Microcosms 138

Hello, Friday flash fictioneers, and welcome to Microcosms 138.

Thanks to William and Robert Chambers for providing the theme of this week’s contest. They first published Chambers’s English Dictionary in 1872. Now rebranded as The Chambers Dictionary, it is widely used by British crossword setters and solvers, and is famous for its occasional humorous definitions, such as that for éclair (“a cake, long in shape but short in duration”).

All the Character and Location elements this week have been taken from the headings of page columns in my well-thumbed 1998 edition.



(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 – character: Fiddler, Location: Ballroom, 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 AND a title for your entry – not included in the word count.


  • Agony Aunt
  • Banjoist
  • Captive
  • Doctor
  • Eccentric
  • Fiddler
  • Ambulance
  • Ballroom
  • Camp
  • Deathbed
  • Election Count
  • Freight Car
  • Drama
  • Romance
  • Crime
  • Horror
  • Alternate History
  • Fairy Tale



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


REMEMBER: all submissions should be a maximum of 300 words in length (excluding the title).

You have just 24 hours until midnight, today (Friday) New York time (EST) to write and submit your masterpiece.

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

All being well, results will be posted next Monday.

Microcosms 139
Microcosms 137

15 thoughts on “Microcosms 138

  1. 208 words
    Fiddler; Ballroom; Romance


    His humiliation was now complete, after just twenty minutes.
    The Atheneum ballroom had been hosting mixers since the late 18th century, but never had it hosted such a complete failure of comprehension as this evening.
    The invitation had seemed quite explicit and unequivocal: “Come one, come all! This year’s Unattached Ball’s theme is Robin Hood! Bring a bow and be merry!”
    As he trudged disconsolately from the room, he regarded his catgut bow and fiddle with something akin to loathing. All thoughts of romance having fled with the last shreds of his self-respect.
    Around him the kaleidoscope of coloured hair-ties and forest-green archers with quivers on their backs seemed to be smirking at him as he left, accompanied by the fit-inducing strobe lights reflecting haphazardly from the rotating silver mirror ball on the ceiling.
    Who’d have thought there’d be so many different meanings for a word as small as ‘bow’?
    It crossed his mind as he reached the exit that there was just one way to salvage some dignity from this.
    With a flourish of his cap, he bent ostentatiously from the waist and swept his cap across in front of his legs.
    ‘When I leave the stage, I always take a bow’, he thought, and smiled.

  2. http://www.engleson.ca
    300 words
    Agony Aunt; Deathbed; Romance

    Under the B: Back Alley Bingo Love

    Come closer, lovey. I won’t bite. Look, here are my teeth…They’re detachable. I’ll put them in this glass, There! I’m disarmed. Your pretty skin is safe from these old choppers.

    I’ve had a string of excellent nurses. They’ve all been exceptionally kind to this disreputable old body. The new ones like you…they’re usually quiet…maybe a shade too quiet. I know that’s your training. I feel badly that I will be taking so much of your time. I seem to be lasting longer than Doc Willis reckoned I would. Who would’ve thought I had such staying power?

    Oh! The column. Yeah. They told you about that, eh! That lasted for quite a spell. Fed me well, it did. Shirley Singleton’s Advice to Bent but not Broken Hearts.

    Back in the old days — my old days, not yours — every birdcage liner in every city had an ‘advice to the lovelorn’ column. I was fresh off the college boat. No idea what I wanted. Stu Wickers, City Editor for the Lincoln Times, hired me, let me cover the school board for a few months; duller than covering rocks was that… Then one night, we put the paper to bed, he pulls out some Schnapps — a new drink to me…awful stuff — and he says, “Ask Ann Landers.” I say, “Dear Abby.” And he says, “Bingo.”

    It was then I learned that everyone, even an old newshound like Stu, had an agenda. The Times needed a love column. And I was it. Simple enough, I was as cheap as they came back then. Any dreams I had of becoming Hemingway, covering wars, famines, floods…they all went out the window.

    Strange how I took to it.

    Thirty-five years before they finally let me go.

    What fine years they were!

    All those sad lovers of mine. I miss them so.

  3. @steveweave71
    300 words
    Fiddler; Ballroom; Drama

    The Burning Light Of The Midnight Lamp

    Axton Hall was truly a beautiful estate and had been in the family of the current Lord Erdingley for a while now. Set in handsome grounds near the Suffolk village of Saxwoldinghamtonson, it had a grisly history, no doubt about that. Why, in ancient times many a witch from Ipswich was drowned in the ducking pond in the grounds of the estate, including the notorious Suffolk Kate. She was given barely a cursory trial by the local Witchfinder, Sir Roger Corpse. It is her ghost that haunts Axton Hall each anniversary of her “ducking”.

