NYC Midnight Challenge

I’m doing another one of these, a 250-word one. My prompts are: genre – SciFi, action – putting on a wetsuit, word (that must be included) – warning

Hogging the Spotlight

Pete shoved a foot into the wetsuit, almost falling over in his excitement. “The chemical analysis is back, Jez. That pool you found is water. Two years looking for life in this godforsaken galaxy, and I’m going to see it today.”

“Shouldn’t we send down the probe first?”

“Look, I outrank you. You’re just going to have to wait. Maybe I’ll name a species after you.” He pulled the zipper up and shrugged on his SCUBA gear. They could breathe under the portable biodome they’d set up over the site, but underwater was a different story.

“It’s not about that—”

“You’ll get your chance when you’re commander. It’s my day to shine.”

***

Jez monitored his vitals and watched the video feed from his goggles. Visibility wasn’t great even with his headlamp, and she strained her eyes looking for shapes in the murk. “Pete, what’s that off to your right?”

Suddenly the screen was filled with tiny greenish lights. “Well, look at this. Who’s a cute little bioluminescent life form? That’s right, you are.” He captured one in a sample flask. As he capped it, a warning blared. “They’re getting into the wetsuit,” he said, rubbing at his arms. 

“Stay calm,” she said, watching his heart rate with concern.

“They’re going under my skin, Jez. It burns!”

“Turn around and swim back.”

But he just hung there, a green glow in the darkness.

It was sort of pretty in the light. He was right. It was his time to shine.

Magic For Hire (draft)

I expanded today’s Twitter microfiction into a bit of flash fiction.

Magic For Hire

Julia hears a car in the drive and checks her watch. Stephen is prompt, she’ll give him that. Before opening the door, she checks that she looks sufficiently witchy. It would be a pity to disappoint him. Her yoga pants and Doctor Who t-shirt are covered by a light poncho thing that looks a bit like a robe, oversized pentacle pendant. She opens the door and looks him up and down. He follows directions. He’s dressed all in black. “We leave at sunset,” she says. “Wear these bones as a talisman.” She hands him a necklace fashioned from the bones of a chicken she roasted for dinner last weekend. “Whose bones are they?” he asks. She ignores the question. “You’ll have to wear a blindfold.”

“Muggles aren’t allowed to know about your circle, huh?”

She gives him a sharp look. “None of that Harry Potter nonsense or I’ll charge you double. Or call the whole thing off.”

He looks abashed. “Right, sorry.”

They’re usually uncomfortable, and inappropriate jokes are a manifestation of that. She actually thinks it’s a little funny, but if she isn’t serious, he doesn’t get his money’s worth. She makes sure the blindfold is snug and leads him into her back garden. Her little house only has one bathroom, and it’s drafty in winter, but it backs right up to the woods, so it was worth every penny. She leads him on a circuitous route, doubling back a few times. Their circle isn’t all that deep in the woods, but you have to know you’re looking for it. He shudders, and she figures he’s wondering about now what he’s done, if she’s led him blindfolded into the woods to kill him in some unholy rite. They usually start to question their decision, but they don’t like to show too much fear. “Is it much farther?” he asks, his voice tremulous.

“Not far now. Shhhh. We’re approaching the sacred grove. The spirits need quiet.” She reaches into her pocket and quickly texts Samantha so she can prepare the coven. Stephen’s steps are slowing a bit. “It’s not too late to change your mind. The dark forces aren’t for everyone, you know.”

“No, no. I’m ready. I want Leah to like me.”

“Remember, I can’t make her like you. I can make you more attractive to her.”

“Right, that’s enough. That’s all I need, a chance.”

Despite herself, Julia feels a little sorry for him. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but he needs some confidence. She’s providing that, at a fraction of the cost of the several months of therapy he probably needs. Some of them give off such negative energy that she refuses their business. She doesn’t want to send trouble after another woman.

The clearing looks more like an open-air living room than a place of magic. Stephen would be disappointed. No witches are riding brooms or cackling, and there are no warts at all. Taking off the blindfold would demystify witches for him, and that wouldn’t be very kind. He needs the mystery, and it’s either the blindfold or decorating the grove and making everyone play dress-up. She did that once, and it was such a hassle she charged extra, claiming a complication with the energy needed to perform the requested spell. Which was sort of true. 

