Flash Fiction Friday – Let Sleeping Cats Lie

It seemed like a good time for another installment of Flash Fiction Friday.

This is the prompt that my story is based on:

Write the beginning of a story that takes place in the protagonist’s home. Use at least 3 senses to describe your scene or set an emotion. Please write 350 words max.

I was feeling onery the day I wrote this and wanted to write something that would create an unpleasant or at least uncomfortable impression.

Let me know what you think!

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

With a sigh, she turned the key and pushed. The door opened three inches, then stopped. Crap, those damn cats must have knocked something over, she thought to herself.

Taking a deep breath and bracing her shoulder against the door, she shoved. One, two, three. It budged just a bit more. At least there was now enough of an opening that she could squeeze herself inside.

Gripping the door frame with one hand and the doorknob with the other, she stepped up onto a pile of junk mail, books, and empty takeout containers. As she began to hoist herself upwards, a black flash shot past her and she fell.

“Darnit Jasper! You had better get back here!”

She named all of her black cats Jasper, it was just easier that way.

Refocusing on the task in front of her, she pushed her substantial girth up onto the mound that was blocking the door, teetering cautiously atop it.

The reek of ammonia sucker punched her. She attempted to blink the sting away. This was another reason why she didn’t like to leave her house, any length of time in fresh air intensified the cat urine stench when she returned.

She told herself that her accumulation of things was actually a budget-friendly, cat-centric decorating technique – using found objects to craft a multi-level, feline wonderland. But the boxes she collected for the cardboard cat fort she once intended to build had become a haphazard catchall.   

Twisting, she pushed the door shut before prying eyes caught a glimpse inside. Darkness engulfed her. Last summer she had covered the windows with aluminum foil to try to keep the house cooler. It had been sort of cozy until her electricity was shut off, now it was like living in a cave. This wasn’t a problem for the cats, they could see in the dark. She told herself that the darkness was just another way that she was providing for her feline companions.

The avalanche had thrown off her established route to the sofa. She shuffled ahead slowly. After bumping into a familiar pattern of knee and waist high piles, she arrived at her destination. Her hands fumbled for the one, clear spot where she could sit. It was covered with sleeping cats.

Flash Fiction Friday – Prose to Poetry

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I love to read poetry though I don’t do it regularly. Last year, I tried to post a poem (not written by me) every day on social media. The best part about the endeavor is that it got me reading and thinking about poetry again and I’ve been playing around with the form here and there ever since.

A while back, the prompt from my writing group was:

I want you to paint a picture with words. Set the scene where the action is taking place. Where is the character in your story: mall, bookstore, the kitchen. It could also be France, Italy, or the desert! You could describe a house, room in the house.

I knew that there would be roses. That was about it. There was no story, no plot. I just wanted to create something indulgently descriptive. It felt more like writing poetry than prose fiction. So after I presented it to my group, I decided to take the original 350-word draft and turn it into a poem. It was really fun to take the sentences apart, just keeping the juiciest words and essential ideas, and to play with the typesetting – using line breaks, spacing, and punctuation in ways that I would never let anyone get away with in text.

Here is the result. I hope you enjoy it.

She stepped into the garden

The loamy, chocolate brown soil
     hugged her ghostly bare feet
          the way that children hug each other –
                                                                      in an ecstatic, joyful embrace

Unkempt rosemary sentinels
     guarded the open-air hide-away and
     brushed her threadbare, calico-printed skirt,
lush branches of spiky green leaves releasing their spell
                                                                               … remember, remember …

As she inhaled deeply,
a long-forgotten door in her addled mind
     began to open

The air was still heavy with the chill of the previous night
     and she shuddered
     (did that door create a draft?)

