Part Of This Complete Breakfast

#Pass the toast, please. Whole #wheat.” “A day of #jaw-dropping boredom working those infernal machines stretches to #infinity before us. Don’t be a #hero. Have a pastry.” “So many adjectives and #nouns at the crack of #dawn. I need coffee.”

#flexvss #vssnature #bravewrite #whistpr #vss365 #vssdaily #converstory #vssmagic

Infernal Machines

“Why the bad #mood?”

“It’s those infernal machines again. They’re stuck on the #delete #cycle and zapping everyone who enters the #parlor. I’m just #grateful no one I like has stopped by.”

“Did the fellow with the newspaper subscription #renewal–?”

“Zapped.”

#converstory #whistpr #vssmurder #vssmagic #flexvss #bravewrite #vss365

Funny? Story

Posting the comedy microfiction reminded me that I never posted the comedy flash fiction I did for NYC Midnight, probably because I hadn’t been that thrilled about it and didn’t move onto the next round. Still, I ended up with something that I may develop into a short story. There’s something fun there, even if it’s not exactly award-winning comedy flash fiction. Flash Fiction is a 1000-word limit, and my prompts were comedy/jellybeans/reservoir.

The Creature With The Black Jellybeans

Synopsis: When Lucy and Jez see something strange in the reservoir, they suspect an epic prank and concoct a prank of their own. But will they ever know what’s really in the water?

Lucy sat on the edge of the dam, feet dangling far above the water of the reservoir, and popped another jellybean in her mouth. She spat it out in disgust. “Whoever invented black licorice flavor should be shot.”

Jez leaned away from the partially chewed candy. “That’s God, Luce. It’s derived from the fennel plant.”

“You know the weirdest stuff.” Lucy threw the offending candy down into the placid water below. Splash! “Did you hear that? How did that tiny thing make a splash all the way down there? I told you black licorice is evil.”

The girls peered closely at the water. “Look at the ripples on the water,” Jez said. “Maybe it’s the Loch Ness monster’s cousin. Where’s Peter, anyway? Why did he want to meet up here?”

“He was very mysterious.” Splash! “Okay, I heard it again. There’s definitely something down there. Look! There’s a dark shape under the water!”

“I knew we shouldn’t have had that Jaws marathon last weekend. Remember when we watched all the Friday the Thirteenth movies and the next night you freaked out at the hockey game?”

Lucy glared. “You agreed we’d never speak of that again. Look, we’ll wait until all the jellybeans are gone and then give up on Peter. The lake monster gets the black licorice ones.” She picked them out and tossed a handful into the water. Splash! They both stared as a head popped above the surface of the water. A wide mouth opened. Chomp! The head disappeared back below the surface.“Jez! You saw that, right? It ate the jellybeans!”

Jez’s mouth was hanging open. “Wait a minute. This is one of Peter’s pranks. He asks us to meet him up here and doesn’t show? He’s down there in the water with a fake monster head!”

“He has done some pretty ridiculous pranks. Remember when he used stage makeup to look like a dead body in your trunk and then jumped out at you? You screamed so loud!”

“He took SCUBA lessons last summer, remember? I bet he’s just hanging out under there. Let’s hike down. He has to come out sometime. We can hide in the bushes and scare the crap out of him. Look, there’s the head again!”

***

“This would be a nice place for a picnic if the water didn’t smell weird,” Lucy said. “How long can he stay under, do you think? I’m hungry.”

“I have some emergency chocolate in my bag.” Jez held out a giant bag of M&Ms. “Let’s give it ten more minutes and see if the monster shows again, then we’ll go to that taco place.” She pulled open the bag and it split, spilling candy all over the ground.

“More treats for Nessie.” Lucy began tossing the dirty M&M’s into the water. 

“Nessie? It’s not that big. Maybe Lessie.” 

“Here, Lessie, Lessie!” A head popped up, grabbed the candy, and disappeared below. The water rippled as the creature swam away from them.

“How did he spot us? I guess we were talking pretty loud. He could have followed our voices.”

