Back in the day when I first starting writing--somewhere between six and seven years ago--I was looking for help and stumbled across a place called WEbook. Apparently it's still around, I do know it underwent new management, but it's a place were you can post chapters of your work and other writers can come in and feedback for you. It was a give to get kind of situation.
At that time, I didn't know any other writers, had no idea about twitter or critique groups, was pretty much clueless. Anyway, long story short that's where I learned some of the basic rules of writing from some very kind people willing to prod along a newcomer. But Webook had another aspect in that it hosted monthly contests to write flash fiction.
They would throw out a topic and give a word count limit of between 400 and maybe 800 words. At the end of the month, they'd pick a winner to receive some sort of prize. At the high point of my time there, dozens of writers would enter. People could comment on the entries, and I just found it plain fun and rather challenging. I made honorable mention and placed a few times, once I even won.
Here's the sample that I won with. The instructions were to write a scene that used no dialogue.
Non-Dialogue Writing Challenge
Jorge raised his toothbrush with a wink at his reflection in the mirror. Brooks and Dunn blared on the radio as he slid in socks and not much else across the tile, his toothbrush flying.
Marguerite came in and wet her toothbrush. After applying paste, she raised the tube toward Jorge and deliberately shut the lid before putting it in the drawer and closing that with one hip. She leaned against the counter to spin the dial on the radio, passing Lady Gaga, and stopped at a Nickleback classic. A sigh escaped her lips as she closed her eyes and absorbed the love song.
Jorge frowned before reaching around her and returning the station to country twang.
Marguerite’s eyes popped open, toothpaste running down her chin. She twitched the dial back, and then blocked the radio with her body.
Jorge released his toothbrush to attack the ticklish spot along her ribs.
White paste sprayed as Marguerite ducked wildly away from him, giggling, and spat in the sink. He caught her in a hug from behind, bending to place a wet kiss on one bare shoulder. Their eyes met in the mirror. Jorge raised an eyebrow suggestively.
Her eyes sparkled as she switched off the radio. They broke into a run down the hallway, elbowing each other to reach the bedroom first.
I think a lot of the skills need for flash fiction are also necessary for writing a query letter that conveys personality and interest.
Flash fiction involves telling a story in a limited number of words. You have to be able to make every word count. It's important to use verbs with lots of punch. You have to be able to convey character personality and motivation with just a sketch.
All those are skills needed to enhance a query letter. Especially the last one. Making your characters come to life with just a few words is critical in flash fiction and query letters. If you're good at flash fiction, you have a head start on writing a query.
I imagine practicing flash fiction would also lead to better query letters. So how about a game?
For this first game, I will be the judge and the winner will receive a query critique from me. Laura Heffernan has generously volunteered to play too and will give away a second query critique. Note that the manuscript does not have to be finished for the critique. If you want to enter just for the challenge and don't have a query letter--go ahead! If there is enough interest, I'll see about getting celebrity judges (agents) for future contests.
As your part of giving back, you need to reply to at least two other entries and leave encouraging/thoughtful feedback down in the comment section. I believe critiquing others' work makes for better writers. Also for those who want to give back to me, I would appreciate adding Faithful on Goodreads and America's Next Reality Star for Laura and spreading the word about the flash fiction contest on social media.
For this first contest, I'll be generous and the word count is 700. That is 700 words based on a count by Microsoft Word. Don't go over or your entry is out.
And the topic: Use a December holiday (Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing Day) a candy cane and a possum in your flash fiction. Mention all three at least once. The rest is up to you. I'll be looking for energy, personality, strength of story, writing skill, and other subjective aspects.
I forgot to add that you need to leave an email address or twitter handle so I can find you.
You have until January 5th at midnight EST to add your entry in the comments below. I'll choose a winner by January 9th.
Take your time and put a little effort into your sketch. Don't just rush it together, but actually write, let it sit, then edit. Maybe get some other eyes on it. Most of all have fun and challenge yourself!
Do we post the story we write in the comment section, along with our email address/twitter handle?ReplyDelete
Quick question: Can it be less than 700 words?ReplyDelete
Yes. Just not more.Delete
Short Story Contest
“Are you sure you don’t want to bubble wrap that old thing?” Jacob asked, as Mary carefully placed her grandma’s ornament on the Christmas tree.
