Flash Fiction: Drama Sandwich

Drawing by Allison Tupper, age 6

Flash Fiction

This bit of flash fiction didn’t quite meet the criteria for a challenge I tried this week but it was fun to crawl inside Jade’s head and discuss Jules from her point of view. And who doesn’t like a little extra glimpse inside the Tenderfoot world?

*****

DRAMA SANDWICH

Just this once, I’m doing it – I’m breaking the don’t-eat-your-roommate’s-food rule.

At least I have a good excuse. Cheerleading practice ran late and I missed dinner in the cafeteria. That pissed me off to no end because dad-burn-it, it was Chicken Fried Steak night! Wouldn’t you know, I ran extra laps before practice just so I could smother my dinner in gravy. Now instead of pouring it on, I’m in our dorm room rifling through Jules’ stash. At least she has one. All I have is skunked beer.

On top of her fridge, I find half a loaf of bread. I grab that and open the small black door to her cube-sized fridge. I don’t need to dig much to find something to put on the bread; there’s a pouch of deli meat on top of several bottles of water. There’s also something that looks like cheese but it’s not the right color of orange. Hastily, I put it back, next to a jar of something called lingonberry jam. Jules is always eating weird-looking cheese. For an American, she eats some seriously strange stuff. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up some place else. I rummage around and move some deli packages to the side. There’s no mayo.

Butter it is then. I grab it and shut the door. I carry everything in my arms over to my desk. I push some stuff out of the way and drop the ingredients on it. Now I need a knife. There’s a clean one in a plastic cup on top of Jules’ fridge but if I use it, I know I’m going to have to clean it. It’s one thing to eat her food, it’s another to leave her a dirty knife. In my catch-all basket, I locate a plastic one in a mess of napkins. After a quick swipe on my pants, it’s good.

You can tell Jules grew up somewhere else just by looking at her clothes. For instance, half of them are black. And the other half? They’re running clothes! Jules doesn’t look bad, she just doesn’t wear the right ones. This is a competitive campus. She’s got to kick it up a notch.

I untwist the tie from bag and take out two slices of bread. I frown. It’s whole wheat bread. I really wish it was white but I guess beggars can’t be choosers. My uncaring stomach growls.

One day I took Jules shopping at the mall and she tried on a heap of clothes. She was a good sport, and even bought a few of them, but I knew she was uncomfortable. She got that look of hers, the one where she’s smiling yet her eyes are telling ya something different. To be honest, Jules did look kind of odd in most of them. I think her style is just as different as she is.

I unwrap the cold chunk of butter. I realize it is in no way softened when I try to spread some on the knife. I struggle but eventually I have an ungainly hunk carved off and on the bread. By the time I give up, there’s bits and pieces not only on the bread but on my desk and the floor. I smooth the bread out to hide the hole where the bread tore. Still, a bit o’ butter is better than none.

And yet. This roommate of mine landed herself a total hottie – and then dumped him! I didn’t even know for the longest time that they’d broken up. Like seriously, right? I reach for the meat and open the pouch. It’s roast beef. I shake my head. It sucked that she didn’t tell me. It sucked that I didn’t even know they were fighting or whatever. And she’s my roommate! She’s supposed to tell me this shit! Worst of all, it continues to suck because she’s obviously still in love with him. For reals, on Halloween they kissed in the middle of the street like nobody else even existed. I should have known something was up when she started studying all the time. I pull several shaved slices out. It’s way more than I intended at first, but the smell of it is so good, I drop what I have onto my sort-of-buttered bread except for one, which I stuff in my watering mouth. I chew. “Studying” my ass. I saw her eyes. Jules was crying them out wherever the hell it was she was hiding.

I wrap the meat and butter up but I can’t find the twist tie for the bread bag. I turn around to check the floor and my eyes light on the flowers Andrew sent Jules. They are gorgeous, just gorgeous. He clearly wants her back. God, what is her deal? She likes him, he likes her, why the heck aren’t they together? I find the twist tie on the floor near her bed.

I like Jules. She puts up with my mess, listens to my boy problems, and we rock out together at concerts for her “friend” Nick’s band. He’s just dying to get into her pants, I don’t understand why she doesn’t see that. She’s just so different. And sometimes, a little creepy. I would swear she knows when I’m lying, and I’ve caught her watching me. I’m not sure why she does that but it makes me feel like a bug. She’s my friend but I just don’t know where I stand with her.

