365-Day Challenge: Highlights

Now that I have finished up my writing prompt challenge, I wanted to go through all my stories and see what came out of it. Naturally, the prompts were all scrappy little first drafts, very loose, but nonetheless there were many that I kind of liked.

For anyone wanting to read through my stories: I understand that 365 flash fictions is a big ask. I had family members tell me I wrote too much to keep up with (funny, considering how long I spent writing versus how long one would spend reading!), and, to be fair, there were only so many worth taking the time to read.

Therefore, I’ve put together a list of some of my favourites, as well as assembled lists that took place in particular genres or shared worlds. While there were many prompts that shared continuity, I’ve only put together the more substantial collections. If there were any more recurring worlds or characters you wanted me to gather and add to this list, let me know in the comments!

The prompts will only be available for a limited time (no, seriously), so read ’em while they’re hot! Here’s a list of titles, links, and story descriptions by favourites, genres, and shared worlds.

Personal Favourites (Regardless of Genre):

One Last Smoke – A John learns that his prostitute is more than she appears.

Born in a Maze – A man is born with a maze-like birthmark and soon finds that all his major life decisions–good and bad–can be traced along the maze.

Rising from the Fall – After a nasty fall that leaves him paralyzed, a broken man finds redemption with a fateful saviour.

The Gym Dwarf – Allen Kaminski always goes to the gym alone at night. Tonight he’s not alone; a very tall dwarf insists on being Allen’s spotter, whether Allen wants him or not.

The Hanging Gardens (Part 1, part 2, part 3, and epilogue. Bonus: Prequel.) –  A boy and a will o’ the wisp team up to escape a magical forest–but the forest has other ideas.

Dreamy Eyes – Bo comes out of the closet just for Geoff, who doesn’t realize he’s on a treasure hunt for the man of his dreams.

A Midnight Dance – A scientist and her lab assistant dance the night away. But does the assistant have a choice?

Hunt Me – Jennifer uses her family’s hunting cabin as a quiet place to paint. Unlike the rest of her family, she hates the very idea of hunting. Someone wants her to change her mind.

Chasing Shadows – In a world where the shadows of the dead continue to walk the Earth, one man chooses to follow the shadow of a hanged criminal.

Sponge or Stone – Allen starts a call-in advice line where people call to give him advice. Sometimes it’s more than he wants to hear.

The Exotic Dish – A woman orders an unfamiliar menu item and begins to suspect she’s been served human flesh.

The Family Tree – Audrey wants to build a complete family tree. But it can only be complete if no one is left to reproduce.

The Jolt vs. The Hanged Man – A self-styled superhero attempts to find a disappearing suicide victim.

Fantasy (Not Including Shared World Stories):

The Hanging Gardens (Part 1, part 2, part 3, and epilogue. Bonus: Prequel.) –  A boy and a will o’ the wisp team up to escape a magical forest–but the forest has other ideas.

Nail Delivery – A mage detective uses divination to find a killer.

Fire At Will – A huntress discovers her quarry is far more dangerous than she ever hoped.

Tooth and Flame – A trucker is stalked by a great winged beast. Can he make it to the city–and safety–in time?

A Fight for Memory – Two young psychics fight in a world of memory. Whoever loses may be forgotten forever–even by themselves.

Red Red Rosecarver – Rose stumbles into a dream world, and only a talking hedge flamingo knows the way out.

The Queen Bee’s Sting – A dying queen listens to the voices of her fallen empire.

The Midnight Star – The dwellers of the Nighthouse face a deadly bringer of light.

The Glowing Mountain – A couple mountaineers see a glimmer on a mountainside. It’s not gold.

Fate’s a Bitch – An assassin of superheroes is contracted to take out a poker game full of superhero sidekicks.

Science Fiction:

Disappearing Stars – A soldier contemplates the futility of ground combatants in an age of space-faring combat.

Narcissistic Self-Destruction – A scientist wants to live ten lives at once, and so makes himself ten clones. Basic math isn’t his strong suit.

Eyes in the Vending Machines – Human consciousness is now able to be uploaded into machines. But not always the most advanced machines.

The Glass World – Privacy is a thing of the past. Good luck trying to hide.

Rechargeable – He can kill with a touch. He has to in order to live. That doesn’t mean he wants to.

Holes in Space – A woman looks down on Earth and wonders why she left.

The Storyteller – When people live as robot surrogates, they forget what they lose in the translation. The Storyteller reminds them.

