Long time blog reader Kitty Myers and I had a quick exchange about prologues/usefulness thereof, and I had a light bulb moment.
How about we have a flash fiction contest that isn't prompt words, but a prompt concept?
To wit: Write something that creates tension, and makes us want to know more.
Here are some examples of a single line that does that:
The Scopuli had been taken eight days ago, and Julie Mao was finally ready to be shot.
They shoot the white girl first.
"You screwed up, Mr. Cates"
The Electric Church
Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.
Everything I Never Told You
They were in one of the “I” states when Zeke told Isaac he had to ride in the trunk for a little while.
By a Spider's Thread
He was gorgeous and he was naked but, unfortunately, he was dead.
Death and the Redheaded Woman
Loretta Sue Ross
Let's give it a try and see if it works/has benefits/thwarts Steve Forti.
The usual rules apply:
1. Write something that grabs us and creates tension in 100 words or fewer.
2. Use these words in the PROLOGUE There are no prompt words.
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. (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 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, 9/17/22 2:51am EDT
Contest closes: Sunday, 9/18/22 10:00am EDT
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.
Not yet! ENTER! Rats, too late. Contest closed!
If the Jeep was on the rocks, like their relationship, she wouldn’t be concerned about the rising sun. They’d be bouncing along while he laughed and she loathed. She’d hit her head on the roof and he’d say, “I told you to tighten that harness, honey,” instead of “Geez are you okay? I’m sorry, I’ll slow down.”
But it was stuck in mud, the only water they’d seen in three days, too thick to drink. No more food or beverages or patience.
“We need to walk out.”
“We’d never make it.”
“We have to try.”
My fifteen-year-old son Donovan told his teacher I had been killed.
My fourteen-year-old daughter Erin chugs Maalox.
My husband Jack is preoccupied,
my mother Grace is aloof,
my Grandmother Whitney is dying,
and my psychologist Eugene refuses to say my first name.
So I talk to Mrs. Nussbaum, who’s dead.
Nobody knew the bomb was about to go off. Not the nurses, not the technicians. Certainly not Tom Syzlak, who’d come to have his kidney out.
He was at the vending machine when it happened, a short pink scar wriggling wormlike across his abdomen. The nurses had told him to rest, but Tom was as stubborn as his cancer, and hospital food had never suited him. Later, when they’d begun to sort things out, he’d wonder why he had such a tough time deciding between Cheetos and Lays. But as it turned out, the indecision wound up saving his life.
He stared at her, like it was his first time, knowing it was their last time.
That night, the mountain came alive.
Unfurled its double hump.
A mile below, the twins plucked rubbery egg and anemic artichoke spears off their pizza and hurled them at each other.
Leonie shot a look at me from across the table. So Italian. Just like you. But even she wouldn't say it aloud, not here.
I blamed her berserker ancestors.
Maybe we blamed everything on each other, now.
That night, the mountain dumped coastline into the Tyrrhenian, resurrected temples and villas, and summoned 10,000 souls from the underworld. A civilization reborn.
But it wasn't her fault. It was mine.
‘Twas a hot, sunny morning, the beginning of July. I was out pruning roses when my ex stopped by. He wore his rich cologne, his swanky lawyer’s tie.
“New rose bush?” he observed.
“He deserved it, so,” said I.
“You little witch,” said my ex. “I would’ve won his case. But I’ve worn my anti-rose-hex. Now the world’ll know your face.”
People often ask, ‘who’s the one that got away?’
I plead the fifth —though admittedly, ‘twas not my ex, that summer day. Had some wine, and morning grew subsequently hazy.
But now my garden cultivates a swanky little daisy.
At exactly 8:59 that evening, an asteroid shaped like a large baked potato would crash through the atmosphere and set the entire planet aflame. But for now, it was bedtime -- and Rex wanted a story.
Animals instinctively shied away from Penelope's front garden. Even the chipmunks scampered around the perimeter to avoid treading on it.
People, however, were not so choosy. They came in droves and in all types of weather. Delighting in the daffodils. Glorifying the gladiolas. Basking in the blood-red winterberries.
No one ever asked Penelope why her plants were so exceptionally vibrant. Which was wise, because Penelope wasn't one to kiss and tell.
She was thirty-seven sleepless hours on the run when she spotted the demon's headlights behind her again.
One day I found a volume of poetry by Robert Frost
in the prison library at Pendleton
and checked it out.
Back in my cell, I read:
Home is the place where, when you want to go there, they have to take you in.
