Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans playing our flash fiction game. Today we offer a photo prompt by Ryan Lynch, titled “Arising.” We recommend that you click on the picture to see it in a larger format. Let your imagination fly and produce a story of 500 words or less, submitted into the reply section of this post by Saturday at 6 pm PST. Remember, all stories considered for the contest anthology will contain a supernatural or fantasy element. See complete contest rules here.
They stumble over toys, bags of fertilizer, and charcoal grills. They slip on the dewy grass, muttering “fuck.” Jeff stops and nods toward a yard. “Check it out” he says. In the moonlight they can just make out the objects there: a wooden man with a blue Ball jar head and a garden spade violin, a swaybacked horse of tree branches, a tin bird with bike reflector eyes, all displayed like trophies. In the center of the yard sits a crumbling stone well. Jeff ruffles the flange of hair spilling over his collar, takes a swig of Everclear, and hands the bottle to Emmie. She shakes her head. “What the hell is wrong with you tonight?” Jeff asks.
“Nothing.” Emmie stuffs her hands into her pockets. “I’ve just had enough.”
“I can’t believe you never heard of this place,” Jeff says. But Emmie has heard of it. She’s found excuses to wander by, alone, many times. If Jeff knew she thought the place was cool she would never hear the end of it. “Must be some kind of devil worshiper or fag to have shit like that in your yard,” Jeff says.
“Maybe.” Emmie decided months ago that the yard was an artist’s. An artist was what Emmie thought Jeff was when she first saw him in the back of civics class, drawing a perfect replica of the inside cover of Led Zeppelin Four. She moves to the well, her sneakers squeaking on the grass.
Jeff follows. “Maybe,” he mocks. Emmie dips her fingers into the water and then touches her face. “Jesus, Ember, that water stinks.”
“Emmie,” she says, wiping her fingers on her jeans. “I told you to call me Emmie.”
“Here we go again. Emmie. Sounds like some old lady.” Jeff sits down on a brick wall under a tree. “Nasty well.” He lights his pipe and inhales. A seed crackles. Getting stoned is all Jeff wants to do these days. He has stopped drawing. Emmie had grown tired of heaping phony praise on his unoriginal works, anyway. The stuff in this yard, though, Emmie has never seen anything like.
Emmie peers into the well. “Wishing well,” she thinks. Emmie never knows what to wish for, but she knows she wants something. She digs a penny from her pocket and tosses it in. The penny plops, leaving tiny circles in its wake. Emmie feels her wish fluttering inside her, nameless. A fish leaps from the water, arcing in the air, glistening, water droplets trailing like shooting stars. It splashes back into the water. Emmie gasps.
“What,” Jeff says through held breath.
“There’s a fish in the well. It jumped.”
Jeff snorts and exhales a stream of smoke. “Ember, you are stoned out of your gourd.” But one sip of Everclear is all Emmie has had tonight.
A window over the backyard fills with light. “Aw, shit,” Jeff says. He falls to his knees, groping the overgrown brush for his dropped pipe. Emmie runs, not looking back.
Week Three opened with one of our favorite prompts, combining two compelling themes: music and the outsider. We were surprised that no one took up the cause of the outsider in the stories this week. Before posting the prompt we had conversation about the word zingaro and its meanings—I (Emily) worried about the photo’s title being offensive. Zingaro is an Italian word meaning “gypsy,” derived from a Greek word meaning “untouchable”—as in the caste, not as in a superhero. Beth used both meanings of “untouchable” to great effect in the story she wrote for this prompt, which you will be able to read in our anthology. We decided to leave the title despite its unsavoriness to see what you all made of it, since even a word with unpleasant connotations can stimulate creativity in interesting ways.
For the first time during our judging of the contest, Beth and I had very little overlap in our personal selections, demonstrating what a strong group of submissions we received, spanning the range from experimental to traditional. Nice work, everyone!
