Tag Archives: Fiction

Flash Fiction–Like a Penny


It’s been a while since I last posted any prose writing, so I thought I’d share a flash fiction story. Like the last story I posted, this one was written for the NPR three minute fiction contest. The writing prompt this time was:

Write a story in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning.

My story wasn’t chosen, so I get to post it here.



Like a Penny


By Michael Vest


I found happiness on the sidewalk, just laying there. So I picked it up.

It felt light in my hands, little more than the weight of a coin, or a key, and I was shocked to see how plain it looked, how unadorned.

My first reaction was to glance around, expecting at once to see a figure rushing towards me, a look of relief tinged with trepidation and concern apparent on their features, one eager hand outstretched to reclaim their erstwhile property. I saw no such figure, however, and my puzzlement grew. Who could have lost such a precious thing and not at once felt its absence, burning like a hole in their chest, more urgent and pressing than any other concern? And its loss must have surely been an accident, for what sort of person would discard such a thing willingly? And so casually, too… casting it away like a cigarette butt onto the street…

Even as my mind raced through its imaginations I could feel the warmth radiating out from the object, through my open, cupping hands, up my arms and then out into my chest. When it reached my heart I felt a little thrill of joy and closed my eyes at once as the world grew dizzy. When I opened them again, my hands had closed around the object.

I looked around once more, but still the sparse pedestrians ambled by, heedless both of me and the thing a held.

A measure of reason returned to me, and I began to consider what course of action I ought take. While my hands, it seemed, had already cast their vote, a voice in my head chastised them for their greed. This object, however lovely, however good, did not belong to me. And yet… how to find its owner? How to discern whose claim (and already I guessed there would be many) was genuine? Should I tack posters along mainstreet? Inside coffee shops?

Or, now the thought came to me, should I surrender my find to the authorities, trusting the police (or whomever’s jurisdiction in which this matter lay) to seek out the rightful owner and return to them their own.

All these options and more occurred to me, each with its own merit and flaw. But none drew me, for no matter how long I thought, or how loud my conscience protested, I could not escape one simple fact: I did not want to return it.

My fingers played and idle game with the thing as my mind wove through its guilty web. Why shouldn’t I keep it? It seemed obvious now its owner did not miss it, or they would have come back. Had I lost it I would surely have given in to hysteria by then, retracing my steps with a frantic speed, babbling and shouting all the while at my loss. Even if I could, somehow, track down its former owner, did they deserve it back, having so easily misplaced it?

And anyway, what of my needs? Why shouldn’t I claim it for my own—I, who hadn’t owned the like since… how long had it even been? Long enough that I could not recall, and I was far from old.

Slowly, carefully, I slipped the thing into my pocket. I would keep it; Its owner had abandoned it like a fallen penny, but I would treasure it as a fortune.

Like a Penny–copyright © 2013 by Michael Vest



The Button: A Short Story


Hi there, remember me? Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. I’ve been a bit distracted lately with other things, but I’m back (I think) and plan on starting to post more often again (although as I recall I’ve said similar things in the past, and look how that went).

Anyway, I should get to the point of this post. A little while ago I submitted a short story to the most recent round of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction Contest. The rules of the contest are that the story must be based on the contest prompt (in this case, all stories must be about a US president, real of fictional), and all stories must be under 600 words.

When I sat down to write, the story I ended up with was about 850 words long, meaning I had to cut 250. 250 words might not sound like a lot under normal circumstances, but in this case it meant cutting and simplifying a significant portion of the story. I think the final version turned out well, but I did miss those extra words, so I thought I’d post the original, uncut version here.

So, without further ado, The Button.

The Button

The president held his hand above the button, poised to strike. A drop of sweat inched its way down his cheek; his fingers twitched to the rhythm of his pulse. To his right a massive clock beeped with each passing second. He stared sightlessly down at the panel as disjointed images flashed across his paralyzed brain.

He remembered where it all had begun. Was it really only six years since the first election? The memories that had once been so clear now felt stale and far away. Like a postcard from the past a fragment of recollection fell into his hands; an arena—he couldn’t remember the name or the place—filled to capacity with his supporters, all cheering and chanting his name. At the time it had filled him with hope and elation. Now, though, it sounded like the universe taunting him.

The mess had started four months after his swearing in; the attacks, the fear, the disbelief that such a thing could happen, right here, to us, right in our own backyard and oh god what was the world coming to anyway. All his grand plans had gone down the drain as more pressing issues made themselves heard. Troops were mobilized, the draft was reinstated, and the nation held its breath as the world went mad.

