Microcosms 101

All right, settle down, class. This may be Microcosms 101, but it’s not an Introduction to Flash Fiction. We’re looking for top-notch stories; so, sit up straight and pay attention to our guest host, Stephen Shirres:

75 years ago, one of the greatest, most beloved and most quotable films ever made was released onto the silver screen: Casablanca. The film stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, with Claude Rains stealing every scene he is in. It is a wonderful war romance, and contains six lines from the AFI’s 100 years…100 Movie Quotes list – the most from any single film:

#5   “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
#20 “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
#28 “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.”
#32 “Round up the usual suspects.”
#43 “We’ll always have Paris.”
#67 “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

What more do you need for a Microcosms theme?

SPECIAL CHALLENGE: incorporate one of the quotes into your 300 words.

To view a clip from the film, click HERE.



(If YOU have an idea for a future contest and would like to be guest host, please contact us.)


Our contest this week begins with THREE things: character, location and genre.

We spun, and our three elements are – character: Petty Crook, Location: Market, and genre: Romance.

Write a story using those OR feel free to click on the “Spin!” button, and the slot machine will come up with a new set – character, location and genre. You can keep clicking until you have a set of elements that inspires you.

*** HEY! Remember to include which THREE elements you’re using (if you select [Your Choice], please specify exactly what your choice is) AND a title for your entry – not included in the word count.

  • Bar Owner
  • Piano Player
  • Police Captain
  • Petty Crook
  • Resistance Leader
  • Refugee
  • [Your Choice – SPECIFY!]
  • Gin Joint
  • Paris
  • Casablanca
  • Airport
  • Market
  • Police Officer
  • [Your Choice – SPECIFY!]
  • Romance
  • War
  • Drama
  • Thriller
  • Crime
  • Sci-Fi
  • [Your Choice – SPECIFY!]

Last week’s Judge’s Pick, Geoff Le Pard, has kindly agreed to act as judge this time round.


Let me reiterate: all submissions should be a maximum of 300 words in length. You have 24 hours until midnight, today (Friday) New York time (EST) to submit.

*** If you are new to Microcosms, remember to check out the full submission guidelines. ***

All being well, results will be posted next Monday.

Microcosms 102
Microcosms 100

36 thoughts on “Microcosms 101

  1. Resistance Leader; Gin Joint; Thriller
    300 strong denials


    “Zebra Woman was bad news, Doug. I could see it right off.”

    “Yeah. You always had good eyes, Marcus. Eye charts never baffled you. You could rattle off that bottom line, e u r q t, like nobody’s business.”

    “I’m impressed you remembered that.”

    It’s not worth clarifying to Marcus that I made up e u r q t. Who would go to the trouble of remembering the bottom line of an eyechart? Not me. All I really cared about is that his sharpshooter skills were massaged. The endgame was near. Politicians were falling like flies. Every week a political leader was biting the sexual harasser dust. The country was split right down the middle like some monster had gutted it with a giant razorblade. The protest movement was reaching a fever pitch. And to cap it all off, the President’s small wandering mitts were poised to be crushed.

    We old white guys had peaked.

    Power had shifted. Shifted? Hell, it had made a quantum leap.

    And it was my dumb luck that an early conquest was leading the charge. My old lover, now a honcho in the Who, Me? Movement, had sent word. “We weren’t lovers, buddy. I was your victim. Now you’re mine.”

    “I’m glad you’re here, Marcus. She’s gonna crucify me and I need to stop her.”

    “So,” he asks, “you hadn’t seen her in thirty years and somehow she finds you in this miserable dump?”

    “Yup,” I repeat for the umpteenth time. “It was a pure fluke. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine. Man, I’ve been off the grid for a decade.”

    “I owe you big time, Dougie. I got no qualms. We gotta stick together. There’s only so much change we men can stomach.”

