One lucky person will be walking away with a digital copy of one of Gordon's books and up to 9 photo downloads from Andrew's Alphabet. You can actually download my photos for free any time, but the winner will get the back story behind each of the photos they select (it's a short paragraph explaining how the picture found its way into my collection. It's not heavy reading, don't worry. Gordon's book will be a more thrilling read, I promise).
Thanks to everyone who participated in the first eight Flash Fiction Challenges. The entries were awesome! Winners 1, 3, 5, and 7 can be found on my blog and winners 2, 4, 6, and 8 can be found on Gordon's Blog. You don't have to go to all the trouble of finding them though because we listed them here. Just click the links below and it will expand and show you each weekly winner. We've also included a couple honourable mentions in the mix as well.
Now, all we need people to do is VOTE! That's right, read the entries and vote for the one you like the most. After a couple weeks we'll tally 'em up and crown someone the Ultimate World Flash Fiction Challenge First Quarter 2014 Champion. Honourable mention will go to whomever can come up with a better title.
So without any further delay, here are the things. Read 'em and cast your vote in the poll thingy below:
- Week 1 - Gareth“I'm not sure it was entirely necessary, but I can guarantee you there's a lineup of people behind me that will tell you he had it coming.” Bob folded his arms across his chest.
“Dude! You ate him.” Fred looked around. “A lineup of people?”
“Uh. I guess they left.”
“It did get a bit gnarly there for a minute.”
Fred pointed at the burger sack on the roof of his station wagon. “You couldn’t wait five more minutes?” Exasperated, he marched to the car and pulled open the bag. “Here.” He tossed a box at Bob who ate the box and contents in two bites.
Fred nibbled on an onion ring. “You know you’ve messed up the camping trip?”
Bob flopped down onto a fallen branch. “Sorry.”
“I liked Al. Plus, I loaned him my chainsaw a few months ago and it’ll be weird going over and asking his wife for it back. She might feel I’m responsible for this…mess.”
Bob nodded, “You did invite me.”
“Yeah.” Fred ate another onion ring. “I did.” He unwrapped a burger of his own and took a bite, staring up into the night sky. The stars sparkled joyously in the depths of space and the moon cast its baleful gaze on the forest. Branches snapped in the distance as the rest of the group continued to flee.
“Delia called Al an asshole. The others were angry too. They told him he was spoiling the trip.”
“Okay, in future, you need to not eat people, no matter how assholey they are.”
“It’s not really how we do things on this planet.”
“I get that. To be honest I’m a little embarrassed by the whole thing now.”
Fred walked over to his friend and gave him a pat on the shoulder, “It’s okay. What’s done is done, although now our friends are running through the forest and they’ll probably tell everyone what you did.”
“Oh. Yes, I didn’t expect all the screaming and crying. I really did think they’d back me up on this.”
“I know, and I think nine times out of ten, when you don’t eat someone, people will totally back you up.”
“It’s the eating thing.”
“Good to know.”
“I should’ve been clearer from the start.”
“Don’t blame yourself. The Flirge of my group kept telling me not to act like a dumb tourist.”
Fred heard a shout from deep within the forest. “Of course, now we have to do something about Don, Ernie, Delia and Cass. I mean, their story will sound a little far-fetched, but…”
Bob nodded, “If the military find out, I’ll end up in Nevada again.”
“Right,” said Fred as he walked back to his station wagon. He leaned inside and pulled out a metal box. “I brought this in case of bears.”
Bob stood up. “So what’s the plan?”
Fred waved his revolver at the trees, “We chase down the others and, well, are you in the mood for a little dessert?”
- Week 1 - K.D.We lined up and waited for the man to unlock the door. Most of us try to get there before sunrise, and at that time of day during this time of year, the cold bites with bitter intent. We moved restlessly to keep our blood circulating into hands and feet, but no amount of stomping is going to warm the toes of sockless feet inside ragged shoes.
