Flash! Friday: Vol 3 – 21

WELCOME! Oh goodness, are we going to have fun today! If your stories are half as delicious as we anticipate, it’s going to be a ridiculous, hilarious, tragic blast of a round. But don’t scroll down just yet, because:

Just in case ONE round of flash isn’t exciting enough, come back for Flash Dash TOMORROW, yes, Saturday, May 2, at 10am Washington DC time, for a lightning fast flash round with prizes.  You’ll have just THIRTY MINUTES to write your story! We’re giving away a Flash! Friday logo coffee mug and $25 cash, just cuz we feel like it. Flash Dash results will post Sunday afternoon or evening. 

Two more reminders: JUDGE APPLICATIONS are due in by next Friday. Details here.

AND the WALL OF FLAME: Did you participate at FF three times in April? Details regarding how to earn the rights to the shockingly bright Ring of Fire badge, as well as the names of our current (exceedingly marvelous) badge holders, can be found here.


DC2Judging today is Dragon Team One: Captains Joidianne4eva & Image Ronin.  IR, who does business with large spiders and storms, and Joidianne, a psychology student, couldn’t be more prepared for today’s prompt. I have it on good authority they’ve both been practicing this theme on their respective neighbors for a good month now, just so they’d be ready.   


Awards Ceremony: Results will post Monday. Noteworthy #SixtySeconds interviews with the previous week’s winner post Thursdays.  

Now let’s write!

* Word count: Write a 200-word story (10-word leeway on either side) based on the photo prompt.

HowPost your story here in the comments. Include your word count (min 190 – max 210 words, excluding title/byline) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. If you’re new, don’t forget to check the contest guidelines.

Deadline: 11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday is on Washington, DC time)

Winners: will post Monday

Prize: The Flash! Friday e-dragon e-badge for your blog/wall, your own winner’s page here at FF, a 60-second interview next Thursday, and your name flame-written on the Dragon Wall of Fame for posterity.


(1) Required story element (this week: theme. If you want your story to be eligible for an award, the below theme must be central in it. Note: read the history & examples of this theme here.) 


(2) Photo prompt to incorporate:


Keys. CC2.0 photo by Apionid.

Keys. CC2.0 photo by Apionid.

311 thoughts on “Flash! Friday: Vol 3 – 21

  1. Tamara Shoemaker
    Word Count: 201


    Shadows tinge my mind, graying the edges of decision.

    You wrought my prison when your lungs emptied of air.
    When your heart ceased its rhythmic dance, you escaped to your freedom
    And left me a prisoner behind bars of loneliness and pain.
    You smoothed my cheek and told me to live.
    You dimpled your smile and told me to laugh.
    Your freed my burning eyes from tears and told me to love again once you were gone.

    In your pitiless mercy, you turned your back and slipped from my life,
    A breath of wind that stirred my hair,
    And a tornado that ravaged my heart.
    You allowed Disease to lead you away, to close your eyes,
    And you left me the keys to freedom from a cage of your making.

    The shadows of those keys cavort on the wall in a dichotomy of regret and opportunity.
    Either I free myself from the bars and watch you fade into a wisp of memory,
    Or I shackle myself to Yesterday, and shred my lungs with the pain of simple breath.

    You are my jailer, and you’ve given me the keys.
    But now you’re gone and I am lost in the shades of indecision.


  2. Modern Day Casanova
    (210 words)

    Either way I’m screwed, blued and tattooed.

    If she wakes up and I’m not in the bed it’s over. If she finds the keys in the door when she wakes up it’s over. It won’t take her long to put two and two together. To be honest, I’m amazed she didn’t wake up when I used the drill to put a hole in the door.

    Normally I’m more careful with my indiscretions, but tonight I got careless. In my haste. I unlocked the doors and left the keys hanging in the lock, forgetting that the door would automatically lock again when I closed it behind me. I let my lust get the better of me and now I’m in a bit of a pickle. But what could I do, a man has needs and my marriage is a loveless trap that stifles my soul. It’s not that I don’t love her or find her attractive; she ignites my deepest desires and stirs my soul. But her body is ice cold.

    Is it wrong to seek the loving embrace of another? Is it wrong to deny another a loving embrace?

    Being a modern day Casanova isn’t that easy after all. It’s even harder when you’ve locked yourself out of the house.


  3. Oops, it should be “my marriage is a loveless trap,” not “is as.” What can I say, it’s been a long day, lol


  4. Prisoner’s Dilemma
    (153 words)
    No point to the box
    without the locks.
    No point to locks
    if you have keys–
    Keys you can see
    but cannot seize—
    and so you know
    by slow degrees
    the box—the locks
    the dangling keys–

    True meaning of captivity—
    the prisoner’s proclivity
    his fingers grasping
    empty air
    just out of reach
    constant companion in the box
    the idea that if one only tries
    one can with patience of the fox
    achieve at last that dangling prize,
    not the allure of grape
    but sweet escape–

    For every lock there is a key
    and every captive can be free
    unless of course, he built his cage
    confined himself, with pride and rage
    and with his own stupidity
    keeps out of reach, the lock and key.
    The fastest cell, most prisoners find
    between their ears, within their mind.
    after years in jail, within a box
    one finds the door was never locked.


  5. The Appointment

    John rubbed his hands together nervously, feeling the heat and moisture augmenting in his palms.

    “You sure you want to do this?” the nurse asked.

    “No,” John responded. “But what other options do I have.” He shifted on the examination table and the paper lining crackled under his 60-year-old ass.

    “You can apply for euthanasia deferment.” The nurse said as she flipped through his file.

    “And how would I go about doing that?” John asked, his shoulders perking up. He’d never heard of deferring geriatric euthanasia before. He’d believed once he hit 60 he would have to go through with his euthanasia appointment like everyone else. He was a law abiding citizen after all.

    “Just get the doctor to sign the form saying you’re unfit for euthanasia.”

    “That’s great news. Bring the doctor in and have him sign,” John exclaimed.

    “You need to apply for deferment before the doctor can sign off, sir.”

    John stared dumbstruck at the nurse. “Well how can I apply without the Doc’s signature?”

    “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that. I guess I’ll just send in the doctor to finish your appointment then.”

    John hunched forward dejected. He wouldn’t be waiting for death to answer the door after all. He would be letting himself in.

    210 words




  6. The Decision
    Ian Martyn (@IBMartyn)
    208 words

    Go on, tell me what to do. It’s your decision. What would you do in my situation? What’s that? Open the door, free yourself. Is it that easy? You can make a split second decision, no thought, no consideration?

    Am I a good man? Yes, all will testify to that.

    So your answer is the same.

    Then you may be disappointed with the outcome of your rashness. Let me raise the stakes a little. You see me here eyes fixed on the keys, hand stretching towards them. What if I tell you this is a moment in time that will decide the fate, change the history, of worlds.

    Ah, I see your hesitation. That information, the gravity of the situation changes things. But why? The decision is the same. Before you were impulsive, because you thought it didn’t matter, at least to you, is that it?

    Let me add to the weight that’s dragging at your stomach, the storm that’s building in your mind. You assume I’m going to unlock the door, leave, that freedom is my goal. But perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps I’m locking myself in, protecting myself from unimaginable horrors that lurk outside this door.