I slap the bread together, pick the sandwich up, and take the biggest bite ever. It’s delicious. I chew, ravenous. After another bite, I take it with me in one hand as I put everything back with the other.

I realize Jules is like this sandwich. At first glance, it’s exactly what you expect it to be but like her, it turns out to be something different. Something a little damaged.

I take another huge bite. The door to the dorm room opens.

*****

Flash Fiction: Champion

Drama Sandwich

Drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction where a character makes a “drama sandwich,” as I came to think of it. In other words, write a compelling story where a character makes a sandwich.

This is my second attempt. The first attempt turned out to be a more nuanced story with less drama, less conflict. Since that story does not technically meet the criteria, I will post it tomorrow.

Both stories take place in the world of my book Tenderfoot. Bon appetit!

*****

CHAMPION

There’s a story I haven’t told Jules. At the time it happened, I thought I might fill her in as things went along. Jules has this mistaken idea that I, Nick, don’t like her boyfriend. She makes assumptions like this all the time. Like everything is black or white, yin or yang, oil or water. You would think that by now she would see all the nuanced shades of gray but she doesn’t. Her thinking is stuck. The reality is, I like Andrew. How can you not like a guy who takes care of his girl?

I was impressed when Andrew walked Jules back to her dorm after some asshat trolling for college girls on Franklin Street tried to rough her up in a bar room full of people. Having seen it time and time again with these star-crossed lovers, I knew Andrew would stay with Jules as long as possible. That’s how it’s always been – two magnets circling until they come close enough in proximity and they snap together, just like that. What I didn’t expect was for Andrew to come back after he safely saw her home. I thought they’d spend the whole night together. But once I realized he was down below on the street, I quickly grabbed a pair of boots and ran down the stairs. I caught up with him around the corner. He was easy to track – he practically glowed from the contact high. What worried me was the whiff of adrenalin that lingered on his trail. And I was right. When I catch sight of Andrew he’s standing next to the asshat in a sandwich shop.

So there they are, predator and prey. Fascinated, I walk in and get a front row seat, which is to say, I join them in line for a sandwich. It’s a shame the place didn’t sell popcorn.

The troll shifts his weight from foot to foot as some college girl makes his sandwich on the other side of the counter. She pulls a long sub roll off of a tray behind her and places it on the cutting board. Then she picks up a knife. That’s when Andrew steps into the troll’s personal space. I watch out of the corner of my eye as the troll looks up. His eyes widen. The troll steps away to the side, and hastily aligns his body forward. I hide a grin. Andrew’s watching the girl. When she has the sub cut open, she looks up. First at me, then Andrew, then the troll. I smile.

“What do you want on your sandwich? And do you want cheese with that?” She asks the troll. Her nametag says “Amanda.” How Americans love their informal formalities. The troll was concentrating so hard on Andrew, he seems a bit startled when she speaks to him.

“Buffalo Chicken, with that cheese there.” He points beyond the glass.

“The provolone?” She asks. The troll nods.

Amanda’s busy now, taking a portion of chicken out of a fridge behind her so she can put it in the microwave. While that’s heating up, she picks up a portion of pre-sliced cheese, discards the plastic paper around it and peels back the slices. As she lays the neat little triangles on the bread, Andrew turns to stare straight at the troll. The troll fidgets a bit. I don’t think he’s drunk enough to cushion the freight train that’s coming.

“What would you like on it?” Amanda asks.

The troll mumbles his reply, clearly unnerved. Amanda’s eyes shift from the troll to Andrew and back. She makes a good choice – she puts her head down and begins to sprinkle lettuce, onion, and green peppers onto the sub.

All at once several things happen: the microwave beeps, Andrew steps closer, and the troll returns his stare. They stand eye-to-eye. This is starting to get interesting.

Andrew’s shoulders have risen a smidge and I notice his fencing hand is absolutely still. The only question is when he will use it. The girl pulls the chopped sauced chicken from the microwave and begins laying it across. She puts a hand on the bottle of mayo.

“Would you like anything else?” From the way her eyes shift between them, she realizes there really is a problem.

The troll narrows his to a squint at Andrew as he replies, “I’m good.” And then he steps right up to him and says, “I’d like this to go.” Amanda wastes no time. She wraps that sub up, bags it, and asks for his money lickety-split. As the troll hands her the money, he asks her, “When do you get off work? We could go get a drink.” And he leers. Her eyelashes flutter as the poor thing looks down and makes some excuse. This is followed by the distinct sound of one of Andrew’s knuckles popping. The troll cocks his head at Andrew with such a smirk that now I’m ready to deck the guy.

