Here are some entries from the 2014 Flash Fiction contest through NYCMidnight, as well as entries from this year’s contest as they are completed. The first challenge ends July 16th a minute before midnight, New York time. (That’s 8:59 PM on the West Coast). A basic synopsis of how the contest works: at a minute before midnight you are given a genre, a location and an object. Your story must be 1000 words or less, it must be recognizable as the genre assigned, a majority of the story must take place in the location and the object must be used in your story. The story must be submitted within 48 hours.
Challenge #1, 2014 (Genre: romance; Location: an emergency room; Object: mop)
A Mop Closet and the Secret to a Happy Life
Friday nights were rarely this quiet at the hospital, especially this summer. The heat drew in the tourists, and then the great outdoors sent them to the emergency room. Recreational entertainment and lack of experience produced a litany of injuries. Crime was up as well, bringing victims and criminals through the doors far too often. Jimmy had never seen a summer this bad, so tonight offered a nice break from the stream of human misery.
“Thanks again, Jimmy! If cleanliness is next to godliness, you must be a saint” the desk nurse announced through the window speaker.
“Saint Jimmy? I like the sound of that.” Jimmy chuckled and nodded to the desk nurse as he finished his work.
The toddler who produced the mess blew Jimmy a kiss as he walked by. He caught it, put it in his pocket, and nodded to the mortified mother that everything was fine. He positioned the “Wet Floor” sign and rolled the mop bucket to the janitor’s closet. Another unfortunate mess in the waiting room conquered and cleansed with quiet dignity and a good dose of bleach.
Jimmy set the mop in the rack and reached for the bucket when the pain started in his left arm. Problems with circulation and a history of arthritis had kept him from thinking it was anything serious when the pain had visited at other times, but tonight was different. It was hard to catch his breath and his chest felt like a gorilla had punched him in the sternum. This was a heart attack.
The pain and lack of breath stole his voice and he could feel his legs begin to give out. He could not cry for help. Grabbing for the mop, he made his way to the floor before gravity and weak knees did it for him. With his reservoir of energy nearly gone, he pushed the handle of the door with the head of the mop, opening the door just enough for the mop to fall through. He hoped someone would see it sticking out of the door and find him. He hoped this was not the end for Saint Jimmy.
He woke up in a hospital bed, wires and tubes plugged in to his body, a dull ache still in his chest and the sound of voices. He was not alone.
“Come on, Angie, it’s just dinner. No more pestering if you don’t like the company.” Pete, an EMT, was trying to get a date with nurse Angie. Again.
“You might as well stop pestering now since I can already tell you how I feel about the company.” Nurse Angie was sharp.
“Ouch! Maybe you can put up with me for …Oh, hey Jimmy. Good to see you awake.”
“Hey Pete. Glad to be awake.” It was hard to talk, but nurse Angie was already bringing him some ice chips to take care of his dry mouth. She was the best. “Still trying to win her heart? Persistent.” The ice chips were helping.
“You know me, Jimmy. If I see something worth the time and effort, I just keep pursuing.”
“Peter, time for you to go so Jimmy doesn’t have to see you embarrass yourself anymore.” Angie steered him toward the door as he waved goodbye to Jimmy. Pete tried to look offended.
“Why do you give poor Pete such a hard time?”
“It’s not Pete that’s the problem, it’s just time. I’m busy prepping for my MCAT, working double shifts so I can afford school, and finding janitors almost dead in their closets. Busy, busy.” She checked all the tubes and wires, fluffed Jimmy’s pillow and updated his chart without missing a beat.
“Sweet Angie, there’s always time for love if you have your priorities straight.”
“Sounds like you’ve been talking to my mother.”
“No, but experience can teach the same thing to different people.” Jimmy paused. “Did you know I used to be a doctor?”
“What? Why are you mopping floors?”
“In a word, love.”
“Love? I’m interested?” Angie sat on the foot of Jimmy’s bed.
“I had a private practice, my wife, Maggie, was involved with the Soroptomists and singing in the church choir. Once the kids were grown, I retired and we lived more than comfortably. The future looked bright. Then the cancer came. Pancreatic.
“Maggie was a fighter, but she still needed me. The bills started stacking up, so I looked for a job that would still give me time with my true love. Been mopping ever since. She did her treatment here, so we saw each other often. Maggie would even come by during my lunch hour so we could make out in the mop closet.”
“She was a feisty girl. Brave. My hero. But the cancer finally stole her from me five years ago. Do you want to know what I regret most?”
“Letting busyness get in the way of being with her more before the cancer ever came. While I hated the cancer, those years fighting it together were some of the best years of my life. I’m not saying to give up on your career, but don’t let it rob you of things far more priceless than a degree.” Angie nodded. “You know, Pete is a good guy. Teaches Sunday school, watches SpongeBob with his nephew, serves meals at the mission. He even hangs out with old janitors in the ER.”
