Flash fiction doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s hard work to stay in the word count limit, and really, I’m a big believer in a story taking as long as it needs to be well told (and then pruning back a bajillion “that”s, just as a totally random example).
I’ve had some luck, however, with using flash fiction as a way to make me try new things. This is part of being a writer I don’t do nearly as often enough as I should, but I like my darned spec-fic queer cave, and you can’t make me leave. I don’t wanna.
Except sometimes I do.
The QSF Flash Fiction contests (super, super short flash fiction at only 300 words) has been something I’ve tried three times now. Once I got an honourable mention, which was cool. All three times my piece ended up in the anthology, so that’s a win regardless.
I also did the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest twice. Last year, I didn’t make it past the first round, though I got an honourable mention at the time (and here’s the story). This year? I made it through the first two rounds, and got an honourable mention on the third. Frankly, I’m chuffed. For a format that isn’t my usual, and being limited to less than two thousand words and only two days to write them, I’m pretty darn proud of myself.
Also, not winning the final round means I don’t have to try and write something the week before Christmas with just two days to accomplish it and parties and friends aplenty vying for time.
Ever since I joined two flash fiction prompt groups, Monday Flash Fics and Friday Flash Fics, I’ve been inspired twice a week to write pieces on the fly. It’s been fantastic for both my confidence (That flowed so well, I’m so happy!) and my humility (This isn’t working and nothing will ever work again!).
One thing I realized about writing for those two photo prompt groups, however, is how much I liked revisiting previously published pieces. Flash Fiction is excellent at offering Easter Eggs. And before I get too far ahead, I’m going to go back, tag, and figure out some way to have them link to my published works list.
But! Today? Today I realized (because I’m slow) that this means I currently have three flash fiction pieces I wrote for this year’s NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest that I could share. And since it’s the season of sharing, I thought I’d do just that.
On the first round, I was given: A thriller, An ice fishing shanty, and a printed menu. With those three pieces, I had to craft a flash fiction piece no longer than 1,000 words, in the thriller genre, which I never write, and I managed to score a first place result, which was awesome.
This was what I came up with.
What starts as a boring evening shift in the retail business services shop where Raj works turns into a run for his life when the new man in town turns out to be more than just a polite, handsome newcomer. Taking refuge in an ice fishing shanty after outrunning most of the bullets of the man after them, Raj realizes there’s one bullet left, and needs to come up with some way to make sure it doesn’t end up in him.
Rock, Paper, Bullets
Raj bolted across the ice, staying upright through sheer will.
“Nine,” he said. Silencer or not, you could tell where bullets hit. A piece of the frozen lake erupted in a puff of white.
He couldn’t zag on the ice. He ducked and kept running.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
“Twelve.” Something cut his cheek.
“Fourteen.” The bullet hit close enough he flinched, skidded, and before he could recover he fell. He landed hard on his ass, feet out ahead of him, head hitting the ice.
A hole appeared inches ahead of him.
Falling just saved my life.
Raj scrambled to his feet. Ahead, he spotted the ice fishing shanty through the cold mist, and took a ragged breath. He was freezing.
“Fifteen.” No. Wrong. “Sixteen.”
He was up and running again, bag bouncing against his hip. The further away from the shore, the better.
David had said twenty or thirty. David was bleeding back by the side of the road, thanks to seven and eight.
Was he even alive?
Raj slid again at the shanty, fumbling the damn eye and hook with half-numb fingers. He didn’t have gloves.
Nineteen, hitting the hut, made him swear out loud.
His fingers finally worked. He threw himself inside, slamming the door behind him.
He’d just trapped himself.
Working a business store wasn’t a career. Raj liked it well enough—mindless, repetitive, occasionally marred by irate customers—but mostly it meant paychecks and free wi-fi.
Seeing David Somorset walk in was a rare perk. New to town, handsome David had an accent Raj couldn’t place. They’d only spoken a few times at Nancy’s diner. He was always polite, made eye contact, and had shoulders capable of making any outfit look amazing.
