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. 

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Zeroflash Fiction: Chernobyl Romantics

On this journey to publishing my novel I often take little tangents, usually in the form of writing competitions. I love the immediacy of the feedback and the stretching prompts. Zeroflash’s August competition garnered me an honorable mention from the talented Jan Kaneen. I can’t tell you how uplifting it is to have a writer whose work I admire, admire my work! The writing journey is often riddled with insecure moments, lonely moments; the whole thing is mostly me feeling misunderstood and reaching out, like a kid holding a scribbled drawing and asking Do you like it? But as the journey goes on, I don’t hold up my drawings anymore, though some days I long to– especially on days when I’m feeling Genesis 1:31  …and God saw all that He made and behold, it was very good. I know my insatiable need for affirmation is a beast that must be tamed. But can never be tamed. Robert Frost taught me: Success doesn’t tame it, not all the praise in the the world will tame an artist.

My writing style often provokes this response: I don’t get it. Four words I dread to hear, but need to hear. Am thankful to hear. But these four I love much better: to-die-for language, with specific examples. So I’m savoring this moment of hearing four different words.

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. – Stephen King

I went shamelessly for the gross out. Read it and see if you agree.

Chernobyl Romantics

Fedir and Art were sorely unprepared for chemistry– all the excuse they needed for a day trip to the exclusion zone. Their options were “F” in chemistry vs. possible radiation poisoning. One promised a thrill.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Fedir said, “How else do all those animals live there?”

The abandoned amusement park surpassed their imaginings: especially the bumper cars frozen in skewed arrangements, caught in verdant webs of nature’s somnolent devour. Hostile shrubs punched through pane-less windows, and towering above it all– the Ferris wheel, monument to stilled life in Pripyat. Art pulled out his copy of Roadside Picnic and read: “Intelligence is the ability… to perform pointless or unnatural acts– ”

From the tangled growth a sound: leaves being crushed. Art’s smile died on his face.

“Quick!” Fedir dived into the nearest Ferris wheel car. Art followed. Probably just moose, but it could be police. A guttural growl, more leaves stomped, the brisk snap of tree limbs. Some enormity was less than twenty feet away and advancing.

“Moose?” whispered Art. He swiveled and peaked over. A serrated tongue flashed, cracked whip-like, and the top of Art’s head disappeared. Cleanly. Bone sliced like melon rind. The piece of Art that held his eyes was tossed mercifully away. Fedir heard it strike the metal supports then come to rest on the asphalt. He sank lower into the footwell and noted with macabre interest, Art’s hands still gripped the rail though he’d slumped.

Fedir remained frozen while the cloying copper smell of Art bloomed, lingered, and long since evaporated. In a cathedral silence. One with the steel cage, the grooves in the footwell painfully embossed Fedir’s skin. Art’s bowels released. Fedir wept silently.

The sun set behind a barb wire copse. Shadows advanced, followed by smothering dark. Fedir heard stirrings from the wood.

 

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.

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.