Flash Fiction Challenge

Are you game for writing flash fiction?

I would like to propose a challenge - take five of the following words (generated at random) and incorporate them as components of a 1000 word story. Deadline 10 April. Do your best!











I agree about the fun element Brian and I especially want to avoid the ego thumping element. Although there haven't been a lot of comments on the stories posted, there is a positive vibe and I am going to continue to post little 'challenges' to stimulate the creative writers of this network. Sometimes it needs a little poke to get us in the writing mode and the more we practice our craft, the better we get.

I like the twist in the tale (sic) This is something for which the short story form is ideal for expressing

Wow! That's great!

Paying the Piper by Jim Archibald

It's a crackling sound. It sounds like old parchment. How appropriate for the Tomb of the Holy Father. But wait. I get ahead of myself. I know the sound; it's within me. The dry crackling flexion of my lungs. The parchment paper lungs of Christ's Vicar on Earth.

'Holy Father. Holy Father. Some water perhaps?' Ah Sofia. The dear companion of my final days. A broad-faced, wide-beamed peasant from the Mezzogiorno. I still find it impossible to believe that the world Press might speculate on sexual misadventure between this stolid, plodding mule and myself. Sister Sofia, younger, much younger than I, and yet smelling of old, dry linen; dried, wrinkled, redolent of rosewater and vapour rub. If they but knew how much of a relief the celibacy of the Holy Father was.

Gianni Contadini, a street thief and pimp from the North. A venal, immoral child of the streets of Aosta. Light years from Pope Sextus VI. And yet the root, the life-line runs through both unique entities to end here, curtailed in this impossibly large bedroom.

'For pity's sake. open the curtains. The curtains ... some light.' For some reason they don't understand what I'm saying. My bedchamber is full of people. They merge with the shadows, they shift in the guilty manner of supplicants. I hear them gossip and it takes my attention. I want to see the sky. The long narrow slice of blue glimpsed above the tall, ancient corridors of Aosta.

'More light' Mehr Licht. Goethe's last words. Who would have thought it, Gianni? A pick-pocket who can speak five languages, who can quote a long dead German Poet. After ruling the Roman Catholic World for twenty-five years, I learn at the hour of my death, why this chamber is so large. It must accommodate all these privileged spectators to the death of St Peter's successor. My death is the main event.

'Eminence. His Holiness is trying to speak.' She speaks to that bumbling old saint, Henri. Here he comes, Cardinal Fourchet, my Secretary of State. I wanted a St Paul as my strong right hand. Instead I had a St Francis. A wonderful shepherd; but no Prince, no Iron chancellor.

'Holy Father. It is I; Cardinal Fourchet.' I know that you old French fool. I haven't said that of course. Can you imagine sitting throughout eternity having departed life with that sobriquet?

'Open the curtains.' I'm shouting at the top of my voice. It's quite undignified but I hear the slough of sand in the glass. Henri looks at me in the same way he gaped at my Private Secretary's mobile phone, back when we thought we might change the world. Over Fourchet's uncertain shoulder the Holy See shifts.

Come, come Gianni? Gratuitous hyperbole at this late hour? What I mean is that I have spotted the opposition party. There in the shadows I see their sharp, expectant features. Cardinal Ancelloti. The full, fleshy face of a Borgia; the thin rapier brain of Macchievelli. The Papal choice of the Italians. What will the world make of the new Pope's mistress? Contessa Farinese, the darling of the Paparazzi.

And next to the old Roman Satyr? The American. That bloody American Thomas O'Shaunnessy. Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago; Panderer to the Mob. A cheque bouncer. Money launderer too. There must be a good half dozen of them huddled in the shadows. The 'Must live in the Real World' men. When they move away they will leave an oily slick on the wall. Am I to leave St Peter's throne to these peddlars and perverts Lord?

Old Henri takes refuge with the Third World I see. The Africans, 0rientals, South Americans, even the beleaguered British. Not the Glaswegian Cardinal? Not that night club comedian, laughing boy Desmond. He's become Ancelloti's court Jester. There he is, practising his homespun patter on that handsome civilian in the dark suit. Who is that, I wonder?

