The 250-word Microfiction Challenge from NYC Midnight is a competition that challenges writers around the world to create very short stories (250 words max.) based on genre, action, and word assignments in 24 hours. In the 2020 competition, the final round of three comprised 150 writers from an original field of 5,400+ from around the world.
ACTION: Setting a trap
The Trapper's Folly
The twine was difficult to work. Derrick cursed his efforts and hastily removed a thick lambswool glove with his teeth.
“What are you working on then?” Avery’s lilting voice rose from behind on the village trail.
“Setting a trap for these blasted Linsens. This last knot is giving me fits.”
“A trap?” Avery peered at the setup, a heavy wooden mallet cocked above a scrap of bait. “That’s quite a trap. But why smash one of the wee folk?”
“Last night they made off with my snuff pouch.” Derrick stood up to inspect his work. “It has to end.”
The diminutive Linsens often emerged at night, creeping silent as owl feathers to pilfer whatever wasn’t properly secured. The burgling was worse this time of year, just before the first snows.
“Look, man, you’re as guilty for what you’ve lifted from the Tree Stalkers,” Avery said in disapproval. “I saw you toting one of their massive sweet nuts not a fortnight ago. Why not a less cruel trap? Perhaps something to give one a throw into a basket.”
Derrick frowned and without a word struck off into the forest to set more traps. After some time he came to a clearing. An enormous, forgotten sweet nut was laying in the sun.
“What luck,” he breathed.
He touched the prize with a trembling hand. A rope snapped taught in the thicket nearby.
Back in the village, Avery looked up, puzzled by the sound of a massive tree crashing deep in the woods.
GENRE: Ghost Story
I turned the water off and listened.
“Oh please,” I said under my breath. “Not again.”
But there it was, that unmistakable cry. Soft and tentative at first, then growing louder in confidence, drifting down from his bedroom upstairs.
I sighed and put the scrub brush down, wiping my hands.
“I’m coming,” I responded weakly, exhausted.
“Mommy?” he called again.
“Coming!” I shouted, climbing the stairs. In these moments, his father’s absence drew a selfish bitterness from me, left to bear this alone. But I had to be strong, for our son. Even if our perfect family was no more.
I opened the door and peeked in. He was sitting up in his bed again, as I’d feared.
“Hi, Sweetie,” I whispered.
“Do you—” I took a deep breath to calm my trembling voice. “Do you need a bedtime kiss?”
He smiled, snuggled in his lion pajamas, the softest he had. What he’d been wearing when they were in the accident.
I nodded and crossed the bare floor to his bedside.
“I love you, Mommy,” he said softly.
“I love you, too,” I said, tears welling up. I closed my eyes tight and bent down to kiss his forehead.
The shock of cold always surprised me, the rush of wind as he’d disappear from the room. A heaviness lifted, and I collapsed, sobbing. Alone with nothing but the memory of my sweet baby boy, taken from me all those years ago.
GENRE: Open (Historical Fiction)
ACTION: Releasing an animal from a trap
Free Among These Hills
The morning sun was just warming the open meadow with its touch when Onawah rose from her task. She tossed a final mescal heart into a basket and brushed loose dirt from her hands, arching to stretch her back.
This place, where the mescal grows thick and sweet, was far south on the reservation, away from the settlement. Here she felt at peace among the hills, as she imagined her ancestors had. She had been but a girl when her family was moved here, their wide-roaming band of Apache consolidated to a smudge of a town now surrounded by failing cropland.
She hefted her sleeping son, snug on his cradleboard, up from a small ramada she had lashed of green limbs and soft buckskin.
“Come, Illanipi,” she whispered. “We must be getting back.”
She was not far from the meadow when she sensed something amiss. She paused and listened carefully. A faint scratching. A rattle of something not of nature. She stepped lightly toward the sound and found a crude metal cage staked to the ground, a cottontail rabbit within. Its glassy black eyes were wild with panic. Another cage nearby held the dried corpse of a forgotten cottontail.
Onawah clucked her tongue. “They are careless.”
She crouched and worked at the trap’s door, speaking to the rabbit in a calming whisper.
“The white man thinks he has you,” she said, swinging the door up. The rabbit paused for a moment, then bolted into the woods.
“But you are free.”