Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Dear Whoever

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Dear Whoever
Word Count: 599

“Hey, Dave,” said Alan, knocking gingerly on the cubicle wall.

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“Did you look through that pile of resumés, yet?”

“Yeah,” said Dave. “I left them on your desk.”

“Right,” said Alan. “I saw that, I just didn’t know if you’d sorted them or not.”

“I did,” said Dave. “Was there anything else?”

“Nah, that’s it,” said Alan, biting his lip. “Actually…”

“What’s up?” asked Dave.

“So, I checked out the resumés you looked at, and I was a little confused about how you sorted them.”

“Something wrong?” asked Dave.

“I wouldn’t say wrong,” said Alan, “but… well… okay, this one: Clive Denton. He was in the reject pile.”

“If you say so,” said Dave. “I don’t really remember.”

“He had a lot of what we’re looking for,” said Alan. “But you rejected him.”

Dave considered this for a moment. “Maybe I put it in the wrong pile… by mistake,” he said.

“Sure, accidents happen,” said Alan. “No biggie.”

“Anything else?” asked Dave. “Because I need to get this report—”

“Actually,” said Alan. “There were several other good candidates in the reject pile.” He held up a handful of resumés.

“Let me see that,” said Dave. He took the pile and looked over the first one. “Here we are,” said Dave. “Weak cover letter.”

“I didn’t think it was particularly weak,” said Alan.

“Sure it is,” said Dave. “Look at the salutation.”

Alan leaned over. “To whom it may concern,” he read.

“See?” asked Dave.

Alan stared at Dave for a moment. “I’m confused,” he said. “Was something misspelled?”

“No, it wasn’t misspelled,” said Dave. “It’s cliché.”

“It’s a standard salutation,” said Alan.

“It’s a standard weak salutation,” said Dave.

Alan bit his lip and inhaled. Then released his breath slowly. Then took another. “I’m still confused,” he said at last.

“Okay, let me break it down for you,” said Dave. “First off, it’s overly formal and antiquated. Nobody talks like that anymore. And nobody—nobody—uses ‘whom’ correctly. So, having gotten it right in the first sentence, any other mistakes are going to be amplified. You’re basically setting yourself up for failure. And it’s generic. I mean, it’s really generic. ‘To whom it may concern’? You’re basically saying ‘Dear Whoever’. That’s just weak and lazy. You see, it’s a shibboleth for me. If they can’t get the salutation right, it goes into the reject pile.”

“A shibboleth?” asked Alan.

“Yeah, like a red flag,” said Dave.

“I’m pretty sure a red flag is the exact opposite of a shibboleth,” said Alan.

“Whichever,” said Dave.

“What would you rather they open with?” asked Alan. “What would be acceptable? I’m curious.”

“‘Dear Mr. Saunders’ would work,” said Dave. “Or ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or something like that. I’d give them a second glance if they changed it up and said ‘To whom it concerns’. I would even settle for the time-honored ‘Hello’.”

“Huh,” said Alan. “And that’s the first thing you look for.”

“The salutation in a cover letter is pretty much the first thing I see, yeah,” said Dave. “That’s my system and it works pretty well for me.”

“Didn’t your last interviewee have to be escorted out by security?” asked Alan.

“It’s not completely foolproof, I’ll admit.”

“Are you just trying to get out of looking at resumés?” asked Alan.

“Why, is it working?”

“No,” said Alan.

“Then I’m not,” said Dave.

Alan left.

Ten minutes later he returned with a pile of resumés. “Would you mind sorting these?” he asked. “Funny thing, though, I’ve lost all the cover letters.”

Edited by Carolyn "Even MORE Nervous About Sending Things Out For Jobs" Abram.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Surprise!

Every week Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Word Count: 599


Carla’s heart stopped. Fortunately, it started back up again—not much of an accomplishment, it had been doing that all afternoon. Her friends were standing around smiling, waiting for a reaction. Now she knew why Toby had taken all of her weapons before he let her enter the room. If she’d been packing, she’d have killed somebody. “Surprise?” she asked.

“Happy birthday,” said Toby, kissing her on the forehead.

Toby. She was going to miss him.

“Is it my birthday?” Carla asked.

“Probably,” said Toby. “It’s got to be close.” After the zombies attacked, after civilization broke down, calendars had been one of the first things to go. Hell, they couldn’t even be sure what day of the week it was. It had taken some effort, but they had gotten close to a proper reckoning of days, even if no two settlements were in synch.

