Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Try Using Gawker to Create Flash Fiction

Gawker is one of the funniest, most sarcastic and irreverent news websites on the net, offering “Gossip from Manhattan and the Beltway to Hollywood and the Valley”. But its output ranges much wider than that. From a “hero pig” scaring residents in Maine to Weird Al Yankovic's parody of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, the Manhattan-based blog scours out every outrageous, hilariously-banal or damning news article / video / tweet and offers their own edgy slant on it. At feedback group Writers Connect I suggested we use the site for a homework project: create a 500-word (no more) flash fiction piece inspired by a story on the site. Here's what I devised.

This might be the last time you hear from me,” he said into the phone.

I patted the air in front of me, silencing the guy at the front of the queue mid-order. People don't say that unless they mean it.

I glanced over the young guy's shoulder, the bloke in the flat-peaked baseball cap, to the quietening restaurant. A gasp from a mother in the far corner caused further head-turns. She covered her daughter's eyes.

It wasn't quite twelve yet, and we were still due the surge of junk-food addicts. I could still see to the door from behind the counter. At the back of the small queue, dressed in brilliant whites, topped off with one of those fisherman hats that kids wore to raves in the nineties- the type that, today, only a black man could pull off- an imposing figure swaggered.

Like an unwitting Moses, he stepped forward to the till, parting the sea of would-be diners, regulars who were wary when he approached, terrified once he'd passed.

With a hand on the counter he licked his lips, seemingly trying to focus. “I know it's been hard. But I guess I just wanted to, uh, to tell you I love you very much,” he said, and pointed at the poster showing this week's meal offer. “I'll go for that.” He cleared his throat. “Please.”

It took me a moment to realise which part of that dialogue was directed at me. “Eat in or take out?” His meal came with a plastic toy, and I wondered whether he ordered it for that reason.

Um.” He licked his lips. “Probably best to take out.”

Flat-peaked-cap-guy almost held out a hand to steady him. “Are you okay, mate?”

Shit,” the man said, “I got a cool demeanor.”

It was only after I took his money and slammed it into the till that I noticed the blood on my hands. I thought of my hygene certificate blu-tac'd to the office wall upstairs.

I gave him his stained change and his food, smearing the folded lip of the paper bag reddy-brown.

In the distance, a siren wailed.

He turned and lurched back to the door like Frankenstein's monster. That's when I saw the black handle of the kitchen knife jutting out from between his shoulder blades, an isosceles of blood beneath it dyeing the fabric of his shirt. The siren wailed louder.

His last moments, his last desires, maybe: a phone call to a loved one, one more sad conversation... one more Happy Meal.

The article that inspired this flash is here.

The story worked for one member of the group, but the purposefully steady reveal of the location and situation made it very hard for most to get into. The project and the site itself were generally well received. Give it a shot!

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