Free Fiction: “A Different League” (flash, noir)

Originally posted August 2013, at Akashic Books. Guidelines required a 750-word limit and a distinctly recognizable setting. Felicia’s isn’t downtown anymore, but everywhere else still exists, and looks a lot like this, under a certain light…

A Different League
by Carrie Cuinn
Downtown, Ithaca, NY

Two a.m. at The State Diner came with a refill on my half-drunk coffee and an impatient smile on the lips of the waitress who’d been hovering nearby. My appointment was late, but my wallet was empty, so I couldn’t afford to leave. A week of poor sleep, too much caffeine, and more than one drive-thru meal meant my stomach was churning like the Buttermilk Falls after a storm, but I glanced over the menu anyway.

“Turkey club, side of fries,” I said. She smiled for real this time, her eyes sparkling. If my taste ran to tired bottle-blondes with swollen feet, I might have chatted her up, but just then the bar crowd stumbled in. Carefully-trimmed beards, pastel plaids, and skinny jeans . . . hipsters from Felicia’s Atomic Lounge, drunk on Black Cherry Old Fashioneds and Fig Manhattans, the upscale cocktail-revival staples.

A petite beauty in a yellow dress disentangled herself from the pack. Naomi Le’s three-inch heels clicked against the tile floor until she paused at my booth, looked back over one shoulder, and quickly sat down. I wanted to tell her she was late, that she was a liar, but too much truth at once and she’d bolt. She had that look about her, as if she was only half-girl sitting on a black bench seat. Her sparrow half was already fluttering away.

“Are you hungry?” I asked instead.

“No,” she replied. “I couldn’t get away sooner. Derek got an internship in DC, and we were celebrating.” She tucked a strand of night-black hair behind one ear, revealing a diamond bigger than a pea.

“That’s a nice dress,” I said. “Vintage?”

She smiled, now on familiar ground. “It’s from Petrune, on the Commons. Have you been?”

“Sure, loads of times,” I lied. The waitress sidled up and set my order in front of me. I waved her away with, “We’re sharing, thanks.” She sighed, but left us alone.

I couldn’t afford to dress out of Petrune’s closet. $250 for a new jacket constructed in a vintage style made the shop popular; only a certain kind of rich could drop that amount of cash on a casual wardrobe. Cornell University had plenty of those, playing out college party fantasies on their absentee father’s dime, and I was just another day-player in Naomi’s life. But I was going to get paid before my scene ended.

I took a bite of my sandwich, enjoying the crispy bacon and the crunch of cool lettuce, before I said, “You were right. Your fiancé is having an affair.”

She gasped, her brown eyes going wide. It was almost believable.

“Are you sure?”

I pulled an envelope, fat with glossy photos, out of my pocket. “I tailed Derek for a week. During the day it was business as usual: classes on the Hill, studying at Olin. But Tuesday night he had a visit from a woman with red hair. She didn’t leave until after midnight.” I pulled one photo from the bunch and slid it across the Formica table. “Do you know her?”

She shook her head. “Was . . . was that the only time?”

“No. There was an overnight stay at The Statler Hotel, too.” I concentrated on my fries while she studied the woman in the photo.

“Do you have any that show her face?”

“Sorry. They were discreet. I only got what I did because I’m very good at my job.”

That line usually does the trick. She handed over a platinum card with a little nod. I scanned the numbers with my bank’s app, and authorized the payment. “I’ll email you a receipt,” I said as I handed the card back. She stuffed it and the photos into her pocketbook and stood up to go.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, staying seated.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Our families are old friends. Our fathers golf together. I can’t just leave.”

“Of course. Good luck.”

She strolled back to her friends and nestled under Derek’s arm as if she’d never left. I pulled up an image on my phone, one I hadn’t had printed out: Naomi Le in a red wig, checking into The Statler with her fiancé.

They weren’t the first couple to play bad boyfriend/naughty mistress, though not many could afford a private eye to heighten the drama. But what did I care? Mr. Le’s allowance would be paying my rent this month, and tonight I didn’t have to stiff the waitress on the tip.

And that ain’t nothing.

Have you read my short fiction collection, WOMEN AND OTHER CONSTRUCTS? It’s free!