Family Legacy – A man goes back in time to meet his famed ancestor. Turns out, a legacy can be bought.

Surrealism:

Snails in the Sky – It’s raining snails, and Jonesy’s stuck in playground quicksand. His beard is his only hope now.

Sleeping on the Job – A man gets paid to sleep full-time. Sounds great, but what happens after the job is done?

The Girl who Ate Herself for Supper – A young lady refuses to eat her supper and is sent to her room as punishment. Turns out she was hungrier than she thought.

A Queued Chase – While standing in line at a department store, a man realizes that every day he trusts a lot of people not to kill him.

One Last Smoke – A John learns that his prostitute is more than she appears.

Obscura – Two cops pull over a strange-looking VW Bug. It’s a lot stranger on the inside.

Friendship – A lonely girl makes her first friend.

Claustrophobia – A man believes he’s getting too big for his house. His house seems to think he’s just the right size.

Literary:

Maturity – A man awkwardly attempts to catch the interest of a far younger woman.

Invisible Words in the Sky – A couple lay by a campfire and think about new beginnings.

Death’s Apparition in Converse Sneakers – The gonzo tale of a suicidal mallrat.

The Bluejay Calls – A writer recalls his aunt and her bluejay best friend.

Crash Landing – A child’s first flight on an imaginary rocketship.

Sunspot – After a violet spat, a couple discusses fault.

Fisher of Men – A fisherman relates his life to that of a doomed fish.

Rising from the Fall – After a nasty fall that leaves him paralyzed, a broken man finds redemption with a fateful saviour.

Hand Me Down – An adopted boy realizes his graduation clothes once belonged to his adopted mother’s now-deceased biological son.

Spellslingers (AKA Cowboy Wizards):

Blood Magic – An apprentice cowboy wizard follows an aloof mentor to a dangerous battle.

The Cowboy Wizard’s Tiny Caper – The people of Avernus believe tiny creatures called “fleapeople” are infesting the camp. Spellslinger Antony Magnus is on the case.

Pioneer of Nowhere (Part 1, part 2, and part 3) – Magnus investigates a mysterious map that causes local prospectors to disappear when they follow it.

Four-Eyes – A spellgun duel between two ‘slingers.

The Spellslinger Cometh – A spellslinger’s first trip to Avernus.

The Meta Detective:

The Library of Doors – A girl stumbles into a strange library where there are no books on the gigantic shelves, but doors to other worlds.

The Meta Detective – Two detectives meet. One of them doesn’t belong.

Meta Procedural – The two detectives resolve to solve a crime, even if the methods are a little strange.

A Shortcut to Eagles – Gavin Hume, meta detective, attempts to “solve” The Lord of the Rings early using the deus ex machina known as eagles.

The Fiction of Love – Hume ponders whether love is real or just a storytelling trope.

Facing the Music – Meta detectives venture into many different fictional worlds. This latest one provides a unique challenge.

Silvertooth – Hume and his assistant, Coraline, are invited to dinner. You know what that means. Or at least Hume does.

Stuck in a Rush – Usually the stories Hume ventures into are finished. But sometimes the writer makes a lot of edits.

Villain’s Ball – A very different sort of meta detective introduces himself to the villain of the story.

Sky Trek:

The Tower Between Sea and Sky – Ex-Captain Razo Corbeau sits upon a spire and dreams about returning to the great blue.

To Sail Beneath the Stars – The crew of the Revenant is recruiting. This time for the night shift.

Island of Ice – Landing on flying islands can result in popped ears and a nosebleed. But sometimes the islands are so high up that they freeze over.

Hedgehog Island – Living on a flying island may feel isolating for the residents. Especially if there’s an overpopulation issue.

The Scarred Brothers – Razo’s job is to pretend to be a pirate. His brother doesn’t have to pretend.

To Drown in the Sky – When the Revenant’s blue matter engine springs a leak, Razo has a very hard choice to make.

The Soaring Land – Most flying islands match the Earth’s rotation. This one doesn’t.

The Magic Scholar:

The City of Leeches – A scholar attempts to document the magic systems of the world, only to find himself stuck in a slave city run by life-stealing sorcerers.

Life in the City of Leeches – The scholar begins to plot his escape from the City.

The Scholar and the Pugilist – The scholar believes he should improve his hand-to-hand fighting so as to not always rely on magic. It doesn’t go well.

