Symptoms are like a trail of bread crumbs left in the forest. The astute eye can follow the trail and diagnose what they lead to. Symptoms can mark a character in a story — an empire builder, a floundering mother, an addict. It can reveal fear, dementia or even gold.
This week, writers accepted a challenging prompt. The following stories are based on the March 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story to reveal a character’s symptoms. The results are stories that writers followed like a trail of bread crumbs.
Empire Building by Larry LaForge
“Isn’t this a sign of a bigger problem?”
Edna laughed while shielding her closet. “Don’t be silly, Ed. Everyone needs shoes.”
“True. One per foot.”
“And what pray tell might be the bigger problem?” Edna asked, still laughing.
“World domination,” Ed deadpanned. “Empire building,” he teased. “They’re lined up like loyal subjects awaiting the queen.”
Ed knew what was coming when his wife crossed the hall to his closet. There were only two pairs of shoes, but an army of objects aligned the spartan space.
“Hmm,” Edna thought out loud. “Why would a guy need dozens of baseball caps?”
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.
Flash Fiction by Irene Waters
Patricia stood on the picket line next to Lilly holding her hand. Black in white. It hadn’t always been this way. In the sixties Patricia remembered she avoided Lilly, the bully of the playground. to avoid the bashing Lilly always gave her.
Her mother told her “Abbos are born with a chip on their shoulders.”
Patricia believed her, then. Her Mum was always right. That was until she found out about the violent racism, welfare disparities, stolen generation, no right to vote or land.
She sighed. Not much had changed. “Stop the cuts to indigenous legal services” she yelled.
Addicted by Susan Zutautas
Gotta go see Dave … Hell, he’ll hook me up; I’m only twenty short.
Where did I put my damn phone? Ah there it is.
Shaking I dialed, the sweat dripping down my face.
Hey Dave, John here, can you meet me in ten minutes at our spot?
Sure bro, want your regular?
Shit Dave’s not here, now what do I do.
Pacing back and forth I spotted him.
I thought for a minute you weren’t gonna show. I’m twenty short, can you cover me?
Uhhh …. Sure, no problem.
Later, man found dead from overdose.
The Answer I Already Knew by Roger Shipp
“Did Dad see the end of the game before he was called away?” I asked the question, but in my heart I knew the answer. I had carefully scanned the bleachers every time the coach sat me out for a minute or two; I had not seen Dad the entire night.
“He wasn’t able to get away from work tonight.” Mom said.
I loved Mom. No sugar-coating of things. Mom never lied to me. I could depend on her.
“Coach is naming me MVP for the team,” I whispered. “Will Dad make the ceremony?”
I already knew the answer.
Overheard Kitchen Conversations by Ula Humienik
Mother was talking on the phone. She must have thought her little girl playing on the floor too young to understand or hear.
“I feel as if something’s missing. A void I cannot fill,” tears covered mother’s cheeks.
Little girl stood up and hugged mother’s legs. A hand reached down to push her away, the wrist revealing scars. Little girl obediently sat back to her play.
“I cannot find myself in my life,” mother continued to the receiver.
Little girl observed mother. She also wanted to cry, but was too afraid.
“I have nothing to live for,” she heard.
Teaching by Pete Fanning
Darren sits slumped at his desk during review. His book is open, but he’s gone.
What was it this time, Darren? Go to bed without dinner again? Did your uncle stop by? Mom have a new boyfriend?
With group activity underway I reach into my desk. Then I roam. I stash a snack inside his desk. He knows where to look.
I have favorites, okay? Fire me. Fire me for refusing to give them homework. Fire me for spilling tears in his IEP file. Fire me for rolling my eyes at Admin.
But don’t fire me for being human.
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER by Tally Pendragon
Soaring high above the disc on wings of exquisitely fine-chiselled thought-forms … following the orb as its light flows, slow as honey, to illuminate plains and mountains … listening to chittering nastinesses, poised to become the creatures of the dungeon dimensions … so many friends, Unseen, underneath, treading cobbles, tending dragons, Oblong to Post Office, lost now, no anchor to hold them fast to the disc.
