Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Week 2

This week, I tried to be cute. I don’t really do cute in my writing. I hated it the whole time I was writing it but, when it was finished, I hated it less.

But, whether I hate it or love, I finished it. Here is week 2 of my Weekly Writing Challenge.

“The walls in here are so bright.”

“No, I’m sorry I don’t have a light! I didn’t know you smoked.”

“Smoke? No, they’re too pink for that. More like a coral.”

I moaned under my breath from my spot at the bar, the uncomfortable exchange easier for me to hear than the people actually having it.

“Move on,” I mumbled around the edge my martini glass. “Just forget the walls.”

Catching on to their predicament, she could see, from the mirror behind the bar, the man shift his seat closer to his date.

“Is that better?” he asked.

“Better than what?”

“Never mind,” he laughed. “How do you like your wine?”

I cringed inwardly and willed the conversation to go another direction. Don’t talk about going to the bathroom, don’t talk about going to the…

“Oh, it’s lovely. I just have to drink it slowly or I’ll be going to the bathroom all night.”

I sighed but he laughed a big booming laugh.

“I know what you mean. One can of beer means all night in the can for me!”

Ok, that was clever, I thought but I heard a groan next to me. I looked over but the man next to me was staring down into his beer.

I tuned back into their conversation in time to hear her say, “Well, that’s all well and good, but with my hip it takes me just as long to get to the bathroom as it does to actually go.”

“Oh, come on…” this time I said it out loud but luckily not loud enough for the geriatric daters.

“Next he’s gonna start talking about his medications.”

I jumped at the voice next to me but over my shoulder heard, “I believe it. I don’t know which pill does what, I just know I haven’t peed right since the 90’s.”

I heard a groan and looked over as the mystery man took a long pull of his beer.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” I asked, confused that another human would have has much interest in this train wreck of a date as I did.

“Doubt it,” he said, “But I’m guessing you know the saucy minx at the table behind us.”

“I…”

“I’m Nathan. That’s my Grandpa Gabe.”

“Oh,” I said, “I’m Amy. That’s my Grandma Rose.”

He nodded as though it were completely normal to follow your Grandparent on a date and eavesdrop on their conversation.

“So, what do you think? A shot every time they mention medication, aching joints, or technology they can’t work?”

I laughed, “That seems dangerous.”

“But fun,” he said motioning to the bartender, “A round of shots, please…” From behind us, Grandma Rose’s voice carried across the restaurant, “I swear I haven’t been able to turn my TV off for a week!”

“Better keep em coming!”

A few rounds later, after they’d touched on Facebook, trying to ask Alexa questions and discussing the weather’s impact on each limb multiple times, we were leaned in with our heads together, waiting for the next topic, when the couple decided it was time for a bathroom break.

“Oh thank goodness,” I sighed, “I need a break and this will take at least 15 minutes.”

Nathan laughed and ordered us a couple of waters.

“So,” he said sliding mine toward me, “What prompts a woman your age to stalk her Grandmother’s date instead of pursuing her own?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

He shrugged, “You could, and the answer is simple, I love my Grandpa Gabe and he’s been pretty lonely since Gram died and I knew if I didn’t do something he’d sit in his big house, in front of his old TV watching M.A.S.H reruns, and yelling at Alexa until it was time to join Gram.”

I nodded, “Similar story.”

He continued, “So, I pulled up that Silver Years dating thing, he saw a picture of your Grandma, grumbled that she had a nice smile, and I set the connection in motion. But now I’m guessing that when I sent that winky face it was not Rose that sent back the blushing face.”

I held up my hands innocently, “Hey, she did actually blush when I said someone winked at her.”

He laughed, a booming laugh like his Grandpa’s. It made me smile.

“I’ve been living with Grandma since my divorce and it’s been a saving grace for both of us but, someday, I’m going to want to move out and move on and I couldn’t stand the thought of her watching ER and Call the Midwife by herself. But I also couldn’t stand the thought of her getting out there for the first time all alone. It’s silly I guess…”

He lifted his water glass toward me, “Not silly at all.”

