Flash Fiction Month 2019, Day 16
Challenge #7: Write a story in which an item is used in an unusal manner. The story must take place while characters are having a drink.
“Let ElfCon 2019 begin!” cried Legolas, raising the Horn of Gondor high above his head.
He then lowered the instrument to his lips and began to quaff Tesco own-brand prosecco from it.
“Chug! Chug! Chug!” chanted Snap, Crackle, and Pop, each waving a tiny stein.
All around the Mercian Suite of the Birmingham Conference and Events Centre, hundreds of elves (and one very enthusiastic Will Ferrell) gathered to swap shoemaking anecdotes and archery lifehacks. Drizzt Do’Urden was available for autographs, and The North Pole Workers’ Union had as strong a presence as ever. A good time was had by all.
Then the doors banged open.
“What up, space fans?” bellowed the newcomer. “It’s me, Gordon Shumway! I’ve flown all the way from Melmac, and boy are my arms tired!” He belched. “Haaa! I kill me.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2018, Day 10
Challenge #5: Write a story set in a mall including a fairy tale character and an element of anthropomorphism.
“Does this sun cream protect against UVA and UVB?” asked Rumplestiltskin.
“Dunno,” said the cat sitting at the counter, without looking up.
“Well what about this one?” He picked up a different bottle—far too small to be good value for money—from the little impulse-buy shelf dividing the queue from the rest of the shop.
“Dunno,” said the cat, again. He licked one of his tiny cat thumbs and used it to turn the page of his magazine.
“Is there anything you do know?” Rumplestiltskin snapped.
The cat, at last, looked up. “I know I wouldn’t wear that shirt with those shorts,” he said.
Rumplestiltskin tutted and huffed. “This is the worst customer service I’ve ever had!” he proclaimed. “Do you know who I am?”
“Don’t know…” said the cat, absent-mindedly turning another page, “don’t care.”
“Well, you should care!” Rumplestiltskin waggled a tiny finger over the counter. “There are plenty of other shops around here. I could easily take my business elsewhere!”
“Not my problem.”
The cat hopped down from the cashier’s chair, boots clacking against the linoleum. He tucked the magazine back into the rack by the door.
“I was just putting my feet up,” he explained as he left. “I don’t work here.”
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 13
Challenge #6: Write a creature horror story featuring a psycho party member in which a torch is used as a weapon.
“I was terribly sorry to learn about your uncle, Mr. Heathcote.” Mr. Smith extended his hand to shake.
Taking it, the man gave a dismissive tut. “Oh, he was only second uncle. And, ah, it’s Lord Harlington now.”
“Ah, yes. Yes, of course.” This fellow might have been rather callous, but since he was quick to pick up his uncle’s title, he would be quick to pick up the pen. “Shall we go inside?”
“In a moment, perhaps.”
The hesitation caught Smith by surprise, though the slightly imperious tone did not.
“I overheard some rather curious gossip in the bar of my hotel last night.”
Smith remained at the door, his hand on the key in the lock. The longer he kept it there, the more that unturned key started to feel like his commission slipping through his grasp.
He let go and turned. “I daresay you must have.” He smiled faintly. “A man dies inside a locked room but his body is nowhere to be found: your uncle’s misfortune might have been lifted straight out of the latest Christie. But I assure you, the investigation was quite thorough, and its conclusions entirely unremarkable. Come.” He turned the key at last. “I will show you.”
The interior of the stately home was in need not so much of a good clean as complete redecoration. Smith directed his torch about the place. The late lord had been known to have a taste for trophies, but clearly that was all the taste he had.
“What’s that smell?” demanded the current lord, placing a handkerchief to his nose.
“I’m not sure,” admitted Smith. “Until we found you, the Harlington estate had no known heir. There hasn’t been a custodian employed here for just over two years.” Even walking ahead he could sense Harlington’s dismay. Hastily, he added: “A long time for one so large.”
They came at last to the door of the trophy room, a splintered dent in the wood where an iron bar had, just over two years ago, been driven between it and the frame. It swung open without resistance, revealing an array of heads—if heads they could be called—on plaques, lining every wall. These were not beasts of Africa or India, but of somewhere altogether more exotic.