“It looked so real. I wonder where he got it. It seemed like its eyes were really looking at me. Peter’s no artist. He must have spent a fortune on a costume that good.”

“He can probably use it again for Halloween. Oh, I see the ripples again. Here, Lessie, Lessie! More M&Ms for you!” A head popped out of the water, but this time it was human. Peter emerged from the water, struggling to get his heavy equipment off his back. He dropped it on the ground and pulled up his mask.

“Gotcha!”

Peter spun around and gave a yell, not as impressive as Jez’s dead-body scream, but satisfying enough for the girls, who dissolved in laughter. “What the hell!”

“We got you, Peter!” Jez crowed.

Peter sat down on the grass. “Oh, man. I was under that gross water for an hour! My hair feels weird. I’m going to have to wash it a million times.”

Jez sniffed. “Yeah, you don’t smell great. I’m glad you’re not riding back in my car. Hey, where’s your head?”

Peter stared. “Right here? Above my neck?”

“I mean that awesome monster head.”

“I was just splashing around so you’d think something was in there. You saw the splashing, right? That’s why you came down here?”

Lucy frowned. “We saw splashing, and a big giant monster head came out of the water. Come on, where is it?”

“You mean, I was in there with…something?” Peter looked terrified as he stared at the water.

Jez punched him on the arm. “You’re not going to get us this time, Peter. Did you lose it?”

“There’s no head, guys. I don’t know what you saw.”

***

Lucy and Jez drove away, waving to Peter, who was getting into his car. “You think he’s going back down for the head?” Lucy asked.

“Yup. Want to park in the lower lot and sneak back to catch him?”

They parked near the bushes and crept quietly. Splash! 

“Lucy, there he is! See the monster head?”

The head disappeared under the water. They heard a rustling in the brush behind them. Peter emerged, holding a green plastic dinosaur head. “Oh, man! You tricked me!”

“Serves you right,” said Lucy. “How does the mouth open, by the way? Is it like a puppet?”

“What do you mean? The mouth doesn’t move.”

Jez exchanged a look with Lucy. “Are you joking again? We saw it eat the candy.”

Peter held it out for inspection. The mouth was fixed. “You’re pranking me now. Very funny.”

“No, we saw the monster open its mouth and eat the jellybeans! And then the M&Ms,” Lucy insisted.

“Sure, everyone knows reservoir monsters have a sweet tooth. Look, you got me. Let’s get outta here.”

As they walked away, they heard a splash, but when they turned around, they saw only ripples in the water.

Judges’ Comments:

{1970}  Good: I like the relationships between the characters you have developed in “The Creature With The Black Jellybeans”. I picked up on the long-term friendships that Jez, Peter, and Lucy have begun to build, I can picture them in their old age, reminiscing about the good old days when they were young. This story is about adventure, trust, and friendship. You put at the reservoir with them, I could taste the licorice jelly beans. Thanks!    

Needs work: There is a bit of awkwardness in the syntax of this story. I get all the details, but the delivery is a bit choppy, and some of the details detract from the story more than they add to it. For instance, does the reader need to know that Lucy freaked out specifically at the hockey game? The mention of her freaking out in general after watching all of the movies is more effective than distracting the reader into thinking that there was something relevant at the hockey game that connected it to the movies. I am still wondering what the connection is. So, think about details…they are important, but they need to help connect the dots, not take a reader down an unrelated path. Thanks for the adventure. l really like your characters. 

{2089}  Well done for making it to the second round of the Flash Fiction Challenge 2021!

This is a good submission with some funny moments, a clear premise, and some fun characters.

You’ve included a lot of twists in this that work well, keeping the reader guessing. I could see this working well with some expansion too, really building the tension and playing on horror movie tropes. It has the potential as a satire of the genre, and I think you’ve outlined all the necessary beats to really solidify this as a standout piece with some more development. I’d definitely like some more description and establishment, and as much as the dialogue is great at telling the story, I feel that I want to be immersed in the world you’ve created, and in these characters, as much as possible.

