Monthly Archives: March 2015
This week, Chuck has challenged us to write a flash fiction piece of no more than 100 words. This was both terribly easy and terribly difficult for me, all at the same time.
I don’t have a title for the piece yet, but it comes in just under the limit at 97 words. And if you have a moment, I encourage you to follow the link back to Chuck’s blog to read some of the other entries. There’s some pretty great stuff there.
“I’m scared,” she says.
I smile my most reassuring smile. “I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”
“Will it hurt?”
“Only for a moment, like ripping off a Band-aid.”
She exhales deeply and closes her eyes, trusting me. “Okay, I’m ready.”
I gather her into my arms, pressing our bodies together. My quick jab elicits a tiny gasp from her lips, and then she softens, relaxing against me.
When it is over, I gently kiss her brow before laying her limp form against the pillows.
Then, I rise and leave, already thinking about my next appointment.
This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig instructs us to use the Random Cocktail Generator to come up with the title for our next 1,000-word piece. I got “Brutal Hammer,” which sounds like a completely disgusting drink (half French red wine and half vodka, mixed in an old fashioned glass and then slammed) but sparked a whole slew of ideas for a short story. I went in what I hope is an unexpected direction, and the story turned into a little YA/coming of age piece.
I’d been trying to get into the Honeys for weeks. It’s never easy being the new kid in town, but since we’d moved a dozen times in my sixteen years, I’d gotten pretty good at figuring out who to hook up with, and the Honeys were the most popular girls in school. I didn’t particularly care for them, actually, because they seemed too focused on looking down their noses at people, but I knew that getting accepted by the in crowd was the only way to survive high school when you were an outsider.
I’d been thrilled when Beth, the leader of the Honeys, invited me to go check out a carnival in town. When I showed up, though, I realized why they’d invited me.
“Oh look, girls, here comes Cissy,” Beth said, her eyes scanning me from head to toe. A few of the girls snickered. I tried to ignore it.
“Hey, Beth,” I said, trying to sound casual. I’d never been into fashion, but I’d tried to make an effort today. I’d worn my favorite blouse and pulled my hair back into a ponytail, trying to emulate the Honeys’ look, but my non-designer jeans and scuffed sandals were definitely sub-par. I made a mental note to upgrade my wardrobe. “What’s up?”
“You, hopefully,” Beth sneered. “Gillian tells me you want to join the Honeys.” Gillian peeked out from behind Beth and smiled. She was the one member of the Honeys that I genuinely liked.
“Yeah, I’d like that,” I said.
“I’ll bet you would,” Beth said, which set off another round of snickering. “But we don’t just let anyone in. You have to prove yourself worthy.”
“Prove it how?” I said. Something told me this could be bad.
Beth gestured toward a ride towering over the midway. “By riding the Brutal Hammer.”
I hate carnival rides, especially ones with names like The Brutal Hammer. I’ve hated them ever since I got stuck on The Zipper with my little brother, who puked all over me about ten seconds into the ride. The operator was too busy looking at his Hustler to notice my pleas to stop the ride, so I endured the longest three minutes of my life covered in half-digested cotton candy and corn dog.
The Brutal Hammer looked like a bunch of dryer drums rolling on a flat track, which then tilted straight up and down. Not only would I be somersaulting horizontally, but spinning vertically as well. As we walked toward it, I knew I was in trouble. No one getting off that ride looked well, and the screams and groans sounded more like people being tortured than kids having fun.
“You know, spinning rides aren’t really my thing.”
“Why am I not surprised. Your name is Cissy, after all. It figures you’d be chicken.”
“I’m not chicken, I just don’t like rides that spin. How about if I ride the Mega Wheel or the Tornado Coaster instead?”
“Sure, if you want to. But the Honeys are riding the Brutal Hammer, so if you want to be one of us, you have to ride it too.”
I’d been willing to do almost anything to be accepted into the Honeys, but now that almost anything involved this, I wasn’t so sure. If I puked, I’d never live it down, but I might still be admitted into the gang. If I refused to ride, though, any chance I had would be gone.
