Flash Fiction

Charlotte Writers celebrated spring with another social gathering where we shared great conversation, abundant food, and new flash fiction pieces. The writing prompt was: “I’d love to _____, but my ____ just _____.”

The stories that came forth from this prompt were amazingly diverse. There were twenty-five members in attendance and eighteen stories were shared. Here’s a small sampling of the stories from our authors. Enjoy!

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by Libby Becker

I’d love to write a novel, but my imagination just won’t create anything of that magnitude.

I sit at my desk, full of ideas which will not meld into anything worth writing, much less worth reading. My cat, Hemmingway, saunters in, occupying my computer and desk. I nuzzle his ears for a few moments as I work through a scene, but nothing clicks.

I get up and wander into the kitchen for a sandwich. When I return Hemmingway has taken up post at my computer, my glasses on his head, and my red pencil behind his ear. He sips my coffee alternately typing at my computer. The keys click and clack in a tireless rhythm. My mouth drops to the floor when I look over his shoulder and read passages which tick like a well-timed clock. I cannot believe it.

Hemmingway impatiently shoves a Mead notebook and a #2 Ticonderoga pencil into my hands, takes half my tuna sandwich, and shoves me out of the room.

The sun dappled garden is inviting. I sit in the shade of an old oak with pencil in hand, conjuring Druid inspiration and watch a bee buzz around the purple cone flower. Faulkner, the neighbor’s dog, bounds over looking for handouts. He scarfs the rest of my tuna sandwich before I can wave him away. In a second he steals my Mead notebook and #2 pencil.

I follow him to his doghouse. Faulkner is furiously scratching out a story in my notebook and gnawing alternately on my pencil. Scribble, scribble, gnaw, and scribble a bit more. When I try to wrestle my pencil out of his mouth, he growls a warning. He rips sheets of paper out of the notebook page after page. I pick them up. His ideas are raw and electrifying. I crawl out of the doghouse baffled and frustrated. How can writing come so easy to these creatures and not to me?

A crow caws loudly and I swear he is saying, “Dickens, Dickens.” Is he mocking me? He has arranged twigs on the garden floor. I look closely and read, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and shake my head in disgust.

I pick up a poplar leaf, still juicy from the tree’s nourishment, and with my thumbnail I bruise letters into the leaf, desperate for a story to emerge. Just as an idea starts to form, a little fuzzy insect drops from above onto my leaf, and steadily starts chewing. Each bite forms letters into a title, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I drop the leaf and stomp back inside.

At my computer I see neatly stacked pages of a book and Hemmingway is sleeping in a window seat. Faulkner sits comfortably outside his doghouse, the crow has flown away, and I am certain the hungry caterpillar is also satisfied from his day’s work. Everyone has written today, spinning ideas into tangible tales; all neatly printed and delivered.

I see conspiratorial efforts at play and I feel an unease bordering on paranoia.

I sit and type several paragraphs. Hemmingway jumps on my lap and demands my attention.

“I’ve got it, Hemmingway,” I say. “This story is about animals that start a revolution against humans, essentially banishing them from a farm. As the story progresses we find the animals acquire human characteristics. I don’t have all the details worked out yet, but it’s going to be great, Hemmingway.”

Finally I have hit gold, an idea no one has written.

Hemmingway swishes his tail in my face, and murmurs over his shoulder, “Animal Farm, George Orwell.”

 


 Betrayed

by Lance Butler

 

I’d love to change your mind, but my hopes just fell.

Seeing your ink black eyes is like plumbing the depths of hell.

Our legend can’t go on without another fleeting pass

so we gather here this evening to share our looking glass.

 

Time tells our story, straight and true, of friends and family, but that you knew. Our wins and losses, less and more, fill in the gaps of life before we fell into each other’s lives and knew the pain of pointy knives thrust in our backs with careless hands, spoken lies, and cheap demands.

We stood in wars and died like saints. We crushed our foes and closed the gates to other worlds, both far and wide. We were as one ere this divide. Now I ask you, one last time, reject betrayal and choose to climb back to the ones who’ve loved you most and disavow your evil boast.

 

 

I’d love to take your hand, but my allegiance has just shifted.

The failings of your lofty goals left my trust in you restricted.

It’s time to step aside from myths and let myself surpass

your chains that bind my hands and wrists and smash your looking glass.

 

Our battles were both great and true, to that I bow, but something new has entered in my lonely heart. A feeling that will not depart until I mine its deepest depths and learn the secrets of our deaths. You say you’re love and all that’s great. I say your words are filled with hate.

Let me walk my path alone. Leave me to my flesh and bone. We are not soldiers, never were. I don’t accept what you refer to good and bad or love and war. I choose to walk out of your door and create MY noble truths. I will destroy what you produce.

 

 

I’d love to make you stay, but my hand just can’t reach.

Between our blood and tears, my words only beseech

that you reassess your ways and return to your brothers

else we find each other foes, wearing our rival’s colors.

 

It’s not too late to turn around. We can repair this broken ground littered with the best intentions, severed by our own inventions. This need not be our last refrain. We do not want to start again where others lost their fight to envy, they are but few, we serve the many.

Our looking glass surveys the future. It tells the truth, ignores the rumor of greed and lust of human sin. It knows the good that lies within each newborn heart before the fall, before their minds can recall the pureness of their soul, divine, the ties that bind your heart to mine.

 

 

I’d love to make you cry, but my heart just isn’t in it.

Between hellos and goodbyes, we’ve found our final minute.

I will not give you pleasure of knowing my convictions.

I am the master of my world. I reject your sad restrictions.

 

Your words betray the future you see. You are not pure, I guarantee the visions of your holy truth are nothing but a balm to soothe the broken hearts of all men. You fight a war you cannot win despite your claims of higher ground. A weaker note cannot be found.