“I’ve thought about it,” Mary said, getting the ornament’s hook to sit just right in the soft pine branches, a bit of fresh sap sticking to her fingers. It had taken months of frustrated gluing to piece Grandma’s antique angel back together, all thanks to that fateful possum through the dog door incident last winter. Not to mention the time it took to fish out every painstakingly tiny piece of glass from the heating vent.
“Do you think it will hold together?” Jacob said. Mary glanced at him over her shoulder. He sat sprawled out on the sofa, resting the curved end of a candy cane on the edge of his mouth. Some of the red coloring had smeared onto his lip.
“It better,” Mary said. “Do you have any idea how much I spent on hot glue?” She looked down at her blistered fingertips. “Or band-aids, for that matter.”
“A lot.” Jacob twirled his candy cane around, and around. Mary made a mental note not to let him touch any of the other decorations with those sticky fingers.
Grandma’s angel wasn’t the only thing that had fallen apart last year. After Grandma’s passing, the holidays had never been the same. Christmas was meant to be spent with family. To hear Grandma’s laugh, and open the gift of popcorn in a metal tin for the fifth year in a row and still pretend to be surprised. To bake sugar cookies with extra sugar, and sing carols out of tune. It was only Mary and Jacob now, and as special as he was, Mary doubted that little hole in her heart would ever be filled.
Out of the blue, there was a terrible crashing sound—followed by snarling and hissing—coming from across the hall. The kitchen? Toby, the family terrier, came flying around the corner, hot on the tail of a burly raccoon. Over the sofa, knocking over the lamp, the room was a swirling vortex of fur and puppy teeth. The screen door must have been left open!
“Coon!” Jacob yelled, and leaped off the couch after it, but not before Toby slammed full force into the Christmas tree. Mary watched, almost in slow motion, as Grandma’s angel wobbled, wobbled, then finally fell—shattering on the hard wood floor into a hundred bit sized pieces.
Jacob cursed from somewhere in the other room, followed by Toby’s barking. The raccoon was hissing furiously.
Mary just starred at the remnants of the angel, blinking numbly. Well, she thought, good thing I bought extra hot glue. Mary knelt down and started picking up the pieces. Just like she’d done every day since Grandma left.
Ugh, it didn't indent the paragraphs. );Delete
This was really poignant, capturing the difficulty so many feel at the holidays after loved ones have passed. It also left me worried about the man (boy?) and dog in the room with a cornered racoon!Delete
I liked the energy of the piece. They're trying to piece together an ornament broken by a "fanthom" racoon that keeps reappearing at the wrong moment. I wonder how many years they've been doing this. How long have they been chasing after the racoon? Is it coming from the chimney? Maybe you could have insisted more on how precious the ornement is. Example: "Do not break it, please do not break the ornement. We must not shake it, place it next to the fire, or even shake the tree after we place it. No, watch it! We must not break one more ornament. They're from my grandmother. They're worth more than my own eyes, etc, etc." Maybe more drama around the ornaments would have added some humour to it and would have made the stakes stronger. This being said, I love the idea and it's a judicious use of the words.Delete
I enjoyed this. It really tugged at me and delivered an emotional punch with the imagery. I particularly loved the paragraph about the popcorn tin. It made the grandma real for me.Delete
I prefer my first meeting with a client to take place in my conference room with the fantastic view of both ocean and mountain. I pay an obscene amount of money for the space, and it pays me back by distracting people long enough for me to pitch them before they can tell me exactly what they want. The convolutions and permutations that cause people to desire something simply because they saw it presented a particular way, at a particular time, or in a particular place is like alchemy, and if I can prevent my clients from giving me the formula for lead, I can usually turn their products to gold.ReplyDelete
Unfortunately, Gloriana Llewellyn (her real name; I checked) had insisted our introduction take place at a coffee shop in a rundown part of the city. I’d have passed on the invitation, but I couldn’t let such a big – and interesting – fish get away. Whether she hired me or not, meeting her would be a win in my book. For someone who had rocked the fashion and business worlds simultaneously, she was incredibly reclusive. No one outside of her staff had ever met her in person.
