For those of you who are unfamiliar with flash fiction, here’s a simple definition:
Fiction of a type characterized by being very short, typically consisting of only a few hundred words.
Thank you, internet.
For this specific challenge offered by NYC Midnight, the stories have to be 1,000 words or less. The writers are broken up into groups and each group is assigned a genre, a location, and an object. Putting all these pieces together, each writer has 48 hours to create a piece of fiction written in their assigned genre that is 1,000 words or less where the setting is the assigned primary location and the assigned object must make an appearance somewhere in the story. All stories are reviewed by a panel of judges and then ranked. Writers gain points through the ranking process and the more points you have, the better shape you’re in. All writers compete in rounds one and two and then only writers with a certain amount of points move on to round three, and then the same idea again for round four. It can be pretty fun; this is my third time participating.
While I certainly don’t think this is my best writing, I know it’s not my worst. And while the challenge provides writers with 48 hours to complete their submission, Andrew and I only had five hours to dedicate to the challenge due to unforeseen circumstances. I originally wrote it in the past tense and then changed it to present tense to ratchet up the suspense, so I was really worried about there being major tense mistakes that I overlooked. Given the circumstances, I’ll take it. It was in before the deadline and I ticked all the boxes. So without further stalling or explanation, here it is:
Genre: Horror // Location: A Surprise Birthday Party // Object: A Loudspeaker
Jenny sucks in a breath and holds it. She’s one block from home and she’s positive the butterflies in her stomach will flutter out if she exhales. All day she’s been dreaming about her “surprise” birthday party. Did my parents order a red velvet cake? Will my crush be there? Am I getting a car? Her best friends, Amber and Megan, are great friends but they’re terrible at keeping secrets. The girls had spilled the beans about the party earlier that week and Jenny was thrilled.
Surely the guests will be peeking through the blinds awaiting her arrival. She rounds the bushes, walks up the driveway, and down the walkway to the front door. She slides her key into the lock, gives the handle a turn, and pushes.
“Surprise! Happy birthday!” echoes loudly from inside the dark sitting room off the entryway but it sounds odd, almost tinny. The darkness inside is inky and jarring but Jenny plays along though she can’t see anyone yet. Why hasn’t anyone flicked on the lights? she thinks.
“Oh my goodness! What a surprise!” she says and fumbles for the light switch on the far wall. Her facial expression is ready for her adoring friends and family if she can only find the damn switch. Finally—flick.
Her smile melts as she takes stock of the room, her mouth falling open in disbelief. A three-tiered cake in the corner is splattered with blood. Presents on the coffee table are sitting in a puddle of red. The white walls look like Jackson Pollock paintings adorned with crimson streaks and strokes.
Jenny’s chest heaves, her pulse races in her neck. Eyes widen, palms sweat, and mouth goes dry. She steps deeper into the room, her shoes slick with blood, a metallic odor fills her nose. Tears start falling as she inventories the familiar faces. Mom, dad, brother. Amber and Megan. Aunt, uncle, cousins. The next door neighbors who were more like family than neighbors. Even Daisy, her golden fur soaked with blood. Everyone’s throats had been slit down to the bone. All of them. The white vertebra peeking through the bloody gashes is too much. Sick rises in her throat, she can’t catch her breath, she clenches her eyelids tight and she’s ready to scream when there’s a sharp click of a loudspeaker turning on followed by consistent background hiss.
A voice cuts through the noise.
“Jenny? Do you know what day it is?” It’s a male voice and his tone sounds like he’s grinning. Paralyzed by fear, Jenny can’t answer.
“Well, DO YOU?” the voice yells followed by a sharp pang of audio feedback. Jenny slams her hands over her ears.
“Yes!” she manages, eyes still shut tight, “It’s my birthday.” Terrified to move, she silently cries, tears and saliva fall from her face and join the pool of hot urine and sticky blood beneath her.
“That’s right, Jenny. It’s your birthday! It wouldn’t be a birthday without a present, now would it? But I have to sing you Happy Birthday first.”
“I don’t want a present! I don’t want a song! I just want to get the fuck out of here!” Jenny screamed to nowhere specific in the room.
“Come now, that’s not the birthday spirit. You’ll like my song, I promise. Then you can have your present.” The familiar tune began to play but it was in a minor key. It was darker, sinister sounding. The voice sang:
Happy birthday to you,
You don’t remember the things you do.
You’ve killed everyone that you love,
So why not just kill yourself too?
“What?” Jenny says opening her eyes slowly.
“You don’t remember, do you? Shame, you brought all your rage to this knife fight, if we can even call it that. They didn’t have anything to fight back with. You were a murderous marvel, truly.”
Jenny screams toward the loudspeaker, “What the FUCK are you talking about?”
“You know those pills your mother got you for your acne? Those were actually for your anger issues. You know, where you get so upset that you blackout and can’t remember anything?”
A spotlight turns on highlighting the blood spattered birthday cake in the corner. An ebony handled knife is sticking out of the top tier.
“Here’s your present, Jenny. It’s a choice. Everyone you love and care about is dead by your hand. You have no one left. No one to love you, no one to help you, no one to share your life with. What kind of a life is that? So choose—to live a worthless life filled with nothing but loss and pain, or join the ones you love and murder the last living person you care about.”
Jenny stares at the handle, chest heaving, eyes bloodshot, the sound of blood pounding in her ears.
“Tick-tock,” the voice says, then screams, “WHAT’S IT GOING TO BE?”
Jenny lets out a long guttural scream and sprints across the room toward the cake, hurdling over bodies, before clenching the knife in her fist and plunges it into her stomach. She stumbles against the wall behind her and slowly slides down. Her breathing slows and she closes her eyes one last time.
“Jenny? Jenny, can you hear me?” asks the voice. The air is thick with anticipation. There is no response.
“Okay, can we get a confirmation please? Everybody hold positions until confirmation is complete.”
A man dressed in white enters and takes Jenny’s vitals. He reports to the room, “Confirmed, subject #36 is deceased.”
The same male voice from the loudspeaker, but now chipper and energetic says, “Thanks, everybody, that’s a wrap for today. Get yourselves cleaned up and get some rest—that was a tough one.”
# # #
Post-Experiment Report: Trial Series 7, Subject #36
While we are indeed making progress, further testing is required to perfect the formula. Please acquire and prepare additional test subjects and hire appropriate actors for further scenarios.
Chief Behavioral Coercion Officer