Mesmerism (Part 1, part 2, and part 3) – The beginnings of the scholar’s skepticism of magic.

The Pillar of the Sea – Our hero finds himself imprisoned once more, this time in a prison for illegal magic users.

Hunter’s Traps (Part 1 and part 2) – The scholar has become the master. And he is hunted for his knowledge.

 

 


 

 

 

And that’s it, dear friends. The last of my writing prompt-related posts for the foreseeable future. My next project is a full re-design of Hubwords. I’ll be putting up a portfolio of my best work, and return to blogging rather than flash fiction. I’m excited for what’s to come!

Bring on 2017. (Yes, I know it’s already here.)

– H.

6 Steps to Doing Your Own Writing Prompt Challenge

Last post I talked about my experience doing a 365-day writing prompt challenge. To sum it up, it was tough, but incredibly rewarding.

Writing every day for a year helped me ignore my inner critic and just write like crazy without needing to spend minutes (or hours) staring at a blank page. It also results in a heck of a lot of little stories ripe for the ol’ polish-and-publish (I’m sure it’s an industry term).

If you’ve found yourself stuck looking for something new to write, or you just want to have a day-to-day writing warm-up without constantly searching online for specific writing prompts, this post is for you.

So, without further ado…

How To Do Your Own “Hat Trick” Writing Prompt Challenge

1. Make a huge list of situations, settings, character archetypes, items, or whatever else comes to your mind.

At first, I used a physical hat full of paper slips, but that method got unwieldy after awhile. Later, I wrote them all up digitally.

If you want an example of writing prompt categories, feel free to look at some of the ones I’ve used. Alternatively, if you’re interested, I could post my writing prompt list in the comments. Let me know if you’d like me to show my hand!

2. Prepare a timer for 15 minutes.

Or however long works for you. Later in the challenge I stopped using the timer because I just felt natural in my ability to write for approximately 15 minutes. That said, there were certainly days I wrote for a shorter time, and some days I wrote and wrote and wrote.

You can use any kind of timer to keep yourself accountable. I used online-stopwatch.com on the count down setting.

3. Pick your three prompts at random.

You could draw three slips of paper from a fancy writing hat (hence, “hat trick”), or write the categories digitally, randomize them with a random list generator, and pick the top three. Either method works like a charm, whether you’re an analog or digital type of writer..

4. Start the timer (immediately!).

Don’t sit and think about the categories or what you’ll write about. Start the timer and go. The stress of the deadline will pull your Muse to the fore.

5. WRITE!

Just do it. Do it! Don’t let your dreams be dreams! Etc.

6. (Optional) Post your shiny new story online.

I recommend doing the challenge publicly because it worked for me, but if you’ve got the discipline to do it offline, go for it. Your story won’t be perfect, but it’ll be yours, straight from your beautiful brain. And who knows? Maybe it’ll be something you want to explore in a longer story or a novel. I know I’ve got more than a few of those in my archives.

There are dozens of blog-type platforms you could do this (WordPress works just dandy for me), or you could use social media like Facebook if you’re not worried about scandalizing Grandma with your sexy mummies in space prompt.

 

That’s it–simple as that. Now get out there and PROMPT. You’ll be happy you did. I sure am.

 


 

 

In my next post, I’ll provide a big list of some of my favourite prompts, as well as group together some of the recurring worlds that have cropped up over the year. We’re talkin’ cowboy wizards, sky pirates, meta detectives, and more.

Stay tuned, readers and writers!

– H.

365-Day Writing Prompt Challenge: Post-Mortem

On December 17, 2015, I started a 365-day challenge. I would write a 15-minute writing prompt every single day for a year.

And I did.

It all started when I read this article about people doing tiny challenges once a day for 365 days, blogging about them, and rocketing to fame and fortune (or at least a link in a Washington Post article). I wanted to try that. No, I didn’t care to build tiny furniture or eat a lot of tacos or braid my hair (maybe my beard). I was a writer with very little writing that existed away from notebooks or offline files. It was time to change that.

Sure, I could have waited until January 1st to even things out, but I was too excited to get started. And why wait? It was 14 days until New Years 2016, and that was ample time to change my mind. So I didn’t give myself that chance. I announced my challenge on this website on December 17th in order to make myself more accountable. And I got started.

I was in university at the time, occasionally running a writing circle for some fellow students and me. We mostly did readings and workshops of our creative writing pieces, but as a warm-up I devised a writing prompt method that didn’t require me to Google good writing prompts.

