Not posting daily has been almost like a vacation...but I do miss your daily comments!
I've gotten a LOT of reading done these past few weeks, and I'm planning a post with a roundup of requests, queries etc. later in December.
In the meantime, let's have a flash fiction contest to celebrate the endurance of the snot green sofa (where I do my reading.)
Prize is of course a book but this time, not just ONE book:
Louise Miller: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living (it's a novel not a how-to book!)
Natalie Jenner: The Jane Austen Society (you don't need to love Jane to love this book!)
The usual rules apply:
1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.
2. Use these words in the story:
(NO Steve Forti extra prompt word this week. I have retired from the field of battle. Forti Thwarts the Shark!)
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.
5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.
6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.
7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)
8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.
9. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE.
10. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"
11. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!"). Save that for the contest results post.
12. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.
13. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.
Contest opens: Saturday, 11/28/20, at 9am EST
Contest closes: Sunday, 11/29/20, at 9am EST
If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock
If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/
(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)
Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Sorry, too late. Contest closed.
How To Serve Man, 2020 edition
Little green aliens are supposed to live in outer space, not my sofa. Yet here they are, popping out from under the ugly teal cushions with impunity, as squinty-eyed and slack-jawed as Dirty Harry on weed.
The tallest, the size of a well-fed gerbil, sounds suspiciously like my dealer. “Take me to your leader.”
“Dude, no.” I puff on my joint. “Come back after January 20th.”
He disappears into the worn velvet, but not before I score a handful of grass. Don't judge. It’s been a tough year. And I just saved humanity.
I couldn’t get past her green eyes. Penetrating
with a story to tell of pain and travel, a diamond
from stone--immigrant success. When she
squinted the sun faded in mine, hearts lost
until finding their equal, her eyes mine! So far I
had only learned her name,
“Tea like Hey-yah,” she grinned, her front teeth
gapped, mine agape still lost in sad eyes, a
mountain climbed--me from Wales, she from
the Emerald Isle, land thieves in “America.”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” I muttered, adjusting
my slacks... “Do you want to go back with me?”
“The old world...” Home
Frosty the Snowman was a jolly happy soul
‘Til some apes grew up, and they all went nuts
And they started to burn coal
Frosty the Snowman thought he’d cut a little slack
‘Cuz so far it’s fine, sure they cut some pines
But it’s not like they will frack
Down to the deep wells, he was sure they’d get their fill
Then he squinted tight, ‘neath the northern lights
And he saw some Arctic drills
Frosty was desperate, tried to teach a better way
Begged them to go green, “I’m not being mean
Please before I melt away.”
Annie and I sat, food-comatose on the sofa, as “Dad and Uncle Ernie Thanksgiving Debate XXXVI” raged on without slacking.
“They still arguing about the election?” said Annie.
“No, I think they’re on the Lions now.”
“Lord…” She shook her head.
The querulous voices fell silent. Both men sat unnaturally stiff, eyes asquint. Uncle Ernie clasped his hands to keep them steady. Dad coughed nervously.
“Did they just—?”
“No,” I said.
“They didn’t, okay? We’re in a pandemic. We’ve had race riots, wild fires, and murder hornets. If those two agree now, the world will explode.”
A logjam of shopping bags squeezes through the door, followed by Bitsy in her sequined mask. “Look! BOGO Christmas sox for everyone!” (Yes, sox with an x. I hear it in her voice.)
I squint at sparkly green elves. “Your great-uncle Albert will swoon.”
She sniffs. “Finished your shopping?”
I pat my laptop. “Gift cards.”
“Slacker.” She laughs. “Cup of tea and I’m off again.”
“Seventy-five off pajamas.”
“Oh, the humanity.”
Once she’s gone, I retrieve the ring box hidden under sofa cushions. Gaudy, tasteless, relentlessly cheerful. The perfect ring for Bitsy.
Bitsy, the perfect wife for me.
2020 was almost over. The election? Still not decided.
"Let's pick randomly," Ms. Bell suggested.
"Liberty, no. We need to all agree; need to find someone to join our team," Uncle Sam retorted.
