Microcosms 160

It’s Friday: flash fiction aficionados’ favourite day of the week … or at least in their top seven! Welcome to Microcosms 160.



(1) You have just 24 hours until midnight, today (Friday) New York time (EST) to write and submit your masterpiece.
(2) All submissions must be no more than 300 words in length (excluding the title)
(4) Include: word count, the THREE elements you’re using AND a title for your entry
(5) Do NOT give details of your entry on social media, your blog, etc. until the Results post is live
(6) If you are new to Microcosms, PLEASE check out the full submission guidelines 

Following the death of Diana Athill on 23-JAN-2019, at the venerable age of 101, I tuned into a re-broadcast of “Growing Old Disgracfully” — a 2010 BBC documentary about her life and work.
In 1952, she was a founding director of the publishing company André Deutsch, where she acted as editor, working closely with many esteemed authors.


  • Philip Roth — “Goodbye, Columbus” (1959)
  • V. S. Naipaul — “A House for Mister Biswas” (1961)
  • Margaret Atwood — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1969)
  • Gitta Sereny — “Into That Darkness” (1974)
  • Molly Keane — “Good Behaviour” (1981)
  • Humphrey Jennings — “Pandaemonium” (1985)


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

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


We spun, and our three elements are:

Governess; West Indies; Romance

Write a story using those OR feel free to click on the “Spin!” button below, 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.


  • Librarian
  • Signwriter
  • Concubine
  • Nazi Commandant
  • Governess
  • Innovator
  • New Jersey
  • West Indies
  • Totalitarian State
  • Concentration Camp
  • Irish Ancestral Home
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Drama
  • Romance
  • Sci-Fi
  • Crime
  • Mystery
  • Historical Fiction



Last week’s Judge’s Pick, Stephen Shirres, has kindly agreed to act as the judge this time around.

All being well, results will be posted next Monday.

Microcosms 161
Microcosms 159

16 thoughts on “Microcosms 160

  1. http://www.engleson.ca
    300 words
    Librarian; Totalitarian State: Mystery

    The Dangers Inherent in the Careless Use of the Infinite Library Card

    I expected them, of course. Reference Number One had advised me early in my career that they would come one day. No notice. No tele-call. They would simply appear and make their request. At that point, I would have two choices. Compliance or extinction.

    I was mortified when he told me. I questioned. “Compliance or extinction? That’s barbaric.”

    “Yes, it is,” he’d answered.

    “Why would you tolerate it?”

    I had to know.

    He was a pale man, beset by a suffocating shade of skin, a phlegm-like aura. Alabaster skin, maybe. Splotchy!

    He was never in the light. I never saw him in the glow of anything resembling the brightness, the warmth of the sun.

    His life was indoors. At best, the windows of the Library were smeared with dark tinted glass. The air was faintly scented to conceal the musty reek, the cloying corridors, the wearying weight of the world’s writings.

    Literature! So many imagined worlds. So many words without purpose. That was his consuming reality. Literature!

    And a cot in the cellar, a pedestal sink, a tin shower stall, and a life ever on duty, ever Reference Number One.

    “Service,” he’d replied, “I have a tolerance for service.”

    To the end of his days, service was the answer. It sat on his tongue like a festered fly. It snapped at you if you dared to question your place.

    When he was extinct, they took his mawkish remains to the Furnace. That is where the volumes no longer required are flamed. A fierce furnace indeed.

    So, I expected them. They would want a list of readers. Of one denounced book. Or two. Or three.

    And this day, they arrived.

    Two of them.

    Nothing special.

    Not intimidating.

    “Are you…?” one asked, and I answered sharply, “Yes, I am Reference Number One.”

