Flash Fiction: The Red Flea

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 27. I spent an hour and a half on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write something that makes you laugh.

Image from Flickr

The Red Flea

“Emi.”

I peered through a single eye at the smallest of my humans, Minako. She smelled of flowers and gave the best scritches of all my humans. She sat upon the large, multi-tiered padded platform the taller humans didn’t like me scratching. 

From my comfortable, sun-covered spot on the carpet, I mewled, “What?” This human understood my language more than the others.

“It got back in,” she whispered, pointing across the room.

I followed the gesture, opening my other eye and raising my head. My lidded eyes flew open and then sharpened. The arrogant, pestering red flea had returned. It rested on the white wall next to the wooden platform holding many sheets of shreddable things the humans also didn’t like me scratching. The red flea jittered back and forth, taunting me. 

Slowly, I uncurled myself, crouching low on my paws and my ears falling flat.

“Get it, Emi,” Minako said. “You can do it!”

The encouragement filled my belly with excitement. I would capture the red flea this time. It would not escape me again. 

I shifted my weight forward onto my front paws before lifting my hind end and straightening my tail behind me. The red flea continued jiggling on the wall. I wiggled my butt, squishing my back claws into the carpet to give me better traction. I breathed in, holding it until . . . now!

I sprang and dashed across the room in three bounds. On the third bound, I pushed my front paws forward and extended my claws. The red flea began to run when both claws smashed into it. I raked my claws down the wall and slammed them into the floor. 

I got it! 

Leaning down to my paws, I opened them. The red flea wasn’t there! But how?

“Emi,” Minako said. 

I glanced back. Minako perched on the edge of the padded platform and pointed towards the hall. 

Looking that direction, my eyes narrowed. The red flea was there. I don’t know how it escaped my claws, but it did. It always did.

I sprang again, not wanting to give it any more opportunity to escape. 

The red flea fled down the hall. I charged after it, hearing Minako scramble after me. 

The red flea hopped from one wall to the other, though I never saw it traverse air, not like a flying bird or a hopping frog would have. This red flea was something else, something unnatural, something sinister. I would not let it remain in my home, not amongst my humans, especially not Minako. I would protect them from this menace.

We came to the ninety-degree turn in the hall and the red flea once again transferred to the perpendicular wall. I lept and crashed into the wall, again attempting to grasp the creature in my claws. Leaning against the wall, I peered below my claws. The red flea wasn’t there. I hissed, my ears flat and my hair rising. Never before had intruders been this vexing.

Minako caught up. “Where’d it go?” she asked. 

I looked to the left, following the hall, and spotted the red flea. It was dashing towards the taller humans’s bedroom. 

I sprinted after it. 

The flea disappeared into the room.

Charging through the doorway, I immediately turned to the right, heading for the room of flowing water. The flea would be going there because that was where the tallest human was—apparently, according to Minako, the flowing water had stopped flowing and the human was trying to fix it today. 

Facing the room of flowing water, I came to a halt, scanning everything around me, trying to reacquire the red flea. The tallest human was in the room on his knees, half of him hidden inside the cave under the flowing water; his rear half faced me. I searched the walls, the various platforms in the room, the ceiling. Where was it?

Minako came up behind me.

There! On the carpet. The red flea zigged and zagged across the floor, heading for the room of flowing water. 

I sprang across the room, gaining on the red flea in two quick bounds. Almost got it. It would not—no!

It disappeared from the carpet and reappeared on the rear end of the human. How dare it attack any of my humans!

At the threshold of the room of flowing water, I leapt into the air, claws extended before me. The human would not enjoy this, but it was necessary. The red flea would no longer terrorize this home.

I slammed into the rear end of the human, digging my claws in and around the red flea. 

A thunderous howl of pain filled the room of flowing water. 

* * *

Unlike a bird or a frog, the red flea left no carcass. Perhaps it had escaped once again. It didn’t matter. I finally succeeded in defending my home, my humans, my Minako because the sinister red flea never returned.

