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  • C.W.Phelps

Sunday Stretch: Monday Edition. Letters from Strangers.

I love to buy books on writing. More specifically, books on writing prompts. I am very good at buying books, but not so good at putting them into a regular reading/writing rotation to actually make use of them. This is something that I am trying to work on, but too often life, work, and the everyday just gets in the way.


With this in mind, I set out on a mission— find a book that would work when time was limited.


The book I ended up finding was The Very Short Story Starter: 101 Flash Fiction Prompts, found here.


Flash fiction is defined as fiction that is very brief, usually no more than a few hundred words. Surely, I could find time each day for just a couple hundred words. Even better, a lot of the prompts came with time limits maxing at 30 minutes. Perfect for lunch break writing extravaganzas!


I decided to give the book a try during an afternoon meeting with one our our Co-Conspirators at The Henlo Press, Ms. Stephanie Weiford. We picked a random number and opened to that prompt.


500 Words. Write a story in which someone receives a letter from someone they don’t know. Perfect theme for InCoWriMo, right?


I have included below the results of said prompt in all of their unedited, rough glory.


(Warning for Adult themes and language to follow)


Here is what Stephanie wrote:

The woman was of my own age. If I had to guess. In the brief moment I saw of her face, I could call her attractive. Tan skin off-set her chic blue eyes. Her flawless make-up and polished red pumps were nothing unexpected in a place that slung bad choices by the bottle. The classic ‘little black dress’ however, wasn’t so little. In fact, it covered her entirely, across her arms and the full length of her legs. As I watched her go, blonde hair catching in the draft from the door, I saw the ring on her hand, as polished as the heels on her feet. Of course, I would remember nothing of this, if only. I turned back to my drink, a bottle of dark glass with the picture of a trendy cat wearing glasses on the label. Is there anything that paints a picture quite as well as a mousy-haired girl sitting alone at a bar? Hell, I couldn’t even put in the effort to do more than shabby jeans and a band shirt. What can I say, life sucks. Oh, and the beer? It tastes like piss, but I take another drink anyway. Sad yet? Let’s keep going. I make to fish for another crummy single from the ‘ironically’ tattered army green bag I tote around for such purposes. I find it there. A small envelope, the kind used for those ‘thank you’ cards you buy at the dollar store in odd numbered packs like eight. Why eight? The number doesn’t matter. I pick up the little paper, but not before ordering my next solo round. With a quipped brow, the guy with the top-knot takes my money and leaves me the company of another nerdy-cat label. It still tastes like piss, even chilled. I hesitate with the paper in my hand. No one was around, it couldn’t be for anyone else, and it wasn’t there when I had flopped down on the stool. I flip open the case on my ancient phone instead, and swipe through the more interesting lives of everyone else. Oh good, your Pinterest worthy cupcakes aren’t only highly photogenic but also gluten free, or some shit. I close the phone and drink down half the bottle before I need a breath. Guys should really like me more than they do, I think bitterly. Dammit, the letter. I sigh heavily and pull the slip of paper from it’s hiding place. Screw it, there was no one else around to claim ownership. My eyes scan over the writing. It’s written in unruly black scrawl that I am forced to slow down to decipher… I start over. As I read, my chest hurts. My hand tightens across the poor cat’s face, smothering it. I can feel all the angry, bitter, jaded, alcohol-induced color fade from my cheeks. I have to pause before I can finish, reminding myself to breath. As I do so, my mind makes patterns of the little splotches on the paper. I reach the last words… “I loved only you, but I made due with her.” ASSHOLE!



And here is what I wrote:


I had never seen her before.

Ever.

At least not that I could recall.

Her blue eyes were harsh and full of hatred.

I could not hold her gaze without feeling some sense of guilt, though as to why I was not sure.

She was gone as soon as she had arrived. She stopped quite deliberately in front of me and placed a small red envelope in my hand.

With a flash of ginger hair and indignation she was gone.

How long had she been trailing me?

I turned the red envelope over in my hand. Sure enough, it was my name on the front.

A voice came over the loudspeaker calling for passengers on the eleven forty-five to Chicago to board the west bound train. Not mine.

I sat at the edge of the bench, the man who had taken his place just a little too close for my comfort was edging ever closer to me.

Dick.

Like I couldn’t see what he was doing.

Asshole.

Kept trying to catch my eye.

I was a mess. Lost my best mate this week.

And still this fucker is scooting closer waggling his eyebrows at me as if my comfort and release lies somewhere in the folds of his trousers.

I had hoped to leave this god-forsaken city, but not the day. I flipped the small red envelope through my fingers. To open it or leave it for someone else?

The man on the bench beside me had officially invaded my personal space and was now reaching his hand towards me one very slow centimeter at a time. Like I wasn’t paying attention.

Today was not the day that his train-stop romance would find fruit.

Does that even work for anyone?

Off the bench and away, but not before telling the creep to get bent.

I stumbled home.

Shitty sleeting mess mid February that northern winds were like to bring along. Not even a little sunshine could be bothered to brighten my day.

Not home, home. But close enough, My sister’s place. I set the red envelope on the kitchen counter as I entered and began the lengthy process of defrocking from the northern winter weather. My sister had a flat above a printer’s shop on East Sixth Avenue. Everything in it was white and pristine.

I poured myself a stone of whiskey to warm myself and pulled myself under a fleece she had left stretched across the couch in a moment of uncharacteristic disorganization from that perfect sister of mine.

And there I sat, so very unperfectly, and in a haze, the red envelope an itching imperfection in the back of my mind.

An extra stone poured.

Back on the couch, this time envelope in hand, and no longer cherry, the even etchings of its glue ripped carelessly open.

Fuck me.

Damn.

Just my luck he had been married, dead now to boot, and here I thought he was going to be my ticket out of this shit hole.



I think what surprised me most was just how similar the stories we put together were. We had not talked about what we were writing. We had done no planning together. There were no other requirements to the prompt.


The prompt was a success! Very little time was needed out of a busy day and it was just the bump we needed to help us on our journey to better writing habits.


500 words. Write a story in which someone receives a letter from a person they have never met.


And go!


Share your results with us on our Facebook Page or send to submissions@thehenlopress.com.

We look forward to seeing what you come up with.


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