Posts

Standing ankle deep in black, slimy swamp muck, Sgt. William “Billy” Franks paused to catch his breath and to look over his shoulder, for the umpteenth time.

Nothing moving, not even a leaf. Good.

The humid jungle was also silent. Even better.

They were still a ways behind him, he hoped. But they were coming. He knew so because every hair on the back of his neck stoodt attention, and the neck-hair test had never been wrong before. Not ever.

Unfortunately, he was confident it wouldn’t be wrong this time, either.

Sgt. Franks was parched. His lips and throat as dry as desert sand, a reminder of the last time he’d been in a serious battle, fighting to survive. Hard to believe that conflict beneath a blazing Iraqi sun had been only a week ago.

He just couldn’t seem to steer clear of trouble, no matter how hard he tried.

No time to think about it, though.

Not now.

The setting sun had already begun to paint the surrounding landscape in various shades of gray and black. Giant shadows crept slowly across the forest floor, feeding on splotches of light along the way.

Night was coming as fast as they were.

Finding clean water to drink would have to wait.

It was time to move on.

He’d fought the enemy—the entire outfit—all afternoon, before finally escaping into the jungle where he’d been running for hours.

The sergeant’s hair was caked with mud and his camouflaged BDU’s were wet and filthy. His rifle, thankfully, was dry. He was exhausted and unsure how much longer he could continue.

They were relentless in their pursuit, and he was sure they were closing in.

He had to find the strength to keep moving.

Suddenly he heard a voice from beyond the vines and thick, lush plants to his left. He dove for cover behind a moss-covered log. Something large and long slithered away through the undergrowth covering the forest floor.

He heard it again. This time the voice seemed closer.

The sergeant, knowing his options were now few, took a quick peek over the rotting tree. He saw someone standing in a clearing just beyond the treeline.

They called out again.

“Billy, it’s time to wash up for dinner!”

Sgt. Billy Franks, knowing it would not be in his best interest to dilly-dally, stood and used his hands to brush the dirt from his knees. Then he stepped from the small patch of woods into his backyard where his mother stood waiting. He whispered to himself, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be a cowboy.”

Glancing back over his shoulder he saw a Native American standing in the shadows—his next adversary appeared ready for battle.

The warrior locked eyes with Billy for a second and then faded into the forest. A drumbeat began to thump from a place deep in the woods.

“Tomorrow, Chief, right after I’ve had my Fruit Loops and orange juice, it’s you and me. Because those woods aren’t big enough for both of us.”

Shouldering the stick he used as a pretend rifle, Billy marched toward his mother, wishing he were five again because being six was really hard work.

 

A black cat, perched atop an empty moss-coated, concrete flower urn, watched the goings-on at the graveside service of the recently deceased Romey J. Wellington. At the hired clergyman’s first mention of ashes and dust, the aloof animal opened its mouth to yawn and then licked away an imaginary something on its right forepaw.

An approaching evening storm dropped small dust- and debris-filled whirlwinds in advance of the soon-to-arrive roiling and boiling black clouds and jagged bursts of bright white electricity. The exhalations of the impending cloudburst puffed and fluffed the cat’s silky fur, first one way then another.

One more lackadaisical yawn.

Romey J. Wellington’s family, five sons and three daughters (his wife went on to her reward some fifteen years earlier) sat beneath a green funeral tent. There were no tears or outward signs of grief from the motley group of faux mourners—not a peep or a meek weep—as the highly-vocal preacher raised his hands high and began to pray in a booming voice so loud that it could, well … raise the dead.

Instead, the eldest son looked at his wristwatch. The youngest daughter, Roweena, who would turn thirty-four in a few weeks, used her thumbs to navigate various screens on her cellphone. The others watched the sky, looked at their shoes, picked lint from their clothing, and cracked their knuckles. Anything to avoid looking at the old man’s walnut casket with its two solid brass handles and strategically placed matching do-dads.

