Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FLASH FICTION: First Line Challenge and an Original Short-Short Story

As a writing exercise, Chuck Wendig challenged writers to come up with a great first line. Entries were posted on his blog and according to his count, there were nearly 500. Now he's challenging writers to read through that pile of entries for someone else's first line, write a flash fiction story (1,000 words or less) using it, and post it on our own blogs.

Challenge accepted.

Okay, in truth, I didn't read all 500. Sorry. I read a bunch, though. I read until I found a line that sparked a full-fledged idear and I went with it. 

I'm what's called a "pantser" in the writing community. I don't outline what I'm going to write in advance, I just sit down and put those crazy ramblings in my brain down on digital paper. In other words, I write by the seat of my pants. Sometimes, if the ramblings aren't too incoherent, a story can be carved out of that. Which is why I like this exercise so much--it challenges me to write a complete story in a single sitting, edit it, and immediately put it out for the public to shame and tear to pieces.

Anywho, I chose a line written by George Kaltsios. I need to thank George for writing an intriguing sentence--"Try as he might, the Postman could not stop looking through the keyhole." It certainly captured my imagination.

And, as always, thanks for reading!


by JC Hemphill

Try as he might, the Postman could not stop looking through the keyhole.
The house, a two-story Tudor set back unusually far from the road and hidden behind an overgrown jungle of fragrant weeds and unkempt bushes, carried many legends that were known to him. Home to the deranged, the grotesque, the unwanted, 2211 South Bend represented the debauched fringes of human imagination, the details of which were as multifaceted as the locals professing its history. The house was haunted, people whispered, citing the dozens of murders and rumors of murders that had occurred beneath its thatched roof. Some claimed it was home to succubi. Or vampires. Or constructed with the bones of missing children.
But one thing was clear to all who viewed the house--this entity belonged to a darker age. Modern man had no claim here.

So when the first letter addressed to 2211 South Bend had appeared in his satchel, the Postman thought it peculiar. No name was written on the crisp white envelope, nor return address to identify the sender.
           Since the house hadn't required a mailbox in some time, he walked up to the front door, peeled back the vines growing there, and rapped lightly, somewhat convinced that knocking any louder would awaken the house and bring its awful wrath down upon him.
That's when he heard the music. Sometimes it seemed to come from behind him, as if someone were driving by with their windows down and radio blaring. But other times, he was sure the music came from inside.
The lock on the front door was from an era when keyholes were still keyhole-shaped. As long as he kneeled on both knees--his balance wasn't what it used to be--and closed one eye, he had no trouble seeing the empty room beyond.
The music ceased.
The room appeared normal, but he sensed an entire spectrum of existence beyond what his eye detected. Like infrared light, a mysterious heat was felt but not seen.
He wedged the corner of the letter in the doorframe and sprinted back to his vehicle. It was breaking protocol--without a mailbox or recipient, he was to return the letter to the post office--but in this instance, the Postman cared little for protocol.
The next day, another letter came in a crisp envelope, 2211 South Bend neatly printed on the front.
This time, the Postman heard the music before he reached the front door. There was no doubt: it originated from within. It was baroque or classical or opera or some such, the Postman had never been good at identifying that sort of music. The mellow voice of George Strait or Johnny Cash was more to his liking. But he was sure it came from an orchestra, the tune heavy with deeply resonating stringed instruments. He kneeled before the keyhole and looked at the room beyond. It was no longer empty. A slender table stood in the center. It was made of mahogany and was the type one would expect to see in a corner supporting a decorative vase, or perhaps an exotic flower.
The music ceased and, again, the Postman stuck the envelope in the door and fled.
The third day found him looking through the keyhole at the same table, only now it held a metal pot that shone with the yellow brilliance of polished gold.
The music ceased; the Postman fled.
He had sensed that hidden spectrum more than ever.
Each day he returned to 2211 South Bend, the Postman looked through the keyhole to discover a new item. After the pot came a throne that appeared to be made of pure ivory. The next day brought a gilded chest. Then came a platinum-framed mirror, followed by a painting that radiated a taste for the rare and valuable.
And every day, the stringed undertone of the music ceased at the very instant he looked through the keyhole.
Now, today, the sixteenth day since the first letter, the once empty room lavishly furnished, the Postman found himself too enraptured to look away. And, as if the house knew that today was the day, that it and the Postman had finally reached some unspoken agreement, the music continued to play as he stared through the keyhole. That baroque or classical or opera orchestration went into previously unheard melodies. The deep string tones grew deeper, subjugating the Postman's mind with its rich music. Behind this verbose structure was the discordant sound of a single drummer pounding out a slow, powerful rhythm that somehow infected the Postman until it was all he could hear, until the stringed instruments were gone, until the wild beating of his heart was gone, until his every thought was erased, replaced by the thump-thump, thump-thump of the drum, the drum that was everything and nothing, the drum that spoke and lay silent, the drum that reached and reached and reached--
The handle turned easily. The Postman, today's crisp white envelope in hand, stepped inside the room. Bassy music flowed over him like water. Vibrations ran through the floor and up his body.
One by one, in reverse order of their appearance, the items from the room faded, vanishing once again into that unseen layer of reality. The letter in his hands was the last to go. When he turned, he found that the door was shut, a keyhole-shaped beam of light angling down toward the bare floor. He went to open it but found his hands were made of smoke. They passed through the handle, but not the door. Nor the walls or windows of the house.
The music ended, its Siren song complete.
When the Postman kneeled before the keyhole and peered out onto the sunny world he had come from, he sensed an unseen spectrum, a hidden layer just below reality. It wasn't the same as the one he had--and still did--sense within the house. This one was vastly larger and infinitely more dangerous. It contained the most debauched fringes of the human imagination and he spent the next several days wondering if the house had trapped him or saved him.
A week later, when the Next Postman came, wearing his tidy blue uniform, a crisp white envelope in hand, an invitation meant for the carrier, not the recipient, the Postman still wasn't certain. All he knew was that when the Next Postman peered through the keyhole to investigate the odd music, he would be looking in on an empty room.


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