I found out last week that I placed first in my heat for NYC Midnight's Flash Fiction Challenge, round two. (Yay!) That, combined with my sixth place finish in the first round, was enough to earn me a spot in round three: the semifinals.
I was challenged to write a fantasy story, set in a hospital waiting area, featuring a broom. As always, I had 48 hours and 1000 words. Here's what I came up with in two very short days last weekend:
The Whispers of Phyx
Brooms have always looked like brooms, always will. The smooth staff with neat bristles she held was not the rough-hewn thatch she grew up using, yet both could be taken for nothing other than a broom. This was the good omen that presented itself upon Epyony’s arrival.
The wooden handle against her palms and the orycle’s words on her tongue helped ground her in this unfamiliar future that was too loud, too full, too much.
Upon waking, take three cleansing breaths. Call upon Phyx to orient you. Knowledge will come with patience.
Epyony performed Myrlynne’s ancient breath rite, and implored the spirit of the Sphynx Goddess Phyx to make this otherworldly place comprehensible.
The teeming mass of creatures here made concentration difficult. Every size, shape, and color of human was represented in the tiny wallpapered room, their torment crashing over her in waves.
Rows of low blue plastic chairs overflowed with them, their agonized cries and righteous fury a terrible din. A red slick of blood pooled on the floor, dripping from an unconscious man’s elbow.
She began to see how she might put her talent to work here. Back home, her skills were distressingly average. Here, they could be so much more.
First, to deal with the blood. She turned to the wheeled cart at her hip to exchange the broom for a more appropriate tool. The tool she chose was a staff with an end of wet tentacles, like the kraken that filled the oceans in her homeworld of Cantorya.
Mop, Phyx whispered, supplying the word Epyony’s brain could not.
Epyony lay one of her long-fingered hands upon the bleeding man’s arm, stopping the flow. The man awoke and looked around, brow furrowed as he took in his surroundings. He bent his elbow several times, and ran a calloused hand over his unmarred skin. Shrugging, he walked out the door, spine straight and eyes clear.
She watched him leave, then bent to mop the blood.
Every Cantorian womyn was born imbued with grace and wit and of course, miracle. Epyony’s matriarchal line was legendary; her mothyr’s talent for nurturing and potioning enchanted herbs emerged even before her womynhood began to show.
When Epyony, long expected to become an extraordinary healer of some stripe, had reached her 33rd year with nothing to boast of save the paltriest of hand-laying abilities, she went to Myrlynne to determine what could be done.
Myrlynne did not belong to any of the major lines of miraculous heredity. She was not a healer, nor a negotiator, nor a mentor. She was an orycle who saw all that will be and all that had been, future and past, into time without end. Her prophecies were as reliable as the tankard of ale that she constantly clutched in her knobby fist.
“I’ll have your tryad, then,” Myrlynne said on the day Epyony ducked into her dark, smoky dwelling. “Quickly now.” The low ceiling hung with dead animal skins and every table was covered in books.
Epyony plucked a hair from her head, and drew a drop of ruby blood from her fingertip with the knife Myrlynne offered, depositing them both in the wisewomyn’s ale. For the third ingredient, Epyony leaned forward and spit into the cup. Myrlynne stirred it with a fat-knuckled finger and drank deep.
“You are wasted here, young Epyony. What is commonplace in this time will be astounding to the descendants who will inherit our planet. They have grievous need for you. Your purpose is to be their miracle. Go now, make your farewells. I must send you to them on the morrow.”
Epyony studied the humans for a sign. No one was bleeding, though many had visible wounds and illnesses. How to choose? Phyx’s guidance was slowly building her understanding, but the enormity of the task overwhelmed her.
Two clerks sat at the front of the room. They shook their heads wearily, pointing each suffering human to the blue chairs, already full.
Beginning to lose faith, Epyony lifted her eyes to call upon Phyx when they lit on the sigil over the building’s entrance.
Beth Israel Medical Center.
Beth. A female appellation, signifying healing. This was where she belonged.
She reached out with her senses, smelling for infection, watching for anguish, listening for the most desperate cries. Death tasted like ash in her mouth, acrid and gritty. This flavor led her to a small human with raven hair, curled in her mothyr’s lap. Sweating with a fearsome ague. She did not have long.