The scent of perfectly roasted coffee reminded me that my own complex brew system had sputtered and failed. The aroma of cinnamon and sugar made me crave whatever contained them, though I’m not usually a sweets guy. My twin desires pulled me to the counter before I even looked around for my potential client.
“Happy Yule!” The barista had her back to me, red and white ribbons turning her curlicue braid into a candy cane. She pulled shots with glee, gestured to the lucky recipients, then approached me with a smile that would have made a younger man’s knees weak.
Oh, who am I kidding? Despite the reindeer antler headband and Christmas moose sweater, she was a knockout. I was instantly smitten. That hadn’t happened in a long time. Seemed like a gift in and of itself, albeit one she would never realize she’d given.
“What do you want today?” she asked.
For some reason, everything I truly wanted tried to escape my mouth at once, resulting in me stammering the way I had as a kid. She didn’t rush me, and her smile never wavered.
I took a breath, smiled back at her, and said “Espresso, please.” I glanced at her nametag and burst out laughing, certain her name was not really Possum.
“Find a table. I’ll bring it over to you.” Her voice was smooth and dark, the way melted chocolate felt.
I shook my head, wondering when my inner poet had escaped, and turned to find a spot that would be relatively quiet so I could go over my notes on the mysterious Ms. Llewellyn. In an age of instant fame and digital surveillance, it seemed impossible that she could have remained anonymous. It was also the best marketing gimmick imaginable.
Possum brought me coffee and the cinnamon roll I’d forgotten to order. She put a tiny candy cane on the edge of the saucer. “That’s for later, for memories and dreams.”
Her words opened a flood in my mind – all the dreams I’d set aside to climb to the top of my career, all the memories of loves who had left because my focus was elsewhere. I choked on my coffee.
Possum patted my back, soothing my turmoil.
What have you done to me? I blushed when I realized I’d spoken aloud.
She sat down across from me.
“I’m expecting someone. A business meeting.”
“I know. As for what I’ve done, I must apologize. I needed to see what sort of man you were before I decided whether your words would be worth hearing.”
I blinked owlishly. “You’re Gloriana Llewellyn.”
She inclined her head as a queen might. “Indeed. I was only playing Possum.”
I groaned at the pun, causing her to laugh – like tiny bells ringing – which caused me to laugh, too.
When we managed to get ahold of ourselves, she wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “I think you’ll do nicely, Mr. Farenthold.”
For the first time in ages, I wanted to be nice, as well.
Ah, heck. I forgot to include html on one line. I suppose that's a lesson learned.Delete
I like the idea of the woman playing Santa Claus for a day. Maybe that's not totally your intention, but that's what I retained from the story. I love this sentence, "She put a tiny candy cane on the edge of the saucer. “That’s for later, for memories and dreams.” I also like that he came to conquer, but he ended up being conquered. Nice touch.Delete
Love it! It can be extremely difficult to do first person without an insane amount of I's, but you do it beautifully!Delete
I loved the voice in this. And I enjoyed how you took your time getting to the hook of the story. It was great build-up. And the humor of "Possum" at the end was fun. Well done!Delete
TITLE: Don't box me in, please.ReplyDelete
PS: I have basically no experience writing flash fiction, but I'm warming up to it. Thanks for suggesting this.
I searched for the boxes all day long.
I scratched the snow on the windowsills and peeked into the houses.
I plunged my fingers into the fairy doors installed all over town.
I even presented little packets of matches at the shops’ entrances, but no one took notice of the little match girl who helped people lit up their fires in the dead of the night. No one was grateful for my little packages when the winter crushed their bones with cold ice and I saved their fingers. They took me for granted, even on Boxing Day. No one even handed to me a candy cane, even after I made the sign for candy on my cheek. Scratching my chin with two fingers and drawing the cane in the air didn’t help anyone understand better.
You should never ask for anything, not even a snowball in your dress when you pass the kids in the park.
No box for me. Even after if rubbed my chest in a circle, asking politely. The only boxes I found housed the local possums who usually lived in chimneys. By the way, even the chimney sweeps were invited in the houses for a party.
No box for me.
Not even to warm up my frozen feet.