“So Pete’s a good guy, huh? We’ll see.”
The door opened and Pete popped his head in.
“Thought I would embarrass myself one last time before I left. Dinner? Tonight?”
“My shift is over at nine if you want to wait that long.”
Angie took a dumbfounded Pete by the arm and gave Jimmy a wink as they left the room.
“Hey Mark, thanks for getting here so quickly.”
“No problem, Hank. Can’t believe it’s Ed! Crazy!”
“Where’s Sergeant Watson?”
“Here Lieutenant. Just getting evidence bags for the coroner.” He stood next to me.
“Break it down, Mark.”
“Shot through the chest, entry in the back, exit in the front. Two holes in one.”
“Still with the bad jokes, Mark?” He just grinned and continued.
“Body position suggests the victim was facing the windmill at hole 10 when he was shot. No defensive wounds or GSR on the victim. Bullet was lodged in the windmill. Time of death at three to four hours ago.”
“Hey Mark, do you think a security camera from the gas station next door could have picked this up?” Mark stood and looked toward the gas station and nodded.
“Could be. Help me with something before you go check.” Mark walked over to the windmill and shined his flashlight on the end of the upward sail. “That’s where I found the bullet. It occurred to me that the sail might not be in the position it was when the shot was taken. With you and Sergeant Watson helping, I think we can narrow down the shot trajectory.”
Mark pointed to his investigation kit and started giving directions. “Sergeant, there should be a large measuring tape in my bag. Extend it to 62 inches and hold the end of the tape perpendicular to the ground above where Ed was standing when he was shot.”
Mark lined up the hole with the top of the tape as he rotated the sail, then stood back to let me have a look. The morning light was improving visibility by the minute. I lined up a small knoll just 50 yards up the hill on the other side of the highway and a gravel pile about 250 yards up the same hill.
“The knoll and the gravel pile.”
Mark waved Sergeant Watson over. “Sergeant, we need you to check from that knoll up to the gravel pile for a shell casing. Small bore rifle. I would start at the knoll. Easier to get under par from that distance.” Mark didn’t know when to stop and Sergeant Watson was starting to lose his cool.
“Sergeant, we need to get this done before traffic picks up. Make sure you take evidence bags, gloves and something to take pictures with.”
I turned to Mark who looked confused. “Is it something I said?”
“Sergeant Watson, grew up here and is friends with the victim’s son.” Mark looked a little embarrassed. “Don’t worry about the jokes. Paul knows you don’t mean anything, but try to control yourself. I’m going over to the gas station for the video. Can you handle getting the body in the van?”
The video quality was poor, but it showed Ed pulling up at 12:28:33am, opening the gate to the course, and walking over in front of the windmill. Then at 12:30:05am all the lights at the mini golf came on, Ed collapsed and the lights went back off at 12:30:12am. A hunch began to grow and I didn’t like it. I took a copy of the video for evidence and left.
I was helping Mark load the body in the van when Paul came across the highway from his search.
“I found the shell casing Lieutenant Ellis.” Paul handed me the evidence bag. “Looks like a 30-30, certainly big enough to make a fatal shot.”
“Great work, sergeant. Where did you find it?” Mark was trying to make amends.
“On the knoll near the base of that small pine. Found some cigarette butts and a wadded up map of the area, so may not be locals who did it. I took some pictures with my phone.”
“Thanks Paul. Nice work. Search the building to see if anything looks suspicious.” My hunch was getting bigger and started to nag.
“Do you think this is more than murder, Lieutenant?”
“Just a hunch. Let me know what you find.”
Mark picked up on my unease and waited for Paul to be out of earshot. “What are you thinking, Hank?”
“Did Ed have his AFC Championship ring on when you checked him?”
“Yeah, he did. That’s strange. Those things can be worth a bundle.” Looked like my hunch was staying on course.
“Lieutenant!” Paul was waving me over to the building.
“What did you find?”
“Not much, but everything is unlocked. The only thing that looks like it was broken into is a cabinet in Ed’s office. It’s empty.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.”
“What do you mean, Lieutenant?” Paul was not going to like this.
“When the Itty Bitty was vandalized last year, I came down to talk to Ed. We met in his office. He told me the only things worth stealing were in that cabinet and there were only three people who knew it: him, Nancy and me. Two game balls from Super Bowl twelve; one signed by the Broncos, the other by the Cowboys. Worth thousands. Said he would never sell them, but I think someone else had different ideas. Paul, I need you to go with me to pick up Nancy and take her to the station for questioning.”
“Lieutenant, you can’t be serious!” Paul looked horrified at what I was suggesting.
“Sorry Paul, but greed does funny, awful things to people. Even people we think we know. Ed’s wife is the only person who could have planned this. Do you want me to get a different officer to go with me?”
“No sir. I’ll go, but I hope you’re wrong.”