I lifted my water and we clinked.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Grandma Rose shuffling back to the table with Gabe not far behind her. I nudged Nathan and we shifted toward each other, leaning backward to listen. Immediately, I could sense a shift in the mood at the table. I snuck a glance behind me and I saw Grandma sigh as she settled into her seat looking around the room as though she were looking back through time.

“Oh, this place…” she said.

“Oh god,” I whispered, sensing the change of tone in her voice. I Iooked up and the panic in Nathan’s eyes mirrored mine.

“Dead spouses?” he asked.

“Dead spouses.”

He shook his head and took a drink of his beer.

I tried not to listen but after a minute, I heard my name. “It’s been so nice having her there but I know she can’t stay forever. It’s just been lovely not to be so lonely.”

I snuck a glance behind me and saw Gabe nod knowingly and then lean over the table.

“You don’t have to be lonely.” He placed a hand over hers.

I turned away and sighed, trying to hide the tears lining my eyes.

“Is this what we have to look forward to if we’re still dating in our eighties?” I asked softly.

“Well, I guess we better make sure that doesn’t happen.”

He placed his hand over mine.

 

Creative Writing, Flash Fiction, Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Week 1

To start the new year, I joined a group that is challenging writers to write 1 story a week for 1 year. Since I am looking to get enough stories for a new collection, this seemed perfect. The group was started by a friend of mine so I knew it would be supportive and encouraging. He offered to give a prompt each week to get the juices flowing and the stories could be as short as a few hundred words. I was all in. This week, I completed my first story. The prompt was:

THE VESSEL
Write about a ship or other vehicle that can take you somewhere different from where you are now.

I didn’t take this prompt super literal, actually not literal at all, but it did fire up my brain. Here is my first story of the Weekly Writing Challenge. Enjoy!

The crowd buzzed with anticipation and he could see them whispering to each other from his spot just off stage. They sipped their drinks and pondered the abilities of the next unknown performer, ready to judge, to cheer or to boo. He’d never performed here and crowds at local pubs weren’t always friendly to new acts.

This was his chance. His first real gig. He couldn’t screw it up but he couldn’t get himself to step out on that stage. His hands shook and his grip around the neck of his guitar was precarious as his palms glistened with sweat. He couldn’t play like this. He took a deep breath and turned his back on the stage, on the judging crowd.

“You gotta get up there, man.”

It was the booker who’d found him playing in his local theater group. The booker who didn’t want to take a chance on such a young kid but who knew talent when he saw it. “Don’t fuck this up for me….or for you.”

He nodded. He knew he would have to get up there eventually. This was what he wanted, all he’d ever wanted. His fingers were itching to pick the strings of his guitar but the insecurity that had plagued him all his life was pushing his heart into his throat and he wasn’t sure he could sing around it.

“You just gotta get out of your head a minute. Try this.” The booker held out a glass filled with two finger lengths of amber-liquid. At sixteen, he’d drank, but mostly just beer. He wrinkled his nose at the smell and looked around guiltily. But nobody at a club like this cared about an underage performer taking a shot before his set. He took the glass from the man’s hand and it almost slid past the sweat coating his hand. He tossed it down his throat without thinking and suddenly, he was gone. As his stomach and throat burned, his brain was no longer in the club. He was in the music. He wasn’t in his shaking, sweating body, he was already with the crowd, already one with them and one with the music and he wanted to play and never stop. He nodded at the booker. “Keep em coming.”

 

“You can’t raise a family with a music career.”

“You’re probably not good enough to get a real job anyway.”

“Are you going to let your wife support you forever?”

“It’s weakness is all it is. You could quit if you really wanted to.”

“You’re just not strong, never have been. Always been a bit of a sissy.”

Even here, on the the front porch of the old farmhouse filled with the echoes of a lifetime of his father’s disapproving baritone, he could still feel the heat of those insults on his back. Each visit home was the same. The old man twitched his white moustache at his grandkids, the closest to a smile he ever got, and then immediately turned to him, the son that had always loved music and acting more than farm life and hard work that led to blistered hands.