    So, tell me what to do. It’s your decision.


  7. Josh Bertetta
    202 Words

    I hang on for dear life, sweating.

    I’d told him I had the keys to the kingdom. I promised to pass them on if he just let me out.

    He believed me, so he did.

    If I only knew then what I know now.

    Hindsight’s twenty-twenty they say. Well hindsight don’t mean shit right now, because there’s nothing behind me but empty space.

    I guess I should have keep my mouth shut.

    What cruel irony life is. I didn’t belong there in the first place, but there I was, against my will, and here I am now, this fucking nut—my savior—just feet above me.

    Needless to say, I overestimated my freedom. I was better of in the ward.

    Hands tied behind my back, I clamp down as hard as I can, I mean really dig my teeth into it.

    “Where are they?” he demanded of the keys. “You promised!”

    I tried to swallow, but it’s hard when you have an exposed root between your teeth.

    The gun shakes, his face twists.

    If I answer I’ll fall to the ground a thousand feet below.

    He pulls out a gun and points it at me. “Tell me now or I swear by God I’ll shoot you.”


  8. The Cheeseman’s Choice
    A.J. Walker

    Cheese. I was only delivering cheese. Then Bam! Shoved through a doorway. Locked and screamed at.

    “Lockdown!” the nurse said. “Someone will get you. When it’s safe.”

    She ran off. Scared.

    The alarm throbbed and my eyeballs were bombarded by incessant flashing red lights.

    At least the alarm masks the screaming. I can almost feel their pain; it’s not making my future feel secure.

    Somebody looks into the window of my door. With the flash of light I can only see one side of his face I console myself that his apparent insanity could be due to the lighting; it would make my own mother look evil.

    The door is seven kinds of solid. It’s that kind of place. Why did they need cheese? An asylum. Why not just use Tesco Direct instead of the deli?

    It’s gonng quieter in the corridor. No-one’s passed for a while. The alarm’s still going though.

    Through the window I can see keys in the door. I may be able to reach them. To let myself out.

    But if I go out I could walk into someone; someone with an axe to grind. An axe! I could stay here hiding in the darkness. But if someone remembers, or tries the door, I’m trapped.

    (210 words)



  9. (200)

    A Complete Lock Up

    So. Think this is on…It’s day 63 of the experiment; and Polly Teague is looking healthy…if a little pale. Query vitamin deficiency. The sleep medication seems to have helped with the nightmares, judging by the evening cameras, anyway.
    We’ll be moving into testing pain responses over the next week or so. The data so far is extremely intere…
    Polly! What are you doing? You know you’re not allowed to touch me. Our relationship is therapeutic only, Polly. I know; it’s difficult in solitary…
    You bloody cow!
    Unlock the goddamn door! NOW!
    You shall! And you will! Let me out!…No! don’t go through the code lock…
    Nerrr Nerrrrr!
    I am the Doctor! I am in charge here…
    Not now!
    I’m going to kill you…
    You can’t!
    Polly…please….let’s talk about this…
    Sick of talking!
    Polly….I beg you… I need my pills…My heart…
    You haven’t got a heart. Heartless doctor. Ain’t gonna hurt me now.
    My chest! It feels all tight… I need…
    You’re FAKING you big old FAKER! Nothing wrong with you.
    Unlock the door, Polly. I beg…

    Doctor Cayson? I need your number for the outer lock? I can’t get back to the keys without your code…Doctor!?


  10. To Shout or Not to Shout
    A.J. Walker

    My gran said “There’s nowt so queer as folk” and in turn my father; then me.

    Some are queerer than others of course. It doesn’t bear thinking about how not right the guy in the next room is. He says he’s Napoleon Bonaparte. I’m sure he was Eartha Kitt a week ago.

    The man in the room opposite says he’s not here and hasn’t been for a while. But he is. I’ve seen him. If I had a camera I’d take a photo and show you. Don’t think he’s all there, of course, but there’s something of him there.

    In the Duty Room there’s Nurse Jeffries with the pills. She shouldn’t be here. But she is. She has a smile that can crack rocks. Scares the bejesus out of me, that woman. Have you swallowed? You wouldn’t mess with her.

    There is the empty room at the bottom. At least I think it’s empty. Perhaps it’s the Invisible Man back again. He was here once, apparently.

    Finally, there’s me. Locked in my room again. Slam locks – great when they work. I could cry out and hope Napoleon, Eartha or one of the two Invisible Men come and help. Please god not Jeffries again.

    I should never have gone into psychiatry.

    (210 words)


  11. A Literary Prison
    208 words

    Dedrick sits in the rickety chair next to the door. He has a machete. My hand wiggles in the hole, and my feet are tired of standing. There is not glass in the pane, but the keys are too far for my teeth to reach. They are taunting me.

    “You say the word, I’ll cut it off.”

    But I know it’s a trick. I want to sit down, but there is no chair. Dedrick and his cohorts picked me up in a bar earlier in the night. Phil is in charge—Dedrick is just a minion—but I haven’t seen his face. He’s intent on torturing me, with the idea that freedom could be mine if only I had another arm.
    Last time I jilted them, I tried to escape and Phil cut off my left arm. He built this contraption just for me. “One armed Willie,” they called me like some dirty goddamn pirate in a Disney movie.

    If Dedrick cut off my arm I’d bleed to death, and I’d still be no closer to escape. The keys are an arm’s length away, not a face length. Darn that Joseph Heller. What was I thinking when I bought “Catch- 22” for my boss as a Christmas present?


  12. Private Company

    I stare at my coffee and stir the feathered foam until it turns muddied and flat.

    ‘Have you ever thought about leaving?’

    I search my mug for answers and look up, ‘Most days,’ I whisper.

    ‘I don’t understand. You both seem so…’

    ‘Together? Appearances can be deceptive, especially when you’ve a public persona to keep up. To all intents and purposes, we’re the perfect couple; we’ve got it all…but…well, you know. Since last summer, I’ve been locked out. We barely speak any more.’

    Last summer. Yet another business trip and a chance meeting with an old lover led to a brief affair which echoed like laughter through our failing marriage.

    ‘So, what’s stopping you? Leaving, I mean?’

    Bitter coffee floods my mouth. I’ve gone over this time and time again, but I can’t make it work.

    ‘If I leave him, he could break me. Everything I’ve worked for, built up…my whole career could go in one headline.’

    ‘Would he really do that to you?’

    ‘I had an affair and he hates me for it. We have a pre-nup and so he can’t leave me; he can’t afford to. And now I can’t leave him; I can’t afford to either.’

    My coffee is cold. I push it away.

    207 words


  13. @colin_d_smith
    200 words
    Title: “The Date”

    “This place is nice,” she said. She smiled.

    I smiled back. But inside I wanted to cry.

    Then her eyes made a little squint. Perhaps she noticed I wasn’t talking. All I could do was take in her dark hair flowing over her shoulders, her brown eyes, large, warm, with a hint of allure, and the smell of her perfume that will be seared into my sinuses forever.

    I blinked and looked away. That’s the best I could do at an apology.

    The cage rattled.

    Talk to her! Open up!

    But I couldn’t.

    There’s the key. Turn it!

    “Are you okay?”

    Her voice sang to my heart, soothed my jangled nerves like honey on a sore throat.