“Oh, Lord, please be with this family in their time of sorrow. Their hearts are heavy and they—” Stopping the reverend just as he was gearing up to properly send Mr. Wellington to his reward, the storm announced it’s arrival with an earthshaking BOOM! The middle daughter screamed. An honest to goodness “scared the hell out of me” scream.

The cat casually tip-toed over to the tent and claimed a spot on the fake grass rug near the head-end of the coffin. It made eye contact with the preacher who, after giving everyone a second or two to gather themselves, continued his homily. “Dear Lord, Romey Wellington was a kind man whose generosity was—” BOOM!

The bottom opened up and raindrops the size of Gummy Bears began to savagely pound the tent’s emerald green canvas top that had begun to undulate up and down in unison with the harsh and hurricane-like winds. Lightening flickered and zigged and zagged across the dark sky. Tent poles rattled against anything and everything nearby, and they tugged at the metal stakes the workers pounded into the red clay a few hours earlier.

The cat turned to look at the men and women seated in the metal folding chairs. It walked over, rubbing its body across the shins of all eight plus their respective spouses, if any. Then it returned to its place beside the coffin.

Wellington’s children had voted, eight to zero, for murder when the old man announced his decision to donate his entire fortune to the church, leaving them, his own flesh and blood, without as much as a dime. It had been quite easy to locate someone, a meth addict who needed to keep his high going, who’d “done the deed” for a few hundred dollars.

A cool million to the church … Puhleeze.

Suddenly a streak of lightning ripped downward, startling the family again. Brother number three announced to no one in particular that the bolt of electrical energy sounded extremely close.

The cat ducked as a second lightning bolt struck the canvas tent dead center, with a deafening explosion and an unbelievably searing heat.

The blast instantly claimed the lives of the eight mourners and their beneficiaries, the only people who could’ve stood between the church and Wellington’s fortune.

When the smoke cleared, the priest slyly winked at the cat, placed one hand on Romey J. Wellington’s eight-thousand dollar hand-rubbed casket, and said, “Amen.”

 

Benson Trucant never liked the beach, with its roaring and roiling surf and constant sizzle of undulating sea foam.

The place was absolutely maddening.

And that salty air, thick with the disgusting odor of sun-baked rotting kelp and decaying crustaceans, practically turned his sensitive stomach inside out.

White-capped breakers slapping the soft sand with the precision and timing of a metronome—a sound that never failed to send jolts of electricity dancing and darting across his hypersensitive nerve endings.

Pigeons, seagulls, and plovers pecked and plucked fiddler crabs from their hidey-holes, screeching and shrieking as they fought over the tasty bottom feeders. If he had his way each of those useless creatures would disappear from the earth.

Sizzle, slap, shriek, screech.

Sizzle, slap, shriek, screech.

Trucant, the owner of a small town hardware store, couldn’t imagine enduring another day of that unholy dissonance.

From his vantage point he spied a small, wooden trawler chugging northward between the setting sun and a channel marker. He imagined the boat’s outriggers creaking and groaning against the weight of massive waterlogged nets laden with sea bass and perch.

More of those dang screeching gulls diving in the wake, searching for bait remnants tossed overboard by the ship’s crew.

Trucant wanted to wave his arms and yell. He wanted to catch the eye of the boat’s bearded captain and his crew. He wanted to holler and jump up and down. Fire a flare gun. Build a fire to send smoke signals. Throw a rock. Hell, anything to alert the crew to his presence.

But all the trying on earth wouldn’t help him, because rigor mortis had Benson Trucant’s arms pinned tightly to the wet sand beneath him.

A massive dose of oleander into his salad did the trick, and the next thing he knew his wife of eighteen years and her “lover-of-the-week” dumped him there among a hearty stand of sea oats.

Death wasn’t as he’d expected. Not at all. There were no bright lights or long tunnels. No joyous reunions with long lost loved ones.

