Thanks again to everyone who participated in WU’s first ever Flash Fiction Contest, and to Debbie Ohi for her generosity in allowing us use of her inspiring artwork. We really enjoyed reading all of your unboxed entries, and will seriously consider doing something like this again. But we’re not quite finished; there’s the matter of choosing a winner from the group of gems below, and we need your help. Remember that the ultimate winner of this contest will receive:
- a Sony ICD-SX712D Digital Flash Voice Recorder
- Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice to Print Software
- a Scuba writing slate with pencil
- a Night-Writer pen
- the first EVER produced Writer Unboxed T-shirt
The second-place winner will receive the second ever produced Writer Unboxed T-shirt, along with the first EVER WU coffee mug.
The third-place winner will receive a WU T-shirt.
Everyone else gets bragging rights for being a finalist. Not too shabby, right?
Before we get to the vote, we’ll recap all of our winners. You may have read only a few of these stories up until now, but if you’re going to vote we’d prefer that you read them all first. There are brilliant stories here, and we’d love for all of them to have an equal shot going into the voting. So without further ado, here are the top twenty-one picks in the contest, chosen though a combination of your votes and our personal picks. (Note: Unless a title was provided for a story, we’ve emboldened the first sentence, so you can more easily locate your favorite in the poll at the end of this post.)
I can’t play Star Cancer Patient anymore.
The nausea hasn’t been criminal for a few days, but I can’t deny the smell anymore. It’s not the “I’ve been backpacking for a week” funk. It isn’t even the sour stench from when I had pneumonia last year. This is the reek of cornered prey.
Avoiding the shower won’t work much longer. Even if I stay in bed, it’ll come off on my pillow when I turn my head.
Star Cancer Patient would stalk to the bathroom, grab the clippers and shave it off in the name of not letting chemo steal her crowning glory.
It doesn’t have to be SCP cutting off the hair. I’ve never waited for anything to “just happen.” I yanked out all my teeth when they were barely wiggly. I’ve gone after every boy I liked.
It takes several squeezy blinks to clear the spots from my vision when I sit. Then again when I swivel out of bed and stand. I hate this shuffle-walk I’m reduced to.
The shaver is heavy. And cold. When I push the switch, it vibrates like I’m holding a jackhammer.
It drops, buzzing against the tile. Feet pound up the stairs and I sink into a ball on the floor. My mother picks up the razor. I shut my eyes. I hear it but don’t feel it. The razor stops and I peek. She’s bald.
She’s out-SCP-ed me.
I do the symbolic first pass and let her finish the job.
“This baby cry all day long, and she called Rosie. This baby should be all smiles with a happy name like that,” Jujube said to Kathy, the night nurse in the maternity ward of St. Berenice Hospital.
Jujube put down her mop. “Now, look at her sister, happy as a clam and called Maud. But that’s who she is.”
“Identical twins. I’d cry too,” Kathy said, laughing.
Jujube looked at the two sisters lying side by side in their bassinets — Maud, pink and calm, Rosie, red-faced, ready to burst. Jujube reached into the bassinet and picked up Rosie. She held the distraught infant to her breast, swaying her large hips rhythmically. Rosie cried louder.
“All I’m saying is, whoever named these babies got it all wrong. I mean, look at me. I was christened Jujube, after candy.”
“And just as sweet,” Kathy said.
“Not sure this be true if I was a Hillary, Alison or Beatrice. My mama was no dummy. She knew a name says almost as much as a face does. And together they say it all. Rosie here, she knows her name don’t fit.”
“But what about Maud?” Kathy asked.
“Maud won’t mind helping her little sister out,” Jujube said.
Kathy thought about this then removed Maud’s name band. Jujube took Rosie’s off. The two women exchanged bands on the babies’ wrists — Rosie on Maud’s, Maud’s on Rosie’s. Rosie stopped crying.
I am, of course, well appointed for this task. It won’t be easy, but you need not worry.
Well, not much.
You are calling upon me, I assume, because of my impeccable reputation. A well deserved reputation, I might add. But you already know that.
