Flash Fiction: Recess/Standards/Bed-Time Story

Today, believe it or not, is NOT a Miranda-Writes-LitCrit day.

Today is a Miranda-Writes-Fiction day.

The background: Last summer, I found out about the Flash Fiction challenge, and thought it looked fun. I didn’t have time to actually compete in it either last year or this year, but I had some time today so I thought I’d have some fun with their prompts.

The basic premise: You are given a genre, a location, and an object, and you must use these in a short story. The story must be under 1000 words.

I picked out a couple of prompts, and came up with the following. I didn’t always use all three of the parameters given, since I was just doing this for fun, but I kind of liked the results.

 

MISSION REPORT: RECESS

Genre: Spy.

Setting: A playground.

Object: Leather boots.

5.12.2016. Time: 12:37 post-meridian. I’m at the playground. Target is in sight. I am concealed beneath the slide. He is playing on the monkey bars. He has not yet spotted my position.

Agent 002 is mixing with the populace, pretending to play on the swings. After our extensive mission briefing, though, I know her mind is only on her job. Our job. The most important job we’ve ever had. This is no mere training operation. This is Operation: GET PETE’S GUMMY WORMS.

Rarely has our agency attempted a more delicate task. We cannot fail. We must not. Too much is at stake. These aren’t just any ordinary gummy worms. These are sour gummy worms.

Mary and I have already agreed that she’ll have all the blue ones and I’ll have the green ones. Jenny— I mean Agent 003— says she likes the red best, but Mary thinks Jenny might be a spy for the other side, so we’re keeping an eye on her, too. Agent 004 is standing and talking to her by the fence. They’re watching Pete from there.

Update: Agents 003, 004, and Simon have started playing tag. It looks fun.

My mind is only on my mission, though. I don’t have time for such frivolous activities as tag. There are sour gummy worms at stake. I know Agent 002 will not abandon her post either.

Agent 002 has left her post.

This must be a cover, right? They’re trying to draw suspicion away from themselves. More civilians are mixing in the game. Brandon just joined, and Kira too. Target is still on the monkey bars, but he seems to be watching the game. Does he suspect something?

Target has joined the game! Brilliant work, Agents! I’m sorry I doubted you! Clearly, they will acquire the gummy worms while his attention is occupied. As long as Miss MacArthur doesn’t call us inside soon…

I have changed my position. I am now on the swings, watching the game. Enemy agent Tommy is on the swing as well. We know he has designs on the gummy worms too. We will not, I repeat, WILL NOT, let the enemy get there first.

Tommy says he has Goldfish in his lunch bag. All I have is a stinky old snackbar. I offer a trade.

Tommy says no. I say, “Fine.” We swing in silence.

I watch the tag game with increasing alarm. The other agents have proved curiously incapable of acquiring the target’s gummy worms. I shake my head at the incompetence of humanity in general. Tommy notices, and asks me why I am shaking my head.

“Just at the incompetence of humanity in general,” I tell him. “Oh,” he says. He is quiet for a minute.

“Hey, I don’t want your snackbar, but we can share my Goldfish if you’d like,” he says. I turn to him in disbelief. Accept Goldfish from a rival? For free? That would put me in his debt. This could be dangerous. No clear-thinking, self-respecting agent would consider his offer for a second.

We share the Goldfish, still sitting on the swings. He notices that I am watching the tag game intensely.

“Want to go play?” he asks me. My mouth is full of Goldfish. I swallow. I think for a minute. He is a rival. He has his eyes on those gummy worms, which are ours by right. He could be trying to get close to the target, to get to the gummy worms before we do. Clearly, it is my duty to go with him to keep him from achieving his nefarious goals.

I have joined the tag game. I have not been IT yet. Tommy has been IT twice. Both times, he tried to tag me. Using my careful training, I have avoided every danger, and kept myself in close proximity to the target.

Tommy tagged me! He actually tagged me!

I clearly have one duty: to get to Pete. Those gummy worms must be mine. I look to my agents for backup, hoping to communicate my plans to them in one long, meaningful look.

They are all standing by the fence with Pete and Simon and Brandon. They are all sharing a bag of gummy worms.

The tag game is over.

Tommy comes up behind me. He says, “You know, my mom gave me some fruit roll-ups in my lunch today too. Do you want one?”

He has found my one weakness, the one treasure I hold dearer than sour gummy worms: fruit roll-ups. The man is clearly a master of spy craft.

Have I finally found an agent to equal my powers of deception?

I look to my agents. Mary is eating the green gummy worms as well as the blue. Perhaps a new partnership is in order.

“Thanks, Tommy,” I tell him. “I love fruit roll-ups.”

STANDARDS

Genre: Mystery.

