I am a six-time winner of the Southern California Writers' Association Flash Fiction contest. We were given pictures and asked to write a 250-word story inspired by them. I don't know where these pictures came from so I don't know if they're public domain or how to contact the artists for permission. If I have reproduced a picture without permission, please forgive me. If the artist objects to the picture being reproduced I'll certainly remove it from this site. If the artist wants credit for the picture I'll be happy to include that--along with a link to a site of their choice. Until I hear differently, here are the pictures and the stories they inspired. Enjoy.



Learning Manners

In 1969 I was a rebellious teenager so my parents, deciding that I needed to learn appreciation for them and civilization, sent me to stay with my grandfather in the mountains. He didn't even have TV. The first week, Grandpa put me to work in his vegetable garden. Next to the garden was an old sign that was a Thesaurus of verbs warning people to stay off the plants. I hadn't seen another person for a week, so I asked Grandpa why it was there. Grandpa was cleaning his shotgun at the time.

"Well," he said finally, "I had a young feller used run through my property. I asked him nice not to run in my garden, but he said he wasn't running he was jogging. Every time he ran through my garden, he said something sassy, so I put up my sign and added the word. Just to let him know I was paying attention, you see." Grandpa paused, inserted two shells in the shotgun, and snapped it shut. "Well, when I ran out of room for words on the sign, I peppered him with my gun here."

I stared at Grandpa, horrified.

Grandpa grinned. "I didn't use buckshot," he assured me. "Just rock salt. But it got the young feller's attention. Which brings me to you. Your mama asked if I could teach you some manners. You think I should?"

I amended my fractious ways. I didn't want Grandpa teaching me manners.

 


Cold Comfort

I felt his pain when they rolled him into the room. As they set him in  place, I sensed exhaustion and the discomfort left by the tattered rope around his neck.

"Honey, it'll never work." said Venus de Milo from her niche. "I mean, a little May-December never hurt anybody but young guys can't commit. I dated David for a year and he couldn't keep it in his pants. Looks like this one can't either."

I excused his nudity because he couldn't help it. Neither could I. We were both vulnerable.

"And Romans never did understand Greeks," continued Venus. "Do you know what David gave me for an anniversary present? A bowling ball! What in the world did he think I would do with a bowling ball?"

The only gift I wanted was his love.

Venus leaned in to whisper." And I hate to mention it but he doesn't look too healthy. He's called The Dying Gaul for a reason, y'know."

I could comfort him, I thought as I twisted on my stony plinth. We could warm each other with affection.

"I don't know where your head it," declared Venus impatiently, "but I wash my...ooohh, I give up."

We've been together for a year. He's still in pain but I think my love eases him. I hope so. I've discovered I really don't know what he's thinking. And I'm positive he doesn't understand me. For our anniversary he gave me a hat.

 

Release

It all started with that damn deer, Flower thought mournfully as he surveyed the horticultural wreckage his life had become.

He'd been a lonely little fellow. Nobody would play with him because he tended to expel nasty gases when he got excited. He'd been hiding in a flowerbed, enviously watching the other kids play, when Bambi caught sight of him and mistakenly called him 'Flower'. So, to make himself acceptable to herbivores he'd adopted the name and buried himself in all things floral to mask his natural scent. He finally had friends. Unfortunately, none of them were skunks.

The friends grew up, as friends do, and gravitated to others of their kind. Except for Flower. Other skunks thought his fixation with plants (for decorating, not eating) was odd. Some whispered that he was gay.

Now Bambi had a mate and Flower had pansy-motif bed linens.

He was an adult skunk, dammit! It was time to accept what he was, find a mate, and get on with life. He released long pent-up flatulence with a sigh of relief. What freedom it was to be able to quit worrying about personal odor! He looked at his bedroom critically. Tomorrow he'd lose the foliage and get striped sheets and a leather daybed. He rubbed his paws together in anticipation. Little skunky odors escaped from under the covers and he inhaled them in appreciation.

