Special thanks to Jessica Standifird for her editorial assistance. This week’s artwork is “Moon & Sun” by Ross P. Wilson
by R.F. Marazas
The signs reminded Foley of Burma Shave jingles. Feel free. To indulge. Until you bulge. Then you will see. Foley gaped at an acre of mushrooms large as a man. Scent pulled him. He salivated, tore chunks from one and ignored a faint scream. He chewed, swallowed. Visions blossomed, psychedelic, kaleidoscopic. Knowledge flooded him. All questions answered. He ate. Stomach ballooned, legs rooted, arms shrunk to gray stubs. Using only his teeth he chomped. Visions faded. Knowledge slowed, stopped. Where Foley once stood, a new mushroom towered, fat, scent beckoning. Next to it, tiny leftover pieces began to grow.
Playground Where I Grew Up
by Adam Loewen
Two empty swings move back and forth, retrograde, near the sandbox hardly wider than a grave for toy army men. I sit atop the slide that burned skin and busted teeth, concerned with pea gravel staining my shoes and parents spying from the apartments. The jungle gym, cold as dusk, won’t return my stare. I’ve forgotten how to play.
I ran away from home once, tried to live burrowed under the wooden walkway, even before teenage girls and malt liquor. Soon, they’ll dig up this entire tiny world and replace the equipment with things that kids these days are into.
by Anna Lea Jancewicz
She started up with him because of his hands. They were practically identical to those of that other boy she’d known. She’d twirled her skirts and bit her lip, it was easy enough. She got those hands on her skin. She watched the friction more than she felt it. She’d done this once before, with one who’d had the same voice if she just closed her eyes. But this time, she had to keep her eyes open. Stand behind me, she’d say. She’d drape his arms around, fasten the hands on her breasts. And she’d look down. Just like this.
by Angela Maracle
My mother demanded a TV in the delivery room so she could watch the playoffs. When Montreal lost the cup she stopped pushing.
“I don’t want this baby anymore.”
They sedated her and pulled me out with forceps.
When I was five I knew the names of all the players. Reciting them for company made me special.
“Isn’t she smart? She’s such a hockey fan. I’ll tell you a funny story about the night she was born.”
I heard this anecdote for forty years. I don’t mind hockey, but I hate my mother.
Jim from Critical Theory 2012: Born Under a Bad Signifier
by Damian Dressick
The clocks have been stuck at three for days, and while some people blamed the aliens who hover above Mellon Arena in their shimmering silver ship, Jim is pretty sure he’s responsible. He’s vowed to cease his chronic navel gazing and scale way back on his unrelenting what-if-ery, but even now catches himself wondering: “If only I’d stopped ruminating on all my past mistakes sooner, this might never have happened.”
Special thanks to Marc Corbier and Jessica Standifird for their editorial assistance. This week’s artwork is by Angela Maracle.
by Amanda Gowin
Your odds are one in three, there are two ugly stepsisters for every Cinderella. Used to be you could find a Prince by a tie, but now they all wear ties and say “ironic.” If you have to choose by tie, pick red not blue – they talk more, but at least think about gold, from the moment they’re born. Princes are weak, so make yourself weaker and smile. My big mouth lost your father to a stepsister. Put your heel in a crack and tumble, and if one of them catches your arm, don’t let go.
by Michael DeVito Jr.
There is no badge commemorating your 1000th rejection on yetanotherdatingsite.com. Yet Principal Garcia “strongly suggests” I give all my students false expectations by rewarding them with something.
“Life doesn’t work that way.”
“Here it does!”
So I make bright red “You Have Yet to Be Rejected” ribbons for every Jake, Josh, and Hannah.
At first grade assembly they stammer like newborn fawns on the stage.
I whisper, “Keep a hand over your heart. Protect your award.”
Don’t let anyone see what will be stripped away until it is absolutely necessary.
by Trevor Dodge
At halftime my sister pushed me into a stall and made me. She wiggled onto the pressboard toilet seat with grimy brass hinges and didn’t use one of those tissue things to cover it first. She told me to put my lips there. My knees groaned against the tile floor. When she caught the game-winning touchdown 20 minutes later I couldn’t be as happy as Dad so I didn’t even try. The ice cream he bought all us on the car ride home. My sister with her friend in the back seat. Mine just melting. Mom just watching.
by Nemma Wollenfang
The black waves are pitted with rocks, serrated razors that lacerate flesh from bone. Surf boils in a hectic froth; a maelstrom from which no heads surface. But I hear his cry, I hear his gasp and gurgle, and I wake.
