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The Flash Fiction Mob

by Anita G. Gorman



Theodora was in her car--her jalopy, she called it--when she was suddenly inspired. At the first red light on Main Street she started musing about her new mission: to be a writer.

The Regency novel wasn't working out. Her children's book was all right, but not unique. Her short stories were long and cumbersome. Someone honked. The light had turned green.

Then she remembered something. There was a type of story called flash fiction. Well, not a type, but more of a length, a length shorter than 1000 words. But maybe it was a type as well.  After all, she mused as she stopped at the next red light, you can't have hundreds of characters if you're typing only a couple of pages. You have to get right to the point and develop only one or two characters. The same car behind her honked again. She considered giving the driver a nasty gesture but restrained herself.

Now they were out of Ashleyville and on the road to the next little town. The car behind quickly passed her, and the male driver waved at Theodora. She smiled. She wondered where he was going, not that it mattered. Then she decided to follow him. She had no particular plans, and he looked pleasant, at least from a distance. She had never followed anyone before, but today she was feeling adventurous. Maybe she could write a flash fiction story about a man who follows a woman who follows the same man.

The next town, Shadyville, had a village green just like Theodora's town of Ashleyville. She followed the man--he had a nicer car than she did--into the municipal lot, parking a couple of rows behind him. Putting on her disguise--a straw hat and large sunglasses--Theodora followed the stranger at what seemed like a safe distance.

People of all sizes, ages, and appearances were gathering near the gazebo. The man she had followed seemed to be the leader. Was it a political demonstration? Was it a fundraiser for a local charity? Then the man pulled out of his jacket pocket a cylindrical item. Raising his hand, he called for silence. He put the cylinder to his mouth and began playing a tune. Soon everyone in the group was playing a tune on what she realized were tin whistles. Theodora thought they were all attempting to play the same tune, and she was reasonably sure it was "The Girl I Left Behind Me." That was pretty funny, considering the leader of the band had passed her on the road and left her behind.

The man then stopped playing while the others continued with gusto. He walked down the steps and over to Theodora.

"Your disguise doesn't conceal your red hair. I'd know that hair anywhere, since I followed you for quite a while, staring at it. Say, after I passed your car, did you start following me?"

Theodora blushed. "Yes. I was wondering where you were going."

"Why? Do you usually follow strange men? And I am somewhat strange. Not everyone drives to another town to lead a flash mob in a tin whistle concert."

"A flash mob? What's that?"

"Some years ago people started organizing groups that would assemble to perform in public spaces. With cell phones you can get a group to meet just about anywhere at any time. People started calling them flash mobs. I'm not sure why."

Theodora stared at him. Then the man introduced himself. "I'm Justin."

She started to laugh.

"Is my name funny?"

"It is when paired with my name. I'm Theodora."

He looked puzzled.

"Justinian was a Roman emperor, and Theodora was his wife. There's a great mosaic of them in a church in Ravenna."

"Ravenna, Ohio? That's not far from here."

She thought that was quite funny. "No, Justin, Ravenna, Italy."

He pulled another tin whistle out of an inner jacket pocket. "Here, this one's for you. It's wrapped, no germs."

"How do I play it?"

"For now, I don't think it matters, since the mob is making a racket. Just put the correct end into your mouth and blow. I can give you a lesson later."

"OK, but only if you promise to help me with another project."

"At your service. And what would that be?"

"A flash fiction mob."

"A what?"

"Well, I'm trying to be a writer. I'm having trouble writing a novel and a long short story. Flash fiction is a short story that's under 1000 words. I thought I could try that."

He nodded. "Go on."

"Well, you told me about the idea of a flash mob, and suddenly it occurred to me that there could be a flash fiction mob. Writers and would-be writers could assemble right over there at the gazebo, or maybe back in Ashleyville where I live. And each person could read flash fiction. Of course, we'd have to arrange for a microphone."

Justin played a little tune on his tin whistle before responding. "Would they be reading separately or all at the same time?"

"Separately. Otherwise no one would hear the stories."

"And that could be a good thing, depending on the stories. I kind of like the idea of a bunch of writers reading at once. That would really be a mob!"

"And no one would know if my story was any good. That actually sounds tempting."

"Why don't you just write about today's flash mob and how I followed you and you followed me? It might be a good story. But I'd like to hear it. I wouldn't want it buried in a flash mob shouting other stories. Less interesting stories."

"I'll do it. My town or yours?"


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