Be a Flasher

Not that kind of flasher, naughty bird. A flash fiction writer.

Why should I be a flash fiction writer? You ask. I’m glad you did. Flash fiction forces several wondrous talents upon you:

  1. Economy of language.
  2. Full-bodied plot in a tiny, weeny package.
  3. A stretch into new genres, styles, content.*
  4. Opportunity for you to turn away from a grueling, lonely novel-nobody-sees and hit publish.
  5. The thrill of weekly or monthly contests, like zeroflash, cracked flash fiction, and microcosms.
  6. Receive needful pets from fellow writers and learn to give same. Be in community.

I had this thought as I sat down today with my novel-in-progress: flash fiction should/could be part of Stephen King’s famed tool box for writers. Use it if it suits you. At first I couldn’t imagine liking anything less than a full-length novel, but the more I read and write flash, the more I appreciate its form. It’s like poetry and fiction made love and bam! Flash fiction.

*One such stretching happened to me just this month. The prompt for July’s Zeroflash is to write a metafiction piece. Metafiction? What on earth is that? The latin prefix meta means beyond, which I think of as above and beyond. Still, above and beyond fiction? I had to look it up. Luckily some of the examples were books I’d already read, so I understood that metafiction called attention to itself as a form or structure. Call me thick, it didn’t get much easier once I knew what the stuff was. But chew on a thing long enough and eventually it assimilates into you. Check out my metafiction flash piece here.

The Gift: Fiction for Microcosms

Cal feared the new garbage truck: its dinosaur bellow of steel on steel as the automated arm plucked the blue plastic containers like weeds, flipped them upside down, and dumped the contents with an explosive crash. The engineering marvel rescued lower backs and killed jobs, but Cal wouldn’t know anything about that, being seven.

All he knew was the men were gone.

Until the horrid business was done, Cal stayed inside. No amount of cajoling would get him out on garbage day. One day the truck never came. Lucky it was summer.

Cal’s dad decided this couldn’t go on.

On top of the can was a gorgeously wrapped box tied with a purple bow. If Cal didn’t take it, the garbage truck would.

“What is it?”

“Go find out.” Dad winked.

Cal feared. Feared and coveted and the warring emotions dueled inside his young mind for preeminence. Desire began to get the upper hand; it moved slowly down his skin like a finger hesitant on a trigger. Cal placed his hands around the doorknob.

“Better go, Son. I hear the truck.”

The sound of squeaking breaks in the distance. The sound of dinosaur arms.

“They wouldn’t throw it away?”

“They would.”

The dinosaur was on his street. Cal could see its scalpel blade slide through the loops of a can. Still fear rooted him.

At the neighbor’s.

Something in him broke. He gripped the doorknob fiercely. Then realized: the bolt. Frantic, he jammed his fingers in his haste to undo it. The monster was right in front of his house now, about to take his present. The bolt slid free. Cal threw open the door and sprinted like a jack rabbit.

The blade came screeching out. It grabbed. Cal grabbed.

Just in time.

“Hey kid, watch it,” said the driver.

Flash Fiction: The Writing on the Wall

Shem’s last straw as maintenance man was the locker room.

“Not touching that.”

“Shem, you don’t get to choose what you clean around here. Either get going on that or… get going.” His boss thumbed toward the exit sign.

Shem got. No way was he going to scrub a floor-to-ceiling mural of excrement.

A cashier position offered flexible hours and no toilet scrubbing. The downside: people. But rules were rules. Low profile jobs sucked the same on any planet. This was his talion for scoring low on his entrance test: intergalactic signal duty.

Cosmic messages showed up as planetary ringworm when passed through the magnetic core– “random” cloud shapes or “haphazardly” downed trees from twisters or earthquakes. Even schools of fish swam in the shape of the message. Thing was, the message only lasted one hour. Signal duty meant sleeplessness and monotony.

As he worked the register, Shem intermittently cast his invisible third eye into orbit to scan the cloud cover. He gave a curt smile to the white-haired grandma purchasing deodorant foot powder,

“For my husband,” she apologized.

These people often apologized for purchases, especially men buying tampons. Shem offered her a half-laugh. Encouraging grandmas could get him sentenced to a twenty-minute soliloquy.