"Nothing positive happened this year," Mr. Baldy squawked.
"His lackadaisical comment aside, does anyone have someone to nominate?" Ms. Flag asked.
"The winner will join the ranks of us quintessential symbols of the United States of America!" Statue of Liberty exclaimed. "Who exhibited such bravery, heroism, compassion, and strength this past year?"
National Anthem thought a moment, then belted out, "What about Front Line Workers?"
Woozy, Estella leaned against the green sofa. Slack jaw, painful squint, she sized up the brew. Third gulp in, hatefully bitter. She spat out the tea.
“Harry,” she wheezed. Her head pounded with the realization that just as he’d done before their mother’s death, her son of a bitch brother had also rigged their father’s will.
Down she went. The mug shattered against the dark, oak wood floor.
She blinked through the blur of hot tears. Barrel-chested Harry hovered above. His shit-eating grin said it all: He’d finally done her in.
But Estella believed in the power of ghosts.
After thirty minutes of the TV fighting my sleep, I opened my eyes and squinted at the bright green glare. I was laying on someone’s sofa. My shirt was off. I still had my slacks and shoes on. I sat up and felt the hangover.
“Coffee or tea?” the female voice asked from the kitchen.
I answered, “Coffee please,” as I stood and looked for my shirt.
She came around the corner carrying my shirt and a to-go cup. “It’s too bad you passed out.” She handed me both items and walked me out the door. “Good-bye.” The door closed.
I tell mom the casket is Kelly green.
“ ’S not,” she seems to say.
Everybody knows, mom is always right.
I squint at her still form.
Rules. Rules. Rules.
Don’t run with scissors. Chew your steak thirty-four times. Wash your butt.
Yada. Yada. Yada.
The bus, the tube, the bar, church, work…none so far away.
I rise from the kneeler.
Her last rule. “If you slack, you die. Wear a mask.”
I didn’t listen.
Be safe everyone.
It’s not too late
The morning broke queasy, punctuated with pieces of a dream in a snot green medium.
Pulling the slack from some remaining brain cells, the green crap became a sofa
The glass of tea on the floor wasn’t tea. Suppressing a gag, I saw flecks of something like rust on my hands.
Struggling to the bath my eyes popped open, then shut, then wouldn’t pass a squint. In the tub was the dream, in pieces; that wasn’t rust on my hands.
He sat on the pea green sofa, his face slack, a small hole in his chest.
She felt the cup of tea on the side table. Still warm but the liquid no longer steaming. Cassandra squinted as she looked around the room. Her pulse quickened as she noticed the dirty footprints on the carpet. Cassandra reached for her service weapon but froze when she heard the unmistakable sound of a hammer clicking back.
“I guess he wasn’t lying when he said you’d be home soon.”
Aiden flicks his wrist, and a stone skips across the glassy pond. Cicadas scream from a branch above as if cheering.
“Would you say the water is hunter or olive green?”
His random thoughts strike again, demanding attention to the present moment.
As if I’d be anywhere else.
I pluck a blade of grass at the edge of the blanket. “My grandma’s sofa is olive, so maybe pickle.”
His sun-kissed shoulders slack, and he squints. “Funny.”
I grin, screaming when he pins me back, tickling my neck with his kisses.
To think, this all started because he bought my tea.
All she has are suspicions.
Her husband and her best friend, Paige.
Confronting them would be messy. Paige's son, Jimmy, is her own son's best friend.
With tea in hand and a desire to deny, she joins the teenagers in the rec room. The boys lie sprawled on the sofa watching the game.
"Who you rooting for?" she asks.
"Which team is that?"
"Green jerseys," Jimmy says.
"They're blue, dumbass!" her son chides.
The words thunder in her brain.
She steps back slack-jawed and squints to hide her tears.
"Hey, mom! Jimmy's colorblind just like dad."
He paced behind the theater curtains. So far he’d come yet now uncertain.
He’d tried before, sang from porches. Had run before, from pitchforks and torches.
“This lacks a fifth, they cannot stay. Groups of five, that’s the way.”
Whispers drifted from his peers—the four on stage—“Why isn’t he here?”