“I got you something,” said Toby.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” said Carla. “Wait, how?”

Toby produced a small box. A jewelry box. Carla’s heart stopped again, and then restarted. One of these times it wouldn’t.

“Open it,” he prodded.

Carla took the box and pulled back the lid. The tiny hinge groaned.

“I was waiting for an occasion,” said Toby.

Carla pulled the necklace from the box and held it up. A silver chain with opal stones. Tears welled in her eyes. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “How long have you been holding on to this?”

“A few months,” said Toby. “I found it when we were on a raid.”

“He made a special trip,” said Jim, Toby’s kid brother. “Don’t let him fool you.”

“You shouldn’t have,” said Carla, crying. Her heart stopped again. And then restarted.

“I love you,” said Toby. “I love you so much.”

“I…” she couldn’t say it. She did love him. She did. But it didn’t matter now. “I… I’m sorry,” she said.

A shadow passed across Toby’s face. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have…”

The room was full of awkwardly frozen smiles. It amazed Carla that even after civilization had ended, people still found the wherewithal to care about social norms.

“No, it’s not you,” said Carla, eyes thick with tears. A drop rolled down her cheeks onto the floor.

“Is everything okay?” asked Toby, putting an arm around her shoulder.

“Don’t touch me,” said Carla, flinching away from him.

“What the fuck?” asked Toby.

“I’m sorry,” said Carla. “It’s not you.”

“Jesus,” said Toby. “After all we’ve been through, you’re just going to use that line on me?”

The people in the room were looking away, inching towards the exits. Carla’s heart stopped. And stopped. And then started up again. Her vision was beginning to go all milky.

“Shut up,” she said. “Just…”

There were no words. So instead she pulled her shirt off and turned away from the crowd.

Someone gasped. Someone screamed. They’d seen it. The tiny bite mark in the small of her back. Now they knew. She was one of them now.

She was a zombie. Or, she would be in a few hours.

She pulled her shirt back on. Toby’s face had gone white.

“When?” asked Jim.

“This morning,” she answered. “It was a goddamn toddler, snuck up on me in the tall grass.”

Toby backed off and sat down on the couch.

“I’m sorry,” said Carla. “I’m so sorry.”

Carla took a step towards Toby and leaned over to kiss him. She felt Jim’s hand on her arm. “You know this means—” he said.

“I know,” said Carla. “But out there. Not in front of him.”

Her heart stopped.

Edited by Carolyn "To Say Nothing Of Your Calendar Problem" Abram.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Estate Sale

Every week Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week, we get experimental...

Estate Sale
Word Count: 452

Milton Haynes (1937 - 2013) was preceded in death by his wife Sophia Haynes nee Wentworth (1941 - 1983) and survived by his son Andrew Wentworth and grandchildren.

Anyone with interest in the following items should come to the Precious Oaks Retirement Community common room between 10 am and 2 pm on Friday the 27th.
  • Wheel Chair, six months old and in good condition. 
  • Walker, three years old, much use but in good condition. 
  • Assorted Canes, three to thirty years old, various styles, all in good condition. 
  • Matching Bureau, Armoire, and Bedside Table, about forty years old, white with avocado trim. 
  • Twin bed, about fifteen years old, good frame, probably needs a new mattress, does not match bedroom set 
  • Linens, for twin bed. 
  • Clothing: 
    • Dress shirts, 17-neck, large 
    • Pullover shirts, large and medium, and a few smalls that have only been worn once or twice 
    • Pants, 32 waist, 30 inseam 
  • Gold Locket, engraved “S.H. + M.H.” Inside glass is cracked. One picture has been taken by family. 
  • China set, gold leaf pattern, good condition, eight place settings, missing a tea cup and bread plate. 
  • Dish set, brown and yellow pattern, oven-safe, four place settings, one plate chipped, otherwise fair condition. 
  • “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug, faded. 
  • Assorted Flatware. 
  • Framed Nevada License Plate, 1984 tag, frame in good shape although the plate appears to have been mangled. 
  • Books: 
    • Several regular and large-font titles by John le Carre, Robert Ludlum, and Tom Clancy 
    • Several Bibles, Revised Standard Version—Catholic Edition 
    • Assorted books on pain management 
    • Fifty-plus books about military history, including Churchill’s history of World War II and many titles focusing on WWII aircraft 
    • Assorted political thrillers, literary fiction, historical fiction, one romance novel (yellowed, but untouched except for a few dog-eared pages) 
    • One book on grief management, binding coming loose 
  • Three crucifixes. 
  • Hip Flask, appears to have been engraved, although the engraving is no longer legible. 
  • Framed Box of Military Medals: 
    • Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Citation 
    • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal 
    • Vietnam Service Medal 
    • Assorted Campaign Ribbons 
  • 8 x 10 Picture Frame, good condition. Picture has been taken by family. 
  • Kitchen Table, about twenty years old, good condition. 
  • Three Kitchen Chairs, two in like-new condition. 
  • Brown Leather Couch, about fifteen years old. 
  • Recliner, less than five years old, worn. 
  • Entertainment Center, four pieces including bookshelves and TV stand 
  • 23” Flatscreen TV, minor screen-burn. 
  • Assorted Lamps. 
  • Assorted Toys, for children aged newborn to three, some recently purchased, some appear to be a few years old, all new in box. 
  • Box of Sobriety Tokens, twenty-seven bronze, one each of other twelve colors. 
  • Manual Typewriter, old but appears to be in working order, unfinished note on yellowed paper still inserted.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Primacy And Recency