  2. 169 words
    Librarian; Concentration Camp; Drama

    CODEWORD: Bookworm

    “Codeword: Bookworm” I hushed over the intercom. Click the gate opened and I moved into the camp with my trolley full of dreams and fantastical places. Some of them were blank.
    “Hi, Mrs Buch welcome back.”
    “Good day Mr Weber”
    “You will have to be quick. Mr Fuchs will be back soon and he doesn’t tolerate literature”
    “Fine”. Mrs Buch lifted the tarp and filled the shelves with her books. She worked nimbly if Mr Fuchs found her, she would become inmate 99.
    “Mrs Buch!” hissed Mr Weber “Be quick. The fox is on the move”.
    Mrs Buch was about to put the last book on the shelf when an ice cold iron grip closed around her throat. “Hello, Mrs Buch now you can be our permanent librarian”.
    Mrs Buch grimaced. This was not supposed to happen what happened to Mr Weber. As they marched to the women’s ward, Mrs Buch saw Mr Weber on the floor and the blood ran in rivulets around the slice on his neck.

  3. 172 words
    Concubine; Totalitarian State; Romance

    A Concubine…

    A concubine is more than just a person for your pleasure.
    You poke, you prod and hurt at your leisure.
    I have a son at home that I need to care for.
    And yet you leave me with bruises, blood and gore.

    He knows not, of what this world holds.
    His heart is open until it all unfolds.
    He doesn’t yet know the pain of tomorrow.
    He hasn’t yet felt that kind of sorrow.

    You can never think of how it was before.
    When we were free to run and explore.
    This totalitarian state of disgrace,
    of always trying to win the race,
    has left us with a bad sense of morals.
    A world full of hate and a world full of quarrels.

    So free your mind and open your heart.
    We are all people, just world’s apart.
    You work in the city and I work from home,
    so don’t tell me where I can roam.

    Say goodnight to your children and wife.
    I will see you tomorrow for our fantasy life.

  4. @geofflepard
    300 words
    Governess; West Indies; Drama

    Paving The Pay With Good Intentions

    Roger Penstick didn’t begrudge helping his old governess. She had been his confidante through an adolescence trapped on that benighted rock, beloved of sun-seekers but his prison. Escaping the pleasures of the Caribbean hadn’t been a challenge, indeed life had seemed easy until that call. Miss Preston had had a stroke. Could he come?
    Duty is a strange master, its urgings compelling where logic stayed a hand. He found, unexpectedly, he cared. Through countless visits and small improvements, he understood her final desire. One final visit.
    The planning suited his fastidious need to master detail, something she had instilled. He smiled at the thought of her wasp-sharp corrections and their rich legacy.
    The journey was hell but once they left the pressurized cabin and smelt the heat, Roger felt her shoulders straighten, the head tilt less accentuated.
    They had two days to acclimatize and then a choreographed itinerary; but Roger worried. He didn’t know the life she’d led back then; would his ideas encapsulate what only she knew, in her now imprisoned mind. Would anything bring joy?
    Unexpectedly, he found it on day one; a simple walk – Miss Preston in her wheelchair – through the Kingston Botanic Gardens. One minute she was set, twisted by fate, the next the tears flowed, something deep stirring. Had she found love here, that was never requited?
    Roger returned every day, and every day at the same spot she cried. He wondered if he was being cruel, but afterwards she sighed, like she had released something long held.
    If only she could tell me, he pondered. What was it that triggered such emotion?
    Miss Preston regarded the Garden entrance with despair. Not again. If she could talk, she’d give him a piece of her mind. Did he not remember her bloody hay fever?

  5. @ellengwriter
    300 words
    Innovator; Totalitarian state; Mystery


    Camilla came home to an empty apartment. It was a profound kind of emptiness, the kind where her shoes clapped on the floor and the sound echoed around the room with nothing in its way. The same thing happened when her keys slipped through her fingers.

    Her living room had been stripped bare. No sofa, no armchair, no cabinet, no rug. The only thing left was the cobweb hanging from the ceiling: the one she’d meant to get rid of weeks ago but kept putting off. There was work to do. The rest of the apartment was the same: the bathroom, her bedroom, the kitchen. They’d even taken the kitchen sink.

    Her laptop was gone. Her work was gone.

    They’d left a note. Slipped under the front door, folded in half. The message had been typed on a typewriter:

    ‘Your life has been requisitioned for not being lived in the right way. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.’

    Camilla wasn’t particularly surprised. She pocketed the note. Made for the window. (She didn’t have to pull the net curtain aside because it wasn’t there anymore.) Looked out at the street, at the CCTV camera pointed right into her living room. At the people walking along, all wearing the same clothes on their backs. (All that Camilla had now.)

