In the Group Flash Fiction Workshops, we write a complete story as a group in a limited time. Author Matthew Barron only serves as a guide and typist while the group determines everything else. Nothing is off limits as long as it is age-appropriate for all the participants of that particular session.
Will Raue, Susan Davis, Laura Terhune and Brian Rush
Guided by Matthew Barron
Hades sighs. “Do you really need to take all of that back to Greece?”
Persephone rolls her eyes. “It’s six months. I’m not going to take packing advice from someone who wears the same robes every day.”
“These are my work clothes!”
“Why don’t you ever wear that sweater my mother gave you?”
“I can’t be seen wearing pink and blue! Your mother knows that. She just gave it to me to embarrass me in front of the shades.”
“It’s not pink and blue. It’s Hera rose and Athens cyan.”
Two fire imps heft the massive trunk to the river Styx and Hades hears one of them whisper, “Charon’s going to need an extra coin to take this across.”
Hades’ face flushes a demonic red, but he pretends not to hear and turns on his queen. “I don’t understand why you have to be gone so long. What is so great up there that you can’t have here? Don’t I give you everything I have to give?”
She touches his cheek. “Oh, sweetie, I’d stay if I could, but you know how mother gets.”
“She hates me! She always has! She spreads those rumors about me and everyone just believes her! Why won’t anyone listen to my side?”
“Don’t worry about what other people think, baby. Your work is very important and keeps you stuck down here. That’s one of the reasons I go-- to be your representative on earth.”
As Persephone steps aboard the boat, a winged empusa swoops overhead and drops a marble sculpture into Hades’ hands, a model King and Queen of the dead.
“Oh, darling,” Hades says, “you forgot to pack the sculpture to give to your mother!”
She bites her lip and scrunches her nose. “Umm…maybe that’s not such a great idea. I don’t want to see her smash another sculpture after Pygmalion worked so hard on this one.”
Hades groans and eyes the beautiful marble. “Smashed! At Solstice dinner she said that was an accident!”
“My mother is very accident prone.”
“When it comes to us, anyway.”
Persephone plants a warm kiss on Hades’ cold lips. “It’s only six months. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Hades stands like a statue on the shore until the boat is out of site.
Hades barely notices Tantalus standing in his shallow pond. “My king, Hades,” Tantalus calls. “Why so glum? How can I cheer you up?”
I miss my Persephone so much. She has this whole life up in the daylight. I give her everything, but it’s not enough.”
“You, know, when I had marital troubles, I always got the best advice from my father. I would hope my son could feel comfortable coming to me when he has problems in that area.”
“You served your son for dinner!”
“Well, your dad swallowed you and your brothers whole!”
Hades thinks for a moment. “Fair point.” He turns toward the center of the underworld where his father, Chronus resides. Tantalus calls after him, “Before you go, maybe you could lower that branch so I can have a bite of fruit?”
Hades grabs the branch and holds it down, but then remembers his dad sleeps 23 hours a day and speeds off, letting the branch snap back into place so he can get to Chronus before nap time.
An imp shovels mush into an old bearded head while another wipes its mouth.
“Hello, father.” Hades says.
“Zeus?” Chronus asks.
“No, not Zeus.”
“No, not Poseidon. You know who it is, Dad.”
“Apollo isn’t even your son!”
“No, but he’s such a bright boy.”
Chronus scolds an imp for spilling mush over his beard. “You know this would be easier if you let me have my body back.”
“You know what happened last time you had a body. No more wars, dad. I came to you for advice.”
“So, you only come to see me when you need something, and then wonder why I don’t recognize you.”
“I’m serious, dad. I got woman problems!”
“Oh, that’s something I never had problems with.”
“That’s because there was only one woman to marry back then! And you had problems anyway. She still hates you for swallowing us!”
“I had my reasons. You had to be there I guess.”
“Gaea was a perfect mother in law. She never gave you any trouble. Demeter never comes here for Solstice dinner. We always have to go there, even though that’s supposed to be my half of the year. Last year she invited this man named Adonis to holiday dinner, sat him next to my wife and went on and on about what a great hunter he is and how all the nymphs chase him. Whenever Persephone gets back, I find divorce papers hidden in her luggage that Demeter snuck in.”
“That is annoying. Why don’t you just eat her?”
“Dad! For Zeus’ sake, I can’t eat Mother Nature! The world would become a lifeless husk!”
