Flash Fiction - The Devil Begins

Hi guys, blog still under construction - taking longer than expected but I'm committed on having a solid post backlog before I officially start - However I got into another one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge.

This time Chuck presented his readers with this nifty little page called the Idiomatic, and its brilliant. The page simply takes a few idioms and mashes them together, the result is more often than not a combination of funny and awe inspiring, in any case its a great tool for writing prompts. I tried it and love the first one that popped up "The Devil Begins with a Single Step", couldn't help myself to write something with it, and here we are, hope you like it.

Flash fiction, Image of The reverse flash by Wyv1 at Devianart

The Devil Begins

The devil begins with a single step… - Dean’s grandpa was fond of saying. Over and over throughout the years.

When Dean's family went to visit him on holidays, or in those rare occasions when he made the trip over to their house in the suburbs, there was always an opportunity, an event or occurrence that prompted good ol’ grandpa’s favorite saying. And for a long time growing up Dean failed to understand what he meant by it, but the sentence got scrawled into his psyche just the same. 

As the years went by, Dean did his best to figure out what he meant by it… no easy task. After all, old pop-pop seemed to wield it all the time; when good things happened, when bad things happened… until there came a point in his early teens, as Dean was “going through a phase” according to his mother, when he decided the old man mostly used it as a lament, to be uttered after something sad or tragic.

The courthouse hallway was rather empty now, and Dean sat leaning forward, taking deep breaths and staring at his reflection in the polished floors. 

A couple of people wearing suits talked to each other, quite aways to his left, and a uniformed maintenance guy droned by the end of the hall, conducting the machine responsible for the luster under his feet. 

I'm here because I needed to… Dean kept repeating to himself. The more he thought about it the more certain he was he hadn’t had a choice in the matter, not really.

He began counting the white marble pillars lined along the wall once more, already knowing there were 16 on each side, with nothing better to do while he waited for a bailiff to come get him to testify.

He missed his family on occasions, and this was one of them. If he’d known they weren’t going to be there when he came back… he might have listened to his dad and changed his mind about enlisting. But at the time there were too many voices in his head, and the army seemed like the perfect place to quiet them down. Any way, what's done its done, as they say… He’d left and his family was no more… the devil begins with a single step alright... uh grandpa?

Of course, he wasn’t here as Dean Hughes, no. Today he was Steve Redford, the star witness on the trial. Steve the innocent passerby who’d seen everything! ...in all its gory detail. Steve the concerned citizen that’d called the police after finding the blood pooling under the apartment’s front door, who’d bravely checked inside as he remained on the phone line, troubled and distressed; concerned that someone might be hurt and in need of immediate assistance.

I know CPR! - He’d said almost hysterical, to the emergency operator - I might be able to help!

It was all in the recording the prosecution had played a number of times already to the jury. After some heavy breathing and thumping sounds came his frantic screams as he came into view of the body, of the blood soaked... everything around the room… of the man lying unconscious next to it, Culter Jones.

Not a bad man if his previous record was to be believed, just an average joe working a living. A survivor of a tragedy, just like Dean.

It was the prosecution theory that Jones had been maintaining a secret relationship with his neighbor, which Culter denied vehemently from the get go. The relationship had been strained over the final months, as revealed by a series of deleted emails on both the victim’s and Jones’ accounts. 

Culter had broke down when they introduced the emails as evidence, his head shaking side to side as he cried inconsolable on the accused table while they read them.

Then one night - The prosecutor had said - Culter just snapped, Killing his girlfriend. In a jealousy induced rage, he drove a sharp screwdriver 37 times into the poor girl’s body.

The case had been a wrap from day one. The police had found the guy covered in blood, passed out after ingesting some pills and alcohol, the murder weapon nearby with almost every finger print readable. The prosecutor sustained that Culter had tried to commit suicide after realizing what he’d done, but failed to take enough pills to get the job done. Luckily or unlucky depending on who you asked.

But even though the case was a sure thing, the prosecutor had insisted that Dean, or Steve as he knew him, testified. “Drive the sword all the way through” He’d said, and after some faked reluctance Dean had agreed.

Dean stood up and started pacing, his bright expensive shoes clacking echoes along the hallway.

 In a few moments he would go in and give the performance of a life time, describing in full, gruesome detail what he’d seen that day in the apartment, just like he and the prosecutor had practiced. In reality, Dean hadn’t needed coaching, he’d been practicing to manipulate and play on other people’s emotions for years after his supposed death in the army, when he’d been recruited as special ops. He operated in the east hemisphere for almost 5 years, disconnected from his previous life, following orders and serving his country, fighting battles the world would never know were taking place.

He’d been declared MIA so he could move freely under different identities, "...serve 5 years " they had said, and Dean could come back to America if he so chose to, with a substantial bank account, tax free of course, and a comfortable post at Langley.

