Flash Fiction: A fun bit of this and that...
Now and then I pen a piece of flash fiction (usually under 1,000 words) for the fun of it or to share with my authors group. The inspiration for the exercise—or "writing prompt"—is sometimes a photo, sometimes an odd idea, or sometimes just a random word or two that tickles my fancy. Hope you enjoy reading these!
The Barn Find
Copyright © April 2019 by Elizabeth Fisher
The rusty hook and eye latch keeping the barn doors closed didn’t exactly strike Etta as bank-vault security. Neither did the barn doors themselves which appeared so weathered and splintery a wild goat could kick them in. Still, this had to be the place.
Follow the dirt road south ‘til ya come across a big-ass barn. The plunder’s inside.
Max wouldn’t have lied, would he? Etta took another look around.
A crumbling chimney, all that was left of the old farmstead, stood back the way she’d come, closer to the road. Swirls of dead leaves danced across the surrounding field that boasted only tall weeds bent by late autumn cold. A few fence posts remained upright at the edge of the field, but they tilted drunk and naked without any fencing wire to hold them up. Dark rain clouds approaching from the west completed the picture of desolation and abandonment.
No one was around for miles, but Etta was wary. She unsheathed her long knife before working the hook out of the eye. Mindful of splinters she grabbed one of the makeshift handles—blocks of wood nailed to each barn door—and pulled.
At the sight of darkness within the barn, Etta sniffed. The dank, dusty smell coming from the interior hinted at nothing to set her further on edge, so she pulled the second barn door open as well to let in as much light as possible. Once inside a few steps, she paused to let her eyes adjust. Soon she could discern rotting bales of hay scattered here and there on the hardpack floor. A couple of rakes were propped against the wall to her left next to a rusting tiller with a missing wheel. A wooden barrel, lidless and empty, was toppled on its side off to her right.
“Enough goose chasin’, Max. If you warn’t already dead, I’d gut ya ma’self.”
Etta frowned at the sound of her own scratchy, seldom-used voice and then fully grimaced as a brown rat scooted out from under a pile of loose hay. It gave her a hard look before it raced toward the back of the barn.
Her stomach grumbled. She needed to eat soon, real soon, and that critter, well, she’d settled for worse than rat kabob over the past month. Besides, Curly Jim’s trading post was more than five days east. She wouldn’t make it that far on an empty stomach.
Ignoring the acid churning in her gut from hunger and worry, Etta started forward to see if she could find where the rat had holed up. Little light found its way farther into the barn, so she made her way slowly. Last thing she needed was a case of lock jaw from stepping on a rusty plow. Despite her care, however, she bumped into something anyway, something hard and thigh high, hidden beneath a tarp. The tarp slipped a bit. It should have kicked up a cloud of dust, but it hadn’t. Max’s handiwork?
“Maybe the old coot wadn’t lyin’ afta’ all.”
Etta reached out to pull at the tarp. It was bigger than expected and as she pulled, her mouth watered at the thought of what the tarp might conceal. Max had said, almost with his last breath, that the plunder he was bequeathing her was worth its weight in gold. Surely, that meant it was a stack of crates filled with canned beans, soup, maybe even peaches. Hell, maybe he’d even hid a few rifles with bullets to boot or mason jars of whiskey.
With the oversized tarp finally flung to the side, Etta stepped back to stare at what she’d uncovered.
“Plunder, my ass!”
The articulated headlights of the low-centered automobile seemed to stare at her bug-eyed while its teeth-like grill grinned. The back of the barn might be dark, but in the few rays of dim light coming through gaps in the wood-slat walls she could now tell the coupe was the soft blue color of hydrangeas in spring—and it was free of rust and dust. External riveted seams ran along the top of its exaggerated front fenders and again up the middle of its hood and roof. There was a red oval name plate on the front. B-U-G-A-T-T-I.
Surely this couldn’t be Max’s plunder, the wealth he’d boasted of, the wealth he’d gotten killed for. Etta hurried to the driver side thinking the plunder was inside. The tear-drop door opened without a squeak to reveal a like-new art decor interior of wood and leather. The seats were empty. Etta headed round to the trunk. Its odd, circular lid cut in the middle of the steep back slope of the coupe was held down by a manual latch. She flipped it and raised the trunk. Empty.
Etta plopped down where she stood at the back of the fancy car and sighed. Maybe back before civilization had self-destructed, the car was considered grand plunder indeed. Now, though, with fuel long gone and the roads broken up or overgrown, the car was just another pile of metal junk. What could Max have been thinking? Still, she couldn’t curse him too much for misleading her. He was old and maybe the coupé had meant something special to him once long ago and something he’d wanted her in particular to have.
After a bit, Etta tamped down her disappointment and pulled herself to her feet.
“Now, where’d that damned rat git to?”
The Android With a Heart
Copyright © October 2018 by Elizabeth Fisher
“This list is hilarious.”
“This list of working boys, dummy.”
At being called a dummy, Engineer First Grade Jane Goodman, who was driving the bubble car, glared sideways at the android sitting in the passenger seat. “Don’t make me whack you with a hammer,” she said before returning her eyes to the road.
