Flash Fiction Friday #11

Pulling the Rabbit out of the Hat by Caleb Peiffer:

“Caleb, Maggie’s stuck again!”

I groaned and trudged out into the hall and into my sister’s room.

“How did it happen this time?”

“Well, I hid her food in there so she couldn’t get at it, but when I wasn’t looking—”

I sighed. “I’ll go get the scissors.”

I galloped into the hall, through the living room, into the kitchen, and fumbled through a drawer. Scissors, scissors . . . why are the scissors always missing? I mean, seriously, is it so hard for someone to put the scissors back? Would it kill them? Is it against their religion? Would it go against everything they stand for, everything they are, and their very purpose in life? And how much time have I wasted moaning and complaining and cursing the names and auspices of whoever was ever guilty of misplacing a scissors, when I could have spent my time more constructively actually looking for the scissors? Is it so hard to hunt down a pair of scissors? Am I so lazy I just can’t look around a bit? It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to get into the head of a family member and try to figure out where they left the scissors, I mean seriously—

“Caleb! What’s taking you so long?

“I can’t find the darn scissors!”

“The scissors are in your room! Don’t you remember? You were using them this morning to cut something out of the newspaper.”

Oh, right.

I galloped shamefacedly back to my room, snatched up the scissors, took them to my sister’s room and had her hold Maggie’s rear while I carefully cut through the fabric of the hat until the rabbit was free.

“Thanks, Caleb.”

I sighed. “No problem.”

The voice of my other sister echoed through the house. “Caleb!”

“Yes?”

“The cat’s out of the bag again!”

I’ll never get back to my desk to write.

Disgrace by E. R. Alwardby:

Darius slowly crawled backwards as he set the chips on end, one behind the other, barely even breathing for fear of knocking one down and setting off the chain reaction. He’d been at it all night, thankful that no one ever visited this part of town on the weekend. Who wanted anything to do with school at this time of year on a weekend? Darius had a little business to do, though. It had started as a community service sentence due to a bit of truancy on his part, but Darius had found a way to make it fun. He was a few blocks away from the school by now, the chips twisting and turning away in their patterns towards the school.

“Darius, what are you doing?” a voice said behind him. He froze, fighting the urge to jump and run. If he did he might knock one of the chips over and that would ruin the whole game.

“I—I finished my work and I’m setting these up for fun, sir.” He said to the principle, showing him the red and black chips.

“Finished?” The principle raised one of his severe, grey eyebrows. “All of it?”

“Every part of the building ready to be cleaned, sir. The janitor said I should get it ready today and clean it tomorrow.”

“Hmm. Very well, I was just going to go retrieve something.”

“Re—really? Uh, could you wait just a few more minutes? The path is covered with these chips and I’d really hate for them to fall early. I’m almost done.”

“Finish up, I’m in a hurry.”

Darius knelt down and placed the last few rows of the chips. With a brief glance at the principle, he nudged the first one over and set off the chain. As they zoomed away, so did he, running far in the opposite direction.

Confused, the principle shrugged and walked off in his intended direction, trying not to step on the chips. The pattern they made was fairly intricate. Why would Mr. Smithson run off and not see how his handiwork turned out?

As he turned the corner to the school, the chips completed their run and tapped a small button which set off several black-powder charges that blew the little tin building Darius had been working in to shreds, and began a chain of explosions along the rows of chips that were filled with powder.

Fun Flash Fiction Friday #10!

If something isn’t fun for you, do something more profitable! Be a petroleum engineer or a lawyer or something.

Creamy, by Caleb Peiffer:

A man walked into a bar. He sat down at the bar. He called to the bartender.

“I’ll have a coffee.”

“We don’t serve coffee.”

“Abominable!” the man shouted, and left.

Next he went to a café. He sat down at a table and ordered coffee and cream.

“I’m sorry, we’re all out of cream.”

“Abominable!” the man declared, and left.

Next he went to a barber shop. He sat down in a chair and shouted to the barber,

“I’ll have a coffee, and don’t hold back on the cream!”

“I only give haircuts, sir.”

“Abominable!” the man bellowed, and left in a tither.

Next he gave up and went to Starbucks. He ordered coffee with a cup of cream and, at last, was served.

“Ah, creamy!” he gasped. “Just the way I like it!”

Suddenly a car fell through the roof, landing on its nose, and falling on its back. Luckily it missed the man’s table, but then a waited walked past and accidentally knocked his coffee over.

The man groaned. “This is why I never go to Starbucks.

Mist, by Lin Graves:

Upon a hill sat a small village with no more than ten little huts. The people were merry and the children would often dance and play, singing songs and chasing each other around and around the hillside. Every morning the sun was greeted with I don’t know where I’m going with this.

The author of the story paused. He wasn’t quite sure how to continue with his thought. Sure, the idea came clear as day, however the actual plot of what he was writing was shrouded in a mist so thick he could almost cut it away… almost. What good is a story with no plot? What good is a chapter if it doesn’t make one ponder an aspect of their life?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The writer hit each individual button with his index finger as he tried to imagine what happened next. The village was his setting, the villagers and their children were his characters… but where would the story go from there? Perhaps a giant would visit one day and nearly crush the village on his travels? Perhaps a dragon appears and devours them all whole? What if nothing extraordinary occurs and the village becomes a metaphor of life in its most basic forms?

Try as he might, the author had no leads, no other idea that seemed to fit what had come so naturally to him in the start. Would they all live? Would they all die? Perhaps their fates would meet somewhere in between? He just didn’t know.

Click. Click. Click.

The author was at a loss. All of his natural words already lay before him on a glowing box. He decided to save his work. When the glowing box asked for a title, he wracked his brain a bit and then entered “Potential.doc.” From that moment on, the village remained in limbo, and that Is where our true story begins.

—–

I really like the following story by Emissary.

Mist, by Emissary:

He was wearing a wrinkled black suit, his shirt was missing its top button and his tie had been tossed aside into the wet grass. He watched me with eyes that burned like miniature suns in their sockets, and a sharp grin cut along his features like a scar.

“So,” he said, kicking at the dewdrops in the field, “This is where it ends, huh?”

I was silent, standing as tall as my stooped frame would allow.

“Ah, am I getting the silent treatment?” he asked, his gaze flickering over to the night sky, which hung over us like an upturned bowl. “Or are you just too depressed about how bad your voice sounds?”

“Go to Hell.” My voice was thin and broken, but its tone was still firm.

“Give me a minute here,” he shot back, checking his watch. “Give me one more freaking minute…”

My face was a smirking mask; one that vanished once his smile returned.

“Minute’s up,” he purred, and spun on his heel to face the lightening horizon. A low chuckle emanated from his lips, and he lifted his arms, shouting, “AND GOD SAID, LET THERE BE LIGHT!”

The sun broke over the land, and I snorted.

“You’re not God.”

“Says who?” he said with one last grin, and snapped his fingers. The morning dew rose into the air, transforming into a mist, pale in shade and sickly in colour, and climbed up my body, engulfing me.

“And it was good…” were the last words I ever heard.

Fragrant Flash Fiction Friday #9

Slow week. With NaNoWriMo hopefully things will pick up.  Anyway, a couple gems in the rough!

Stars and Philosophies by Caleb Peiffer

“Look at that! It’s a falling star.”

“Let’s make a wish!”

“A wish? On a star?”

“Sure. It’s traditional.”

“It’s absurd. There’s nothing a burning ball of gas millions of miles away can do to make your wishes come true.”

“Wow, you just ruined the moment,” she muttered. “When did you get so pessimistic? I thought you were all about poetry and magic.”

“Only when it makes sense, my dear,” I said. “There is nothing sensible about putting your faith in balls of gas. I might as well wish on my Uncle Ed, he—”

She gagged and gasped, “Shut up! Don’t even.”

“Point is,” I went on, “stars don’t make wishes come true, people do.”

She groaned. “Are you really going to do this?”

“Do what?”

“Make a philosophical lesson out it?”

“Why not? Stars are prime material for philosophical metaphors.”

“I’m sorry I said anything.”

“But you did,” I said, “and do you know why?”

“Please don’t.”

