18 December, 2021

Broken Fiction

Not "broken" so much as "a break".

I'm taking a break from Fiction Fridays for the holidays.

See you in January!

11 December, 2021

Fiction Friday - A Good Day for Food Poisoning


Lonny's hand was on his stomach as he pushed the glass door open to the employee exit. He was leaving work early, a thing he never did. But this...

He doubled over in pain as another stomach cramp hit him, grimaced, panted a few times to get through the stabbing pains, finally lifting himself up to try to cross over to the parking garage. The security guard sitting behind her check-in counter had raised her head out of her magazine when he doubled over, and now asked, "You alright there? Need me to call anyone?"

Lonny raised a hand to wave off any help, and shook his head briefly. He didn't want to risk opening his mouth to speak in case the pain could be heard in his voice. It must be food poisoning. He was halfway across to the parking garage when a dark movement in the corner of his eye made him turn.

A slender woman in a dark suit strode toward the guard, her heels clip-clopping on the pavement. She saw neither person, eyes fixed on the door, not even slowing as she flashed an ID badge at the guard. The determined face and determined pace, along with the professional suit, told Lonny she was corporate and something was going down. He watched her pass, half-hoping she'd match that furious determination with enough power to wrench the industrial glass door off its hinges.

He was disappointed in that hope. Her pace never faltered as she reached out a hand and smacked the button for disabled accessibility a few feet before the doors, which opened just in time for her to continue through this back entrance to the lobby. 

After such a fierce entrance, however, the woman stopped, turned left and right, then opened a panel on the huge pillar to her left, keying into whatever was in the box. bolts dropped through the doors, top and bottom. It was a lockdown.

Lonny looked at the guard, who was still watching the woman with a corporate ID through the back of the lobby. He was torn between wanting to ask her what was going on, and not wanting to draw attention to himself. If it was a lockdown, calling attention to himself might mean going back inside, and he needed to see a doctor.

In the elevator to his parking level, he wondered if it was about the joke someone posted on Twitter the night before. It made the CEO a laughingstock, and Lonny thought he might have just enough temper to miss the joke and lockdown the building until the tweeter was found. Someone could get fired today, but it wouldn't be Lonny.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

03 December, 2021

Fiction Friday - Chasing Chaos


Skylar was running. She didn't know where she'd run to, but she couldn't stay in town. She was one of the fortunate ones. Or smart. When the screams broke the night and woke her, she'd grabbed a hoodie and pulled on her running shoes that were waiting for her by the door before going out to join the mobs of people trying to find out what part of governmental collapse had broken the city center.

And then she ran in the opposite direction.

In fact, while others were already rushing through the downtown to the civic buildings and the vigil at the memorial, she had taken a minute to throw some necessities into a backpack. Whatever it was, she had waited long enough. It was time to leave. Past time.

She didn't really care which side was at fault. Everyone expected the collapse - news,  social media, customers in the shop where she worked, buddies at her gym, everyone. It was inevitable. She wasn't going to wait for the morning news to find out.

And now, here she was, running over the ranging hills of farmland in the early dawn while the city burned behind her. 

Maybe everything would be fine.

Yeah. And maybe my grandmother is going to rise from the dead to chastise me on my life's choices. Again.

Now as she settled into a long-distance stride, she thought again about her luck. No doubt the city exits were closed off already. All those people who ran in toward the city center to get answers were stuck there. Whatever happened next, they could deal with it. 

Or not. Whatever way the politics fell, she was out of there.

And the fake identification she'd had prepared months ago would help officials in other places trust that she was not one of the troublemakers from this horrible place. She'd be free to start whatever chaos she wanted in whatever place she'd land.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

26 November, 2021

Fiction Friday - Front Lines


Kim was exhausted. These days were long. 

She knew she should be grateful. One of her former classmates from nursing school was stationed in a hospital way up in a high infection area. Here, Kim had had it easy during this pandemic. She knew that. She counted her lucky stars that the disease had not hit this area as hard as her friend was seeing it.

Still, now that the vaccinations were rolling out in full force to the general population, her days were long. It was a lame thing to gripe about, so she didn't. 

"165!" She heard her boyfriend calling through the megaphone outside. Sign in and sign up were outside, and he had volunteered. He knew how stressed she'd been these days and wanted to be helpful. It was very sweet, and he was a help, standing at the sign in table and directing people to the open triage nurse, but she never saw him.

Kim waved in the next patient. "Please verify everything on this form..." she said to the faceless person in front of her.

"Yes, please. That's all correct. Thank you."

Kim looked up. It was the "please" and "thank you" that was different. She had seen dozens of faces so far this morning. Hers was one of three injection stations in the room, so she'd probably seen all of the faces, not that she'd know them. She hadn't heard one thank you. It was only 9:30. There would be hundreds today.

She smiled at the little, elderly lady in front of her and accepted the form back from her. "Which arm please?" she asked. She never asked. This was like a conveyor belt. People came in, they checked the form, nodded, handed it back, and exposed a shoulder of their choice. Everyone sitting in the waiting area saw all the patients doing it, so they all knew what to do. But this time, she requested politely if the the woman had a preference.

"Oh, sorry. Here." The woman had to slip out of her cardigan to expose a shoulder. It was cold in the processing facility and older people often had poor circulation. Kim thought of her own gran and felt indulgent. 

"That's fine," she told the woman before the cardigan was all the way down to her elbow. Kim's work partner for the day swabbed the area and made the jab while Kim input the data from the form into the computer.