Flash Fiction: Sneakers

This piece of flash fiction (haiku) was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 26. I spent twenty minutes on this story; this is the fourth draft. The prompt: “Write about an article of clothing.

This is a haiku because it was the twenty-sixth day of the challenge and a Friday and I was burnt out and I was very tired and I was in no mood to write. Ergo, a small, simple, fast story in the form of a haiku. ^_^

Image from Brooke Fishwick via Wikimedia Commons

Sneakers

sneak in past midnight;
silently by parent’s room;
sneakers squeak—busted.

Flash Fiction: Grandpa’s Thermos

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 25. I spent two hours on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about a cryptid. Write about your favorite animal whose existence is unsubstantiated. It can be aquatic (like South Africa’s Mamlambo or Australia’s Bunyip), terrestrial (like Brazil’s Minhocão or Indonesia’s Ebu Gogo), or winged (like the North American Thunderbird or West Virginia’s Mothman)…the choice is yours!.

Image from H2O Craft Rentals and Repairs

Grandpa’s Thermos

Grandpa’s white bearded chin slowly dipped towards his chest, eyes shielded behind clear aviator glasses closing. His shoulders dropped and the grip on his fishing pole relaxed. A few seconds later, a drawn out inward snort sounded from his nose. He was finally asleep. 

I kept staring at him for ten very long minutes to make sure he wouldn’t suddenly wake up. 

The two of us sat in his small fishing boat a few hundred yards out from an out of the way alcove, our fishing lines cast out on either side. The day was overcast with a spring breeze cold enough to bite through my hoodie. Other than Grandpa’s snoring, it was eerily quiet in this part of the lake. 

“It’s the best part of the lake to be in,” Grandpa had said earlier this morning as he guided the boat across the water. “Been going to it since I was your age.”

Mom and Dad hadn’t listened to me when I said I didn’t want to go fishing with Grandpa. “Wanda, you’re not going to spend another entire school break sequestered in your room alone drawing,” Dad said. Mom followed up with, “You need to get out more; explore the world; have an exciting adventure!”

Looking around the empty portion of the lake we floated in, surrounded by silence—except for Grandpa’s snoring—I didn’t think this was a very exciting adventure. So far, our first Granpda-Grandaughter fishing trip had been very boring, filled with a lot of sitting and waiting and awkward conversation between two people that had little in common other than a last name. 

Once the ten minutes were up, I gingerly let go of my small fishing pole and then swiftly turned around, intending to pull from my backpack the sketchbook I snuggled past Mom and Dad. However, the sudden movement caused the boat to rock back and forth, fast enough and wobbly enough that I yelped and dropped to my butt. Something splashed in the water next to the boat. I clasped the bench with one hand and grasped the side of the boat with the other.

After a minute or so, the boat calmed, the rocking turning more and more gentle. 

I glanced up at Grandpa . . . who sucked in another loud snore. I blew out a breath and then crept over to the side of the boat next to Grandpa, the area I heard the splash come from. Looking over the side, my eyes widened when I saw what floated in the water.

Grandpa’s thermos. 

“No, no, no,” I whispered, clutching the side of my head and pulling my coarse black hair. 

That was Grandpa’s favorite thermos. Scratch that. That was Grandpa’s favorite thing ever—except his children and grandchildren, of course. It was an old, dented tin thermos Grandpa got when he was eight when his own grandfather took him on his first fishing trip. Whenever anyone asked why he treasured the old container, he only ever said it was a lucky thermos and that he nearly lost it, but a special friend got it back for him. 

I frantically scanned the inside of the boat for something, anything, to help me get the thermos back. I snatched the fish net and reached over the side . . . no good. The hoop of the net was wide, but the handle was really short. The thermos was too far out, and it lazily floated further and further from the boat. 

I grabbed Grandpa’s fishing pole and stretched out over the side of the boat, causing the edge to drip close to the water. The tip of the long fishing rod smacked uselessly into the water, the thermos inches too far. 

Pulling back, I reeled in the line as fast as I could. A small, wobbling, green and brown gummy-like fake worm popped out of the water. Then, just like Grandpa showed me, I reached my arms back over my shoulder and then thrust them forward. The fake worm sailed through the air before plunging into the water . . . nowhere near the thermos. 