“Is it the dream?” he asks.
Shivers roll through me as I nod.
“It’s not real, you know. I’m here.”
Arms like pythons tighten and I relax into his warm embrace.
The following night, once he has taken to the sea for King and country, I wake for neither thunder nor rain… nor the cries of the lost.
by David Sorensen
He’s standing outside my door again. If I looked through the peephole I’d see that sickly, flat-toothed grin, but I’m too chicken-shit to get up off the floor. This is the fourth time he’s come, and I’ve only been here five days. Sometimes it’s a bill through the slot on the door, sometimes a magazine, never a post card or wedding invitation or note from my secret admirer. I hear the flimsy catalogue paper flop on the linoleum and slither into place as his footsteps trail off. I should get a dog. I wonder if I can get one delivered.
As the weekend approaches it’s the perfect time to grab pen and paper, computer and keyboard, blood and guts, and arrange your words into a work of art. And maybe that work of art will be rendered in 100 words or fewer.
Telling such a short story is no easy task. Good story telling has conflict, characterization, is vivid, and makes you feel something. It isn’t about telling less of a story or including fewer details, but about efficiency of text. It’s about picking the details that imply a whole lot more than their brevity would suggest.
Consider the following examples from this week’s microfiction stories. In “Romania 1989” by Angela Maracle, we have the line:
“No good, he is Gypsy”
Just five words. But the way the dialogue is phrased gives us the speaker’s accent and tell us about cultural ideals.
In “Darla’s Notebook” by Bob Thurber we have the line:
Another told the story of Red Riding Hood being raped not by the wolf but the woodcutter
In seventeen words we not only get the reveal of what happened, but by using Red Riding Hood we get a characterization of the people involved. The girl is young and innocent; the person who hurt her should have been a protector.
As an exercise (one that I highly recommend to other writers since it forces you to really focus on what parts of your story are fundamental), I’ve taken a passage from the beginning of a novella I’m presently working on and whittled it down from 626 words to a mere 100, all while trying to preserve the story content and impact. Here are those first 626 words in their present form (feel free to skim):
The sound of the door opening late at night, even when done slowly and carefully, has always been enough to wake me from even the deepest sleep, flooding my nervous system with adrenaline and making my heart beat up in my throat. It’s got to be well past midnight. I’m home from college for the weekend, in my old bed in my old room. A sliver of light enters the room as the door cracks open, but there’s no tall, dark shadow like I’m expecting, and the footsteps are too light.
Soon there’s a whisper. “Jake?”
It’s Benny, my five-year-old brother. The tightness in my chest eases and I say, “What are you doing out of bed?”
“Mom wouldn’t let me stay up and say hi.”
“I got in way past your bed time,” I say.
He folds his arms on the bed and rests his chin there, staring at me in the dark, his bed-messed brown hair backlit by the hall light.
“Everything okay?” I say. “You didn’t have a nightmare, did you?”
He moves his face closer and whispers, “I had a accident.”
“I didn’t even drink any water. I don’t know how it happened.”
I sit up, leaving the warm comfort of my blankets for the cold house. Dad always turns the thermostat too low at night. I sigh and rub my face.
“Are you mad?” Ben whispers.
“No, I’m not mad.”
“Mom gets mad. Don’t tell her, okay?”
“I won’t,” I say. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
As I follow Ben out of my room in the dark, I stub my toe on one of the dozen boxes scattered around and have to bite my tongue not to curse in front of the kid. Ever since I left for college, Mom started storing all sorts of random crap in here. Old books, clothes, pictures, Christmas decorations. A broken microwave. I’m pretty sure the one I just hit my toe on is filled with tools.
I lead Ben across the hall into the bathroom. In the light I can see the entire front of his green dinosaur pajama bottoms are soaked as he stands on Mom’s pristine linoleum. He holds his hands together in front of his crotch like that might hide it as his freckled face blushes with embarrassment. I grab a folded washcloth out of a drawer and wet it with warm water, add soap, and hand it to him.
“Get the wet clothes off and wipe yourself down,” I say. “I’ll get you some clean ones.”
Then I leave him, go to his room, and step on the sharp head of a plastic dinosaur before I flick the light on. Sharp pain shoots up the arch of my foot and this time I let “fuck” slip out between my teeth. The kid’s room is a mess—dinosaurs, trucks, Legos, and a light saber all over the floor. Mom always makes him clean his room before bed so this must all be from some late night play session because he couldn’t sleep.
