Friday, January 22, 2016

Flash Fiction Contest #8

For this installment of our flash fiction contest, we have a guest host and judge! Say hello to Julia Despain.

Hi Julia

If this is your first time joining us, check out more about the contest here.

Here is your prompt:

It was the end of our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages.

You must include the prompt somewhere inside your story. Julia has chosen 750 words as the maximum story length. You have until noon EST on Sunday to enter the contest. Don't forget to include your name as you'd like it on your winner badge, and your twitter handle if you have one! Winner will be announced Sunday night whenever there's a break in the football game. Go Broncos!
(You can still enter if you're a Patriots fan. I GUESS.)

Annnnnnnnd, go!


  1. I don’t know why our mother chose to send us to Grandmother Thomas’s for an entire summer. My youngest brother, Farley, guessed that it was because his teacher had to call home nearly every day of the last month of school. My other brother, Samson, thought it was because of the divorce. I wondered if Mother had a new boyfriend already and didn’t want us to know.
    Whatever the reason, on June 1st, Mother presented us each with a new suitcase and told us to pack.
    It was a four hour drive to Grandmother’s house. We hadn’t seen her since right after Farley was born, which meant we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. Farley whispered that he hoped she made good cookies. Samson wondered if she had a lot of books. I wished there would be a piano.
    Grandmother stared at us through the storm door as we tumbled out of the car. Farley didn’t even pick up his suitcase, just ran to the house.
    “Hello, Grandmother. Can I use your bathroom?”
    Grandmother stepped aside to let him in. She didn’t say a word. I hoped Farley would figure out where the bathroom was before it was too late.
    Mother picked up Farley’s suitcase, and waved her hand at the house to indicate that Samson and I should go in. I was the oldest, so I took a deep breath and went ahead of Samson.
    “Hello, Grandmother.” I set my suitcase down and hugged her. A faint tapping on my back was the only indication that she returned the gesture. I moved past her into the kitchen so Samson could take his turn.
    A rack on the wall displayed a collection of spoons with engraved handles. Beneath it sat a tiny table with only two chairs. I moved through the kitchen, thinking I would find a dining room with a proper-sized table, but no luck.
    There was, however, a piano. I rested my suitcase against the worn plaid sofa and sat down at the bench.
    “Adrienne is very good at piano,” my mother offered. “Do you have any of your old books?”
    Grandmother nodded, and pointed to a bookshelf on the opposite wall. Samson dropped his suitcase unceremoniously and shot toward it.
    Farley came out of the bathroom. “The flusher’s broken,” he whispered to our mother, though it was loud enough for everyone to hear. Grandmother immediately left the room, and seconds later we heard the toilet flush. She returned, and patted Farley on the head.
    “Are there any cookies?” he asked. Again, Grandmother left the room without a word.
    “I have to go,” Mother told us. I saw Samson’s shoulders stiffen, though he didn’t say anything. Farley’s lip wibbled. Mom hugged each of us before disappearing into the kitchen. She said goodbye to Grandmother. Then the storm door slammed.
    Grandmother reappeared in the living room. She held a spoon covered in cookie batter out to Farley. Grandmother wiped her hands on a frayed dishtowel, and beckoned to me. Samson and Farley followed us downstairs, Farley still clutching the wooden spoon.
    While the upstairs of the house was cozy, the downstairs was a dilapidated shrine to junk. Boxes were stacked three or four high; walking through them was like navigating a maze.
    At the end of the maze was a room. The walls were sky blue, and someone with a shaky hand had painted animals on them. Farley gently touched a purple monkey.
    “Wow. Did you paint these?”
    Grandmother nodded.
    Samson set his suitcase down and scrambled to claim the top bunk of the scuffed but sturdy bunk bed set against the wall. I placed my suitcase on the daybed, which was clearly meant for me.
    “It’s perfect,” I told Grandmother. She clasped my hands, and smiled. Her eyes watered. Farley hugged her knees.
    “I love it!” he yelped. “This is the best room ever!”
    “Yeah,” Samson agreed from his perch on the top bunk. “Thank you, Grandmother.”