“You don’t even live on the world! Why should that matter? ”
“I have a job, Dad! Humans give us offerings and I take care of them when they come to my shores. Without the mortals telling our stories, where would we be?”
“Sound like you a human lover.”
Hades shakes his head and leaves. “It’s your nap time.” He wants to be angry, but Chronus is of a different time.
“Well," Chronus calls after him, "if you aren’t going to take my advice, get out of here!”
Hephaestus and the cyclops arrive for poker night and no one mentions Persephone once. Hades even finds himself laughing as Hephaestus jokes about making armored spanx for Zeus.
After six months, Persephone arrives on a shore decorated with millions of colorful flowers. She flings her arms around him. “Hades! Where did you get flowers! They don’t grow down here!”
“Nothing is too difficult to obtain for my queen! Did you have a nice visit with your mother?”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh, you know how parents can be.”
“At least she didn’t eat you!”
They laugh and walk hand in hand back to their castle.
Scott Hartman, Rianosauros, Paula, Aubrey Hunter and Shivani T.
guided by Matthew Barron
“You have your own room over here,” Dad says.
She walks into the barren bedroom and scans the blank walls. Paula scowls at the little fold out cot in one corner.
“It’s just temporary,” Dad says. “We’ll pick you out a new bed tomorrow.”
She tosses back her pink hair. “Fine.”
“Child, don’t you dare sass me! This isn’t easy for me either!”
“Of course it is! You kidnap me from Mom, take me away from all my friends and my cat just so you won’t get lonely.”
“That’s not true, Princess. I love you.”
“I’m not your princess.”
“Unpack your clothes and settle in. I’ll order in some sushi. You still love sushi, right?”
She scans the empty room again. “Unpack and put them where?”
“We’re going shopping with Felicia tomorrow. We’ll furnish your room any way you like.”
Dad’s Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he swallows. “She’s a cubicle buddy from work. You’ll like her.”
“Get out of my room! It is my room, isn’t it?”
“OK, Paula. You know I love you, right?”
Dad finally closes the door.
Paula squats on the floor and rests her head on her hand. Outside the window there is nothing but rows and rows of apartment buildings. “This is so ridiculous.” She snaps a picture of herself scowling with the empty room in the background and prepares to share it on Instragram.
“No Wi-Fi!” Paula screeches.
The door swings open and dad shouts, “What’s wrong?” But Paula isn’t there. Neither is her suitcase. A breeze from the open window ruffles his hair.
Pepper White, Sprinkles, Mountain Man,Toby Cat, Laghie, Bios,
Chunk, Caslela, Veobirto, Silly Sam, and Rosie Brooks
Guided by Matthew Barron
“Lilly!” Adam practically shouts her name. “Where is that notebook? The project is due today!”
Lilly pauses in the doorway with her arms crossed and mumbles.
“What?” Adam asks. “Speak up!”
“I don’t know. I don’t have it.” She turns her head and sticks her nose in the air.
“I know you have it! You were supposed to put the citations down.”
“What’s the big deal? You’ve got the poster.”
“The poster doesn’t mean anything without the citations. Do you want us all to fail?”
“Maybe it’s in my room somewhere.”
“Well, go get it!”
“It’s due now!”
“Here’s the key. You look for it.”
“I don’t want to go in there. It stinks!”
“My room doesn’t stink!”
“Fine, I’ll go with you.”
Adam fidgets while they wait for the elevator and Lilly stares at her phone. Finally the door dings. Adam covers his nose with his scarf in the enclosed space. Lilly sees his annoyance and sprays more perfume on herself.
“Can you not smell yourself?” The door opens and Adam stumbles out coughing.
Lilly opens her door and Adam see old pizza boxes and piles of dirty laudry, but her folders are color coded and her books are in alphabetical orders. He kicks aside a pile of laundry and spots a football jersey.
“You are actually really tidy, but the notebook isn’t here. This is someone else’s mess.”
“That’s Bobby’s. But he’s not in the picture anymore.” She opens a window and starts throwing the clothes out.
Adam checks his watch and sees that their class started 20 minutes ago. “Could this Bobby have taken the notebook?”
A tear drips from her eye. “Probably. I’m sorry.”
Adam puts his arm around her. “It’s okay. It isn’t your fault.”