    1. Best line in a good while ‘And to cap it all off, the President’s small wandering mitts were poised to be crushed.’ Roll on the crushing! Fine tale, Bill.

  2. Alva Holland
    294 words
    Bar Owner/Casablanca/Drama

    A Boy, His Grandfather, and a Bar in Casablanca

    ‘Nice socks,’ he whispered.

    My cotton socks with playful blue dolphins had caught the little boy’s attention.

    ‘Have you seen them?’ he whispered again.

    ‘Seen who?’ I bent down so he could hear me.

    ‘The dolphins! They come out to play, just like on your socks. You need to watch carefully, peer through the railings, like me. Down here. Look, like this!’

    He gestured at me. Bending my knees, I watched the boy’s eyes light up as two dolphins broke the sea surface.

    Surrounded by beat-up vans packed solid with worldly possessions, roof-racks stacked high with bicycles, wheelbarrows, chairs, wheelchairs, crutches, suitcases and duffel bags, I was on the ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta.

    I was squashed between a mama and her brood and her father and mother, all returning home, carrying the fruits of their Spanish labours, keeping a fragile way of life struggling, wanting to sit once again outside their only real casa.

    As the coast of Spain disappeared, I felt a small arm wrap itself around my calf. With eyes as deep as a barrel of black silk, his cheeky smile bounced back up at my suspicious glance.

    ‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

    ‘Hugo. What’s yours?’

    ‘Louis. Louis Javier Mahjoub. The dolphins are the best part of this journey home.’

    I pulled a spare pair of dolphin socks from my bag, handing them to Louis. His smile lit the deck.

    ‘Mama! Look! Dolphin socks!’

    His mother smiled, tugged the arm of the old man next to her. He gave the boy a thumbs-up and said something I didn’t understand.

    ‘Abuelo says you should come to our bar tonight.’

    I shook the old man’s hand and turned back to the boy.

    ‘Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

    1. I really like this piece – it’s so evocative. I’d love to be on that ferry to dolphin and people-watch. I can almost smell the sea from your writing, Alva. Wonderful.

    2. This is a beautiful, gentle piece, Alva, full of evocative detail. I love the use of the socks to engage the boy’s interest — though ‘blue playful dolphins’ seems better to my ear than ‘playful blue dolphins’: ‘playful blue’ sounds like a particular shade, like ‘navy blue’ or ‘royal blue’!
      Also, thanks for bringing Ceuta to my attention. I’ve never heard of it before, so I looked it up. Given Spain’s confrontational claims on Gibraltar, it came as quite a surprise that they themselves have a similar toehold in Morocco.

      1. Many thanks, Geoff. You’re right about ‘blue playful’ – if the stories haven’t gone to the judge could you switch the words for me? If it’s too late, no worries. Thanks! Absolutely re Spain, Morocco and Ceuta. I remember being surprised when I met someone from Ceuta and he explained the history. It was a revelation.

  3. @steveweave71
    300 words
    Bar Owner; Gin Joint; Drama

    Java Chameleon

    Early evening, and the joint was quiet. Reg and Marta sat in a corner booth gazing intently at each other. Reg suddenly lunged under the table, lifted Marta’s right leg and whipped off her shoe so he could massage her foot – a move much appreciated by previous girlfriends that had often led to closer intimacy.

    “What..what..?” he exclaimed “… crusty things on your foot, ugh, like barnacles, soooo gross.”

    She pulled her foot back. “No need to whine,” she admonished. “I used to live on a shipwreck.” She got up and crunched across the wooden floor. Reg, meanwhile, looked at his palms, slightly grazed by Marta’s retreating foot. He left the check on the table and got up.

    “You are going to pay for those drinks,” the bar owner, Jenny Talia, stated testily, after emerging from the shadows. She warmed to her subject. “Look, I don’t know you. I don’t care if you come to The Throbbing Buttock again. This gin joint don’t need your whiney ass to survive. Pay for the drinks plus a tasty tip, then I won’t round up the usual suspects to tap dance on your head in the car park.”

