Flash Fiction Challenge | Flight

Hey, it’s a writing challenge piece! This one is for Chuck Wendig’s writing challenge, which is the fifth in a five-part challenge. Participants write 200 words as the start of the story. Each round you grab another story and add another 200 words. We’re up to 1,000 words this week, so this will be a “complete” flash fiction piece!

As this is the fourth of five parts, I’ll be continuing this story by David Kearney, started by Adrienne, then j and Smoph. I’ve added the last 200 words of my own (each “entry” is designated by a break). It was previously untitled, so I’ve added one above…but feel free to change it, of course.

Feedback always appreciated.

The trio looked at the fence in front of them. It was a simple chain link, but it had to be about ten feet high, and the razor wire on top added another two feet. He was expecting this, but he was not expecting to have two girls on his coat tails. He could take care of himself, now he was pretty sure they would all die.

Except for his heavy breathing and the muffled sobs from the girls, it was silent. The setting sun was hidden by an ominous sky, promising rain at any moment. He knew what happened when the rain came, so he needed to move fast. He surveyed the barrier one more time, but froze as the wind brought an all too familiar smell. He turned to face the direction they were running from. The trees edging the clearing began to sway as the wind picked up. He could hear the soft pattering of rain on the leaves. The air rushed out of his lungs as the storm descended upon them, bringing with it more than just wind and rain. The three had to move now or accept certain death.

They were coming.

—-

He picked up one of the girls and hung her on the fence as high as he could reach. Then he did the same with the other. Knowing what was coming, he had to take a steadying breath before he started up. A lost moment was better than panic.

At the top, he threw his coat over the razor wire. It would help, a little.

He flipped himself over the fence. He’d taken some damage but it wouldn’t kill him. For a moment, he thought about leaving the girls. The things coming out of the woods would find the girls first, give him a bigger head start.

Shit. When had he gone soft?

He hung himself back over the fence. The wire tore into him but it was that or what was left of his soul.

He stayed as still as possible while the girls climbed over him. They were slow. The sun was probably already down but it was hard to tell with the storm moving in.

Where were they? Shouldn’t the damn things be on top of them already?

Finally, the girls were over the top.

He pulled himself off, ignoring what he left behind. Then he dropped down and pulled the girls off the fence.

—-

What they had to do was find shelter, and fast. He didn’t fancy being out in inclement weather with these young girls and they were better off hidden from their pursuers. He could see a barn, edges blurred in the falling dark. Shelter and a hayloft to hide in were too appealing to pass up.

He set off at a slow jog, the girls struggling to keep pace, their tired feet dragging in the dirt. He made them go around the barn, through a stand of trees behind, and in through a smaller back entrance with a door that squeaked traitorously.

They waited until it was dark before slowly edging the huge barn doors closed. With a penlight that grew ever weaker, he showed them the way up to the hayloft, tucked them into some canvas and took watch. He would wake one to take his place so he could catch a few hours later. As a precaution, he pulled up the ladder.

An urgent tug on his arm and he was sitting bolt upright, straight from sleep. Wide blue eyes looked to him out of a terrified face. Beyond her, there was the squeal of a door on its hinges. Their hiding place had been discovered.

—-

He looked at the girls intently, raising a finger to his lips before peering over the edge of the hayloft. The barn door opened out into the rain-soaked night. A flash of lightning lit up the space, casting an ominous shadow across the dirt floor. The malevolent form shambled into the room, sniffing hungrily at the air.

He’d hoped the rain might cover their scent.

Heavy, salivating breaths cut through the sound of falling rain as the monster surveyed the darkness.

Strange there was only one of them.

A muffled sneeze sounded behind him.

The creature leaped up to the loft, training its gaze directly at him. Scrambling to his feet, he grabbed a rusty pitchfork and raised the makeshift weapon as the creature fell upon him. The ferocity of the impact sent him tumbling to the ground below.

He braced for the end, but it didn’t come. Tentatively, he opened his eyes and saw the lifeless beast on the ground next to him, pitchfork protruding from its throat.