The android twisted its polyvinyl lips into a smirk to indicate it wasn’t in the least cowed by her threat. “Running down this list—which, by the way, was whipped up on the fly—is a waste of time. You ain’t gonna find Handy with any of them. She never goes back to the same pro twice.”
Goodman shrugged. “Yeah, but she might go back to the same doghouse twice, so we’ll check out the names all the same. And, by the way, it’s 'are not going'—not 'ain’t gonna'. You’re a fucking robot, H.A.R.L. Act like one.”
In her peripheral vision, Goodman caught the android attempting the human gesture of rolling its eyes in derision. Since its eyes were orbs with iridium pupils and no eyelids, the android’s attempt looked like a googly-eyed toy gone wonky.
“What’s gotten into you, H.A.R.L.?”
The android twisted its polyvinyl lips again, this time into the semblance of a grin. “After I located that fracture on the Bourns sensor, the boss authorized an upgrade to my adaptive loader for the fun of it. He calls the app Tennessee Attitude. I can ‘ain’t’ and ‘oughta’ like a late model S.A.M. I can even cuss.”
“Well, don’t get carried away, okay?” Goodman responded. “We have to find Handy. If we don’t, checking for fractures will be the least of our worries. The singularity is wobbling and, in case you don’t know it, a wobbling singularity ain’t good.”
H.A.R.L. pointed to a building of glass and piped neon coming up on the right. “There’s The Well Hung Gentlemen.” It checked the list of names on its palm display. “The pro we are looking for here is supposedly a mod. Goes by the name Pecs Amillion.”
Goodman pulled the bubble car into a nearby slot. Geez, she thought as she looked at the brothel across the street. The phallic-shaped doghouse was as subtle as Liberace.
“How many names are on that list?” she asked the android.
Goodman shook her head woefully. What was it about female physicists that they couldn’t keep their clothes on?
The front parlor of The Well Hung Gentleman was pretty much what Goodman expected. Lots of purple, lots of velvet, lots of dim, cozy corners. The man who greeted them was dressed Lord Byron style with frilly shirt cuffs and genitals snugly dressed left in tight breeches. He looked fully human but the merchandise, standing or sitting about the room in easy, relaxed poses, was a mix of male sexdroids and modified humans or "mods."
Goodman couldn’t help but gape. This was her first doghouse.
“Welcome, welcome! I do believe you’re new to our establishment,” the brothelier simpered. “May I offer you a martini or glass of wine while you examine our wares?”
Goodman ignored the man. Her attention had been nabbed by a half-naked mod languishing in a chair by the window. He was Adonis handsome, as would be expected in a high-end doghouse like The Well Hung Gentleman, but what caught her eye was the pelt of silky black fur that covered his torso. She could picture curling up with him for a nap, but no way would she ever—
She jumped at a poke to her shoulder from H.A.R.L.
“Engineer, you want a martini?” The android motioned with his metallic chin toward the brothelier.
“What? Ah, no.” Goodman turned back to the brothelier. “We’re looking for Pecs Amillion. Would he be available to give us a few minutes?”
The brothelier’s smile widened. “Why, any of us would consider it a great privilege to give you as many minutes as you desire.”
“We’re not here for that,” Goodman said blushing. “We just need to talk to Pecs Amillion. He might know where we could find Prime Physicist Ruby Handy. It’s important.”
“Ah, Mistress Ruby! Charming woman. So…kinky! And she referred you to us?”
Goodman shuddered. “No! That is, the Prime writes a local blog about, well, establishments such as yours.”
“How wonderful! Mistress Ruby is occupied upstairs at the moment, but I must remember to thank her for her interest in The Well Hung Gentleman. In the meantime,” he turned to address a blue-skinned mod sitting primly in a heavily upholstered side chair. “Dickie, please find Pecs for our guests. I believe he’s in the back parlor.”
“Well, actually, now that we know Handy is here, we don’t need to see Pecs, uh, Mr. Amillion.” Goodman glanced at H.A.R.L. who was as surprised as she by their good fortune at finding the physicist on their first stop. “Just point me in Handy’s direction,” she said.
The brothelier, however, frowned. “As I said, Mistress Ruby is currently occupied. If you’d care to wait—“
“No, no, we have to speak with Handy right away. It’s an emergency,” Goodman added.
When the brothelier continued to balk at her proposed breech in doghouse etiquette, H.A.R.L. prodded her shoulder again. “You hightail it up the stairs, li’l lady, while I keep this idiot busy.”
Goodman took a beat to do some balking of her own. Li’l lady? They still say that shit in Tennessee?
Another prod from H.A.R.L. forced her to stumble toward the staircase off the parlor. When she noticed the blue-skinned Dickie turn back from his search for Pecs Amillion to intercept her, she began to take the stairs two at a time. Once she gained the landing, she immediately started to fling doors open as she made her way down the hall.
Glimpses into the sound-proofed boudoirs might have slowed a less committed engineer, but not Goodman. It was only when she beheld the scene through the eighth door that she came skidding to a stop.
