Challenge fail: a story with no conflict

Here’s the start of a short story I wrote for one of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenges. As you will see, I didn’t finish it. As you will also see, this unfinished story is about 600 words longer than the 1000-word limit Chuck imposes on the challenge.

While I like the narrator’s “voice” in this, I realized that I didn’t have a real goal for the main character, so I couldn’t develop any real story for her… at least not without writing a metric crap-ton more and letting the story reveal itself… or sitting down and plotting the thing out. (Plotting? We don’t need no steenkin’ plotting!)

I wasn’t initially going to let you read this, but this space is about writing, not necessarily about writing successfully every time. Because, as my published author friends and other writers whose days are coming will tell you, writing involves much less finished product (success/product) than actual writing (drafting/process).

Anyway, I hope you see some promise in it too and are perhaps inspired to write your own stories (with endings, if possible). Oh, and the secret ingredient in this particular challenge was to include the element of unicorn somehow, somewhere.

In a Heartbeat

All momentous decisions, the ones that count, the ones that can fuck your world, are made in a heartbeat. Oh, sure, you may agonize over them for days or weeks or years, but when push comes to shove, you make the decisions – push the button/don’t push the button, red pill/blue pill, pull out/don’t pull out – in an instant.

Truth is, you make all decisions that fast. And you don’t always know which ones are the big ones.

Take my friend, Nina.

Nina was storybook-princess gorgeous. She had enormous blue eyes, raven hair, milky skin, pearly teeth, rosy lips and a long, slender neck, around which hung a silver necklace with a unicorn pendant.

The light loved her. In a restaurant, the track lighting tracked her. At a concert, spotlights found her in the crowd. I’m sure that in a primeval forest, branches would part to let a stream of sunshine kiss her face. And even in a cave, a convenient rockfall would surely admit the first daylight in millenia, and it would fall on her upturned and perfect visage.

Nina was sweet and generous, smart and curious, modest and sympathetic. She loved her family and her friends fiercely and never wanted to cause anyone a minute’s worry. And we loved her the same way. It was impossible not to, because she was just too good.

That said, Nina was a parent’s nightmare. She’d gone from beautiful baby to angelic little girl, and even her elementary-school pictures of snaggled-tooth grins were charming. When she had her first period, her mom gave her the unicorn necklace, solemnly telling her that it was magical and would protect her from evil intentions, but she must never take it off. Nina didn’t think she needed protection, but her mom looked so serious, Nina swore she’d wear it always.

Over the years, I teased her about that pendant, begged to borrow it, even tried to tug it off her once, but it stayed around her neck.

“I promised,” she’d say. And that was that.

Nina was too innocent to believe that a 40-year-old man leering at her in an elevator was mentally stripping her and popping her 14-year-old cherry. Or that a “photographer” who wanted to “take some test shots” was recruiting her for kiddie porn. Or that the high-school boys who offered her rides in their pickup trucks really wanted her luscious lips on their ever-present erections. She did notice they became very polite and formal when they caught sight of her necklace.

“I think boys are scared of my charm,” she said one afternoon, as we watched a Lifetime movie about a beautiful woman who couldn’t seem to get a date. It hit close to home, with Nina’s fifteenth birthday fast approaching and her never-been-kissed status still in place.

We spent a lot of time speculating about this, especially after I had my first date and, yes, my first kiss, even if it had been with my mom’s boss’ son, Bradley. Bradley, not Brad, was a one-time-only date and a moist kisser. I don’t think he was very impressed by me either, and neither of us had called the other in the two months since that date.

Nina continued, “Men, too. They all seem to make excuses to leave right after they see it.”

“Are you sure it’s not your charms, such as they are, missy?” I loved to tease her. “Maybe they’re afraid you’ll take that necklace off and your magical spell of beauty will fall away… revealing a toothless old hag with a wart on her veiny nose.”

“Aaaaagh! Then they’ll all know my secret! And only the blood of a unicorn will restore the charm…” She was laughing too hard to finish the thought.

“Don’t worry, Princess Nina,” I said. “When a worthy prince comes along, he will not be put off by a mere silver trinket. Nay, he will become your protector and you will need it no longer. So say I, Gwendolyn, the all-knowing oracle.”

“And seriously, it’s a good thing that grown-ass men aren’t trying to hook up with you,” I said. “You don’t need pervs chasing you.”

“Oh, Gwen, you see pervs everywhere. Honestly.”

I considered it part of my job as her best friend to enlighten her.

Not that she believed me at first.

“Ewww, Gwen, gross!” she’d laughed when I explained why a slack-jawed business man across the food court was jiggling his hand in his pocket and staring at her like she was a hot-fudge sundae and not 16-year-old jailbait. When he spasmed seconds later, squeezing his eyes shut and grunting once, she spit out her Coke and ran for the ladies’ room. She was still laughing, but now with questions. “Oh, nasty! How’s he gonna clean that up? I mean, it’s all in his pants now, in his underpants too. How can he stand having all that sticky stuff in there? Do you think he carries around spare tighty-whiteys for times like these? Do you think he has times like these often?”

