It’s Badgerdog tradition for each workshop to choose a name, and this high school flash fiction workshop settled on The Bestsellers. Though this name was rather tentatively agreed upon, it seemed more and more fitting as the week went on. Every time students shared their work with each other, their peers would marvel at how great it was. There were common refrains of “Wow!” and “Why is everyone so good at writing?” “Because you’re all Bestsellers,” I would quip.
In our week-long summer camp, we took a tour of the conventions and possibilities of flash fiction. We discussed the art of subtext, implication, and leaving things unsaid (or, in the words of one of our workshop members, leaving the reader “thinking space”). We considered how to write titles that say a lot, even, in some cases, telling a “story within a title.” We also considered the difference between genres: what poetic meter, imagery, and form can offer to flash fiction and even how the difference between these genres may not be so clear-cut. You’ll notice that some of the students’ work includes both prose and poetic sections, inspired by a hybrid form known as haibun, which blends prose and haiku.
And all the pieces rise to the challenge of flash fiction: telling a satisfying story in under 1000 words.
Badgerdog Teaching Artist
Lauren Kinney is a writer and musician in Austin, Texas. Her fiction, literary criticism, and multidisciplinary work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, 7×7, The Turnip Truck(s), and elsewhere. Her song “Travelling” was published in Vol. 2, No. 1 of The Turnip Truck(s), a Notable Special Issue of 2016 selected by Leslie Jamison in The Best American Essays 2017. She received her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she works at the L.A. Review of Books.
Maybe I Don’t…
Although there are many things I own and love. My clothes, my books, and all the other random items that, for some reason, I’ve grown an emotional attachment to. However, there are a few things that I could probably just do without. I sometimes wonder; maybe you don’t need that faded Despicable Me shirt that’s 4 sizes too small anymore. Perhaps it’s time to say goodbye to the deformed piece of clay that your third grade self once called an “art project”. Maybe it’s time to move on from the bright red Spider-Man sunglasses that you thought made you a cool kid in 2013. And don’t even get me started on all the stuffed animals in your room that you’ve definitely outgrown.
And those ugly pants
And your baseball uniform,
And maybe that hat
And those shorts from 4th grade too
And the stale jelly beans
On second thought, I need to clean out my closet.
The Wandering of a Mind
Most of the time, I could do without the dark. I get the chills, and jump around, or feel at ease. And sometimes they mix and I don’t sleep. It depends, like it depends if we’re born at all. It depends, like it depends if we live to 1, or 2, or 200. I see things lurking in the dark, that aren’t really there. And I know that there aren’t. But I still feel like they are. I hear the crack of a stick, and my mind wanders. But not the good kind. It wanders about the fact that it could be, or not be, ok. And I know, it’s ok. But I feel like It’s not. And that is scarier than I think, until it’s dark outside.
Most are not scared of
The dark that lurks around, no
Matter what, it’s there.
Most are not scared of
The sun going dark now, but
That brings chills, and fright.
Most are not scared of
What their mind comes up with in
The dark, musing night.
I had been watching them quarrel through the window every single day. My neighbors were a young couple that had moved in next door to us after they got married. For the first 4 months, everything was silent and they were in love with each other, but then after the fourth month, they started to get irritated with each other and eventually started to hate each other. Recently, they have decided to keep their love for each other alive, by scheduling one hour every day to argue and pour out all their hate for each other, so that the rest of the day, they can stand each other. I personally think that this Idea is a very innovative and effective way to keep love alive in marriage but my sanity says otherwise. Yeah that’s right!, as much as I liked their idea, I hated the amount of noise they would make during the argument sessions and, the worst part was that they used to argue at the same time that I would do my homework. Today was the day, I had had enough of their loud yelling and cursing, as I got into my car and started to drive to the police station in anger, I immediately turned around as I came to a realization that I couldn’t complain, they had been too kind to me and always loved making conversation with me. I came to a conclusion with myself that I just love my neighbors too much and as much as their arguments can sometimes make me want to pull my hair out, I like their deafening love.