Gillian came out from behind Beth. “It’s okay. I’ll ride with you,” she whispered, leaning in close.
Surely I could stand this for a couple of minutes. How long could the ride be anyway? “Okay, let’s do this,” I said, hoping I sounded brave. Beth flashed a look at Gillian and then marched to the front of the line. We all paired off and loaded into our drums, and I was relieved to find my seat puke-free. I sat facing Gillian, our knees touching. She reached out and took my hand as the ride operator latched the door.
“It’ll be okay, Cissy,” she said. “Try closing your eyes if you start to get sick.” I nodded, too nervous to speak. My hands were shaking as I pretended to look over the midway, embarrassed to make eye contact. She gave my hand a little squeeze as the ride fired up and I closed my eyes, feeling myself roll backward. Gillian squealed as we flipped over, but it was such a happy sound that I smiled in spite of myself.
“I can do this,” I chanted in my head, willing the ride to be over. Then the track started rising and the drum began to lurch crazily.
Gillian was really shrieking with delight now, but I found it oddly comforting. I was hardly even surprised when she pulled me toward her and pressed her lips to mine. I kissed her back, hard, caught up in the dizziness, the spinning, holding on to the one thing that felt good in the chaos around me. She smiled against my lips and opened her mouth slightly, our tongues touching tentatively at first. She tasted of vanilla lip gloss and I clung to her, cupping her head with both hands, pressing as much of my body as I could against her. We seemed to kiss forever and I didn’t care if everyone could see us making out as we tumbled ass over tea kettle.
She pulled back as the ride began to slow, and I opened my eyes to see her smiling in that shy way of hers. As the ride stopped she sat back against the headrest and said, “You did it, Cissy! You survived the Brutal Hammer!” The ride operator opened the door and unfastened our seat belts, offering us his hand as we climbed down. I felt pretty wobbly, but I wasn’t sure whether that was from the ride or from Gillian’s kisses.
That’s when I heard the puking, and I looked over to see Beth, head over a trash can, dry heaving for all she was worth. There were splotches of puke all over her and her ride partner. Suddenly, it didn’t matter whether or not I was accepted into the Honeys. It didn’t matter whether I was one of the cool kids or whether the other girls liked me. All that mattered was what Gillian thought.
She caught my eye and took my hand again, giving it another little squeeze. I squeezed back and we turned, walking away from the Honeys.
“Can I buy you a soda or something?” I said as we left the midway.
“I’d like that,” she said.
This week, Chuck Wendig posted ten random sentences and encouraged us to choose one or more for a flash fiction piece of around 1,000 words. They are all pretty great sentences (the list is here, if you’re curious), but one in particular really stood out to me and immediately put me back in the world of By the Queen’s Command. The result is about 630 words of prequel or backstory inspired by the sentence, “The river stole the gods.”
The river stole the gods. Not all at once, mind you. It crept up slowly, almost imperceptibly, over many years, eons even. But eventually, the river spirited them away, one at a time. At first, only a few individuals, the priests mostly, noticed the river’s steady march toward the temple. They tried to raise the alarm, to warn us all of the river’s approach, but few paid them any heed. “There go the old priests,” they said, “babbling again about unimportant things when we know there are more pressing concerns – the paltry harvest, the failing power grid, the constant threat of the invaders. Don’t they realize that we don’t have the time or resources to devote to a decrepit building and a bunch of crumbling statues?” And so, a generation passed and the river still came.
