Start By Listening

Prompt: People | Word Count: 100 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

June 3, 2020

People are people. Regardless of their ethnicity, religion or any other characteristic. Let’s just all agree on that to start. Next let’s agree that we don’t and never have realized that idea. Now, we need to figure out how to make that happen. That’s the work we need to do. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if we think we know. We don’t. So let’s listen to what is being said. Not argue. Not justify. Not talk. Listen. Very Deeply. Learn. Ingest. Only then can we begin to act in accordance with what we agree should be.

Thank You, Mia!

Prompt: glue | Word Count: 180 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

June 1, 2020

The Keep Writing Challenge has been salvation during this time of trials. We’re far flung and fortunate to have found this sacred space and its unstinting leader, Mia. We’ve held each other’s words in our hands, giving support and guidance through these long months. All thanks to you, Mia, and the wonderful community of writers you have created.

On the site and on social media, we’ve each risen to each prompt as best we could. We’ve written, revised, and bettered our craft. Now, we’ll have Artists in Lockdown to show for our work, plus over 13,000 new arrows in our story quivers. We started in March with our “orchid” missives and these minuscule challenges have ended up being the “glue” for so many of us. Friendships and mentors forged online. It’s said that in 21 days you make a habit, so I’m afraid, dear Mia, you’re stuck with us now. We won’t give you up.

The touchstone with all of you has kept my sanity intact. Weary though we may be, we weathered this together. I will be forever grateful.

Shepherding Immunity

Prompt: hex | Word Count: 300 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 31, 2020

As she watched the news, Casey felt as though the world were hexed. Well, she thought, if this is a hex, then it’s time for a counter-curse. She was confident that she and the other modern day witches would be able to use their science to stop this thing. Time was their enemy. They needed a vaccine quickly.

As a woman trained in epidemiology, Casey was on a mission to find a vaccine. She’d been working steadily since the news of the virus first surfaced in January. She’d seen the writing on the wall. This thing had the potential to take off, and not in a good way. So she’d rolled up the sleeves of her lab coat and gotten to work.

She and thousands of other doctors and scientists were racing to stop this virus. She knew they could do it to. Despite government roadblocks, and numerous false starts, and faulty testing, collection errors, and dead ends, they’d finally found a way to neuter this fiend.

Then they needed to test. She was hopeful that this drug would make the grade. By June, they were already in phase two trials and the results looked good. But humans were complex creatures and science still had a number of blinders that meant they didn’t always know what would happen in real people with real differences in physiology. It would never be okay to give an untested vaccine on the scale that would be needed to achieve herd immunity. So better to test and find a safe alternative.

As Summer waned, the vaccine proved worthy. Manufacturing, started before the trials finished, now ramped up and additional sites were added to rapidly produce the quantities needed to inoculate the global population. A year from the start, they began distribution of bottled immunity.

Ready?

Prompt: plunge | Word Count: 150 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 30, 2020

As deaths from the virus started to plunge, Annie prepared to reopen her life and her business. First, she contacted her regular customers to let them know when she would be opening. Next, she amassed sufficient stock of masks, gloves and sanitizer to keep things sanitized. She designed attractive signage to advise customers of the new measures and rearranged her store to allow ample room for a reduced clientele to social distance. She placed tape markers on the floor to aid this process. Two days before opening she drove through a COVID testing line to get a test that would allow her to provide as much assurance as she could to her customers. She needed the income, but at reduced volumes, she wasn’t sure it would suffice. Still, on the theory that something’s better than nothing, she squared her shoulders, turned her sign to “Open,” and hoped for the best.

Science In A Jar

Prompt: Butter | Word Count: 200 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 29, 2020

This year the science fair was virtual, since school was online,, so Irene submitted a video of her project.

“Hi! I’m Irene and I’m in 4th grade. My science fair experiment explores how to use a mason jar to churn cream into butter.” She gestured to the table, ”Here are my tools: a cup of whipping cream, a mason jar, a stopwatch and my lab book.”

She stepped into the frame and explained her objective and methodology.

She poured the milk into the jar and fastened the lid tight. “Now, comes the hard work. Starting my timer now.”

