The Flash Fiction Challenge
For April 23 I am taking part in a flash fiction challenge with deadlinesforwriters. Previously I had only written ‘normal’ length short stories with them, and ‘only’ one per month. This has been a lot of fun and the challenge sounded like I could learn a lot from it.
What I have learned so far
- I don’t have to like all my stories the same. The point is to write and submit them in time.
- I don’t have to be inspired by all prompts the same. Some of them spark something instantaneously, some of them I struggle with. There is no actual pattern to this.
- Or maybe there is? ‘Simple’ and ‘Lovely’ were hard for me, while ‘Flash’ and ‘Flame’ inspired me. As did ‘Birth’, oddly enough.
- I don’t have to have a certain process. Sometimes sitting down for a ‘date with my muse’ works. Sometimes the prompt has to stew in the back of my brain until the evening.
- Having no idea what to write is just as tricky as having too many ideas. These past 20 days have given me a lot of opportunity to practice making decisions. And going with them.
- There are online tools that help you capitalise your titles. Very handy.
- The process of trimming a story down to the specified word count is fantastic for practising letting go and prioritising. I learned a lot about deciding what is important and what isn’t.
- I can enjoy the experience of not always coming up with something deep and beautiful.
- I really can stick to the schedule and write a story every day.
- Writing stories everyday means that I have less time to blog. This isn’t good or bad, it just is. I make a decision on what I want to prioritise and then accept that I did not choose the other option.
- Some people are wonderful in the way they give feedback.
Three Hours till Bismarck
(Prompt 11 – Sixteen, 250 words )
Away missions are always educational. For example, you learn not to drink Pikor Ale, to study the shuttle’s manual well in advance, and to make every team member feel included.
‘Oxygen level still falling,’ the computer chirped.
Bella, the science officer, was out cold from the drink the Pikor had served. As the mission’s diplomat, Lara had known to not partake.
She checked the electrolyser chamber manual again. There didn’t seem to be any technical problems.
‘Computer, is the release valve blocked?’
‘No obstruction detectable.’
Lara scratched her head. ‘Send the distress signal again! How far to the Bismarck?’
‘Signal sent. The Bismarck is 0.16 light years away.’
‘Estimated meeting in about 3 hours.’
‘Will the oxygen last?’
‘Life support failure in 1 hour.’
Lara closed her eyes and counted to ten. Mental Health class paid off now. However. In hindsight, she should have been as attentive in Basic Engineering.
At least Lara remembered the microleak detection lesson. She fished the vacuwand out of the drawer and went to work checking the entire damn shuttle.
The oxygen countdown display was now at five minutes. Lara counted to twenty.
She shook Bella again, hard.
The mediwand said she was alright, just unconscious.
Feeling woozy, Lara asked, ‘Computer! Can’t you do something about the oxygen level?’
‘I can run a diagnostic and attempt to repair any malfunctions.’
‘What? Well, go ahead then!’
When Lara woke up, she could see the Bismarck through the front screen.
‘Computer, why did you let me run around and panic? Why didn’t you tell me you could save us?’
‘You never asked.’
Lara made a mental note to improve diplomatic relations with the AI.
Employee of the Month
(Prompt 12 – Gone , 250 words)
When he took on the gig , Frank had no idea this would be the last magic show of his career.
‘And now for my last trick!’
It took a lot for Frank to maintain the smile. One of them had been asleep in the last row for fifteen minutes. David, the manager, wouldn’t stop goofing around on stage with the props. Frank made a mental note to never accept a gig at this office supply company again.
‘Soooooo, any volunteers?’ he asked. ‘The lady in the purple dress? No?’
The paper people sat and stared.
‘This is your once in a lifetime chance to…’
He whispered, ‘Vanish from sight!’
‘Aahh, I’ll do it!’
Frank blinked. David grinned and bowed in advance. The woman in purple hid her face in her hands.
‘Ooooookaaaaaay! An applause for David! Now step into this cabinet here! But don’t touch anything in there!’