As the water rose to engulf the steps of the temple, those who were still devout began to express their concern, but again, we failed to heed the warning. We had other things to concern us – the wasting sickness that swept through our village, the freezing winters, and the scorching summers. It was only later, they say, when the river finally swept the first god away, that we began to really pay attention. Our village was under near-constant attack it seemed, from plagues of insects and desperate predators, both human and animal. We struggled to survive in a world that grew increasingly hostile. It was into this world that I was born. My earliest memories are of conversations, long into the night, between the few who were left. “The gods are angry that we have neglected the temple,” they said. “We must protect it and appease them if we are to have any hope of surviving.” And so, some of us began to try. We piled stones in the doorways to block the river’s entrance, and when that failed, we began to dig at the riverbank, to try to change the river’s path. But still, inexorably, the river came, stealing away another god and eroding away the ones who were left. I still remember how my mother wailed and clung to the god as it slipped it from its pedestal and floated away from her, out of sight.
As I grew to adulthood, the conversations continued while the river stole another god, and then another. “This is proof that they are abandoning us,” some said. “We must build another temple, on new land far away, and move the gods who are left,” still others said. We fought amongst ourselves, squabbling like apes, until finally, we were torn asunder. On the day the others left, packing their meager belongings and setting out toward the rising sun and away from the river, I could do nothing but hang my head and weep. I did not understand how they could abandon our village, our land, the only home we had ever known. “These gods are dead,” they’d said. “We will find a new land and build a new temple with new gods.” They shook their heads at my folly and left me alone with the one god who was left in our temple.
I kept vigil over the years as the river rose higher and higher, swirling around, pushing at the last of the gods until it had its prize, snatching it away from my clutching hands and sweeping it downstream, out of my sight.
The temple was empty now. I knew the time had come. I piled my few belongings into my canoe and pushed off into the river, determined to follow where the gods had led, looking back only once to sear the vision of our land in my mind before taking up my paddle and facing forward, anxious to learn where the gods would lead me.
It turns out that there are more than a few of us participating in Chuck Wendig’s Four-Part Flash Fiction challenge who are suckers for a good romance. I managed to find a Part I, Part II and Part III to “Love Story,” that I hadn’t had my fingers in yet, so to prove that I just can’t quit a good thing, I’ve added a Part IV to “Love Story,” coming in at around 700 words.
Part I (by lisboeta1)
Holy crap! It’s him, I heard my inner voice yell out. I was sitting in a small booth in my favorite coffee shop doing what I do best; drinking coffee and reading. As my eyes wondered from the pages of the book to the crowd gathering by the registers I saw him. He hadn’t changed much in the last twenty years. If anything he seemed to have improved like a good wine. I noticed that he was even taller than the last time I had seen him all those years ago. Thick blondish curly hair still framed his handsome face and his slanted almond-shaped eyes looked just like I remembered them. Not the skinny, slightly awkward young man he had been at 18, his well-toned arms and chest now stretched the black plain t-shirt he was wearing. He had obviously just come from the gym, sweatpants hanging low on his tight hips and sneakers on his feet. A smile crept up to my lips; I remembered him saying that his mom used to tell him that when he died he would die standing up because of his giant feet. God! I remembered our conversations as it was only yesterday.
My eyes went to his hands, big and masculine, and a shiver went through me. I remember well the feeling of those hands on my body. I was so young back then. Still, I was about two years older than him, an “older woman”. For all sense of purpose I was an adult but I still fell hard for the young man he was then. The first time I laid eyes on him, walking across the hotel atrium, I was lost. My heart fluttered every time I saw him and my legs turned to Jell-O every time we spoke. Ours was a whirlwind romance that lasted a few days but left a soft spot in my heart for 20 years. I always thought of James as the one who got away. And now, there he was, a mere few feet away from me, and my heart was doing that familiar flip-floppy thing it had always done in his presence. What was he doing here? More to the point; what was I going to do?
Part II (by Helen Espinosa)
As it turned out, I didn’t need to do anything at all. Before I could even begin to think whether it was a good idea or not to walk up to him, our eyes met and a slow smile spread across his face as recognition dawned in his eyes. My heart picked up speed inside my chest and my face felt hot as the blood rushed to it. God, I hated that! I hated the fact that I couldn’t control the blush as it flamed across my face in what I knew was a bright red color.
