Flash fiction is a fascinating — and difficult! — genre: the ability to create fleshed-out characters and complex emotions in just a few hundred words is an impressive skill.
We asked three writers to create their own little worlds for us, with a few caveats: each story had to be 300 words or less, and each one had to start with the same opening line: “The fresh skid marks — a little brown, a little sticky — trailed from the front door straight through to the back.” Below, explore their tiny, distinct universes.
“His World Beneath the Cabbages”
Anna Lea Jancewicz is Senior Editor at literary magazine Cease, Cows. Her writing has appeared in Hobart, Necessary Fiction, and Pithead Chapel; been chosen for The Best Small Fictions; and was longlisted for The Wigleaf Top 50. Read more at annajancewicz.com, or follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLeaJancewic.
The fresh skid marks, a little brown, a little sticky, trailed from the front door straight through to the back. I’d run to the house quick, but my body stuttered at the threshold. He’d taken my daughter. The trail, of gore instead of pebbles or breadcrumbs, led out to the kitchen garden and into the deep below the dirt.
First time he came, he was disguised as a miniature wolf, peeking from under the greensilver sage leaves. I bolted the shutters tight. The second visit, he was a badger. He scraped from under the house and made my daughter’s blood sing audible, the sound of thunderheads rubbing. He gave her friction. I stomped and pounded my broomstick on the floorboards until I flushed him out.
Third time, he called as a demon bear, arms spilling with apples from the haunted orchard. My daughter stood on the porch, and the demon bear slouched against the rain barrel, looking up at her with achy brown eyes. Her cotton dress was cinched at the waist and her gumboots were muddy. He fed her crisp fruit. The neighbors all hissed Persephone, you slut, but that means nothing to a deaf girl.
She was in her nightgown when he took her under to his world beneath the cabbages.
I wait every year for her return. She borrows back her blood, and earth thaws, creeks run swollen. She climbs through, hungry and pale. She feels the sun on her naked shoulder blades. Bees buzz out complex golden mythologies.
But always she says I am a wife. When she goes, I am cold again.
I sharpen the kitchen knives. I feel under my skin for sadnesses, for tumors. I collect the hair from the brushes and sing the house to sleep.
A native Londoner best known for her poetry, Katherine Shirley’s work has appeared online in Snakeskin, Poems Underwater, and the New Verse News and in print anthologies including The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 and Soul Vomit; two of her short stories, “Madeleine” and “Ernie’s Story,” have also been adapted for the stage. Read more from Katherine on her blog or on Twitter at @AWIHOW.
The fresh skid marks — a little brown, a little sticky — trailed from the front door straight through to the back. I kicked my shoes off, dropped my bag in the usual place and prepared to give chase. He couldn’t have gotten far and thankfully the hallway is no longer carpeted following the infamous purple-juice-on-the-rug incident, so this should be a mop job at worst.
The tell-tale “Brrrring!” of the bicycle bell preceded the entrance into the kitchen of my nemesis –- the easy rider in training wheels. “Come here, Jake. Your wheel! You’re fouling up the floors!” A burst of giggling and the (as suspected) nappy-free miscreant hove into view, pushing himself along, barefoot on The Bicycle — courtesy of his besotted (and unapologetic) grandparents. The wheels wobbled in a figure eight as my first grab for slippery toddler missed. We both glimpsed the inevitable striping the floor as Jake crashed full-tilt into the Welsh dresser — a convenient buffer for any wheeled vehicle, just a pity about the heirloom plates.
A muffled thud came from above, along with the impotent groan of the irresponsible almost-adult in charge, and moody, teenaged feet thumped resentment down the stairs. All that remained was the skidding of large, hairy paws on kitchen lino for the family reunion to be complete. Taffy, our terrier, named for his permanent and inexplicable stickiness, shot into the room, executed a perfect skid-turn, landing in the washing basket, and looked up for applause from his adoring audience.
“Fetch the mop, Danny,”I muttered, my mother’s fateful words haunting me. “You will only learn the value of peace and quiet when your own home is filled with noisy chaos.” Never a truer word, mum. Oh, and thank you and dad so much, for Jake’s bicycle, and Danny’s drum kit.
“How Quaint the Phone in Thy Pocket”
Walt Walker is the bloggy pseudonym of Michael McVey, whose five-year-old daughter tilts her head, punches her hips with her fists, and says “Mr. Michael” when she’s feeling uppity. Her big sister is a reader, less dramatic, and peers with furrowed brow over the top of her book. Mr. Michael is a writer of screenplays, short stories, and flash fiction who blogs at WaltBox and tweets @walkerwalt.
The fresh skid marks — a little brown, a little sticky — trailed from the front door straight through to the back. I hovered over the trail, followed it. A Maternal Unit appeared on screen, her shoulder scrubbing the floor, cheek squeaking over laminate, kicking herself clockwise, smearing brown-sticky in a circle. It looked brown on the monitor, anyway. Probably was sticky.
Found the Paternal leaning against the kitchen counter, arms crossed, smiling, eyes inward, clearly wired. A female 3 stood in pajamas on the stairs, not understanding, unwired, too young, wailing.
“My feed!” cried the MU. “It’s off it’s off!”
Paternal laughed at something only he could see, hear.
3 screamed, afraid, alone, swatting at me, my camera.
I hovered over the MU, scanned for bone, muscle, nerve, net. Net was down, obviously, didn’t need a scan to see that. Nerve had her spinning across the laminate. Bone showed a fractured clavicle. Didn’t think I needed Domestic but with a fracture I had to call. MU mopping the floor, Dad wired, 3 screaming… I had to.
Fixed her net with the GP drone I was remoting but the nerve and clavicle needed Surgical and that would be hours. Paternal should have called but didn’t, he was wired, online, oblivious. She was wired too now. Couldn’t lift herself off the floor, but she was wired, and what else mattered.
“You seeing this?” said the PU, reaching for something only he could see.
“Send it to me,” she said, kicking herself clockwise, slower. Happier, Relaxing. “Yes,” she sighed. “I see it!”
3 sucked air, alone on the stairs, barefoot, swatting at me.
I recalled my drone, switched off the monitor.
Can’t get that crying 3 out of my head, though, can’t fix her.
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