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CRAFT Fiction by the Elements

Here’s a roundup of CRAFT short and flash fiction pieces that each exemplify a certain element.

Don’t forget the Author’s Note that accompanies each piece, in which the writer considers an aspect of craft in their story.


Character

Check out some of our most memorable characters from original short and flash fiction pieces in the Fiction Archive

 

So Much Trouble” by Karin Lin-Greenberg: winner for character of the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

Katherine: “Katherine had only intended to spend a few minutes outdoors wiping the birdhouse with vegetable oil, but now, over an hour after she’d started, she stood in the front yard, an oil-drenched wad of paper towels in one hand, the slick plastic bottle of oil in the other. Now the lamp pole had been oiled, the drainpipes had been oiled, all the siding she could reach on the front of the house and garage had been oiled, and even the shutters had been oiled. For good measure, she’d also oiled the bark on the tree from which the birdhouse hung, although it was clear that oiling a tree would not make it too slick for a squirrel to climb….”

 

Heart Trouble” by Rex Adams: finalist for character of the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

Darla: “The nurses, cafeteria workers, surgeons, Harold, they all irritated Darla. So did the old man in the room next door. He was dying, had been for days. Family kept streaming out of the elevator, stomping down the hallway and into his room, the footfalls on the tiled floor of the ICU like hammer blows against her skull.

“She also felt irritated that she was stuck at the Seattle VA hospital instead of home. At home she could work on the pole barn she and Harold had started building two weeks earlier. She could weed the garden, harvest the carrots and radishes, and water the lawn that would be drying up in the coulee’s arid, hot air. It seemed everyone else’s lives continued, but not hers. Hers had paused so Harold’s heart could be rebuilt….”

 

Eating Strawberries with Strangers” by Pia Ghosh-Roy

The Woman: “I was walking with the broken pieces of my day in a thin cloth bag when I saw them sitting by the river, three women with the sun setting on their hair. They were eating strawberries, drinking rosé in cheap plastic glasses, and laughing with their heads thrown back. The rosé was the same colour as the clouds in the sky that day….”

 

Doppelganger” by Doug Ramspeck

The Writer: “In his dreams the people of the city are ghosts. The writer is walking down a crowded sidewalk, but the pedestrians around him are made of mist or smudges of light or dust. They speak in the voices of wind washing up from the sea into the alleys, in the voices of rain, in the voices of cooing pigeons. And in his dreams, the writer is forlorn, for he realizes he’s surely a ghost as well, that even his own hands are like the spray of the sea that evaporates in air….”

 

The Haunting” by Brenda Peynado

The Girls: “…An hour in the graveyard, and we heard no signs. Instead, we listened and looked so closely, we could hear ourselves changing. Shadows lengthened underneath our eyes. Our hair raised and frizzed and haloed us. Our bodies creaked with growing pains, filled out, skin stretching as our new hunger yawned inside of us. We reached towards each other and the moon, and our arms were longer. Could we hear what was coming for us? We listened so hard we could hear what we were losing….”

 

Kuchizi” by Lucas Schaefer

Carlos: “Carlos Ortega roaming Africa was a ridiculous proposition, which was why everyone who heard the idea savored its deliciousness. For all his thirty-nine years, Carlos had prowled the same few blocks east of the interstate, and to conceive of him elsewhere seemed impossible to those who knew him. At Terry Tucker’s Boxing Gym, where Carlos spent most days, folks had long been urging their leader to give Ortega the boot. Terry always refused, fearful that his one-time fighter might burn down the place in retribution. He instead warned newcomers to treat Carlos like a grizzly bear: regard him from a distance and never make eye contact. ‘Ortega’s not all bad but he always goes too far,’ Terry would explain. ‘He’s an acquired taste no one’s yet acquired.’…”

 

Beyond Love” by James Winter: winner of the 2018 CRAFT Short Fiction Prize judged by Jim Shepard

Saeed: “…To keep his mind limber, to keep from being lost in the pain, from being erased blow by blow, he takes to counting the tiles in his cell, numbering one-hundred and twenty-one in all.

“First, he counts them lengthways. Next, across and diagonally. He makes a series of squares or counts in Xs, Ts, Zs. He counts the outer tiles, the inner. He says the even numbers aloud and whispers the odd, and vice versa. He counts silently, nodding, playing with the rhythm, the beat….”