”It is kind of my fault. I let him look at it and told him how important it was. Let’s go to class. I’ll tell the teacher what happened. ”
“Thank you. I’m sure the teacher will let us turn it in tomorrow. Can we work on the citations together tonight?”
She nods her head and wipes her eyes. “Yes. Thank you.”
Susan D., Reed A., Gail B. and Samantha Wathen
guided by Matthew Barron
August let out a guttural sigh and continued his work as though I wasn’t there. He banged the chisel against the ice and it creaked like chalk scraping against a blackboard, a sound I had never heard from one of August’s creations.
August knitted his brow. “What did you do, Cat?”
I stepped closer and looked over August’s shoulder. “Maybe you’re losing your touch. The bedroom is as cold as your studio.”
“How would you know? When was the last time you spent the night in our bedroom?”
The sculpture’s eyebrow seemed to lift in a way that made me feel she was mocking me, but perhaps it was August she was laughing at.
“That travesty was supposed to be for the event at Metazoa Brewing last night. Why is it still here?”
He caressed an all to familiar frozen cheek, the same cheek I saw in the mirror every morning, but the face is where the similarity ended.
“They cancelled,” he said.
“Did they cancel, or did you… again?”
August circled the sculpture and gazed longingly into the clear eyes. Weren’t they facing forward before? I must have been mistaken. It was staring at the door.
“I can’t let her go.” He caressed her exaggerated bosom again and the corners of the icy mouth twitched in a grimace.
“Did you see that?” I asked.
August’s mouth hung open, eyes wide. His breathing increased, and, despite the cold, sweat gathered on his brow. He shook his head, and his voice cracked. “Merely a trick of the light.”
Water pooled at the floor beneath the princess. I reached for her and the lips seem to open. I staggered, dizzy.
“You didn’t see that?”
I grabbed the hand. Its fingers curled around mine and our eyes met.
Elizabeth Jolly, Amy Jolly*, Linda Sullivan, Cindy Sullivan and Alan Dormlie Guided by Matthew Barron
She jumps three feet back from the sink and hugs her quilted jacket around herself. The smallest cat paw she’s ever seen reaches up from the garbage disposal.
“Where did you come from?” She retrieves the flashlight from the pocket of her quilted jacket and shines it down into the disposal, discovering her tortoise shell cat, Snickerdoodle, covered in coffee grounds and potato peels. Snickerdoodle shelters three tiny kittens, one of which doesn’t seem to be moving. “Snickerdoodle!” Peggy Sue exclaims. “I thought I hadn’t seen you in awhile. Oh, what adorable kittens! What am I going to do with you? ”
She lifts crusty pots and plates from the other side of the sink to make room and finds a clear spot on the floor to toss them, barely missing big gray Snuffles, who scurries away with a screech.
Peggy Sue reaches into the disposal. Big old Snuffles launches himself from a pile of empty pasta boxes onto the kitchen counter and brushes against the wall, trying to rub congealed gravy from his soft fur.
Peggy Sue jerks her hand out of the disposal and shoves Snuffles away from the switch which would trigger the rotating blades and munch up the little kitties along with her hand. “Bad Kitty!”
Peggy Sue reaches back in, but Mama Snickerdoodle withdraws further into the shadows and swats her gnarled hand with sharpened claws. Peggy Sue grasps wet fur and pulls out a slimy, limp body. “Oh, poor kitten. I’ll name you Mr. Lazybones." She finds a comfortable pocket in her quilted jacket for Mr. Lazybones to sleep in.”
She reaches back in, and another cat, Prince Twinkletoes, nudges against her, purring. The big slate Burmese is so pudgy that his weight bangs her elbow against the side of the sink, sending a shock from her funny bone into the rest of her body. Peggy Sue howls, sounding much like one of her pets, setting off the cats in the disposal to howl with her.
Prince Twinkeltoes, finally bored with Peggy Sue, begins licking dry gravy from the switch plate.
With one hand still in the disposal, Peggy Sue swipes Prince Twinkletoes with the other, trying to shove him away from the dangerous switch, but the cat thinks she is merely playing. He rolls over and bats at her fingers which are still tingling from the shock to her funny bone. He finally rolls over and falls off the counter with a thud, sending a sleeping Sphynx scampering and caterwauling into the recycling bin.
Peggy Sue decides to get the salad tongs out of a drawer and sticks them into the disposal. Snickerdoodle leaps from the tongs and plants all four legs on the countertop while hissing at Peggy Sue.