Take your looking glass from here. It shows me nothing I should fear. My mind is made, my path is set. I leave you now but don’t forget the evil seen within my eyes is merely truth that you disguise and pretend does not exist. I am the angel you can’t resist.

 

 

I’d love to understand, but my words just seem to fail.

I’d hoped to find a calm accord, but insanity will prevail.

Take up your arms, prepare to fight. We’ll have our war and then we’ll find

that we’re no different, you and I, save I’m betrayed and you are blind.

 

Channeling the King

by Larry Hipler

 

“I’d love to sex you up, foxy momma, but my mind just won’t stop racing. I’m going into the bathroom to read for a while.”

That’s what I told her tonight. “I’ve got a headache,” doesn’t seem to cut it. They always want more from me. They think I’m Superman. I ain’t.

Besides, I like it in here at night, the way the moonlight pours through that window. Full moon out there right now. The light looks kind of blue, like something I sort of remember from years ago, maybe down on the bayou. And it’s quiet in here. Nobody bothers me.

Uh-oh, I forgot to take my meds earlier. Let’s see, a white and a yellow one. Ah, they went down easy. I always take the blue one last because it’s the one that makes me sleep. I need my sleep tonight. Got a session tomorrow, an important one for my come back.

Damn, the blue ones are stuck together. And now three of them fall out. Hell, I’m going to go ahead and take all three. I have to get some sleep tonight.

I can hear her moving around out there. I hope she doesn’t get mad at me again. She’ll start yelling and fussing like she’s in the ghetto.

That’s odd. The moonlight’s changed direction. It’s coming up through the window instead of down.

Wait, the light hasn’t changed, I have. Somehow I ended up on the floor. I can feel the cold tile on my back. I want to get up. I’m trying to. But I’m so tired. So tired.

She’s right by the door now. She’s banging on it. I can hear her calling to me.

“Elvis. Elvis, are you okay in there?”

 

Channeling the King

by Larry Hipler

 

“I’d love to sex you up, foxy momma, but my mind just won’t stop racing. I’m going into the bathroom to read for a while.”

That’s what I told her tonight. “I’ve got a headache,” doesn’t seem to cut it. They always want more from me. They think I’m Superman. I ain’t.

Besides, I like it in here at night, the way the moonlight pours through that window. Full moon out there right now. The light looks kind of blue, like something I sort of remember from years ago, maybe down on the bayou. And it’s quiet in here. Nobody bothers me.

Uh-oh, I forgot to take my meds earlier. Let’s see, a white and a yellow one. Ah, they went down easy. I always take the blue one last because it’s the one that makes me sleep. I need my sleep tonight. Got a session tomorrow, an important one for my come back.

Damn, the blue ones are stuck together. And now three of them fall out. Hell, I’m going to go ahead and take all three. I have to get some sleep tonight.

I can hear her moving around out there. I hope she doesn’t get mad at me again. She’ll start yelling and fussing like she’s in the ghetto.

That’s odd. The moonlight’s changed direction. It’s coming up through the window instead of down.

Wait, the light hasn’t changed, I have. Somehow I ended up on the floor. I can feel the cold tile on my back. I want to get up. I’m trying to. But I’m so tired. So tired.

She’s right by the door now. She’s banging on it. I can hear her calling to me.

“Elvis. Elvis, are you okay in there?”

 

 

Stick This in Your Pipe

by KT Newman

(companion piece to Southbound ‘n Down, available below)

I’d love to hear more about your incarceration,” Paula interjected, cutting Kathy’s southern Georgia county imprisonment story short, “but my order from Amazon Pantry just arrived. It’s time for me to take a puff or two of that weed—I mean, medicinal cannabis—you brought me a few months ago so I can indulge in some of my treats.

“I love you for what you tried to do again and feel awful that you spent the last twenty-four hours as you have. Listen, on the bright side, what a stroke of good fortune that today is the first day of catfish spawning and the judge threw your case out so he could go noodling.

“Call me when you get home so I know you’re safe. Love you, honey.”

Paula placed the phone on the coffee table. Straightening her seventy-two-year-old legs from their curled position under her seated body, she gingerly hoisted herself up off the couch into a semi-erect posture. Using a cane in her tremor-riddled hand, and the wall of the hallway to stabilize herself, she began the precarious journey to the bathroom at the other end of the house … but not before stopping to gaze into the kitchen.

Lined up on the counter were her soldiers, awaiting their marching orders: three cans of King Oscar sardines, a bag of Hershey’s miniature chocolates, and a family-sized variety package of Lance sandwich crackers.

“Ah, my little treats. I won’t keep you waiting long,” Paula promised as she resumed her meandering shuffle-walk down the hallway.

 

 

“Crap,” she yelled as she looked at the psychedelic fragments of glass shimmering in the bottom of the toilet bowl.

“Double crap!”

She had been carefully filling the pipe with the precious botanical she had been doling out sparingly the past month, when a spasmodic tremor jerked her hand. The pipe jettisoned off the bathroom counter, crash landing into its porcelain grave. Shards gracefully drifted to their final resting place.

Gripping the counter, she stared into the toilet. “My beautiful pipe,” she muttered as tears filled her eyes. It had been a gift from Kathy.

“Now what the hell am I going to do?” Paula said, swallowing a sob. Frustrated anger filled her. “Come on. Tell me. What the fuck am I supposed to do now?” she shouted down at the watery cavern.

Not getting an answer, she turned back to the sink and caught her reflection in the mirror. The gaunt face of a battle-worn woman looked back at her.

“This is bullshit,” Paula spat, slamming her hand down on the counter. “I’m going to call Jack. He’s got an answer for everything. He’ll know what to do.”