We feed the media some bogus story - His handler had said - amnesiac on an eastern Europe hospital… standard operating procedure.

5 years in the mud and he would come back to his family a hero.

He’d done his 5 years, survived hell and back. Done unspeakable things in the name of good and justice. All the time telling himself he was making the world a better place… safer. Protecting the unsuspecting people from the dark things that go bump in the night. But deep down, Dean had always known, he'd just been another pawn doing whatever the guys above needed doing to suit their agenda. After 5 years he’d had enough and wanted to come home.

He’d come back, but home wasn’t there anymore. His family was gone, died in a fiery car accident not six months after he stopped being a soldier and became an agent, rotting in their graves as the government kept him in the dark, busy for half a decade.

“A terrible accident” the news had said, “No one at fault” the papers had chanted, after a jury acquitted Culter Jones in his trial, citing a car defect that made him lose control and ram his family’s Prius off the road.

It has been a little over four years since that trial. four years of preparation, planning and execution. A fake electronic trail here, some chance encounters there… enough to create the illusion of a relationship, and Dean was finally here, with Culter Jones back on the accused stand. 

This time he wasn’t getting away... Dean had seen to that. He would spend the rest of his life in a max prison until he died with needles stuck in his arms.

Of course Dean could have killed him a hundred times over, but that would have been easy… that would have been wrong. Killing him would have been vengeance, and Dean told himself over and over that what he wanted... what he deserved, was justice. 

An innocent woman had had to die for this to be so, and he felt terrible about what he’d done to her, but Dean knew it had been necessary. He’d understood sometimes bad things ARE necessary, ever since the last time he’d talked with his pop-pop all those years back on his death bed.

He had clutched his granddad hand in his own, listening very carefully to what would be the old man’s last words.

The devil begins with a single step Dean… but sometimes you have to take it.

My first attempt at flash fiction and what I learned from it.

Hi guys! Well the blog isn’t ready yet, but a couple of days ago Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds.com (his blog is awesome, you should check it out if you haven’t) dropped a flash fiction challenge, one thousand words picking one of the ten titles his readers proposed and I wanted to give it a try, here it is, followed by what I learned from it.

Flash fiction, Image of The flash by Bombattack at Devianart

Still Turnstiles at Station 6

It was freezing at the subway station yet Ace was soaked in sweat, his fingers growing numb hammering the laptop’s keyboard. Lines of code flashed upward on the screen in rapid succession, running a violent sequence of trials-fails cycles while the counter on the right corner kept creeping upward. His black hoodie was up even though it mostly got in the way, not so much for the cold as for concentration. It kept him isolated among the dozens of people walking past him, it kept him from thinking they were all about to die - 187/350.

It had been awesome at first, get the email, complete the hack, get the points, simple. The flavor text making him feel like a cyber vigilante, stopping credit frauds or reporting abusive babysitters. It went great for a while until finals made him stop checking for a week. Days later he heard the news of a boy hospitalized after a remote controlled drone crashed on a square near his home, the owner claiming that the unit stopped responding. Ace had stared in horror at the subject line of the latest game email “Regain control of the drone before…”

He’d considered going to the police, but they wouldn’t care or believe he’d thought it was all a game. The struggle with the decision was cut short by a text message that night “Tomorrow 10am counter begins, turnstiles at station 6 downtown. Count gets to 350, it all goes boom. Go to the police, it all goes boom. Don’t show at the station. It all. Goes. Boom. I’m watching you Ace”  - 244/350

The system seemed alien as Ace ran through it, He was looking for anything resembling software controlling external units when a chat window popped with a beep “Glad to see you at least made it inside, you got lucky tho” Ace closed it and kept scouring the terminal, aware that if the operator decided to unplug his cell phone it would all be over. He knew he was getting closer, mapping the list of maintenance protocols for the turnstiles, hoping he was on the right track. - 287/350

  He would stop them and go straight to the police, not giving a chance to the fucking maniac doing this to tie him up with some other threat. Another window popped open as he typed "You’ve done good, but you ran out of luck”

Ace tabbed back to the counter in panic - 303/350 - there was still people around, but it should be enough time… He turned to the entrance, paralyzed as a massive throng of people walked into the station, all wearing clothing from the local team, celebrating the game.

Ace had calculated his remaining time accounting the flow of people crossing the turnstiles so far, with hundreds more flooding the station he couldn’t make it. He stood up, the laptop in one hand and the backpack in the other when another chat beep startled him “So sorry man, you were doing great, I’ll be a good sport, you get to leave now and play another day, reward for good effort”

Ace eyes grew wider at the message, he shouldered the backpack and rushed against the incoming mob toward the exit. He had to leave, as hard as it was to come here in the first place, he’d really tried.