“This,” said Smith, “I am sorry to say, is where your second uncle met his end. He had spent much of the day hunting in the Alterworld—that much is clear, the servants’ statements were entirely consistent and his boots and socks stood wet by the door—and returned, we believe, empty-handed. He came to this room to unload and clean his gun—it was found here, on the floor by the cabinet—but crucially did not remove from his back the apparatus he had used to travel that day. The servants heard a commotion and a scream—here their statements were less consistent—and then silence.”
The topic of conversation did not seem to sit well with Harlington, but Smith thought it better that he be troubled with the knowledge of the true disaster than by the nonsensical gossip of the townsfolk. Both were unsettling, but only one fostered the kind of superstition that made a man turn down a windfall such as this.
“It is thought,” Smith continued, after a respectful silence, “that your uncle’s apparatus suffered some form of malfunction. Either it drew him suddenly back into the Alterworld, where he became hopelessly lost in the darkness, or he disintegrated in transit and never arrived. In neither case would one expect to find a body, and in neither case would—”
It was Harlington who saw it first. Smith merely followed his gaze.
Out in the hallway stood a long, lithe beast the colour of the gloom cast by the curtains. No eyes gleamed in the torchlight, for there were no eyes at all. It walked smoothly and in absolute silence. Had Smith not swung the torch towards it as he gestured, and had Harlington’s eyes not happened to follow when he did, this beast might have taken one of them without even interrupting the conversation.
Instead, discovered, it leapt, and Smith threw shut the door.
The impact as the creature struck was immense. Had the door been intact, it would have broken. Instead, it swung open, but only far enough to strike Smith’s foot. Fighting the pain, he tried to force it closed once more as claws curled around the edge. Foul breath spilled through the crack, cold despite the fierce struggle.
Then, as if into thin air, the beast was gone once more.
There was a snap as Harlington drew back the hammers of his second uncle’s finest gun.
Still keeping his whole weight against the door, Smith was relieved to think the man had kept a cool enough head to find and load the weapon. His relief faded the moment he saw that it was directed at him.
“You knew that thing was here!” Harlington spat. “You’d heard the stories!”
All the hair on the back of Smith’s neck suddenly stood on end, but it was not fear that caused it. It was the unfamiliar yet unmistakable feeling of something foreign pushing into the room, though the door was still held tight. Smith directed the torch towards it, Harlington his gun.
The beast was there, head outstretched, the vast mouth open to scent the air.
Neither man dared make a move. Harlington would not risk the gun. Smith had no such option. All he had was the torch.
And yet, he realised, that was all he needed.
As softly as he could, he threw the item at Harlington’s feet.
The creature was upon the man before his finger found the trigger.
Quietly, Smith took up his briefcase and slipped out the door.
Lord Harlington must have had other, more distant heirs. Perhaps in America or India. Too distant, perhaps, to care much about the house and its troublesome inheritance.
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.
“As you know,” explained the technician, “we don’t actually conduct any of our own research here. We merely continue the work of others: work that simply could not be completed within one lifetime. The box, however, is…”
“I’ve always wondered,” interrupted the senator, “why they didn’t just do the work in a rocket travelling at relativistic speeds.”
“Because that’s not how relativity works,” explained the technician, trying not to sound condescending. “You can’t extend your lifespan just by moving quickly…well, unless you’re jogging!” He snorted at his own joke, but, awkwardly, the senator didn’t join in. The technician moved on. “But the box,” he continued. “The box is interesting.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 4
Challenge #2: “The Blue Pill.” Write a 600-word piece, which must incorporate dreams or dreamlike imagery. Also, it should have elements of stream of consciousness writing included somewhere within.
Lord Harlington pushes between phosphorescent strands of growth stretching for the lightless sky. A shame that the world has furnished him with no game greater than the elephant—but there are hunting grounds beyond the world, and lands darker than darkest Africa.
Cold, stagnant water in knee-high boots. The warning click of the Ferniot counter. Shut it off. What threat is ALICE exposure after Malaria in Nairobi? After fever in the Congo? His quarry is near: a few dark tendrils waving above the glowing multitude. He readies his weapon: a shotgun over a large-calibre rifle.
In the overgrowth, progress is unnaturally slow. Everything is silent, calm. Bright shoots curl around Harlington’s coat, drag across the fabric, then retreat as he passes. Despite the cold, he remembers India, the trail through the wilderness, the guide who vanished into the grass and was never seen again. He presses on, wading through the stalks until they thin out into a kind of clearing.
The creature is vast. A buoyant, gas-filled thing that has descended to drink. Harlington traces the sights across its form, looking for some vital place to put the shot. Waving fronds. Flapping membranes. Exposed ribs of cartilage.