Frank shut the door, tapped his wand against the cabinet and mumbled under his breath. Then, his gaze on his audience, he threw the door open.
For the first time this afternoon, people clapped and whooped: David had vanished!
Frank chuckled, ‘Not to worry, you’ll get him back in a second!’
Tap, mumble, open door, pose, wait… What?
David was still gone. Frank shook the cabinet. Crouched inside. Scratched his nose.
‘Um. I’ll sort it!’
‘Oh, don’t worry,’ The purple lady gently pushed him offstage. ‘Look at the time, I bet you have a train to catch. Here’s your cheque and some extra! We’ll post your props! ’
Later, at the station, Frank decided to take up juggling as a side job.
(Prompt 13 – Bind, 100 words)
Alex and Charlie are good friends. Until their relationship is tested.
Alex runs until he is out of breath, cursing. Had he knocked, he wouldn’t have seen Charlie change.
The other boys are waiting for them.
He thinks of his father watching the news.
‘There’s something wrong with the parents if kids turn out that way! Glad you have your head on straight, son!’
Wrapping yourself like that? He has trouble breathing, just from imagining it.
Charlie arrives late, arms crossed in front of their chest, glancing at Alex. Alex grins and pats his friend on the back, more roughly than usual.
‘Hey, there you are! Let’s chat up some girls!’
Mother And Son
(Prompt 1 4 – Birth , 250 words)
This time she is determined not to let anyone take her child away.
Here in the forest, the two of them are safe. At least for now. She has given birth before, but she has almost no recollection of the other two children.
Each time, the guards came and took them away shortly afterwards. She could hear them crying for days, because they kept them close by, out of sight but not out of hearing range. Whenever she stood at the gate and called for them through the bars, someone came eventually and pushed her back. Shouted at her to shut up.
Two days ago she saw a chance to escape through a gap in the electric fence around the compound and took it. She ran and ran. Through the mud. Into the forest. Stumbling through the undergrowth. Until she had to lie down, exhausted but free at last.
He was born tonight. She doesn’t realise how lucky she was that things went so well. She cleaned him as best she could, kept him safe and warm. He latched on hungrily and drank until he fell asleep, closed those big brown eyes. She has no plans for what she is going to do tomorrow. She has never been here, in the outside world.
She is tired too, but he smells so soft and sweet, she can’t get enough of him, his pink nose. She listens to him breathing. The tiny bull calf has the same black and white face markings as his father, but she doesn’t know that. She never even met him.
Spark of Humanity
(Prompt 15 – Flash, 300 words)
A legacy of blood and fire passed on through centuries.
A woman squats beside the fire, her gaze fixed on the stones in her hands. One is heavy, the other sharp. She hits the flint blade one last time, smiling at the sparks. She is ready for the next attack.
At dawn, the king rides in front of his army. They know the enemy is behind the hills. They know there is little hope for this battle to bring them victory after years of war. Still, the king raises his sword, catching the sunlight. They roar and run forward.
In the trenches, a soldier reads letters from home. The ink is almost worn away and the paper is thin from folding and unfolding. He is so immersed in the words of love that he only sees the streak of light seconds before it hits the ground. The grenade explodes a safe distance away from him. Shortly afterwards, he hears the screaming.
The streets are decorated in black, white and red. Young men march to the music of a military band. They parade past their families, their boots polished to an immaculate shine, blinding their eyes to what lies ahead.
On a Wednesday, a soldier who never signed up for any of this, runs from a house, his eyes wide. He throws up against a tree. In his mind he replays the way the flames reflected on the pool of blood.
The same man, a father now, pulls the belt from his trousers and holds the gleaming buckle in his shaking hand. His daughter has no idea why this happens every Wednesday.
The same daughter, a mother now, sees her son squatting beside a pile of shards. His eyes glisten with tears. She grips the broomstick hard and makes a decision.
‘I’ve never liked that vase. Come, give me a hug.’
