Sample Flash Fiction (Plus Edits and Comments!)

WriteTo promote Fiction Unboxed before it launched, we held a short story (flash fiction, really) contest on the SPP blog.

Based on our story prompts post, “11 Stories You Can Tell Before Dinnertime,“ we asked Repeaters to pick a prompt, write a story that totaled no more than a thousand words, and paste it into the comments.

We promised to read every story, then pick one to edit, polish, and publish it live on the blog. We wanted to show the writing process from prompt to edit. The thousand-word limit was essential to the exercise because we wanted to see that Repeaters could tell a story under restrictions, and could in fact use the fence to their benefit.

Everyone had less than twenty-four hours, and we reminded our Repeaters that writing isn’t always easy, or convenient. Often it’s the opposite. We challenged them to be raw and unafraid. To prove that a well-written story doesn’t have to be long, we paste this amazing, complete story from Hemingway:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Pasted here is the winning story from that contest, “Milk Shift,” by Sam Witt. We all loved this story.

Johnny said, “‘Milk Shift’ is my favorite. He nailed the balance of mystery and information in a story that short very well, and I wanted to read the whole thing after I’d read the first sentence.”

Dave said, “The ‘Milk’ one is fucking awesome! That is a good writer right there! That’s someone ready for prime time! It’s quite PKD-ish. Seems like it was prewritten. Is this in response to a prompt?”

I agree with both of the guys, though Dave’s last question was the only thing that made me flinch at this choice. It answered several of the prompts, which meant it could have existed before the twenty-four-hour window, and given its precision that is possible. I wish I could pin this story on a single prompt, but I can’t doubt that it’s the deserved winner.

Dave also said:

“There are a few things about that one which I think need to be fixed.

“How is the girl positioned on the bed? He both kisses her forehead and looks in her eyes, yet he’s accessing this thing on her back. I’d make it clear if she’s on her side or something.

“Also, it MIGHT read a bit unclear that he’s harming her (or how) in order to derive these sensations. I think it should be a little clearer.

THIS NEXT ONE IS A SPOILER, SO YOU MAY WANT TO READ THE STORY FIRST IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED!

“Lastly, the end: If I’m reading it correctly, he kills her, then takes the drug to kill himself, and then that milk will go out and kill its users.

“YET if he leaves a note that it’s ready to be collected, and someone comes to the place to get it, they’ll see dead bodies and nobody will use the dose. I think it would work better if he calls someone who comes to pick it up, and THEN he goes, sits down, maybe even next to her in bed, and uses the last dose.

Dave is great at that stuff. I agree with everything he says, but think the last one might be OK. I’m cool with the ambiguity, and think it’s too big a change to make on the author’s behalf (that is, however, the sort of change that the three of us would make with one another’s work all of the time).

You’ll see how we worked with “Milk Shift.” First up is the unedited version, as left in the comment section of the post.

Immediately following is the edited version.

You can see and download a PDF with the edits and comments visible below that.

Enjoy!

“Milk Shift” Version A (990 words exactly)

Milk-Shift-1000x675

The remorigram on Maggie’s back is worth a hundred bucks a drain. On a good day, I milk it two or three times. That’s more than either of us could earn at a straight job. It’s more than I ever earned when I had both arms. It’s a load more than I make letting this lifeblogger scrape away my thoughts and put them online. Twenty bucks a day is what the contents of my head are worth.

“You want soup?” Ramen noodles with fried egg is her favorite. I make a bowl every night.

She doesn’t open her eyes, just lies there on the memory foam slab in the middle of our studio. “They hate eggs.”

I eat the ramen and wash the gooey egg, number 913 since her clients told her to stop eating them, down the drain. The yolk bursts under the running water, and gloopy yellow streaks remind me that it’s almost time to fill the remorigram.

It clings to her back, its wide disc mouth buried in the meat between her shoulders. On her embed day, it was six inches long. Now, the floppy tail hangs below her waist. Maggie’s always worked hard.

I sit on the floor in front our 70-inch television, flipping through channels bursting with pointless noise and color. It took twenty drains to pay for the LCD monstrosity. I watch it for Maggie, so she won’t know how much I’ve come to hate it.

My phone bleats like a lamb. Maggie’s fingers curl into the mattress, digging deep into the foam. The scarred stumps of her thighs twitch, like she’s trying to run. I flick my thumb across the slick little screen to read the day’s order.

