Typewriter - Once upon a timeThanks to writing exercises like Indies Unlimited’s Flash Fiction Competition and JD Mader’s Friday flash fiction parties, I’ve been working at toning up my word muscles between novel scenes. I like the IU competition because of the challenge of being inspired by a prompt and getting a story into 250 words. I like JD’s because it’s freewriting fun: just write and don’t look back for three minutes, or two, even for one minute if it’s been that kind of week, and then we post the results on his blog. [Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I did touch up the first two a smidge after my original posts. Go visit JD’s blog if you want to see the originals.]

Here are a few bits I’ve written lately.

The Wedding Portrait

She’s frozen in time, the tall, patrician woman in the starchy wedding gown, her face a mask of steel and nerve. But come closer. Look into her eyes. She wants to run. You can see it. If not for the thousands of guests, or the photographers with their awkward black boxes and powder flash, she might have done it. Although how can one run in those shoes, those terrible shoes, and with all the whalebone stays in her dress she’ll collapse from an inability to breathe. She liked this man, this childhood companion, a distant cousin, but she doesn’t want to marry him; that much shows on her face. It’s only for the papers, for his political career. Her mother wanted her out of the house and wedded to a man with promise to keep the young woman out of trouble, to keep the neighbors from talking. If the woman only knew what she was getting herself into. But by her face, maybe she already did. Maybe she knew the trouble she was getting into, the misery she would face, the harpie of a mother-in-law she was also marrying that day.

Wishes on Fireflies

She asked what was wrong and he couldn’t tell her, because then she’d know and it would be all over. The fun they’d had all summer, the evenings they’d stayed out late and made wishes on fireflies and bets on falling stars, it would be gone, and they’d be called too old for that kid stuff, their parents would fill their lives with serious activities and they’d never have another day like this, an afternoon tip-toeing across fallen logs on the creek, daring each other to jump in the freezing cold lake in the old abandoned quarry, roasting marshmallows by the fire and telling ghost stories into the night. Her mother would say that nice girls didn’t chase after boys or skin their knees climbing trees; his mother might say that he should spend more time on his schoolwork. He couldn’t tell her that he wished to be the one she’d kissed first instead of that jock who didn’t deserve her. He couldn’t tell her any of that, so he just said that he’d thought of a funny joke and when he asked her what it was, he said the first dopey one that came to mind, something stupid his father had told him, and that was the last thing he remembered when he fell asleep that night, her laughter in his ears.


(Posted on Indies Unlimited. Original prompt here.)

Eddie, fighting off his seasickness and fear of sharks, steeled his nerve and fixed his salt-stung eyes on the horizon. The plane had gone down fast and possibly drilled deep in the muck at the bottom. Maybe that’s why all they’d found so far was a bit of rope and a shred of red fabric. Until…

“That’s weird.” Captain Ralph lifted his binoculars. “It’s—”

Squinting down Cap’s sight line, Eddie said, “A survivor?”

“Row!” Ralph bellowed, grabbing an oar. “Possible survivor at two o’clock.”

The dozen men pulled as one, Eddie training his eyes straight ahead. Then he saw it. A pair of arms floated above the crest of a wave, almost as if they were clutching an unseen chunk of flotsam. Between the arms was a head, draped with tangled hair…or seaweed?

Eddie’s stomach lurched. Cripes. Cap said you only see a body in that attitude when a shark has bitten through the rest.

But then one of the arms lifted weakly; the hand waved. “She’s…it’s…still alive!” Ralph whooped. “Faster, men!”

They pulled her in and found her whole but wearing some kind of weird bathing suit and bracelets. Heck, Eddie thought, people traveled in weirder things. Cap checked her vitals as she sputtered and coughed.

“Do you know what happened, miss?” Ralph said. “Did something hit the aircraft?”

She snarled up at them, eyes huge and angry beneath the tangle of black hair. “Yeah, I did. Stupid invisible planes. I thought I had the only one.”