As soon as the call connected, she started babbling. “I broke the frigging pipe and now I don’t have anything to use! I’m nauseous, shaking. I haven’t been able to eat all day. I don’t know what to do!”

She rambled, whined, then finally took a deep breath.

In that brief pause, a strange male voice said, “Although I’m not the person you intended on calling, is there anything I can do to help?”

Paula’s heart stopped.

He continued. “Maybe you could use foil to make a pipe, or in a pinch my girlfriend uses the paper wrapper from a tampon to roll a joint. Hello? Are you still there?”

Humiliated, she stammered, “Oh my God, I don’t know how to do any of that.”

She wasn’t about to tell this stranger how long it had been since she had biologically needed a tampon, nor could she ask her husband to buy her a box, he’d think her weed was laced with something.

“Why don’t we talk about it and figure something out?” he said.

And talk they did. For a very long time. She told him everything, from the initial diagnosis years ago, to the latest complications; how the illegal substance was the only thing that enabled her to eat. They talked about the merits of legalizing cannabis, the pain and suffering that would be eliminated if communities and politicians would educate themselves on the subject.

 

 

A few hours later, while she smoked from her carefully constructed tin foil pipe and ate her sardine with red onion and mustard on pumpernickel sandwich, she thought about the stranger and their long talk. Later, as she ate her chocolate and cracker stacks, she thought about friends. She thought about small acts of kindness. She thought about how good life can be. So very good.

 

 

 

I’d Love to Blank, but my Blank Just Blanked

by Anne Page

 

I’d love to embrace your mythological basis for Truth, but my reasoning faculties just won’t tolerate a desert wanderer’s 9000 BCE understanding of the universe as an alternative to the factual data of empirical evidence that has been piling up against the omnipotent power that, by the way, has a penis. If I were ignorant and raised on a diet of roadkill, I might find religion remotely interesting or relevant to living in the millennial world.”

She kept up this internal monologue to counter the voices amplified by towering speakers, their wires trailing down to clips on the positive and negative terminals of automobile batteries. Angry voices intended to penetrate the walls and windows of the modest one story brick building.

“Don’t kill your baby!”

“Cowards! Real men defend their women and children!”

“A bad decision got you into this situation. Don’t let another bad decision make it worse.”

“Mamas, please listen. You don’t have a child problem, you have a selfish problem. You have only lived for yourself.”

“We have help. We can give you a free ultrasound. They charge you for an ultrasound, we will give you one free. We will give you a baby shower. If you can’t take care of your baby, we will find loving parents who can’t have this gift of god.”

“We will give you a baby shower.”

She held up the two wooden stakes that supported the acoustic foam panels, a couple slivers of raw wood stuck under the skin of her thumb. The fake leather jacket of the Anti they called Y-Chrome pressed firmly against the side of her full-length wool coat, both trying to occupy the same sidewalk space.

“Ninety percent of women who have abortions become depressed, and then become alcoholics and drug addicts. Fifty percent of them become suicidal.

“Abortion has been linked to breast cancer.”

“Liar,” she blurted out.

“Liar,” another Counter echoed.

“They are assassins. They are only doing it for the money.”

Monty Python’s “Every sperm is sacred…” played in her head.

Police placed two barricades, waist-high white plastic sawhorses with yellow diagonal stripes, on either side of the sidewalk, and Y-Chrome retreated to his side of the sidewalk. But, now the effectiveness of the acoustic foam two feet instead of two inches away from the speakers was questionable.

Transferring their hatred of Jews, Romans, heretics, people of intellect, strong women, anyone opposed to their political domination, their justification for persecution, anthropomorphized into a Devil. Her first time at the Women’s Health Clinic, she had played, poking her index fingers out from her head and prancing about, singing “I’m a devil! I’m a devil!” Engaged a discourse, tried to reason, dialogued with the Antis.

Jonathan Swift of three hundred years past kept whispering to her, “Reasoning will never make a man correct an opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired.” And the dead end of repeated phrases from The Book, their only ability to reason an appeal to authority.

Made of childish fables and nightmares.

“Go join ISIS! Go join ISIS!” she chanted loudly.

Literature expresses empathy, which is born of imagination.

The imaginative verses of the early bible writers churned into dogma of oppression and persecution; an Us versus Them mentality already too pervasive in the world took on improbable proportions.

Antis darted into the road, waving pamphlets at cars driving by or turning into the clinic’s driveway; police turning a blind eye to their illegal, desperate attempts.

Picture poster baby of abortion billboard size “Baby Malachi”—would you name an aborted fetus? No, obviously the gray skin of a stillborn removed to save the mother’s life.

If you have to lie about your cause, it is seriously flawed at its core.

Counters held up their signs.

Graphically inaccurate pictures—the closest thing to being right.

Using religion to terrorize people—sound familiar?

Fetal tissue isn’t people.

A sesame seed-sized clump of cells—about a universe short of a baby.

A fetus is a woman’s choice to make into a baby, or not.

An officer sauntered from his position half a block away and aimed the decibel meter at the speaker.

Suddenly nothing to say.

The officer walked away. The man lifted the mic toward his mouth.

“Say something stupid,” she yelled.

“Atheists and child abusers. Abortion is the ultimate child abuse. Don’t let these atheists near your baby. Don’t let them pull your baby’s arms and legs off and crush his skull.”

Exceeding logarithmically the 78 dB level, her ears, despite the orangey foam cones, rang for hours after.

Across the street, women in lawn chairs with a dozen children playing in the dirt around them.

The Antis Go-Pro propped on the roof of the blackish-green eight-passenger van filmed the cars driving into the clinic parking lot recording the license plates, many from out of state.