'Holy Father what is it you want?' Henri has begun my absolution. 'Ego te absolvo, in nomine patrie...' The rattling in my chest has stopped. Sofia stop blubbering please. I can hardly hear myself breathe.

'Au Revoir, my old friend.' Henri, I'm still here. I can see you, you bumbling old fool. Don't do that. Don't shut my eyes. I need to see...


I'm still here. In my cavern of a bedchamber. Dear God I am so confused. Am I dead? Is this Purgatory? Have I been allowed direct entry to Paradise? What?

'Well, well. So we're finally here?'

'Do I know you sir? Have we met before, perhaps?' No I'd remember. It's the gentleman in the dark suit. From Ancelloti's little clique. But why him? Where are the others?

'Oh come now Gianni; of course you know me.'

I don't know him... and yet. He's much older than his looks. Handsome. Compelling in a strange 'Renaissance' way. I could imagine him in silks and lace. His hair much longer maybe.

'You think I'm handsome, Your Holiness? Here, let me stand out of the shadows. Better?' The dark hair is swept back from a sharp peak in the middle of his brow. The eyebrows thick, lustrous. The fleshy, bee-stung lips of a Titian cherub. He talks with his hands. Long tapered hands that compel the listener. It's what he does once your fixed. It's a shyster's cheap trick and yet I can't but follow the beat and swoop.

'I'm dead, that's it, isn't it? And you... you're... an angel?'

'Dead - yes of course. Angel - No. But then you know that already. Deep down you recognise me.' He spins like a dancer. He's pulled the heavy curtain wide. My eyes. The pain of the light.

'Close the drapes, please. Please, it hurts my eyes.'

'But you wanted your hour in the Sun, Gianni. In your pride you asked me; begged me to place you here.'

'That was a dream. That wasn't real, just the fevered imagining of a young man. I... I....' He's smiling. I remember the smile. Oh God I remember the smile.

'Monsignor Contadini, Bishop of Perugia.' His hands shape the words. 'But you wanted so much more Gianni. Non e Vero?' He has moved. The sun slants directly at the bed. The pain is unbearable. 'Come Holy Father I have the transaction here.' He beckons to a side table. He is nearing the bed, pressing me to take his hand. I must rise it seems. It's a broad, heavy ledger. Tooled leather and creamy, velIum pages. I recall it from my dream, and sure enough the memory is accurate. Too accurate.

'It was a dream... a dream that's all. Vivid I grant you but still just a dream.'

'Turn the page Gianni. Go on Your Holiness, look at the result of your dream.' The unctuous bastard shoots his cuffs and then puts dream in quotes with two fingers of each hand. The vellum is cool to the touch. The open page shows the signature of the Pope immediately before my predecessor. 'You bought the Throne of St. Peter with your soul Gianni. Not something one would readily forget. Turn the page.' I don't need to look round I can hear his smile. The page gives a crack as it turns and it's there before my eyes. My own bold, looping signature; the guarantee in Latin, the price for a promise made and kept, God help me.

'I did all of this for God. He will not forsake me now.' I sound more confident than I feel, though it has no outward effect on Satan. There, I've dared to put a name to my tormentor.

'Now what part of God's work was your becoming the Supreme Pontiff? I mean really Gianni... you sold your immortal soul to advance God's purpose? What delusion. Tell me your Holiness; who am I?' There's that smile again. Gentle, wistful, benevolent even. 'Come now Gianni; I need to hear you say it.'

'Get thee behind me Satan.' I hear the reverberations of my shouted command.

'Satan? You think I'm Satan?' His laughter has a high, feminine quality. 'Do you believe good and evil to be two sides of the same coin? Do you believe in the eternal battle between right and wrong, the light and the darkness?' He leans toward me and I can see silver white in the black hair at his temples. 'With such a weight of evidence at your disposal here, Holy Father, you can mistake the dual nature of God?'

"You mean... you mean you're...'

