Today’s piece of flash fiction is the story that I got published in a literary magazine.

My favorite part of this piece is the story behind it.  In one of my creative writing classes in college, we were each given an index card with a word or phrase.  This word or phrase, we were told, was to be the title of of the next piece of flash fiction that the person sitting to our left was going to write.

But before handing them their title, we got to write their first line.

I forget what title I had for the person sitting to my left, but I wrote an ambiguous first line, so that she could take the story in whatever direction she wanted.

The guy to my right, however, had a very specific setting and plot in mind for my story.

“I hate you,” I told him after reading my index card.

 Title: Sign on the Dotted Line
First Line: "Pa!  Come quick, the Comanche done gone lit the barn on fire!"


He explained that he envisioned a story about the conflict that arose between Native Americans and the early American settlers as they tried to make them sign their land away.

That wasn’t quite my style, though.

*   *   *

Sign on the Dotted Line by Youngman Brown

“Pa!  Come quick, the Comanche done gone lit the barn on fire!”

Grandpa was having another episode.  Everyone in the church turned to face us.  Mom’s face glowed red as dad unsuccessfully attempted to calm Grandpa.  Chrissy began crying — her seven-year-old eyes hadn’t yet witnessed Grandpa this way.  I just laughed.

This latest surge of schizophrenia was due to the fact that he had recently watched some terrible movie called The Searchers, in which John Wayne’s attempts to be close to a secret love are ruined by a Comanche raid.  The Indians are coming to scalp him, he fears.

Yes, it was bad.  But nothing compared to a post-Saving Private Ryan fit, which involved him throwing cans of soup at a shopping cart that, to him, resembled a German tank.  Or, after The Matrix, pouring cups of water on a running vacuum so that it wouldn’t steal his brain.  Don’t even ask about Jurassic Park.

After the incident in God’s house, mom and dad decided to take him to Allentown’s New-Age Assisted Living, or ANAAL.  Yes, ANAAL.  I disagreed with their decision.  For one, they could have at least picked one without an uncomfortable acronym.  Secondly, it’s just not right to just dump (no pun intended) a sick family member off somewhere.

So what if Grandpa had fantasies about what he saw on television?  Just pop in some feel-good classics.  It’s A Wonderful Life, or Field of Dreams would suffice.

Instead, mom and dad just signed on a dotted line and we didn’t have to worry about Grandpa anymore.

-Youngman Brown

0 thoughts on “Sign on the Dotted Line

  1. This is soooooo good! I think you did an amazing job with the first line he gave you, and taking a line that most (myself included) would hate and spinning it into literary gold.

    And incorporating the title so well, too. NICELY DONE!!!


  2. Way to stick it to that guy and his idea of where you should take YOUR writing. Loved it. My brain certainly wouldn't have jumped to that story with that title and first line prompt. Kudos!

  3. First, I love how you flipped your asshole classmate the literary bird. Second, I loved the fucked out of this story. Seriously, Mike, you're a great writer who does a brilliant job of engaging the reader.

    My only critique is that this could be “flashier”. (Please don't hate me, and feel free to tell me to fuck off and keep my opinions to myself.) One of the arts of flash fiction is telling the story without words. What the fuck, right? I know, but just hear me out.

    Take out this paragraph:

    “After the incident in God’s house, mom and dad decided to take him to Allentown’s New-Age Assisted Living, or ANAAL. Yes, ANAAL. I disagreed with their decision. For one, they could have at least picked one without an uncomfortable acronym. Secondly, it’s just not right to just dump (no pun intended) a sick family member off somewhere.”

    That ANAAL is funny, but you don't need it for flash. Your last line tells what the parents did without actually TELLING the reader, y'know?

    (Again, feel free to tell me to shut the fuck up since I've honestly no publishing chops to be offering unsolicited advice.)

    ((Or the solicited for that matter.))

    (((I'll shut up now.)))

  4. Wow, I'd hate him for giving you that line too.

    But, I loved it. Thought it was amazing, considering what you had to start with. I admire the way you made that line work for you, instead of against.


  5. I agree. There's actually another paragraph that I took out from the original version that was published before posting it here.

    Unsolicited advice is always welcome/encouraged. Nobody ever offers critique, and I certainly appreciate it.

  6. I especially loved the 4th paragraph (starting “yes, it was bad.) Really makes me want to know what happened after Jurassic Park! I could see this flash being turned into something a bit longer. Maybe even a commentary of the current state of nursing hones and assisted living.

  7. I disagree with Katsidhe. I am the original Show Don't Tell girl, but that ANAAL thing takes the story to the next level. Leave it in.

    (For any readers out there not sure about what I mean with the Show Don't Tell thing, here is my quick definition:

    Tell: “I was starving!”

    Show: “I hadn't had anything to eat since a stale granola bar three days ago. The lining of my stomach was beginnning to devour itself.”

    Both say “I'm starving” but the second one does it better.

    Never “I am cold!” but instead, “I forgot my coat and it started to snow.” )


  8. Good job. Enjoyed as usual. I can't add anything that everyone else has said. Your classmate was not a very nice person but you really pulled it off, kudos.

  9. I'm enjoying the consensus of the label “asshole.” And that you a wrote a great piece 🙂

    We did a similar exercise (not quite as diabolical), and my neighbor began his story, “Unfortunately, she was twelve.”

  10. That's really cool. I've never heard of this stuff before and I find it quite intriguing. I may try a bit, just to see how it goes. Thanks for the inspiration, and a great story. I might write a sequel to it where the kid gets a few years older, busts Gramps out of the pen, and the two of them rob a bank.

  11. Love this. I agree; my favorite part is also the story behind it. What a great creative writing prompt and a great spin you took with what you were given.

  12. You can call me anything you like, lol. Actually if you remember any of my earlier comments, I do like for people that are my friends and I'm close too call me something other than SHEILA. Sheils is perfect….thx.

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