Oh, agile mind, where are you? The Creator’s lifeblood slowly, inexorably cut away, piece by piece dismantled, will raise no more steam on disc or globe. But the legacy will never die. The End.
Breakfast in Bed by Sarah Brentyn
“I hate these,” she fingered the rough cotton of her hospital gown.
Her husband looked at the ceiling, a loud sigh escaping his lips.
“I’m the one getting stuck with needles. What’s your problem?”
“Whatever. Always bitching. Oh, sorry. You’re a guy. I must be the bitch. So you’re, what, a passive-aggressive asshole?”
The door opened. “So,” the doctor began as a larger unfamiliar man followed him into the room.
Her husband jumped up. “Is she…?”
“Of course I am,” she spat. “The nausea, fatigue, vomiting. How far along doc? And who’s this lughead?”
“This is officer Norwood.”
Know Your Father by Geoff Le Pard
In her dreams, Mary saw her father standing by the rockery while an unidentified man buried the child’s torso. Even in the dream she knew her father wasn’t involved in the killing or the mutilation but why was he there at all? She told her half-brother.
‘He trusted people. They took advantage.’
At first Mary thought Rupert mad but after a while she saw what he meant. For a year after her mother died he would help anyone who needed it – a charity overload. For a time the house was full of all sorts. Maybe one of them..
Aliens by Luccia Gray
Someone had locked the door and hidden the key, so he crawled out through the window.
His clothes and shoes were no longer where he had left them, so he walked through the streets in his slippers and pyjamas.
When he tried to return, the house was no longer on the same road. They had built a lake in its place.
He flew across and landed in a spaceship where some Martians were experimenting on a new species.
He smiled at the alien and asked, ‘The man in that mirror looks familiar. Is he your chief? what’s his name?’
Symptoms by Norah Colvin
The children suddenly appeared: one bedraggled and muddied, the other exuding authority.
“Brucie tripped her. On purpose!” declared Jasmine.
“Come on, Marnie. Let’s get you cleaned up,” said Mrs Tomkins. ”Then we’ll see about Brucie. Is your mum home today?”
Marnie looked down and shook her head.
“Will I help you with that jumper?”
“A jumper? It’s too warm . . .” Her thoughts raced.
Marnie turned away. As she pulled up her jumper, her shirt lifted revealing large discolorations on her back.
Over the years Mrs Tomkins had seen too many Marnies; too many Brucies; never enough Jasmines.
So Little Time by Rebecca Patajac
He walked in the door. Little feet came running with tiny fingers reaching. Nudging aside a few toys strewn across his path, he made his way to the couch. Little feet followed, their voices tumbling over each other as they fought for his attention. He picked up the oldest for cuddles as the littlest ran off. The littlest returned, struggling to drag him a rocking horse before pounding a tiny fist on his leg. He released the oldest despite protests and gathered up the littlest, mind whirling with tiny voices of complaint and excitement, eyes flicking back and forth.
The Misfortunes and Life by Ruchira Khanna
Dan was pacing the room in anxiety.
Mom inquired, but he would not give any clues.
Finally, she gave up and was about to exit the room, “What if history repeats itself.” he said out loud.
That froze her feet; she turned around and quickly hugged him with tears rolling down.
Gulped her fear and after taking a deep breath, “Misfortunes dare not come near to those who embrace life with confidence.” she said while patting his back.
Dan cringed at the sight of his car-crash but was quick to utter, “Amen” to get a grip on himself.
Nightmare by Sarah Unsicker
Cecilia’s eyes shot open as she jolted upright. Carlos, her baby, needed her. The doctors were ignoring his cries, and she alone could help him. As if in a dream, Cecilia dressed to answer his call.
Gloria, always on their side, blocked the door. Cecilia shoved her sister, but Gloria braced herself and was barely moved by Cecilia’s violence. Gloria grabbed her sister and held her tight until Cecilia succumbed to her restraint.
The women’s tears mingled as Cecilia’s panic faded. She slowly emerged from her nightmare. To visit Carlos, she would have to bring flowers to his grave.
The Shadow by Phil Guida
Like a shadow that keeps reappearing
You can’t hide from your age.
You can’t deny it
You can’t postpone it
You can’t run from it Kim Kardashian!