In a nutshell: I wrote lists of character archetypes, settings, props, and situations, chopped them up into slips of paper, threw them in a hat, and got everyone to draw three at random. For whatever three things you got, you’d have to write a little story that incorporated all three. I’d typically run it for 15 or 20 minutes. Then we’d read what we wrote and reveal our prompt categories last.

A colleague of mine named it the “hat trick” writing prompt method.

It was perfect for a daily challenge.

It’s easy to get carried away when writing. You second-guess yourself, you edit as you go, and half (or more) of the time you never get it done. Some of my best work at the time came from writing prompts I wrote during creative writing classes. Why? The atmosphere? The academic setting? Maybe. More likely it was the rush to finish (class time is limited) and the pressure to have something you can read in front of the class and not be horribly embarrassed by.

I needed a time limit, and I needed to post publicly.

You can find 15 minutes somewhere in a day, even if you have to get up a little bit earlier. For some reason, 20 minutes sounds like a lot more. So I made it 15. At first, I was strict about cutting myself off at the 15-minute mark, but after awhile I relaxed that rule.

Some days were tough. It’d be 11:30pm, I’d be tired, and I’d have been too busy during the day to do my prompt. But I’d push through. (All credit goes to my girlfriend for encouraging/threatening me to get them done). A couple times there, I let myself fall behind a day or two (or three in one case), but I always caught up, doing two in a day when needed (thankfully, such a need was rare).

Many of my prompts are garbage. Hell, they’re all first drafts—every one. But there are many of them that I love. Stories I’m excited to polish and submit for publication. Stories that would have never ben conceived, let alone written, before I did this challenge. I made whole worlds and explored them throughout the year. I had recurring characters. Sequels. I wrote stories I thought up a decade ago that I never thought I’d write for real, played in fantasy worlds that got lost at the worldbuilding stage years prior.

I went from having a small handful of stories online to more than 365.

It was a good year for writing. Onto the next challenge!

 

 


 

 

Interested in taking a similar (or identical) challenge? In my next post, I’ll do a step-by-step, clickbaity list where I’ll outline my writing prompt method.

Stay tuned!

 

– H.

Born in a Maze

Jamie was born with a rather unusual birthmark. It had the look of a tree’s inner rings, almost a perfect circle on his wrist just below his palm. The uniqueness of it got a lot of attention as he grew up, but he himself never paid it much mind. It was as familiar as the top of his nose, and not worth staring at.

He was nine before he noticed there was a new line on his birthmark. He had been looking at old baby photos with his mother when she pointed out the first image taken of his birthmark. It looked off, somehow, but Jamie couldn’t tell why. Maybe because his wrist had grown so much. He examined his wrist again, looking back and forth between it and the picture. It was different. There was a new line creasing between two of the original lines. It followed along, weaving between conjoined points between the two lines like backing away from dead ends, until it was exactly nine “rings” into the birthmark.

He always knew the birthmark had thirty-five rings. Other kids joked that he would only live to thirty-five. Except trees gained rings as they aged–they didn’t start out with exactly how many rings they’d have before dying. How would they know?

No, this birthmark wasn’t like the inner rings of a tree. It was a maze.

He noticed a cutoff point in the fifth ring where the new line backtracked and followed a different path. When he was five, he changed schools when his parents moved, and he had to all but start over. It was just kindergarten, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it was a big change in his life. Another dead-end on his birthmark appeared in the eighth ring–the previous year, when his parents were divorced and Jamie chose with great difficulty to stay with his father. The divorce took a big toll on the man, who took to drinking and was ultimately fired from his job. Unable to support himself, let alone Jamie, Jamie’s mother took him back, causing him to move cities yet again.

His mother considered it childish fantasy that Jamie linked the dead-ends in the birthmark to life events, but as Jamie grew older he paid more attention to where the new line was growing. When choosing which high school to attend, he began filling out the form for the nearest school, which had a reputation for having the best AP courses. But after submitting, he noticed the line on his birthmark heading toward a dead-end. Curious, he went for his second high school choice instead, and on the first day of classes noticed the birthmark line re-routed toward the “proper” path.

Jamie continued to test the theory on prospective girlfriends, career choices, and other big decisions. He ignored the line’s progression to a convergence when he thought he had the right girl, only to be cheated on. Every other time, he veered his decision-making away from those that led to such disasters. No one believed him, but he knew he had to follow the maze. He didn’t want to know what would happen if he remained at a dead-end for too long.

