Each session of my 5000 Words class, we devote one week to flash fiction. The assignment is to enter a piece in Microcosms, which experiences a rather dramatic spike in entrants. 🙂 This morning when I opened my email, I found Microcosms is having technical difficulties this week, the week my students are to enter their contest. Is this fate, smiling on the Microcosms judge who would’ve had to read all those extra entries?
Not to be deterred (cue the collective groan of my students), we’ll just take a little detour and hold the contest here, on my blog.
I ask my students to post their fabulous stories in the comments section of this post. Put your name, the title, and the exact word count at the top, then the story. Post by Saturday, midnight (that’s an extra day). I trust my readers will enjoy and perhaps comment on anything that moves you. Most of my students have private blogs, so this would be a rare opportunity to get outside feedback.
Next Tuesday, I’ll post the winning stories. As to judging, it will either be yours truly or a fellow author. (Any takers? Volunteer in the comments!) Hey, it’s 8:26 AM and I’m working with a curveball here.
But what about the prompt?? I’m not techy enough to build a spinning machine like the folks at Microcosms, so we’ll have to go stone age: I’ll give you a first sentence. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Craft a flash fiction story of no more than 300 words that begins:
January is a dangerous month. January is deadly. Don’t believe me? January. killed. my. Lenore.
Ok truth. A-steering-wheel-through-the-heart killed Lenore, but it was January’s fault. Lenore’ll tell it was the road, slick with ice and a blanket of snow. She’ll tell it was the brakes on the Volkswagon—that’s what did her in. But don’t you believe it.
You hear that? She’s always jingling the keys, telling me I need to take the car to the mechanic. From the garage I hear them ringing, hear her earrings and their blinging, and my guilt is ever-stinging at her mangled, undead form.
Though the Browns are playing, which is to say they’re losing, I get up when she starts her jingling because I know I’ll get no rest till I let her in the door. Why she doesn’t just come right on through—my ephemeral, vaporous wife of thirty-nine years, some of them while she lived and breathed—Lenore wants me off the couch, that’s why.
I tell her, “Wait just a minute, will ya, honey? It’s January.”
She tells me she waited for me to fix the brakes and look how that turned out. I meant to. Really.
She stands right in the way of the telly, hands on hips, keys a jangle, rusty earrings a’dangle, matted hair a crimson tangle. Who can enjoy a game with such distraction? Not I, nevermore.
“Your father wasn’t a glassblower,” I say, hoping she’ll get the hint.
I ask her to remove the serrated keys from my chest. She twists until only the key ring is visible, wrecking my PJ’s forever.
“Please?” I ask. “Take your keys from my heart, your form from my foyer, your brakes and your bangles, your oxidizing earrings and your weather-beaten bones, you zombie chore. Won’t you go? I can’t take it anymore.”
“Nevermore,” says Lenore.
I gave this assignment to my 5000 Words class: read “The Raven” at least three times then craft a story based on it. You can change anything, POV, genre, aspects, motivations, setting, etc.
Uncle Asbestos brings me presents when his tour is done. There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.
He removes his helmet with a wry smile and dramatic sloth.
My fidgeting betrays my impatience.
He inside-outs his pockets and a slew of my favorite tiny, multi-colored creatures fall out. I squeal. We play with them until they run out of battery life. Uncle says I just need to let them recharge. I suggest hooking them up to a v-tube to see if they’d stay animated longer, but he laughs. “It would blow them right up, little one. Just enjoy them while you can. I’ll get more next time.”
“Where do they come from?” I ask as I toss the wiggling creatures into the air and catch almost all of them. Their noise reminds me of the frantic whirring of tine bugs, pests that nest in the humidors. Uncle says the toys are made of calcium. Can you imagine? No wonder they break so easily.
At school, I pull them out of my pocket and dump a pile of them on the lunch table. They try to scrabble away, but we make a corral out of trays and silverware. I’m the envy of all the kids.
“I wish my uncle was a galactic transporter.”
All my friends agree Uncle Asbestos has the coolest job ever. I get the best gifts.
Suddenly, a loud sound (for them) issues from one. Then it loses all animation.
“Careful.” I rebuke my friend. “You squeezed it too hard.”
“Sorry. Can I keep it? It’s broken anyway.”
“Yes, but not too long. They stink once the batteries go.”
My friend tweezes the limp, pinkish creature with four appendages and one dense tuft of fur. “So strange…where’s your uncle get these again?”
This flash was inspired by Microcosms, a weekly flash fiction contest, and was first runner-up. I had to incorporate this sentence into the piece: There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.
“That’s quite a costume, young ma– … er… are you a boy, or a girl? I can’t tell under all that make up.”
