Get your flash fiction read on NPR and win signed copies of Ann Patchett’s books (plus, a weekend writing prompt)

Calling all flash fiction fanatics and prompt aficionados: NPR has launched the fourth round of its Three-Minute Fiction contest. Author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) will be handling the judging this time around, following All Things Considered book critic Alan Cheuse, who picked the top entry from among 3,000 others last month.

The prompt this time? “Send us original works of fiction that include the words ‘plant,’ ‘button,’ ‘trick’ and ‘fly.’ “

Click here for a shot at getting your work read on NPR and taking home two signed copies of Patchett’s books.


And now, for your Promptly prompt:
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your story to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

Seated to your left at a coffee shop, he takes out a cigar box and pulls out jewelry, piece by piece. You strain to hear the conversation taking place.


Also, some of our staffers spent countless hours prepping all the issues of WD from the last 10 years for a special compilation CD featuring the entire batch (every WD Interview, profile and tip in the decade — more on that next week). Click here to check it out now.

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6 thoughts on “Get your flash fiction read on NPR and win signed copies of Ann Patchett’s books (plus, a weekend writing prompt)

  1. Vibram Five Fingers

    I don’t really run barefoot. I wanted to, but the combination of super hot sidewalks and the fear of sharp objects convinced me that Vibram Five Fingers were a good compromise between running shoes and none at all. What I didn’t know was that my reasons were the same as almost everyone else’s and the guys that I looked up to were the same Vibram Fivefingers that everyone else did.
    Though I don’t call myself Barefoot Tyler (mostly because I DON’T RUN BAREFOOT), this video is absolutely hilarious. The insults are far better than the random crap the Vibram Five Fingers guy is spewing.

  2. Margo Kelly

    Henry’s Box by Margo Kelly

    Henry, my lover and companion of seventy-eight years, sat to my left on the tattered red vinyl bench of the coffee shop booth. He reached into his satchel and pulled out an old cigar box. Odd, since he never smoked. I peered into his crystal clear blue eyes and glanced again at the box. His knobby knuckled hands rested on top. He said something.
    “What? I can’t hear you,” I said.
    Henry turned toward me. “You didn’t wear your hearing aids, did you?” Henry always boasted that while he was two years older than me, he could still hear better and see better. A prideful man. But still a pleasure to look at after all these years.
    “What?” I asked, but I heard him this time. I leaned closer and placed my own arthritic hands on the diner’s table. My nails were brittle, but I kept them trimmed and manicured. No rings would fit over my large knuckles anymore, and age spots decorated the skin where jewels no longer rested.
    Henry opened the box lid to reveal black velvet boxes with gold trim nested inside. He mumbled again. I looked at him, and he stared at me. A tear ran down his cheek and then another.
    “What’s a matter with you?” I asked.
    Henry placed his hand on mine and said loudly, “This is important.”
    “Go ahead,” I said and focused on his lips.
    Henry opened the smallest black box and held it out to me. A large marquee cut diamond engagement ring sat inside along with a wedding band embellished with smaller diamonds. I looked back at Henry determined to hear his words but unable to focus on his lips due to my own tears.
    “Rings I should’ve offered to you eight decades ago. I bought them for you all those years ago.” Henry’s hands trembled as he set the open box in front of me. I struggled to catch my breath. Henry reached for the next box. He opened it. Inside was a sapphire bracelet.
    “I bought this for what should’ve been our twenty-fifth anniversary.” Henry continued to pull out boxes and identify them as gifts for the milestones of our lives: birthdays, anniversaries, births of children, grandchildren, and so on.
    “What are you doing?” I asked.
    “I’m saying sorry.”
    I understood. He couldn’t have given me these markers of love any sooner. I wouldn’t have accepted them. But with the death of his wife last year, Henry was now available.
    “Will you marry me?” Henry asked and held up the engagement ring.
    Tears ran down both our faces as I said yes. He kissed the knuckle which refused to allow the ring a home. He returned the ring back to the box and said, “We’ll have it resized.”

