Story — Counting the Days

Day 25.

They make eye contact. She smiles. He pulls out an earbud and leans over. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

She shuffles through her bag and hands him one with the same smile. He returns it and thanks her.

Day 26.

“Hey, sorry to ask again. Could I borrow another pen?” he asks, pulling out an earbud.

“Sure,” she says. “No problem.”

Day 30.

They wave to each other when he walks in. She hands him a pen with a knowing smile, and he takes it.

Day 38.

She hands him his pen. He takes it with a smile. She gestures towards her ears, and he takes his earbuds out. “What are you listening to?” she asks.

Singin’ in the Rain showtunes.”

“Really? Can I hear?”

He scoots his seat closer and gives her an earbud. They sit together in silence for a moment as they listen.

Day 50.

She hands him his pen, he hands her half of his earbuds. They listen for a while.

“Have you seen Endgame?” he asks.

“I’m not really much of a moviegoer,” she winces.

“Oh, got it. No problem.”

More silence.

Day 62.

She is sitting in his seat when he gets there. “Somebody was in mine when I got here,” she explains, handing him his pen. He takes it and shrugs.

He hands her an earbud, and she puts it in her ear, but frowns. She takes it back out. “You gave me the wrong ear, let’s swap.”

“We can’t.”

“Why?”

He shrugs, avoiding her gaze. “The right earbud is busted, it doesn’t play anymore.”

Day 68.

“You know,” she starts, holding out the pen. “You can keep it. You obviously need it more than I do.”

“Well, I actually have a confession,” he replies. He takes out a pen of his own. He scribbles a quick note and hands it to her.

She blushes. “Tonight?”

“If you’re free.”

She was.

Day 77.

He walks in, and she hands him a box. He takes his earbuds out.

“Happy birthday!” she says.

“It’s not my birthday,” he replies, taking it.

“But it was. And it will be again.”

He opens it. It’s a new pair of earbuds.

Day 82.

They sit together for a while. She takes the last sip of her cup and frowns.

He looks up. “I have coffee at my place, you know. And it’s free.”

She considers it.

“I also have movies. Those are free too.”

“I do like free,” she says.

“I thought you might.”

They leave.

The same Day 82. Before or after the first.

They make eye contact as he walks in. A curt smile and a subtle nod. He sits down next to her. The only free seat. They sit next to each other for a while but have not met. He thinks about saying something. About asking for a pen. But just as he plans to execute, she packs her things and leaves.

He sits there, pretending to be working, but gets nothing done. Next time, he thinks. Next time will be different.

Me — New Prompt Challenges

I’ve had a fun idea for writing stories that are based on one-on-one interactions with people. I’ll just tell you about it now and then talk about it.

Ask somebody to give you a writing prompt. Anything it all. Could be one they Google, or just random words. Doesn’t matter. You also ask them to give you a number up to 200. (You can tell them that that’s your word count, but if you want to keep it hidden you can.)

Then you spin that into a micro-fiction story. That’s it. That’s the whole challenge.

I think this is neat because it does a lot of things all at once. First, it can tell you something about the other person. How they get this writing prompt and what they tell you will inform you a lot about their personality. If you ask them for a specific word number and they say “2” rather than “152”, then that tells you something else.

I’ve done this twice, and already I’ve come up with two interesting stories. Forcing yourself to change gears so drastically is a cool switch, because the number is really important for how you approach telling this story. The first friend I tried this on gave me a prompt longer than the word count he gave me. It was as follows:

Prompt: The fictional city of Leshburg is controlled by three crime syndicates/mobs. Upon waking up on December 14th, each mob boss has developed schizophrenia overnight. This is the story of mafioso Don “The Collapser” Delucci. 25 Words.

Story:
His rivals slain via tommy gun,
The city had fallen, “The Collapser” had won.
He asked his voices, “Am I done?”
They responded: “Yeah sure.”

It’s almost more poem than story, but that’s just it. I obviously don’t need to worry about backstory or context because the person I’m writing it for is the one that gave it to me.

When I’m writing these stories, I try to throw in the additional rule that I need a punchline. I think that’s what really makes this challenge work. With such a short story, I needed the rhyming aspect because the punchline is the sudden subversion of the rhyme. Obviously, with more words you can set up something better and, arguably stronger.

But I’m honestly having a lot of fun with this. I’m enjoying asking people for a prompt and word count because I learn a little bit about them, and then I get to spend the next few hours thinking about a brand new story. I might start doing this as a birthday present of some sort, I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that it’s been a blast so far, and I’d highly recommend it for flash fiction writers that want to challenge themselves.

I’m going to try to do one of these a day, but I highly doubt I’ll post them on the blog. I think by nature the prompt and the subsequent story is a private interaction. It means more to the individual than I would to the world, so publishing them would dilute the value, and obviously reading a random prompt and story wouldn’t feel nearly as good as giving a prompt and reading a story written for you.

It saddens me a bit, though. If I were more confident in the viewership of this blog, I would ask for people to comment with prompts and word counts. If that happens enough, maybe I could even make a weekly post based on four or five micro-fiction prompts people commented the week before.

I don’t ask for comments a whole lot, but if this is something that interests you, feel free to leave a comment with a prompt and word count (up to 200 words), and I’ll write you a story. If I get more comments than I expect, then we’ll turn this into a real thing.