Morning’s golden rays
     flooded into the small clearing,
illuminating a stone bench
     that resembled a leopard, lounging
     on a low-hanging Buffalothorn branch
Somber black granite shone like polished obsidian,
     the leopard luxuriating in the sunlight
          as if alive

Eleven paces to the beckoning beast
     (how did she know that?)
Eleven paces to the warmth that the stone creature offered
     (how long since she felt warm?)
But she didn’t move, 
     hesitant to mar the pristine surface of the undisturbed, tender dirt path
     with her footprints

Roses the size of outstretched hands lined the path
The petals,
     yellow near the center,
          graduating to peach,
               then to salmon,
     a coral flourish dancing along the edges
Blossoms stretching toward the morning sun,
     asking it to lighten the burden of last night’s dew

For one bloom, the sunlight came too late
Its laden petals could no longer hold the weight
     and collapsed

She sprung toward the disintegrating rose,
attempting to capture it
     before the pieces
     fluttered to the ground

Crushing the petals in her hands,
     the heady fragrance engulfed her
Her timid demeanor
     evaporated in rose-scented sunlight

She strode confidently to,
     and then reclined upon,
the sunlit cat

Flash Fiction Friday, 2021 Edition

Welcome to the first Flash Fiction Friday of 2021! The prompt for this exercise was:

Please use a plot twist, reversal, or danger to tell a great story about the picture below.

You have 350 words to slay me.

The photo was a nighttime sidewalk scene. There was a slightly shabby storefront lit up with four different signs proclaiming its name (which is not the name in the story), and I just knew what the twist had to be.

I got a kick out of writing this and since there were a few giggles when I shared it with my writing group, I decided to post it here. I hope you will get a kick out of it as well.

KinKiller – Fun Gifts, Accessories, Vintage Clothing

I opened this shop seven years ago. I have been selling vintage clothes online since the dawn of E-Bay, but the online vintage marketplace has become really crowded. Some people thought that going brick-and-mortar in the digital era was crazy, but for me, it was the logical next step to protect my market share and continue to build my brand.

Keeping my one-of-a-kind, vintage inventory up-to-date online was getting exhausting, so I began stocking random tchotchkes so that I could keep the store looking robust. You know, fun gifts – incense, laptop sleeves, naughty garden gnomes, magic 8-balls. And accessories – floppy hats, beaded bracelets, and anything with fringe. The kind of junk that just screams, “BUY ME!” – especially when you’re trolling the internet drunk (or zonked out on Ambien). I know because most of my sales happen between 10:30pm and 3:30am.

Finding the right location was a big challenge. I couldn’t put my store anywhere that had requirements about business hours. Afterall, I needed my mornings free for thrifting. And my target customer is a bit tipsy. I needed to be somewhere where I could accommodate the same sorts of shoppers who frequented my online store. I needed to be next to some bars. Somewhere where I could open at 6pm and stay open late.

I wasn’t worried about having to deal with what the local PD termed, “unsavory characters” when they came by to check-up on me. After the cops realized that KinKiller wasn’t a front for some drug dealer or a pimp, they left me alone. What they didn’t realize (though the riffraff did) is that KinKiller’s off-the-books business is fairly literal.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I know that I look like some bohemian hipster junk merchant. I mean, that IS what Instagram is for after-all. But there sure are a lot of Millennials out there who are sick of waiting for their folks to kick it. They are perfectly happy living with their parents, they just want to be able to spend mom and dad’s money without having to talk to them about it. They want their inheritance. Now.

Flash Fiction Friday – Dangerous Ideas

Recently, we had a writing exercise about danger. It gave me all sorts of dangerous ideas. Here was the prompt:

Danger is an important ingredient when we write our stories. We are hardwired to anticipate it because it is of primal concern to our lives.

  • Natural Danger – Floods, hurricanes, a tree falls on your house.
  • Physical Danger – Threat of harm or death, like you work in a dynamite factory.
  • Emotional or psychological – Like a mind game, abuse, loss of a child or a love.

GIVE me 400 words MAX of a story with DANGER in it. Make me feel it!

Remember that scene in Men In Black where Will Smith shoots the cartoon little girl instead of all the scary-looking monsters? One of the reasons she was dangerous was all those books she was carrying. I just love that scene. What if that cute little girl wasn’t in a rough-looking neighborhood in the middle of the night?  Could a pigtail wearing, book-reading girl be dangerous in any-old context? Afterall, there’s a reason that women weren’t educated for so much of history. What is more dangerous than a woman with her own ideas?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Dangerous Ideas

I grew up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood. We had a white picket fence and a two-car garage. Dad wore a suit and drove to his office job every day. Mom was the queen of the neighborhood homemakers. She was as impeccable as June Cleaver and would send my sister Katie and me off to school every day with a kiss on the forehead and a reminder to “be good girls.”

