My new story, Corn Nut Caper, is featured on Shotgun Honey today. Check it out, and while you’re there, be sure to check out some of the other great stories. It’s one of the best places to go for short, in-your-face, crime fiction.
1. Read your work aloud
2. Write flash fiction (generally stories 1000 words or less).
One of my goals in 2011 is to write more short stories. So when Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds issued the Irregular Creatures Flash Fiction Challenge, I figured I'd give it a shot.
Here it is, 993 words.
AN IRREGULAR PROWL
Jimmy Ward noticed the police cruiser’s flashing lights in his rear view mirror before he heard the siren. He reached for the item on the passenger seat and shoved it underneath without taking his eyes off the road, then dutifully pulled off to the side. He lowered the car window, rested his elbow on the sill and attempted to appear calm, despite the adrenalin that had been running through his veins since the night before.
The cop took his time making his way to Jimmy’s car. When he bent forward and peered through the window, Jimmy noticed an angry purplish scar running down the left side of his face, stretching from temple to mouth. His nametag read “BRADLEY.”
“License, registration, and insurance, please,” Bradley said.
Jimmy removed his sunglasses and looked the cop in the eye, but said nothing.
From a young age, Jimmy knew he was special. All it took was a look in the mirror to see that. His otherwise ordinary face featured one dark brown eye and one translucent blue eye. His mother called him her ‘irregular creature,’ and while the nickname seemed rather unkind for a boy of six, he embraced it.
His gaze took adults and children aback and he’d learned to use their discomfort to his advantage. He’d spent a lifetime getting over on people; coaxing girls to sleep with him, getting out of tickets, convincing teachers to give him better grades than he deserved. Once, he even talked his way out of an arrest when he was caught stealing a bike from a rack near the beach. His talents had improved since then, but he still relied on his strange looks to keep as many steps ahead of others as he could.
Now, as Bradley stared at him with small, squinty eyes, Jimmy waited for the slight hesitation that always happened when someone saw him for the first time. But Bradley’s pause lasted longer than most; so long that Jimmy’s confidence waned. He thought about the item under the seat and squirmed.
“Is there a problem, Officer?” Jimmy asked.
“You neglected to stop for pedestrians at the crosswalk,” Bradley said.
Pedestrians, Jimmy thought. What pedestrians? He hadn’t seen them, but even so, it seemed like a dickish reason to pull someone over. He felt for his wallet in his back pocket, but it wasn’t there.
After a moment of panic, he remembered he’d put in his backpack when he’d left home the night before. Relieved, He turned and reached toward the back seat.
Officer Bradley stiffened and moved his hand to his holster.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s in my backpack,” Jimmy said. Bradley watched as Jimmy felt around for the backpack, but the back seat was empty.
Where the fuck was it? He realized what must’ve happened, and felt the blood drain from his face. He must’ve forgotten the backpack at the scene last night. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“I left the backpack at home,” he said. “My license is in it.”
Bradley scowled. “Registration?”
Jimmy opened the glove compartment and picked through it. He knew the document was also in his wallet, but thought the search would buy him time to think about what to do.
Jimmy’s penchant for manipulation had evolved over the years into a career as a small time con man. When times were lean, he resorted to hot prowling, enjoying the rush he got when he entered houses he knew to be occupied better than breaking into empty residences. Armed with an eye for small, valuable items he could easily transport in his backpack, he got in and out quickly, never leaving a trace. He could make a lot of quick cash, but knowing the increased danger of arrest, he’d been careful not to make it a habit.
But last night, everything had fallen apart.
He’d prowled a neighborhood unencumbered by pesky streetlights. He peeked into rear windows, searching for just the right place. In one house, a young woman stood in a bedroom with her back to the window, perusing a bookshelf. She selected a book and left, and Jimmy took his chance. He opened the unlocked window and dropped his backpack on the floor. He climbed in himself just as the woman re-entered the room.
She grabbed a perfume bottle from the bedside table and hurled it at him. He raised a hand to block it and ran toward her, catching her by the arm as she tried to run away. A moment later, she stumbled down the hall screaming while he remained in the same place, holding a piece of flesh-colored plastic.
Jimmy had a direct view of the front door, and he saw the woman as she skidded toward it, one arm waving wildly in the air while her stump just hung there. She opened the door and ran, yelling, into the street. With no time to spare, Jimmy escaped through the window and sprinted through the neighbor’s backyard. He ran to relative safety, still gripping the plastic arm.
With Officer Bradley growing impatient, Jimmy knew he had to act fast. If the police had his backpack, they knew his identity. He closed the glove compartment and shrugged.
“Must be in my backpack too.”
“Step out of the car, sir,” Bradley said.
Jimmy sighed and made like he was about to do as he was told. Instead, he started the car and pulled out onto the busy street, knocking Bradley over and grazing an oncoming car. Breaks squealed and horns honked, but Jimmy just stepped on the gas and drove.