    But there was someone on the other side of the road: not going anywhere, not doing anything. Just… standing. Still.


    Camilla stared back: not going anywhere, not doing anything. Just… standing. Still.


    Slowly, the person on the other side of the road raised their arm, pointed their finger, in Camilla’s direction. Their jacket shifted, so Camilla saw the corner of a notebook sticking out of their pocket. Her notebook.

    Camilla backed away from the window. Left her keys on the floor.

  6. 280 words
    Innovator; New Jersey; Crime


    It was his city and he had watched it become soiled for too long. It was time. He had worked on the concept long enough. Now he must act, to cleanse the city of its dirt ridden, scrounging parasites. He donned the attire of those he had grown to detest, taking on the appearance of one unfamiliar with the luxuries of home, but unwashed, unshaven and fetid.
    He moved ghost like through the city, like a low lying fog, breathing icy death into the unwanted inhabitants of the place. The first time was the hardest, his victim the guinea pig upon which to test his theory and formulate his plan, but he was confident, his task made easier by the gullibility and vulnerability of his victims. He befriended them at the night shelters and followed them onto the streets and the beaches, the tools of his new trade secreted within his person. A simple canister of carbon dioxide and a small oxygen mask with tubing attached was all that he required.
    He watched silently until sleep, induced by the alcohol, had rendered them helpless. Then, he struck, covering their face with the mask and releasing the untraceable gas into their lungs, stopping the heart and bringing death quickly. Another night and another successful clean- up operation. All that was required was the removal of the bodies and the authorities obliged after the anonymous call to report just another homeless tragedy on the streets of his beloved city.
    No-one looked too closely and after several months he was slick, carrying out the necessary act with the hands of the gifted. The city was being cleansed and it was pure genius.

  7. 299 words
    Governess; West Indies; Romance

    Sugar Blossoms

    Amelie dabbed her face with her kerchief. The weather was hot and humid, typical of Island life, but not typical for Amelie. She was a French girl, looking for adventure, and being a governess on a sugar plantation seemed to be an ideal life. She had pleaded with her father to allow her to come and experience this, and in exchange, once her year was up, she would return home to be married to whichever suitor her father picked. It seemed like a small price to pay.

    The train pulled into a small dusty station. Amelie disembarked and looked around her in fascination. Rusted window panes and a forlorn bench completed the picture. She heard her name being called and she turned to find a large African man standing before her. Her eyes widened in shock. She had been taught by her own governess that Africans were savages and extremely dangerous. She took a step back.

    He gazed at her tiny frame and smiled. People normally had the same reaction to him. Shock. Then fear. He spoke to her in French as the master had taught him and the fear in her face was replaced by admiration. She walked with him willingly to the cart waiting for them.

    Amelie settled in nicely. The plantation was successfully run and the owner, Monsieur Lafayette was a fair and generous man. Even though he employed “slaves” in keeping with the law, he treated them as equals, which was unheard of.

    Amelie taught, not only the children, but all those willing to learn. Manasseh was also a student. They became firm friends and soon their love blossomed. Monsieur Lafayette agreed to marry them in secret and sent a letter of to her father announcing her tragic death. It would be better that way.

  8. @hollygeely
    299 words
    Concubine; Industrial Revolution; Drama


    “I’m joining the revolution,” said Francois.

    “Ah, I was wondering why you poisoned my wine,” said King Jean-Phillipe XXII. He was completely paralyzed in an unfortunate position in his bed.

    “I am here to kidnap you and bring you to the Robot Collective,” said Francois.

    “Guards!” yelled Jean.

    “Your guards are dead. Save your breath for the Robot Collective. You’ll need it to beg for mercy.”

    Jean didn’t like to humor those who were threatening his life, but he had to ask; “What is the Robot Collective?”

    “They are the representatives of the commoners you have neglected for far too long. While you were hiking taxes and forcing us into workhouses, the machines were growing more powerful. They have promised an end to grueling hours on the assembly lines, and an end to the unequal rights of the nobility. We common folk will live free!”

