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killing blow

Flash FictionThe story below is a great example of why I love 100-word flash fiction. There’s a lot happening in a very short amount of space. That’s the compelling challenge of it.

Can you tell a real, full story without saying much at all?

I’m not saying this is a prize-winning story. I mean, I think it’s good, but that’s hardly the point. What I like most is what you can’t see. What it was like to write it.

I didn’t really understand economy of words before I started writing flash fiction. I always felt like part of the challenge of writing was coming up with enough to say. Now I know the real challenge of writing is taking the story you want to tell and boiling it down to the barest essentials.

It’s not about cramming in more words, but assassinating the unnecessary ones. I know of no better way to learn that skill than by writing flash fiction.

The prompt for this one comes from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘bruise’, ‘benevolent’, and ‘margin’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

killing blow

He won by a narrow margin. The crowd loved it.

It was different for him. His side hurt, bruised from armpit to waistline. There was a deep cut on his left forearm from the chainsaw. He was fairly sure his nose and two of his toes were broken.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

They called him ‘the benevolent butcher’. Others took their time in the end, but he always went for the neck, quick and clean.

But it wasn’t benevolent for him.

He could still hear them begging for their lives. Every one of them. Every night.

bodies

Flash FictionYou know what I really like about 100-word flash fiction? The challenge of packing an entire scenario into such a small amount of space. If you can make 100 words feel like a whole story (or at least the intro to one), that’s a beautiful, artful economy.

It’s also really good practice.

Mark Twain said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” And that’s true except for one small detail.

The wrong words are everywhere, constantly trying to sneak into the story. But when you only have 100 words, a crazy small number, you don’t have space for the wrong words. Or even words that are okay, but not great. Every word has to count. It teaches you to write in a unique and powerful way.

Oh, and it’s fun.

This week’s prompt is brought to you by The Prediction, and it goes a little something like this:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘Shakespeare’, ‘six’, and ‘pattern’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend.

bodies

It was fucked up. Is that okay to say? I dunno. I ain’t no Shakespeare, but you get the point.

Murray thought there was a pattern to the deaths, so we followed the trail.

Me? I wasn’t too worked up about six dead dogs, but I didn’t want no kids finding a severed head in the alley like this was The Godfather, you know? So we followed Murray’s pattern to this warehouse. That’s where we found the bodies.

Not dogs. People this time. A shit ton of ’em.

Jesus. Is that okay to say?

Fuck it. There was a lot.

revelation

Flash FictionThis is a teaser, pure and simple. I don’t know where it’s going yet, but I like the beginning.

In case you’re wondering, the nightmares depicted below are my own. I’ve had those dreams. The analytical part of me suspects they mean something. The human part of me just hopes I don’t have them again.

I don’t just think it’s okay to use your own stuff in fiction–I think it’s what we’re supposed to do. Yeah, it’s a vulnerable move, throwing bits and pieces of yourself into your stories. I’ve talked about that so many times in the past that it’s not practical to link all the previous posts. There are just too many.

But I keep coming back to the idea of making your fiction personal for two reasons. One, because I’m always hesitant to put my own psyche on display, despite how often I encourage others to. It’s a struggle every damn time. It never stops being scary. Or rewarding.

And two, because I think this struggle is more or less universal. I think we’re all afraid of showing too much of ourselves. I could have come up with other nightmares, but I doubt something I made up would have the same bite. The nightmares below are real. I think it shows. The story is stronger for it, even if I had to push myself to include those details.

No risk, no reward. Add that to your list of trite cliches that are absolutely true.

Okie-doke, kids. On to the story.

revelation

Everything felt disjointed, like puzzle pieces that don’t fit. There were no lines. No corners or edges. It was all just crammed together, beaten into place to create an unsettling topography without dimension or meaning.

The nightmares were back. Then again, they always came back.

She had a friend who struggled with honest-to-God insomnia. It sounded like hell, those restless nights that ended with a sunrise that was neither triumphant nor inspiring. When he talked about the weeks that sometimes passed without decent sleep, she wondered who had it worse. He was reduced up a comatose zombie for days on end. At least she could sleep.

But the dreams.

She tried to talk to a therapist about them once, but they defied categorization. There wasn’t a recurring dream, or even a constant theme, apart from horror.

One night she dreamt of spiders. Everywhere. They pulsed in the walls and scurried across her skin. She tried to run from the house, her house except it didn’t look like her house, but outside the trees were white with webs. Webs dotted black with even more spiders. When she woke, screaming herself back to consciousness, she could still feel their legs shuffling all over her body.