I got my dog when I was maybe three or four. My parents let me choose the one we got. While my dog isn’t like most others, that has never mattered to me. He’s got rusty gold metal for skin. And his face is made of buttons and metal scraps. Pier is just like any other dog in the sense that he likes to eat and run outside. He also loves watching Disney movies with me, which I never mind. Pier is my best friend, as I’m homeschooled and tend to move a lot. He’s one thing that has never changed.
I was taking Pier on a walk as usual, he began to walk in a different direction, turning left rather than turning right like usual. I follow Pier until he stops right in front of a building. ‘Jace high school’ the building says. I was standing there for so long, I had barely realized that the school bell had rang. Kids rush out of the building, starting conversation with their friend. Pier being the playful dog he is, runs around trying to catch the attention of anyone he can find. Eventually he does find someone, the person plays with him for a second before telling Pier to follow them as they look around the campus. I watch as pier continues to push for attention. I ran up to them, ready to claim my dog who took finding a playmate a little too far.
“Pier,” I say as a way to catch my robotic dog’s attention. My dog runs towards me.
“I’m Kylie,”’ someone says in front of me. I look up from my dog to see the person Pier had previously been playing with.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Leah,” I reply.
“Are you new to town? Do you go to school here?” Kylie asks.
“My family and I just moved here. And I’m home schooled at the moment.”
By the end of the walk home, I had a new friend. I walk into my house, and Pier has a visibly happy face. I realize this was his plan all along.
We don’t know where they came from. Asteroids came and dropped across all continents, high radioactive asteroids. Governments started to take these asteroids and began major research. Instead of experimenting and finding a solution to the current worldwide problems, they decided to research how to use the mysterious objects as weapons… Countries of the world began arming themselves with these weapons of destruction. Constant debate and tension in all parts of the world over resources. The black gold underneath the ground ran dry from the earth and flooding in all parts of the world due to extreme heat fell upon this world. The end of the world came sooner and sooner. But there was a breakthrough, after years of endless and relentless research we found out that there was a way to use these weapons as bringers of peace and technology. De-escalation was called upon by all peoples of all kinds. These weapons were now being used as energy sources to this world. A seemingly boundless energy source. The power of the sun was at our fingertips, money and power underneath our fingernails. Floating cars became our way of transportation. Just one cell size of this energy was able to light up New York for one whole year. But this tremendous and immense growth came at a great and costly price. People became power hungry, taking and fighting over the energy. And this energy we took was now arming itself, it learned from us.
It is now the year of 2077. All is lost, all resistance to this force is put down. People figured it would be a waste of manpower and resources to even fight this force, we became its slaves. It used us for experiments, it researched us, just as we did to them. It’s like making a creature only for it to be tested on and then killed. This energy began to multiply and eventually take over and dominate our world.
Now if you see this, I am from the future, take heed and stop this from becoming your future, if you make something a weapon it will always stay a weapon. And we made it a weapon.
How I learned not to believe in perfect endings
The wind rustled the leaves of the tree I was sitting on. My legs were aching from gripping the branch too hard, and my palms were slick with sweat. The only light in the house was from the one window on the upper floor, where two figures paced and gestured with their hands.
I had been watching them quarrel through the window, and now one of them moved out of sight, ready to leave. The taller one grabbed the other’s arm. I heard scattered muttering and the words “they haven’t changed,” and then the shorter one relaxed a bit, turning away.
They were important to me, but I could only barely hear them, couldn’t intercede on the argument that I knew would end in disaster.
I had been watching them quarrel through the window, and now they were both sitting on the small bed, one of them crying, pushing the other’s comforts away.
“It doesn’t matter that they haven’t changed—you’ve changed.” one of them said. I gripped the branch harder with my legs. I was invested now; I wanted to hope that if I sat here, watched them, it would be alright.
