A few years ago I went through a period of writing dozens of flash fiction pieces, some of them published here on this site. Some of them have also been published in journals, magazines and anthologies. I haven’t written any short fiction in quite some time, something I should correct.
As I see it, writing short fiction, also called flash fiction, is an excellent practice for any writers of general fiction. These short writing activities – from a mere handful of words up to about a limit of 1000 words – are good exercises for developing the various skills for longer fiction, or even for writing interesting non-fiction. At one stage I limited myself to a mere 50 words. That does not give you much room to move; every word must count.
I recently came across a short article about flash fiction here.
You can read flash fiction on the bus, or while you’re travelling between two train stations. You can read it while you’re waiting at the dentist. You can read it in that short time between sex and dozing off. It’s a small involvement for a much larger pay-off.
Frank opened his eyes. He struggled to wake up fully. He heard a strident noise near his left ear. After about fifteen seconds he groaned and rolled over.
“Stupid alarm clock,” he muttered as he thumped the little monster into silence. His eyes felt as heavy as bricks. His parched throat screamed for moisture. His muscles ached and his legs seemed tied to his mattress.
Frank raised his head a few centimetres and then let it flop back into the softness of his pillow. It felt warm, comforting, inviting and had an alluring softness. He lay there looking at the ceiling. The small black spider mesmerised him for several minutes.
“I must get up and get ready for work,” he thought. His eyelids drooped and he felt himself drifting off into a light slumber. He was suddenly jolted awake again by his watch alarm. As he sat up he swung his legs around and sat on the edge of his bed. He raised his hands to his head. Dizziness washed over him with a surge of nausea. His temples felt as if a knife was piercing through to his brains. He sat there for another five painful minutes. He yawned loudly at least a dozen times, his eyes watering with the effort. His jaws ached as if he’d been chewing all night. One of his back teeth ached. Reluctantly he dragged himself to the bathroom.
The soothing warm shower helped him to wake up a little. Still the yawns come frequently, endangering his face as he shaved. Thankfully he endured no cuts or nicks from his razor. As he dried his face he noticed several patches where he had missed some whiskers. He didn’t care. It was too much effort to lather up again. “Must buy an electric shaver,” he thought. As he dressed he realised he had no ironed shirts. He felt too tired to bother about ironing another one, so he scrabbled through his shirts until he found one with only a few creases. “My jumper will cover them,” he muttered.
He had no energy to make himself anything for breakfast. He stared at the shelves in the fridge. He grabbed a cold sausage. He took only a few bites before throwing the remainder in the bin. He sipped slowly at his coffee. It tasted foul and he left half a mug to grow cold. He sat staring out the window at the back garden.
Weeds grew profusely everywhere. Frank had lacked the energy for so long now that his garden resembled a wilderness. Every time he thought he had the motivation to attack his backyard jungle, his energy lasted barely ten or at best thirty minutes. “That jungle needs a week of weeding, mowing, cutting, digging and a mountain load of energy.” He hadn’t had enough energy for even an hour of effort now for many months.
He turned his stare at the wall clock. He had to leave for work now or he would be late. Ten minutes later he was still staring as the second hand swept around repeatedly. “Just like my life,” Frank snapped. “Just going round and round and getting nowhere.” He felt glued to his seat. He tried the coffee again. It was stone cold. He knew he must move, but the muscles wouldn’t work. He sat for another ten minutes. Only the sudden urge to relieve himself gave him the impetus to move. He sat on the toilet seat staring at the large spider in the corner. It had trapped a fly and was beginning to eat its victim. “Just like me,” he thought. “Trapped in a web of no escape. Life is about to consume me. I might as well be dead. Nobody knows, nobody cares. Even I don’t really care any more.”
A few minutes later – it felt like hours – he found himself in the lounge room. He curled up in his favourite chair. He stared at the television screen. It was blank. His mind was blank. His headache was much worse. He couldn’t remember if he’d taken a painkiller. His jaws ached too. He tried to relax his jaws. It lasted fifteen seconds and the aching returned, the teeth grinding together creating a horrid crunching noise inside his head.
“I must leave for work now,” he thought. He tried to get up. Instantly he flopped back into the chair. He noticed that his legs were twitching. He looked at his hands; they were shaking violently. He tried to stop them but without success. Waves of nausea engulfed him as the knot of fear twisted in his stomach. “I can’t, I can’t I can’t,” he kept mumbling. “I can’t do it.” His whole body was now shaking violently with his silent sobbing, the crying inside of him trying to release all of his fears. He felt like screaming; no sound came forth. He curled up into a ball on the seat, rocking gently in his agony.
About an hour later the telephone rang.
All rights reserved.
(C) 2007 Trevor W. Hampel.
This story was first published in “Studio” Issue #102 June 2007.
Readers’ comments and responses are invited. Use the comments section below.
The Birthday Gift
The small group of family and friends gathered around the table. The glow of the candles lit my face. One puff and they were out, to the cheers of everyone in the room. The flash of my daughter’s camera momentarily blinded me.
‘Happy Birthday!’ they all shouted and they launched into a shaky rendition of the traditional song.
‘C’mon, time to open your gifts.’
I took the first present. I knew it was from my wife. It had sat taunting me for days on one end of the coffee table. I ripped open the beautiful wrapping paper. I think my next expression said it all. It was not the birthday present I was expecting.
I had been giving solid hints for weeks about the latest best-selling novel I wanted to read. The wrapped up parcel looked exactly right. Surely she had heard my heavy hinting?
My gaping mouth said it all. This was most unexpected, and a little embarrassing. As I showed the title to all in the room, I heard a few gasps.
An Illustrated Guide to Pig Farming boasted the cover.
Totally bemused I flipped through a few pages. My puzzled look intensified. There seemed to be something wrong; no illustrations. I thumbed back to the title page. Now I understood. She had tricked me.
‘Thank you darling,’ I said as I kissed her cheek. She’d bought me the novel after all. ‘Nice trick to put on a false cover.’
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2007 Trevor W. Hampel.