Except today. He looked…off.
“I need a favor,” David said. “A rush print.”
“I can squeeze you in.” The icy rain meant they were alone in the store.
David pulled out a memory stick, wincing.
“You okay?” Raj said.
Raj inserted it, watching his screen. “All the PDFs? One copy good?”
Raj hit print, watched the progress, then went to the back. The previous job—Nancy’s latest menus—were still in the tray. He grabbed everything, then returned to the storefront.
“Get down!” David yelled, slamming into him.
Little noises—almost sneezes—and bullet holes appeared in the door above them.
“Got a back exit?” David said, lying atop him on the floor behind the counter. He seemed really calm.
He was also bleeding.
“Nineteen.” One more bullet, or eleven. Neither good, but when no shots struck the side of the shanty, Raj decided it meant one.
Might as well die an optimist.
A panicked inventory of the shanty was clear: unless he armed himself with a hand auger designed to make six inch holes in ice, he’d have zilch. He was playing a lethal game of rock-paper-scissors. Makeshift clubs didn’t beat rifles.
No time to consider. He got to work.
Raj crawled into the back room, terrified. David followed, the blood he’d hidden under his coat showing now. He closed the door behind them.
“Your car?” David said, nodding to the rear exit.
“Okay. Hurry. He’ll circle around.”
Raj patted his pockets. “My keys are in my coat. Out front, by the cash.”
The man with the rifle opened the door, and everything in Raj’s world slowed.
“Too late,” Raj said. “David e-mailed everything.” Crouching behind the tiny shelf built along the shanty’s wall barely afforded cover, but he’d take it.
A brief second of hesitation on the man’s face came and went. “You’re lying.”
Raj gripped the auger.
The rifle never lowered. “All I want is the bag. Hand it over? You live.”
“Now you’re lying.” To Raj’s surprise, his voice didn’t waver. He pressed into the tiny space.
The man’s snort was barely an exhalation. “Fair enough.” He took a step into the shanty, opening his mouth to say more.
Instead, he lurched.
Raj leapt, swinging the auger.
“Papers in the bag.” David drove Raj’s hotwired car from behind the store, fast, before they had seatbelts on. At David’s command, Raj shoved the whole stack—even Nancy’s menus—into the bag.
The store exploded.
“Oh God.” Raj twisted to look.
“Asshole used my last grenade. Still has my rifle and one clip.”
“You have grenades?”
“Had.” David took the corner, skidding. Raj yanked on his seat belt. They were heading out of town, on Lakeside Crescent, with icy roads. “He took them. Not sure which clip. He has twenty bullets, or thirty. He’s used six.”
“Who are you?” Raj said.
“A good guy, promise. Those files are important.”
“The stick was in the computer.”
“Those hardcopies are it, then.” David eyed the rearview. “He’s following.”
He sped up. They made it out of town, driving beside the lake. Once they were around the curve, there must have been a clean shot across. Between blown tires and icy road, they didn’t stand a chance.
Raj’s world rolled.
Raj drilled two shallow holes at the entrance, considered a third, rejected the time it would take, and covered them with Nancy’s menus, face-down, scattering ice shavings on top.
Raj came to. The car faced the wrong way, tilted in the ditch. Air-bag powder and glass coated everything. Frigid air whistled in.
“Run.” David coughed blood. “Phone…in bag. 6-8-5-8 unlocks it. Get…safe. Call Father. Repeat that.”
“6-8-5-8. Father. Say it.”
“Good. Go. Won’t be long. He used eight bullets. Go.”
“Can’t run. Go.”
The man’s foot found Raj’s holes. Raj leapt forward and swung the auger as hard as he could. Bullet twenty whistled by his ear; Raj’s blow struck hard across the man’s face with a wet crunch.
The quiet after—nothing but Raj panting—felt unreal.
“Paper beats bullets,” Raj said.
He pulled out the phone.