Annemarie looks up from her book as they approach and rolls her eyes. She is a third-grade teacher and doesn’t approve of Julia’s chosen career, though she’s sometimes amused by it.  She’s lounging in yoga pants on one of the carved stumps they use as chairs. They’re surprisingly comfortable. Samantha and Louise are playing cards at a low carved table. Only the candles they’ve lit all around the grove seem remotely witchy. Everything else has a middle-aged book club vibe. 

Stephen is shaking in earnest now. Poor dear. He probably thinks she’s about to slit his throat. She could, too. She has a dagger right over there. But that would be messy, and she has no particular urge to do so. She mutters a few words and hands him a lit candle. “Hold this.” She walks around him, saying the rhyming couplets she’d made up for just such an occasion. She could cast a real protective circle and a real spell, but Stephen doesn’t need that, and there’s no point in bothering the gods or spirits with something this minor.

Annmarie stifles a laugh as Julia pours water on Stephen’s head. They may as well amuse themselves, just a bit of harmless fun. Stephen has relaxed now, and is holding the candle with a sincere intensity that is rather touching. He really believes this will change his life.

She walks him back out of the woods by a different route, just in case. They really don’t like to be bothered. She takes off his blindfold. “The next full moon is Thursday. Dive into the lake at midnight and swim in three clockwise circles.” 

“Midnight as in right after 11:59 Wednesday, or after 11:59 Thursday?”

She’s impressed. Most people aren’t this attentive. “Wednesday night. And the circles are clockwise as you’re looking down on the lake from above.” She takes pity on him. “And they don’t have to be big circles. Just the gesture is enough.” She’s made people swim a mile before if they were irritating enough, but she was almost sorry she’d charged Stephen the full $2500. She has no doubt that he’ll follow her instructions. He’s beaming at her. He has no regrets about the chunk of change he turned over to her.

She watches him go, looking like a new man. It’s amazing what even the idea of magic can do. And it’s a living, after all. Win-win. She’s amused at the thought of the midnight swim he has coming up, but that’s the extra touch she throws in for the deluxe package.

Carving Jack

Charity lifted a leaf and smiled at the perfect orange pumpkin hiding underneath it. “You can’t escape me,” she cooed. She ran her hand over its bumpy surface, marveling at how evenly round it was. She would carve this one first. It needed nothing fancy, no clever embellishments or complicated stenciling, just a classic triangle-eyed and -nosed jack o’lantern with a menacing toothy grin. She pulled the knife from her pocket and hacked until the stem gave way, then hoisted her prize from the rich, dark earth. Beautiful.

She spread newspaper over the kitchen table to make cleaning up the guts easier. You couldn’t say she didn’t learn from her mistakes. Her first stab, somewhere around the fellow’s left temple, was firm and decisive and made it all the way through the flesh on the first try. She was getting better. She sawed a carefully jagged circle around the top and lifted off its lid. She made a face. Guts were so off-putting. 

Charity set aside the lid and put on long dishwashing gloves. The guts still squished and squelched as she pulled them out, but at least nothing horrible was lodging itself under her fingernails where even a stiff brush couldn’t get at it. And her cuticles wouldn’t be stained. She still gagged as she dumped the smelly mess into the garbage.

Now it was time for the precision work. Careful, small cuts with a very sharp knife. Start small, because you can always cut a hole bigger, but you can’t uncut it. She was pleased with her first triangle, and she measured carefully to be sure the second one would be even with it. A couple of small adjustments and she was satisfied.

Time for the teeth. They had to be menacing, truly terrifying, the kind of gaping maw that scared away demons from your door. A cruel hint of a smile, like he knew you were scared and he was pleased about it. And sharp teeth, teeth that could rip and tear. Teeth you would run from.

Nowadays those LED lights were popular, but this jack o’lantern was a masterpiece. He deserved a stubby candle to sputter unevenly and glow as only real fire can. Some things just can’t be simulated. This fellow could bite and burn. A thing of nightmares. She popped on his lid and turned off the light, plunging the room into darkness. Shadows played ominously over the walls. Her breath quickened and she had to remind herself that it wasn’t a real monster. There were no monsters here anymore. She’d made this, grown it, carved it herself, and it—he—was glorious.