Every time he came home, it was the same sad story again and again; disapproving dad, overly-sensitive, adult son who still took every aspersion to heart. Today, he’d promised his wife he wouldn’t try to escape. He promised he would try to stay and not turn to old habits to survive the constant reminders that his life hadn’t turned out how either he or his parents had wanted it to. For the kids, she’d said, just stay for the kids.

But as much as he loved his kids, his dad was right, he was weak. Maybe he had always been a bit of a sissy. He was a musician after all, with callouses on his thumb from guitar strings instead of hay bales. Reaching into the front pocket of his jacket, his hands were already shaking at the thought of the liquid burning down his throat, his body craving it even more than his mind. He knew his kids needed him. He knew he’d promised his wife. But he also knew that he couldn’t be here, in this moment, another second longer. He took a drink from the small bottle of brown amnesia and began to float away.

 

His fingers danced across the edges of his guitar strings as the final note of his song was met with applause and cries of requests. The crowd was demanding tonight, high-energy, hopped up on artificial stimulants.

“Itsy Bitsy Spider!”

“The Wheels on the Bus!”

He sighed.

This wasn’t supposed to be his life. The sugar from the cake was kicking in and the kids, his daughter in the front row, were demanding, hyperactive, shrill and louder than most of the crowds he’d played for in bars.

He’d had a record label once. He’d played with Elvis’s band. Now he couldn’t hold down a real job so he stayed home with the kids while his wife supported their family, and, despite her best intentions, his habit. The only time he picked up his guitar now was to sing his kids to sleep or during one of their birthday parties.

By the time he was ready to play the next song, they’d already moved on to something else and he took advantage of their distraction to step away. The party was in the yard so the house was empty. There, under the couch, was the half-empty bottle of whiskey he’d abandoned the last time he’d promised his wife he’d get sober. And he had gotten sober. This time for a whole six months. But this, this was more than he could take. He didn’t have a license anymore, he hadn’t left the house in months except for meetings his wife drove him to, hadn’t written a song, hadn’t had a new gig…he had no means of escaping the suburban hell his life had become, except for what was in this bottle. He fell back onto the couch and took a drink.

She sat in the front row of the church, his sweet, smooth voice filling the room, and her heart and she smiled despite herself. His voice could always make her smile–at least when it was crisp and sharp, and not slurred. This wasn’t the venue he’d imagined when he started his career, she was sure. It wasn’t the venue any of them imagined for him. But his audience didn’t move an inch as they listened. They didn’t whisper, they didn’t shift in their seats, they didn’t even breathe. They let his voice fill their souls, but he wasn’t there to see it. He’d tried so hard for so long to find where he fit in, to capture a feeling of contentment, using the bottle to try and escape his life…and now, he finally had. She played with the diamonds on her grandmother’s bracelet as the last chords of the song, his song, faded from the church and the friends and family that had watched him try to escape a life he just couldn’t settle into helped carry him out of it for the last time.

 

Creative Writing, Flash Fiction

The Angels Inside Me

Tonight, I stopped fighting with the Angels inside me. Tonight, I will answer their call.

Sitting cross-legged on the desert floor, my hands resting on top of my knees, I watch and shiver as the last of the daylight dips into the distant abyss and sucks the last of the heat with it. As it does, the final ray catches the only object for miles that could reflect its offering. There is a glint, like a wink from a wise man who is the only one who knows what’s coming next, and the steel of the weapon in front me laughs as though it can see the future.

I don’t remember the exact moment I ran out of fight. I’d spent the last twelve hours dragging my feet through the sands of the desert, convinced I was strong. I knew from the beginning it was futile, but I pushed on, feigning a faith in my own strength.

But I was a fool. Like most men are when up against the kind of foe I was fighting. You never win against Angels, no matter how strong your faith.