    I was reaching for the key.

    “OK, well, why don’t I order first? This menu looks amazing.”

    I forgot all about the menu. I really wasn’t hungry.

    “The shrimp sounds tasty…”

    She likes seafood. Could she be more perfect?

    My fingers found the key.

    “How about you, John? What are you having.”

    She made direct eye contact.

    The lock shattered.

    The door swung open.

    “I—I love you, Alison!”

    Her eyes widened. Then her face creased up in laughter.

    She left.

    I wept.


  14. The Truth Is . . .
    (208 words)

    If I speak the truth, that group will condemn me. If I deny it, the other will lock me away. How to walk the tightrope of hope strung between my two choices? Admit I followed the rebellions leader, or deny I ever knew him.

    My options loom before me like crows lined up on the dead limbs of a stark tree standing alone in a desolate no man’s land. On the one hand it looks bleak, on the other hopeless, yet eternally final in my irrevocable decision.

    Better to be in this holding cell awaiting the black-robed figures questioning than dragged to my final destination.

    Or is it?

    I sweat and stretch, fingers contorting in grasping claws of desperation. I agonize over the sick twisted torture of the guard leaving the keys dangling just beyond my reach.

    Slow, methodical footfalls approach, echoing throughout the corridor, dragging out the torment as I await my fate. They arrive at the door.

    “Speak your decision,” the hooded black-robed figure intones.

    Its voice chills me to the core. I’ve made my decision, yet my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth.

    “Your fate awaits you. Speak, that I may unlock the door.”

    “I de …”

    The words stick in my throat.


  15. Keys to the City
    210 words

    In the city of rust and rain, nothing is what it seems. Eyeless billboards overlook the expressways where giant insects hunt the speeding cars. There are only two rules here.

    Rule 1–there are no rules.

    Rule 2 –see Rule 1.

    Everyone you meet here has something to exchange– information, a key, a code, a package, a ticket. You will be given one of these things.

    You will be given directions to a certain address, a street, an apartment building, a number, a door. You will meet your contact there.

    Alas, the bus fare is insufficient. The bus doesn’t run anymore. The phone you have been given isn’t working. You must call to report the problem. The phone tree keeps repeating why have you waited so long.

    You have missed an important message. The man in the alley informs you the code is obsolete. Your contact was an informant, and you have been set up to take the fall. The police will be here any minute. You can hear the sound of sirens in the distance. When you turn back, the man in the alley is gone.

    In your hand, you hold the keys to the city. There is no way out of here. Too late, game over.
    This is only a game.


  16. Alone
    210 words

    He turns the basement’s deadbolt from the inside. He had to leave the keys in the lock outside, which looked suspicious, as though someone had trapped him on purpose. He doesn’t want anyone blamed.

    So, the deadbolt.
    So, the careful note explaining his reasons.

    They’d sent him to a shrink, but it was like talking to a wall. He lived behind layers, untouchable. He walked the streets unnoticed.


    “Do you feel lonely?” the doctor had asked, doodling distractedly.

    Roaring rage riled angry temptations to hurt, to touch, to feel—anything to assuage this numbness.
    “No,” he’d snapped. “Never.”

    Gun in sweating palm. You’re born alone, and you die alone. TV-show truths ring through his head.

    Easy to end—lift, aim, pull. But the gun is heavy and the solution is empty.

    What if, when this unhappy soul drifts detached from this inadequate body, the TV-shows prove correct, and he’s still alone?

    What if the only escape from loneliness is to learn to love being alone?

    He puts down the gun. Throws the bolt open. Turns the knob. The door doesn’t budge. Somehow the keys outside have turned.

    Locking him into the silent basement.

    No one comes down here.

    The darkness presses.

    He can’t get out.

    Trapped. Alone. As always.


  17. The Inmates
    196 words

    Much like Renfield likes to torture flies, the orderlies love to torture him and the other patients; tearing off wings, picking off legs and sucking the life out of them. He sat in the corner of his little cell, rocking back and forth, listening to the screams that were his background music.

    “I’m not crazy. They’re the crazy ones,” he thought.

    He picked at his toe nails and ate a strand of hair. “The inmates are running the asylum,” he said and giggled.

    He fantasized about escape. About dressing as one of the Renfields and slitting all their throats. They would never see it coming. He would free all his friends, because they would do anything he asked. And together they would truly treat the madness in here. He would rule the asylum.

    How ironic that would be, to have the inmates run the nut house. The thought made him laugh and laugh and laugh. The harder he laughed the more Renfields came to shut him up. They hated it when he was happy. They were coming with their needles and their shackles and their gags.

    And their keys. Oh, to have to loonies run free.


  18. The Disputed Harvest
    209 words

    Meera read the letter and sniffed hard, the temptation to cry was strong. The faint smell of violets in her cologne distracted her, a reminder of being a little girl in the fields near Provence when the whole world was carpeted in purple and smelt sweet.
    Now life tasted bitter, like the cold grounds of breakfast’s coffee drunk in haste and regretted the whole morning.
    She looked at the letter again. Why now? Why, after twelve years did he want a divorce, and to meet his daughter?
    The divorce was neither here nor there. Louis did not care if they were wed, only that they were together. But how to explain to Gina that her papa, Louis, was not her father?
    Meera rubbed her ribs, the ones he’d broken when she told him she was pregnant. Leaving, vowing never to return, to never see him, or let him see the child, had been easy decisions to make right then. Time made them easier to keep. But now he wanted to see his daughter, and if she said ‘No’ then this would only be the opening salvo.
    She was damned either way, twelve is such an impressionable age.
    She took in a whiff of violet, then called Gina and Louis.



  19. Somewhere A Hurricane Rages

    (210 words)

    My dealer is a reliable gent. I am not an easy customer. I have particular tastes for which he caters. Particular tastes that make the process trickier.
    His regular clients are happy to have theirs served up in the glass coffin.
    I, however, don’t care for that approach. Nor does the digital camera fulfil my requirements.

    I yearn to sense the first tentative flutter of its majestic wings, inhale the air it glides through, marvel at the force of its fragility. It is precisely this vitality I seek to preserve.
    The butterfly effect, indeed.

    Courtesy of my friend the dealer and an official lenient with rules and keys, I am here in the presence of Queen Alexandra’s birdwing.
    I have had the music for her dance picked out for weeks. She is fast, fitting the composition perfectly. I am breathless as the ’77 Cote de Nuit breathes on the sideboard. I watch her circle…circle…circle.

    Tears prick my eyes, as I realise I have reached the climax, the point where the paradox is at its cruellest.
    ‘Time to pin those pretty wings.’ I can hear the pain of it in my own voice.

    Afterwards, I pour the drink, mourning and admiring flat, flightless
    catch 22 Ornithoptera alexandrae.


  20. Foy S. Iver
    WC: 210

    The Unfortunate Inter-Dimensional Bifurcation of Mr. John A. Halbut III

    “We’re sorry, Professor Halbut, but you’re not authorized that information.”

    “I can’t access my own medical file?” Mr. Halbut stood in a rumpled suit, eyebrows singed from a lab malfunction. “There must be a mistake.”

    “Full name?” With every bureaucratic second (10x as long as the normal second) Glenda looked more like Jabba the Hutt.