A grim smile crossed his lips. If they could make it to the checkpoint before nightfall tomorrow they’d be safe. At least the girls would be. He regarded their tear-streaked faces staring down at the fallen creature.

An all too familiar smell blew in through the open barn door.

—-

It was the smell of death, and rage, and fear. It was life rotting away under old, grimy skin.

There was another beast out there, possibly more. He heard a scratching sound against the far wall, and then scratching all around them as creatures clawed the walls.

A trap, then.

He pulled the girls down from the loft and yanked the pitchfork from the beast’s throat. It released with bloody resistance.

“Tap against the floorboards. Listen for a hollow sound. Quickly!” He said.

The smallest found the handle first, pointing with her finger and staring at him with large, frightened eyes. He pulled up the trapdoor, thrilled to find a small wooden ladder. The girls climbed down, and the beasts entered as he began to descend. They ran over, forcing him to jump down and slam the trapdoor shut overhead. There were wails and clawing against wood; he had a sprained ankle, but also the pitchfork.

“How did you know?” The older one asked in the darkness.

“An exceptional interest in nineteenth-century regional history and a fair amount of luck,” he said. “Now, link arms and find the walls. We’ll follow the passage until it ends. If my luck holds out, they won’t figure it out.”

Flash Fiction Challenge | The Veteran

Hey, it’s a writing challenge piece! This one is for Chuck Wendig’s writing challenge, which is the fourth in a five-part challenge. Participants write 200 words as the start of the story. Each round you grab another story and add another 200 words. We’re up to 800 words this week!

As this is the fourth of five parts, I’ll be continuing this story, adding 200 words of my own (each “entry” is designated by a break). It was previously untitled, so I’ve added one above…but feel free to change it, of course.

Feedback always appreciated.

Lying nude in the middle of this cotton field, I sense things differently than I have in sometime. I’m cold. It’s the first time I’ve felt cold since she died. The air flows over my body like ice cold water from a stream. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can’t help but to hope that I die in this field. I’m, however, smart enough to know that’s not going to happen.

Nothing has felt the same since they killed Adrianna. Every day I roam from city to city, hoping beyond hope that someone will recognize who I am and decide to take my life away. It never happens. Every now and then someone will recognize who I am, but usually they are too frightened to do anything about it.

I don’t blame them. I did some very nasty things at the end of the last war. Several countries banned me from entrance. I, however, did what I needed to do to make sure that the war ended. I did what I was paid for. Little did I know that the immortality they offered as payment would be spent in exile, trying to come up with ways to bring back Adrianna.

—-

I lay there vaguely enjoying the sensation of feeling again after having been numb for so long. I was pondering my next move – I’d heard a rumour of a woman in a nearby village who might be able to help me – when I heard voices calling in the still morning air.

I moved quickly, careful not to disturb the cotton in my haste, on to my front bringing my knees up under me so I could spring up quickly if I needed to. As I did so my hand darted to the pile of clothes by my side and the slender yet deadly blade concealed beneath.

As the voices moved closer I sought the quiet place in my mind,the place where I could leave my self behind. I needed to disengage my emotions, to leave my humanity behind and find the monster within.

I had hoped to be able to leave that part of myself behind but it seemed I would have to hold onto it, for now.

I stood slowly, aware of my nudity and how it would affect my seekers, and held my blade out ready for whatever was thrown at me. Every sense on high alert.

“Over here. We’ve found her,” a voice called.

—-

The morning sun filters through a ragged line of trees to my left, laying bands of apricot light across the field of cotton, and the cold morning air feels charged with the energy of a million lodestones.

About fifty yards to my right another voice takes up the call, and then another, transmitting across a line of a dozen men who wade slowly through the thorny sea. Some cradle their rifles, others walk stockade-style with their arms hanging loosely over the ends of the weapons slung across their shoulders.

I keep the knife handle tucked into my palm so that the blade rests against the length of my forearm and conceals it from view. I want to cover myself but reaching for my clothes right now isn’t a good idea.

When the men are within ten yards they stop and form a half-circle around me.

“Put down the knife.” A tall, flinty man with grey hair steps forward.

