Monday, November 21, 2016

Flashing My Fiction

In this, my third round for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest, I was given the following premise to write my 1,000-word maximum story:
Genre:  Mystery
Setting:  Bonfire
Object:  Fake I. D.

Penny for the Guy


T’was supposed to be just a normal effigy…same as every year...a stuffed guy atop a bonfire heap...but when Sean Marshall came bashing down Thelma Wiggins’ door the morning after bonfire night, he told her to grab her coat and dog and hurry with him to a murder investigation down at Golden Acre Park where the Yorkshire Constabulary were sifting through a heap of burned rubble, surrounding a charred body.

“So what’s the commotion?” Thelma Wiggins asked as she flung her walking stick into the boot of her ‘65 Mini Cooper and hobbled into the driver’s seat with Letti, her shihtzu with a fine nose for guilt.
“Dead body at the bonfire.” Sean Marshall spoke softly as always but this time with more intensity than his normal steady tone.
“Funny, I didn’t hear a thing on Harvey’s old scanner last night. Just a couple of drunken revelers stirring up trouble.”
“Wasn’t discovered till this morning when a dog was seen draggin’ off a piece of the chap’s leg.”
“Bloody hell.” Thelma gave Sean a glance he’d known since childhood.  “Any suspects?”
“Nothing but a report of an odd man seen watching the bonfire from a distance.”
“As in pale white face, oddly raised eyebrows, and a blank, morbid stare.”
“Sounds lovely.” Thelma pulled up to the park and moaned as she saw the growing team of officials and media arriving at the scene. “Should have put on me lipstick,” she said, patting down her unsorted hair.  She waited for Sean to come around to her door to help her get out of the car.
“You up for this?” Sean said as Thelma struggled to pull herself out of the car.
“Is the Pope holy?”
Sean chuckled.
“Now grab me knittin’ bag and let’s bash on.”
The drizzle had let up just enough to make the crime scene more accessible for a 72 year-old woman with titanium kneecaps to approach. Letti sniffed her way in front of the two private detectives and stopped abruptly in front of a large constable who uncomfortably bent down to pat her on the head. Thelma yawned and Sean cleared his throat--something they had established as a confirming awareness when they used to work on the late Harvey Wiggins’ cases.
“No wonder there was no activity on the scanner last night,” Thelma murmured under her breath.
Sean had reached the scene before Thelma. He flashed his badge at the primary investigator, a thick man with flaming red hair. They exchanged basic information as Sean scribbled notes and glanced back and forth from the covered remains to his notepad. Letti, in the meantime, meandered between the bustling people at the scene, sniffing vigorously, but not stopping at anyone else.  
When Thelma reached the commotion, she used her walking stick to forcefully nudge people out of her way. Standing at the edge of the smouldering bonfire, she reached into her knitting bag and pulled out her metal knitting needles and a pair of surgical gloves. Sean joined her and handed over his notepad.
“No evidence?” Her head tilted subtly. “Really?”  She handed the gloves to Sean and while he was putting them on, she used her walking stick to clear a small pathway into the charred remains of wood. “Now take these needles and poke around under the body until you hear something.”
“What exactly am I listening for this time?” Sean asked, knowing her answer.
“Every sound matters, love.”
Using both hands, Sean tapped the knitting needles through the ashes and rubble, not hearing anything until he hit something that made a metal-on-metal sound. He reached in and pulled out a scorched silver cigarette case.
“I’ll take that,” Thelma said. “Now go back and poke around just to the left of where you found this.”
She opened the case and found an Italian driver’s license still intact. The man’s name was Guido Fox. He had a typical Italian face but with intently guilty eyes. With Sean still tapping around in the heap, Thelma set the opened case on the ground and called Letti over. As expected, Letti sniffed at the case then sat in front of it, head atilt.  
Sean, crouching low, held up a knitting needle with a gold ring on it. “This what you were hopin’ for?” he said, handing over the ring.
“Bingo!” Thelma took the ring and using her high-powered magnifying glass around her neck, she squinted to read the inscription:
John & Maria Johnson...5-11-05
“Hey Sean, can you use your facebook thingie to look for a John Johnson from Leeds with a wife named Maria?”
“Sure, but did you notice this insignia on the inside of the cigarette case?”
Thelma held it up to the light then gave Sean the look.
“Guy Fox.”
“Fake i.d.?”
Thelma noticed Letti had dug up something next to the heap. A charred credit card, a handful of Euros, and a penny.  An English penny belonging to an English man named Guy, AKA Guido, Fox.
Handing her his iPhone, Sean says, “Our victim. John Johnson. An archaeologist, specialising in early church history. Spent last summer with his Italian wife, Maria, in Rome, where he apparently stumbled upon some controversial theological stuff.”
“See, all roads do lead to Rome,” Thelma smirked.
“So how do we find him?”
Pointing over at Letti, sitting diligently in front of the redheaded imposter, Thelma assured Sean, “We already have.”
Sean nodded. “Maybe there’s more than a penny for this guy?”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Nailed It!