“Human nature. We all want things, and we don’t want to have to want for them or work for them, we want them right now. So we get a kick out of looking up at a falling star and making a wish. It gives us a little hope.”

“It does not. It’s just for fun.”

“But what’s fun? Something that makes us feel good. What’s hope? Something that makes us feel good, for a little time at least. It gives us an extra little boost, even when it comes from something as ridiculous as wishing for something on a star.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

I ignored her. “No, stars aren’t miracle-workers. But I’ll tell you what they are to people who get sensible about it.”

“And what would that be?”

“It’s the same thing basically, only much more rational. Stars are inspirational; they’re symbols of the impossible and the unreachable, and the desire to work for it. It’s still hope, but it’s not just a fatuous fancy but a real, tangible hope. Since the dawning of time, stars have been in the sky, not to do anything for us, but to guide us. They’re unmoving landmarks—or, skymarks—that lead the way, not just in the practical sense that they can point you north and pinpoint your location, but in the metaphorical sense as well. They lead the way by example—reaching for the unreachable, dreaming impossible dreams, and all that.”

“So I can’t wish on a star, but you can be inspired by a burning ball of gas?”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“You do realize that we were talking about falling stars, right? Meteors . . . not burning balls of gas.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well . . . those are different stories entirely.”

 

Silhouette by Eli Brockway

 

Flat, empty, that was how the sands appeared, under the odd, half-light of the earliest morning; yet they appeared so even in day, as well, the only appearance of any terrestrial variation being the vaguest silhouette traced in the fall or rice of the dust beneath your feet, and only then once you’re nearly upon whatever it is that once, eons ago, disturbed this sea of broken rock, of powdered glass.
Striding along the sands, alone, today, was a lone man; his robes, reddish-gold, gleaming with the light of the sun that did come in the odd twilight, flowed about him, keeping him cool; his face was tanned, wrinkled. This man was old, as few grew to be on this world that was his home, that would sap one’s life away faster than they might expect.
He looked about, his eyes, as sharp as they had always been, casting their glance far out, trying to grasp any bit of meaning possible from the sandy expanse. He did not know why he came out here, only that he felt compelled to, called; as though he retained only minimal control over his body.
And so he walked. He walked far from the large city he knew as home, likely one of the few that could exist on this world; and if the ever-diminishing lakes of salt meant anything, this city’s water supply would likely run out quickly as well. It was a sobering thought; the death of some civilization, on a world that had long been in its death throes.
His eyes still ran over the desert around him, searching for something, anything to explain this feeling that had come over him. Yet still he found nothing. He walked, and walked, the endless monotony carrying him far out to the desert; his waterskins emptied already, he collapsed, unable to see past the next rise in the plain.
Once he lifted his eyes again, sure, now, that he was dying, he saw something standing that he hadn’t before. A flame-haired man, of light complexion; no, not light…more golden, like the sands about them. He smiled down at the man lying in the sand, before he began to speak.
He spoke the old tongue, that which was used only sparsely now, and would likely die out in the next few generations; yet, as soon as he heard it spoken, the man knew that wasn’t so. He knew that, one way or another, he would preserve it, if only after hearing this beautiful man’s speech.
“Sand-brother, star-child, why do you lie in the sand like that?” the flame-haired man said, teasing, his words flowing as though they were music. “Don’t you know why you’re out here, why I have need of you?” This man stepped out, lifting up the one lying in the sand, who appeared to be his elder…and yet this Elder knew himself to be the true child, and this flame-haired being, whose touch burned like fire and yet was as soothing as a cool wind, was the teacher.
“Stand, my child-of-the-spirit, stand and look around you. This world, all of it…do you not understand how it was made this way?” With those words, the speaker’s eyes, the teacher’s eyes, lit up as with some inner flame; his features transforming, for a moment, to an expression of terrible wrath, and yet contained in that wrath, sorrow. He pointed out, gesturing to items lying in the sand; two swords, their blades made as though slivers of the sun, solidified. The old man bent, picking the items up, holding them in his arms. Once he looked into the eyes of the flame-haired being before him, he knew, now, his purpose, and what he must do.
“I understand,” he said, unsure of how to address this strange man.
Still, the man, who seemed as though the sun brought into flesh, smiled. “Then go, my friend,” he said, waving beyond him. “You know what must be done, spirit-child, and so you shall do it.” The old man followed the gesture, seeing a small village rising from the sands, some small number of people moving about it. “Prepare for my coming.”
“It shall be as you command, star-father,” the golden-robed man replied, bowing his head as the knowledge of this man’s title came to him. His vision dimmed, once he looked back up, the last vestiges of the flame-haired man’s silhouette disappearing in the blur; the weight of the swords, what he had learned, and fatigue from the desert – compounded by a lack of water – sent him toppling to the ground. Now, however, some villagers had noticed him, and came out to his aid.
And beyond where men could reach, another being watched, the beginnings of satisfaction in its work stirring within its deepest depths.

Forensic Flash Fiction Friday #8

I love the bizarrely brilliant stories that emerge sometimes. In flash fiction there’s no time for the writer to second guess themselves, they can just charge ahead recklessly.

Happy Hour
by Nate/GSR

The bartender drew the glass from the faucet and slid the mug across the hardwood top to Kay. “Here y’go, miss. Enjoy it.”

She took the glass wearily, took a sip, looked up, turned, spat, looked back, turned again, looked back again, looked down at the drink, looked up again. She cleared her throat nervously and leaned forward. “Um, excuse me.”

“Somethin’ the matter with your drink, miss?”

“Er, no. No, it’s just that, um, well…” she coughed. “You’re a skeleton now, and you weren’t fifteen seconds ago.”

He nodded. “That I am, miss. That I am.” His appropriately-bone-white hand plucked a rag off the back shelf and began to wipe down a spare mug with it, click-clack-click-clack-click-clack.

She tried again. “So, if I can ask… why are you a skeleton?”

“Don’t much know m’self, miss. Sometimes things just happen.” He tapped a fingerbone on the stark-white china pate that was his forehead. Was that what you would call it now? Maybe it was a forebone. Kay didn’t know. Kay really, really didn’t know.

Her eyes flicked down to the mug still in front of her. Oh no. “Oh my god, you- you put some kind of drug in here, didn’t you-“

“Miss, it’s water. You saw me fillin’ it with your own two eyes. Plus, ain’t those your friends or coworkers or what have you over at the pool table? ‘Twouldn’t be much use for me to try anything when they’d jump down my throat the minute anything went funny.” He tilted his head, raising an eyebrow that wasn’t there anymore. “Plus – I may be nothin’ but bones, but that just ain’t right.”

“Okay. Water then. Right.” She took a shuddering breath, closed her eyes, and counted to five. One, two, three, four, don’tbeaskeletondon’tbeaskeletondon’tbea-

Still a skeleton. A kind of faint whimpering noise escaped her mouth. The bartender shrugged. “I am sorry about this. It ain’t ever easy seein’ someone get turned into a stack a’ bones right in front of ya, I know. But ‘twasn’t a thing I could do about it. These things happen, y’know?”

“No, no, no, I don’t know,” she said, her voice turning more than a little desperate. “I don’t know that people turn into skeletons sometimes. Are you dead? Oh god, am I dead?”

“Probably and probably not,” he replied. He tilted his head again and clicked his teeth together in thought. “Well, actually, I’m probably not dead either. So probably not on both fronts.”

“If I scream, are people going to look over and see a normal bartender?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me. ‘S how these things work, don’t they? Trouble comes outta nowhere, lands right in your lap, and minute you try to offload it on someone else it slips out the back porch, and you wind up lookin’ like a crazy person. ‘What,’ they ask, ‘is possibly the matter? I don’t see the trouble.’”

She leaned forward. “Mister Skeleton, please don’t start giving me life advice right now, I think I might be about to pass out.”

“Drink some water then. No point in gettin’ all worked up about it. You gotta roll with the punches, right?”

“Look, my boss reassigned my account this morning. My deadbeat brother took my car and didn’t say when he’d be back. My girlfriend’s not answering her texts, my dog’s vet bill is three times more than I thought it would be, and now my bartender’s turned into a skeleton. I think I’m allowed to stop rolling by now.”