In life, Jack hadn’t given her anything but pain and loss and terror. Now he was finally useful, nourishing her crop from below. And she’d learned a thing or two about carving thanks to him. She watched the candle burn between the strangely familiar smile. Oh, yes. This would keep the demons away.

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge Round 2

Genre – Action/Adventure, Setting – A Moat, Object – Bacon

This was a really difficult weekend for me, and I’m honestly pleased I just managed to finish something and submit it. I thought I’d post it here instead of pretending it doesn’t exist because it ended up being sort of fun and I might want to revise eventually. There are a zillion things I’d do in revision since I ended up submitting a thrown-together draft. One of them is to bring the big fight at the end back to the moat to make sure I’m complying with the setting requirement. Also, I’m not sure yadda-yadda-yaddaing through a battle is really the way to go, though Action/Adventure is definitely not my genre.

Storming The Gates

“You don’t think there are really alligators, do you?” asked Mark. Lena thought about pointing out that ice was forming at the edges, and alligators didn’t do well in New England November temperatures. There were conflicting rumors in the tent city about the gated McMansion subdivision and its supervillain-level security. The grapevine had been dead-on about the electrified fence they’d tunneled under. And now a moat, an honest-to-God moat.

She pulled off her dark clothes and sealed them into a watertight bag. Underneath she wore a wetsuit. She pulled a dive mask over her eyes and adjusted the oxygen tank on her back. “Come on, Mark, one way to find out.” She brandished a knife in one hand and a dive light in the other and led the way.

The sides of the moat were sharply sloped to prevent climbing out, but there were rumors that if a moat existed, it might have an access hatch. Lena and Mark methodically searched, finding it within a half hour. Lena handed Mark the dive light to hold while she worked at the edges with the knife. Had she felt it wiggle? She popped up one corner. Yes! It went dark and she whipped around, dropping the knife in surprise. The dive light was floating gently down, down, down. Motion caught her eye in the gloom. Mark was thrashing around. As she moved closer, Lena saw the dark shape of a shark, maybe five feet long, and it had Mark by the arm. She swam up and punched the shark in the gills. Nothing. Again, harder. This time the shark let go of Mark’s arm. Blood drifted upward from a wound, but she couldn’t tell how bad it was. At least the arm was still on. The shark turned toward them and she punched it right in the nose. Thank you, Shark Week, she thought, as it turned away in confusion.

Lena grabbed Mark by the uninjured arm and started swimming back toward the hatch. Mark clutched at her frantically and she realized his oxygen tank was disconnected. She held her regulator to his mouth to let him breathe as she worked on the panel. At least she’d popped the one corner out before losing her knife. She was running out of breath, and grabbed for the regulator. Mark, panicking, resisted, and she kicked him away, desperate for oxygen. She took deep breaths and handed the regulator back to a calm Mark. She gave a final tug and the panel released. They swam into the hatch, Lena’s lungs nearly bursting. It sloped up quickly, and she fell to her knees gasping when they reached a flat, dry landing. 

“Let’s see that arm,” she said. She reached into her bag and pulled out her shirt, tearing it into strips. Mark pulled down his wetsuit and held out his arm, which was oozing blood, but at least not spurting. She wrapped it tightly in her makeshift bandages and they quickly changed back into street clothes. She checked the oxygen tanks. “These are worthless for getting back. We may as well leave all this here. This was just supposed to be a reconnaissance mission. Goddamn sharks, Mark.”

“How do we get back out?” He was pale but his eyes still had his patented spark of determination.

“We’ll figure something out later. We have supplies. We can take our time.”

Re-armed with knives from their bags, they crept up the ladder. Lena flung open the trapdoor at the top and rushed into the room, hoping to salvage some element of surprise. It worked. A man sat up in bed and she was on him before he could hit what looked like a panic button. A quick knife thrust and he was still. She looked over at Mark, who had silenced the man’s partner, and listened. Had they made it in undetected?

They crept quietly through the house, but found no one else in residence. “What do you think, 5,000 square feet?” whispered Mark. “For two people. While we’re all crammed in tents with no electricity. It’s obscene.”

