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Hands of a Charlatan by Chris Milam

I ate clocks in the beginning. My therapist said it might help, she said I had nothing to lose.

They don’t taste all that bad, a hint of manufactured bitterness on the palate, but I have an iron stomach, so I chomped away. Digital, mechanical, quartz, atomic, water, cuckoo, and analog; a cornucopia of time that I placed between my desperate teeth. I even consumed sundials and hourglasses. They didn’t cure me. Nor did therapy.

I tried surgery next. After extracting my heart, which the surgeon said was fatigued and bathed in shadows, he placed an alarm clock in the gaping hole then stitched me up with his finest synthetic thread. My pulse was in tune with the tick tocking, creating a melody of synchronized clock-beats. A shrill bell would vibrate against my ribcage randomly, a plastic quake to snap me out of the doldrums. It was more annoying than anything else. It didn’t fix me, but I never overslept.

I tried living in a massive grandfather clock after that. It wasn’t cheap and it took months to arrive from Germany, but it was worth a shot. I had to curl up in the fetal position to fit inside, which seemed appropriate, I didn’t mind. Polished cherry wood is pretty to look at, and that brass pendulum was rather majestic, but it was too loud in there. To be honest, grandfather wasn’t the quietest of fellows. Every hour on the hour, a thunderous bong would roust me from my stupor. There were just too many creaks and monotonous chimes for it to be any sort of remedy. I only lasted two weeks inside that chamber of gears. If you look close, you can still see my claw marks.

My neighbor, Claudia, is an amateur magician. Nothing revolutionary or anything, she uses steel rings, playing cards, and black top hats. She does the occasional children’s birthday party and the kids seem to believe that she is the housewife version of Houdini.

I told her about my dilemma yesterday. She nodded excitedly and said she could help me. She told me she needed a keepsake to make the trick work properly; something cherished, something that was smeared with the residue of grief. I told her I would bring Hannah’s Movado bracelet watch that I had given her on our first anniversary. It was stainless steel with rose-gold plating. She used to wear it everyday, her delicate wrist burdened by the weight of caustic love. She eventually removed it and placed it in a jewelry box, an ornate coffin for lost things. Claudia said to bring it over tomorrow along with her forty dollar fee.

I’m not hopeful that whatever illusion she has planned for tomorrow will work. They say time heals all wounds, but maybe that’s a myth only fools believe. I’ve tried everything to diffuse the sorrow, a yearlong journey of failure. My belly is full of clocks, but the pain is still there. And Hannah is still gone.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Blukris or on wordpress: http://wispofsmokemilam.wordpress.com/

 

 

Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness Week Wone Winners!

Happy Sunday! We spent the day deliberating over the brilliant entries we received this week. Christian Miller’s striking photo prompt inspired a lovely variety of stories, all with special touches of magic.

If you are interested in seeing more of Christian’s work you can follow him on instagram, call sign “bookworm7219.” The prompt photograph was taken, as some of you may have guessed, at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The Musée building began its life as a railway station; Emily’s story for this picture, which you will see in the anthology, involves the clock in its actual habitat at the Musée.

We are happy to report that we selected three stories for the anthology this week, as well as one honorable mention that will be posted on our blog tomorrow. Anthology winners, please send Emily an email so she has your contact information for publishing logistics:

emily at luminouscreaturespress dot com

 

Honorable Mention: Hands of a Charlatan, by Chris Milam @Blukris

This piece captivates with its lush language, rich imagery, and a compelling opening premise. The voice of the protagonist shines and brings us down to the intimate and bittersweet end.

Anthology Winning Stories, in no particular order:

The Mistress of Neglected Time by Nancy Chenier @rowdy_phantom

We fell in love with this story and it’s endearing protagonist, 8:43. Well-crafted and satisfying like cool butter on warm bread, it pulled out all the stops. Nancy used such dynamic verbs, clear details, and evocative images; we were helplessly pulled under her bittersweet spell. The blending of the ordinary with the magical echoed a desire to find magic in a mundane world. Highlights of the gorgeous imagery: a gibbous moon peering through the clock face, 8:43 getting his toes tangled in a lace tablecloth, and the Mistress wearing a floral housecoat. And the ending’s poignancy will linger with readers long after they finish the story.

