Greedy George

SO… I decided to start writing some flash fiction again, and as Miranda is already running #MidWeekFlash with photo prompts, this seemed like a good place to start. Right. It’s been a while. Deep breath. Here goes…

Week10Phot

Greedy George

George took a bite of his burger and felt the grease oozing down his chin. OH GOD IT TASTES SO GOOD. George had been a vegetarian for 27 years. Ever since that school fete where his (ex) best friend, Harry Baudsley had eaten a burger from the van and puked chunky yellow vomit all over George’s brand new trainers. Two cycles through the washing machine and they were clean, but the logo had faded and it was obvious that they were nothing but cheap fakes.

Like George.

It’s not what he’d planned for himself in life. When the teacher had asked him, aged 10, what he wanted to be, he’d said A LAWYER, LIKE MY DAD (because back then, it seemed like his dad could do no wrong, and it was like that right up until the day when he got arrested for some dull and boring tax evasion and his mum had told him to ROT IN HELL.) So George had taken another route, and anyway, being a con man was a hell of a lot more fun than being a lawyer, right?

He’d done well on this latest venture: THE HOLIDAY SCAM. It’s amazing how gullible people can be when they let their greed cloud their pea-size brains. He used one of those buy and sell websites, always a different name, different email, but the same old story – I can’t make this amazing 5-star luxury holiday due to illness but I forgot to take out insurance, I can  transfer it to you, and I don’t mind losing out… if you want to take my place, CALL ME. He took more calls than his cheap phone could handle. He fleeced more fools than a box full of foolish.

Then he got greedy… too greedy… as greedy as the greediest of the greedy fools.

He tried a new scam. It involved his own magical mystery tour. He set up a fake outdoor adventure company. Got people to turn up to a secret location, where he’d trick them and rob them and leave them to find their own way home – miles away, with nothing but the clothes on their backs – no money, no phones… and when they made it home, they’d look for his number and it’d be gone. His website would be gone, always rerouted some way that no one could ever find it.

Every time he made bundle of cash, he’d stroll down to the park, and he’d sit by the burger van, under the canopy of dark, spindly trees… and let the smell of frying onions tempt him in… but he never touched one. He still couldn’t get the image of Harry Baudsley and the yellow vomit on his brand new trainers out of his head.

UNTIL NOW.

‘Hey…’ the man from the van called to him. ‘I see you here all the time. How come you never eat one of my delicious burgers? I’m offended!’

‘Nah, nah,’ George said. ‘I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘SURE you are,’ the man from the van said. ‘Until you try one of these…’

George stared at the man. There was something weird about his eyes. Something shiny and twirling and bewitching. He stared, and found he couldn’t look away. Eventually, he said, ‘Sure… OK. Maybe just a bite.’

So he took that bite, and let the grease run down his chin, and he flashed back to the image of Harry and the trainers and he blinked and blinked, let the smell of the frying onions lift him away… and he felt great. FOR A MOMENT. Then he started to feel swirly and dreamy. The burger dropped from his hand, although he didn’t feel himself letting go of it. The man from the van came out around the other side and he spoke, but his voice seemed to come from far, far away… and he said:

‘You don’t remember me, do you?’

And as George fell to the floor, he remembered… he remembered the first man that he conned for £5000 for the holiday to the Maldives that never existed… the man who said he was taking his wife, and his sick child, because it might be their last ever holiday together, the man who said he would GET HIM for this, ONE DAY…

ONE DAY…

The last thing George saw was the shapes of the trees, their swirling twirling branches as they spun round and round, their vine-like tips caressing and strangling and choking. Until the last few breaths fizzed and popped from him as his cheap fake life slithered into the damp grass, leaving nothing but a greasy stain.

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You can read the other entries HERE.

Felixstowe Book Festival Short Story Comp

I’m very pleased to be helping out with this competition… stay tuned for more info about the festival too – including a flash fiction event in collaboration with National Flash Fiction Day, and quite possibly an author appearance from me 🙂

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One of our festival themes this year is ‘in the margins’

This theme came out of a conversation about Felixstowe’s position at the edge of Britain, at the edge of the continental block of Europe but joined by its shipping to the whole world. The town sits on the edge of the sea, which, on a winter’s stormy day, seems to want to reclaim it. It sits between two rivers like the text of a book between the margins.