Every Friday, Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Primacy And Recency
Word Count: 596

Jeff took a slow drink of his ale.

“Well, I need to get home,” said Ronnie. “Sitter. You know how it goes.”

Jeff cursed under his breath. It was too early. Ronnie needed to stay a while longer, or else he might remember.

“Sure you don’t want to stay for another?” asked Jeff. “I’ll buy.”

Ronnie looked wistfully at his empty glass on the counter top. “No,” he said. “I really shouldn’t. It’s late.”

“You sure?” asked Jeff. He and Ronnie wives were friends and they knew each other from parties. They worked at competing firms, and Jeff had been engaging in a little industrial espionage. He’d coaxed a few technical details out of Ronnie without giving himself away, and now he just needed to bury that event. “I mean, are you absolutely sure?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Ronnie, looking suspicious. “Is there something wrong?”

No good, Jeff thought. This was only going to draw more attention to what they’d just been talking about. “Oh, nothing, really,” he said, fumbling for words. “It’s just… well, I didn’t want… No, forget about it.”

“What?” asked Ronnie.

Okay, the hook is baited, thought Jeff. Now he just needed to talk about something. Anything. Literally anything at all. People remember the first and last parts of conversations—primacy and recency—so if Ronnie left now, he’d be very likely to remember giving trade secrets away. But if they could just have one more beer and a little more idle chatter, then the memory would fade into the background. “No, it’s nothing. I mean, it’s kind of something… no, I don’t want to spoil anything.”

“What,” Ronnie insisted. “Out with it.”

“I was going to tell you…” Jeff started. “About…” Jeff racked his brain for topics. They’d already talked about sports, politics, the weather… He just needed something that Ronnie would believe that would keep him in the bar for a few more minutes. Just say the next thing that pops into your head, he thought.

“I think I’m gay,” said Jeff.

Ronnie’s eyes bulged.

Where the hell did that come from? Jeff wondered.

Ronnie sputtered and laid his jacket across the back of his chair. “Does Lana know?” he asked, sitting back down.

“Um, yeah, I mean no,” said Jeff. In a moment of horror, he realized that Ronnie would almost certainly tell his wife. “No, and I don’t want to tell her.”

“Well, you have to tell her,” said Ronnie.

“No, not until I’m sure,” said Jeff.

“You’re not sure?” asked Ronnie.

“Not completely,” said Jeff. “This might be more of a curiosity thing… I don’t really know how… I’m struggling with my process right now.”

“So why did you want to tell me?” asked Ronnie. He gasped. “Oh, my god,” he said. “Is that why you wanted to have a drink with me tonight?” he asked. “Look, man, I’m flattered and all—”

“No,” said Jeff, putting a hand on Ronnie’s shoulder. And then removing it. “My feelings for you have always been…” He searched for the right word.

“Platonic?” offered Ronnie.

“Yes, that,” said Jeff.

“So… why?” asked Ronnie.

“I don’t know,” said Jeff, who genuinely did not know. “I had to tell somebody. And we’re friends, right?”

“Yeah,” said Ronnie. “Friends.”

Jeff took a deep breath. He had no idea what he was doing, but he was committed to the lie now. Surely those trade secrets would be worth it. Surely. “I just don’t have anybody else to talk to about it,” he said.

Ronnie nodded. “Maybe one more,” he said, flagging the barman.

Edited by Carolyn "You Know You Want That Fourth Jameson" Abram.

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