“And if I don’t?” I’m ready to spring. To see blood. To feel the pulpous give of fat and muscle.

“Then you’ll never see Adrianna again.” His smile parts the thin lips enough to reveal a pair of sharp, white canines and my blood turns to ice once again.

—-

“Put it down,” the man commands, “or I’ll tell ’em to really let your pretty little girl have it this time.”

I place the knife on the ground.

“Kick it over here.”

“I’ll cut my foot,” I say, my voice even. “Aren’t antibiotics getting pretty expensive these days?”

“Christ,” the leader mutters. He gestures to a younger man nearby – a kid, really – who darts out from the circle and grabs the knife. I see beads of sweat glisten on his forehead, and he purposefully avoids my eyes.

Good – I need fear; perhaps it will be catching.

“Well, go on,” I say. They put a bag over my head but do not let me dress. I walk naked through the field. There is a slice against my bare skin and a trickle of warm blood. The sound of rotating blades approaches and a dart punctures my neck. I swat at it like it is an annoying gnat.

“Told you it wouldn’t work!” A voice cries out.

“She’s immortal, not invulnerable,” their leader says. “Triple it.”

When I wake, Adrianna is beside me.

Not breathing.

Flash Fiction Challenge | The Fair Folk’s Favor

Hey, it’s a writing challenge piece! This one is a belated entry for Chuck Wendig’s writing challenge, which is the third in a five-part challenge. Participants write 200 words as the start of the story. Each round you grab another story and add another 200 words. We’re up to 600 words this week!

As this is the third of five parts, I’ll be continuing this story, adding 200 words of my own (each “entry” is designated by a break). It was previously untitled, so I’ve added one above...but feel free to change it, of course.

Feedback always appreciated.

The wolves came in. That’s what happens when you leave the front door open at night, which is exactly what I did. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I was in the kitchen warming up some midnight milk for myself when I saw their shadows slinking along the hallway, breaking up the moonbeams across the floor. I heard their panting, smelled breath most foul. I froze, of course. But–and I guess this was stupid of me but I still had my wits about and what else was I to do with them–I tried to figure out just by looking at their shadows if these wolves were scared, bored, or hungry.

You’d think the hungry ones are the most dangerous, but these aren’t ordinary wolves. And if they were bored, I was as good as dead.

Very quietly, I shut off the gas. Stove dials would make too much noise, and so would my bunny slippers. I slid the biggest knife we had from its place in the wooden holder with the brood of ducks on it before I realized that one, I tended to focus on the most mundane things when I am scared, and two, I sure as hell didn’t know how to wield a knife.

—-

Well, not against wolves like these anyway. It just wasn’t in me. They couldn’t help that they’d been corrupted any more than I could help fixing what had been done. Why did this always seem to happen? I was planning a quiet few years this time with no conflict, no involvement in anything. The wolves were always the first to come. I knew they’d be followed by elves, dwarves, pixies — all needing my help and here we’d go again.

I clenched my teeth and sliced the big knife over the palm of my hand. The blood flowed and I cupped my hand to collect it. Then I watched the milk turn pink as I turned my hand over the saucepan.

I lifted the pan in absolute silence and squatted down to cast the grisly mixture across the floor. The wolves smelled it immediately and closed in to lap it up. I didn’t move a muscle, counting on the distraction to keep them interested until they started to change. Luck was with me and it didn’t take long. Their matted fur smoothed and their rank panting mellowed to something not much worse than dog breath. There were three of them and they padded over to surround me, nuzzling my skin with their night-chilled noses.

—-

“Good boys,” I mutter. “Go.”

They stare up at me as though they expect something else.

“Go!” It is a harsh command, but they linger. Why? I have nothing more to give them.

My heart thuds in my chest when I realize what the pack is – not hellhounds, werewolves, or skinchangers. These are Cu Sith, and it’s taken me this long to see the greenish tint in their dark fur.

I don’t expect to be alone, but my breath still catches when I look up: Melvina.

This is why you don’t leave the door open. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Maleficent thing,” I say, “you tricked me.”

She wears embroidered brocade. Impractical for the weather, but the Sidhe have no need for practical things.

