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Constrained - Flash Fiction - July 2024

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Flash Fiction First Friday is an effort to publish something small on the First Friday of every month. The goal is simply to write more and to share more, and not get completely bogged down in huge projects. These pieces can spawn from writing exercises, prompts, or just freewriting. The point is that they're low-commitment.

I'd love to see your flash fictions pieces if you participate, too! Either use the tag #flashfictionfirstfriday or comment below with a link to your blog. 



The room was little more than a closet. A child’s bed was shoved into one corner, though the room’s occupant had outgrown it years ago. Now she slept with knees tucked up and head pressed to the wall.

The room was piled high with clothing, schoolwork, and detritus collected and saved. Little mementos she wasn’t supposed to keep. The door opened inward, robbing the space of that last corner. What a luxury it would have been to have use of that tiny patch of floor!

The real treasures were under the bed, hidden away. Books. Some with pictures, some just text, but all of them full of worlds. Worlds outside this room. Worlds Sophie could travel to with the simple turn of a page. Like magic, she could send her mind elsewhere and escape. And she could never be punished for running away again if she’d never left the room in the first place.

Sophie pushed her way into the shrinking room and sat on her undersized bed. Her heavy school bag took up the rest of the mattress. She stared at the bag, the homework; an empty pit seemed to open in her stomach. The teacher had told her to keep working on memorizing the multiplication tables at home, but her brain was ragged like a wrung-out wash rag after all the other memorizing they did at school. Surely it couldn’t hurt to take a little break… She’d have to wait a few minutes, make sure the family had settled down after the chaos of arriving home; then she should be able to sneak a few minutes to herself.

Finally, it was quiet but for the sounds of cooking coming from down the hallway. Everyone had settled into their duties and would leave her alone for a while. Her mother would be in the kitchen, preparing for dinner or endlessly cleaning, helped by Sophie’s older sister who was past the age of having to do homework. Their two brothers would be out tending to the yard and the chickens.

She pried the loose floorboard up to reveal her little library stashed beneath. Each cover was cracked and marred with repeated readings. The dust and damp hadn’t helped their condition. Yet the books still held their magic. They seemed to spark beneath Sophie’s fingertips as she caressed the spines.

Where did she want to escape to today? The pirate world of Zanzania? The island in the sky with a hulking, mysteriously abandoned castle? Or maybe the secret kingdom of cats that ruled the underbelly of the city? It had been a while since she’d gone there.

But then the final book in the stack called to her, made her heart leap. She’d read it so many times, she could flip to almost any page and pick up the adventure as if she’d never set it down. It was more worn than all the rest, with stained pages and dog-eared corners. It was about a girl who got sucked into a world with faeries and goblins. She went on a journey to try to get home but wound up falling in love with the faerie prince instead.

Something about that world, with its alien creatures, misty forests, archaic laws, and unpredictable people called to Sophie more than any of the other stories. Pulling that book into her lap was like getting under the comforting weight of one of the old quilts. As a precaution, Sophie also pulled a heavy textbook out of her school bag. She opened it to an arbitrary page and fit her novel into the space. The decoy felt like a shield.

By the end of the first paragraph, Sophie was gone to another world, following her favorite heroine through her familiar journey. Each of them transported out of a mundane world into a magical one.

And just as quickly, Sophie jolted back to reality at a rapping on her door. Earlier than normal. Her brother barged in, taking up the entire door frame with his lanky form. What had driven him inside already? “Dinner,” he said. “Hurry up.” His voice only cracked a little, which was an improvement over the last few weeks.

Sophie was always being told to hurry up.

With shaking hands, she carefully closed the textbook and sat it down on her bed. She did hurry to get up and get moving for dinner, trying to rush him out of the cramped room, but her brother didn’t get out of the way.

“What’s that?” he asked, eyes on her bed. She thought she’d strategically tucked the textbook behind the pile of blankets when she’d sat it down, but he’d somehow caught that the book wasn’t closing right. It was obvious that something was wedged between the pages.

“Homework,” Sophie said, heart in her throat. She’d replied too quickly. Her voice had been too high.

The way he eyed her made it clear he didn’t buy it.

He shoved her out of the way and reached for the textbook. The faded novel fell out of its hiding spot haphazardly on the floor so that the pages were crunched on one side.

“Where’d you get that?” he asked, snatching up the novel.

“Years ago,” she stammered, “I traded my lunch for it. Please don’t tell.”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

Sophie froze. What did she have to offer him? She had squirreled away little treasures and hidden them around the room, but none of them would have any bargaining power with her brother. He craved action.

“You can read it if you want. It’s like… going to another place. Escaping. You can go there too. You can get out of this house. There’s fight scenes.”

He eyed the book, squinted at the faded picture on the cover. Was he considering her offer? She’d gladly share her worlds with him. She thought he’d like the pirates best. Her mind was already racing ahead to conversations she’d have with him, discussing the latest adventures they’d read about. It’d have to be in hushed voices, away from Mother, but how wonderful it would be to have someone to talk to about the stories.

But then the squint turned into a sneer. “Papa says reading that trash turns you stupid,” he said and in the blink of an eye, he was out the door and shouting.

Sophie stared at the wall, felt it closing in on her.

Mother was furious. She ripped the book in half and tossed it into the flames of the cook stove. That kind of nonsense wasn’t allowed in the house. Sophie knew the rules. How dare she fill her head with fantasies? Wasn’t this world enough? She was sent to her room without dinner, but the real punishment would come later.

And Sophie’s world got a little smaller.


Copyright KR Holton, 2024


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