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NYC Midnight Microfiction (100 Words) Challenge 2021

Round 1: Strange Fruit

“Whatchu doin girl? If Mr. Braddock catch you … ” Joseph whistled softly, shaking his head.

Zora’s spidery fingers danced across the keys like sunshine on water. The damp-warped spinet she played at church never aspired to this dazzling resonance.

“You know better,” he hissed.

“That ain’t very kind of you, Joseph.”

Zora belted out a few lines of Strange Fruit. He swiveled his mop around her feet.

“Just a friendly warning.”

Zora stopped mid-chord with a sigh of resigned rage. “So’s that song, Joe.”

She grabbed the oily cloth and returned to polishing the Steinway that didn’t need polishing.

Round 2: Plus One

I hate theme parks, and I REALLY hate water slides; but here I am, careening down Poseidon’s Crest, because Evan turned on the dimples.

“Come on, Zoe. In two weeks, we’ll be back in graduate housing, cramming all night…”

One more year. Then, the Grand Plan: graduation, wedding, Peace Corps, puppy. Happily ever after. Evan’s at the bottom, whooping like a kid. I try to smile, but my stomach’s tying knots around a plus sign.

We’ve thrown all our dreams into one basket built for two, so how do I tell the love of my life … I’m late.

Round 3: Time Thief

Darkness pools under a moonless sky. I’ve given chase to a thief, and my heart is beating as fast as the hooves pounding damp leaves into the muddy path.

My mare is lathered, but I press her forward, hard. He’s a fingertip away when the whip cracks, his lead grows, fog eats his shadow.

Old Sadie shudders under my damp skirts as I rein in. It’s surely Tom, his face briefly illuminated before he doused the lantern. My brother, pilfering my inheritance after squandering his own.

I holster my pistol, recalibrate the portal, and turn for home.

Next time, Tom.

Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, 2021 Spring Flash Fiction, Shortlisted

Sharp

Steel on steel. Avi sharpens his prized Shun blade.

“Sharp blade, sharp mind,” he says, the knife zinging against the sharpening rod.

He’s amped up. The kitchen shimmers with tension. Our version of backstage on opening night: Saturday, fully booked house, new menu. It’s gonna be crazy busy in a couple of hours. But for now, we’re alone.

“Wanna do a line?” Avi holds up a rolled dollar bill.

“No thanks.” Not with you. I chop, chop, chop, tossing handfuls of romaine into a massive bowl.

“Suit yourself.” Avi lays out a fat rail on the stainless counter, snorts up half in one nostril, half in the other. He wipes up the residue with his forefinger and rubs his gums. Avi does a little martial arts move, tattooed arms flailing, brandishing his knife. It glimmers red-gold, reflecting the warming lights.

“Ready for action!” He moves in and drops a heavy arm around my shoulders. “Speaking of action, how ’bout a little sumpin sumpin to ease the pressure?”

He grinds his crotch against my hip. Sweat and laundry soap mingle. Not again. Not now. Not ever.

“Jesus, Avi.” I lean away. “You better get busy before Jerry catches you dicking around.”

He pulls me in. “Come on. You know you want it.”

His breath is hot and familiar on my neck. A buzzing chill settles around me. I peel off my gloves and lift my chin.

He smirks.

I follow him down the hall. He’s still gripping his precious Shun as he fumbles with the latch on the supply closet door.

“I’m gonna blow my load right here if I don’t get this door open.”

His coarse arrogance grates and I momentarily see myself, 10, 20 years in the future, prepping food in a steamy kitchen under the thumb of yet another Avi.

Inspired, I grab the back of his neck and he shifts toward me, expectant. With his own hand still on the hilt, I shove that knife all the way into Avi’s soft gut. There is surprisingly little resistance as I lean down on the handle. Avi’s mouth forms an O as he drops to his knees.

It’s a damn good blade. There’s hardly any blood.

“Sharp blade, dull mind, Avi.”

I’m back to chopping lettuce by the time Jerry arrives, my sweat soaked t-shirt itching, invisible under chef’s whites.

“Where the hell is Avi?”

“No clue.”

“Jesus. Tonight of all nights? When he shows up—if he shows up—tell him he’s fired,” Jerry said, slamming the swinging door against the wall.

I rinse the Shun and move on to chopping onion.

Sharp blade, sharp mind.