“Such silly magic,” Melvina shakes her head when she sees the pink paste on the floor. “A child’s trick. It would not work against beasts of the Fair Folk.”

“I did not know they were the Sidhe’s hounds,” I reply.

“You say our name?” Melvina grimaces.

“I have your wrath already. What do you want?” I answer.

“A favor.”

Speakeasy #138 | Rites of Passage

The bowl lay overturned on the floor, a rough crack running down one side. Paige could see the damage illuminated with the light from her iPhone, set dimmer than she normally preferred.

“Double-damn!” She swore under her breath. Paige picked up the bowl, avoiding the jagged edge that threatened to cut her finger and make her bleed like a stuck pig.

With more care than before, Paige placed each item in the bowl as if they were part of a sacred ritual – which, when she thought about it, they kind of were.

Paige stood and breathed a sigh of relief. This had been a minor setback, but she could still finish close to schedule.

The light clicked on, flooding the room with light. In the mirror’s reflection, Paige saw her older sister Shelby. Her thick blonde hair was piled in a messy style, and she wore an oversized Dartmouth hoodie over American Apparel leggings. A shit-eating grin completed the ensemble.

“What’re you doing, sis?” Shelby goaded. Paige stared back at her. Maybe if she didn’t move, her sister wouldn’t see her. It worked in Jurassic Park. Kind of.

“Honestly, you are such a child sometimes,” Shelby walked over and looked into the bowl.

“Technically I’m a child all the time,” Paige managed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Shelby rifled through the bowl. “Are you sneaking out?”

“Yes?” Paige squeaked. Shelby pulled her into her room, a monstrosity of unfolded laundry and books. Her new laptop, a gift to celebrate her early admission to college, glowed faintly on her Ikea desk.

“Are you going to drink?” Shelby asked.

Paige shook her head, her lip involuntarily curling at the thought of the one sip of lukewarm Miller Light she had after Homecoming. Gross.

“Drugs?” Shelby’s face grew concerned, then softened when Paige emphatically shook her head.

“You’re not going to have sex, are you?” Shelby’s voice hinted at resigned melancholy, desperation, and admiration. Paige shook her head at that one, too, but made the mistake of looking away and blushing.

“You’re meeting a boy!” Shelby said, her voice echoing the sing-song taunting of their younger petty sibling rivalries.

“Don’t you dare tell Mom and Dad!” Paige begged. “It’s nothing. Cameron Jones is doing a movie night and he invited me and a few other people. His parents are out-of-town, but his aunt will be there, so it’s not even like we’ll be able to get into any trouble even if we wanted to!”

“But Mom and Dad said no – no parents, not happening,” Shelby said, summarizing one of Saul and Peggy Beckett’s many rules for their two teenage daughters. “I get it, sis. Look, if you’re being safe – and it sounds like you are – then I’ll help you.”

“But you’re a dork!” Paige regretted the words as soon as they escaped. She wanted to tuck them away, avoid the embarrassment of telling her sister what she thought. Paige flushed crimson, but Shelby giggled. She began to take make-up out of the bowl, placing Paige’s selections on her stark white desk: highlighting pearls, an eye makeup palette, and a staggering three lip glosses. Oh, the indecisive excesses of youth, Shelby thought.

“I’m a dork, which means I’m smart, which means I figured out how to avoid getting caught sneaking out way before you did,” Shelby countered. “It also means I have the patience to research and work my cute butt off where you might otherwise give up. I’ve learned some tricks that won’t impress Dartmouth but might impress you. Hand me that eyeliner.”

“What’re you gonna do with it?” Paige took it out of the bowl, nervous.

“Sis, I’m gonna give you winged liner like you wouldn’t believe.”

This piece was written for the speakeasy #138 challenge. Word count is 616, under the 750-word max. As always, feedback is appreciated!

Flash Fiction Challenge | Exile

Hey, it’s a writing challenge piece! This one is for Chuck Wendig’s current writing challenge, which is the second in a five-part challenge. Participants write 200 words as the start of the story. The next part sounds pretty fun (and challenging):

you’ll take someone else’s 200 words and continue that story for 200 more (for a total of 400 words). The goal being to end up with a 1000-word story after five total challenges. Each time around you’ll grab someone else’s story and add 200 words to it. We’ll play this weird narrative whisper-down-the-lane variant until roughly the end of the year.

