In my last post, I told you a number of reasons why I really enjoy writing flash fiction and short stories. Now, I thought I’d share three stories with you that I’ve recently entered into various contests, two of which have been selected as winners. Yes, there’s already a few things I might change about each of them, but I figured I would just include them here exactly as I submitted them, flaws and all, so you can see what a first runner up or silver placed entry might look like for some of these competitions. I hope you enjoy reading them.
Sponsoring Organization: League of Utah Writers (Fall Conference)
Theme: “Something about a Dream”
Word Limit: 100 words or less
My Word Count: 100 words
My Title: Spilled Milk
Award: First Runner-up
Breathe. She’d waited five years. What was another three minutes?
Kelly washed her hands and opened the bathroom door. Donovan’s utterly soaked shirt clung to his chest, dripping white onto the floor.
“I spilled the milk.”
She grabbed a large bath towel and headed for the kitchen.
“I was showing Nick my dream, how I zoomed—“
She dropped the towel onto the flooded tile. “Remember, Nick—”
“He said he’s coming to live with us!”
“No, he didn’t. Because he isn’t real.”
She finished mopping and headed back to the bathroom.
Where a little pink plus was waiting.
Sponsoring Organization: Prime Magazine
Theme: “A Story About School”
Word Limit: Must be exactly 53 words
My Word Count: 53 words
My Title: Daddy’s Favorite Lesson
Daddy taught me wants vs. needs. Now I want to teach, so I need this over-priced degree. But no one wants to pay teachers, so I need my graveyard shift to avoid loans. Just once, I want something other than ramen while I study, but no. Someone needs to pay for Daddy’s headstone.
Sponsoring Organization: Weber County Book Link
Theme/Prompt: “You find magic or advanced technical powers in an ordinary, every-day object. How does it change your life?”
Word Limit: 5,000 words or less
My Word Count: 2,751
My Title: The Corner of Time
Award: Silver in the Adult Writing Competition
Sorry, I was inflating balloons.
Yeah right. Like she could really show up late to the second week of work and give Mr. Cardon that excuse. On a scale of one to “you’re fired!” it was a solid eleven.
Jess licked her thumb and rubbed at some blue and pink flecks on her hand while carefully maneuvering the car through morning traffic. Maybe the hand-painted banners were a touch excessive, but come on. After three weeks, Troy finally came home from Dubai tonight, and you only get one shot to tell your new husband he’s gonna be a dad for the first time.
Rows of red tail lights flooded the street ahead, and she swerved at the next right. If it weren’t for the ridiculous workload that Mr. “I-don’t-hire-slackers” assigned on her first week, or this semester’s impossible reading lists, she could’ve decorated their apartment sooner and driven leisurely to work today. Instead, she was driving on three hours of sleep, an empty stomach, and a hopeful side-street shortcut, because it was 8:57, and she was still eight minutes away.
Up ahead, a simple wooden sign painted with a croissant and steaming coffee mug caught her eye.
Sorry, I was getting you breakfast.
Now that was a decent excuse.
As she parked, the radio started playing that annoying new Crenessa song, and she gratefully killed the engine.
Odd. The tiny store was barely wider than the door itself. And there were no windows, no name, not even any words—anywhere. Just a few feet of brick walls, a faded door, and that simple wooden sign.
Oh well. She didn’t have time to look for anything else.
She crossed the sidewalk and reached the cafe door just as some punk teen on his bike sped around the corner towards her.
“Sidewalks are for pedestrians!” she yelled.
He laughed and swerved around her, way too close to comfort.
“Hey! I said— ”
More laughter, almost maniacal, erupted behind her. Two more teens raced for her. It was all she could do to duck inside the shop just before they could hit her.
As the door shut, the outside world fell silent, replaced by an ambient soundtrack of wind chimes, rustling leaves, and a distant stream. Whatever anger she felt quickly diffused in the warm smells of coffee, vanilla, and something that smelled of Christmas. She couldn’t inhale deeply enough.
An empty, padded bench lined the wall clear to the back. Jess followed it past a few tiny bistro tables towards the counter just as a woman appeared from a back room wearing a badge with the name Samaya. She hesitated for a moment when she saw Jess, then broke into a smile and wiped her hands on her apron.
“Morning. What’ll it be?”
Everything looked and sounded promising, but Jess had no idea what Cardon liked. She ordered three different blends and a half dozen pastries to be safe. When the total rang up though, she nearly choked.
Samaya offered a sympathetic smile and gestured towards the bench. “You really should sit and enjoy your meal here. The experience is half of what you’re paying for.”
Jess surveyed the modest interior again and cocked an eyebrow at her. No amount of relaxing soundtracks or pleasant smells was worth that much.
Samaya shrugged. “You can walk away if the price is too steep.”
True, but the price of showing up late to work, empty-handed, was even steeper. With a forced smile, Jess thrust her card across the counter. After gathering her purchases, she headed for the door, pushing it open with her shoulder.
A tangle of wheels, limbs and scalding coffee littered the cement.
Jess glared at the teens that had slammed into her. It was the same pair from before.