The childlike thing shook a head, but made no answer. The widow Hann held upwards of $37 worth of chocolate in her lap, and she wasn’t giving it up to rude, ungrateful children who couldn’t be bothered to answer a simple question. Theses kids were getting more and more ill-mannered every year.
The zombie child reached a veined, pinkish hand into the bowl.
Mrs. Hann snatched it away. “Not so fast.”
The costume was stunning. Or the paint was still wet. It glistened in the inconstant light of Mrs. Hann’s tiki torches and carved pumpkin display. “Say ‘Trick or treat first.'”
It shook its head more violently. A low guttural sound issued from lips that dripped red paint and saliva.
My friend Cyndigave me the idea to showcase some of the Halloween stories I received from the flash contest. Enjoy these bite-sized stories from Ethan Zabka, Anna Marsick, and Cynthia Hilston.
The Last Halloween
By Ethan Zabka
“This is going to be awesome!” My friend Jeremy exclaimed. ” It’s going to be the greatest Halloween ever!”
“I agree; let’s make it the best,” I replied. After I donned my Dr. Frankenstein costume, we left.
It was a warm evening. Kids were everywhere, shouting and observing their prizes. The sunset was beautiful, an explosion of pink and yellow in the sky.
The first 5 houses we visited were generous, giving us Hershey bars and King-Sized Reese’s. As we were strolling, we came across a hideous creature, who fell in step with us after Jeremy remarked how he completed my Frankenstein apparel. The monster’s makeup was almost perfect, and his yellow eyes glimmered in the dusk. He wasn’t talkative, just keeping in step with me and munching on chocolate.
Soon, the moon came out, often hidden by dark clouds scudding across the sky. A chilly wind started to blow, and rain sprinkled down. Jeremy departed for home, tired. The monster and I kept on, gathering candy.
I left the monster when I realized the time. I would have to take the shortcut through the woods to make it home before midnight.
I was nearly home when I bumped into something large.
It wasn’t a tree.
A lightning flash divulged a ragged rip in his cloak, revealing a mottled chest, metal pieces poking from green flesh. The sight paralyzed me with fear.
He was real.
Thunder boomed like artillery fire. I screamed as he seized me and hissed, “Curse you, Frankenstein! You have come back from the grave to cause me anguish!”
“All who bear the name Frankenstein deserve to die, to have no happiness here!” His eyes blazed with rage as the thunder crackled. “I end this once and for all!”
I felt his fingers close around my neck.
By Anna Marsick
*Ping* goes my phone. I lay on my bed, pillow sodden with tears. I flip over, refusing to acknowledge that deplorable dimwit who sources my rueful feelings. One minute I’m in love, the next I’m drowning in my tears. I still can’t believe he didn’t take me to homecoming because he had to work out. I hate relationships.
*Ping* I roll my eyes, ignoring it and muttering, “Not accepting apologies today, buddy. Go flirt with your dumbbells. They’re probably smarter than me anyway.” Suddenly, I hear a *thunk, thunk, THUD* at my window. Spooked, I spring off my bed.
“Oww!” I scream-whisper, creeping to the window, seizing a pink slipper that will protect me from the predator who’s summoned me. Heart pounding, I cautiously peer out of my window into the gloomy night and am greeted by a rock hitting my forehead. “Stand down!” I yelp, “I have a weapon, and I’m not afraid to strike!”
“Hi, Baby! Come out here!” replies the hooligan. “What in the? Myles? What are you… never mind. Go away.” I begin to shut my window as he bellows, “Wait! I’m sorry. I’m a bad boyfriend. Let me make it up to you. Please. Come out here, dance with me under the stars. I made a playlist and brought a dress for you… I love and care about you.”
“That’s cute. Bye,” I say, shaking my head and preparing to retreat. I steal one last glance at his face. Aw man. The pleading gaze in his eyes causes me to cave in. I gingerly climb out of my window, into his arms. Expeditiously, I slip into the dress, and we become one under the stars… united in rhythm. As we sway to the music, he murmurs, “I love you.” I love relationships.
