Columns > Published on October 30th, 2012

UPDATED WITH WINNER: LitReactor's Flash Fiction Smackdown: October Edition

Flash fiction: A style of fictional literature marked by extreme brevity.

Welcome to LitReactor's Flash Fiction Smackdown, a monthly bout of writing prowess, in which you're challenged to thrill us in 250 words or less.

How It Works

We give you a picture. You write a flash fiction piece, using the picture we gave you as inspiration. Put your entry in the comments section. One winner will be picked, and awarded a prize.

The Rules

  • 250 words is the limit (you can write less, but you can't write more)
  • Any genre
  • Give it a title
  • We're not exactly shy, but let's stay away from senseless racism or violence
  • One entry per person
  • Editing your entry after you submit it is permitted
  • We'll pick a winner on the last day of the month
  • LitReactor staffers can't win, but are encouraged to participate
  • All stories submitted on or before October 30 will be considered. We'll run the winner on October 31.

This Month's Prize

A galley copy of Jimmy the Stick by Michael Mayo

A gunman comes out of retirement to guard his former partner’s family

Jimmy Quinn was a gunman, bootlegger, and bagman, running with mobsters the likes of Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, until a bullet in the leg and the murder of Arnold Rothstein ended his career. Quinn bought a speakeasy in downtown Manhattan and settled into a quiet retirement—until the day he learns that famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby has been kidnapped, and his old friend and partner Walter Spencer wants a word.

Spence has left his criminal past behind, marrying into the Pennyweight family—of Pennyweight Petroleum—and settling into a legitimate lifestyle in rural New Jersey. Now Spence has business out of state, and with the Lindbergh kidnapping weighing on his mind, he wants Quinn to stay in his home and protect his family. A few days guarding Spence’s beautiful wife should be easy work, but Quinn’s old business is about to catch up with him, and he quickly finds that the Garden State can be even more dangerous than the streets of New York City.

Your Inspiration

Get writing!

And the Winner is... cristina

Ok, so maybe I am biased because I am a new mom, but there were several mother-son entries, and this one really stood out to me as the strongest. I love the dynamic between the father and the mother and the building details like the "falconer's gloves" and "special nipple they use for bottle-feeding at the zoo". You can get a sense of what the speaker is dealing with, even if you could not see the inspiration photo. Congrats, cristina!  

A Good Mother

She ignored the crying at first. Starting as intermittent whimpers, muffled by the blue checked blanket she'd been so thrilled to get just a few months before, it erupted into shuddering, wall-shaking roars. Mary cursed herself for waiting. But it was just so hard - he seemed to sleep only a few minutes this time. She'd heard babies cry before, of course, but never like this. Her nieces and nephews, all lusty screamers in their own right, sounded like mewling kittens compared to her son.

Smoothing back the blonde strands dangling from long, dark roots, she reached for the noise-cancelling headphones and placed them on her ears. They did help a little. At least Mark could be counted on to pay for supplies, even if he was a chicken shit. Stoically, she stumbled to the kitchen in the dark, opened the refrigerator and pulled out the stainless steel bottle, running it under hot water to warm it up before smooshing on the special nipple they use for bottle-feeding at the zoo. Though he didn't seem to be as interested in milk anymore. Teeth had started sprouting already. Pointed teeth.

Mary brushed away some tears, pulled on the falconer's gloves and reminded herself to be cool. He only got angrier if she showed fear. After a few deep, calming breaths, she told herself what a good mother she was, opened the nursery door and started crooning in a soft, slightly shaky voice "Hush little baby, don't say a word..."

About the author

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer for an engineering firm and volunteers on the planning committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education.

She holds a degree in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. In the English graduate program at Penn State, she taught college composition courses and hosted a poetry club for a group of high school writers.

While living in Seattle, Taylor started and taught a free writing class called Writer’s Cramp (see the website). She has also taught middle school Language Arts & Spanish, tutored college students, and mentored at several Seattle writing establishments such as Richard Hugo House. She’s presented on panels at Associated Writing Programs Conference and the Pennsylvania College English Conference and led writing groups in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado for writers of all ages & abilities. She loves to read, write, teach & debate the Oxford Comma with anyone who will stand still long enough.

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