After a couple of minutes of shaking, she held up the jar. “Now I have whipped cream. But I’m not done yet.” She noted the time in her lab book and continued to shake the jar. She used time lapse video to fast forward through the ten minutes of shaking the jar.

“As you can see the liquid has separated from the butter. It took a lot of shaking, but now I can drain off the buttermilk, and voila! Butter! Thank you for watching my experiment. I’ll email my lab notes. I only wish we could share the results on pancakes. Goodbye!”

Still Life with Tree

Prompt: tripod | Word Count: 250 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 28, 2020

On the first day of lockdown, Stewart steadied the camera on top of the tripod and set the shutter to click automatically at regular intervals throughout the day. He placed the lens squarely against the window and focused on the big tree beyond the fence in the backyard, then adjusted the remaining settings to automatic.

For seventy days of confinement, the camera whirred and clicked, snapping photos of the life beyond his window. Reviewing the pictures in rapid succession told a stellar tale.

The large tree, just budding as lockdown began, leafed into glorious vibrant green leaves. As the days grew longer, various residents took up their lodgings.

At its center, a squirrel couple moved in, and soon added to their young family. Within no time the branches hosted racing youngsters, scurrying among the foliage.

In the highest branches, a hawk pair built a nest of twigs. He watched as the nest slowly came to be and then came to life, with the mother roosting, then feeding her young brood. After several weeks, the fledglings completed their inaugural flights, ready to molt and leave the nest.

Far beneath the canopy, at the roots, a bunny family grew. And grew. And grew some more. As the leaves deepened to lush green, and the dozen kits ventured from their den to nibble on the tender green shoots the sprang among the roots.

Viewing his film, Stewart realized that life had not been still for everyone that pandemic Spring.

Heart Dreams

Prompt: listen | Word Count: 95 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 27, 2020

Lauren realized with sudden clarity that a true gift of solitude was the impetus to listen deeply. As she puttered in her kitchen, she listened to the gurgle of the coffeemaker and the clink of the spoon as she stirred in a bit of creamy indulgence. Standing on her front porch, she listened to the birds waking with the rising sun. At midday she listened to a friend bemoan online schooling and heard the distress and loneliness underlying her complaints. But most of all, Lauren learned to listen to the whisper of her own dreams.

Communal Living

Prompt: font | Word Count: 150 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 26, 2020

For some, the trial of communal living was especially difficult during the corona virus lockdown. In flats and apartments shared by those splitting rent, but not otherwise connected through blood or friendship, the sudden impoundment wasn’t just irksome, it was dangerous. They were in each other’s pocket day and night, sharing kitchens, bathrooms, and TV remotes. Nobody signed up for that! Different temperaments and tolerances created a hotbed of conflict. Most realized they were only as safe as their least conscientious member. So they voted on rules.

Shannon resented them and their flipping rules. So she did as she’d always done: exactly as she pleased, rules or no rules. Really, who was going to stop her? Didn’t they say that “rules were made to be broken?” Until she arrived home to find her belongings outside the door and a sign in a font too large to ignore: You’re Out Shannon!

Parking Lot Prayer

Prompt: palms | Word Count: 70 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 25, 2020

Katy entered the church parking lot as the officiant started, “Welcome to Parking Lot Prayer on this unusual Memorial Day. Please bring your palms together in prayer for fallen heroes. Let us remember those who gave their lives in service of something larger than themselves. Honor them: Stay in, stay safe, stay positive. Let’s hope next year we can gather in person to honor our heroes. Bless you all. Amen.”

Turning the Tables

Prompt: Huff | Word Count: 100 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 24, 2020

“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”

“Wait just a darn minute, there Mr. Wolf,” said the littlest pig, pushing a mask through the mail slot in the door. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic. It is only common decency to wear a mask when you approach someone’s home. I’d think a big bad guy like you would know that!”

The wolf was so startled at being scolded that he grabbed and donned the mask.

“That’s better. How can we help?”

“Oh never mind,” grumbled the wolf. He left to find another place for lunch.