The tongs latch onto something and pull a tiny, ginger kitten head first from the rubbery flaps. Its eyes are still closed as Peggy Sue cradles the squirming bundle against her chest.
“Oh, I never thought I’d see the birth of my very own child! The Flat Earth works in mysterious ways.”
Peggy Sue hears faint mewling and remembers the other kitten. She retrieves a wiggling black kitten from the jaws of death and brushes wet coffee grounds from its pink nose. “I’ll name you Schrödinger.”
Tiff, Ms. Fashion, Joseph, Batman, Jeff, Tomas, Jarrid, Paul P., Wonder Woman, Evan, Master Jedi Yoda, Subzero, God-Ian, Spider Man, ZZ, Cait Egerton, and Jeff, guided by Matthew Barron
All she can think about is getting home to her mom and stepdad before the cops catch up to her.
A scrawny dog barks as she walks by the graffitied walls, but otherwise the neighborhood is strangely quiet. She ignores the dog and continues on, trying to make her way home. She knows the cops will not understand why she had to burn the place down.
The barking suddenly stops. She looks behind her, and the dog is gone. Where did it go?
She holds out her phone and takes a selfie, then sends it to her mom with the caption, “Don’t open the door for anyone but me. I’ll explain when I make it home… If I make it home. I love you.”
The snow crunches in the alley, so quietly that she would normally not hear it but the neighborhood is eerily silent. She crosses the street, keeping her eye on the alley, but slips and falls in the middle of the road. A shadow grows on the brick wall, the giant silhouette of a man.
She smiles when she recognizes the face. “Jimbo!” she exclaims. “You made it out!”
But as Jimbo gets closer she notices that his hands are raised in an unnatural way. His legs gallop in short, quick bursts, zigzagging closer and closer. His skin is chalk white, like a piece of paper.
He is not the same man she knew before. He is one of the monsters meant to be destroyed when she lit the fire.
Cait picks up a rock. Her boots slip, but she manages to stand and she puts up her fists. If this is the end, she is going to go down fighting!
Jimbo focuses on the rock in her hand and snarls. He doesn’t even think about her foot before it lands on his face, sending him sliding over the icy street.
It buys her some time, and she takes off running. Now she knows she didn’t get them all and she needs to make it home more than ever. Her mom and stepdad are in danger!
She finally spies her home at the end of the street, filling her with new hope. She might actually make it!
But something isn’t right. The lights are off in the house. She circles the building and sees one dim light coming from the kitchen. She peeks in the window and sees the refrigerator door hanging open. Mom would never leave the refrigerator open. She always yells when Cait holds the door open trying to decide what to eat.
Ka whips out her phone and dials her mom. No answer. But she can hear the phone ringing upstairs.
“Mom!” she yells.
She doesn’t expect a response, but she has to try. Rather than take the door, she decides to climb the drain pipe. After so many hours of parkour, this is easy for her, but even so, after climbing in the window, she is out of breath. It has been a long day.
She dials the phone again. The ringing echoes from the hallway. She peeks out of the door, and sees her mom hovering over her stepdad, William, a shotgun in her hand. Cait cheers for her mom, but then the bathroom door bursts open.
Cait plucks the gun out of her mom’s hands and shoots Jimbo, blasting him out of the window.
She turns back to her mom, smiling with pride, and wraps her arms around her. Her mom’s grip is tighter than she remembered, nearly suffocating her. With a sinking heart, Cait kicks her mom away. She uses her parkour skill to run up the wall and past her mom, sliding down the stairs and running to freedom. She can’t bear to hurt her mom, even if she is a zombie.
Laura Edwards, Mary Fitzpatrick, Lynn Frost, Reed Hartman, Melissa Kocias, Steve Peters, Bob Richey, Suzan Spitzburg, Loren Adel Ver with Matthew Barron
She wouldn’t let that happen again in the Temporal Accounts department. It had taken her a year to get approved for this transfer.
She smiles, nods, and sits. She repeats everyone’s name as they are introduced. Despite the surprise ambush and her crippling anxiety, things couldn’t be going better. Brad’s assistant, Conner, brings them all steaming foam cups. A brown circle forms on the table under Mary’s cup.
Mary hates coffee, but everyone else drinks, and she must fit in. She follows their lead and sips the dark, bitter beverage. A little drips on her white sleeve, but no one seems to notice.
