But is there a commitment? When you said you have two months, it kind of sounds ominous. Like what happens if you don’t meet the deadline? They come for you in the night? OMG! Story idea! Like Stop-Starters, only a cure for writer's block! You sign up and if you don’t come up with an idea… game over! This has real potential. Please speak to your screenwriter connections, I want to play the lead in the movie. You know what’s also a very British thing? The Oxford comma. Which I detest, by the way. What were you people thin...

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Elle Clark
10:53 Sep 06, 2020

Re: NaNoWriMo - it’s a group/community/movement where you commit to (trying to) write 50k words in November. So either the bulk of a novel or the entirety of it. I have a title so far and a few vague ideas but it starts on Nov 1st so I’ve got time. I think you get badges if you hit writing targets and a murdered pet if you don’t. So buy some fish. Re: the Oxford comma - I’m gonna be controversial here and say that I don’t really have an opinion on it. My view of grammar is pretty straightforward. Grammar is intended to help clarify meani...

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Shreya S
04:23 Sep 16, 2020

Awesome! Very Carol Denvers kind of story, and ‘with or without flames, you will burn’, very powerful. I really like how your short stories are within the word limit, yes, but really, they’re not short at all. They have huge, um, characters with back stories and a very wide world view kind of thing. It’s easy to introduce characters and end the short story because they’re really only present at that moment for the readers, but your characters are very powerful, they’re in my mind long after I’ve finished reading about them. I hope I’m maki...

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Elle Clark
21:20 Sep 18, 2020

Hi Shreya! Thank you for such a lovely, detailed comment!

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R. K.
16:30 Sep 12, 2020

I really admired how you portrayed the character development throughout the whole story. Liz started off by putting her trust in her physical flames to putting her trust in the flames of her heart. I also really appreciated how she admitted to herself that she'd taken her gift for granted but at the same time realized what good she'd done with it. It carved a strong message: when you're happy with what you have, what you have is enough. That really reflected in the last line which I totally fangirled over :)

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Elle Clark
20:44 Sep 12, 2020

Haha! Thank you for such a lovely comment!

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Elise Holder
17:21 Sep 08, 2020

Ooh I love the ending! “With or without my flames, you are going to burn” is such a powerful line.

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Elle Clark
17:34 Sep 08, 2020

Thank you!

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Katina Foster
17:31 Sep 06, 2020

Love! This! The way you start was so on point with the prompt and her literally losing her "power" that I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out she wasn't powerless at all! This is exactly the kind of character we all want to root for. As she starts recounting the stories from others, I got angry. But then you laid this gut punch on me at the very end: "She had her own story, too, but she’d assumed that her experience was an isolated one." Well played... Now I really needed that dude to go down. I really enjoyed how you weaved ...

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Elle Clark
17:43 Sep 06, 2020

Omg this comment ❤️ I’m so glad you liked it! I think that women often feel powerless, especially around men who have some power over their life or career, and I really like the idea of giving women the power back. Especially trans women, who have it even worse. I tried to give her as much power as possible in different ways too so that it’s not just about physical power. She has power with the public, with colleagues who trust her and the power to take this absolute arsehole down. Thank you so much for your comment!

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C.J 🤍
19:37 Sep 18, 2020

Awesome story!!!!!

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. .
23:50 Sep 17, 2020

The detail in this is amazing! The start got me instantly hooked and I could feel everything Liz did as if I was there.

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Tempest Wright
09:06 Sep 16, 2020

So much action in so little time! I love how she finds her inner flame, even if it didn't involve fire. I have to say, that last line was perfect. Great story!

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Elle Clark
09:54 Sep 16, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Doubra Akika
08:36 Sep 16, 2020

Hey Laura! I loved this! I loved the message your story had. You don't need superpowers to be a superhero. I think that's something that comes from within and you described that perfectly. The way you wrote it was so simple and the character development as well was subtle, but really powerful. Loved the action. Hope you're staying safe!

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Elle Clark
17:35 Sep 16, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Doubra Akika
17:36 Sep 16, 2020

My pleasure! It was honestly an amazing story. If you ever get the chance, I’d love if you could check out my recent submission. Your feedback would mean a lot.