“Are you just doing laps, trying to get someone killed?”
Without so much as an apology, they jerked their bikes up and scrambled away, leaving her with a soggy bag and brown-stained shirt. Perfect. Now she’d show up late, empty-handed and un-presentable. At least when Cardon fired her, she’d have plenty of time to go home and change before picking Troy up from the airport.
No. She couldn’t afford to lose this job and the health benefits it promised. She had to try and salvage things.
“Uh-oh,” Samaya said when Jess walked back in. “Bathroom’s over here.”
After two minutes of cold water and what felt like forever under the electric hand dryer, Jess emerged from the bathroom with her blouse hopefully presentable enough to not grab Cardon’s critical eye. She stole a glance at her watch. Crap. It was already a quarter after.
Samaya, bless her heart, offered a new tray of coffees and bag of pastries.
“On the house.”
“Thanks.” Jess didn’t have the time or money to argue. “This morning couldn’t have gone any worse.”
She started her car and groaned. That stupid Crenessa song again? As she changed the station, she noticed the time on the dash read 8:59. Great. Now the car clock was busted too.
Jess entered the office building clutching the pastry bag and her briefcase in one hand, and with the other, carried the coffees in front of her like a shield. Cardon came out of his office scowling, and she cringed. Just how late was she? Stealing a quick glance at the clock on the back wall, her heart jumped.
That couldn’t be right.
“Where are yesterday’s reports?”
Jess smiled weakly, handing him the coffee tray and fumbling a stack of folders out of her brief case. She handed the files to Cardon, who took a coffee before passing back the tray. Taking a sip, his eyes widened in surprise. He lowered the cup, eyed it briefly, then drew another long sip.
The panic gripping Jess’s heart slowly started to release. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t scowling anymore either.
“Terrific brew.” He motioned with his cup toward her bag. “Any bear claws?”
“Yes, sir.” Jess opened the bag, and he pulled out two pastries with a satisfied grin.
“You’re a good addition to the team,” he said, lifting his cup towards her like a toast before sipping again. “Just don’t be late again. Today’s reports are on your desk.”
His office door closed again before she could respond.
“Hey, Jones,” a familiar voice from a cubicle called out. “Any more to share?”
“Yeah.” Jess set the bag on Valerie’s desk to peruse. “What time do you have?”
“Eight after. Why?” Val peeled back the paper lining from a muffin.
Jess checked her watch. 9:25. “Oh, I just think my watch is broken.”
She headed to her desk. A stack of papers towered next to her chair. They’d take all day at the office and all night at home to finish. Looked like the only time she’d have to spend with Troy would be in the car. She sat down and braced herself for another long day.
But report after report, she couldn’t stop thinking about her watch. If the battery died, or if coffee got in it during the bike collision, wouldn’t it be frozen? Or at least running behind? How could it be seventeen minutes ahead? It just didn’t make sense.
And that collision. It was like those kids were in the exact spot they had been in when she entered the shop. Could they really have gone around the whole block in the time it took her to order and pay?
All day, there was an incessant scratching at the back of her mind, a stray thought begging to be let in, begging to be considered. What if time had—
No. That was crazy. It couldn’t possibly be true.
Jess buried herself in her reports.
But what about the song? Sure, top forty stations repeat hit songs on their playlists, but twice in twenty minutes?
By lunch, she couldn’t take it. She filled her empty coffee cup with water and drove back to the shop.
Once parked, she made sure there was no one on the street to watch her. If anyone saw what she was about to do, they’d think she was crazy. She probably was crazy. There had to be some other explanation, some logical reason for the morning’s strange events that she would think of eventually. But until then, she just had to prove to her silly, pregnant brain that the insane idea it had bounced around all morning was wrong. She had to put this craziness to rest once and for all or she’d never be able to focus on her reports and make it through the day.
Pulling the cup of water from the console, Jess approached the shop, opened the door, and slipped halfway in. Taking a deep breath, she tossed the cup as high into the air over the sidewalk as she could before slamming the door shut behind her.
“What are you doing?”
Jess froze as Samaya stared her down from the counter.
Jess’s mind fumbled for something to fill the seconds of silence that seemed eternal. But there wasn’t exactly a sane way of explaining she thought she’d found a magic coffee shop that made time stand still.
Samaya studied her for a moment. Then her stern glare dropped as if it had been a mask, and a smile suddenly danced behind her eyes.
“I was right. You’re the new one, aren’t you?”
The new one? What was she talking about?
“I wondered when it would pick someone else. Thought it might be you this morning, but I never know until they come back a few times. But you, you’re quick. Takes most people a few visits.” She laughed at Jess’s bewildered face and nodded towards the door. “Well, go on. Check.”
Jess’s breath caught in her chest. There had been no splashing noise—though she couldn’t really hear anything outside at all. But the way Samaya was talking and smiling—it couldn’t be. Could it?
Still holding her breath, Jess pulled on the door.
The moment it cracked open, her cup and water fell, splashing at her feet.
She whipped around. Samaya slid a freshly poured mug across the counter.
“Like I said, it’s best enjoyed here.”
“Going to school?”