As this is the second of five parts, I’ll be continuing this story, adding 200 words of my own. The original was a little long (225), so my addition is just under 200 words.

Feedback always appreciated.

The accursed shoreline sat in the hazy distance, the beach from this distance a delicate piece of golden thread. Beyond, a few rolling hills of verdant forest were visible before the land was lost in a low, thick fog that sat like a cushion over the land.

Jorick couldn’t see them, but he knew the mountains were there. The mountains, the source of his suffering, the reason he was here, trapped on this fat tub of a ship, exiled from the land.

Both hands gripped the rough, sun-scarred wood of the ship’s taffrail as he looked at the land.

He thought of his mother and father, both lying dead on the floor of their home. He had found them there. There was nothing he could have done. It had all happened so fast. The image had flashed through his mind countless, painful times over the past two months.

He dropped his head between his shoulders and listened to waves slap the ship’s hull and the creak of its bones. A breeze tussled his chestnut hair and it was fresh, salty sea air.

“Jorick,” a man’s voice said from behind him. “The doctor needs you. It’s happened again.”

Jorick took a lungful of fresh air and turned to descend into the stinking belly of the ship to rejoin the hundreds of people exiled along with him.

“I don’t know what help I can be,” Jorick said to Captain Wray. His regalia was old and tattered, but it still carried its meaning. When he summoned, a man should follow.

Captain Wray and Jorick cut through the crowd until they had almost crossed the length of the ship. Jorick saw a tiny girl had curled up behind a barrel. The doctor’s face showed restrained concern.

“What is it?” Jorick asked. The doctor’s eyes were the white-gray of ash, light and haunting. She motioned to the girl. Jorick sighed and dropped into a familiar squat, careful not to topple over. He placed a calloused hand on the girl’s forehead. It was damp, and just a touch colder than it should be. Jorick tried to temper his reaction. He did not look back, but spoke low enough for the doctor to hear.

“Neither you nor Captain Wray said she was in a trance.”

“Does it matter?” The doctor let out a deep sigh. Jorick heard her patience float away with her breath. “I cannot gain answers from her now. You can.”

Jorick closed his eyes and searched for the girl in the shadow.

Speakeasy #137 | Crazy Pasta

We didn’t know how we were going to spend Thanksgiving.

Dad called Mom the weekend before and I didn’t hear everything, just a few bits and pieces:

‘I thought you wanted him to spend the holiday -‘

‘No, we can’t just -‘

‘- being a total -‘

There was a lot of yelling, and then quiet, and then sobs, low and hard and pained. Dad emerged with a blotchy face and a too-large smile that didn’t fit right on his face.

“Looks like it’s just us, sport!” He said. “We’ll get everything Wednesday afternoon when I pick you up from school. Start thinking about your perfect Thanksgiving dinner.”

I didn’t want to tell him that it would mean Mom would come back and make it, and Aunt Linda and the cousins would come, too; that Dad and I would play football in the front yard.

“Anything?” I asked. I tried to smile but I bet it was a too-large smile, too, because Dad looked a little sad.

“Anything I can make!” He laughed.

When he picked me up on Wednesday, Miss Little asked him how he was doing and what our plans were, and if she could have places set for us. I spoke before Dad could answer.

“No,” I said, “we’re having a special Thanksgiving! Whatever I want!”

“Oh,” Miss Little gave Dad’s arm a squeeze and although their voices were low I could hear her say something about “keeping a brave face,” which seemed silly since it wasn’t baseball season.

When we went to the store, we were the only ones buying ingredients for pasta. Dad let me pick out crazy shapes with weird names I couldn’t pronounce.

On Thanksgiving Day, Dad swore and got mad because he realized we didn’t have any garlic powder. Then he started to cry and he sat down at the table and kept sayng he was sorry, and I kept asking why. He stayed silent for a while before answering, “Because you can’t make good pasta without garlic, sport.”

