What's fair is fair fiction by Greta Stone

What’s Fair Is Fair

Preface

This was my round 2 entry for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest where I was given a genre, setting, and item to include in a story of 1000 words maximum. I had 48 hours to complete this and made no edits before posting here. I placed 5th of 30 in my group which earned me 11 points. My total score tied me with 2 other people for the final spot to move on to the next round. The tie breaker rule was not in my favor so this was the end for me. See judges remarks at the end. Enjoy.

{996 words}


Assignment
Genre: romantic comedy
Location: science fair
Item to include: defibrillator

Summary: Olivia’s only goal in the state science fair is to prove anything can be proven.


Rain poured down so heavily Olivia couldn’t see a thing through the back window of her parents’ car. Her father pulled up to the curb outside Quinnipiac University’s Science Fair with twenty minutes to spare for check-in.

“Good luck!” her mom yelled over the pounding rain as her dad checked the rear view for traffic.

Of course they weren’t going to go in with her. She was on her own to convince the people of Connecticut to ban something that was vital to life with nothing more than the truth presented in an official manner. “Thanks,” Olivia said under her breath.

She straightened the garbage bag around her folded presentation, delivering a whiff of plastic to her. Protect herself or protect the project? That was the question. With a sigh, she shoved the car door open and stepped out, propping the project over her head.

Cool rain splashed on hot pavement, filling the air with the smell of baked earth and tar. Olivia made a run for cover, kicking up water as she stomped through puddles. She yanked on the door handle and stepped inside, then stopped quick to shake herself dry.

A body plowed into her from behind, tossing her project to the floor, then her on top of it. A loud crash followed, echoing through the foyer like splintered glass.

She turned to find Luke Reilly, a jock from her school, rush to collect the parts of a broken defibrillator.

“I’m so sorry,” Olivia said, stretching to retrieve a piece of broken plastic.

“It’s fine,” he said shortly, taking the piece from her. His t-shirt, dark with rain across his broad shoulders, clung to him.

She’d spent more than a few afternoons gawking at him from the bleachers with her friends. He was pretty but no way he had the brain for a state science fair. What was he doing here?

“You all right?” he asked, extending a hand.

“It’s coming down in buckets out there,” she said stupidly. She placed her hand in his and the room spun as he swept her to her feet. Didn’t knights in shining armor usually sweep you off your feet?

“Yes, it is.” With a glance at her project on the floor, he said, “Good luck,” and disappeared through the second set of doors.

Speechless, Olivia watched him go. Maybe someone had fainted from nerves and, as a volunteer EMT, he was rushing to resuscitate them. You’re the only one who faints from nerves, Olivia, she reminded herself, and pulled it together.

Three hours later, the gymnasium’s ecosystem mimicked global warming and the volume of chatter had risen at least 20 decibels. Judges had made their rounds. Now parents, family, and friends had filled the room to max capacity.

While a young couple signed Olivia’s petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide, she caught a glimpse of Luke through the crowd. He stood beside a contraption across the aisle a few booths down, pieces of the defibrillator duct taped to it.

She winced. Of course she ruined his project. How else would she win a guy over?

“Good luck with the petition,” the couple said cheerfully, drawing her attention back to her own project and the list of names and email addresses.

Olivia produced a large smile for them, her thoughts drifting to her hand in Luke’s as he lifted her effortlessly to her feet. Too bad his name wasn’t on her list. What any girl wouldn’t give to have a direct line to the phone in his back pocket.

Turning to look for her next victim, she came face to face with Luke a foot away, arms crossed and scowling as he studied her presentation. “I thought your project was supposed to be on human behavior.”

Olivia’s cheeks warmed. The only way he’d know that is if he looked her up in the program. Her heart drummed against her ribs. “It is.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “It looks like a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide.”

The scientific words from his lips sounded like chocolate drizzled over strawberries. “It is,” she repeated like an idiot, still gawking. “I’m sorry if I ruined your project.”

“I made it work.” He shrugged one shoulder. “It was meant to be more of a monkey wrench than anything else.”

“Mm hm.” She blinked up at him, finding it hard to stay focused on what he was saying.

“So what’s your beef with dihydrogen monoxide?”

Heat rushed up her neck and face at the shift of attention back to her. Turning away to hide her blazing skin, she grabbed her petition off the table and pulled into character. “It can cause severe burns and that’s just the beginning. It’s responsible for land erosion and can even be fatal if inhaled,” she rambled, ignoring his smirk and the way he kept glancing down at her mouth.