The cops crept up on us, coming from behind, no lights, no sirens, as if they wanted to catch us unaware.
“They’re here,” said the tall fellow in front of me. He hunched into himself, shrinking a bit. Most of us watched the cop cars stop in the street, but we didn’t scatter like the vermin they thought we were. We always waited to be driven out instead of going away on our own, peacefully, respectfully. We have our pride, or what’s left of it.
Down the line behind me, ten or eleven back, a little kid started to cry. He was too young to be there. His mama made comforting noises, but comfort is in short supply for an empty stomach on an icy morning.
The metallic rattle of keys in the lock brought a rush of hope. The door opened an hour early. Hap Dunston, the owner, smiled at us.
“Come in,” he said. “Hurry, before the law causes trouble.”
He gently herded us into his diner until we crowded every table, booth, and seat at the counter. The warm smell of coffee and frying bacon wrapped around us, as comforting as the heat.
“I’m not sure how much longer I can do this, folks,” Hap said. “You know city council passed an ordinance day yesterday. Feeding the homeless in this town is a crime. They’ve closed down the shelter, they run you out of the park and other public places …” He shook his head. “But today, you’re here. Get warm; we’ll have the food ready soon.”
The next Saturday, the line formed, and police cars showed up. Cops got out and walked toward us. Hap unlocked the door but the cops blocked it.
A large, prosperous looking fellow in a tailored wool overcoat stepped into the light.
“Mr. Cowan, sir,” one of the officers said to him. Cowan owned the town.
The cops moved aside as the man approached. He reached Hap. He gave the man a long, hard look, then reached into his coat pocket and handed over a paper.
“That’s a promissory note bearing my signature. These folks are my guests as long as you feed them.” He turned his stony glare to the cops. “A guest is a guest and cannot be denied a meal.” Then he shook Hap’s hand.
We filed inside, past cops, past Cowan, past Hap who stared open-mouthed at the signed note.
I'm not sure it was entirely necessary, but I can guarantee you there's a lineup of people behind me that will tell you he had it coming.
- Week 2 - KBR #1I don’t make enemies. That’s a punchy, but clichéd way to start. It’s relevant though, because it explains why it is I’m so surprised to find myself hanging upside down by the ankles above a water trough in what looks like an abandoned cabin. Apparently having an enemy isn’t as glamorous as the movies make it out to be. I hope my use of the singular is accurate. Maybe if I use it consistently, life will adapt to the narrative? It must be better to have one enemy than many.
But I don’t make enemies. Maybe I’ve found an enemy? Or, given the current balance of power, an enemy has found me. That could be it: this is someone else’s enemy, not mine. A comforting thought, but not one that’s of any immediate use. First I need to work out where, and in what shape I am: I’ve seen enough spy movies to know that much.
Rays of red sunlight slant in through the window of the cabin. The only problem is, I have no idea whether it's sunrise or sunset. I start to ponder that, but quickly realise it’s not my biggest problem yet – it’s not even relevant at all unless I can work myself free of my bindings.
Let’s start by stretching my wrists – not much slack there. Next: ankles. No luck. Next step, and I’m pleasantly surprised by my logical train of thought, is to test the other end of the binding: I look up and a sharp pain stabs at my neck. It’s like I’ve slept with my head at right angles to my body. For a week. I won’t be doing that again soon. However, it looks like a half-rotten beam. Genuinely past its prime: I’m excited now. I can see, no: feel, a way out of this mess, whatever mess it may be. Quickly, I find myself capitalising on the adrenaline rush. Excited and nervous energy now pervades me.
Time to start swinging and bouncing on the rope – I can see the water trough crossing my vision, getting closer and further as I swing: back and forth, up and down. Each time I bounce I’m sure I can feel a bit more give. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe...with a not inconsiderable effort I look up again – Ouch! But yes! It’s cracked! Just a bit more work and I’m sure I can break it.