    Reg gulped. This was turning into a swell night. Looking over at Marta, he saw she was sitting on the piano stool, her hand on the piano player’s leg, some way north of his knee. The music became erratic. Reg fished the money out of his pocket, and Jenny grabbed it.

    “Now get out and keep moving.”

    Reg didn’t hear her; he was already out the back door. He stumbled down some broken, wooden steps into an area littered with old agricultural machinery, like some old farm. A silent rooster patrolled his patch. Reg walked on past a young goat.

    “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

  4. We’ll Always Have Paris
    by Jane Lomas – @completelyjane
    294 words
    Petty Crook/Market/Romance

    ‘Have you seen the daffodils on the riverbank?’

    Clara hadn’t. She’d been too busy missing Danny. A year ago they’d held hands walking along the Seine and padlocking their love to the Pont des Arts. He’d received a fine for that proclamation but he said he didn’t mind paying the price for love.

    ‘Paris is the only place to be in the springtime,’ he’d said. She hadn’t realised he had little money and she put his strange gestures down to impetuousness. He casually picked a bunch of daffodils from a market stall when the owner wasn’t looking, and laughed at her dismay. They’d swiftly left a pavement café, but Danny swore he paid the bill – he was just in a hurry to get her back to their hotel. Clara found him charming: even when he produced the entire contents of the minibar on the ferry home.

    ‘He’s a petty thief and you need to keep away from him,’ her mother said. And Clara did wonder when he stole daffodil bulbs from their local market and was finally locked up for a while.

    ‘Why did you do it?’ Clara asked him when she went to visit along with the other wives and girlfriends (she felt like a criminal herself). ‘Why didn’t you just buy them?’ His silence confirmed her mother’s assessment.

    Clara walked home along the riverbank. She wanted to see these daffodils. As she rounded the bend, she saw the bright yellow shoots dancing in the breeze. As she grew closer she noticed they were strung out in a haphazard pattern. And when she stood directly opposite, she understood. The flowers were planted to form a sentence: ‘We’ll always have Paris.’

    Clara’s heart swelled. Here was proof, Danny was impetuous. And she loved him.

  5. 297 words
    Petty Crook; Market; Romance

    The Red Rose

    The grey clouds stumbled across the sky, blocking out the cheerful glow of the sun. Mike sat at his table, watching the people pass him. Everyone stopped to sample his chocolate, but few bothered to buy. At three, he would see a flash of red and long, flowing black hair pass his table. On his table there would be a red rose. Where did it come from?

    As Charlie grabbed the rose out of the bucket, Franklin caught a glimpse of the hand and a red coat.
    “How will you be paying?” he asked but the hand and the coat disappeared. Dammit. He jumped out of his chair. He pushed the people out the way and chased the red coat. As he moved around the corner, he lost the thief but saw the rose on Mike’s table.

    “YOU! You thief. Get the security,” screamed Franklin as he pointed at Mike.
    “Me? What happened now?”
    “You stole my rose.”
    “I stole your rose?”
    “Yes, I saw you grab it and run. Now give it back.”
    “No. It was given to me.”
    “Excuse me? Who gave it to you? They are the thief.”
    “I don’t know. They are ethereal, but they come every day and leave a red rose on my table.”
    “Well, I don’t care. Pay up!”
    Mike raised an eyebrow.
    “Yes, you son. I need to make my money back.”
    “Well, I didn’t steal your roses. So I shouldn’t pay,” said Mike as he shoved the rose into Franklin’s chest.
    Franklin lifted up his hands. “Now, look what you done. I can’t resell damaged goods. Pay up!”
    As Franklin put his hand out, a note dropped into it. “Where did that come from?”
    “I don’t know, but the rose is here every day since my wife died.”

  6. Twitter: @lizzynim
    294 words
    Piano Player; Airport; Sci-Fi
    Line: #28 “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.”