Just rigor mortis and the overwhelming desire to blink.

His mouth seemed to be locked open, so he tried to scream … again.

Not a sound.

In fact, the only thing that came from his mouth was a tiny crab seeking a bit of sunshine after enjoying its evening meal.

Sizzle, slap, shriek, screech.

 

Writing a complete story in exactly 200 words can be a bit of a challenge, especially when the stories must contain a beginning, middle, and end. After all, that’s sort of what makes a story out of a grouping of individual words, right?

The trick is to arrange those 200 words into an order that makes them pleasing to our eyes, ears, brains, emotions, and our hearts. In other “words” (pun intended), readers want to feel what they read.

So what’s the best way to get started on these micro creations? Easy answer. You need a subject/topic/story.

Small ideas

Keep the idea small. A BIG story can be far too convoluted to cut to a maximum goal of, say, 200 words, such as the word count for the wildly popular Golden Donut Short Story Contest.

You’ve often heard me speak of police officers needing to avoid tunnel vision and that need is for a few reasons, safety being number one. Number two is to avoid missing any and all details, including details that may later prove to be unnecessary to the case.

The opposite is true when writing flash fiction. Writers need a dose of tunnel vision to help them complete their word-challenged stories. Keeping on the blinders, focusing mostly on the end, helps to avoid the use of unneeded words.

The inspiration

No inspiration? No ideas? Brain as empty as a California lake in the summertime? Easy answer.

Use a photo prompt

For inspiration, pick a photo from your last vacation. Maybe you saw a cool image on someone’s website, the newspaper, a blog.

Okay, you have an idea for a story. What’s next? Again, easy answer.

Where to start?

What about starting in the middle of the story, where the character’s conflict begins, avoiding the use of backstory, flashbacks, prologues, and other filler. Why do this? You don’t have the space for it for one thing. Every single word must count when writing flash fiction. This is even more crucial with writing micro-flash fiction. Shorter paragraphs helps when editing.

Write

This, however, is not the time to worry about the word count. Simply write the story and let the words flow. You can trim later.

Emotion

You absolutely must make your readers feel … something. It is up to you to decide what that something truly is. But whatever you select, be sure to keep it simple. There is not enough space to branch out too far, so pick a couple of focus areas and perhaps start out having your readers experience one feeling at the onset but end with a different emotion altogether. Their rollercoaster ride will be worth your effort. But DO NOT go overboard. This is not the place for emotion that doesn’t remain within the boundaries of your tunnel vision-esque story.

Characters

One or two are all that’s needed. Any more and the dialog could become confusing. Besides, too many names eats up word count like watching videos on a crappy wireless data plan chews up precious minutes. The same is true with dialog. A family of twelve all talking to a homicide detective who’s barking out orders to a 10-person CSI team along with four other detectives could wipe out the entire word count in a single, unimportant scene.

Keep in mind that your story and/or characters may develop a different appearance than the one in your mind when you first sat down to write.

Character Arc

Sure, your tale is only 200 words in length (or 50 or 1,000), but your character absolutely must grow within that confined space.

Subplots

Skip them. there’s no room. Stick to a main theme.

SHOW, SHOW, SHOW!

This goes without saying. SHOW the action in your story. Don’t tell us. For example:

“They jumped until they quit.”

The line is a bit vague. It tells us something, but it’s extremely uninteresting. How about …

“Tom and Nancy played a game, seeing who could hop up and down the longest. Tom lost.”

I know. Not the best writing in the world, but you get the idea.

Beginning, Middle, End, and CONFLICT!

Writing flash fiction is not an excuse to cut corners. Each story must have a beginning, middle, and end (a twisted ending is sometimes a nice surprise). And there must be conflict and story resolution. We must feel the struggle (be it internal or external) and then we must see relief (emotional or physical) from that conflict.