Ouch again. The beam broke. But it brought the roof down with it. I don’t think I’ve been out long. My head’s bleeding, but that’s not the worst of it. Looking down past my still-bound hands I see a large sliver of rotten-looking wood sticking out of my side. Yup, I sure showed that beam. I woozily right myself and shuffle to the edge of the trough, gasping for what is to be one of my last breaths. I notice that the red light that now bathes me through the collapsed roof is rapidly fading. Oh, I thought: it’s sunset.
- Week 2 - AngelaI try to wake up, but the dreams hold me. A whirlwind of images.
It takes all my effort to break through the barrier that keeps me from my consciousness.
I am aware of my body now and I feel the air going in and out of my lungs. Slowly, I shift all my attention on my eyelids and blink.
I can see.
I find myself in a bed pushed up against a wall which is part of what looks like an unkempt cabin. My muscles protest as I prop myself onto my elbows and look around, trying to find anything which might tell me where I am, or when.
Rays of red sunlight slant in through the window of the cabin. The only problem is, I have no idea whether it's sunrise or sunset.
I push myself up further and lean against the wall- it is cool and solid, quite opposite to the thoughts running through my head.
Where am I? Who brought me here? Is my family safe?
-and the most confusing one of them all- Why am I still alive?
The doctors had said I was infected. They had taken away form home and locked me up in one of those clinics.
It was hell.
People screaming and crying for their families, the stench of blood, vomit and death everywhere. I remember telling myself that if I pinched hard enough I would wake up and find out that it was all a dream. That the plague had never happened.
After what seems like forever I manage to stand on my feet and walk, it feels unfamiliar, as if I hadn't moved in a long time.
I stumble toward the half-open door using the wall as a support. A few steps later I am able to walk on my own. The floor is cold and every step hurts.
Finally I reach the door. I stretch out my hand to push the door, but I pull back.
I can hear voices.
"- wake up. Maybe she won't survive," a woman was saying.
"We have to hope, she's doing good so far. Maybe tomorrow she'll come around."
A chill creeps down my spine- they're talking about me.
"And then what are we going to do, Mark?" says the woman "Study her system? Hope for a cure in another couple of years?"
Mark is silent for a moment.
"We'll have to harvest her blood," he says slowly.
"But that means-"
"Yes, she'll die. But we have to try. What is one death compared to thousands? She's the only one immune so far. Maybe it'll work. We need-"
The sound of my heart pounding is so loud I can't hear him anymore.
They're going to kill me, I think. I survived the flu, and now they're going to kill me.
The room around starts spinning and I feel my knees give away as unconsciousness pulls me back into it's arms.
I am going to die.
- Week 3 - Jane #1Michael Dunstan looked over his shoulder before entering the apartment building where he lived with his second wife. For the last three months, he was sure someone had been following him. He had not actually seen this shadowy person but he knew he or she was there. Someone was onto him he was sure, now was not the time for his secret to be exposed. It would completely derail his run for the senate and make all the moves he had taken since leaving high school in rural Iowa a waste of time.
His secret was that Christina did not know that she was his second wife. In fact their marriage was illegal; for Michael Dunstan, county commissioner from Iowa, senate hopeful with dreams of the Oval Office in his future, was a bigamist. His first, and only legal wife Louise, had no idea that Christina existed. Louise was his meal ticket. Her family had money and political influence, there was never any thought of divorcing her. While Michael was away campaigning, Louise preferred to home-school their three children at the mansion that her father had built for them.
Christina was sexy and beautiful, but she had no money or family connections. Uninterested in politics she had no idea who he was, he also knew she was sure to find out eventually. He was debating whether it was better to pay her off or get rid of her more permanently.
He checked over his shoulder again before opening the door to his apartment onto a scene of horror. Christina lay on the floor with a large kitchen knife sticking out of her chest. Her eyelids fluttered weakly, “Micha…”
“Oh God, Christina.”