“Your body, your choice,” she and the five other Counters sang out to the patients moving from their cars to the front door of the clinic, protected from the angry throng’s prying eyes by the broad opened umbrellas carried by the red-vested clinic escorts.

No one turned back. No one turned from the door and returned to their car. No one’s mind was changed by the channeling of a manuscript written in long dead centuries that offered only fantasy judgement to real world problems.

“See you next Saturday. And the Saturday after that. And the Saturday after that,” she chanted when the last patient had gone.

 

 

Innocent

by Dorothy Pike

 

I’d love to go to the practice range with you, but my Glock was confiscated when I was arrested Thursday night,” I told Carol. Then as a second thought, I said, “Well, maybe it would be a good distraction if I came along even if it’s just to watch the action.” Nothing like gunfire to calm the nerves.

 

 

Marlin, longtime owner of the firing range, had everything set up for us, but looked at me quizzically because I wasn’t carrying my usual gear. He doubled over laughing when I explained what had happened, and after recovering his composure offered to equip me for a short practice round. I accepted the ear protection, but told him anything beyond that was too risky given that the deputies frequently dropped in without warning. My simply being there might get me into deep trouble while the murder was under investigation. I had been released, thanks to Tim O’Neill’s legal expertise, but I hadn’t exactly been cleared of suspicion.

The news that my 95-year-old great aunt Lillian’s death might be anything but the result of an unfortunate fall had not yet reached the public’s attention. Sheriff Hanson preferred to keep the residents of our rural southwestern Minnesota county feeling safe and secure. With a murder rate of about one a century, nobody in Jasper County was suspicious, except our coroner, the rookie deputy who too hastily arrested me, Sheriff Hanson, Tim O’Neill, and me.

“I’ve gotta hear the rest of this story,” said Marlin, smirking and shaking his head in amazement. I wrinkled my nose at him and gave him a crooked smile, happy to know he found my clumsy run-ins with law enforcement so amusing. “How about breakfast at the Calumet tomorrow and you can fill me in?”

“You’re on,” I said to him. “You’re buying. 5:30?” I knew he opened up the range at 7.

He nodded, and with a forefinger and thumb motion, shot me with a wink as he moved down the counter to help two middle-aged men in flannel shirts and seed-company caps who had just walked in. I didn’t recognize them, but Marlin seemed to know who they were.

 

 

“I was really on my game tonight,” Carol said as she dropped me at my house. “Are you going to be all right?”

My two dogs had charged around to the front of the fenced-in yard as soon as they sensed a vehicle in their territory. They barked and did a happy dance, seeing me get out of the familiar truck.

“Yeah. I’ve got my protectors here to snuggle with. I’m fine. Say hey to Roger for me.” I waved goodbye and then settled in for a restless but cozy night.

 

 

After breakfast, with Marlin still incredulous as to how I managed to get myself into yet another impossibly bizarre jam, I convinced him to be my getaway driver for the breaking-and-entering escapade I had planned for that night. If I found what I was hoping to find, it would expose at least two more suspects and deflect some of focus away from little old me.

Marlin and I drove past Eugene and Hilda’s farm place at about 2 a.m. A light drizzle had begun, and the wind was picking up. Marlin turned right onto the next gravel road and parked under cover of three scraggly Russian olive trees that managed to cling to life at the bend in a narrow creek. The corn hadn’t tasseled yet, but was tall enough to allow me to get to my target undetected even with the intermittent lightning. If I figured right and if rat poison were to be found, I’d find it in the old gardening shed, the smallest of the farm’s outbuildings and the only one not sheltering animals.

The rain came pounding down as I reached the shed. I hoped it would hide my sounds and smells from their one old farm dog, Daisy, and that she’d be too sleepy and stiff with arthritis to come out in the rain even if she did hear something.

The door opened easily. I began to video my progress with my phone, stepping to the side of a recently worn path in the dust that led to and from the shelves to my left. Sure enough, an old tin stuck out from among the others because it was incongruously dust-free. I wanted to examine it more closely but dared not touch it. Instead, I videoed everything around me to offer up as probable cause for a search warrant for the sheriff.

A flash of lightning sent a wave of adrenaline crashing into my bloodstream as the thunder broke almost immediately. Something was off. The illumination was too bright. It drew my gaze to the door, which, oddly, was standing open and swinging lazily on its rusty hinges. I’d sworn I had closed and latched the door when I came in so no one would see the light of my phone. I had nowhere to hide and no means of escape. My heart pounded in my ears. I held my breath waiting for whatever creature was going to take form in the doorway to the dusty, dilapidated shed…

 

 

The Foot

by Carrie Siftar

 

I’d love to dance with you, but my foot just turned into a koala. Oh, don’t worry. He’s quite the friendly koala. Australians, you know– super jovial.

Yes, yes, it happens frequently, having that magical foot and all. Nothing to be worried about; he’ll disappear in a few minutes and I’ll be back to my size nines, bunions and everything.

Silly, koala. This is much better than the snake it turned into yesterday. It’s amazing how worked up some people get by seeing a copperhead wrapped around your ankle. Like I’m gonna bite myself with venomous fangs. I’m so sure!

Or when it changed into a tarantula, would you believe people told me to crush my own foot? Oh, everybody’s all excited when it becomes a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. Everybody wants to be your best friend then. But put a fruit cake foot in their face and suddenly it’s all, “I’m allergic to toe jam.” The nerve.

People can be so superficial.

One day, I’ll find someone who loves my magical, shapeshifting, partially edible foot for what it is. Oh look at that! Bye bye, koala. Now how about that dance?

 

 

Three Little Words (An excerpt from Next to Normal)

by Ann Stawski

 

I’d love to smash her smug face, but my phone just beeped. Distracted by the text message, I glance down.