Setting: A secret bunker.

Object: Picnic basket.

“Pass me the cheese, darling,” Henrietta says, holding her parasol delicately above her head. In front of us, we have quite a nice little picnic, neatly spread out on a red-and-white checked cloth. Somewhere, far over our heads, we hear the sound of bombs falling.

I pass her the cheese board. A delightful Camembert is oozing in the heat of the bunker. Paper lanterns hang all around us. Each is a delicate shade of pastel, and they cast a soft light over the scene. Behind Henrietta’s head, there are shelves and shelves of basic supplies: strawberry preserves, quince jellies, smoked hams and fine red wines. There is sliced prosciutto on our charcuterie plate, and a lovely patê we picked up when we were last in France. The rest of the prosciutto is on a shelf with the other hams.

Henrietta twirls her parasol, gazing at me through her long lashes. Her dress is of the finest white muslin, trimmed with Italian lace. It’s been years since we were in Burano, but Henrietta was careful to stock up before the war.

Somewhere outside, a bomb falls. I hardly notice, as I raise my glass in a silent toast to my beautiful companion. She laughs her silvery laugh, and delicately nibbles a slice of buttered toast.

The picnic basket lies next to me. I reach into it for the wine bottle. Henrietta smacks my hand with her fan. “Reginald! Now really, would it be genteel to have another glass?” I smile dashingly at her. I know my smile is dashing; I’ve spent a lot of time practicing to ensure that it should be. She is dazzled, I can tell. She pouts at me a little, but does not stop me from refilling our glasses.

The sound of another explosion reaches us from outside. It is louder than the others. Henrietta is unconcerned; she is complimenting me on my cufflinks.

They are rather elegant, if I do say so myself. Then again, I am always careful to dress in the most impeccable taste.

A third bomb falls. This time, we cannot ignore it; the bunker shakes a little. Henrietta turns in alarm, to see if her precious wine bottles are safe. They are. However, one of the Chinese vases has fallen to the floor and smashed. Regrettable, most regrettable. We can only hope our supplier’s wares will survive the war, so that we may replace it.

I clap my hands rapidly, and Winnifred comes to clean up the mess from the smashed vase. Winnifred has been our maid for as long as we’ve been married. Before that, she was Henrietta’s nurse. She’s getting on in years a little, but she’s still as devoted and properly deferential as ever. After all, we can’t allow our standards to drop just because there’s a war on, can we?

Given the circumstances, Henrietta and I decide to conclude our picnic. We rise, and repair to the other end of the bunker. There are more paper lanterns, with cushioned wicker chairs and a view of the Mediterranean. Of course, it isn’t a real view of the Mediterranean, but the artist we hired did a fantastic job. Of course he did. We wouldn’t hire an incompetent, after all. I told Henrietta when we married that she should have nothing but the best, and that’s what I intend to give her.

I believe I did a rather good job with our bunker, all things considered. I do wish I could have finished building the arboretum, but some things are not meant to be. Anyway, Mrs. Hodges over in the next bunker hasn’t got one half so elegant. She’s been eating canned beans, I hear. Canned beans. I ask you, is this what humanity is reduced to?

Well, Henrietta and I are quite happy in here, thank you very much. She is sitting in her favorite wicker armchair now, with her gown spread around her on the seat as she works on her embroidery. She embroiders wonderfully; everyone says so. All of our cushions in the bunker bear her work. After all, it’s only proper that Henrietta continues with her ladylike pursuits while we wait for the war to end. We wouldn’t want to return to society only to find that we’d forfeited our proper place in it.

Lord Winstanleigh has quite lost his, by the way. I hear he and his wife are actually sharing their bunker with street urchins. I ask you, what has the world come to when the descendent of an ancient and noble family lowers himself to share his lodging with petty thieves and dirty children? Henrietta and I loathe children. They only get in the way. I’m quite sure I must have been the most terrible little prick as a child. It’s a wonder that my nursemaid put up with me. I’m sure my parents never would have.

Anyway, it’ll all go back to rights once the war is over. It can’t be long now. They told us it would be over by Christmas. I’m not rightly sure what day it is now, but I know Christmas can’t have happened yet. After all, there have been no carolers. But as soon as the first wassailer shows up on our doorstep, Henrietta and I will know it’s safe. And then we will be sure to replace that Chinese vase, and we’ll be careful to avoid accepting invitations to Lord Winstanleigh’s dinner parties. Wars come and go, but the essential niceties must be observed. After all, where would we be without standards?

BED-TIME STORY

Genre: Action/Adventure.

Setting: A rainforest.

Object: A toy boat.