Viral Politics

Prompt: Following | Word Count: 250 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 23, 2020

“Following yesterday’s downtick in reported cases, I’m optimistic our phased reopening will have the staying power we’re all hoping for. However, everyone must continue to maintain appropriate social distancing, wear masks for protection, and continue to limit gatherings. While the results are positive after our first week of phase two reentry, we must remain vigilant.”

Susan flicked off the television and silenced the Governor’s daily briefing. “More of the same,” she muttered under her breath. Today, at least, he appeared to be staying on message, just as she’d written it.

She surveyed her desk looking for the cyber report, and scanned the graphs and numbers. This would be trickier. Investigators had uncovered a huge unemployment fraud ring in the state that had pilfered a ghastly portion of the state coffers. Clearly, hucksters and criminals were thriving in lockdown and having their heyday. For all it’s convenience, electronic commerce was easy to compromise and difficult to secure.

She wasn’t sure how to put lipstick on this pig. It wasn’t going to look good for the Governor. It wasn’t just their state either. Briefly, she pondered whether there was a conspiracy at work to undermine certain governors, including her boss, for political reasons. Once, she would have scoffed at such wild speculation. But these days one couldn’t be too careful.

Well, she thought, two could play at that game. She borrowed a jacket, caught a bus across town to a pay phone without a video monitor, looked at her notes and dialed.

And The Winner Is …

Prompt: Excellence | Word Count: 300 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 22, 2020

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Zach boomed into his Zoomed computer. “Thank you for attending the Neighborhood Excellence Awards. As every week, tonight’s festivities will be hosted by … Me! We are here to recognize the extraordinary, the crafty, the considerate, and other feats of excellence by our neighbors in these uncertain days of self-isolation. This evening’s prizes we’re donated by Judith from our very own Hole In One Donut Shop.”

Lowering his voice to flat montone, Zach continued “As such I’m duty-bound to mention that they are a sponsor for this evening’s event. Also all judges decisions are final. Any complaints should be swallowed along with your pride.”

Resuming to his Master of Ceremonies voice, “Now that the boring stuff is taken care of, let’s get on with the show!”

He surveyed the Brady bunch looking assembly on the screen before him, and spotted his first winner, then studiously avoided looking at him, instead directing his gaze at the camera.

“Larry, please take a bow. You have won the prize for best neighborhood trivia night. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all enjoyed these zoomed affairs. Thank you, Larry.” Larry grinned as he bowed into his camera.

“Rhonda, you are the winner for most improved garden! I think everyone will agree that you’ve done the neighborhood proud with your gorgeous peonies!”

Rhonda smiled shyly, and said “Thanks. The pleasure was all mine”

“I’m especially pleased to announce that Adrian has won most humanitarian for his tireless efforts to bring groceries to vulnerable shut-ins. Thank you Adrian!” Adrain nodded at his screen.

“Finally, we’d like to recognize Cherie for the wonderful masks she sewed and distributed to all of us.” Cherie blushed, then smiled.

“Thank you for joining in this small show of recognition. Keep it up folks! Goodnight!

So Much Sameness

Prompt: Tick | Word Count: 150 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 21, 2020

The clock on Jean’s desk seemed to tick more slowly these days as it counted down the working hours. In her pre-pandemic life, she’d longed for the flexibility to skip the commute and work from home. But the reality of teleworking wasn’t measuring up to her expectations.

No colleagues to chat with briefly in passing. Instead each interaction seemed oddly formalized by technology. No catch up lunches. No furtive escapes to run errands. No excuses for not attending. No missed calls. No distraction. No separation between home and work. No after work socializing. No celebrating the win. But no complaining, either. She was one of the fortunate few who could work from home.

She craved the variety of the old days. She longed for mixture of faces and places. Even the commute seemed welcome. Instead, her computer clocked time at her desk and every day seemed eerily the same.

The Contender

Prompt: running | Word Count: 250 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 20, 2020

Sheila grinned and put down the paper next to her empty morning coffee cup, then she pumped her fist in the air and shouted,

“Jonah, they’ve relaxed the restrictions. Running on the track will be permitted as of Friday.”