Moving right along, Amanda asks Andrew, “Can I help you?”

Ever so politely, Andrew replies, “No thank you, I got what I came for.” The troll leaves, sandwich in hand, and Andrew follows him out. I didn’t bother to follow them. There’s only one way this will go down. By the time I leave the sandwich shop, chewing black forest ham on oat with mayo and black olive, Andrew’s already hit him a couple of times and is delivering a lecture on treating women right in the alley around the corner.

I pause for a moment and watch. It’s always heartwarming to see a champion in action.

*****

Flash Fiction: Management Tool

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction using an unlikable protagonist in less than 1000 words. The TV show House was the first time the idea of an unlikable protagonist ever resonated for me. The character was such a revelation, it felt much like being punched in the face. Only, in a good way.

*****

MANAGEMENT TOOL

Monday

The day is off to a good start. I hang around the entryway until Joanna arrives. I step onto the elevator behind her so she can only see me out of the corner of her eye. “Hey, Jo.” Her brow wrinkles. She reports directly to me yet I haven’t spoken to her in six months.

“Good morning.”

I note she doesn’t have enough balls to correct me on her name and she smells like my grandmother’s basement. “Are you ready for the meeting this morning? I heard it’s going to be one hell of a presentation.”

She shifts her insulated lunch bag to the other hand. The dark green of the bag matches the color of her coat. They’re so ugly, I want to burn them both. “I’m not going to be there. I’m in that new workgroup.”

“Too bad,” I remark. The elevator comes to a stop. I head in the opposite direction.

Tuesday

I open the spreadsheet. Damn it! How many times do I have to tell Ben how to fill this out? I might as well as just do it my damn self, right after I pick up his dry cleaning and fuck his wife. For a moment, I muse about the wife but then I remember his car. Ben drives a piece of shit. There is no way he has a pretty wife. I slug back half a can of Rockstar and watch the traffic around the break room. Several people come and go while Jason stands off to the side with Joanna. He checks out her tits while she talks to him. Nice.

I turn back to the screen. The spreadsheet is still a piece of shit. I print a copy. The fresh ink smears as I circle several columns with a big red pen. For a finishing touch, I scribble “Ben, WTF?!” at the top of the paper. I check the time. It’s 11:05am, not too early for lunch. Ben isn’t at his desk. I tape it to his screen where everybody walking by will see it and head to the elevator.

Wednesday

Candi passes my office on her way to the break room. I hastily grab my mug and follow her. As usual, she goes straight to the coffee pot. She greets me and we make small chat. The black skirt she’s wearing needs to be about 8 inches shorter but still, I get a good look down her blouse when she dumps the old stuff down the sink. Candi drones on about the specs of the new product line while she fusses with the coffee. I manage to lean in and get a whiff of her perfume before she catches on.

“Oh, would you mind doing me a favor?” I ask.

“Sure, what is it?”

With a big smile, I raise my coffee mug. “Would you bring me some fresh coffee with the pot is ready?” Grudgingly, Candi takes it. She may be a Senior Engineer but I outrank her. “Thanks, you’re a doll!” I head to the elevators for a smoke.

Thursday

I enter the bathroom behind Ted. He’s short. I notice his balding head as we step up to the urinals, which is unusual. He tends to lock himself in a stall when I encounter him in the bathroom. Taking advantage of the moment, I start up a conversation about local college sports. Ted excitedly recounts the bad calls from the night before. I take my whizz, shake twice, and zip ‘er back up. Ted finishes after me, but not before I notice he has an incredibly tiny johnson. As we wash our hands in adjoining sinks, I remark, “Tell me something. Do you have a girlfriend?”

He says, “Tristan, I’m married and have four kids.” I shrug.

Friday

I get lucky after lunch. There’s an email from Jason. The marketing team is jonesing to get their sticky paws on the test unit. It’s not even due for another two months from Hong Kong but he wants to send them a mock-up. It sickens me how well Jason works with others. If he didn’t report to me, he’d make me look bad. Just last week, he fixed a fuck up – Ben’s of course – that would have cost us a week of production time. I’m halfway tempted to send Jason to India to lead the setup of the new call center but frankly, the idea of Ted’s wife fending with four kids for three months on her own is tantalizing. If only I had an excuse to send Ben. Then again, I doubt the guy could find the airport much less another continent.