She can’t ask anymore. The clients love to surprise her, because they get more bang for their bucks.

“Let’s get to work,” she says, grinning at me through the tears.

When we first started, our supplies fit into a shoebox. A pair of pliers. A soldering iron. A packet of upholstery needles.

Gifts from her clients outgrew the shoebox, overflowed a laptop carton, spilled out of a red, plastic toy chest, blew out the particle-board sides of an Ikea dresser. They kept coming, until we had tools scattered all over the studio.

Maggie blew twenty-five drains on a custom-built, carved oak armoire. “I can’t stand seeing all of it,” she whispered while I milked the remorigram on the day the armoire arrived, “it’s worth it.”

The orders used to be simple. But her clients know her now, and they know her limits.

There’s a mirror in the back of the armoire, and looking at myself, I wonder if they know how far they can push me.

My left arm is almost gone, there’s just a little drumstick of scar tissue where it used to be. The little nubbin wiggles and waggles around, remembering all the tasks it used to handle for the rest of the body. The eye on that side is gone, too, just a puckered, pink twist remains. I’m missing more, things inside that were pulped when I lost it on a curve and the motorcycle’s rear wheel broke loose and our morning drive turned into a tumble into flesh-shredding misery. I see myself for the first time since that day, really see myself, what I’ve become. What’s left of me.

I take what I need to fill the order, and my hand is full, and my cheeks are hamster-stuffed with a baker’s dozen of rubberized handles.

I put it all on the TV tray. The same plastic slab that holds my evening bowl of ramen and my morning cup of oatmeal.

The tweezers have plastic handles and a black cord that runs into a sleek chrome box. I turn the dial, and they hum with power.

They spark against her skin.

Maggie whimpers, and the remorigram writhes on her spine. Its milky-white skin flushes pink as the first straw-colored dribbles squirt into its terricele.

The thing’s skin changes color as Maggie works. She screams, and its flesh is streaked with colors like the first rays of dawn.

I switch tools, and her teeth click together over a throaty howl. Surprise makes it all so much richer, so much stronger for the clients.

The remorigram becomes a dusky rose, the same color as the burn I leave on Maggie’s thigh. The terricele is half full. I pick up another tool.

By the time I fill the order, there are new stains on the memory foam, wet and deep red, like the remorigram’s skin. The rules say that it’s time to quit. If I go any further, it’ll taint the milk, turn the dreams dark and jagged.

I squeeze Maggie’s hand.

“All done?” She’s too weak to do anything but whisper.

I lean down, kiss the paper-thin skin of her forehead. She’s dried out, burning with fever. “Not yet.”

I do it quick as I can with only one hand. She doesn’t fight, just smiles up at me with purpling lips. At the end, she rests her chin on my hand and lets her eyes drift closed.

The remorigram squeals as the last jolt pours into its terricele. It comes loose from her with a moist sucking noise. I drain it into six glass vials; a new record. Five for them, one for me.

I pack the vials up and slide the box through the drop slot. I send a text so they know it’s time to collect.

I take my vial and sit in front of the television. I gulp it down and watch the colors as my heart lurches and the wave hits. It pours into me, everything we’ve done piling up inside until the pleasure is beyond beyond and her end comes like a wall of colorless flame. I think of her customers drinking this milk, of their surprise, and my thoughts are eaten, and we’re free of them at last.

“Milk Shift” Version B (934 Words)

shutterstock_163383425-2

The remorigram on Maggie’s back is worth a hundred bucks a drain. On a good day, I milk it two or three times. That’s more than either of us could earn at a straight job, and more than I ever earned when I had both arms. A load more than I make letting this lifeblogger scrape my thoughts to smear online. Everything in my head, twenty nibs a day.

“You want soup?” Ramen noodles with fried egg is her favorite. I make a bowl every night.

She doesn’t open her eyes, just lies there on the memory foam slab in the middle of our studio. “They hate eggs.”

I eat the ramen and wash the gooey egg, number 913 since her clients told her to stop eating them, down the drain. The yolk bursts under the running water; gloopy yellow streaks remind me that it’s almost time to fill the remorigram.

It clings to her back, its wide disc mouth buried in the meat between her shoulders. On her embed day, it was six inches long. Now, the floppy tail hangs below her waist. Maggie’s always worked hard.

