10 prompts words. 24 hours. Write a story.
Want to create your own challenge this year? Get your group together and choose your ten words and GO! Make up your own variation and get in touch with NFFD at nationalflash [at] gmail [dot] com to tell us about your 24-hr project.
Here’s what happened last year…
In 2012, Northland and Christchurch writing groups launched 24-hr flash projects. Christchurch’s challenge and events were organised by Catalyst Literary Journal; you can read some of their 24-hr flashes — including the winner of their competition, ‘A Walk in the Rain’ by Kay Luff — here.
Further North, NZSA Northland branch chair Katharine Derrick gave ten prompt words to writers in her group on Friday, 15 June, and by noon the next day they gathered and shared their stories, each one under 250 words. Most people associate June 16 with Bloomsday, but in Northland they took the the opposite direction and wrote short short stories. Some take place in one day, too.
To find the prompt words, Katharine took 10 books, opened each one to a random page and chose the 10th word on the page. Here’s the list:
Eosin, Cheap, Bridge, Surprise, Stronghold, Sloth, Time, Ruffle, Apple, Nickname
Here are the stories from Northland’s 2012 project.
Northland 24-hr Flash: 12 stories from 16 June 2012
Daphne Claire, Eosin
He gave her an apple this time for her birthday surprise. A cheap gift, she thought. She’d wished for jewelry or perhaps something intimate in silk and lace. Instead, he’d plucked an apple from the enormous greenhouse he’d turned into a stronghold with alarms and a padlocked door. No sloth, she had to admit, he toiled there daily over his experiments — banana-flavoured pears, lemons sweet as honey, purple-fleshed oranges, that she found unnatural and slightly
sinister, and now…
“I call it Eosin,” he said. ”For its colour. Try it, Peaches.” Even his
nickname for her was a fruit.
The apple was an almost fluorescent red. She bit into crisp pink flesh and sugary juice exploded into her mouth, ran down her chin and soaked the ruffle on her favourite blouse.
She left him that day. Nothing could bridge the canyon-sized gap between them.
In years to come “Eosin Splendid” made him a fortune but she didn’t care. Ironically perhaps, she took a job picking fruit that tasted the way it always had, and ended up marrying the orchardist, who, although no millionaire, bought her rings and necklaces for Christmas, and frilly underwear for her birthdays.
+ + +
Jac Jenkins, He Was He And I Was I
He is a writer and a philosopher. I am a beauty therapist, offering cheap skin treatments to wannabe beauties. We reached for the same apple at the same time at the Bridge Café. That’s how it started — with a sharp intake of breath. Five weeks later we exhaled.
+ + +
We shot onto the time bridge in a burst of eosin as the cheap propellant fired up. It should have come as no surprise to us, but we’d been desperate for transport with Rob so ill, and with so little time available to respond to each crisis. When he’d first developed the progressive malignancy we’d struggled to cope. So when the vehicle had been offered to us we’d grabbed it without question. We’d always known there’d be a danger that we could slip through a ruffle in the time-space warp, and into one of the other strongholds spaced inside the thin fabric of the universe. So here we were, in a world where colour saturation dipped heavily toward the red end of the scale, and even leaves appeared more purple than green. Red. The colour of danger. That’s why I responded in attack acceleration mode when the sloth spoke to us from where it hung under the branches. It was lucky that it moved faster than its name implied, and my strike simply dislodged an apple from one of the smaller branches.
And that’s when the miracle became apparent. Before I could stop him, Rob grabbed the fruit and took a bite. He leapt from his sling as if stung. I was grabbed and swung in circles.
“I’m cured Sammy, I’m cured.” He used the nickname that had been mine in the early days, before the struggles began. Before we were driven out of Eden.
+ + +
Kathryn Jenkins (aka Katharine Derrick), Stained
We left our stronghold at dawn, hoping to reach the extraction point early but we hadn’t counted on the children: a village of them, cold and hungry. One boy spoke a little English.
“Where are your parents?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Gone.”
I ruffled his hair then dug into my backpack and pulled out an apple. He grabbed it and fled. The other children flocked around him but when they discovered he wasn’t giving it up they stampeded us. Grown men knocked to the ground by skinny kids. It could have been funny at another time in another place. We dished out as much food as we could spare and continued on our way.