I will lie down here tonight and box myself in. Maybe someone tomorrow will find me.
Oh my gosh, this made me want to cry! Gorgeous!Delete
Wow. This is heart-breaking, but I enjoyed it. It reads more like poetry to me, but there's no rule that says it can't! Keep on writing!Delete
This is a heartbreaking look into the life of the little matchstick girl. I could feel both the cold and despair and wanted very much to invite her in and offer a cup of hot cider and a place to stay. The clues that she can't speak (and possibly can't hear?) were subtle but gave the whole thing a more tragic feel.Delete
The sound of the mallet pounding the wooden cutting board reverberated throughout the cabin. I took a deep breath, allowing the vibrations, the crunch, the whacking beats of the mallet to burrow inside my bones. It felt good to destroy the last remaining morsel of another Christmas spent alone.
Her voice startled me. Mostly because I was by myself, in the middle of the night, in a private cabin behind a door I was certain I’d locked. I swore the next year I’d choose another cabin where the owners don’t make midnight visits. “What did that candy cane ever do to you?”
I didn’t look up. I just kept beating. “It reminded me of someone.”
“You must’ve hated that person.”
I paused, the silver mallet glistened in the flickering lamp light. “Not at all.”
She tiptoed across the room, as if she were trying not to disturb me as I pulverized the candy cane into a fine powdery dust. “You’re up late.”
“Like a possum.”
I looked up at her. Heat rolled off my face. “What did you say?”
“Possum. Like your shirt?” She pointed at my “Awesome Possum” t-shirt that Maura gave me three Christmases earlier—the day before she died.
I had a habit of staying up all night. Plus, there was one time when I feigned sleeping to avoid taking out the trash. “Possum” stuck that day. Hearing another woman use the word chilled me to the core. “Something like that.”
The woman raised her eyebrow, sensing there was more to it, but deciding to let it go. “Well, now that you’ve destroyed a perfectly good candy cane, what are you going to do with it?”
“Not sure.” I took a swig of coffee from the Treat Yo’ Self mug my wacky sister gave me for Christmas. “I’ll let you know.”
She moved closer, inching behind me like a shadow. Her vanilla perfume wafted through the air, mingling with the scents of coffee and candy cane. Her dark hair fell forward, whispering against my neck. “I can’t wait to find out.”
I couldn’t move. She placed her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Every part of my body tingled. It wasn’t the first time I’d been approached by a woman since Maura. But it was the first time I’ve ever considered responding. In the moment it took for me to decide, she left.
It was for the best.
I drew back the curtains and watched the moonbeams glistening on the snow. There was snow the night Maura was killed too. The weight of her memory crushed me. I wanted to let her go, but the guilt always kept me from it. I’d said I loved her forever, so how could I think of another woman?
I went to sleep with those thoughts swirling in my mind. I awoke to the smell of crushed candy cane. And vanilla. I went straight to the kitchen and created something delicious.
The dark-haired woman swung the door open before I could knock. “Hey there. What can I do for you?” She radiated warmth, from her smile to her soulful eyes. It was then I realized how cold I’d been. I craved the warmth. Hers. Yet, I couldn’t let Maura escape my mind. Surely Maura's memory was all I really needed.
But maybe… The woman cocked her head, still waiting for my answer.
“I made vanilla peppermint fudge with the pulverized candy cane. For you.”
She smiled. “Not sure what you mean by the pulverized candy cane, but thanks for sharing. I love this stuff. Join me for coffee?”
My feet wouldn’t budge, partially because I was still unsure, partially due to confusion. “Last night, when you came to my cabin? I made fudge with the candy cane I was smashing.”
“Last night I was asleep, but I won’t turn down your fudge. Come on in.”
Something skittered onto the porch, grabbing my attention. She laughed and picked up a small furry bundle. “This poor thing’s mother died and he’s been living with my cat. He doesn’t quite know he should be sleeping now because he’s a possum.”
I knew then, Maura was okay with me letting her go.