Experience has taught me that these things must proceed delicately. There must be no misunderstanding. Misunderstandings can be so awkward.
I shall, as always, employ candor and grace to create the illusion of charm. Charm is a deadly distraction, you know, and I have learned to use it well. It is my cloak. And my dagger.
And it always works.
You should not look away when someone addresses you. Poor eye contact suggests you lack conviction – not a good trait in one such as you. Perhaps also it is the way your hair falls across your forehead and your lip quivers. I say this only to educate, not to criticize. Consider it an extra. My gift, if you will.
Now, where were we? You have a plan, I assume. You have made the arrangements?
You must stop trembling lest your body betrays you.
You are having second thoughts, I see. Too bad.
I understand the importance of caution. But I would not wait too long. One should never wait too long.
It only takes one person to change the world, you know. Pity if it were not you. But then, that is not for me to judge.
Dory T. Wellington and the Fire Orange Blue Jellyfish Kite
I stole the kite from Mr. Kensey on my birthday. I stole it while he slept in a chair in his backyard. Me and Dory T. Wellington, we stood on the horizontal fence beams and looked into Mr. Kensey’s backyard at that fire orange blue jellyfish kite and we wanted it.
Dory said, “Let’s steal the kite.”
“I’ll do it,” I said. “It’s my birthday.”
Dory said, “You should do it. You’re faster.”
“I’ll do it,” I said, “because I want to do it.”
And I did. I stole that kite. And then me and Dory, we ran through the open lots in back of my house with the fire orange blue jellyfish kite. The lots where houses weren’t built yet. Just heaps of ant hills and spider holes, and patches of grass, and chiggers. The lots where me and Dory rode our bikes, and sipped Capri-Sun, and ate Peanut Butter and Honey sandwiches, and shot BB guns at cans. And once, I shot a BB at Dory’s face, but only because he dared me to because he didn’t believe it would hurt. And it lodged in his cheek real good but it didn’t bleed. And we laughed when I did it, and Dory never cried.
I was grounded for weeks after that. But it didn’t matter, being grounded. Because I still had Dory T. Wellington. And now, the fire orange blue jellyfish kite. And that cool scar that’s never gone away from the BB in my cheek.
Legend has it that Javier Munoz laughed as he ran through the flames the night of the terrible fire, leaping across charred shards of grass beneath his bare feet. His kite soared and dived, zigzagging to draw the fire’s attention from its beloved friend but Javier wouldn’t let go, even as the flames raced down the line to engulf him. Some say he went off like a firecracker.
Even today, villagers stay away from the field west of town at sunset. Brave souls whisper about a kite doing a crazy dance every night as the red ball of flame sinks into the horizon. They shiver when they tell you the kite has Javier’s laugh.
In Pursuit of Pretty Things
The fierce orange eye of the setting sun watches Ellen chase the butterfly into the woods. But the sun is not the only one watching.
Ellen runs with great galumphing strides, not a graceful bone in her young body. Determination seethes in the set of her shoulders as she raises the toy net. She will catch that butterfly. She will capture beauty. She will hold it, study it. She yearns to make herself beautiful, to make herself loved. She is neither one.
That’s what the man is counting on.
He waits for the light to bleed out, for the sky to darken like a bruised eyelid. He lopes after Ellen.
She stalks the butterfly, her breath ragged with concentration. His breathing is smooth, even. She swings the net in a wide, sloppy arc. The butterfly flits off, disappears. The man doesn’t need a net. He never misses.
When he is finished, he leaves the woods beneath a dark, sleeping sky, the cloud shrouded moon just another in a long line of unseeing eyes.
The rainbow posters on the institutional gray walls aim to bring a human element to this place of punishment. They’re not doing their job. Cat looks across the steel table at me.
“The Human Rights Commission is working on your appeal. We’re gonna get you out—five years tops.”
I nod. If I had to do it all over again?—defy orders, join the Zulis strike at the mining encampment—bring universal attention to civil rights atrocities on Saturn-12—absolutely.