Lena walked as if hypnotized toward the huge refrigerator and opened the door. It was crammed with food. “Eggs, and milk, and, oh my god, Mark, bacon!” She hoisted a large package into the air. 

“And we’ve been living on protein bars and mystery cans cooked over an open flame. No wonder they put sharks in the damn moat to keep us out.”

“I’m cooking it,” she said. “You scramble some eggs. A coffee maker! If they catch us, we can die with a hot breakfast in our bellies.”

It was the best meal of their lives. When they couldn’t eat another bite, they searched the house more closely and armed themselves with a stunning array of guns. “Ready for the invasion, they were,” Lena muttered. 

They disabled the house alarm and left through the back door, creeping in the shadows. Mark counted houses while Lena drew a map. The only way out across the moat was a drawbridge. “That’s a no-go,” Mark muttered.

She stopped suddenly at a small power station. “This is where they get their electricity,” she muttered. “We could shut it off, stay up in those trees, and shoot anyone who comes to check it out.”

“If we’re not getting out alive, we may as well take some of them with us.”

“That’s what I’m thinking.”

The first to investigate came in small groups that were easily picked off and dragged into the trees. Eventually they needed the automatic weapons when the community rushed in force, but they hadn’t been expecting an attack from this direction, and Lena and Mark had chosen a good vantage point. While their foes were armed, they weren’t practiced in their expensive weapons.

As they lowered the drawbridge and prepared to walk back over the moat, Mark took Lena’s hand. “I think I love you,” he said.

“You’re not my type.” 

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Feedback

I got my judges’ feedback on my flash fiction story (Political Satire/A Forest/A Laptop). I’ll repost my story below.

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1651}  I thought you did a great job of using animals versus humans in fairy tales to satirize and explore the movement of Black Lives Matter. I enjoyed the humor you brought to this piece as well.  {1611}  This was an engaging story and a totally creative concept. Great sense of pacing and wonderful details to ground readers in the narrative.  {1960}  Using animals always gives a lightness to a subject and having the bad guy put away in the end is the smart move. 

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1651}  I think it would be a stronger choice if you used only the humans from the fairy tales to represent the humans in your story, because it gets a bit confusing when the three little pigs are grouped in with the humans because they’re now humans called the three little pigs. Is Sheriff Nottingham an animal? I’d tell us when we first meet him. I’d also consider giving Sheriff one last plea in his defense at the end.  {1611}  I would have loved a tiny bit more interiority from the sheriff. What is at stake for him personally – before his interaction with Puss?  {1960}  This story’s language is ambiguous enough that it could be read as pro- or anti- BLM movement. Depending on your intended audience, you’ll want to go back and make revisions.

A Fairytale Ending

“Hey, Furless!” Goldilocks turned her head at the deep voice behind her. A huge, hulking brown bear was gaining on her. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m just out for a jog,” Goldilocks squeaked.

“Sure you are. You humans are always coming into the forest and making trouble.”

“No, I’m not. We’re not. Look, I’ll just go, okay?”

“I don’t think so, Blondie. You remember when that human Jack’s vendetta against a giant knocked down half the forest? My brother’s house was one of the ones his beanstalk fell on. There’s only one way to deal with your kind.”

***

Sheriff Nottingham washed another aspirin down with his cold coffee and unfolded the Sherwood Daily Caller. The headline screamed HUMAN ROBBER FOILED. When his buddy Papa Bear had called him in a panic, the sheriff had a flash of inspiration. Papa dragged what was left of the body into his house and claimed he’d found Goldilocks eating his porridge and feared for his life. With the Stand Your Ground law the sheriff had written last year, it was a piece of cake. Goldilocks had once been arrested for shoplifting, and the sheriff had made sure his friend at the Daily Caller knew it. An article citing statistics of human on human violence ran below the fold.

He watched the protestors in front of his office and rummaged in his desk for an antacid. HUMAN LIVES MATTER screamed their signs. Well, of course they did. All lives mattered. But if the humans were going to insist on coming where they weren’t wanted and stirring up trouble, what did they expect? He’d thought they’d gotten the message when Deputy Big Bad Wolf had run the humans nicknamed the Three Little Pigs out of town. Trying to build houses here! Imagine what three humans living in the forest would do to property values. He tapped his anthropomorphized wolf paws on the keyboard of his laptop, filling in the narrative section of the report. 