He had to know what dihydrogen monoxide was. She hadn’t expected to persuade her fellow scientists. Only the gullible public who would believe any report that looked half as official as hers. “You know, the latest studies show the Connecticut River is contaminated by it.”

“Is that so?”

Was it just her or had they shared a conspirator’s look? She was convinced he was in on it until a long moment passed without a word.

“I always thought you were just a geek,” he said. “But now I see there might be more to you.”

Her stomach fluttered between the insult and compliment, her mind whirling to latch onto anything intelligent to say. “I always thought you were just a jock, but now I see there might be more to you too.”

A grin spread wide across his face. “Touche. Where do I sign?”

She watched, unbelieving, as he wrote “Luke Reilly, lreilly@gmail.com” then added in the margin “860-563-8374.”

“Thank you,” she said, floating.

“You’re welcome. And be careful on your way out tonight. I hear dihydrogen monoxide is falling from the sky in buckets.”


WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

{Judge #1611} This is an engaging, humorous project with great attention to pacing and well-developed characters. Some excellent details to ground readers in the narrative.
{Judge #1651} I enjoyed the “water” joke as a way to vet potential dates. The ending was fun and well-earned.
{Judge #1589} Nice how you give a sense of smell, as well as sight (“a whiff of plastic.”) Cute ending. This sentence feels off. She’s focused on a science project, gets knocked down by the jock, and then begins fantasizing he is a knight in shining armor? “. Didn’t knights in shining armor usually sweep you off your feet?”

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{Judge #1611} I wasn’t quite sure what Luke’s project was. When he said it was a “money wrench” did he mean something to disrupt the science fair? I wanted a bit more. Also, I think the story warrants a stronger title.
{Judge #1651} It’s unclear why Olivia likes Luke in the beginning (just looks?), especially after he doesn’t try to help her pick up her own project that fell on the floor. You set up Luke as a jock, not a scientist, so why would Olivia expect him to know the dihydrogen monoxide joke? Overall, I’d make it more clear in the end how Olivia feels/reacts once she thinks he doesn’t get the “water” joke, and then again how her feelings change when she realizes that he understands her.
{Judge #1589} Give us a bit more of a set up. Who is in the car? Where are they going? Why? What is Olivia concerned about? What is her goal for the day? The following is a long sentence: “She was on her own to convince the people of Connecticut to ban something that was vital to life with nothing more than the truth presented in an official manner.” Try breaking it up. Let us in on the conspiracy. Is she out deceiving the public to see how many people sign? Tell more.

Your comments and suggestions, as always, are greatly appreciated.

Thank you for reading!

The Chase flash fiction by Greta Stone

The Chase

Preface

This was my round 1 entry for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest where I was given a genre, setting, and item to include in a story of 1000 words maximum. I had 48 hours to complete this and made no edits before posting here. I placed 9th of 30 in my group which earned me 7 points. See judges remarks at the end. Enjoy.

{972 words}


Assignment
Genre: suspense
Location: funeral home
Item to include: garden hose

Summary: A woman on the run uses a funeral home to hide out. She must make perfect split decisions to avoid captivity and death.


The last time I saw him, he was on my heels, scaling the chain link fence I had just cleared. The clink and clatter faded behind me as the glow of flashlight danced around my feet. Getting caught was not an option or I faced captivity and death. Heartbeat in overdrive, I ran without looking back at him. The thick underbrush closed around me, blanketing me in complete darkness.

I shoved through the twigs and saplings, stirring the carpet of leaves with a shooshing that was way too loud. If he was behind me, I couldn’t tell. I exited the woods at the back of a white brick funeral home on a suburban street. Evening dew clung to the hem of my jeans as I crossed the open yard. At the front of the building, I paused to catch my breath and scan the area.

Cookie-cutter houses stood close together, each with a concrete stoop and short driveway. The glow of streetlights dotted the road. The smell of pavement, still cooking from the day’s heat, wafted through the air. I was alone. Shuddering, I glanced over my shoulder at the funeral home door. Alone except for the dead.

As if to defy me, the crickets spoke up. It didn’t matter. They couldn’t help me. Neither could the dead.

I curled my hands around the hard plastic in my hoodie pocket. Still there. At least I hadn’t lost it in the chase. I walked to the corner of the building to check the treeline. No one. Would he find me? Was I safe?

Legs aching for rest, I took a seat on the front steps. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He promised he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. He lied. Unsettled, I soon wandered to the edge of the street as if I might find an answer in one direction or the other.

A set of headlights swiped over the front of a house across the street. A car turned onto the road.

They’d found me.

I doubled back, my sneakers padding on the soft pavement as the headlights creeped closer. If I could get to the backyard, to the woods, I could hide out there.

