Flash Fiction for Microcosms

1 Thessalonians 5:2

Charles Floyd began dying the night of the buffalo. Seaman was hailed a hero, and the whole Corps of Discovery was giddy over the near miss: how the Newfoundland kept the buffalo from trampling the officers’ tent. No one was hurt, not even Charles. Still, death had settled upon him like the dreaded foxtail seeds.

Charles’ talisman, his journal, went missing that night.

At the last encampment, Charles noted an Ottowa youth slavering over it. The brute had offered to trade, and Charles waved him off derisively. Ever since, Charles felt watched. His skin crawled each time he opened his journal and brought out the gilded page. He couldn’t take the whole volume, and by now Mother knew he’d ripped Psalm 23 out of the family tome.

And now it was ripped from him.

Sometime later, Charles’ stomach turned against him. A fire inside his body set all his fluids to defecting. Eventually, Charles collapsed. From the bluff he had a panoramic view of the valley they’d just traversed. A fitting last sight.

Charles tore his gaze away, and with longing for the land he’d not be meeting– said to Clark, “I am going away. I want you to write me a letter.”

Charles Floyd, only fatality on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and subject of my fanciful flash fiction

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2

This flash fiction is in response to Microcosms 90: historical/thief/mountains. The historical genre gave me the most pleasure. And pain. Truth is so inflexible, and so is a 200 word limit (But I got confused, because I actually had 300 with which to work. Argh! My flash fiction contests all run together).  The buffalo night, foxtail seeds, and the last words of Charles Floyd (who died of appendicitis) are truth– from the story of Lewis & Clark. And I got an honorable mention for my tale. 🙂

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Zeroflash Fiction: Rampart

He studies her. Must be she’s grading stories because her smile ebbs and flows. His heart’s been slogging through the desert for years and now this– mirage, his new team teacher. Like all mirages, getting too close strikes the vision, and he very badly wants to keep her.

She’s absent to the aura of her beauty. More than that. Her back is bowed in the fashion of a tied package. He imagines this. He imagines himself unstringing her, pulling her to her full height with his hands.

A paper ball hits him on the cheek. Oh yes, his students. They’re giggling. He rubs his face in mock hurt and tells them sticks and stones will break his bones but paper balls put him in a reading mood. “Due tomorrow: a thousand words.”

She watches too. A wall of glass separates, but doesn’t separate them. The true barrier is the truth he cannot bring himself to speak. Sometimes he imagines he writes her– a love story he’d slip into her pile. It feels like shooting an arrow over a rampart. Once shot, it can never be taken back, and part of him doesn’t want to play the odds. The fantasy, as is, remains intact. Sometimes she glances up and smiles, unreserved, guileless.

First, he loved her through the testimonies: a teacher who could suss passion out of these blocks of teenage cement. She was a fire hose of inspiration. He fell for that. But seeing made it worse. He’d hoped she’d be ugly. Unsure as to whether he wants to rush her, crush and loose himself upon her– or plant a brotherly kiss on the crown of her hair, he’d do whichever she wished. Take it as deep or as shallow as she wished. If only he knew what she wished.

This was a venture into less comfortable territory for me: romance. My novel-in-progress, I Trespass, has a broad romantic theme, but I take a long time building it. Romantic flash fiction? A person can get scared quickly or confused or have a spontaneous laugh… but I believe love takes longer. 

Dante’s Barn: A Short Story About the Gauntlet of Adolescence

Publication. That great Other reads your writing and deems it worthy to print. I’m pumped to share with you my short story is out today on Fiction on the Web, the oldest internet short story platform in existence (since 1996). They have a feedback field for readers. No sign-up necessary. I hope you’ll read my story (3 minutes) and click a reaction (3 seconds). Please! I’d be so grateful. To read it, click here.

The story originally came out on my blog, but I reworked it extensively and had my beautiful writer’s group give it a make-over. “Dante’s Barn” explores a pivotal evening in a young man’s life when a snow storm and a flat tire become more than just annoyances. They are prisms through which he sees his world afresh. I’ve always been interested in coming-of-age stories because they teem with metamorphosis moments, the cocoon magic we all hope will play upon us and make us better people.

But I also like ambiguity. Jude, my protagonist, my son of humiliation– it’s unclear whether or not he learned the lesson. Even I don’t know if he learned it, and I wrote him. Jude has become real to me, and like real people you can never tell just what they’ll do with information.

Some other flash pieces: horror, metafiction, and a piece I dusted off.

 

Writing Conference Memoirette

I just attended the Lorain County  Library’s (awesome!) writer’s conference led by Chuck Sambuchino. The most interesting moment of the conference was when Chuck read manuscripts and murdered them in front of us. Until that moment, I’d never actually experienced group tension in the flesh. It was like an invisible spider web stretched across the room and we all vibrated in sympathetic agony when one of our own was being devoured. I have several friends whose work I recognized, and my heart went out to them. It got so bad I started passing notes like a manic teenager.

 

I took preemptive action, telling myself things like: what does he know? and maybe he won’t get to mine. And if he didn’t… hallelujah. Amen.

He did get to mine, and I had a wonderful moment of peace as the librarian read my manuscript aloud. To hear a stranger read, with the inflection I meant it to have was a gift. Then she stopped reading. I braced myself. Stopped breathing. My face flushed.

“Pretty good,” were his first words. “I actually wrote ‘good’ in three places on this.” Then he went on to say that the language carried him through the first page, but I better have something happen on page two, by god. I wrote in the top margin: SURVIVED.

My friends were more optimistic. They clapped me on the back as if I’d had a victory. One called me “Miss Good Good Good,” which is almost as gratifying as “Oh captain, my captain” or “the queen,” but that’s taken (Kathleen!).

