Tag Archives: short fiction

2015 Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction

Marguerite McGlinn

Marguerite McGlinn

Hello, beautiful writer friends!

As some of you may know, I am Contest Coordinator and Assistant Poetry Editor for a wonderful non-profit publication, Philadelphia Stories Magazine. Each year we are host to a short fiction contest in honor of the late Marguerite McGlinn, a former board member – and dear friend – of those who work for the magazine.

We are now accepting submissions for our 2015 contest, and I encourage all of you to submit! (I am virtually surrounded by some amazingly talented people here, and I’d love if you’d take a chance and enter!) The reading fee is just $12 and includes a one year subscription to Philadelphia Stories. We are accepting short fiction pieces up to 8,000 words.

Click here for more information or if you’re ready to go, click HERE to submit your piece!

And don’t forget to tell all of your writer friends. I’d really appreciate it. 🙂

xo,

Nicole Marie

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Unremembered (Part 7)

 

(If you haven’t started reading this series yet, please click here for Part One.)

 

“So what makes you think that?” He picked up a clean towel and dried his hands.

“She leaves,” I said. “Days at a time. Never any explanation, only some mumbled words about finding herself, taking a breather. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never asked where she goes.”

Just then I realized how pathetic I must sound, the confused boyfriend alone in a bar while his girlfriend wanders constantly into some adventure unknown to him. No questions, no accusations, he allows her to bounce from their bedroom to her own secret destinations; she could be writing a novel by the ocean, or she could be telling her worries to someone else’s bare chest. I watched as he took the towel to a spot on the bar and moved it for a while in the same circular motion, searching for a bit of bartender wisdom.

“An ultimatum,” he said. “Either she fesses up, tells you what she’s been doing all this time, or you leave.”

She leaves,” I laughed, taking another sip of my drink. “It’s my house, after all.”

“Right,” he said, walking away to help a customer waving an empty shot glass at the other end of the bar. I watched her, a woman with long blond hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. She leaned across the bar and put her lips to his ear. She spoke for a while; I was finished my beer by the time she flopped back down onto her barstool and they were both staring in my direction, avoiding any attempt to not look obvious.

I dug in my pockets for a ten dollar bill and threw it in a water ring, careful to avoid the gazes that were now digging into the left side of my face. I’d made it halfway outside when the shouting started.

“Wait!” Her face was as tight as the ponytail, so close to me now. “Matt,” she smiled. Her lips were cracked and smothered in layers of sparkling gloss. My chest tightened at the sound of my name.

I stepped back inside. “How do you know who I am?”

Two hours later and Jamie and I were downing shots and bumping shoulders.

“Yeah, Lily was a riot in college,” she laughed.

Slowly we eased off our barstools and headed for the door. Outside it was dark now and the edges in my mind had begun to blur, but it felt good. My worries were hazily bouncing off one another and I let my hands move freely to Jamie’s waist. She stopped laughing and caught her breath in her throat.

“I don’t want to talk about Lily anymore,” I said.

She started to speak but I caught her words with my mouth.

I spent the rest of the night in bed, swaying from sleep to guilt to anger at Lily’s absentness. My lips were still tacky with Jamie’s gloss and her words before we parted were still turning over in my head.

“She’ll turn up,” she’d said as she got into her car, too drunk to drive. “She always does.”

Stay tuned for more installments!

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Continue to Part Eight here.

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Unremembered (Part 6)

 

(If you haven’t started reading this series yet, please click here for Part One.)

 

I sat on the front porch while five officers in blue latex gloves picked apart our home like they were combing over a murder scene; slow, meticulously, opening every cabinet and lifting every bed sheet like delicate tissue paper. I avoided conversation and every room someone was occupying. I’d seen enough crime shows to know the hovering spouse was more suspicious than helpful, although I knew my distance was likely being just as carefully documented.

When they were done they filed out silently, no goodbyes. The last one nodded in my direction and closed the door behind him. Once the cars were gone and the gawking neighbors had gone back inside, I got up and stepped into the living room.

Things looked the same, but my world felt tilted; pictures, chairs, books, all off-kilter. Our memories had been groped by foreign hands. Suddenly I felt emptier than I ever had. I navigated the stairs on heavy legs, went to the bathroom, turned the shower on hot, stood under the water until my skin turned pink and I was forced out. I didn’t bother with a towel. I curled up in the middle of the cold tile floor and slept.

When I woke it was dark, and as I peeled myself from the floor I opened my mouth to form Lily’s name, to call to her, to whatever nook of our home she was in, likely reading a book, drinking a glass of wine. Only my eyes quickly adjusted to form the shapes in the room, and I remembered. Every waking was destined to be like that one; raw, aching hurt, sudden and new.