  3. Mark James

    Happy Easter everyone . . . eat chocolate . . . I have it from a reliable source (Martha) that calories don’t count today . . .

    Martha and Dan, great stories!

    The skins were so beautiful they looked like jewels. I couldn’t help watching while he took them out and laid them on the table for Breanna, the most popular girl at school.

    Her hair was long and blonde. Her makeup, like always, was perfect. The only reason Breanna was sitting so close to me was that she hadn’t seen me.

    My back itched. I didn’t rub against the seat, because I was afraid my skin would flake off. Even if it was happening to everyone my age right now, like mom said, I didn’t care. No one was going to see showers of flakes coming off me if I could help it.

    I sipped my coffee and listened.

    “All they’ll see is exquisite skin,” the salesman was saying.

    He was taking skins out of what looked like a cigar box, but I knew it was really a CXD box. Every time he reached in, he was reaching through a dimension to a display at his store.

    Breanna didn’t look as excited as I would have if I could buy Molting Skin. All I’d get was ugly synth-patches.

    She picked up a skin that was all smooth and had little glittery points on it. I’d seen it on girls in magazines. When you put it on, it covered all the molting, made you look shiny and pretty all over.

    Breanna ran her fingers over the skins. “I’ll let my mom know which one I want.”

    The salesman laid the skins in his CXD box. “Of course,” he said, “I’ve skinned all the girls in your family. I’ll make you ravishing for Molting Season, just as I did for them.” He closed his box and left the coffee shop.

    “You’re so lucky,” Breanna said. “Nobody cares what you look like when you molt.”

    I couldn’t believe she was noticing me, or even talking to me. “You’re the lucky one Bri, you’ll look gorgeous all season.”

    She scooted closer to my table, put her hand on top of mine where I was molting. “When you go home, your mom will probably put a patch on this, and say nice things, about how pretty you’ll be after you molt.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Mom’s always saying how it doesn’t matter what I look like after Molting Season. Even if I turn out blue and bald.”

    Breanna rubbed at my patch of molting skin very softly. “You know what my mom tells me? She says that if I don’t turn out pretty, I’ll cost her a fortune. And she says how she’s glad I’m the youngest because she’s sick of spending credits on ugly kids.”

    I could see in Breanna’s face how her mom’s words cut her like sharp little blades. Now I saw the real reason why she looked so perfect all the time. “If you don’t mind your friends finding out, want to come over to my house tonight? Nothing fancy, just dinner.” I couldn’t believe I was inviting the most popular girl in school to my house, but she looked so sad, I felt like I had to at least try and make her feel better. “My mom kind of likes Molting Season,” I said. “She says it’s the skinniest time of year.”

    When Breanna laughed at my mom’s lame Molting Season joke, I was pretty sure we’d have one extra for dinner.

  4. Martha W

    Hope everyone has a Happy Easter!!


    His voice held no inflection, like emotion was of no consequence. That’s what caught my attention. Then the flash of diamonds held it. Two sparkling bracelets and one wedding ring lay on a napkin, looking for all the world at home there.

    "This one with sapphires I gave her for our twentieth anniversary," he said.

    I turned my head slightly even though it was none of my business. I’d been sent for her.

    "Oh, Dad. Really?" she said. "How sweet."

    The barest of smiles curved the corner of his mouth. "Yes. Sweet."

    "What’s this one from?"

    "From your baby shower." Same tone.

    "Aw. Can I have that one?" Her blue eyes brimmed with tears.

    Her father’s jaw firmed. "No. It’s all going."

    "What?" Her hands gripped the table edge, turning her knuckles stark white. I shook my head. Bone cancer always caused pain when you stressed your body that way. She gasped and released the table, rubbing her fingers.

    He sniffed, gathered the jewelry back into the old cigar box. "I have to sell it. I need the money to pay for… expenses."

    "She hasn’t been gone a month." Distraught, her voice wavered. "How much do you need? I’ll give it to you in exchange for the jewelry."

