Not too long ago, I joined a writing group on Facebook (Voices of the Darkly), and they hold a regular flash fiction competition within the group. The theme of the first contest this year is “meeting with death.”
Flash fiction, for those who are new to the genre, is a fictional piece written in under 1,000 words. (Click here for more information about it.) This particular contest required a story between 500 and 800 words.
Not only do I want to participate in the Facebook competition, but I also decided to attempt #52weeks52stories this year (hosted by Hollie Hausenfluck on Twitter), a year-long writing challenge.
Without further ado, here is my flash fiction piece that will fulfill both goals in one fell swoop!
On Her Birthday (PG – for those who need a rating)
“I already told y-” Eric held the phone back.
“What?” Gram’s voice echoed.
He smiled and sighed. “My car broke down, Gram. I don’t have time to-”
“Your car?” She yelled again.
“It’s…” he paused, checking his watch. “Gram, I’m almost at the bus stop.”
“Eric? Are you there? I can’t hear anything out of this da-”
“I love you, Gram. My bus’ll be here soon.”
“Oh! I hear you again! What bus?”
“See you soon.” He hung up and considered going back, but the next bus wouldn’t run for another two hours.
Eric turned. “Pardon?”
“I didn’t mean to listen in.” He moved his cane closer. “But I’ve been waiting here for over an hour. Can you believe that no one else has shown up?”
“What? Over an hour?” Eric sat down, shivering a little. “Someone should’ve told you what time to be here so you wouldn’t have to wait in the cold.” He could feel his blood boil as he placed Gram in this man’s position. Who told him to be here so early?
“I need the fresh air. I have a mighty difficult journey ahead of me, so I wanted to clear my head first.” He pulled a lifesaver from his exposed shirt pocket. “Want one?”
“Thanks.” Eric placed the proffered mint into his coat pocket. “Isn’t anyone worried about you being out here?”
The man laughed. “Oh, Sonny, everyone worries about me, but it’s useless. I’m going to do my own thing no matter what anyone thinks or says about it.”
Eric sat back. “You sound just like Gram.” He pointed down the empty road. “I’m on my way to see her for her birthday.” He checked his watch and tapped it. “Honestly, I don’t visit often, but they-” He took a deep breath. “They said she only has a couple months left.”
He followed Eric’s gaze. When he turned back, the smile from moments before was missing. “A couple months?”
“And it’s her birthday today?”
Eric smiled. “She loves birthdays. She-” He laughed. “She used to say, ‘Eric, the best thing about growing old is birthdays. You never know what weird stuff people will give you when they think you already have everything else.’” He laughed again. “So I try to get her something weird every year.”
“Weird? Hm. What’re you bringing her this year?”
“Well…” Eric tapped his watch again. “I had my eye on a couple oddities at the bazaar, but I ran out of time this morning.”
“Ran out of time?” He pointed toward the oncoming headlights. “Because of the bus?”
“Yeah. And my car. The gears wouldn’t shift yesterday. I thought they’d have it back this morning, but they said they’re working on unfreezing the something-or-other.”
“Ah, car trouble ruins the day. Too bad they don’t have a loaner.”
“Of course!” Eric jumped up. “Jerry knows Gram… Maybe he’ll lend me one for the day.” Eric turned to go, then turned back. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
He stood up. “You don’t need to worry about me, either.”
“Have a safe trip.” Eric held out his hand, but dropped it when the man turned and boarded the bus.
“Gram?” Eric knocked once and entered her room, the colorful glass gift in his hand. “Happy birthday, Gram.”
“Eric? Oh Eric!” She swooped in for a hug. “We’ve been so worried!”
“What are y-”
“The news…” The nurse, Nancy, pointed to the television. “We thought you were on that bus. We’ve tried calling and calling.” She prodded her finger into his shoulder. “You should know better than to do that to this dear woman.”
“But I… What? The bus?” He read the news ticker – no survivors – and fell back onto the couch. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t know.”
“We called you every two minutes,” Nancy accused.
Eric finally saw Gram’s red eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, which had died, and the mint. “The man-”
“Since you’re alive, we’ll watch something more upbeat.” Nancy changed the channel. “We need cake.” She turned to leave. “You,” she said, pointing at Eric, “don’t do that to us ever again.”
“Yes ma’am.” He placed the mint back in his pocket, making a silent promise to the man. “Gram, let’s open presents.”
He loved her laughter and her enjoyment of all the strange gifts she received. He could still feel her last bear hug as he walked out the front door.
Eric spun around. “Pardon?”
“Don’t worry, Sonny.” The man pulled another lifesaver out of his pocket. “I wasn’t here for her.” He walked to the car stopped at the stop sign and got in on the passenger side.
Eric watched it drive away. Then, he turned around and walked back inside.
Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.
15 thoughts on ““On Her Birthday: A Meeting with Death” — Flash Fiction, week 1”
Fun version of this. Love the literal use of a lifesaver 😉
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Thank you for commenting! This one was fun to write. However, I think it needs a new title to make more sense.
Great story and I liked that last bit with the man showing up again out of the blue. I felt a little lost with out much description. Since you aren’t limited to 750 and can go up to 1000, you may want to consider adding in setting description so don’t have so much talking head syndrome. When Eric starts talking at the beginning, show where he is. Is he in a bus station or at a bus stop. Is it snowing, freezing rain. Noisy from other people. etc. When the lifesaver guy appears, a quick description – frail, white headed, things like that will give the reader an idea of the man. Hope this helps!
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Thanks for your comment. I was limited in this one per the group’s competition requirements, so I didn’t have room for anything else. I had an 800 word limit (mentioned in the intro).
Eric did say he was almost to the bus station, and the other man says that nobody’s been around for quite some time. I do need more info about temperature, though.
The lifesaver guy’s supposed to be the personification of death, so his looks can change… Yet, I see how a bit of characterization could help.
I did try to leave clues about setting, including the man showing back up at the nursing home, but I can definitely work on that.
Well done! I love the bit about lifesavers. It’s a great play on words.
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Thank you! It felt fitting, and reminded me of someone. 🙂
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