What is seen as ‘in the margins’ or ‘on the edge’ can be more exciting and rich than what is central. People can be seen as in the margins of society because of their ethnicity, age, physical or mental state. A lot of works of art, scientific discoveries, inventions are made by people regarded as being in the margins. What we write in the margins of our books (those of us who dare!) can be more relevant to us than the printed text.

So interpret the ideas of ‘in the margins’ as creatively as you wish in your short story entry.

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  • Closing Date: Saturday 16th May, 2015
  • Word count: 1000
  • Prizes: £50 (plus possible publication in Suffolk Magazine), 2x£10 (runners up)
  • For full details on how to enter, and to sign up for more information about the festival… click: HERE

Five Sentence Fiction – Darkness

Five Sentence Fiction is about packing a powerful punch in a tiny fist. Each week, Lillie McFerrin posts a one word inspiration, then anyone wishing to participate will write a five sentence story based on the prompt word. This week’s prompt is DARKNESS.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 10.34.26

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I haven’t done this for a very long time, and I love the photo… so here goes:

The Storm

I cower under a rock, sheltering from the dark, swirling storm that threatens to lift me up and shatter me into tiny pieces.

The clouds bloom like poison gases, and I wrap my arms around myself, trying to keep in the warmth; to stop myself from shaking.

I know now what a terrible mistake I’ve made, opening that box.

The shadowy figure of Pandora appears before me – beautiful, yet murderous… and she’s angry.

So very angry.

National Flash Fiction Day 2014: The Bokeh of Flash

To celebrate National Flash Fiction Day, I’m delighted to share a beautiful post from one of the masters, Kevlin Henney – winner of Crimefest’s FlashBang Competition 2014 (which you can read here) and many more things besides. What is flash fiction? Read Kevlin’s post and you might just become hooked…
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The Bokeh of Flash
by Kevlin Henney

It’s natural — even inevitable — to compare one means of expression, one form, one artistic approach with another. We compare to explain, to justify, to understand, to illuminate, to inspire. Flash fiction invites many such comparisons because it seems to lie outside what is traditionally promoted as fiction, even though the tradition of novels and short stories and, indeed, written fiction is itself quite young. In age — or youth — it is perhaps fairer to compare written fiction with photography and cinema than poetry, plays and storytelling.

Where a novel might be a full-length film, whether art house and understated or Hollywood and overblown, a short story takes us into the realm of cinematic shorts, anything from a few Vimeo minutes to a half-hour cinematic immersion. Against this, flash fiction is the animated GIF, the vine, the blipvert, a couple of YouTube minutes at most. The boundary between flash fiction and short stories is blurred at the upper end — by convention 1000 words is commonly accepted as the flash top floor, but it could just as easily be 750 or 1250 depending on who you talk to — but sharper at the lower end — the hundred-word precision of a drabble, the fifty-word drop of a dribble.

Unlike a film, however, a written story is static. A story has movement and time, but the breath of life comes from the reader as their eyes travel the words, sentences, ideas and characters. Photographs take in sweeping landscapes, family snaps, posed portraits, street moments, taken with anything from what you happen to have in your pocket to cameras whose price tag will empty your pocket and more, cropped, tinted, processed or left alone to tell their story. The word flash also suggests the illumination of a moment in all its depth, relying on the viewer to see the motion and larger world in a photograph in their mind.

Photographs can be sharp and richly detailed HDR images, just as stories can be lush with description and detail, taking in big plots and panoramas, everything in focus. But a photographer can also choose to single something out with a shallow depth of focus that leaves everything outside the focal plane blurred and set apart, trading pixel perfect fidelity and completeness for contrast and separateness, the subject of interest accentuated all the more.

In photography the out-of-focus quality is known as bokeh, derived from the Japanese boke (ボケ) meaning blur or boke-aji (ボケ味) meaning blur quality. With poor bokeh the blurring of detail is a distraction and does not serve the picture well; with good bokeh it makes the picture.

So it is with flash fiction.