Deep-freeze, a small price to pay.
I look from Cat to Thea. I’m worried about Thea—her surface serenity lets me know she’s huffed enough Ping to keep her numb for a week. On impulse, I reach over and trace the silhouette of a child flying a kite emblazoned against her orange skin. Thea looks up at me. There are tears in her eyes the Ping can’t absolve. She places her finger over mine and together we trace—memories of childhood, flying kites in the dunes while the fiery Suns of Triton set in the north skies.
Thea got the tattoo after the injection of Orange-Shield when she made Beta 9. Beta 9 in Rover Corps is no easy feat.
“The kite makes me feel that anything is possible, Thea.”
The jailer approaches. We reach the end of the kite’s tail. I let go.
“Babe, I have a routine call. But I’ll be home for dinner.”
I entered the front door cautiously, gun drawn. Bradley on my six. Rollie and Stan were behind him.
Bradley and I would check the upstairs while they cleared the first floor. Stealth eluded us on the creaky stair of the old home. I reached the top of the stairs. A little girl sat on the floor against the wall. Her knees drawn to her chest. I signaled Bradley to look at what I saw.
“Are you okay?” I whispered.
I stepped a little closer.
“Are you okay? Is there anyone else in the house?” She looked up into my eyes then, pointed around the side hallway. Bradley took the hallway to check for others. I stayed with the frighten little girl. “What’s your name?”
“Sarah,” she squeezed out.
“Mother of god!” Bradley yelled.
I joined Bradley in the rear bedroom where he stood frozen. I froze next to him. I heard Rollie and Stan ascending the stairs. They’d heard him too. I tried to stop them from coming upon the scene.
It was too late.
The sight of the blood, brain matter, and body parts strewn about the room was overwhelming. The walls were doused with blood. Someone wanted to change the decor. We were all in the doorway of the bedroom, Rollie blowing chunks.
But who was watching the little girl?
A flash bomb went off.
I woke up in an ambulance.
I find her in full colour round the corner of the alley. She hugs her knees, her back against the wall.
When I approach, she wipes away tears with the heel of her hand.
I want to tell her I’m sorry, but instead I say, “You can’t keep doing this.” Anger makes my voice shake.
She doesn’t even look at me.
“Is this because of Nick?” I say.
She pouts.“You tell me.”
She looks so young. So small. So immature. I used to think she had it all figured out.
“Well you normally come to make me feel guilty,” I say.
She crosses her arms tightly about her. “It was meant to be the two of us forever.”
I want to tell her that she’ll always be a part of me, but instead I say, “Forever means something different when you’re young.”
As soon as I say it she starts to fade. When she turns her eyes up to me, the bricks and grouting show through.
“This is the last time, isn’t it?” she says.
I want to tell her no like I used to when she threatened to leave me. Instead, I nod.
Her colours drain until she’s the watercolour I painted of us on the beach in Cornwall. Then she’s the felt-tip doodle on the front of my old math’s book. Then she’s just a pair of grief-stricken eyes.
Now she’s nothing. And I am older.
A monster lives in my bedroom and his name is Gary. My parents don’t believe me. Tonight, if I sit in the hallway, cold and shivering, then maybe they will believe me. Maybe they will believe that Gary has two dog heads and a scaly tail. Maybe they’ll believe that Gary reads me fairy tales like Beauty & the Beast and Snow White. He even has a different voice for each of the dwarves.
But, my dad doesn’t usually come upstairs until long after midnight. Sometimes he tumbles against the walls like a lumbering giant, and Gary perks his head up, ready to leap at the monster in the hall. My mother, she doesn’t ever leave her bedroom except to eat bowls of cold chicken soup. Every night, she slips two red pills into her mouth and disappears into silence. I bet she never dreams of fairy godmothers or flying on the back of a winged beast.
The hallway feels like an icy tunnel. Goosebumps rise on my arms and my eyes droop from the darkness. I just want my parents to believe that a monster lives in my room.
“Come back to bed,” Gary says, waving me over with his soft white paw.