The water cup in one’s hand spilled, and their yelling resumed, feet stomping, eyes wet, fists pumping down to the ground.
“… fix everything!”
The taller one hit the wall, and then grimaced from the pain. They weren’t nothing; people scoff at lover’s quarrels but this wasn’t meaningless even to me, an outsider.
I held my breath as I readjusted my sweaty palm.
I had been watching them quarrel through the window, and now they were both pleading.
“…I don’t want…”
“…just see this my way, what we had…”
I felt a raindrop on my hair, and soon they were everywhere, soaking the bushes, the grass, and the last of my hope.
Their yelling had resumed, and the rocks this ship was going to splinter on were just ahead.
Grabbing something off the table, one of them pointed a finger at their partner in a final accusation.
“I don’t care!”
As the door slammed and the one who remained slumped in tears, I knew that statement was the opposite of the truth.
For the Forgotten and the Remembered
She knew she had to get away, before unfamiliar words would start to spill from her mouth. Only a few syllables away from everything, and knowing that she had almost made it, had seemed to hurt more than if she had never tried. Recklessness, obsession, and greed were words she lived by without fault. She wanted all that she could work for, and all that she could possibly get. Her world, however, wasn’t as easy for people to recognize. The very words she had been waiting a lifetime to hear had been silenced at the tip of their tongues, and everytime she would be reminded once again of how dispensable she really was.
Twilight settled and light dispersed
Into the horizon
It was so her
Irritable and young
For adventures beyond youth
If she could make her mark
Before she stepped in the track of another
She picked up the bottle of pop left at the counter, and quickly flashed it by the scanner. “Would you like anything with that?” she said rather instinctively, almost as if by reflex for her. She passed him the bottle, letting out a long sigh as she watched him leave the store as the hanging bells on the door chimed. She realized she was alone once again.
With a few clicks of a button, she used her fingernails to dig out the dollar notes from the cash register, and swiped them one by one, counting her earnings for today.
How had it all come to this?
The star chasers, those that had lived their lives as dreamers, bore with them the responsibility and burden to carry the fallen ones on their own shoulders. Surely their lives couldn’t be much better than her own. She knew how it felt, to sit with a thousand memories, without a single person to share one with. Being forgotten may hurt, but it doesn’t come close to being blinded before being able to take a glance at the city nightscape. Just looking over the peak, watching the moment just before the sun collapsed and light gave way to the shadows. It was enough for her.
She stopped by the well on her walk home, reaching into her back pocket, and flipping the coin inside. She could hear the clatter when it had hit the bottom, as she had walked away.
Slinging her backpack over to her front, she shuffled her hands, insearch of the book inside. She ran her fingers over its matte cover, feeling the words one by one as she walked through the lonely night.
She tipped her head to the side and looked down, as if pondering the possibilities if she were to fall. Perhaps her ‘Knight In Shining Armour’ would be there to rescue her, or a bed of flowers would appear just seconds before she hit the floor to bask her in their fragrance. Or perhaps, the most likely but least favourable of outcomes would be death knocking at her door. She knew that they had never spared her a glance, but would they really be so indifferent to her disappearance? If her crown were to be upright or crooked, nothing would change in anyone else’s eyes. And so she did what she had been doing from the very beginning. Falling. Falling desperately with hopes that there would be someone to catch her before she hit the bottom.
And so, in the break of dawn
Before she could mutter her last goodbye
She thought she had seen a dim figure falling beside her
“You did a good job.”
240 Masonry Ave.
CA, San Francisco 94105
April 9, AIR 07 (2061)
Dear Readers of the Past,
Technology has evolved enough for me to write to you. Don’t let your world become like this. Powerful things without a heart and love of real creatures can do terrible things. Don’t give heartless objects a mind. Oh, and, please, if you don’t know how to swim, it would be a good idea to learn how. This was my experience. Don’t let it become yours.