He slid the powder across the laser reader and fumbled it, spilling a white design over the glass. A somehow familiar design. Where had he seen it before?

Last time it was brown on white tile.

Vomit surged against Shem’s throat as the realization bloomed: this was a return signal, an intergalactic copy that. He missed the message. No one ever missed the message. The penalty for missing the message was–

Grandma reached to pet his cheek and he let her. Paralyzed.

“Son, it’s just foot powder.”

This was an entry for Zeroflash. Each month they hold a contest around a given theme or genre. This month it’s board games… sounds challenging!

P.S. The inspiration for the excrement-lined shower comes from Gabe, who swims at the YMCA. After swimming, he and his friends shower off in the boys’ locker room. Lately to the dismay of Gabe and his fellow swimmers, the shower has become the canvas of a disturbed young miscreant. 

The definition for talion can be found here, but it basically means that the punishment fits the crime.

 

My Alarm Clock Told Me

My alarm clock told me it was time to wake up.

But it didn’t stop there.

It went on to remind me about yesterday.

I hit snooze.

My mirror told me I look rather haggard lately. Getting old and ugly and hadn’t you better work on your personality? The mirror disagreed strongly with my alarm clock.

My rusty minivan with the huge crack in the front bumper told me it too had a bad day yesterday. That was yesterday. We got the call while we were taking a walk in the park. We’d stopped for ice cream.

“Are you serious?” asked my husband, ice cream cone in hand.

All the fun conversations begin with the phrase: Are you serious? 

Today no one told me to drive faster. Or jeered at my habit of abruptly braking. I have bad depth perception, people tell me. I think things are closer than they are, more dangerous than they are. I see danger everywhere.

The Lexus, Mercedes, and Teslas with whom I share the roadway, they told me I could have made better decisions in my youth. My youth told me it doesn’t love me and wants to break up. My children told me I make their lives miserable, that I make everything harder than it has to be. My house told me I clearly don’t have feelings for it anymore. My garden wants a divorce.

The sunrise over the interstate told me that beauty and ugly can and do copulate. Most every day. That I can have faith and still grieve the death of my dreams. That I can get a friend request from someone dead set on being my enemy. I can be smart and dumb at the same time. I can seem to have it all together and be falling quite apart. Yes. That was yesterday. Today I am told by the birds that beauty hasn’t fled entirely. The dead squirrel matted to the roadside with his symphony of black flies, disagrees.

A fictional character told me it’s not about how hard I hit, but how hard I can get hit and keep moving forward. Jesus says to take the hit and offer up the other cheek. These two agree. I listen to these teachers as if my life depended upon it. Because of them, I listen to the alarm clock when it tells me to wake up.

 

Funny! Fiction for Cracked Flash

Waiver

Most epic adventures don’t start out with an application and an insurance waiver, but Tom Kinzel, CEO of Chilly Thrills saw the writing on the wall: the positive correlation between epicness and peril. The 200 bodies strewn upon Mt. Everest gave their silent testimony: counterphobia (charging your worst nightmare) while epic, is risky. But to Tom’s way of thinking, the real tragedies were the corpses of entrepreneurial start-ups that met death in small claims court (a misnomer) all because they didn’t have that one little (but “HUGE, believe me”) piece of the business puzzle: the waiver.

I____________________ am a willing participant in the Chilly Thrills 5000K Mt. Mortem hike, an epic adventure of extreme proportions which requires excellent mental judgment and a high degree of physical fitness, agility, and dexterity.

I FURTHER UNDERSTAND AND HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT MY PARTICIPATION IN CHILLY THRILLS 5000K MT. MORTEM HIKE INVOLVES CERTAIN HAZARDS AND DANGERS SUCH AS INJURY OR POSSIBLY DEATH AND/OR RISK OF DAMAGE TO OR LOSS OF PROPERTY.

I release, waive, forever discharge, covenant not to sue, indemnify, and hold harmless Chilly Thrills from any and all liability, claims, suits, demands, judgments, costs, interest and expense, (including attorneys’ fees and costs) arising from Chilly Thrills’ 5000K Mt. Mortem Hike.