Hours later, a near-empty gas tank forced him to stop on a lonely stretch of highway leading to a town he’d never heard of. He felt under the passenger seat and pulled out the prosthetic arm. He examined it, wondering if he could sell it and make some cash.
Nah. He lowered the window, heaved it out into the darkness, and left to find a gas station.
Last week, I wrote my first piece flash fiction. Flash fiction varies in length, but for my purposes, I wanted to keep it under 1000 words.
A Piece of Cake
by Holly West
On the morning of my tenth birthday, I woke before the sun rose because even then I had difficulty sleeping. Hungry, I plodded through the darkened house to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Inside, I found the birthday cake my mother had stayed up late making the night before. Being the creative type, she had decorated it by constructing an exact replica of my beloved Barbie Dream Camper. I imagine she had spent many days planning just how she would build this magnificent cake and how happy it would make me.
At the time my ten year old mind was equally lacking in thoughtfulness and impulse control, and I could not fully appreciate her effort. Not bothering with a knife, I cut an approximate square with my fingers. It left behind an obvious crater and I turned it around so the hole did not show. I went back to bed.
By the time I woke up again the rest of the family, minus my father who had already left for work, was up and about. My mother stood at the stove making pancakes and when she heard me come in she smiled at me and shouted “Happy Birthday, Lisa!” I thought of the birthday cake and sat down at the kitchen table next to my sister Kelly. Apparently unaware of the brutal defacement of her masterpiece, my mother brought me a plate of pancakes. She set it in front of me and kissed the top of my head. I looked down to see Mickey Mouse, complete with chocolate chip eyes, staring up at me.
“No fair,” Kelly whined like the six-year old she was. “She gets Mickey!”
“It’s Lisa’s special day,” mother said. “When it’s your birthday you’ll get one too.”
Kelly said nothing but glared at me, and when I got up from the the table a few minutes later, she kicked me as if by accident.
I received a lot of attention at school that day and I stepped off the bus filled with self-importance and the expectation of further accolades. “I’m home,” I called as I opened the front door but only silence greeted me, which was odd since my mother always made an effort to be home when my sister and I returned from school. My euphoria diminished further as I recalled the cake. I went to the empty kitchen, and with a thumping heart, opened the refrigerator. The cake was gone.
Unsure what to do, I stood there staring until I remembered we weren’t allowed to keep the refrigerator door open too long because it wasted electricity. I closed it and inspected the garbage bin but found it empty. Then I noticed a note on the counter, scrawled in green crayon on a piece of scratch paper:
“At Michelle’s house.” Michelle, aged eight and a playmate for both Kelly and I, lived next door. We were allowed to go over there by ourselves if we came home before dinner.
I went down the hall toward the bedrooms and found the door to my parent’s room slightly ajar. My mother’s voice came from inside: “Lisa, is that you?”
I stood at the door feeling a mixture of relief and dread and tentatively peeked inside. My mother lay on the bed, shoes off, with a cloth over her eyes. She had one of her migraines.
“It’s me, mom,” I whispered.
“Play in your room for awhile while I rest.”
Let down, I kicked off my shoes and settled on my bed to read the latest issue of Dynamite. The ringing phone interrupted me, and I ran to answer it but my mother got there first. “Your father wants to talk to you,” she said, handing me the receiver.
“Hi Daddy,” I said, hoping he didn’t know about the cake.
“Hi Sweetheart. Having a good birthday?”
“I’m glad to hear that. Listen, I’m really sorry, but I have to work late again tonight. I won’t be able to make it home for your birthday dinner.”
“That’s okay, Daddy.”
“I’ll be sure to come in and kiss you when I get home though, all right?”
“Love you, Sweetheart.”
“Love you too,” I said. Click.
That evening, my mother fixed my favorite dinner, spaghetti with meatballs. We sat in the dining room eating off the good china and drinking sparkling apple cider out of crystal wine glasses. I felt very grown up, but I could not enjoy it because I was so anxious over the cake. No one had said a word about it.
We finished and my mother took the dinner dishes into the kitchen. My stomach was filled with spaghetti and butterflies, and I felt sick. A few moments later, she emerged with her fancy silver cake stand. Atop it was a small round cake, pretty but plain, and obviously store bought. She’d placed ten candles on top and now lit them.
“Make a wish, Lisa!”
I closed my eyes tightly, made my wish, then blew out all the candles. Kelly and my mother clapped their hands.
I had school the next day so I had to go to bed at the regular hour. I put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth, climbed into bed, and waited for my mother to come say my prayers with me.
When she leaned over to kiss me goodnight, I burst into tears. “I’m sorry, mom!”
“Whatever for, darling?”
“It was me who took a piece of the cake you made.”
She was quiet for a moment, then said: “Well, that’s all right. It was just a cake, wasn’t it?” I nodded, wiping my tears. She tucked the covers under my chin, kissed the top of my head, and left the room.