We went to a bunch of different stores until we found one still open. We bought the garlic powder and headed back home. He locked the doors when we got in the car, and he never does that. At the first stop light, a woman with a big coat crossed in front of us. We drove for a couple seconds and then Dad did a big turn in the street, which he said I should never do but was okay this time because there wasn’t anyone else around. He pulled up next to the woman and got out of the car. I rolled down the window to listen.

“Hi,” he said. The woman stared at him and he stuck out his hand. “I’m Jason. My son and I are having a small Thanksgiving – ”

“Special Thanksgiving!” I corrected.

“- a special Thanksgiving. Just pasta – ”

“Crazy pasta!” I called out.

“Just crazy pasta,” Dad said. “Would you like to join us?”

“Not dressed for Thanksgiving dinner, even with crazy pasta.” The woman smiled at us.

“Uh, my wife, she – she isn’t spending Thanksgiving with us. Got plenty of old clothes.”

“Oh,” the woman looked scared and angry, “I see. No thank you, sir.”

“No – I didn’t mean that!” Dad looked back at me and his face was red.

“Got plenty of clothes,” the woman nodded, “and plenty of space at your table, sounds like.”

“Yes ma’am!” I said. She came over to me and looked me over. Her eyes got sad.

“Your Daddy’s a kind man,” she said as she got in the car.

We spent Thanksgiving with Rita, who was really funny and told made-up stories about trolls under bridges and dragons in caves. We all had three servings of the pasta and then Dad brought out a surprise chocolate cake with something Rita called “confetti frosting.” We watched a movie where Iron Man threw a turkey at a lady. Rita slept in our guest bedroom, but didn’t want to listen to Dad’s bedtime story.

In the morning, Rita was gone. She left a note but Dad wouldn’t let me read it, even though he always let me try to read anything I wanted.

From that day forward, every time I drove past that street corner, I thought of her.

This piece was written for the speakeasy #137 challenge. Word count is 711, just under the 750-word max. As always, feedback is appreciated!

Flash Fiction Challenge | Graduation Day

Hey, it’s a writing challenge piece! This one is for Chuck Wendig’s current writing challenge, which is the first in a five-part challenge. Participants write 200 words as the start of the story. The next part sounds pretty fun (and challenging):

you’ll take someone else’s 200 words and continue that story for 200 more (for a total of 400 words). The goal being to end up with a 1000-word story after five total challenges. Each time around you’ll grab someone else’s story and add 200 words to it. We’ll play this weird narrative whisper-down-the-lane variant until roughly the end of the year. So, for right now…

Post your 200 words at your blog.

So, here I go! I’m going to use a slightly modified piece I posted a segment of earlier this week – my awkward undulating sea of maroon!

Feedback always appreciated.

A sea of maroon stretches before her, and she feels like she will drown when the wave rises. Liv should be swept away, but she doesn’t move. She doesn’t join in the cheers of her fellow classmates. She watches the caps fly high in the air, like a flock of strange birds migrating.

Ollie pulls his twin sister to her feet. She throws her cap, but it’s too late, ascending as the others plummet down. It looks lonely in the sky, a weak fledgling left behind who will never catch up.

“So this is the real world,” She says.

“We’ve got the whole summer and four years before that.” Ollie smiles as they file out from the row of warped metal chairs. They exit the field, diplomas in hand. In the parking lot maelstrom of high school graduates and proud families, the twins find their older brother Jack. He smokes a thin cigarette, oblivious to the irritated glances thrown his way. He hands Liv a wrinkled bill.

“You were right, they laughed at your names,” Jack chuckles. “Oliver Yeats and Olivia Yeats. Mom and Dad were crazy. You want to take a picture?”

“No,” Liv says.

“Now what?” Ollie asks.

Speakeasy #135 | Like, Comment, Share

Cara couldn’t sleep. She tried watching TV and reading, but her mind wandered. She tossed and turned restlessly for another hour. The aging clock radio taunted her with 12:27, 12:28, 12:29…

Cara slipped out of bed. She grabbed a water bottle from the pantry and made her way to the home office. Cara turned on the dim light – she really should replace those two burnt-out bulbs – and made her way over to the thing she tried to avoid all night.