For a moment, for a fleeting instant, it seemed that disaster might be averted. But humanity, once riled up, is not easy to contain. Wars broke out along old fault lines, thousands were slaughtered, and great nations began to come apart at the seams.

His popularity, which had once soared to unprecedented levels, crashed down like an avalanche. He lost weight, his hair turned gray, and he aged a decade in four years. When the time came once again for his battered country to choose their leader his rivals screamed for blood. His character was attacked and his leadership questioned as everything came tumbling down around him.

Somehow, despite an endless campaign of slander and abuse, he was reelected. In the end all his competition just fell away, probably realizing it would be easier for the historians if they only had one person to blame for the collapse of civilization.

It made him sick sometimes, to think about everything that had been lost while he was at the helm. But it wasn’t his fault; he hadn’t started the war, he’d tried to stop it! He’d done everything right and still it had all come tumbling down. And if he was honest with himself, that was what really hurt. Not the casualties, not the famine, not the hopeless, endless war. No, what really pissed him off was that it had happened to him, during his tenure. He’d wanted to change the world, to fix the nation and usher in a new golden age of wealth and prosperity for his people. This couldn’t all have waited eight years? If the world had to end, it couldn’t at least have the decency to wait until his presidency had ended?

He knew it was selfish, but he really didn’t care. He could have been a hero, the last great American president. Now, though, he would be remembered as the captain who’d gone down with his ship. The poor sap who had to sit their and watch it all burn.

At least before he’d been able to console himself with the fact that wars like this had happened before, that history was littered with fallen empires and periods of unrest. Then the first nuke went off, and in an instant the world was a few million people emptier.

Three hours later and the surface world was a memory as the government fled below ground to the safety of their bunkers, while above the unlucky masses boiled in fear.

“Mr. President.” The voice hit him like a bucket of ice water, dragging him back to the present. “Sir, we have two minutes left.”

His mouth was a desert; he struggled to swallow the lump in his throat, to open his mouth, to speak.

“You…” He cleared his throat and continued, his voice like sandpaper. “You’re sure my husband made it to the bunker?”

There was silence, an exchanging of glances, then one of the suits that crowded the room nodded.

The president glanced down at the button. It was small and slate gray, flanked on either side by a key, turned and waiting in its slot.

“Sir, the window’s closing!” A uniform this time, a general. He should have known their faces, their names, but that part of his brain had deserted him. They might as well have been mannequins for all he cared. “Sir, please! You have to do it now!”

The president looked back at the button, An alarm went off as a screen counted down from sixty. He could barely hear it above the thundering of his pulse. He sucked in a deep breath and held it, thinking of Erik and hoping he really was safe.

With a sigh the president pushed the button, and the world blew up.


A Tiny Collection of Really Short Stories


I first came across this concept in a Wired article some years ago. Mine might be a little longer than the stories in the article, but the basic idea is the same: tell a story in as few words as possible.

Hope you like them.

Mining colony established on mars, human remains excavated; oh s***.

Jenny had never given much thought to swimming before, and now it was too late to learn.

I’d never felt so alive until I woke up dead.

The sex was fun, your drinking wasn’t; so long honey (BANG).

Once upon a time there lived an evil, wicked king—but this being a fantasy story he didn’t last too long.

Computers achieve sentience: demand kittens and porn.

Usually a toaster is just a toaster, but sometimes, they have teeth.


Thievery: Part 7


((So, this story is getting pretty bad plot-wise because I had no idea where I was going. Oops. Finishing it anyway, because the plot’s almost over.))

It had been the right decision. Lora might, if she pleaded, get away with missing a day of work (she could cite a family emergency or something–she wasn’t friendly enough with any of her coworkers for it to be an obvious lie), and things miraculously getting better for her seemed more likely than getting away with some diamonds at this point.

Anyway, Dean and Roger and Donald were idiots.

…Kind of pitiable idiots.

…Not unlikeable idiots, either.

But no, she couldn’t have regrets. If she made a clean break, forgot about the day’s events, it would all go away.

Lora would reach her work soon, and then it would all be over.

They had been questioning Dean for hours. At least, that’s what it felt like–he didn’t have a watch and there was no clock.

Still, they definitely seemed to be asking more questions than were necessary. Dean had probably gone over the day’s events two or three times already, and they kept saying he was changing his story or something–it was hard to pay attention to all their jargon.

Well, maybe not jargon. Dean just had difficulty paying attention to them in general. It wasn’t out of lack of trying, but when his brain was focused on what horrible a situation he was in–

The bank had cameras. He hadn’t stolen the diamonds. He was safe.