I reeled the worm back in again. My second cast was worse than the first. Meanwhile, the thermos continued drifting away. 

Eight more unsuccessful attempts at thermos-fishing later, I dropped the pole and slumped onto the seat. The tin thermos was now really hard to see; it had drifted far and the slight bobbing of the water along with refracting light provided good camouflage for the container. 

I looked down at my chest, studying the black buckles of my purple life vest. I sucked in a deep breath. There was no other choice. I had to swim after it. 

I hated swimming. Wasn’t a fan of the water either. “Going fishing will give you a chance to overcome those fears,” Dad had said. It wasn’t that I was afraid of swimming or of the water, I just wasn’t fond of either of them.

I peered across the water toward the thermos—my mouth fell open and I stopped breathing. 

Something long and slimy with an extended snout and sharp eyes poked out of the water next to the thermos. The creature—I didn’t know what else to call it—gently bobbed in the water, watching me. 

It tilted its head. 

I slumped back to the bench, unable to breathe. 

The creature peered down at the thermos, then back up at me and finally over to Grandpa—who, miraculously, was still asleep and snoring. Ducking its head, the creature clenched the thermos in its mouth and silently dove into the water, taking Grandpa’s treasured container with it. 

I kept staring wide eyed at where the creature disappeared into the depths of the lake. How was I going to explain this to Grandpa? Should I even try? He’d never believe me if I told him. 

An intense desire to capture what I’d seen overtook me, a need to draw like I’d never had before—which was saying something. Scrambling around the boat, I opened my backpack and pulled out my sketchpad and a pencil. I sat back down, facing where the creature had disappeared and put pencil to paper—

A drip, drip, drip of water came from behind me followed by the smells of algae and wet earth. 

Gulping, I slowly turned and looked over my shoulder and my eyes grew wide. 

The blackest eyes set in a skinny, snake-like head stared down at me. Rivulets of water flowed down the creature’s long, gray neck while droplets of water fell from the thermos clutched in the creature’s teeth-filled mouth.

I don’t know how long we stared at each other—it felt like a lifetime and yet like no time at all. 

Not knowing what else to do, I said, “Uh, hi,” and gave the creature a little wave. 

It bobbed its head. Then it leaned down to the boat—I flinched, just a little—and deposited the thermos on the red and white cooler sitting near Grandpa. It pulled back, gave me another nod, and disappeared quietly into the lake once more. 

Silence interrupted by Grandpa’s snoring settled around me.

I peered at my sketchpad. With shaking hands, I drew. 

I finished five different drawings of the creature by the time Grandpa shook himself awake, grumbling away phlegm and rubbing his eyes. 

“Just taking a small nap, that’s all,” he said, grabbing the thermos to take a swig of the coffee contained within.

I stared open-mouthed at him, wanting to say something, but found I didn’t have any words.

He stared back, worry etching itself across his face. “What’s the—” He glanced at my drawing and his eyes grew wide. 

It was a drawing of the creature with its head poking out of the water, clasping a dented tin thermos in its jaw. 

Grandpa’s eyes softened. He smirked and nodded, looking back at me and holding up the thermos. “Told you,” he said. “This is a lucky thermos returned to me by a special friend when I was your age. I’m glad you got to meet her.”

I went on many exciting fishing adventures with Grandpa after that.

Flash Fiction: A Minor Rumor

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 24. I spent an hour on this story; this is the second draft. The prompt: “Create a new myth.

Image from Los Angeles Times

A Minor Rumor

During the time of the Gold Rush, thousands upon thousands traveled west across the United States, traveling into the nation’s final frontier, a frontier that was little known to anyone but the natives. Of these many thousands, so few found the riches promised to them. Most chalked it up to false promises, greed of the already wealthy, conspiracies, and plain, simple bad luck. 