Jess looked up from her textbook as the ultrasound technician entered the small exam room reading a file.
“Online master’s,” Jess said, closing the book and adjusting herself on the table. Sixty days working at Cardon’s had felt like forever, especially with her frequent cafe visits, but her benefits had finally kicked in and not a moment too soon. Jess lifted her shirt at the gesture of the technician.
“Says here you’ve got an employer, too. Both full-time?”
Jess nodded. She was also now a full-time novelist, had finished three scrapbooks, and learned how to crochet, but it didn’t seem polite to brag.
“Wow.” The technician squirted cold jelly on Jess’s stomach. “Where do you find the time?”
Jess grinned. “I drink a lot of decaf.”
“Are you sleeping enough?”
“Definitely.” Eight hours every night at home next to Troy, not to mention another eight hours between projects on what was a surprisingly comfortable cafe bench. Not only was she well-rested, but for the first time in her life, she was on top of everything. The praise and awe from others over her newfound togetherness wasn’t a bad perk either. The only down side was she couldn’t share it with Troy. That was the only thing Samaya ever explained—that the shop only chose one person at a time, and she was the current one. But if keeping one secret from Troy meant she could feel better than she ever had before in her life, it was worth it.
The technician placed the wand on Jess’s belly, and the screen swirled with black and white shapes.
Then there it was—a perfect little body with perfect kicking feet.
The technician held the wand steady. “Look at your little girl go. Maybe she’ll be a dancer.”
A girl! Jess’s heart swelled. She tried to memorize every amazing detail as the technician clicked on the computer, measuring different parts of her baby—no, her daughter!
“I didn’t think we’d be finding out the gender so soon,” Jess said. Not that she was complaining. Wait until Troy found out. He’d be wrapped around that perfect, tiny pinky. Maybe she would stop by the cafe on the way home and come up with a really special gender reveal for him.
“Twenty weeks is pretty standard for seeing gender.”
Jess pulled her eyes from the screen. She must have heard wrong.
“I’m only fourteen weeks.” She stared at the technician for confirmation, but the technician just chuckled.
“Not by my measurements.” She looked at Jess’s wide eyes. “Don’t worry. It’s common for some women to confuse implantation bleeding for the start of a menstrual cycle.”
Jess stared at the date on the screen in horror. “That can’t be right.”
“Well, it’s not an exact science,” the technician offered. “We could be off by a few days.”
Jess shook her head. “But we didn’t get married until August 1st.”
“Oh.” The technician paused her typing. “Well, nowadays I doubt anyone’ll judge you guys for—”
“No, you don’t get it. My husband’s religious. He insisted we wait.” She locked eyes with the technician. “We did.”
The technician’s smile disappeared. There was a long, cold moment of silence before she cleared her throat. “Look, no one here will say anything. It’s up to you to tell him or not.”
Jess drove home, staring at the incriminating envelope on the seat next to her, filled with its little pictures and giant lies. This was ludicrous! Troy was the father. There was no way she was twenty weeks pregnant. But what could she say? That the ultrasound machine was broken and the tech was incompetent and it only seemed like she cheated on him before their wedding? No, she’d have to hide the photos. She’d have to lie and tell him a different date. A week or two he might chalk up to error. But six weeks? How could they be off by six weeks?
A cold idea bit the edges of her mind, and her chest tightened as she tried to breath.
No. Oh no.
She pulled a U-turn at the next light and sped back through the streets as she did the math.
Ten hours of working.
Eight hours of sleeping.
Seven days a week.
Her knuckles whitened as she clung to the steering wheel. It added up to six full weeks in the coffee shop.
A few broken speed limits, a crooked parking job, and some thunderous steps later, Jess barged into the patron-less cafe. Samaya stood drying a mug.
“You lied!” Jess pointed her most menacing finger at her. “I wasn’t getting extra time.”
Samaya raised a challenging eyebrow at Jess’s finger and continued drying. “There’s no such thing as extra time. I never said there was.”
How could she just stand there, drying, not realizing what a huge problem she’d created? Jess slapped the counter with her palm. Samaya didn’t flinch.
“But all this time I’ve been in here working, day after day, week after week, and you never told me I was still aging. That my baby was still aging. You never told me I was stealing from our future!”
Samaya set the mug down firmly and leaned across the counter. “You’re right. I only ever said you can walk away if the price is too steep. Just know that if you do, it’ll choose someone else.”
Jess took a step back, looking to the familiar bench and tables as the weight of Samaya’s words crashed down on her. True, the cafe might already have cost her marriage. And yes, every moment she stayed would cost her future. But could she really walk away? Without the shop, she’d never finish her degree or novel, let alone keep up with work and sleep. Cardon would never give her that promotion once her productivity dropped. Troy would be upset she was failing classes they didn’t have the money for her to retake. How could she walk away from the most miraculous thing she’d ever had?
“You gonna order or not?”
Jess looked up at Samaya, then back at the tables and bench. She felt a kick inside her stomach. There was really only one choice.
“Yeah. I’ll take a decaf.”
Samaya raised an eyebrow.
Jess sighed. “To go.”