By the time Phyx whispered, this Beth is a Hebrew word meaning ‘house’, she no longer needed such assurances.
Epyony laid a hand on the child’s head, and color bloomed back into the pale cheeks. The raven head lifted.
“Momma, I don’t like it here. Can we go home?”
Her mothyr, staring hopelessly at a set of swinging doors bearing the letters E R, flinched at the sound. Not trusting her daughter’s smiling guarantees of health, the mothyr took a narrow glass vial from her satchel and placed it in the child’s mouth.
Thermometer, Phyx whispered.
After twenty sharp ticks of the clock, the mothyr removed the vial and gaped at it. She gathered the girl in an embrace, shedding joyous tears.
Epyony continued her circuit of the room, laying hands to quiet disturbed minds and heal maladies of the flesh. She bid Phyx take her silent gratitude back in time to Myrlynne, who had prophesized a purpose for Epyony that no one else could have foreseen.
Many hours later, an exhausted nurse in stained pink scrubs shuffled out of the swinging ER doors.
“Susie Jacobs? Is there a Su—”
She looked up from her clipboard to see something that, in her many years working in New York City hospitals, had never come to pass: a waiting room without patients.
The only person in sight was the new janitor, a regal woman in a headscarf and long saffron dress, marching resolutely out the door.
I'm gearing up for my first foray into a new (for me) flash fiction competition, the YeahWrite Super Challenge, and I've just gotten the results back from another contest I entered a while back, Exposition Review's Flash 405.
I've found that these competitions pull me out of any writing funks I might be in, push my boundaries, and challenge me to try genres I wouldn't attempt on my own. And the nature of flash—usually written in a short time period with low word counts—relieves the pressure of writing a bigger piece and forces me to economize my words.
So yeah, I'm addicted.
You can read my winning Flash 405 piece here, and read more about the contest and view the other winners here.
The contest theme was blue. Here's a bit about it from the contest website:
We came up with the theme “Blue” to give writers a way to explore the diverse meanings of the word: everything from color and fluids to feelings and health, and even “going blue” in language and action. We loved the idea that one simple word could feed such a vast ocean of expression.
A huge thanks to Exposition Review, and the contest judges David Lott and Michele Raphael, Co-founders of Angels Flight • literary west.
I had a great time participating and am honored to have been chosen the winner!
My prompts for this 48-hour, 1000-word story were: a comedy, set in a bottling plant, featuring a top hat.
Synopsis: Annie’s romantic aspirations are dampened by her dreary day job, and she’s unsure how to move forward with her online relationship. Her English beau, Gareth, is about to make a grand romantic gesture, but things don’t go quite as planned.
Cherry Berry Lick-A-Licious
Lord Abernathy’s piercing gaze blazed across the ballroom, the fire in his azure eyes burning a trail directly to Lady Annabelle’s loins. With a swish--
The shift whistle screamed, breaking Annie’s concentration. She stopped typing and clicked save on her latest story before stowing the laptop in her locker. Tucking blonde curls into her hairnet, she hurried out to the bottling floor.
Doreen was already seated at the conveyor belt, wearing a novelty sweatshirt featuring a splay-legged cat grooming its huge, hairy testicles under the words SEND NUDES.
“How they hangin’ Doreen?”
“Long and loose and full of juice.” Doreen hoisted a breast in each hand and jiggled.
The production line lurched into motion, sending plastic bottles streaming past Annie and Doreen’s Quality Control Station. They were a good team, keeping each other alert with chit chat or shin kicks (when necessary) so their accuracy rating didn’t suffer. Being demoted to Taste-Tester was unthinkable. The thought made Annie shudder.
Doreen peeled a wad of peppermint gum off her stool and popped it into her mouth. Both women donned their nose plugs as the unmistakable scent of Cherry Berry Lick-A-Licious filled the air. It wasn’t quite as bad as Woo Woo Watermelon, but going without plugs was still inadvisable.
“Talk that hoity-toity Englishman into meetin’ yet? Ever gonna let ‘im beat around your bush?” Doreen laughed until her Wrigley’s threatened to launch.