When they dropped me off in this God-forsaken desert, I told myself I was strong. I stood, watching the dust settle and cover the tire tracks of the Jeep as it turned into a black speck on the horizon, already fighting my losing battle.

I felt the call immediately, even as the last of the disturbed sand was falling onto my eyelashes and into the tan ocean surrounding me. I heard it, and I answered.

“I’ll fight it,” I told the desert.

You’ll lose.


 

This has been a little sneak peek at just one of the stories featured in my book “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.” You can read the whole thing, and some other awesome stories, by grabbing a copy of the book today

Not ready to buy? It’s cool, I get it. Check out some more stories here and see if you like my style. 

tenor (1)

Creative Writing, Flash Fiction

Freedom

The knife. Grab the knife. But he couldn’t hear me because my lips weren’t moving. My stomach burned like it always did when I tried to take control, the flame of her presence igniting and spreading farther the harder I tried to fight. That was the strangest part about the whole thing, that being possessed by a demon felt like nothing more than bad indigestion.

“Why are you here?” she snarled through my lips.

He stepped closer to my body and I could smell crisp air and dying leaves on his coat. Was it fall already? Time was doing strange things. I tried to scream as he studied my face, looking for any sign that I was still there. She gave none. His shoulders sagged. “I came to tell you that this is my last visit.”

As she threw my head back and laughed, I deflated. I should have expected this. He shouldn’t have to live with this creature as his wife. It was over for us the moment she took control.   

She refused to touch him. She barely talked to him. He thought I was leaving him. Until the day her true reflection shown in the mirror. He’d tried to save me, but what could he do? Once he knew the truth, she wouldn’t let him stay in the house. But he kept coming back, kept trying.

This was the closest he’d been to us in months. I could smell him. I couldn’t do this. I wanted out no matter what it took. The knife, I tried again, trying to convince my head to turn toward the bedside table where the blade glinted in the fall light coming through the curtains.

“You’re leaving her?” she taunted. She was enjoying her victory and I took advantage of her distraction. Instead of focusing on taking over completely, I turned all my energy to my hand, the hand closest to the knife. The knife she always kept by her side. The knife she coveted but was afraid of. I couldn’t read her thoughts, but I felt her fear whenever that knife was out of sight.

“I’m not leaving her, she’s already gone.”

I wasn’t gone, but I wanted to be. Twitch, I urged my fingers. Move. Point.

And then one did. It twitched, every so slightly, toward the knife and, drawn to the movement, his eyes fell to the weapon. She felt it too and her anger burned. They both lunged but maybe my control was stronger for a moment because he got there first. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t say goodbye. There wasn’t time. He simply lifted the knife, brought it down, and set me free.

 

Get more stories like this in my latest book, Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction. 

Creative Writing, Flash Fiction

A Dish Best Served Canned

Genre: Crime Caper

Location: Servant’s Quarters

Object: Canned Cat Food

Time Limit: 48 hours

—-

“I’m not sure we should be doing this,” Liza said.

“Of course, we should,” David was rummaging through a bag and barely looked up. “The old broad’s got more money than she knows what to do with and this guy is offering us some real change for the thing.”

“But, she’s pretty attached to it.”

“So? I was pretty attached to my job. Besides, the thing is hideous. We’re doing her a favor.”

She sighed. “I guess, but … “

“Look, she fired me for no reason. She’s old and ornery and she deserves this.

It’ll be easy, I promise.” He reached forward, offering what he had pulled out of the bag. “You’ll need this.”

The metal was cool in her hand.

 

Upstairs, Mrs. Black was already in bed.

“I’m sorry about your friend,” she said as Liza drew the curtains and straightened up around the bedroom. Liza didn’t respond. The woman had treated Liza like a daughter since she’d shown up without a family, looking for work five years ago. But David had become her family over the last few years and it was going to take more than an apology for Liza to forgive her for letting him go. David was right. She did deserve what they were about to do.

 

David closed her fingers around the metal.

“You know what to do, right?”

