Monday, November 28, 2016

Flash Fiction: The New Neighbor

The last TinHouse Plotto contest loser for your reading enjoyment.  The week 3 of 5 prompt:

The New Neighbor

The morning dawned gray and John awoke to the sound of the empty apartment downstairs being ransacked. He looked out his foggy window. A woman with dark hair was unloading things from a hatchback Pinto. He shook his head clear and opened the door. He hesitated, smoothed his couch-head hair, then trotted down the stairs.

“Hi, I'm John. I live upstairs. Need a hand?”

She flinched.

Oops, I startled her.

“Fuck, you startled me.“

He met her gaze and it was his turn to be startled.

I know her.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

"I dunno, do you? Look, I got a lot stuff to unload and I need to get that shithole clean before that cat piss smell sinks into my stuff.”

“You have a mouth on you.”


“You're so familiar to me...”

“Whatever. I got shit to do, so help or fuck off.”

He took a step back, tripped and fell sprawling.

He whispered, “Lyanna? Is that you?”

“I'm Jo,” she said loudly and offered her hand.

He accepted and she turned it into a painful wrist lock.  She leaned in, “How the fuck do you know that name, Creeper?”

She stood over him, her blue eyes expectant. He noticed that she shifted her weight, freeing her right knee for a drop to his vulnerable ballsack.

“No, no, sorry. You just remind me of a character from a book I read,” he lied.

He hadn’t read it—he wrote it. His Lyanna is a strong, foul-mouthed woman, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a panther tattoo on the back of her neck. His Lyanna was raised in an abusive family in the slums of Chicago. His Lyanna grew up to be an undercover cop, using that abrasive personality to blend in with what she thought of as her kind, allowing her to ferret out drug dealers and sex traffickers. His Lyanna saves a group of boys and girls trapped in a shipping container. His Lyanna dies in a brutal retaliatory murder. His Lyanna lies in the musty grave of his reject trunk because his Lyanna was too “one-dimensional” in a storyline that was “too predictable.”

How could this be? It couldn’t. Coincidence; gotta be. People have doppelgangers, so why can’t fictitious characters? Overactive imagination. Apologize idiot…out loud…words!

"Sorry. I'm an idiot. Obviously. Didn't mean to creep you out, Jo. I'm a writer. I guess we tend to be creepy."

She dropped his wrist and stepped back. He got up.

“That’s OK. I'm feeling edgy. I hate moving. This isn't exactly a step up for me.”

She’s lying; she's exactly where she wants to be.

"Have I read anything of yours?”

"Unlikely; unless you're the poor bastard that has to read publishing house slush piles.”

She laughed. She fished a hair tie from her pocket and tied her hair back.

She said, “I'd better get back to to it.”

She leaned into her car to retrieve a pile of books from her hatchback. Her ponytail slid to one side and a panther snarled at him.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Flash Fiction: The New Girl

This was the week two writing prompt for the Plotto contest, put on by Tin House Publishing.  Being due a few days prior to Halloween, I couldn't help but shoot for spooky--ooooh!  The story ended up over 2,000 words (500 word limit on submissions) and after brutal cutting, I could only pare off 500 words. In this situation, sometimes an amputation of the beginning, middle, or end can save the story, but there was no part I could take without killing the story.  So I just kicked dirt over the whole thing and never submitted it. Enjoy!

She stepped from the coach clutching her bag to her chest. She missed the proffered hand from the coachman and landed on the quartz gravel with an ungainly thump. Eyes wide, she righted herself and smoothed her hair and clothes.

The coachman untied her small trunk and placed it on the ground.

“Good day Miss,” he rumbled to someone several feet over her head.

With a snap of the reigns, the coach jerked to life and rumbled away. She watched until it dissolved into the fog.

A fountain bubbled merrily as she dragged her trunk through the gravel. A house emerged from the fog. At the door of the house was a sturdy woman of later years. She looked to have been made of the same stone as the house.

She collected herself and said, “Hello ma’am, my name is Helen. I’m fourteen now and the orphanage says it’s time--.”

The woman turned and began walking away. Helen fell silent and stood there unsure of what to do. The woman snapped, “Abigail, come.”

Scrambling after her she said, “Sorry, Ma’am. My name is Helen, I come from--”

The woman waved off her talking and led her to a small stone cottage.

“These are your quarters. Leave your things and make your way to the kitchen at once.”


The cottage was steeped in the must of neglect. Cobwebs adorned every corner, and a dead rat scented the air. There were two windows with broken shutters. It was colder inside than out.