The Almanac of Kinks in Reality by Jacki Donnellan @Donnellanjacki

From the title to the last line, we adored this story, and we defy anyone to resist that delicious first line. We were roped in with Jacki’s full bodied characters and fast pacing, enchanted by verisimilitude amidst a magical storyline. This story also exemplifies great flash fiction: it has a clear arc, well-developed characters, a conflict, and a resolution—all in only 500 well-chosen words. True sprezzatura.

The Collector by David Borrowdale @MicroBookends

With undertones of horror, this story snuck inside our heads and took root like that dangerous first rule, leaving us thinking about it long after our multiple readings. Just enough foreshadowing enticed the reader and led to a satisfying conclusion structured with the tightness of fitted gears. The story concept was well-executed, and the clever structure really made the piece. We always love to see a strong villain.

Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all who participated. We hope to see you again next week!

Flash Fiction 1

Beth has been trying her hand at flash fiction for the past few months, and not surprisingly, she’s won some laurels. This week she was asked to judge the contest held over at The Angry Hourglass. They post a prompt picture on Saturday, and you turn in a story of 360 words by Sunday evening. I have never participated, mainly because the pictures I’ve looked at never inspired any particular thoughts. And 360 words? I like words, and I don’t like limits.
However, this week I trolled over to The Angry Hourglass just to see what kind of prompt the stories Beth would be judging would have. Naturally, it was this:

Row of bikes

Yep. A row of bicycles. One of my recurring writing themes is the bicycle. I loved the image. A snippet of story immediately sprang into my head, and I charged to MS Word to get it down. I managed to write something resembling a “story” in less than 360 words. Of course, since Beth was the judge, I couldn’t enter my story in the weekly contest—as she put it, she would be “swayed by the awesome.” So I’m posting it here for you to read.

Also, stay tuned for information about LCP’s Summer of Super Short Stories Flash Fiction Contest starting in June. You too can try your hand at stories with limits!

The Escape

I shuffled along the long line of stationary bicycles. Another day on the chain gang. A guard caught my handcuffed hands, wrenching my shoulders as he pushed me against a bike. He leered as he unlocked the fetters.

Same old story.

“Saddle up,” the guard taunted, squeezing my breast before releasing me. I clambered onto the bike.

“Snap in!” cried the other guard, some fifty feet down the line. All the women obeyed, latching our shoes into the pedals. “…And pedal!” Down the long row we began to move—we had ten hours of riding in place to generate electricity for the grid. I’d been sentenced to fifty days on the chain for being caught biking after curfew.

The two guards chatted at the end of the line, uniforms stretched across paunchy bellies.

Inmate Twelve leaned towards me. “Pssst! You, Eleven, with the mismatched eyes. Any guard coming up your side?”

I shook my head.

“Wanna make a run for it? Ditch these assholes and their energy quotas?”

I blinked and checked my shoulder again, worried a guard might have heard her crazy talk.

Twelve fiddled with the knob near her front wheel. “C’mon. It’ll work better if there are two of us. We can split ‘em when they give chase. Two guards, two of us. You can ride, can’t ya?”

Of course I could ride—who couldn’t? No petrol rations since 2075 meant a bicycle was the only way to get around The City. And I was a messenger, so I was fast. “Aren’t these stationary bikes?”

Twelve snorted. “It’s a regular bike on a trainer, numbskull.”

She released her knob. Her bike sprang free. “You got about a minute and a half to decide.”

I sucked a breath. The two guards continued to converse at the end of the row. I twisted my own knob with sweaty fingers.

“Go, go!” Twelve hissed. We sprinted, tearing past the other inmates pedaling dumbly in their traces.

“Hey! Hey!” Shouts from the guards echoed behind us. “Stop!”

“Get past the gate and you’re home free,” Twelve called.

My damp hands almost slipped from the handlebars. I surged. The gate approached.