    Only Time Passing

    Phoenix Sky Harbor International was abuzz with the excited chatter of people making their way home for the Holidays as I settled in to my second set of the day. The keys of the grand piano danced lightly away from my fingers as I played, my eyes half closed as I let the music wash over me. When I opened them, a woman was sitting a few feet away, watching me with a smile. I smiled back, and she stood up and approached me. As she did so, she glanced over her shoulder, and I followed her gaze. At the far end of the long departure lounge corridor, a man was running our way, his long coat flailing behind him.

    She looked back at me. “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.”

    I wanted to ask how she knew my name, but my fingers had ideas of their own and were flying across the keys before I could even blink. The woman smiled and looked back towards the man. He came rapidly closer, and then charged past us, heading for one of the gates.

    “Wait!” the woman called after him, and he turned his head, saw her and stopped.

    And everything stopped. The chatter of people, the announcements over the tannoy, the frustrated cries of children, even my fingers. Everyone stood or sat frozen. Everyone that is, except the man and the woman.

    “Don’t you remember me, Time?” the woman said.

    The man frowned. “How can you… be here?”

    The woman laughed. “Time runs forever, but space… Space is everywhere.”

    She took his hand, and the chatter resumed, my fingers started to play again, and everyone was acting like nothing had happened. But whoever the man and woman had been, they had vanished.

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  7. 286 words
    Petty Crook; Market; Crime
    Special challenge: All the quotes

    Bumming Gin

    “Round up the usual suspects!” the sergeant barked. One by one they fell into line. Louis stood, looking down, kicking the dirt. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” The sergeant stared into piercing blue eyes waiting for fear to fill the child’s eyes, but none came. Charlie stood up tall, imitating an army man about to salute. A silly grin swept over his face. The others stood quietly, unremarkable. The vendor looked carefully and shrugged. The sergeant sighed. “Let them go. We’ll never find the culprit among this lot.” He turned to the market vendor and they walked off together. Charlie grinned at the boy and slapped him on the back. “Well done! Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

    The alley was dark. Small fires in bins glowed yellow like cat’s eyes. Charlie led Louis down to the end and sat down on a crate. He motioned at Louis to do the same. A brisk card game began. Charlie yelled to Sam who was taking out his harmonica, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” A soft melody rose, wrapping the air in comfort. The stolen bottle of gin was passed around as the bums began to sing.

    She watched them from a doorway, a smile playing on her lips. Charlie looked up, straight into her eyes. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” he cackled. She walked up and flopped down next to him.

    “What’s new, Blondie?”

    “I have a job for you, if you want it.”

    “Ah, not this time, honey. I have me a protégé to look after.”

    She shrugged. “No matter,” she smirked. “We’ll always have Paris.”

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  8. @nancymbeach
    Petty Crook; Market; Romance
    297 words

    It’s Not You, Darling–It’s Me

    “Pretty lady, a flower?”

    I sealed my velum against my nasal passage to block the fish stench of Monastiraki Square. Then I saw him. His green eyes drove deep into my soul as he pulled me into himself.

    “Jacqueline, my delight. How I’ve missed you.”

    “And you, my love.” I leaned into his kiss.

    “Pretty lady, you like a flower?”

    Jose batted away the vendor like a fly.

    “Everything is handled. We leave on the 3:15 train.”

    “I’m packed and ready, darling.”

    “Doll, you have made the right decision. We are so good together.”

    “Of course we are, my dear. You’re delightful.”

    “Pretty lady, flower?”

    “Back off.” Jose flashed a steeled look. “Don’t make me lose character.”

    Not a muscle of the vendor moved, except his eyes. He raised them quickly to mine and then looked away. A move not missed by Jose. He raised his fist—

    “Stop, wait,” I said.


    In that awkward moment, I wished I was like mama. Bold. But I was a coward. I couldn’t get the words past the hammer in my chest. The earthquake of my own doing was splitting my world in two.