The next night she was living with her parents again. It was Thanksgiving, and for no reason she could discern, she was somehow back in high school, even though her dream self remained 34 years old. When her dad emerged from the kitchen to carve the turkey, he leered at her and then lunged, the electric knife buzzing as he cackled. As she sprinted from the room, she heard her mom call out, “David, she’s going for the front door!”

She’d seen so many terrible things–ghosts, demons, mythical creatures, and plain-Jane betrayal. All of them were one hit wonders. When she thought the next couldn’t possibly be as bad as the last, she was repeatedly proven wrong.

The uncertainty made it worse. If the foes had been consistent, perhaps she could have developed a strategy or, at the very least, a tolerance. But no. Every night brought a new terror, when it was nightmare season, anyway.

Sometimes nightmare season lasted a few days. Sometimes weeks. When it ended, she still had dreams, but they were mostly nonsensical. She was talking to her cat about buying new blinds, or riding go carts with the lead singer of her favorite band. These were more often pleasant than not, but the threat of the nightmares’ return always loomed.

She thought of it as her curse. If she were a character in a Stephen King story, there would undoubtedly be a gypsy to blame. If Clive Barker were her biographer, a demon. Reality, however, was a shitty author, providing her with no discernible root cause. She was shadow boxing a spirit, the very nature of which she couldn’t name if her life depended on it.

Until the night it revealed itself.

the nightmare begins

Flash FictionOne of my first memories of enjoying horror was watching Twilight Zone: The Movie with a friend when I was a kid. It wasn’t terrifying by any stretch of the imagination, but it was unsettling. And yet, it was also cathartic.

When I saw the writing prompt posted on The Prediction this week, my mind drifted to one of the sequences from that movie. Without even pausing to question it, I started pounding out a 100-word ode to the vignette I remember best, which was based on the classic 1963 episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”.

Admittedly, I took some liberties with the set-up. John was way too high-strung to have been working on a crossword puzzle prior to his discovery. But, you know, the prompt.

While I hope you enjoy it, the story below is a nostalgic trip for me and me alone.

How about you? What was the first scary story you remember liking even though it pushed you a bit? Why did you like it? What was the feeling that came with the fear that made it weirdly fun?

Here’s the prompt:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘crossword’, ‘crude’, and ‘itinerary’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

And here’s the story…

the nightmare begins

It started with a scrapping noise.

John sat his crossword to the side. His itinerary said they weren’t scheduled to land for another 30 minutes. He slid over a seat and looked out the window.

There, on the wing, was a figure–a crude silhouette set against the night sky.

Suddenly, he was tumbling. A free-fall of terror brought on by the insane image. And that’s when he heard his own voice irrationally screaming about a man on the wing. He knew they wouldn’t believe him, and he knew just as well it was true.

A nightmare at 20,000 feet.

backstory

Flash FictionI’m late. Bah. I hate that, but this installment was tough to write.

I’m doing something kind of ambitious. Or crazy. It could be crazy. I’m attempting to mingle some real history with fictional history, and I’m doing it by tackling fairly dark territory.

Josef Mengele was a real man. You can read up on him if you want. He was a monster. Most of the stuff I say about him below is completely true, and given my affection for horror, that should really scare you.

He fits for this story, though, and that’s why I’m using his factual history. But as I typed the word ‘Auschwitz’, I wondered if it was right or good to pull from actual events when those events are as horrific as the death camps of World War II. Sure, it makes for good material, but is that okay?

For the time being I’ve decided that it is, provided the truth is dealt with in a respectful manner even when twisted a bit to fit the story. I have no intention of downplaying the abhorrent realities of the Nazis. In fact, I don’t see myself exploring that much further than I have in this episode.

The other thing about this story is that it’s almost entirely exposition. I know, I know–‘show don’t tell.’ Whatever. I generally hold to that rule, but this is where the story wanted to go, so I followed.

I invite feedback in the comments on a regular basis. Sadly, I don’t get a whole lot of it. But, here we go again. If you have thoughts, about my explanation above or the story below, please feel free to share them.

some much needed backstory
with very little present action
and a dash of forshadowing

Gloria and Hyun spent the better part of the afternoon plotting. Hyun would insist on referring to it as ‘planning’, but Gloria would snicker with glee at the notion their designs were a bonafide scheme.

For the greater good, of course.

However, three cups of tea and two hours later they were both tired, irritable, and frustratingly far from nailing down a plan of attack. This was due in no small part to the fact that Eris Cato Fiore was, as the saying goes, a tough nut to crack.

And he was, by all informed accounts, a nut.

Of unknown (and decidedly questionable) origin, Fiore first arrived on the local scene approximately a decade prior to his return. Initially, Gloria, Harvell and the others, whose number did not include Hyun at that time, took him to be a small time practitioner in possession of limited talent. Said another way, he knew just enough to cause trouble, so they kept an eye on him.