Across a handful of words a story is drawn, the greater world it lives in no more than suggested, at best sketched. The context for a given piece of flash fiction lacks the detail and focus given to the story in the foreground. But this blurring, this incompleteness and implication, this necessary and greater elaboration in the mind of the reader must serve to support the story all the more. It has a very particular quality to it that distinguishes it from longer forms: good flash fiction has good bokeh.

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Pop over to the FlashFlood Journal today, to see a constant stream of flashes from writers from all over the world. Happy, sad, funny, light, dark and quirky – there is something for everyone in this year’s flood. Enjoy!

Friday 13th Flash Fiction: MOTEL

 

Source: instaprints.com

As they pulled up outside the white clapboard building, Jeremy knew he’d picked the right place. Catherine lay comatose in the passenger seat and he decided to leave her be. The nosey bitch at the desk asked if his wife was okay. ‘Oh she’s beat,’ Jeremy said. ‘She’s had this weird viral thing… I’ve brought her up here for the air.’ The woman uh-huh’d. ‘Sounds serious,’ she said. Jeremy found it an effort to smile at her. ‘Oh, it is,’ he said. ‘But I can deal with it.’ The woman clicked her tongue and swivelled back round towards the sound of the screeching television. Catherine still hadn’t stirred. Jeremy grunted as he scooped her up in his arms; she was heavier than she looked. She opened her eyes when he threw her on the bed. First she looked confused, then scared, then her mouth opened but no sound came out. He’d been right to make her drink that battery acid. ‘Hey baby,’ he said as he crawled across the bed. ‘Hope you like the room?’ He cocked his head and smiled as he watched a single tear leak from one eye. ‘You know you can’t ever go home again, right?’

 

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This flash was originally written back in March 2012 for Cara Michaels, using the phrase ‘sounds serious’ and the prompt ‘You can’t ever go home again.’

 

Thaw – a very short story #flashfiction

I’m delighted that my teeny-tiny short story ‘Thaw’ is published in the December issue of 101 Fiction… The remit was 100 words with a one word title on the theme of winter and/or the undead. The story popped into my head immediately.

Nip over and read it here. I’m very pleased to be a part of a such a great collection 🙂

Source: angiesdiary.com

Imagination Overload

Calum Kerr

Calum Kerr

Today I’d like to share a post about how genre fiction lends itself to the short form, from prolific flash fiction writer and National Flash Fiction Day organiser extraordinaire, Calum Kerr. There’s also a fantastic story at the end. Enjoy!

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Yesterday, over on Nettie Thomson’s blog, I talked about how I had turned away from writing horror stories until flash-fiction steered me back to the dark side. That got me thinking about flash-fictions and how they work for genre writing.

It’s an interesting issue. I have read, and written, a lot of flash-fictions which might be considered ‘literary’ or at least ‘realist’ in that they occur in the real, recognisable world.

To a large extent, flash-fictions often rely on the reader’s understanding of the world so that when something is referred to or implied, there is no lack of understanding, and the reader provides the necessary extra information from their own knowledge. When using this kind of shorthand, there isn’t always time for world-building or setting up complex scenarios, such as those needed in science-fiction and fantasy writing.

However, if the writer assumes an informed audience, then this can be overcome. I’m not simply talking about an audience well-versed in the particular genre of the story, but an intelligent audience who can make the same leap that you, as the writer, makes when creating the story. Small details, as in any flash, can convey a huge amount, and the rest falls into place by extrapolation.

One of the problems that a number of writers have – and something I see a lot in the work of those just starting out – is an assumption (to be fair, usually unconscious) that the reader is not quite as clever or clued up as you, the writer, and so things need to be explained. This leads to sprawling narratives where everything needs to be said two or three times, just to make sure the reader isn’t getting lost.

When I write flash, I assume the reader is keeping up. If they get lost, well, they can always read it again. The stories are short, it won’t take long.