Kneeling down beside her, Michael grasped the handle of the knife as if to pull it out. The apartment door slammed shut.
“I wouldn’t do that. It’ll just hurt more and make her die quicker.”
“Did you really think I was that stupid Michael?”
Without giving him a chance to reply she went on, “You know you’ve lost everything don’t you? My money and family influence are out of your reach now and Daddy will make sure I get custody of the kids.”
Christina gurgled as her final breath rattled in her throat.
Michael took his hand off the knife. “Did you have to kill her?”
“I didn’t kill her Michael; you did.”
Still kneeling, he muttered, “I don’t understand.”
“You will.” Louise laughed. “Is it paranoia if you really are being followed?”
“You? It was you that’s been following me.”
“One of Daddy’s contacts. Don’t think anyone is going to believe any story you concoct. We’ve covered all scenarios. You’ve thrown away everything you cared about. You’re going to lose your freedom too; maybe even your life if the death penalty is returned. How ironic that it’s a cause you’ve been supporting. You traded everything for a fuck. I hope she was worth it.”
- Week 4 - KBR #2"I have a secret. No one in the world knows it but me. And if I tell you, you have to promise never to tell another soul." Simon awoke with a violent start. That voice again. Stone cold, but somehow he was sure it was a child’s voice. It never varied, and never came when he was awake. It wasn’t natural.
Something inside him had changed: he didn’t know quite what, but since the girl started to contact him in his dreams, he knew something had changed. He didn’t think he was mad. He had no family to confirm it, but he didn’t need that. His boss had noticed a problem – he didn’t shave as often as he should, and his shirts were that bit more crumpled than is acceptable – but didn’t seem to consider him mad. By this stage though, he was mad: he believed he was being contacted by a demon.
It had started about 3 months ago, that dark utterance. She didn’t come every night – some nights he’d tried to stay awake to avoid it, but lapsed into a comatose state. Other nights he’d become outrageously drunk – both stopped it, that night.
She would never continue though; never tell him her secret. Tonight, enough was enough.
Without turning on the light, for this was a journey he’d made many times since the voice first invaded his dreams, he trudged across his bedroom to the en-suite. The chill of the floor tiles marked his arrival. This was when he’d normally take two steps to his left and reach into the medicine cabinet for some sleeping pills. But they wouldn’t fix it this time, he sensed. He knew what had to be done.
He stepped towards his toilet; reaching behind the old cistern he pulled out a padded envelope. Inside was the answer. It was so clear now. He’d put this day off, but there really was no alternative. He HAD to know her secret. From the envelope he extracted his answer: so fucking obvious now he studied it. He stuck it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
Meanwhile in the adjoining flat, separated from Simon’s body only by a plasterboard wall, Sarah lay wide awake. She’d heard the bang, but had been awake anyway. Even after 3 months in her parents’ new house she was unable to sleep consistently. She was afraid, as she was most nights, but this time there was a noise that seemed worse than anything before. Even her infant mind could sense the damning finality in that bang, which was followed by what sounded like a heavy sack hitting the floor. It was extremely unsettling. She turned to the only comfort she had that could assist in her quest for sleep: her doll. She pulled the frayed drawstring on its dirty fabric back, and sighed, comforted, as it whispered conspiratorially its only programmed message: "I have a secret. No one in the world knows it but me..." Sarah, finally, slept well that night.
- Week 5 - jmcpike01 #1Sheriff Branson of Claypot flicked his cigarette as he leaned on the hardware store’s peeling storefront. Up the street was Jerry's Bar, the town’s local dive where Jerry, the owner and barkeep, knew all the regulars by name including One-leg Joe, the harmless town drunk.
This very same One-leg Joe staggered in the sweltering Nevada sunlight drunk as a skunk. But, that wasn’t all. Branson sighed, sucked on his cigarette, and dropped it near his foot so he could scuff it into the cement. One-leg Joe was naked as the day he was born, fish-white skin stretched over ribs and tattooed to kingdom come with blue, blurred ink. He had a peg for his left leg- -the end of a chair leg- -that stumped in the dirt and was attached with a self-made leather strap. His other leg was a spindle of sinew.