***

I went to a local bar on my lunch break, one of the countless afternoons Lily was gone. I’d spotted her bag by the door before she told me she was leaving; I’d only just gotten out of bed, my eyes still heavy and blurred.

“Be back in a day or so,” she said, and kissed my forehead. She was out the door before I had a chance to part my lips.

Within months, day drinking had become a routine while Lily disappeared, as normal as the spouse that orders takeout while the wife is away on business. The bartender came to recognize me – whether it was the suit or the lost expression that helped him remember, I’m not sure – but even if a month had gone by (a rare occurrence) he’d have the same beer at the same barstool, waiting patiently on a cardboard coaster. He never asked any questions but his smile was always an open invitation to spew my problems out into the darkness of the pub.

I never talked, only drank, but this time she’d been gone for four days, the longest yet, and I was worried something had happened.

It never occurred to me that she had simply decided not to come back.

“My girlfriend,” I said, taking in a sip of my beer. He looked up from the glasses he’d been washing, surprised. He was young, maybe twenty-eight, small and soft in his features.

I stared at a nearby salt shaker, contemplating my next sentence like a game of chess. I took a few deep breaths.

“I think she’s seeing someone else.”

The words slopped off of my tongue like soot. They hadn’t sounded as permanent in the confines of my head. Yet out here, where even a whisper can hold the ugliest weight, they made my chest hollow.

 

Stay tuned for more installments!

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Continue to Part Seven here.

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Unremembered (Part 1)

 

Lily went missing on a Sunday, the day of rest. On Sundays we’d drape ourselves on tables and chairs around the house, drinking coffee from mugs adorned with our alma maters, cooking luxurious pasta dishes even though we rarely dined in (she could burn boiling water, I could barely make condensed soup), if only to match the hushed euphoria of the neighborhood that came with the sinking of the sun; stress was set out with Monday morning’s clothes, and on those evenings our cul-de-sac glowed with golden lamplight and blue-hued television screens. By dawn we were always heavy in sleep, a tangle of limbs and breath, a lasagna still cooling on the kitchen counter.

We were always together those days, except the day she disappeared. The weather was a Summer tease in early Spring – the first week of April and seventy degrees, a baking sun – and Lily wanted to take advantage with a jog.

“It’ll bring out those awful freckles on my shoulders, the ones you love so much,” she’d said with a laugh.

Her laughter was always so strangely appealing, like the blocky music that churned out of a Jack-in-the-box; it excited you, even if you already knew what to expect. She was a constant of beautiful predictability. So when she hadn’t come home by three I felt the knot in my stomach pick itself up, twisting slowly at first with caution, worry.

By four I was worrying a trail in our galley kitchen’s floor.

At six I was roaming the trails near our house like a tourist, arms stretched out in front of me as if it might get me to her sooner. I called her name until my throat felt like sandpaper and the trees began to taunt me. By eight I was somewhere deep in dirt and foliage, my head between my knees. I wailed and darkness swallowed me.

When I woke the curtains were tightly drawn. Days could have passed. I stretched my arms out over my head and sighed, my eyes barely open before the remembering began. Lily, the woods, the faceless jogger who’d found me flailing helplessly in a clearing, alone. Somehow I’d gotten home, and the procession of worried family and friends had begun; then there was an officer on our couch, drinking coffee from Lily’s mug. Somehow I’d ended up in bed.

This was the start of day two without her.

My legs felt like lead as they hit the floor, and suddenly the guilt that I’d fallen asleep while my wife was missing washed over me. It was pure exhaustion, at least. My insides remained frantic. Downstairs my parents and hers were perched around the living room. Each head turned my way as I walked in; every eye was ringed in bright red. They said nothing, and looked away. It was all I needed to feel the blame that floated towards me past the coffee table. Not even my own mother got up. Mechanically I took to a chair in a corner and fell into it, fading into the wedding photos that hung slightly crooked, slightly dusty, behind me.

We’d met three years prior, in a place most don’t head to looking for anything bathed in solidity; the bar was poorly lit, as most are, making everyone beautiful even before the blurred lines that come with drinking whiskey. I’d noticed Lily first, the way her face maintained a sort of ethereal glow even in the darkness of the room, as if a candle were being held below her chin. I saw a flicker in her eyes as she laughed in that way that made me joyously anxious. When she noticed me watching her she paused for a moment, then smiled and lifted her martini glass in an airy cheers. I raised mine in unison and began to weave through heavy waves of shoulders and conversation to the other side of the bar. When I’d made my way to her we clinked glasses and drank.