“I’ll wait until she’s asleep…”

David nodded.

“And then I take this back into the bedroom.”

He nodded again, eagerly.

“From there,” he said, “It’ll be simple.”

“Simple,” she repeated, her voice barely a whisper.

“Liza,” David’s voice was stern. “She doesn’t care about you. You’re just an employee. She can act as sweet as she wants, but that’s how she thinks about you.”

 

“Liza, turn around please.” Liza stopped her straightening and turned to face the woman in the bed. White and pink pillows surrounded her and with her shock of white curls framing her face she could have been floating on a cloud. Liza had laid in the bed once, when Mrs. Black was out of town, it had felt like a cloud.

“Dear, I know you and Mr. Ash were close…” Liza was surprised she knew his last name. “But you’re better off putting some distance there, trust me.”

Liza turned her head to avoid eye contact and saw it. Next to her on the bed. She looked away. It really was hideous.

 

“She’ll do to you what she did to me,” David pressed. “Trust me. It’s only a matter of time.”

Liza looked down. It was hard to imagine Mrs. Black suddenly letting her go, she didn’t really have anyone else in that big house with her. Except for Frances.

“Hey,” David took her chin between his thumb and forefinger. “We do this, and we can get a train ticket out of here. We can be a family.”

She nodded.

“Oh,” he said, reaching back into the bag. “Don’t forget this.” He pulled out a can opener.

 

“You know I think of you as family, dear. Young love can be powerful, but there are things you don’t know about your young man.”

Liza looked down to the floor as the thing beside Mrs. Black stirred and shifted. The two objects in her dress pockets weighed heavy against her.

“Mr. Ash was stealing from me.”

Liza’s head jerked up.

“I know it’s a shock, but it’s true.” She reached over and pulled the thing closer, as though protecting it. Liza’s hand hovered over her pockets. “The mechanic found him in the garage. Apparently, he was taking parts from my dear-departed-Richard’s rare cars and selling them.”

“Car parts?” Eliza whispered.

 

“She owes us, Liza. We can barely afford to support ourselves, we live like servants,” he motioned around them, “And now firing me for no reason?” He scoffed. “Do you know how much she probably paid for that thing? It’s ridiculous. And it’s so gaddam ugly. Once it’s gone, she can spring for a cat with hair.”

 

The hairless cat stretched beside Mrs. Black as she nodded. “Apparently, it’s been going on for quite some time. He probably made a fortune. The money isn’t important to me, of course, but those cars meant the world to Richard and I was going to donate them to his favorite charity so they could auction them off. But now…” she shook her head and looked down at Frances, it’s great bug eyes gazing lovingly up at her. “We just had to dismiss him…right, Frances?”

She really loved that damn cat. Liza wondered if David even had a buyer lined up or if he only wanted revenge.

“Thank you for telling me,” Liza said approaching the bed. She touched the woman’s hand, “Good night, Mrs. Black.” She reached over and patted the top of Frances’s head. The skin was leathery and Liza had to hold back a shiver. “Good night, Frances.”

“Good night, dear.”

 

Liza stood outside Mrs. Black’s door, waiting for the gentle sounds of her snoring. When she heard them, she took the can opener from one pocket and the can of cat food from the other and put them in the box meant for Frances. She quietly entered the bedroom. Tiptoeing to the dresser, she lifted the lid of Mrs. Black’s jewelry box and pulled out a glittery glob of jewels. To an amateur eye, to someone looking to make a quick buck stealing from an old woman, they would look expensive, but Liza knew they were only trinkets. The box full, she went to the door. She looked back at the bed and saw Frances glaring at her as though the cat knew the fate she had just escaped. Liza gave her a quick wink before slipping out the door. Fucking ugly cat.

After she’d slipped downstairs and deposited the box in David’s room, she went back upstairs. In the parlor, Liza phoned the police. “Yes, I’d like to report a crime at the Black Estate…theft and attempted cat-napping.”