Helen crumpled to her knees and laid her head on her trunk and sobbed.  Tears rolled down her rounded cheeks.

The crunch of gravel carried through the window as the old woman left.

Helen sniffed and stood erect eyeing her surroundings. She spent a few moments tidying, and when it suited her, she left to find the kitchen.

She stepped out and noticed a worn path from the other cottages leading to the back of the house. She followed and found the servant’s entrance. There were many servants of every age and gender, hustling about. No one met her eye. She found her way to the kitchen where a rotund woman labored to prepare the servant’s next meal.

“It’s about time you’ve arrived. Fetch me four chickens. Abigail will show you.”

A girl of about 10 years, with the darkest, most hollow eyes, turned from her washing.

They left in silence and walked again along the path towards the animal keep. Once away from the house, the little girl said, “This place is rotten. You shouldn't be here.”

“Oh, it's not so bad. I’m Helen. What’s your name, it's not really Abigail is it?”

“You don't know, the master will be home soon. Then you will know."

"He couldn't be worse than that horrid old woman.”

The girl's eyes widened in fear as she looked left and right.  She spoke in a harsh whisper, “Sshhh!  You musn't cross Ms. Trount. Yes, he is.”

At the chicken run, the girl deftly caught a chicken and cradled it in her arm. She brought it clucking to the chopping block. She grabbed it by the head flipped it onto the block and swiftly relieved it of its head. The hatchet stuck in the wood awaiting the next chicken. She grabbed the legs of the headless chicken and turned it upside down over a metal pail. The wings and feet worked less and less as the blood drained into the bucket. When it was no longer thrashing, she handed it to Helen to finish the bleeding.  She repeated the process three more times and then the girls sat to pluck and clean them together. The organs were tossed into the bucket with the blood.

They carried the chickens and the blood back to the house.

Many long hours later, Helen fell into her filthy bed. She spread her arms wide and slipped into a deep sleep.

The morning dawned gray and she decided to do something about the state of her quarters. She started by repairing the shutters.  She opened her door to return the tools and was surprised to see the dark-eyed girl little girl with her hand lifted as if to knock.

"You startled me.  You shouldn't be skulking about."

"I've been sent to fetch you to work."

“Tell me your name. If you refuse, I shall be forced to call you chicken.”

Their eyes met and for a moment a ghost of a smile appeared on her wan face.


“Danielle, that's a lovely name.”

“Shhh, we're too close to the house. We're not allowed to speak; the master has excellent hearing and our chatter vexes him.”

“He's here?”

“Last night.”

The tenor of the household servants was electric with fear. Helen labored silently during the day in the house and stole moments outside with Danielle where the girls could speak freely.

She glimpsed the master only rarely, only when she accompanied Ms. Trount in serving the rare guests to the house. The rooms were staggering in number and sometimes, when shorthanded by sickness, she would be required to take on extra duties. There were many women who lived here. They all looked different from one another but something was also the same about them too. They all looked young yet old, they never spoke, and drifted about in long revealing dresses. Their eyes burned when they saw Helen, but none of them touched her.

Ms. Trount touched her though. Often. With a rod that she kept on her person at all times.

Time was eternal here.  Each day brought the same labors, the same food, the same hot sting of Ms. Trout's rod on the backs of her legs, her neck, hands, shins.  The one change was the growing frequency in which she was seeing the master. He was always courteous, speaking to her in soft purring tones as he inquired about her. She remained silent, as she had learned from experience that any words would reach Ms. Trount’s ears and draw a sound thrashing.

She was working in a room when she felt a draft and turned to find him behind her, a lock of her hair in wound around one of the master’s fingers. She continued to work and tried not to be distracted by the stirring feeling that his presence aroused in her.

Helen retreated to her cottage, closed the shutters, barred her door, and flopped on her bed. A deep sigh escaped her. She had planned to bathe, but instead fell asleep on her covers.

Her sleeping mind swam through liquid dreams.  She woke with a languid smile. Her field of vision clarified and the master's face loomed above her own. The stirrings threatened to consume her.

“You're perfect, my dear. You will make a nice addition to my collection,” he purred.


She lifted a finger to his finely shaped cheek and wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and drew him near. His kisses were cool on her neck. She moaned, and hot pain flashed through her.

She gasped.

She laughed.

“Ah-ah, that’s quite enough now,“ she said playfully.

His eyes burned as he pulled her tighter.

“Now, now let's not be rude. When a lady says, no…” He pulled her to him, ravenous.