He shrugged, his collarbones swinging up and down like a see-saw. “Alright, alright, I follow ya. But this is what I’m sayin’, y’see? Can’t just let it all get ya down. Ya gotta take it head on. Skull on, in my case.”

Kay grabbed the glass of water off the bar and began to chug it. Don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about it just finish the water, get up, go play pool, give Jen another text, go home, call the vet, send Jim an e-mail, get Mom to call Ted just don’t think about the skeleton.

She gasped and slammed the mug back onto the bar. The bartender took it. “Y’want another round?”

Primly, she stood, grabbed her purse, turned 180 degrees on her heel, and walked off towards the pool table. Behind the bar, the skeleton clacked his teeth together a few times.

Sometimes you just got those customers you had to turn into a skeleton to help out.

“Her Property”, by Will

The wiccern lives at the heart of the orchard: a grove of twisted, living trees. One does not eat the fruit of those trees, not even animals. They are Her Property, and she is always jealous…

So when I came upon the man in gray sitting beneath the shade of the orchard tree with a thoughtful look on his face and an apple core in his hand, my first thought was that he must be mad.

“Are you mad?” I asked, shifting my books from one hand to the other. The man glanced up with eyes like jet and drew his feet together beneath him. He laughed.

“Mad? Maybe. What do you mean?”

“This is the wiccern’s orchard. Don’t you know? You don’t eat from her trees. She’ll get you for it.”

“Is there a sign?” he asked, and his mouth twisted up in a smile. His chin was covered in stubble, and his gray clothing looked much weather-worn. I could see rips and tears in the hem, and he wore no shoes.

“You must not be from around here.” I sneered a little.

“Very perceptive of you, boy,” he replied. “I’ve come from away to the west. You see this?” He thrust out a fist, and something dangled, glinting, from the chain that was clenched between his fingers. It was metal–a medallion. I stepped forward hesitantly. Best not get too close to this mad stranger.

“What is it?” The shape of a leaping fish was engraved upon the metal, and an odd symbol. It was a sailor’s charm, I thought. We’d learned about them in schoolhouse last season.

“This is something I’ve had for a long time, boy. But it failed me five days ago. Did the storm come this far inland?”

“Storm…what are you talking about?” The weather had been overcast for the past few days, but that was nothing new.

“Ah, well maybe I am mad then. Too much time at sea has made me more fish than man…”

So he was a sailor.

“You came from the coast?” I asked, “That’s a long way, I think.”

“I’m a fast walker, boy, when I put my mind to it.”

“Well, anyway, you shouldn’t eat from the orchard trees. It’ll be bad luck for you.”

“Bad luck…” He fingered the medallion again, lids half-closed over his jet-black eyes. “Bad luck’s all I’ve ever had, I think. They say when I siren calls you from the rocks, the call stays with you all your life, if you manage to resist it. Like a fish in her net, trapped…”

“Sirens?” We’d learned about those in schoolhouse too, but they were only myths. Fish-women who led sailors to their deaths on hidden shoals.

“Aye,” he shrugged and turned away from me, staring into the darkness under the orchard leaves.

“Well, I don’t know about all that, but you’d best not stay around here,” I said, stepping back toward the country road. The school bells were ringing down in the town by now. I’d be late if I didn’t get going, and I didn’t much want to exchange more words with this strange man. His words made me shiver.

“Mm, you’d best get along to school then, boy,” the man said.

He turned back toward me for a moment, eyes wide, face smiling.

“I’ll be just fine,” he said, and winked, tossing the apple core over his shoulder into the dark. Suddenly there was a noise in the air, like a voice, but without words. It was a song. Someone singing from a great distance. The man stood up all at once, and I backed away, shivering. The sun must have gone behind a cloud, because it had grown very dark, as dark as the shade under the trees. The song rose and fell, and man turned his back to me. I thought to warn him again…but then I found that I didn’t want to, because I wanted to follow him. It was a terrible feeling, and my heart began to pound.

The song was a call. It was calling him, and me. Like a web being drawn tight. I saw the medallion flash in the dimness where it hung from the man’s hand, and suddenly he was not alone beneath the trees. Another figure stood there with one hand resting against the tree. Her mouth was open, and the melody came dancing from her throat.

The man’s voice rang out again, breaking through the song for a moment as I stood quivering by the road.

“I’ve been too long on the iron sea,” he said. “Too long running away across the waves.”

The wiccern inclined her head, and her long hair fell over one shoulder. I had never seen her before, and she was not one to be described. Her eyes were very piercing though…that much I know. She looked at the apple core that lay in the grass. Her Property. He should not have come here–

“You called me, all those years ago,” the man continued abruptly. “I know it was you, even through the mist and the rain. I’d lashed myself to the mast, you see, and the rudder carried me to safety, but I was always pulled back. Like a fish on a hook…”

His head whipped around, and jet-black eyes fixed me.

“Go, boy,” his arm went back, and he tossed something at me. I caught it out of instinct, almost dropping my books. It was the medallion, chain and all. It flashed in the sunlight as I looked at it…

Sunlight.

The song faded, and I looked up to see an empty orchard. Just a grove of twisted, living trees. Yes…one does not eat the fruit of those trees, I remembered the saying, not even animals. They are Her Property, and she is always jealous…

I continued on down the road, the medallion clenched in my fist. A slight wind whispered in the tree-leaves behind me, and for a moment I thought I heard the sound of a voice.

I didn’t look back.

“Socialize”, by Legolover-361

There’s something so enthralling about being caught in a corner and pummeled till you feel blood dripping down your nose, your head is throbbing like a dubstep bass drop, and your extremities quiver in pain and fear.

Just kidding.

Not something to joke about, you say? Right. I’d agree with you, but how the heck else am I supposed to deal with it?

His name is Leon, he’s a linebacker, and he has it out for nerds who refuse to help him with homework because of his drug problems and because certain female friends of those nerds have not been regarded with much respect on his part. Sound corny? That’s because it is. Sound painful? No? Well, that’s the difference between you and me, then: You’re reading this narrative, and I’m living it.

Picture now, if you will, a typical Friday mealtime. Five-foot-two Sarah — auburn hair, freckles, good-looking but just a friend mind you — is sitting across from five-foot-seven me — buzzcut, a bit of unshaven facial hair, a few pimples and contacts. We’re eating lunch. (An aside: There isn’t any “mystery meat” or “mystery vegetables”, but everyone calls them that anyway because we rarely know ahead of time what’s being served.)

The cafeteria’s tables are plastic, circular, and kind of grimy. A rite of passage among our school’s students is that the new kid will be dared to place his hand underneath the table and press hard, and once he’s freed from the table and has washed all the chewing gum off his palm, we say he’s baptized. It’s a public school, but a slew of us belong to a few nearby Christian churches. Not that going to church on Sundays makes half the kids any better. The other half were probably decent to begin with.

I’m getting off-tack.

So Sarah and I are sitting at our own table, eating lunch, and Leon comes over and asks her quite bluntly why he doesn’t have her phone number yet because he would call her, and you can tell from his emphasis on call that he means he’s going to do it.

Sarah smiles and says no thanks, she doesn’t date blockheads.

I fist-pump under the table. Maybe Leon caught my look of exultation, because he smiles, too, and says he has girls lining up at his house.

“To slap you?” I ask.

He looks like he’s going to slap me, but then he calms down. “I have a party this Saturday,” he says instead, handing a slip of paper to each of us. It says, in fourteen-point Times New Roman, PARTY AT LEONS 1:00-MIDNITE — ALL INVITED — 147 ORIENT ST. — TIME OF YOUR LIFE #YOLO. I’m not impressed; Times New Roman is really generic.

“Everyone’s going,” he says — and, as if to prove his point, calls out to the cafeteria, “Who’s comin’ to my place one o’clock sharp tomorrow?”

A lot of voices cheer. I don’t know how Leon got so popular. Maybe rebels attract large crowds; there are surely historical precedents for that, kind of like the American and French revolutions.

“Guess which squares say they aren’t?” he continues.

“I’ll go,” says Sarah.