Published in 2013, Women and Other Constructs includes six previously published tales, plus two new ones, and–just for fun–a sonnet about a murderous robot. The “Introduction” talks about the broader themes behind the book, and “About the Stories” gives a quick look at what inspired each of them. I assembled the books myself: print layout, ebook creation, and designing the cover. It’s not long, just over 20,000 words, but it best represents my work to that point, and though I’ve evolved a bit as a writer since, I still love these pieces.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • “Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance”
  • “Letter From A Murderous Construct and His Robot Fish”
  • “Annabelle Tree”
  • “A Cage, Her Arms”
  • “Call Center Blues”
  • “Mitch’s Girl”
  • “All The Right Words”
  • “Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere”
  • “About the Mirror and its Pieces”
  • About the Stories

You can see what other folks thought at the Goodreads page for the book. (Liked it? Please leave me a review.)

Download a bundle of all 3 ebook formats, here, or individually: ePubMobi, or PDF. You’ll have to “check out” but there’s no charge, and no financial information required.

Free Short Story: “Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day”

I admit right now that this is not “flash” fiction. At 1727 words, it’s definitely a short story. Clarissa Ryan asked for one that included a lot of cute and happiness-inducing things, and when I’d finished drafting it, there was nothing I wanted to cut out. So, a short story it is, and I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day

Jana stroked the kitten’s soft, calico fur as the elevator rose slowly. She left it cling to her shirt, held tight to her chest, as its tiny claws extended and retracted happily. The elevator stopped at the 7th floor, and Jana carefully reached down for her bags with her free hand.

“Time for you to go to your new home, honey,” Jana said to the kitten as she searched the recipient’s apartment. Spotting the right number on the door, she stopped, and set her bags down to one side. She pulled out square pink box large enough to hold the kitten, gently unhooked its little paws from her shirt, and placed it inside. “Now, shh,” she whispered. “You’re a surprise.” She grabbed a shiny bow from the bag, set it atop the box (careful not to cover up any of the air holes) and knocked on the door.

Just as Jana was about to knock again, the door finally opened a crack. An older woman, her graying hair up in a loose bun, clutched her bathrobe tightly with wrinkled pink hands. Her sandy blue eyes were red and her eyelids were puffy.

“Mrs. Margorie Hanta? Happiness Delivery Service,” Jana said in her bubbliest voice.

“I don’t want whatever it is,” Mrs. Hanta said softly. “Thanks anyway.” She started to close the door.

“Oh, but wait,” Jana said. “You’re the only one who can take this.” She held the box up.

The other woman sighed, but let the door stay open.

The kitten in the box mewed softly.

“No,” Mrs. Hanta said to the box, shaking her head. “I am not ready.” Continue reading

Free Flash Fiction: “The Scent of Food is Memory and Love”

The Scent of Food is Memory and Love

Azedah took the leaves off of the last small, round eggplant, then cut through the dark purple flesh until she had turned it into a pile of thick slices. She added them to the others already simmering in olive oil in her largest frying pan, so wide it covered most of the cooktop on that side of the stove. When both sides were golden brown, she lifted the eggplant pieces out of the pan and put then aside to drain. Quickly, her fingers moving with long experience, she chopped a large yellow onion; the fine slices sizzled when they hit the hot oil left in the pan.

“Azedah,” the house said. “The visitors have arrived.”

“Ah, they are early! Is Yasmin out of the shower?”

“Yes. Yasmin is in the study,” the house replied.

Azedah stirred the onions with a worn wooden spatula, and the smell of their cooking spread across the large kitchen. “Ask Yasmine to greet our guests,” she said. Behind her, the pressure cooker beeped, its cycle finished. She tapped the “natural release” icon, and turned back to the stove.

She reached to her left – but her hand closed on empty air. Continue reading

Free Flash Fiction: “A Revised History of Earth”

A Revised History of Earth

“I don’t care about any of that,” Sherla said without looking up from her nail polish.

“But the tests are conclusive,” Mattie said, shaking her tablet at the other woman. “I’ve got it all right here.”

“Don’t care,” Sherla repeated. She applied another strip of opaque black polish to a blank nail and watched as it slowly expanded to cover her nail perfectly.

“You don’t care that the ruins we found on Planet X are actually older than any known civilization on Earth?”

“Nope.”

Mattie sat down on the edge of her bed with a heavy sigh. “I mean… that’s a big deal to me.”

Sherla was lying on her belly on her bed, only a few feet away in their tiny cabin. She turned her head to look Mattie in the eyes, while still blowing her nails, now finished. “I care that you care, honey. But I think we just see this two different ways.”