  2. We spent the summer playing outside and getting horribly dirty. The food was terrible, except for the cookies she made every Sunday, but we didn’t care. In August, when our mother returned, we didn’t want to go. But it was the end of our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages that our mother’s hands flew to her mouth when she saw us. And when Farley clung to Grandmother’s apron and screamed that he wasn’t leaving, both Mother and Grandmother cried.

    I had to publish it as 2 comments because it was too long!

  3. This looks like huge fun! I'll try and put my thinking cap on.

  4. The roar of a snow blower woke me from a sound sleep. I groaned and rolled over, pulling the pillow over my head. God I hated winter in Nebraska. Did people have to remove snow before the sun was up? I had a splitting headache and I wanted more sleep. The bed at the halfway house was too small and the pillow not as comfortable as the one I'd had in rehab. But it blocked the noise of humanity and let me relax.

    The halfway house. It sat in a regular neighborhood and looked like a regular house. It was two stories, complete with black shutters and a privacy fence in the back. We all had chores to do and rent to pay.

    I didn't want to come to the halfway house. But after nearly freezing to death on the streets last winter, I was taken to the hospital when a good Samaritan called the paramedics. Word was that it was my parents who were on duty that day and they were the ones who cared for me on the way to the ER. I didn't know if that was true, because I hadn't spoken to them in about three years.

    When sleep refused to come, I sighed and rolled over. My clock said it was just after six in the morning. I'd be getting up soon to get ready for work. I sat up, running a hand through my tangled hair. Wind whistled around the house as I shut my alarm off and checked my phone. The temperature was a balmy two degrees and according to the weather app, it was snowing.


    I flipped through email and Facebook, pausing when I saw a post from my older sister. It was a picture of her, me, and our dads standing on the beach in Buxton, California. It was my dad Jimmy's hometown. The picture was from a few years ago, before Eliza graduated high school. It was the end our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages. I mean, we loved going because we got out of Iowa for a month, but we missed our friends back home and with some of the rules our parents put on us, we didn't get to do much. It was the first year I'd worn a bikini and my parents nearly died from heart failure. Hello, it was the first time I'd had boobs! And curves! I'd wanted to show them off to the neighbor girl. And she loved my boobs and curves.

    And she loved a few other things, too. My dad Jimmy was a former drug and alcohol addict. And now, so am I. Or, I will be, once I get done here. It took my dad four tries to get clean and sober and stay that way. This is my first try and I hope it's my last.

    "Cilla? You up?"

    I looked at the door, where the house mom smiled at me in the dim light of the hallway.

    "Yeah," I whispered, mindful of my sleeping roommate. I got up and straightened my pajama pants and top. "Thanks."

    "It's snowing and there's a lot out there, so be careful, okay?"

    I nodded. Thankfully, work was only a couple of blocks so I could walk. Working in a nursing home wasn't my idea of a good time, but I made good money and could pay my expenses here.

    The polished hardwood floor was cold under my feet as I walked to the bathroom. A few more months and then I could go home. I didn't know where home would be yet, but hopefully my girlfriend Randi would take me back. She'd been to see me while I was in rehab and we'd been patching up our differences. If I accomplished nothing else here, I wanted to get back together with her. We'd been best friends for years and I didn't want to lose that. If going through this made her take me back, frankly, I was willing to stay sober and clean.

    If it brought my parents back to me, all the better.

    689 words

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Mint Heaven Chip
    By J Lenni Dorner @JLenniDorner

    In the end, memories are all we have. Memories are all we might take beyond our graves.

    It was the end of our summer trip, thirty years ago, when Alzheimer's struck. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages. Eleanor was the first to be taken down. She should have never been brought to this prison for the old. It is my firm belief her mind would have been spared had her children not locked her away. They always were ungrateful beasts. To say she was sentenced here "so we could be together" was worse than any whipping our father ever doled out. I still smell his burnt coffee breath and lack of deodorant. Kids today never appreciate that product. Elders reeked to high Heaven back in my day. And yes, that's a capital H in Heaven, because it's a proper noun. In my day, everyone knew that much.

    Where was I? Ah, yes. Extended life gives that terrible disease more time to take hold of even the strongest minds. Eleanor, or Professor Eleanor Cove-Jablonsky as she was better known, could recite pi to well over one hundred thousand places. She developed a mathematical theorem used by NASA. In short, my sister is a genius. Or she was. Now she has trouble recalling the word for eggs. Perhaps calling them "jiggly yellow nose balls" isn't far off.

    The end of our last summer trip, our final breath of freedom, is a memory she retained. She relives it every morning. I hear her begging the nurse not to leave her here. Of course, she thinks the nurse is Mary. Her daughter Mary, not me. But that Mary isn't here. She hasn't had a free minute to visit in the last decade. Not that she came more than twice a year, Christmas and Easter, in the twenty years before that. Probably for the best. On her last visit, she begged her mother to die. She said paying for her care had gotten to be too much. Mary's children moved home after college and couldn't find decent jobs. I'd feel bad for her, I would, but she is the one who locked Eleanor away.

    Mary also incarcerated Doris, my other triplet. The fool signed over her power of attorney without batting an eyelash. Always too agreeable. She was taken by Alzheimer's second, but by Death first.

    Ted, Mary's brother who's a lawyer, convinced my children that I ought to be sentenced to this place. The crime was barely eating for three days. I realize that sounds bad for a seventy-five-year-old. But I had been out hunting. You eat only what you catch or gather when you're hunting. Some fools wear expensive coats, pack a lunch, and bring electronic devices into the forest. They carry weapons that cost more than I paid for my first house. I am not that kind of hunter. The hunting attire I wear is made from the skins of the animals of my last trip. My weapons are forged from nature. Ordinarily, I'm an expert in the woods. But faced with those orange wearing corporate drones who play hunters, I...

    They shot first.

    I don't belong here. The food is flavorless mush that smells like canned peas. The sweaters and slippers make me itch. I watch bad reruns on television. My sister's body is decaying. Each day I'm tortured as her vacant mind that was once brilliant spouts out gibberish. These restraints are hardly the worst they can do to me, but they're unpleasant nonetheless. Yes, I tried to die. And yes, I meant to end Eleanor's suffering along with my own. Some sins are worse than others.

    Our family trip to an amusement park was a distraction. The final destination was this prison for the elderly. There is a sin in that. A lie. Where did our children learn such deception? Yes, we would tell them they were going for ice cream and then stop at the dentist or doctor along the way. But the reward came after! No reward is coming for us. Except, perhaps, our deaths. Maybe Heaven will be an ice cream shop.

  7. Forever Twenty
    by Stephanie Adams-Hawkins

    It doesn’t snow in the south- you should know that before moving here. If snow does arrive, it’s a mere dusting that melts away by mid-morning so it can be slick as snot by noon.

    It doesn’t snow as far south as Galveston though.
    There are stories of snow in Galveston, and even of people freezing to death if you can imagine that. How does one freeze to death in Galveston, even pre global warming? Die of a blood born disease from mosquitoes? Sure. Die from humidity? Absolutely. Die from hurricane force winds and flooding? Perfectly feasible. But freezing? I mean, you’d really have to put your mind to it, right? There are so many easier ways to die here.

    That’s how I ended up here looking at this over exposed picture I keep tucked away for these moments of self-loathing, my only companion to a recurring pity party. But I wasn’t going to let myself go there. It was the end of our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and kind of like hostages. We may as well have been- arrested by our optimism of what life was going to be like. We thought we’d always have those bodies; those natural sun-kissed highlights rather than the streaks of wiry gray hairs that worry our scalps these days. But it doesn’t snow in the south so I’ve got that going for me.

    I don’t even know where those other girls are- somewhere floating in the Facebook ether, deciding whether to send that friend request because maybe thirty years is too soon. Well, except for Audrey. She didn’t make it out of this picture. No matter what happened in the hours after this pic was taken, my last and enduring memory of her is like this- stuck in this pose, forever twenty, never having to pull the loosening skin from her eyes to try and find the face that looked into the camera that day.

    I can’t find her anymore, that younger, more optimistic me. I see Audrey on every corner, at every beach, and she’s exactly the same- she’s actually as she looks in this picture. There’s a causeway that stretches from the island to the mainland, attaching Galveston to Texas. A beach in Texas has always sounded like a non-sequitur to me. Boots and beaches just don’t seem to go together despite what all those country songs try and say. But they don’t wear boots on Galveston, they wear island casual attire if they’re going somewhere important, and as little as possible if they’re going anywhere else. You can certainly die in anything you want. The dress code isn’t prohibitive to anywhere you’d like to go.

    But there are cold spots that you walk through and can’t shake. These are the places where Audrey lives now, where I’ve condemned her to spend her posthumous existence- at least until I die. I’m sure her parents see her differently and let her memory live on more dignified up north where it snows enough for Bing Crosby to convince you that a white Christmas is more than wishful thinking. No, her parents would surely be dead by now, so her memory is left to me. I seriously doubt the other girls think of her at all, having been counseled to not dwell on the tragedies of that summer so very long ago. But I’ll stay here with her and miss another winter that has the decency to let you shiver and hug your coat around your shoulders. Besides, any semblance of winter allows me the only respite from a perpetual summer that holds me hostage in this faded picture. Freezing wouldn’t be such an embarrassing death after all.


  8. Don’t you hate those stories where at the end the author writes, “And then I woke up”?

    Don’t worry, my dear. This story is nothing like that.

    Sit back. Don’t roll your eyes at me.

    It begins with a boy. There. Now I have your attention. A boy who sparkled below us like a nugget of pure gold.

    He was working in the king’s fields on the holiday called Satt, when we flew over
    on our way to our favorite lake, your favorite lake too, in the shadow of the palace bell tower.

    It was the end of our summer trip. We looked so young, skinny, and almost like hostages. Honestly. Never too thin or too rich. You’ll agree that is true.

    My sisters and I bathed in the water and primped and preened until the silver surface promised to break with our beauty.

    When the moon cast its spell we unzipped our skins. My eldest sister, Sylvia, rolled naked in the muddy reeds by the kitchen and made the dash to the broom closet where she found the aprons we wore like good girls. But she was gone that night longer than ever before and when she returned she had only one apron.

    On Satt the palace feasts all night so the kitchen staff can’t sleep.

    My sister Salva snatched the lonely apron with her teeth, and she and Silvia danced laughing into the meadow by the willow trees, leaving me chilled and exposed.

    Of course, then our gilded boy arrived. I dipped under the surface to hide, but my legs, unlike my much loved webbed feet quickly tangled in the weed and instinct sent my wings thrashing above for all to see.

    He rescued me. Though he would say I rescued him.

    Soon after, we married. My sisters came with my skin, but I chose not to return to them.

    We lived in love like silver and gold with the field-hand’s simplicity. It wasn’t until the baby arrived that my husband grew with greed.

    Then Sylvia came to me when my daughter turned one to tell me what she’d seen. My husband kneeling in a forest glade offering my swan skin.

    I became enraged. He’d fooled me, bargained my choice away. What humans called Love rose from my body like magical mist and sizzled into nothing in the sun. I waited for him at the doorstep, our child peaceful, asleep in her crib, no clue of her father's betrayal.

    He walked toward me, more radiant than ever, his simple work boots stained the grass a thick honey-amber.

    Furious, Silvia ambushed him. Her sharp beak aimed at his milky white throat but as his arms flew up to shield his face, her beating wings caught his flesh and hardened to gold instantly. She fell heavily to the path, blocking his way. But he had stopped already, amazed.

    I ran at him. I was a fool. No weapon but my hate. Caught in his embrace my fate was sealed.

    He set me here beside the tower bell, where I can see the lake and our old cottage all year long. He sold Sylvia for a princedom. Romanced the princess for a castle suite, and when he tired of the Midas touch the gods took pity on him. And he took pity on me, rubbing antidote only on my lips enough to learn I would kill him. Enough to lose further sympathy. The fool.

    Salva is my spy. You chased her up the spiral stairs. Daughter, up close you are even more like me, so curious, but what’s that? Scared of heights? I don’t understand.

    If Salva cuts the lake weed gag, promise not to scream?


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