Tag: terribleminds (page 1 of 30)

The Flash Fiction Challenge

Courtesy floating robes
Courtesy Floating Robes

Since this week Chuck has challenged his writerly readers to come up with Flash Fiction challenges of their own, over here in my own writer-space I thought I’d talk about why flash fiction is, in and of itself, a challenge for writers. Serious authors bang out 1000 words or more a day as they propel themselves towards the completion of their drafts. They bend over keyboards and notepads, tapping or scratching out thousands of words on a daily basis. So why is flash fiction such a challenge?

Paradoxically, it’s because telling a story is easier with more words than less.

While it’s certainly true that a saga like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire would be diminished if it were not told with multiple volumes of text, it’s just as true that stories of equal poignancy have been told with a tiny fraction of such sagas’ word counts. Consider Hemingway’s shortest story:

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

Other authors have done similar work, turning a mere six words into fully-realized, powerful tales. I make no claims of being a Hemingway, a Whedon, or an Atwood, so I’m much more comfortable trying to tell a story in 1000 words rather than six. Still, it can be a great challenge. You have to show rather than tell in as few words as possible. You must keep the tale simple while ascribing adequate depth. Your characters need to come alive in just a sentence or two.

It is an amazing way to keep your writing skills sharp.

Writers burn out. It takes a lot of energy to create. As with any work of art, a well-written story costs the author in time and motivation and fatigue. This is especially true if writing is not the primary profession of the author; if time for writing must be carved out around the time occupied by another form of employment or other responsibilities, it can be even more taxing. As strong as the need to write might be, and as much as unfulfilled word counts might haunt the author, there are only so many hours in the day.

Flash fiction keeps the wheels greased. It quiets the authorial demons hounding you to get more shit done. Oh, you should still get it done, don’t get me wrong. It’s just easier to dispense with things like laundry and TPS reports and menial labor when you get just a little writing done. It takes the edge off, while paradoxically sharpening your nibs. And prompts, like those over at Terribleminds, make it even easier to get into the habit of knocking a little flash fiction out on a regular basis.

I recommend Chuck and his books and blog for a lot of reasons: the brilliance, the profanity, the fearlessness, the strength of character, the clarity of voice, the beard. But let me add one more reason: most Fridays, he issues his Flash Fiction challenge. If you’re inclined to write, I highly recommend trying your hand at meeting one of those challenges. Your writing will improve. You’ll tell interesting stories. And you’ll feel accomplished, as well as in good company when you read other entries. Give it a try. I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed in what happens.

Flash Fiction: You Are Dead

Cellar Door, by moocatmoocat

On Friday, Chuck Wendig said the only thing we need for this Flash Fiction Challenge is a dead body. “Okay,” I said to myself, “let’s pretend that we’re dead.”

Is it still called waking up when you were not asleep, but dead?

It’s one of the questions you struggle with every time you return to consciousness. You are, at least, spared anything resembling a nightmare or even an idle thought while you are in repose; you know for a fact that your brain shuts down completely every time the sun rises. Now that it’s set, you are mobile again. Until that moment when twilight ended and night actually began, anybody finding you would have mistaken you for just another dead body.

It’s cold. The air conditioning unit up in one of the basement windows is kept on full blast during the day so your body’s falling temperature doesn’t stop for hours. That holds off the worst of the rigor mortis, so that when you… wake up? … your body can actually move. Stiffly. You take a moment to sit up slowly, flex your fingers painfully, get your blood circulating again.

The burning in your chest begins very soon after. You look down at the little round hole in your sternum. Every once in a while, you move in such a way that you feel a stabbing pain in the left side of your chest, deep within your ribcage. The bullet – it’s still there, still lodged somewhere in the wall of your heart. No blood comes from the wound, which is closed over. It’s not clotted, the way wounds usually are; there’s just this translucent, milky film over the hole, slightly sticky to the touch. You get a chill down your spine whenever you touch it. You avoid touching it.

Once you’re moving more like a human and less like something from the imagination of George Romero or Robert Kirkland, you put on some clothes and a hooded sweatshirt. Your hands find their way into the sweatshirt’s pockets as you head up the stairs and out of the cellar door. The landlord upstairs only knows that you leave at night and return in the morning, and so far, has asked few questions. You haven’t considered getting a job for two reasons. One, night falls and morning comes at inconsistent times, and you don’t want to be dropping dead in the middle of a shift, or the commute home.

More importantly, though, you need to find your killer.