Kim smiled at the old lady. "You may wait in the next room, please," and she motioned with her hand. to the doorway. "We will bring you your certification shortly." It was a gimmick. Every injectee was to be observed for 30 minutes. There weren't enough staff to honestly observe all these people, so they took some time printing the certificates. If anything went wrong, there were enough bystanders to witness any problems.

As the woman passed out of her view, Kim took a moment to pray that someone would give this old lady a seat. Then, her attention was required of the next patient. "Everything on this form correct?" she asked the person taking the stool in front of her table...

At 11:00, she saw Jay passing by the injection room, walking slowly, looking in. Kim shrugged at him. He got his breaks at regular intervals, being a volunteer. Kim would have to wait until her relief arrived. Could be soon, could be in an hour. She hoped the vaccination initiative would be over soon so that she and Jay could go back to their orderly lives. But from what she heard from the hot spots, it could be months.

Will this pandemic never end?

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. Today's self-indulgent little micro-fiction was inspired by the hard workers at the hospital where we got our second dose of the Covid vaccine.
If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

19 November, 2021

Fiction Friday - Awake


The system was down.

The system was down and Marcus didn't know what to do about it. Trouble was ahead, that much he knew, but what kind of trouble, coming from where, and in what proportion? Those were the unknowns keeping him awake tonight.

He listened to Vanessa not-snoring next to him. Vanessa didn't snore. She had a throat-goblin that practiced rolling its R's while she slept. The throat-goblin occasionally accompanied the rolled R's with a tiny nose-whistle. She didn't snore. And Marcus had never accused her of doing so. He loved her little night noises when he was awake to hear them. Usually he was asleep. He wished he was asleep.

Tonight was one of those nights he got to take comfort in his loving wife's noise, and he was annoyed. Not at her noises, but at the fact that he had inadvertently brought work home with him. He didn't do that! Sometimes he worked late, but that was specifically so that he could walk in the door unfettered from the office. He had come home unfettered tonight, but his subconscious had poorly hidden the recognition that "the system was down." 

There was nothing to be done. Nothing he could do. He had told Vanessa, because they gave themselves a few minutes each evening to decompress about any issues from the day, but then they got on with their night. Dinner, TV, a childish game with Aiden, a couple stories at his bedtime, watch the news - but in the kitchen on the tiny portable TV while they did dishes - and comfortable chit-chat before bed about the coming weekend.

But when all was said and done, how long would he keep his job? It hadn't been a question or conversation for tonight, but he'd need to talk to her about it soon. Maybe over breakfast, before going in to see how much damage was done.

It wasn't his fault, but the way the company was floundering these days, anyone might be targeted as a scape-goat. He hoped it wasn't him. But he hoped it wasn't anyone he worked with either. What a mess!

Vanessa gave a grunty snort and rolled onto her other side, facing him. Her hair was pulled back behind her and her face glowed in a stray beam of moonlight from their bedroom window. He watched her sleep with a smile, and placed a hand on her hip, feeling a gentle squirm under his fingers as she wriggled into a better position.

It would be fine. It had to be fine. He'd give her the heads-up tomorrow. Everything was better with coffee.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

13 November, 2021

Fiction Friday - Found Out


Jax stared into his fireplace for a long while after Tressa left, mulling over the things she had said. Their relationship was fairly new, but he'd been optimistic. Tonight changed things. Now he had to be cautious.

"Well, my brother and I bonded over true-crime," she'd said. "We're addicted to reading about it, listening to podcasts, and then we get together and rehash what's going on and what we think really happened."

Fine. Normal. Jax was not a known criminal. People died all the time, and he was good enough at his job that no deaths had ever been attributed to him. 

"I used to have that kind of passion about gaming," he'd confessed in return. "Not as much time to follow it, now, but I still love it. I think I understand where you're coming from."

He was trying to connect with her. Tressa was always so open about everyone, any interests, any beliefs, she never shut anyone down and that made her even more attractive to him. He'd even thought that one day he might be able to tell her what he really did. But after tonight...

"My brother's been digging into all kinds of deaths. There were a few cases he'd read about that were attributed to natural causes or suicide, but didn't ring true for him. So he's been reading past obits and medical cases. You think I'm obsessed? He's insane over this." She had Jax's attention, for sure. "We think some of these might be mercy killings, or even unsolved murders. Isn't that cool?"

"Cool? Uh, yeah, mercy killings. Cool." He made a point to show his sarcasm. No one could approve of murder, right?

Tressa laughed at him. "Not the killings - cool, but that we're the ones to find out! I mean, at least three of these happened right here at Mercy Hospital down the road! If we've actually found anything, someone local is doing it." Jax tensed and his smile tightened. "I'm not as convinced as my brother is. Yet."

"But you're looking into it." This could be bad.

"I will be. He's compiling everything into a document and I'll see if I can connect the dots. It seems pretty random so far."

"Huh. Well, good luck with that." Bad luck for him.

They'd eaten and the conversation moved on as Jax rewound the tapes in his head, wondering if there was anything at all that might lead her to him. If there was, he was in danger. Now that she was gone, Jax was arriving at a hard conclusion. He set down his empty glass and told the crackling fire, "I may have to kill my girlfriend."

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

07 November, 2021

Missed the Mark

I'm trying to get stuff done today, but I can't take it anymore and this is my safe space to vent.

We stayed up late last night to watch my Dad's memorial service (live-streamed, of course) and it was terrible. SO awful! Solemn, slow, dirge-y...

Not that funerals are meant to be fun, but I've been to enough of them that I feel like a connoisseur. And this one was way less than he deserved.