“Ogre enrapt us please,” called the crowd, “we do love you, we wouldn’t tease.”
He wiped tears; shuffled his feet. He entered to cheers; “This quintet may now compete.”
“It’s further than it looks, old sport, but it’s always there."
I followed his gaze out to the slack water, steamed with fog. Squinting, I could see the green light in the distance.
So familiar, yet different.
This time I didn’t tell him I was a time traveler or that I had lived many variations of this moment. I didn’t say that sometimes the light was red or blue. I didn’t warn him of the fate that awaited him, because he was always succumbing to it. Overdosing, hanging, drowning.
The only thing that ever remained the same was the dream.
"I can make you a star, sweetie. But first..."
"Whatever it takes," she teased, lying back on the sofa, flattening it.
"Cut!" I yelled.
"I simply can't work like this," Rex whined, throwing up his tiny arms.
I agree not everything had gone as planned. Indeed, this quintessential labor of love of mine appeared headed for divorce. On paper, it looked perfect; in reality, it's lacking a plot, competent actors, and passion.
"Perhaps I could lose weight," Vela offered.
Not before the asteroid hits, I thought. Some movies simply should not be made. Apparently "Jurassic Tart" is one of them.
She sits on her tea-green sofa, slacks so tight she could
(Don’t squint. Smile hard. Worm your way behind her guard.)
Squeeze her thoughts between them
(Talk loud. Don’t care. Fill the fucking room with air.)
And crap out an anthem. But she’s tired
(Lie, sell. Cast a spell. Pour another Zinfandel.)
Of pondering his onlyness. He’s the only
(Reminder: don’t walk out of this shitty studio without your socks.)
Asshole who swiped right.
Me: So, 2020, coronavirus has kinda stolen your thunder like the green grinch stole Christmas. Wanna give me a gift early and share what the tealeaves say for 2021?
2020: What’s the fun in that?
Me: Gotcha. But a lot of people would appreciate it.
2020: Sorry, no.
Me: Holding your cards close, huh?
2020: I’ve done a good job so far, haven’t I?
Me: Yeah, but you haven’t trumped us, yet. How about a squint at next month?
Me: ...and maybe 2021 will cut us some slack.
2020: Hindsight is 20/20!
“Contestant four’s entry has mouth feel, texture and the umami flavor of true beef. There’s a satisfactory, real look to the juice on my plate.”
“Blood.” Jake gives me his shut-up squint.
“Its lack of portion size is lamentable, however.” So far we had a bit of a supply chain problem, but he doesn’t need to know that. A solution was in the works.
Ultra-marathoner, sunken-eyed judge weighs in, “light, somewhat familiar flavor. Agreeable.”
The judges huddle. I clutch Jake’s hand.
“The fifty thousand dollar winner of the Agricultural Animal Alternative Protein contest is…number four! Team Soil End Green Solutions!”
“You’re my only queen.”
It was treason, but he’d pledged his allegiance anyway. When we were discovered and his body went slack, I vowed he wouldn’t die in vain.
They’d left en masse, leaving her vulnerable. I stealthily made my way to where she rested, surprised and squint-eyed, upon a honeycombed sofa. I slanted my body toward her as she feebly called for help and injected poison into my mother’s heart.
Despite his flowery assurances, I found I could never truly be a queen. I impaled myself upon an unsuspecting greenskeeper, a victim of nature, a Juliet to his Romeo.
I don’t normally do art, but Rob insisted. Said my brain was slack and I needed a fresh perspective on life. That’s what friends are for.
So they say.
So, fact is, I went. Not that I agree. Not for any reason other than to placate Rob.
It was all weird, but the weirdest was the crowd around the last painting. Their scowling faces seemed so angry.
The painting was a mess. Lines and colors that had no cohesion.
Just like me, I thought.
And then I saw the title:
“Sea with Squint Tea Ice”
And it changed my life.
Welcome to the Greenfield Library Online Catalog: Place Holds.
