Well, so, hooray-ishly, it’s NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge time again. It’s my favorite writing contest because I love writing to a prompt, and because last year’s sixth-place finish netted me my cutest favorite satchel (in which I found a forgotten chocolate bar from Nicaragua just the other night — it’s the prize that keeps on giving!).
In the first of the three rounds, we get to combine scores from two stories, which can only be a good thing for me, as I’m not much of a suspense writer. Taken on the whole, romance is actually kind of the opposite of suspense — like what, they might not end up together? — but I’m not going to make excuses for this story. I wrote it, I fiddled with it, I abandoned it in favor of another idea, then came crawling back and submitted it. If only it was as suspenseful as the wait to see if it scores…
You get 48 hours to write a story of 1,000 words or less. My groups prompts were Genre: Suspense, Location: Dentist’s Office, Object: Blank Check. What happened with them (with 2 words to spare) is this:
Of All Days to Seize
Porsha knew every inch of the old Victorian. She’d been running Dr. Sanchez’s dental practice out of the high-ceilinged historic home for four years, and you couldn’t find a cheerier, more innocuous space. During the day. She’d never had occasion to tiptoe around it by herself in the dark until tonight, and suddenly every coatrack was a shadowy thin man waiting to catch her in the act. She was letting her imagination run away with her. She was not letting her guilty conscience run away with her, as Keith would have suggested. Mainly because she wasn’t doing anything all that terrible, but also because shut up, Keith—she’d be as glad to leave him behind as any of the rest of it.
It wasn’t like she’d planned this. She bought supplies for the staff kitchen at the Costco over by her house, she’d snatched up the smiley tooth material for the waiting room curtains from the craft store bargain bin; Dr. Sanchez reimbursed her by check all the time. She hadn’t purposely asked Dr. Sanchez to cut this particular check right as Mrs. Derani came bursting through the door clutching a cheek the size of a softball and moaning about the pain, the pain! Heck, Porsha had been home and on her second glass of chardonnay before she’d even remembered dropping the checkbook back into the drawer amidst all the hullaballoo, the signed, blank check with her name on it biding its time on top of the stack. Dr. Sanchez may as well have written Now’s your chance on the Memo line.
If Porsha had a hobby, it was passing up opportunities. The opportunity to run off to Paris with Malik when she was nineteen; the opportunity not to saddle herself with Keith two years later—just tonight she’d settled for a supermarket salad when really she was dying for some fried chicken. But once she remembered the check, her mind had difficulty settling elsewhere, even as she created distractions. She poured herself another glass of wine, studiously not fantasizing about touring the verdant vineyards of New Zealand. She flopped on the couch in front of the TV, taking care not to imagine herself crossing the street in a sunhat in the background on Hawaii 5-0. It was a commercial for a fun-obsessed cruise line that propelled her off the couch. She was parking in her usual spot out back before she’d fully realized where she was going; it wasn’t until after she snuck into the dentist’s office without turning any lights on that she admitted to herself she maybe hadn’t come to rip the check into pieces.
She disarmed the alarm more out of habit than any instinct not to arouse notice. She had every right to turn on every light in the joint and clomp across the hardwood floor to her work station, but everything she knew about robbing her own workplace she’d learned on Scooby Doo, so she crept instead from shadow to shadow.
Which apparently looked as suspicious to the neighbors—of whom Dr. Sanchez was one, it annoyed her to have overlooked—as it felt to her. Her eyes were still adjusting to the dark when she heard footfalls on the front porch; her heart almost fell out onto the floor when the full moon of a flashlight skittered across the front window.
The elaborate next-generation alarm system unlocked the front and back doors—open for business!—when it was disarmed, so naturally right after she heard someone jimmy the handle on the front porch, she heard the heavy door creak open. At the same time, she heard footsteps coming up the back stairs, and she wondered how many units they dispatched for—what? A suspicious curtain rustle? Leave it to her to act on the first dishonest impulse of her life on a night when a gang of small-time cops had nothing else going on.
She huddled behind the nearest coat rack, now wishing it was a man just so someone could tell her everything would be okay. The front door was to her left, the back door to her right, and footsteps coming from both directions in the dark seemed to confuse everyone involved as much as they frightened her.
“Stop!” called someone.
“Who’s there?” called someone else.
Porsha shut her mouth so tight her lips hurt. She hoped to breathe again, but now was not the time.
“You are breaking and entering.” Shit. The beam of the flashlight was fixed down the hall. Had it even swung toward her?
Not that it mattered: busted was busted. She’d even started to take a step forward when she heard, “No, I’m not.”
Wait, was that…?
“You are committing a crime and will not be warned again: Stop right there.”
She wasn’t sure if she was cooperating or cowering unseen, but Porsha wasn’t moving a muscle. This cop was not looking to be crossed.
“You don’t understand…” Not how Porsha would have played it, but now she was certain she recognized the voice.
“Stop!”—“Wait!”—“Freeze!”—all popped off at once from every direction, along with a bang. The scream was the first indicator she’d been shot; when she slumped to the floor like a sack of sand, it was pretty clear she wouldn’t be getting up. The commotion, the cussing—when mumbling and fumbling produced light, Porsha wished she hadn’t gotten a glimpse of her boss, but crumpled and crying—“You shot me?!”—there was no way Celia Sanchez saw Porsha. With one cop gawking at his gun and the other on his radio hollering for help, there were gonna be about three seconds before anybody saw Porsha, and for once in her life she jumped at her chance—and out the front door. She left her car; she’d walk home and “borrow” Keith’s. But if she made the check in her pocket worth cashing—and could make the state line before word got around—she just might get that cruise.