You will see that your fame won’t even save you.
There’s no saving 21, 35 or even 50
Your age is what it is.
So take your fame and paint your face with each day
a little older and another wrinkle to hide
age will catch you too eventually
like all other mortals passing before you
eclipsing the beauty you’ve known
into wrinkles of an elderly woman
whose fame died long ago.
Flash Fiction #2 by Susan Zutautas
I walked into the room and saw grandma hunched over sitting on her bed staring at the floor.
Grandma, what’s wrong? Are you feeling okay?
After a big sigh she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and replied, I’m just thinking of your mother and how so much I miss her dear. It’s not fair that she was taken from us so young. For you to grow up without her is a tragedy.
Sitting down on the bed to comfort grandma she continued. They take the good ones way too soon, way too soon. More tears.
Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin
What was wrong with the boy? We’d given him so much. Clean sheets, sturdy boots instead of moccasins, a proper education. When he was sick, we had the doctor dose him with medicine, not those stinking herbal potions and dances round the fire. When he was lonely, we bade him kneel before the Lord.
Yet he wouldn’t succumb. Parading in bonnets and dresses, he mumbled about being two-souls, male and female both. It saddened us to take the lash to him, but we had no choice. We had to beat the Indian out of him. For his own good.
Bad Weed by Pat Cummings
Bob dumped his field pack by the campfire, gently so the water vials in it wouldn’t break, and rotated his paper log away from any sparks.
“George,” he observed, “I don’t know what’s got into you! You been dragging and jerking around all day!” George rolled an eye at his partner, and stood mute.
“Better believe I’m logging your antics. We’ll see what the home office thinks about your gold-bricking!”
Bob’s notes about his horse George’s symptoms would provide vital clues to the location of loco weed plants. Loco weeds fix arsenic, an indicator element for distributed gold deposits.
The End by Sacha Black
“Symptoms? These aren’t symptoms, Tyler, this is cause and bloody effect.”
I stooped to the ground picked up the scorched sand and let it fall through my gloved fingers. I scanned the horizon, now a permanently singed rainbow.
“I think it’s simply beautiful.”
“Beautiful? Are you insane? We are all going to die, Tyler. We were warned, no one listen, and now the oxygen is running out and there’s only sand left where crops should grow.”
“Yes, but have you ever seen the Earth look so stunning? If this is it for humankind, then what a spectacular final image.”
At the Doctor’s Office by Charli Mills
“She’s had five fender-benders, Doc.”
Dr. Gladwell walked back to Ramona. She glared across his shoulder, the strips on her brow cut puckering.
“I heard that.”
The doctor turned around. They were alone. “What did you hear?”
“Just that I’m angry with the girls. They left their cell phones in my fridge, and I have to drive around looking for them. Always sneaking off with friends when they promised to stay with me.” A tear slipped down her wrinkled cheek.
Later, Dr. Gladwell confirmed his new patient gave birth to twins. 1962. Daughters. Both stillborn.
Symptoms of Unrest by Sherri Matthews
Muriel waddled into the doctor’s office.
“What can I do for you,” asked the doctor while staring at his computer screen.
Muriel sniffed. “Well, my nose feels blocked and according to my husband, I snore.”
“Have you tried nose strips?”
“Err…no. I think I might have a sinus infection actually.”
“Get some nose strips and see me in two weeks,” said the doctor, still tapping away.
“Oh, just one more thing,” said Muriel as she headed for the door. “I think my husband is trying to murder me.”
The room fell silent as the doctor, at last, faced his patient.
Anxiety in Control by Paula Moyer
Everyone around Gloria knew. All her life people had alluded to it, just said “Gloria’s a worrier.” And in the 1920s and 1930s, being a “worrier” was all she had to work with.
The family motto: “Don’t worry Mother.” Her daughter Frances’s bike wreck caused a black bruise from her chest to her knee. Gloria knew nothing. Frances hid her bruise.
Her third baby, Anne, was breech; the doctor told her husband, but not her: “Don’t worry Gloria.”
When Anne needed shots for asthma, Gloria’s hand shook so she could barely give them.
Frances, 11 years old, learned how.