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Elle Clark
17:47 Sep 16, 2020

I’ve literally just read and commented! I haven’t left any critique as such because the deadline has passed so you can’t change it anyway and I didn’t know if you’d want improvement points. If you want critique on future ones though, let me know before the deadline and I’ll head over :)

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Doubra Akika
17:52 Sep 16, 2020

Oh okay! That’s great then. Thank you so much. I hope I’ll be able to get something out next week because I can’t seem to come up with something for this week. Your feedback is definitely always appreciated though, Laura. Thank you so much!

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Andrew Krey
16:05 Sep 15, 2020

Hi Laura, I really enjoyed your story, it was a good take on the prompt to include superpowers! In very few words you're able to set the scene, the context of the conflict, and give detailed action with a conclusion, very impressive. I especially liked the improvisation of using computer cables to bound him; her powerless fighting showed her resourcefulness, and I think that point reinforced it. I also like the final sinister line of the story. Well done, and happy writing.

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Elle Clark
17:40 Sep 15, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Andrew Krey
18:38 Sep 15, 2020

You're welcome Laura :)

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Rodney Owen
13:29 Sep 15, 2020

Hey, great story! I love how the super hero realises she Doesn’t need her powers to be a hero. Great message.

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Elle Clark
14:38 Sep 15, 2020

Thanks!

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19:29 Sep 13, 2020

This story is beyond beautiful! I love it so much, the description makes it feel like i’m right there seeing it all unfold, moreover, the fact that she lost her powers and that there’s this powerful antagonist in the story, who she defeats without powers makes it even more amazing and interesting to read!

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Elle Clark
20:31 Sep 13, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Josh C
10:01 Sep 11, 2020

Solid story. I really like what I've read, so I'm following you now. Seems like you definitely have a knack for this!

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Elle Clark
10:22 Sep 11, 2020

Well that’s a really sweet thing to say! I’m glad you’re enjoying them!

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Josh C
01:02 Sep 12, 2020

Definitely am! I read your bio, and If you get time I’d love your thoughts on my latest upload - offline. It’s also a scifi setting. Just any general thoughts, nothing in depth?

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Elle Clark
09:29 Sep 12, 2020

Sure! I don’t know when I’ll get round to it - might be in an hour, might be in a few days- but I will definitely read it.

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Josh C
14:03 Sep 12, 2020

Thanks so much! And no rush at all.

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Josh C
01:23 Sep 13, 2020

I wanted to swing back on this because you left me really detailed feedback and I felt like I had offered nothing valuable on your pieces at all. First off, I thought the setting was fantastic. The superhero power method was perhaps a little derived from deadpool, with activating hidden genes that brought out superhero powers, but to set the scene it was fine. The real strength is the rest. The idea of the head scientist abusing the people (I assume mostly, if not exclusively women) is very real, and very topical. This brought the whol...

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Elle Clark
18:48 Sep 13, 2020

Oh - thank you for the more detailed comment! I think this got lost on my feed so I nearly didn’t see it. Totally agree that this is derivative. I guess because I’m not chasing the prize, I didn’t care too much. It’s so difficult to come up with a truly original origin story for superheroes because the genre is so saturated and I was lazy. Essentially I just needed her to have a power that could be taken away. It also has flavours of Bad Boys, stories from the Harvey Weinstein encounters and many real life stories I’ve heard of powerful ...

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Yolanda Wu
06:47 Sep 10, 2020

Wow, this story was so well-written. You kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. You captured the powerlessness of the character so well which is how you hooked me from the start. I was so excited to learn about how she got her powers. I loved how you delved into that in the story. Your descriptions and your dialogue are honestly just amazing and everything felt so immediate and you made it really clear what Liz could lose which made the story extremely effective. Would love to read more from you. Amazing work!

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Elle Clark
22:01 Sep 10, 2020

Thank you so much for a lovely comment! That’s made me smile so much 😊 Let me know if you do end up reading any more - there are plenty in my back catalogue!

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Yolanda Wu
22:27 Sep 10, 2020

Yes, of course! I would definitely get around to it. If you have the time, I would love to hear your feedback on a story of mine. :)

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Elle Clark
02:02 Sep 11, 2020

I’d love read one of yours!

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Corey Melin
20:57 Sep 07, 2020

Enjoyed the tense read. To read of what all creeps should experience is fulfilling. Good job!

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Elle Clark
21:01 Sep 07, 2020

Thank you!

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