Love you Margot!

I sigh. Three simple words from Grandma Foss ground me in an instant.

Amber taps her foot.

Shit. I turn the phone over and look at the girl standing in front of my desk. I take a breath then say, “No, Amber, I haven’t noticed you’re nominated for Homecoming court. And I really don’t care that you’re going with Deven, either. Now, F off.” No matter how pissed I am, I still won’t swear in public. Again, Grandma Foss’ influence.

Amber tugs on her thick braid and, instead of walking away and letting things go, opens her mouth to respond. It’s at that moment, a balled up piece of paper flies over my shoulder and bounces off her chin. A direct hit. She gasps.

Without looking, I know that the arm with the dead-on accuracy belongs to CB my best friend and co-captain on the softball team. She sits four rows back.

I retrieve the sheet of notebook paper and smooth it open, holding it for Amber to read.

VACATE THIS SPACE

“Well, F you too!” She stomps off to her seat on the other side of the classroom as the bell rings.

I look back at CB who is smiling and shoulder dancing in her seat.

“You don’t care about Deven no more.” Sometimes CB sings instead of talking. Today it’s a smoky blues melody. “He never treated you good. You got hottie skull cap boy now. He gonna show you what happy is. And you’re gonna smile all night looonnnggg.”  She drags out the last syllable in a low gravelly voice, holding the note until it disappears.

The students around us clap as she stands to take a bow.

Mr. Parsons nods, looking amused, “Yes, CB, thank you for the entertainment. Now, everyone, books open to page eighty-four.”

Laughing, CB high-fives the boy next to her and falls back into her seat.

I steal a glance at Amber who is quietly seething in her seat. I don’t know why she’s so obsessed with trying to get me jealous over Deven. Sure, he was my boyfriend last spring, but after my Dad’s death Deven barely stuck around long enough to make it to the funeral. He couldn’t deal with the drama and I didn’t care enough to be hurt.

With Gil, everything’s different. I have someone who gets it. Who gets me. Someone who understands firsthand what it’s like to lose the one person who meant everything in the world and how much pain comes with that. And I can be there for him, too.

Except when he shuts me out. Last week Gil disappeared for five days. No texts, no calls, nothing. I worried he might have relapsed, but when I finally saw him this morning, he looked clean and alert. Instead of asking him where he was, I just wanted to know if he was okay. He hugged me and said he was. I didn’t push.

It’d be easy to ask and I’m pretty sure he’d tell me. Classic avoidance is what I do best, though. It’s a horrible habit I’ve perfected over the years where I try to figure things out and read people rather than being upfront. Sometimes the signs aren’t clear and I’m down a rabbit hole thinking the best and the worst at the same time.

You think I’d have learned by now. I never asked Dad, even when it was obvious something was wrong and he wasn’t acting like himself. Now no one talks about Dad at all, except for Grandma Foss. She’s not afraid. Never has been. Her iron will is a genetic gene I definitely didn’t inherit. Maybe deep down I’m a coward, but that doesn’t make sense because I’m not afraid all the time. I can stand up to idiots like Amber and hold my own against anyone on a softball field, but when it comes to the important people in my life like Dad or Gil or my sister Colette, I’m about as powerful as a bowl of wet noodles.

A small, slimy spitball lands on my forearm, no doubt from CB. I flick it off and decide to take action with Gil. Just like Grandma Foss would do. I hold my phone under the desk. One text. Three little words.

Where’d you go?

 

swirl divider

 


 

ready set writeCharlotte Writers Group met for food, fun, and flash fiction at our first semi-annual social gathering in September 2016. The prompt was “I’m going to disappoint you, but you knew that already.” We had a wonderful time sharing good food and stories. Here’s a selection from our authors. Enjoy!

 

 

Office Disappointments

by Lance Butler

“I’m going to disappoint you,” Cullen said as he swung his weapon around. “But you already knew that.”

“Don’t do this,” Mark whispered. Sweat poured from his brow. “I’m warning you.”

Cullen smiled and shook his head. “It’s too late. I’m going to need you to stand with the other hostages.”

Mark surveyed the room. Four of his co-workers stood against the far wall. Their eyes were wide in surprise. Margie cried. Bart tried to console her but he didn’t appear much calmer. Dante and George looked ready to attack at the slightest hint of an opening.

“This ain’t gonna work.” Mark backed away with his hands high. “He knows where we are. He’s going to come looking for us.”

Cullen took a few steps to his right, toward the door leading to the hallway. He peeked out, but not long enough for any of his hostages to attack.

“I know what I’m doing.” Cullen eased the door shut and circled back to the middle of small the room. “You shouldn’t have crossed me.”

Dante took a step forward. Mark held his hand out and shook his head. Dante’s eyes flamed with anger, but he backed away.

“Why are you doing this?” Margie asked between whimpers.

“Because I’m tired of people like you always getting what you want.”

Margie shrieked like a cornered mouse and crumpled into Bart’s arms. Mark pressed his back against the wall. Cullen, their friend, their co-worker, their designated ‘life-of-the-party’ had snapped.

“There’s no need for this. We can work something out.”

Cullen lifted his arm and took dead aim between Mark’s eyes.

“I’m tired of working things out. I give and give every day and for what? So I can come back and give more the next day?”

“But we’re all in this together,” Bart said, his voice trembling.

“Like hell. I see you and Margie chumming it up with the boss. I hear how you talk about the rest of us when you think we’re not listening. I’m sick of it. I want my piece this time. I deserve it.”

“Then take it,” George said as the veins on his neck throbbed. “Take it and leave and know that if I ever see your face in here again, I will rip you in half and fed you to the ducks.”

“Oh, don’t hurt the ducks.”