Quintessential Kale Cookbook 978-1510738164
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos 978-0141988511
Slack: Getting Past Burnout 978-0767907699
Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea 978-1416954125
What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters 978-0399581892
Didn't See That Coming 978-0063010529
Personal Bankruptcy Laws for Dummies 978-0471773801
Unf*ck Yourself 978-1473671560
So Far from God 978-0393326932
A Promised Land 978-1524763169
Error: Not yet available.
How to Build a Time Machine 978-1250024220
No Time Like the Future 978-1250265616
If she tilts her head and squints, she sees it clearly:
The odd green that never matched anything
(they were young, hopeful, it was on sale)
Firm cushions supporting breastfeeding babies
Increasingly stained, kids climbing, jumping, napping
Snuggling close with books
Remnants of spit-up, grubby fingers, embedded pet fur
Cushions sagging, muffling tear-filled nights
Waiting up, corners worn thin as slackened faith
Relegated to the playroom, still no match
Seldom used now, kids grown, moved out
All things have their time
Careful, she tells the junk removers, that sofa is far heavier than it looks.
The massive, blood red demon squashed my sofa. Despite log-like fingers, he picked up his teacup and sipped.
He stopped, phosphorescent green eyes squinting at the ceramic.
I quavered. "N-needs sugar?"
"Tea's excellent. Almost...heavenly." He seized the teapot. Guzzled it. Belched. "Your soul's due. Today."
"Millennials. Trade for a fortune, then slack off ten years."
"I didn't. I researched. Contract expires if the demon expires."
"And if you drank holy water..."
The demon looked at the teapot.
Ugh. Sulfurous demon guts everywhere. But I can pay someone to clean.
I've got a fortune.
"I quite agree," nodded Watson. "So far, the experience has been less than convincing. I'd even say it's lacking its quintessental aspects." He passed the steaming beverage under his nose, once more.
"Indubitably, my dear Watson," the master detective replied, putting down his own cup. "When it comes to the great British tradition of infusing hot water with subtle flavor, it is every gentleman's honor-bound duty to not short-change himself."
"Quite so," the doctor confirmed eagerly, walking toward the door of the scarlet study. "I shall teach the new cook how to prepare a decent cup of coffee, at once."
He placed the old green book back on the table beside the sofa. “Le Masque de la mort rouge,” talk about one a day plus irony. He thought about all those slack jawed people. He squinted at the clock on the wall… “Fuck it, might as well check the numbers,” he switched on the tv.
“… so, you’re saying that since mammoths roamed the earth, mankind’s instincts have only ever been fight or flight?”
“Exactly… now with this pandemic there is no fight or flight… we have to do something else… let each family isolate.”
“Shouldn’t be that hard.” (coughs)
Sofia adjusted her apron, took the tray Chef thrust at her and on silent tread entered the dining hall. After a careful curtsy, she served the old tyrant his buttermilk radish soup.
“Green pepper oil, sir?” She held out a small bottle.
At his nod she trickled a teaspoon over the hot soup. Stoppered the bottle. Took a step back.
He slurped from his spoon. Paused for a rattling breath. Slack-jawed he squinted at her, his face turning a sludgy toad green.
“So-fa.” Drool slid down his chin.
Sofia slid the indenture-ending bottle of green peanut oil into her pocket.
It was twenty years ago now the sofa appeared, tossed squintwise by the village green like some unearthly tide fetched it there. It became ours; the place we sneaked our joy of forbidden things.
We believed it a gift. But its faded oxblood leather turned scarlet, slick, tears morphing to hungry mouths. I freaked, but we were all crazy then, all stoners, slackers laughing like we were immortal. No-one listened.
I ran, took work in town.
Next summer, I went back. The sofa was gone. So was everyone who mattered.
The paper reported the skeletons as medieval. I knew better.
If only she could have known.
Starry eyes finally collide.
After three stints, quints.
Dolly tea parties, little jeans with green knees.
Seven snuggled on the sofa for nursery rhymes, story times, movie nights.
Their silver anniversary, five contributing to society, her second master’s degree.
Wrinkled hands writing letters: lacking stop sign, lights to prevent crime.
Volunteering on that hotline.
If only she could have known.
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