I turn to face her with a what-the-heck-are-you-thinking look, but she responds with her shut-up-I-know-what-I’m-doing-I’m-old-enough-to-make-my-own-decisions look. Specific, I know, but we’ve known each other since Kindergarten.

“Excellent,” says Leon, returning to wherever his friends are sitting.

I look at Sarah when Leon’s out of earshot. She shrugs. “We’re seventeen. We oughta socialize at some point in our school lives, right?”

“With him?” I ask.

“Who else is there?” she responds.

I’m still thinking of an answer to that question.

Forgetful Flash Fiction Friday #7

Today I want to showcase some stories written for the theme “Forget” from last January.

By Rene E. Schiller:

“You got everything?” Maude asked Earl. It was the big day. They had been planning this trip for months. The family had stopped visiting and bothering them with trinkets, cakes, feigned love and curious questions of false care about their parents health. Earl and Maude were free to do their own thing at last.

“Yeah, yeah,” came Earl’s murmured reply, rasped after the brandy for the road had burned his throat to anew alertness, but not as alert as he got when he saw Maude’s ridiculous retro triangle glasses she dug out from the dresser drawer untouched from the 1960’s.

Despite the fact that their large family was of age and had their own lives, everyone seemed to want to come back to big the old people in the quest for their fortune. Millions of dollars lingered in safe deposit boxes and accounts while the old folks lived in a simple and modest house in the suburbs. Their wealth stemmed from a life of work that continued even to the present. Mutual vacationing days were rare for them and they could rarely get anything but a squeezed weekend for themselves, and even then the relatives would flock after them like a pack of wolves bearing down on a couple wounded deer. So without hesitation, Earl and Maude planned their big getaway. They had packed in a hurry and got in their car in the wee hours of twilight to evade prying neighbor’s eyes that were surely in the pockets of their relatives. They zoomed away in their old Volvo before twilight and pumped their fists with euphoria as they fled to keep away from the kids and spend away their inheritance.

They parked their car in the short-term parking garage at the airport because of how few clicks they gave at the huge price and grabbed their overstuffed and oversized suitcases. “Earl, you parked in three spaces!” Maude exclaimed.

“What are they gonna do, charge us for them?” Earl slurred back. They laughed.

They bumped their fists at the ticket counter and checked in their luggage, rummaged through their satchels for their IDs at the security counter, found their way to the terminal and boarded their plane at the last minute — slowly, too, just to grate everybody else. They sat in opposite sides of the first class cabin, having bought up all the seats up for themselves.

They were relaxing on a sunny beach later that day when Maude shook Earl awake. He nearly screamed at the different pair of stupid sunglasses that seemed to glare at him like some hipster alien from Venus. “Earl!”

“Whaaaaat?” he almost hollered at her. “What?”

“Did we plan anything for Winkle?” Maude asked, her tone urgent.

“What? Oh, wait… the dog? No… Oh no! Quick, Maude, where’s your phone. We have to call the kids and tell them to feed and care for her!”

“You’re right!” Maude exclaimed. They bolted for the hotel room like greased lightning. “HANG ONNN, WINKLE!” she screamed. “SORRY FOR FORGETTING YOU, BUT WE’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU!”

By Alex Humva:

I wish I could forget. Forget the pain that was sitting somewhere deep inside of me, forget the pain that was crawling through my system, burning ever crevice it could fine. I wish I forget the betrayal and the loss, hole it away in my mind and never think of it again. I wish that life could go on, that I could carry on, and that I didn’t have wake up every morning feeling that deep slash to my faith and trust. Maybe then I could be happy again. Maybe then, I could trust again.
The memory will never go away, though. She was perfect for me, and I was perfect for her. True love at first sight, I suppose. We did so much together, were the greatest of friends for years and then a bit more than friends after that. It was a match made in heaven; we didn’t seem like it at first, but for all of our differences we still were completely enamored with each other. Barely a day went by without us talking to each other. Our parents always thought it was just that we were good friends. They couldn’t know the truth. They never could.
Then that day came. She turned eighteen at the end of winter, and with that achievement, she decided to tell her family of the secrets she had kept from them. Amongst them was me and our relationship. They took it… less than well. They all but disavowed her, threatening to kick her from their home. She knew that of course, she had plans for that, but it still hurt her. Not that it matters. We had talked about that. I knew she was going try. I didn’t want to see her hurt, but, to my shame, I worried for myself as well. What her parents could do to me.
They called mine, of course. Told them about me and her. My parents took it well enough; they were a bit shocked, but they weren’t like her parents. They understood, accepted me. Comforted me. And I needed that dearly. It wasn’t long until the news ‘happened’ to be leaked to the neighborhood and, shortly, the town. Not everyone hated me of course, most saw no difference, but some would avoid me at all costs. Others would glare at me hatefully. Mothers would shoo their children away from me.
At school I found myself the source of more bigotry than I had ever seen before. The students were bad enough; the teachers were truly the terror though. Some were accepting of course, not everyone in this day and age is a bigot, but others… my grades began to fail in some of my classes. My parents understood what was going on, my father looking over what he understood and realizing that it wasn’t the stress that was doing it. He went to the school board, tried to protest on my behalf. A warning was issued, but it was half-hearted. My grades were still below what I had use to be getting.
So my life continued, and I now fully understand. It doesn’t matter what the world says. People will always be hateful. People will never be able to accept those who are different from themselves. It’s a never ending cycle of hate, and that hatred is what makes the world turn. I look at those who try and I laugh to myself in the dark at their naive crusade. I didn’t ask for them to change their beliefs. I asked for their acceptance, their understanding. And I received nothing but hate.
So I will give nothing but hate in return.
“Little People” by Nicholas Foireann

There was a single muffled cry, and that was all. The boy smiled as his victim slumped to the ground, eyes staring with horror at the face that had been his doom. The alleyway was deserted, and it had been more luck than anything else that had allowed the young boy to lure his prey into the so obviously dangerous place. Luck, and the innocence of a child. Pushing back a sandy lock the child gave a little laugh as he began turning out the corpse’s pockets. People were begin to carry less with them these days and he had to be careful, but this man seemed to be a bit behind the times, and the boy easily extracted every cent from his wallet, over a hundred dollars. Good. He detached the man’s wristwatch, and then as an afterthought slipped his glasses off. Then, humming an obscure tune, the boy pulled out his knife, wiped it on the corpse’s shirt, hid it inside his shirt, and jogged off.

“I didn’t forget,” the boy said, tossing down the package carelessly. His father practically dove for it, snatching it up before it could hit the ground.

“You forgot nothing except care!” he snarled, his thin face lit with a sudden rage. The boy, wise beyond his years in combats of wills simply smirked.

“The cops aren’t on my tail,” was his only reply. As he turned away, he carelessly tossed a knife on the table as well.

“Oh, and you can have this back as well,” he said, motioning to the still blood-speckled blade.  Then he was gone from the room, humming merrily. The father ignored his departure, tearing open the package. There, wrapped inside common paper was the money from the man’ wallet, and a wristwatch. Good, the boy had not forgotten the essentials from his victim’s body. He took a quick glance at his son’s figure as he sauntered out the door. Just another small boy, deemed far too small to possibly commit murder. Any people who had seen him there would quickly forget him. Forgotten, all would be forgotten by tomorrow.

Frightening Flash Fiction Friday # 6

Brevity is conducive to scariness. it can be difficult to maintain a really good scary mood over an entire novel, but in 500 words or so it’s not a problem. And the bizarreness that often emerges when writing under pressure can lend a unique flavor to it.

Let’s take this story for example. I’m pretty sure Mr. Kraagh did not originally intend this to be quite so disturbing as it became.

Knife by John Monosmith

There once was a man named Kraggh, who had a sword that could cut through anything. However, since it was magical and the rules of magic were loosey defined, he could also adjust the length of this sword, and as such, if he wanted to slowly kill someone he would make the sword much shorter; in fact, it could be short enough that it was no longer a sword but a knife. It was more convenient that way when he desired to conceil it, and this he would indeed have to do for the holy and sacred commission he had received.

He followed the monster named Nuile. It had wronged the minds of innocents, corrupting them with abominable images and twisted thoughts. With its advanced powers of communication, it subjected them to a hermeneutic that devastated their means of seeing reality from a purer perspective.