When I made parole, I called my mom to tell her my good news.
I found out that my dad had never read Robert Frost.
At least not that poem.
I shoulda killed the Impossible Man.
He shambled outta the desert, sunburnt like hell, throat slashed, hair crusty with blood, skull fractured. Certain to die.
But he survived. Like he’d survived the Wastes, the vast deadlands hiding our oasis from the Ravages. Impassable Wastes, I’d called them. Guess impossible beats impassable.
Doc said the throat gashes meant the Impossible Man would never speak.
But he did, rasping one word like a man retching poison.
One goddamn word. A key unlocking doors to secrets.
Secrets as corrosive as acid.
And our paradise began to dissolve.
I shoulda killed the Impossible Man.
Marta had wanted her wedding covered by the press, but she'd been thinking of Hello. Not this.
"The body was in your hotel room when you arrived?" the officer prompted, scribbling on his pad.
Marta's hands shook. She took another pull of champagne. "No."
The officer looked up. "Well, when did you make the discovery?"
"When I was leaving - for the ceremony. The… It wasn't there before that."
The stranger's face swam in her vision. Sunken. His blood slicking the carpet. She shivered. She'd been in the bathroom, inches away. Why hadn't she heard anything?
A clap of thunder roused Carol from her water-fun induced exhaustion. Her mother’s shriek sent chills through her heart. She tried to scramble out of bed but the pitching of the boat sent her tumbling against the wall. She should have landed on her brother.
“Dominic!” her father’s panicked cry could be heard above the din of the storm.
She ripped the curtain aside. The clear blue skies muddled her brain. No dark clouds, no rain or lightning. Just the gentle waves of Lake Michigan. She could see the pencil thin Mather Tower of the Chicago skyline on the horizon.
He keeps secrets, so I tell lies. Mostly to myself. It’s a business expense. The message on his phone meant nothing. He’ll be home tonight.
I’m so good at lying; I can lie to others with ease. I told my mother he’d proposed. Not that we’re engaged since he’d only proposed we take a trip. I told my boss it's the flu, not a pregnancy.
But when the police arrived today, I was speechless. All my skills at deception lost. Because, while I’m an expert liar, I’m starting to see he far surpasses me when it comes to keeping secrets.
She found him at Ted’s s bar, four shot glasses lined up, one full.
“I’m done talking.” She perched one stool away. He turned to glare.
“Do I look like I’m in the mood anyway?” He downed the last shot, slammed the glass on the bar.
“Some of your stuff’s in your truck. You can get the rest later.”
He yanked her by the arm to his side. “No. Not negotiable.” She pulled away.
“Not this time. You don’t touch my child.” She walked towards the door. He pitched his glass at her.
For most of these second graders, it was their first time to see a lion up close.
Benjamin Sturgis boasted that he was the only one tall enough to feed the giraffe.
The school bus reeked of sweat, juice boxes and Off spray.
“Quiet!” Miss Dill yelled from her seat beside the driver.
She stood up, counted the heads.
She counted again, this time with the use of her index finger, murmuring the numbers while walking down the aisle.
Twelve girls, sixteen boys.
She looked at the tiny faces one by one.
Where’s Megan Dubanowski?
Do not let the children in.
No matter their wails of hunger. No matter their pleas for help. No matter their plaintive sounds clawing at your ears until madness tempts sweetly. You never, never let them in.
Small knuckles tapping, tapping, tapping, low against the battened door.
My hand, once slick with sweat, now burns hot as the knob slowly turns. I’ve been waiting for them to come.
Billy comes to help me dig.
He's in his bed bottoms, arming sweat from his brow. I'm in my Tuesday stilettos, wondering where it all went wrong.
We dig in silence under a sky so black we may as well be blind.
They have followed Logan tight since he stepped out of his Porsche at Seventh Avenue and tossed the keys into the river a few seconds’ walk away.
They have been to a strip club, to a mosque, to heaven and beyond, to hell and back, keeping a close watch on him, keeping in close contact with other members of their team who are far more interested in office work than in fieldwork.
They have sat in front of him on the train, walked beside him many times, matching his quick strides with theirs, trying to start a conversation with him.
I had four husbands; none of them were mine.
Who's at fault, me or them? When I was with them, I didn't know they were married. Now looking back, the signs were all there. But when you're young and in love, or lust, you don't pay attention to those details. You don't ask yourself why he couldn't spend his birthday with you, or Christmas, or other important dates. You went along with reasons that were unreasonable. Naive, stupid? Sure.