“This guy can’t have done it all by himself. I mean, look at him.”

The words stung Donald, especially since no efforts were made to keep him from hearing them. Then again, he was slouched in his seat, examining a coffee cup. There wasn’t much else to do.

“I can hear you, you know,” he said, attempting to sound nonchalant, but the detectives just laughed.

“Security cameras show it was him, and, well, he did forget about the cameras.”

“Doesn’t this break some sort of police-suspect confidentiality… thing?” Donald said.

More laughing.

“At least we have evidence and a confession. I could do with more idiot criminals.”

Roger was sweating profusely, having been in the same room for what easily could have been hours, stuck talking to the same detective over and over again.

“You do understand that just because you didn’t steal the diamonds in the first place doesn’t mean you’re completely innocent, right?” the detective said.

“Yes, but we were really just scared! You can’t blame us for that, can you?”

“You broke the law, Mr. Saunders.”


They sat there in silence for a few moments.

“I think we’re done here, Mr. Saunders.”


Lora saw it in a newspaper she scrounged up the next day: the article didn’t mention names, but it did mention the bank robbery, and that three arrests were made. It really was over.

And already fading in her mind, at that–the specifics of the day felt slightly fuzzy, even, the voices of Roger and Dean and Donald not as clear as they were before.

It had all been rather pointless, come to think of it.

((And thus this horrible little story gets a horrible little ending. Expect a self-review sometime tomorrow or the day after.))

In the Dark: Chapter Four


“Well,” the girl says, “this is peculiar.”

I give a sharp nod. “What now?”

“There’s obviously something there,” says one of the boys; I look at him and see long blond hair escaping from his hood. “We can all feel it, right?”

“Maybe there’s some sort of mechanism,” the other boy says. “Let me…”

I see as well as feel him extend shadows towards the forest, and the smattering of flora begins to ripple and give. I extend my own shadows and find that the trees and bushes compact at my shadows’ touch, as if they’ve expanded from a smaller shape.

“Come on,” the girl says before forming a tunnel out of the illusory forest and stepping into it. “Nice one, blond!” The blond boy bristles and hurries after her; me and the other boy are close behind.

When I step into the forest I find myself enveloped in the presence that drew me here–my senses feel heightened, and it’s much easier to read the shadows around me. The forest itself, I realize, feels like shadow; I reach out a hand towards a nearby leaf and pluck it. It looks enough like a leaf, and feels like a leaf to my fingers, but to my mind it is nothing but concentrated darkness.

“It’s shadows,” I say to the boy next to me; the blond one has now moved forward to walk next to the girl, where they’re whispering an unintelligible conversation.

“I know,” the boy replies.

I explore the shadow forest using the dark, finding myself not even needing to send out shadows; my power is so heightened, the information comes nearly instantly. And yet, despite straining my powers to go as far as I can, I cannot find a possible destination for us–the forest is all there is.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” I say to the girl. “There isn’t anything where we’re going.”

She lets out a loud sigh. “Check the ground.”

My brow wrinkles, but I do as she says and find what feels like a trapdoor some ways ahead of us. I keep quiet as my face reddens.

Soon we all come to a stop, gathered around the trapdoor; it’s made of old, rotted-looking wood, with a handle of black metal. Despite its weathered appearance, it’s heavy as I pull on the handle, but as soon as I lift it up a short ways, my companions wedge shadows underneath it and fling it open. Hidden under the trapdoor is a steep, dark stone staircase.

I smile as we begin to descend. Other people might be unwilling to walk this staircase, with its pitch-black darkness, damp dirt walls, hard stone steps, and chilly atmosphere, but I am a Disciple. I can navigate the gloom with ease, and I don’t care about moisture or cold or dirt.

We’re soon at the bottom, where there’s a short corridor ended by a wooden door that, unlike the trapdoor above, looks new and clean. The girl opens it and dim light filters into the corridor; while my eyes adjust to the light, I use the remaining darkness to view the area in front of us. It’s another corridor, technically a continuation of the one we stand on, but I can feel the shape of lights affixed to the walls, which are smoother than the dirt where I am. This space goes on for a short space before one more door blocks my shadows.

My eyes are now adjusted, and they find exactly what the shadows told me–the walls look to be made out of stone, and the door is identical to the one before it save for the fact that there’s no way to open it. The others are already moving, and I hurry to follow them while simultaneously wondering where the lights get their electricity from and why the door has no knob.

“Hmm,” the girl says, having reached the door first. When I catch up to her, I realize that there’s a small, circular hole in the door–as far as I can tell, there’s a lock inside, surprisingly similar to the ones I’ve been opening on my trip.