He pushed his way against the crowd, insults and spilled drinks flying his way, keeping his eyes on the floor, trying not to think of what was going to happen.

Don’t think of them, just get out! 

Ace pressed on and sped up his step, running into a guy twice his size wearing a bright yellow shirt. The impact sent Ace backward a full step.

“I’m sorry man, my bad”  - The guy said with an apologetic smile, even though it’d been Ace’s fault.

The colorful t-shirt held Ace’s attention for a second, long enough to see a woman walking alongside him hand the guy a baby girl; She couldn’t be older than 5. Ace saw the couple walk past him as the baby smiled broadly at him, clinging to the guy’s neck as they walked away… waled toward the turnstiles.

Ace’s tears began flowing freely, he looked again at the laptop screen - 332/350 - took a deep breath and ran back toward the booth, reaching inside his backpack as he busted in, ignoring the vibrating cell phone in his pocket. The operator almost fell from his chair, startled by his entrance and the gun in his hand.

Stop the god damn turnstiles! do it now!

Wha- please don’t shoot me! What do you…? - the operator put his hands up confused.

Ace’s world blurred over the tears. He tried to see the counter but couldn’t make the numbers, struggling to speak through the knot in his throat and his sobbing chest - STOP THE TURNSTILES NOW! - He took a step toward the operator, his hand shaking violently. The operator looking terrified finally understood him and tumbled over the computer typing.

There! Done! Please put the gun down, please…  - the operator voice broke as he slid his chair backwards.

Ace stopped aiming for a second to wipe his eyes, the people around the booth started screaming and running away, from the turnstiles came moaning and complaining, some people jumping over the frozen machines.

Listen, I’m sorry - He said to the operator, putting the gun down, he was terrified the guy would realize it was fake - There is a bomb… and I’m trying to... in the turnstiles! - Ace looked around and saw two police officers parting the crowd, drawing their weapons when they saw him.

He turned to the laptop, the counter had stopped.

“Well done Ace, I appreciate the out-of-the-box thinking, be seeing you”. the chat read.

The officers outside kept screaming.

Did you understand me!? - He said again to the operator - a bomb in the turnstiles, keep them locked until they’ve checked them!, whatever happens! keep them still! - the operator hesitated then nodded.

Ace turned to the officers, He dropped the air-soft replica and laptop on the desk, putting his hands on the back of his head.

Whatever happens, keep them still....

Hope you liked it, and apologies for any typos, my proofreading was light to be honest. Anyhow onto my comments:

This was the first time I tried flash fiction, the first draft clocked at 1996 words, managed to shorten it to 1673 after cleaning it but then it became a horrible experience.

I had a piece of 1673 words, not everything in it was good mind you, but most of it I felt it was necessary to tell the story I wanted to tell, I read a couple of posts about flash fiction structure (I’ll add the links at the end) and tried to go over the points they made, but I had a really hard time cutting content of this story, all along feeling it was losing meaning - it still nags me a little - but the thing is, forcing myself to reduced it to 1000 words prompt me to think of alternatives on how to convey what I wanted in a more concise manner.

The first pass I did on the 1673 story I chopped entire paragraphs - It would have been impossible to comply to the word count otherwise - which I felt were vital: the background of the game, a little more explicit on the tasks Ace did before the thing escalated to preventing a terrorist attack, and how he struggled with the desicion of going into the station and trying to stop the disaster had to go for the most part, reduced to a couple of lines. The other one I suffered to cut was a scene that exposed Ace’s mental strain as he worked on breaking into the system, he is desperate looking around, his stomach turns and he runs to puke on a trashcan near the operator’s booth, and thats when he sees the guy had plugged the cell phone into the computer and gets the idea to enter the terminal going trough it, all gone.

I’m not ready to say the story is better without those paragraphs in it, but I think as a writer, I am. It took me 3 days to work on this story - a few hours every night, first draft, first revision and final - and the first revision I almost abandoned it, I felt like the story had lost all its meaning and there was no sense on even trying to fix it with such limitations, then tonight I went in with a fresh, rested mind and it was surprisingly easy to clean up the 1016 revision, putting it under 1000 and even changing paragraphs to include in a different way some of what I had to cut in the first place.

Even writing this post I’ve backtracked a couple of times trying to be more concise about what I want to say - which is great because I’m kind of tired and I’m not planning on revising it - so this type of exercise, as I called for it allowed me to practice and learn something of it, I plan to keep doing a lot in the future, maybe I’ll add a section for Flash fiction where I can upload the good ones, anyhow thank you for checking it out, Happy writing.

Writing prompt: Take something you’ve been working on - or write something new if it tickles your fancy - no longer than 1000 words and try to cut it by 40%, you might think its impossible at times, but keep at it.


Writing flash fiction by G.W. Thomas

How to write flash fiction by Richard Thomas