I follow him back to my bedroom where he can protect me from empty hallways.
I run my finger down his tubby little arm, following the contours of the rolls of baby fat. It’s been seven months now, since he was born.
He’s got my eyes. I knew it. I knew it from the moment I saw Jenny waddling through town in August. It was eight months after the Christmas party. Oh, she denied it when I asked. Told me the baby wasn’t mine. Said it was her husband’s. Said: “Get the hell away from me, Chris. Jesus. I told you it was over at the New Year party.”
I understand though. I’ll forgive her, in time.
My son stirs a little, and gurgles. He’s going to be a man’s man. We’ll play football together. I’ll grin when he mimics me and makes old man faces. We’ll look back at pictures of the pink blanket and laugh. I’ll say it was the best I could do, and he’ll understand.
A strobe of blue flashes over the wall, illuminating a splatter of red. It looks dark purple. I should have thought of that color for this room. A loudspeaker crackles into life.
“Christopher. We’ve posted a phone through the letterbox. Pick it up, buddy.”
I snort and look down at Jenny. Her eyes are wide over the duck tape, but she’ll come around. She’s already recoiled from her husband.
I look at him. Cold. Still. Leaking.
My hand relaxes on the gun resting on my knee, and I make soothing shushing sounds into the crib.
She was the cutest baby in the whole world.
Oh, sure, every parent says that about their first born. He knew that, had considered it, weighed it from every angle. Before she was born he’d promised himself that he wouldn’t be one of THOSE parents, carrying tons of baby photos on his phone – ok, he’d do that, he just wouldn’t force everyone to look at them – or sharing every little thing she did on Facebook.
And, for the most part, he’d succeeded. But she was still the cutest baby in the world. She had the most adorable dimples, and her laugh was like fingerbells rung by an angel. Sure, Davison over in Accounting said nearly the same thing about his new son, and the CTO’s executive assistant had pictures on her desk that were very nearly as cute as his daughter.
But after the Siang-jui meltdown there had been a lot of problems with newborns, lots of miscarriages and still-born and malformed or missing limbs. The radiation cloud had spread all over the world, affecting in utero development in ways that no one could predict. So he knew, just knew, that his perfect little daughter was the cutest baby there was anywhere.
And it didn’t even matter that her face was on upside down.
“You’re my last chance at being a good mother,” Evelyn said to Ady. She had named the baby Ady because it meant noble. What Evelyn had done was wrong, but she also deemed it noble, and that was how she decided on the name. She sat on a stool beside Ady’s crib, watching her sleep.
She thought about the day she had taken Ady. The weather had been magnificent. The sun was warm and soothing. All the mothers had been out with their strollers and baby bags in the park. Evelyn had thought that the signs were there. Fate and opportunity had conspired to bring her to that moment with Ady. Ady’s stroller had not been abandoned, but her birth mother had turned off just long enough.
Evelyn believed in second chances. She would make Ady her little star. She hadn’t done that with her own daughter, Hope. She tried to be a good mother, but back then she cared more about herself. That has stayed with her for her entire life. She smiled at Ady. This time, she would get it right.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Are you plaing with that doll again?”
“Are you in the attic, right this minute, looking at that god damn doll again?”
“No, dammit, leave me alone!”
Herbert listened to Elsie’s heavy footsteps climb the attic stairs.
“Herbert, you WERE playing with that god damn doll again.”
“I’m only looking at it. There’s a difference.”
“Some men drink, some men hump women, you, you play with dolls.”
Elsie made her way back down the stairs.
“Herbert! Put away the dress up clothes when you’re done!”
She stood there once a week, right by the railings which contained the park. If she looked in she could make out the statue of a man, the one who had caused war and brought pain, standing cold and hard upon his plinth. ‘What a waste of humanity,’ she often thought.
‘Safe journey, take care,’ that was the message always sent to cheer him on his way. Then she would grab her coat and carefully tread the path to their meeting place, come sun or rain or snow.
