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Archive for the ‘First Flash’ Category

Today is International Short Story Day. And, since I love short stories and happen to write them, I thought today would be a good day to post one. Below is a flash fiction story I wrote for the most recent round of NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest. No, it didn’t win. You would have heard. But I still like it and am happy to give it a home here. It’s partially inspired by Neil Gaiman’s poem, “The Day the Saucers Came.”  Enjoy.  And do take a look at all the stuff being posted on the International Short Story Day site and on Twitter.

Open Pages Open Worlds

by Craig D.B. Patton

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. It opened with a wave of her hand.

Outside her bedroom, her little brother and two of his friends tumbled backward in surprise. One wore the blue and yellow plastic stethoscope from the toy doctor kit. Little spies. Caught red-handed listening at her door. She turned them into gerbils, snatched them up, and placed them in a glass tank so the cat would not eat them. Later she would change them back. Wipe their memories. She could do anything. She had read the book.

Downstairs, her mother sat on the couch, undead eyes boring into the television.

“Where are you going?” she asked without turning.

“Out.”

“Be back for dinner.”

“Okay.”

She went out. It was raining. Pouring, really. Another day she would have stayed inside reading. Or at least worn a jacket. Today the rain parted in a circle around her. Today the worms crossing the asphalt made way. She had read the book.

Halfway down the street she stopped. Someone was shouting in the house to her left. A man’s voice. Angry. Harsh as metal filings. A softer voice pleaded beneath it. She looked through the wall and saw the man raise a crimson fist. A woman cowered on her knees at his feet. But the blow never fell. When the woman opened her eyes, she was alone except for a large wolf spider that she soon squashed.

Farther down the street, a soaked and trembling dog bayed mournfully at a door. It opened, even though no one was at home.

An elderly man calcified by arthritis looked out his window and saw weeds wither and flowers bloom in his garden beds.

A Down’s baby girl stood and walked months ahead of schedule while her parents wept with joy.

And when she came to the intersection with the busy street which, even now, she was forbidden to ride along with her bicycle, the traffic stopped. Drivers’ mouths hung open in mid sentence, cell phones pressed to their ears as she wound her way across. Nothing on her journey troubled her. She had read the book.

But her heart pounded an uncomfortable beat when she reached his house. Remembering the book, she went up the driveway, up the front walk, up the steps, and rang the doorbell.

He opened it. His eyes widened.

She crossed her arms. “I don’t care that you didn’t call.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I don’t care if you’re sorry either.”

He continued to stare at her. Funny, that was how this had started. Only now, she knew, he was staring because she was sunshine in the rain. Because she had stopped traffic. Because a raven had landed on her shoulder and was eyeing him as she reached up and scratched its chest.

For just a moment, he saw all that she was and all that she could be.

Good. So now he understood what he had lost.

She nodded once, her mouth a hard line. “Goodbye.”

“Wait,” he called as she descended the stairs.

He would beg for forgiveness and invite her in. He would tell her she was beautiful and brilliant and magical and that he had been a fool, all of which she already knew.

“No,” she said, without even looking back. She had discovered the deep wellsprings that lay within her. She understood the eternal cost of giving herself for less than she was worth.

She had read the book.

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It snowed in much of New England last night and we’re expecting more over the weekend. Despite that, Halloween is still on Monday. In celebration of the weekend, here’s a tiny Halloween tale.

Wardrobe Crisis

by Craig D.B. Patton

“Where’s my best tux?” the vampire hissed.  “What have you done with my Halloween dress?” the witch screeched.  “Muh-wuh-wa-woooo!” the nude mummy groaned, withered hands covering his crotch.  The werewolf and the zombie, equally naked, let the hunchback up.  “Someone stole them!” he gibbered, pointing through the window to the darkening courtyard beyond.  The clothesline hung empty.  Below, scrawled on the weed-fringed stones in Jack-o-Lantern orange was a single word: PRANKED.  The monsters’ scream shook the last of the leaves from the trees in the distant village.  The high school seniors, resplendent in their authentic costumes, smiled.