In a nutshell, the pastor - of the church they've attended faithfully for at least 15 years - sounded like he didn't know my dad at all. If I was a visitor I would have thought that. Pastor Nameless mentioned two things that showed he knew my dad: 1. The trees he planted when he moved in so long ago seem to need a trim (judgy, much?) and 2. My dad is stubborn. Okay, my whole family is stubborn. Dad's stubbornness is not judgy opinion, but fact. (I had to get it somewhere!)

Other than that, anything mentioned about my dad could have been pulled from the obit or Luther's Small Catechism. Seriously. He believed this, that, all the stuff we profess in our confirmation at 13, and then basic life facts: Lived in these places, surviving family includes these people, blah-blah. No celebration of his life, at all!

And no one got up to speak except the pastor. Which would be fine if he said anything warm or kind or with any sort of feeling!

The focus was on the resurrection, which I get. We are Christian, and the knowledge of being reunited in the hereafter is a cause for celebration, but so is my dad's life! It just seems like the bigger focus should have been on the life that had just ended.

No talk about the numbers of lives he touched ALL around the world; no mention of his passion for education or his dry wit. Possibly because the pastor didn't get Dad's humor. Or maybe because he was intimidated by him? My dad has a lot of letters after his name, and I recall friends telling me, after meeting him, "Well he's not scary at all!" as if I had somehow said he was.

But to the right crowd, Dad could be entertaining. Once he and Mom came out east to see me in a play, and happened to be there on the night the director was hosting a cast party. The next day when I got to the theatre, my director asked if my dad was still in town and looked crestfallen when I said they had left that morning. "That guy is like a party trick!" he said. I'll never forget that. 

But he wasn't all high-brow. I've seen him exchange dad jokes with the best of them. They are so groan-worthy I won't even quote them.

The main photo used - on the funeral home obit, on the table in the front of the church - was one of him wearing a granddad cap and a grin on his face, holding a big stein of beer (maybe in Turkey? Maybe in a local steak house?). That photo alone says more than the pastor did.

I left the virtual memorial service feeling let down. It should have been more. He deserved better.

But if my mom was happy with it, that's all that matters. Funerals are for the living. The dead don't care anymore.

Thanks for listening.

05 November, 2021

Fiction Friday - Moon


There was once a little girl called Moon.

That's how these stories always start, isn't it? "There was a ..." boy, girl, queen, king... In this case it was a girl. Of course, Moon wasn't her real name. It's what everyone called her. She had big saucer-eyes and her head in the clouds. A girl with big dreams was Moon.

Just her luck, she was born in the wrong time and place. Moon's parents didn't know what to do with their dreamy-headed offspring. In an effort to bring her ambitions down to earth, her mom and dad kept Moon busy.

School, then after school more extra lessons in everything under the sun. Everything except what she wanted.

Moon could sing. She wanted to learn how to sing better.

Moon could draw. She wanted to learn how to be an artist.

Moon's neighbor played the piano beautifully. Moon wanted to learn how to play.

Instead of all these "flighty" pursuits, her parents filled her days with science, computers, languages. Book learning was the only way they knew to succeed in life. They had no idea how useful artistic talents could be and they did everything they could to squash it out of her.

Still, Moon sang. She studied hard and got good grades. She excelled in school, while singing, and drawing on every scrap of paper she could find. 

She sang while she studied. As she grew up, she had less time for even small drawings, but singing was innate. She couldn't help it. She sang walking down the street. She sang between classes when she went to university. She sang in the lab as she studied to be a scientist. 