    “Do you mean the machines can think and talk?” said Jean. He couldn’t believe it. Machines were trinkets; toys for common folk who couldn’t afford anything better.
    “The common folk have outsmarted you, King Jean-Phillipe XXII. No more will you treat us like animals!”

    “Now Francois, I distinctly remember you begging on your knees to become a member of the harem, though you were not of noble birth. I made a special exception for you. You are my lead concubine.”

    “Before the harem, I was starving! What choice did I have? I had to support my family! My mother and father were dying,” Francois said.

    “Ah,” said Jean. Starvation was indeed a problem among the common folk. He had been meaning to do something about that, but he hadn’t found the time.

    “Vive la revolución!” Francois howled, and he dragged his king away.

    Two days later, Jean-Phillipe XXII was executed by electric guillotine.


  9. 291 words
    Governess; West Indies; Romance

    Pay Back

    History shows that when the white man lands on a country or region, his primary necessity is to ‘civilise’ it, which means all the beautiful traditions have to go; millennia of glorious beliefs are stamped out and the indigenous inhabitants have to think like the White man… Lower class white man of course, the ones who serve and do the work.

    Here’s a tail that warms my heart.

    Mr Mills was big in government, in fact he convinced himself he was big in everything. No surprise to him that he was made British ambassador to Jamaica.

    He bought the best house on the best beach, and staffed it with the best servants and workers. His final choice was the governess for his two small children, Julian (five) and Millicent (three).

    His choice was seemingly perfect. Jessica was fifty-ish; British etiquette and standards were her way of life, even though she was Jamaican born and bred.

    She won the hearts and complete trust of the Mill’s family; so much so that, when a year’s furlough was due to Mr and Mrs Mills, they left the two children, now twelve and fifteen, in the capable hands of Jessica.

    Her chance had come…

    Oh man, did she have some fun! Teaching Julian and Millicent the wonders of ganja, reggae, and patwah! The kids took to it so quickly they were soon jammin’ in the bars. ‘Guitar Milly’ and ‘Bongo Jules’ they were known and accepted as… and they loved it.

    Picture the scene as the Mills’s got off the plane, being greeted by two brown kids — all colour and dreadlocks.

    “Hey, man, great ta see ya. How ya doin’?”

    Jessica walked off down the road laughing fit to bust. Job done!

  10. @alysia_ascovani
    300 Words
    Librarian; New Jersey; Drama

    Let Me Go

    The wind whistled as it buffeted her body. She clung to the rail, dizzy, as she watched the waves crash onto the rocks far below. Across the open water, the sky burned with blood, a dusting of clouds smattered about the horizon. Slicing through the crimson, a single crow captured her eyes.

    Behind her, the light began to spin in circles, adding a ghostly cast to the evening’s gloaming. In shaking hands, she stroked the book for which she gave up her dream job. The binding was worn almost through, yet the pages were still somehow in near pristine condition. She could never go back now, not since she’d made the stupid decision to become a thief.

    Slamming her fist onto the metal railing, she felt tears come to her eyes as she cradled her hand. In her other hand, the book thrummed to the beat of her heart. Unbidden, she felt herself move as if to take a step closer to the open sky.

    Dimly, she knew she did not want to move at all, but yet, she could not stop her body from twitching in its eagerness to respond to the urge. Frantic, her eyes searched the sky for answers even as it taunted her. From the corner of her eyesight, the looping font on the cover of the book, dona mihi animam, drew her in further. Not quite a title, she thought, it was too beautiful, too awe-inspiring for that.

    The thrum turned to a roar that buried her senses beneath its lull. At times, she thought she could hear voices calling to her, but there was no one anywhere nearby. Standing on the railing now, she joined the crow, her flight far more graceful.

    Water droplets sprayed upwards.

    The book lay still, but for its heartbeat.

  11. 270 words
    Innovator; Industrial Revolution; Drama

    That Tender Touch

    What, I ask you, was the most important innovation of the industrial revolution? Was it steam, was it the railways, or was it the factories and mass production? I would argue that it was none of these, rather it was something less talked about and closer to home. Something highly personal that makes everyone’s lives a little better. I give you the humble toilet paper.