“Deputy Big Bad Wolf observed the decedent, Red Riding Hood, acting suspiciously in the forest. He approached her and asked what was in her basket. He believed his life was in danger when she reached into her basket, presumably for a weapon.” That part was fine. But what did he do about Grandmother in the human village on the other side of the forest? The sheriff was pretty sure that his deputy had been hungry and, his appetite whetted by the little girl and the contents of her basket, had headed to Grandmother’s house for seconds. He massaged his temples.

Was that Robin Hood outside his window? Yes, that damned fox was marching with the humans, and he wasn’t the only animal. The sheriff spotted the Three Blind Mice, a few swans, and Humpty Dumpty as well. He was never sure if Humpty counted as an animal, but he was definitely not human. What in the forest was going on here? He jumped at a loud banging on his door. “Sheriff! We have some demands for you!”

“Demands? Is that you, Puss?” he asked as his door crashed open and a large cat in boots came in. 

“I’m representing the Human Lives Matter protestors, and we demand your resignation immediately. This violence must stop.” The sheriff hadn’t even stopped sputtering when Puss continued, “We’ve overlooked a lot of injustices, Sheriff, but Red used to give us cookies on her jaunts through the woods. We liked her. We didn’t know Goldilocks, and I’m ashamed we didn’t stand up for her, but Big Bad has gone too far this time. And I know you’re in here trying to write up a report that keeps you from having to fire him, much less toss him in jail.”

“Puss, what are you doing carrying signs with these humans? If they would have just stayed out of our forest and done what they’re told, none of this would have happened. They’re the troublemakers here, not my deputy. Now, I’m putting Deputy Wolf on leave while I investigate the incident, and that should be enough for you.”

“Paid leave?”

“Well, that’s procedure. Innocent until proven guilty and all.”

“Unless you’re a human!”

“What do you care, Puss? Have I ever treated you wrong? Anyone in your family? Anyone you even know? The humans know what happens when they come tromping through our forest and they insist on doing it anyway!”

“And what was Grandmother doing in her own house in her own human village that was so bad, Sheriff?”

“Well, she probably encouraged Red to cut through the forest so she could get her basket of goodies faster. It’s a much shorter walk. Look, I could maybe put a note in Deputy Wolf’s file and give him a week of unpaid leave. I won’t deny that he’s sometimes a bit rougher than necessary with humans, so I’ll send him on a sensitivity course too. How’s that?”

“That’s just not good enough, Sheriff. We need real change this time, not your empty promises.”

Sheriff Nottingham blustered as Puss dragged him out from behind his desk, spilling his coffee and knocking his laptop to the floor. He was quickly surrounded by a mob, and he knew how Red and Goldilocks must have felt in their last moments. “Are you going to kill me?” he whimpered, looking desperately around for help. Was that Deputy Wolf slinking off into the trees? He thought he saw Papa Bear too, but no one rushed to his defense.

“I voted to kill you, but we’re a democracy, and most of us think we should be better than you,” Puss said, shoving him into his own jail cell. “And I don’t want blood on my good breeches during the election.”

“Election?”

“We need a new sheriff. My platform is Fair Laws, Equal Treatment for All. We’ll hold your trial after the election. I promise you’ll get exactly what you deserve.”

Sheriff Nottingham’s eyes went wide as the cell door slammed shut.

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

My prompts:

Genre – Political Satire, Setting – a forest, Object that must appear – a laptop

A Fairytale Ending (996 words)

“Hey, Furless!” Goldilocks turned her head at the deep voice behind her. A huge, hulking brown bear was gaining on her. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m just out for a jog,” Goldilocks squeaked.

“Sure you are. You humans are always coming into the forest and making trouble.”

“No, I’m not. We’re not. Look, I’ll just go, okay?”

“I don’t think so, Blondie. You remember when that human Jack’s vendetta against a giant knocked down half the forest? My brother’s house was one of the ones his beanstalk fell on. There’s only one way to deal with your kind.”