I love anything to do with ghosts, so this was a joy to read!Delete
The sense of place combined with loss made this piece really rich. In very few words, you gave us a history, deep emotion, a mystery, and the chance for new beginnings. I immediately went back and read it again.Delete
Great details. I love how you started with the simple action of breaking down a candy cane. That created a nice, grounded moment and placed the reader there in the cabin. I am a little surprised that the speaker isn't more freaked out by someone showing up at a private cabin in the middle of the night when he/she expected to be alone. Maybe a little more explanation there of why the speaker wouldn't be alarmed by someone showing up at a secluded cabin that they thought was theirs alone. Even if the speaker wasn't scared, I'd expect them to be more annoyed that they rented a space for themselves that the owner didn't fully vacate. That's going to be a bad Airbnb review, at the very least. I also loved that there's a pet possum at the end, even though you had already checked off your use of the word "possum." Such a strange but kind of charming touch. Overall, great sense of place and dropping the reader into the moment, and great balance of creepiness and sweetness.Delete
The first thing Marcia notices is that her mouth tastes like she licked the bottom of her shoes before falling asleep. Then, she registers the cold, firmness beneath her. Her backside and neck take turns throbbing their displeasure. She rolls over with her eyes still closed, reaching for the glass of water she always keeps on her nightstand. Her hand brushes against something warm and furry. She cracks one eye open and instantly regrets it for two reasons. The first, and most immediate, being the stabbing pain that shoots through her head when her eyes meet the weak light of the early morning. The second is that the furry thing next to her hand is quite possibly the biggest rat she’s ever seen.
She swallows the scream clawing at the back of her throat for fear that the creature will lunge at her if she makes any noise. She watches in horrified silence as mega-rat gnaws at a half-eaten candy cane. She inches her hand back toward her body, never taking her eyes off of the rodent. Now that she’s looked at it closely, she’s pretty sure it isn’t a rat after all. It’s one of those things that can hang upside down by its tail. An opossum, maybe? Everything she ever learned about them comes from the movie Bambi though, and trying not to hit them with her car in the dark.
While trying to ignore her fear of the not-rat-possibly-opossum, Marcia tries to recollect why she’s in this alley in the first place. She’s not usually a girl who sleeps next to the dumpster. At first, she can only recall glimpses of the previous evening. The office. Eggnog. Christmas music.
As Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree runs on endless repeat in her brain, Marcia remembers everything. Last night was the office Christmas party. She’d worn her favorite red sweater hoping Jim from Accounting would notice the flattering fit. He hadn’t. He’d been too busy staring at Lanie from HR’s low-cut elf costume. That’s where the eggnog came in. Marcia had tried to drown her disappointment with it. She must have been moderately successful given where she’d awoken.
Something moves on the other side of the rodent. A low groan creeps up from the pile of refuse, scaring the critter away. At least Marcia wouldn’t have to worry about catching rabies as she left the alley. She can see a pair of plaid pants and a bright green sweater splayed over a half-open bag of garbage. It’s Richard. She’d recognize those hideous pants anywhere. She vaguely remembers talking to him last night after her seventh or eighth cup of nog. She doesn’t remember much after that though.
She glances down to confirm that she still has all of her clothes on. She’s very relieved to note that, though they smell rather foul, they’re all accounted for. It reassures her, though she desperately wants to be gone before Richard wakes up. She tiptoes past the prone figure and hurries to the end of the alley. She reaches the corner just in time to see Jim dropping Lanie off at her car. Marcia scowls as she watches Lanie saunter over to her little sports car. Jim’s attention never wavers from Lanie’s backside. Marcia takes the opportunity to dash to her car unseen. She’s ready to get back to her apartment and scrub the last twelve hours off of her skin. Her radio comes to life as her engine turns over and she hears the opening notes of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.
“Yeah, yeah. Merry freaking Christmas,” she mutters.