The only problem was, he only had thirty-five rings. Did he want to rush to the end? Even if they were the right choices? Or would he lock himself into a dead-end, just for the chance at a longer life?

He was thirty-four and unsure. The line kept moving toward the centre. He was happy and fulfilled, and he was approaching a fork in the maze. One led to the centre and one led to a convergence. He had his agent on the phone, discussing a book publisher who was willing to publish his book. It was amazing, they said–it would change the world. Would he sign the publishing deal?

“Jamie?” his agent asked. “I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime decision, bud, but you’ve gotta make it now. What’ll it be?”

Jamie stared at the line. It was perfectly in the middle of the fork.

 


 

 

Day 365’s three random writing prompt categories were, “A maze,” “A map to nowhere,” and, “Stay on the path.”

BOOM. That’s it. We’re done. Donezo! Doneskies! Three hundred and sixty-five days of writing prompts. Every single day. When I started this thing a year ago, I was earnest the way I always am with new projects, but I’ve seen so many of them fizzle away and I had no idea if this one would too. But it didn’t. I’m still here. I made it.

Expect a post-mortem blog post soon. But not for a few days. I think I’ve earned my holiday this year. 365 days in a row ought to accrue a little bit of vacation time. 😉

Thanks so much for joining me on this adventure, dear Reader. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Please shoot me a comment or hit me up at KyleRHubbard[at]gmail if you want to get ahold of me. I’d love to know if there were any prompts you particularly liked or worlds I built that you’d want to see more of (such as Meta Detective, Sky Trek, the magic scholar, cowboy wizards, or any others!). 

Until next time! This is H., checking out.

Double Decaf

Jenny could always tell which of her customers wanted to die, even before they placed the order. It was rare that a suicidal customer visited her cafe, though. Usually they came for the same sludge they always came for. When a very chipper young man slid into the cafe, as bright and cheery as the bells on the door, Jenny thought he might be looking for something sweet, like a mocha or a vanilla bean latte.

Instead, he smiled and said, “I’d like a double decaf, please. Small, I guess. Or, you know what, large.”

“Large decaf coffee,” Jenny repeated, punching the order in. It seemed the guy had all the energy he needed before he–

Double decaf,” the customer corrected, a finger in the air. He still smiled, smiled so high his eyes squinted a little. Jenny thought he might have been Asian, or part Asian, or maybe he just had cheekbones that lifted until his eyes were semicircles.

She realized what he was really asking for.

“Are you sure?” she said, hand hovering over the tablet where she would have to correct the order.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to ask,” said the young man. He had sharp features and a full mouth–handsome, with thick shocks of black hair that fell over his forehead and ears in leaf-like points. He was right–Jenny and the other baristas weren’t supposed to encourage customers to give a second thought to their orders.

Opinion on the subject of suicide changed in the past few years. Human-caused climate damage was too high, and the only way it would slow was if there were mass population purges. Short of plague epidemics or wars which could damage far more than just humanity, suicide was rebranded to be a selfless act. Sacrifice. A ticket to heaven instead of hell. Earth needed to shrink its human population by over fifty percent. If people were willing to end things, they were encouraged to do so.

Usually they were poor or old or damaged in some way. Not always, though.

“If that’s what you want,” said Jenny, slowly entering the order. What a waste, she thought. If anyone should stay it should be someone like him. She’d much prefer a world of handsome young men over the greasy fat office workers she served every day. “Your name?” she asked.

“Logan.” He flipped open his wallet.

“There’s no charge,” said Jenny.

Logan tossed a couple bills into the tip jar.

“Assassins should be paid well,” said Logan.

Jenny blinked. “I’m … I’m not an assassin.”

“You serve poison. Kind of assassiny.”

“It’s the law.”

“A common excuse for assassins.”

Jenny didn’t know what to say or how to argue. She didn’t like serving people the Kool-Ade, as the baristas called it, but she didn’t have a choice. It was her job. It was the customer’s choice. And it was for the good of the planet.

Logan retrieved his cup–poison in white ceramic. He slurped it up, eyes on Jenny. Then he spat it in her face.

“You’re all killers,” he said, and walked out of the cafe.

Whatever point he was trying to make was futile. He probably thought you had to swallow the poison. Not so. Having it mixing with saliva would be enough to ingest a lethal amount. Jenny tried to spit out the little that got into her mouth. She might be okay. Maybe. Logan wouldn’t, though.

