Happy Tuesday! This is a sad day for me because it’s the last 5 Minute Fiction at my website, but I’m excited to pass it along to Wendy Strain (note that if her website is still on the fritz, you can access it here). To celebrate the end of my tenure with the challenge, I’m the guest judge this week. And here are the finalists:
- Rebekah Postupak, @postupak
- Michael D. Hansen, @buzzynutkins
- AmyBeth Inverness, @USNessie
- S.D. Ryan, @_SDRyan_
- Betsy Streeter, @betsystreeter
And now…the finalists’ entries:
The test tubes glistened, pale and thin, in the ugly fluorescent glare, but I didn’t care. To me they were beautiful, as beautiful as any sunset or poem or concerto. It’s something I’ve never managed to adequately explain to Markus, though I tried time and time again
“You act like they’re sentient,” he’d say, cocking an eye at me in that annoying way he had of conveying, I’m smarter than you. “You realize they are experiments. Attempts. Failed attempts, mostly. They represent nothing more than a day’s hard work put behind you.”
“I know they’re not sentient,” I’d say, fiddling under the kitchen sink for a vase. Markus’ thing was roses. He must have read somewhere that roses are the sure-fire way to a girl’s heart, because every time he came over, he pushed a tired bouquet of them into my hands. He never got the irony, handing me a bunch of dead things and stuffing down his own irritation at my inability to express the right kind of gratitude.
“I’m not sure you do. You and your crew have been working on this project for, what, ten years? Fifteen? At some point you’re going to run out of money—”
“We ran out of money three years ago. Didn’t stop us.”
“—at some point you’re going to run out of money, and energy. This is a ridiculous, fruitless project, Althea. Admit it: failure was always inevitable.”
“You’re wrong,” I said. “Failure was always optional. Only death was inevitable.”
“Was,” I agreed, staring through the window at my beautiful, glowing test tubes. “Didn’t you hear, Markus? We found it. Everything’s changed now.”
The roses fell slowly, sweetly, to the ground in the fading light.
Michael D. Hansen
“If you wanted to be remembered, you pulled the strings and gather the rope and lash yourself to a beginning or an end. Most of the off-Broadway plays would never be remembered, likely to be forgotten even by those who had been in it, let alone the audiences who had been tricked into buying a ticket. If you wrote for off-Broadway, you were planning to go somewhere or trying to fill the time until you died.
“With that mindset, I wrote the play, ‘Only Death Was Inevitable.’ It was not optimistic – even the sunshine was tinted a few shades away from gray to give it the sterile feeling of a body ready to be dressed and presented. It was brutally honest, and so close to life off-Broadway that you might have thought you were just watching the street outside an audition had the chairs been less comfortable. There were scenes in there that every actor, actress, stage-hand and director knew by heart before they were ever put to paper. The desire to be loved. The desire to be remembered.
“It was only natural that I would leap at the chance to cast Charles in the lead. He had acted with every actor that had ever been in New York and continued on to greatness. Some of them had tried to take him with them, but he always slipped right back to Broadway. And then, off-Broadway. He took the lead gladly, and he hit every line like it was the chance that got away.
“He never told me about the cancer though. The last day of the run, he just gave me a soft smile, and bowed his head bashfully, as he always did when someone paid him compliments. I told him that I’d see him later. He told me he hoped it wouldn’t be soon. I called him a bastard, inside my head. A brilliant bastard. But there has never been a more beautiful soul, or a more honestly-delivered role, than Charles. Only Charles… Was inevitable.”
Marta adjusted her spandex in the mirror. Her only advantage was that she was a skinny-geek not a chubby-geek. She could stuff her bra to make up for her shortcomings. Still, there were just enough perfectly-curvy geek-girls at the convention to keep the guys drooling and render all attempts at flirtation by the less-than-perfect girls obsolete.
“Only death was inevitable…” was the catchphrase of the night. All the paranormals were chanting it. Vampires in glitter, werewolf-Klingon hybrids with bad wigs. Even for the so-called immortal, death would eventually catch up with them.