    “John Aloysius Halbut III.”

    “It says here ‘John A. Halbut III, deceased.’”

    “But I’m standing right in front of you.”

    “That may be true,” Glenda said, “but until your status is changed to living, I can’t help you.”

    “How do I change it?”

    “You’ll have to present proof of death.”

    “Half my face is missing. How could I not be dead?”

    “I’m sorry, Mr. Halbut, but our records show you’re still living.” Gneald had to be at least half Vogon. “In fact, it looks like you’re trying to access your records, now.”

    “Of course, I am. I’m standing right in front of you!”

    “Don’t get testy with me, young man. I can make this process last a lifetime.”

    Damn that Inter-Dimensional Travel grant! This was a cage with a key just out of reach.

    “Madam, you seem like an intelligent woman. If I could just see my file, this whole floop could be– ”



  21. Prestige
    210 words

    Wilbertfred’s family’s fortune was gone.

    “The furniture polish business was boring. So were shoe polish and nail polish. Apparently ferrets don’t require polishing.”

    His mother’s indecisiveness was not limited to naming children.

    “You’ll need to find work, Wilbertfred. Your father and I can’t possibly work with commoners.”

    Neither could Wilbertfred, but he had an idea.


    Wilbertfred contacted an ex-girlfriend with connections. She then contacted the owner of a prestigious art gallery and informed Wilbertfred he’d been hired. At least it was an Upper Class job.

    The phone rang again just after he disconnected.

    “Wilbertfred! It’s Amelia. I’m having a party.”

    “I’m on my way to Paris for a year,” he lied.

    Lower Class parties were dreadful.


    Wilbertford’s mobile rang at an unholy hour (he never rose before noon on a Sunday).

    “I heard you’d left for Paris. What about the position?” asked the gallery’s owner.

    “I’m not away. I said that to avoid my cousin’s party.”

    “Amelia is your cousin? Her party was lovely. I don’t hire liars. Amelia is the better choice.”

    Word spreads quickly in the Upper Class. Wilbertford’s callousness had locked him out of every prestigious career.

    He was forced to work at a donut shop; an even lower class than the party he’d lied to miss.


  22. Caged
    202 words

    It’s funny how you only want to leave when someone locks you in. I was free before this –no, more than that, I was eager to be here. My fist had pounded on the entrance door for a moon’s turn, until my knuckles ran raw.

    This place is a salvation, a home to feed and clean and love and keep you. None of those things come easily on the outside.

    There’s a saying across the ocean: nothing good comes for free. Now, I’m here, reaching for keys that months ago were a warm weight in my pocket.

    “Lights out.” I used to find peace in the schedule. My mind would quiet an instinct that felt caged, because I had the keys. Freedom was a choice then.

    “Nightly song begins now.” The Voice bellows.

    I croak familiar lyrics with the others, they are words of hope; they are the words that brought me here. They say this is part of initiation, succumbing to the hopelessness. We are not forewarned how long this part will last.

    My feet trail along the stone floor as I reach for the keys, so close but always too far. Eyes watch me try and fail, try and fail.


  23. There is a fine art to interrogation. A good interrogator should be enjoyed with good company, a glass of wine and fine chocolate as he melts away the criminal’s internal fortresses.

    Take the Lady Diamond, to your left. She is a thing of beauty as she dazzles her way into the hearts of men and then cuts across their granite shells to reveal her coveted treasure. Lovely.

    On your right is The Chef. The meals he serves his criminals are sensual indulgences sure to suck the marrow of their truths into his very being.

    Ahh, but Catch-22 is my most savory indulgence. With artistry she uses a criminal’s own psychology to create a delightful conundrum. Mmmmmmm. Her current creation is masterful. After gently massaging the suspect’s psychoses, she gave him a room with a “food” hole and a window in the door. A few sessions later, she “forgot” the keys in the lock. Oops!

    The keys are just within reach of the hole and visible to the freedom famished. Ahh, but the slightest catch. The lock is lightly electrified. Not enough to stop a heart, but certainly enough to knock you out. A few days of this and the already slightly crazed suspect becomes, shall we say, thoroughly cooked. Delicious.


  24. Pallid Cage

    I’ve crawled up and inside my mind.

    Sure, it’s a figurative expression in a world of literal abstraction.

    It was a Tuesday.

    We’re all just corpses as we drag our flesh around from day to day and stow our unsightly demons. We yearn for distraction as we distance ourselves more and more from the actual art of life. Existing is not living. Our “reality” TV is steeped in the fiction of absurdities, and the real news so horrific most flee from the responsibility of our shared humanity. We shake our heads, point our fingers, and drag our flesh around a little more, toting judgements on our backs. The load is heavy.

    I’m no exception. I’ve become a shell of want and need, the steel door trap of my mind doesn’t house the keys, but I reach.

    And retreat.

    I held human life in my womb for weeks and wondered if I could wear my skin as beauty again, pave the way for new life. But my womb was weak and expelled the very hope, shedding the tissue of round-cheeked rosy visions I’d had. It was a Tuesday when they carved out the rest of me.

    Grief is a strange thing.

    We have to move on, but I tote flesh.

    210 words


  25. @MattLashley_
    210 words

    Existentialism Isn’t For Everyone

    The woman bound in the backseat of Albert’s Nova looked peaceful, cherub-like. A fat snoring cherub snoring deep and throaty snores that reminded Albert of the night spent camping by the swamp with his sadistic uncles during bullfrog mating season.

    “It means you exist to exist, dumbass,” said an uncle.
    “I don’t think so,” replied Albert.
    “And that right there is the plum beauty of it, ignorant wretch.”
    “He means you can think what you want and it don’t matter because existence is accidental. As a result, nothing we do or think matters. That defines truth. You tally whackin’, peter pipin’, bushel peckin’ idjit.”
    “How can nothing define anything?”
    “Nothing don’t. You do. You are one hardheaded sumbitch. You sure you our kin?”
    “Don’t make no sense.”
    “Don’t have to.”

    The Nova hit a pothole and the cherub woke.

    “W-where am I?”
    “Where do you want to be?” asked Albert.
    “W-who are you?”
    “Who do you want me to be?”
    “What are you going to do to me?”
    “What do you want me–to hell with it–lady, I’ma take this here Bowie knife and do whatever feels good to me.”
    “What if it doesn’t feel good to me?”

    It was at this point Albert decided existentialism was for losers.


  26. Title: Outside In
    Words: 210

    Inside every single room is a door. Outside every single room is a door. Some doors push, others pull. Some slide, others swish like curtains. But every room has a door.

    And at every room, John thinks, is this the door from which I am entering the room, or is it the door through which I am leaving? In other words, is John coming or going? John stands in the doorway of an automatic door at a grocery store. The manager asks him to come inside, or be on his way.

    “What if inside is my way?” John asks. If these doors close and I’m on this side – he steps to the concrete – then I’m arriving in the parking lot and leaving the store. If I am on this side – he steps onto the linoleum flooring of the store – then I am arriving in the store and leaving the parking lot. John stayed in the doorway – knowing both choices would mean leaving something and arriving somewhere else, but he didn’t know which was which.

    Police arrive.

    Lock him inside a cell, protect good customers from this madman, said the manager.

    Lock away the outside, thought John, I’ll be safe in there.