    “Jose.” I looked into his eyes at the green sea of confusion. ‘Coward, coward’, rang over and over in my head. I willed myself to bare my soul.

    Instead, I reached out and picked up the rose from the vendor.

    I couldn’t meet his eyes. “You love me more than I love you.”

    “No. We are good, baby doll. You’re just tired. Come on, let’s catch the train.”

    The vendor touched my shoulder. “We should go.”

    “Jacqueline. What’s going on?”

    I allowed myself a glance into his eyes, “I”m sorry, Jose. I never loved you.”

    I turned and walked away, Edwin by my side.

  9. Red Hat

    295 words

    Elements: piano player, Paris (Texas), your choice – drama


    Through the bar window, Jake could see the bright red cowboy hat perched atop of the Eiffel Tower. His hands rested idly on the piano keys. There were no customers and he felt reluctant to play in the gloomy atmosphere. Empty glasses remained on tables still unwiped, the air was stale and the grey skies cast their dull reflection into the room. His world had become monochrome. It needed a bit more colour. He closed the piano lid and stepped outside, walking swiftly to the replica of that iconic emblem of France. The streets were deserted. It occurred to him then the absence of life was strange. Where had everybody gone? He had awoken late that morning, made his way down to the bar, used his blinkered and hungover vision to get him to his piano stool; had paid no attention to anything around him, much as now as he made his way towards the giant red hat demanding his attention. He clambered up the iron structure. An intermittent sound stuttered in the distance. It had disturbed his sleep the night before but he had ignored it, burrowed himself beneath his sheets. The sky slumped into an even greyer mood, became thick, a heavy blanket wrapping itself around him. He coughed. Kept his eyes focussed on the hat. Only when he was beneath its brim did he look back at the town. Beyond the grey he saw orange, bright shimmering sheets dancing along highways and byways, tongues of flame, hungry. Beyond the grey was colour. The world was burning. The siren stuttered again. He had missed his chance. He glanced up at the hat. A cowboy. He had always wanted to be a cowboy. A pity this was as close as he would ever get.

  10. Ayanna Palmer
    155 words
    Resistance Leader; Choose–Tattoo Parlor; Romance


    One on her inner left forearm.
    One on the sole of each foot.
    Two on her back.
    Those are the only spots on Lili’s body not yet drenched in multi-colored ink.
    “You are running out of space, you know.”
    She allows her slightly chapped lips to twitch up into an expression that now felt foreign on her battle-hardened features.
    “Yes. Are you proud of me?”
    It had taken six months, but all of the pain she’d endured had been worth it. She is closer than ever to becoming a flawless work of art. Maybe then…
    “It is good to see you again, красота. With all of this fighting, I worry about you.”
    Lili’s mouth returns to its default frown. She did not want to upset her master.
    The familiar hands make their way down her naked back, and her bloodshot eyes slide shut in an intense feeling of ecstasy.
    “What would you like today?”

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  11. Sian Brighal
    299 words
    Petty crook / Market / Romance

    A Helping Hand

    The yell went up sooner than he’d expected. The old lady was a bit sharper than she looked or the vendor was better at getting money out of saps than he’d given credit for. Either way, the cry went up before he got past the market stalls. As such, the intrepid boys in blue swarmed in, and he found himself netted like a sardine. And some old biddy’s umbrella was poking somewhere quite unpleasantly.

    He was right on the edge; his escape route down the alley teased him with its complete lack of obstruction, but such was life for a light-fingered shopper like himself. While trying to look appropriately indignant, he was carefully pulling wallets and such stuff from his pocket and stuffing them into wonderfully empty pockets nearby. Hopefully, by the time ´round up all the usual suspects´ echoed around, he’d be as clean as a whistle.