Moon's parents were very proud of their rocket scientist daughter. They decided her nickname "Moon" was perfect for a woman working to send people to the moon. When her parents died, Moon sang at their funerals. They would have been surprised to hear how good she really was after all this time.

~~~~

After the funeral, I quit my job at the space center and began working as a cabaret singer. Because I was that girl. That little girl did her duty to her parents, made them proud within their lifetimes, but now that they're gone so is she. Now it is my time. Watch out for the bright light of the Moon!

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. Today's self-indulgent little micro-fiction is actually inspired by one of my online English students (not my life).
If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

29 October, 2021

Fiction Friday - Following Her Gut


Desiree looked up from her magazine article, over her coffee cup, and out the window to the street. Nothing looked different.

But something felt off.

Without turning her head, she glanced to her right and left. There didn't seem to be any change in the cafe's patronage. The same old guy in the corner to her left, and a younger guy - grad student, maybe? - tapping away at a laptop two seats to her right, oblivious to his surroundings.

But something felt off.

She took a sip of coffee and moved as if trying to pop her back over the chair she was seated in. As she twisted, she looked around. Barista leaning back, scrolling on a phone. Barista cleaning the cappuccino machine. (What were those things called?)

She could see the backsides of a few people in line by the restroom in the rear. That was new. No one fixing drinks, no tables looked occupied, but a line for the restroom? As she turned back around, the door opened and a new patron entered, crossing straight back to the restroom line.

Desiree pulled out a compact from her satchel and feigned powdering her nose while she watched this newcomer nod and exchange words with a couple of the others in line. This cafe had a gender neutral bathroom, so it was no surprise to see the mix of people back there, and Desiree had to acknowledge that although not her practice, chatting with strangers in line was not uncommon. 

The compact now rested by her coffee cup and she continued her reading. Moments later a man in a cable-knit vest over his buttoned shirt and bow tie entered. College professor, Desiree thought as he crossed the corner of her vision.

At last, coffee shop noises. Maybe that's what distracted her before: it was too quiet.

"Hey, professor! The usual?" she heard a barista ask, and smiled to know her assumption was right about the man.

"Thanks, Troy. How long until you'll call me Jay?"

The barista laughed. "Probably at least until graduation."

The drink didn't take long to make, and she heard Professor Jay thank the barista. Her peripheral vision expected him any second, but then she heard murmurings from the bathroom hall. She flipped open her compact as it sat on the table in front of her, and witnessed this new person shaking hands with several people as he moved, unquestioned, to the front of the line, opened the door to the gender neutral bathroom, and held it open for the small crowd to enter before him.

What on earth? She had a split second to make a decision. Thrusting her magazine and compact into her satchel, Desiree took one last gulp of coffee and moved to the back hallway just in time to smile at Professor Jay, whose eyes registered confusion above his noncommittal smile before he allowed her to enter  and closed the door behind them.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

24 October, 2021

Fiction Friday - Deception


Vendella placed her bag gently on the table by the door. She didn't want to disturb Alicia. More like, she didn't want to answer Alicia's questions. Turning back to the door, she pushed it closed, turning the handle to avoid the click as the latch caught.

A big exhale and she moved to cross the short entry in the dark. As she moved, her hip touched the chain strap of her bag where it was resting over the edge of the hall table and the chain started trailing down to the floor, finally pulling the small gold pocketbook down on top of the piled up chain in a rattling, jingly noise followed by a thump. 

"Is that you, V?" Alicia's voice called from the kitchen.

Vendella sighed. Caught to be questioned. She moved to the kitchen doorway and leaned in the arch. "Yep. Back. I tried not to disturb you, but - you're still up?" Avoid questions by becoming the questioner. 

"Yeah, prepping for tomorrow. You remember I'm having Carey and Micah over for dinner?" Carey was the boyfriend, Micah his young son. It was all Alicia had talked about for a week.

"Of course. I thought you'd be getting beauty rest or something." Vendella grinned at her roommate. Alicia was beautiful and knew it. The joke fell flat. Alicia glared and attended to the pyrex bowl on the counter.

"Twenty-four hour marinade. I should've set it up hours ago. So annoying." Alicia was not only beautiful but a perfectionist. Vendella decided to take advantage of her current kitchen obsession and head toward bed.

"Ah. I'll leave you to it. Good night."

She was at the bathroom door when Alicia emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. "You didn't go by his house again, did you?" The dratted question. V closed her eyes, her hand on the bathroom doorknob. Not tonight.

Angling her face back toward Alicia she said, "What if I did?"

"He's married! You have to get over him." It was the same old argument. As soon as V had learned of her recent boyfriend's wife and family, she had broken up with him. That didn't mean she was over him. "Did he let you in? Did you talk to him?"

Always with the interrogation! "Alicia! I dumped him! That was weeks ago, and you know it. If I want to see how he's doing, what is it to you?"

"But -"

Vendella opened the bathroom door and closed it on the rest of Alicia's "but". She had no right to talk. She had the perfect relationship. The least she could have done is acknowledge that by going out on dates with available men, V was trying. If the guy was a dud and she wanted to go remember what she'd lost, it was her own business, wasn't it?

She hadn't even gotten her eye makeup off before the soft tap on the door came. "V? I just worry about this obsession." There was nothing to say to that. "It's not healthy." Of course not. V knew that, but what could she do? "I hope your date tonight was at least okay." A minute later, the sound of Alicia's bedroom door closing came through to the bathroom. 

Vendella sat on the closed lid of the toilet and felt miserable for herself. It wasn't the first time, and she knew it wouldn't be the last. Alicia could never find out that some of the random dates she'd been on lately were still with Mr. Married.


It's FICTION "FRIDAY"!

Every Friday - or a day or 2 later, as you see - I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

16 October, 2021

Fiction Friday - Facial Hair


What was it with men's facial hair these days? Clara was distracted by the wiry scraggle growing out of her date's chin. Grow a beard or don't. This wasn't a beard, or even a goatee, but it was too big to be a soul patch. (stupid name for facial hair anyway, in Clara's opinion.) She couldn't decide whether she wanted to touch it or shave it off.