She walks as the world moves in slow motion, tonight the sounds muffled, her breath held in the air, lights blinking, moon hiding, the cold whipping colour into her cheeks.
She can hear the crunch, crunch of her feet on snow, the swushing as cars slip by, the shish, swush, swish of metal on ice. He is late. He waves. She stops and smiles, anticipating the moment of being held, enveloped by his heart, their love blocking out the world.
As she stares off at the man on the plinth, momentarily shy, she hears a screech, a muffled thump, a scream which reverberates inside her own mind.
She will come and stand in that place, deafened by the wail of her heart, once a week without fail. She will wear her heavy coat to contain her pain. She will mirror the statue, standing immobile, frozen in grief, her limbs turned to ice.
The black cloak. Weighing heavily on my shoulders, unseen.
The black cloak. An unwanted guest that lets in the cold.
A man approaches – a murderer, a mugger, a rapist? The black cloak shows me danger between the mundane.
The black cloak tells me, “Don’t look. Cross the road. Avoid him.”
There are taxis waiting at the lights. Snarling beasts with blinding bright eyes. They watch me cross.
They want to devour me. How dare I disrupt them?
The black cloak tells me, “Head down. Apologise. Get away quick.”
But I move too fast. My feed slide on the icy surface. I land on my knees in the snow. My cheeks burn with shame.
The black cloak takes no responsibility for my fall.
“Your fault.” It tells me. “Clumsy, useless coward.”
The black cloak follows me home. Invites itself in. Stays with me for dinner. Comes with me to bed.
The black cloak will not let me rest. It shows me replays of how I fell. Over and over. Of the jeering taxis as they brayed for my blood.
The black cloak will sleep with me tonight. It will wake with me tomorrow. It will stay with me for as long as it desires.
But over time, it will grow moth-eaten and mildewed. What it’s told me will hold less power. Still, I will curse it for leading me into the unknown.
The black cloak will return. Until then it bides its time; a quiet echo, waiting to strike.
“Shit, Joe. You look like hell.”
“It was a wild night! You got a minute?”
“So I met this lady online and we’re supposed to hook up for a couple of drinks down at Cozy’s. I’m waiting for this broad for over three hours and I’m getting completely shit-faced. Well, the bitch never shows and Cozy’s getting all pissed off cuz I ran out of cash and can’t pay my tab and he boots me out. So I start walking home and I see this person standing in the middle of the sidewalk just staring me down. They’re wearing one of those monk get-ups, you know, with the hood and all. I get close and see it’s a woman and she’s as fucked up as I am. Then out of nowhere she says, ‘Take me home.’ I say ‘Sure, my apartment’s on the next block. C’mon, I’ll make some coffee.’ So we end up at my place. I ask if I can take her coat and, get this, she’s bare-ass naked. A complete knockout! She’s even got tattoos around her neck – hot, right! She puts her arms out to her sides and tilts her head back and I just grab her. She does the same to me. Then, boom! I black out.”
“So what happened?”
“I don’t remember. But check this out.”
He rolled up the sleeve of his sweater and revealed a bite mark on the inside of his wrist, flanked by two perfect little holes.
Wool reached out, like fingernails scritch-scratching, irritating the back of her neck. The long jacket served her purpose tonight. She made her face pretty, so they would choose her from among the wandering hookers, wearing little in the cold.
She undid the man’s belt buckle in an alley. She opened her coat so he could see her, bare, before he went. Humans. The looks on their faces when they could not understand. Rancid sores, oozing, trailed over her. Buboes, ruptured. When closed, the coat covered the stink.
A little nibble. Small bite? She sank thirteen rows of tiny, pointed teeth into his earlobe while he screamed. Soon his whole ear was gone. He bled out.
No matter. He would serve her just as well dead.
The sickness she left in him would spread. Corpses, souls, waiting for Him, yearning for Him. She would deliver this world to Him.
Death would be proud.
Perhaps He would take her in His arms, tell her that she was His favorite. Hunger, whose kills were slow but many, and Despair – the suicide rate arced ever up – would no longer satisfy Him.