Curiously, however, there was one bit of speculation that sprang up amongst those who delved into the earth to find their yellow fortunes. A dark, haunting rumor told around campfires and at the mouths of the mines where light could shine, even if it was but silver moonlight. As most tales that came from frontier camps, this one’s precise origin is unknown, though some trace it to one of the mining communities in Amador County, California. 

The rumor was that many a miner had indeed found rich veins of precious gold, thick and vast. However, every time such a vein was discovered, the miners also found something else, something sinister that awoke from a deep slumber. According to the rumor, creatures of the devil hibernated upon these veins of gold. 

How is that possible? 

An excellent question. The veins are buried deep beneath the hills and mountains, after all. There’s no beast that could make it home buried under so much stone and dirt.

As told by shivering miners with eyes that stared vacantly into the distant, these devil creatures were beings without form, existing more as colorless shadow or smoke or mist. They are creatures that dine not on flesh but on the radiant precious metal itself, and when they consume too much they fall into centuries, if not millennia, long hibernation. 

Then the miners came, with their shovels and picks and dynamite powered by hope and lust and greed. Many of these miners perished in the depths of the tunnels they dug. Some perished from cave-ins, some from falling into natural caverns, some from mining accidents, some from poisonous gas, and some from their colleagues. There were those, however, that simply vanished, their fellows unable to determine what happened. It is said these were the ones who awoke the formless devil creatures. While they did not consume human flesh, like any beast protecting its kill, the devils had no qualms about attacking the miners, asphyxiating them, and banishing them to Hell. 

If these creatures slumber near rich gold veins, then surely other miners came across them after the creatures dealt with the original miners? 

It’s possible, and that is indeed a common question many had when first hearing rumors of these creatures. The common response was that after such a long period of hibernation, the creatures were ravished and quickly gorged themselves on the gold veins the miners had uncovered. Afterwards, they ghosted into the earth, going deeper and deeper, searching out more gold to consume until eventually the slumber took them again. 

Is any of this true? Who’s to say, though many of us in modern times would cast these rumors of a devil creature aside with nary a thought, chalking it up to superstitious 49ers desperate to find justification for their unlucky circumstances.

However, what we now think of this is irrelevant. What matters is many a miner back then believed it and decided that perhaps delving into the depths of the earth, risking the possibility of waking ancient creatures best left asleep, was not worth all the gold in the west. If they hadn’t, who knows what other horrifying creatures might have been awoke by human greed.

Flash Fiction: Flash

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 23. I spent about thirty minutes on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write a story based off a random word. You can use anything that comes to mind, or even use a Random Word Generator (like this: https://wordcounter.net/random-word-generator). My only ask is that you name your story after the word that inspired you, so the rest of us can see it!”

Image from www.Pixel.la Free Stock Photos on Wikimedia Commons

Flash

You turn off your phone; you grab your coffee; you pick up your laptop; you plant your butt on the couch. 

Opening the laptop and then a web browser, you create a new Google Doc and start typing out your next February Flash Fiction story. The clickety-clack of keyboard keys fills your home. Slowly, sip after sip, the coffee disappears. At some point—you’re not exactly sure when—your adorable cat snuggles up to your thigh, curls into a bagel, and purrs. The words are flowing freely tonight, action verb after action verb, concrete noun after concrete noun. The prose is clean, crisp, and clear, even for a first draft. Time fades away and you lose yourself to the rhythm of crafting a story.

Eventually, coffee long gone and cat long asleep, you finish the first draft. You bring your hands together, lacing the fingers and pointing palms toward the ceiling. The stretch feels heavenly. Then you glance at the clock.

You frown. It’s been three hours.

You key in the shortcut to view the word count of the piece of flash fiction you just wrote. Reading the count, one thought goes through your head: Oops . . .

Flash Fiction: Neighborly Post-Its

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 22. I spent an hour and some change on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Play with the form of your story.”

Image from Nevit on Wikimedia Commons

Neighborly Post-Its

Yellow Post-It
Hello! I’m Maria, your next-door neighbor. Welcome to the building! 