'Yes Gianni. Just so." A small brazier burns on a table behind his shoulder. I haven't noticed it before. "Your soul is a gift from me. A gift you thought so little of that you sold it to gain the world.' His hand is passing unobstructed through my chest. Impossible surely. It has re-appeared, closed as a fist. A light seeps through the fingers, and now he drops it onto the brazier. It burns swift and bright. Some of the colour seems to have been drawn from the room. He leads me by the shoulder, propelling me toward the window. 'This is the world you have bought Gianni.'

A legion of grey faces peer up at me. Faces I recognise, all with the same thing in common. Eternal life in the grey, soul-less world of our own choosing.

Thanks, Sandie, for the lovely comment. I haven't been back to Tobago since 2008 - I used to stay at The Seahorse Inn - a superb restaurant with just four lovely rooms immediately across the little road from the beach. In 2005 I should have been going back to Sri Lanka for a holiday but the tsunami hit on Boxing Day 2004 and my friends' hotel was badly damaged. I had to look for another location. Amongst a pile of newspaper clippings I remembered one to do with a review of a hotel in Tobago and the rest is history.

your story was a delight Sandra, I was completely transported to the Caribbean and what a shock it is now to realizethat I am in rainy France!

Haha, thanks Sealey, but I have written professionally for many, many years but NOT fiction. Always academic work in my case. That usually means acceptance by an editorial board, often two rounds of peer reviewers, then editors, readers and sometimes other nice little add-ons. My ego was heavily thumped about and became a bit used to the bashing over 30 years ago. It was just purely fun to write like this.

Why I took up the challenge is this. At school, I imagine around 1962, I was 'caught' up to something or other and had a detention. We had them from and run by prefects. They always had a written task which was intended to last around two hours. If somebody fulfilled the demand within that time they were allowed to go. A prefect placed a tea spoon in front of me and said that I had to write 200 words about the spoon. I left within 20 minutes with a very contented grin and have never forgotten the experience. I love such challenges, whether I am any good at them is another question.

I like the last paragraph especially - gives tragedy to the story

well I can just tell you are a cheeky one, Brian! Well done

Doreen, Gary, Brian and Sandra - thanks so much for taking part - and brave to put your heads up over the parapets so early. I would like to invite everyone who reads these stories to add their comments - what they like about the story, the style, and how they felt about it when they had finished reading. We are not looking for heavy handed criticisms here - all of us are probably amateur writers and have fragile egos! Must write something myself....

I've written one. However I was cheeky and included all words at least once:

The Guarantee

Alan had finally arrived. That is to say, he had the job he had always desired from the depth of his soul. Today he began work as a pastry chef. His chest was swollen with pride. He had arrived.

The kitchen had a pastry chef’s area which would be his domain. He surveyed it, scrutinised it and smelled its very essence. The first day of the month, the 1st of April; he would never forget that date. That, perhaps, was the mistake. He forgot the other aspect of the day.

His new colleagues had put out his various pots of flour, sugar and all else he would need. One small pot was his very important and never to be forgotten ingredient, baking powder. He started work. As meticulous as ever, driven by his pride, he looked down the day’s menu. The chef de cuisine had planned out lunches and dinners precisely. There was a party in who had asked for a croquembouche, torte au chocolat, au caramel et aux pacanes was on the main menu and some scone like biscuits for the tea service mid-afternoon. The biscuits needed to rise, therefore those were his starting point. He carefully laid out his ingredients then began to work.

By lunch the elaborate croquembouche stood like a tall thin pyramid of balls of delicate choux pastry on a serving dish designed like the inverted shell of a turtle. His torte au chocolat, au caramel et aux pacanes was ready for the lunch guests. Now it was time to gently bake his biscuits. He knew the value of the best quality from his many years assisting a top class pastry chef, he would do better.

Gossip was always part of a kitchen but he was new so had no idea why so many of his new colleagues were whispering, mouths close to neighbour’s ear, out of his hearing range. He picked up little more than the over pronounced vowel some of his French and Italian colleagues emphasised to tantalise rather than inform his curiosity.