Dickie, who no doubt had intended to end her progress by whatever means, grabbed for her but then became rooted in the eighth doorway as well.
Prime Physicist Handy, or rather a good chunk of her, was laying naked on the floor face up in a lake of blood. Her left arm to the shoulder was missing, as were both of her legs. Hovering nearby was a male sexdroid in an emerald green kimono. With tanned, rubbery skin and overly plumped lips, the sexdroid looked more like a blow-up sex doll than a human. It was holding its hands out to Goodman, palms up, as though beseeching her to help it clean up the mess it had made.
And there was no doubt it had made the mess either. Its hands dripped blood—was that Handy’s heart in its left one?—and both of its arms were covered in gore past the elbows.
Goodman heard H.A.R.L. and the brothelier join Dickie and her at the door to the room.
“Engineer,” H.A.R.L. whispered, “what the hell did you do?”
Goodman shook her head. “Not a damn thing,” she whispered back. Finally, she took a deep breath, grimacing at the stench of coppery iron, and looked back over her shoulder. “You, Dickie. Go ring for the Blue Shirts.”
“Should I call a doctor?” the brothelier asked. At least his simpering had stopped.
“What’s a doctor gonna to do?” H.A.R.L. asked no one in particular.
Goodman looked at the bloodied sexdroid. “What’s your name?”
“Yes, mistress. Buck Naked.” Clear fluid leaked from the sexdroid’s eye sockets. Unlike H.A.R.L., this one’s eyes were made more human-shaped by folds of rubbery skin.
“What happened here, Mr. Naked?”
When the sexdroid didn’t respond, H.A.R.L. stepped forward. “Answer the human, Naked.”
Goodman thought the sexdroid was trying hard to do just that but couldn’t get any words out. “H.A.R.L., can you get the story from it digitally?” she asked.
As H.A.R.L. started to respond, a funny sound come off the sexdroid followed by a puff of smoke rising from its backside. “I loved her,” it said finally.
“You met her all of an hour ago,” H.A.R.L. countered.
“I love them all within nanoseconds,” the sexdroid insisted. “I loved her, so when she ordered me to do this, I did.”
Goodman’s eyebrows rose as high as they’d go. “Prime Physicist Handy ordered you to tear her limb from limb?”
One of Handy’s dismembered legs chose that moment to drop from the room’s chandelier. The leg bounced off the sexdroid’s shoulder before falling to the floor. The sexdroid didn’t seem to notice.
H.A.R.L. took a step back. “Engineer, I’ve heard of some droids having issues but nothing like this. Maybe we should wait downstairs for the Blue Shirts.”
A second puff of smoke came off the sexdroid. “The Mistress said she couldn’t stop The Wobble. She said,”—and here it mimicked Handy’s girlish voice with uncanny accuracy—“‘The Weeble Wobble’s coming no matter what, and we’ll all be torn to pieces. I want to be first.’”
Goodman immediately thought of the wobbling singularity. Shit.
A Cowboy’s Fairy
Copyright © July 2018 by Elizabeth Fisher
Charlie was a cowboy and Lilly was a fairy. Charlie lived in the bunkhouse on the Hooked Y Ranch where his job was to move the boss’s cattle to different pastures depending on the weather and the surfeit of good grazing. Lilly didn’t work; she had no need to. Nor was her name actually Lilly. Charlie couldn’t pronounce her real name so he’d settled on Lilly because he liked the sound of it. This was after their first encounter up on Chugwater Plateau, an arid place of low shrubs and white boulders that overlooked a stream-shaped valley of stringy pine trees.
When Charlie, who was riding a bay stallion, first came upon Lilly, she was sitting on a boulder about the size of a buffalo at rest, singing to herself as she played with strands of her curly red hair which fell to her waist. She wore a shapeless dress of sparkling gauze and a garland about her head composed of colorful, live butterflies. In hands held before her, she held a silk green pouch tied together with string.
Charlie had seen a few things in his life. He was the oldest cowboy on the ranch and quite possibly in the county, so he didn’t spook easily. Besides, coming upon a pretty sight on the plateau had the makings of a good thing, not a cause for worry. He slid off the bay, pulled his hat from his head and, with all the politeness he normally reserved for the boss’s wife, said “You sing right nice, ma’am.”
Lilly smiled at him and finished her song.
As they both enjoyed a moment of serenity brought to the plateau by the lingering echo of Lilly’s voice, Charlie looked at Lilly and Lilly observed Charlie. Charlie saw beauty in the fairy but it was secondary to a certain mischievousness about her nose and lips that almost made him laugh for no reason at all. Lilly saw a slender, weathered-faced man who was too shy to do much more than catch her eye now and then, looking away often in case his gaze offended her.
Finally, Charlie spoke. “You lost, ma’am?”
It seemed a reasonable question to him given the closest ranch was ten miles west.
Lilly shook her head, causing the high elevation breeze to toss her red hair from side to side. Each long curl moved in unison with the one next to it as if she were underwater.