 

The Deepest Part of the Lake” by John Haggerty

Shelley: “…Shelley believed that Dean was trying to get her pregnant. She wasn’t sure why she thought this, but she was certain that it was true. She actually had dreams about it, that she was in his room, lying on the bed while he sat at his desk beneath the Sonora High pennant and the picture of the football team, doing that squinty, vaguely sweaty thing that he did with his face when he tried to concentrate, using a safety pin to poke holes in strip after strip of condoms. The dreams were so vivid and convincing that she asked Margie from the Basket to help her get the pill….”

 

Brothers” by BD Feil

Barney: “…The winter would not stop and now Barney was afraid it could not stop and something else had taken control. Some other thing was sneaking up. March now and more flurries and ice-wind and he felt it all in his hips. They were down to their last dozen milkers but he was pretty sure they could hold on until spring if it was ever going to get here. Then that thought was blown away with a big gust outside that rattled the window and tightened the skin on his forehead. This old house was a sieve. What chance had an old oil burner against all the holes?…”

 

A Last-Minute Addendum” by Jess E. Jelsma

Yael (aka “Little Jane”): “…True, in the months before the start of her Family-Based Therapy, the patient did agree to go on several dates with young boys her parents had selected. True, she did coo at the Central Park penguins, nibble on a black and white cookie at Glaser’s Bake Shop, and see Ghost as her mother and father demanded. Yes, she did let one boy hold her hand, another kiss her on the cheek, and a third buy her Milk Duds at the East 86th Street Cinemas. Unknown to her parents or the psychoanalysts: Little Jane also traded a five-minute, over-the-zipper petting session for a pack of Virginia Slims, a quick, emotionless transaction on her parents’ rooftop deck. When the 10th grader attempted to reciprocate, the patient pushed his hand away and bit down, hard, on the filter of one of his mother’s cigarettes….”

 

The Whites” by Dustin M. Hoffman

The Painters: “We wear only white. Sneaker to cap. It’s the housepainter way. Except for the day Simon’s ass was splotched brown. From mid-thigh to lower-back, he was coated in eggshell-sheen Mocha Morning, looking like he shat himself, like he suffered from unrelenting explosive diarrhea. And if a guy looks like shit, you give him shit. All day we rechristened him: Hershey squirter, the brown geyser, Mt. Saint Smellen, shit box, shit slacks, shit head, and when we all grew hungry around lunchtime, Mr. Shit Sandwich….”

 

A Girl Like You” by Beth Hahn

May: “May took the trolley to the new grocer’s—the one on the boulevard with shining white aisles where the exit was near the back of the store on an otherwise blank wall past the butcher’s station, which smelled of bleach and blood, where married women or their maids ordered a cow’s flank and watched as the butcher hacked at it with his great cleaver.

“She stood in front of a new product display and slipped a can of Dinty Moore stew into the bell-shaped curve of her sleeve. She wanted to take two, but the weight would be obvious. She’d practiced in her room, gripping her purse in a way that kept the can in the sleeve, keeping her face in the expression of urgency, as if she’d just remembered something important—like a dental appointment or a lunch date—and had to rush out….”

 

The Station” by Elizabeth Gaffney

Louisa: “…She turned and walked away, even though the restaurant owed her wages. She didn’t have practice being spoken to that way, especially not by someone who’d flirted with her just the day before. She calculated her losses; four ten-hour days at tipped minimum came out to eighty dollars and change. Not nothing, but not that much. She got on her bike and headed toward the ocean, stopping at the corner of the shore road where the dunes were thinnest to watch the surf pile up white against the jetty. From there, she headed out of town, pedaling hard. The highway ran along a narrow strip of land between ocean and bay. By the time she returned, her humiliation was just a crust of salt around her eyelashes. The sludge the manager had thrown at her was supplanted by a soufflé, the French future conditional for desire: je voudrais….”

 

A Slim Blade of Air” by Alice Elliot Dark

Kay: “…She stifled the voice by squeezing the muscles in her forehead, which made the blood rush past her ears. Death would be quick, but that was a barely unconsoling thought. She didn’t want to go yet. She had her little dog back home, and her best friend. Her grandparents. Her three younger brothers. Seventh grade coming up, when she’d be in the oldest class in the building, the payoff for years of deference. She didn’t want to die in Holland, or be in a box forever like President Kennedy. The day couldn’t come too soon to climb the stairs onto the plane in Amsterdam and go home to Philadelphia. She had to survive the next few days, by any means….”