    He laughed, humor finally creeping onto his weathered face. "No, I’ll get more at the pawn shop than you can afford."

    Her tears fell in ernest now, but she had given up.

    I reached across and tapped the closed lid. "I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing. Did you say these items were for sale?" I knew the irresistable draw my Armani suit and Gucci shoes would present to him.

    His eyes lit up. "They are."

    "I’m interested."

    He nodded quickly. "Let’s go outside."

    With ease I flipped the lid to the box open, lifted the ruby and diamond bracelet out of the tissues stuffed inside, rubbed it between my fingers. The Grim Reaper I might be, but occasionally I could alter the Record of Fate.

    I waved my hand at him and stood. "Lead the way."

    He leapt to his feet and headed for the door. Greed blinding him to his daughter’s trauma.

    I knelt beside her and placed the bracelet around her wrist. Her tiny gasp telling me the healing magic was at work. I cupped her chin, forcing her to look and listen. "This is my gift to you. Do not remove it until you no longer wish to be. When that time arrives, simply remove it and it will call me to your side. Understand?"

    Focused blue eyes stared into my own as she assessed my words. Finally a simple nod. I released her and followed her father.

    The one perk to this job is that I am allowed once per one hundred years to exchange the place of a chosen with that of another. In the five hundred years of my reign, I’d only chosen that option one other time.

    And I was right then too.

  5. Dan


    “Rye, wheat, or white toast?”

    There was nothing that bothered me more than an over-enthusiastic waitress…especially when I was hungover.

    “White, extra butter”

    “I think you mean NO butter,” she chimed in.

    And the other problem was, well, I was kinda dating this one. What can I say, she had me at “western omelette.” That, and she sure as hell could fill out the uniform.

    “Let’s just leave the butter on the side and I’ll make a game-time decision.”

    “You were out last night with Teddy and his buddies weren’t you”

    “What makes you say that?” I asked incredulously.

    “Well for starters, your shirt is on backwards.” She had me on that one.

    “It’s the newest fad, all the kids are doing it. Don’t you remember Kris Kross from the 90’s?”

    “No, I don’t. I was like five or something.”

    She had a way of reminding me of our age difference. I wouldn’t say it was subtle, it was more like she used a jackhammer just to make sure she got the point across. Usually anything I like, or used to like, she referred to as “retro.”

    “Anyway, I’ll be back in a minute to fill up your coffee. It’s hella busy in here today, so we may be OUT of butter. You shoulda ordered the egg whites too, you know what the doctor said about your diet.”

    Nothing like a 20-something aspiring massage therapist wiping down plastic menus to put things in perspective.

    She was right about one thing, the place was packed, mostly with people like me who had tied one on last night and were relying upon heaping platefuls of grease-covered food to silence the marching band in their head. The couple to my right seemed worse than most. By the looks of it, the dude had a cigar box on the table. Teddy had smuggled in a box of Cubans on his way back from Vancouver, and my clothes still reeked of smoke. Still more evidence I didn’t have a “boring evening at home” as my text this morning indicated.

    “I cannot believe you stole those cigars David”

    Oh, wow. This was going to be good.

    “You know I don’t even remember stealing these! I mean, we were both blacked out! Who knows what you did!”

    “Well, I didn’t steal nothing, that’s’ for sure.”

    Hmmm…the condescending tone and everything was your fault attitude made this conversation sound very familiar.

    “Listen, I don’t even smoke, why would I want these.”

    As he lifted the lid, David’s demeanor shifted from exasperated to shock to, from what I could tell, dread. Slowly, with hands shaking, he starting taking lifting pieces of jewelry from the box. I’m no expert, but these were some very expensive cigars…as in five to ten for larceny.

    As their food approached, they had clearly lost their appetite. I couldn’t hear David this time, but I could clearly read his lips as he slammed down the lid of the box and grabbed his jacket.

    “Check, Please.”

    My day was looking better already…


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