It could not be allowed to live.

The Nuile slithered and slunk along, prowling and crawling, sneaking and lurking. Its path would not be detered as it head toward a church of innocent people.

“No,” thought Kraggh. “Not them. Anyone but them.” There was a handful of people in this world he could not bear to part with, and his beloved Louise was one of them. She was of a strong mind and sound heart, but he could not let her put her eyes upon the Nuile, lest its horror of twisted perceptions psychicly latch on to her and turn her soul to stone. She had already been raped by the spiritual blasphemy of her pastor. No, not she, nor anyone else there, could witness the Nuile and see its demented image. They of all people were already too endangered to suffer the burden of yet another satanic pull in their lives.

“Over here, you abomination!” said Kraggh. The Nuile turned its head and vomited out a mouthful of hungry tentacles, grasping and groping. Kraggh flinched, not at the physical gruesomeness but at the spiritual language it spoke. It spoke a Word. Not The Word, but a Word beyond the common word of Man, and it was a blasphemy. It reverberated through the air with all the senility of Hell.

It pounced after him, flicking as his hand with one of its many tongues, and cast the knife from his hand. He would have had the sword at its full length, and it would have smitten the Nuile right in its place had be extended it so, but for its crime, for its unforgivable intent, the Nuile deserved a slow death.

The Nuile fell atop Kraggh, pinning him the the gravel road. It was too heavy to lift up. The preening tentacles thrashed and then wrapped their way around Kraggh’s head. Kraggh held his hands against the Nuile’s jagged jaw, which threatened to clamp tighter than a crocodile’s and pierce him through with saber’d teeth, he refused to allow it to carry through with this final act. Kraggh could think of a thousand honorable ways to die, but this death was beneath him. He was above this Nuile, its superior by leaps and bounds. It did not have the authority in its innermost being to champion over him like this.

The tentacles pulled at Kraggh’s face, attempting to twist it off his shoulders and snap his neck. He grimaced, as he smelled the Word of the Nuile in the air, seeping out of the Nuile’s oral devices.

Just then, he remembered the pen in his pocket. It wasn’t his special weapon, and it wouldn’t slay the Nuile, but he knew how to use it as effectively as an average knife. Unable to lift himself up, and unable to take his hands off of the violent predator’s grizzly canines without them clamping down on him, he rolled to the side, throwing the Nuile off balance. With one quick movement, he grasped his pen-knife and thrust it into the Nuile’s jugular. It let out a loud screech.

All monstrosities has their weaknesses. For werewolves it was silver. For vampires, it was the cross. For the Nuile, it was the Word of God represented through the pen, which was more effective than any knife. The ink, like poison, spread through the Nuile’s body. It began convulsing.

Kraggh got on top of the Nuile, grasping its jaws once again. In desperation, its tentacle-tongues lashed out at him again, and it tried snapping its jaws shut upon the gallant and noble man who held them at bay. “You deserve to suffer,” croaked Kraggh. “If you do not fear God, then fear me, for I am great and terrible.”

And with a cry of finality, he snapped the Nuile’s neck. A shock wave burst through the air and the insurmountable beast was surmounted, and it was done.

Knife by Caleb Peiffer:

Flowers. I love all sorts of flowers, so colorful, so beautiful; I love every flower in my garden, but especially the roses. The red, red roses. I love them more than any other, more than anything else.

I love those roses. I love everything about those roses: their smell, their beauty. I love their color.

I love the fire in their soul.

But most of all I love their soil. If there is anything more beautiful than my roses, it is buried beneath them.

It was years ago. I was working in my garden, in another corner, tending my rhododendrons. I had gardened into the evening and it was night by the time I finished, and stood up to look at the one empty side of my garden, and wonder what to put there. I had several flowers lined up, but I wasn’t sure which I liked best.

As I shuffled over to take a closer look at each one, I stumbled over a plate—I had eaten my dinner outside hours ago. It shattered under my boot, grinding shards of ceramic and sharp silverware into the grass, the dirt, and my rubber soles.

Then I heard shouting next door. I couldn’t help but look up, look out across the fence, and watch them storm into the backyard. He looked about ready to strike her, but I knew he never could. She, on the other hand, slapped him outright.

I don’t want you to think I’m a nosy parker, but I stood there, watching, a little frozen I suppose. It was so long ago I don’t remember what they were arguing about, but it doesn’t really matter.

She screamed at him; he stood there, taking it bravely, unmoving, unflinching. My ground the ceramic beneath my foot, pressing the sharp silverware into the grass, the dirt, and my rubber soles.

Finally he threw up his hands and retreated indoors with a loud, very audible sigh. She remained in the yard a few minutes, seething. I went to the gate and called to her. She smiled, putting on a pretty face, pretending nothing had happened, pretending I hadn’t been there the whole time and hadn’t seen everything, as she well knew I had.

“Good evening,” she greeted, stepping to the fence. She opened her mouth, trying to think of something more to say, but she didn’t yet have the possession of mind.

I smile sweetly, said, “He’s too good for you,” pulled the dinner knife out from the dress pocket I had put it in. I raised it and stabbed her in the heart. She screamed, but nobody would pay attention; everybody screamed in this neighborhood. I moved through the gate and stabbed her again and again and again, until I was sure she was dead.

I dragged her body back into my yard and started digging. I noticed that one of the roses was a little redder; there was a large splotch, a vivid, vivid scarlet on its petals.

Suddenly I knew what flower to plant. I smiled to myself.

I love those roses, I have loved them ever since I planted them; and my new husband, when he moved in, loved them nearly as much. I think he would love them more if he knew what was buried beneath them, but I wasn’t sure.

Those red, red roses. I love them more than any other flower, more than anything else.

My second favorite flower is the azalea—you should know what I buried beneath them.

The following is a little different, and not necessarily suitable for all ages. But it was frightening to me for its flavor of realism.

Party by E. R. Alwardby:

Lights blazing, music blaring and drinks flowing, the party spilled out from the large living room to the rest of the house and from the house to the yard. John walked silently along the back wall, regretting every concession he’d made to the girl that had invited him. Contacts in place of glasses, no enveloping jacket around his shoulders, no comforting weight of a pencil on his ear, no gentle beat of keys hitting his chest as they dangled from a chain lanyard and, perhaps worst of all, no earplugs to guard his acute hearing against the deadening beat. She’d given up on him almost immediately anyway, once she’d realized he couldn’t dance to save his life, so why had she had to bother with toning down his inner nerd?

Oh well, John thought. It could be worse, though how I’m not sure.

Slithering between two couples taking up the French doors that led to the back yard, John kept his eyes down. It was hard to look one way or another without seeing a pairing in some compromising position. The pool was half filled with people playing a mass game of volleyball, half of those having discarded their clothes for a more comfortable way to swim. John crept his way to the pool house and left his phone hidden in a place where the mortar between the bricks had crumbled away. Dodging the group of girls consoling a friend who had found out that Bill was cheating on her with Stacy, who had supposed to be dating Will who was a crush of Linda’s, John swiftly, silently, and unnoticeably threw himself into the pool, diving to the bottom of the deep end to blink out his contacts and gaze up at the thriving mass of cool kids above him. It would be an hour before he would be discovered periodically popping up around the edge, only to submerge again to glide along bottom and the sides. The girl who found him would scream as she stepped on his back, and the party would stop for a moment. Someone would laugh, and John would again melt into the wall and drip-dry his clothes before making his way blurrily to the exit.

—-

No list of frightening flash fiction would be complete without something from Micah.

Bloody Stupid by Micah Berkoff:

Winter has never been a  good time for me. Last time I was out here in the winter I was shot in the head by a sniper over two miles away, then caught a disease that rendered me terminal in three days. The previous winter I was robbed by bandits who took nearly everything from my bunker but the shelves and I froze to death. The winter before that I just got lost and died in a blizzard. Yes, I’ve died nearly eight times out here but the other stories are far less interesting.

This season doesn’t look to be any better. Both my cabin and the bunker below it are buried by nearly fourteen feet of snow and a heavy fog has settled around the forest like socks settle around my room. I finally found the stovepipe jutting out from a snowbank, so I dropped an inflated grenade down to stretch the pipe and blow the grate out. That was a bad idea from the start. A loud thud followed by the complete collapse of the cabin said I blew out the walls as well.

