This time, I'm it's Flash Fiction, meaning I have to write a story under 1,000 words. That's not the only bit. Entrants are given a genre, a place, an object to use in their stories, and 48 hours to compose and submit it.
My bit? Genre: historical fiction; Place: subway; Object: pencil.
First Round: 2nd place, 22/25 points in one of four rounds.
The next story guidelines drop at midnight tonight. Wish me good writing. Here's the story I took 2nd place with:
In June of 1927, Jimmy McMurphy lost his job, along with hundreds of others, when the Cincinnati Subway project shut down forever. His closest friend, Henry Amato, shows up to deliver a message that will change his life even more than the closing of the tunnels.
Jimmy rubbed his pencil sideways on the concrete, more concerned about working it to a point than the mark he was leaving on the floor. Satisfied, he shifted on the stairs, and wrote on a defunct work order: Talk to Margaret.
Yep. That would have to be first.
The word cracked like a bullwhip through the bare bones of Liberty Station and the adjoining tunnels. But Jimmy had been on for years and was used to the noises in the tunnels. He looked towards the source and was not surprised to see Henry Amato emerge into the din of the remaining lights.
Jimmy looked back at his list. “Heya, Henry.”
“What’s eating you, McMurphy?” he asked “We all took off hours ago.”
“I don’t know. Thinkin’ things through, what to do next.” He looked up at Henry. “You got a ciggy?”
Henry pulled one out, handed it over, and flicked his Zippo.
“Don’t worry. They’re short on cash. They’ll get it together and we’ll be back up before you know it.”
Jimmy took a puff and looked up. “You really believe that?”
Henry shifted his gaze.
“Don’t be a sap,” said Jimmy. “It’s 1927. It’s hard everywhere. You don’t send hundreds of guys packin’ because you’re a little short on dough.” He rested his elbows on his knees. “Foreman said so: ‘Nobody’s coming back.’”
“Yeah,” said Henry, his mind elsewhere, and snapped back. “So what you thinkin’ of doing now?”
“I don’t know,” said Jimmy, grabbing a handkerchief to mop his sweating head. “I guess they’re still building in New York. Have an in here in Cinci packing pigs.”
“Yeah,” said Henry, and smacked Jimmy in the shoulder, laughing. “You in a slaughterhouse. Don’t razz me.”
Jimmy chuckled, picked up his pencil again, and wrote one word – Orient – as the second item on his list. He rolled the paper like a scroll between his hands and looked up at the dark ceiling. “You know anything about the Orient?”
“What, like Chinks and shit?”
“Yeah – I guess – but the Far East. Mystery. Unknown. Maybe danger?
“Been at this gig six years, Henry. Never had less than one job all my life. Now I’m dropped and it’s scary, exciting.” Jimmy’s eyes lit up. “We could start again. Anywhere. It doesn’t have to be Cincinnati.”
Henry stepped back from Jimmy and turned away.
“McMurphy, you really are a damn earful.”
“I just have to figure things out with Margaret.”
Henry’s shoulders slumped. “About that,” he said.
Immediate panic wrenched Jimmy from his glowing state and cranked his head towards Henry.
A sigh escaped Henry’s lips and for the first time in years, Jimmy noticed how empty an echo the tunnel produced.
He turned. “She’s gone, Jimmy. She – she sent me to tell you.”
Jimmy jumped, his hands fists, his breath short, his eyes burning. They’d had problems, but Gone? Why?
He took two steps towards Henry, pointed at him. “You’re lying,” was all he could choke out.
“No.” Henry stepped back.
“If you’re makin’ this up, I will plant one on your kisser so damn hard.”
He could tell by the look on Henry’s face he was telling the truth. Jimmy moved back and slumped down on the steps, burying his head in his hands. “Where?”
“Her mom’s in Cleveland”
Jimmy looked up. “But how? I haven’t even been –”
“C’mon, McMurphy, you’ve been stewing in this hole almost four hours. All the guys are home. We live in the same neighborhood, for Chrissakes. You don’t think word would travel?”
“Has it been that long?”
Jimmy’s eyes shut of their own accord and in that darkness, he saw red, saw Margaret and her parents in Cleveland. Orange was his own home. Alone. Breathing and breathing all the way to New York. Blue. The mysterious Orient was somehow washed in a purple white.
He opened his eyes and started – Henry was right in front of him, stooped so their eyes met. One of the two overhead strings of lights went out. They both looked up.
“You okay?” Henry asked. “Thought you went off your nut there for a minute.”
“No, I’m –”
SMACK! came Henry’s hand. “Then snap out of it, McMurphy. Come over to my place. Anna’s been saving some gin. We’re going to get an edge. It’ll be like a regular juice joint. To hell with the world.”
Jimmy stared at Henry’s brilliant grin with both amusement and sorrow. “Then you’d better go,” he said.
The remaining light glowed around Henry’s head as he stood. “Don’t be a wet blanket.”
“Henry? Scram. And I mean that.”
The last string of lights flickered – but remained lit – in Liberty Station.
“I’d better go then.”
Jimmy smiled. “Yeah, you’d better.”
Henry walked back into the darkness from whence he came. “See you later?”
Henry’s head turned back over his shoulder to see the man on the stairs. “Hey, don’t take any wooden nickels, you harp.”
“You neither, ya wop.”
And he was gone.
The scrolled-up paper lolled back and forth on the concrete, pushed by whisps and whirls of what would never become a real ventilation system. Jimmy picked up that paper and rolled it open.
On the top: Talk to Margaret
And underlying it all, the orders and plans that had given his life structure for the last six years and now meant even less than the marks scrawled over them.
On the top: Talk to Margaret. She would need time. He would need time. Jimmy picked up the pencil once again and scratched out the first item.
“Yep,” he said aloud. “That would have to be first.”
He leaned over and drew, again, on the concrete, in no discernable pattern. Loops and whirls gave way to crossovers and blank patches as the graphite wore away and the wood of the pencil folded over on itself and allowed not one more thing to be written.
UPDATE: Are they trying to kill me?
GENRE - Romance
LOCATION - A mountain summit
OBJECT - Nail clippers
I'll have more later.