We missed the extraction by an hour but they’d left us a note: “Sloths will not be collected here.”
“Welcome to our new nickname,” someone mumbled.
We hoped they’d send new instructions but on our cheap army gear we never knew if the signal would be picked up or not. Jimmy had been out here before and said he knew of a place where we could wait.
That’s how we came to be crossing the bridge. They took us by surprise, firing first. Our guys in the front toppled off, the rest of us jumped. Using the bank as cover we returned fire. It was a battle no one could win. The river ran with an eosin stain that day.
+ + +
Barbara Wrigley, A Bridge Too Far
“Mum! Come and look! I’ve got a surprise for you!”
I was surprised, already, that he was out of his bed at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning. Twelve-year-old Boris was usually such a sloth that his nickname was Slow Loris.
He grabbed an apple and led me down the back yard, to where the chooks ran free under the trees.
“It’s my stronghold”, he said proudly.
“How on earth did you find enough time to build this?”
In front of me was a large, wooden… well, you could only call it a structure, surrounded by a ditch with the mucky water from the stormwater drain rerouted through it. A plank bridge gave easy access to the arched doorway, over which E O S I N was lettered in a vivid fluorescent pink.
“It’s an anagram of noise, and I’ve brought my CD player and my drums down here. You’re always saying they are too loud in the house.”
“Where did you get the paint?” I asked.
“It was in a little bottle in Dad’s lab, he said it was awfully cheap, so I didn’t think he’d mind if I used it. And look, I’ve even got a window,” he added.
“And – a curtain, I see. That wouldn’t be the ruffle off my bedspread, would it?”
“Well, you said it was an awful old thing, and you needed a new one.”
+ + +
Lesley Marshall, Stains
She stared at the eosin seeping through the cloth. Blood-coloured, it reminded her of the body she’d buried under the old bridge. His t-shirt had seeped red like this, though not in such pleasing patterns.
She tied another knot in the material, mentally dismissing him. He was long gone from her life, which was so much pleasanter now. Maybe a bit of yellow to soften the red. Or salt?
She scattered a few grains, watching white patches pockmark the red, dissipating the blood-image. Yes, perfect. Like her life.
A sharp rap at the door startled her.
As she was bundled into the police car she noticed the red stains on her
fingers. They would soon wear off, but she knew the ones on his t-shirt
would still be there for them to find.
+ + +
Sian Williams, The Bridge of Sighs
She’d been here so many times before in her imagination that she knew it would be an anticlimax. She expected an anticlimax; in fact, anything else would be an anticlimax. So she was almost pleased when the bridge itself was crowded with Korean tourists and she could barely force her way to the window to look down through the bars into the ruffled greasy waters of the Rio di Palazzo. A slimy tidemark clung to the limestone buildings on either side of the canal; a Styrofoam burger carton and an apple core floated slothfully past.
Derek had an odd look in his eye so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he went down on one knee. She was horrified for a moment, before the humour of the situation prevailed. Only Derek could spoil something which was already so disappointing. Derek mistook her smile for wistful enthusiasm and started his speech “Pumpkin, in this stronghold of the Venetians, in this beautiful palace, please consent to be my wife, the Queen of my castle, the Dogaressa of my heart.”
He took a small box from the pocket of his Saville Row suit and handed it to her. She could tell immediately that it was from a discount jewellery warehouse and would contain a cheap, yet ostentatious, ring.
She took it and, without opening the box, threw it into the canal.
“But Pumpkin…” he called.
She turned back, looking at him one last time, “I always hated that nickname.”
+ + +
Kathleen Wynn, Homecoming
Molly Malloy was late leaving work and only just managed to catch the last express. The train was clattering over Stirling bridge when she sneaked a look at the man opposite her. He looked quite unruffled as he sat there in his cheap suit, munching an apple, but Mary wasn’t fooled. Every night for the past two weeks he had sat opposite her on the way home. On the first night when she glanced sidelong into the glass she was surprised to see him studying her. Here he was at it again.
She didn’t panic. He had never followed her off the train.
Now, at the deserted station, she strode through the exit and on to the lighted footpath. She was almost home when in the darkness between street lights she thought she saw a shadowy movement. “Imagination,” she told herself.