Blue Post-It
I hope you are settling in well. Moving into a new place can be so stressful. Don’t hesitate to ask any of us neighbors if you are in need of anything. We’re happy to help! Also, if it is not too much trouble, would you please keep the music down after 10 PM? Thank you!

Maria

Purple Post-It
Erick on the first floor is having an impromptu potluck party tomorrow (his favorite football team just won their first game of the season. been many years since their last victory, I guess). Wanted to make sure you knew you were invited!

Maria

Blue Post-It
You haven’t seen a calico cat with a stubby tail by chance? The Mosby girls from the second floor accidentally let it out and it hasn’t come back. If you see such a cat, please let those poor girls know. They are heartbroken.

Maria

Yellow Post-It
Hi! Sorry about mentioning this again, but the music has been a little loud. I know how fun the Witching Hour can be, but if you can, please keep the volume low that late at night. Many thanks!

Maria

Green Post-It
Hi. This is embarrassing, but on Sundays would it be possible for you and your partner to wait until the evening to engage in intimacy? A healthy sex life is a wonderful and positive thing, but my grandchildren visit Sunday afternoons, and I barely sidestepped a very awkward conversation yesterday (with them and their father). Thanks!

Maria

Orange Post-It
Happy Halloween Eve! Wanted to give you a heads up: I’m having a few girlfriends over tomorrow night for our traditional All Hallows Eve get together. We can be a bit of a rowdy coven (LOL) especially when tequila gets involved. I just wanted to apologize for any loud or odd noises you might hear. We’ll try to stay in control and keep it down. 

Maria

Yellow Post-It
The cat returned to the Mosby girls, all safe and sound. Turns out it has a second family in the neighboring building, the little scamp. 

Maria

Orange Post-It
The music has gotten loud again. If it continues, I’m going to have to take a more drastic approach to resolving this. Third strike, after all. Please, just keep it down after 10 PM. Thank you!

Maria

Red Post-It
<a pentagram drawn in black ink sits at the center; it’s surrounded by words written in an unknown language; the corners of the paper are singed>

Yellow Post-It
Hello! I’m Maria, your next-door neighbor. Welcome to the building! 

Flash Fiction: Friendship-Poor

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 21. I spent an hour on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about something that scares you.”

Image from www.dormanfuneralhome.com/

Friendship-Poor

Like all the other rooms in the funeral home, the director’s office had a neutral, inoffensive floral aroma paired with somber silence. The funeral director also embodied these traits: dark gray suit with a solid dark blue tie and partially shiny dress shoes, short black hair and a clean-shaven face that had a perpetual sad smile plastered on it. 

“Okay, Mr. Costa,” Director O’Toole said. “With the casket chosen and the floral arrangements selected and invitations picked out, that about covers most of the major details. The last piece is which hall you’d like to have the service in for Ms. Sanders.” He presented three diagrams, each showing the layout of a different funeral hall; one giant hall that sat over five hundred, a medium-sized hall capable of housing a few hundred, and finally the smallest hall that maxed out at fifty occupants. 

“The smallest should do,” I said, though that was still too big. 

“About how many people do you suspect will attend? Rough estimate.”

“Probably no more than ten.” In reality, it would probably be closer to seven, three of which would be myself, my wife, and our daughter. 

Director O’Toole titled his head and the cordial expression he wore vanished, replaced by parted lips and pinched eyebrows. “So few?” he asked. 

“Yes,” I said, my throat dry. “Barbara never married or ever had a partner; no kids; her parents passed long ago; no siblings and she was never close with any of her extended family.” 

The director nodded along. “And friends?”

I shook my head. “Barbara often made self-deprecating jokes about how she’d always been friendship-poor. She always acknowledged it was due to her own hangups, her own personality flaws, her own failures. The few friends she had that are still alive live too far away and are unwilling or unable to travel for the service.”

“Surely she had friends at the nursing home?”

“No, she didn’t . . . well, other than myself. Only reason for that was because I was the one assigned as her nurse. She kept to herself, reading most of the time, and rarely engaged in social activities or events. She always said she’d never really figured out the whole social aspect of life.”

“I see . . .” He didn’t. 