 


Dialogue

Here are some fine examples of dialogue from original short and flash fiction pieces in the Fiction Archive

 

Heart Trouble” by Rex Adams: winner for dialogue, and finalist for character, of the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

 

“His son didn’t come to say goodbye?” Darla asked.

The man looked from the body to Darla. “Nope.”

“How sad.”

“Yes. Grudges.” He looked once more at the body and took a deep breath. “But I don’t know what all the old man did. Maybe something awful.”

“Maybe.” She looked at the corpse. Frail, already decomposing. She couldn’t imagine something so fragile hurting anyone. “I had a son,” she said.

“Had?” He looked at her again. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. He’s been gone a long time now.” Maybe that’s good, she thought. Maybe I would have hurt him like this old man hurt his son.

Passing” by Thaïs Miller: finalist for dialogue, and winner for setting, of the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

 

The basement door squeaks open, and I call out, “Hey, Billy, you gotta see—”

I turn and see Arnold at the top of the stairs, holding a napkin. The paper crinkles in his fist. He isn’t smiling. “Did you leave something, at the bar last night?”

I should have figured he would have reached for it, kept it: a souvenir of his winning. I pause the movie, and it buys me a minute to think. “You know.” I clear my throat. “Bill and I are, uh, working on this new script…”

“Oh yeah?” His face turns red.

“Yeah, can’t get my mind off it, actually. I’ve been taking notes everywhere we go. Maybe we could get you a part or something. You used to do community theater in high school, right?”

“I always knew something—”

Lasso” by Essie J. Chambers

 

“It’s against the law to hide from an officer when you’re called.”

He reaches into his pocket and tosses a coin into the brush behind me.

“If I have to come and find you, I’m not gonna be happy about it.”

“Here I am!” I say, popping up from the weeds like we’re all just playing hide and seek.

Standing in front of him, I use my bike to hide the pee spot on my shorts. I haven’t wet my pants—not even at night—since I was five. I feel hot all over, except where the damp cloth touches my skin, cool like something to calm a fever.

“That your bike?”

“Yes.”

“You sure you don’t have sticky fingers like your daddy?”

My Debt Collector” by Brenda Peynado

 

“Don’t worry,” I said, “You’ll handle that debt, too.”

“You know I’ll have to punish you for this,” he said breathlessly.

“Oh no,” I said. “Please don’t.”

“It will affect your credit score.”

“I’ll write a letter to your wife,” I said.

“One day,” he said, “when all your debt is collected, I’ll be at your front door with a bouquet of orchids.”

“One day,” I said. I could feel my eyes burning with weight.

A Little Like Hope” by Jason Jackson

 

O was my husband, and we did everything together. Apart from die. I don’t think he’s forgiven me for that.

“Is that why you’re in my head?” I ask him. “To make me feel guilty?”

Do you feel guilty, Rachel?” he says, but he already knows.

O didn’t die cycling, although I often used to think that he would. He always wore a helmet-cam, and he’d play back his journeys on the computer.

“Idiots,” he’d say, watching as another car missed him by millimeters.

I wanted to tell him that he was the idiot for cycling when he knew how much it frightened me.

I hated him for that.

And now he knows.

“I can see all of your secrets,” he says.

Kuchizi” by Luca Schaefer

 

“Am I a boxer or a hit man?” asked Felix from the back of the van.

“Or a hooker?” said Carlos, splayed out over the front row of seats. He was used to Felix’s grim resignation, but this mood was new—somber and pensive. “You gotta admit I still got it, boss,” said Carlos, hoping to cheer his fighter.

Felix ignored him. “I’ve made mistakes. No denying it. But this… It isn’t sport. I could kill that man.”

“You sore at me for working with him?” asked Carlos.

Felix grabbed his headphones from his bag. “I can get my ass kicked for money but this…,” he said, voice fading. “You watch, Ortega: They’ll cheer me when I’m beating him to death and yell How could you? once he’s dead.”

Brothers” by BD Feil

 

Then Luther would say something like music. Whole lot of lonely blowing across the field.

And Barney would think a while and take a drag and either say nothing back or what he always said. You oughta write country songs or such.

Maybe I will someday. But what would you do without me?

And Barney would scoff and snort. I swear.

They sat that way for years. Mostly Luther making observations. Mostly Barney considering them and scoffing.

Cathedral” by Michael Sheehan

 

“You said that you were in love with my ass.”

“I am in love with your ass.”