She places the cup back on the table and folds her hand over the new stain. The brown circle expands under the cup.
Brad beams. “I’m so glad you like the coffee. It’s my personal blend. We live on it here.”
“Oh, it’s really good!” Mary takes another sip, barely hiding the disgust on her lips. The brown circle continues to bleed under the cup.
The staff drones on about a new time micromanagement app they would be beta testing this week. The new app will allow making small, surgical changes in time in order to affect larger outcomes instead of the unpredictable large scale manipulations of today.
She can feel them all stealing glances at her as they drink their coffee, noticing she hasn’t taken another sip. She lifts the bitter liquid to her lips. Something hot falls on her chest, drips down under her shirt and over her belly. Dark brown drips down her hand and she realizes the cup is leaking. She chugs the rest before any more can escape. Maybe now they will let her go to her new cubicle and get started. She didn’t become a temporal accountant to make friends.
Before she can object, Conner pours more coffee in the cup, filling it to the brim. Their eyes meet. The brown circle continues to creep, leaving an irregular puddle on the table. Conner smiles as though waiting for some further reaction. Mary lifts the cup to her lips and the bottom completely falls through. Hot brown scalds her wrist and sternum.
A light flashes.
Mary repeats everyone’s name as they are introduced again. She looks down at her pristine white blouse.
A dark circle forms under her foam cup, but Conner replaces it with another, saying, “This one should work better for you.”
Brad winks at her. “Welcome to Temporal accounts. Where we fix everything in past.”
Indypendent show Group A 11:30 am Sunday April 2, 2017
Justin Little with Matthew Barron
Jack recognized Jon, a trader who visited town frequently, but Jack had never seen him so disheveled. Littleburgh had been raided, the town burned to the ground. It instantly brought horrific images of the night four years ago when bandits had killed Jack’s parents. Jon said the raider’s next stop was here.
Men and women mounted the walls and armed themselves at the gates. Jack grabbed a gun and waited. He was too young last time, but this time, he would fight!
The waiting was painful, but the thundering hooves got louder and louder and Jack could feel the pounding in his jaw.
The people on the wall released flaming arrows. Jack wished he could see if they were hitting their mark . Men on the wall shouted and the gate creaked open. The bandits weren’t equipped to deal with a town that was prepared. Their horses were already down when Jack and Jon rushed out of the gates with rifles blazing. It was almost comical to see the bandits darting away on foot. The refugees from Littleburgh let out a cheer and chased them down, but the villains escaped into the woods.
The raiders would be back, but Jack and the town would be ready.
Baryn Barnes with Matthew Barron
Leroy shakes his head. “No one in the hood drinks Jack Daniels. You don’t want to stand out when we get to Jacki’s. If you see Leroy run, you run.”
Baryn raises an eyebrow. “Are you serious?”
The loud clatter of cigarette boxes and smashing bottles resounds through the store. In the overhead mirror, Baryn spots two men in ski masks pointing guns at the cashier. Baryn pulls Leroy aside and they duck in the aisle.
Boom! A shot rings out. By the time Baryn and Leroy reach the cashier, the robbers are gone and the cashier is on the floor, chest heaving, blood pooling underneath him.
An old man with leathery skin starts shouting from the door “You just shot that man!”
“It wasn’t us!” Baryn insists.
“I saw you!” the man continues to shout. “A white man and a black man ran in!”
“That wasn’t us!” Baryn repeats.
“He won’t believe us!” Leroy says. “Run!”
Leroy takes off. Baryn is trailing Leroy, but catches up quickly. “Where are we running to?”
Sirens blare behind them, and the old man shouts, “They went that way!”
“Crap!” Baryn shouts. “Let’s just stop and explain the situation.”
“They won’t believe us!”
Leroy grabs Baryn and the inertia pulls them both to the ground.
“Damn it Leroy!”
Leroy points at the cop cars surrounding the train station.
Leroy takes off running in another direction. “Keep to the shadows.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
Leroy finally arrives at a rundown tenement. They climb the stairs and bang on door 3B.
Jacki pulls open the door. “Your early! Party doesn’t start until 10:00.”
Leroy gives Jackie a kiss on the cheek and sinks into a comfortable chair.
Baryn is out of breath. “What are you doing? They’re going to catch us!”
Leroy shakes his head and pops open a beer. “Nah. Not anymore. We all look alike.”