Title

The title of a work of flash fiction is extremely important (especially if it’s also part of the word count). It’s the hook. It must cause the reader to stop in their tracks to read your story. It must be THAT compelling. But do not allow it to be so doggone good that it gives away the entire story.

Okay, you’ve finished your masterpiece. What next?

Edit

Now’s the time to break out the carving knives and go to work trimming all the fat. Why? Because your 200 word tale comes in somewhere the other side of 100,000 words. Why? Because you love to hear yourself write. You love your fancy-smancy words and you love your voice and your story was absolutely far too good to tell in only … 200 words???

Okay, with red pen sharpened it’s time to cut all the “LY” words and the other stuff you don’t need.

For example, Billy needs to let his mother know he’ll be late coming home after school. That’s all she needs to know to help our story advance. So we, a group of unapologetic flowery writers, write.

Billy picked up the black phone, the one with the blue buttons and the $200 screen protector, and used it to call his mom, a server at Pete’s Possum Gut Gourmet Diner and Horse-Shoeing Parlor, to tell her that he’d be late coming home after school because he wanted to play ball with 12 or 15 of his friends at the church lot over on Elm. 

Well, we know a lot about Billy, his mom and his friends and the area. But how much information do we really need to get the point across? How’s this?

Billy called his mom to say he’d be late for dinner.

69 words in the first sentence. 12 in the latter.

Words to lose – the space wasters.

These words are very nice words. I like them a lot. They’re amazing, good, incredible, and just plain uniquely and totally and pleasantly perfect. But avoid them if at all possible. You don’t need them. They’re space wasters.

Say NO to:

a lot
absolutely
actually
amazing
basically
essentially
funny
given the fact that
good
hopefully
incredible
just
kind of
literally
many
nice
perfect
perhaps
pleasant
pretty
probably
quite
really
so
sort of
suddenly
totally
truly unique
usually
very

And other words ending in “LY.”

Now You’re Ready …

to enter the Golden Donut Short Story Contest and win the Golden Donut Award and FREE registration to the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy (prize value is well over $400). Submission deadline is July 2, 2017. This is a FUN contest!!

Here are some of the stories (and a photo prompt) from past contests.

Golden Donut 200-Word stories

Are you a storyteller? Do you want to have a lot of fun? Up for a challenge? Do you like to win cool things? Would you like to have superstar author Craig Johnson read your very own writing? Well …

Sponsored by the Writers’ Police Academy,  the Golden Donut Short Story Contest sounds like it’s right up your alley! This fun contest requires authors to write a story that’s EXACTLY 200 words, based on the photo posted above (and at the end of this piece – not the typing pooch image).

Yes, this year’s final judge is Craig Johnson, author of the best-selling Walt Longmire mysteries and 2017 WPA Guest of Honor. The Golden Donut winner earns a free 2018 registration to a Writers’ Police Academy ($395 value) event as well as a nifty trophy and bragging rights (priceless!). You can enter the contest even if you can’t attend the 2017 WPA.

So sharpen those pencils and write your way to those bragging rights and to the most exciting event on the planet for writers, the Writers’ Police Academy.

For details about the Golden Donut Short Story Contest,  please click here – Golden Donut Short Story Contest.

*Submission deadline is July 2, 2017.

As an added bonus, we now have a few available slots for the Writers’ Police Academy. This is an event you do not want to miss! For details and registration information, and to view the exciting schedule and lineup of top instructors and workshops, please visit …

2017 Writers’ Police Academy

Once again, here’s the photo prompt for the Golden Donut Short Story Contest. Good Luck!

2017 Golden Donut Photo Prompt

Lady Luck

“Whoa, young fellow,” said Rufus Robinson, whose midsection had just been pummeled by the appropriately-sized head of a lad no more than ten-years-old.

