The Long Wet Grass
The resonance of tires against the wet road is a mantra, strong and steady. The wipers slough rain away in slow rhythmic arcs into the surrounding blackness. The rain falls slow and steady, then gusting, reminding me of Galway when I was a child where Atlantic winds flung broken fronds of seaweed onto the Prom during high tide. Before the death harmony of Belfast seduced me.
The wind keeps trying to tailgate us. But we keep sailing. The slick black asphalt sings on beneath us. We slow and turn onto a dirt road, the clean rhythm now broken, high beams tracing tall reeds edging against the road, moving rhythmically back and forth with the wind.
No lights now from oncoming cars.
We stop at a clearing. I open the door, the driver looks back at me. The rain on my face is soothing. The pungent petrol fumes comfort me. The moon lies hidden behind black heavy clouds. I unlock the trunk.
You can barely stand after lying curled up for hours. After a while you can stand straight. I take the tape from your mouth. You breathe in the fresh air. You breathe in the fumes. You watch me. You don’t beg. You don’t cry. You are brave.
I hold your arm and lead you away from the roadway, into a field, away from the car, from the others. The gun in my hand pointed at the ground. I stop. I kiss your cheek. I raise the gun. I shoot you twice in the temple. The coronas of light anoint you. You fall. The rain rushes to wipe the blood off. I fire shots into the air. The ejected shells skip away.
I walk back to the car and leave you lying there in the long wet grass.
Another example of an effective flash fiction:
At night Malcolm liked to visit the houses of old adversaries without them knowing. He never took anything, but usually left little clues. Enough to make them think someone might have been there. Enough to make them feel uneasy. He would leave a radio playing very low, eat some cornflakes, or move the furniture.
Now he sat in darkness in a leather armchair that he had once owned, and lit a cigarette. He knew, without being able to see, where everything was in the room – the photographs of the children, the silent television, the glowering bookcase.
This was the most rewarding of all houses to frequent. Malcolm stabbed the cigarette out in a conspicuous ashtray as the clock struck two in the dining room. Above him Alice, his ex-wife, stirred and mumbled in her sleep.
Later, he thought, he would sit by her bed and watch.
Some flash fiction guidelines
· Keep it simple. 500 words is not much. Treat it as a challenge.
· Be authentic and honest. It will show.
· So write quite quickly – then go back and edit as if you’re reading it for the first time.
· Don’t try and write a novel in condensed form.
· Concentrate on writing one (or maybe two) good scenes with telling detail.
· Don’t include so many characters that it becomes confusing. Remember you are introducing the reader to new people. Writing in the first person (I) is OK and often a good way to get inside the narrator’s head quickly. You can always change it later.
· The rules about showing not telling, using your senses and so on are even more important here in this condensed form. Avoid summarising scenes and characters.
· Endings – don’t obsess about a surprise or ‘meaningful’ ending. Trust that a suitable ending will make itself known in time. You might have to wait.
· Shape – a ‘circular’ story, with a reference at the end to something at the beginning, can give a sense of completion. An ‘open-ended’ story can give a sense of intrigue and more to come.
· Edit seriously. There is real strength in brevity.
· Avoid – being confusing, being too clever, anecdotes with no purpose.
· Read examples and think about which ones work and why. There are plenty on the web and in short story/flash fiction collections.
Some flash fiction prompts about identity:
These are prompts only. Feel free to adapt them in any way that works for you and to follow them into new places.
Imagine you lost your memory. Which of your possessions would your friends and relatives use to identify you? A watch? Pair of socks? Item of jewellery? A phone? etc Write a letter from the relative or friend to you explaining where it came from and explaining its important as part of your identity. Dear Jane, you might not recognise this gold watch, but…..
Write a story that begins when the protagonist is pulled out of a queue at an airport and is told that his/her passport is a forgery. What happens next? How could they prove who they really are?
Write a fantasy story in which you meet your double. They have the same name as you and the same history. What happens? Describe the person you met. What impression do they give? Perhaps they are ahead of you in time – or behind in the progress of their life. What warnings or advice would be given?
At a train station a mischievous woman poses as the children’s nanny that Mrs Dawkins had been expecting. Write what happens when the fake nanny gets to Mrs Dawkins’s house.
Write a scene in which a very wealthy man poses as homeless and looks for opportunities to help people.
A weary man approaches a house looking for some relief, but he’s greeted like he’s the returning owner.
A family with no children adopts an abandoned baby. What happens next?
Start a fable, like Toy Story, in which one or more of the toys rebels against the label it’s given – a doll wants to be a different colour or be played with by a boy, the soldier wants to be a ballerina. Make it lighthearted, but try and make it a metaphor for the labels/identities we give each other.
John is a very overweight young man who doesn’t feel accepted by his family or friends. When he goes away to college he follows a strict diet and loses five stone. Describe what happens when he returns home for a visit.
There are two doors into the place where I work. One is marked ‘average’ and one marked ‘beautiful’. Each day, we choose which door we use. Today, for the first time, I used the ‘beautiful’ door. Go on to describe what happened.
Thanks to Jeff Phelps for compiling these wonderful materials for our writing session on flash fiction.