And that, for me, is why genre stories can work so well in flash-fiction. You can create, not just a version of this world, but a version of any world. You can do it in a few words, and with a few salient details, and the pictures are then painted on the canvas of the reader’s imagination. If I mention a green Renault Clio in a ‘realist’ story, then anyone who’s ever seen one of those will be picturing the same thing. If I mention ‘a sleeper ship, plying the stars, filled with a frozen population’ then everyone reading will either know what I’m talking about or be able to work it out, but each individual will see a different ship, with a different layout, with the frozen bodies stored in different ways.

As a writer, using flash-fiction to write genre stories, I can use a larger and more varicoloured palette, and at the same time make it much more personal for each reader.

So, does flash-fiction work for genre writing?

Affirmative.

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Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife –  the writer, Kath Kerr –  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Cinder House.

Read on for a great example of genre flash…

Shock Corridor

By Calum Kerr

“This area is non-operational!” came the calm voice over the speaker.

Injit was not calm. He was running for his life.

Behind him the bulkhead door shot closed with a blast of air that wanted to knock him from his feet. He rode it, letting it carry him, and then planted his feet and kept going.

A crash and roar rocked the station as the section behind him crumpled and surrendered to the vacuum. Fuel cells detonated and tremors rocked the floor under Injit. He staggered and bounced against the wall, but he stayed on his feet and carried on.

There had been no warning. He didn’t know what had happened. A momentary hole in the shield? A micro-meteor just too large and travelling just too fast to be stopped? It didn’t matter now. The imperative was to get away from the rolling collapse and get safe.

Gravity shifted under him and the floor became a slope. Injit dropped forward, his palms hitting the floorplates and skidding in blood. He ignored the pain and scrabbled forward, clawing his escape.

If he could reach the central hub, he could get to the shuttle and away. If the collapse stabilised he could return and begin repairs. If not, there was enough food, water and air in the shuttle to last him six weeks, long enough for help to come if he was lucky. But first he had to get there.

He clambered up and into the next section, sprawling over the raised threshold into the normal gravity on the far side. He dragged his feet after him, pressed them to the ridge to boost himself upwards as the door flashed down just missing his heel. It was followed by the calm voice repeating its warning, barely audible over the crumple-crash of collapsing metal.

Injit’s legs were starting to thrum in tune with the collapsing station, but he staggered on stiff legs and kept moving forward.

He was nearing the next section, just one away from the hub, when the lights started to flicker.

“This area is… This… non… This… Th-th-th-thhhrrrrrrrr…”

In the frantic strobing, Injit slowed, and then an arc of electricity grounded to the plates in front of him with a bang. Injit pulled himself to a stop and watched as the corridor between him and the hub was lit by a lightning storm.

He looked back, but all was dark behind him. The sounds of creaking and crumpling were continuing. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t stay here.

He faced forward, took a deep breath and thought of home.

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Thanks Calum!

What do you think? Does genre work in flash? Comments welcome, as always.

Winners of the #SJIBFS Flash Fiction Competition

Well the day is finally here – and hopefully some of you have been involved in the activities detailed on the National Flash Fiction Day site? If not, get over there now and see what’s happening! Flash Flood has been running since midnight and stories are being fired out every ten minutes – so there’s loads to read over there…

So…

*Drum Roll*

Here are the winners of the inaugural #SJIBFS Flash Fiction Competition, with some comments from our head judge Sarah Pinborough on what made them stand out from the crowd.

3rd place – Saving the Planet by Juliet Boyd

2nd place – A Little Light Relief by Zoe Gilbert

1st place – Rabbit by Al Kratz

Sarah says…
Rabbit:
I think this did everything a piece of flash fiction should do. It gives you a snippet of a story that somehow manages to tell you the whole without cramming too much in. It was very well constructed, subtle and chilling. I loved it.
A Little Light Relief: 
I thought this was a lovely little vignette piece and such an original idea and well-written.
Saving the Planet: 
I’m a sucker for Triffids and this was a really nice take on that kind of story. Again, a good snippet insight into a bigger story that manages to convey that story within it.

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Well done Al, Zoe and Juliet!

 The pieces will be published in the  Summer BFS Journal which should be out in August.

Big thanks to fellow judges Phil and Sarah for giving up their time, and thanks to Harper Voyager, Gollancz and the BFS for the fantastic prizes 🙂

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P.S. If anyone who entered is planning to post their entry on their blog, or gets it accepted elsewhere – let me know and I will link back to it and spread the word – I think everyone who entered would love to read them!