He dabbled in some dark stuff, but nothing that warranted anything more than a slap on the wrist. Gloria, herself, had been the first Guardian to deliver a verbal warning. His reception was cordial, if cold, and he readily agreed that several of his recent incantations could be dangerous in unskilled hands. On the subject of his level of skill, however, there was a severe parting of ways.

He flatly refused to heed the Guardians’ suggestion. Emphatically, he stated his intent to stay right where he was and practice whatever kind of sorcery he desired, including, if the fancy struck him, blood magick.

His stand off with the Guardians proved a lengthy, complex chess match. The nature of his magick made it difficult for Gloria and her peers to confront him outright. He was particularly good with warding charms, favoring the decimate-an-entire-city-block variety over more subtle stay-out techniques.

It was Hyun who finally took him down, and with something as simply as herbalism. She slipped him the enchanted equivalent of a Mickey. They charmed him, wiped his memory, bought him a plane ticket, and shipped him off to south Florida where, they were all agreed, he’d fit in just fine.

He rattled around in Miami for a while, then drifted south of the border. Last they heard, he was in Porto Alegre. Until three days ago when he was spotted in a Starbucks ordering what one can only assume was an overly complex and insanely expensive vehicle for sugar and caffeine.

His return alone would have been enough to justify action. In fact, it was news of his return that prompted Harvell to ask Gloria to lunch. That same morning, Gloria learned of Fiore’s companion. She shared the information with Hyun and no one else.

Liliana Correa, the Lady of Candido Godoi, was reputed to be the former assistant to and love interest of Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor known for a variety of unsavory reasons. During World War II, he was stationed at Auschwitz and, in his time there, was one of the ‘physicians’ responsible for determining who would be put to work and who would be gassed. He was fascinated by twins and engaged in all kinds of unethical research, during and after the war, often showing no regard whatsoever for the well-being of his subjects. In spite of international outcry, we was never tried for his crimes against humanity, and instead died a free man, drowning off the coast of Brazil in 1979.

Like other members of the Third Reich, Mengele (this exposition will at no time grant him the honor of the title ‘doctor’) was deeply interested in the occult. On paper, his investigation of twins was primarily focused on establishing proof of a so-called superior race, but that was not his only agenda. He hoped to unravel the secrets of longevity, as well.

While in Brazil, he spent time in the small town of Candido Godoi, and it was there he met Liliana Correa. She presented herself to him as a midwife and nurse, but she was so much more. He was a monster of a man. A true human horror. But to her he was little more than a pet–a simple-minded thing she regarded with the affection normally reserved for hamsters and goldfish.

To put it bluntly, Correa was infamous among those like Gloria and her cohorts. Her areas of specialization were wide and alarmingly sinister, ranging from mind control to necromancy. She was, of course, far older than she looked, and that also complicated things, for her appearance was disarming. She might have seduced Fiore for reasons unknown, or he might have sought her out. Either way, her close proximity was anything but good news.

When the afternoon began to fade into evening, Gloria admitted temporary defeat.

“Hyun, darling, we’re not going to get this today. My head hurts. I need something stronger than tea.”

Hyun nodded, reluctantly agreeing. “I’d feel better if we had a plan.”

Gloria shrugged.

“Opportunity will present itself. When it does, be like a high school boy on prom night.”

Hyun’s brow furrowed.

“Ready,” Gloria said.

further consideration

Flash FictionI like Gloria. I like her a lot.

I’m not saying she’s my favorite. For one, I can’t imagine ranking my characters. It seems like a cruel thing to do. I mean, it’s not like they don’t have feelings. And besides, I’ve only just met her. I don’t know how I’ll feel about her over the long haul.

Still, there’s something about her filterless way of talking. It’s charming in a weird kind of way–fun to read about, but you know you’d want to slap her if you had to have a long conversation with her. She’s a lot of fun to write.

I say all of that by way of introduction. I have (get ready for something you’ve never heard me say before) no idea where this is going, but I’m just going to roll with it for now. It might not be more than a long story, or it might be the beginning of a novel. We’ll see.

Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Gloria. Does she do anything for you? Give me your opinion in the comments.

further consideration of Persian
rugs, Harvell Devin, and
the true nature of friendship

“He’s too serious,” she said, not for the first time.

“Well, it is kind of a big deal.”

“Nonsense. The city’s not on the verge of imploding. He had time for dessert.”

Hyun was a smart girl. Smart enough, in fact, to know better than to fight a losing battle. There would be no convincing Gloria. She was loath to eat alone in public, particularly if the meal began in the company of another.

“What would people think, Hyun?” she asked. “If he left and I stayed, stuffing my face like some sweet-toothed cow?”