“Do we have to mask up? I find it hard to breathe with a mask on while I’m running.”

“Well, yes, of course, but I am so sick of the treadmill! I’d rather run with a mask, than jog on that machine. I’m definitely hitting the track the minute it opens.”

“I admire your dedication, Sheila, but do you really think they’ll restart track meets anytime soon? I hear schools may remain online only through the Fall or even longer. Plus a lot of sports programs are being cut in the wake of this lockdown. Why are you so optimistic?”

“First of all, sport programs are the lifeblood of many schools. They’ll find a way, even if it means not running side by side until the vaccine. Second, I want to be ready to compete the moment meets resume. Besides, running is in the blood. Some of us can’t not do it. And for my part I prefer to run outdoors.”

“I wish you luck, babe. We both know you were a shoe in for the Olympic team, so I hope they find a way to bring the games back before another four years pass. It’d be pretty hard to remain in top shape for that long.”

“I aim to try!”

Handy

Prompt: Screwdriver | Word Count: 100 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 19, 2020

Taryn prided herself on her ability to outsource those chores she disliked, as well as those she was not adept at. She could always find the right person for any fixit job. But with the pandemic stretching on interminably and lockdown orders preventing her for using contractors, she decided to take things into her own hands. Luckily, she had a rudimentary tool box that her father had given her as gift. Top of the list: the loose shutter that rattled with even the slightest breeze. She reached into the box, grasped the screwdriver, and got to work. One job down!

Waste Not, Want Not

Prompt: Prompted | Word Count: 200 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 18, 2020

“What prompted you to join us today,” the volunteer coordinator asked the assembled group of bleary-eyed volunteers.

A chipper young woman piped up, “We couldn’t stand by while all that food was going to waste in the fields.” Nods of agreement circulated the group.

Another volunteer added, “Especially when food banks are begging for food because they have so many more families relying on them.”

“Exactly!” The coordinator affirmed. “We couldn’t do this without all you volunteers, so thanks for coming out. I know its early but you’ll be glad for the cooler temperatures once we get going. Now, here’s the drill. The trucks arrive in ten minutes from farms all around the area. You’ll be bagging potatoes and onions today. Each person, or family group, must maintain a strict six foot distance from anyone else and wear the mask and gloves you brought at all times. The truck will unload produce to each station. Bags are stacked over here. Your job is to bag it up so that we can deliver it. Sound good?” Everyone nodded at the simple instructions.

By the end of the shift they’d bagged several tons of produce for distribution to local food banks.

Lawn Envy

Prompt: the lawn | Word Count: 150 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 17, 2020

George knew he needed a focus during the shutdown. Otherwise he’d go completely bonkers. He worked from home, grateful to have a job that he do remotely. But stir crazy’s real and he needed an outlet, so he was determined to have the most perfectly manicured lawn on the block.

It even got competitive as some of the other neighbors caught onto his plan and upped their games. “Keeping up” and such. As the days warmed and lightened, bags a grass seed were delivered along with lawn food. In the evenings the sun set to the whirring of weed whackers and the buzz of lawn mowers striping green in yard after yard throughout the neighborhood.

Watered, fed and sunned the lawn grew lush and thick as it bellied up to the neat edging along the sidewalk. Throughout the suburb, the lawns were showcase-ready all Summer long in 2020.

Beaten Back

Prompt: Unconscious | Word Count: 500 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 16, 2020

As she stared at her son, now unconscious, through the plastic biohazard tent surrounding his bed, Cherie knew she’d made the wrong decision. She thought back over the chain events leading here.

Justin was a young adult, pulled home from college to finish out the term online. The abrupt disruption of his recently found freedom was harsh, but whisking him away from his girlfriend was worse. Still she believed it necessary. He thought she was overreacting.

He begged to be allowed to visit her. Cherie held strong. But as the news continued to report new cases every day and governments around the world struggled to figure out how to open, he sank deeper and deeper into darkness. When he finished the school year, he asked again. At some point he’d have to close out his apartment lease near campus, so a trip felt inevitable. They weighed the risks. Not many travelers, so exposure was less likely. Airports and airlines were hyper-vigilant about sanitation. He was young, healthy, and lonely. He could quarantine on return. His girlfriend was healthy and had tested negative. She lived alone and she’d been careful too.