Alan knew he was privileged to get the top job at the top French restaurant in that city. It was a place where custom was cosmopolitan and well educated in fine dining. Only the best would do. The party had come to the stage when the croquembouche was to be served. They were a family gathering of a French bride to her English groom a little earlier that day. It had to be perfect since most of the French relatives had made the long, arduous journey. The proprietor of the restaurant offered a guarantee of only the finest and Alan wanted this to be just that. A very few minutes later the head waiter arrived with a message from the bride’s mother. It was the best croquembouche she had ever had; her compliments to the pastry chef.

In the restaurant other diners were moving on to dessert. The chef de cuisine always designed a diversity of entrées, main dishes and the cheese course was a dream but only ever offered one dessert. Torte au chocolat, au caramel et aux pacanes was one of his most reliable choices. Alan had made it a few times but was so conscious of how easy it was to make a grave mistake he invested heart and soul into this one. Chef also tasted everything before it was served. He had said nothing. Alan knew that many chefs did that so waited to see. He glanced through the small round windows in the doors. In the restaurant heads were down and serious eating had silenced conversation. The true value of what that meant would be revealed later.

Service ended, tables were cleared and prepared for teatime. It was time to relax. Chef came over to Alan, took his hand and shook it. “Welcome to my kitchen, those were outstanding dishes”, he said. Alan’s chest was swollen with pride. It was time to begin working on the dinner desserts. His biscuits were in the baking oven and would be kept warm until service began in an hour. So time to move on.

Teatime arrived. Being a busy tourist area the restaurant had decided to serve it was to their advantage to serve cream teas. However, in line with the guarantee of the highest quality, they had to be of only the finest quality. Instead of scones, the biscuits had been introduced. They were somewhere between a scone and yet had the rich flavour of highland shortbread. It was a secret recipe exclusive to that restaurant but even then stunning in its simplicity. With the ingredients available anybody could make them. Alan just had to make them that much better. He had his pride.

It had been one of those particularly exhausting lunch services. The French diners had kept the entire kitchen staff on their toes. Their boss’s guarantee ensured they had to. The stress of working under pressure to do more than excellent had driven all thoughts of much else from their minds. Now they too had to prepare for the evening service. Several of the French diners from the wedding party had booked in again for that evening. That was all they could think of.

The teas were being served. Alan was carefully plating his biscuits. They were a rich golden colour unlike the standard pallid scone, so much more attractive. Waiters rushed to and fro, filling tables with pots of fine China teas, specially selected Italian coffees and Alan’s biscuits. Each plate was served with a side plate of butter, cream and a excellent strawberry jam. The teatime custom appeared to be enjoying them.

The first customers were finishing, the head waiter already had a customer’s cheque in his hand when one of the diners suddenly dashed to the toilet. Several others followed. The other chefs remembered the laxative they had put in the baking powder. Alan’s secret had been to add just a little extra baking powder.

That afternoon the boss reminded the kitchen staff of his guarantee of perfect food and service. The assistant chef behind the April fool joke confessed. For his mistake he was shown the door and given his final pay cheque. Alan was not amused, but it was not his mistake and his pride remained intact.

Short and Sweet

'Honey. There's a vowel in my turtle soup.'

'Honey. Take a laxative. I've only got your word on that.'

'Hone. I guarantee, I've got my pride.'

'So. it's my mistake, is it? No pastry for you chum.'

'Hone. I value you. Let me assure you, if the cheques keep coming, there'll be no gossip.'

Here is my effort - not great literary stuff, just a quick afternoon scribble.


There was no mistake, Jen was off on holiday to the Turtle Beach hotel on the Caribbean side of Tobago. It was her first holiday in over six years and she couldn’t wait for the flight to touch down at Crown Point airport.

A member of the cabin crew arrived back at her seat with a very small carrier bag in his hand. Inside, were two silk scarves. The first, was multi-coloured and the second, a peacock blue, silk scarf which she had chosen from the On Board sales brochure. They had been expensive but she particularly wanted the blue one as it was the same shade as a jacket she had recently bought. There had been a 50% discount for buying the second scarf and Jen handed over her cheque card to be swiped.