Third person present is really hard to pull off, but you've done a good job of it. Marcia's frustration and poor choices may have landed her in an alley (and a bad mood), but they were quite entertaining. The possum encounter definitely had me shuddering.Delete
This was so weird (in a good way) and funny. I would be super alarmed to wake up in an alley (like, did someone try to murder me?) but this character seems to take it in humorous stride. You did a wonderful job starting off the scene with that gross, sensory taste detail that really helped draw the reader into the yuck of the setting. I also loved the description of Richard. I, too, am a little unsure about the effectiveness of the verb tense. It feels a little jarring as a reader in a way that past tense probably wouldn't. It reminds me of pieces that use second person where the writer wants you to basically be a participant in the scene but can be a little distracting. I don't think you'd lose anything be switching to past tense, but that's just one reader's opinion. Thanks for the laugh!Delete
I really loved the opening paragraph. It hooked me in right away. I was hoping it would end better for poor Marcia, though. It's sad that the best thing that happened was that she didn't catch rabies! At the same time, I loved the humor in the voice of this story.Delete
Good use of verbs in the first two paragraphs. Also good build up of suspense as to what chain of events led to the current circumstances. The revelation didn't quite punch like the opening, but overall a well written piece.Delete
This made me laugh! Terrible way to end a party!ReplyDelete
“As you know Bob, the world is coming to an end tomorrow.”ReplyDelete
“Yes,” said Bob. “Yes.”
“And as you know Bob, it's my fault entirely.”
Bob slowly nodded.
“Similarly... similarly? I always have trouble pronouncing that word. Well, likewise, as you know Bob-”
“Are you going to begin everything you say to me with as you know Bob?” Bob asked.
I cleared my throat and continued. “As you know Bob... oh for heaven's sake, Bob, hand me a mirror.”
Bob pulled a door off a nearby car, reached inside and broke off the rear view mirror. This, he handed to me.
“Thank you,” I said. “Couldn't have found something a little bigger? I can hardly see myself in this.”
Just my eyes, which were bloodshot from lack of sleep but otherwise a beautiful solid yellow. I had to pan the little mirror up and down. My teeth were growing back in nicely.
“As you know Bob, I'm going to need you to take this bandage off my cheek. Yow! I didn't mean now!”
“Well what was I to think?”
“I meant at some point! Argh! It burns!”
“Merry Christmas,” Bob muttered.
I rubbed my stinging cheek.
“As you know Bob,” I whimpered. “There’s only one person who can stop me.”
“Indeed,” said Bob.
“And he’s dead now.”
Bob reached down and picked up the limp and fully lifeless body of Anderson Cooper. “Who knew?” said Bob with a sigh.
“It was the hair, Bob. Always was. Always will be. The hair.”
“What now, then?” asked Bob.
“Bob. You don’t ask me questions. Just…”
“No. Not now. You don’t. As I was saying. As you know Bob, there is only one other planet left worth annihilating. Taking into account the time value of money with compound interest. And that’s Pluto.”
“Pluto’s not a planet,” said Bob.
“You’re testing me.”
“No, you’re really testing me Bob. Bob. Put down that candy cane. You’re getting sticky colors all over you face like a buffoon.”
Bob angrily tosses the candy cane away. And now we are in present tense.
Amidst the rubble that as recently as yesterday was Jacksonville, a tapping calls for my attention. Less than fifty yards away from where Bob and I stand. Fascinating, since all life on this planet is comatose, I, having inhaled it all.
“As you know Bob, if by some miracle I were to die, all the life that I inhaled would return to the trillions of life forms from whence it came. Or is it they came?”
“Singular, I believe,” says Bob. “Life. So whence it came.”
“Yes but, the life forms are plural… oh for heaven’s sakes, Bob! See what it is.”
Bob kicks a car out of his way. It flips and smashes into a building. He swings his fist, breaking off the back of a pickup truck.
“Well, well,” he says, squatting down.
“Who is it, Bob?” I call. “Who was able to resist?”
“Not a who,” he says.
Bob rises, holding what looks like a pink rope in his hand. A snarling ball of gray fur bounces around at the end of it.
“For heaven’s sake! What is that?” I shout, taking a step back.
“I believe it is known as a possum,” Bob muses.
“How vile! Rid us of it, Bob!”
Bob shrugs, loads back his arm and launches the creature into space.
“How strange that a small, pointless beast like that had the power to resist,” I think aloud. “At any rate, as you know – yow!”
Something like two small daggers pierce my calf. I look down in horror. A ferocious, gray ball of tailless fury is gnawing my kneecap off!
“Bob, you fiend! You have failed! You swung to hard and only tore off and threw away the tail!”