I strip his bed and load it all up in the washing machine in the hall closet. I find blue pajama pants and a Superman t-shirt in his dresser and bring them to the bathroom where I find him stripped naked and shivering.
“I’m really cold,” he says.
“These will warm you up.” I set the dry clothes on the lid of the toilet, grab his wet clothes and the washcloth off the floor, add them to the washing machine and start it.
Ben comes back out into the hallway, dressed, arms wrapped around himself, still shivering. “Can I sleep with you?” he asks.
“As long as you promise not to pee on me.”
“I promise,” he says.
And now comes the hatchet. KACCHHHITTTTT, and the following 100 words are left:
Home from college, sleeping, door creaks, small footsteps. Benny, my five-year-old brother whispers, “Jake?” in the dark.
“Nightmare?” I say.
“Please don’t tell Mom.”
Leaving warm blankets for the cold house, I follow him out, stub my toe, wince. Bathroom light illuminates Benny standing on pristine linoleum in soaked pajamas. Hand him a washcloth. “Strip and wipe.”
In his room. “Fuck.” A plastic dinosaur slices my foot. Load his bedding in the wash. Bring fresh pajamas as he shivers.
Getting dressed he says, “Can I sleep with you?”
“Promise not to pee on me?”
It’s a different form of writing and it has a different feel to it for sure. The trick, again, is to keep only the sharpest images—the ones that imply the rest, and get rid of any superfluous words or redundancies.
Here are a few things to consider when crafting microfiction:
- Is there conflict? What will people get out of reading it?
- Is there characterization? Are the characters’ motives clear?
- “Show don’t tell” still applies. Resorting to summary makes it difficult for a reader to connect with a story.
- Vagueness is not a substitute for depth. There should be enough in there that the reader gets the full picture.
Now write, you talented scribes!
It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the inaugural edition of Microfiction Monday Magazine! Five incredible stories by five incredible writers. Special thanks to Marc Corbier and Jessica Standifird for their assistance in making some tough choices. Artwork by Marylea Madiman. Enjoy!
Now is the Winter
by Dan Coxon
Outside, the blizzard ebbs and moans. In here it’s simply cold. My nose is numb, my eyeballs ache. I can’t recall the last time I felt the purple ghosts of my feet. I read somewhere that your blood is the last thing to freeze. The heart never stops trying to warm its sticky reservoirs. Like tea. Like a million rivulets of mulled wine. I peel off my gloves and start cutting.
Truth is a Bearded Lady
by Stephen Graham Jones
My husband has two hearts. He told me. When he was a kid, sideshow people were always lurking around to kidnap him into the carnival. But he got away each time, just barely. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t be together right now. But he only tells me about his second heart. His other wife thinks he’s like everybody else. She thinks he just has one heart, can just love one woman. I know the truth, though. He trusts me with all his secrets. If either of his hearts is bigger, then it’s the one he’s given me.
by Angela Maracle
The Americans run from crib to crib, looking for children with the whitest skin. I pick up a dark-haired baby, flick away flies.
“No good, he is Gypsy,” my interpreter says.
There are no colors, no toys in the orphanage. Bottles are propped against pillows.
“I want this baby,” I say, clutching him, even though I came for a girl.
I can’t take all of them. Some of them grab my skirt through the bars. We step over broken glass, and a stray dog passes by in the corridor.
The baby twists away from me and cries.
by Jon Gluckman
My uncle took me into the basement to show-off his train set. As he pulled a chain hung from the rafters, a sickly yellow light dissolved the darkness and silenced the crickets, illuminating a world in miniature. He had created hell on a sheet of plywood, where tiny houses on fire simultaneously populated and depopulated tiny towns. When he pushed a small black button screwed in beneath the table, a recording of people screaming began to loop. Bloody half stumps of commuters crawled from a multitude of car accidents toward a lake slicked with oil where they would surely drown.
by Bob Thurber
After my sister ran away forever, Mom found a notebook filled with crazy drawings and gloomy poems. One poem was titled FUCK and went on pretty much like that for several pages. Another told the story of Red Riding Hood being raped not by the wolf but the woodcutter, and another listed eleven ways you can kill a man so that he will die agonizingly slow. My mother showed the notebook to her boyfriend Carl who tossed it in the washing machine, added bleach, and set the machine on Heavy Load.