Saturday, February 11, 2012

    Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge

    Chuck Wendig says Write and I say How long? 

    You’ve got up to 1,000 words to write a tale featuring an unlikable protagonist that still remains readable and compelling. 

    Here's my entry. Comments welcome.

    What's Inside
    Lori Oster

    The boys kept their eyes on the wide front window. It always started with a small flick of the drapes. Their bikes stood at odd angles, each within an arm's length. It had become almost too easy, lately. She was getting slow.

    Kevin stood the farthest in from the safety of the sidewalk. Seth and Micah hung back, their hands clamped tightly in the hardened work gloves. Any other day, Seth would have been embarrassed to ride his sister's bike with its white banana seat and wicker basket. But today it was just what they needed.

    They all stiffened as the low whine pierced through the air. Kevin lifted a fat canvas finger to his lips, then towards the metal weather vane on the old lady's roof. They resumed breathing as he ventured closer to the dilapidated porch.

    Kevin bent down in front of the first one and looked back at his friends. He bugged his eyes and jutted his chin at them. Seth crouched forward as he moved in. Micah kept his eyes on the window and took slow, measured steps.

    They thought it would be a quick job, that it would come out as easily as the last time. The thorns seemed the only new obstacle, but that's what the gloves were for. Kevin smashed his features in as he pulled, his face flushing with the effort. Nothing.

    Micah leaned back on his hands to peek through the porch rail. The drapes hung untouched, but they knew she was in there. Always was. Last time she'd come out with a real shotgun. They knew it was real because she fired it. Kevin swore she aimed at the sky, but Micah wasn't so sure.

    Now Seth was going at it too, his face nearly as red as the prized petals shaking from his effort. It wouldn't budge.

    Micah saw it first. The fabric moved languidly, as old and tired as its owner. Desperate to get at least a small haul, they all three grabbed handfuls of stems and ripped them away before they raced back to their waiting bikes. The basket wasn't full, but at the sight Kevin felt a small flush of victory bubble up above the metallic taste of fear. The bitch deserved it. He would have raked the thorns across her papery face if he had the chance.

    There was no gunshot this time. She did nothing more than open the wooden door and peer out at them through the bug-mottled screen. They knew she'd make them hurt, anyway. She did it to all the kids, even the ones who never set foot on her property.

    This was only Micah's second time. His first was the week after she'd called his parents, told them about him and Kate Conroy in the school bathroom. How she found out, he'd never know. But Micah's father drank an entire handle that night, and Micah had the bruises to show for it.

    The first time he freed a beam from her porch rail. That was when she used the shotgun. Emboldened by the rush of revenge, Micah drove two nails into his bedroom wall and placed the rail on top of them. A prized trophy.

    She stood behind the screen long after the boys pedaled off. The muscles of her jaw pumped beneath the thin, translucent skin. She didn't bother to move the wiry hair that stretched across her face in the breeze. She just steadied her breath and repeated the old mantra to herself: In time, the truth will out. In time.

    Her words held the slant of a trained hand, though she could no longer steady her wrist, so the letters jutted out at aggressive angles. They were legible enough. She would heed the reminders tomorrow, when the parents would be at work and easily found. It's hard to hide in a small town.

    She performed all the necessary tasks before she headed to her small room, and lowered herself into the deep rut that cradled her tired body all these years. She had forgotten to switch off the light, but she was too tired now to get up and do anything about it.

    Days later, Kevin insisted that they go back and finish the job. Micah hesitated. This was the first time she hadn't retaliated. Seth was sure she had, but that whatever she revealed had been too unbearable for the victim to share with the other kids. Sometimes it happened that way. They shared an unofficial moment of silence then, Darby Sugarbaker's limp body flashing in all of their minds. The long note. The things left unsaid after the “accident”.

    They loaded the basket with the gloves. This time, Kevin brought a switchblade. Nobody had to ask where he got it. Without realizing it, Kevin rubbed the scar on the left side of his neck and shoved the blade in his pocket. Seth and Micah looked down. Some scars were harder to hide.

    They heard the sirens before they made the turn onto her street. The boys initially feared the cops were waiting for them. Seth leaned forward, crushing the basket with his elbows. They hopped off their bikes in unison, and walked towards the house.

    The gurney almost looked empty, she was so small. Her slippered feet poked out from the end of the sheet. Kevin recoiled. He always pictured her bigger.

    A man called from the back of the house. Sheriff Buckley emerged minutes later, his hat clutched to his chest, head shaking. “It ain't easy to hide a thing as big as that in a town this small.” He turned to the three boys, “Did ya'all know she had a vegetable of a grandson in there?” They stared back blankly. “Hell if I know how she kept him so well.”

    When the story came out in the local paper, Micah's mom shook her head and said, "You never can tell what's inside, sweetheart. Never can tell" 

    © Lori Oster, 2012


    BJ Kerry said...

    Hey Lori.
    You've got a real talent for this writing! Enjoyed your story - unexpected ending.

    Darlene Underdahl said...

    Wow! Very good.

    Lori Oster said...

    BJ, Darlene--Thank you both so much for reading, and for your very kind comments.

    You made me feel much better about sharing this story on the blog!

    Janiera said...

    Loved it, the ending was really unexpected and really made the story.

    Lori Oster said...

    Thank you, Janiera! I had a good time writing it. I'm definitely looking forward to Chuck Wendig's future flash fiction challenges. It was perfect inspiration.

    Are you going to join, too? You should! It was a lot of fun.

    Anonymous said...

    Wow, I was not expecting that ending. A treat to read. Great work!

    Lori Oster said...

    Thank you so much, rjkeith. Your support makes me want to write some more!

    Written Words said...

    Well done, Lori. Not only did you nail the competition, you also captured the reality of certain preteen boys and some older people in a small town. I could see the house!

    Lori Oster said...

    Thanks so much, Scott! I'm honored that you took the time to read it.

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