“I just like to perch a spell, you silly wingless man,” she said with a giggle.
Charlie, who saw no evidence of wings on Lilly, still chuckled. Perhaps her garland of butterflies took her aloft when she was of a mind to fly, he thought.
After that day Charlie made a point to volunteer whenever the boss needed someone to catch strays up on the plateau or check the high fence line. Each time he made his way to the same boulder, he’d find Lilly there singing. And each time after her song was done, the two of them would exchange a few soft-spoken words of no real consequence.
Then one day Lilly asked Charlie if she could kiss him.
“You want to kiss an old man like me?” he asked, dumbfounded.
“Oh, you’re not old at all,” Lilly said with a sigh. “You’re young and handsome. You smile and laugh and when you do, your eyes crinkle. Me, I was old when the Mammoth Bone People occupied this valley. I watched the Blackfeet and the Sheep Eater stay a while and, after them, the Cheyenne and the Sioux. Now, it’s you and your tribe. I’m so old and you’re so young, it’s unseemly for me to ask, but I will pay you with this bag of treasure for a kiss.”
Charlie felt a strange and sudden pity for Lilly. She was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen, but there was something wistful and sad about her.
“If I kiss you, will you continue to meet me up here on the plateau? My feelings have snuck up on me. I don’t feel a skip in my step unless it’s on days I’m coming up here to see you.”
Lilly beamed. “Oh, yes. I’ll meet you here, kiss or no kiss. I like this place, this rock, your laughter. I like the breeze, the valley below, the smell of your horse.”
She held the green pouch out for Charlie to take, but he gently pushed it aside. He cupped her chin.
“You keep your treasures, lil' Lilly. My kisses are free.”
A Spam Email Arrives
Copyright © December 2017 by Elizabeth Fisher
Tiffie Noonan was a typical teenager—self-absorbed, self-indulgent and boy-crazy. We should all be thankful that Tiffie, as a member of her high school’s popular clique, used her powers for good. She frowned on bullying, always supported the latest celebrity cause, and merely disliked basketball jocks and that was only because they were too tall to date.
Her tale begins in a perfect storm of “life sucks” moments. First, it was a Saturday night, tailor-made for debuting her new Brandy Melville sweater at a friend’s house party just down the street, yet Tiffie was stuck at home with a head cold. Second, Tiffie’s best friend, who had sworn upon her love for Shawn Mendes that she would come over and commiserate with her that night, had gone to the party instead, wearing her new Brandy Melville sweater. Third, the house was eerily quiet as Tiffie’s parents were next door playing Pictionary and her younger brother was out with his friends probably jerking off to the latest Taylor Swift video.
So Tiffie, sullen and stuffed up, was sitting at her laptop, checking Snapchat for vids of the party she couldn’t attend. When the you’ve-got-mail alert chirped, she immediately clicked on her email account only to frown at what popped up: a spam email with a gobbledygook sender’s address and a hokey subject line: “Cure For What Ails You.” The email’s simple message was a link followed by the sign-off, “Doctor Hottie.”
Now, Tiffie wasn’t clueless. Doctor Hottie had to be a perv and the nonsensical link had to be to a perv-y “playing doctor” porn site. She sniffled again and clicked on the link.
The screen immediately shifted to a pulsating kaleidoscope of color. No naked stuff appeared—which disappointed Tiffie if truth be told—but the kaleidoscope was pretty. No sound came from the laptop’s speaker, but there were lots of purples and reds, turquoise-y blues and bright greens, mirrored circles becoming mirrored triangles, reflecting ellipses morphing into reflecting octagons. All very pretty, all very quiet…so pretty…so quiet.
When Tiffie woke up, she was lying on the floor next to the desk, and the desk chair was tipped over nearby. She looked up at her laptop to find its screen dark. Scooting closer, she reached over the edge of the desk to tap the enter key. Nothing happened.
She shrugged. Her laptop was ancient—at least a year old—and she’d need a new one before college anyway, but now what was she to do to pass the time?
She sniffled again, only this time there was nothing in her sinuses to sniffle. She pushed herself off the floor slowly, expecting head cold dizziness to strike. Nada.
Realizing she felt right as rain, she paused to consider what had just happened and then dismissed it as only a teenager would. Without a second thought—or even a first—she stripped off the ratty plaid shirt she’d been wearing and pulled on her new Brandy Melville sweater. Fluffing her hair, she headed down the stairs and out the door. Miracle cures should never go to waste, she thought. Nor should Brandy Melville sweaters.
WRITER'S NOTE: Writing the above, I learned three important lessons: brand names mean everything to teenagers, Shawn Mendes is cute as can be, and be careful what you google when you use the word “teen” in a search - LOL!
A Jew on the River Styx
Copyright © May 2017 by Elizabeth Fisher
Screw that, Millie thought. In the situation she found herself only damn! worked.
“Damn!” she amended.
