Finnian Burnett

Storyteller

Yesterday’s flash prompt from Nancy Stohlman was fun. Restrictive, but fun. Ten sentences of ten words each. To make it even more challenging, my wife and I gave ourselves ten minutes to write it. Here’s mine.

Ten sentences of ten words each, no more or less.

Her arms crossed, face closed, with nothing else to say.

Do this impossible task if you love me, she said.

My pen, bleeding in my hands, stilled and went dead.

My words, my livelihood, my lifetime of craft, abandoned me.

Ten sentences of ten words each, no more or less.

But how to give her what she asked of me?

I had nothing—no sentences, no ideas, not a glimpse.

Disappointed, she turned from me, seeking one who could deliver.

She left me kneeling with no words left at all.

Last week’s Flash-mo picture didn’t inspire us, so my wife went searching for something else and came up with this fantastic painting by Frida Kahlo.

We both wrote very different stories based on the picture. Here’s the first draft of mine. I know it still has a couple tense issues but I’m focusing this month just on output, not editing.

On Her Mind

He was always on her mind, always with her. As she earned her doctorate, became a full professor, mentored students, won awards, he was there—always there. She accepted it was her imagination—she’d always been depressed and finding the right balance with her meds was an ongoing battle. Hearing his voice as she accepted an award didn’t scare her so much as it just drew a sign of resignation. Of course, he’d be here, telling her she didn’t deserve it, she wasn’t good enough. When she got tenure, she heard him howling with laughter. Stupid girl, he said between gasping braws of laughter. Stupid, stupid girl.

In her office at the university, she’d glimpse him in the darkened windows behind her desk. Stupid, he’d snarl sometimes. Too stupid. At home, she’d see him throwing plates, reminding her of the way he’d thrown his dinner at her when he was displeased with it. Some days, the invisible burning scars of hot pasta sauce seemed to run down her face in searing strips of pain.

In the classroom, he stormed across the back of the room yelling, are you ready to make daddy feel better?

Kind students would question her when she went silent. Are you okay, Doctor Stagg? And she’d always manage a smile. Yes, of course, she’d say, before returning to the lecture.

On Christmas, he pounded on the door of her house, his old house, where he’d lived before she sent him to jail. Go away, she’d screamed, sure it was another vision, another trick of her mind.

But he slammed through the door and rushed her in the kitchen, his arms encircled her, and suddenly he was real, so very real. Stupid girl, he’d said. And she pulled a knife from the drawer, her mother’s favorite knife, and as she’d dreamed of so many times, plunged it into his heart.

Later, she whistled as she dug a pit in the backyard, and after that, she never saw him again, not in the windows of her office, not in the classroom, not in her home, not anywhere.

One of the Flash-Mo writing prompts was a story that takes place in the dark.

I haven’t posted a story every day, because some of them might be published someday and some might go in my current novella-in-flash, but some, like today’s, are just for fun. I hope you enjoy it.

Something in the Dark

Something moves near you in the dark. Something with jagged breath close enough to wet your skin with spittle. Your husband’s voice, small and frightened reaches you. “Did the power go out?” You don’t reply; you can’t. The shape moves away from you toward the sound of your husband’s voice.

“Honey,” he calls. “Are you there?”

In a brief moment of regret, you almost scream at him to shut up, but you can’t risk drawing the creature to you. It stomps down the hall, walls and floor shaking under its weight.

“Is that you, hon…” Your husband’s words cut off in a scream and you curl into a ball, covering your head with your hands. In a moment, the screams choke into a gurgle, then silence. You listen for the creature, but it’s gone. It would be—the summoning charm Belle gave you said the magic would be contained after achieving its target.

The lights come back on as you’re tiptoeing down the hall. They’re gone—both the creature and your husband. Nothing’s left of either of them, not a fang, or a blood stain, or the dirty armchair you’ve hated for twenty years. Smiling, you head to the kitchen to make coffee.

I’m doing FlashMo this month – a month of writing a flash story every day. The purpose is just to write every day. I’ll post the ones I don’t intend to submit anywhere here.

The prompt today was “Write about a man who has three cats.” As you can see, I was inspired by the prompt, but decided to take it my own way. This is a first draft, written at 7 AM November 2, 2021.

The Temporary Cat

“No cats,” Toby muttered, as he pulled a shaking, muck-covered mess from the storm drain. He hated cats, despised them, and had lived quite happily without them since Linda left, taking Baxter with her. Baxter was her cat, they both knew, and there was no question he would go with Linda even though Toby cleaned his litter and fed him little spoonfuls of foul-smelling cat food on a dainty plate every morning and sometimes slipped him extra kitty treats when Linda wasn’t home.

“I hate cats,” Toby told the shivering thing and it neither responded nor shrank away but huddled in a bundle in Toby’s big hand and somehow, after lying in the street to pull the thing from the drain, Toby felt a certain obligation to clean it up and give it some food. “Tomorrow, I’ll take you to the shelter,” he said aloud, but the thing looked up at him and blinked the way Baxter used to blink at him when Toby spoke, even though Linda insisted the cat couldn’t understand what Toby was saying.

At home, he dug out an old can of Baxter’s food and spooned a tiny bit onto a plate. “Don’t feed the cat on my fine China,” Linda’s voice screamed in his memory. The little cat sniffed for a moment before ravenously scarfing down the food. “Not too much,” Toby said. “You might get sick.”

He gave the cat a little water and while it drank, he rubbed it down with a wet dishcloth. “I’m cleaning you up so you have a better chance of getting adopted.” When the cat finished drinking, Toby wrapped it in a clean towel and picked it up. “I’m not keeping you,” Toby said. “I don’t like cats.” The cat looked up at him from his towel-cocoon. One tiny paw escaped the bundle and rested on Toby’s cheek. “Not keeping you,” Toby whispered again as he bent his head to kiss the cat’s face.