Uh-oh. He'd stopped talking. Had he asked a question? She caught his eyes and smiled inanely, waiting for him to speak again.

"Clara?"

"Yes."

"Well? I told you my story, what's new with you?" Toby had grown up down the street from Clara, but his family moved away during high school. When her mom learned he'd be back in town, she had immediately called Clara and told her he'd be calling.

"Mom! You gave him my number?"

"Of course not. I gave his mother your number. She gave it to him. Just, be open. That's all I ask. He's an old friend. The least you can do is buy him lunch." Her mom was always trying to set her up with any single man she met. Lunch wasn't just lunch. Clara was wary.

So here she was. On a lunch-date with someone she hadn't seen in a decade. He cleaned up well, that was nice to see. Except for that weird facial hair thing. And lunch was going well. Clara had found him easy to listen to when she paid attention. But what had he just said about his business?

Answering his question, she said, "Oh, I'm good, I'm good. Retail, you know?" She ran a local gift shop in town."Went to college, got a business degree, and when Jan was getting ready to close The Whole Package, I swooped in and took it over."

"No way! Please tell me you kept the name," he said, and somewhere a light twinkled through a few reddish hairs among the brown on his chin.

"Um..." Eyes up. "No. I didn't want my lovely boutique to be mistaken for a gay bar!" They laughed, but Clara suddenly felt guilty about saying that. Was he gay? Had she just insulted him? She quickly explained, "I mean, just because that would be a lot of phone calls to field and redirect. Besides, a 'package' is something that lands on your doorstep. But 'The Perfect Gift' is what everyone wants to buy for their loved ones." Moment saved?

The conversation rolled on, and at the end of lunch, when Clara reached for the check, Toby beat her to it. "No way! On me." He winked. "I'm returning to show everyone how well I'm doing with my fancy city life. It wouldn't do for me to let you pay for me." Then Clara remembered. He had become a slouch in high school, always out for fun. They had played together as little kids, but rarely connected during the first two years of high school, before their move.

She let him pay. As they left, he asked, "Can I call you again later? I'm hanging with the guys tonight, but I'd love to take you out for dinner sometime. Like a real date."

Clara was caught off-guard. A real date? She supposed lunch catching up with a childhood playmate didn't count. Staring at his chin hair again, she nodded. "Sure." She couldn't think of anything cute or witty to add, so she smiled and drew her eyes up to his.

"Great. See you soon!" and he gave a quick hug and a peck on the cheek and got into his car as she walked down the street, musing about the state of men's facial hair these days. If he actually called her, maybe she'd be bold enough to ask what was happening on his chin.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

08 October, 2021

Fiction Friday - Two Drinks


With no notice, rain started pounding on the roof of the bar, and the wind blew fat drops against the windows looking out to the street. Clara heard the noise and drained her glass with a sigh. She'd been hoping to escape as soon as she finished her drink, but she wasn't going out into that! The banter between the two other women at the table waned slightly so she smiled at Tracy and pointed to her glass. "Another?"

"What? You don't have to..." Tracy had suggested she and Clara meet for a drink that evening, but when Tracy's BFF Midge arrived Clara learned that it was Tracy's birthday and others would be arriving as the evening went on.

She turned to the bartender and held up her glass and two fingers. Clara wasn't made of money, but she could buy a birthday drink or two for a friend at happy hour prices. One more, for the rain. Then she'd make excuses and leave before it got too crazy. She was the third wheel and hated it. Oops - another friend joined their table - make that "fourth" wheel. Soon to be fifth, no doubt.

Clara didn't like social gatherings and felt deceived to learn that that was what was happening. "I think you're doing the right thing," she chimed in as Midge discussed a personal problem. Clara was doing well to participate in the conversation at all. These two had a conversational short hand that left little room for input, but occasionally a look came her way and Clara knew that to remain a silent observer would be even more awkward. So every now and then she gave a sentence or two to the tabletop chatter.

By the time she'd finished her second drink, the rain had eased up enough that she could escape. "I'm going to head home. Early morning tomorrow, you know. Happy birthday again Tracy!" she gave the birthday girl and hug and smiled around at the growing group of friends Clara didn't know well or at all.

Walking home, Clara assessed the evening. She avoided social situations like poison, and always checked her emotional state afterward. In younger years she'd honed a conversational skill to protect her privacy: Talk about mundane elements of life and no one asked deeper questions. As she grew older and bolder to say no, she could select her social engagements with care. One-on-one or a very small group of like-minded individuals was no problem. But large gatherings, groups of strangers, overlapping conversations, like the situation she just left? No. Uh-uh. Not comfortable.

Clara was getting better at feeling okay after being tricked into being social. Tonight, instead of being upset at the sneaky "let's have a drink together" with no indication that it was an event; instead of beating herself up over stupid things she might have said; instead of overstaying and feeling worse later; Clara felt proud of herself. 

She may have said stupid things, but no one would have noticed since she was just the extra. Anything she said was just to confirm that Tracy and Midge were lovely people for including this outsider in their event. They didn't know how much she hated it. She played her part in the conversation well enough that they shouldn't even guess she felt like a third wheel. 

Clara smiled to think of this new weapon in her "defensive conversation" arsenal: Participate just enough so that you don't seem like a third wheel. That was good. Overall, a successful social occasion. Of course, she'd never say "yes" to Tracy again, but that was Clara's business.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

02 October, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Journey


The young man in his neatly pressed naval uniform looked around in confusion. He had arrived in an underground cavern, after wandering aimlessly for what had seemed like hours. 

The cavern had an unseen source of light, which was how he came to be there. In the dark tunnel of a cave he'd discovered, he felt his way along paths until a glow appeared down one direction of a crossroads. It was a no-brainer: You're in the dark, you head toward the light.

