Today's WNIJ Flash Fiction winner was written by an accomplished Chicago writer. Ashley Keyser's work appeared in literary journals such as Pleiades, The Cincinnati Review and Passages North. Her poetry also was included in the Best New Poets 2015 anthology.
For our contest, Keyser submitted a very short story called "The Glass Children" in response to a prompt issued by Flash Fiction judge Molly McNett, who required the first sentence to describe "an outrageous, inexplicable situation."
McNett says Keyser's story delivered:
Notice the way that the very odd premise in the story is never explained, but simply carried through, dealt with realistically. This shows a lot of control and discipline on the part of the writer, who also casts the town itself as a character in the piece: "They did this, they did that." “I” and the other individuals are only mentioned halfway through. But I also just loved the beautiful and poetic images here. Listen especially for the last line—it’s a stunner.
We include the full text of Keyser's story beneath a video of her reading for WNIJ. we'll feature our first place winner tomorrow. Listen during Morning Edition at 6:44 and 8:44, and then come back here for another video reading and more information.
The Glass Children
by Ashley Keyser
All summer, one after the other, the children of our town’s most illustrious families took to their beds, because their bodies were made of glass. That was what they claimed, those debutantes and big men on campus who had, only weeks before, glowed with almost obscene health. Now they screamed when touched and would not get up.
They burst into tears at the sight of a chair, for fear sitting would break them in half. With the feverish, singular tastes of inbred royalty, each demanded piles of blankets to wrap themselves in, 'til only the head peeped out like a rabbit in a field.
Their mothers tried to weep but their faces, pumped with silicone, forced them to smile. Veins bulging, their fathers thundered, “I drank myself nearly blind after the war, and then I picked myself up, good as new!” No one convinced the children to leave their rooms. Even the well-paid doctor chewed his bottom lip -- hardly a lip at all, just a pink stain -- helplessly.
Their little dogs had to go. A clumsy threat to the glass children, packs of Bichon Frise and pug dogs soon roamed our streets, nosing at roadkill.
I watched servants hustle over the lawn of Blaine Rutherford’s house, their arms loaded with furs and silks. Blaine had been our school’s valedictorian, his hair and skin gold, gold flecks even in his eyes, forever chortling and backslapping his gifted-program buddies. I adored him. Now that he too had turned to glass, I was overjoyed. He needed me.
By his gate, I kept vigil, my blue dress turning black in the rain, only a flea-bitten Shih Tzu for company. Through the window, Blaine looked like all color had been scrubbed out of him. If only he let me in, I might coax him to health, my lips, sticky with gloss, warming Blaine’s glass lips.
After sunset I shimmied over the gate. I palmed a few stones from the garden and chucked them at Blaine’s window. No answer. I began to despair. Just as I tossed another stone, Blaine appeared in the moonlight. As he opened the window, the stone dashed his perfect cheek.
The way he bawled, I knew I’d shattered him. I squeezed my eyes shut, nauseous and aghast. I could almost see his disembodied mouth like a gold shard of Faberge egg. Lights flooded the lawn, the house stirring into commotion, and I fled like an evil fairy from a christening. The Shih Tzu urinated on itself in hysterics.
Just once I turned back to look where his face still hung in the window. Crumpling and not anymore pretty, he was pocked, marbled with tears, and grander than ever, like a city on the moon.