I sit on the floor in front of our 70-inch screen, flipping through channels bursting with pointless noise and color. Twenty drains to pay for the monstrosity. I watch it for Maggie, so she won’t know how much I’ve come to hate it.

My phone bleats like a lamb. Maggie’s fingers curl into the mattress, digging deep into the foam. Her scarred thighs twitch at the stumps, like she’s trying to run. I flick my thumb across the slick little screen to read the day’s order.

She can no longer ask. Clients love to surprise her, because they get more bang for their bucks.

“Let’s get to work,” she says, grinning at me through the tears.

Our supplies fit neatly in a shoebox when we started. Pliers. A soldering iron. A packet of upholstery needles.

Gifts from her clients outgrew the shoebox, overflowed a laptop carton, spilled out of a red plastic toy chest, blew out the particle-board sides of an Ikea dresser. They kept coming, until we had tools scattered all over the studio.

Maggie blew twenty-five drains on a custom-built, carved oak armoire. “I can’t stand seeing all of it,” she whispered while I milked her remorigram through the armoire’s arrival, “it’s worth it.”

Orders were simple before her clients knew her, and her limits.

There’s a mirror in the back of the armoire. Looking at myself, I wonder if they know how far they can push me.

My left arm is almost gone, a drumstick nubbin of scar tissue where it used to be. It wiggles and waggles around, remembering the tasks it once handled for my body. The eye on that side is gone, too; just a puckered pink twist remains. I’m missing more things inside that were pulped when I lost it on a curve — the rear wheel snapped like candy from the motorcycle, and our morning drive tumbled into flesh-shredding misery.

I see myself for the first time since that day, really see myself, what I’ve become. What’s left of me.

I take what I need to fill the order. My hand is full, and my cheeks are hamster-stuffed with a baker’s dozen of rubberized handles.

I put it all on the TV tray. The same plastic slab that holds my evening ramen and morning oatmeal.

The tweezers have plastic handles and a black cord that runs into a sleek chrome box. I turn the dial, and they hum with power.

They spark against her skin.

Maggie whimpers and the remorigram writhes on her spine. Its milky white skin flushes pink as the first straw-colored dribbles squirt into its terricele.

The thing’s skin changes color as Maggie works. She screams, and its flesh is streaked with colors like dawn’s early rays.

I switch tools, and her teeth click together over a throaty howl. Surprise makes it so much richer, stronger for the clients.

The remorigram becomes a dusky rose, the same color as the burn I leave on Maggie’s thigh. The terricele is half full. I pick up another tool.

There are fresh stains on the foam by the time I fill the order, wet and crimson, like the remorigram’s skin. The rules say it’s time to quit. I’ll taint the milk if I go further, turn the dreams dark and jagged.

I squeeze Maggie’s hand.

“All done?” Her whisper is weak.

I lean down, kiss her forehead’s paper-thin skin. She’s dried out, burning with fever. “Not yet.”

I do it quick as I can with only one hand. She doesn’t fight, just smiles up at me with purpling lips. At the end, she rests her chin on my hand and lets her eyes drift closed.

The remorigram squeals as the last jolt pours into its terricele. It comes loose from her with a moist sucking noise. I drain it into six glass vials; a new record. Five for them, one for me.

I pack the vials up and slide the box through the drop slot. I send a text so they know it’s time to collect.

I take my vial and sit in front of the television. I gulp it down, watch the colors as my heart lurches and the wave hits. It pours into me, everything we’ve done piling inside until the pleasure is beyond and her end comes like a wall of colorless flame.

I think of her customers drinking this milk, of their surprise, and my thoughts are eaten and we’re free of them at last.

Click here to download a PDF with editing comments and changes.

 

About Sean Platt

Sean Platt is an author entrepreneur, founder of Sterling & Stone, and co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints. Follow him on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

Comments

  1. Jack Worr says:

    Awesome. To be clear, you guys made the edits, not the author, right? Did you ask the author any questions?

    The Hemingway thing? Probably apocryphal: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn is the entirety of what has been described as a six-word novel, making it an extreme example of what is called flash fiction or sudden fiction. Although it is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the link to him is unsubstantiated and similarly titled stories predate him.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_sale:_baby_shoes,_never_worn

Speak Your Mind

*