I’m just messin’ around! A cheap trick, admittedly. I’m not trying to win a million dollars, and the only help I need or want, is your feedback and support. Easy, peasy. If you feel cheated, you can step away now and I won’t know you were here.
This year I decided to try some new things with my writing; I want to push myself to do more in regards to putting my writing out there. Huffington Post has definitely been a challenge, and it’s been both rewarding and frustrating, depending on the piece and the day. Another challenge I took on was the 2015 Flash Fiction Challenge, sponsored by NYC Midnight (currently, they are sponsoring their annual screenwriting challenge). It is a 3 part competition, in which participants are given a genre, an item that must appear in the story and a location that must be featured as well. Three things that must be used in the story, and 1,000 words maximum to tell the story. Prompts are given at 11:59pm on a given date, and then writers have exactly 48 hours to write, edit and submit their stories.
I signed up for this competition in early summer, before I went to BlogHer’15; before I knew I’d be gone for more than 8 weeks, or that being there for the birth of my grandson would be so enormously impactful. As things go, it was not surprising when the date was announced and my daughter went into labor, that very day. So I wrote my first story in the hospital, in between periods of heavy contractions but little progression of labor, and long hours of waiting. I wrote it on about 3 hours of sleep in 50 hours awake. I was not in top form; that’s for sure! I asked my family and a few friends to read and give me feedback, as I went along. It was as serious push (not as serious as the one that brought my grandson 15 hours later, but…), but I sent my story in a few hours before the deadline and at 986 words.
This was a challenge on so many levels. I am not a mystery writer; I’ll start there. It is not my comfort zone, and I struggled with how to build tension, create mystery, but write in my own style. I struggled with a lot of things. However, I liked being pushed and it was fun. The wait has not been as fun! However, we were notified of our standing yesterday and I made it into the top 15, which qualifies me for round 2. Technically, all participants can go on to round 2, but the overall competition is based solely on points earned for each story, and if you got 0 for round one, you’re swimming upstream for round 2. I got a 7 out of 15… not my best work, but not my worst either, and I’m still in this rodeo! Part 2 starts this Friday and I will be given a new set of prompts, to work with.
I’m sharing my first story with you all now; I didn’t want to “jinx” it before. Wish me luck for round 2, and let me know where I could have improved this one. I always welcome honest, constructive feedback. Thanks!
Round 1 Challenge: Genre: Mystery; Location: An abandoned factory Object: A pair of snow shoes
A Missed Call
All three of them knew they shouldn’t be there, but the idea was too tempting. On the first day of spring break, with the snow still melting and nothing else to do, slipping under a section of loose chain-link fence and sneaking into the old place was a welcome distraction. They knew they weren’t allowed on the property, but as Mike pushed aside some broken boards, it seemed better than anything else they didn’t have planned.
“Dave, tell us again what you heard him say–– Why does your brother think this place is haunted?” Mike shined his flashlight up under his face, casting menacing shadows.
“Cut it out douchebag. I never said it was haunted.” Dave looked around warily. “I told you, Joe was talking on his cellphone a few weeks ago–– I wasn’t supposed to hear, but he said ‘they should never come back here,’ and that ‘she would probably haunt the place.’”
“Who’s she? And who was Joe talking to––what was it about?” Mike walked further inside, always the leader.
“I told you, I didn’t hear much. I think he was talking to Tyler Whitman, but how the hell am I supposed to know? I could barely hear anything.” Dave stumbled, splinters jamming into his palm as something clattered loudly across the floor. “Shit!” He held his hand to his mouth. “What the hell was that?”
Mike shined the flashlight toward the sound, as Gavin leaned closer, trying to get a better look at the object in the narrow beam of light.
Cobwebs hung from the ceiling and aged wooden beams. The boys swatted them out of the way, none of them bold enough to venture closer. A damp stillness held the cold.
“What? Are you both pussies? Go check it out.” Mike held the beam steady.
“Fuck you Mike! It’s just an old tennis racket or something…” Dave studied the object, but didn’t move. There was something familiar about it, but the heavy gloom and a sharp pain from his hand held him in place.
Dust motes danced in the light’s beam, and they heard the sound of water dripping somewhere in the cavernous space. Gray light filtered through the windows. Most were boarded, but the few that still had exposed glass were foggy and dark from years of accumulated weather and dirt. A few dusty beer bottles littered the floor.
The city had discussed tearing the place down– “It’s a blight on the river front” the paper had quoted one councilman, but no one wanted to invest in a property in rural Maine, that would require so much work. Instead, the factory continued to sit abandoned on the edge of town.
Mike focused the flashlight on the wooden object and nudged Dave.
“I don’t think it’s a tennis racket; it’s too wide. And what are those straps for?”
“Who cares? Just leave it.” Dave walked back toward Gavin, rolling his eyes as Gavin looked at him. “I thought you just wanted to see what it looked like in here? It looks like an empty building to me.”
Mike took a few tentative steps toward the dark corner.
Gavin nodded toward the exit, signaling silently to Dave. “This place is just a rotting old shoe factory. My dad says it’s been closed since the 80s or something. Let’s go.”
“Why would it be haunted? Gavin’s right; there’s nothing here. I think my brother must’ve been talking about someplace else.” Dave joined Gavin near the entrance, watching Mike’s back. “I don’t believe in ghosts, but this place smells horrible! Seriously, let’s just get out of here.”
“Yeah, but you definitely said your brother was talking about an abandoned warehouse or something– this must be it. And why haunted… aren’t you guys curious?” Mike turned to look at his friends, still pointing the flashlight around the room.
“I told you, it didn’t make any sense; he’s just been acting weird lately. I probably heard it wrong–– I think he was talking about some girl he hooked up with or something. Who cares? This is a waste of time.”
“I don’t give a shit who your brother hooked up with; this place is rank! It’s probably some homeless guys’ place,” Gavin added, pulling Dave toward the door. “It smells like he shit in here. I just got the new Call of Duty; this is a fucking waste of time.”
Mike turned off the flashlight and took one last glance back. He thought he saw the edge of a black blanket or something, but the fresh air felt good, as he followed his friends out of the building and they headed back toward the fence, back to town.
* * *
Deputy Steve Akins sat at his desk studying the file again. Having put countless hours into the case, they were no closer to figuring out what had happened to Kelsey Lathem. He’d met with her parents several times, examined and re-examined all of the evidence and information, but they still hadn’t found her. How could a seventeen year-old girl go out snowshoeing at the high school track, and just vanish? The question kept him up at night.
Akins didn’t believe the gossip: that she’d run away, that maybe she was pregnant. There was no boyfriend; she was doing ok in school, and her parents were good people. An athletic, quiet kid goes out on a late winter afternoon and doesn’t come home. No tracks, no one who saw her–– None of it added up.
He looked at her happy face on the missing person flyers her parents had dropped off. Her long brown hair, bright eyes, teal scarf and black parka, reminded him of his own daughter. It left him with a knot in his stomach. He’d worked on the force for eighteen years and never felt so helpless. She’s out there somewhere, he thought, as he put the file back in his top drawer.
* * *
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