This past weekend all of NYCMidnight registrants were either excited or solemn about the second challenge in the first round of this year's Flash Fiction contest. Rankings were posted late last week and many of us in the Twitterverse were not happy, though some were. Rankings encompassed people receiving points (or not). You could get from 1-25 points. The higher the points the higher your ranking. I was in the top 15, but rated pretty low with 2 points. Those not in the top 15 received a score of 0.
That being said a low score on the first challenge doesn't necessarily remove you from the entire challenge. You can score pretty high on the second challenge and the combined score, if high enough for your group, could carry you to the next round.
Feedback I received from members was generally very complimentary and helpful. Comments from the judges noted that my science fiction piece was sci-fi all the way (score!) but a bit too political and not subtle enough (nuts!). I do like the story and as mentioned in my previous NYCMidnight post I got inspired pretty quickly and wrote it within a few hours. I'll more than likely edit it down and rework it a bit and see if I can submit to a lit mag that specializes in science fiction. We'll see. First I have to get through my growing literary and YA projects.
This challenge I received the following: genre, horror; location, aquarium; item, mouthwash. Pretty random huh?
I have to say I didn't like it at all. I've read and seen a lot of horror in my day but have yet to write any successfully.
Since the flash fiction challenge takes place from 11:59pm on Friday to 11:59pm on Sunday you can imagine being blocked may hinder your creation. While I was gung ho about my story last challenge I was completely (read: completely) blocked for this one. I wrote several drafts that I hated and the damn aquarium was getting in my way! I didn't want to utilize any animals in the aquarium as that seemed too easy. In many moments of being blocked I thought "What would Stephen King do in this situation?"
One of the contest members sent me this freaky post about a giant worm that ran rampant at an aquarium in the UK for inspiration. Did you check it out? Way creepy, no?!
In the end I wrote a piece I semi-liked. And when I was done I realized that the location prompted was not a predominant locale in the piece. I tried to rework it in the remaining time I had but it just wasn't working. So, there is an aquarium but the judges may disqualify me for not having a majority of the action inside it. Eh. I wrote and submitted and cheered my fellow writers on. Doubt I'll make it to the next round, but there's always next year.
So, here goes nothing...here's my 2nd challenge entry, First Date:
I noticed him working at the café in the Pacific Aquatic Center. I was there for a school assignment. I saw him staring at me before quickly turning away as I sketched the stingrays. He's one of those lonely, quiet boys. Keeps his head down, barely speaks, but is polite, has a nice smile even.
Our date is at the aquarium. He can get us in for free. A perk he says. When he picks me up in his beat up car he seems happy to not be wearing the prerequisite sea green shirt and hat with a copyrighted mermaid on it.
As soon as he steps out the car to get our tickets I check the glove compartment. Soap, mouthwash, toilet paper, hair gel, and deodorant spill out onto my lap. I grin when I see the bulging garbage bags in the backseat, shoes scattered on the car floor.
He isn't quiet when we have sex in the aquarium. He pushes me up against the shark tank. As marine life swims around us he presses against me, whispers in my ear that I am beautiful and lovely and all those nice words he thinks girls like to hear during.
After, I smooth my skirt and he checks the fly on his jeans. The air is musky and damp, water under our feet. He takes my hand as we wander through the makeshift sea around us. He tells me this was one of his favorite places to come as a kid. I nod as he talks about his life now that his parents are gone. Losing mine is something I'm trying to prevent.
He tells me he had a nice night. Kids holding balloons shaped like sea turtles and dolphins bump into us while we're in queue to exit.
“It doesn't have to end,” I say. “I live right across from here.”
He starts to shake his head but I hold his face still with my hands.
“I'll take care of you,” I assure him like I do all the others.
He whispers it seems like everything creaks once we're in the house. He holds back but I take his hand, urge him to follow me.
He asks if I hear something, a buzzing underneath us. I almost curse under my breath at my mom working when she's supposed to be resting. I shake it off, force a grin.
“I'm on the first floor,” I whisper. Pointing upstairs I tell him, “My mom's room is up there.”
I see his shoulders lower and him relax.
I close the door behind me. Move to sit on the edge of my bed and lift my skirt a little higher, mid-thigh. The edge of his lips curl. I know he'll do whatever I want.
He clears his throat, asks if I have anything to drink. “Maybe a beer?” I tell him I have something stronger. I open the drawer beside my bed, pull out the round yellow pills, offer him one on the tip of my finger. He hesitates before taking it and swallowing. He watches me as I pretend to do the same.
I push him down on the bed, lay atop him. He's about to start in on his litany of beautiful words when I place a finger on his mouth and tell him to “shh,” just “shh.” Within minutes he's out, his limbs limp when I pick one up to make sure.
I change into my work clothes. Remove the skirt, pull on my overalls and boots. The clear poncho goes over everything. I grab my goggles and consider how heavy he'll be.
I pad down to the basement. See Mom's back hunched over as she starts the table saw. The lower torso of my previous date in front of her drained and chilled, ready for slicing.
Our packs are dwindling. Only a few crimson ones hang on the walls.
Mom coughs into her elbow. “We may have to find a bigger town,” she says without looking up.
“Yeah. Maybe a big city? No one would miss anyone then.”
“Maybe. So expensive though.” She turns to me. Her face is paler now. Her plastic apron is pristine and I remember her when she was a healthy homemaker. Before she got sick. Before Dad left. Before she stopped being a nurse. Such a shame to bloody it.
“How's this one?” she asks, motioning upstairs.
“He's nice. Homeless.”
Her lips go wide, curl up at the sides. “That's my girl.”
“He's an okay lay too.”
Her smile turns to a frown. “You know I don't like to hear that.”
“I used to hear you and yours you know.”
Mom's cheeks turn as red as the contents of our packs. She mumbles, “I hope you're at least being safe.”
I roll my eyes, put my hands on my hips. “Duh. I'm always careful,” I say.
Mom approaches me, takes off her thick gloves. Her hand shakes as she reaches to pat my cheek.
“I know you are, sweetie. I love you.”
Now my face blushes and I look away.
“You've handled this really well,” she adds.
“I had to. Dad was so chicken shit--”
She holds up a hand to silence me as she sighs.
“The cancer is spreading, sweetheart.”
I try to push her hand away but she closes in, hugs me.
“Yeah and I found someone. I'll keep finding someone until you're well. We'll hoard as many organs and blood and marrow as possible.”
I look around the basement. At the tubes, sharp metal, and machines meant to help us transfer blood. At the freeze locker emitting white smoke. At the severed head of the last guy I met, his eyes closed thankfully.
“I know,” she says into my hair. “You're so proactive. A go-getter.”
I tell her she'll be fine. I'll take care of us.
“Speaking of which, I'll go get him now.”
[© copyright 2011 Jennifer Baker-Henry]