    Was John locked inside or the world locked out?


  27. The Corruption of Dreams

    @geofflepard 210 words
    We agreed it would be me. I’m younger, more plasticity in the cortex, more open minded. I’m should be better able to control the experience.
    It’s taken us four years to prove we can control our dreams, four years to move from early suspicion to comfortable love.
    We know the risks; I might go inside and not come out. The training has been comprehensive, the drugs cause me none of the usual side-effects and the result have been within acceptable parameters.
    The principle is easy: you focus on achieving a locked-in state, keeping the ‘key’ so only you can reach it. Normally your subconscious controls the start and finish of dreams but if you control the ‘key’ then you control your dreamtime experience.
    The thing is we didn’t know how intensely we would experience the dreams, how vivid they would be, seeing things with a clarity which in real time we miss. Like his affairs with Ruth and before with Mary. His gambling, too.
    I see all this in the dream and begin aging quickly – the stress does that – and the only way to end the torture is to let myself find the key. But if I do that I’m back in real time, with my whole world a sham.


  28. Remember Remember (194 Words)

    My brain hurts today.

    I’ve been trying to put together my puzzle pieces of memory, but they shape shift into nightmare phantoms, prodding me with voices of smoke and sizzle.

    Remember. Remember. And you will be free.

    But what am I to remember?

    The neatly joined grey walls and floors come together at perfect ninety degree angles. Overhead, a long fluorescent bulb blinks intermittently and throbs with a low wattage hum.

    I hate neat lines and perfect squares.

    Keys jingle jangle in the door, and a chipper voice says, “Time for your medication.”

    Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. I want to throw my puzzle pieces into his smiling face, but I swallow my pill with a tiny white cup of water. Or so he thinks.

    The puzzle pieces watch me drop the red pill down the metal toilet and laugh. They dance around me faster and faster until I bang my head against the wired glass door and scream.

    I must put the pieces together, or the white coats will come back with their forget-all machine. The taste of rubber before the void.

    Remember. Remember. And you will be free.

    But what am I to remember?


  29. Doppelganger
    (210 words)

    I live a dull existence. A life of mediocrity. I’m so uninspired I could scream.

    But he isn’t like that.

    He’s larger than life. He takes each day and seizes it like no other. There’s a certain charm about him; a strength of character that overpowers you and bends you to his will. His eyes piece your soul and his words guide your actions and make you do things you never thought you could. I want so desperately to be him, but I can’t.

    Last time we were together it nearly cost me my freedom. He stood there and laughed as my hands trembled. He smiled with pleasure at the sight of the bloody knife while I shook with horror. He licked the blood off my fingers while I tried desperately to scrub it away. “Come on, let’s do it again” he whispered in my mind as I buried the body.

    I had to lock him up. The dark recesses of one’s mind is a terrible place to abandon someone, but he needed to be there.

    I can’t live in this dreary gray haze anymore. But I can’t open the door knowing what he will do.

    However, if I’m not the one that opens the door, nothing is my fault.


  30. You Don’t Have to Be Crazy

    In the past few days, the guards got careless. I understand. From the bits and pieces of news I’ve gleaned, it’s a mess beyond these walls: death, destruction, martial law. You know, those things the doom-sayers warned us about for years.

    Except, well, it seems they were right.

    For hours after the guard left the keys in my door, I figured it was another of my hallucinations. My meds haven’t been coming regularly, and I could be seeing things.

    After I convinced myself the keys in the door were real, it took me a while to gather the courage to slip my hand through the slot for the food tray—another thing that’s been sporadic. However, that lack of food thinned me enough I could get most of my arm through the slot. I lost some skin in the process, but, hey, sacrifices have to be made. When my fingers closed on the keys, my cackle of triumph echoed off oddly empty halls.

    One turn of the key, and freedom awaits.

    As does the horror outside.

    My own Lady or the Tiger moment: Stay in here and starve to death, slowly; go outside and get killed, quickly.

    You don’t have to be crazy to make that choice.

    @unspywriter (Maggie Duncan)
    208 words



    Brian S Creek
    201 words

    I watch her as she slips her hand through the grate and tries again. Her fingers strain, forcing her chewed nails to within inches of the keys. Then the wrist relaxes, the hand flops. She sighs as her eyes meet mine. They contain all the enthusiasm of a bored child.

    “Stop playing games!” I’m annoyed that her stubbornness has riled me up but this is getting frustrating. “Let me explain again. You can’t physically reach those keys. The door is designed that way. You have two choices; stay trapped in there and die slowly as you wither away. Or . . .” I pull my gun out and rest it on my knee. “use that God forsaken gift of yours to try and escape. What’s it going to be?”

    For a few seconds it looks like she will continue to defy me but then she sits back in the shadows of her cell.

    The keys began to move in the lock as her mind takes control of them. I can’t help but smile as I finally have my proof. I’m witnessing telekinesis first hand.

    But the keys don’t turn. They slowly leave the lock before flying at my throat.

    Dear God, what have I –


  32. @DHartleyWriter
    210 Words

    A Second-hand Dreamcatcher

    All my dreams are same now. The girl Jenna, shrouded in her cell at St. Ophelia’s, screams: “not mad”, and her guard, her Hamlet, mutters his response: “that’s what they all say.”

    And me, somewhere, indistinct but not trapped. Not an inmate or a guard, just an eavesdropper; worse than both because I can leave at any time and I don’t. I stay. I listen.

    “Not mad” /”That’s what they all say.”

    I never see faces, hers nor his. Even my own feels like it’s not there, so I scrape my cheek against St. Ophelia’s stone and it feels like a testimony. Not mad she says, as clear as birdsong. That’s what they all say, a reply of such conviction.

    Should I give an opinion, decide either way? What evidence lies in voices, what proof is there either side of a locked door?

    NOT MAD, thatswhattheyallsay, and I have something to say, but my feet speak first and I’m away, through Ophelia’s labyrinth to an open door, to the open air, then down to the flea market, to a stall of confiscated dreamcatchers.

    Then I wake, the dreamcatcher swaying in my blind spot, but there. Its wires choked with the dreams of the damned, feathers flayed to the stems.



    When you forget your bag on top of your dirty car, it leaves a front-to-back skid mark for you as a memento.

    I was debating whether to go back for the coffee I forgot at home, knowing this would make me late. Late is underachieving, no-raise bad.

    But without coffee I spew syllables in unnatural combinations at my coworkers, bolstering my image as Not-An-Idea-Person.

    The solution: get coffee on the way. With money. Found in my bag. Which, as we now know, is more-than-a-little outside of the car.

    Here’s a man in the street, holding my bag, waving. Smiling. He’s done his good deed. You’re welcome. I made you a hero by using a sea-sponge for a brain.

    Zen people say, live in the moment. Which makes you mindful. Which improves your mentality. So your brain is less sea-sponge-like.

    But this moment, sucks. I don’t want it. I want another moment. How can I be mindful of stuff I don’t want in my mind? Like my own stupidness? And what about cruelty and injustice? I don’t want those, either.

    Other people say, ignorance is bliss.

    So which is it?

    There’s no brain without pain, like there’s no coffee without a wallet.

    I should wash my car.