“What is it?” asks the blond boy.

“A lock,” I and the other boy say at the same time. I briefly glance at him, then say, “let me.” I step forward, up to the lock, and the blond boy and the girl move out of the way for me. Gathering up a group of shadows, denser than any other I’ve made, I begin to pick the lock.

“Where’d you learn to do that?” says the girl when I succeed and the door pops open. I say nothing and step past the doorway.

The room beyond is square, and two doors line each wall to my right and left; at the back of the room is a wooden desk, and behind it sits a man dressed in black.

“And you are…?” he says.

Thievery: Part 6


“Oh, hell.”

There was a police car outside of the apartment complex that Donald’s brother, Richard, lived in. Having noticed the car late, Lora drove past the building, then rounded the block and parked as far away from the car as possible.

“It doesn’t have to be for Richard,” Donald said.

“Really, so a cop car just happens to be right outside the apartment of a jewel thief’s brother?”


Lora groaned as a policeman emerged from the building, a disheveled-looking man in front of him. “That your brother?”

Donald nodded glumly. “Looks like we won’t be getting any help from him.”

Lora sighed and wished she could just drive off now, but the policeman was still in front of her and she couldn’t risk being seen.

“Well, what now?”

Dean leaned forward and grabbed the back of Lora’s seat. “Let’s go to Spain.”

Lora turned her head around to glare at Dean. “Actual ideas, please!”

Dean fell back, mumbling, “yes.”

The police car was driving off, now, and Lora waited a moment before easing out into the street and going in the opposite direction.

“They likely know who Donald is now, right?” Roger said after a few moments.

“Yeah, couldn’t we just tell the police what happened? About the mix-up?” Dean said.

“And lose my diamonds?” Donald turned to look at Roger and Dean. “Not bloody likely.”

“So what, we just wait for the police to magically forget about us?” Dean said.

“Maybe they will!”

“The police don’t do that!”

“And how do you know that?”

Lora stopped suddenly, swerving to the side of the road. “Will you two shut up?”

“No!” Dean and Donald cried together.

Lora let out a sound best likened to a growl. “Look, do any of you have money? We could always get a really good solicitor.”

“Lora,” Roger said. “Lora, we have diamonds.”

“Yeah, and what’re we going to do with them? Just run up to a bank and exchange them for cash?”

“Let’s leave the country!”

“Can’t we just hide out somewhere?”

“We don’t have any options, Lora!”

Lora let the three speak for a moment, then cleared her mind and said, “Dean, give me your mobile.” She reached back to receive it and he handed it to her, a questioning look on his face.

“What are you doing?” Donald asked as Lora punched in three numbers.

“Calling the police.”

What?” Dean said, the volume of his voice threatening to leave the car, but Lora ignored him and spoke into the phone instead.

“Hello, I would like to turn in a group of diamond thieves at…” Lora looked about for a road sign as the three men grappled for the phone unsuccessfully. Finding it, she said the address and snapped the phone shut.

“This was a bad idea. Good day.” With that, she left the car… then returned hastily, saying, “this is my car. You three, out!”

“Lora, what you’re doing now is a bad idea–”

“Please, Lora, there’s no need–”

“After all we’ve been through?”

Dean spoke the last words, and Lora turned to look at him. “It’s been less then a day. I really don’t care for you. Out of the car.”

Dean gave her a face like a piteous puppy, then exited the car; Roger and Donald soon followed.

As soon as they were at a clear distance, Lora pulled back into the road and drove off.

Dean wanted to say he’d had worse days, but he really couldn’t; today was probably the worst in his twenty-three years. He could run, of course, but… well, that was actually a good idea. The road was right next to a forest, after all. Then he got another idea.

“Donald, you have the diamonds, right?”


“Give ’em here.”

Donald looked too bewildered to protest and quickly handed over the pouch, which Dean grabbed before taking off into the forest.

“Hey!” both Roger and Donald cried, but Dean ignored them, pushing farther into the flora. He could hear the other two chasing after him, but he was smaller and more agile. Once he got far enough, he nestled the pouch into the ground and shoveled some leaves over it. He then turned around and headed back for the road.

“What are you doing?” Roger said when he and Donald reached Dean. Sirens were now audible somewhere in the distance.

“Hiding the diamonds. They can’t convict us without proof, right?”

“Dean, the bank has security cameras!”

Dean stopped walking and pondered this just as the sirens got almost unbearably loud; the three were now in view of the road, where multiple police cars were visible.