Sunday, October 14, 2012


Moving, gestating, painting, scraping, organizing... Those things sure take away from writing and editing time. Here's my contribution to Litstack's Flash Fiction Challenge #10. It's been a long time coming! Since this challenge was a little flexible on word count, and I'm tired, covered in paint, and rocking swollen ankles, it's a lazy 545 instead of a neat and trim 500. I hope you enjoy it! Leave me a comment if you have a moment. I'd love to hear from you.

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Stella lived alone, so there were never many dirty dishes. As she swished her teacup and saucer in warm water, she watched the couple across the street carrying boxes to and from the UHaul. This was the best time to observe them—before they knew anyone was watching. Even though the kitchen window was open, she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She wouldn’t be able to catch many of their conversations. The family next door was a different story. They all spoke so loudly that everyone in a three-block radius knew when they needed mulch for the begonias.

The new people’s furniture looked cheap and modern. It was not to her taste. It. And it was just the two of them over there. Either they didn’t have any friends or they were moving from some other place. She hadn’t seen kids either. The dishes sat clean and dry on the counter waiting to be returned to the cupboard. She gazed out the window a few more moments, then pulled the plug from the drain, sighing.

“Francie!” she called. The Bichon’s tag jingled as she ambled obediently into the kitchen. They’d start by walking down their side of the street, go a few blocks, and come back on the other side of the street to initiate a neighborly chat. The dog was a good ice-breaker, although Stella had never had trouble starting a conversation. They walked purposefully, although Francie, in her purple bandana, stopped here and there to sniff. When they found themselves across the street from their own house, the new people’s car was gone from the driveway. Darn. The gate to the backyard was open. It wouldn’t hurt to have a quick look. She and Francie took quick steps through the gate. There wasn’t much back there except weeds and a plaster gnome statue. Oh, gnome people, she thought, rolling her eyes. The back door to the garage was also open. Francie sneezed as they proceeded to that door. It took Stella’s eyes a half second to adjust to the dim light through the doorway, but when they did, they locked with the new woman of the house.

“Umm…hi?” said the woman, closing the cardboard box she’d been unpacking.

“Hi!” Stella replied. “I didn’t think you were ho—I’m your neighbor across the street. I wondered if the little dog I saw running loose is yours?”

The woman smiled. “We don’t have a dog.” She waved a polite goodbye.

Stella nodded and gave a little yank on Francie’s leash. They had taken only a step away when the woman called out, “Could you give me a hand?”

Stella smiled and turned back. “Sure!”

“There’s a tape measure in the toolbox by the door. Could you toss it to me?”

Stella looked down and saw a yellow plastic toolbox at her feet and another box next to it onto which someone had glued wooden letters: P-R-I-V-A-T-E.  A few flakes of paint fell off when she opened the cover.

“Do you see it?” asked the woman, trying to peer over the stack of boxes between them.

Stella didn’t reply. She stared into the wooden box. Francie pulled at the end of the leash and whined softly, but Stella could not turn her attention away.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Learning to Drive

LitStack Flash Fiction Challenge #9

It's been a few months since my last post. You could say that I've been otherwise occupied--but I won't bore you with the details. Not today, anyway. The wonderful people at Litstack  have put up a new flash fiction challenge, and I just could not resist. Plus, it's Labor Day and I'm taking a bit of time just for myself. My draft, which I began about two hours ago, was almost 700 words. Whittling it down was tough when I reached 560, but I finally made it (with small breaks for iced coffee and email) to exactly 500. I hope you enjoy it. 
Photo Source

The gap between the door and the top of the crooked doorframe gave Abby a narrow view of the backyard. She could see the rear of the baby blue Toyota that had brought her to this place. When she was nine or ten, her dad had let her steer their Impala up and down the driveway, but that was the end of her experience behind the wheel. She was sure she could figure it out, though. Pretty sure.

An electric lantern provided most of the light in the room, but in the early daytime the gap in the door let in a sunbeam. It ended on the wall just above Jeremiah’s shoulder as he slept on his cot. The man who made her call him Father would likely still be sleeping too. He’d been up all night, and while he’d had the presence of mind to take his empty vodka bottle when he stumbled out, he’d been sloppy refastening the fetter around her ankle. He’d also left his keys. She’d heard the heavy ring fall out of his pants during last night’s visit, but he hadn’t noticed. She found a skeleton key for the door to their shelter and one marked Toyota. No more visits or sore ankles.

The boy was only five, but sometimes she saw a familiar meanness that turned his eyes from pond water to gravel. There was plenty of time for him to forget. But the next child, she vowed, would never see this place. On tiptoe, she scanned the backyard for movement. The tall weeds swayed in the breeze. There was no sign of Father or Mother. The doorknob squeaked as she turned it. Jeremiah coughed and sat up. “Mama?”

