Disquiet

The final contest I entered this past weekend was the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy. I didn’t grab a spot on the podium this week as the two chosen winners were so beautifully crafted and executed. But I had more fun writing this story than I’ve had in a long time. The story had to be based on the photo prompt below with a max word count of 360.

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An unsolicited call tipped me off to this battered ranch house with a couple of disheveled kids playing in the sickly grass. A headless and nude Barbie was clawing at the lawn, heading for asphalt and the freedom of a Goodyear tire. Outdated cars sat comatose in the driveway, their rusted tailpipes decaying like a smoker’s lungs.

I rapped tentatively, unsure of who or what could be waiting inside. A woman with cinnamon skin and hazardous eyes invited me in, asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. Before I could decline, a Louisville Slugger greeted my jaw. Darkness.

I awoke to my hands being tied to a cement pole.

“Hola, bounty hunter. Welcome to my basement.”

Heron Lopez. Similar to his namesake, he flapped his tattooed arms one day in Tucson and took flight, missing his court date for human trafficking.

“Guess you ain’t in Mexico like I was told by a former mamacita of yours. How ’bout you untie me and we’ll hash this out over a Corona with lime. A pinch of salt. Cool?”

“Silly pendejo. You’re slippery, man, I’ll give you that. No beer though, amigo, I have other plans for you.”

“Does it involve carne asada or chimichangas? Seriously, I’m famished.”

“Gringos and their jokes. Is that the fear talking? If not, it should be.”

He was right. I was petrified of this chiseled psychopath. I’ve heard the rumors about el perro rabioso, the rabid dog. This dude will gut you with as much emotion as a man brushing his teeth.

“It’s real simple. If you kill me, my associates will kill you. And that chica with the coffee too.”

He laughed a bit too loudly.

“You’re as dumb as my little niño and he’s still in diapers. You think this is my only hideout? I’ll be in the wind before you turn blue, my friend. You knocked on the wrong door today, this is no bueno for you.”

He loomed over me, his breath rancid with bloodlust, his mud-colored eyes jiggling in their sockets, a machete vibrating in his hand.

“So, I assume that’s a no on the chimichangas? That’s just cold, man.”

Unbound

My entry this week in the Luminous Creatures Press Summer of Super Short Stories contest. The photo below was the prompt and the max word count was 500. This was my first time competing there and to receive a first runner-up placement is pretty damn special. I’d like to thank the judge, Beth Deitchman, for her flattering critique of my story found below.

Strong writing and clarity of imagery mark “Unbound” by Wisp of Smoke, a story about the end of love and regret held at bay. The narrator’s almost jaunty tone belies the reality of his feelings, which are revealed in a last line that punches the reader right in the gut.

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Travis watched her gather the ceramic elephants that sat emotionless on the oak mantel. She delicately wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them in a cardboard box marked fragile. Amir, a name they borrowed from the Kite Runner, was by her side as always, panting and twitching like a fiend chasing the dragon. His wet eyes seemed to be longing for something: Reconciliation? A bowel movement? A bowl of meat? Travis could  never decipher the stories hidden in body language or eyes or a smile that was all sharp angles.

Jennifer had gained a bit of weight over the years, Travis thought as she continued to pack memories and artifacts with the speed and efficiency of an assembly line worker, her pink nylon sweats nothing more than a blur of function. He didn’t mind the crows feet, the heft in the middle, the dusting of grey around her temples. She was still pretty in a broken way, as if his condescending snark throughout the marriage had excised her youthful glow

For the first time in months, he looked at her with carnal urges. Maybe it was because she was leaving, maybe it was because her new lover had access to something that used to belong to him. He thought about tossing her some charm for old times sake but Travis chose to remain silent and sip on his beloved sweet tea as she and Amir worked in tandem at uprooting all the good things.

“Do you want to keep this?” she asked, holding a brushed-metal picture frame.

He glanced at the snapshot indifferently. Their sojourn in New Orleans: crawfish, jazz, draft beer, jungle humidity, and a ferocious argument the entire way home.