“Not yet. At least on Skype I can enjoy his dreamy accent and gorgeous blue eyes. After two years, I’m getting impatient. But it’s a huge commitment to fly to another country when we’ve never actually met. Online dating is tricky, I wanna do this right.”
“Riiight,” said Doreen.
Gareth had successfully evaded the security guards thus far, but the difficult bit was yet to come and he was already sweating in his tuxedo. He took off his dove grey top hat to check that the ring, purchased at a lovely shop on Minge Lane, was wedged safely in the ribboned hat band. Satisfied, he gave his ensemble one final look—hoping Annie would recognize his homage to My Fair Lady—and wrenched open the back door of the factory.
Hit with a cloying faceful of fruit, he nearly packed it in right then. Annie always refused to provide details about her factory work. Gareth couldn’t imagine what concoction would require such a fragrance.
The machinery was so loud he feared his plan would be ruined. He scanned the hair-netted employees, but saw no Annie. He’d just have to get on with it and hope for the best.
Breathing shallow to avoid gagging, he burst forth, sliding across the floor on his slick-bottomed shoes.
“I have often walked down the street before,” he crooned, vibrato on full.
“But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before…”
No one could hear his song with all the racket!
The rotund shift manager, walking above on the metal catwalk in a penguinated waddle due to the shockingly low inseam on his trousers, glared down at him. Gareth sang directly to the man, playing to his audience of one, as it were.
The manager blanched, and with wary eyes on the tuxedoed intruder, slammed the red EMERGENCY STOP button with a meaty palm.
The motors and rotors and belts wound down with a clanky rattle. All eyes raised to the manager. He pointed accusingly, and the employees swiveled in unison from him to Gareth, as if watching a tennis match.
Gareth held back a bilious cherry-imbued burp and launched into song once again, searching for Annie.
“People stop and stare, they don't bother me...”
There she was! That beautiful, kind-eyed visage! Joy propelled him forward.
“For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be.”
Hurk! went his gag reflex. But his midday pudding stayed blessedly put.
He kneeled at her feet, pulling off his hat and throwing his arms wide before delivering the song’s closing line.
“Let me be on the street where you live.”
He almost forgot the final words as his gaze was torn away to follow a tiny metal object that arced through the air toward a large open vat. The song’s conclusion was punctuated by a dreadful blerp. With a sick feeling that had nothing to do with the miasma in the air, he looked at his hat-in-hand and saw—with a horror usually reserved for gentlemen donning seersucker post-Labor Day—that the ring was gone.
“Gareth, you’re... here!” Annie lifted him off his knees and locked him in a fierce hug.
“Darling! My heart lifts at your nearness, but I regret that the engagement ring I hoped to slip onto your lovely finger has landed over, erm, there... in that rather large… quite odorous… vessel.” He pointed at the steel vat squatting behind the bottling line. “What do you make here, anyway?”
A blush spread from Annie’s cheeks to her ears.
“Um, pers-mumble lu-mumble.”
“It’s lube!” yelled Doreen. “Sex sauce! Penis paint! Per-son-al lu-bri-cant.”
After recovering from this unexpected information—not to mention Doreen’s delivery—Gareth stripped off his jacket and set his hat atop Annie’s head. He climbed the vat’s ladder and dove into the pool of Cherry Berry Lick-A-Licious Personal Lubricant™ with a terrific splat.
Annie, dodging the rain of lube, suffered a moment of indecision. This was a huge step, and he hadn’t even consulted her. How unlike him! How... bold and delightful! She made it up the ladder as he emerged from the pink ooze like a crowning calf, covered in gelatinous goo. Annie pulled him close and wiped the gunk from his face, combing dark hair out of his eyes. Snugging her nose plugs tighter, she gave him a long, lube-a-licious kiss.
“He’s a keeper,” Doreen yelled. “Don’t let ‘im go. Well, hose ‘im down first... or not. Whatever you kids’re into.”
Annie broke their embrace but quickly became captivated by Gareth’s piercing gaze. The fire in his azure eyes burned a trail directly to her loins.