It was the first thing you thought of the first time you regained consciousness in the morgue. The smell of gunsmoke, wide eyes in the darkness, and a burning sense of indignant rage that your life was so callously ended. You need to remember more. Everything other than that searing moment before things went completely black is a haze. The faces of some friends and family linger in your mind, and you struggle to reconnect with anything resembling a coherent memory.

It’s why you walk away from where you were killed and towards another house not far from your own. You know it’s a bad idea. You know you can’t be seen. You know it’s going to end badly.

But your feet move in that direction anyway, muscle memory in control, your legs knowing the way even if your brain is telling you that you need to be elsewhere. Finding your killer. Earning your rest.

You stop across the street, between two houses, covered in shadow. You look up at the porch. You see them there, the lights of their cigarettes bobbing, the soft sound of beer cans moving, the occasional soft laugh. It’s an uneasy sound, a sound of recovery. They’re hurting, over there. Someone is, at least. You narrow your eyes, trying to make out more than shadows. And then –

Sitting on the porch with your friends, you laugh heartily at a joke and lift your glass. Another rim touches yours. You both drink. This is familiar, comfortable, and safe. No expectations. No awkwardness. No hidden agendas or concealed emotions. Honesty. Trust. Love. Friends. Smiles that light up rooms and make other people curious, if not downright envious.

Your heart clenches. The bullet is a burning coal in your ribcage. You exhale, a name pushing its way out of your dried, cracked throat past blackening teeth. You hear a can drop. The lights of the cigarettes stop moving. Panic shoots through your body. You turn and you run.

The dead have no place among the living.

Still, you make your way back downtown. Into the lights and seething populace of the urban center. You once again walk by where it happened. You hear the gunshot again, a phantom sound in the back of your mind. You scan the ground for clues. You’ve been here often enough to doubt you’ll find anything. But that garbage can wasn’t where it has been before. Someone moved it, probably to carry it to the curb. Under where it was is a small rectangle, and you bend to look –

The business card’s your only lead. Phone inquiries and talking with others in safe environments only goes so far. You need to go to the source to get your answers. Card in hand you head for the address when you get stopped by someone who knows what you’ve been doing, the questions you’ve been asking. You don’t see the gun before it’s too late…

You stagger. Your hand reaches out of the wall nearby. You can’t take your eyes off of the business card. You bend, knees creaking, and pick it up.

Turning, you see people staring at you. Flashing lights in the distance. And in the sky, stars disappearing as dawn looms. How long were you standing there?

You break into a run. You head for the only haven you have. You clutch the card tightly, the grip of the dead. You throw open the cellar door with strength that surprises you, nearly ripping it from its hinges.

You pull off your clothes, lest they start to stink, and climb onto your slab. You still hold the card. You want to cry.

Dawn arrives. You are dead.

Today’s photo courtesy moocat.

Flash Fiction: Executioner’s Bullets

Courtesy Colorado Springs Criminal Law Blog

Getting back into the swing of things with a return to the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenges. This one is “The Random Title Jamboree“. After I rolled my trusty d20, I started on this. I hope you enjoy it.

He sat in the back of his dingy, run-down van. The metal seat wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t made for long-term sit-downs. Yet he’d stayed there for most of an hour, the late afternoon sun coming through the windshield, staring at the hood in his hands.

There was a quote or a paraphrase that kept coming back to him, from when he’d seen The Godfather as a kid. “There are men in this world who go about demanding to be killed.” He’d seen them first hand. They wandered the streets of the city, hands eager for money or flesh or blood, eyes always alert for the next victim, the next fix. The police couldn’t catch them all. The law wouldn’t hold them all. Prisons failed, rehabilitation didn’t take, and all the while the victims and their families suffered.

Someone had to do something about those repeat-offending skate-on-a-technically thinking-they-will-never-get-caught motherfuckers.

How did his actions make him any different than them?

He looked up from the hood to the rack on the opposite wall of the van. It was one of those panel jobs, with no windows past the two doors up front down the entire length of both sides. The back windows were open but tinted; he could see out through the rear-view mirror but nobody could see in. Nobody could see the rack. Nobody could see the assault rifles, the shotguns, the pistols. He kept multiple weapons to be prepared, in case of damages, jams, or other mishaps. He didn’t want to be in a situation where he had someone at the end of a rifle with no recourse when something went wrong.

He didn’t want to be in a situation where someone caught sight of him and took revenge on his loved ones in response to his justice.