As Katie and I walked together to school every morning, we talked about the challenges that we encountered in trying to live up to our mom’s expectations. Because what she meant when she said that was she wanted us to be quite and polite, to always do our very best, but to never, ever accomplish enough to stand out.

When I was in fifth grade and Katie was in third, she started to rebel. I kept finding her in the library, stacks of books on the table in front of her. Sure, she could check them out, but then our mom might realize what was going on. Katie was getting ideas.

The next year Katie decided to enter the spelling bee. I tried to talk her out of it, but she had gotten ideas from reading all of those books and she knew that she could out-spell anyone in the school. I have to admit, it was thrilling to watch. Finally, it was down to just her and Billy Jarvis.

Katie’s word was antediluvian. Really? But Katie didn’t hesitate, she didn’t ask for a definition or anything.  Then, it was Billy’s turn.  His word was libraries. And he got it wrong! In front of everyone! My sister was the Warren G. Harding Elementary School Spelling Bee champion!

Mom was waiting for us when we got home.

“I got a call from the school today.”

Katie and I froze.

“It seems as if Katie darling, you won the spelling bee. And now you are to go to the district competition.”

“Oh mother, you should have seen it! They gave me antediluvian and they gave Billy Jarvis libraries and he tried to spell it with ‘yz’!”

“Katherina Minola. I don’t know where you got the idea that you should go win a spelling bee. You don’t find your sister Bianca embarrassing boys in front of the whole school do you? That kind of behavior is dangerous!”

Flash Fiction Friday – Cat Mask

Ok guys, here’s another delight for you for Flash Fiction Friday. It’s been a tense week and I thought you might enjoy a little something to lighten the mood. Something about a cat mask maybe.

This time the exercise given to my writing group involved exploring using a point of view in storytelling.

Our instructions were: write a scene involving a central character and one or more strangers (people the character has never met before) using either the first-person, third-person limited, or third-person omniscient point of view. Try to pick a point of view that you don’t normally use. Also, try to limit the use of dialog, instead using descriptive language to show how people behave and interact.

I had forgotten what I wrote for this exercise and when I pulled it out, I laughed out loud. Hopefully, you will too. 

Cat Mask

Ugh, what is that guy looking at?  He is totally staring at me in a super creepy way. As if I can’t tell just because he is wearing a mask. As bizarre as it seems, wearing a mask these days is not creepy. But even with everyone’s face covered, you can still tell when someone is giving off a creepy vibe.

That’s one thing I mostly love about COVID times, the mask wearing. I feel very conspicuous, but in a completely anonymous way. I’ve taken to wearing the flashiest masks possible, confident in the knowledge that if anyone had to describe me later, they would say something along the lines of, “Oh, she was wearing a bejeweled Día de los Muertos mask,” and that would be it.

By the same token, this guy’s interest in me goes beyond delight at the fact that today’s embroidered kitty-cat mask sports very realistic-looking whiskers. And, yes, of course I accessorized my accessory with cat-eye sunglasses. And no, I am not planning on taking them off inside of the store, it is part of the look.  Geez!

I planned my entire ensemble today as an expression of my inner cattiness. The cat-eye sunglasses and be-whiskered mask are just the icing on the cake. It is finally cool enough to wear a sweater and I have the perfect cardigan with a faux fur collar and cuffs that can be pulled down over my hands. Fuzzy slippers seemed like completely appropriate footwear for the occasion. The only problem I had when I was getting dressed was deciding on the right pants to wear. In the end, I wound up going with … um … well shoot, this is embarrassing.

I may have been so excited about my whisker mask that I might have gotten distracted and forgotten to put on pants before I left the house. Yikes! Well alright creepy guy, you win. I suppose a chubby, middle-aged lady prancing through the Trader Joes parking lot without any pants on would get my attention as well.

At least no one will know that it’s me!

P.S. If anyone knows where I can get a cat face mask with whiskers, let me know!