So they said ok. He was away less than a week and returned happy to have gone and to have seen his girl. They tried to get a test, but testing was scarce, so he’d isolated in the basement.

Then he started coughing. He ran a fever. It climbed higher. They called the doctor, who tele-visited with him, then couriered over a test. He swabbed his nose, sent it back. Twenty-four hours later they got the call. He’d tested positive for Covid. There was no proven treatments, but they suggested he sleep on his stomach and wait to see if symptoms worsened.

When nothing eased his difficult breathing, they called an ambulance and he was whisked away. They asked for doctors to administer Remdesivir. They were desperate to keep him off a ventilator, given their long term consequences. So far they’d succeeded.

It had been 19 days since he’d been admitted. Every morning she woke and her first thought was for him. Her second thought was regret at ever allowing him to go away. While the medical staff worked to stabilize her son, she assisted with contact tracing. She’d cleared her own test. Now she needed to stay occupied and feel useful.

Her heart lightened when his symptoms finally improved. She came each day for the permitted brief visit, hoping to support his recovery from afar. She wore a mask and gloves and a disposable gown and slippers, but still wasn’t allowed into his room.

Today, he looked more active. Waiting anxiously to hear from the physician’s assistant, she willed a miracle. The nurse delivered the news: he’d slept well and was breathing more easily. His temperature was ebbing. Her prognosis was optimistic.

As Cherie watched her son’s recovery from the unseen virus, she wondered again and again if he’d think the trip was worth all this.

Princess in confinement

Prompt: Contrary | Word Count: 150 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 15, 2020

Buttercup whirled into to the room at top speed and volume, “Contrary to what you may believe, the world absolutely does not revolve around you!” She hurled her accusation. She didn’t like being cooped up like this.

Clearly something had gotten under her skin. But tempting as it was, Westley didn’t ratchet up to meet her. She continued, “its your responsibility to see to the milking. You can’t simply do when you please. Bessie’s waiting.”

As always, he responded, “As you wish,” to both mollify her and point out her error. He knew this was really just the quarantine talking.

Buttercup stopped as she was about to continue her tirade. Pausing briefly, then her shoulders slumped and she plopped into the chair. “I’m sorry Westley. That was uncalled for. All this togetherness is getting on my nerves, especially since with no end in sight. Please ignore me.”

“As you wish.”

Jack

Prompt: jack | Word Count: 250 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 14, 2020

“Has anybody heard from Jack?” Erin asked the Zoom group.

One by one the participants said no, shaking their heads.

Erin sighed. “I’ll try to reach him then.”

Later, she rang his phone but got no answer. So she donned her sneakers and set off to his house at the end of the street.

Jack was the older gentlemen who alone. He’d always been very social prior to the pandemic. She worried that he hadn’t been in touch for a couple of weeks.

She rang his bell, and waited. After a suitable period she pressed the bell again and followed it up with a loud rap, rap, rap.

Just as she was preparing to really pound on the door, she heard shuffling on the other side.

“Who is it?” queried a scratchy voice.

“Jack? Is that you? It’s Erin from down the block. I just wanted to see if you were ok.”

The door creaked slowly open and through the crack she saw Jack bundled up in his bathrobe and pulling on a mask. “Erin? It’s nice to see you. Why are you here?”

“How’re you doing Jack? Nobody’s heard from you, so we thought we’d check in to see if you need anything.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, Erin. I’m just fine. But would you mind terribly if I call you later?”

“Okay, Jack. I’ll wait for your call.”

As the door was closing she heard a women call out, “Who was it Jack?”

Erin walked away smiling.

Mask Up!

Prompt: Marble | Word Count: 100 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 13, 2020

“Has she completely lost her marbles?” Eliza asked her partner as they passed an unmasked woman who was weaving in and out of passersby, heedless of social distancing requirements. “She could catch this thing and pass it along.”

“I think she’s a few cards short of a deck. She’s sort of rambling on. Talking nonsense. Do you think we should report her?”