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( I know.  It’s not the first.  Better late than never.  This is the “Pretend Story” I told my sons last night before bed. )

In the ground, the flowers waited.  They had been waiting for months, all through the decay of Autumn and the long freeze of Winter.  But they knew that Spring was coming soon.  They knew it the way that birds know when to migrate and bears know when to wake.  They grew their sprouts in the dark and waited some more.

One of them – the tallest of the bunch – decided to poke up and have a look.  It came back quickly, rubbing its head.

“What?” said the others.  “Is it Spring yet?”

“No,” said the flower.  “There’s still snow and ice up there.”

Those of them that had been around for more than a few years tut-tutted.  “There’s always a little snow at the start of Spring.  What’s up there?  An inch?”

“No,” said the flower, still rubbing its head.

“Two inches?”

“No.”

The others began to feel anxious.  “Three?”

“No.”

“Well, how much then?  Don’t just leave us in suspense.”

“I think there’s more than a foot still up there.”

“A foot!”  They panicked.  They howled and screeched and they would have run around in circles just the way that people do except that they were rooted to the spot.  But there was nothing to do but wait and tell each other it would melt.

Days went by.  Weeks went by.  The world stayed cold, although they could feel the sun shining stronger as it arced higher in the sky each day.  They could hear the sap flowing up and down inside the maple trees.

People sometimes talk about having “cabin fever” when they have been stuck indoors for too long.  It was just the same for the flowers.  They wanted to grow.  They had to grow.  Finally, the three with the strongest sprouts convinced each other they could break through the snow and ice.  How hard could it really be?  Besides, they were tough.

The others watched as they pushed and grunted and stretched upward until-
-they broke free!  Their heads poked just above the snow in the blindingly bright, snow-blanketed world.

“We made it!” they called down.

“Hooray!” cheered all of the others.

“What do you see?” one called up.

“I see…AAAUGGGHHH-“

The flower was yanked up and out of the soil and was gone.  A moment later the others vanished as well.

“Deer!” cried one of the flowers, peering up.  “I see deer!”

“AUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” said the flowers.

They panicked again.  They could not go up into the world if there were deer just standing there ready to eat them.  There was nothing to do but wait some more.

A week later, one flower volunteered to go up into the world.  The deer gobbled it up at once.  A week later, another flower volunteered, with the same tragic results.

The flowers were depressed.  They were desperate to go up into the world.  It was time.  It was past time.

Finally, they had an idea.  They would all go up together.  The deer would eat some of them, of course, but then they would be full and they would move on, leaving the others alone.  All they were doing now was keeping the deer hungry and feeding them a snack every once in a while.

The next morning they went up.  The taller ones went first, breaking holes in the thawing dirt and melting snow for the others.  They pushed up and through, a sudden field of over a thousand of them.

The deer descended upon them and the flowers screamed in terror.  But then, after a time, the deer moved on.  The plan had worked.

A cheer went up from the remaining flowers as they turned their faces toward the glorious sun and felt it filling them with energy and the promise of a beautiful Spring.  They were so excited, they bloomed.

Then they heard a sound – the rhythmic crunch of boots on snow.  The flowers looked.

There were two children coming down the trail next to the field where the flowers grew.  They carried baskets.

“Oh look,” said the smaller one.  “Those are Mommy’s favorites!”

The larger child nodded and they started toward the flowers, reaching down.  Closer…closer….

“AUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” cried the flowers.

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Turkey Tales

I haven’t posted a First Flash in months.  So, in partial compensation, I offer these Thanksgiving tales.  The first is something I tossed up on Facebook earlier today.  The second is a story I told my sons a couple of nights ago before bed.  I hope you enjoy them.  And, for those of you who celebrate this particular holiday, Happy Thanksgiving.

Overheard at the Farm on Wednesday Morning

“Gobble, gobble, gobble! Gobble, gobble, gob-”

THWACK!