Flash Fiction Friday – The Box

Photo by Sep on Unsplash

I’ve been having fun with the prompts that my writing group has been sending out. So much so that I’ve decided to create a new category for The In-Between Things: Flash Fiction Friday.

For this week’s post, here is the prompt we were given:

The prompt today is suggested from Harlan Ellison. Ellison liked to come up with the title of the story first. Your title prompt is, “THE BOX.” The box can become a source of fear, love, funny, or adventure. You decide what’s in the box and how it affects you!

I immediately knew what I wanted to write. I hope you like it!

The Box

I was chatting with someone when I heard it.

“The thing about you is …”

Oh, here we go again, someone wants to put me in a box. Even though it happens all the time, I still can’t help being surprised. 

I used to try on every box. It seemed like the polite thing to do. I would really try to fit. I would climb in, poke around in all the corners, and contort myself in every possible way. I was much thinner and more flexible in those days, so it was easier to humor someone when they presented the box they had selected for me. But even then, I never could make myself fit.

I always hoped that when someone recognized that I didn’t fit in their box, they would want to discover why there was more to me than they had thought. That is why I always tried to be polite. I didn’t want anyone feel embarrassed about their misjudgment.

Some people were really adamant about wanting me to fit into their box. They would shove and stomp, like they were trying to close an over-full suitcase. No matter how hard they tried, I never fit. No one ever had the right box.

One day, when I was waiting patiently to get out, the people trying to put me in that box started talking as if I couldn’t hear them.

“All I’m saying is that if we just cut off the leg right about there, we could shove it in over here and voila! Then we could get this box all sealed up.”

“Yeah, but that is going to make a big mess, I don’t think this box is coated to retain liquids. Maybe we can just snap some joints so that they bend further.”

The most surprising thing about this exchange was how invested they were in getting me sealed up in their box. Most of the time, folks would just loose interest and wander away.

These days, I still try to be polite when someone wants to put me in a box. But I don’t try them on anymore.

Photo by Sep on Unsplash

Fresh Flash Fiction

The other week, my writing group had a flash fiction exercise. We were to write 350 words on the photo below.  That was it. The entire prompt.

Photo by Starr Canon
www.Instagram.com/starrchez

I had a lot of fun writing my story and decided that I would share it with you here. Let me know what you think!

The Unbridled Fury of a Woman of a Certain Age

As I merged into freeway traffic, a smile spread across my face. Ah, this is what they mean when they say precision, German engineering.

The irony of driving a vehicle manufactured by the same company that built engines for the last fascist regime to nearly conquer the free world in order to escape from the current fascist takeover of the western United States is almost too much. I mean, if this car actually belonged to me and hadn’t just been stolen, I might not care about the militarized takeover of every major city on the western seaboard.

Unfortunately, I have the great misfortune of believing in the beautiful idea of constitutional, representative democracy. However flawed the execution of it has been over the past 200+ years, there has at least been a modicum of respect for the rule of law by those who would choose to usurp it. Today, the Constitution may as well be used paper in a golden toilet.

When I arrive at the nearest resistance encampment in the Sierras, the “baby on board” sticker in the rear window will guarantee my access. I was able to procure an older model station wagon, we will have enough seatbelts to take six (not including the driver) on protest runs. I just hope that the fact that I’m not actually a mom won’t keep me from being able to join the most effective resistance faction, the Wall of Moms.

People seem surprised that the most effective, most radical branch of the resistance is middle-aged women. That’s because the patriarchal hegemony doesn’t understand the superpowers that this segment of the population possesses. It turns out that women are born with a finite number of both eggs and fucks to give. They tend to run out around the same age. This is also around the time that women discover that they have the power of invisibility.  

Think about it, what would you do if you were invisible and out of fucks? Drink chardonnay and shoplift? I know, that was my plan too, until the fascists came to town.

I Published a Book!

Rough Writers Anthology 2019:
Moments in Space & Time

Guys, something cool happened … I published a book!  Crazy right? Full disclosure, I didn’t WRITE a whole book, I published a book with my writing club. I did however write many parts of a book.  First, I contributed a story and then I somehow got tricked into being the editor. 