He looked back down at the hood. It could use a wash. It didn’t smell great. More than one criminal had bled on it. Darker spatters marked its black cloth, evidence of several close-range headshots and one incident where he’d beaten a man to death with a lead pipe after a rough struggle. It came with the territory; when you did this sort of thing, you were bound to run into a bad situation. Things got messy. What mattered was surviving.

It didn’t really matter that he didn’t talk to his ex-wife regularly. Nor did it matter that his visits with his kids were supervised. What mattered was that they were protected. Both from any retribution for what he did, and the nature of what he did itself. He stared at the hood for as long as he could stand, closing his eyes when the emotions welled up.

Why was the world like this? Why did it take monsters to hunt monsters? Why did he have to become one when his partner and sister died together in that car bomb? They’d been so happy. He’d loved seeing them together. He still went by their graves to remind himself what was at stake, what might happen if he wasn’t careful… It was just as much a ritual as putting on the hood.

Which he did. Smell and all, he needed it. His family needed it.

He turned his attention to the bins under the racks. The bins containing the bullets. The rifle ammunition, he bought in bulk, mostly because it was cheap that way. But the handgun ammunition, he crafted by hand. He picked up things from pawn shops – jewelry from broken families, heirlooms of dead parents, the evidence of crimes whose victims left their pain unspoken – and worked them into the bullets. Every one meant something. Every one was intended to bring peace. Every one silenced a voice held in an innocent person’s head.

He executed more than scumbags.

He inhaled deeply, galvanizing his nostrils against the smell of the hood and what was coming tonight. Slowly, methodically, he loaded two of his handguns, holstering each at his hips. He then loaded two extra magazines, one for each pistol, which went into the pouch behind his back. He opted for one of the shotguns, a pump-action number with a forward pistol grip, a sawn-down barrel, and a collapsing stock. Its sling went over his shoulder, followed by his hooded long coat. It was cold enough that nobody would question his fashion at a glance. And most of his walking would not be on public streets.

There was another city between the avenues and thoroughfares. One unseen by those who merely existed between their austere offices and boring homes. Like the rest of the city, most of the people there just wanted to find a better life; a measure of happiness that often seemed just out of reach. But in the shadows of the highrises were the people who didn’t just wait for that measure, nor sought it with their own resources – they were content to take what they wanted from those who could not defend themselves.

They needed to know there were consequences to their actions.

He felt the weight of the vest under his coat. He felt the weight of the weapons on his hips, from his shoulder. He felt the weight of the bullets in his heart.

An executioner’s work was rarely done. He was a monster who disposed of other monsters.

And one day, another monster would dispose of him.

Until then, he had bullets enough for every other monster he’d meet tonight.

Flash Fiction: Convocation

Courtesy Terribleminds

As I struggle to return to a regular writing and blogging schedule, a big part of that routine is writing flash fiction every week, usually as part of the Terribleminds challenge. This week, the goal is to tell a story using a photo, or provide a photo for others to use. Upon seeing this photo on Terribleminds, I had to run with one of my favorite concepts – old gods and demi-gods in a new world.

For a long time, both of them stared at the sign. Neither of them said a word.

A rickety old Ford truck rattled by them, the headlamps playing off of the letters, the glass, the metal of the news box. The taller figure, a willowy man looking to be in his early twenties, could not take amber eyes from the black block letters. The shorter, stockier onlooker turned to look upwards towards the angular face framed by the streetlamps.

“You can’t tell me you weren’t expecting this.”

“It’s madness.” The tall person shook his head. “Some of my kin have always treated the secrecy with which we’ve operated for centuries as inconvenient. But this?” Long fingers made an exasperated gesture at the sign. “It’s like she wants to expose the mortals to our realms.”

“I thought you two were on good terms. What happened?”

The taller figure shook his head, reaching into his pocket for a small cardboard packet. He flipped up the top, removed a thin black filtered cigar, and placed it between his lips. A snap of his fingers brought wisps of faerie fire around his thumb, which he held to the stick until the tip glowed.

“That midsummer night all of those turns ago. I still don’t think she’s forgiven me for my conduct.”

That? Are you joking? A few drops of love potion are a petty thing. A bit of rain washes them away. It isn’t worth killing you, and this could put all of us in terrible danger.”

Oberon puffed out a ring of cherry-tinged smoke. “Even so many of us in one place?”