Branson crossed the cracked sidewalk. “Joe? Joe, can I talk with you?”
“Look, ossifer, I swear when I left the bar I was wearin pants,” Joe slurred, stumbling toward Branson, his arms pin-wheeling. “I dunno know wha happened, ossifer. Some’un musta stoled from me. Can’t turst no un. No un.”
Branson caught One-leg Joe to steady him. “Right, Joe.” He had to train his eyes to Joe’s shriveled, unshaven face to avoid the sight of…the gonads. “I think you better come with me.”
Joe allowed Branson to maneuver him around the corner of the bar where Jerry waited with a folded shirt and jeans. Together they managed to put Joe back into his clothes, much to half-garbled protests and stumbles and cursing. Sweat coursed down the three men’s faces.
“You’d think after fighting in a war and losing a limb, he’d be better compensated,” Jerry muttered. He buttoned up Joe’s shirt, his large fingers gentle and efficient. “Pisses me off he’s got no one to look after him, living in that shithole trailer in the middle of nowhere. They’ve got no goddamn right to do this to someone.”
Branson said nothing, but flipped his police cap to fit it snug on Joe’s balding head. Much longer in this sun would scramble his brains.
“I’ll take him to the jail, let him sleep it off,” Branson said. “Thanks for the call, Jer.”
“Yep. Gotta take care of our community.”
“Ha. You mean save the innocents from a sight too horrific for words.” Branson slid One-leg Joe’s arm around his neck. “Don’t want the Lady’s Church Society to catch wind.”
Jerry chuckled. “We’d have ladies swooning all over the place. I better get back to bar duty.” He stepped into the back door.
“Thanks again, Jer.” Branson adjusted the limp body hanging from his neck. “Okay, Joe. One foot in front of the other.”
He tucked Joe closer to walk the three blocks to the jail. Joe’s head lolled, but he was cooperative as he always was.
“Yur a good’un, ossifer,” Joe whispered. “A good’un.”
- Week 6 - pmcpike01 #2Behind her she heard the rattle of a skateboard over cement. “Kay! Hey, Kay! Hold up!”
She held up and stepped out aside. It was the boy named Aloha. He had on a baggy shirt over his thin frame and floppy, ragged shoes that slapped on the cement. He rode that skateboard right up to her, kicked it up into his hand like a pro.
“Here,” he said and thrust something at her. “Take it.”
“What is it?”
“A flower, stupid.” He held the precious peachy-pink rose in his grubby fingers. “What else is it gonna be?”
“It’s Valentine’s Day, duh. Here, take it.”
“But,” her soft voice embarrassed her when his was so loud, “we’re not…sweethearts.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah we are. Don’t you remember what I said to you when you came into our class?”
“Oh.” She had thought it was a cruel joke. She’d never mentioned it to anyone.
“I’m gonna marry you when we’re grown up,” he told her. “Don’t forget.”
She accepted the rose from him and said nothing. He was exuberant. Blonde. Bright-eyed. Everything she wasn’t, with her dark curling hair and dark brown eyes. “I won’t if you won’t.” Carefully, she smiled at him, a genuine thing that she felt from her heart.
His smile was full of spaces. “I won’t.”
She kept the rose in a slim glass vase on her beside table. She looked online for ways to preserve the flower and pressed it flat between a fold of wax paper and dictionary. Its scent lingered in her dresser drawer. When she brought it out, thinking of him, she could still smell the rich, light fragrance and she remembered his promise.
- Week 7 - jmcpike01 #3Forgiveness
God had forsaken him.
For thirty-five years he’d been a faithful church-goer and activist and believer; religious to the soul. How was he rewarded? God had cast aside his precious wife and son.