Honorable Mention Winner: Wish by Laura Pinhey
Replete with clear and easily visualized images, Wish succeeded in showing us rather than telling us. Laura strikes a marvelous balance between leading the reader through the scene and leaving room for our imaginations. On the one hand, she provided beautifully drawn details: a wooden man with a Blue ball jar head, the bottle of Everclear, the inside cover of Led Zeppelin Four, and the crackling seed in the pipe. On the other hand, with Emmie’s nameless wish, she invites our speculation, leaving us to wonder why Emmie runs without looking back.
The Screaming, by Jacki Donnellan
We love a great opening line and what could be more enticing than a confession like this one? Jacki has given us a creepy tale about possession and obsession with an inanimate object as a central character—a character for whom we feel compassion. Anyone who has seen a great violinist perform knows that there is a palpable relationship between musician and instrument. This story takes that relationship into the realm of the supernatural. What if Itzhak Perlman’s violin turned on him? A horrifying thought. The Screaming’s flashback structure reinforced our narrator’s obsession, and the juxtaposition of the magic (music) with the mundane (tinnitus) added texture and layers to this piece that deftly captured the essence of magical realism.
The Zingaro Exclusive, by David Borrowdale
This boldly told story explored the dark secret behind a legend’s success. Our fantasy-loving hearts were pleased by the magic system wherein the musician evoked and then destroyed ghost-people with his playing—what a creative concept, ripe for further exploration. The clever use of redactions lent the story mystery, while precise details gave stunning specificity: horsehair caressing cat-gut, a G3 breve as a fat old lady, and middle C quaver as a sensual young woman. David demonstrated expert restraint while slowly revealing the conclusion.
The Storm King, by Voima Oy
In this lovely fairy tale, Voima appeals to all five senses with rich imagery: the unblinking blue sky, mouths as dry as dirt, notes falling like raindrops onto thirsty ears, a cool breeze stirring hair, and the scent of wet earth. These details built a world we could picture clearly and left us wanting more. The strong story structure introduced the central conflict early and led us to a satisfying resolution.
As always, judging was HARD. So many excellent stories. Thank you to all who contributed again this week.
Welcome back to our winter flash story arena. This week’s photograph was requested by Beth. It is called Zingaro, by Ozan Uzul.
Submissions of 500 words or less are due in the reply section of this post by Saturday at 6 pm PST. Stories considered for the anthology must contain some element of magic or the supernatural. See complete contest rules here.
*image courtesy of freeimages.com
“Isn’t raising the dead a job for nighttime?” Stephen asked.
Jeff chose one of the perfect rows of tombstones, and counted fifteen in. He beckoned for Stephen to follow.
“Well? How are you going to make a zombie before noon?” Stephen’s tone was sardonic rather than amused.
“Have you done it before?” Jeff asked.
“Exactly. Shut up.”
Jeff emptied the cloth bag onto the grave. He had a sharp knife, a bouquet of red roses dipped in black paint, an assortment of gemstones and the skull of a cat. The skull still made his stomach twist when he looked at it.
“That looks like a pile of junk,” Stephen said.
Jeff regretted bringing a non-believer. The equipment was sinister enough to belong to necromancy and a believer would never have questioned it.
Stephen was only half-right, anyway.
“Do you want to do this or not?” Jeff asked.
“It sounded like fun last night when I was drunk, but now it’s just stupid,” Stephen said.
“Go home if you want.” Jeff always gave them a last chance.
“I’ll stick around. You’re my ride home.”
As far as assistants went, Stephen was among the worst. Jeff had met plenty of others who enjoyed the process. He couldn’t remember what had made him choose this one last night in the bar; he’d been more than a little drunk himself.
Jeff lifted the skull and turned the empty eye sockets to face Stephen.
“Touch the skull,” Jeff said.
Stephen rolled his eyes and stuck two fingers in the holes.
Jeff grabbed his wrist with what must have seemed a surprisingly strong grip.
“Don’t touch Mittens,” he said. He could tell Stephen was rattled, and rightfully so. Even non-believers could sense when the power was in the air.
“Let’s get this over with,” Stephen said.
Jeff placed both palms on his chosen grave. His arms tingled all the way up to his elbows.
“Read it,” Jeff said, nodding to the headstone.