Trembling, she unlocked her door. Once inside her stronghold she drew the curtains, turned on the light, took a sedative, lay on the sofa and fell into a fitful sleep.
The cat’s plaintive meowing outside woke her. Like a sloth she moved to the door and opened it. There was the man. “Molly Mal …” was all he had time to say before she felled him with the nearest heavy object.
She nerved herself to extract the eosin stained paper he clutched in his lifeless hand. “Martin,” she read, “Malloy”. It was a birth certificate dated twenty years previously, the year she had given up her baby boy.
+ + +
Derin Attwood, Flamed Catastrophe
Bill Jamison had a problem with his apple tree. Having eliminated everything else, he sent a soil sample to be tested. An application of eosin proved it was contaminated with nematodes. This was a surprise as their stronghold was in Pukekohe.
Bill’s wife gave the answer. Betty bought Pukekohe potatoes. When the sack was empty, she gave it to Bill to incinerate. Bill was cheap. He hated having to tend the incinerator until the fire was out. Anyway he thought the few handfuls of soil in the bag would enhance his garden. He poured the debris onto his garden, and so provided a bridge for the nematodes to a new home. Time passed and the nematodes prospered, eventually causing problems in their new home.
Betty’s feathers were ruffled. She had told him to light that fire. Her nickname for her husband is sloth. She’ll never let him forget.
+ + +
Margaret Cahill, Vengeance
I got up and peered out the kitchen window. Mrs Goodwillie was pegging out her washing in the usual ordered way – socks on the inner rung, undies on the next rung out, towels on the third rung. The outer rung was empty. She washed her sheets on Fridays.
I watched as she glanced over the fence at our unkempt yard, yesterday’s washing hanging limply after a night of heavy rain.
Ian said she called Bob Slouchboy and her nickname for me was Sloth.
I stood there like a defiant schoolgirl, munching an apple with my mouth open.
I got a surprise when she began gesticulating, so I gave the window a few good knocks with the side of my hand and it opened.
“You need to do something about that gate of yours,” she yelled. “Your dog was in here again this morning.”
I fixed her a deadpan look, munched a mouthful of apple, and let her admire my new bridge. Then I slammed shut the window.
Time to ruffle her feathers, I decided.
As soon as she set off for the shops, I popped across to the stronghold, still in my pyjamas. The cheap spray can of eosin introduced a touch of gaiety to Mrs G’s washing. The chalky old dog turd added a sculpural element to the pot plants on her porch. Then I headed home for a bath.
+ + +
Lesley Marshall, Bait
The ruffle was a surprise. Eosin looked at it, considered. The silver threadwork meandering daintily across the apple-green meant it wouldn’t be cheap, but it was an interesting contrast to the slit up the left leg.
Surely The Sloth would propose when she wore this? His nickname was
well-earned – the man was so laidback she sometimes wanted to check him for
“Yes,” she told Mrs Bridges, dressmaker to the gods.
It was time to lay siege to the stronghold of his heart.
+ + +
Michelle Elvy, Aquinas, Acid and Anagrams, Not Necessarily In That Order
(inspired in part by stumbling late-night onto this site)
I am a sloth, sluggish on my mossy tree. There is a limb reaching toward me, a bridge to another tree if only I can move toward it, but it’s too far and it’s not my nature to try. I didn’t get this nickname for nothin’.
It is quiet here. Time ripples my skin, wind ruffles my hair. I am floating up. There is no stronghold, not a single holdfast. Just when I am about to float away, I hear a faint song, not recognisable, a soft surprise as it plays backwards. I settle back onto my branch and watch the world unwind. A flutterby turns back into chrysalis, the anti-pupate: no cocoon, no safety. I look back and see what lies ahead. I look ahead and see you behind me. Not where I left you.
What is your name, I say.
Is that Spanish?
No. You are not at home. And listen: sloth is not a sin, it’s passion.
I am passion, I say. I will bite the apple, but then I am stained red. I am muscle fibre under a microscope and you are looking hard at me, even with your cheap Cory Hart sunglasses you wear at night.
Shhh, you say, Listen. You take out an old vinyl LP, play it backwards.
Eosin is an anagram of noise, you say.
I take the LP and play it all the way home as it unwraps, unwinds, and undoes everything I know.