I can't believe I made the top 5 in my group of 30 international writers for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction writing contest! 

This Friday, I'll be going on to the third round with the remaining 240 contestants--down from 1,440! We'll have 48 hours to come up with a 1,000-word maximum story based on whatever premise we're given.

My Round 2 story (pasted below) came in 1st place for my group! The story had to be a comedy that takes place at a nature preserve, and it had to make reference to iced coffee. 

Nailed It

Okay, so I lied a little to get the job that broke not only my left arm, my front tooth, and my alter ego, but even worse, it almost broke my tough-as-nails heart.  I also lied about my name because it's hideous. But I needed the money and I wanted a shot at the finest figure of a man I'd seen in all twenty-two years of my Southern Californian life. 

I met him in the financial aid line at San Bernardino Community College. He stood there. In front of me. With his squared shoulders. I saw his chiseled face and knew he needed to meet me. So I asked him a dumb question.

"Are you a park ranger?"

He answered with a real-man voice and raised eyebrow, "No."

I waited for clarification but only got a subtle shrug, which I interpreted as an invitation to dig a little deeper.

"So what do you do then?"

He completely faced me and said, "Big Bear Nature Preserve Steward."

"Oh!" I fumbled my only chance to prove I was not some ditz-brain So Cal girl. "So you're like in charge of wild animals and stuff?"

"No." He stepped away from me, but only because the line was actually moving. "I count and track wounded animals."

"Oh cool!" I regretted my word choice as soon as I said it. "I work with wounded animals too."

He nodded, which I knew meant he wanted more info.

"I'm a receptionist at an animal hospital...I weigh them and take stool samples...from the animals...of course." My chuckle came out more like a snorting moose, but I got his attention enough to actually look at me for a nanosecond, which was just long enough for him to hopefully admire my newly colored hair--soft ginger to chestnut ombre, which cost me a whopping $240--which is why I'm back in the financial aid line, trying to peddle myself some extra cash to make it through my last semester before I transfer to U. C. Somewhere.

He coughed under his breath, so I went for the jugular.

"So how can I get a job there?"

He pointed to the clerk in front of us and mumbled seductively, "It's a work-study job. Talk to her."

"Awesome!" I beamed. "Thanks!" 

And that was the end of our first interlude.  After I deceptively convinced the work-study clerk that I was qualified to track and count wild wounded animals, I went to the Big Bear headquarters and filled out papers and got my official Nature Preserve uniform--a tan short sleeved shirt and matching pants. I had to buy my own boots and belt then I was set to start the following Saturday.

That morning, I stepped into Valley Royale Nail Salon, and the lady who always does my nails waved me over to pick my color. Strawberry SoufflĂ© was too girly. Hot Kiss, too seductive. Aqualicious, too juvenile. So I went for a neutral tone and spotted one that matched my uniform perfectly. 

Iced Coffee.  Bingo.

With my fresh new nails, I managed to follow my GPS guy until he glitched on me halfway up the mountain. Guaranteed lateness. Story of my life. When I finally pulled into the parking lot, I felt a twinge of nervousness that climbed out of my stomach when I saw Mr. Hotness. I don't think he noticed me though with my hair in a sporty ponytail. I slammed my car door, hoping he'd look. He didn't.