Guided by the current, she was on her knees atop a small improvised raft traveling down what she’d come to believe was the River Styx of Greek mythology. Her first clue—being familiar with common Greek myths—was the number of wrathful who appeared to be drowning over and over again off to the side of the main channel. Second, it was stygian dark. The only light in the cavern through which the river ran came from distant red-glowing rock walls and her own pale skin. Lastly, she knew she had just died along with everyone else on board the United flight to Cincinnati since the last thing she remembered was the plane’s harrowing, drop-like-a-stone descent above a quilt of Pennsylvania wheat fields.
Still, this wasn’t supposed to happen, she thought. Granted, if she were to ask any two of her Jewish friends about their views of the afterlife she’d end up with three different opinions, but she was pretty sure Greek hell wouldn’t be one of them.
As to the raft, Millie had waited on a squishy mud bank for Charon, the river’s mythic ferryman, to take her wherever she was supposed to go. However, by the time she smoked the last of her cigarettes which had somehow made the trip with her, she grew tired of waiting. She built the three-by-three raft using bones, driftwood and strips of rags that she’d found discarded on the river bank. Her oar, an ineffectual femur, she had tossed away a while ago when she found the current seemed willing to take her forward just fine.
“Ow!” Something had struck the bottom of the raft, which in turn had caused a knobby bone in the raft’s construction to jab her tuckus.
Millie jerked about, almost swamping the raft. The greeting had come from a dead man who was now floating on his back beside the raft. His even white teeth lit up a relaxed, open smile, and Millie couldn’t help but smile back. For a wet dead man, he wasn’t bad-looking.
“Saw you smoking back there,” he said. “Got another cigarette?”
She shook her head. “Smoked my last one. Sorry,” she added.
“No worries. Thought I’d ask.”
The dead man smiled again, but just as Millie was about to ask him about her predicament, he shoved her small raft up and over causing her to plunge not very gracefully into the river’s black water.
Gurgling her way to the surface, she sputtered, “What’d you do that for?!”
The dead man shrugged. “You looked uncomfortable up there on those bones and rags. It’s much nicer in the water.”
Millie opened her mouth to argue about his definition of “nice” considering the frigidity of underground water, the terror instilled by the Styx, and the decaying bodies all around them. Then her jaws snapped shut as she realized her skin felt as if it was being moisturized with shea butter, and the river water didn’t reek. It wasn’t even cold. In fact, it was a pleasant, heated-pool temperature that actually expelled a hit of lavender into the air close to the surface. Millie also realized that although it was too deep to stand, she didn’t have to dog-paddle to stay afloat. Her body had instinctively adopted the same floating posture as the dead man beside her. When she purposely tried to submerge her legs, they bobbed back to the surface.
“What’s going on?” she asked not caring that her voice came out a squeak. “This is the River Styx, isn’t it? I mean all those souls drowning!”
The dead man swiveled about in alarm. “Who’s drowning?!”
Millie gestured about them with her hand.
After a beat, his expression cleared. “They’re not drowning, bubbala. They’re having a fun time trying to stay underwater. This isn’t the River Styx, although for fun I suppose you could call it the Dead Sea Styx. You can’t sink because there’s something in the water that keeps you buoyant, like the salt concentration in the Dead Sea.” He reached over to give Millie’s hand a squeeze. “I admit the cigarette thing was just an excuse to meet you, but I didn’t know you were a newly deceased. I’ll be a gentleman and escort you to the gates of the afterlife so you can check in.”
“Is it nice?” Millie asked. Half-terrified, half-atingle, she watched the dead man consider her question.
“It can be quite wonderful,” he said finally, “although occasionally one has a bad day. But that’s life, isn’t it?”
WRITER'S NOTE: This time, my writers group used Seventh Sanctum to give us individual prompts. The following is what came out of my random prompt, “A Jew on the River Styx.” Since I’m Jewish, it seemed a random bit of fate!
No Sense Worrying
Copyright © March 2017 by Elizabeth Fisher
“You did what?”
“I decided to get it over with. When I go back home I have to start my real life, get a job and stuff. This is my first trip to Europe, and probably my last, so . . . I was tired of worrying about it.”
For hours the muted hum of the plane’s engine had been the only interruption to the monotony of the transatlantic flight. Not now. My head twisted to glare at Amanda as far as the seat’s head rest allowed.
“Girl, you wake me up to tell me you just joined the Mile High Club, and that’s one thing, although how you did it in that tiny toilet, I can’t imagine. But then you tell me you were a virgin!”
“Shh! Keep your voice down.”
“I thought you and Todd—”
“Nah. He could be a real dick. Look, I’m sure I’m the only senior to graduate UT a virgin. It’s what comes from obsessing too long about my first time, about making it special, yada yada.”
My mouth fell open but nothing came out. Amanda was beautiful, as in a Francois Comerre painting beautiful, but she was 50 pounds overweight, so yeah, her dates had been few. Still we’d shared our last year of college together in the same dorm room. I’d always assumed—
“With who then?” I whisper-hissed, craning my neck to see over the seats. All I could spot were sleeping, faceless forms in the dark.
She shrugged. “A stranger who said yes. It doesn’t matter. Now I can land in Charles de Gaulle with this stupid obsession done with! Fini!”