    206 words


  34. Best Laid Plans

    Joel had been asked to leave the family, cease all contact with them, because of Leon.
    Joel was their son, their joy, they had said again and again, but Leon was an abusive sociopath.
    Never mind that Joel and Leon took up the same body.
    Or that Leon was smarter than Joel.
    Joel could never meet Leon and he suspected vice-versa. Which meant that he couldn’t explain that he had come to miss his family.
    Joel decided he would have to do something extraordinary to get his family to welcome him back with open arms.
    “I’ll start a small fire in the kitchen then under the pretense of getting some of my boxes from the basement I’ll arrive and rescue everyone.”

    Joel lit the fire in the kitchen and then hurried out the door locking it from the inside, trying to make it look as though he had never been inside.
    As he shut the door he saw his keys dangling on the inside lock.
    He scrabbled to retrieve them then suddenly went limp.
    Then he stood tall and sure, Leon’s sneer in the glass of the door.
    “You can’t rejoin a family if they’re all dead, idiot,” he muttered at his reflection and the growing fire within it.

    210 words


  35. @bex_spence
    199 words

    Key maker, key seeker.

    The guardian sits, as he always has, waiting for the key to come. As each key enters the lock, he inspects the collar, his calloused hands running along the grooves, caressing, examining the details upon the metal work. Pulling the magnifier down from atop his head, he scrutinises the metal and its markings.

    He is waiting for one key, the key to set him free. He lives within the lock, the master guardian. Across the years he has opened the door though he knows not what lies beyond. He longs to be free but he needs the key. His key. Handling so many and it has never passed his hands.

    Each key, intricately woven from silver is inscribed with a name, and a date. The name of the intended, and the date it is to be used. The key needs the owner, the owner needs to use it on that date. Then they can move on. He hasn’t moved in so long.

    Finally a key has his name, the date unfilled, this is his key, but it won’t unlock the door. He has the power but not the capability. A key with no lock, a dream with no waking.


  36. WordPress username: ansumani (https://ansumani.wordpress.com/)
    Word count: 206

    Title: The Trust Pill

    “Flight timing? ”, I quizzed Dolores.

    “29th 5am.” she said eyeing the pills in my hand.

    “What should you do?”

    “Hide in the closet near the luggage loading area. Go out. Remove the package from the suitcase. Bring it outside the airport. Deliver at the Diner.”, she intoned.

    “Once I text you the name on the luggage tag. Go then. Where is the key?”

    Dolores held up a bunch of about 100 keys. I sighed. “How will you know which is which?”

    “Can do it with eyes closed. Know them by touch. Once I locked myself out….”

    I interrupted her janitorial adventure story, “Here”. I handed the pills. She greedily grabbed it, forgetting the interruption.

    I text-ed her “Tag: SMITHSON”. As I waited in the Diner, I thought about Dolores. It took a lot of careful planning to hook her in. I gave her a free pill once. Then another. 6 months of free pills later , my ‘trustworthy citizen’ neighbor is taking part in a criminal drug smuggling operation.

    “Can you trust her to pull it off”, my boss asked. I smirked ,“She will betray her mother for those pills”.

    Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I will see Dolores again. I started to sweat.


  37. Trapped

    195 Words


    Not all locks are made of steel, not all prisons from stone. I have become my own jailor, shackled by the capsule I hold in my hand. It lies there in my palm, small and inconsequential, the drug that leads me into a fog of non-existence.

    “Take it,” they say. “And you’ll be free to go.”

    But I won’t be, not truly free. The real me will be buried deep inside myself, shackled as surely as if they had used chains, a captive in chemical fetters.

    If I refuse, I will be incarcerated in this Bedlam forever, just another madman climbing the walls where my thoughts, my body continually race away from me and I have to run to catch up with them. Sometimes people get in the way and they get hurt … and that upsets me. But at least I can see the colour in the world, feel the pulse of life.

    Finally I take the tablet and they open the gates, set me free. I walk the road they have carved out for me, the lunatic in society’s straitjacket. My pulse slows and the world turns grey. I am still locked in.


    • There’s a real horror to this, locked inside yourself. Very claustrophobic and maybe not a million miles from the truth for some.


      • Thank you. Some of the ADHD kids I’ve worked with over the years have had to take Ritalin etc and I was thinking very much of them as I wrote it, from livewire to an almost ‘dead’ personality at times (not all I must say but it could be quite extreme).


  38. No Escape

    The guard has left the keys in the door again. At least he’s left the food hatch open, to give me a fighting chance. I perform my daily routine, hoping my luck changes. My shoulder protests as I contort my arm, but no matter how much I strain I will never reach them. I must be the only prisoner doing everything possible to stay locked up.

    I hear heavy footsteps. I retreat to my bed and wrap myself in a ball. There’s nowhere to hide, no safe place. The keys rattle in the lock and then my cell is full of fists and boots. They are careful not to kill me, that would be no fun. I don’t scream anymore. I know that no-one is coming.

    They think I killed a child. There’s no justification for a crime like this. I know because I have tried them all. All I have to do is utter a few short words and this nightmare will end, but I never will. I could never turn in my little brother. They won’t care that it was an accident. He wouldn’t last a night in this place.

    I wipe the blood and tears from my face and mentally mark another day off the calendar.

    209 words


  39. Let’s Make a Deal
    207 words

    “Do you want to play a game?”

    The child is small, cherubic – rosy cheeks and curly blonde locks. Standing on one side of a crudely-made cardboard cell door, I on the other, we capture each other’s eyes through the ‘window.’

    “No child. I have no time for useless, diversionary games.”

    The door is pierced through on one side by an old, rusty set of keys.

    “It will be a fun game.”

    Oddly enough, the door comfortably occupied the middle of my living room – the diametrically-opposed realities of belonging/not belonging curiously held in abeyance.

    “Corporate mergers are fun, child. Building my empire is fun. I need none other.”

    Was that a flash of red in the child’s bright blue eyes?

    “This game is called Sell Your Soul. We’re playing this game now.”

    A finger of ice delicately traces a caress of shivers down my spine.

    “Respect and adoration yours, until your end of days.
    Your price: your tattered, tainted soul, now destined for my maze.
    Turn the keys to play my game.”

    I reach – keys rattling against my fingers.
    I don’t feel the scratch – only the icy fingers of poison crawling up my arm.

    “Did I forget to mention it’s a very short game?”


  40. “Monkey See”
    by Michael Seese
    208 words

    She gasps a little when she sees me reach in through the small gap in the door.

    “Don’t worry. I will get you,” I say evenly.

    She tries to speak. But terror owns her voice.

    “Where is it?” I hiss. “I know it’s here somewhere.” Then my fingertip finds metal.

    “Please,” she begs, “just go.”

    “You know I can’t do that.”

    I wish that I could crawl through the tiny peephole, and end the game. The key is close. I can just jiggle it with my middle finger. I block out her cries as I focus on the task. Sinew tearing, I stretch the last inch, and snatch it from the hook.

    “I’ve got it,” I say. “Sheila, I’m getting you out.”

    “You’re too late,” she sobs.

    “What do you –”

    “Quite the quandary,” says a slithery baritone. “Do you know how they used to capture monkeys? They’d place a banana inside a cage with a narrow slit. Small enough for an open hand to reach in, but not wide enough for a clenched fist to come out.”