    It’s a subject that is not much discussed but one that most of us would feel devastated without. Let’s face it, who would want to live in a world BTP – before toilet paper? Imagine the alternatives. At one time or another we’ve used items such as: rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stones, sand, moss, water, snow, ferns, plant husks, fruit skins, seashells, and even corncobs. That’s not to mention the Romans and their communal latrines complete with a sponge on a stick.

    To me nothing can be more important, or more dramatic, than the introduction of the toilet roll and its humble forerunner, toilet paper. Although the Chinese had been using paper for this purpose for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the mid-eighteen hundreds that western society caught up and produced a commercial solution to the problem. Dubbed, “The greatest necessity of the age!” Joseph Gayetty’s “Medicated Paper” first became available in the United States during 1857. Prior to this most people made do with newsprint and inky fingers. Toilet rolls followed on in 1882.

    It wasn’t all comfort and joy though. Just ponder the fact that toilet paper was advertised as being splinter free right up until the nineteen thirties. Ouch!

  12. @beadanna7
    300 words
    Governess; West Indies; Romance

    Forbidden Fruit

    Grace lowered her eyes, demurely. She had just caught Demetri looking at her, his face unguarded. The naked passion revealed in the split second before he noticed her watching, had her tingling all over. Suppressing her delight, she glanced up at her mistress, and the scowl on her face made Grace’s heart pound, and sweat beaded up on her forehead as she waited to find out if they had been caught.
    “Grace, take the children to the stable for their lessons. I want to take a nap.” Her mistress ordered. Grace nodded and taking a child in each hand, led them through the beach grass, toward the stables, dizzy with relief.
    Demetri straightened his face quickly, knowing the crime he committed by staring at Grace. She was forbidden fruit. It took real effort now that he knew she was looking back, and his mouth kept curving up as he walked behind her and the children.
    Grace stood at the fence while the children rode their ponies, but it was Demetri she was watching. The play of his muscles under his skin, as he put the island ponies through their paces, had her feeling things she’d never felt before.
    With the children abed, Grace waited for the house to grow quiet. When the last light finally snuffed out, she crept out of the nursery and headed for the stables, almost swimming through the moist summer night. Port Antonio glowed in the distance, guiding her way.
    Smelling tobacco burning, she tried to stop, but momentum carried her forward and she thumped bodily into the Master’s back. He turned, regarding her silently, as she stood before him, mortified to be caught outside after dark.
    “Go on, girl, he’s waiting.” He whispered, smiling, and she ran to meet her beau, their tryst now sanctioned.

  13. Geoff, I’m sorry. My sophomore attempt at HTML bold made my title disappear. Could you add it in for me please? It is: Forbidden Fruit.

  14. 300 words
    Governess; West Indies; Romance


    “Maurice! Come in the ocean with us!” Jennifer screamed. She threw her stuff down and started running toward the water.
    “Yeah, Maury! Come on!” echoed Sarah, following her sister.
    I sighed and checked my watch. It was only eight, and the girls already had way more energy than I did. When I was going to school, I never thought that I would end up on a paid work trip to Jamaica. Quickly after graduation, I applied for a job as a governess of sorts. I was responsible for homeschooling the girls and arranging extracurricular activities. It was incredibly generous for the family to include me on this trip, and the girls had already learned so much about the culture.
    “You go in! I’ll watch the stuff,” I yelled back. I settled down on a beach towel and watched as the girls ran along the shoreline. This was by far the most relaxing week I’d ever had at work.
    “Mind if we sit here?” I looked up to see a tall man, smiling and holding a small girl’s hands. “My daughter said this is prime sand-castle building land.”
    “She’s right,” I said, patting the ground next to me. The two sat down, scattering buckets and plastic building tools out. “You’re serious builders!”
    “We enjoy doing this on vacation, wherever we go,” the man said. “I’m Ken.”
    “Nice to meet you. Are those your daughters?” he asked, nodding towards the girls.
    “No, I’m more like the glorified babysitter,” I laughed. “I’m their governess. The family brought me all the way out of Portland, so it’s a pretty nice change of pace.”
    “Hey, we’re from Portland, too,” he said, starting to gather sand in one of the buckets. “I’d love to see you when we get back.”
    I smiled. “I’d love to.”

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