“You cray-cray, girl.”
“Yeah, but at least I’m not a virgin.” With that Amanda gave a satisfied sigh and closed her eyes to nap at 40,000 feet.
WRITER'S NOTE: On one of my earliest trips abroad, I happened to strike up a conversation with a fellow backpacker over expressos at some student café in Paris. One thing led to another, and she ended up telling me about a strange decision made by a friend of hers. Now, many years later, the backpacker’s tale came to mind when I was challenged to create a piece of flash fiction about going overseas. I daresay young girls still agonize over the same decision: the who, the when. Although in light of the following, not so much the where apparently.
The Secret of the Snoring Time
Copyright © August 2016 by Elizabeth Fisher
“What you got there, Millie?”
I shrugged as I pulled a greeting card out of a red envelope. “It came in the mail addressed to me, but there’s no return address. It’s a Valentine card, of all things.”
“Well, you already got your card from me this morning with the chocolates,” Franklin said in a rush as though he’d be in trouble for sending me a second card. “Who’s it from?”
“That’s what I mean. No return address on the envelope and on the inside just a silly printed poem about true love and such. It’s signed ‘always.’ Like that’s supposed to tell me something.”
I watched my husband dismiss the mystery with a shrug of his own before continuing through the rest of the mail. When I saw his attention catch on a car parts catalog, I sat down at the kitchen table to examine the small Valentine further.
I flipped it over. The printed price confirmed it was a cheap, discount card, although, flipping it back, I thought the swan design on the front was rather nice. Yet, the swan, the poem, was all so sticky with romantic sentiment that the card couldn’t have come from one of the kids. Nor would it have come from a friend. Sally would have punked me with a music card blaring “Cat Scratch Fever” or the like—she was into cats big time—and Nora didn’t believe in Valentine’s Day. She said its only purpose was to reduce the world’s population by inducing people without a Valentine to commit suicide.
I admit I felt flattered by the card even though deep down I suspected someone had simply made a mistake. An “old” married woman like me didn’t get Valentines from unknown admirers. What’s next? A dozen roses left abandoned on the front stoop?
With a smirk and a humph, I decided to let the mystery be. I could always make a guessing game of it later that night when Franklin started his usual bout of snoring about three in the morning. His rhythmic foghorn would wake me, but instead of me lying in bed planning the meals for tomorrow or starting a grocery list in my head, I’d go through the faces of each man I’d run into lately to see if a Valentine suspect came to mind. Oh, not that one of them would have actually sent me the card, mind you. I would just fantasize about which one I would have wanted to send it.
“What’s for supper?” Franklin asked, tossing his catalog back in the pile of opened mail.
I tore my eyes off the Valentine long enough to frown up at him. “Aren’t you taking me out for Valentine’s Day?” I asked. After close to thirty years of watching the wheels turn in my husband’s head, I knew he’d come up with the appropriate answer if I gave him long enough.
Franklin didn’t have much of an imagination, you see.
But I did.
WRITER'S NOTE: My group decided to try our hand at writing a specific piece of flash fiction that we would enter into a contest in October 2016 sponsored by Brilliant Flash Fiction. This online “zine” showcases writers from all over the world, and the contest required 500 words or less using the writing prompt: It Came in the Mail. Would you believe I won Third Place?! I admit I was totally jazzed about it because there were a lot of great entries.
"Forget the fish. We need to leave. Now."
“But it’s a fangtooth, Slapnutt. They’re so tasty!”
“We don’t have time to stop and let you chop it out of that frozen stream, Ooda Loop. The snow is starting to cover the trail. Cut the crap and keep moving. Besides, I can’t feel my paws.”
“But I’m hungry. Damn, and fangtooths are so good eaten cold.”
“Ogre’s teeth! You’re always hungry.”
“Shut up, Ooda. You have the fur of a woolly snuffle and the foot-pads to match. You wouldn’t freeze between a yeti’s legs. I, on the other hand, am just hairy. Besides human skin is worthless against the cold. And I was so proud of this man suit when I bought it back in town. Have you ever seen such a sophisticated shade of pink? It’ll be ruined by the time we find the wizard’s house. I keep sinking in the snow with each step.”
“Sorry, Slapnutt. I know you’re making this journey for my sake. How much further do you think we have to go?”
“Can’t be much further. The innkeeper said to go ten giant steps east and take a left at the sneezewort tree, and then only another two giant steps. We made the turn a while ago. Surely we’ll pass the Lake of Scorn soon. Then we’ll be home free.”
“Yeah, but not to question your lead, ‘cause you’re doing a bang-up job, Slapnutt, but that didn’t look like what I remembered a sneezewort tree looked like. It looked more like a fartwort tree. They do look a lot alike, sneezes and farts, but—“
“It had to be a sneezewort.”
”Yeah, I…I guess so.”
“That wizard better know what he’s doing or this will all be for nothing.”
“Oh, he will, he will. Why the innkeeper swore his ailment was gone after just one twitch of the warlock’s wand. One twitch. He’s bound to be able to fix my wiggle-ding.”