Strong waves lashed the sides of the boat. The storm tossed the little craft like a piece of drift wood, as the current rushed it into the gaping jaws of the rapids. Jack knew those rapids well. He’d navigated them safely before, but never under these conditions.

Around them, the jungle shook. The highest trees were whipped by the relentless winds, as the storm attempted to tear them down, to smash them through all the layers of the forest. Jack couldn’t see this, of course. He could barely have seen his own hand in front of his face, had he been inclined to raise his hands and give the wind and the rain and the flying debris of the forest more area to buffet.

He could just hear the sound of branches crashing down on the shores of the river, through the frenzy of the water and the howl of the gale. The river boat pitched violently, and Jack barely avoided being thrown right off. He called out desperately to Anthony, trying to determine if he’d managed to keep his footing, but if there was a reply he didn’t hear it—

“No,” Brian said.

“No?” I replied.

“Anthony can’t have fallen off the boat. He has to be hiding or something. You promised Anthony would save the day!”

“Who cares about stinky old Anthony!” Mikey cried. “Daddy, what happened next?”

“Daddy, you promised,” Brian pouted at me. He stared up at me with an accusatory gaze.

I crouched down, my face level with my son’s. “Brian, would your daddy break a promise to you? Now, do you want to finish the story or not?”

Brian sulked for a minute, but muttered his assent. I lifted up the toy boat again, with two green army men valiantly clinging to the deck. Mikey had demanded a rainforest story, Brian had wanted a boat and a thunderstorm. I’d done my best to satisfy them both, but each of them insisted on his own favorite army man getting the main role in the story. It seemed that a POV-switch would have to happen in order to keep the night from ending in chaos and war. Whenever that happened, the dog would always end up trying to eat the entire plastic army and no one went to bed happy.

I began again.

Jack called again, hoping against hope that Anthony had somehow survived the ship’s tossing (“Why?” said Mikey. “Shh!” said Brian). He still couldn’t hear a reply, but when he shielded his eyes from the rain with one hand he could just make out the shape of his friend, clinging to the boat at the other end of the deck. There, you see, Brian?

Anthony’s replies had been lost in the howling wind, but he was actually doing much better than his friend.

“They’re not friends!” both of my sons angrily exclaimed. “Who’s telling the story here, me or you?” I asked. With some grumbling, they settled down again to listen.

He’d been in more storms than Jack, who was used to navigating lazy jungle rivers. Anthony had survived much worse at sea. But he didn’t know about the alligators.

“Alligators!!” Brian and Mikey happily cried.

Yes, alligators! Lots and lots of them! If Anthony had known about them, he would have understood why Jack was so worried. Anthony was actually kind of enjoying the storm. He wouldn’t have expected such a gale on a slow rainforest river.

That’s because creative liberties sometimes have to be taken when your average audience member is four-and-a-half, I thought to myself.

Jack, down at the other end of the boat, had more reason for worry. They were coming up on the rapids fast. He didn’t want to end up smashed to pieces, or worse: alligator lunch.

“But you said it was midnight! That’s not lunchtime,” Mikey said triumphantly, proud of catching Daddy in a mistake. My stories were generally well-known for their logic and internal consistency.

Ah, but alligators have different mealtimes than us! You see, alligators eat four meals a day. They have breakfast at our dinnertime, lunch at midnight, and dinner in the morning.  And a snack at noon, if they wake up. They’re nocturnal, you know.

“I don’t think that’s—” Brian began doubtfully.

Anyway, Jack didn’t want to be alligator lunch. He tried to signal Anthony to come over to his end of the boat, but Anthony couldn’t understand why Jack kept waving his hands around. For a second he thought Jack was doing the Macarena, but that couldn’t be right. Jack gave up in the end, and tried to make his way along the boat to where Anthony was standing.

“I thought it was tossing around in the waves,” Mikey said, trying to call me out again.

“Maybe the storm stopped,” Brian said.

You boys are forgetting that Jack’s an experienced sailor! He’s used to all kinds of weather. He’s been out on the sea in much worse storms! He’s—

“You said that was Anthony!” Brian cried. “Stupid Jack’s never sailed anything but a stupid river before!”
“Hey, Jack’s not stupid!” Mikey protested angrily. “He’s much better than boring old Anthony. Anthony doesn’t even know there are alligators in jungles!”

Before Brian could open his mouth to retort, I quickly said, “If you two can’t get along, then no more story for tonight. Go brush your teeth, and lights-out in fifteen minutes.”

Brian and Mikey slunk off their beds and made their way to the bathroom. I collapsed into an armchair, the toy boat in my hands. Phew. Another minute or two and I would have had to invent a conclusion to the story. I hadn’t done that in weeks. I didn’t know if my constitution could stand it.

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