The youngster, out of breath, red-faced, wide-eyed, and clearly wound up about something, backed up a step and ran a hand across his short, wiry, blond hair. “I’m sure sorry, mister,” he said. But I just won three whole dollars from that old game in the drug store.” He pointed at the entrance to Jones’ Rx and Lunch Emporium. “I gotta go give my mama the money so she can buy medicine for my brother. He needs it real bad.”

Without another word the boy sprinted away, clutching a small paper sack, leaving Robinson, the head teller at the downtown branch of the Fidelity Savings Bank, watching him run at full gallup until he was nothing more than a dot on the horizon.

The next day, at precisely ten o’clock, his usual mid-morning break time, Rufus Robinson set out on his customary ten-minute walk. Along the way he passed Frank’s Florist, Guy’s Grocery, Paul’s Pawn, and Connie’s Candles.

The sun was warm on his face, and the absolutely delicious scents of jasmine and honeysuckle hung heavy in the humid morning air. He turned the corner and saw, predictably, the widow Wanda Williams pinning her plus-size unmentionables to the clothes line in the back yard of the duplex she owned and shared with her tenant, Willie Wilkins.

The widow Williams saw Robinson and wiggled a knot of stubby fingers at him. Robinson shouted a “Morning, Ms. Williams” in her direction and, without missing a step, he crossed the street and headed due west. He began to whistle an old Cole Porter tune, “Cherry Pies Ought To Be You,” a song that had been stuck in his head since hearing it on his AM radio well over a week ago.

With five minutes left on his break, Rufus Robinson was about to pass by the last business on his route, Jones’ Rx and Lunch Emporium, when suddenly he heard a clatter and bang of commotion and then the two front doors flew open. And, just as it happened a day earlier, the boy, whose head felt as hard as a lump of granite when it slammed into the banker’s soft belly, burst from the drug store and out into the street. He clutched a small paper bag clutched tightly in his hand and excitement beaming on his dirt-smudged face. Robinson once again watched the boy run until he was nothing more than a memory.

lady luck

The bank teller decided to see for himself, without delay, the so-called “lucky” machine that had twice bestowed much-needed riches on the young man and his family. He pulled open one of the two front doors and was met by cool, conditioned air. Looking around the place, first to the foot powders and then to the lunch counter, he didn’t see the gambling machine, so he asked an elderly clerk where it could be found.

The counter attendant, an elderly man with a tussled mane of thick white hair and a long and heavily-waxed handlebar mustache, raised his eyebrows, a gesture that formed deep wrinkles into his forehead, much like grooves carved into wet beach sand. “You must be thinking about Lady Luck,” he said.

“They gave her the name because she was built and painted up to look like a dance hall queen. But that dang thing, a slot machine, was anything but lucky, and it hasn’t been here for … I’d say forty years, or more.”

The man used a somewhat soiled towel to wipe the surface of the bar top, concentrating his effort on a particularly stubborn dried glob of chocolate syrup. He set the cloth aside and continued to talk while using a fingernail to pick and scrape at the spilled, pesky fountain flavoring. “My father,” he said, “ran the business back then and decided have Lady Luck taken out the day a little boy won three dollars and was so excited he ran right out the front door and into the street where the east-west trolley hit and killed him graveyard dead. They say nickels were scattered everywhere and bystanders were more concerned with grabbing them than helping the kid. Anyway, come to find out, the boy had a sick baby brother at home and he was in a hurry to get there so he could give his mother the money to buy medicine. Hell, my old man would’ve given them what they needed, for free. A real shame is what it was.”

The druggist picked up a duster and swiped the feathers across the tops of a grouping of upside-down soda glasses. “By the way, mister, what made you ask about that old slot machine?”

Rufus Robinson, not hearing the question, turned and walked to the front door where he paused for a second, watching the commotion in the street. A small crowd of looky-loos circled the body of a young boy while several ruffians pushed and shoved one another, fighting over what Robinson knew to be three dollars … all nickels.

“Lady Luck, my ass,” thought Rufus Robinson.