So, am I being unreasonable now if I want revenge, to destroy their lives as they did mine?
It’s one thing when your neighbor turns up dead on your doorstep; it’s quite another when he then asks for a cup of sugar.
“Tell me about finding the girl.”
“I went home. I slept. I woke early and went for a walk. Ended up in the Cool Zone. Heard a noise. Found the girl in the airlock. Brought her back. The End.”
“Your chip lets you into the Cool Zone and opens airlocks?”
“Because of who you are?”
“Okay. Well, no matter who they are, no one just accidentally wanders into the Cool Zone. Plus airlock doors are 8 inches thick, vacuum-sealed and completely sound-proof. So, Sal, I have to ask again: why did you open the airlock doors?”
One eye stared from the pile of confetti that had once been my passport. With the handle from my antique leather duffle still protruding from her mouth, the puppy looked up and wagged her tail.
Second motherboard replacement. First onsite repair.
The customer notices just as I finish zipping up my bag.
“Hey, what happened to the nubbin?” he asks, pointing to the missing orange trackpoint cap at the center of the keyboard.
“That was like that when I got here,” I say, beginning to sweat. “I was going to ask you about it.”
“Oh, okay. Weird…” he says. “I must have lost it while cleaning it.”
I smile politely as I head for the door—heart racing—like always.
I’ll get caught for the caps eventually, I know.
But they’ll never find the bodies.
Dear Bobby Frank,
If you find this letter, I hope it means that you are still looking for me. Sorry I ran away that day, but I was scared. I stayed in town.and I still look the same, but people aren’t mean. I come here to the streetlamp all the time, looking
for you.. There is something missing in me and I need to find you. I just want to be together again –and I am in love. I want us to marry her.
p.s. There are others.
The snake that slithered under the sliding glass doors was my second unwanted visitor of the day, but was still the less slimy and more welcome of the two.
The storm hit like a freight train. The only sounds louder than it were the buckets of rain falling and the electrical transformers exploding.
We hid under a mattress in the closet and felt the building shake. A ripping sound started and then the roof ripped away. Seconds later the drywall ceiling collapsed in a soggy splash.
Then the water began to rise, faster than the rain should have caused, the pond had overflowed. It was just after 10:00.
“Her life shouldn't be given over to shallowness.” I sipped my tea, watching.
Perched on the stool, Tiffany held her palette knife aloft with its blobs of greens and browns. “The shallows can provide a rich life, too. But I get what you mean.” She arced the paint onto the “canvas,” her strokes sure and steady.
“She needs The Cousins.”
Tiffany grinned. She reloaded the palette knife with shades of grays, slashed vertical lines.
“You two!” Over the rustle of newspapers, James’ blue eyes, magnified by his glasses, peered at us. “That’s enough.”
I disagreed. She needed more depth.
The first time didn't take, so I killed him again.
If a door opens, Mom grabs my little sister’s hand. I grab the other one. Not because we’re the hand-holding kind. It’s so Lark won’t take off.
Toys everywhere, but all she wants is the evergreen tree out back.
Last week she toddled into the bathroom and held out a pinecone.
Mom gasped. “Larkie, did you go outside while I was in the shower?”
Fun fact: My sister could fly before she could talk.
Mom said she was sad and mad because if Lark had gone over the fence like Whiskers, we might never see her again.
She was a star beloved by millions. She’d done it all a thousand times, including this. It was her agent’s idea: a lift, a tuck, a smoothing. When the anesthesia wore off, she felt something terribly wrong: her face numb, a crowd at her bedside, a nurse crying. A hot surge of fear gripped her by the ribcage, she couldn’t breathe.
“There’s been a.. complication” her doctor whispered hoarsely. “But we will do whatever we can to make this right..to make sure you can be.. seen in public again. Nor-.. normal..” then he was crying too.
Her face is white in the dim light. She isn’t wearing shoes or a shirt, only a white bra and panties. She is crouched by the side of the building, watching the corner. I can see her breasts rise and fall as she breathes. Her face is streaked with sweat and dirt, and bruises cover her body. “Excuse me,” I start to say, but she turns and puts a finger across her lips. “Quiet,” she hisses. “If they hear you, we both die.”
We drove into the school drop-off zone.
I glanced at my father. What did Springfield Junior High have in store for me?
“Calvin,” said Dad. “Everyone in your class is from another school.”