Neither did I, for that matter. Barbara’s reluctance to engage people always confused me. Partially because I’m an outgoing person by nature, but also because she obviously craved companionship, but she never took the initiative to acquire it. Barbara always waited on others to initiate. So few people did so, unfortunately.

An uncomfortable churning settled in my stomach, the type of existential dread you feel when contemplating the scope of the universe or the finality of death. To be so alone throughout life and to have so few to mourn or remember you . . .

Director O’Toole cleared his throat and reacquired his somber smile. “Very well. It will be a small, very intimate ceremony then.”

I signed the paperwork, verified their details of Barbara’s life insurance was correct, thanked the director for his time, and left. 

Six days later, the funeral took place. Five people attended.

Flash Fiction: Peace or War?

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 20. I spent an hour and some change on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about an unopened letter.”

Image from blog.stampsdirect.co.uk/

Peace or War?

Darion, Second-King to the nation of Kiel, made one last note in his journal before closing the leather-skinned tome. He released a content sigh and sipped the last of his steaming Juk tea while looking over the city towards the distant snow-capped mountains. It was a radiant and relaxing morning—

Zekiel, King of Kiel, growled in frustration.

—for Darion anyway. 

The two middle-aged kings were out on the large, semicircle balcony outside their royal bedchambers having a leisure morning after a week of anxiety. Darion spent time writing in his journal, putting the preceding week into perspective and making tangential observations. Zekiel stood near the edge of the balcony, facing towards the mountains, an easel with a large canvas attached to it set before him. A rainbow of assorted paints rested in large globs on a table next to him.

Zekiel growled again, stepping back from the painting and tilting his head, his brow furrowed and shoulders tense.

Darion smiled, rising from his seat and strolling to his husband. Hugging the shorter man from behind, Darion said, “You know, painting is supposed to be relaxing.”

“So I’ve been told,” Zekiel said, glaring at the canvas. It contained a multitude of shapes, forms, and colors that formed a range of mountains, though you kind of had to squint to see it as such. “Political machinations are less stressful than this.”

Darion giggled and kissed Zekiel on the cheek. He then headed back inside to get them fresh tea. Just as he finished pouring the second cup, three sharp knocks on the door reverberated through the bedroom. Darion answered the door, finding Meshal, the Royal Scribe waiting patiently behind the door. 

The woman bowed low. “I’m sorry for disturbing you and his majesty on your day of rest,” she said.

“I don’t suppose you’ve decided to take a day of rest yourself and join me and your brother for tea and pastries?” Darion could hope. 

Meshal straightened and shook her head. “I’m afraid not.” She produced a folded piece of orange parchment from the folds of her robe. 

Darion sucked in a breath, the anxiety of the previous week flash flooding through him. “From Edelveiss?”

Meshal nodded. 

Darion gestured Meshal in and led the way to the balcony. 

Zekiel smiled wide at the sight of his younger sibling. The mirth was fleeting, however; the grim expression on Meshal and the anxious one on Darion slapped away the smile. “What’s happened?” the King asked. 

Meshal held out the folded piece of parchment. “From Edelveiss.”

Zekiel stared at the proffered letter for a few moments before gently taking it from his sister. “So,” he sighed, “we finally learn who now rules over our neighbor.” He didn’t unseal the document. He simply tapped it lightly in his hand. “I don’t suppose either of you would like to make a bet on what we’ll find in this letter: peace or war?”

Darion smirked. Meshal scoffed. Zekiel had a dry, grim sense of humor at times—usually inappropriate ones. Meshal, a serious, pragmatic woman, always found it aggravating. Darion found it funny most of the time. 

When no one answered, Zekiel asked, “I have a feeling I’m going to come to regret my decision to not interfere.”

“The succession struggles of other nations is not ours to meddle in,” Darion said. It was a statement Zekiel himself had made many times to all of their advisors. 

“Even if one brother means peace and the other brother means war?”

“We are prepared for both outcomes, Brother,” Meshal said. Zekiel rose an eyebrow at Meshal’s informality—something she was not known for. “You and Darion have seen to that.”