The characters have a good rapport – I feel the history and the backstory between them all, making them feel like ‘real’ characters. They act in an understandable and realistic way which helps to ground the narrative and land the jokes.

Looking at your assigned task, you’ve written a complete comedy story featuring the ‘reservoir’ location and ‘jelly bean’ object, both of which have been used effectively. You’ve also submitted this within your word limit and successfully showcased what can be achieved with such a brief word count.

Well done, and keep writing!  

Needs work: I’ve gathered some notes on areas of your story where I feel you could improve, edit, or develop your work further.

‘Loch Ness monster’s cousin.’ After this line, I’d suggest breaking for some description before we go into the next line of dialogue. Have the characters look at the water, or have Jez look around to see if she can see Peter.

‘a head popped above the surface’ – Whose head? What kind of head? Could we have a description? Even if it’s just an interpretation from the characters’ point of view of what they see. You state in your dialogue that it’s a ‘fake monster head’, but could you describe this to us, or explain what makes them think that?

‘Look, there’s the head again!’ – Again, let’s see the head. Variate your narrative so we’re not just hearing the characters talk about what they can see or what they think. Describe and establish too! The same goes on the next line – where are they situated? How does the location add tension or comedy?

Good luck with your future development!

{2144}  Good: I like the ambiguity throughout of whether it was Peter playing a prank or an actual creature in the water. I also like that it can be explained away until the very end; the final line is great.  

Needs work:  Almost the entire story is told in dialog, but I think it could be a lot stronger if there were more descriptions showing the reactions of the girls, what the creature head looks like, etc. It will help establish the scenes so much more, heighten the stakes, and give a better distinction between Peter’s pranks and the real possibility of a creature lurking.

It’s A Little Bit Funny

Comedy is probably the genre I most dread when I do microfiction/flash fiction challenges. Being funny on purpose is *hard*. I usually aim for “mildly amusing” and hope for the best. For the second time in a row, I drew comedy. I had almost forgotten about the NYC Midnight microfiction challenge in the craziness of holiday preparations, and I had quite the emotional rollercoaster when I got the email saying I’d made it to the next round…and that comedy was my genre. When I’m trying to be funny, I really can’t tell if it’s working unless I have facial expressions for immediate feedback. Anyway, my prompts for the second round of 250-word Microfiction were: Comedy/burning a finger/effort. Funny story! I had actually submitted my entry before suddenly realizing I hadn’t included the word “effort.” Fortunately, I had submitted early for once and the contest allows you to resubmit as many times as you need up until the deadline.

Once Burned, Twice…Burned

“Ow! What the hell? Something burned me!”

Meg held up a blistered finger and Seth passed her a cold pack. “What do you mean, burned? Like the sap irritated your skin?”

“No, like a goddamn fire! Look, it’s still smoking!”

Seth peered into the hole in the tree where Meg had been collecting fungus samples for their study. “That’s not possible.”

“Stick your hand in, then.”

Seth reached toward the tree and hesitated.

Meg laughed.

“Are you screwing with me again? Grow up. I was just playing along when you gave me your niece’s slime and told me it was a new species. It’s not like I believed you.”

“You were trying to extract DNA for sequencing!”

“I was playing along!” he shouted. “Let’s just get a sample and get out of here.” He reached in and shrieked. “Something burned me!”

Meg leaned in to look. “Really? But that’s—I made the whole thing up! I burned my finger baking cookies last night and I thought this would be funny.”

Seth stared. “What if it’s some kind of exothermic reaction involving the fungus we’re studying? This could be really big. I’m going back to grab some more sample jars. We should check the rest of the trees in this area.”

Meg smiled at another successful effort as she reached in carefully to retrieve the butane curling iron she’d planted there earlier. Her hand brushed against something hot. What the—

Seth stood behind a tree, chuckling softly to himself.

A New Obsession

“You’d better #hurry or you’ll be late for work.”

“I called in sick. That #crude construction wasn’t nearly #squirrel-proof. They’re #cerebral animals. #Sneaky. Ate all the birdseed again. In my backyard #sanctuary! The #glitter just makes the trap pretty.”