I put my head down as he started walking in my direction, trying to get the color under control. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so they became a tight knot in my lap that grew tighter the closer he got to the booth. I look like an idiot just sitting here. I stood up and lifted my head to meet his eyes once again, startled at how close he was and that he was still getting closer. My eyebrows lifted as he walked right up to me and put his arms around me like we were old friends.
“Oh my God, Liz! It really is you!” He leaned back, his hands holding my upper arms as he took a long look at me that did nothing to help the heat in my face.
“Hi James.” I sounded so awkward.
“Where have you been all these years? What happened to you?”
“Me? I seem to recall it was you who disappeared.” I said it with a smile but watched as something flitted across his eyes and it looked like he was going to say something but he dropped his hands instead and cleared his throat. What was that about?
He finally said, “I can’t believe it’s you after all these years. How have you been?”
“I’m good, just, you know. I don’t know.” I didn’t know where my eyes should go, so I looked down and shuffled my feet. My eyes landed on my coffee sitting on the table and the book beside it. I gestured towards it with my hand. “This is my favorite place for coffee and a book.” I glanced back up at him and caught him smiling at me.
“That’s one of the things I remember best about you. You always had a book. It’s nice to see that some things don’t change.”
“Can you stay a while? Catch up? I can buy you some coffee…” The words trailed away as I realized how dumb I sounded. God, I was so nervous. I wanted the shaky feeling in my stomach to settle down so I could breathe.
“Damn, Liz, I wish I could. I’ve gotta get showered and get to work. Rain check?” He really looked like he meant it and I almost couldn’t believe my ears. He wanted to see me again? My face went back to flaming just as I thought it had settled down. I couldn’t trust my voice so I just nodded my head.
“Well, uh…” Now he was the one stammering and shuffling his feet.
“Do you… Can I give you my number?” There. I said it. I wanted to see him again, but I knew that if he walked away without leaving me with something, I would probably never see him again. I never thought of our city as a big one, but if he lived here and we hadn’t run across each other in twenty years, who knew how long it would be before we crossed paths again, if ever.
“Of course! Geez, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.” He let out a short laugh as he reached into his sweat pants. He pulled out his cell phone and punched on the screen a few times then actually held it out to me.
“Here, put it in my phone.”
When I reached for it, our hands grazed slightly and a bolt of electricity jumped from his hand to mine and sent my heart racing again. I looked into his eyes and the world seemed to spin. Could it really be that after all these years he still felt the same way? I wasn’t getting any answers staring into his eyes like a love-struck fool, so I gently took the phone and dialed my number into it. I slowly handed it back to him, suddenly struck dumb, not knowing what to do next.
“Is it okay if I dial it so you have mine?”
“Uh, yeah. That’s perfect, actually.”
I heard my phone buzzing behind me and reached over to click the ignore button. As I looked back at James, I realized he was leaning in again. I didn’t know if my senses could take another hug at this point, but I didn’t want to refuse either, so I hugged him back, trying to keep the tingling under control.
“It was really great to see you, Liz. I almost hate to leave,” he said as he pulled back for a second time in less than five minutes.
“Yeah, I know the feeling.”
We stood there for a few minutes more in an awkward silence that hung suspended between us. I didn’t know what else to do so I said, “Take care of yourself, James.”
He smiled again, “You too, Liz. I’ll call you.” And then he turned and walked away.
My entire body was wobbly and I fell back into the booth with a loud swoosh and sat staring at my now cold coffee. Could I even hold out hope that he would call me? Did I even dare to invest my heart in something that had lasted only two days twenty years ago? The crazy thing was, I’m not sure my heart was giving me a choice. It was still beating so fast and I knew that if he didn’t call or text or something, I would be heartbroken all over again.
Part III (by Carolyn Astfalk)
I’d waited three weeks for that call. Every time my phone buzzed, chirped, or rang, I dashed for it hoping for a missed call, a voice mail message, a text. Something. I’d knocked over my coffee yesterday in my mad scramble.