“I know,” Hyun said.

“I’ll tell you,” Gloria continued. “You know how people fill in the blanks. They don’t know half of what’s going on, but that doesn’t stop them. The world is full of idiots who think they’re clever. An entire restaurant full of people would think he’d stormed out because of me. They don’t know anything about Fiore.”

Hyun nodded. “That’s true.”

“That asshole didn’t even pay the bill. He just took off.”

“A disgrace, no doubt,” Hyun said. “But nothing can be done about it now. Why don’t you sit, and I’ll make us some tea?”

Gloria took a deep breath, the sort one takes when setting things right inwardly. She squared her shoulders and nodded.

“That would be nice,” she said. Hyun put the kettle on.

They were at Hyun’s apartment, a spacious studio on the south side of downtown. She’d been expecting Gloria, and, knowing her friend, a dramatic account of some sort of social disaster, as well. In fact, two ceramic mugs were already set out on the counter top.

If music tames the savage beast, chamomile might as well be Gloria’s Mozart.

A less self-aware person might wonder, in a moment such as this, why she was even friends with the likes of Gloria Morein. But Hyun knew full well why. To someone like Harvell, a pragmatist to the core, Gloria was chaos incarnate. She loved to gossip, rarely considered the value of tact, and often chased down conversational rabbit trails as though she expected to find pots of gold at the end.

But she was also perhaps the most gifted cottage witch alive.

Funny term, that–cottage witch. Sometimes also called a ‘kitchen witch’, a cottage witch is one who uses whatever is at hand, be it an elaborate spell, potions, religious artifacts associated with any faith, or even household supplies, to work his or her magick, (note the ‘k’). Hyun had witnessed Gloria in several truly remarkable moments, including an instance in which she fended off an entire pack of lycan with nothing more than the contents of the average cupboard.

But it was not her talent alone that drew Hyun to Gloria. It was her personhood, as well. For hidden beneath, or perhaps behind or above her trivially verbose tenancies was a rich understanding of the world around her. In plain terms, she might seem like a bimbo bitch, but she was actually quite cunning.

And loyal. Hyun would never forget Gloria’s loyalty.

In the time it took to heat the water and allow the tea to steep, Gloria found herself. She’d forgotten all about the tragically abrupt end of her luncheon date and moved on to more immediate matters. Namely, an assessment of Hyun’s interior decorating skills.

“Do you really think this rug goes?” Gloria asked as Hyun delivered her tea. “I mean, the colors match. God, I don’t think we could be friends if you couldn’t manage that. But there’s something about the feel of it. Your place has this sort of zen feng shui to it, and this thing,” she motioned to the rug, “is incredibly busy. It almost gives me a headache to look at it.”

“It’s Persian,” Hyun said.

“It’s a mess,” Gloria countered. “Let me take you shopping. You can do better.”

“Sure. But first, drink your tea and tell me what we’re going to do about Fiore.”

Gloria smirked. “You make me laugh. For the moment, we’re not going to do a damn thing. Why do you think I insisted on seeing Harvey in person?”

Hyun sighed. “Really, Gloria? He’ll probably get himself killed.”

Gloria shrugged. “Maybe. But regardless, we can’t get close to Fiore or his South American squeeze without a distraction. Enter Harvey, stage right.”

“Did you just make a Snagglepuss reference?”

Gloria furrowed her brow. “What are you talking about?”

“Snagglepuss,” Hyun said. “You know, Snagglepuss. He was a cartoon cat or panther or something. Pink.”

“The Pink Panther?”

“No,” Hyun said with indignation. “Snagglepuss. Are you even listening to me?”

“God, Hyun, I’m trying to, I swear, but I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

“He was always saying, ‘Exit, stage left.’ Like, when there was trouble he’d say that before he took off.”

“I said ‘Enter, stage right.'”

Hyun rolled her eyes. “It’s the same damn thing.”

“Right,” Gloria said. “And this rug is looks great.”

Hyun huffed. They drank their tea.

“Seriously, do you think Harvell will be okay?” Hyun asked after some minutes had passed.

Gloria gave the query serious consideration before answering.

“I think so,” she said at last. “He’s more resourceful than he looks, and he’s not stupid enough to just charge in. He’ll ask around, and that’s really all we need. It’ll be enough to get Fiore’s attention, and that’s the opening we’re looking for.”

“I hope you’re right,” Hyun said. “I don’t like Harvell, but I don’t like the idea of us getting him killed, either.”

Gloria shrugged once more. “He’s a big boy, and we’re not his babysitters. You stick with me. We have more than enough to worry about all on our own.”

Hyun had no choice but to concede. “That’s the truth if you’ve ever spoken it.”

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