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2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 15

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write someone who needs to take a deep breath.

When was the last time you saw someone who just needed to take a deep breath? Was it someone on the metro, late for work, or a toddler throwing themselves to the grocery store floor? Whoever it was, let’s write about them.

Flash Fiction Challenge

Remember: These prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.

(Note: If you happen to run into any issues posting, please just send me an e-mail at mrichard@aimmedia.com with the subject line: Flash Fiction Challenge Commenting Issue.)

Here’s my attempt at writing someone who just needs to take a breath:

Second-Hand Witch

She stirred the soup a few times, staring down into the bubbling, goopy mixture with a grumpy frown. Not a single recipe she’d made the last week had turned out correctly, everything burning or too thick or even just refusing to get hot.

She huffed and stirred more vigorously. “This is what I get for buying second hand, I guess.”

Suddenly, there was a loud bang behind her. She shrieked, the wooden spoon jerking in her hand and splattering what was meant to be tomato bisque absolutely everywhere. When she spun around, her lower back digging into the cabinets, a young man was standing on the other side of her kitchen island.

“Not even a salt circle, eh?” When he smiled, it was a little too wide, too sharp. “I love the confident ones.”

She gaped at him, her eyes darting to her front door and back. The apartment was tiny; she should have heard him come in.

“Who are you?” she squeaked.

“Who am—who am I?” His expression dropped. A dark curl fell over his brow and he flicked it away absently.

“Yes! How did you get in here?”

There was a brief pause before he laughed and pointed a finger at her. “You got me for a second there.”

She watched him take a seat at the island. He was dressed in a simple black button-down, open at the throat, but she could see the way his muscles flexed under his shirt. She glanced for her cell phone, but it was closer to him than her. Now that the initial shock was wearing off, she could feel her heart pulsing in her neck.

She tried to sound brave. “I’m serious. You need to leave.”

“Okay, now that’s just rude.” He crossed his arms and pouted. “You invite me here, and for what? To wail at me to leave?”

“I didn’t invite you!”

“Yes, you did.”

“I’ve never even seen you before in my life,” she insisted. She pointed at him with the wooden spoon, still clutched in her fingers. “I just moved here, and I don’t know anyone, and I definitely haven’t asked anyone to hang out.”

Another pause. He tapped his nails against the island. His dark eyes started roaming the counter behind her, his gaze shrewd. Finally, he looked at the spoon.

“Where did you get that?” he asked.

She stared at him, the spoon dipping a bit in her grasp. “I bought it at a yard sale last week.”

“And that?” He pointed to the pot behind her.

“Yeah, it’s—almost all the kitchen stuff came from the same sale.”

He stood suddenly, causing her to startle, but before she could do anything, he’d rounded the counter and was inside her space. She let out a truly horrified squeak, but all he did was pull the spoon out of her hand and bring it closer to his face.

“Why?” he muttered to himself.

She took the opportunity to lunge to the side. Her fingers closed around her phone. She had half a second of hope before she felt the heat of him pressed against her back.

“Oops,” he said.

His hand touched her shoulder. His touch wasn’t harsh, barely any pressure at all, but suddenly, she couldn’t see her living room anymore. It was replaced by black rock with thick, inching lava oozing from various cracks, and heat so searing, she had to shut her eyes to protect them.

He removed his hand from her shoulder, and she sagged against the island.

As soon as she got her breath back, she snarled, “What did you do to me?”

“Showed you a bit of the Other Side. It’s why you can’t call anyone, I’m afraid.”

He leaned against the counter next to her, eyes pitying. In a sharp twist, he pulled the head of the spoon off. The handle was oddly shaped; instead of a flat surface where it had connected with the wide, round part of the spoon, it was pointed, like a candy-cane pulled from the mouth of a devious child.

“It’s a wand. An old one, too. And I bet if you turn that pot over, you’ll find that there are some runes scratched into the metal. A make-shift cauldron if I ever saw one, but it obviously got the job done,” he said.

She stared at him, at the blunt hinge of his jaw and the crooked slant of his nose, at the way he seemed to be enjoying this, if the sharp curve of his mouth had anything to say. The longer she stared, the more he blurred, like she’d put him into the kaleidoscope of her mind until he turned into something else—or nothing at all.

His face jerked to look at her, his eyes going round. “Uh, no, please stop that.”

He reached out to her, but she jerked back, socks sliding on the worn linoleum. She thumped ungracefully to her backside and automatically pulled her knees against her chest to protect herself.

His eyes caught hers as he crouched in front of her. “Stop panicking. It’s okay, see? We’re figuring this all out. There’s literally no need to panic. I’m not going to eat you or anything.”

Would anyone even know if this guy ate her? She was so far away from home, from everyone she ever knew. Her boss might be pissed that she didn’t show up for her first day, then worried, and might call her emergency contact, but her parents were too far away, they’d be too late, she’d—

“Just breathe!” he yelped. He tossed the wand to the floor and put his hands on his chest, exaggerating his inhales and exhales so she could see every rise and fall of his hands.

After a few gulping seconds, she began to copy him, following along with the tug of each breath. When she was steady enough to avert her gaze and wipe the tears off her face, he slumped back against the cabinet, legs flung out in front of him.

“Thanks,” she whispered. She felt a little insane, the inside of her head just static and that old dial-up tone that always haunted her.

He gave her a limp thumbs-up. “Glad we make a good team, at least.”

Without warning, a giggle slid up her throat and out of her mouth. In a few seconds, she was laughing so hard, her stomach ached with it. The smooth roll of his laugh sounded. When she looked up, he was grinning at her again. He was on his feet in a flash, confidence back in the hard line of his shoulders.

“Stick with me, kid, and we’ll get this all figured out, eh?” he said.

When he reached his hand out to her, she stared at it. But after a moment, she reached up and took it.

“What the hell, right?” she said, breathless.

He winked. “That’s the spirit.”

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