At least their sacrifices would be praised. Suicide or not.

 


 

 

Day 364’s three random writing prompt categories were, “A new law,” “A barista,” and, “Suicide.”

One more. Just one more prompt. I can hardly believe it.

– H.

One Last Smoke

The cigarette hung from her raw red lips, drizzling smoke in a gently swaying line all the way to the browning roof of the hotel. She lacked the energy to inhale just now, the finger-sized bruises on the more tender areas of her body throbbing painfully with each slowing heartbeat. She looked through a tangled lock of hair at the man in the room. He was stepping into his jeans, the buckle of his belt clinking loudly in the silence. The leather snap of the belt tightening made the woman flinch.

“When did you light that?” the man asked, his eyes drawn to the dim flicker of the woman’s cigarette.

She pressed her lips together in the hopes that they formed a semblance of a smile. “You lit me up. Don’t you remember?” Her voice was a stage whisper, husky and smooth, like the cigarette itself seeped the words.

He didn’t know how to answer. He was too tired for flirtation, and besides, it was over now. She must have lit it just a second ago, he thought, while I was getting out of bed. The cigarette smelled funny–not like tobacco or marijuana, yet it was familiar. Like bad morning breath.

“What are you smoking?” he asked, one arm into his gingham shirt. “Or did you…” …just fart? he wanted to ask, but his roughness of speech died since he spent himself. He let the question hang, watching the lilting cigarette smoke, white rather than grey, twisting into the air in a solitary tango.

“I’m smoking you, Daddy,” she said.

He couldn’t tell if she was smiling. A whore of a Mona Lisa. Except she looked like his Lisa. Don’t call me that, he didn’t say aloud, because he liked it. The way he liked it burned crisply inside him, like his heart was shrivelling and darkening in shame. The way her hair ponytailed in fist-sized clumps made his heart weak, as did the little purple ovals on her neck, and the puffiness of her Moaning Lisa lips. Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with me? he asked himself, eyes welling a little from the smoke, yes, from the smoke.

She hadn’t inhaled yet. The line of white smoke grew thinner, dissipating halfway to the roof. The tiny ember at the tip of the cigarette winked in and out.

“Put it out,” he said. He had buttoned his shirt unevenly, so he fumbled to unbutton them again. He noticed his fingers were trembling.

“One smoke won’t kill me,” the woman said, scissoring the cigarette in her steady fingers. Her mouth was open, slowly pouting, moving to inhale in slow motion.

The man stepped forward sluggishly, angry but exhausted, and watched the ember flare and the prostitute’s cheeks hollow and the line of smoke vanishing from the air. A second later the cigarette crashed into the wall and the woman faced away from the man, her hair whipped around to cover her expression. The man looked at his hand, red and tingling. Somehow he felt like that slap would be the last thing he would ever do. He just wanted to sleep.

He walked over to the cigarette and picked it up out of the fluffy carpet, little hairs clinging to it like velcro. It was no longer burning or hissing smoke–in fact, it was shrivelled. He sniffed it. It just smelled like paper.

“What was in this?” he asked again, holding the dead worm of a cigarette before the woman.

She looked up, her hair curtaining down her face and over her shoulders, revealing the red mark on her cheek.

“Your soul,” she said without voice in an inhale. She was smiling this time.

She’s fucking with me, the man thought, his jaw tight. He didn’t think he could bring himself to slap her again–not because he was too ashamed, but because he was so damn tired. He could barely stand upright. He paid for the hotel room but he didn’t plan on staying the night. He couldn’t.

The way she looked up at him with such juvenile defiance, smiling with her pressed lips, breath held, made him realize why men sometimes murdered prostitutes. She was a personification of his sin and secret desire. Walking, talking evidence.

“Spit it out,” he said between his teeth, at the same time wondering what he wanted her to spit out. The smoke? His soul? Why did it matter how long she held it in her lungs? She was fucking with him, after all. She took a long drag and was holding it in, savouring it, and soon she’d let it go.

But she didn’t. She just smiled, her chest puffed out, breasts wet and dented with small rectangular marks, beginning to brown and purple.

“Spit it out,” the man said again, shaking. He felt the cigarette crumbling in his fist. Did he squeeze it?

He didn’t know how long it had been, but no normal person could have held their breath that long, he thought. She thought she was so cute, so playful. Daddy’s girl.