The elusive they say opposites attract. Herman didn’t know who they were. He looked over his phantom face in the mirror. The stitches holding his smile broke. Rotten teeth were a turn-off for most women. “What sort of zombie puts a profile on a dating site?” It was done on a dare. Who says the undead can’t have a life? Ed, ever a charmer and a drunk in this half-afterlife, told Herman he would be happier if he went out more. Halloween was coming. She would think Herman was a brilliant costume. This she was as elusive as the they who made ridiculous claims like opposites attract. Herman pulled up to her house in his 1966 Chevy on Halloween. She glowed with the setting sun as she stepped outside like an angel meant to take him to Heaven. Heaven isn’t for zombies who eat brains, even reformed zombies, thought Herman. If he had a beating heart, it would have thumped out of his tattered chest beneath his new clothes. “The clothes,” said Ed, “were important. You can’t go around looking completely dead.” His already rigid body stiffened as he remembered his manners, exited the car, and opened the passenger door. The light of Heaven shone down with her smile. “Happy Halloween…Herman.” “Hello, Brenda.” He shouldn’t have gorged on a stray cat’s brains before coming here, a chunk of grey matter lodged in his throat. “Where to?” “You look like a vintage kinda guy. There’s a malt shop in town. You know it?” He nodded. A little while later, they shared a table and a strawberry shake. She leaned into him and took his hand. He twitched, trying to pull away. Yet she was as cold as him. She giggled. “Don’t worry, Herman. It’s Halloween. This is all a costume.”
Sometimes it takes an alien perspective to show us what it means to be human.
My story, “The Outrider,” published in The Corona Book of Science Fiction, explores a paradoxical culture that condemns a cheerleader for killing her just-born baby and lauds millions of girls for walking into clinics all over the planet to achieve the same end. Can the protagonist, a teenager herself, justify the chasm of value fixed between fetus and baby? The future of the human race depends on it.
Will my story make you mad? Maybe. Will it make you think? Definitely.
I’ve read many of the other stories and can vouch: they’re worth your time. Far more delicious, less fattening, and for less than you’d spend on a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you can enjoy this fantastic collection of thought-provoking sci-fi entertainment. Many thanks to the editorial team at Corona Books UK for publishing “The Outrider.”
Zahara’s jaw fell open. Her book slid off her knees and hit the floor. She scrambled for it and flipped to find her page, all the while shaking her head in denial. Page found, she pored over the words once more. Unconsciously her hand went to her throat.
Zahara let the book fall in her lap and looked around. “Is this a joke?”
The empty room didn’t reply.
Zahara turned the book over. It had the library barcode sticker and an ISBN number. It was wrapped in clear plastic to protect the hard backing, as all library books were. The author was one she’d never read before, but he came highly recommended by the librarian who’d helped her the day she picked it out.
Each time Zahara looked at the words on the page, her stomach clenched tighter, her heart beat faster. She mouthed the last line. …throat closed completely, never to open again.
“I’m allergic,” she said to no one. Her EpiPen was probably expired. It was jammed so far down in the folds of her purse, Zahara doubted she’d be able to extract it, should she be stung.
The short story was one of a collection.
The character, “Z” and her friend Tony happened on a hornet nest. It hung low in the tree, and if you climbed on the roof of Z’s trailer, you could easily hit the thing with the landscaping rocks Z’s mom had arranged around their petunias. All this Tony breathlessly told Z. In no time they had gathered an arsenal of smooth stones and put them in a heap on Z’s roof.
Tony threw first and missed. Z took a shot and it grazed the nest. A cloud of buzzing erupted, then quieted. Tony threw again. A hit. The grey pod that looked like a misshapen Christmas ball swung a little and leaked a flow of hornets.
“Your turn.” Tony said.
Some hornets buzzed angrily around them, far away as they were.
“I think they know,” Z said.
“That’s ridiculous. You chicken?”
Z was, in fact, chicken. Tony wasn’t allergic to bees. Z batted at a hornet circling her head.
As if reading her thoughts, Tony said, “You’re allergic to bees, not hornets.”
Z shrugged. No way was she throwing another rock.
“Fine. Watch this…bunch of sissy hornets.”
“Wait.” Z put up her hand, the stone still in her grip. “How do you know they’re hornets?”
“Aw, Z, you’re sucking out my fun.” Tony did a pitcher move, and the stone, a big one, hit the nest dead on, swinging it crazily and touching off a buzzing rage. A horde of pissed off hornets flew right at the girls.
As Z clambered down the ladder she felt a prickle in her shirt, in the hair at the base of her neck, then pinpricks of pain, more and more. Z screamed and tore her shirt off. Tony, still halfway down the ladder, yelled at Z to roll in the grass. Z dropped to the ground, but not in obedience. Her airway closed up. A fire began inside her throat and consumed her face, her head.
As Tony stepped off the last ladder rung, Z thrashed in the grass. Her throat closed completely, never to open again.
Zahara closed the book. “That’s exactly how it happened.”
Back in 1977, Tony had run home and got her mom to call the ambulance, just like in the book.
“But my throat did open again,” Zahara said as if she had someone to convince. She studied the book. “What’s going on?”
*This is an excerpt from a short story I’m working on. It’s doing double-duty as my assignment for 5000 Words. Our focus this week is to create tension.