I head to Connor’s office, and breeze by Jerry, the C.E.O.’s pink cardigan-wearing admin. She looks up briefly then returns to her online gossip column. I walk in his office.

“I got your email. Have a seat,” Connor says.

I casually sit down in one of the bank chairs in front of his desk.

Connor leans forward. “I’m glad you stopped by. I’ve been wanting to discuss something with you. You know we have some new opportunities.” Instantly, I sit up in my chair. Where is this conversation going?

He continues, “I think it’s about time we took advantage of all your experience and I have just the thing. I’ve made a decision on the call center. I want you to run it. I’ve seen how you handle your people. You keep them in line, make your deadlines, and hit your targets. I want you in Bangalore and I’ll make it worth your while. Tell me you’ll do it.” He stands up and offers me a hand.

Fuck, I’ve been promoted to India. I jumped up, dazed. I thought they were sending that jerk Pentowski who sneers at me in the hallways.

 “Tristan, I won’t take no for an answer. You’re the best man for the job.” His words ring in my ears. My hand rises of its own accord.

 “Okay,” I mumble.

*****

Flash Fiction: Government Issue

teddy bear, guardian, government issue, red bow

A Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a short story in seven acts in 1000 words. When I began, this felt like scaling Mount Everest. Luckily, the air grew thin and I stopped overthinking it. I just put one foot in front of the other.

*****

GOVERNMENT ISSUE

They said it would be an easy assignment. Theodore wasn’t sure if anything was easy, much less an assignment, but he let it slide when they tied the military-issued bow around his neck. The color was old-fashioned. Gazing at his reflection in the mirror, he had to admit it suited his looks. Theodore straightened one corner. He was ready.

And so it came to be that Theodore found himself at a birthday party. His General had allowed as her name was Madison. What a lovely name, he thought. The way she threw her skinny four-year-old arms around him, it was like to push the stuffing right out. Then she gave him a big chocolate kiss.

The chocolate was still on Madison’s face when the Mother put his Charge to bed. Theodore won a place of honor against the pillow, tucked beneath the purple and blue quilted coverlet. Madison slid in under the covers. Her little body was warm against his fur. It wasn’t long after the lights were turned off that her breathing calmed. Theodore waited until her tiny body shuddered. Only then did he pull himself from her grasp and give himself a good shake to restore the fluff to his fur. Then he paced the room. He investigated until he was completely familiar with everything in it. To his relief, the closet remained closed. He’d investigate it during the day.

A week went by, then a month, as Theodore settled into a life of domesticity. He slept by day and kept watch over his Charge by night. He had yet to see any sign of a Glorax. But as they said at The Factory, every night we keep vigil. And he did.

One night, during the quietest moment of the Long Dark, Theodore caught a whiff of something sour. The closet door was closed. He sniffed quietly, trying to coax out the source. Would a Glorax attack if the door to its portal was shut? Nevertheless, he slowly rose into position on the pillow beside the head of his Charge. As she dreamed the sweet dreams of little girls, he pulled on the end of his red bow. It unwound into a pool of ribbon. And when the beast showed itself, Theodore struck it smartly across the snout with the razor-sharp edge of his red whip. It jumped away with a hiss. Theodore jumped to the edge of the bed, just in time to watch the green reptile slide under. A Parveka! Even with ninety years of service, his General had fought the vilest of nightmare monsters but a single time.

Theodore ran back to his station to prepare for the next assault. A Parveka wouldn’t give up until the break of dawn sent it packing.

It came quickly. The Parveka sprang from the end and raced up the coverlet to meet Theodore. The galloping knocked Theodore off balance but he managed to jump up and deliver whistling  ribbon knives. Only two of the six found home between the edges of the Parveka’s tough scales. Theodore raised his paw and four flew back to him. They joined together into ribbon. He raised his other paw and the two began to dig deep into muscle and sinew as the nightmare roared in pain. Its shifty snake eyes glinted as it pulled the wiggling knives out with gnarled claws. Theodore gave a running kick and knocked it off the bed and onto the floor. The larger creature hissed a mouthful of teeth as it landed with a thump. Dark green blood dripped from the cuts. Eventually, it removed the sharp knives. Theodore summoned them back. Then he formed a new weapon.