My own shadow stretched out before me. I made a sharp turn at the corner of the funeral home and realized the treeline was too far away. I’d never make it. Clearing a row of low bushes, I landed hard against the concrete foundation. Wood chips flipped away in protest. I slid down, panting, inhaling the scent of cedar and baked earth.

I had to be still despite my racing heartbeat. If they found me, this would be my end. There would be no escape.

A spider skittered over the back of my hand. I had to fight not to scream and flick it away. There was no time for phobias right now.

Through the branches, headlights swept across the lawn and up the side of the white brick wall above my head. I ducked lower, all but kissing the earth beneath me. The car’s tires purred over the freshly paved funeral home driveway as they pulled around the corner and parked. Engine running, a door opened and shut. Footsteps. Coming toward me or moving away, I couldn’t tell. But they’d find me eventually. I needed to move.

I rolled onto one protesting knee and tucked a foot beneath me. Crouching, I slid one hand along the rough foundation as a guide. I tiptoed along, stepping over a coiled up garden hose and past a blackened basement window where the dead rested. At the rear corner of the building, I stood and ran.

Not one step out and I found myself slammed back against a hard chest, a large hand covering my mouth. Panic hit. I needed to scream, but there was no air. I needed air! Kicking at the leg behind me, I flailed in his strong arms.

“Shhh,” the whisper hit my ear, warm against my already damp skin, escalating my panic. “It’s me.”

I froze to process the information. Graham. He was here! They hadn’t caught him at the fence, and somehow he found his way back to me. I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I had in me and slumped against him with relief.

He peeled his hand off my mouth, turned me by my shoulders, and wrapped me in his arms. His t-shirt damp against my cheek, he smelled of sweat and spice. Kissing the top of my head then holding me at arm’s length, he whispered, “They’re in the side yard behind me, making their way around. We need to make a run for it but toward the front.” He gestured in the opposite direction I’d planned to run.

My face tingled at the thought of my near mishap.

“We’re almost clear,” he said. “You got this.”

I nodded, unconvinced. Whatever happened now though, we were in it together.

Grabbing my hand, he pushed through the bushes and ran. Blood screamed through my ears as we crossed the open lawn. Bright white spotlights blasted the building. Blinking blue and red lights flashed a warning, one we disregarded as we dashed across the street and cut through backyards. Swing sets and sandboxes glowed in the moonlight, guiding our way home.

Panting and winded, we collapsed onto the floor of our apartment, saying nothing as we stared at the ceiling to catch our breaths. The sounds of our own panting in the otherwise silent room soon sent us into a fit of laughter. I rolled, tossing my leg over his and wrapping my arm tight over his chest.

He rubbed my back and pulled me closer. “You’ve got the code, right?”

I slid my hand into my pocket and pulled the flash drive out with a grin. “Yup.”


WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

{Judge #1702}  This story has some really strong thriller aspects, such as the action being nonstop. The pacing is very fast. 
{Judge # 1812}  The descriptions of the setting make excellent use of the senses to draw the reader into the story and experience the sites, sounds, smells and feel of the surrounding environment. The story begins with a good hook and gets right into the action. A good resolution to tie up the story at the end.
{Judge # 1858}  You definitely had me on the edge of my seat as I hoped the narrator would make it out of the situation. And then once she found Graham, I was hoping that they would both make it to safety. You’ve done a great job of creating characters that I was rooting for! I also love this line: “Swing sets and sandboxes glowed in the moonlight, guiding our way home.” 

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{Judge # 1702}  This story feels more like a thriller than a suspense story. Suspense is usually a slow unfolding of events where the character slowly realizes exactly how much danger they’re in. In this story, people are in danger from the get-go, from start to finish. And this story is really action driven. As it’s currently written, I don’t think this story quite fits the bill for a suspense tale. 
{Judge #1812}  The synopsis tells us that the main character is a woman however readers won’t know whether she is a man or woman. Try to work in a visual understanding of her character and provide a name. It is much easier for readers to connect with a character when they have a name and a visual to go by. To further improve this story, provide a few details about the background story: who is chasing this couple and what will happen to them if they are caught? Turn the pursuers into stronger villains by making them more threatening. This will increase the stakes as well as heighten concern for the couple’s safety. 
{Judge #1858}  I think that you should start your story with the third paragraph, “Cookie-cutter houses…”. It feels like a much tighter beginning, and you get your readers to the “Alone except for the dead” line a lot quicker. I think it ups the suspense factor even more. Any critical information that is in those first two paragraphs could be included later in the story if necessary.

Your comments and suggestions, as always, are greatly appreciated.

Thank you for reading!