I have read all applications, preparatory materials, and instructions in their entirety (including this waiver) and signed it knowingly and voluntarily. And I’m mentally competent, fully aware that a 5000K peak is 16+ million feet (3280 feet/kilometer x 5000) that brushes against the floorboards of heaven, a destination I couldn’t reach if I strapped twin F-16 thrusters to my boots and chugged a keg of Monster Energy drink. But– I certify I’ve read this waiver in its entirety. Yes. No lie. Every word. Bring on the epic adventure.

Signed, Epic Participant

 

Fiction for Microcosmsfic.com

 

Washed Away

“At it again?” Ella asked, standing over the hunched form of her husband. Darrin’s once-white robe was covered with a dusting of sand and browned on the butt. Ella handed him a steaming cup of coffee. A sand-encrusted hand trembled but received it gratefully. A ring of untanned skin was all that remained of his marriage. Half submerged in a foamy moat and gouging out fistfuls of muck, his other hand was invisible.

“I think I got it right this time,” Darrin muttered.

“How long?” Ella asked, her sweet voice hollow and feathery against the boisterous surf.

“Since two.”

“Why?”

“I wanted to finish before the tide came up. Recognize it?”

“Our honeymoon, Barcaldine Castle. But you got the top wrong. There weren’t any battlements on Barcaldine.”

“I added those… to keep you safe.” Darrin continued to scrape and mold the sand. The hands that played Brahms flawlessly, that delivered love letters, bills, and junk mail. The sure hands smoothed and teased the castle domes as if they were lace-decked breasts or a fragile neck. He drew his fingertips along the parapets as if they were her lips. One last time.

As the structure neared completion, Darrin’s eyes became glassy, but not a drop would fall. Plenty of salt water all around. The Ella hallucination faded as the sun edged over the horizon. At his feet lay the coffee cup full of brown water and sand. No wonder the coffee was bad.

Waves, inexorable and implacable, crept closer and closer. Darrin took the wedding rings out of his pocket: his thick one and her diamond-studded strand he’d discreetly removed before they shut the coffin. He clutched them to his chest. His other hand rooted around his robe pocket until he felt the smooth barrel, the finger hole.

The end.

Flash fiction is uniquely challenging. You get only a handful of words to communicate plot, brush in some character, some descriptions. No waste allowed! I think it appeals to me because I like poetry. But what often happens when I write flash is that most of the tale stays hidden inside my head, never to meet the page. I suppose I got it right with this one, or right enough because it won last week’s microcosmsfic flash fiction contest. The prize for winning? The honor of judging this week. Judging teaches me more about writing than almost any other exercise I do, so I’m grateful for the opportunity. Judging also allows me to do what I love second to writing: encourage fellow writers.

Indiscretion: Flash Fiction

“Oh, everyone just thought you were crazy,” the intake nurse winked at me as she tightened the cinches on my straight jacket.

“I had to use the restroom,” I said, “Real bad.”

“That’s what got you into this mess,” the nurse said, “no pun intended. One can’t just indiscriminately… well, you know. People jump to conclusions.”

My shoelaces peeked out of her pocket, and certainly my necklace was in that same pocket. I could feel the slimy coldness of drool sliding down my chin and I wondered why she didn’t dab at it with the handy towel she kept tucked into her belt for just such occasions. Hers was lightning white, smooth, clearly never used. Why wasn’t that a red flag for someone? Who was in charge?

“Did you give me something?” I asked, “I don’t usually drool like this.” I hoped my hint would get her to wipe my face, my own arms being unavailable and all.

“…nurse?” I said.

She seemed to be struggling with an uncooperative clasp, but it was awfully convenient she had an excuse to ignore me.

“Did you drug me?” I asked, raising my voice.

“We gave you an anti-diarrhea… there.” She had finally gotten whatever piece of my contraption stymied her. The room teetered back and forth.

“My necklace,” I managed, “It was a gift.”

“A gift? How thoughtful of you. I’ll keep it always,” she patted her pocket, and I noticed her smile turned wicked. A wave of horrible understanding crashed over me.

“When can I go home?”

“When you can use the bathroom like a big girl… and when everybody agrees you’re not crazy.” She winked. Or was that a nervous tic?

“All I did was use the men’s room. It was vacant.”

“Yes, well. You’re not a man, are you?”

*This was an entry for Cracked Flash Fiction’s weekly contest. They provide a first sentence and you run with it for up to 300 words.