Inside the office, a motley display of murdered animals mounted on the wall startled me. It really is a preserve, I guess.  A woman with way too much botox, silicone, and spray tanner called me over.

"You must be our new do you say your name?"

"Yes. Hi. Just call me Elle."

She stapled a packet of papers together and handed it to me as she sized me up...and down. "You can have a seat while you read over your materials, and I'll send Clark to meet you in fifteen minutes."

I sat down on a larger-than-life log chair and tried to ignore the enormous moose head looming above me as I scanned the information.

Clark, I repeated in my head. That must be him for sure, but when the door swung open, it was definitely not him. 

"Hello...I'm Clark." The squatty man reached out to shake my hand. "I'll be your trainer today." His hand was warm, but clammy.

"Okay," I said with fake optimism, lead the way."

We headed out, passed some deer and a caged wolf, but before I could say the word Help, I caught my boot under a root and went flying. In mid-air, I had a fleeting thought about my nails getting ruined, but upon a hard landing, I felt two cracks. My arm then my tooth. Two faces stared down at me. Clark and the hotty, both making a huge fuss over me as I blinked away some gravel. 

"Hey," Mr. Hotty said, holding a baby peacock, "you're the girl I met the other--"

"I wish I wasn't." I sat up, spit out a piece of tooth, and tried to straighten my hair, but my arm wouldn't work.

He took my other hand to help me up and said, "Nice nails."

I forced a chipped-tooth smile.

"My fiancé would love that color."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to the Land of Ironica

Irony has a way of sneaking up and exposing itself in some of the strangest ways.  My English professor at Cypress College in Southern California first unveiled the nature of irony to me one day when he pointed outside his classroom window, drawing our attention to a large field where cows innocently grazed.  “Irony,” he explained as he pointed out the Burger King joint visible from the other window, “is sometimes where we least expect it.” 

Some of my favorite examples of irony still have me sitting here, cross-eyed and scratching my head.  For instance, when I lived on the Windward side of Oahu, I used to drive by a shopping area that had an ominous chain-linked fence surrounding it.  Attached to the fence was a single metal sign that in bold red letters proclaimed, NO SIGNS ON FENCE!  Out of fear of arrest or worse, having my face on Hawaii's Most Wanted, I have managed to resist the urge to post a sign with an arrow pointing to it that says, EXCEPT THIS ONE!

Then there was the day I was riding on the Honolulu city bus on my way to the beach when I glanced up at the advertisement posted directly across from me:  BLIND?  VISION IMPAIRED?  CALL 722-2222.  Perplexed, I sat there for the duration of the ride, wondering how anyone blind or vision impaired would know that they could get help by simply calling that number.  Years later, while shopping for a new kitchen sponge, I spotted one with Braille strangely printed on the package—without the dots raised—and thought, Hmmm, must be the same idiot who made the bus ad

And how about the Hawaiian activist I saw on TV one night?  She was talking about how she could not tolerate racism yet in the same breath, she blurted out how sick and tired she was of all the haole people (Caucasians), taking over Hawaii.  Being hapa (half) haole myself, I felt offended as I thought about my haole father, risking his life during World War II to protect this small, defenseless island chain—strategically located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—from the big bad bullies that would love to use it as a stepping stone to devour their capitalistic, Land of the Free, enemy.  

I love the Land of Ironica, especially when I find myself living in I am right now.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wretched Writers Welcome!

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
With only four days left before I must return to the chaos of my classroom, I am feeling an urgent pang to write a serious entry about literary silliness. 

Since 1982, San Jose State University’s English Department has sponsored a literary competition to compose an obnoxiously bad first sentence of what would become (if, God forbid, followed through), an equally bad novel.  The inspiration for this whimsical contest came from the infamous first sentence of an 1830 novel entitled Paul Clifford by Victorian novelist, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Notice this clunky mess of a sentence contains a whopping 58 words, 1 sinister semicolon, 1 devious dash, 3 commas, and a useless pair of parenthesis.  To an MFA graduate in Writing, this is unadulterated literary sin!  And now with over 10,000 wretched writers (me being one of them), having tried their hands at outdoing Bulwer-Lytton’s immortal opener, the website is chock-full of an impressive chunk of unimpressive first-liners.