When the tunnel opened up into the vast space he was in, he first looked around for the source of the light, but couldn't even see a place where the glow seemed brightest. He was standing at an abrupt drop-off into a small lake that entered the cavern through a tunnel at one end and exited at another. The water reflected green into the air, but it wasn't the source of the light.

It was as if the light came through the walls of the cave itself. Not the ceiling; that was dark. It was also annoyingly low - not low enough to touch, but the size of the space was absurdly pancake-shaped without a cathedral dome rising above it.

He paced along the edge of the lake, then sat cross-legged and bent forward to touch the water - hoping it was simply water. 

As his finger touched the water, a shallow boat appeared from the tunnel at the head of the lake, with an oarsman steering it directly toward him. The sailor rose and stood at parade rest in anticipation.

"Welcome, traveler!" said the oarsmen when he pulled alongside the sharp edge of the lake. "Join me!"

The sailor blinked a few times in confusion. The skeptic inside wanted to decline the invitation, to stay put at the side of the lake. He wasn't usually wary, but didn't know where he was, or who this strange person was, and had no reason to get into the boat.

Except for curiosity. Curiosity won and he stepped down into the boat.

The oarsman rowed away from the shore and into the tunnel at the other end, where the walls were all aglow as in the cavern. Soon, the generic green glow of the walls turned into pictures, moving scenes occurring down the length of this tunnel: A young child being chased by a large goose on an old farm. A ring of siblings unwrapping gifts in front of a brightly colorful Christmas tree. A mother waving good-bye to her kids as they walked to school.

"Wait, that's me!" said the sailor, riding in the back of the boat and watching the scenes like movies on the walls. The oarsman nodded and rowed on.

Further down the tunnel the sailor cheered, "That was me playing football in high school!" The oarsman remained silent, rowing, rowing,  on and on.

"There I am checking in at the naval base... getting my uniform..." The movies continued well-past the young man's naval career.

"Wait, what's this? I don't remember..." his voice faded as pictures of a large family surrounding him flashed on the screen quickly, each picture showing him greyer or slower, or more stooped. "Why are they going so fast?"

"You said you don't remember."

He watched the movie playing out, trying to think. "I want to remember."

"Your time is gone. If you don't remember, that's okay. It all happened, and you were a part of it."

"But if I don't remember..."

"Remembrance doesn't change reality," said the oarsman as they neared the end of the tunnel, where a new lake spread out. He pulled the small boat up on the opposite side from where the sailor had joined him in the smaller first lake. "Your time there is gone. You've crossed the river. Welcome."

Without being instructed, the young man got out of the boat and watched the oarsman row away. A cloaked individual approached him. "Follow me to sign in."

He didn't know what journey lay ahead of him, but had no choice but to follow.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

28 September, 2021

I Jinxed Myself

I missed Flash Fiction Friday last week. Oops!

Actually, there have been a few Fridays that got away from me, leaving me to play catch up and write on Saturday. I allow it (my blog, my rules) because Saturday here is still Friday in the US.

This time, Friday got away from me and it wasn't until going to bed on Saturday night that I realized I hadn't written a story. Well, I don't have a ton of readers who would notice, so... no big deal. 

It crossed my mind that I am good at keeping the fiction going unless there's a death in the family, so I thought, "Haha. People will think someone died." No one had died.

Until Monday.

Yup. My dad died in the wee hours of Monday morning. My family had almost made it through one calendar year without a death! Almost. But I jinxed it by not writing. (I don't really believe in jinxes, but all I can do is make jokes.)

I laughed. I laughed at the irony. I laughed at the fact that I had talked to my mom in the morning, and then she called me that night as I was settling in to watch TV to say everything had changed.

One of the reasons I can laugh, and not be sad and weepy and mourn-y is because we expected this and talked about it even before we moved away from the US in 2016. My dad was in renal failure then and refused dialysis. Doctors said he needed the dialysis to stay alive. He lived 5 more years, so suck it, Medicos! And it wasn't even kidney failure that got him.

Well, I don't think so. When I talked to Mom she'd only been awake an hour and a half and hadn't even had coffee yet. Between that and a bad connection, I'm a little vague. He'd been in a nursing home recovering from a broken shoulder, and something went wrong so they'd sent him to the ER in the night.

Anyway, Dad was living on borrowed time, and he wasn't happy with life anymore. He was ready to meet his maker and reunite with two brothers, a sister, a daughter and a grandson.

So there you have it. Last week's absence explained. I'll be back with more fiction on Friday. For sure!

18 September, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Dollhouse


Steve stopped at the kitchen door as he left for work and turned back to Sierra with a question on his face. She gave a quick nod and wave as she turned back to attend to Suzy's breakfast: their signal that it was a "Dotty" day. "Say good-bye to your dad, Suzy."

"Bye, Dad!" Suzy ran over for an extra hug, her  five-year-old arms wrapped around his legs as he bent down to ruffle her hair.

"Have fun at school, Sweetie," he said as he closed the door and she returned to the breakfast table.

"So Dotty's mom called and she's coming over today after school with you. Won't that be fun?" Sierra sat with her coffee across from this cute little girl who didn't understand the whole situation.

"Yay!" she raised her fork and a cheer with her mouthful. 

As soon as Suzy finished they left for the school, Sierra ensuring that the doors were all locked and windows closed. It wasn't her house, after all. When she returned from dropping off her "daughter" she'd check the status of the house to ensure Lorna would find everything satisfactory.

Lorna was Dotty's mom and in a way, Sierra's boss. Sierra had auditioned to play a woman in her late 20s for a "long-term, reality-based gig". It paid well, and this house was a big improvement on her studio apartment in a rat-trap of a building. At the audition Steve was in the room on the same side of the table as Lorna for the initial interview, then he joined her to improvise a few scenes of home-life moments. It was a boring audition and Sierra left with no interest in accepting the role.

Then she heard about Suzy. Suzy had met Lorna's daughter Dotty on the first day of kindergarten and they became instant best friends. But Lorna was a wealthy divorcee trying to control her daughter's environment. Lorna didn't want her daughter thinking all marriages ended. Her best friend had to have a solid, traditional home-life if Dotty was going to spend much time there.