They fought in this manner for hours. The Parveka would attack from one side then another. Each advance was thwarted. Time and time again, Theodore sent it scuttling off. His arms and legs grew tired as cuts and tears marred his own fur. It devolved into a contest of endurance. Theodore tried new transformations with his weapon. Knives, a whip, a long-handled hammer, a scythe, yet none of them were sufficient to drive it off.

Theodore kept an eye on the clock. May the Sun rise quickly this dark morn. It seemed his prayers were answered when the Parveka stumbled out of reach of the red hook and slid back under the bed. Was it gone? It seemed too good to be true. Then Theodore realized his error. During the long night, he’d kept his Charge safe. Yet, had he removed the danger? Did I prevent more children from dying? He smoothed the wet ribbon between his paws, wondering.

With a leap, Theodore threw himself on the floor and slid under the bed. On the other side of the spinning portal was the nightmare. It stopped licking its wounds with a forked purple tongue. It watched him warily. The Guardian Bear toyed with the ribbon. Time grew short until he feinted to the left and threw the ribbon forward. The lasso flashed forward to settle around the neck of the Parveka. Theodore yanked. The jolt sent the Parveka skittering forward, claws scrabbling against dusty hardwood. It fell into the portal until only its tail remained. Step by step, Theodore slowly hauled the thrashing Parveka out of the portal. Then he stood his ground.

The Sun finally rose. There was a flash beneath the bed as the portal closed on the raging, injured Parveka. The beast was instantly cleft in two. With a blast, its guts sprayed outward. The viscera fell to the floor as sparkling dust and vanished.

With aching arms, Theodore tied the almost-new ribbon in a jaunty bow around his neck. It was agony but he jumped onto the bed and crawled to his spot on the pillow. Maddy turned over. As she did so, she threw an arm around him. Her embrace was welcome as a wave of fatigue swept over him. In the early dawn, the soldier let go and slipped under.

*****

Flash Fiction: From The Sun

Drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write no more than a thousand words in the present tense. Voila!

My main idea came from an article I read in an issue of The Atlantic. Global warming, nuclear accidents, killer asteroids, and vampires… these apocalyptic scenarios get plenty of attention. Why is everyone overlooking  that big glowing thing in the sky?

*****

FROM THE SUN

Alanna rolls over. The smartphone is buzzing on her bedside table and she’s too tired to open her eyes. It buzzes a second time. With a huff, she reaches out. Her fingers taps across the top of the bedside table but she’s unable to find the damn thing. With a huff, Alanna sits up. She gropes until she finds the grooved peg on the neck of the lamp. With a twist, the light comes on. In the moment of blindness as her eyes adjust, she thinks, who could be calling after midnight?

It’s a text message from Blake. “Turn on the TV, love.” Ten years rewind in a split-second.

Curious, Alanna reaches for the remote control as she leans back into the pillows. The screen moves from tranquil black to a scene of chaos. It’s CNN. A female broadcaster narrates a scene of terrified people, fires, explosions. “This is the last live feed sent from our studio in Tokyo, Japan, one of the world’s most populous cities. As you can see, the population appears unprepared for the rising sun just hours ago. It appears we are experiencing a solar flare from the Sun. Extremely high amounts of electromagnetic energy are striking Earth and temperatures have risen three times higher than normal. These temperatures are higher than most life can withstand.”

The view changes as the horrifying scene is inset and the announcer in the studio comes to the foreground. The broadcast loops. The woman taps her ear, as if adjust her earpiece. Alanna can’t believe her eyes. “Our sources at the Pentagon report the situation is dire. As the sun rises, time zone by time zone, the temperature on Earth will rise as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. There appears to be little chance of survival, short of taking shelter underground. Scientific sources believe most electrical grids, nuclear installations, and communications equipment, along with modern infrastructures, will not survive the extreme heat. I am sorry to report that it appears hundreds of millions of people are dead and more will join them.” The announcer audibly swallows.

“Oh my god!” Alanna whispers in her empty bedroom. The screen fills again with fire, flood, and explosions as the ticker runs reports of death steadily across the bottom.

She grabs her phone. As she waits for the call to go through, she mutes the TV. Alanna flips through the channels. The scenes of horror are different from place to place but in the end they are the same; the broadcasts end with static.

He picks up on the third ring.

“Blake?”

“I’m glad you called. I wanted to talk,” he says. His voice is still as she remembers – warm and comforting.