“Matt,” I said, smoothing my tie with one hand.

“Lily.” Her name fell from her lips like snow.

 

***

This is Part 1 of a I-don’t-know-how-many-parts-there-will-be short (maybe) story. It came to me in my second glass of vino last night, and demanded I give it life. I hope you’ll follow along as I make more installments here and there!

Click here for Part 2!

 

 

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Another Common Phrase

 

“Blood is thicker than water.”

“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

There are some words and images that float past us like fireflies; they turn heads with a quick, soft glow then disappear somewhere into darkness. Even with their presence we stay in sweet, undisturbed awareness. Some make our lips curl at the edges, quicken breath, evoke the deepest, purest happiness that escapes lungs in undulating melodies. Other times, the rose-tinted shades rush open and for solid moments we are caught in pockets of undesirable reality and that dull, grey rain of life we scramble to keep hidden.

“I love you, but I don’t like you.” 

She was eight years old, built like a Popsicle stick when her father opened his mouth and snakes crawled out. She was new to nightmares, shaken by the way they squeezed out from her depths when she was sleeping, helpless. She’d just done something eight year old’s do – tracked mud in the house, dropped the milk carton, skinned her knee. If she had a nickel for every time she’d committed such crimes, that Barbie’s Dream House with two working elevators would have been at the foot of her bed already. She hugged her knees to her chest, thinking if only she could curl herself in tightly enough, she’d disappear and her father wouldn’t be standing over her with that familiar wild-eyed anger spread across his face. She hated that stare; it made him look old, much older than he was. When things were good and he smiled, laughed even, two perfect rows of teeth appeared, white as the pearls around her grandmother’s neck. When he really let go, really roared, she’d walk across the sound; for a moment the hot coals beneath her feet had disappeared.

So now there he was, draped over her like the Grim Reaper, teaching her what real life disappointment was like – its sounds, its touch – not something her head conjured up while her green eyes were closed. He didn’t need a blackboard or intricate diagrams to teach her – just silence, just gestures, a few words. A magician, her father. In just minutes he’d taught her that disappointment is a small child who does small, child-like things; she is not yet old enough to shave her legs, but old enough to know she is a burden. There was something about love in there, too, its many forms, its requirements and optional add-ons, another common phrase, another useful lesson she scribbled in a Pooh Bear diary and tucked into her non-existent chest when he wasn’t looking.

It was summer, late afternoon, when she was handed her first demon. She covered it in Elmer’s Glue and pink glitter and tucked it under her bed. She was exceptional, ahead of her time, already numb.

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A Very, Very Temporary Farewell

I am off to the Renaissance Faire on this beautiful, chilly morning, then to the mountains for a week of rest, food, more rest, more food, beer, and hopefully some writing. While I will be able to enjoy the posts of those I follow (internet via cellphone), writing a post that way may be a little difficult. So instead, I will live vicariously through the blogging of others until I am returned to my keyboard next week.

Also while away, I hope to complete my short fiction entry for Writers’ Journal, with the starter line: Inside the envelope…

I’ve been juggling several ideas and have finally settled on one.

A joyous and safe week/weekend to all!

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Stained

Let's start this out right.

A short horror-fiction piece written about a year ago, for a Fiction course. Very sexual, for anyone reading this.

Comments?

 

 

 

I live alone in a small suburb of New York, surrounded by privileged white families that wear cashmere and mothers who keep their children on leashes during walks around the spiraling streets and cul-de-sacs with names like “Apple Way” and “Sunshine Court”. I comb black hair to the front of my scalp in an attempt to camouflage a withering hairline and the most expensive suit in my closet was bought for my Uncle’s funeral three years ago and was never stained with tears. My home on Woodland Drive is no different from the other dull models that fill the neighborhood, aside from one or two unruly bushes that curtsy onto the stone walkway. I do not watch children play through a break in the curtain of my bedroom window and there is no smeared, red attempt at escape on the inside of my front door.

While a degree in business did not shoot me to the top of the corporate latter, I did accept a customary position as a bookstore manager and have spent the last twelve years taking in the semisweet aroma of paper, ink and glue, and the last eleven pretending it is my priority. During that first year I met Gloria, a delicate looking girl who spent hours filing leather spines in the Horror section. Gloria was fresh, with a Bachelor’s and an interest in the macabre that fascinated me.

Although we barely spoke at work, we often watched documentaries together, squeezed side by side on the small leather couch in my muted living room, caught in our curiosities of the dead more than we were in each other; sometimes she told me her fantasies, when images of fleshy rot and severed limbs began to bore us. This was routine, until our relationship became sexual and tiny Gloria would beg me to hurt her. While reluctant at first, that year became a date-rape blur of blackouts and leather; Gloria would take the bus, hiring a leather corset beneath a cotton dress, and slink into my front door just after midnight, a look of business on her porcelain face.

I’d close my eyes and reach upwards, struggling through a tangle of thick hair until I met warm skin, then tracing the curve from her shoulders to her neck until I found my destination right below her jaw line. It became familiar, with two grooves that developed with time in the places where my thumbs rested each night.

The first few times began with a light push, the anxiety of thwarting her breath draining the strength from my fingertips. But the lack of pressure would turn her attention to me, and she would ungrip her thighs from my sides just long enough to cover my hands with her small ones, pressing my thumbs heard against her trachea. In these moments, Gloria was no longer delicate; she loomed over me, forcing what little I had to offer inside of her while I struggled to take it all away.

One evening, after three bottles of Shiraz and a struggle to the bedroom, my kitchen was dressed in maroon, two wine glasses stained at the stems and left abandoned on the counter. It began with the usual haze of teeth and nails, an impression of Gloria’s incisors left behind as she tore away from my bicep. We continued with accustomed force until Gloria suddenly stopped, quickly detaching herself; the abrupt crashing of our wave startled me, and for a moment I found myself thrusting upward, but only into the thick air of the bedroom.

“Get on top of me”, she managed between gasps.

As I quickly sat up she was already next to me, shoving me to the side of the damp bed with excited hips. I swung myself on top of her and looked down; her broad lips were coated in sweat and two strands of hair lay plastered across the top one like a mustache. I brushed them behind her ear as she grabbed my wrist and I tumbled inside of her, cradling my weight between my left arm and the stained sheets. My fingers found her neck and she closed her eyes, wrapping her legs around my back in approval. I had never handled her from above, and the power I was given in this position worried me.

Slowly I began to squeeze, careful to balance the majority of my strength in the opposing hand.

“Tighter!” she moaned, bear-clawing my chest.

My abs trembled and so did the arm that propped me up. My legs remained outstretched and slightly spread as I rocked in and out of the small space between her thighs. Gloria lifted her chin towards the ceiling and tightened the muscles that surrounded me, so I gripped her tighter until I felt her struggling to swallow beneath my palm. She choked out a small “yes” as I quickened my pace and leaned my face down into the puddle of sweat between her breasts. Slowly my left arm had began to shake, giving out under the pressure I had put on it, but I didn’t notice; my eyes were blurred with the salt that ran into them and my own deep pants crowded my ears. I dove into the odor of Gloria’s skin, my brain becoming hazed with sweat and spice.

It was in those next three minutes, when my own weight switched to the hand that I had clasped around her neck and I put the world on mute just so I could get off, that my life would begin to change. As I was preoccupied with the friction between Gloria’s legs, I mistook for pleasure the desperate heaves for air and scratches left on my back that broke skin.

After I finished I lay in a slump, my right cheek against her left breast. It took a few deep breaths of my own before I realized her chest was not rising and falling as mine did.

“Gloria?” I whispered.

Maybe she didn’t hear me.

I said her name a few more times, slowly, loudly, wondering if she had fallen asleep, although I knew she had not. I stayed there, one hundred and seventy pounds of dead weight suffocating her small frame, for several minutes, until I rolled off of her body and onto the bed beside her, my own blood inking trails into the pillowcase.

I did not look at her until I stood up, the chill of the oak floor stinging my bare feet. I moved to the farthest corner of the room before turning around to face the bed, as if I was going to be looking some very dangerous animal directly in the eye.

Gloria was not asleep. She lay with her arms spread out at her sides as a sacrifice of herself, and her eyes remained open and were suddenly too large for her skull. I stared at them until I was sure she was not going to blink.

Her red cheeks were now flushed to a dark purple and her mouth hung open to expose a dark slug that used to be her tongue, and had died trying to escape from between her lips.

I stood, frozen, trying not to move or blink or let my own breath be heard, certain that someone would hear me and come running to my bedroom, finding me exposed and still erect standing over a very naked and very dead Gloria.

I waited for the tsunami of panic to come hurdling down on me – it was surely the next step in these situations. I replayed the previous moments in my head as I waited, mentally scolding myself for my gluttony that had now left my girlfriend inanimate and me with a serious problem. These thoughts repeated in my mind, but the panic never came. Soon I found myself annoyed by her death rather than  upset; she left me with the need for an alibi, among other things that required immediate care to avoid my own possible demise.

In death, Gloria resembled some of the victims we had read about and seen pictures of: her green eyes were stuck in place with a look of permanent surprise, exaggerated by their bloating from her sockets. Her last view must have been of the ceiling, and the brown outline of a water stain that crept out from a corner of the molding. As I moved closer to the bed the only human feeling I cradled was sadness, but not at what I had done. Gloria was a pretty, young girl who had died beneath a stained ceiling and the sweat of an older man, choked to death in his carelessness and need for orgasm. I felt bad for her.

I threw on my boxers and a white t-shirt, not concerned about the open wounds on my back that would seep into the cotton. I did not bother to dress Gloria before I slid my hands beneath her, one at the middle of her back and one under her buttocks. She was already beginning to stiffen and I had to turn sideways in the doorway, so her legs would not catch on the frame. I struggled with her down the stairs and to the kitchen, planning only with each step. I laid her directly on the grey tile, not worried about a mess with no blood. I then scanned the room, hoping a plan would spring to life in front of me. I noticed the wine glasses first, standing just as we had left them hours before. I suddenly grew anxious, grabbing them by the stems, and flew to the sink, furiously scrubbing Gloria’s lipstick from the rim and her fingerprints from the rest of the glass.

I opened the cabinet beneath the sink and ran my hands through a mess of chemicals and paper towels until my fingers found a box of extra-large trash bags. Without the grace of an experienced murderer I placed one of the bags over her head, pulling it down to her navel; I pulled another over her feet, meeting the top of the first bag in the middle. I stood over Gloria, considering my work, before moving her to the basement. In most documentaries we had watched, it seemed the most popular place for the temporary storage of a body. As far as I knew, only Gloria and I knew of our relationship – I do not think an interest in whips and leather collars is something to be advertised.

Gloria remained in a far corner of the basement for several days, before I spread her over the grassy knolls of my New York suburb, using the first real prayer of my lifetime on the hope that this would make her harder to find. Officers did eventually come by with questions, but only because we had worked together; others had seen us putting books on shelves side by side but no one ever suspected that she kept my company each night.

I keep my fingers crossed each time the doorbell rings, but I am always left alone with memory of her smell and the scars on my back.

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How far do I take this makeover?

A healthy reminder.

I mentioned The Journal of Unlikely Entomology in a previous post, as well as the story I planned on revamping and submitting.

So after lunch today I lit a pumpkin spice candle (mmm) and dusted off the two pages of a would-be horror story, ready to go to work. I figured it would be a piece of cake to work on something that already has some sort of foundation to it. But, as I sit here staring at the tiny manuscript I’m becoming as overwhelmed as I would be starting from scratch.

And why is that? Because it sucks. It really does. It sat in a dark drawer for two years and with good reason. But, deep down, I do believe there is some potential here. A professor of mine referred to the piece as having a sort of pulp-fiction feel, which I didn’t realize it had at the time.

But it certainly needs a ton of work. There’s no real story here. My main character turns into a praying mantis and eats her lovers. Why? Sometimes, in my opinion, the reasoning can go left unsaid, and a great story can still be produced. But in my case, I feel as though it needs some sort of explanation. And maybe more dialogue? Dialogue never was an easy task for me.

The piece starts off a bit slow:

“A thin ray of light kissed the wall, displaying the outline that formed between the arch of her back and the curve of his stomach. Black hair swept his knees and she dug her nails into his fleshy thighs. He gasped, a puff of air escaping between thin lips as she drove him to heaven.”

That is the opening of two years ago. While I will say I appreciate the seediness I created, I think it feels too forced. A quick clean-up today gave me this:

“A ray of light scraped the wall and threw their outlines on display. Her black hair swept against his knees as she dug her nails into his fleshy thighs. He gasped then, as she drove him to heaven and a puff of air escaped between his thin lips.”

“Drove him to heaven” may seem a bit much, but it reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino film and works with the mood I’m trying to create.

However, a few paragraphs down digs right into the “good” stuff:

“She lifted herself from him, the suction-cup sound of parting flesh lost among groans and cries. The white walls were decorated in a contemporary splash of red as she raked at his face and chest.”

So, I was thinking, maybe diving head first into the action is a better idea. Draw the reader in from the beginning, so they don’t have time to wonder what the hell is going on. Catch ’em off guard! Eh? It’s something to consider. It won’t be her first victim, after all. There will plenty of other opportunities to explain.

It’s a welcomed break from banging my head against the wall whilst novel writing. So instead I’ll bang my head against the wall over this piece.

I’ll post something a bit lengthier once I feel confident enough to do so. This baby needs a lot of work! Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Happy writing!

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