We didn’t tell her folks about that. Or about any of the other advances she fended off. Hell, most of the time, Nina didn’t know they were advances until I told her. Call me precocious, but I knew a come-on when I saw it. I’d like to think I’m smarter than the average bear, but it’s more likely that spending my adolescent years avoiding my pervy cousin Don’s groping paws deserved the credit. That’s also where I learned the value of a well-placed knee, but that’s a different story.

Nina’s parents didn’t need us to tell them anything. Everyone who saw her picture said the same things. “If my daughter looked like that, I’d keep a shotgun by the front door.” Or “Can you say, ‘chastity belt’?” Or “When does she turn 18? In two years? Yikes.”

Her dad joked about locking her in a tower until she was grown, one with a moat and no convenient ivy climbing the walls.

Nina teased about having plastic surgery to put a lump on the bridge of her nose or a scar on one cheek, but she stopped when she caught her parents looking at her speculatively. “Come on,” she said. “I’m not that pretty. I mean, I know I’m not ugly, but you’re being ridiculous.”

Did I mention she was modest?

“Just keep that necklace on,” her mom said.

“I will,” Nina said. “Promise.”

On her seventeenth birthday, a silver unicorn named Lando appeared in Nina’s dreams. His magnificent body quivered with power and his coat shimmered. Nina could feel the heat coming off him, as he offered his head and neck for her to pet. His horn was a twist of pure silver at least a foot long. After the introductory dream, he was always there, usually in the background, but ever present.

“Obviously, he’s a symbol,” she told me a few weeks later, “of my innocence or of my parent’s worries or something. He watches over me. And he moves closer to me if there are any good-looking boys in the scene. In fact, he chased off some guys in a blue van in one dream. It was weird, because it started so normal, with you and me coming out of the mall and walking to your car. Then this beat-up blue van pulls up and this dirty-blond scruffy guy leans out of the passenger window and offers us a ride.”

“I’ll bet he did,” I said. “As in, ‘Hey, baby, wanna free mustache ride? Plenty of room in this van for a party.”

“Pretty much,” Nina said, not smiling. “The sun goes behind a storm cloud or something, because it gets dark and the wind starts to blow. And Scruffy Guy tells the driver, who I couldn’t really see, but I could tell he was a bad dude, ‘I’ll take the brunette. You get the redhead.’ That’s you, Gwen, the redhead.”

“Um, Nina, I’m not a redhead. I’m a blonde, hello? Are you sure it was me?”

“It was you, but your hair looked red in the lights, I guess. Anyway, Scruffy Guy starts to open his door, while the bad dude is laughing, and you and I are freaking out, trying to pick a direction to run, when BAM! Lando comes out of nowhere and jumps in front of us and kicks the guy’s door shut. Hard. Totally jams it in the frame. Then Lando stabs his horn right through the windshield, and I hear one of the guys scream like a little girl. Then the van backs up and squeals away and Lando chases it out of the parking lot. When he comes back to us a minute later, he lets us ride on his back and takes us to your car. But the thing is, he has a little smear of blood on his horn, and it’s red, not silver, so it must be from one of the guys in the van. And then he vanished. Weird, right?”

“Weird, right.” I agreed. “And pretty cool. Were you freaked out?”

“A little, but mostly because it felt so real. I could feel the heat coming off the asphalt and smell Scruffy Guy’s nasty breath. I could even feel Lando’s muscles twitching beneath us while we were riding back to your car. Very, um, disturbing.”

“Disturbing?” I gave her a who-are-you-kidding look. “Sounds like you were turned on.”

“No! Well, not really. I mean, maybe a little.”

“Nina lo-oves Lando. Nina wa-ants Lando. Nina had a wet dream. Na-na-na-na-na-na,” I sang it several times while she pelted me with her pillow, both of us giggling like eight year olds.


That’s is, so far, folks. I’d love to hear what you think of what’s there.

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  • Abigail Sharpe  On August 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    I’d love to know where this is going. You had me from the first sentence. I hate that you make it look so effortless. 🙂

    • Toni  On August 14, 2011 at 9:41 am

      The first sentence? That was effortless. After that, not so much.

  • RobinH  On August 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I love the narrative voice. And you’ve got a strong start for a story there. I can see several ways it could go–
    a) Nina takes off/breaks/loses the unicorn and we see what happens without her protection. Maybe she gets a crush on a guy and decides to try taking it off?
    b) The guys in the van show up for real, and it doesn’t work out quite as neatly as a magic unicorn showing up.

    The implication is that the charm works, so clearly there’s something supernatural about it, and also Nina’s mother knows/believes in it because she’s so insistent on Nina wearing it.

    Cool start!

    • Toni  On August 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks and I’m glad you think it has promise. And you hit the nail squarely on the head: there are several ways it could go. And until I decide which way to go, the story’s at a standstill.

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