But first he'd change his name to Stinky.


Punishment

A Hell's Angel, burnt brick red by the sun with curls hiding small horns, stopped his Harley by a Route 666 sign. A redheaded bimbo-imp hopped off the back of the Hog and quickly painted out one 6. The Hell's Angel nodded grimly at the revised Route 66 sign and muttered, "All roads still lead to L.A."

As the imp climbed back on the bike, she asked, "Lord, forgive my impertinence, but why do we have to do this?"

Satan scowled. "When God threw me out of Heaven, I was alone. What's a king with no subjects? All roads led to Rome, so I put the Gates of Hell there and collected millions of souls until Dante blew my cover. I finally found Los Angeles and moved the Gates there. I collected even more damned souls and was happy until God sent every incompetent, inflexible bureaucrat who'd ever existed to me. God's Map designated the road 666 and, even though I ordered the bureaucrats to modify the signs so souls wouldn't know where they were really going, they refused."

Satan bared his fangs, shook one taloned fist at Heaven and howled triumphantly, "It's taken me eighty years but I've changed every sign! My Gate will remain to trap souls and those bureaucrats you sent are stewing in the deepest pit of Hell! What can you do to me now?"

The clouds parted and a resonant voice boomed, "I'm organizing the bureaucrats into a Union."

Satan wept.


Swept Away

Dorothy had been in Kansas a week before she started regretting her return. Not only was she bored--she actually missed Miss Gulch; at least, her complaining about Toto broke-up the monotony--but she yearned for the vivid colors of Oz. Everything here was so drab!

And there was so much work to do! The tornado that whisked her to Oz had left the farm in a shambles and Auntie Em and Uncle Henry were getting too old to do much. Lunk, the farmhand, had suddenly left to attend engineering college, and that meant Dorothy had to pick up the slack.

She tracked down the wandering Magician and borrowed his crystal ball.

"Glinda, can you hear me?" she chanted into the orb. "Come in, Glinda."

Glinda's head wavered into view. "The reception is terrible," her tiny voice peeped. "you'll have to speak up."

Dorothy yelled her predicament and they came up with a plan. Dorothy sold the ruby slippers on eBay and hired a replacement farmhand. Then she returned to the farm and waited impatiently in a cornfield. Oh no, here came Uncle Henry waving a chore list!

"Hurry, Glinda," she prayed.

A small whirlwind appeared out of the clear sky.

"I love you, Uncle Henry, but I can't stay here! Give your list to the new guy!" She jumped into the whirlwind and was whisked back to Oz where she became an apprentice witch.

Moral: You can't keep 'em on the farm after they've been to Oz.


Illumination

The sun had set and the moon was rising when the elderly woman shepherded the last earnest tourist and yawning schoolchild out of the lighthouse and locked the door. She wearily climbed to the top of the lighthouse and joined her husband who was polishing the giant elliptical lens with a rag.

"They're all gone," the woman sighed.

"Make any money off 'em?" the husband asked.

"Enough to convince them they're saving history," returned the woman.

"It's a good excuse for the lighthouse but I miss the old days when people thought we were protecting ships from rocks," said the old man meditatively. "I loved those sailing ships. The tankers just aren't the same."

"No, they're not," agreed the woman. "Time to turn on the light?"

"Yup, might as well get comfortable."

The couple pulled off their latex masks to reveal bald, gray heads with enormous eyes. The man flipped the switch of the massive lantern and the couple shielded their faces as it turned.

"The ship was parked behind Jupiter," the old man finally said. "Shouldn't take more than half an hour to land. We can leave after we brief the new team."

"After two hundred years I thought I'd be glad to leave," the woman said. "But I think I'm going to miss these specimens."

"That's why they transfer us to new labs," her partner said. "We get attached."

The woman sadly nodded and watched as the light guided the starship to Earth.