Zekiel turned and gazed at the mountains. “Only fools think they are truly prepared to face war. Or its consequences.”

“The same could be said for those who hope for peace,” Darion said, walking up to his husband and placing a hand on his shoulder. 

A sad smirk formed on Zekiel’s lips. “True.” He put an arm around Darion’s waist and the two melted into one another.

The three family members fell into silence. A soft breeze blew against the castle, carrying sweet scents from the flowering trees of the grounds below.

Zekiel held up the letter, a thumb pressed against one side of the wax seal that kept the parchment closed. Darion pressed his thumb against the other side. As with all things in their rule of Kiel, they broke the seal together and as one they read what their future held.

Flash Fiction: Tradition

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 19. I spent two hours on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about an argument.”

Image from Pinterest.com

Tradition

The voices inside the house rose again, first Dad’s, then Sean’s; Mom’s voice had fallen silent many minutes ago.

Paige frowned. She looked up from the page in her book she’d read to completion six times now. Her gaze fell across the deck, up past the driveway, and into the gray, cloudy sky.

Sean had been melancholy all week. He told Paige the other day he knew the talk was going to turn into a shouting match. When Paige asked why—asking why was a big habit of hers—Sean shook his head, telling her she wouldn’t understand. At sixteen, Sean was twice Paige’s age, and he often said this to her. Paige was beginning to wonder if it was because he didn’t understand either. 

Sean had been right, though. He and Dad and Mom were only talking for five minutes before the arguing began, their voices steadily rising.

Suddenly, the front door opened, and the muffled shouting from inside burst out crisp and clear.

“I don’t want to join the Army!” Sean shouted. “I don’t want to join any branch of the military!”

“That’s not your choice,” Dad yelled back. “You will not scoff at family tradition. You will do your duty to this country and jo—”

Mom softly closed the door behind her. She stood ramrod straight on the house’s welcome mat, jaw clenched, brows furrowed, and eyes shining. 

Paige looked away. 

Her mom sniffled a few times before releasing a sharp sigh. Then footfalls on the deck’s hardwood surface came towards Paige. She looked back just as Mom sat in the brown wicker chair next to her, a small round wicker table with a glass top separating them. Mom didn’t relax into the chair; she sat up straight instead, cupped her hands together, and rested them in her lap. 

The muffled shouting inside the house continued. 

Paige reread page 341 of her book for a seventh time. She didn’t continue to 342.

Instead, she asked, “Why does Dad want Sean to join the military so bad?”

Mom took a deep swallow before answering. “Joining the military is a family tradition,” she said. “All the men on your Dad’s side of the family join. They see it as their duty and an honorable tradition.”

“But Sean doesn’t want to be in the military.”

Mom started to slouch, but she caught herself, straightening back up and tightening her lips. “No, he doesn’t.”

Paige looked back into the sky for a few moments, thoughtful. She nodded and looked back at her mom. “He probably shouldn’t join. You have to follow orders and rules in the military, right? Sean is terrible at doing both those things.”

A sharp, blurted laugh escaped Mom and mirth reached her eyes for a split second. She recomposed herself quickly. “No. He isn’t, is he?”

They fell into silence. The still shouting voices were moving around now, increasing and decreasing in volume like an ambulance with its horns blaring while driving back and forth. Both voices were no longer annoyed; they were angry.

“Will I need to join the military too?” Paige asked. She didn’t like the sound of the voices and really didn’t like the idea of getting into a similar argument with Dad.

“No, sweetie,” Mom said, shaking her head. 

“Why not? If Dad is making Sean join, then it wouldn’t be fair to him if Dad doesn’t make me join.” 

“Your dad has . . . different expectations of you, and they don’t involve joining the military. He’d probably forbid it if you tried.” 

Paige frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense. And it’s not fair to Sean.” 

Mom shook her head, softly. “No. It isn’t.”

Paige nodded. She was getting better at convincing her parents of her thoughts and ideas. It was starting to make life easier. Last week she’d convinced them to let her volunteer at the local library instead of church. The librarians were much more reasonable than the nuns and Father Michaels.