Once more he didn’t realize what he was doing until he felt her slender throat between his fingertips, not for the first time that night. She stopped smiling, pressing her lips even tighter, until he used his free hand to stick his fingers into her mouth, gliding off her wet teeth, all but punching them inward.

“Let me go!”

His words.

“Let me go, goddammit, let me go, let me go, let me go!”

She didn’t. She couldn’t. He was keeping himself locked away inside her. Strangling wasn’t the answer. But he didn’t know what the opposite would be.

Gradually, his grip loosened. His demands lost their voice. He slumped over her, across the bed. His fingertips slid away from her throat and mouth and lay harmlessly across the pillow.

She exhaled at last, but the smoke didn’t come out.

 

 


 

 

 

Day 363’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Magical realism,” “Chainsmoking,” and, “A prostitute.”

Two prompts left, you guys. We’re almost there.

I suppose I had to balance yesterday’s sappy-happy romance with… this. Hopefully you aren’t too traumatized.

– H.

Rising from the Fall

The ground shook, the earth opened up, and down I fell. You know that feeling you get when you have a bad night tossing and turning and when it’s morning it feels like time passed somewhere but you don’t remember sleeping? While I was falling, it felt like that. Forever, until I hit the bottom and wondered if I lost time somewhere along the way.

Thankfully someone saw me fall, or else I’d have been filled in with cement or something, blanketed and forgotten. Paramedics lifted me out, bruised, bleeding, shattered. Dimly, I saw a concerned-looking young woman watching me as I was loaded onto a stretcher. She had wavy locks of dark chocolate hair, a series of tan-coloured freckles crossing the bridge her nose, and she was bundled up in a heavy checkered scarf and a long navy coat. She was wearing the same scarf and coat when she visited me in the hospital the next day.

I thanked her for finding me, and she said she didn’t find me, only saw me fall. I thanked her, then, for calling for help. She accepted that time. When my wife arrived, she thanked the young woman too, who smiled and made an excuse to leave.

“She likes you,” my wife said.

“She’s just checking up on me,” I said.

I was told I might not walk again. If I did, it would be a long, hard road to get there. My wife helped me for a while, visiting me in rehab often, wheeling me around when I was ready to come home, but she had her own busy life, and had to return to it. I didn’t blame her. As it happened, June, the young woman who saved my life, was looking for work, so I hired her as an assistant. My wife didn’t seem happy about the idea, but she didn’t seem threatened by June either. She looked at me with pity rather than love, like I was something to be cared for rather than someone to care for.

June looked at me the way my wife used to. Despite being half a man, I felt more whole than I ever had before. She brought me lunch after hard physiotherapy sessions, laughed genuinely at my jokes instead of kindly. She accepted my payments with a reluctant silence, perhaps ashamed or disappointed, like our visits were transactional. She was more concerned about the idea than I was, though it bothered me too.

I continued working hard virtually, but my position in the company was at a standstill–or, more aptly, a sitstill. Not being able to easily attend business meetings or go for company golf games, I was all but forgotten, a digital check-in rather than a human being. Still, they stuck with me, if not as closely, which was better than how my wife handled things.

After she left me, trying desperately to excuse herself without coming off as heartless, I could have been broken all over again, but I only resolved to build myself back up. I spent longer and longer in rehab sessions, slowly gaining the movement back in my legs, building the muscle there. One day June even offered to help. She held my ankle gingerly, her other hand under my knee, and lifted the leg, stretched it, massaged it to get the feeling back and the blood flowing. She had never really touched me before other than briefly during a laugh or to get my attention. Her hands were warm and white and they both had little freckles between the knuckles.

I told her I wanted to stand. She didn’t question the idea, only stood and held her palms up. I took them, just for balance, and slid forward out of the chair. My knees shook and popped and June squeezed my fingers. I pressed hard against the floor, making as though lifting a box, lifting with my legs, my back still hunched in a sitting position. Then, slowly and shakily, I straightened, like a curled piece of paper slowly unfolding to its proper shape. I lifted, my eyes on June’s eyes, until for the first time in my life I looked straight into them. And for the first time I realized she never looked down on me, even when I was in that chair or that hospital bed or that stretcher. We were always eye to eye.

And now we were face to face.

 


 

 

Day 362’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Romance,” “An assistant,” and, “A bottomless pit.”

THREE. Three days left.

It’s rare I go for a happy story. My heroes are always tortured, but sometimes they fight to save themselves. I’m glad it worked out this time.

– H.