Once I had agreed, I found out that being the editor didn’t mean just working with the other authors on their stories and/or editing the manuscript, it also happened to include project managing the whole shebang and creating the other bits of text that go into a book (which I learned is called the front matter and back matter).

Since I have been on a bit of a hiatus from project managing, I may have taken a few things for granted and not kept as tight reigns on things as I used to.  Fortunately, I had a talented and motivated team working with me and we finally crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s and now we have a book!

The book is a collection of stories contributed by members of the Rough Writers Toastmasters club.  We named it the Rough Writers Anthology 2019 because we have some delusion (at least I do) that we will do this annually. Moments in Space & Time is a nod to the writing prompt.

Everyone wrote their story using the same photo as a prompt (I don’t have permission to publish the photo here, but it is in the back matter of the book).  One of the benefits of being the editor was that I had early access to read everyone’s work.  I was so entertained by the range of perspectives. Even the stories that sort-of took the same tack are very different. Some folks had a specific message that they wanted to get across.  I let the photo take me for a ride (it was a strange ride, don’t ask me how I got there).

Here is a little snippet from my story:

As Bill approached the clipboard girl, she eyed him up and down and shot a look to the man standing next to her who was roughly the size of a refrigerator. This girl could tell Bill was trouble from 50 yards. The refrigerator nodded. Bill was used to being aggressive and intimidating to girls to get his way, but her disdainful gaze and pet refrigerator made him feel very small as he approached. Clipboard girl was already on to his game.

from Carl’s Green Galaxy by Cynthia Gellis

Our book, the Rough Writers Anthology 2019: Moments in Space & Time is available on Amazon!  Mr. Man says that it is the perfect size for a stocking stuffer (wink, wink).  If you want me to get you a signed copy, comment below or message me and we can make that happen.

I hope you’ll check it out!

The Real Housewives Triad

Twice a month, my writing group does flash fiction writing exercises.  This is not a strong area for me, and most efforts are nothing that I would try to get you to read.  This one however just makes me giggle.  Here is the photo and below, my story about the Real Housewives Triad.

Photo courtesy of: Starrchez; character: Anann (Sara Maraffino) from short film, Killing Anann; courtesy of C3Stories and Dreamwalker Productions
Photo courtesy of: Starrchez; character: Anann (Sara Maraffino) from short film, Killing Anann; courtesy of C3Stories and Dreamwalker Productions 

The Real Housewives Triad

In behavioral psychology the “dark triad” describes the convergence of psychopathy, narcissism, and machiavellianism.  Researchers have also identified a “light triad.”  But there is another, less understood triad, the “Real Housewives triad.”  This describes the convergence of hunger, drunkenness, and menopause resulting in explosive and irrational behavior.

Jen had had it!  Who did he think he was?  After taking two bites of the extra-large slice of princess cake that he had requested, he stood up, dropped the rest in the trash, set his plate in the sink, and headed for the sofa in the other room.  He wouldn’t even put his plate in the dishwasher.  Two bites!  He had no idea what she would give for two bites of princess cake.  The heavenly combination of raspberry, almond, and cream.  Princess cake was everything to her that he wasn’t and she had had enough.

Calmly, she pushed her chair back from the table.  There was a locked box in the kitchen junk drawer. 

He padded into the kitchen, “hey, do we have any ice cream?” 

The look in her eye told him that he had asked the wrong question.  She raised her right arm, pointing the barrel of the 9-millimeter Luger at his head. 

“Outside, now.” She was not about to get brains all over her new marble backsplash. 

The End

I learned about the light and dark triads from this article by Scott Barry Kaufman.  His website also has a personality test to see where you fall on the light triad scale.  As far as I’m aware, no one has begun conducting research on the Real Housewives triad…yet.

Estate Secrets

My writing club had a flash fiction contest so I made my first attempt at writing a 1,000 word short story.  The writing prompt was:

The wacky antiques dealer took pictures near a broken refrigerator about an hour ago to discover the secret.

Here is my story:

Estate Secrets

I never expected this to be my life. 