“We are not who we used to be, my young friend. Gone are the days of pungent, sweet sacrifice in the town square, even if the sacrifice was for some petty, selfish end, or arranged to be a form of deception.” There was a short, derisive snort. “As if piling the best bits on top of the offal would work more than once.”

“Mere mortals, deceive the mighty Zeus? Such a preposterous notion.”

“Upjumped whelp.” Zeus was smiling, though, even bitterly, as he prodded the faerie king with an elbow. “Still, my point is that nowadays we must sustain ourselves on scraps. Retold tales and Hollywood casting.”

Oberon nodded. “How often do you get told ‘I thought you’d be taller’?”

Zeus frowned. “I am not that short. 5-foot-9 by the American reckoning. And I used to be taller.”

“We all used to be taller.”

Neither of them spoke for a moment. Oberon finished his cigar, dropping it to the gravel and crushing it under his designer bootheel.

“Come on. Let’s go inside. We’re likely to be starting soon.”

As they walked, Oberon glanced over his shoulder at the sign again. Titania. What are you up to? While his queen was given to experience periods of great melancholy, especially of late, this sort of blatant disregard for the secrecy in which their ilk operated was lunacy. It simply did not fit with how Titania tended to operate, nor did it make sense even in the context of striking back against a perceived wrong.

But if not Titania, then who?

The pair of them entered the hotel’s conference room, rented out and set up for the occasion. There were over a hundred individuals gathered, having arrived from all over the world. Some were dressed in their traditional garb, in flagrant defiance of any modern fashion sensibilities. Others had invested in true top-flight fashions from the current age. Despite some of them wearing different mortal forms, due to one calamity or another, Oberon knew all of them on sight.

“Well, well, well. Aren’t we a brave one?”

Oberon turned slowly. The woman who spoke was of a height with him, gliding silently across the carpeted floor, the dark, textured fabric of her dress taking the shape of her hips and thighs as she moved. Her hair, piled into a stylish coif of curls, was ebony, shot through with silver and snow-white. She studied Oberon with ice-blue eyes, bringing a flute of wine to lips the color of frozen mulberries.

“Hello, Aunt.”

Even in a room full of their peers, Oberon knew better than to speak the name of Mab aloud. She smiled more broadly at him.

“Still cautious, after all of this time? No pleasantries for me? How long has it been?”

Oberon narrowed his eyes. “Not long enough for me to forget your desire to bring all of fae under your heel.”

Mab pouted, for a moment, then looked down at her shoes. “But they’re such nice heels.”

“I am not in a gaming mood. We have many matters to discuss tonight, beyond our personal entanglements.”

“But entanglements lend spice to life, my nephew.”

He shook his head. “Are you here for the price on my head?”

“What need have I for that reward, steep as it might be? You must know that if I wanted you…” Mab’s eyes met his for a long, disquieting moment that smoldered like the embers of a hearth. “…I would already have you.”

Oberon swallowed. Mab was a wily creature, and definitely preferred this sort of persuasion to anything blatant. His eyes narrowed, and he seized upon a more likely notion. “Excuse me.”

Turning, he moved with haste back out into the parking lot.

“Puck! Robin Goodfellow! Stand ye forth!”

Instead of the expected silence, Oberon’s command was met with the immediate appearance of a genteel-looking sprite, of a height with Oberon, dressed in a suit.

“My lord?”

“Were you hoping the hunters would do your dirty work?”

Puck laughed. “If you could handle them, you prove yourself worth of kingship. If not, Puck claims the reward and your throne.”

“Call off the hunters, Robin, and let us have done between us.”

The sprite’s eyes narrowed. “And let you cower indoors with your skyfather friends? Nay, my king. You have much to prove.”

Oberon gestured. A crystal rapier appeared in his hand.

“So be it, Puck. Allez.”

Flash Fiction: The Wreck

It’s been too long since I’ve gotten in on the weekly Flash Fiction Challenge over at Terribleminds. Chuck double dog dared us to write 100 words exactly of original fiction. Here’s what I came up with.

I start to wake up. I remember a lot of noise.

I’m on my side. Glass is everywhere. I smell gas. Blood.

I hear a voices. More noise. Hydraulics whine.

Dark hands reach for me. Bright eyes in a dark face look on in concern.

Part of me reminds me I’m supposed to be repulsed.

They’re inferior, says my father’s voice. That’s why they were slaves.

That made sense this morning.

The black woman says I’ll be okay.

I start passing out again.

A woman’s place is in the home, my father goes on.

Yet neither of us are there.

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