Our writer’s group would describe themselves as pulling no punches, maybe even cutthroat. But I think they give the medicine with a spoon full of sugar, as Mary Poppins would say. They’re gentle when they cut you.

Not so, Chuck-the-ripper.

Yet we are thankful. We all know, we collectively agree even if we singularly squirm in humiliation and shame: your medicine is good for us, and we’ll come out the other side better writers. I’m humbled and awed by the spirit of grit and determination I see in my friends. I get a front row seat on seriously amazing journeys, watching flesh and blood people take their licks at our meeting, apply the lessons and grow. I look at them and I say, if they can grow, so can I. We look at each other and say, if she can gracefully take the hit and come back swinging, so can we.

 

The Things I Carry

“What’s it like, being dead?”

“…I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.” – From Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. This quote bowled me over. Not just because it’s a fresh look at death, but because it captures my feelings. While I’m writing I Trespass, I’m “inside a book nobody’s reading.”

Which is to say, sometimes I feel dead.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad dead. Let’s pretend there’s good dead and bad dead, and this is more of the with-my-fellow-dead, dead. My characters and I are someplace everybody else isn’t.

In the Bible, the word death is never defined by lexicographers as annihilation or extinction or even unconsciousness, but as separation. And that distinction helps me wrap my mind around death. I hope it helps you too. So while I’m writing my book nobody’s reading, I feel a separation– like I have a secret or a double life. This is the thing I carry: my story. The one for which I presently labor, and the ones waiting in the queue of my imagination.

Yesterday I finished a short story based on a family member. I began writing with real names and only at the end did I do a find/replace. (Well look at that, some members of my family are paying attention.) Keeping as much truth as possible for as long as possible helps me in the initial slog-through of the story. Once I get momentum, truth and fiction blur. I mash together an uncle and a nephew into a new little boy of my own creation. The truth is, I had a feeling I wanted to convey. I can’t even name it, but it’s the way you feel when you’re unprotected and it begins to rain and home is a long way off. It’s one to which I keep returning– children and the forces that play upon them. I have an uncle who committed suicide, and I’ve often wondered how that went down the day they were told. Rather than ask (what fun is that?), I made up how it went down that day, the day they were told.

Anyway, I wanted so badly to share this story with somebody, anybody who could say yes, I get it! or no, you’re unclear, etc. I often draft my children into literary service. Gabe is a precocious twelve year old and has often shown me plot holes or character flaws, but this story is rather sordid. I spared him. Tory, my mature and insightful writing critic is overwhelmed with school and work, and only a selfish brute would put a manuscript under her nose (for the second time this week), so I didn’t. I thought of putting a call out to my friends on Facebook or WordPress along the lines of Ahoy! Anybody sitting around wishing for a beta read? The deadline is October 1st, and I need immediate assistance… But also a part of me wanted to just ship it off, which I did.

Writing is also like war time communication, pamphlets dropped by the thousands on an uncaring population. Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki no one bothered to read the warnings dropped from American planes that said something along the lines of: Evacuate or die. And my missives are not nearly that important. You can imagine how few people read them. Well, maybe you can’t, but I can. You’d think the inverse relationship between labor output and actual reads would send me running to another, more impactful activity. On the contrary, If I can’t write something wonderful I know no one will read, I’ll write about the process of writing something I think is wonderful I know no one will read… Exhibit A: this post.

I meant to write about a harvest, which was my prompt from Carrot Ranch. Unfortunately, I got side-tracked. When I think harvest, the first thing that comes to mind is the harvest of souls talked about in Matthew 9:37. Jesus compares proselytizing to harvesting. Actually, harvesting is one of God’s favorite metaphors. At the end of all things, He says, there will be a great harvest where the wheat and the weeds will be gathered and sorted and– woe to you weeds out there. That’s the gist. Don’t be a weed.

Because separation doesn’t feel so cozy as a book nobody’s reading.

 

 

 

Flash Fiction for Carrot Ranch

I’m trying to leave my novel alone for a few weeks so I can read it with “fresh” eyes and polish it. Again. This polishing will be the fourth draft on I Trespass. Since I’m not actively writing my novel, my schedule is different. Like: Who moved my cheese? Normally I pick up a thread where I left off the previous day, but in these waiting weeks I face a totally empty page each morning. Some days I even get writer’s block. For me that doesn’t mean the page stays empty; it’s just filled with pointless junk. Enter prompts. Oh, how I love thee, writing prompts! Today I found one here. It’s rules require me to slash my flash in half: 99 words to write a story involving riptides. (and prompted a bit of obnoxious rhyme)

Riptides: The idea of being pulled (or ripped) away from safety. Of losing control. Being abducted by water. The ocean has always filled me with a mixture of fear and wonder. You can’t stand next to that pounding, teeming, gargantuan force and think yourself important.

I finished my first attempt at 8:16AM with 145 words. Yikes. Time for the chain saw. Second draft: 117 words, 8:30AM. Third draft: 95 words, 8:37. You’d think I’d leave it alone. But no, I have four more words I can add back in. It’s on. Final, 8:49AM. 99 words, exactly. Bam. I hear Rocky music in my head. Ladies and gentleman, my story follows.

The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Life

Harper walked the beach. Her psychiatrist mandated daily exercise, and Harper’s mom considered it an encouraging sign. The shell basket always returned full of treasures. Mom didn’t notice the basket left with treasure as well: the contents of Harper’s bedroom. Her baby blanket, beloved stuffed animals, crayon drawings, trophies. Then medals, books, make-up. Finally, Harper tossed the contents of her dresser into the sea and reverently watched the riptide spirit her belongings away. The sea had just about everything. The next day Harper closed the door on her hollow room and went out.

“No basket today?” her mom asked.