Sure, getting into the estate sale business seemed like a good idea.  Think about getting paid to go through someone else’s lifetime accumulation of treasures.  Imagine being the one to discover that rare item that would send Leigh and Leslie Keno into a tizzy.  Every day would be an adventure of discovery!

I’ll tell you what, it’s not like that.

What it is like is long, dirty days of sorting through mountains of someone else’s junk, trying to create some semblance of organization in order to encourage today’s hoarders – excuse me, I mean my future clients – to pay me for the privilege of taking as much stuff as possible off of my hands.

Our fiduciary responsibility to the estate means that my team has to go through every item, catalogue it, and research its value.  We can’t just skip the piles of magazines and overflowing linen closets, and we can’t make someone a bro deal to get them to take that 120-piece collection of Waterford crystal.  It is tedious and often smelly work.

I never thought that I would say this, but I should have listened to my father and gone to law school after all.

I’ve been in the estate sale business for long enough that I thought that I had seen it all.  I mean, did I tell you about the crazy cat lady who, in addition to the dozen living cats which were the beneficiaries of her estate, had a collection of nearly 3,000 cat objects?  Sure, plenty were from the Dollar Store, but there were also dozens and dozens of Baccarat and Lalique crystal and Herend porcelain figurines. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars of cat tchotchkes.

Then there was the guy who had every issue of Playboy magazine from 1953 through 2003.  Someone bought the entire set.  And yes, we did wear gloves the entire time we were at that house. 

But this house really took the cake.

This tutor-style bungalow has always been something of a landmark in town.  Let’s just say that no one else had a Stonehenge-style garden folly in their front yard, much less one illuminated with gas-powered, flaming torches (at least until the fire marshal had something to say about it).  And, I have to admit that I was looking forward to getting to see what was inside…until I did.

I was expecting to find the suit of armor, the elaborately carved, throne-like chairs next to the fireplace, and the endless yards of heavy, red, velvet curtains.  I was not surprised by the well-stocked library with floor-to-ceiling shelves of leather-bound, first editions.  Frankly, I was not even surprised when we were cataloguing the library and discovered the volume that revealed a secret passage.

What we found when we explored the passage was surprising to say the least.  Horrifying is probably a better word.  But in spite of how disturbing it was, it was not illegal and was no reason for us not to carry out our responsibilities in terms of liquidating the estate. 

A rare book dealer from Archer City, Texas had agreed to take the entire collection site-unseen so we wouldn’t have to worry about having the library accessible to the parade of antiques dealers and lookie-loos who we were expecting for the sale.  We moved on to the kitchen.

#

It was the first day of the sale.  I peeked out at the line of early birds and my heart sank.  Roger, that wacky antiques dealer from Glendora was at the front of the line, pontificating about the home’s provenance and extemporizing about the value of the items that he expected to find.

The doors opened and we admitted the first 15 from the line.  The house was immediately buzzing with the excited energy of the treasure hunters.  It was a welcome relief from the ominous feeling that had come over my entire team after we found the chamber.  Now if only we could get Roger out of here before he discovered the secret.

From the moment he walked in the door, it was clear that he was not here to shop.  Watching him snooping around the fireplace and tugging on the sconces in the hall, I knew that it was just a matter of time before he asked me why we had placed that enormous credenza in front of the locked door to the library.  I did enjoy letting him know that Larry McMurtry had already wired the funds for the contents of the library and that there was nothing in there for him to see.

With a sniff, he proceeded to the kitchen.

“Why isn’t the refrigerator priced?” he asked Monica.

“Oh, it’s broken, and we don’t know that it is reparable, so the family chose not to put it up for sale,” she replied in her fantastically, disdainful manner. 

What did he think she was going to say? “Oh, it’s a second passageway to the most horrible thing that I have ever seen,”  Monica was too smart for Roger’s games.

He sniffed again.  “Well, you won’t mind if I take a few photos so that I can look up the model then. I may still be interested.”

The only thing interesting about that refrigerator was its secret.

#

About an hour later, I came through the kitchen to check on Monica.

“I didn’t see Roger leave; do you know where he went?”

She shrugged and glanced toward the broken refrigerator, “You know those wacky antiques dealers,” she deadpanned, “sometimes they just disappear right out from under your nose.”

The End