Still Not Enligthened
(Prompt 16 – Simple, 50 words)
Peace of mind is hard to learn and possibly even harder to teach.
The pupil was furious with the master.
‘What is all this Zen good for, if I still don’t understand it?’
The master sat and smiled.
‘Why do you keep all the explanations to yourself? Why can’t you make this simple?’
‘The answers are simple. But I can’t make them easy.’
Belle of the Ball
(Prompt 17 – Lovely, 120 words)
The perfect dress. A dream in black and royal blue.
Tania cut the last threads, and lifted the gown up from the worktop. When she shook it, the royal blue skirt billowed like an ocean wave, the black velvet top shimmered in the lamplight. She held it close to her body and tried a few twirls.
Jesmin had been watching. ‘If I wasn’t your best friend, I’d be jealous of your talent!’
Tania already saw herself swaying across the dancefloor.
Until Mr Hossen burst in.
‘Who do you think you are? Hang it with the other ones and return to work! I don’t pay you for dreaming!’
The dress swung back and forth on the rail as Tania bent over the next one she would never be able to afford.
Daughter of Fire
(Prompt 18 – Flame, 100 words)
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. Caitlin would disagree. Maybe in part because she knows what is to come.
Caitlin ties her long auburn hair together. She does not want it to get caught while weaving her last spell.
The liquid in the small bottle is clear and viscous. She adds a length of wool and finally a stopper. She draws sigils in the air that create orange echo images within the liquid. Almost done.
She sneaks into the chapel and hides the flask underneath the lectern. Upon her leaving, sacrificial candles light up all at once.
Two days later, Caitlin dies on a pyre. The night after, the entire village burns to the ground, starting from the chapel.
(Prompt 19 – Sleep, 250 words)
There is a reason Priscilla is still wide awake at 3am, but none of her friends are going to believe her.
This has never happened to Priscilla. She has heard about ‘tossing and turning’. It’s even more annoying than she could have ever imagined.
The clock tells her it’s three in the morning. She gets up and walks into the kitchen to get some water. She shouldn’t have eaten the entire vegetable bake.
Back in bed, Priscilla worries that this might be hormonal. Lots of friends her age talk about waking up from sweating too much. She doesn’t feel particularly warm, though. On the contrary, her bed is as comfortable as always, the blanket snug, her pillow just the right level of soft.
She wonders if she should read something when she hears a tiny voice griping from somewhere under her bed, ‘I know! First the sand shortage, suddenly I have to take over Ernie’s route, and I am pretty sure they’re not going to pay me overtime. Yeah, tell me about it! Oh!’
The small person now standing on Priscilla’s bedside table stares at her, frozen.
‘You can see me? Erm…’
He has a tiny device on his belt which he hits repeatedly with his free hand. He sighs, then reaches deep into a tiny bag.
‘Nothing to see here, it’s aaaaall just a dream!’
The last thing she sees is a tiny handful of sparkling sand thrown her way. She can still hear the voice, just not filter out any words.
‘Okay, I am back, Ernie’s last is done. Hope she won’t find out about the sock goblins next!’
So This Is Goodbye
(Prompt 20 – Tissue, 120 words)
Laura may need to get a bigger box of tissues.
Laura lay on her settee, her right arm flung across her eyes. Crumpled up tissues already covered the carpet, yet she reached for another one to blow her nose again.
Today Lily would leave her. After a wonderful week of watching TV, cuddling, napping together, talking over breakfast. Laura sniffled and wiped her eyes.
Lily came in and looked around.
‘Would you like another bite before you have to go? There are leftovers.’
Laura got one more plate from the kitchen, but Lily only stared at the food until the door bell rang.
‘Thank you! If it hadn’t been urgent, I would never have asked you!’
‘Looking after your cat was a pleasure. What’s a bit of allergy among friends?’
Thank you for reading! Have you taken part in a challenge like this one or have you published short stories online? Let me know so I can read them too.
Would you like to read more of my stories? You can find them here!