A cow leans over the stockade rail.  “Ha!  That’s right buddy!  Try laughing your feather butt off at us now!”

Turkeys in Flight

There were only ten turkeys left in the barn.  Ten turkeys wide awake in terror in the middle of the night.  Because they knew.  When the sun came up, the farmer would come for them.

But they weren’t going to be there.  They had been planning their escape for weeks.  They had even talked about where they wanted to go after they were free.  They had drawn pictures in the dirt of New York and Disneyworld and Niagara Falls.  One even wanted to go to Egypt to see the pyramids.  The others had laughed at that.

But there was no laughing now.  Now it was time.  The turkeys pried open the board they had loosened and looked out across the barren corn field.  Then they took off, running in a line as fast as they could for the fence.  They had no idea what they would do about the fence.  Dig under it, maybe.  They would figure it out when they got there.

Halfway across the field they triggered a motion sensor and floodlights blazed on.  In the distance, Dagger, the farmer’s dog, leapt up on the porch.  He was after them in a flash, bellowing the alarm as he raced across the dirt.

The turkeys reached the fence.  They had less than a minute before Dagger would be upon them.  Not enough time to dig.  They could not fly even the short distance it would take to clear the fence.  The farmer had seen to that.

“Pyramid!” screamed the one that wanted to go to Egypt.  “Form a pyramid!”

There was no time for debate.  No one had another idea anyway.

Four formed the bottom row.  Three climbed up.  Two climbed up on them and discovered they could almost step over the fence from that height.  The last climbed up and toppled over to the other side in surprise, landing in a heap.

The next two jumped and landed on top of it.  They all started gobbling and screeching at the others.  Dagger was so close they could see the moonlight shining off his teeth.

The next three jumped.  They flapped their feeble wings and it was just enough to carry them over the top.

The last four looked back at Dagger’s bulky, muscular body hurtling at them.  They could not jump high enough off the ground.  They glanced at each other.

They jumped.

Dagger skidded and crashed into the fence.  He toppled back, stunned by the impact.

The four turkeys landed on him and jumped again as high as they could.  They flapped as hard as they could.

They just made it.

Ten turkeys stood on the opposite side of the fence from Dagger.  They laughed and made faces at him, for he had always been a terrible bully to them.

Then they walked off into the forest, free as could be.  And as they vanished into the shadows, one asked,  “Say, just which way is Egypt anyway?”

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Lost in the wreckage of this blog’s plummet to earth after a pretty consistent first six months were the First Flash entries for July and August.  In partial compensation, and because my time continues to be quite limited of late, I offer the below.  I wrote this while part of a writers group in Chicago.  We occasionally assigned ourselves oddball excercises just to jump start those who were having trouble generating material and to give others a chance to break out and try something new.  On this particular occasion, we pulled three terms out of a hat: horny toad, empty bladder, and faulty wiring.  Enjoy.

Musings on the Average Writer

1

The average writer does not have an empty bladder.

Consider: your typical man or woman of letters has few more constant companions than a beverage by their side.  The species Writerius ofstuffnia is well known to frequent coffee shops and bars when not in its den.  At home, both males and females typically either brew green tea, white tea, black tea, red tea, herbal tea, or coffee, or perhaps uncap, uncork, or unscrew something sterner.  This reveals the real choice: caffine or alcohol.  Which drug to stoke the internal combustion of creativity with.

It is beyond routine.  It is ritual, often swirling with the associated private mysteries.  What follows is far more pedestrian.  The writer drinks.  The writer’s stomach and intestines partially absorb.  The writer’s bladder fills with the rest.

As the inflow of beverages in the upper reaches of the writer is a relative constant, does it not follow that the residual pooling in the lower reaches is a similar constant?

2

The average writer does not have a horny toad.

The name “horny toad” is actually a nickname for the Horned Lizard, a reptile which, as its name clearly states, is not a toad at all.