“Baby, we’re going to run across the grass. Can you do that?” She smiled at him fearfully.


“Yes, right now. Are you ready? You must be quiet.”

“A game?” he asked, rubbing his eyelids.

“Yes, a game. Who can run the quietest. Let’s go.”

He got up and took her hand as she pulled the door inward.  Jeremiah screamed when the sunlight hit his face and body. “Baby, we have to go!” she whispered frantically, yanking his arm. The car was only a dozen yards away. She picked him up, but he flailed and kneed her hard in the stomach, still screaming. Gasping, she dropped him against the door. Glancing toward the big house, she saw the screen door open. The Toyota key ready in her right hand, she dragged Jeremiah a few feet, but Father was near enough that she could see rage on his face.

She let go of the boy’s hand, backing away. “I’ll come back for you!”

“I don’t care!” he screamed, his tears dripping onto the ground.

She ran, something she hadn’t done in eight years, and found the Toyota’s door unlocked. She shoved the key into the ignition and turned. As Father banged his fist on the hood, she shifted into D and stomped on the right pedal.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Play Nice

I wrote the following bit of tiny fiction for this contest. The Pinterest board is packed with fun images, but for some reason this one spoke to me. As always, I try to spend no more than 90 minutes per flash. The first version was around 500 words, but I managed to cut it down to 299, one sneaky word below the limit. I hope you enjoy it!

“Line up!” Her hoarse voice was the result of screaming when she didn’t get her way. But now, she always got her way—although her voice would never return to that of a normal seven-year-old. She patted the yellow paper crown on her head. The animals, which had been scattered on the carpet, straightened up as if alive and formed a tidy line in front of her. She clenched her teeth and strained to open the rusty hedge clippers as she sat cross-legged on the floor, but they wouldn’t budge. She stood up and grunted as she forced the shears open. Victim number one was a blue bunny. The blades closed on its neck and the oblong head flopped over, hanging from its body by a few threads. Next, a hippo. A duck. A monkey. She panted. The line of toys looked straight ahead at her calves. “The rest of you are disss-misssed!” she spat. “That’s what happens to boring baby toys!” The toys fell over silently except for the Christmas bear, whose music box played two tinny notes. She glared at the offender. “Don’t talk back!” Her red face turned plum as she stood over the white bear. The shears opened and a smattering of rust dotted its fur. “Think you’re clever?” she asked just as the crown fell off her head and landed lightly on the bear. She gasped and dropped the shears, her face pale. The bear rose and straightened the crown on his head. It was a bit large, but it would do. He looked up at her and narrowed his buttons as the victims of her assault were reunited with their heads. The Christmas bear slowly played “Silent Night” as they closed in on her, but the tune was drowned out by her screams.

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Life, the Universe, and Flash Fiction

Here is some especially tiny fiction written--in a flash--for this contest. The prompt was to write forty-two words about The Meaning of Life (Or the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything). I have to admit that fewer than fifty words is challenging. My handwritten draft was about 100 words.

Carol hooted with laughter, blasting everyone with biscotti crumbs. The women cackled with her, spilling tea, wiping tears, and rousing the sunbathing cat. Her husband sighed, rolled his eyes, and smiled despite himself. The tedium of life dissolves in silly summer afternoons.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

May Makes Way for June

The following bit of flash was written for the National Flash Fiction Day contest with the theme of May Day. The word limit is 310 and my draft was almost 800 words. I managed to pare it down to 310 exactly, and hopefully I left the right words in.

They might not like peas, she thought as she placed the hard, wrinkled seeds four finger-spaces apart. Maybe the new owners will plant roses or build a shed on top of it. Or just reseed it with grass. Mow it. Put fertilizer on it every few weeks.  

Her gardening apron fit looser than it had the previous year, her hands were stiffer, and repeatedly standing and kneeling was difficult and noisy. But the garden was her companion. She’d turned its soil, uncovered its worms, shared cans of beer with its slugs, and nourished it with compost. Through decades of summer days, she had scrubbed its heavy soil from her hands with a bar of rough, salty-smelling soap.

Sinking the spade deep into the soil, she leaned lightly against the handle, facing east away from the sun and toward the house. She and her husband had been in their twenties when they moved in. She still struggled to remind herself that she was not just waiting for him to come home. Now, the house was just money for the next decade’s groceries and bills.

She sighed and began the next task: digging shallow holes for the tomatoes. Stepping on the blade, she felt an electric pang and realized she was glad Trixie had died last month. The old tabby would have been miserable in a new environment. Involuntarily grunting, she knelt to nestle the seedlings into their new home, then used the spade to push herself upright.