The flight had been long and boring and it wasn’t easy to sleep without room to spread out a little. She’d hoped for a vacant seat beside her but the flight had been full. The only saving grace had been the man across the aisle from her with whom she’d had a conversation for part of the time. He was a police officer from the UK going out to Tobago and Trinidad where he was involved in an investigation into drug running and he’d be out there for three or four weeks. Tom – they’d swapped names fairly early on, had said he was recently single again and, by coincidence, he lived only about ten miles from her home in Ealing, West London. He hadn’t asked for her ‘phone number and she hadn’t asked for his so there was little chance that they would meet again.

When the plane taxied to a halt and they started to leave by the steps, Jen was hit by the heat of the late afternoon sun. How lovely it was to leave England behind in foggy, cold and damp February and feel the Caribbean sunshine warming her through, it made saving for the trip absolutely worthwhile.

Three officials were dealing with the passengers in Immigration so it wasn’t long before she was collecting her suitcase from the luggage area and trundling it off to the exit. She had pre-booked a driver with the hotel and there he was with her name written on a piece of corrugated cardboard which looked as if it had been pulled from the side of a grocery box. Soon she was checking into the hotel and after unpacking a few things in her room she took a shower and changed ready for dinner.

The restaurant looked out over the beach where the leatherback turtles came out of the sea to lay their eggs in the warm sand. The conservationists who keep a protective eye on the turtles also inform the guests when a turtle has come onto the beach so they can go outside to watch her.

It was the week after Carnival and the crowds had gone back home. The dining area couldn’t have been half full which meant there was no long wait between courses. Jen pushed her chair away from the table and walked out to the verandah overlooking the beach where the evening’s gentle waves lapped onto the shore. She sat down in a cushioned, cane chair at a low table just as her waiter brought out a coffee and a rum punch cocktail – bliss.

She awoke the following morning to find the sun streaming through the slats of the window blinds. How lovely it was to wake up and have a guarantee that the weather was going to be brilliant sunshine – she was really going to enjoy her three weeks here.

She had her breakfast sitting by open French windows. A bananaquit flew down to perch on the rim of her orange juice glass, dipping its head deep to sip the last drops of sweet liquid. Jen managed to reach her mobile without scaring the bird and took several photos to mail to friends. In the bougainvillea blue tanagers arrived and flew away again. Huge frigate birds wheeled, silhouetted against the blue sky and brown pelicans sat endlessly waiting on the top edges of a fishing boat moored a hundred metres off the beach.

She dragged herself away from the view, went to her room and after applying sunscreen, changed into a swimsuit and sarong before going down to the beach. There was a choice of loungers and only a few nearest to the hotel were occupied. Jen walked a little way along the sand before putting down her beach bag on a straw canopied beach table and taking out her Kindle to continue with the novel she’d started to read on the plane journey. The previous long day of travelling had taken its toll and she soon drifted off to sleep.

Suddenly she was aware that someone was calling her name. She opened her eyes and looked up but was blinded by the brightness. With her hand shading her face she peered out and was surprised to see Tom from the plane. “Wow – I didn’t expect to see you again” she said. “Nor I you” he replied, “but you left this on the floor by your seat and because of my contacts here I was able to find where you were staying.” He handed her the little carrier with her scarves inside. “I thought I’d surprise you.” he laughed. “Well, thank you, and you’ve certainly done that!” she replied smiling. “I wondered if you’d like some coffee and coconut cake? I ordered some on my way through the hotel.” “Yes, that’d be lovely” said Jen.

Before long they were chatting like old friends and Tom arranged to pick her up at 7.00pm for a meal at The Seahorse Inn, a restaurant which served beautiful food on a terrace surrounded by palm trees twinkling with fairy lights. If romance could be in the air this was a very good setting for it. She knew those scarves had been good value.

1000 words sandrachubb@orange.fr 31 March 2013

Well Sandra you are a quick responder! I have just asked Catharine if we can do online document sharing or otherwise I suppose we can just upload them as replies. I am so looking forward to reading your story. Actually I have just noticed that I can upload files at the end of this reply, so you could just do that too if you have the story in Word format

OK - I've written one. What do I do with it now?