    My limited view allows me to see only his torso.

    And the knife.

    “Not wanting to drop the prize, he remains a prisoner. Willingly. I hope you enjoy the show.”


  41. Emily Clayton
    208 words

    Spirals to Nowhere

    Darkness is her friend. Isolation is her enemy. Water drips with the methodic ticking of a metronome, the steady rhythm echoing in her ears. She tries to scream, but the sounds are gone. They hide in her throat, slipping long flesh-caked claws into the ridges of her voice box.

    Shifting waves – from an imaginary wind – reflect escape. The window to home. She peers down into murky shadows, sees herself in bed.

    The lake holds her back. Drowning is a family curse.

    She skirts the edges of the lake, her toes digging into clammy, dead sand. A wriggling blob slips across her toes. Silent creatures move on. She paces, her flighty footsteps switching from nimble to dense. The patterns on the sand imply a multitude of life. There is no life here. Just a miasma of death.

    I can’t. I can’t. Her mind is racing. Her legs are pacing. There’s no end to the madness.

    A rustle in the trees, soft and haunting. Keys rattle in the distance. A woosh of wind. A thud. She crashes into liquid death.

    Jangling keys buzz in her ears. “Didn’t you sleep well, dear?”

    She looks to the left. Instead of her mother, she sees the creature from the lake.


  42. @MattLashley_
    210 words

    Look Into My Eyes

    It was happening again.

    “Gerard, look into my eyes,” Marla whispered. Gerard scrunched his shoulders, like a turtle on the verge of retreat, and pretended he hadn’t heard.

    “Open your eyes. Connect to me.”

    “Oh god,” Gerard grumbled. Which, in the heat of passion, Marla mistook for a lover’s fevered moan and matched him with a few of her own.

    Gerard had been born with an unusual malady: Eyes open, he could not get aroused. Eyes shut, he was 1970’s Heffner on Viagra.

    Think of a marionette, he’d say. Pull the string, leg goes up. Release the string, leg goes down. After hearing this, most American women assumed he was manufacturing an excuse to be emotionally distant.

    Helga, a Swedish exchange student shaped like a tulip bulb on top of an inverted tulip bulb, had been different. “Yah. You cannot look my naked eyes because the leg of puppet plummets? Yah. Let’s do the sex, yah?”

    Score one for language barriers.

    This relationship would end the same as the others. While gathering her things, Marla would say, I feel trapped. Your lack of intimacy is purely psychological. And sitting on the edge of the bed, head slightly cocked, looking into the distance, Gerard would wonder if Helga was in town.


  43. The Destroyer of Worlds

    Build a door to keep the Darkness out. To keep the Darkness in. Call it simply Darkness. Not worth a name. Too scared to name It.

    Hide the keys and act like you aren’t afraid of It escaping the room you built from the chemicals with the strange names. The only thing that can bind it.

    But still afraid of Its return. The Secret that can choke and kill.

    Try to see the tendrils escaping the room before it’s too late.

    But Its fingerprints look like yours.
    Its voice sounds like yours.

    You are a puppet, It the master.
    Or is it the other way around?

    A piece of yourself?
    A dark entity?

    A liar, or not?

    Lock it away and kill a piece of yourself?
    Let it out and find Its true nature?

    Perhaps this time you’ll be able to control It.
    Perhaps this time It will kill.

    Perhaps this time It wouldn’t steal memories.
    Perhaps you’ll forget yourself.

    Will It always find the keys?
    Will Its prison last?

    Will you live with fresh wounds meant to draw the darkness out?
    Will you live with scars that trap tendrils of darkness?

    Do the Darkness leave a choice, in the end?

    Is twilight trapped in darkness or in light?

    Words: 209


  44. Clive Newnham @CliveNewnham
    Word Count : 210

    Dammed If I Don’t, Damned If I Do.

    It is a door. I am the lock.

    It is simple. I die.

    The door is the only thing that keeps humanity safe. If the door is opened, the bacteria escape to plague humanity, to kill every individual painfully; Staphylococcus destructus eats its victims alive, dissolving the flesh. There is no cure.

    It is in the laboratory’s air. It will devour me. I cannot be saved. The door is all that contains it. I am the lock.

    Already there are necrotic ulcers all over my hands and face, in my mouth and throat and my lungs. I know they are there, just not big enough yet to see. I look at my face in the glass. It is my face; my eyes…

    I look into my eyes… into their souls… say goodbye.

    I have poured all the demijohns of spirit over the floor. The bunsen burner is lit… I just have to light this paper, let it float to the fuel…

    But the Earth is dying, outside the door. Smokes cloak the breeze, chokes the soil, sours the seas. Storms rage. Life is slipping away.

    A new Mars rising.

    A tear slips from my cheek, forms a droplet, falls to the fuel.

    I open the door.

    Someone might be immune.


    • “A new Mars rising…Someone might be immune.” What terrible choice to have weighing on you… even if you know you won’t be around long enough to see the end results. I do not envy this person.


  45. Foy S. Iver
    WC: 210


    “We’d like a…” Sam blushed baby’s tongue pink, “a procreation license.”

    The clerk scrunched her shoulders, nose, and eyes, an anime character. Hanna could see the sparkle by her flawless teeth. *ding*

    “How exciting!” The clerk slid open a receiving door. “Do you have your slip?” She held out her right hand, slim and pale. In her left, she lifted a stamp as large as her head: STATE APPROVED.

    “Actually, we have questions–”

    “How do we get slips?” Hanna interrupted. She loved Sam but sometimes he could be weak. The clerk flipped a switch; a sign dropped down, barely missing their faces.


    “So we get a physical and come back?” Hanna asked.

    “Not quite.” The clerk’s teeth beamed.

    A smaller sign swung below the first. Hanna and Sam leaned in to read the flea-sized print.


    “Those are contradictory,” Hanna said, losing patience as fast as Sam was losing nerve. The smile dimmed.

    “I’m sorry. We don’t have what you’re looking for.” The Clerk’s gaze was cold as incarceration.


    The window slammed shut.

    “What’ll we do?”

    Hanna took Sam’s hand.

    “We’ll do it the old-fashioned way.”


  46. The Point of No Return.

    Taking a deep breath, I looked at the puzzle before me. Try as I might I couldn’t work out what to do. The sign said no turn, but I could see that if I drove past the intersection I would be trapped in less than a block by the signs that read ‘One Way’ and ‘Do not enter’.

    Sure, I could break the law, but there was a police officer sitting in the car behind me—watching, perhaps out of morbid curiosity, to see what I did.

    It was like sitting in a locked room where the key was in the lock, on the other side of the door. To unlock the door—I’d need the keys, but I couldn’t unlock the door because had to get to the other side to get the keys: catch 22.

    So… there I sat, damned if I turned left or right, and damned 30 seconds later if I drove straight.

    And then I realized I was damned if I stayed there, since I’d be ‘impeding traffic.’ I took stock of my situation and did the only thing I could: I turned on my flashers, popped my hood, and waved the police officer through.

    If he stopped, I could always call a tow truck.

    210 words


    204 words

    “In your own words…”

    Nothing good ever comes of that sentence, in Niall’s experience. He reads the sentence over and over, until the words float in his head, disconnected and meaningless, leaving no room for anything else.