“Shut up, Margie,” Cullen yelled. “I will do what I want to do and I’ll take every one of you out if I have to.”

The break room door swung open and the boss walked in.

“What’s going on in here?”

“Cullen’s having a bad day,” Mark reported.

Their boss gave Cullen a sideways glance then walked to the table in the middle of the room to grab the last piece of cake. “Well, get over it, man.” He took a bite. “This is good stuff, Margie. Butter cream frosting?”

She nodded but didn’t take her eyes off Cullen.

“Good. Break’s over. Get back to work.”

Margie and Bart ran for their lives out the door. Dante stared for a moment then exited. George followed but turned before walking out.

“Ducks,” he said with his vein still pulsing. “You understand me? The ducks.”

The boss pointed toward Cullen and Mark then motioned toward the door. “Come on. Get moving. Those accounts aren’t going to balance themselves.”

“Damn it,” Cullen shouted as he uncocked the rubber band threaded tightly around the end of his finger. “I never get to have the corner piece.”

 

 

 

Tan Suits

by Larry Hippler

I’m going to disappoint you, but you knew that already. You’re looking for romance. It wasn’t like that.

In the summer of 86 Guys like us wore tan suits, a navy blazer and slacks on casual Friday maybe; but most often, basic tan, poplin suits. That day, Tom wore gold-framed aviators with lenses that reflected your own face back at you. My sunglasses were black and I thought, kind of hip.

I felt queasy even as I pulled up to the house, the last of a string of duplexes, one of those houses where the sidewalk rises in several levels of steps up to the porch, a big porch that stretched across the front. I saw people up there waiting. They saw me too, and they didn’t look happy.

“Looks like a good group!” Tom was trying to put a positive face on it. I appreciated that. After all, it was Tom who’d assigned me to find an appropriate singles group for newly divorced studs like us. NEW DAWN – a discussion group for thinking singles. It seemed perfect.

Everyone on the porch turned as one to look down on us as we started up the sidewalk. Tom instinctively straightened and quickened the pace as if he were pumping up for the month-end review meeting. I’d done this a million times by myself. So why now did I feel like a sacrifice climbing the temple steps at Mazatlan?

I’d hoped to meet some North Baltimore artsy ladies, not hippie throwbacks. I counted fifteen people up there. The men had longish hair a-la 1969, T shirts or old fatigue shirts. One wore — I’m not making this up — bell bottoms. Dead silence.

Then bell bottoms spoke: “Are you two from the FBI?”

“He’s from the FBI,” I joked. “I’m from the CIA. We’re here to check you out.”

Tom piped up with, “We’re in the defense industry,” a defensive bite in his tone.

The women. One thin, pale woman wore a white shirt with two red square pins on the collar and the biggest Fannie pack in America around her waist. Nondescript sack dresses and sandals, no makeup. Nobody smiled. The single pretty one by the wall had on a sack dress too, a light green one but she wore it with flair. She had short, graying hair that had once been blond. She might have been North Baltimore artsy.

More silence until the door was flung open by a huge guy with a black beard and longish black hair, Rasputin in an old army coat, jeans and sandals. I said, “Hi.” With a quizzical frown he seemed to focus on the center of my forehead. Edging back, he had us all troop in.

I remember threadbare, overstuffed chairs, tufts of cotton sticking out at the seams. The 1920s wall paper was peeling. Our destination was a room-sized oval-shaped kitchen table. A collection of rickety, chairs surrounded it. I thought of those picture puzzles that you see in kid’s magazines. “What’s wrong with this picture?” Instead of birds flying inside the house or the sun and moon being out at the same time, Bolsheviks were about to shoot the Czar. And right in the middle of them sit two fortyish white guys in tan suits and rep stripe ties. What’s wrong with that picture?

Seated, unease radiated from Tom like heat from an overburdened samovar. I was wishing Rasputin would finish up with the “minutes from last week’s meeting” crap and break out some vodka and rye bread or something. Baltimore artsy was smiling now and looking uber cute.

Fannie pack sat across from me and I could see the little pins on her collar clearly. One was an all-too-obvious hammer and sickle, the other, a bust of Lenin. Then it happened, like a train wreck in slow motion. Rasputin asked for volunteers at their car wash for the Sandinista rebels. Before anyone could answer, Tom was up and moving.

“These people are Communists! Get out of here, now!”

Out on the street, I could see that Tom was seriously pissed. “We can’t do stuff like that,” he began. “They were Communists, for Christ’s sake! I could lose my job. So could you!”

Behind the wheel. Tom glared up at the house, silent. I saw myself in the rear view mirror. I’d opened my collar when we were on the porch.

When my tie was tight again and the dimple centered just right, I started the car.

 

 

Untitled

by Surabhi Kaushik

“I am going to disappoint you, but you knew that already.”

Margret stared at the letters on the screen of her phone. “I am sorry Mom” it said. Within seconds the screen grew hazy and a lump formed in her throat. Thick tears were slowly flooding her eyes. She put her phone back in her bag and walked towards the dull grey bench at the bus stop. She sat down and took a deep breath. She knew somewhere that this would happen but she believed that she could make it work otherwise. She never wanted her son Chris to feel that she was pushing him. She always wanted to maintain healthy boundaries.

“I sacrificed many years to make sure my son had the best possible education. Now he is out of high school and working at a low level job and says he has no intentions of going to college.” She had heard many parents say these words. In her workplace, on her Uber rides, Chris’s birthday parties, where his friends’ parents cribbed about their older children. Margret never knew that she would feel like saying the same words one day. She always wished she never would.

Insane incentives, infinite promises and endless hope had all been a part of Margret’s journey to motivate Chris to study hard and make it to college. He always shone with promise when the school year began but started fading like the evening sun when the year came to an end.

