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 – 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!”

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology

rough writers 2020 anthology

I have an exciting announcement for y’all today: we have just published the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology: A Field Day for Creativity. This is the third Rough Writers Anthology (they published a collection in 2017, before I joined the club) and I think we’re really starting to get the hang of it.

You may remember last year’s post about the 2019 Anthology. Well, as we all know, no good deed goes unpunished and I agreed to serve as Editor for this year’s anthology as well. At least this way, I was able to apply some of the lessons that I learned the hard way putting together the 2019 book.

The subtitle, A Field Day for Creativity, was proposed by one of our members as a response to the prompt and our club’s innovative way of applying Toastmaster’s curriculum to our creative writing pursuits.

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology writing prompt
This image was our writing prompt. Photo by Branislav Belko on Unsplash.

Intrigued? 

Good. Here’s an excerpt from my story:

Mrs. Bistone’s perfectly rendered exterior was her armor. It was a barrier both invisible and impenetrable. People were so taken with the apparition in front of them that they didn’t even notice what she was getting them to do, or say, or agree to. Her directives tended to be delivered in the form of questions, those kinds of small requests that would be rude to decline. She wouldn’t say she was manipulative. She just understood that by exercising absolute control over how she presented herself, she could exercise the same control over that to which she presented herself.

Everyone who had met her would say that they knew her, that they were dear friends. They would describe her poise and immaculate appearance in detail, but no one could ever recall one personal thing about her – where she grew up, what her interests were beyond the banal hobbies of any woman of means, or even the date of her birthday.  Moreover, no one ever seemed to notice, which was the way that Mrs. Bistone preferred it.

Aren’t you dying to know how that has anything to do with the photo?

Well guess what? I’m giving away several copies of the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology!

All you have to do is be a subscriber to this blog and leave a comment below by 5:00pm on Friday, November 20.

I only have a limited number of author copies, so depending on the response, I’ll come up with some random way to select winners.

If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, you can order your own copy on Amazon (and if you don’t want to use the hyperlink, just put “Rough Writers 2020 Anthology” in your Amazon search bar). There is even a Kindle version if you prefer.

Monday, November 23 at 7:00 pm is our official book launch on Zoom. If you would like to find out more about the diverse voices who contributed stories to this volume, please join us – just leave a comment below and I will send you the sign-in details.

Headless Mike – A Halloween Story

My writing group had a Halloween story challenge.  I was stumped about where to begin (we usually get more of a prompt than that) and was talking about it with a friend who always seems to point me in the right direction. She asked why things always had to be dark and scary and then suggested that I could write something about Headless Mike (the centerpiece of my Halloween decorations).  I’ll tell you what, sometimes inspiration is just that easy!

Here is my Halloween story.  As Loretta Lynn would say, it is all true, even the parts that didn’t really happen.

Headless Mike

In 1918 Vern Pickle, died in Long Beach.  He was 19 years old.  Vern had gone to the cyclone coaster at the Pike on his day off to try to retrieve a hat belonging to a young lady friend (what a chivalrous guy).  He rode the car up to the top and hopped out.  When he bent over to retrieve the hat, the car coming the other way on the parallel track decapitated him.  His body washed up on the beach the next day, but his head wasn’t found until a month later, lying among the rocks at near the jetty. It is said that Vern’s ghost still roams the City, ready to lend a hand.

Source: Claudine Burnett, author of Died In Long Beach

Our first Halloween on Vermont Street, I was surprised to be the only house on the block putting up decorations.  But the idea caught on and these days is fairly competitive.

The signature of my Halloween decorations is Headless Mike, affectionately named after my husband, Mike with a head.

Headless Mike is made from some of Mike’s old clothes that I pilfered from the Goodwill bag, stuffed with newspaper.  He even has “hands” made from old gardening gloves. Headless Mike spends the month of October sitting comfortably in a chair on the front porch. I’d like to say that he keeps an eye on things, but since he doesn’t have a head, being a lookout really isn’t his thing.

Now, even though I am the one who created Headless Mike in the first place, I continue to be regularly startled by the specter of this “person” sitting on my front porch.  There is something about his size and the fact that he is wearing real clothes that lends an air of authenticity to the month-long porch-sit. I’m not the only one, real Mike and especially our poor mailman are also often startled throughout October.

Real Mike is a friendly and easy-going guy.  He cares about his neighbors and his neighborhood.  But there are a few things that get him really riled up. One is people who don’t pick up after their dogs, another is littering.

Last October I put up all of my Halloween decorations, including Headless Mike.  Real Mike and I were out front admiring my handiwork and discovered that someone had left a giant dog turd on the parkway. 

Oh, the rant that followed!  How he was going to install cameras, that if he caught whoever it was, he was going to follow them home and leave it at their front door, how people who don’t pick up after their dogs shouldn’t be allowed to have animals … and so on.

I looked over at Headless Mike and asked him if next time he would please scare that guy out of letting his dog poop on our lawn because real Mike isn’t as young as he used to be, and he can’t take all the aggravation.

A few days later, I was out talking to my neighbor who is always up on the latest neighborhood gossip. She told me how her son Charlie had been walking to school the day before and when he passed the house around the corner where the big German Shepard lives, he smelled, then saw a GIANT pile of dog poop on their front step.

“Mom, it was piled right against the door, probably three-feet high!  You KNOW that when they opened the door that it all came spilling in!”

I couldn’t stop laughing.  But my gosh, who would pull a prank like that?

A few weeks later, the party girl with the Toyota Camry thought that we had forgotten about the last time we caught her littering and parked in front of our house again.  This time I didn’t notice any trash on the ground when I left for the gym, but Mike discovered her discarded Del Taco leftovers after she drove away. 

“Why wouldn’t she just put this in the trash! Doesn’t she know that all this stuff winds up in the Ocean?”

She came back that night and when I was heading to the gym the next morning, I noticed that her car seems kind of full of stuff. That’s weird. Oh well, gotta get to spin class.

Well, when I got home, Mike couldn’t wait to tell me how apparently someone had filled her car with trash.

“She was FREAKING out! She started tossing it out on the ground and all the kids and parents on their way to school started heckling her! She was crying, it was a whole scene.  I went out there with a trash bag to try to help her out, but she just shoveled it on the ground and drove off. Lots of people stopped to help me pick it up. She won’t be coming back this time for sure.”

All month long, I kept finding empty Coors Light cans on the front porch next to Headless Mike’s chair.  It was a little creepy. Mike doesn’t hang out on the front porch. Who was leaving empty beer cans out there?

Then one morning, I was leaving for the gym a little earlier than usual.  When I stepped out on the front porch, I found Headless Mike with a half-full can of COLD Coors Light in his gardening glove hand!

Ok, so this creature made of old clothes stuffed with newspaper was roaming the neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, magically avenging wrongdoing. Sure. Why not?

But HOW WAS HE DRINKING BEER?  HE DOESN’T HAVE A HEAD!

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