This morning I’d woken with a firm purpose of amendment. I would not waste another second anticipating a call that would never come, a foolish hope in the first place, considering the source. Seriously. The guy had taken off twenty years ago after only a few days never to be heard from again. Until now. What made me think his word was good for anything more than the pleasure of watching his lips move?
Today my coffee sat safely in the center of the table, its hazelnut fragrance teasing my nostrils. I’d tucked my phone into my purse, and a stack of freshman essays lay in front of me. I set aside my book, a literary best-seller, and clicked my red pen.
I laid my hand over the name in the upper corner, wanting to read my new students’ short biographies without prejudice. Five essays in, I discovered a real writer, one with authenticity, a unique voice, and an understanding of comma usage – all three a rare commodities.
In dynamic prose, the young woman recounted her father’s abandonment before her birth, her admiration for the man who became her dad, and the her mother’s battle with cancer. Despite her hardships, the girl remained hopeful, grateful, and upbeat. A testament in part, no doubt, to her father.
I marked several grammatical errors and scratched some notes in the margin.
My ringtone sounded from deep inside my purse. At least I thought it did. Two tables over, a busboy dropped his tray. Ceramic mugs and silverware clattered to the floor. The room went silent save for the pumped-in pop music. And my phone.
I wanted to ignore it and complete my work. Why hadn’t I turned the ringer off? Seven seconds in, curiosity got the better of me, and I shoved aside tissues, lip balm, and crumpled napkins in pursuit of the vibrating phone. Afraid that I’d miss the call altogether, I raised the phone to my ear without examining the caller ID.
“This is Liz.” I hoped my breathy voice didn’t betray my anxiety.
“Liz, it’s James.”
My heart leapt. He’d finally called.
“Hey, I’m sorry it took so long to call. I’ve been busy moving my kid into college then catching up on things at home. . . . But I thought about you every day.”
I swallowed. Lingering too much over that last statement would throw me into a dither, so I ignored it. “Oh. It’s, uh, it’s fine. So, you don’t live nearby?”
“Nope. I was just in town to get Stacey situated in her dorm. Had to get back to my Shelby and work.”
“I see.” My stomach dropped. He wasn’t even local. And he had a daughter, which most likely meant he had a wife. Shelby?
“I’m in town again though. Parents’ weekend. Can I meet you at that coffee shop a–” His voice cut off.
I pulled the phone away from my ear. The call was still connected. Signal was strong. “James?”
He cleared his throat. “Look up, Liz.”
He stood just inside the door, stamping the rainwater from his shoes. He smiled and slipped his phone into the pocket of his denim jacket.
I averted my gaze to end the call and replaced my phone in my purse. Butterflies stirred in my stomach.
He walked toward me.
Shuffling my papers, I tapped them into order and placed them beneath my book. I laid the pen across the top and sipped my coffee, hoping it would settle my nerves. How ridiculous was that?
James pulled out the chair across from me. “May I?”
I nodded. “Sure.” I’d daydreamed about this encounter for weeks, but now everything had changed. James was married. Was he looking to catch up with an old flame? Just a ‘hey, good to see you again’ kind of thing? Or did he hope to rekindle the passion of the most magical three days of my life?
If it was the latter, he had another thing coming. A married man was a line I didn’t cross. Period. If I got even one inkling that this encounter was a means to a cheap fling, I’d grab my things and hightail it home, deleting his number from my phone as I went.
“Well, my day just got a whole lot better. I think this coffee shop is my lucky place.”
My lips tightened in a smile, still unsure of whether this tete-a-tete would bring good or bad luck for me. “So, your daughter is a student at State U?”
“Yes, Stacey is a freshman, hard as it is for me to believe. My baby girl is all grown up.” He grabbed a napkin from the metal dispenser and wiped away the pound cake crumbs I’d left on the table. The ring finger on his left hand was bare. Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t married. Plenty of married men didn’t wear a wedding band. My own dad complained it was uncomfortable and got in his way.
