2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 2

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 something usual doing something unusual.
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I hope you had a great first day of this challenge. If you missed it, no worries; it’s still easy to catch up! If you did write yesterday, let’s do it again!

Flash Fiction Challenge

For today’s prompt, I’m recalling writing advice about naturally ratcheting up tension: Take something usual and have it do something unusual.

Remember: As mentioned yesterday, these prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.

Note on sharing your work: If you wish to share your stories, scroll to the bottom of this page and use the comments section. If this is your first time commenting on the site, go to Disqus to create a free new account, verify your account on this site below (one-time thing), and then comment away. (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 making the usual unusual:

They're Good Kids

The front door was standing wide open.

Mary sat in her car, almost stunned by the sight. It was dark—it usually was by the time she was pulling into the driveway on Thursdays, her late nights, with fast food stinking and hot in a plastic bag on the passenger’s seat—but every light in the house was on.

The front door sat, like an eye blown wide, and Mary could hardly breathe for how hard her heart was beating.

Joey and Casey were young, but they were good kids. Responsible. When she and Darren had sat them down to tell them about the divorce, they’d nodded and asked a few questions and hadn’t even cried. She thought that was odd, for a sixteen- and fourteen-year-old. But Joey had hugged them, and Casey had looked at her, pity and sadness creasing the skin around her eyes. In that moment, Mary had felt like the child, not the parent.

They were not the kind of kids to leave the door open.

Mary got out of the car. Her legs felt wobbly, like she’d just finished an hour on the treadmill. She left the food in the car and stepped into the hallway light cutting a rectangle on the front step. The neighborhood was quiet; the darkness was a pressing weight against her.

She stepped inside, but her house no longer felt like her house. Suddenly, it was a stranger to her without her children nestled inside. She knew they were not there, and yet, she called out: “Kids?”

No reply.

Mary closed the door behind her. To her right, the den—an overstuffed couch, a very large LoveSac, a TV so large that it would kill someone if it ever fell off the wall. IT: Chapter 2 was paused on the screen, Bill Hader’s handsome face frozen in a scream. It was Casey’s favorite film.

“Joey? Case?”

Straight ahead, the kitchen. The lights were on here, too. On the stove, the kettle sat, still warm. Three mugs of half-hot chocolate were on the counter. Three? Mary tapped her fingernails on the counter. The kids knew not to have guests here without asking her first. She pulled her phone out of her purse and tapped the screen: no new messages.

She thought suddenly of Darren, his wide shoulders and the way his stomach had softened with age. She thought about the last time he’d held her, really held her, and how she’d never been afraid in his arms. Should she call him? He was across town with his new wife and their newborn twins. He wouldn’t be upset if she called, but his wife might be upset if she called and it was nothing. The new wife was generally upset by them, his ex and his almost-adult children. They were reminders that Darren did not belong to her, not really, not ever, Mary thought. But it wasn’t really her place to think such things. Still, he was their father.

What would she even say? “Hey, I lost the kids? The front door was open and there’s a third mug of hot chocolate? Come back and hold me like you used to because I never knew fear could make you so sick you could die?”

No, she thought, hard and sharp as a lightning bolt. She should call the kids. Why hadn’t she thought of that first? Her hands were shaking as she unlocked her phone. Huh, she thought, that’s strange.

The front door burst open. Mary whirled while Joey and Casey shouted over each other, laughing, laughing, and a huge shaggy dog barreled down the hallway and into the kitchen. Its paws scrabbled and grated against the tile on the floor, all lolling tongue and stinking breath. Her kids followed after, with the neighbor’s boy Miles trailing after them, a leash dangling loosely from his hand.

“Mom, you’re home!” Casey’s grin stretched across her face.

“Hey,” Mary said, feeling stupid and slow. “Where were you guys?”

“Miles’s dad had to run back to work, so he asked if we would watch Miles. And Miles asked if he could bring Rover over, but then when he went to let Rover out, he got off the leash and we had to go chase him!”

Joey rolled his eyes. “It was an adventure. How long’ve you been home?”

Mary looked down at her phone. “About ten minutes, I guess.” Had it really only been ten minutes? “You left the front door open.”

“Ooh, sorry, Mom. When Miles started shouting, we sort of just took off after him.” Casey grimaced around a mouthful of not-hot chocolate.

Mary shook herself, rolled the tension from her shoulders. It was like waking from a bad dream. She’d have to remind them of the guest policy, talk to them about leaving the door open. For now, she forced herself to smile, hug Casey into her side, and say, “So, who wants Popeye’s?”

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