“Yeah, but, well, first of all: who says that, okay, and but fine, but second of all: you didn’t say I love you, you said I’m in love with your ass.”

“Are you fucking kidding me, Maren. You’re ambushing me.”

“It’s not an ambush. It’s not. I want to know, I think I already know, if you meant what you said.”

“What does that even mean?”

“You don’t love me, you love fucking me.”

“Jesus Christ. Come on.” When she said nothing he threw his hands in a sort of open arc from the chest, saying, “I love you, all right?” in what amounted to him basically throwing the words at her.

“No, that’s not all right. Not now. Not like that.”

 


Setting

Dig into these examples of setting from original short and flash fiction pieces in the Fiction Archive

 

The Warden’s Prowess” by Ethan Chatagnier

The prison:

…During the week we broke rocks and dug trenches. We mucked out the sewers, which clogged often, perhaps owing to the amount of sugar and dairy we all consumed. It was still a prison. It had once been a terrible one. The other thing we knew about the warden was that he had been a violent man, lieutenant of a feared unit in the wars of his youth, and once known as cruel administrator of this very same prison. In those days he’d been content to let us war with the guards and the guards war with us. The yard had become quite fertile, if with weeds, owing to all the blood. Only the warden had been able to break up the fights because he was bigger and fiercer than the best of us.

River Bandit” by Carl Napolitano: finalist for setting in the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

Setting as character:

Maria Isabel stood on the riverbank. The river was named the Blue Horse River and it flowed low and calm. The rocky river bed was visible beneath its clear water and the rocks were the color of bruises. Maria Isabel looked around; there was no one to be seen in the surrounding woods. She stripped off the navy maternity dress she had stolen from a thrift store, as well as the little other clothing she had on, and stepped out into the water. The water felt crisp and tiny fish darted around her ankles. She tried not to think about the fish or any other creatures that lived in the river. They were doomed. Doomed because of her. She could only take in the water. She tried to choose smaller rivers to steal, rivers off the beaten path, rivers less notable, visited, or depended upon. But she knew that all rivers harbored life, no matter how small, and what she was doing was without a doubt a crime and a selfish one at that.

The Knife Intifada” by Dewaine Farria

Jerusalem:

The night sky above the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shufat burned with magnesium. Sizzling flares swayed to the earth on tiny parachutes, trailing smoke tendrils like a demon’s nostrils. Yaccoub leaned over his elbow onto the ambulance’s open windowsill, face contorting in the breeze as if trying to make out fine print. The rear columns of a company of olive-garbed Israeli Border Police materialized in the flares’ ephemeral light. Polycarbonate visors glistened, and the space-age Roman legionnaires’ elongated shadows shuddered back towards the ambulance.

The Solution Woman” by Kenan Orhan

Ankara:

The road ends at the edge of the park. There are plenty of fountains in the Ottoman style, a pond with an island in the middle, and a building on the island, and a dome on the building, but it’s more of a nature center or something than it is a mosque—a mosque would have been too idyllic. But perhaps it will become one yet. The Mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers, or something like that.

Short men who look like seagulls with their fat bellies straining their twig legs sweep up the patios of the cafés and restaurants. Slender men, dark from sun and dirt, sell simit and chestnuts and sandwiches. Mothers hooded in solid headscarves walk their daughters in patterned, colorful scarves down rose-lined paths and under acacia trees and through the playgrounds. The air is heavy as a rug.

The Provider” by Anne C. English

Coal country, USA:

Lately, Quillen’s was where men logged their hours during the day, drinking coffee at the counter while they wished they were working. After the smaller mines started shutting down, we visited Quillen’s more and more; the bank less and less. The bank wasn’t even downtown now. They’d moved it out to the bypass a few years ago. It wasn’t anything to look at. Come to think of it, Beth had come home one day all excited because she thought they were building a McDonald’s out on the bypass. We’d never had a McDonald’s. We only realized it was a bank when they started building the additional lanes for the drive-thru tellers. I would’ve preferred the McDonald’s.

Mystery Lights” by Lena Valencia

Marfa, TX:

The Marfa Lights Viewing Area was little more than a roadside rest stop with telescopes and a couple of covered benches that looked out over the desert. The tiny orbs of light that appeared floating above the horizon from time to time were an unexplained phenomenon. UFOs. Ghosts. Heat lightning. They happened enough for the viewing area to be landmarked with a plaque. Tonight, there was a simple explanation: drones, paid for by the network. She sat with the rest of the tourists and paranormal enthusiasts, cameras on tripods and phones in hand, whispering. The man next to her held a camera in his lap and took swigs from a hip flask. He offered some to Wendy but she declined.

