Technically, This is Sudden Fiction

The following post is a fictional narrative, inspired by the photo below. At 617 words, it is considered Sudden Fiction – a shorter form of the Flash Fiction genre. Comments and criticism (hopefully, constructive) are welcomed.

My shrink might as well be an Angel of Death – and not the merciful kind.

This stupid exercise – another curse in the technological advances of medicine – was supposed to curb my enthusiasm for cutting myself with sharp-edged objects.

Fatal mistake, Dr. Reaper.

Eyes downcast on my raggedy, unpolished toes, I contemplate whether or not I can brave – and bear – another look at the sad, holographic, representation of self standing before me.

I should have listened to myself. How many times have I lamented that same sentiment, while standing in the holocaustal aftermath of second-guessed decisions? You’d think I would have learned by now.

As I doffed my frumpy clothing, and donned the gossamer chamber gown – not yet an hour ago – Dr. Reaper assured me that I was making a valid choice. One look into the Spectral Reflector, and I would clearly see that I was so much more than my various, paralyzing, mental afflictions. I would see in myself what he saw in me, what my husband saw in me: some mystical creature with the endless potential for acute mental clarity.

I’d known others who had braved this dark cavity of hidden truth, and come out the other side better for it. They spoke of beauty, with intoxicating confidence. They had overcome. I was foolish enough to believe that I could prevail, as well.

A single tear slides down my cheek, splashing the shallow ocher grout between expensive, carefully broken, cerulean saltillo tiles – no doubt chosen to reinforce the supposed opulence to be found in mental salvation.

Auburn curls suddenly break loose from the restraint of their imprisoning barrette, softly grazing the thumb of my left hand; a hand protectively cradling my now sodden face. An imaginary face. A well-practiced facade for… for what? Little more than misted lunacy?

The cool, filtered air of the chamber blows delicately across my uncomfortably naked skin. The goose flesh creeping up my spine a tingling reminder that I am, I think, real.

I know that I must look again. (Much like goose-necking near a car accident.) I have to confirm that which I have known to be true all along… that without the frenzied madness of my psychosis, I truly don’t exist.

The light of the Spectral Reflector dances like the fantastically calming waves that ripple around a pebble tossed in the serene waters of a pool; but its iridescent beauty cannot belie my darkest of inner truths.

One more cossetting sigh. One more moment to deny.

I drop my left hand – slowly – from my eyes, and reluctantly face the reflection standing before me.

This magical machine – built to strip away all faults, and show us only the truest parts of our selves – mirrors not the keen eyes and brightly glowing smile I was promised: only the pallid shadows of vapor, and the chill of empty space.

I reach toward my phantom counterpart, and she reaches back. Our fingertips nearly connect… but the fog flutters away at the hint of my touch. I frighten even my ghostly self, it would seem.

Dr. Reaper’s voice, loud and startling, reverberates from a tiny speaker in the wall, “Have you had ample time to look? Are you ready to speak of the enchanting vision you have seen?”

I whisper back, with a heavy threaded knot in my throat, “Yes.”

“Ah, good! I cannot wait for you to tell!”

The door opens with a heavy thundering sound. Bright lights flood the room, and I turn towards the dressing antechamber.

Dr. Reaper will ask with hopeful anticipation that I reveal to him my hitherto unseen truth… and all I will say is that I have not yet carved deeply enough.

Ernest Hemingway Wrote Flash Fiction?!

While flipping through the Classifieds in Poets & Writers magazine recently, I skimmed over the words “Flash Fiction” in the “Call for Manuscripts” ads too many times to count; and found myself rolling my eyes as I sighed with weighted sarcasm.

As someone who has worked in the customer service industry for more than twenty years (most of them in call centers), I have had plenty of exposure to an up and coming younger generation that has lost the art of conversation (communication in general, really); and – due to our fascination with the brevity of social media – has the attention span of a gnat. (And let’s be honest, sometimes the gnats are a more focused audience.)

I couldn’t help thinking that “Flash Fiction” was simply a way of granting writers the lazy permission to call pieces that have less than 280 characters “stories.” (Damn you, Twitter!)

However, after a few moments of rather indulgent fury – and being the quintessential over-thinker – I realized that I may in fact be stereotyping based on my own limited experience. Paused in a calmer state of rational thought, I also acknowledged that I really had no idea what the term “Flash Fiction” truly meant. So I busted out the laptop, and asked the omnipotent internet for an answer.

I read several articles from different sources, but liked the article I found on reedsyblog best. In part, because it offered a downloadable word count cheat sheet that I found entertaining. (Though I laughed out loud when I read “… help create stories that are free from plot or pacing issues that can exhaust readers.” Clearly, they are not fans of Stephen King’s early novels. Which, by the way, I find fascinating.)

The first paragraph of the reedsyblog article says:

Flash fiction is a medium of brief and enclosed stories. Its average word count ranges anywhere from five to 1,500 words, but the consensus is that the maximum tops out at 2,000.

And on the cheat sheet, it specifically states ⚡Flash fiction: up to 1,500 – with a five-hundred count word gap between the 1,500 word maximum, and the 2,000 word minimum for short stories. Po – tay – toh: Pa – tah – toh, I suppose.

The article also offers a brief look at some of Ernest Hemingway’s “micro-stories”; references well-known works in “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” and “Aesop’s Fables”; and gives shout-out honorable mentions to other prolific writers.

Conclusion? Shorter works can, in fact, be art.

I am no Ernest Hemingway

The reason that I am rambling on about short fiction is because I was considering giving it a go today.

As someone who rarely writes (or speaks, for that matter) with brevity, shorter pieces present a difficult challenge for me. And lately, I’ve been in an I shall overcome type of mood.

In addition, I glanced at the 365 days of writing prompts from The Daily Post at WordPress this morning (which you can download here), and read this:

July 14
Opposite day
If you normally write non-fiction, post a photo. If you normally post images, write fiction. If you normally write fiction, write a poem. If you normally write poetry, draw a picture.

I normally write non-fiction (as you, Dear Reader, well know); so my first assignment for today is to post a photo.

What’s haunting about the “Opposite Day” suggestion is that I am a very visual writer. I far prefer having to write a story about an image over having to write one from a verbal and/or written prompt.

Add it all up, and you get this:

Poets & Writers Classifieds Frustration + Omnipotent Internet Inquiry + WordPress Writing Prompt + Image = Dare to Attempt a Flash Fiction Piece

Clearly, the universe is mocking me; and I (albeit, hesitantly) accept the challenge!

Stay tuned for a Flash Fiction piece based on the image above… though I can promise you, Dear Reader, that I am no Ernest Hemingway.