“I know.” I sighed, smelling armpit sweat. Who knew seventh grade seemed as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest? My guess? Everest was an easier ascent.
“No one knows you’re different.” Dad white-knuckled the steering wheel. “Go to class, keep your mouth shut about your disability and everything will be fine.”
What did Dad know? It’s been a thousand years since he attended public school.
In a room quiet enough to hear a pin drop, the third pin fell.
I have been dead for ten years. Not ran-away dead, disappeared-dead or hiding-dead. Dead as a door-nail dead. WTF is a door-nail anyway?
Definition: Door-nail - noun - large nail driven into a door for strength or as an ornament, hit so many times, the specific treatment causes it to die, to become dead. Useless dead. Without purpose dead. No good to anybody dead.
One day past ten years, I am strong. I am not an ornament. I have purpose. I will nail the bastard’s hide to the wall. WTF does that mean? Watch me I’ll show you.
11 dead, 18 injured in multiple stabbing attacks in rural area. Suspects may have stolen a vehicle.
Do not leave a secure location. Do not approach suspicious persons. Do not pick up hitchhikers. Report suspicious persons to 911.
Update: Suspects may be in your city. Do not leave a secure location. Use caution allowing others into your residence. Do not approach suspicious persons.
Update: Suspect located deceased near original murders. Search continues for his brother who may seek medical attention. Who may be in your city. Public should take appropriate precautions. DO NOT APPROACH.
Lime green baseball cap adjusted and red sneakers tied, he readied his backpack for the day. Probably a soccer game, but he had options.
He had only been playing the games for six months, but he loved the excitement. His heart and lungs enjoyed the workout too.
Once he had added some extra rules for himself—high visibility, broad daylight—it took the games to the next level.
People made it stupid easy these days. Names on the backpacks, all those car stickers of kids playing soccer or horseback riding, long hair pulled back into ponytails.
Amber Flynn pours a glass of wine, curls into the nook of her sofa, and finally takes a deep breath when her phone chirps.
Can we talk? 11 pm. My place!
It’s her friend, Cheri. The one Amber buried in the woods nineteen hours ago.
As I mount the steps to the Chicago Art Institute, the winter wind, called the Hawk by the people of this city, whips the long tails of my coat around my ankles and thrusts icy talons beneath my dress, greedy for my warmth. Last I was here it was a sweet summer breeze; today it is a harbinger of death.
Drowning in the desert hadn't occured to me.
The news traveled fast from farmhouse to farmhouse. Mothers gathered in their children and latched the doors. Farmers loaded their shotguns and walked their fence.
The Smith children were out gathering wildflowers—a clan of six, from the fifteen-year-old who laughed at him to the five-year-old with a daisy—when Jacob Riley walked within distance of his double-barrel and took aim, youngest to oldest, reloading thrice.
He won the turkey shoot at age twelve, took a blue ribbon in marksmanship at thirteen, and massaged his burgeoning manhood at fourteen. It was serious business, and she shouldn’t have laughed it him.
In my line of work, succubi show up all the time—usually undressed. The one in my doorway effortlessly carries off a palm-green wrap studded with hot pink lilies, stilettos to match the stamens, and a white organza chapeau that must be four feet wide. But it’s the indigo lip gloss gives her away.
The air conditioner kicks into high. “I hear you’re good,” she says.
“She don’t know the half of it. Close the door, come sit,” I say. “You can leave your hat on.”
"I think I know what the problem with my flash fiction is."
"What?" my wife asked.
"An agent I follow online mentioned a while ago that a lot of the flash fiction she receives is 'not a story.'"
"So, when you think you're writing 'cliffhangers,' they come off more like premises?"
"I think so," I said, "but there's another contest today! Now that I know my problem, let's see what I can do with today's prompt."
My wife raised an eyebrow. "Is it a tough one?"
"I'm honestly not sure. Listen to this..."
Janet read the query again.
Then yet again.
So tempting. But was it worth her life?
What’s the story, Dana? Why’s everyone
and everything around you a damned blur?
And what’s your problem, doing a movie
deal? Anyone else in this town would kill
for the chance. ‘Bet Candace would, but
not you, Dana. Why? ‘You gun-shy or
something? 'Candace have anything to
do with that?
Vision In The Dark
That was not supposed to happen!
He’d thought he was being careful.
He WAS being careful.
Just not careful enough.
Was she ok? She seemed ok, but—
—how would he know for sure?
It must not happen again.
This room is too small for pacing.
Our mother wasn't the kind you went looking for if she was missing.
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