A stack of file folders on the corner of the desk mocked her. Cara placed the water bottle on top and switched on the computer. The glowing screen comforted her, then made her stomach turn.

For twenty minutes, Cara looked up Thanksgiving recipes. When she couldn’t wait any longer, she opened a new tab and typed the web address, then her login information. The familiar blue and white theme soothed her, although anxiety simmered. Wrong, a voice inside her yelled. Cara responded by scrolling the mouse.

She skimmed past links to other content, pausing briefly to look at her neighbor’s latest “dog shaming” photo. When would Veronica learn making signs and taking pictures didn’t count as “dog training”?

Cara rolled her eyes at her niece’s daily “teen melodrama” status update, though at least this one was less on the offensive side: OHHHHHHH MY GOSH!!! that commercial came on with the animals and that sad song!! I WILL REMEMBER YOU, DOGS!!! gonna go volunteer at the shelter this weekend with the gurlz.

Cara clicked the thumbs up icon and continued scrolling.

She’d made a deal with herself months ago. Only ten minutes of browsing her News Feed. No searching; that didn’t count. After ten minutes, she had to sign off. Rules, order, boundaries. At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea.

At six minutes, she paused to read a college friend’s post: God blessed our family again today with news I’m IN REMISSION!!! Thanking Him and my amazing support system, especially my chubby hubby, the girls, and Dr. Stevens!

Cara didn’t even know about the cancer. She made a mental note to order a bright, happy bouquet.

At seven minutes, she stifled a laugh at a coworker’s status update: Bro’s care package arrived today. Con: a very upset roommate who had lots of questions about the leather chaps, blue paint, and denim shorts. Pro: Arrested Development marathon!

At eight minutes, Cara experienced a mixture of relief and misery.

At nine minutes, she felt her anxiety boil over.

At nine minutes and twenty-three seconds, give or take, divine intervention rewarded Cara.

Even though he was reduced to pixels on a screen, Mitchell Harris looked just as handsome as he had in high school. Cara heard about too many reunions gone wrong, where the high school hunk turned out to be an obese has-been or a deadbeat dad. Sometimes the guy turned out to be normal, average, and boring when he wasn’t blessed with a jersey. Cara thought of them as the Samsons of former jocks: powerless and stripped of glory.

Mitchell was different. Cara still saw the focus in his eyes, that drive others found so inspiring. From the pictures he’d posted before, Cara knew he remained active and healthy – she could picture the football uniform fitting as snugly now as it had decades ago.

The status update was short and sweet: Reboot The X-Files. Discuss.

Cara closed her eyes and let the information settle into her, like a stone sinking to the bottom of pond. She swallowed and deleted her browsing history, then quit the program. Cara clicked on an icon on her desktop, navigating through a series of folders until she arrived at a plain Word document labeled “cross stitch ideas.”

The document contained three separate lists with bullet points. Cara glanced over the six pages of “MH Likes” and mostly ignored the four pages of “MH Dislikes.” The last list, “MH ???” spanned only three pages. Cara added “X-Files” to the end.

Only three years until the 25th high school reunion.

A wave of exhaustion crashed over her. Cara gave in to a well-overdue yawn, so large it made her eyes water. She turned out the light and trudged back to bed. Cool sheets enveloped her, but mumbling interrupted Cara’s serenity. A renewed sense of guilt gnawed at her.

“Nothing, sweetheart. Go back to sleep,” Cara replied to her husband.

This piece was written for the speakeasy #135 challenge. Word count is 740, just under the 750-word max. As always, feedback is appreciated!

Speakeasy #134 | Dawn

She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. The air was cold in Laura’s lungs, and standing around dawdling wouldn’t make it any warmer. Only thing that’d get her warm would be the cup of coffee Mama would pour when she got inside.