There are 14 member species in the genus Phrynosoma, most commonly found in the desert regions of the southwestern United States and Mexico.  The name “horny toad” results from their physical appearance.  They have broad, flattened bodies, much like toads.  Their faces also resemble their distant cousins.  Then there are the spines.  Most species have sharp horns on their heads and rows of spines on various parts of their bodies.  Horned lizards hibernate during the winter, eat lots of slow-moving prey such as ants and spiders, and, despite their fearsome appearance, are relatively sedentary and docile creatures. 

However, there are interesting similarities between horned lizards and the average writer.  Consider:

  1. The horned lizard is cold blooded.  They move quite slowly until they bake in the sun long enough to raise their body temperature to a specific degree.  The average writer also has distinct sluggish and active periods of activitiy and often speaks of having to “warm up” before doing much of anything.
  2. When the environment grows too hot, the horned lizard will seek shade and burrow into the ground.  The average writer often assumes a similar posture when faced with heated criticism of their work or overdue bills.
  3. When threatened by predators, the horned lizard will puff up its body in an attempt to look more threatening and, if that fails, squirt blood from its eyes.  The average writer is a master at puffing themselves up when threatened and often has a few less than savory tendencies of his or her own.
  4. Finally, the average writer often endures similar confusion and pressure regarding their proper title and identity.  Great debate has been observed amongst writers (and even within the individual writers themselves) as to what a “real” writer is. 

Thus, the average writer should consider the horned lizard to be an excellent candidate for a mascot or muse.

3

The average writer does not have faulty wiring.

Or, at the very least, it is not their fault.

While many writers live in low rent apartments or other inexpensive forms of housing, they typically have had no involvement with the installation of the electrical system and/or have no control over the maintenance and repair of same if faulty wiring exists or develops.

However, the average writer will almost certainly be accused at some point, if not routinely, of having faulty wiring in their head, though the actual words used to describe the condition vary. 

The average writer may be told that they are a hopeless dreamer, that they are impractical, that they are irresponsible, that they should grow up.  It is not unheard of for the average writer to be told these things by individuals who purport to love and respect them.

Regardless of their source, when confronted with such statements, the average writer should consider excusing themselves to go empty their bladder again.

Or act like a horny toad.

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Normally, I post an original flash story of some stripe on this blog on the first of every month.  As it happens, Wily Writers published my flash story, “Aftershocks,” yesterday.  Since I did not manage to post yesterday, I hereby dub “Aftershocks” the First Flash entry for June. 

(Nice thing about a blog.  You can make up the rules as you go and grant yourself an exception anytime you want.)

It’s perfect that “Aftershocks” came out on Memorial Day.  When I decided to submit something to Wily Writers during their Flash Fiction theme period, I was not sure what to send.  I had a few flash stories that I had not sent anywhere, but wanted to write something new.  So, given that the guidelines said the accepted stories would be published during May, I started thinking about what happens that month.  Lots of gardening.  Mother’s Day.  Memorial Day….

And I remembered I had a sketch of an idea in my journals about parents grieving the loss of their son in a car bomb explosion in Iraq.  Dug it back out.  Everything was there.  I just wasn’t sure I could pull it off in 1,000 words or less.  But I thought it was worth a try.

I was very pleased with the results and, obviously, even happier that Ripley Patton (no relation) accepted it for Wily Writers.

You can download a digital text or MP3 audio version of the story from Wily Writers for free.  It’s the first time an audio version of one of my stories has been produced.

I hope you enjoy “Aftershocks.”  Drop me a line to tell me what you think.

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One small lie.

That was all it took.

A campaign staffer awoke late one October night in Ohio.  She had an idea.  Something to capture the next news cycle.  Maybe more. 

Hope warmed her.  Her candidate was losing.  And they could not lose.  Too much was at stake.  The regional director had implored them to work harder, get more creative.  She went to her laptop and started typing.

A blogger who the opposing campaign had labeled a domestic terrorist received the email.  He was exhausted from another night of rhetorical warfare in the blogosphere.  But now the rage in his eyes brightened.  This was good.  This was very, very good.  He began to type.  An hour later, as the morning commute stirred to life, he posted his new entry.

