Flash Fiction: NYC Midnight Round 1a (2017)
NYC Midnight is an arts and humanities web site that produces storytelling competitions for writers and film makers. One of the contests is a flash fiction challenge. Participants are placed in groups of approximately 30–35 people. At 11:59pm EST on a Friday, each group is assigned a genre, a location and an object.
Writers have 48 hours to craft a short story — with a 1,000 word limit. The top 15 stories in the round receive points: 1st place=15 points, 2nd place=14 points, etc. 15th place=1 point. The scores from round 1a are added to the scores from round 1b. Only the top five highest total scores advance to round two.
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Location: The scene of a car accident
Object: A bag of money
Score: The story scored 9 points, placing 7th out of 31 entries.
In last year’s competition, I scored 7 points in round 1a. Unfortunately, I followed it up with only 1 point in round 1b. The 8 point total was not enough to advance. Only the top five scores moved on. I finished 17th out of 35 writers.
The 9 points in round 1a ranks me in 7th place at the moment. I will definitely need to step it up when round 1b kicks off Friday night. There are writers from England, Ireland, Australia and the United States in my group! May the best pens advance!
A newly-divorced father in search of a fresh start drives cross country with his young daughter.
Holly stares at me with indifference, not that I should have expected more. For Holly was but a neon barrette, clipped atop my daughter’s head. It was the only thing visible in the rearview mirror, my daughter’s face obscured by an iPad.
“Holly, did you know Nebraska’s state insect is the Honeybee?” I ask my imaginary companion. My daughter looks up, rolling her eyes before returning her attention to a viral video. “Did you know 9–1–1 originated in Nebraska? Fascinating, right Holly?”
“My goodness, give it a rest.” My daughter shuts the iPad cover and shoves the tablet into my elbow. “This needs charging. It’s at five percent.”
“Oh, Holly,” I say, surprised. “Who is your new friend?”
“Jesus, Dad. Stop it. You’re being so lame.”
“Come on, pumpkin. It’ll make the hours to Denver pass faster if we talk.”
“We wouldn’t be moving to Denver if mom and you weren’t getting divorced. And if you had sold my cookies at work like you’d promised, we could’ve replaced my ninety-year-old iPad with the prize money.” She pulls the headphones up over her ears. The conversation is over.
“You still love me, don’t you, Holly?”
I set the cruise control, coasting along I-76 amidst an endless sea of farms. I think about my new life, one I had not asked for.
“I want a divorce,” my wife casually dropped during dinner. “Can you please pass the salt and grab paper towels?”
“What?” I slid the sodium across the table. I take the roll of paper towels from the counter, tossing it like a football. My wife reaches out with both hands, but ends up swatting the wipes to the floor.
“I’m bored. You never want to do anything interesting, ever. I’m so tired of it.” She rubs a buttered ear of corn into a mixture of salt, lime, pepper flakes and cotija cheese. I glance down at my plate, my corn dry as the Mojave, corn silk hanging all over it like a spider’s web in a dusty attic. “I’m joining the cast of a reality dating show. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Later that evening, I explain the situation to our daughter. “Mommy’s going to be famous? That’s so cool.” Not quite the reaction I had hoped for.
As we cross into Colorado, I tap the car radio to find a local station, hoping for a traffic update. Perhaps a call-in contest, saddest loser wins an iPad. Or a brand-new life. But before I can reach the scan button, I slam on the brakes, death-gripping the steering wheel. The car fishtails around a parade of mini-vans and pick-up trucks, barely missing a church group before settling in a ditch.
“Pumpkin, are you okay?” I ask. My daughter doesn’t reply. Instead she continues to snore, reminding me of my baby who once slept through a tornado. And who didn’t hate my guts.
“Are you alright?” said a woman’s voice.
I release the seatbelt and exit the car, stepping into ankle-high forage grass. In each direction, cars are parked on and along the highway, for as far as the eye could see. “What’s going on?”
“There’s a derailed train four miles down the road,” she explains. “We could be here for hours.”
I extend my hand. “My name’s Alex. I figured we’d join you in the ditch.”
“It’s gentlemanly of you to keep me company. I’m Maureen.” She leans on the hood of her Honda Civic and pulls out a joint from a cigarette case. She sees my astonished look. “It’s legal in Colorado. And we’re all stuck here together, for like a really long time.” She offers me a hit.
“No, thank you.” I gesture over my shoulder to my daughter. I approach her car, lean over and press my forehead against the tinted window. I count in my head. More than twenty gallon-sized storage bags in the back seat. “Is that all pot?”
Maureen laughs, taking a slow drag. “Yes, it’s from my ex-boyfriend, before he abruptly left the country.”
“Oh,” I respond, trying not to pry. “What are you going to do with it?”
“Well, considering he just took off this morning, I haven’t the foggiest idea. You looking for employment, Alex? I hear dealers make good money. Health benefits are a bit dicey, however. I’m starving. You have any food?”
“Daddy, what’s happening?”
“Everything’s fine, pumpkin.”
I turn to Maureen. “I have an idea.”
“I’m all ears.”
I open the trunk and grab a box of chocolate chip cookies. I toss the edibles to Maureen, who one-hands the box in mid-air. She winks and rips open an end. I unzip a large duffle bag, dumping all the clothes into the trunk. I empty my daughter’s backpack. “Out of the car, pumpkin.”
I introduce Maureen to my daughter. We fill the duffle with cannabis and cookies and head for the highway. We walk up and down for miles, multiple times as more cars join the logjam. We offer the stranded motorists a joint and a box of cookies — the “Opportunity of a Lifetime” special. I-76 turns into an all-out party. Music blasts from car speakers, turning the road into Lollapalooza. Helicopters drop supplies throughout the afternoon.
As the sun sets, we return to our vehicles. Two-thirds of the weed is gone, and all of the cookies. I open the bag, stuffed completely with bills of varying denominations. I hand eight-hundred dollars to my daughter. She takes it with a big grin and runs back to our car, knowing she’ll have a brand-new iPad soon. She lays down in the back seat, singing a song from the afternoon’s viral video.
I smile at Maureen. “Sorry we couldn’t sell all of it.”
Maureen gives me a kiss on the cheek. “That was awesome, Alex.” She grabs my hand and kisses me again, on the lips.
“I guess we should say goodnight?” I walk Maureen to her car. “So, what should we do tomorrow?”
“Something interesting,” she replies.