It’s just a phase, Margret had often told herself. He’s almost there. He is continuously growing and changing. He’s just a little confused and maybe a little lazy…but every child is, isn’t it? These words often danced in her head when she saw Chris was not taking his future plans as seriously as she wanted him to. Education was like a flowing river, it never stopped, she would say. He always nodded in agreement but never made too loud a promise. He always knew what she wanted.

She was always full of stories to inspire him. She loved telling him how hard people worked to get ahead in life. His favorite was that of James Lehman, who was stealing and used drugs as a young adult, wound up in jail but few years later he went to college and got his Master’s degree and embarked on a whole new career of helping troubled youth and their parents. She also wanted him to know that it’s not right to do the wrong thing. But if you do the wrong thing, it’s never too late to give it up. She wanted to be the lighthouse and help him navigate the rough seas of life and its wavy decisions.

She reminisced those days when she came home tired and worn out like an old shoe, just wanting to rest her tired feet and fatigued body, but she was always brimming with energy to run across to get his school stationery, stay up late at night to help him work on his projects, sweep through racks and racks of books in the library to find that one book that he needed. She walked to work on many sunny afternoons with the hot sun burning her rough black hair, just to save a penny more.

Now, he had made his decision. After all, it was his life, not hers. She stared at the dry, empty road, waiting for the bus to arrive. She felt her heart melt in the heat and her legs aching with her own weight. She pulled out her phone and looked at his message again, before she went ahead and deleted it. “There can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love.” Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Southbound and Down

by Karen Newman

I’m going to disappoint you, but you knew that already.  The operator announcing a collect call coming from county jail was a dead giveaway, right?

Where am I, you ask? In an effing holding cell in—no joke—Effingham County, Georgia. Outside my swank crib, Deputy Fife plays with his oversized hat while Captain Lardo waddles over to the box of doughnuts with a soggy cigar stub in his mouth.

What happened, you ask? Before I start, please remember that my intentions were good. Oh, forgive my snicker. A proverb just crossed my mind. Yeah, that one about the road to effing-hell being paved with … yeah, yeah, I know, stay focused.

So a few weeks ago I was telling Janine—I’ve told you about her, she owns the salon with the beautiful décor and delicious cucumber water … What? “Get to the point already”? You’re the one always telling me to introduce the characters for the readers—hey, there’s no need to yell at me. I’ve had a tough enough morning as it is without you screaming … fine, I’ll continue.

So I was telling Janine about how the synthetic stuff the doctors prescribed you to help with your appetite and nausea makes you sicker, and that only the genuine article helps, but how is a sick, housebound woman supposed to be able to procure the one substance that brings her a little relief?

That’s where we left it … until yesterday when she called requesting we meet—immediately. Moments later, in the parking lot of Harris Teeter, she hopped from her car to mine, opened the glove box, and hastily slipped a plastic bag containing a jar of her salon’s expensive moisturizer into it. She explained that she had raided her teenage son’s bedroom and confiscated his stash. She had been waiting for the right moment to conduct such a raid, and after hearing about your situation, she felt there wasn’t a better time or reason. Right then it dawned on me what she had shoved in my glove compartment.

Now it was up to me to get this jar to you. I went straight home and sat staring at it while snippets of detective novels and shows raced through my mind. All I could keep thinking about were coffee grinds. Are you kidding me? That’s the best I could come up with? Anyway, I went back to the grocery store and bought the largest can of coffee they had. Upon returning home, I emptied the can of coffee, put the jar in the can, and poured the grinds back in. I placed the lid back on, stuck it at the bottom of a grocery bag, and filled the rest of the bag up with some road-trip essentials. I even found room for a fifth of bourbon. What’s that you say? Heck, yes, it was new. I know better than to drive with an open bottle of liquor. Give me some credit, won’t you?

I packed an overnight bag and hit the road this morning predawn. I didn’t tell you I was coming because I didn’t want you worrying about me driving, and I knew you’d be home when I arrived. I mean, sadly, where else could you be?

The trip was going flawlessly. I set my cruise control a couple of miles over the speed limit. The grocery bag was in the back of the van, with my overnight bag. I had everything under control. What could go wrong?

I was approaching the last exit in Georgia … the last damn exit. All I had to do was cross over the state line and in minutes I would be at your door. I got in the right-hand lane, settling in for the last few miles of my journey. And then there they were, those twinkling blue and red lights in my rearview mirror.

An effing turn signal. It’s always the little things that trip you up. It was only then that I realized that I fit the profile of an ass—I mean mule—to a tee. All the subterfuge in the world couldn’t disguise a middle-aged—hey, quit laughing—Caucasian woman driving a minivan south on I-95 transporting weed—medicinal cannabis, as I told Deputy Fife—across state lines.

And that’s how I find myself talking to you from jail in Effinghell … ham. But I promise you, the next time—and there will be a next time—I won’t disappoint you.

 

This is What We’re About

by Ann Stawski

I’m going to disappoint you, but you knew that already. So did I.

It’s our thing, really. Disappointment. Other people have love or laughter. Some have pride and chest swelling. That stuff’s not for us. Lately we’re going through this disappointment routine on a regular basis. You want to know how or what I’m doing in school, in orchestra or even in my video games. I tell you something I think might make you proud or happy or at least a tad more tolerant. You give me the courtesy of hearing me out.

Yet my effort falls short.

Every single time.

You want me to do something different or better or with more effort. Ultimately, it comes down to the way that you would do it, which is not my way.

I don’t know why I expect anything different from you, either. Our relationship doesn’t work that way and, believe me, I’m well away of the definition of insanity. That is our relationship.

