Albert Liu
Nov 8, 2017 · 5 min read

Flash Fiction: NYC Midnight Round 1b (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: Ghost Story
Location: A soup kitchen
Object: A padlock
Score: The story scored 7 points, placing 9th out of 31 entries.

Combined with the 9 points in round 1a, I totaled 16 points, just missing the 18 points total the overall fifth place writer scored (Only the top five advanced to round 2). I needed three more points! Overall, I finished tied for 6th out of the 31 writers in my group. Oh so close! Until 2018…keep on writing!

Text #63

A brave teenager uncovers the mystery behind her father’s murder.

Winston stood at the threshold, eyeballing me as if he reconsidered allowing me to enter. I clenched the cell phone in my pocket, thinking about what had drawn me to the man I suspected had something to do with my father’s murder. I was determined to find the proof.

“You must be Annalisa. I’m Winston. Thank you for volunteering. Dinner will be served in four hours. Three hundred people will come through these doors tonight. You ready to help?”

“Hello, Winston. I’m glad to pitch in,” I replied politely, not wanting to raise suspicions. Entry was essential. Once inside, I could investigate, find the truth due my father.

I loved my dad. Even though he traveled constantly, making long trips to the city as a journalist, he’d always made time for me. We took tap dance together. He taught me to fish. We camped in Montana. But I hated his assignments, mostly investigative and often undercover. The reporting was dangerous. A counterfeiting outfit. Teachers trafficking heroin. A black-market adoption ring, which is how my dad found me when I was only three-years-old. In his very last assignment, his editor had tasked him with looking into homeless men gone missing. All had eaten at this soup kitchen or stayed in the adjacent shelter.

“Take these,” said Winston, handing me a combination padlock, apron and bottled water. “You can secure your belongings in any open locker. Find Sister Lilian in the kitchen when you’re done. And make sure you hydrate. The air conditioning is broken. It’s quite hot inside.”

I nodded, waiting for Winston’s departure before getting my phone. I snapped pictures of the room, then thumbed through the texts from my father, sixty-two messages in total — all received after his murder.

[#1]: I love you, Annalisa.

[#2]: I miss you.

[#7]: Congratulations on senior debate team.

[#11]: Happy 17th birthday, Anna-poo. And Merry Christmas today too.

The police couldn’t detect the signal’s origins. As a small-town department, they lacked the resources. Then they suggested it might be a friend. Just a sick joke, the lieutenant assured me. Block the unknown number, he recommended. But I couldn’t do it. Because I missed my dad. And although the texts brought tears, they also provided smiles.

I replied to the messages but always got the same error — undelivered. Yet, I knew it was him. I felt dad’s presence — warmth radiating from his fingertips, through the phone and into my heart. I absolutely believed, even when the mood of the messages changed.

[#44]: Let me go.

[#47]: Anna, you don’t need to do this.

I looked around the large, cluttered room. Boxes of food strewn everywhere. Old clothes on hangers, dangling from long, metal racks. Floodlights barely illuminated the space, as if the caretaker had purposely used the dimmest bulbs possible. Yellowed newspapers lined the floor like landmines. Perhaps a clue laid hidden amidst the junk. I flipped through dad’s texts again.

[#52]: I’m fine now, honey. Don’t worry anymore.

I needed to get to Sister Lilian, lest my delay tip off my true intentions. Turning to leave, I heard something scramble above, like a mouse scampering across rickety wooden planks. I looked up at the ceiling, noticing a handle connected to an attic door. I scanned the room for a ladder or a chair, but nothing.

[#57]: Stop, Annalisa.

I took a deep breath and a drink of water. “You can do this,” I convinced myself. I wiped the perspiration from my forehead with the apron. I smiled, then bit into the apron, ripping it in half. I tore off several long strips and tied them together. After connecting five strands, I attached one end to the padlock. I couldn’t stop sweating, finishing the water with two big gulps. It took seven tries, but I eventually got the lock through the handle and tugged.

[#62]: I beg you. Don’t go tomorrow.

I quickly ascended the steps into a blackened room. I stumbled getting my bearings. I turned on the phone’s flashlight, squinting to make out the shadows. Someone knocked on a door below. I rushed to undo my contraption, sticking the lock into my pocket and pulling up the stairs.

“Mr. Winston? The potatoes girl hasn’t come yet. Hello?”

The voice eventually disappeared. I held my phone tightly, tiptoeing towards several objects lining the back wall. I began to feel lightheaded. I looked down to find a bloodied padlock, with its combination written in marker — 11/19/61. Under the lock was a glass jar. It housed a severed finger. I cupped my hands over my mouth. A folded tracksuit and brown loafers sat in a box. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I found fourteen other piles.

At the end of the stacks, I saw it — Dad’s belongings. His recorder. Eyeglasses with a built-in camera. The polyester suit I helped pick out at the thrift shop. I heard the attic door slam and drop, startling me.

“Hello again, Ms. Annalisa.”

“You’re going to jail. I’m calling the cops.”

“Is that right, young lady? And are you still thirsty?” Winston laughed. He dropped the empty water bottle to the floor.

The dizziness accelerated and I collapsed. I pulled the phone in close, blinking my eyes. My fingers numbed as I frantically tapped the blurry screen. As Winston approached, I grasped the padlock, preparing it as a weapon.

“I see you didn’t lock up your items like I asked you. Look at the combination. It’s made especially for you. And please meet my mother, Sister Lilian. My father was like all of these men in here, worthless filth who took a young girl’s innocence.”

I turned my head to see an old woman, her empty eyes and drooping shoulders. Both hands clutched an empty jar. Winston took the lock and displayed its combination in front of my eyes — 12/25/99. I heard my phone vibrate. Right before blacking out, I looked at the phone screen one last time.

[#63]: I love you, Anna-poo. See you again soon.

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