The shouting inside sounded more like growling and barking now. Paige studied her mom. Mom’s cheek and eye twitched each time Dad or Sean shouted something particularly rude or hurtful. Paige had never seen her mom like this, so stiff, so despondent, so . . . conflicted?

“Do you want Sean to join the military?” Paige asked. 

Mom stared at the sky, her eyes flickering across the quilt of swirling clouds, a far off look in her eyes. The wind picked up, causing the tall pine trees surrounding their home to sway and fill the air with a quiet rustle. 

Finally, Mom opened her mouth, but the door opened. Sean came barging out of the house with his car keys clutched in his hand. He stomped across the deck, down the steps, and onto the driveway, making for his car.

Dad came storming out after him but remained on the deck. “SEAN, YOU GET BACK HERE THIS INSTANT! THAT’S AN ORDER.”

“I’M NOT JOINING THE FUCKING MILITARY DAD AND YOU CAN’T FORCE ME!”

Dad became redder than Paige had ever seen him, even more than when President Biden won. “THEN DON’T COME BACK. I WON’T HAVE SOMEONE DISRESPECTFUL OF OUR MILITARY LIVING UNDER MY ROOF.”

Sean dove into his Honda, ignited the engine, and sped off down the street. Dad charged back into the house and slammed the door behind him.

Silence fell on the deck. Paige stared wide-eyed at her mom. 

After ten heartbeats, Mom sat back, melting into the chair. She closed her eyes and let out a deep sigh. Then she smiled and whispered, “Thank God.”

Flash Fiction: Looking for Adventuring Party: Dwarf Fighter/Cook

This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 18. I spent an hour and a half on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write someone’s online dating profile.” I can’t even write my own dating profile, so I took a bit of liberty with this prompt. Being in an adventuring party can be a little like dating, so I figured this idea still works. Enjoy!

Image from Pinterest.com

Looking for Adventuring Party: Dwarf Fighter/Cook

Illustration description: An older looking, clean-shaven dwarf man with a broad smile resting under a wide, round nose. His face is full of laugh and worry lines. He stands proudly in what looks to be an expansive underground kitchen filled with wooden counters, iron pots and pans, and giant wood-burning stoves made of carved stone. Peeking out from behind a well-stained tan cooking apron is a shirt of shiny chain mail that falls over his chest and over a potbelly. A shortsword hangs sheathed at his side while he leans on a larger, two-handed maul.

Fargrim Runeheim, 283

Advantages

  • While I’m starting to get a bit on in years for a dwarf, I am still hearty as ever with a strong back. I won’t be going down easy to no constitution afflictions or strength challenges.
  • A life of stirring hearty soups, pounding thick bread dough, and hefting large crates of food and casks of ale have given me plenty of strength to swing my maul something fierce.
  • Spent most of my life up till now cooking and baking. I reckon I can whip up a good meal most days while traveling the roads between towns and trekking through the wilderness. 

Disadvantages

  • I’m like my grandmum: I hate not seeing people eat, and I tend to force food onto people even if they don’t want it.
  • My hearing is not so great. I also need reading glasses now. 
  • Not much of a fan of magic. Damn wizard once came into the kitchen and started casting spells. “To help,” he said. Lotta help he did. The bread morphed into golems that had mean right hooks; damn shepherd’s pie turned into a slime monster; the dumplings started popping off like fireballs; the spaghetti pasta tried strangling people. Magic ain’t worth the bloody hassle, I tell ya.

The life of a cook in Belnor’s Deep has been good to me. It put food on the table—pun very much intended—and gave me a comfortable life. The job helped me understand how integral food is in forming friendships and helping people through the toughest of times. But I’ve been restless for a few decades now. Looking to try something new. Can’t think of a much better way to spend some of my later years than adventuring around helping people. I promise, I’ll keep us well fed and have your back. If we get into a scrap, I’ll just imagine our foes insulted my chicken pot pie. The fury that shall descend upon them will be legendary.