As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, I recently participated in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge for the first time. Below is my entry from the second round of the competition. Thousands of writers from around the world entered this contest and while I didn’t make it through to the third round, I had a blast competing and received some lovely feedback from the judges. I look forward to next year’s challenge and encourage any other aspiring writers out there to check it out and give it a go. At the start of each round, my fellow writers and I were given unique prompts that we had to incorporate in our stories. To keep a little mystery and suspense, I’ve listed my assigned prompt at the end of my story rather than at the beginning. I appreciate any and all feedback and if you hear about any other writing contests going on, please kindly send them my way! If you have competed in the NYC Midnight writing challenges or similar contests, I would love to hear about your experience as well, so feel free to share in the comments below.

“The Drunk Tank”

A chance encounter changes the lives of two men.

Fluorescent lights reflected off of the white brick walls, blinding Mark as he stumbled down the hallway between two police officers. Mark hummed a few bars of “We Are the Champions” as they passed a receptionist nursing her fourth cup of coffee that evening. They reached a holding cell at the end of the hall.

And we’ll, keep on fighting, ‘til the end!

“Alright, time to sleep it off.” One officer unlocked the door as the other ushered Mark inside. The door latched behind him, their footsteps receding into silence.

We are the champions!

“That is such a great song, classic!” A man in his late twenties sat on a bench at the far end of the cell. Cross-legged and clutching a Chinese takeout container, he shoveled bits of fried rice into his mouth with a pair of chopsticks, spilling a few pieces onto his Grateful Dead t-shirt.

“They let you bring that in here?” Mark’s head ached as he tried to remember the last time he had eaten. The boy shrugged, taking another bite and smiled.

“I wish I could have seen Freddie in his prime, you know? I always say I was born in the wrong decade. How old are you anyway?”

“Old enough.” There was a round security mirror on the ceiling and Mark could see his grizzled beard distorted in its reflection. His once salt and pepper hair had turned to white seemingly overnight. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen his face clean shaven.

“Fair enough, my name’s Tim, by the way. Have you got the time? I was supposed to call my girlfriend when I got home. She’s always afraid I’m cheating on her when I don’t call. She’s paranoid, but super hot, so what can you do?”

“Sorry, no.” Mark steadied himself against the bars, resting his head and closing his eyes as the room began to spin.

“Hey man, are you alright?”

“I’m fine. I just need to rest a minute.” He slid down the bars, sitting on the cool cement. The lights buzzed and flickered above them.

“How long do you think they plan to keep us here?”

“All night, I’m guessing.”

“Have you been here before?”

“Do you always ask this many questions?” Cradling his head in his hands, Mark massaged his temples and fought the impulse to vomit. His head was hazy, the familiar embrace of cheap vodka taking hold of his thoughts.

“Aren’t we entitled to a phone call? I should really call my girlfriend.”

“You watch too much television, kid.”

“We have rights though.” Tim paced the room, his steps banging like a bass drum in Mark’s ears.

“Listen, if I get out of here first, I’ll call your girlfriend. I don’t have anyone to call anyways.”

“Really? Thanks, that’s really cool of you.”

“So long as you shut up and let me sleep.”

“Sure, whatever you say. Her name’s Jennifer. She works at Marigold Bakery. She gets in early to open up, so you can call her there.” Tim flashed a toothy grin at Mark and sat back down to eat, picking a piece of rice off his shirt and popping it into his mouth. Mark crossed his arms in front of him, shutting his eyes and letting sleep take him.

———-

“Time to get up, Mr. Bennett.” The officer unlatched the door. Mark got up slowly, his head pounding worse than it had the night before. Standing outside the cell, the officer unhooked a pair of handcuffs from his belt and motioned for Mark to stick his hands out.

“What’s this about? I thought I was free to go.”

“I’d advise you not to talk just yet. Your lawyer is here to see you.”

“I don’t have a lawyer.”

“The court appointed one for you this morning. Walk this way.”

Mark turned back to look for the kid, but he was already gone. He walked past the same receptionist from the night before, her eyes heavy from lack of sleep. They stopped in front of yet another locked door which the officer opened to reveal a short, mustached man seated at a small table. The officer shut the door behind them and stood in the corner of the room.

“Mr. Bennett, my name is Harvey Klein and I’ll be representing you.” Mr. Klein stood to shake hands, noticed the handcuffs, and raised his hand to his mouth, clearing his throat. “Please, sit down.”

“Will someone please tell me what I’m being accused of?” Mark remained standing, his head reeling. The lawyer and the officer exchanged a look.

“Mr. Bennett, please try to remain calm.”

“I will do as I damn well please. Now tell me what the hell is going on!” He was shaking at this point and felt a cold sweat dripping down his back.

“You are being charged with driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter.” The lights flickered again and Mark turned his attention to the ceiling. He recalled headlights in the fog, a cyclist coming over the hill with a takeout bag in his hand. “Mr. Bennett, this is very serious. I advise you to sit down so we can go over your case. The young man that—”

“I get a phone call,” Mark growled, his eyes fixed on the ceiling.

“I think your phone call can wait,” the officer said, watching Mark with caution.

“I’m entitled to a phone call.” He was careful to keep his voice level this time. His lawyer let out a sigh.

“It’s alright, officer, I can wait. Let him make his call.”

The officer took Mark by the shoulder and led him to the receptionist’s desk. Mark requested a phone book; flipping through its pages, he found the number he was looking for and dialed.

Marigold Bakery, how can I help you?

“I’m—I’m so sorry—” He choked on the words and sobbed like he hadn’t done since he was a child, the phone slipping from his grasp.

Hello? Is anyone there?

Assigned Prompt

Genre: Ghost Story

Location: A holding cell

Prop: Chopsticks

— B.

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