In a Flash
1 prompt. 6 writers. 150 words or fewer.
Arguably fueled by the internet generation’s short attention span, flash fiction has quickly become one of this decade’s popular literary forms. But what exactly is it?
Commonly defined by its word count (1,000 words or fewer), the form defies typical characterization. It can include all of the elements of storytelling — plot, setting, character, conflict and narration — but it need not. It should create an intense emotional impact. But in its simplest realization it should be a simple sketch, or flash, of a scene; a snapshot of a moment in time.
The shortest of this form has been called “Twitterature” because it adheres to the platform’s 140-character limit, and can easily be found under #sixwordstory, inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s alleged tale: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” But it’s often also been referred to as short short stories, sudden fiction, microfiction, nanofiction (55 words), dribbles (50 words), drabbles (100 words), quick fiction and postcard fiction. The Chinese call it “smoke-long” because one should be able to read the story in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. And the Japanese call it “palm-of-the-hand” because, well, the stories are short enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Smitten with the idea of being able to share multiple stories from multiple authors, we turned to the Department of English and asked professors, students and alumni in the creative writing program to submit some flash fiction of their own. The prompt was simply “mirrors and reflection,” and each writer had only 150 words to weave their tale. Here’s what they created.
“You’re no longer the fairest,” the mirror said. The mirror was a liar, so the queen pulled the mirror from the wall and smashed it on the royal floor. “No longer,” each shard screamed, winking from the tile at her feet. With the heel of her royal boot, the queen ground the glass to dust, and still the dust would not be silenced. “No longer,” the dust sang. The queen opened her mouth to scream a royal scream, and the dust coated her royal throat. It laced her lungs. Until, soon enough, the queen was not only no longer, she was no more.
High school drama class, 2004: The mirror game — sit, knees touching, cross-legged, with your younger sister — your assigned partner. Mimic her movements. Focus. Connect. Don’t speak. What would you say, anyway?
Forgive me, sister. I have sinned.
She’s had a tough night — red eyes, ringed by yellow crust from crying. Your fault. Heat fuzzes your cheeks like TV snow static. You heard once that no one ever touches anyone else; touch is just electron transfer. Your four hands hover at your chests — push away? Pull closer? Hands shake. Watch the electrons leap the space between your palms — almost pressed in prayer.
He took her to the gallery. Last month’s gelatin silver photographs were replaced with infinity mirrors, each one reflecting neon lights ever smaller.
“It can’t really be infinite,” he said. “I bet under an electron microscope you could see where the light fizzles.”
“Looks infinite to me,” she said.
“Nothing lasts forever.”
They looked into the next mirror, bigger than the others. It looked like a portal to another dimension. “You don’t know that,” she said. He saw the LEDs falling away. Neon echoed into oblivion. The center was too dark, too open, too unwritten, sliding away into forever.
Cool Your Heart
Before your first date, mirror you shows you how to kiss properly. He traces the shape of your date in the air, cups the silhouette by its chin, leans in slowly. You turn away when mirror uses his tongue:
Like you haven’t seen this before.
“Just not in action,” you say. You turn off the light so mirror you can’t see you practice your handshake, your hello. You know mirror you will be disappointed when you don’t come home with a trophy of lipstick; you couldn’t go through unleashing your mouth on her like it was a plague.
My gaze falls on the cheap mirror hanging crookedly off to the side of the refrigerator. In it, my eyes are beady, red and puffy. My hooked nose is extra long and bright pink. The mirror has a distortion. The middle part of it elongates my face while the outer part stretches it out. I know this, and yet, I wonder how much of a difference it makes.
On days like this when all the bulbs in his crumbling bookshop, all the halogen heads and all the people in this overcrowded city sparkle like chumkis on a bridal veil, Gourhari closes the shop and walks to the red-light area.
Jui, the prostitute, wraps herself in the old red silk and wears the bridal veil when she hears Gourhari walk upstairs to her room.
He says her face is a mirror of his wife’s. A distant reflection of love that died the second day of their marriage.
She moves a little, angling herself so the chumkis on her veil smile. The saddest smile. For years.