“Didn’t I warn you not to eat those horn peppers?”
“Yeah, you did. But I was hungry.”
“You’re always hungry.”
“Are…stop it! I can’t feel my twuzzle.”
“We’re lost, aren’t we, Slap?”
“Not lost. Maybe turned around a little. That’s all. Hey, what’s that smell?”
“Shouldn’t the Lake of Scorn smell bitter?”
“I would think so. This smells like…. Hey! It smells like dragon leftovers.”
“Don’t start up again, Ooda.”
“Maybe the dragon can help us.”
“Dragons aren’t friendly on the best of days. In this cold, it’s got to be really pissed.”
“Speaking of piss, my wiggle-ding is really starting to smart.”
"Forget it. We're not asking the dragon for directions."
“And why not?” a voice suddenly boomed from somewhere off in the snow. “A smarting wiggle-ding is not something to fool around with. Tell you what. You boys find me something tasty to eat—a fangfish, for instance, would hit the spot—and maybe I’ll help.”
Forget the Fish!
Copyright © February 2016 by Elizabeth Fisher
WRITER'S NOTE: This “flash fiction” experiment was assigned as follows: write 500-1000 words composed solely of dialogue where the scene either begins with or features one of these statements: "No matter what happens, don't drink the water."; "We're not asking the dragon for directions"; "Forget the fish. We need to leave. Now."; "This is all a joke. Isn't it?" What a challenge this was! Granted, I fudged on the dialogue-only part once at the end. Still, this was not just a lesson in dialogue but a test of “showing, not telling,” that most difficult of fiction-writing maxims. Did I “show" the story well enough with dialogue?
Copyright © December 2015 by Elizabeth Fisher
The copper brazier was finally hot enough to make the ritual’s ingredients smoke within it. On the ground around Amatullah, a murder of wild hooded crows gathered. Some were still, others were shifting on gnarled feet, all were waiting for her to finish.
She gazed over her shoulder toward her people in the distance and sighed. Weeks before, her extended Druze family had been forced out of al-Manara and into nearby caves by villagers who blamed them for the lack of rain killing their crops. As she watched, most of her people were outside the largest cave trying to prepare a meager communal meal.
“As if we had the power to hold back the rain,” she scoffed aloud to the crows. “We can barely feed ourselves.”
She raised her eyes to al-Manara situated on the cliffs above. It was one of only a few villages of mud and straw that dotted this drought-stricken part of southern Ezbukistan. Some of the villagers she had once considered friends, but friends wouldn’t have stood by while she and her family were exiled to the deprivations of dreary caves, much less to what would surely be a painful death from starvation. No, she thought. They were friends no more.
She smoothed down the front of her long dress, paying particular attention to the beads and fabric of her most prized possession, a girdle of dark red silk tied about her waist. The girdle had been bequeathed to her by her mother, the first victim of their exile. Amatullah would not want a wayward spark from the fire beneath the brazier to scorch even the smallest hole in its fabric.
Finding herself suddenly intimidated by the final steps of the ritual, she hesitated. She wasn’t sure what would happen when she tried to contact their greatest prophet, Jethro of Midian. There were no words to chant, no spiritual promises or sacrifices to make but caution was required nonetheless. She sucked in a breath to fortify her resolve and looked once more off to the distant caves. To survive, her people must have the great prophet’s help. Otherwise all would be lost.
Carefully she pulled the final ingredient from the folds of her girdle—a long braid of her own dark, curly hair. Holding it above the brazier she glanced briefly at the crows. Uncanny intelligence emerged from their dark eyes, but no evil. Their presence buoyed her heart since wild hooded crows were considered harbingers of rain. Surely their being gathered near her was a good omen and not a portent of failure.
With that in mind, she let the braid fall from her hand into the brazier and quickly picked up a wand she’d fashioned from a scrawny branch of wickweed. She used the wand to draw a circle in the loose dirt around herself, the fire and the brazier. The crows remained outside the circle although a few moved closer, their beaks held high in the air. Where her wand had marked the dirt, tiny wisps of smoke began to rise in strange sympathy with the ingredients in the brazier.
With the last step completed, Amatullah prepared to wait. She was not a priest and had only heard of this ritual in the fireside whispers of the family elders. Were the ingredients she’d used sufficiently pure? Would the prophet consider a summons from a woman to be blasphemy? Were the crows waiting with her, not as witnesses to a coming spiritual communication but as an audience to her folly?
When the minutes continued to pass uneventfully, salted tears of defeat began to form in Amatullah’s eyes. Just as the first tear prepared to fall, however, she spied the figure of a man coalesce before her inside the circle on the other side of the brazier. He was unexpectedly short and slight, and he wore a dusty Bedouin’s robe of rough, black cotton. His salt and pepper beard was barely long enough to conceal his neck, but the beard was thick as was his hair. He carried the staff of a shepherd.
“You summoned me, daughter?”
In front of her stood the founder of the Druze faith, father of Zipporah, wife of the great Moses himself. And, like Moses, Jethro of Midian was believed to have talked directly with God. Suddenly cowed by the extent of her own hubris in calling him forth, Amatullah was speechless.