She scratched a final shallow row into the crumbly grey dirt. At the end of the row, she rested for a moment and flexed her sore fingers. She watched as the silver band slipped off her hand and landed on the soil. She looked at it blankly for a moment, then used the handle of the hoe to push it deeper into the ground.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Clipboard of Destiny

The following scribble is 349 of 350 allowed words for Yearning for Wonderland's Once Upon A Time flash fiction contest. "Unexpected Fairy Tales" is the theme for the contest, but beyond that, there aren't many criteria. (My draft was well over 1,200 words!)

I deposit my silent screams in the basement file room. Few of my coworkers have the key, and fewer want to visit the rank, dismal bowels of the old newspaper building. Most importantly, Judy never goes there. Last Friday, I sat in my usual spot by the 1994 tax information. I inhaled deeply, opened my mouth wide, wrinkled my nose, and squeezed my eyes shut. As I quietly exhaled, releasing thirty-six hours of frustration, I heard sniffling. Alarmed, I skulked past rows of moldy boxes toward the sound. A tiny woman slumped on a step stool near the 1983 personnel files. Her orthopedic shoes barely touched the floor. Glaring at me from behind enormous purple-rimmed glasses, she dabbed at her nose with a handkerchief. “It’s a good day for this room,” she said.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize anyone was down here,” I mumbled.

“I’m retiring today,” she said, slipping the hankie into her pocket. When I could see her whole face, I estimated she had seen the advent of moveable type. “Not by choice. But they can soak their heads. I have books to read. Cats to feed. Magic to make.” She snorted.

“They say you’re busier after retirement than before,” I offered, making a noise like a little laugh.

“Here,” she stood, scarcely taller than when she sat. A wing-shaped rhinestone comb held her gunmetal updo in place. She pulled a silver glitter-encrusted clipboard out of her coat and shoved it at me. It was heavy. “This will help,” she sighed, ambling away. I skimmed the parchment clipped to the board and immediately understood. I smoothed my hair and made my way back upstairs. At my desk, I studied the form. Everyone in the office was listed on the left. On the right side, a hundred phrases were each accompanied by a blank box. I circled “Judy” on the left side. My pen lingered over “vacation,” on the right side, but then I saw the best choice. “Colon polyps.” My checkmark was bold and dark. I clasped the clipboard to the ink stain on my shirt and grinned.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

LitStack Flash Fiction Challenge #7

Copyright Chris Galvin
Chris Galvin took this brilliant photo. Her blog is always a great read!

Just Another Saturday 

He traced the shape of a blunted arrow with his finger. The iron gate was covered in city dust, white and fine like plaster. The early morning sun felt good on his face. The humidity made it impossible to shake off the slight chill in the air. He turned to look behind him. He felt like he’d been waiting alone for hours. Seconds later, a sharp tap on his shoulder made him jump. There she was. “Hey,” he said nonchalantly.

“Hey,” she replied breathlessly. Her mischievous smile made this Saturday seem like any of the last hundred days they had spent going on adventures, eating candy, and talking about important stupid things.

“Did you run here?”

“Some of the girls wanted to say goodbye. I didn’t want them to follow me, but they’re all slow anyway.” She shrugged with an air of superiority. “You should take this,” she said, shoving something into his hand. It poked his palm hard and he flinched as he closed his fingers around it.

“You’re my best friend.” He hated himself as the words rushed out. His face felt hot. He examined the dusty flip-flops that were almost too small for him.

“Dummy, you’re my best friend too.” Just for a second, her face did something he’d never seen it do. She frowned. Tears gathered in her eyes, but she blinked them away and exhaled, sounding annoyed. She talked fast, as if she were reciting a poem at school. “I know I’ll be back even if it’s not soon. Grandma says life is long. We’re ten. Life is still really long!” She gave him an exasperated look, waiting for agreement.

He nodded, looking down at his feet again. Her red flip-flops shuffled closer to his. She threw her arms around his neck. He hugged her back tightly and whispered their unofficial credo as he let her go, “No one has more fun than us.”

“We’re still friends. No matter where we are.” He threw his arms out to punctuate the statement, and the ladybug pin slipped from his hand. It landed just inside the gate, but one of the wings was missing. His heart dropped into the soles of his feet. The broken wing had flown into the tiny space beneath the café’s inner door. They looked down at their found treasure and remembered how delighted they were to discover the wings opened when the antennae were pressed, revealing the broken clock inside.

He dropped to his knees and picked it up, half of the dead clock exposed. He rubbed it on his shirt and looked around frantically for a stick. “It’s okay. I can fix it.”

She shook her head. “Just leave it, Superman. It’s just like we found it.” Giving him one last hug, she turned and ran—fast—toward her house. As she disappeared around the corner, he looked into the closed café, then shoved the pin into his pocket and ran toward the other end of the city.

Please check out Chris Galvin's blog. She writes excellent flash fiction and poetry!