P.P.S. Same time next year? 🙂

The Boy Who Listened in at Doors by RJ Barker

So… while you all eagerly await the announcement of the longlist for the #SJIBFS competition (which is a tough job, incidentally…) I’d like to share with you a brilliant flash fiction from a writer I am very glad to call a friend. Not only does he write brilliant fantasy, crime and horror of his own, he has also been an invaluable sounding board for my work, giving encouragement and constructive criticism and a kick up the arse when required. So, without further ado –  please read, enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments. RJ is one to watch. You can say you saw him here first…

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The Boy Who Listened in at Doors
by RJ Barker

There are Witches out there, with skull faces.

On windy nights they gather in the tree outside his window and huddle together on branches winter-shorn of leaves. They chatter and laugh, flap their cloaks and watch him with beady black eyes.

All witches, all watching. Laughing black leaves on the cold oak’s boughs.

“They’re just crows,” says Mother with her half-sad mouth. “Just crows, my boy, just crows.”

The Boy pulls his curtains together tightly.
not even the mercurial moon
can peek into his room.
Better the dark than peeking Witches,
with skull faces.
Hard, black, leather-skin carapaces
Long dead grimaces.
Grinding and eating and cawing and gnawing.

He has protectors, many and varied.
Can’t, doubt the bravery of Flying Fred Ted nor Keemo the duck that Daddy brought him from the hospital.
When Daddy was still here.
Stick thin on the bed.
The bears hate the witches with Skull faces and he hugs his small army close.

He should feel safe.

Witches talk
And squawk
And screech and cackle and yatter and caw-caw the night away.
Outside those thick black curtains that Mummy, with the half-sad mouth, fitted.

“They’re just crows, My boy, just crows,” she had said as she hung the curtains, shoulders slumping, a pale hand covering tearfilled eyes.

When they first visited – black flecks falling out the dusky sky to populate the bare oak –  Raggedy capes making excellent wings for those who wish to be something else.

The same night the Terminal took Daddy went away.

Witches have guile, they know people would spot birds with skull faces straight away.
(Make a fuss.
Call animal protection.
Or the newspapers
Get the T.V. People
Or maybe write a book.)

Witches don’t want that.

So they slip their black pointy hats down over their shiny-leathered skulls.
Hard black beaks
Cover hard black faces.

“Just crows my boy, just crows. Where do you get these things from, my son?”

Sometimes, the caw-cawing and yattering starts to swirl in his head, stops being squawks and screeches and becomes words.

Always the same.

Taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned voices

“Shall we eat the boy tonight? Good and plump he is. Who’d miss the lonely little scrap? Our bellies would be full and his mother not be sad.”

Again they say it.
Again and again.
Each time more teeth-on-glass voices join the chorus until eventually, in a great taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned wail the whole flock of skull-faced, witch-crows takes to the sky.

Raggedy capes flap. Hat mouths croak. A dark spiral rising up and out over the city.

‘They’re just crows, my boy, just crows’ she says but the tears in her eyes and the tremble of his lip won’t leave.

‘Daddy would scare them away.’

‘I’m sure he would,’ she looks at the floor to hide her tears as she tucks him in. ‘There are no monsters, my son. Nothing eats people They’re just crows, my boy, just crows.’ Her voice a strangled sob.

He tries to be brave but he knows she lies and pulls the covers over his head and curls up, folding in his fear and pain with ganglion arms.

Monsters are real.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs Taylor,’ said the doctor. ‘There’s nothing we can do. It’s eating him away.’

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RJ Barker is slightly eccentric and lives in Yorkshire with his wife, two year old son and a constantly growing collection of poor quality taxidermy. His short fiction has been published in all manner of places (including charity anthology ‘Off the Record 2: At the Movies‘) and received three honourable mentions in, ‘The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror’. RJ’s illustrated poems (together with Mikko Sovijarvi) ‘Interment’ and ‘The Social Diary of A Ghoul’ have received pretty good reviews (like, here) and are available through Amazon for electronic readers. A paper version is planned soon.