What sucks hard is you really don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. You say you want to know about my life, but when I tell you I’m doing something and it’s different than the way you did it, or are doing it, or would do it, then you begin your lecture. That friggin, horrible stream of words you think is so important that you sometimes shout or deepen your voice to provide emphasis. You think it makes an impression on me. It doesn’t. All I do is tune you out until I sense you’re circling a conclusion, otherwise I’d scream bloody murder.

Oh, how I hate that monologue.

Let me count the ways.

One, it’s repetitive.

Two, it’s overblown.

Three, it’s repetitive.

Four, it’s condescending.

Five, did I already say repetitive?

In case I didn’t mention it before, your monologue needs work. Just because you spew out an assembly of letters formed into words and sentences doesn’t mean it’s worth anything. You don’t even notice the alphabet bouncing off me. I don’t take it in anymore, I don’t listen, and I certainly don’t agree.

But you did catch my attention last night when you said you couldn’t trust me. That stung. Where did that come from? Trust was never a problem before. Disappointment, sure, but I never did anything to make you doubt me. I’m a really good son. My grades got me a spot on the honor roll. I don’t sneak out of the house, experiment with alcohol or drugs, and while I am dating my second girlfriend, the most we do is make out. Yet somehow through all my good stuff, you say you can’t trust me.

Of course, you can’t comprehend by doubting me without cause makes me want to do something crazy, something to really make you not trust me. All I have to do is look around at my classmates and pluck one of their misdeeds and there you’d have it. I could give you a real reason not to trust me.

Shoplifting’s a hot game at school. The girl next to me stashes cell phones in her locker like sticks of gum. And for being a drug-free zone, the place is practically a pharmacy. If I wanted to knock someone out, I’ve logged hundreds of hours on Call of Duty and learned plenty of stealth ways to sneak up on someone. I’m capable of doing great thing but not great horrible things. That’s not me, and I thought you knew that.

All I want right now is be alone and quiet, and not have to listen to your lecture anymore.

So this is where we’ve landed. Maybe once you pause long enough to take a breath, you’ll finally notice that I slipped out and went to mom’s house. Maybe you’ll finally be able to see what’s going on.

Don’t let this be a surprise. After all, it’s one more disappointment from me, right? This is what we’re about, but I don’t want to be this way anymore. Give me a call when you’re done monologuing and ready to dialogue with me.

Dear Star

by Sol Vance

I’m going to disappoint you, but you knew that already. You know how we men are; you’ve met enough of us. Don’t interrupt; hear me out. Okay, read me out.

My love, let’s start with this piece of paper. A “Dear John” letter, or maybe we should call it a “Dear Joan.” You’ll read it first and then the cop, and the paramedic, and the coroner, and the investigator, the reporter, then it’ll be in the news and even my dear old mother will be reading about our intimacy at the beauty shop. Those old hags with nothing better to do but stick their noses in other people’s business will hand it to her. It won’t matter to me then. I’ll be gone. I’m sorry, but it has to end. It was wonderful while it lasted.

I still remember the day I saw you in Ladies of the Night, your sweet painted face in the background right between the second and third prostitutes at minute 14.3 in the video. You were sucking your index finger. I fell in love right then and there. You’ve come a long way, Baby. You had that talking part in Schoolgirls Gone Wild, remember? You said “Bite me.” Yeah, that was so hot. And it wasn’t that long after that you got that gig as the fifth maid in The Downstairs Bedrooms. Things sure went up from there. Were you screwing the cameraman? He sure got some closeups of you that time, of your sexy finger in your mouth gesture.

It was in the next video, Steam City that I realized you were right here in town, that I could find you and you could love me back. I looked for you at all the famous night spots and movie studio websites. Craig woke me up to that then, about the videos not being done in studios but in basements and warehouses, so I started looking there. There was a window showing in Dorm-room Sex that with a little software lighting up showed a landmark outside. It was that statue in front of the library. You were just a few blocks from me. No, I won’t say what statue or what library, it’s a nice setup you have there and I don’t want to take the livelihood away from all those nice young people. The membership streaming video was a great idea. I’m sure it gave all of you enough to pay for your tuition, or at least your books. As for me, well, it maxed out my credit card and could no longer get my fix of you.

Craig would bring me drugs, any I wanted, but it wasn’t enough. I had to see you.  He even brought them after I stopped sharing you with him. He loved you too, but not as much as me. I had to go outside, walk the five blocks between us, past the gate and its guard, past the nurse’s station, past my bedroom’s locked door, my padded wall bedroom. I couldn’t face it. I’m sorry.

“Who did you say wrote this, Officer?” The girl passed her long-nailed index finger along the handwritten lines of blue fountain pen ink.

“We found it taped to the computer screen at the hospital’s psychiatric unit,” the female in uniform answered while removing her rubber gloves.

“What does it have to do with me?” the starlet asked as she nervously bit her fingernail.

“We found a lot of pornographic material in the computer. You were in all the videos and pictures.”

“I’m an actor. I’m sure other people have my pictures. What do you want from me? The guy is dead, right?”

“No, he’s not. He just vanished. Had you seen this before?” she gestured at the letter in the actress’s hands.

“How could I? He was in the nut house! And they allowed him a computer with internet? And who’s this Craig guy he mentioned?”

“Ma’am, you see he’s saying you read the note first, then the cop. Had you read it?” the officer said in an authoritative tone.

“It also says here the coroner would see it. That means there’s a body, right?” she closed her eyes for a second.

“We are looking for it. For him. And for the orderly,” the officer squinted, “Ma’am? Are you feeling all right? Your lips … they’re blue.

“I … can’t … breathe …,” the beautiful starlet gasped with a hand on her throat and fell off the chair.

“Help!  I think she’s … dead.”

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