Nervously, she stammers, “Hi. Where are you?” It would be unusual for him to be in the same city two days in a row.

“Somewhere in Kansas. I’m as lost as Dorothy ever was. Tomorrow, I’m supposed to head back to the city…” They both understand there will be no tomorrow but the mention of it is like glass shattering. In the silence, reality breaks into a million jagged pieces.

Finally, he says, “I wish I was there with you.”

“I do too.” The words slip out.

He sighs. “How did we get here? Where did we go wrong?”

Alanna draws her legs up to her chin. She knows. “I shouldn’t have taken my frustration out on you. I’m sorry, so sorry. It was hard for both of us.”

“The fault was mine. I wasn’t there for you, or for Avery.”

How long has it been since she’s heard her daughter’s name aloud? Alanna imagines there is yet again a small warm body snuggled under the covers beside her. The memory defies ten years of sleeping alone. Life is cruel. When she lost one, she lost both. “I wish I made a different choice. Every day I wonder what life would be like, to be with you. I miss you.”

“We both made choices. I only wish we had the chance to make new ones today. You’re still living in our house?”

“I looked at some smaller places but it just didn’t work out.” In truth, the search was a complete failure. In one condo, the bare walls reeking of fresh paint threatened to close in any second, and in another, a swing set in the backyard stared back forlornly. Then she understood. To sell, she would have to paint over the soft pink color of Avery’s room. How could Alanna do that? Pack up and erase every sign of Avery’s existence?

Something moved on the TV. A suit with a clipboard was talking silently to the camera. Were his hands trembling? He was reviewing a series of bullet points on the screen. Seek shelter underground before sunrise. Bring as much survival gear, food, water, and medicine as possible. Appropriate shelter would be deep underground. Underground U.S. Government installations will allow civilians inside until sunrise. Be prepared for floods, fires, and explosions. The initial event may last several days. Sunrise charts are available by city at http://www.sunrise.gov.

“Oh, it’s really happening!” Alanna begins to sob. The tears burst from her eyes. She tried to swipe them away but one or two ran down her neck to the prim neckline of her grey cotton t-shirt.

“I’m afraid it is. And like most nights, this will be one where I wish I was with you.”

Alanna gasps.

“Really, are you that surprised? You really were the only girl for me.”

Swiping fiercely at her face, she can’t stand it anymore. “I’m turning off the TV. Turn off yours and talk to me.”

“Okay,” Blake said. “It’s off.”

“What would you do differently if you could do it over again?”

 He didn’t hesitate. “More children. We should have six more children, all as beautiful as their mother.”

 “Still a charmer! And as smart as their father. What should we name them?”

 They talked until the sun came up.

 *****

Flash Fiction: Cotton Candy Color

  Flash Fiction

*****

It’s been a few weeks since I had the spare moments I need to cobble together a story in my head. I use the word “cobble” because that’s how it felt to get my family ready for Christmas this year. Other applicable words would be “triage”, “minimize”, and “damage.” This story started slow. It took three weeks to marry the two main plot elements together in a fashion suitably holidayish after starting with an alliterative title.

I would like to thank a band named The Airborne Toxic Event for their wonderful song, “Something New.” I listened to it a couple hundred times as I wrote this story. Even now, it still provokes chair dancing.

In good fashion, it is also a response to a challenge set out by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

And so, happy holidays. I hope you enjoy this tale.

*****

We were in my mother’s attic when the roof cracked a thousand times and peeled away.

Only a minute before, we were searching for a misplaced box of childhood Christmas ornaments. I’d glanced at Jon’s face in the flickering light. The wind was so loud outside. Somewhere nearby, a tree cracked like it had fallen over. We quickly came to the same conclusion.

“Run, Janie!” Jon shouted.

 e only made it halfway across the dim space. The next thing I knew, I fell. Jon threw himself across me, his weight anchoring me to the tenuous sheets of dirty plywood laid across the beams as the pressure shifted. The deafening roar gave way to a cacophony of splintering wood and the light went out. Was this how it would end?

*****

For days, he’d dared me to pick a fight. Abandoned coffee rings and dirty socks, his leather jacket shrugged onto the floor by the front door, a bag of toiletries bypassed every trip up the stairs. Neglect. It was all too much.

I set the grocery bags down in the kitchen. Jon was eating a Christmas cookie. “Hey.” He took another bite. Red and green sugar fell from his lips.