So anyways, I set up camp in the crater. Bloody fantastic. If I dig deep enough I can even find the supplies I left here over the summer. Stale granola bars, a couple cans of applesauce. Why do I never pack food of my own?

Right, the crater. I dug myself a shelter into one side of it and reinforced it with splintered timbers. It collapsed on me in my sleep and I suffocated. Then I got out and was eaten by a pack of wolves, followed shortly by falling off a cliff and being impaled by assorted debris.

You know, other guys like to brag about how fun it is being immortal. I just don’t get it.

Flash Fiction Friday #5

There are too many recurring names on FFF. It’s time for some new faces.

First off,  Russell Johnson making Star Wars cool again!

Opponent by Russell Johnson:

I expertly piloted my fighter away from the action. Many ships had already fallen thanks to my spiritually-enhanced dexterity.

Explosions rang out beneath me with the force of immense meteoroids crashing into each other. Many warships were still in formation, neither side as yet haing gained a decisive advantage.

There was one man who was responsible for all this. One man who’s ending would mean victory for those who defended their homes on Lumara against the invaders.

There! I knew that fighter anywhere. He was on his way to engage our command ship, the reckless, egotistic fool.

With a quick swivel of the yoke I was hot on his tail. In the instant before I fired at point-blank range his fighter swerved aside. I pursued and fired again, only to be disappointed a second time. This continued for several hot moments, as I strove not to lose the advantage I had gained through the element of surprise.

With a quick control thrust he dodged behind a nearby frigate. Determined not to lose him I followed suit, only to find myself alone on the other side. Where did he. . . ?

Blast it! An instant later I felt a hole blown in the side of my ship. Evidently he had managed to pull off a tight flight loop, landing him directly behind me. I had just fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book, and I was furious with myself as I dodged this way and that to avoid my enemy’s cannon fire.

Too late, another bolt struck my engines and I lost control. I careened away from the battle and down towards the planet beneath me. He chased after me, evidently determined to finish me off, but by some miracle I still managed to avoid the remainder of his fire before we entered the atmosphere, where a passing cloudbank cut me off from his view. From there I managed to cloak myself using more mystical methods. . .

Breaking through the other side of the cloudbank, I saw a misty landscape beneath me, one overrun with rocky outcroppings. My ship wouldn’t survive a landing here, and the rocks were coming up fast. Closing my eyes and waiting for just the right instant, I slammed the eject button in the same instant my insticts told me it was time.

The wind roared and buffetted me as the air was torn from my lungs. Performing several flips in the air I soon came to a stop atop an outcrop. I landed clumsily, yet remained unhurt.

I sighed as I heard the roar of engines behind me. Fine, so he wants to finish this the hard way, does he? Just proving his recklessness, he ejected from his own perfectly conditioned fighter to let it crash in a marvelous explosion. He landed on an outcropping near me.

I stood, my gray robes and brown cloak flapping in the wind. He stood opposite me, his own black attire stirring.

He unsheathed twin blades of glowing crimson.

My own swords of green ignited to life in response.

No words needed to be spoken. We would now begin the dance we had performed so many times before.

—-

A little surreality never hurt anyone.

Doorknob By Nick/Grantaire

Where was the doorknob?

The question was insidious, and persistent as it ran through the boy’s mind.

Blast it! Timmy cursed as he threw the pillows off his bed, running his hands across the space. Where had his doorknob gotten to?

It wasn’t like Billy to run off right before supper. It really wasn’t, and it worried him.

Yes, Billy was a doorknob, and this doorknob was Timmy’s pet. It lived in a little pink cage in the corner of his bedroom, and never came out except occasionally to chase the nails that lived inside the walls. Timmy had learned a while ago that nails were very fond of cheese, and left quantities out as bait. Invariably the infernal beasts came out, only to be chased by an excited doorknob, hunted down and absorbed into the hunter’s substance.

Doorknobs made strange creatures, and even stranger pets.

The End.

—-

Joshua sure sees seashells by the seashore.

Shore by Joshua Bom

The ocean surges and recedes, timelessly, caring little for those who stand on its shore. It’s followed this same cycle of high tides and low ones for thousands of years, rushing forward, falling back, and then forward again. And for thousands of years it’s brought with it endless masses of stuff.

Shells and seaweed, mostly. Bits of coral, too, and sometimes broken glass smoothed over by years of scraping against the sand. When I was a kid I loved that stuff. Going to the beach, running down the shore, picking up every shell I could see, thinking the coral was the coolest thing in the world. Treasuring sea glass as though it were a precious stone, hunting for shells with little holes in them to put a piece of yarn through and give to my mom for a necklace.

Nowadays it’s just “Oh look some shells and wow over there there’s some more.” It’s moments like that you really stop and think about… about stuff. Why is it that running along the beach and grabbing stuff the tide dragged in was so great about ten years ago and seems so pointless now? Why can’t it be just as fun now?

So now whenever I go to the beach I try to find a cool-looking shell and bring it home with me. Just… for fun, I guess. ‘Cause I get nostalgic way too easily, maybe.

Why am I telling you this? Dunno. Twenty minutes ago the word “shore” popped up on the screen with some guy I’ve never met telling me to write something about it. So I did.

Um yeah. Seashells. They’re pretty cool.

Flawed Flash Fiction Friday #4

Let’s a view full writeoff, with all the stories that were done for that theme that day.
The Train, by Andrew Page:

I sat on a bench, nervously looking down at my hands. It was almost time. He had been gone so long, it was hard to even remember what he looked like. Those memories dying fast, like his fellow soldiers. Yet somehow he had survived. He had made it through all the gunfire, explosions, and other horrors of war. He defied the odds.

And he was coming home. I looked up again, hoping to see a train in the distance, but there was nothing but the track as far as my eyes could see. The wind picked up, piercing my cheeks, and it was then that I noticed for the first time that tears were flowing down my face. I was ecstatic, knowing that now for the first time in over two years I would see him.

I looked again, but the train still hadn’t come. I fidgeted with fingers, crossing them over each other, wringing them together. My heart burned with desire, love, happiness. Yet also in worry, in nervousness. Does he still feel the same way about me? I had asked myself over a dozen times. It had been so long…

I shook my head vigorously, pushing away the thoughts. No, of course he still cares about you…you’re in love. But I wasn’t convinced, so I played with my hands all the more, even going so far as to remove my gloves then put them on again, repeating that over and over. Because it was better than thinking.

But it didn’t help. It seemed like our own life had been a train, moving so quickly yet stopping all of a sudden at times, letting more people or things into or out of our lives. Our marriage let in both our families together. My first miscarriage removed a part of our lives. My second pregnancy, this one healthy, opened the door for another member of the family. But then his leaving for the war did the opposite. It was again just two of us at home, me and our child. Our beautiful, cheerful child who had to live his first year and a half with no father.

But it was all worth it. I knew the reason why he had left, and I agreed with it. Fighting for one’s country is one of the best things someone can do. And someone has to keep us at home safe.

Yet…

I buried my face in my hands, wiping the tears on my gloves. It had been hard – but knowing he was out there, not just fighting for no reason, but fighting for a purpose – was enough for me. And I loved him for that.

My heart began to burn with joy again as I realized that he was finally coming home. The tears came again, but I just let them flow as more and more came: the train that was bringing him home was approaching.

Untitled, by Caleb Carraway:

I flicked the switch to my lamp and sunk the room into darkness. I quietly opened the door to my room and shut it behind me. The train was moving smoothly across the plains in the dark of midnight. Many of the passengers were asleep, with an occasional soul roaming the hall like myself. I passed between a few cars and took a seat in the cafeteria car, staring out at the stars. I wasn’t sure where we were, only that it was in the middle of nowhere, far from the lights and sounds of the New York that I was accustomed to.