I have selected a couple of my all-time favorite winners to whet the appetite, and if I feel brave enough at the end of this entry, I may even share a couple of my own dirty little attempts.

2002 Winner
On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained. — Rephah Berg, Oakland, CA

2011 Dishonorable Mention
Dawn crept up like the panther on the gazelle, except it was light, not dark like a panther, and a panther, though quiet, could never be as silent as the light of dawn, so really the analogy doesn’t hold up well, as cool as it sounds, but it still is a great way to begin a story; just not necessarily this particular one. — Warren Blair, Ashburn, VA

For more silliness, I dare you to peruse their website: 

And finally, in honor of Mr. Bulwer-Lytton, here are two of my best/worst novel openers…

After a long, treacherous day teaching preschoolers, Miss Lucy dragged herself into the shower and let the hot water pour down onto her head, her shoulders, her knees, and her toes…knees and toes…knees and toes…eyes and ears and mouth and nose…head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Hungry as a ravenous wolf, Lucy hadn’t eaten herself yet and wasn’t planning to either. 

Now it’s your turn!  I look forward to seeing what you all come up with…

Friday, September 6, 2013

Choose Your Monster

Back in the days of tight ponytails and early bedtimes, I used to tremble under my bed covers, truly believing that there were enormous, bona fide monsters in my closet, behind my dresser, or under my bed.  My ineffectual retaliatory tactics consisted of a cache of rolled up socks, a motley collection of hot-tempered Barbie and Ken dolls, and as a last resort, a neon green water pistol that I had permanently borrowed from the boy next door.  My exasperated dad, with his subtle rhythmic Swedish brogue had routinely coerced me to try counting sheep as a way to focus my attention onto something peaceful and non-threatening, and to my surprise, it did help…at least while he was there next to me.  But as soon as he left the room, my bounding, fluffy, cute sheep mutated into red-eyed, bloody-fanged, monster sheep that instead of hopping over my imaginary white fence, turned on me, snorting and flashing their glistening sharp horns as they headed straightway toward my bed.  I wanted desperately to leap off the bed and bolt to my parents’ room, but I couldn’t risk the attack from under the bed.  Defeated, I would bunch myself into a ball of fear, shaking into a fitful sleep that would hold me captive to my own monster-laden nightmares. 

What I didn’t know back then was that I had complete control over those invisible beasty creatures—that I could have at any moment banished them from their pseudo-existence.   

So this summer I went to see Pixar’s latest Monsters University and found it to be not as psychologically transforming as the original Monsters Inc., but overall better than I had expected.  Maybe it’s a genre thing, but somehow I missed the most important fact that this second film is a prequel to the original.  I erroneously thought it was about the next generation of the first dynamic monster duo: One-eyed Mike Wazowski and his burly blue furball of a friend, Sulley.  But no…this film takes us back to the early college days of the two barely scary monsters and reveals how they overcome their greatest fears of not being scary enough for the university as they ultimately band together to create their notorious Monsters Inc. enterprise.  This second film ends—somewhat awkwardly—where the first one begins.

Overall, the one redeeming factor that makes this a blogable film is not actually based upon anything connected to Wazowski or Sulley. Instead, it’s the diabolical Centipedess, Dean Abigail Hardscabble, who philosophically lectures to future graduates of her university that “Scariness is the true measure of a monster…” and that “…if you’re not scary, then what kind of a monster are you?”  But what this tightlipped, angry monster of a woman fails to mention is that the scare factor is only as scary as the victim allows it to be.  

As a grown up, I no longer cringe over the prospect of imaginary monsters, but I am grateful for what I have learned from them. They have taught me from that young, impressionable age that when the time would come for me to face my own fair share of human monsters—a mere handful of humans who have tried to wreak havoc upon my life for no good reason—that they have no power over me as long as my lack of fear prevails.  When I refuse to cower under their seemingly ominous presence, they ultimately become…pardon the expression but…sheepish.  It really is a matter of choice, and my choice is to stick my tongue out at these cowardly wolves and say, “Nanny-nanny boo-boo, you cannot scare me!”