The beast is dead.
So why does it move? Continue reading
Well, technically the adventures were mostly had once I actually turned up at another craft event and started talking to people, but I have new photos of shiny things to share so I figure that counts for something. While my last attempt at running a craft stall was at an exhibition organised by an art and craft society I’ve been a member of for a while now, this one was at a local garden centre so I got to meet some new craftspeople as well as just talk to everyone who stopped by my table.
Things were also different for me specifically. While I came to the last one really hoping just to sell and advertise my books, with the jewellery as something of a sideline, this time it was all about the jewellery, and I made much more of an effort with the display.
While the hand above was bought from a craft shop–and I’m pretty sure is intended for just this kind of purpose–I also stumbled across a great way of displaying necklaces and earrings: anything that looks best dangling, rather than draped. The display stand below is actually a circle of black card fixed to a stainless steel chafing dish. The “dish” itself is in this case actually more like a thick wire frame, so it’s possible to either poke earrings through the card or to hang them from pins pushed into it.
Despite being at the kind of big retail venue you’d expect people to visit casually on a weekend–compared to the last sale, which was in a village hall–the craft fair wasn’t enormously busy. I sold enough jewellery to cover the cost of the table, which I figure is an automatic win for me, but didn’t make a whole lot beyond that. Still, the opportunity to talk to the other people running tables there made the day well worthwhile. The woman right next to me was selling small bags of interesting buttons alongside her handmade things, so I picked up a couple of choice wooden ones with the intention of working them into earrings.
Handily, the holes in these buttons were spaced exactly the right distance from the edge to provide a snug fit for the very largest of my bright aluminium rings. Matching the crazy design with an equally crazy weave of chain–Rhinos Snorting Drano–seemed like an obvious move, and it’s one that I think paid off. Apparently the woman selling the buttons thought so too, because she gave me a couple more to work with–of a style that, she explained, wasn’t selling all that well. She said she’d be interested in seeing if I could do anything with them.
I’ll be honest, my first thought was that I probably couldn’t. Not only were the buttons…well, not the sort of thing I’d usually think to bolt into jewellery (and seriously, I’ve considered using cows’ teeth), they weren’t even physically well suited to it. There was absolutely no way I’d be able to just hook a ring into these ones and get it to look right. But I fiddled around a bit, found myself a way of adding a wire loop to the top of each button, and–bizarrely–they also seem to work!
Though–in my opinion–these grumpy cat buttons don’t look like much as buttons, they really come to life when they’re dangling on the end of chain earrings. They’re pretty cute! The fact that “Persian” is both a weave of chain and a breed of cat is also quite amusing to me, though I can’t help but feel that the funniest thing is the amount of work that goes into turning them into earrings in the first place. The length of wire goes through both button holes (kind of like a staple), and the lower end hooks up and over the upper end, which in turn folds up to form the loop above the cat’s head. The result isn’t as neat as anything you’d expect from a purpose-made bead, but overall I think they have a lot of character.
Since these were actually the third pair of button earrings I ended up making that day, the woman at the other stall extremely kindly–and totally out of the blue–gave me a whole bunch more buttons. Including loads and loads of these little cats.
I really wasn’t expecting that. Given that a lot of the other craftspeople seemed to be doing this at least semi-professionally, I would have understood if they were just focused on doing their own thing, but actually everyone was really approachable and had lots of advice and anecdotes to share.
This seems like a good time to mention that this new earring stand allows me to take photos using a tripod, which makes them just so much clearer. Before I’d be happy as long as the chain looked reasonably crisp at a glance. Now you can zoom in to see teeny-tiny details. For example, did you spot that this second pair of cats have pupils while the first pair doesn’t? I’ve literally just noticed that myself. Didn’t even realise it while I was making the things.
Anyway, all in all I feel like this was another good event. It was a fun day, I made a bunch of totally unique earrings, and as an added bonus I heard about a couple more upcoming craft sales, so if all goes well I could be doing this again within the next few days.
In other news, I’m now totally enrolled on my Master’s Creative Writing course, I’ve been to a couple of welcome events–was pleased to find that some of the other students write in very similar genres–and am due to actually get started early next week. Beyond writing a ton of stuff for the course itself, I’m not sure how that’ll affect my creative output, but overall I’m expecting it to make a massive difference. I’m keen to build on what I already know, but at the same time to try some totally new things, so I’ll see how it goes. They gave each of us a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, so in the immediate future I’m hoping that’ll help me find an agent, since that was pretty much the main goal I walked away with at the end of the Winchester Writers’ Festival.