“Oh boy.”

#flexvss #vss365 #vssnature #bravewrite #vssdaily #vssmagic #vsschristmas

Fairy Tale feedback

I placed #4 in my group for the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge. The next round is this weekend. My prompts were fairy tale for genre, a picket line for the setting, and cider for something that has to physically appear in the story. I am always interested to see the judge feedback on these to see how well I conveyed what was in my brain to random people.


”The Brave Pig” by Allison Ketchell – WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2059} I loved this story concept and how you worked the ‘picket line’ element into this fairy tale. There’s a nice bit of satire that runs through this tale (without overtaking the narrative). I also was pretty shocked by the moment when the CEO and assistant fell into the cider and drowned (definitely a little darker than I had been expecting)! {1984} There was a lot to like in the camaraderie between the pigs and the dwarves. It was nice to see they had a common goal and to watch them work together to right a wrong. This worked as a nice real world allegory on many levels. {2162} Nice cadence and pacing. It’s got the surprising level of violence contained in original fairy tales – talking pig here, talking wolf there, and suddenly cartoon animals are drowning each other.

WHAT THE JUDGES THOUGHT NEEDED WORK – {2059} I wasn’t quite sure that all of the dialogue worked for me in this story – especially the characters introducing themselves. I’d encourage you think about what the dialogue adds and when you do and don’t necessarily need it. I also wanted Jordy to have more of an essential role in this story. His inclusion is definitely a great idea, but I wasn’t sure what he actually added to the plot (the end scene of him watching the fight unfold left me a little confused). {1984} The bears were a strange ingredient in this tale. They remain out of the conflict entirely but in the end they are forgiven because they take an active role in picking up the pieces. That probably won’t sit right with some readers. Dennis’s change from being a worker that keeps their head down and does the work to being an activist didn’t really seem to happen on the page. {2162} I feel like the trouble with the fairy-tale animal-killin-animal trope, in this case, is a sense of scale, maybe. It makes sense that Dennis would suddenly push the wolves into the vat and watch them drown, but then after that, there seems to be an all out pig-vs-wolf grudge match, and I just don’t know how well pigs would do vs teeth and claws.. that’s why they typically have to rely on their wits in fairy tales. And then.. are there no more wolves at all left in the forest? Did they exterminate the whole race? Again, it’s the sense of scale that holds me back. Otherwise, nice creative piece.

Here’s the story:

The Brave Pig

Once upon a time there was a pig named Dennis. Like all pigs, he lived in a little village tucked in a pocket of woods inaccessible to humans and worked in the apple cider factory. The wolves who ran the factory were not terribly nice and the work was dull, but there were simply no other jobs for pigs in Briar Wood, and unemployed pigs had a way of disappearing, leaving only a whiff of bacon curling from a chimney to remember them by. Dennis had three piglets in need of food, clothes, and school fees, and he worked hard operating the apple press, kept his head down, and collected his paycheck.

​Until today. Today he was holding a REMEMBER ISABELLE sign and marching in a line outside the factory. Isabelle had drowned in a vat of cider last week and the factory had closed while the Worker Safety Council investigated and found the wolves blameless. Dennis had organized the memorial service, but there was no grave to visit. While wolves were buried in a charming cemetery on the hill, pigs’ remains tended to go missing, and when Dennis told the other workers that he had overheard upper manager wolves discussing their new fondness for cider-soaked roast pork, they agreed with him that something had to be done.

​The dwarves who worked in the wolves’ mines looked curiously at the picket line on their walk to work. They held a brief conference before deciding to join the protest. A few of the dwarves left to get supplies for sign-making. “I’m Hal,” one miner said, holding out his hand for Dennis to shake. “When I was injured in a cave-in last year, I almost went broke paying for my hospital stay. If someone is standing up to the wolves, I’m in. Sorry about what happened to your friend.”

​“Thanks. The Worker Safety Council blames the workers when anything bad happens. They might recommend better safety railings and no more mandatory double shifts, but they won’t enforce anything. The Council is afraid of the wolves. We all chipped in so Isabelle would have a memorial service since they wouldn’t even pay for that. I guess they saved us the cost of a coffin,” Dennis said bitterly.