“You mentioned getting back to work. What do you do?”
“Advertisting. I design print ads, mostly.”
I remembered the cartoonish drawings he’d made of us using the hotel notepad. He was talented.
“What do you do, Liz?” He nodded toward my pen, papers, and book. “Something to do with writing, I’d bet.”
My cheeks heated. “Yes. I teach some basic writing courses at the university and do a little freelance writing on the side.”
I emptied my coffee and steeled my nerves for the answer to my next question. “You said you had to get back to your Shelby, too. Is Shleby your wife?” I gritted my teeth and waited.
His brow furrowed in confusions for a moment before he burst into laughter. Loud, unrestrained laughter, that caused the heads of the other patrons to turn in our direction.
Finally, he quieted. “No, Shelby is not my wife. I said I had to get home to my Sheltie. I have a Shetland Sheepdog.”
Part IV (by me)
The world stopped. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. Emboldened, I decided to press for more information. “Your Sheltie? Oh, you mean, you’re not married.?”
Was that a shadow that crossed his eyes for the merest of moments? “Not since my wife passed away ten years ago.”
“Oh, James, I’m sorry.”
“We had a good life together, and if it wasn’t for her, I would never have met my daughter. You know, it’s funny, I never really wanted to have kids when I was younger. Now, I can’t imagine my life without her.” His gaze was a million miles away, but then he caught my eyes, returning to the present moment. “What about you? Married? Kids?”
“No, nothing that permanent. Just Fabio, my beta fish.” I didn’t know why I suddenly wanted to tell him all about my failed relationships, my struggle with substance abuse, my redemption as a professor at the university, but I kept my peace. No need to scare him away with tales from my sordid past.
“Fabio? That’s great!” He reached across the table and took my hand, making the butterflies in my heart lurch again. I willed my hand to stop shaking and looked into his eyes.
“You know, I’ve always regretted leaving you that night. I thought I was being so cool, so smooth, to slip away without a trace. But the truth is, I fell hard for you and it scared me. I was such a young, dumb kid. Can you ever forgive me?”
I didn’t know what to say. The truth was that I, too, had fallen hard and had held every potential suitor up to his impossibly high standard. No relationship was ever good enough to replace what I’d imagined we’d had so many years ago, even if it was only for a couple of days. Now, the universe had given us a second chance and I wanted to believe him with every fiber of my being. If my recovery had taught me anything, it was that everyone deserved a second chance.
“We all make mistakes, James. I forgive you.”
He let out a breath I hadn’t realized he was holding and gave my hand a gentle squeeze. “Thank you. I would like the chance to make it up to you, if you’ll let me. Maybe we can start over?”
“No, we can’t start over, but we can start again. I’d like that.”
We sat like that, hands clasped across the table, smiling at each other for a thousand years in one heartbeat, until the alarm on my phone buzzed, reminding me that I had a class to teach in 30 minutes. I reached into my purse to turn it off, wondering if it was too late to cancel my class, not willing to let James out of my sight again.
“Um, I have to go. Creative Writing 101 awaits.”
“Can I walk you to class? I’ll carry your books.” He grinned in that wonderfully devilish way I remembered and I nodded, standing to gather up my things while he cleared our dishes. As he returned, he glanced down at the stack of papers in my hand, moving behind me to look over my shoulder at the one on top. I should’ve stopped him from reading the paper, but something about the look on his face made me hesitate. He was dangerously close to me and I could feel the heat from his body and smell the faintest whiff of his cologne, one that I remembered from our nights together so long ago. Obsession for Men.
“Liz, this is Stacey’s paper.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“You know what this means, right?”
He was so close now that our lips were almost touching. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, for wanting to kiss him.
“It means this was meant to be. It’s fate, destiny.” I could feel the kiss before his lips grazed mine, so gently at first, and then more deeply. Kissing him was the most natural, most comfortable thing in the world and I knew that there would be many more kisses in our future.