The squirrel knows but isn’t telling (micro fiction)

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Photo from society19.com

There’s a house on Kimberly Avenue. There are many houses, but this one in particular is the kind of house that exudes style and dignity and the kind of manicured calm that comes from proximity to wealth. The whole street is like that — wide and well-maintained with grand old shade trees casting cool green over sidewalk and tended lawn.

No one is ever tending this particular lawn. Landscaping crews piloting tractor-sized mowers are for the nouveau riche; the truly wealthy have yards maintained by elves who show up, soundlessly, after midnight, and pluck every clover and sorrel by hand so nothing remains but a uniform blanket of St. Augustine sod.

This lawn is a serene bay of grass swimming away from stately maples in whose shadows are planted dense beds of ivy. A brick wall snakes the property line, with a wrought iron gate left open to suggest a sleek town car will soon pull onto the crescent of driveway.

There is never a car, though. There’s never a flutter behind the drawn curtains or a porch light flicked off or on. There’s only the lawn and the trees, the gate and the wall that pens in the house, meeting at stocky stanchions in each corner. The stanchions are sober as centuries, entertaining only the occasional squirrel.

And one black sock.

That’s what this story is about. There’s a sock on one of the stanchions that has been there for weeks. Probably a month. It’s an athletic sock, and it’s without a mate. It grows more faded, more worn, more fibrous and less sock-like with each passing week.

The mystery of the sock is both that it’s there at all — why would someone walking down shady, elegant Kimberly Avenue suddenly stop to take off a single sock and then leave it on the nearest wall? — and that no one has removed it. Not the house’s occupants, not the gardeners, not the late-night lawn-care elves, not the neighborhood association, not one of the dozens of professional dog walkers, not a do-gooder passer-by.

So the sock remains, weathering birds and squirrels and thunderstorms. It’s mysterious and out of place, a story that staunchly declines to tell itself, a mislaid object that refuses to be relaid in its proper place.

Time Machine

You’re sitting on the back deck watching a small, brown rabbit nibble grass. He’s nervous, shooting you worried looks. But he also stays, keeps eating. It seems like a sign of something good, or at least not a sign of anything bad and sometimes it’s enough to just be still and watch a rabbit be a rabbit.

And then the weird next-door neighbor, the one who lurks behind his expensive shrubbery, pops out from the mock orange. The rabbit darts away and even though you shouldn’t take it personally, you feel your heart sink.

“Come see what I have in the garage,” the neighbor says. You’re going to decline because, seriously? Who would even think that’s okay to say? But then he adds that it’s a time machine.

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Image from the Predestination film poster

Okay. All the rich people who move to the mountains from Atlanta to retire can afford central air and reclaimed wood kitchens. (You have already pointed out that your kitchen is also wood. The original. And more than once you’ve reclaimed it from the rats, so. Maybe that will be the big trend in ten more years — rat-salvaged wood kitchens.) But this guy. This guy is so particularly rich that instead of installing a cedar-lined sauna or a recording studio, he’s gone and bought a time machine. Continue reading

October (flash fiction)

Written while listening to Ourobouros Boys, live.

img_20131016_095151The first thing you think when the leaves begin to fall is that it’s not really autumn yet. There are so many leaves that the few lost will never be missed. The shoulder season is not a season at all, but the new now, and it will never end. That’s actually four thoughts, but it feels like a single, continuous idea, and you’d stay there, drifting on the updraft of that idea, were it not for the immediacy of the next thought — the fraternal twin directives of gold and crimson: proceed with caution and full stop — the world you know is dying, and you will never love again.

Of course that’s a lie because everything in October is the bristle and thrum of love. Gold and crimson mums flourish on porches. (Later they will wither, but in the first chilly flush you want to press your face into their bosomy softness.) There’s a proliferation of pumpkins, the piecing together of costumes, the promise of velvet-dark corners in which to steal embraces from masked strangers. The piles of quilts and the cold nights that lull you into dreams. What are dreams if not love, the ultimate abandonment of the senses? Continue reading

Four ideas to jump-start your fiction

ideaguy_127499723-800x718This week I’ve been teaching flash fiction to middle-grade students as part of a creative writing summer camp. Preparing lessons and listening to the work they did in class (they were really good writers) gave me some ideas to jump-start my own writing practice and exercise new creative muscles.

1. Try a writing prompt.
Choose one of these, set a timer, and free-write for 10 minutes. Like what you came up with? Continue it, revise it, add to it, or consider working it into an already in-progress piece.

• One morning you discover your grew a set of horns while you were sleeping.
• People live under water.
• You’re invited to go on tour with a band.
• You switch bodies with an animal.
• You go to a special school to learn a super power.

2. Work with genre.
Think: Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror and Realism. Take a few minutes to choose a character and familiarize yourself with that character’s basic details (name, age, looks, likes, skills). Then write that character’s 300-word bio in each genre.

3. Take your cues from the art you love.
Choose a painting or a song title and write a 300-500 word story about it. It’s not important to stay true to the intent of the artist or songwriter — in fact, the farther away you get from the actual story, the better. Make “Blue Boy” into an emissary from an alien race, make “All Along the Watch Tower” about the midnight raid of a band of fairies.

4. Rewrite a classic.
Choose a well-known story — Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Great Expectations — and retell it in another genre. Give a fairy tale a sci-fi twist, turn a love story into horror fiction, set Charles Dickens’ characters in present day. Stick to the flash fiction limit of 1,000 or fewer words to start — you can always expand the idea if it’s working. And remember: Retellings are very popular, especially in YA.ideaguy_127499723-800x718

Indie 500 flash fiction contest!

In case you hadn’t heard, Mountain Xpress has brought back its Indie 500 flash fiction contest. Submissions are open through Tuesday, May 31. For details and to enter a 500 word story, click here or scroll down.

HOUSE FP FictionContest

All writers are invited to submit a Western North Carolina-set story of up to 500 words. Prizes include $50 plus publication for 1st place and publication plus bragging rights for two runners up.

The final judges are Katey Schultz and Jake Bible. Continue reading