Les stabbed the small fire that danced at his feet. Around him the Pacific Northwest shrouded him with the loamy scent of plant rot, soil, and lake. God had turned away from him and let that rich city boy off the hook for his family’s murder.
“It’s not God’s fault, Les.” His wife’s serene voice drew his attention as she stepped into the firelight. “You need to stop blaming Him.”
His sadness and despair ruptured inside him. Pain choked his lungs, his throat. “Anna.”
She sat on the damp log beside him. The firelight played across her face, in her eyes, in her chestnut hair. He believed in this image of her so much that he could smell her perfume, hanging in a cloud around her, could see the millions of freckles splattered on her skin. She even wore the gold love-knot earrings he’d given her for their anniversary. The ones she’d been buried in.
“God loves you even if you don’t love Him,” she continued. He felt the warmth of her hands as she cradled his face how she did after he’d had a hard day at work.
“Anna, He let you and Nate die. He let that…man go free without punishment. How is that just?” Tears fell hot from his eyes. “How is that righteous?”
“He’s giving you that power. Use it to fight for Him. No one can stop you or use us against you now. We sit at His right hand,” she said. “Nate’s happy. So am I. And we’re proud that you’re a servant of God.”
While she spoke, a bright light danced up from the fire. The light was white and brighter than anything Les had ever seen. It twinkled like a stone-sized star as it glided over to him and then into him. When it pushed inside his chest, strength and sureness swelled from the eternal love, forgiveness, and salvation that God alone could give him. That black void, grown inside him from the moment Anna and Nate had been declared dead, was finally filled.
Anna kissed him, the same kiss she’d given him countless times and countless times he’d taken it for granted. But this time, the kiss woke him up to a dead fire and a gray dawn. White mist rolled over the coniferous trees in an undulating wall. For the first time in months, Les felt alive. Human. He stumbled off the shale shore into the shallow lake waters.
Cold water splashed up his legs, saturated his shoes. He didn’t care. He spread his arms wide- -his heart soaring above and beyond him- -and lifted his face to Heaven. God was with him. God was good, God was love. He would use the new power to smite His enemies, starting with Jack Greenwich, murderer.
- Week 8 - Jane #2At the time I don’t think it was something I was consciously aware of; that the first sign I had that something was wrong, was when the birds stopped singing. You would think getting the phone call asking me to come in the day before my scheduled appointment might have been the big clue. Looking back I have no recollection of sound of any kind as I walked to the appointment on that February morning so long ago. The sky was bright blue and cloudless, with the full heat of the day yet to come.
There was a part of me that knew what was coming. My world had already started to shift as I was gradually beginning to move out of kilter with everyone else. I was becoming different. Secretly I knew it. It wasn’t denial or avoidance. Perhaps it was the beginning of acceptance. It took me almost an hour to go from being at one of the best times of my life, to experiencing something completely foreign to me.
Halfway there my mobile phone rang. It was the boy. Not long returned from his honeymoon he was calling to catch up. I hated that I had to shatter his mood and give him cause to worry; he had been through his own darkness recently. But what can you do? We said goodbye and disconnected. I promised I would call him afterwards. Later he would tell his sister the news.
I kept walking, mind blank. No sound. The birds were still quiet. I reached the main road and the cars and trucks rolled along, making no noise at all as each one carried those inside towards their own destinations. Weird… Surreal…I didn’t pay too much attention to the phenomenon because I was already merging into that other, shadow world.
Almost there now.
I thought about how, depending on what I heard, I would either ring my husband or send the message, “All’s good.” I never sent that message.
I reached my destination and the receptionist was professional and kind, but she never really looked me in the eye.
I waited. Time rushed. Time froze. It was my turn.
I went in and sat down.
She gently closed the door and turned to face me.
‘I’m sorry to say it’s cancer,’ said my doctor.
Of course the birds never did stop singing. I just stopped hearing them for a while.