A discarded sticky note sat beside the red tub decorated with candy canes. “Did you not see this?” DO NOT TOUCH was clearly visible in black sharpie ink.

“This is a damn good cookie.” He popped the last of it in his mouth.

“They were for work! How many gingerbread men did you eat?”

“A few. I couldn’t stop eating them once I started.” Jon brushed the stray crumbs from his t-shirt. He sidled up behind me and began to massage my shoulders. “I bet you taste just as good,” he whispered.

I stepped back. “Not now.” Beyond him, the milk rested on the floor, warming up. I picked up the groceries.

“Oh, baby. Don’t be like that.”

After I put the milk on the refrigerator shelf, I found Jon eating the pink marshmallows I bought to make treats with, straight from the bag!

“Janie, come back.” Jon followed me into the living room. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled behind him as he popped another marshmallow in his mouth.

“You see this?” I gestured around the magnificent room to the tree with twenty strands of lights and glass ornaments, the stockings hung by the fireplace draped in holly, the coordinated holiday pictures of us from years past among miniature red poinsettias on the book shelves. “I did all this by myself.”

He swallowed. “It looks great, sweetheart. You really knocked yourself out this year.”

I grabbed the bag from his hands and emptied it over his head. The soft pink globes bounced off his shoulders in slow motion, then fell to the hardwood floor. A single marshmallow peeked at me from the collar of his shirt. I plucked it out and pushed the squishy pink globe into his mouth. His eyes widened.

“We’ve talked about this. I’m done.” I turned on my heel. Stepping onto the first stair, I reached forward to pick up the bag of toiletries.

It was a peaceful hour before Jon came into the bedroom. I continued typing on my phone.

“Are we going over to your parent’s house tonight?”

Sigh. Mom asked me to search for a box in the attic tonight. I looked away from the list. I turned the phone off.

In the car, I didn’t say a word. It was a relief not to have to speak.

My father welcomed us in. We climbed into the musty attic. Jon pulled the cord of the jerry-rigged switch. Dull yellow light spilled across stacks of partially labeled boxes. Rusty nails protruded several inches through the roof. Pink insulation laid in-between the floor beams like unsettled snowdrifts.

I started at the far end of the attic since the box of gold spray-painted pasta and cheerio ornaments would have been found if it was close to the pull-down stairs. The wind picked up outside as I settled on one stack. I gingerly opened the flaps to find old family photos. I moved it to the floor and opened the second box. It held old clothes. Good gravy, what else was up here? The box on the bottom was larger. It was full of paperback books, Dad’s science fiction collection from the 1970s. Did they get rid of anything? Wind whistled through the soffits. It was so loud I couldn’t hear Jon behind me.

“Was it supposed to storm tonight?” I yelled above the noise. He shrugged and held up a Fisher-Price toy. Then the tree cracked and the sucking wind stole the breath from my lungs. The world shifted.

Silence. Jon’s grip loosened and he lifted himself off of me. I sat up and took in the sight around me. Weak green winter daylight lit what was left. Most of the roof was gone. The floor of the attic remained, perhaps held down by all the boxes. Bits of pink insulation the color of faded cotton candy floated down. They settled like snow on everything.

Jon picked a piece of insulation out of my bangs. He held it between his fingers, turning it this way and that. Jon smiled that mischievous smile I fell in love with. With exaggerated chewing motions, he pretended to eat the puff of pink insulation. Sirens wailed in the distance.

“Make snow angels with me.”

We laid back into the drifts and moved our arms and legs back and forth. How crazy was I? It didn’t seem to matter. Neither did the list. Daily life was just that. Daily. All that mattered was Jon.

“Up you go.”

He pulled me with a hop to my feet. His arms slipped around my waist as he laid his chin on my shoulder. We stared at the clumpy snow angels until I noticed a box marked “ornaments” above them.

I laughed until I cried. It was almost Christmas.

*****

Flash Fiction: The Tower

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write 100 words or less referring to one of five words. I chose “tower.” And here is my tale:

*****

They each thought I knew nothing. That I was naught but an innocent girl, whistling sweetly from my innocent perch. I saw him below, lurking about in the garden day after day. The Prince was there one morning when Mother called out to let down my hair. So when he called out, I knew what came next for hadn’t my mother warned me time and time again? And come he did.

I got what I wanted. Now my children and I roam, free from them both; stalker and witch.

*****