The staffer in Ohio was on a campaign bus when she received the blog entry on her BlackBerry.  She skimmed it and smiled, especially at the links to similar entries by other bloggers.  There was no mention of the new allegation’s source.

Several of her colleagues who also subscribed to the blog began discussing it up and down the aisle.  The regional director was contacted.  Then the campaign communications director.  Then the campaign manager.  Outrage coursed through the bus like a shot of adrenaline.  The staffer looked up at the television and waited.

Echo Chamber - Hugh McLeod

Echo Chamber - Hugh McLeod

As she expected, the newer, more polarizing cable news channels picked up the story first.  The campaign’s former chief strategist delivered a scathing indictment of the opponent on one network.  A panel of high level executives from friendly watch dog organizations went rabid on another.

The opposition’s partisan media allies fought back.  Their members of the punditocracy declared the story a new low in the campaign.  They railed about the other side’s tactics, their ethics, their character.

In their gleaming studios, the mainstream networks monitored the latest skirmish.  It was hot, and getting hotter.  First one news director and then another greenlighted the story.  The most trusted news sources in the country began reporting it.  Their celebrated experts opined on the spectacle of the new clash and its impact on the race.

Middle America swallowed.

As the campaign bus turned off the highway in Canton, the staffer and her colleagues cheered.  The national discourse had shifted in their favor.  Everyone was discussing this new negative story that had erupted overnight.  Thank God for the blogosphere.

In a nearby home, a man and his wife sat opposite each other in their dining room.  They were yelling.  Partly to be heard over the blaring television, but mostly because that was how they communicated now.  Each wore a flag pin and a large button for one of the two candidates.  Each thought the other had lost their mind and their soul.  Their argument over the new story ended only because the husband was late for work and stormed out.  He got into his car and tore off, listening to a radio host who was making the same point he had just been making.

It was less than an hour before the candidate would arrive at the campaign stop.  The staffer noted with pride that the dueling crowds of protestors were larger and louder than the typical 10:00am scene.  She was walking toward the media section when she heard squealing tires and the crunch of metal.

The man swore and kicked open his car door.  Damnit, the guy had run a red light.  He got out, jittery with fury.  Through the steam rising from the hood of his car, he saw the other driver stand up.  He stormed forward, yelling at the guy.  Then he stopped.  The other driver was wearing a button for the moron his wife supported. 

Something in him snapped.  He said something.  The other driver said something worse.  Then they both started swinging.

The campaign staffer noticed that the opposing crowds had lost interest in each other.  Everyone was looking in the direction of the accident, which was obscured from her view.  Across the street, some of the protestors ducked under the police line and ran toward the accident.  People near her started chattering.  They sounded angry.  Something about a fight.  People being beat up.  The crowd began to drain away, rushing toward whatever was happening.  The media turned their cameras away from the stage, toward the street.  She frowned and went to see what was going on.  In the middle of the street she stopped.  Her mouth dropped open.

There was a riot.  People were beating each other.  Kicking each other.  She saw one woman wearing a t-shirt in support of the other candidate fall and be trampled.  The police were lost in the middle of it all.

The random current of the melee brought the crowd surging toward her.  She fled a few steps before her designer high-heeled shoes betrayed her and she went down hard.  Someone stepped on her arm.  Someone tripped over her legs and fell across her.  She rolled over, pushing them away, and looked up. 

A man was standing over her.  Blood was pouring down his face from a cut beneath his right eye.  He wore a flag pin and a large button for the opponent on his torn shirt.  And when he looked at the button on her lapel, the one right below her flag pin, his eyes went black and empty.  He raised what was left of a sign that read: GOD BLESS AMERICA.  The end of the rod was broken into a long shard.  He drove it down.

No one heard the wet crunch it made in her chest.

Her scream was lost among the dozen others around her.

Like a falling snowflake that starts an avalanche.  Like an ember that ignites a forest fire. 

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

That was all it took.

One small lie.

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