​Hal held up his sign: BITING BACK. “You know, because of their big teeth? Think it’s too aggressive?”

​“How many of us have they hurt or killed? I think it’s just right.”

​“Hello! What’s going on here?” A brown bear in builder’s clothes had approached.

​Dennis explained the situation. “I’m Dennis,” he added. “We’d love to have you on our side.”

​The bear held out a paw. “Jordy. Nice to meet you. I’m sorry about your friend, but the bears have no quarrel with the wolves. We don’t really want to rock the boat.”

​“But you’ve got teeth and claws! You could really help us.”

​“I’ll take it back to the builders, but we just want to do our jobs and take care of our families. I don’t know about taking sides.”

​Dennis sighed as Jordy ambled off. “Why wouldn’t they help us, Hal? It’s no skin off their noses.”

​“You can’t really blame them. Would the dwarves have stopped if we weren’t in the same boat you are? I’d like to think we would, but who knows?”

​Dennis was still thinking about that when a shiny black car approached. “All right, everyone! Here come the wolves! Stay calm!”

​Four nattily dressed wolves stepped out. “What is the meaning of this? Factory should have opened hours ago!”

​Dennis stepped forward, trembling. He’d never even seen the CEO before. “We are on strike to protest unsafe working conditions, sir.”

​“You’re all fired. I’m opening up the factory myself.” The wolf shoved his way through the crowd to the wide doors, knocking over a couple of pigs.

​“Sir, you can’t fire all of them. There’s no one else to do the work,” his assistant whispered as they walked past.

​“Nonsense! If those dumb pigs can do it, anyone can. We’ll have a feast tonight and a job fair tomorrow!”

​Dennis motioned to the others to follow. It was soon clear that the wolves had no idea how to use the equipment. The CEO was bent over a vat, pushing a lever up and down, scowling. Another stood at a control panel, scratching his head. Dennis looked around him at the crowd of pigs and dwarves. He thought about Isabelle’s kind smile and suddenly felt brave. He stepped forward and shoved the CEO, who uttered a grunt of surprise before breaking through the safety rail and falling into the vat below. He flailed his arms, coughing up cider. His assistant ran to help, but the safety equipment the pigs kept asking for wasn’t there. The assistant lay flat on the metal platform, stretching his arm toward the CEO until he reached too far and slid into the cider. The CEO pushed the assistant’s head under, trying to keep himself afloat, but there was nothing to hold onto, no emergency exit steps. Dennis watched as the two struggled until both finally sank, their last breaths bubbling to the surface. 

​The doors burst open. Upper management must have called for reinforcements. A dozen more wolves rushed in, but they were badly outnumbered by the usually docile pigs and dwarves, and the fight was brief. Dennis spotted a furry figure lurking near the door. “Jordy, did you just stand here watching?”

​Jordy looked down. “Well, the bears voted against getting involved but I thought I’d come just in case. You were doing fine without me, so I didn’t jump in.”

​***

​With the wolves out of the picture, the pigs and dwarves took over the factory and the mines, raised wages, and formed an effective safety commission. The bears, ashamed of their complicity in the wolves’ oppression of their fellow creatures, took on the burden of enforcing the new safety regulations. And they all lived happily ever after.

998 words

New Release!

My story “Let’s Get Haunted!” is in this anthology, along with stories and poems from several fabulous writers!

E-book available now, paperback coming soon!

par·Ab·nor·mal /per.əbˈnɔːr.məl/
adjective
Atypical paranormal fiction produced by Writers, Poets and Deviants.

A mysterious face beneath an icy lake is eerily familiar…
A chilling tour of a cemetery, guided by restless spirits…
A painting participates in a game of chess…
A witch embarks on a quest to retrieve a client’s missing heart…
A bloody knife appears everywhere a woman goes…
A beloved cat turns out to be much more than just a pet…

Enjoy these stories and more in WPaD’s tribute to the parAbnormal!