Dawn better illuminated the farmhouse: its peeling paint, once as bright and hopeful as a blue jay’s plumage; its wraparound porch, with split, splintered wood and creaking steps; its dull gray shutters, slats loose and hinges crooked. Inside, Laura’s mother would be sitting by her father; Laura’s father would consider getting up and would see the flag, carefully folded and loud in the spartan room. Laura’s father would not respond, but would instead roll over and weep into the pillow.

Laura cursed, seeing the gate to the road came unlatched in the night. Nothing was breached, but the barrier was broken all the same. She strode across the yard, the sound of her boots interrupting the quiet melancholy of the morning. She swung the gate and prepared to latch it when she had a vision.

She walked down the road. Laura did not say goodbye to her mother or father. She did not ask for permission to leave, so she was not met with her mother’s pleas that her father ‘cannot lose another.’ Laura did not have to make the distinction that college and death are different, which also meant she did feel the sharp slap, the severed thread of mother striking child.

Laura stood at Sam’s grave. She wept, but she said ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye,’ which were the only things she had not yet said. She knocked on her calculus teacher’s door, and Ms. Cook listened. She gave Laura money from a worn envelope she pulled from a sack of flour, and she packed a small bag with clothes she saved for the church’s annual clothing drive. Ms. Cook drove her to the city, and Laura took her first and last overnight train trip. She did not sleep, but she always had a winner when people exchanged travel stories.

College administration could not allow Laura to start in the fall, but helped her find a part-time job and housing until spring semester started. Laura waited tables and came home smelling like hot oil, soy sauce, and fortune cookies. It was a better smell than chicken shit and slop.

Laura studied mathematics and garnered a reputation for her quiet tenacity. One of the few women in her classes, she was sought after just as much for her patience and drive as she was for her natural beauty. When men told her she looked wholesome, like the ‘girl next door,’ she lost interest.

Princeton offered her a spot in its graduate program. She had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant and led an introductory logic discussion on Tuesday mornings. A young woman approached her after class for help with one of the more difficult proofs. After an hour, the student almost had a grasp on it when another TA burst in, a thick tome tucked under his arm. He apologized, and Laura spoke with him long enough to learn his name was Theo and his discussion section of Intro to British Lit met in the same room an hour after hers.

The next week, Laura lingered to grade papers. Theo arrived thirty minutes early.

For their first date, he took her to a terrible adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with full-frontal male nudity. He apologized profusely after, and she kissed him in the rain.

For their eleventh date, they rode into New York City. On the train, Laura told him about her overnight trip. Theo laughed and said, ‘I love you!’ Laura said she loved him as well, and that night she took him to a pan-Asian restaurant and made him try sushi and dim-sum and cold noodles with a sweet, spicy sauce. Theo did not hate it.

They lost count of their dates, and Theo invited her for holidays with his family in Boston. She fit in, and following Christmas Eve dinner he told her he wanted to have tea, just the two of them. He brought a full tray to the guest bedroom and his hands couldn’t stop shaking. When Laura opened the lid of the tan box, an engagement ring glistened.

Laura shook her head. She latched the gate and walked back to the farmhouse.

This piece was written for the speakeasy #134 challenge. Word count is 741, right under the 750-word max. As always, feedback is appreciated!

Writer Wednesday | Write Fright Right

Say that title five times fast, I dare you.

First, enjoy this lovely script-friendly seasonal squash. Bonus: there’s a tutorial.

Click the pic for the tutorial!

Now, down to business.

Let me tell you a story.

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…

Yep, that’s it. That is the story. It’s the shortest horror story, but it packs a punch. Why? It quickly establishes a very distinct scene without tons of extras, and then immediately changes the reality. It also plays on a specific fear (being alone) and changes that reality. The 180-degree shift and that unknown contribute to the fear. The extra details are unnecessary; what works is the minimalism. Its impact is found in what is left unsaid.

So, here is my challenge to you: find something “scary” you wrote – a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a short story, a scene from your manuscript, whatever. Review the original version, then rewrite it with the intent to leave something unspoken. Perhaps this lends itself to a more “show, don’t tell” approach. Either way, just try a more minimalist lens and see. If you’d like, post your before/after on your blog and link back here.

Have a safe Halloween tomorrow!

Trick? Or treat?