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2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 21

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 about something that scares you.

Today’s prompt: Write about something that scares you.

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 about something frightening:

The Missing Hours

The alarm roared through my mind like an 18-wheeler on the highway. I groaned, reaching out to slap at my phone. Eventually, I was able to pull it into the bed and silence it.

My stomach clenched and gurgled unhappily. I felt distinctly hungover, which hadn’t happened in…quite a while. Since my promotion, I’d been mostly concerned with shuttling myself to the office and then back home for a few hours’ sleep until it was time to go back.

I squinted at my phone screen. Saturday. With a gusty sigh, I reached out to draw the covers back over my head.

That’s when I first saw it: the broken handcuff. I stared at it. It glinted against my pale skin, the little links drooping off of one side, very clearly having been yanked from the other cuff. How had it gotten there?

When I sat up, a sharp pain dug through my brain. I winced. The handcuff clinked gently as I touched my temple.

The last thing I could remember was Marco coming into my office with a stack of reports.

“No, no!” I’d groaned, flopping forward over my keyboard dramatically. “I banish you, Marco!”

He gave me a sympathetic smile. “Consider me banished as soon as I drop these off.”

We’d made some small talk about his weekend plans—trip with the boyfriend—and mine—as much Netflix and takeout as I could physically consume. Then, he left. I picked up the first paper off the stack, and then—nothing.

“Cool,” I said, “cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.”

I checked my phone again, but it didn’t give me anything. No outgoing or incoming calls; no emails; no social media posts.

I got out of bed. I was wearing my usual sleeping clothes—an oversized t-shirt and some athletic shorts—and besides some random bruising on my legs that didn’t hurt too badly, I couldn’t see anything that would tell me anything about those missing hours. My phone had even been plugged in beside the bed, and my front door was locked, like it always is before I go to bed.

In the bathroom, yesterday’s clothes were piled in the hamper. On the front of my blouse was a mysterious red stain. For a moment, I feared it was blood, but a reluctant sniff made me think it was barbecue sauce.

“So, I went to eat somewhere?”

That was odd, since I didn’t love going to eat by myself. Generally, I ordered food directly to my house, so I could eat in front of the TV like any other civilized, painfully-awkward human being. But maybe if I weren’t in my right state of mind, I might have done something outside my usual routine.

I pulled up my banking app on my phone, but there were no new charges to any of my cards. I never, ever carry cash on me (the sign of a true millennial), so if I went out somewhere, I didn’t pay for the food.

After a brief war with myself, I went into the bathroom and shut the door. I stared at the handcuff on my wrist. After I convinced myself I wasn’t going to throw up, I called my brother.

“Yo!”

“Don’t answer the phone that way,” I said out of habit. “I have a problem.”

Pauly laughed. “What kind of problem could you have?”

“I don’t remember the last 16 hours, and I have a broken handcuff on.”

“Broken?” The laughter seemed to have fallen out of his voice.

“Yeah, like, it’s missing the other cuff. I don’t know how I’m going to get it off.”

“I’ll be there in 20.”

While I waited for Pauly, I made myself some toast and a comforting cup of English Breakfast. It had barely been 15 minutes when he pushed open my front door and strolled in, gold chain glinting around his neck.

“You gotta paperclip?”

I pointed. “In the desk.”

“Heh. Nerd.”

He rummaged around until he found one and then took my skinny wrist in his hand. As he worked the paperclip into the lock, he grilled me about what I did remember, which was basically nothing.

“And the house looks fine?”

“Yeah.”

“And you didn’t take any food or drink from this Marco guy?”

“No.”

“And this isn’t a bedroom thing?”

“A bedroom—what?”

“I don’t judge.”

I gave him my best stink eye as the cuff gave way. He pulled it off my wrist and shrugged sheepishly.

“Whatever happened last night, I highly doubt it was that,” I said.

“Okay. Well, as long as the police don’t come looking for you, you should be fine.”

My sour stomach came back in full force. “You think the police were involved?”

“How the hell should I know? I just can’t think of another situation in which my baby sister might get handcuffed, you know?”

“I’m going to throw up,” I said gravely.

“Nah, you’re fine. Look, I’ll wait here with you. We can rent some movies, order some IHOP, it’ll be fine.”

I let Pauly steer me toward the couch. As the hours whittled away and I listened to him laughing at romcoms I’d seen a million times, I kept probing at the empty spot where my memories should be. But the more I pushed, the less I seemed to get. Soon, I was doubting that I’d even seen Marco before I left. Would there be any way to tell what time I’d left the office without asking security? Probably not.

Pauly poked me with his elbow. “Why the long face? This is a good movie.”

“I can’t remember what happened to me. At all.”

“Eh, happens to everyone. I don’t remember half of college!”

“But that was your choice!”

He sighed. “When chaos happens, you can’t fight it,” Pauly said. “The more you try to make it seem rational or orderly, the more you’ll fail. You just gotta let it go, kid! Besides, how much bad could you have done? You’re the size I was in middle school.”

I tried to let his words comfort me, but they didn’t. As the sun slid behind the horizon, Pauly cracked open a beer and I rubbed my wrist. 

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