“Take it all, babe. Take everything.”

She rolled her eyes, sighed and proceeded with the evacuation.

“Hey, maybe you could place my heart in a cardboard box and write FRAGILE in gigantic red letters across the front. Just a thought.”

“Not today, Travis. I don’t need your drama or your mouth. I’ll be gone soon enough, you’ll finally be free of me.”

When all her belongings were stuffed into the Jeep Cherokee, she smacked her leg and Amir walked towards her, giving Travis a throaty yelp as he passed by. A goodbye? Contrition? A middle finger from a furry paw?

He went to the blinds and peeked at them as they drove away. No heads swiveling, no doubts lingering. Travis stood there for twenty minutes, unsure of what happens next. He told himself that he wouldn’t miss them. He told himself that they weren’t happy anyway, things had been unraveling for years.

He thought about that picture from New Orleans. A night of drunken lovemaking that made him feel energized and vibrant. Reborn. He regretted not keeping that one memory. Too late now, he thought.

He plopped down on the couch, flipped on the television, swallowed a gulp of tea and stared at the looted, beige walls. He tried desperately not to ache for them.

Isle of the Condemned

My entry in this week’s Flash! Friday contest. The photo below was the prompt and arrogance had to be incorporated within the story. 160 max word count as usual. My story received an Honorable Mention and I would like to thank the judge this week, Aria Glazki, for her kind words about my story found below.

Chris Milam, “Isle of the Condemned.” Fantastic imagery from the very first line here paints this story with paradoxes. The sun’s greeting is a “searing kiss.” The “tranquil morning” is closely followed by the “waves heaving and groaning.”  The captain’s breath is “sweet with rum,” while his actions are anything but. And the arrogance of our narrator’s attackers juxtaposes her own, in anticipating her revenge. Well crafted.

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The sun greeted me this tranquil morning with a searing kiss. The coconut trees frolicked in the breeze, producing a lazy melody that soothed. I watched the rhythm of the ocean, its waves heaving and groaning like a raging heart, as I sucked the juice from a ripe papaya. Lost in solitude, I thought of buccaneers, the vermin of the sea.

The captain pawing at me, his breath sweet with rum, his eyes slippery and dark, like two orbs of black silk. When he dragged me below deck and whistled for the crew, I tasked myself with remembering faces, contours of bone, the patterns of facial scruff, the cadence of their drunken speech.

The predators aboard La Bonita grunted with brutish delight inside my fruitful bounty of purity while the gold they worshipped remained hidden underneath the  cerulean folds of mystery that comprised the Pacific.

And not raking a blade across my throat would prove to be an arrogant miscalculation.

Crowd of Teeth

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Andrew Lipstein, editor of the literary journal Thick Jam, was kind enough to publish my story, “Crowd of Teeth,” today. It’s always an honor to have the opportunity to appear in a journal that is respected by the writing community. Plus their stories never fail make an impact on the reader.

You can read my story here: http://thickjam.com/no-409

If you’re interested in learning more about Thick Jam and what Andrew wants in a story, in case you want to submit there, here’s an interview he did with Jim Harrington: http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/2012/10/six-questions-for-andrew-lipstein.html?m=1

Empty Podium

My entry in this week’s Flash! Friday competition. The photo below and clumsiness had to be interpreted within your story. 160 word max as usual.

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The conspicuous glow from two iPhones revealed their position on the wooden bleachers in this dimly lit gymnasium in Nowhere, Wisconsin. They still believed.

Being seventeen and marginally talented, I would occasionally place in the top ten in random competitions across the Midwest. We’ve been on the circuit for a decade and my parents still believed I could make it to the Pan American games or maybe the Olympics. They had dreams of gold medals being forged from their perseverance and dedication. All I wanted was to quit traveling and make new friends, maybe fall in love, enroll in college. Be something besides a teenager wearing a snug leotard that drew lustful stares from the married men stationed throughout the hormonal gym.