Whatever it was, I didn’t know if I liked it. It too closely resembled a spider. Well, either was a humongous Daddy Long Legs or a tiny-headed, spindly-legged octopus. Whichever works. Both are creepy. It moved with an oddly satisfying (and terrifyingly creepy) mechanically clicking and its orb-like eyes glowed red. It’s not unusual to be walking down the street and to be confronted by a Death-loving, manic-robot-assassin. Damn entrepreneurs. If only they had actually KNOWN what they were doing. AI had reached its breaking point by 2054. The world had reached its breaking point moments later. Robots flipped our world into an apocalypse. Those who stand in their way are pretty much disintegrated in a max of 10 minutes depending on the robot strength/durability/etc. I, unfortunately, had just accidentally rammed my car into a stubby scholarly, important-looking robot crossing the street. It flipped onto its back and clawed at the air for a moment before righting its spider-like body. I tensed, clutching the steering wheel tightly, the robot scurried onto my windshield and plunged its dagger-like pincers into my bullet-proof windshield. The Robo made one pitiful scratch on the window and its angered expression made me laugh maniacally. Reading robot expressions is not actually possible, but it’s funny to imagine an angered face. The Robo cursed a bit in its flurry of beeping and then smashed its pincers into my windshield again. After 7 more jabs, my windshield was beginning to crack. Okay, gotta fly. I rotated the jets using a small control panel on the dashboard until they were perpendicular to the ground. As I rocketed skyward, straight up into the air, the robot slipped off my dashboard and into the fury of electric blue flames my jets released beneath me. I usually like the on-ground roads because there’s so much air traffic as it is. Most people like the air-bus now rather than driving. Lazy fools, I thought scornfully. But then again, I need a robot to peel my oranges so maybe I shouldn’t be too hasty in calling people lazy. I landed on the newly installed Launchpad at the nearby Shell gas station. I drove off the landing strip and continued my way to the Robots Work and Repairs shop. I passed the Children’s How to Build a Buddy: H/R (humans/robots) Love for Life class on how to build robots and parked in front of the Robots Work and Repairs. I was murmuring “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” as I made my way into the store whirling my keys around my fingers until I was stopped at the doors of the shop by two deluxe-looking robots.
“How can I help you, Sir?” I asked politely, catching my keys before they went flying into the robot’s face.
The robot just stared at me. That was when I realized that Government Robots only show up when they want to kill somebody. Behind me, a person got out of their car and was making it into the shop when they dropped their bag of chips. The robots turned their heads to look at the poor bloke scooping up his chips. And, that’s my cue to run, I thought. I scurried to my car, flung open the door, and leaped into it, shooting into the air moments later. The guy collecting his chips squeaked and ran away, but his forsaken chips were roasted by my jets. I got a head start by about… eh, 3 seconds but that wasn’t going to help me and I knew it. I flew high above San Francisco and toward the wide bay. Robots can’t swim, I thought. I almost laughed at my own brilliance. I adjusted my rear-view mirror and winced terribly. Then I almost laughed again. This time, though, I was laughing at my stupidity. That was the only thing robots and I had in common. None of us could swim. The two robots were literally right behind me now. But, I didn’t speed up. I slowed down. I slowed to tempt the robots into chasing me more blindly. To have them see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then for them to realize it was an explosion instead. Soon, they were close enough to hack away at the back of the car. They wouldn’t change their minds now, I would die, or they would perish. Their target had been acquired.
So that was when I did it. The scariest thing of my entire life. I turned off the car’s engine, still directly over the bay, close to Treasure Island. I never had loved the water but maybe, all I needed was a little adventure to get me going.
It’s AIR 7 now. (7 years since the Artificial Intelligence Revolution) The plan worked, obviously, and I’m alive. The robots had sunk as if they were made of osmium. I learned how to swim during those two hours of flailing helplessly in the water until a little tourist boat came bobbing along and I clambered onto it. This was my story. Now you tell me yours.
P.S. There’s at least one thing to look forward to in the future: Robots to peel oranges for you.