And so Sierra was hired, and Steve, Sierra and Suzy were moved - at Lorna's expense and insistence - into a nice surburban home. They were provided with everything they needed, and a few things according to what Lorna decided Dotty needed in her life but not in her home-life. 

She didn't want her daughter to expect everything to fall into her lap, so Suzy had cool toys that Dotty loved to play with but would never own. Suzy's family took Dotty on an RV trip to Niagara Falls. Or Mt. Rushmore. Or just to a theme park for a day. All on Lorna's tab.

Dotty days were days that Steve and Sierra followed a script of sorts, while Suzy remained oblivious, playing with her friend at their house. Steve had to be home at a set time, smiling and happy, and until then Sierra monitored the girls' play and brought them Lorna-approved snacks. 

It wasn't a terrible job, but as she prepped the house for the afternoon play-date, Sierra wondered how long this role would last. She felt like she - and Steve, and Suzy - were the dolls living in Dotty's dollhouse. And every child's dollhouse was moved to the attic sooner or later.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Today's story was inspired by the song "Dollhouse" by Melanie Martinez.


Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

11 September, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Attack

 


Rajiv paused to let his words sink in. His older friend just didn't understand how the world was these days.

"How can we be considered guilty? We don't even know those men!"

"I know Samir," Rajiv nodded in solemn agreement. "We don't know them. We are not guilty. People who know us know this. But we look enough like those men, and we are from -"

"We are not even from the same country!"

Rajiv sighed. "No. We're not. Just a neighboring country to theirs. Do you think any of the people around us know that? The people who live in our building? Who see us at the store?"

He could see the sorrow in his neighbor's eyes. Rajiv had removed Samir from an escalating argument at the local convenience store and brought him back to his apartment down the hall from Rajiv's. Some ignorant stranger had accused him of the attack, and Samir became defensive. The worst possible response.

Rajiv grew up here and understood the sentiment. He also understood the confusion people had, annoying as it was. "Samir, what if Nadia and I run errands for you for a little while?"

"I'm not helpless!"

"I know you aren't, but if you fight with everyone who says something insulting to you right now, you may not be -" He hesitated to use the word "safe" because that would cause a new debate. "It's just for now. People will figure it out, and those who know you will learn the difference."

"It's insulting."

"It is. People can be mean when they themselves are hurting. Think of when your wife died. You got very angry with me for nothing! But we're okay now." Since the death of his wife Samir had gradually morphed into a good imitation of the stereotypical grumpy old man. "Now it is their time to be hurting." He didn't acknowledge that he and Samir also hurt from the attack. That was secondary. "Let me get your groceries today. Please?"

Rajiv was able to help Samir in this one way, but he wasn't his keeper. There would be hard days ahead, for everyone.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

04 September, 2021

Fiction Friday - The First Day

 


DeLuca sat up straight in his chair. He took a deep breath and assessed his mental situation.

Calm. Centered. Controlled.

His meditation period was over. 

It was the first day of school and all the experienced teachers had warned him that the hardest part was controlling your own mind. A wandering mind while trying to infuse information into the young malleable minds in his care could be disastrous.

Ever since the pandemic in the early 21st century made distance learning readily available to the masses, technology had grown so that no one sat in classrooms like in ancient times. Everyone connected their brains through the net plan. DeLuca had a special chair that framed his skull and projected the lesson from his mind to his students. It was critical he stay on task. 

Children had something like electrodes tethering them to a work station where they could jot down notes to keep their brains focused. They were trained to learn without the tether during a special term in middle school, when students had to learn to do it mind to mind.

They got frequent breaks. That was nice. Focusing too intensely on one thing could create catastrophic brain-drain. 

Even with frequent breaks, a teacher's work was never done, and so controlling his mind was critical. Many new teachers had breakdowns on the first day. DeLuca didn't want to be one of them.  

It was almost time. He sat in his designated chair and leaned back, opening the "classroom" on his center's net plan. Local students began connecting and he could take roll. Focus. Focus. Focus.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. This story was inspired by the prompt "A new teacher's first day" given by Liz A. of Laws of Gravity, in a comment on my previous story, here. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

27 August, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Hunting Accident


Buster nudged Hannibal as they sat in their deer stand. When Hannibal looked over, he pointed to the kid hiding in the bushes. 

Rage lit Hannibal's eyes, and he breathed one word, "bastard." That kid was barely old enough to have a hunting license and here he was, haunting Hannibal's hunting areas. Of course, they were public lands and anyone could hunt there, but when it was the same kid over and over...

Buster knew that Owen was a thorn in Hannibal's side. They all lived in the same sub-division on the outskirts of town. Owen's dad must've gotten him the license, but Owen was always on his own. He seemed a decent enough kid to Buster, but grated on Hannibal's nerves. Not just here, either.

Owen lived across from Hannibal, and whenever Hannibal was out on his porch enjoying a cigar or a beer with Buster or another neighbor, Owen would show up. He needed attention, that's what Buster thought. He'd say hello, try to say something interesting about his life - what his dad was up to, something that happened in school, nothing truly interesting - and always asked if Hannibal would be hunting that weekend.

Sometimes he'd bring over a bird or a squirrel he'd pegged with his sling-shot. That was when he was younger. After he got his first B.B. gun, he'd show off the weapon along with his proudly caught vermin.

This year he had a genuine hunting license, and a genuine hunting rifle, and he'd somehow found Hannibal's favorite hunting area. This was the third time this month. But that wasn't the bad part. The bad part was how good he was. Buster had often listened to Hannibal complain about Owen "thinning the herd", or about Owen "shooting that buck when I had him in my sights" and worst of all about someday letting Owen "see how it feels". 

Buster had no idea how Hannibal could show him how it feels to have his quarry taken from him, when Owen was by far the better shot, and quick and decisive to boot. Something about the look in Hannibal's eyes when he said it frightened Buster, though.