I could actually see colors in the sky among all the stars, wisps of ethereal blues and greens haunting the shadowy skies. As I sat there, staring longingly out into the vast emptiness of space (because most of it really is empty), I heard the sound of footsteps approaching. I glanced over my shoulder to find a young woman smiling at me from a couple feet away. Her long, auburn hair complimented the glossy emerald of her eyes, eyes examining me behind a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. She couldn’t have been a day over twenty four. An odd fact considering I am nearing the end of my thirties much too soon. Was there something truly interesting about an accountant from the city to her?

“Something interesting out there?” she asked, taking a sip of a drink in her hand.

“A lot of interesting things out there, yes,” I chuckled.

She took another sip. “Do you mind if I sit down with you?”

“Not at all,” I replied, gesturing to the seat across from me.

She took a seat, removing her jet black jacket and revealing a white t-shirt with a band name on it. Red Hot Chili Peppers. I knew the name, but couldn’t associate it to any music. She set her cup on the table and gently pushed it toward me.

“It’s cocoa,” she grinned. “Do you want some?”

I admired her confidence and accepted, taking a small sip. It was a bit sweet for my taste. “Thank you,” I said, pushing the cup back her way.

I turned back to the window and continued my search of the skies, a search for nothing in particular.

“So, where are you headed?” she asked playfully.

“Visiting family. I’m from New York myself, but my parents live out in Nebraska. I suppose it stands to reason that I’d want to leave the lands of endless corn fields and unexpected tornadoes.”

She giggled, so full of life, still clutching on to remnants of youth. “That’s what I’ve heard about Nebraska, of the little that people talk about it. I’m heading out to Oregon myself. Born and raised, actually. New York was my vacation.”

“I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but I was rather enjoying staring up into the sky,” I replied. I felt a bit awkward, but the young lady brushed it off as nothing.

“It’s fine,” she assured me. “I’ll look with you. It’s lonely here tonight…not just for you and I.”

I stared back up into the sky, scanning trails of color intermingled with the light of stars, the suns of so many other galaxies and my own. “It’s lonely everywhere, I suppose.”

Untitled, by John Matz:

A black creature charged across the plains, spouting steam and fire into the cool night air. There is a stir of movement in the engine that is not parallel to the reckless speed of the juggernaut, a fluid gesture alien to its mechanical drive. A figure moves in the masking vapor, a boy shovels coals into an inferno, feeding the beast of iron and physics. He wears a cloth over his nose and mouth, and two bright green eyes shine from his smoke blackened face. His posture and movements, his mixed caution and recklessness spoke of long experience despite his early age. His father had worked this line long before he was born, the steam was in his blood.

Whenever the hunger of the engine permitted, he would pull down his bandanna and thrust his head into the clean, rushing air of the darkened prairie. The chill air would clear his thoughts and his lungs, but there was another purpose to his action as well, there had been talk of robbers derailing trains to scavenge the valuables from the living and the dead.

He shook his head and set his blackened kerchief back in black, but just as he left the window he caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. A split second later he knew that the robbers were coming, the track would already be blocked.

He pulled on the emergency brake with both hands, hoping to stop the trains mad momentum before it hit the barricade he knew lay in wait for it. But then a shred of doubt flickered across his obscured features, and he released it, only to thrust  more and more coal into the furnace.

His fathers invention had been made for just such a purpose. It would be disrespecting his memory not to try it.

He pulled a lever fixed to the side of the controls, it was of a different metal and jarred strangely against the other shining elements. Something grated and a metal arm flashed past the window, the mobile track segment moved smoothly into place of the engine.

It was built as a small hill of track, to be laid over any barricade. The timing would have to be precise.

His eyes creased as he smiled under his mask. He looked forward to the challenge.

Flippant Flash Fiction Friday #3

I would never advise anyone to only write flash fiction, as writing under time pressure may not be you at your best, and certainly is not the best way to serve all stories.  It’s like playing speed chess; you just lack the time to plan ahead as far as you should. it’s fun, beneficial and produces meritorious work, but it should not be your only mode.

One interesting practice that I have always championed is writing flash fiction sequels to flash fiction stories. It’s a different way to write and can be very entertaining.

I’m having trouble finding sequel stories, partly because no one likes to write them and partly it hasn’t been done in quite some time. So I hope you will forgive my selections.

Commitment by John Matz

“I made a promise.” the old man said flatly.

I looked him over. He was dressed in cheap old clothes, the shirt too big and the pants too short. He struck me as a flaky old geezer, more prone to lying for a buck than to keeping decades old promises. He might have kept that shirt for that long though. The beard must have been older.

He pulled a small bundle from his coat pocket, and carefully unwrapped the object within. It could have been anything, but somehow I suddenly knew what it was. My grandmother’s box.

I never knew what was in it, no one did, I think. It made a chinking sound, and was very heavy for it’s small size, most people assumed the mundane explanation of gold, or even silver. Perhaps it was because I was young at the time, but I always felt it was something more. My grandmother kept it on the highest shelf, and I once caught her looking into it when I came quietly into the room. She snapped it shut, and all I saw was a glimmer of light. I wasn’t able to make it to her funeral; too many miles and too few dollars. They said they never found her will, though I never quite believed that she would be so careless as to not write one. Apparently she had other plans.

The old man looked at the box with love, no, perhaps honor in his old, red eyes. I felt that this was his last scrap of integrity, the last wall within which his conscience still reigned. Now that his task was completed he could look back and know, that of all the mistakes of his long life, and the cold, the hunger of a seemingly useless man, he had done one thing and done it well.

I didn’t know what to say to him. It seemed a shame to give him five bucks and never see him again.

“Would you like to see inside it?”

The old man raised a bushy eyebrow. “No, I don’t think so. After all these years, there’s no way it can live up to my expectations, I suppose.”

He raised one wrinkled hand in an arthritic salute, and shuffled down the street.

But now, looking back, I think he may have opened that box. For only one who knew what was inside it would never want to see it again. His burden was heavy, but mine is the heavier.

—-

Classic flash fiction. Introduces a massive question but focuses on characters and plot instead of telling you what the answer is. No doubt you will never find out what is in the box. Perhaps it is for the best. But wait! In the wild world of sequels anything is possible!

Commitment, Epilogue #1 By John Matz

She was a rather queer old woman, my grandmother, though it wasn’t obvious at first glance. She did all the normal old lady things; gardening, knitting, cooking a bit, complaining about her back. Not much reminiscing over old times, perhaps that’s what made her seem a little off. That and the fact that no one quite knew how old she was. Little things like those add up.

Alone in my study, the oak paneling gleaming in the firelight, I returned my attention to the box. It wasn’t locked, it never had been, but it was a puzzle box of an old variety. I have a wide range of knowledge, most of it outdated and much of it useless; nearly all of it interesting. I know how to open such boxes as this, a few seconds pushing and peering did the job.

She used to tell me old stories of far off lands. Not quite your average fairy tales of princes and princesses, trolls and witches, but all of those featured throughout. The quests were different, grimmer, the princes fought harder, and died as often as they lived. The trolls and witches were old beyond old, and wise in wicked ways. The princesses were beautiful in different ways. There was a strange air about those tales, my grandmother was quite the storyteller.

The box lid was a little stiff, or perhaps my hands were clumsy with anticipation, but when I slid off the lid I did it with a jerk, and one of the two small round things inside rolled out onto my desk. They were apparently perfect spheres; one a bronze-gold, and one a kind of platinum. I slowly moved to replace the gold ball in the box, but when I touched it I drew back my hand with almost a gasp. It was hot as fire.

I took my coat off the back of my chair, and lifted the ball off my desk using it as a kind of glove. As I replaced it, I noticed for the first time a slip of paper tucked in the corner.

To the boy who so enjoyed my stories. Perhaps these will bring you one more of which my lips can never tell.

Lo and behold! Not only do you find out what is in the box (though not of course what those object are exactly) but you are treated to a quick origin story as well. Also, looking back at this, I suspect my writing has gotten worse. My fault probably.

And here is another story which also has a sequel.

Tunnel By Andrew Page

“What are you doing?”

“Quiet,” I hissed. He’s always asking questions and bugging me, I thought to myself as my little brother watched me curiously.

“It’s past midnight.”

“I know,” I growled back as I continued opening the window. It stuck at one point, but I pushed up with all my strength and it finally gave way.