“I think we show compassion. I know, let’s just leave a mask and some gloves for her on the bench. Maybe she’ll take the hint and protect herself.”

“As well as all the rest of us to boot!”

Are We Done Yet?

Prompt: clock | Word Count: 150 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 12, 2020

Tick tock goes the clock, ever counting down the hours.

Hip hop goes the bunny, bopping through the flowers.

Unchanging things can steady us in this uncertain time.

Persistent patterns that remain as surely as clocks chime.

When things feel dire. When things are grey. Our days go on and on.

Yesterday so like today our confinement’s never done.

We wish that we would soon be free, our isolation through,

But worry that a loosening will make the waves renew.

I hope you all are holding on, and keeping yourselves safe.

Please try not to let these strictures hurt or cause unwanted chafe.

We’re living in uncharted times, and will look back on 2020,

Amidst the scarcity of masks and work, we’ll know the virus was aplenty.

So now’s the time to make the best of everything you’ve got.

Be grateful for what’s working and for lessons learnt and taught.

Mud Study

Prompt: mud | Word Count: 250 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 11, 2020

As Spring took hold of the region, water and ice receded and paths and trails that littered the nearby mountain range dried up and became passable. The Governor had reopened the wilderness, and Shannon was determined to take advantage. She pulled on her double-thickness hiking socks, laced her boots, filled her water bottle and placed snacks in her day pack.

From the trailhead parking lot, she could tell that she was not the only local interested in some quality time in the great outdoors. She managed to squeeze her car into a spot at the end of a row. She noticed that her left wheel had found a patch of mud and sunk several inches. Since her other wheels were anchored on solid ground, she didn’t worry.

After several hours traversing the mountain, she’d noticed that wildlife had taken full advantage of human’s absence. Bear scat, deer tracks and an abundance of rabbits and squirrels littered the path. Still the quiet of the woods was welcome solace after endless days inside. Her PB&J had never tasted better. She gulped her water then packed the remains into her pack and headed out.

When she returned to start her car, the wheel spun out, spewing mud everywhere, but the vehicle remained stubbornly ensconced. A fellow hiker came to her aid with a flat piece of cardboard that they shoved beneath the tire. Carefully she eased her car from the spot, she waved thanks and goodbye, pleased with her day out.

Pink Is For Girls

Prompt: Pink | Word Count: 300 words exactly | Genre: flash fiction

May 10, 2020

Halloween 2019. What a Party! Costumes and craziness. Those Jell-O shots. Whoops.

Thanksgiving 2019. What are you thankful for? Well, actually Honey, I have something to tell you….

Christmas 2019. Aw, you shouldn’t have. Pink is perfect. We think it’s a girl. Here’s hoping.

New Year’s Eve 2019. No champagne. Have you heard about that virus in China?

Martin Luther King Day 2020. The doctor says we’re right on track for a Spring baby.

Ground Hog’s Day 2020. I don’t know who to believe. Do you think we should worry?

Valentine’s Day 2020. Everything’s under control. We’ve got plenty of time until the due date. I’m sure they’ll figure it out before then.

Leap Day 2020. I’m worried. Do you think we’ll be ok?

St. Patrick’s Day 2020. We’re going into lockdown now? What about the baby?

April Fool’s Day 2020. We only have a few weeks before delivery, I’m worried.

Easter 2020. I’m not sure they’re going to lift these restrictions in time. What if they don’t?

May Day 2020. This isn’t quite the baby shower we imagined, but the flowers are blooming and lovely. It was so sweet for you all to drive by with your celebration posters.

Cinco de Mayo 2020. It’s ok Mom. We’ve found a doula who comes to your home and the doc will zoom in. It’s going to be alright.

Mother’s Day 2020. She’s a little early, but the doc says we’re going to do this. Oh. My. God. I always said I wanted an epidural. Wait. Wait. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Ok, now! Push! Phew! You did it! Congratulations! It’s a girl! She’s beautiful. Best lockdown ever!

May 10, 2021. Happy Birthday, darling girl. You beat the corona baby boom by several months. Time to show these newbies how it is done!