Passing” by Thaïs Miller: winner for setting and finalist for dialogue in the 2018 CRAFT Elements Contest

Stark County, OH:

On the brink of Armageddon, I find myself in Stark County, drinking. We’re underground in a bunker, a former stockroom in the basement of a grocery store that’s been converted into a wartime bar. Patrons, in their twenties and thirties, all of them as white as the snow falling outside, sit at tables surrounded by shelves of unopened beer, tabasco sauce, and cans of baked beans. There’s a Christmas tree in the corner. Servers wearing camo or flannel and knit hats circle the room. A flight of mead is served to me in shot glasses in a muffin tray, numbered one through twelve.

Frost” by Doug Ramspeck

The city by the sea:

And that’s the thing. Sometimes when he is walking to work in the snow, or walking home in the snow, or walking down to the pier and watching the snow being swallowed into the sea, he feels that he isn’t there at all, not really. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, but it seems that he’s become one. Sometimes, as he crosses streets, cars don’t seem to notice him and nearly run him down. Sometimes, on the sidewalk, pedestrians bump against him then look puzzled, as though they are uncertain what they struck. The visitor watches his breaths offering their small clouds into the air, but maybe that’s all he is now, some little spurt of vapor.

A Girl Like You” by Beth Hahn

1940s Los Angeles:

It was true. The city was full of light. The sun was always shining. She and Lily took the trolley to the beach and closed their eyes against the sun. At night, they went to the pier, which was strewn with the sort of lights they only used at Christmastime at home. There was always dancing at the pier. There was cold beer, and the smell of burgers and cigarettes and ocean air. Roller coaster cars clicked up wooden slats to the band’s roaring tempo, and the air was tinged with burnt sugar, sweat, and desire. They danced on wooden floors, scuffed and worn from other dancers; they danced outside, on the boardwalk, which was trampoline-like beneath soft shoes, the dancers jumping and spinning, the pop and pause of the break toss, the tandem send-out—and the dancers were from different places, from the Midwest or the South or the East, so their moves were varied and nuanced by place and attitude, and you could choose what you wanted to learn and then a boy would teach you, or a girl would stand off by the side to show you, letting you follow until you got it. They danced on the beach, even, shoeless, the sand cold between their toes. They danced with music and without. They danced into the small hours, past closing time, moving more and more slowly, disappearing with the first light.

The Station” by Elizabeth Gaffney

Paris:

Between the Métro and the apartment, they shopped for food on the Boulevard Montparnasse: Nutella, a baguette, Camembert, all the things that seemed most French. At the low coffee table in the apartment, they sat Japanese style and drank Orangina out of M. and Mme. Andreou’s wine glasses, then crashed for a good twelve hours. Later, Louisa would understand more about diurnal rhythms and that you should stay up all day, upon reaching Europe from America, but then she just followed Alice’s every move.

Cathedral” by Michale Sheehan

Santa Fe, NM:

These mountains were called the Blood of Christ mountains and the highest peak among them was called Baldy, which she had misread earlier as Badly. Blood of Christ in Spanish is a much more majestic and less creepy name for mountains. They were supposed to have three more days of Santa Fe after this, and had reservations at Geronimo for Friday night. It was Jeff’s idea, since he had gone to St. John’s and had worked for years in Santa Fe’s food industry before moving to New York where they’d met. She had never really been much for hiking but then this wasn’t really supposed to be a hike as much as another artwalk, an experience, curated or created.

A Slim Blade of Air” by Alice Elliot Dark

1960s Amsterdam:

It was true about the windmills and the tulips, though apparently they were late to see the full bloom. There were many other wonders, including traveling on a canal boat and getting on a huge scale at a witches’ weighing station. Dad had been accurate in his descriptions, except for what he omitted. Yet how could he tell her about something he never experienced? He touched metal day in day out with no ill effects, and so did everyone else. She alone was singled out. It was as bad as being left standing when the music stopped in musical chairs, or the last person beckoned to a team at recess. Chosen by being not chosen. What had she done to deserve this? She thought about it in her floating bunk at night, but it was hard to come up with a theory when she had to concentrate on keeping her arms pressed to her body so she wouldn’t mistakenly touch the inlaid brass. The eely scent of the brown water made her nauseous.