    He needs a drink. Sober, his vocabulary is shut behind a locked door. He needs the lubrication to free the rusted locks on his mind. I’ll just have one, he thinks. I can do that. Just to get my mind moving. Only one drink. I’ll control myself this time.

    He tips back the first glass and waits for it to take effect. Not enough. Barely a buzz. Another glass. Still nothing, his mind remains locked. Another then. He watches his hand pour the liquid as if it belongs to someone else. Now he starts to feel his mind drift, and his head is filled with broken sentences, bulging behind his eyes. The pressure builds, and he finds the glass full in his hand, the alcohol slopping over the rim. All he can see is the glass and the emptying bottle.

    He wakes slumped at the table, the bottle on its side, the dregs spattered across the stained wood.

    The form is still empty. He needs a drink.


  48. Bootleg
    210 words

    The blast craters the sycamore’s trunk, showering me in splinters. Over twin barrels of her shotgun, my sweetheart squints at me.

    “Jess, it’s me!”

    “So you say.”

    Proof, I need proof I’m not Zerox. Across the yard the shed huddles in dusty disuse. “I still have that key.”

    “Coulda swiped it off his corpse along with his memories,” she grumbles. Even so, she exhales when the lock clicks. I’m home.

    Trust is hard-won in a world shattered by alien invasions. Fence repair, coats of paint, roof patches do little to soften the stiff way she climbs under the quilt with me.

    She pokes at her breakfast.

    “You made me include apple oatcakes in our marriage vows,” I quip.

    Her hunting knife embeds itself in my chest. Blood oozes black into flannel. As she wrenches my shirt aside, orange threads of static dance from severed wires.

    My entire being spews from me, oatcakes too.

    “How did you know?” I sputter.

    “I changed the shed lock.”

    The Zerox technology that morphed me into… me morphed the key to open the lock. “But you let me stay.”

    She gazes at me as if across a decade of hard survival. Anxiety loosens its pinch from around her lips. “Sometimes a copy’s better than nothing.”


  49. What Lurks Beneath

    The thing beneath my bed is back. It purrs like a cat, if a cat were large enough to eat a person in one bite. I feel its rumbling through the mattress.

    I pull the covers up to my chin and close my eyes. I have a nightlight (“she’s fifteen, Brian, not a toddler”) so I can see what’s in my room (“whatever helps her sleep, Carla. What’s the big deal?”). I don’t want to see it, or its shadow.

    It’s getting louder. I consider going downstairs, but I’d have to put my feet over the edge of the bed to climb down. (“Maybe a loft bed will help. You’ll be able to see that there’s nothing underneath.”) It’ll grab me before I can reach the floor. I won’t make it out of the room.

    On the other hand, I can’t stay here. The thing is restless, hungry, and getting closer.

    I need to get my family out, but they won’t listen. Especially Mom. (“Violet, I’ve had enough. Go back upstairs and follow the plan, or I’m calling Dr. Gruber.”)

    I’ll just have to make them see. Their lives are more important than mine.

    I open my eyes. The thing is horribly beautiful, and on me before I can scream.

    210 words


  50. Locked Out of Life
    200 words, @pmcolt

    At eleven my feet hit the welcome mat. Soon after, my head dents the pillow. Alone in the darkness, I bathe in the glow of my phone. Twelve unread notifications, but this week has been too long for clubbing with friends, or voicemails from collections agencies.

    The dreaded barking-dog ringtone of my boss vibrates my phone. “Hello?”

    “Get back to the office ASAP,” he barks at me. “Nakamura’s threatening to renege. The Man Upstairs wants this handled by morning.”

    I sigh. When I was a little girl, Momma said a college degree was the key to success. Now, three months from thirty, my Masters degree won’t even turn the lock. At my age, Momma was married, with three kids and a house. I’m single, with a mountain of student loan debt that finances some banker’s summer home.

    “A team player would jump at this,” he hints. “The Man Upstairs loves to promote team players.” That promotion would mean a tremendous pay bump, plus benefits and an amazing office. The managers’ offices are nicer than my cubicle: management practically lives in them. “Are you a team player?”

    I reluctantly hit End Call, then put away the phone and close my eyes.


    • That would be a moment when I wouldn’t answer my phone 🙂 The American Dream gone bad- such a commentary on the lives of most people in their 20s. Nice take on the prompt.


  51. My Boys

    “Answer the question,” the judge prompted. J. Heller sighed deeply and rubbed the left side of his face with his palm. He looked at Vanessa, formerly known as Mrs. Heller. Her eyes were lit with the fires of hell, and she smiled menacingly, knowing she was on the verge of winning the custody battle.

    “Mr. Heller did you or did you not work full time?” his wife’s, or rather, soon-to-be ex-wife’s attorney asked. He saw it all already, knew it all. If he said yes, they would play the dad’s-never-there card. If he said no, they’d say he was unable and unfit to support the children.

    J. Heller thought of his boys asking Vanessa where their dad was. And she was just the type of serpent to tell them Dad left because he didn’t love them. He thought of this and his eyes glassed over with tears. He blinked hard to suppress them.

    “I love my boys,” was all J. Heller could answer.

    As the judge signed the divorce papers, J. Heller could only replay the mistake in his head. Had he knocked instead of letting himself in through the back door, he would never have caught Vanessa cheating. He would never have lost his boys.


    208 words


    WC = 202 (05-01-15)

    An organ in distress wreaks havoc in its host. Dry mouth, cold sweat, and weakness signal the need for sustenance as the hormone completes its job too thoroughly, and the host seeks balance. But the powers that be have dictated that the replacement hormone cannot be obtained except at great expense and the fulfillment of specific requirements. A death lock opened by key word tumbler.

    The organ functions as poorly as the host’s own chemistry, assaulted by years of imbalance and lack of treatment. And now the host suffers two forms of the same condition. Only remedied by the now unobtainable hormone, the key to wellness.

    If the host exhibited only the most grave of the two similar maladies, this hormone would flow freely and at low or no expense to him. And his life would continue.

    If the host were to have only the least of his two similar maladies, managed with alternative treatment, he would surely die but have plenty of coin in his coffers.

    The powers that be ….. know not the whole picture. Their flow charts lock out those who do not fit the exact malady description. Death by words. The very words describing an organ that sustains life.


  53. Catch This
    208 words

    If I reject this manuscript, then you’ll try again at some independent press who’ll give you your ten bucks and this brilliant story will sink into internet oblivion.

    If I accept it, then we’ll both become famous. We’ll whirl around the country on book tours together (because, of course, once committed I’ll convince the publishers to advance you novel money). Late night Thai-takeout hammering over first drafts, I will fall in love with you. You will attribute the whirlwind of success to me and feel indebted enough to say yes and believe you mean it.

    I’ll take you to meet my parents and you’ll either charm the hell out of them, which means I’ll have to spend more time with them, or alienate them when you order Shiraz with dinner, which will mean we’ll have to establish a tense reconciliation when we have our first child.

    If it’s a girl, she’ll be so much like you, you’ll end up despising each other by the time she wrestles her way into puberty.

    If it’s a boy, he’ll cling to you because he’ll have learned fear from me that the jig might soon be up.

    I slip the manuscript into another slush reader’s pile. I do it for the children.



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