He’s recently signed with Literary agent Robert Dinsdale of Dinsdale Imber and is working on something a bit longer.

You can find RJ on Twitter as @dedbutdrmng or read more of his work on his blog at http://wah-wahwriter.blogspot.co.uk/

When not writing, RJ dreams of growing a huge pair of antlers and hiring himself out as a novelty coat-rack.

The Man #flashfiction

This is my entry for Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge, based on a first line from Jake Bible. I suppose it’s sci-fi/horror, I’m not entirely sure… it just made itself up from the first line… The Light

THE MAN

by SJI Holliday

The problem with the ringing phone wasn’t how loud it was, or that it hadn’t stopped ringing for an hour, but that Tom didn’t have a phone.

It’d been 172 hours since The Man had visited and told him what he needed to do. 167 hours and 47 minutes since Tom had burned all The Technology in the furnace in the basement. The Man had talked for nearly an hour. 55 minutes, to be exact. Once he was done, Tom realised he hadn’t moved a muscle the entire time. He had drool running down the side of his mouth from his slack jawed acceptance of The Man’s speech.

Tom was no different to anyone else, he’d thought. Everyone had The Technology. Years before, Tom remembered vaguely, there had only been landlines. There was no way you could lie about where you were. That was one thing Tom was particularly guilty of, in fact he’d done it just the other day. 185 hours ago when Kimmy had called saying ‘Where are you baby? I thought you were coming to see me.’ Tom had said, ‘I’m just picking us up some beers, then I’ll be on my way, honey. Get yourself warmed up for me, huh?’ He hadn’t been picking up any beers. He’d just finished boning Clara, the hot blonde from across the hall. It wasn’t the first time either. After that he’d just turned off his cell. He hadn’t spoken to Kimmy since. Wasn’t much chance of it now either, since he’d melted the phone in the furnace.

Which is why it was kind of a problem that he could still hear it ringing.

He’d gone back down there, just in case there was any way that the phone might’ve fallen on the floor; maybe someone recognized it as his and stuck it though his mailbox.

Maybe.

He’d struggled a bit with the TV. Damn flat-screens were heavier than they looked. He’d watched it pop and shrivel inside the furnace before he’d shut the door. The stench of the melting plastic had caught at the back of his throat.

It was easier with the other stuff. The laptop was small and light. He tossed it in. He hesitated over the brand new android tablet. He’d only had it a week. Just managed to set it up to be able to record the TV, not to mention converting and transferring all of his music and videos on there. He’d stood at the open door of the furnace, the flames licking the sides of the dark cavern; tablet in hand. When he started to feel the heat scorching his eyebrows, he tossed the tablet inside and slammed the door shut.

That was it. That was all The Technology he had. Wasn’t it?

‘All of it,’ The Man had said. ‘It will only work if you toss all of it.’

‘How long will it take?’ Tom had asked.

The man had cocked his head and stared. He had a face like an inquisitive sparrow. ‘I can’t tell you that,’ The Man said, ‘I still have a lot of people to see.’

After The Man left, Tom sat in the dark and waited for It to happen.

Waited to see The Light.

His stomach cramped.  His head spun like a merry-go-round. His mouth felt like an old rug that’d been left in the sun.

Still, the phone rang.

Using a final burst of energy, he’d turned the apartment upside down. He’d looked inside the empty shell in the wall where he’d pulled out the microwave. He crawled into the space near the sink where he’d disconnected the dishwasher. He trawled though the trash. He even checked inside the toilet bowl. Just in case.

If he could just find the damn thing and answer it. He could tell them to stop ringing. Tell them he needed to get rid of the phone. It was holding things up. Stopping It from happening.

He peered into the darkness of the unplugged refrigerator. The smell of the rotting vegetables sucked inside his nostrils. His appetite was long gone.

He folded himself back into the space near the sink. Knees pulled up to his chest. He felt things crawling in his hair; heard The Man whispering stuff inside his head; jittering, crazy noises. Like a jar full of flies.

He pushed his fingers into his ears to drown out the incessant ringing of the phone.

Closed his eyes, and waited.

Waited to see The Light.