 

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Creative Writing, Flash Fiction

The Empty Room

The only thing my Grandaddy left behind when he disappeared was a rose.

No one saw him leave. No one heard the creak of his fake leg slowly descending the old wooden stairs, a noise everyone living in the house had used as an alarm clock for years, waking them up at 6:15 on the dot, every day, like an army bugle.

The day he went missing, everyone slept in. It was 7:00 before my mother was roused by my great aunt. The 95-year-old woman was in a state of panic. Her brother was gone. As soon as my mother saw the clock, she understood. She shoved my dad’s shoulder as she swung her feet over the edge of the bed, and he grunted as he too saw the clock, he was late for work. She pulled her robe around her shoulders and stepped into her slippers, leading her aunt into the hallway where they found me. She looked at me quizzically and I just shrugged and pointed to his bedroom.

In that moment, she must have thought he was dead. She went to the door and pulled it open revealing, certainly not what she must have been expecting, a completely empty room. In fact, the room was emptier than it had been in years. The shelves were bare, every knick-knack, every photo, every book, gone. Every drawer, upon further inspection, was found to be empty. The closet, which had once held boxes and trunks filled with his most prized and personal possessions, brought with him from California when my grandmother had died in a car accident, held nothing but dust.

That was the strangest thing, the dust. Not the fact that somehow my 98-year-old grandfather had moved all of his possessions from the house in the middle of the night, not the fact that no one had heard a thing as he had done it. It was the dust. There was a thick layer of dust over every surface. Even the bed, which was impeccably made, when poked, released its own cloud. How many years of disuse would it take for dust to accumulate like that?

We stood, frozen in the eerie emptiness of the room, until we saw the rose. The only item in the room, it rested on the dresser, on top of a square of paper. I picked up the paper and handed it to my mother.  It was a newspaper clipping. It was dated exactly ten years previous, the day my Grandfather had moved in. The headline read,

Man killed in a car accident taking roses to wife’s grave.

Creative Writing, Flash Fiction

The Final Light

She paused and looked around the quiet stretch of land, dotted with the proof of life once lived. No one else had chosen this spot for this night and she supposed that made sense. But, for her, the lines separating the living and the dead had always been thin, and they were getting thinner with each passing moment. She’d long preferred the company of the dead anyway; why should now be any different?

Her final spot chosen, she turned and watched for his approaching figure. He’d been close behind the whole walk here, but she couldn’t make out his frame in the last of the light. The very last of it actually, she thought and chuckled. He should have caught up by now. She called into the falling darkness. Nothing.

Her skin prickled, but she refused to let herself panic. There was still time, she thought, let him enjoy himself. That was the whole point of their meeting, after all. Comfort, enjoyment.

The rest of the world had paired off immediately after the announcement, contacting loved ones, holing up with families, or running off to be with friends. But, ten years as a coroner’s assistant had given her a certain aversion to the living. So, after the announcement, she’d had no one to turn to for comfort, until she saw him. He was alone too, and his deep brown eyes caught her attention immediately. He shouldn’t have to spend this time alone, and neither should she.

They’d gone home together.

She turned again, squinting through the now complete darkness. She said his name. Then again, louder. “Caesar! C’mere boy!” Only silence answered her call, and her stomach clenched. It was getting close and she was suddenly very aware of how badly she did not want to be alone. It was why she’d been drawn to him on the street. Why she’d chosen this place for their last moments. She’d been alone most of her life, yet she couldn’t stand the thought of being alone in death.

“Caesar!”

She looked up to the sky.

The moon shone neon bright, catching the stones around her and bouncing back into the charged atmosphere. Then, the light was gone.

It was here. She fell to her knees in the pitch black night, the last night, and reached out into the nothingness around her. She called again, one last time. This time though, there was a bark. Soft fur brushed her hands and a cold nose pressed against her cheek. Her arms closed around his solid form and he sighed against her as the meteor met the Earth and the last darkness met the final light.

 

You can find this and other stories in my upcoming book of flash fiction, “A Flash in the Dark.”