“Oh, how I love this game. Your kind are so easy. Look at me--I’m a plump and sweet. I’m so frightened...and tasty.”

He drank greedily a few seconds more, then pulled away with a gasp. He clutched at his stomach.

“Oh, that took longer than normal. I feel a bit woozy. But better than you, I'd wager.  There’s just something about me that doesn’t agree with your kind.” She wagged a finger at him. “Naughty old man. How old are you, I wonder? No, it matters not.”

He flashed her an angry look and tried to lunge for her. He fell to the floor instead.

“Ah, ah, Master. What's wrong? Feeling a little sick?” She laughed, “I hope it hurts, I hope all the pain you've visited on the innocent is coming right back to you. Although, I think that's lofty wish, don't you?”

“Well, it's been fun. Really. A few loose ends to tie up and I'll leave your horrid manor forever.”

He cried out in pain and reached for her. She stepped on his chest and left.

She threw the front doors wide as she entered the manor house. Ms. Trount rose to her full height wielding her rod, Danielle cowered below.

“Bursting through the front door--really! Abigail, you shall feel my…” she raised her rod and Helen caught it in her hand. She ripped it away and laid it fast across her stony cheek and neck. Ms. Trount fell, clutching her bloodied face. Helen gave her back a savage lash, then broke the instrument over her knee, and threw it at her.

“Danielle, come let us gather your belongings. You're free now.”

“I don't have any.”
The house erupted into a cacophony of wailing and misery as some of the women had become aged crones, some mad from their experience, piles of dust revealed the great age of others.

“Right then, let us be away,” Helen held out her hand to Danielle who slid her small fingers into her palm.

They crossed the threshold together.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Flash Fiction: Hope

My friend Lori—it's all your fault—suggested I write for the Plotto contest, put on by Tin House Publishing. Since my stories are big fat losers, I thought I'd publish them on my blog rather than let them moulder in my Google Drive.

The parameters: An original story, 500 words or less, based on the writing prompt.
Here was week one prompt:

And the loser story:


He stepped on to the bridge railing. The breeze felt fresh on his face. He dug his into his pocket and pulled out everything he owned. He opened his fingers and watched the detritus of street life disappear into puffs of mist as it sunk into the water--except for the rock; it was warm in his other hand.

He climbed down, and an anxious crowd parted. A police officer touched his elbow.

“Sir, can I get a ride? I need a haircut and these clothes...well they don’t smell too good.”

“Sure; get in. I know a place.”

Scratching a freshly shaved chin, he glanced at his reflection in a mirrored window. It smiled at him; good to see you man.

He pulled open the door and smelled the wood of the instruments mixed with the must of old building and dog. He picked up a guitar that looked a lot like the one he remembered, but older. He fingers made forgotten chord shapes as he squeezed his eyes shut and sang.
“Wow man, that was something.”

“Thanks. I’m Eugene. You got a job I can do?”

“For someone who plays like that, you bet your ass I do.”

"I need a place to sleep too.”

“There’s a room upstairs. You clean?”



Her morning was hectic. Her girls wouldn’t get up. They wouldn’t get dressed. They didn’t want to eat. They didn’t want to get on the bus.

Her littlest cried, “Mama, I just want to stay home with you.”

“Me too, baby.” She hugged her daughter and breathed in her buttery-flower scent.

The bus swallowed them up and left her hollow.

She weaved around people waiting for the train and bumped into a man who was rummaging in a garbage can. The blow knocked him back, sending his cans skittering over the sidewalk. She helped him gather them. She fished twenty dollars from her purse; hesitated, then wrapped a rock inside the money. She took his hand and pressed the tiny package into it.

Eugene unwrapped it. The word, hope, stared up at him.


Her feet ached. Her back hurt. She smiled down at the boy with a tube running from his nose.

“Sponge Bob? Boy, that show is going to rot your brain.”

The boy laughed, then winced in pain.

She picked up a remote and said, “I hear they have puppies coming in today. You want one or five?”

“Twelve.” “Hey, Harriet? Can you get my mom?”

“Sure thing, baby. You OK doll? You need something?”

“Just my mom. Please.”

His face had the shadow. She kissed his forehead and whispered, “I’ll go get her, baby.”

Harriet dialed the phone. She glanced up and noticed Luke’s mother walking down the hallway. She took her hands, “Amy, Luke was asking for you...” Harriet fished a rock from a pocket and pressed it into Amy’s palm.

Amy opened her fingers and the word, hope, stared up at her.