But when she returned home, Love was in His bed.
“Darling,” He said, running thin bone fingers along her cheek, “Without Love to couple the humans, there would be no souls to take.”
She wept. He said, “Balance, my dear Pestilence.” He returned to bed Love.
The look on her face was much like that of the man, when she opened her coat.
The Girl and the Wolf
One autumn day, a girl frolicked about in the forest, kicking the fallen leaves into the air.
Suddenly, a squirrel rushed out from behind some brush. “There’s a wolf about!” he cried. “You should hide, too, before he finds you and eats you all up.”
“Not to worry, squirrel, but thanks for the warning.” The girl pulled an acorn from her pocket and handed it to the squirrel, who was most grateful.
She resumed her whimsical romp and was stopped again, this time by a rabbit who hopped out from behind some boulders. “You must hide now!” he said. “There’s a wolf in these woods and he’d love to make a meal of you.”
“Not to worry, rabbit, but thanks for the warning.” The girl pulled a carrot from her pocket and gave it to the rabbit.
She gaily continued, when a large, menacing wolf stepped in front of her.
“Hey, Roscoe,” she said, with noticeably less enthusiasm.
“How’d it go out there?”
“I know where they’re all hiding,” the girl said, her voice deepening. She then removed her mask, revealing an equally vile wolf. “You be the girl next time.”
Moral: If someone seems too nice, check for a tail.
Tim listened to the good ole boys predicting winter over coffee. He sipped his own strong brew and pretended to not listen. They agreed the caterpillars wore thick coats this year.
“It’ll be a long, cold winter,” Said one as he tucked tobacco behind his lip. “After a hot, dry summer. I had to harvest the corn early. And the beans weren‘t none too good.”
While the men stewed over poor crops and harsh prospects, Tim left a few dollars on the table and walked out of the shop. Sissy had loved to go there early mornings. She enjoyed the complaints of the old farmers and the smell of burnt pancakes.
He stopped by one day each year and let himself miss her . But the ritual wasn’t complete.
Sissy had a tradition each fall. She’d take the kids into the woods where they’d chase frogs and collect pinecones. He remembered her flushed face when she came in and told him stories about something cute the kids did. On those days, she was like a kid herself.
But she never told him about the dancing. The kids mentioned it when they pulled out the scrapbooks. He wasn’t surprised. That woman loved to dance.
Shafts of cream and gold lit a small clearing. Leaves fell like jewels. There was Sissy, hair loose and arms raised.
It’s going to be a long, cold winter, Tim thought. But I’ll be with you soon.
Then, you can teach me how to dance.
Her first trip is kaleidoscopic.
(I’m thin. Paper flake thin. I take a paintbrush, paint red, brown, orange strokes across the stumps of stucco. I paint oak trees in autumn because that’s what my paintbrush whispers to me. The Muskokas. The Muskokas in autumn. “Timothy Leary, takes you, trips you around the bay…” Then I paint my body raw umber and cadmium red, but it’s my Peter Paul and Mary Rubens body, “I’m leavin’ on a jet plane…”, with its marshmallow folds.)
She decides she likes to paint when she’s all lit up.
Her second trip is ghosts.
(She’s whisper-thin in a paper dress. I paint her on the stuccoed wall in my room because she won’t leave my head, “Oh baby, please don’t go…” until she’s on the wall. But then it’s wrong all wrong, and I don’t like seeing this person here. Spend an hour staring at her face. Wonder who is that dancing happy on the autumn wall? And oh god, who are you and what are you doing on my wall?)
She pulls out clumps of her hair and decides she doesn’t like to paint like this.
Her third trip, heavenly blue.
(I’m so freakin’ high, but I haven’t painted a sky on my autumn wall, “Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall…” and I’m still so sad that the dancer has a happy face and I, fat fourteen year-old Marlene, don’t, and Uncle John still wants me to sit on his lap at bedtime…)
Ready to vote?
The poll will be closed on Wednesday and the winners will be revealed within the week, so stay tuned!