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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Flash Fiction Contest, Week 8 Prompt!

So, here we are, Week 8 of the Potato Chip Math/Tales of Whoa Flash Fiction Contest.  The rules are the same as always; 500 word maximum, and the prompt must be included verbatim somewhere in your piece. The deadline is Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at 8:00 PM EST.  We'll post the winner next Wednesday!

So here's this week's prompt -- see where this one takes your creativity:

The first sign I had that something was wrong was when the birds stopped singing.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Post your pieces in the comments section here, along with your Twitter handle if you'd like recognition there.

Have fun!


  1. At the time I don’t think it was something I was consciously aware of; that the first sign I had that something was wrong, was when the birds stopped singing. You would think getting the phone call asking me to come in the day before my scheduled appointment might have been the big clue. Looking back I have no recollection of sound of any kind as I walked to the appointment on that February morning so long ago. The sky was bright blue and cloudless, with the full heat of the day yet to come.
    There was a part of me that knew what was coming. My world had already started to shift as I was gradually beginning to move out of kilter with everyone else. I was becoming different. Secretly I knew it. It wasn’t denial or avoidance. Perhaps it was the beginning of acceptance. It took me almost an hour to go from being at one of the best times of my life, to experiencing something completely foreign to me.
    Halfway there my mobile phone rang. It was the boy. Not long returned from his honeymoon he was calling to catch up. I hated that I had to shatter his mood and give him cause to worry; he had been through his own darkness recently. But what can you do? We said goodbye and disconnected. I promised I would call him afterwards. Later he would tell his sister the news.
    I kept walking, mind blank. No sound. The birds were still quiet. I reached the main road and the cars and trucks rolled along, making no noise at all as each one carried those inside towards their own destinations. Weird… Surreal…I didn’t pay too much attention to the phenomenon because I was already merging into that other, shadow world.
    Almost there now.
    I thought about how, depending on what I heard, I would either ring my husband or send the message, “All’s good.” I never sent that message.
    I reached my destination and the receptionist was professional and kind, but she never really looked me in the eye.
    I waited. Time rushed. Time froze. It was my turn.
    I went in and sat down.
    She gently closed the door and turned to face me.
    ‘I’m sorry to say it’s cancer,’ said my doctor.
    Of course the birds never did stop singing. I just stopped hearing them for a while.


  2. “Betcha I can outweigh you today,” Jennings said to me. His white teeth gleamed in the darkening mineshaft as we rode the lift down, down, down. He carried his pickaxe slung over his broad shoulder. “I’m feelin pretty lucky.”

    I grinned back, relaxed. “Lucky, hunh? I’ll take your bet. If I lose, one night of all the beer you want’s on me. If I win…Luce’ll have to bake some of that oat bread.” Lucy, Jennings’ wife, was an incredible baker, and that oat bread was enough to live for. At our feet, the caged canaries chirped and fluttered.

    Jennings nodded. “Deal. Heh, I can taste Jed’s homebrew already.”

    The lift rattled to a stop. I grabbed the canaries and let Jennings lead me out. The entrance to the mines widened into a main chamber, lit with weak electric lamps. Wires ran across our path as we checked our tickets for our assigned tunnel. A large paper map detailed the labyrinth of tunnels, color-coded to show levels of danger.

    “Looks like we got a red zone,” Jennings said. He tapped the map with a beefy finger. “We’ll have to be careful.”

    We wound through the claustrophobic and hewn passages. Around us echoed the steady clinks of pickaxes as our fellow miners chipped along the mineral-rich vein that produced pounds of raw ore everyday day. Those clinks, of men grunting with exertion, faded as Jennings and I arrived at our zone.

    Overhead, we clipped our lights and hung the cage. The canaries cheerfully twittered as we began our arduous work. When we swung, we didn’t speak. We got into a rhythm of concentration, of gouging the rock’s weak points, of filling our satchels. I don’t know how long we were at it. Time was unmarked in the tunnels.

    The first sign I had that something was wrong was when the birds stopped singing. Canaries were sensitive to noxious fumes so their silence effectively signaled danger. I don’t know why, but all I could think of were those yellow bodies limp at the bottom of the cage. I grabbed Jennings’ slick arm. He paused in mid-swing.


    “The birds,” I said. My tongue, dry and thick, stuck in my throat. “They’re quiet.”

    That was everything I had to say. His eyes widened with terror. Yanking off our satchels, throwing aside our picks, both of us charged back up the tunnel. Our feet were cumbersome in our thick workboots and thundered in a panicked beat. How long had we breathed in lethal gasses?

    There came an incredible roar. I risked a glance over my shoulder. A fiery plume exploded after us. Heat blasted me, lifted me clean off my feet and tossed me face-first into the silt. The lamps flicked out. We were left in a dark void. Deep rumbles, a grinding of rock and stone, deafened me. I heard a wooden beam creak, splinter, and an unforgiving weight crushed me, suffocated me.

    Nothing more.

  3. I thought this was low hanging fruit for a disaster or horror story (my favourites!), so I wanted to try something a bit different. It might be too whiny, but I've written it in half an hour so please forgive me!

    And so she was gone. After seventeen happy years together, and the hope of at least as many again. I missed her so much I could barely function. A dull ache accompanied my every waking hour, and a vivid nightmare my every sleeping minute. I was falling apart. This went beyond grief, into something inexplicable, un-nameable. Perhaps I should have named it – names help us categorise things, and in so doing help us regain at least perfunctory control. Alas, I couldn’t name my condition. Maybe that was part of the condition.

    The first sign I had that something was wrong was when the birds stopped singing. It wasn’t that they were no longer making any noise. Quite the opposite, in fact: they were noisier than ever. It was more that my ears picked up none of the joyous melody of song. Instead each twitter, chirp, or tweet grated at me; bored with shrill aggression deep into my ever-aching mind.

    There was no respite. From the lazy pre-dawn half-light to the dusk extended by halogen artifice, those damned birds made their noise. Mocking me with their happy chatter...and yet still in that cacophony I could discern no song.

    It was the same with colour. To my wretched eyes the world had been toned down, with greys accentuated at the cost of all other hues. The sun was less bright, and the sky more overcast. Everything of beauty was diminished to some greater or lesser extent.

    Then there was the emptiness. Meaning was ruthlessly sucked out of everything, like so many homes torn from their roots in the path of a tornado. I existed, but I didn’t live. I couldn’t live. Not without her. Christmas came and went, a mountain of pain rising from the lifeless grey desert in which I existed. And the worst part was it wasn’t improving. Nothing was changing, and I could see no changes coming.

    Time wasn’t healing this sickness, despite the well-intentioned advice coming from all quarters. They didn’t know – they didn’t understand. They could smell the perfume their spouses wear (wore) without bursting into tears. They could hold a knife without thinking ‘what if?’. Every breath isn’t a labour to them, and every conversation isn’t a slow grinding torture. They didn’t understand.

    But now things are different: things are as they ought to be. We sit together again, her and I; hand in hand. We often turn to face each other and smile. It’s always one of those truly warming smiles, just a brief moment away from a light-hearted giggle. Watching the radiant sunset, contemplating its beauty; I reflect that it’s a beauty I thought I’d never again know. Only this sunset is different: as the light hits us it both passes through us and becomes us; and we become it. We’re happily reunited, and the cost was a mere few feet of rope.