I grab at the thing. It rushes up my arms. Heavens! Its eyes are yellower than mine! Dagger teeth slit my throat and off the thing scampers. Blood and life ooze out my throat. Anderson Cooper jumps up.
“Reporting live from the apocalypse,” he says.
“It was the hair, Bob,” I wheeze. “Gray.”
Bob puts his hands in his pockets and looks down. “Oops,” he says.
I absolutely love the way you use the forbidden "As you know, Bob..." and various other phrases and tics that new writers have been warned away from to create a truly entertaining piece. The grammar pedantry in the middle was a delight. And all of this couched in a grand apocalyptic narrative in which a possum saves us all. Well done.Delete
Who doesn't love a good "As you know Bob?" I thought this was very inventive and so much fun. It reminds me of "People of Earth" which is a good thing in my eyes.Delete
The Fifth Son
Bernard Dunaway stood, jittered with excitement, on the grand limestone porch of his father’s Pittsburgh home. Thick red ribbons circled around the white marble columns that supported the veranda, making them look like giant candy canes. Bernard had seen the glow of the dining room chandelier while marching up the brick walkway and knew his brothers were there, like every year, for Christmas dinner. How long had it been since he’d sat at that table? Did they still keep his place set with Mother’s wedding china?
He adjusted the shoulders of his seersucker suit one last time before taking a deep breath and ringing the doorbell of the stately Shadyside home where he and his four brothers had been raised.
The suit was an unorthodox choice for a Dunaway—especially since his brothers were always looking for opportunities to tease the runt of the litter—and yet he just couldn’t help himself when he’d seen it pop right off the page of the Sears catalog. Something about the way the fabric puckered along the tan stripes delighted Bernard. He’d had to talk himself out of purchasing the matching straw boater. High society Pittsburgh with its steel magnates and stark, white dining gloves just wasn’t ready for the whole Southern razzmatazz.
The cold December air cut right through the thin fabric of his suit. West Virginia had made him forget the bite of Pennsylvania winters. Bernard heard the familiar click of women’s work shoes on the marble tile, louder as they advanced toward the front porch. Large oak double doors swung to reveal a familiar face. “Maggie!” he shouted, before planting a kiss on his family housekeeper’s cheek.
Maggie staggered back with wide eyes, “Mister Bernard? Were we expecting you?”
“Of course not, Maggie. Then it wouldn’t be a surprise,” Bernard said before making his way to the dining room.
The room felt smaller than it really was, filled with decorous people and dark oak paneling. Cook had outdone herself again, a spread of roasted root vegetables and a large rack of lamb displayed in the table’s center. Nothing like the possum stew the minors who worked for him would pack in their large, metal lunchboxes.
Bernard stepped onto the burgundy oriental rug, forced himself to grin, and say what he’d been planning for days. “Looky here, boys! The prodigal son has returned!” he shouted, throwing his arms in the air.
Bernard watched his brothers clad in dark, tailored suits, their wives in pearls, silently turn toward him, their eyes glowing in the shimmering light of the chandelier. He lowered his arms slowly and waited. Finally, he met the gaze of his father, his stocky frame looming over the head of the table, his weathered face a mixture of confusion and, was it pity?
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” his father said flatly, before walking over to the bar cart, pouring himself a glass of Dewar’s scotch.
His brothers and their wives stared at their china plates and spotless silverware. The smell of crisp, rendered lamb fat hung heavy in the air. One of the wives nervously tapped her ring against the crystal stemware. His oldest brother looked up at him and gave him a brisk nod.
Bernard looked down at his seersucker sleeves and felt his cheeks burn. The suit, yes, the suit had been a mistake.
Great work creating both time and place while seamlessly setting up Bernard's distance from his family in so many ways. To begin and end with the suit makes it feel complete, but I still want to know what Bernard would do next. He's far more interesting than his staid relatives, and I get the feeling that everything he does is an adventure.Delete
I like Bernard a lot. I would totally follow him throughout a book. You've managed to paint a setting wutg rich detail and still reveal a lot about all of the characters. Good job!Delete
Excellent detail, tone and atmosphere. Bernard's confidence and the blow it receives can be felt without being told about it. This is good writing.Delete
Eek, *miners not minors. Bernard isn't down with child labor!Delete