Mattie shook her head, barely ruffling her close-cropped curls. “How’s that?” she asked.

“Well, as you and most of the scientists on board see it, this expedition has proved that Earth was some kind of colony, right?”

“Yes, I think that’s got to be our working theory going forward from here,” Mattie said, relaxing a little. “We’ll have to go back and revisit all of the old site maps, build a new history of human civilization. New textbooks, new arguments. Oh no, those ancient alien crackpots are going to have a field day!” she added with a sudden grin. “I don’t envy the folks back home who’re going to have to listen to all of that nonsense on the off chance there’s even one hypothesis that matches up with what we’ve found here.”

“Right,” Sherla said, “because you’re not going back to Earth.” She blew on her nails one last time.

“Well, no, I – the expedition is moving out of our solar system to follow the star charts we found during the excavation.” She frowned a little, her dark eyebrows drawing closer together. “That doesn’t make our find less important. It’s actually the whole reason we’re still on the ship.”

Sherla pushed herself up off her elbows, turned, and sat down on the edge of the bed facing her friend. “No, Mattie, it’s why you’re still on the ship. And I’m glad for that, ‘cause you’re a whole sight better than the last girl they stuck me with.”

“The snorer?” Mattie asked, sympathetic.

“The snorer,” Sherla agreed, and for a moment, they both smiled. Then Sherla leaned in, put her hands on Mattie’s knees, and said with a serious face, “I’m not a scientist, honey. I’m enlisted. They didn’t put all us soldiers on this ship to help dig, and we’re not all heading out into the great unknown for anything other than one reason: someone with more brass than me decided I might have to kill some things.”

Mattie bit her lip. “I know that,” she said after a moment, “but that’s statistically unlikely, you know. Whatever might have been out there has probably been dead for half a million years, and Earth has what remains of its refugees.”

Sherla sat back. “Maybe. I hope so, really. I’d love to spend the next couple of decades learning new things and staying pretty instead of developing any serious holes in any part of my body that I can’t live without. But I have to wake up every day and train for the possibility that what’s out there didn’t want us to find it.”

All around them – the floor, the ceiling, the beds – began to shake, and a quiet hum started, grew louder. Sherla stood up.

“That’s ignition, which means we’re officially under way, and that means the goodbye party is about to start. Come on, honey, tell me how pretty I am.” She put her hands on her hips and posed.

“You’re very pretty,” Mattie replied.

“Which means you’re drop dead gorgeous,” Sherla told her, “and it would be unfair to deprive the folks in Aft Lounge 6 of the chance to see the two of us in all our glory.” She held her hands out.

Mattie took them and let herself be pulled to her feet. “You’re a terrible influence.”

“I plan to be, honey,” Sherla said with a grin. She kissed her roommate on the cheek, leaving a faint red stain behind in the exact shape of her lips. “There,” she said. “Now you’ll look like you started the party early, and everyone will be dying to find out just how fun you are.”

“I should get back to monitoring the digital reconstruction of the dig site,” Mattie said, but didn’t sound certain.

“Tomorrow,” Sherla said as she put her arm around the other woman and steered her toward the hallway. “Tomorrow you can worry about how to find our celestial ancestors and I can worry about how to fight them.” She tapped on the side of their door, which slid into the wall. In the distance, they could already hear the sounds of music, and distant voices.

“Tonight…” Sherla paused, and squeezed Mattie gently. Mattie leaned into her friend and nodded.

“Tonight,” Mattie finished for her, “we’re going to say goodbye to Earth, and drink until we forget that we’re never going home again.”

“That’s my girl.”


Greg Bennett gave me the prompts for this story: “Planet 9 discovered and in close orbit to solar system, woman led exploration mission, ancient ruins, discovery that Earth’s inhabitants are actually refugees…” It took me a little while to think of a way to do that without sounding like Battlestar Galactica, but once I realized I could start after that stuff has already been discovered, I knew the moment, the part of this story, I wanted to write.

This is the 4th story I’ve written for this year’s Flash Fiction Challenge, and it’s about 890 words long.

If you liked this and want to inspire your own story, you can get on the list by donating any amount via my PayPal, HERE.

You can read more about that, including last year’s flash stories, here.

So far, I’ve posted three other stories. Read them here: