I bet you didn’t know it’s National Flash Fiction Day. I’ll forgive you, especially if you don’t live in Britain. It is, after all, the first time flash fiction has been honored with its own day. (I’m actually surprised it got a whole day, as opposed to National Flash Fiction Hour.)
I probably don’t need to say this, but I’m big fan of short fiction. Flash fiction is a “subcategory” of short fiction that generally includes stories with less than 1000 words. It’s sometimes called sudden fiction or short-short fiction. In my opinion, it’s one of the hardest forms to write well because every word needs to pull its weight and then some. Good flash fiction is moving and powerful, and the work sticks with you longer than the five minutes it takes to read it.
While I have published several flash fiction stories, I don’t profess to be much good at it. That said, and in honor of National Flash Fiction Day, I offer up a humble 364-word story for your enjoyment (or perhaps, bemusement):
Not in the This Universe
“Maybe it’s radioactive.” Sparkles glittered across Rachel’s face as she rotated the upheld bottle.
“Or a pocket universe…in a bottle,” Ben added because she cocked an eye at him. Two days ago, he had fished the bottle out of a pile of ochre-colored leaves. Who had dropped it there, he didn’t know, but he liked the way it sparkled atop his TV.
Rachel grinned neat rows of teeth. He could have counted them, but instead he studied at the bottom of the Pyrex measuring cup.
She had crossed crossed the hall for a half-cup of oil. “Brownies,” she explained. “The chocolate kind.”
Ben wasn’t sure if that was joke, so he laughed. His friend Arnie said she had a secret crush on Ben, but girls like Rachel didn’t crush guys like him.
She touched her slender nose with a delicate finger. “Let’s open it.” She reached for the cork—yes it had an honest-to-god wooden cork in it.
He dropped the measure cup as he half-reached for the bottle. Ashamed, he pretended to corral the still rolling glassware.
“What if it is another universe? I wonder if there’s another Rachel and Ben in it, with bottle just like this one? Only they open it.”
Her fingers touched his as she placed the unopened bottle into his hands. “It’s just—”
He knew it wasn’t.
He poured a half-cup oil and handed it to her. She watched him over the top of the cup as if waiting for him to say something. When he didn’t, she thanked him and closed the door behind her.
Maybe Rachel’s dearth of key ingredients wasn’t due to daily baking after all.
He turned the bottle in his hand. At first he had thought it filled with glitter, but it lit the room at night like disco ball. He held it up, but he couldn’t see another Ben and Rachel in it, only tiny pinpricks of light. There was only one way to find out.
Ben wiggled the cork. It took some doing, but finally it popped.
A trillion billion suns rushed out and filled the universe.
“Maybe it’s radioactive,” Rachel said, sparkles glittering across her cheeks.