***

Sheriff Nottingham washed another aspirin down with his cold coffee and unfolded the Sherwood Daily Caller. The headline screamed HUMAN ROBBER FOILED. When his buddy Papa Bear had called him in a panic, the sheriff had a flash of inspiration. Papa dragged what was left of the body into his house and claimed he’d found Goldilocks eating his porridge and feared for his life. With the Stand Your Ground law the sheriff had written last year, it was a piece of cake. Goldilocks had once been arrested for shoplifting, and the sheriff had made sure his friend at the Daily Caller knew it. An article citing statistics of human on human violence ran below the fold.

He watched the protestors in front of his office and rummaged in his desk for an antacid. HUMAN LIVES MATTER screamed their signs. Well, of course they did. All lives mattered. But if the humans were going to insist on coming where they weren’t wanted and stirring up trouble, what did they expect? He’d thought they’d gotten the message when Deputy Big Bad Wolf had run the humans nicknamed the Three Little Pigs out of town. Trying to build houses here! Imagine what three humans living in the forest would do to property values. He tapped his anthropomorphized wolf paws on the keyboard of his laptop, filling in the narrative section of the report. 

“Deputy Big Bad Wolf observed the decedent, Red Riding Hood, acting suspiciously in the forest. He approached her and asked what was in her basket. He believed his life was in danger when she reached into her basket, presumably for a weapon.” That part was fine. But what did he do about Grandmother in the human village on the other side of the forest? The sheriff was pretty sure that his deputy had been hungry and, his appetite whetted by the little girl and the contents of her basket, had headed to Grandmother’s house for seconds. He massaged his temples.

Was that Robin Hood outside his window? Yes, that damned fox was marching with the humans, and he wasn’t the only animal. The sheriff spotted the Three Blind Mice, a few swans, and Humpty Dumpty as well. He was never sure if Humpty counted as an animal, but he was definitely not human. What in the forest was going on here? He jumped at a loud banging on his door. “Sheriff! We have some demands for you!”

“Demands? Is that you, Puss?” he asked as his door crashed open and a large cat in boots came in. 

“I’m representing the Human Lives Matter protestors, and we demand your resignation immediately. This violence must stop.” The sheriff hadn’t even stopped sputtering when Puss continued, “We’ve overlooked a lot of injustices, Sheriff, but Red used to give us cookies on her jaunts through the woods. We liked her. We didn’t know Goldilocks, and I’m ashamed we didn’t stand up for her, but Big Bad has gone too far this time. And I know you’re in here trying to write up a report that keeps you from having to fire him, much less toss him in jail.”

“Puss, what are you doing carrying signs with these humans? If they would have just stayed out of our forest and done what they’re told, none of this would have happened. They’re the troublemakers here, not my deputy. Now, I’m putting Deputy Wolf on leave while I investigate the incident, and that should be enough for you.”

“Paid leave?”

“Well, that’s procedure. Innocent until proven guilty and all.”

“Unless you’re a human!”

“What do you care, Puss? Have I ever treated you wrong? Anyone in your family? Anyone you even know? The humans know what happens when they come tromping through our forest and they insist on doing it anyway!”

“And what was Grandmother doing in her own house in her own human village that was so bad, Sheriff?”

“Well, she probably encouraged Red to cut through the forest so she could get her basket of goodies faster. It’s a much shorter walk. Look, I could maybe put a note in Deputy Wolf’s file and give him a week of unpaid leave. I won’t deny that he’s sometimes a bit rougher than necessary with humans, so I’ll send him on a sensitivity course too. How’s that?”

“That’s just not good enough, Sheriff. We need real change this time, not your empty promises.”

Sheriff Nottingham blustered as Puss dragged him out from behind his desk, spilling his coffee and knocking his laptop to the floor. He was quickly surrounded by a mob, and he knew how Red and Goldilocks must have felt in their last moments. “Are you going to kill me?” he whimpered, looking desperately around for help. Was that Deputy Wolf slinking off into the trees? He thought he saw Papa Bear too, but no one rushed to his defense.

“I voted to kill you, but we’re a democracy, and most of us think we should be better than you,” Puss said, shoving him into his own jail cell. “And I don’t want blood on my good breeches during the election.”

“Election?”

“We need a new sheriff. My platform is Fair Laws, Equal Treatment for All. We’ll hold your trial after the election. I promise you’ll get exactly what you deserve.”

Sheriff Nottingham’s eyes went wide as the cell door slammed shut.