On a total fluke, I found this Flash Fiction contest through NYC Midnight. The competition is split into four rounds. During each round, you get a prompt at 11:59 on Friday night and your 1000 words max story is due on Sunday night at 11:59. (Hence the "Midnight.") Prompts include the genre, primary setting, and an object that has to be included in the story. If you place in the top 5 out of your group (mine is 29 people) after the first two rounds, you move onto the third. Top 15 stories get scores, with 1st place receiving 15 points. For the first round, which was back in August, I was lucky enough to get 15 points for this story, "Cyanosis." The second round was in September, and I find out next week how my Round 2 story did, and whether or not I'll move on to Round 3! (Send me your good thoughts!)
(The prompt for Round 1 was an action/adventure story, in a sewer, with a canteen.)
Aggravation, rehabilitation, aggravation, this is how you play
Humming the nursery rhyme drowned out the yelling voices of the officers somewhere behind me. The catchy rhythm also made the squish of my feet sound more like intentional sound effects than something I wanted to ignore. I didn’t want to think about what had washed up from the festering river of sewer water next to me onto the stone bank I was running on.
This was not the glamorous escape I had been hoping for.
Aggravation, rehabilitation, aggravation, this is how you play
I liked Mrs. Allen’s second grade class at Lincoln Elementary because she had the box of 128 crayons, not just the 24 pack that my first grade teacher had. When I was using it during craft time and little Peter McLaughlin ambled up and broke the crayons one by one, Mrs. Allen threatened to send him across the street. “Do you know where they put bad little boys and girls?” she asked, pointing out the window to the nearby juvenile detention center. Looking back, this was not a punishable offense, and neither were the other things she told us would send us to juvie, although her threats made us behave. Then again, any building that needs to be encased by barbed wire probably shouldn’t be across the street from an elementary school.
But I have a lot of commentary for someone trying to unstick a sneaker from a particularly rancid pile of god-knows-what on the stones of the sewer.
“She went this way!” An officer yelled, and I prayed he had the wrong tunnel. I kept running—maybe continuing to follow the flow of the water would lead to a way out.
Aggravation, acute asphyxiation, aggravation, oops those aren’t the words
I remember when Mrs. Allen invited the two park rangers in during safety week, the day before the firefighters taught us to stop, drop and roll. They looked like zookeepers in head-to-toe khaki, canteens hanging off their belts like guns in holsters. They shared with us pictures of poison ivy, in case we were ever in the woods, and warned us not to touch it. They taught us how important it was to hydrate properly if we were out in the sun. They also tried to teach us about choking, even though Mrs. Allen was grimacing over at her desk. “Your veins start popping out of your neck,” they warned. “And your face turns blue!”
“Can you die?” Peter asked.
“Yes, you can,” the ranger said, and Mrs. Allen glared at him. They quickly switched to talking about whatever maneuver you’re supposed to use to stop someone from choking, but I zoned out wondering how blue someone’s face could really turn.
Now you take a pillowcase, wrap it ‘round your sister’s face,
She goes to bed, she wakes up dead, ooh-ooh-ooh
It wasn’t that very night that I crept into my little sister’s bedroom, armed with my pillowcase, but it must have been within a week. It was past midnight and the house was silent except for the whistling of the wind through the chimney.
I opened her door and wrapped the pillowcase around her neck, her peaceful face not even twitching. I wrapped it around her neck because I wanted to see if her face would turn blue, although the moonlight streaming in already tinted the room. By the time she opened her eyes, they were already bulging out of her head.
She swung her arms wildly like she was trying to swim to the top of a pool she couldn’t see. I tried to hold her down but she knocked the lamp off her nightstand, and Mom burst into the room.
Aggravation, incarceration, rehabilitation, if such a thing exists
So I’ve had plenty of time to alter the lyrics in my years across the street from Mrs. Allen’s second grade classroom. I imagine that she’s pointing at my cell in particular when she threatens her students while they fight over who’s standing at the front of the line on the way to lunch. By now, I’ve read every book in the library, especially the ones about Alcatraz and notorious prison escapes. In case you’re wondering, nobody digs through their cell walls with a spoon anymore. I think that’s a conspiracy propagated by the media to keep us from coming up with any better ideas. But nobody thought a sixteen-year-old would notice the sewer cap on the road inside the barbed wire walls right next to where she was planting flowers.
“Put your hands up!” That was Officer Mitchell, who I used to take seriously before I noticed how much food he got stuck in his beard. He snuck new books in for me to read sometimes, once he saw that I was on my second round of everything in the library. He had been my friend, although he didn’t sound like my friend now.
He was chasing me and I was still running, my cheap, formerly white shoes sliding. His feet thundered behind me and I thought they were echoing until I turned and saw that there were three sets of footsteps, three guards chasing me and I tried to run faster and I turned to look where I was going and I slipped hard, like I was diving into a base like they do on those MLB programs that are sometimes on in the mess hall.
And Officer Mitchell’s hand was on my back and I knew well enough to know that he was reaching for handcuffs so I rolled and I kicked my leg up in the air and it connected with his usually food-covered chin. I silently thanked my mother for forcing me into karate lessons, the only thing she had ever voluntarily given me besides a prison sentence.
Before he could stand up, the other officers still too far away to help, I made up my mind. I closed my eyes and rolled into the vile river. I held my breath.