“You are daughter to Salman, son of Reda, son of Zayd?” the prophet asked.
Amatullah managed to nod. She heard the crows caw briefly before going silent and sensed they were torn between watching her and the man.
“You summoned me, child. You may speak and feel no fear of me.”
Realizing this was true, Amatullah allowed herself to hope. While Jethro’s blessedness was humbling, a deep kindness lingered in his eyes.
“Oh gr…great one,” she stammered. “Your people need your intercession.” Then, as if a dam had broken, her words rushed out. “We have been cast out from our village to live and starve as animals. The villagers blame us for the drought. We did nothing! Can you make it rain? If it rains, perhaps we can return home and—”
The man held a hand up in gentle rebuke. “Daughter of Salman, I am now and always will be with my people. But God is the maker of life and death, the heavens and earth. Only God is the maker of rain.”
Amatullah persisted. “Then can you create food to feed us? Or perhaps you can enchant the ground so our crops will grow. Or you could—”
“Daughter of Salman, how like my youngest daughter you are! Noora was always one to expect the moon, never to be satisfied with moonbeams.”
Amatullah’s shoulders slumped as she watched the man lose himself to his memories. “Is there no hope for us then?” she asked. “Can you at least tell me if God has forsaken us?”
The prophet’s attention snapped back to her. “Forsaken?” His look of rebuke hardened. “God is in all things. He could no more forsake you than he could forsake himself. Child,” he continued softer, “I see the trouble of our people here and elsewhere. I understand your woe. Did I not feel that same woe upon the plains before Mount Horeb?”
Chastised, Amatullah bowed her head. “Perhaps words of comfort then?”
The man chuckled. “What could I tell you that these crows—among the simplest of God’s creatures—do not already reveal?”
She peaked at the crows who she found were watching her. Seeing only mystery in their eyes, she lifted her face to the prophet, compelled to try again. “Yet, if you could…”
But Jethro of Midian was gone. In a panic, Amatullah scanned the dried fields around her but couldn’t find him. He had vanished.
Heart sore, Amatullah closed her eyes. She did not open them again until she felt flutterings of wind against her bare arms. Apparently bored with her efforts, the crows were taking flight around her. As she numbly tracked their progress into the sky, she felt something hit her cheek and wiped at it. Not a tear, but a drop of damp just the same.
Then she felt another.
WRITER'S NOTE: This one is based on a stock photo that was used as a writing prompt. While humor usually features in my flash fiction, this time I went serious, even a little spiritual.
Copyright © August 2015 by Elizabeth Fisher
I really needed to pee.
Don’t snicker. You arrive in a new city, empty handed except for a half-eaten box of vanilla wafers and a water bottle long since drained, and tell me your nerves wouldn’t have you dying to pee too. The fact I had only one round left in my 9 mm didn’t help. At least I had Sheila, my trusty crowbar.
Except she probably didn’t need to pee, and I did.
Yep, I was stalling. The port-o-johns on the east side of the street were calling my name, but I hesitated. I hadn’t heard even the rustling of a rat since entering Kansas City, and the quiet was downright terrifying in its own way. All of my PABs—that’s post apocalypse buddies to you surviving out there—would laugh their asses off if they knew I was too uptight to cop a squat in the middle of the trashed urban avenue before me. But then, none of them were women with a fat ass and a few remaining synapses of decorum firing in their head.
Finally a sound! It looked like a half-installed sheet of roofing aluminum had finally discovered gravity about a block away. Crashing down onto who knows what, the sudden loudness of it made me lose a bit of bladder control. But only a bit. I’m a trooper.
Keeping still, I waited to see if the noise from the aluminum sheet would wake the bottom feeders. They rarely came out during the day, but it happened. Shit. A rump roast as big as mine could be just the breakfast call one of them needed.
I quietly sidestepped to the right toward a couple of long-abandoned Honda bikes that surprisingly still rested on their kickstands. They looked as if their owners had just pulled over to use the port-o-johns ahead of me. All I’ll say is they’d better have put the seats down before they got eaten.
Five more minutes passed.
Nothing. All stayed quiet except for a whisk whisk coming from a candy wrapper being blown along the asphalt near my feet by a timid breeze made brave by the funneling action of the street. Still I couldn’t do it.
Aw, hell. I’ll just let it dribble down my leg. There’s bound to be a fresh set of pants somewhere in the debris on the outskirts of town. ‘Course I’ll have to take them off a corpse, but I figured that prospect held a little more decorum.
WRITER'S NOTE: For this flash fiction, I selected my writing prompt from a given set stock photos that included a couple of samurais fighting with swords, a hovering spaceship, robots walking down a street, a field of sheep near a fairy castle. The one I chose showed a trashed, abandoned street with a post-apocalypse reek. (I’m a big apocalypse junkie, by the way. Walking Dead, Mad Max, The Road, The Stand…all that stuff.) It took me no time at all to finish writing because I knew right away what approach to take.