“…except that he will fall in love with me. That too is inevitable,” Marta said, taking a deep breath and heading out to the costume contest.
He was Indiana Jones incarnate, his whip…
…his whip was entangled in a redheadded bombshell of a living toon, a girl pulling off Roger Rabbit’s wife without any padding whatsoever.
And she was GRINNING at him like she could eat him up.
Marta faded into the crowd, hoping she could be invisible in spite of the pink spandex.
She backed up until she stepped on someone’s toe.
“Oh! I’m sorry…” she said, spinning around.
And he sparkled.
…and one corner of his mouth quirked up, a genuine smile…
…and she thought perhaps nothing was inevitable after all.
Her arm ached. He told her to leave the bandage on for another hour, but she kept picking at the edges of the medical tape, fingers rubbing until a sticky corner curled and caught on her sleeve.
She had done better than she imagined. The needle hurt, of course, but she breathed through the pain. A flexed fist. Teeth marks on her lips. Then it was done. She was marked. Permanently changed.
She knew what they would say: What were you thinking? A woman your age? A professional?
But the admonishments would ring hollow in her ears. There are some things you know are right. Some things worth looking the fool for. Because, really, that was the point, wasn’t it. A woman her age, and she had done nothing. Risked nothing.
She worked all her life—hoping and dreaming. Planning for the family that never came, for the children not meant to be. She thought it a done deal. Marriage, two point five kids, and the white picket fence. But life had taught her of the myriad things one might hope for, only death was inevitable.
So she walked home, feeling phantom tingles on her arm, imagining the mark she’d carry with her from now on, and she smiled. This was hers alone. A moment of stupidity, of bravery.
The hope pulsing under her skin, and now written across it:
Only death was inevitable. The rest of it was up for grabs.
So she took off her clothes and jumped into the fountain.
Who would she be, once she didn’t exist anymore? Was she made up of thoughts, events, objects? The crap in her garage?
Was she made of other people’s memories? That couldn’t be. We all know that the mind warps the hell out of everything. If she lived on only in people’s memories, she’d be this bizarre fun-house version of herself.
Was she the top drawer filled with tickets and playbills from every play, every dance, every concert she had ever attended? Did these give shape to her identity?
Or was it all just in her head?
And if so, what about when she no longer had a head? What then?
For sure, she knew that she wasn’t a gravestone. Everybody who has stood, impotent, atop a mound of grass with a marker knows this.
So, she took off her clothes, and jumped into the fountain, and ran around in circles lifting her knees high, until her toes went numb and her fingers wrinkled up like raisins and her cheeks turned a warm shade of pink.
She climbed out, padded over to her pile of clothes, put them on. She went home, to the prescription pills and the paperwork, but she knew, and she would always know, she had jumped in the fountain.
Congratulations to the finalists! The prize du jour: the winner gets a copy of my soon-to-be-released novel (on Friday! Eep!) THE TRAJECTORY OF DREAMS.
For Lela White, a Houston sleep lab technician, sleep doesn’t come easy-there’s a price to be paid for a poor night’s sleep, and she’s the judge, jury, and executioner. Everyone around Lela considers her a private woman with a passion for her lab work. But nighttime reveals her for what she is: a woman on a critical secret mission. Lela lives in the grip of a mental disorder that compels her to break into astronauts’ homes to ensure they can sleep well and believes that by doing so, she keeps the revitalized U.S. space program safe from fatal accidents. What began at the age of ten when her mother confessed to blowing up the space shuttle has evolved into Lela’s life’s work. She dreads the day when an astronaut doesn’t pass her testing, but she’s prepared to kill for the greater good. When Zory Korchagin, a Russian cosmonaut on loan to the U.S. shuttle program, finds himself drawn to Lela, he puts her carefully-constructed world at risk of an explosion as surely as he does his own upcoming launch. As Lela’s universe unravels, no one is safe.
And now it’s time to vote for your favorite finalist entry…