“Here lies…” Stephen paused. “Is this some kind of sick joke? That’s my name.”
Jeff kissed the top of Mittens’ bald head. He released the tingles into the empty space where her brain had once been.
His father would disapprove of him using the magic this way. “It’s family only,” he’d say. Mittens was family enough for Jeff. Besides, Jeff had already delivered plenty of bodies for Father; he deserved one of his own.
“A soul for a soul,” Jeff said.
Jeff picked up the sharp knife and buried it in Stephen’s left eye. He was an expert by now and his chosen didn’t live long enough to scream.
He went back to the car for the shovel. He buried the body with the gemstones and painted roses. It wasn’t necessary, but he didn’t feel like carrying them home.
Mittens rubbed up against his leg and he stroked her soft fur lovingly.
“I’ll raise Father again tomorrow,” Jeff told her. He didn’t have the heart to murder someone else so soon.
Follow Holly on Twitter: @hollygeely or read more of her stories at: hollygeely.wordpress.com
Our prompt picture this week was a film still from a movie called Recurrence, which is currently showing in the Lucerne International Film Fest. Directed by Marc Schicili and Brady Wedman, the movie is an abstracted, modern retelling of an early flash fiction, An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce. Originally published in 1890 and weighing in at less than 4000 words, the Bierce story was flash before flash was popular. Not to mention the story contains the mother of all plot twists.
Side note: wouldn’t many flash fiction stories make great short films?
Our image shows the National Cemetery at the Presidio in San Francisco, California, which holds the graves of American veterans and their family members.
It was a tough week for judging. So many of the stories had great concepts. Emily had to get out the rubric again.
Honorable Mention: For Mittens, Holly Geely
Here we have a classic example of strong flash: a clear story arc with a central conflict, a single well-described scene with economy of language, and of course, the creep factor: “Jeff always gave them a last chance.” Add a zombie cat and what’s not to like? Perfectly balancing darkness and humor, Geely staged this story expertly, displaying authorial confidence and panache. This one wins the sprezzatura prize of the week. Read it on our blog tomorrow.
Growing Pains, David Borrowdale: David offered a vivid and memorable interpretation on this week’s prompt—seeing teeth instead of gravestones in this tale of the tooth fairy’s origins. We love a story that drops a reader right into its action and doesn’t give away all its secrets at once. Little details like Alice’s dancing pigtails and the predatory canines paint a clear picture of the setting. Written with a light hand, this story hints instead of shows, leaving room for the imagination to fill in the gaps between teeth.
Nothing Personal, Nancy Chenier: Nancy’s first line brought us fully into the story—enticing our senses with beautiful descriptions of the alchemist’s art. In the way of a true storyteller, she doles out information bit by bit, keeping us hooked until the very end. The complexity of the idea suggests that this could be the seed of a larger work. We expected disturbing stories from the graveyard picture, and this one took the cake for wyrdness. We’re still pondering the ramifications of multiple selves in parallel universes.
Potential Energy, AJ Walker: This story pushed edges in many ways: subject matter, characterizations, imagery. There is an art to developing characters in only five hundred words, and AJ managed that beautifully here, not only with the grave robbers but also with the off-stage characters of the wytches (love the spelling!). Balancing sweet imagery with dark creepiness, the story sticks in the mind. We remain worried about the potential of those Gaimanesque wytches.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Mark A. King: What bold choices Mark used: second person, multiple eras, balancing repetition with advancing story-line, painting in broad strokes that nonetheless locate us in time. Mark’s story straddles the line between prose and poetry with startling poise. We especially appreciated the depth of thematic layers in this one—religion, war, god, beliefs. A truly unique take on the prompt.
If you are a new anthology winner, please email: emily at luminouscreaturespress dot com
Thanks to all who participated and gave us such a wealth of stories to read!
Welcome to week two. Our picture prompt this week is an image called Recurrence, by Brady Wedman. Submissions of 500 words or less are due in the reply section of this post by Saturday at 6 pm PST. Stories considered for the anthology must contain some element of magic or the supernatural. See complete contest rules here.