“Are you going back to the tunnel? I want to go with you,” my brother pleaded.

I rolled my eyes. “Shut up and go back to bed.”

“I’ll tell mom if you don’t let me,” he said as he put on his snow boots.

“Fine,” I whispered back. “Grab a jacket and hurry up.”

He stumbled his way to the closet and picked out a large, warm winter coat.

“Now shut up and follow me. If you can’t keep up I’m not waiting for you.”

“Oh-kay.

It was hard keeping the excitement alive in me with my little brother now following me, but I tried to ignore him, remembering the day before. We had been playing in the wood when we came upon an old shed, at least a couple miles away from our house. Our interest piqued, we quickly figured out a way in, finding it only boring at first with a variety of random tools and other things. But then we noticed the latch in the floor.

It was a square wooden door with a brass ring as a handle. We had to use some of the tools we found in the shed, but finally we had gotten the trap door open. Wooden stairs led down to a dark room, the light only barely touching the ground at some points from the door in the ceiling.

We climbed down into the dank room, filled with little but dust and hay. But at the far end was another wooden door. Neither of us had dared to speak, scared that our voices would anger some dӕmon that lived down there. But slowly we made our way to the door, only to discover that it had an old rusted padlock securing it shut.

“What do you think’s down there?” my brother asked suddenly, knocking my thoughts from their reverie. There had been a set of bolt cutters in the shed, but we feared that our parents would grow suspicious of our long absence, so never saw what was past the door.

“I don’t know,” I whispered, still unwilling to raise my voice even though we were deep in the forest now, our house long behind.

As we walked along, large flashlights bouncing in my coat pockets, I saw my brother skipping along happily beside me and a smile crept on my face. Although I’d never admit it, I was glad he was here with me to discover the secrets behind the door.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, we reached the cabin again. I had handed one of the flashlights to my brother about a mile back and we had used them since then, believing we were far enough away from our house to not be seen with the light.

As the light hit the shed, it looked far more daunting than before. But we continued on, our curiosity out-weighing our fear. Once we were in the hidden room again, my brother shone his flashlight on the lock while I broke it with the bolt cutters from the shed.

The lock came off easily, and we shared a look – a smile on both our faces – before slowly opening the door to see only a tunnel of shadow before us. We shone our flashlights down the passageway and walked in.

A classic story in a rather homey vein. But the sequel plunges through the scary door and lands between the depths of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.

Tunnel Sequel By John Matz

How much we would regret those steps and that journey I will never be able to express. A child’s love of adventure can be a dangerous thing, though a beautiful one. Beyond that dark door, its broken padlock in my pocket, heavy and cold against my leg. Some doors are best left closed.

My brother and I were not disappointed by the apparent featurelessness of the tunnel, to us it was important merely as a passageway to an unknown place. Images flashed through my head of glistening treasure troves, a magician’s sanctum, perhaps mummies. The nature of darkness is that it obscures, and to me all questions had happy answers, all mysteries glad solutions. I was young.

We left the door yawning open behind us, and my brother yawned a yawn of his own. It was very late now. Too late, though we didn’t know it.

I heard a creaking sound and spun my flashlight back to the door. It shut with a quiet click, and our route of escape was gone. My brother didn’t cry, and nor did I. A midnight’s romp, that was all this was supposed to be.

There was a crackle, and a voice boomed, wordless at first, but gaining clarity with each moment.

“Curiosity,” it boomed.

My poor brother clutched at my arm. I am glad I did not ask him on this journey. If only he had not come.

“Curiosity,” it repeated, more quietly.

“A gift of the One not granted to any others in such abundance. The humans of Earth overflow with it, and it will lay a stain across the universe not seen in many Revolutions.”

What can a child say or think to such a statement, past midnight, in a dark tunnel too far from home? I thought perhaps it was a joke, with one layer of my mind. The rest rebelled; I knew this was serious, deadly serious.

“I do not understand curiosity as well as would be beneficial to myself and my people. That is why I have waited here, for a far shorter period than I anticipated, for someone to break the lock and peer beyond the door to nowhere. You have come.”

I shuddered, not for any particular reason. I could hardly breathe. Yet I spoke.

“Who are you, and what will you do with us?”

Perhaps it needs another sequel.

Farcical Flash Fiction Friday #2

Yes, it is technically Saturday here. But still, the spirit of FFF remains unsullied.

Today we are going to delve into the deepest emotions of those who choose flash fiction themes. These individuals are always clad in a certain mystery, and it is time that they were shown for what they truly are.

The role of a theme is to making writing easier, not harder.  It is difficult to write about nothing, but simple to write about something. However, laziness, wild experimentation, panic and sadism easily creep into the theme choosing process. In a way these factors are good as they add much needed dimensions of variety to the otherwise predictable themes.

One great way to get a totally new theme is to force a newcomer to choose the theme. Theoretically this can also ease the new writer’s writing process, since they should certainly have a story to write for their own theme. This is a fun tradition anyway, particularly if you often get new people. You can also fish for themes among other clueless people, such as non-writerly friends and family.

A good rule when choosing a theme is that if you can think quickly think of three different stories for it then it’s good. If you can only think of one, or, still worse, zero ideas for it then the theme is likely to become more of a burden to the writers than a help. One easy way to assure a range of stories is to choose a word for the theme that has multiple totally different meanings. A couple good examples of this principle are the themes “Watch” and “Train” both of which were used in the early days of the write-offs with good results.

It is often a good idea to use a concrete noun for a theme, such as “Bridge,” “Water” or “The Tower.” All of which give you a solid requirement for an element of your story, sometimes even a locale. Another interesting trick is to use a definite article for a theme, as was done in one of the very first themes (taken from a writing site I believe) “The Forest.” This lends an air of mystery and a hint of the epic to an otherwise bland object.

A somewhat more difficult but sometimes more rewarding method is to introduce not a concrete object but a plot element, such as (one of my favorite themes of all time) “Superstition.” Sigh. If only all themes could be as glorious.

The Sentry by Caleb/Cederak:

As the European settlers traveled further west, in their meandering exploration of the realm that led to the Pacific, across the vastness of a land that was not theirs, there were encounters with the natives. Tribes of people who had lived off the land for centuries, undisturbed in their rituals and their beliefs, were now stumbling upon pale-faced people that resembled the tribes, only…not. The ancient dwellers of the realm underestimated the tenacity with which the pale-faced ones possessed. Their technology was refined and their ideals of a destiny that would take them to the edge of the continent were unwavering.

The tribes fought to defend their land, but ultimately, they were conquered and either pushed aside or destroyed. One such group, a warmongering tribe that had known the Black Hills for countless generations, would not be removed so easily. They resided among the claustrophobic landscapes of the Dakota’s seemingly infinite pines and the midnight black network of caverns carved out by time and nature alone.

In their final days, they called upon a black spirit to protect them from the pale-faced people, a lone entity that witnessed a genocide among the forests and waited…waited to serve the purpose it had been summoned for. Of the few travelers that passed through the remote area in those days, few survived an encounter with the creature. It is said to be a monstrous thing, with obsidian fur that appears to be aflame at all times and the features of an overgrown wolf roughly twice the size of a fully grown grizzly bear. It’s swiftness was that of lightning and when it chose a target, that was it. Those few that lived long enough to inform anyone vanished not long after.

As for the creature, there is no information regarding its fate. As far as anyone knows, it continues to roam the darkness of the Black Hills in search of those who dare to step foot in a land not theirs, with a tenacity that will not long ignore a trespasser.

—–

No true study of themes would be complete without some mention of the most infamous theme of all time… “Rambutan.” A certain amount of extra time was given so that participants could google the theme.

In All Seriousness… By Aimee/Aderia:

“The theme,” he said, to my chagrin,
“Is going to be ‘rambutan'”.

Regardless to say,
No one was thrilled
They skulked away
The chat had been killed

Bravely and truly, some of them fought
Against the looming writer’s block
Others like me, they were caught
And all they could do was was look at the clock

There’s not much to lose, not much to gain
Writing, simply, for writing’s sake
Except, one thing will drive you insane
And give you a massive, killer headache

Never before has a challenge been
So trying as that of ‘Rambutan’.