I balanced myself on the beam and waved to my parents. Mouthed a silent apology. I’m not a clumsy girl but today I will fall awkwardly on the dismount, hoping I fracture my ankle. My betrayal obscured. Undetected.

Sanguine Desire

This was my entry in the Grey Matter Press flash-fiction horror contest. I’m not very experienced with writing horror stories but I was shocked at how talented the other writers were. I certainly learned a great deal just by reading the other entries.

The guidelines required that your story be exactly 200 words and had to include the following words within the body of the piece: Devour, Yesterday, Moist, Overturned, and Cushion.

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My blood tastes like caramel. I assumed it would be acidic and coppery, but when I nicked myself shaving recently, I swallowed a rivet of liquid addiction. I began pouring my blood into the morning coffee, a homemade macciato that rivaled Starbucks. My kids picked up the scent of this ambrosial seductress and began asking questions which led to them cornering me in the bathroom with Bic razors in their fidgety hands. My julienned face revealed the sugary nectar that their blades sought and they shared a bowl of vanilla gelato topped with a smear of daddy’s B positive. They attacked often.

Yesterday, my wife was struggling with her allergies when Abby and Alex caught a whiff of grape taffy. They stormed our bedroom and overturned furniture and their innocence while rooting out their mother and her intoxicating aroma. They yanked her out of the closet and dragged her to the bed. Their agitated teeth found a soft cushion in her bloodshot eyes. Standing behind Abby, my nostrils detected something tropical and ripe: Fresh kiwi. I tugged her shoulder and spun her around. A moist stain of luscious red was blossoming on her white shorts. My tongue was set to devour.

Unresolved

This story of mine was first published as part of National Flash Fiction Day. Along with the other FlashFlood stories, you could take part in their Write-In. You were tasked with submitting a story during a 24 hour window, based on a prompt and, if accepted, they would publish it on their blog. It was difficult for me because I typically let a story marinate for a few days before submitting it, but in the end, I wrote something fresh and I was lucky enough that my story was selected for publication. I chose the photo prompt below as my inspiration.

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We had to know. Could it be a family of vagrants? A steel graveyard for lost pets? A meth lab? Tommy picked me up right on schedule and we headed over to Lafayette and the woods on the northside that hid something mysterious and potentially hazardous. Tonight was going to be a watershed moment for us. A reckoning. The uncovering of secret things.

“Did you pack everything?” Tommy asked.

“We’re all set, man. Flashlights, bottles of water, a pellet gun, granola bars and, just in case, a butcher knife.”

“Cool. You never know, we might have to slice a hobo or something.”

Tommy parked the Corolla at the treeline. I grabbed the gear and we starting walking through a forest of menacing trees and black silence.

“Ben, you know how to use that thing?”

“A knife? I just move my arm forward and thrust. How fucking hard is that? Jesus, man.”

“Just saying. What if there’s a hyena in there or a starving leopard with cubs? “That thrust of yours might be a tad shaky under the circumstances.”

“Yes, African predators in the hills of Kentucky makes a whole lot of sense. Dude, you need to chill on the weed or watch an episode of Animal Planet.”

After two miles we reached the abandoned caboose. How it got here nobody knows but there it sat; rusting and spooky and inviting. My stomach was sending out warning signals as we exchanged nervous smiles.

Tommy approached with the pellet gun extending from a vibrating arm and I raised the butcher knife above my head, ready to plunge.

“I’m not gonna lie, man, I’m scared shitless. You sure we should be doing this?” Tommy asked.

“No, but we’re here and we need to know. Let’s do this.”

I took a deep breath, reached for the handle and began to turn…

“Ben, I knocked on your door for five minutes. It’s time for dinner.”

“Sorry, dad. I was working on a story in my head and drifted away. Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“That old caboose rotting away in Lafayette, what do you think could be inside?”

He chuckled and said “Stuck on the ending I presume? It’s your story, son and your imagination. You’ll figure it out.”

I hurried through a meal of burgers and fries and dove back into bed and closed my eyes. And for a second time, my hand began to turn that handle.