Now, sitting in the deer stand staring daggers down at the poor kid, Hannibal looked as if he was about to do it. Whatever "it" was. He was about to "teach that kid a lesson" about the etiquette of hunting or some such malarkey. Buster didn't want to know, but he was a captive audience in the tree branches.

Before Buster had pointed out Owen's hiding spot to Hannibal, he could've sworn Owen glanced up at them: like he chose that spot specifically for the two-man audience above him. Now as he watched Hannibal's frowning face shift his aim, Buster wished he hadn't pointed him out at all.

People always say "it happened so fast" when calamitous things happen. Tragedies happen "in the blink of an eye" and no one ever knows what happened because it was all "too fast to see". Later, Buster would wish that was the case.

The rage had filled Hannibal's eyes upon seeing his young neighbor in the trees below. His brow furrowed and he shook his head. It occurred to Buster that Hannibal was having an internal debate. He was angry, but how angry? Then Hannibal's breath evened, as it did when he was aiming at a deer. The frown remained as he shifted the angle of the rifle against his shoulder, then one corner of his mouth turned up, satisfied.

Buster glanced at the rifle and followed with his eyes the track it was pointing through space. His mouth hung open as if to protest, but no sound came out. He felt the worry line his brow as he willed Owen to move away. Just leave. Now. Leave now. Go. But Owen was listening to the forest sounds and his eyes were alert for all movement through the underbrush. He was oblivious to the nightmare raging in the forest canopy above.

A deer approached the glade, grazing on the low bushes and saplings, and Owen slowly rose from his crouch to take aim. In the utter silence of the moment, Buster heard Hannibal's exhale and a whisper of a squeeze on the trigger.

The silence was broken by a searing scream as Owen arched forward, the backside of his camo pants ripped and streaming blood. The deer ran from the noise, and Buster watched, wide-eyed, paralyzed, as Hannibal descended to dress his prize. The scene was horrifying as he used his hunting knife to cut through the pants and then - Owen must have blacked out from shock or blood loss already - removed a hunk of flesh from Owen's quivering body.

He raised it over his head and leered at Buster, stuck in the deer-stand, unable to move. "Butt steak for dinner!"

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. This story was inspired by watching the geckos chasing around on our living room wall one night. The big gecko bit the tail off the little one and ate it in front of him! 

If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

24 August, 2021

Battling Writers' Block

I want to address a question from the comments.

For the last several months, I've only been writing my weekly flash fiction, and I've been very terrible - yes: very. terrible - at visiting other blogs, even my favorites. So naturally, there are only a handful of regular-ish readers on this blog. 

Since most of what I do is flash fiction these days, I thought I'd explain a little.

During the A-to-Z Challenge, I actively solicited suggestions from readers, and managed to write an entire month solely using reader prompts! Since then, although my concluding note always asks for prompts in the comments, there have been few. 

Sometimes, like this past Fiction Friday, I sit at my computer with a blank mind. No ideas, no characters, nothing. Writers' Block. There seems to be nothing to write.

However, I am dedicated to my weekly fiction commitment! What to do when the brain is devoid of ideas?

In cases like that, I force myself to sit down - there's a grace period, since I'm 12 hours ahead of the US - and just use whatever phrase or quote comes to mind. For my most recent flash fiction, I ended up editing out my opening line. It happens. I don't even remember what it was.

I have a list of prompts, gleaned from the internet and my verbose husband, but my favorite thing when I'm stuck is to follow a random phrase in my head.

Now, there is ALWAYS a song in my brain. Always. I can't stop it. But also, influences from nature, from TV, from daily life - what would someone else do? - or the illustrious "what if?" and those often feed these little flash fiction tales. 

It's quite freeing, to know that I don't need to follow the story through and actually answer the questions that come up. So WHAT happened to Paige? I don't know. Does she have amnesia? Was she at a resort that brainwashed her? Was it an alien abduction and replacement scenario? 

I don't have a lot of luck with this but...

...What do you think? Which direction should this story go?

21 August, 2021

Fiction Friday - Dead Eyes


She sat, staring at the computer screen, willing it to work. Her mind was a blank. Literally, since the incident. Now, alone in her room, it was up to her to figure things out. Everything. How does this device work? 

No one knew where Paige had been for the past week, but when she returned to the boarding house, clean, rested, well dressed, and made up as if for a big night out, everyone assumed she'd gone to a spa and had a makeover of some kind.

Of the seven people living there, only Mrs. Winchell, the boarding house owner,  harbored doubts.

"Have you ever seen Paige look so nice? She's stunning!" she said to Kit, the boarder in the room across from Paige.

"Exactly!" Kit was young and attractive herself, and had often encouraged Paige to take more effort over her appearance. "She finally went out and did something just for her. Or maybe not just for her." Kit's eyebrows waggled over her coffee cup. 

"It doesn't take a week to buy some clothes and put on a little make up," countered Mrs. Winchell.

Kit shrugged. "Coulda been a resort trip. A prize or something!" Kit rose to put her cup on the sideboard. She was quickly bored when the conversation wasn't about her. She left for the day, leaving Mrs. Winchell alone with her thoughts.

It was the eyes. Running a boarding house for the past ten years, Mrs. Winchell had learned how to read people. Paige had kind, innocent eyes and was staying here while she started her new job in town. Just until she saved enough for her own place, she'd said. But since her return two days ago, her eyes looked dead. There was no emotion in them, even when she smiled in her polite "Good morning, Mrs. Winchell," way.

Up in her room, Paige walked away from the device she couldn't remember. She knew her routine and had to go to work. There was a place. It was in her memory. She knew she needed to go there. She didn't remember why. Maybe someone there would tell her. She walked downstairs with her immaculately made-up face and stylish business clothes.

At the foot of the stairs, she turned into the front room toward Mrs. Winchell. "Good morning, Mrs. Winchell," she said with a dead smile.

Mrs. Winchell gave a skeptical nod. "'Morning to you, Paige. Off to work?"

"Yes, work. Good-bye!" Paige kept the same dead smile as she turned to leave with stiff steps.

"Like a robot, now," muttered Mrs. Winchell as she started clearing away the morning's coffee service. Something had happened to Paige, and no one, including Paige, seemed to know what it was.

It's FICTION FRIDAY!

Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.