    But then, between the headscarfed and hatted heads, he saw a familiar face: too thin and pale but beautiful in the grey London light. That gorgeous head turned, and her blue eyes latched desperately onto his own; he recognised the symptoms: she had some hot stuff and didn’t know what to do.

    He wiggled through the crowd until he almost nudged her shoulder. One by one, the trapped shoppers were let out, and soon, the hungry woman staggered forward, her face so pale it made his heart ache.

    He watched as the officer told her to empty her pockets, which she did: hunger makes a prison spell a dream come true. But then she stiffened, pulling out the only contents of her pockets: a foil-wrapped hot potato. She was waved away, and as she floated away, she looked back, caught his eye again, and honestly, he lifted her heart.

    1. ‘But then, between the headscarfed and hatted heads, he saw a familiar face: too thin and pale but beautiful in the grey London light. ‘ Beautiful line, Sian. Love this whole ethereal piece.

  12. 228 words
    Bar Owner; Gin Joint; Romance

    Oodles of Boodles

    You would think that there were several types of gin to choose from, but not so at Oodles of Boodles. That’s right; all we serve here is Boodles Gin and, thanks to that fateful night when she walked into my life, that will never change.

    I owned the once-famous Blues and Booze, but that all changed when one of our replidroid singers was destroyed. I was cleaning up the aftermath of what used to be Manny Graves when she walked into my bar. She was out of place and I couldn’t help staring; eyes green as emeralds and red hair framing an oval face that was unblemished.

    I asked her what she wanted.

    “Boodles, please,” was her response.

    I fell in love with her instantly, and in that moment lived a lifetime with her.

    She seemed to understand what was happening, raised her glass and said: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Then she downed her drink, paid and left.

    I never found out her name, but her beauty is seared into my memory forever. Now I run this place and watch for her to return as I know she must. I long for the day I can look into her eyes as she walks through my door and say, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

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  13. Twitter: @GeoffHolme
    197 words
    Piano Player; Bar; Your Choice – Comedy

    As Time Goes By

    Rex Barr, manager of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne franchise of a men’s clothing chain, sat at the bar of The Casablanca–the dive next to his store–and mumbled into his fifth pint.

    “Of all the Jean Joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into–”

    “Mine‘s a ‘arf o’ shandy, please, pet,” said Louise, the resident keyboard player, as she walked up to him. “Thanks for askin’. I wish you’d stop bangin’ on aboot that woman. What was ‘er name again?’

    “Isla… Isla van Utha.”

    “She sounds a reet dipso. You’re betta off withoot ‘er, pet.”

    “Probably, but I still miss her.”

    “Ah knaa, pet– ‘Ere, where’s that canny Maths student who works for yez at weekends? Got ‘is nose in a book again?”

    “Yeah. He’s looking at Euclid.

    “Ah divn’t knaa what that is!”

    “Me neither,” chuckled Rex, before his face crumpled, and he began to weep.

    “Aw! Divn’t carry on like that. Ye can allus taak to me. Ah’m a good listener, like.”

    “Can I come back to yours, Louise? I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

    “Why aye, man! Ah thought you’d nivver ask. See yor drink off, pet. You’ve pulled!”

    1. HaHa! Love it, Geoff. Particularly this line and I have no idea why!
      ‘‘Ere, where’s that canny Maths student who works for yez at weekends?’

      1. There’s no accounting for taste! 😉 That was just the set-up for the ‘He’s looking at Euclid’ punchline : a particularly groan-worthy pun IMHO…
        [ If you, or anyone else, was scanning this post around midnight Friday (EST), you may have seen that I loaded a draught version of this story slightly after the contest deadline. This was because my evil laptop was on go-slow again, and I was still trying to shoehorn puns of all the film quotes into the story. In the end I had to abandon that goal. C’est la vie. 🙁 ]

      1. Thanks, Liz. I think I made a rod for my own back with the Geordie accent; it’s not one I’m totally familiar with, so it added to the struggle to complete the story, as detailed in my reply to Alva.

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