So, lots going on and lots still to come. At this point I’m not certain exactly what I’ll be doing even two weeks from now–it’ll largely depend what the course demands, and what I can manage to work around that–but it’s bound to be good and include lots of writing so that’s alright.
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 29
Challenge #13: Write an epistolary story in response to a piece of flash fiction written by another author this month. The story must include at least one dead character, at least one nameless character, and at least one cat. This story is a response to Joe Wright’s piece, Toil and Trouble.
Dear Miss MacAbre,
I have a somewhat embarrassing problem. As a recently deceased usurper of the throne, I’m having some difficulty adjusting to the afterlife. I understand that’s totally normal, and I’ve been very impressed by the advice on offer. The leaflet I was given upon arrival—So You’ve Been Besieged by an Army of Guys Dressed Like Trees and Your C-section Rival Lopped Your Head Off—was both helpful and unnervingly specific. I’ve taken everything it says on board and, though it’s hardly smooth sailing, I feel that I’m making good progress. My wife, who died shortly before me, seems to have acclimatised much more quickly and has already succeeded in gaining employment with a local magazine.
My real problem is that while I am content to slowly adjust to life after death, my wife is pressuring me to commit regicide once again. This causes no end of worry, as not only did it not work out so well for me last time, it is actually the same king. I fear that murdering him a second time would threaten to end our already strained friendship.
I love my wife dearly, and have tried to divert her attention from what I believe to be a doomed enterprise by adopting an adorable kitten named Spot. Sadly, my wife does not share my affection for him and upon seeing him will invariably attempt to shoo him outside. Also, I fear that distracting her with a pet or hobby would not address the underlying problem in our relationship.
I eagerly await your advice. Also, if there’s any chance anyone at your publication would be able to look after a small but very energetic kitten, I would be much obliged.
Boo hoo hoo! You sound like such a whiny little girl. If I were a man, instead of a lady, I would totally murder that king so hard! In fact, I wish I wasn’t a lady so that I could actually murder him. I would be, like, soooo full of cruelty and thick blood and junk. And manly. Really manly. Just like you should be, except you’re not, because you suck. You big wuss.
Go kill Duncan again, and do it right this time.
Dear Miss MacAbre,
I’ve taken your advice, but I can’t help but feel that I’m just going round in circles. Everything is happening the same as before, only this time people seem to be much, much, much more suspicious of me. I didn’t like to mention this initially, but a lot of people who were around for my first stint on the throne are also dead now, and it’s hard to persuade them that I didn’t kill the king’s ghost. Frankly I feel kind of guilty that they’re even giving me the benefit of the doubt.
It’s fine. Just throw a big banquet. Get ‘em so drunk they don’t know what’s what! Also, if any of these people gave you trouble last time around, this would totes be the time to bump them off. Live and learn, right? Well, learn anyway.
Dear “Miss MacAbre,”
I didn’t exactly study at Wittenberg, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a good idea to plan multiple murders in the “Help and Healing” section of a widely-read magazine. While I’d like nothing more than to see both of you get your comeuppance, I personally would prefer it if you didn’t arrive in the after-afterlife quite so soon.
Banquo’s Ghost’s Ghost
Too late. He’s your problem now.
Banquo’s Ghost’s Ghost
I think we should see other people. “Till death do us part” and all that. You can keep the cat.
Macbeth’s Ghost’s Ghost’s Ghost
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 5
Challenge #3: Write a piece of historical fiction. Also, your story should include an event from July 5th in history.
July 5th, 1944:
They will give me the Dickin Medal for this.
I have intercepted a report indicating that reinforcements are to be sent to the 4th Army, east of Mogilev. I cannot allow that to happen. Though my actions in Berlin have drawn a significant amount of attention already, I am determined to hold my position. The ground I have chosen to make my stand is exposed. Every day, things get a little more uncomfortable. The enemy is just feet away. But I will persevere.
I will prevail.
“I was going to write important Nazi stuff, but there’s a cat sitting on my typewriter.”
“Can’t you just shove it off?”
I sense the tide of battle is shifting. New tactics are required. I lick my paw and use it to wipe my face. A bold stratagem.
“No, I…I’ll probably just find another typewriter.”