    The midsummer ball at the Hall is held on the night of said anniversary, originally as a bit of a jest by the then owner, Peter Cloak, to scare the villagers. The scaring claimed the odd victim each year and added a bit of flavour to the event.

    Now at this particular ball of which I speak, current owner of the Hall, Lord Erdingley, then Foreign Secretary, was in fine form in his usual five-minute Stand-up Comedy Open Mic routine to get the ball rolling. The ballroom was packed. The local fiddler, Damien Arsecutter, then took to the stage and people began to dance in the fashion of the day. Damien was gifted. His mother was Hungarian and from her he learned to fiddle like a gypsy king, and to speak Hungarian, of course, which they did to annoy her English husband.

    Such a happy, joyous occasion as dancers moved gracefully around the ballroom to the music of the fiddler. The delight, the loveliness of the evening was horribly shattered then by the explosion from a cellar full of gunpowder. A dissident plot to destroy the Hall on behalf of a shadowy group called ASK (Avenge Suffolk Kate). No more balls would be held there.

  4. @maehschaf
    299 words
    Fiddler; Ballroom; Romance


    The princess’ beauty takes me by surprise. I’d heard that she’s beautiful. But I thought that was something people just said about princesses, no matter the truth. Like they said that kings were wise.

    Yet here she is. A vision, smiling at every guest entering the ballroom. I never dreamed to see such grace. I’m a simple man.

    Only a few days ago, they called me a fiddler and I played my instrument for the common people. Until one night, in a shoddy pub, I met some men. Important men. They called me a violinist and put me in a chamber orchestra. And now I’m so close to the royals, I can almost touch them.

    I can’t help but stare at the princess. When she suddenly looks up and catches my eye, I ain’t quick enough to look away. However, the princess doesn’t frown. Instead, she smiles at me. My knees get weak and my stomach light.

    Without another thought, I raise my instrument and start playing. Not the well-arranged notes I’ve been given but the music I used to play for the people in the streets. Loud. Wild. Fast. One note chasing the other, faster and faster, up to unimaginable heights.

    When I finally stop, all eyes in the room rest on me. As the last note fades away, the doors to the ballroom burst open. The mob has arrived.

    “Mort à la tyrannie!” they shout. “Vive la révolution!”

    My infernal playing has covered the sounds of them making their way through the palace. I’ve fulfilled my part of the contract. In return, I’ve been promised a safe escape.

    I reach over to the princess.

    “Your majesty,” I shout over the cacophony of noises. “If you want to live, come with me!”

    Without hesitation, she takes my hand.

    1. Oops, looks like I didn’t close a bracket properly and the boldface spilt over. Could you fix that, Geoff? Thanks.

    2. If it was possible (read that as ethical since there is actually a work around – I need to let you know that one, Geoff/KMZ. Will email later!), I would repeatedly like the Heck out of this story! I love how you have melded fiction with actual historic details, assuming you meant this to channel the French Revolution. It reminds me of my early teens when my books of choice were historical romances (bodice rippers, if you will).

      I only hope that the Fiddler made it out of there with the Princess, and that she was suitably impressed.

  5. @geofflepard https://geofflepard.com
    298 words
    Agony Aunt; Ambulance; Comedy

    Aunts, Ankles and The Irrefutable Logic Of The Premature Proposal

    Percy Blend-Buttock unchaffed a spat and let out a jaw-cracking yawn. ‘It’s not fair, Flinty. I’m not the marrying kind…’
    He grimaced to a halt as a voice that rose from stentorian towards pure fog-hornery exploded from the ambulance and silenced him.
    ‘Do not be absurd, boy. It’s Millicent Fallse-Elbough or you’re off to the vet for a procedure.’
    Flinty Psmith leant away from the source of disappointment. ‘She’s a one, your aunt.’
    Percy shuddered. ‘If only she was just a one. Experience tells me she’s a several and like a threepenny bit, each one is two-faced and many-sided.’
    Flinty’s brows arched. ‘I thought she was a bit of a doll. What do you think, Arsons?’
    ‘It’s Parsons, Sir. Unlike your name. the ‘P’ is not silent. And so far as dolls go, I think the Lady Tiberius is more voodoo than velvetine.’ The Butler opened the ambulance door and handed the nervy young doctor a freshly-starched antimacassar. ‘I think this might soothe her ladyship. How is the regal foot?’
    Percy shut his eyes. ‘Cloven. I am not marrying Millie. She’s f…’
    ‘Forthright, Sir?’
    ‘Most of the time first, second and third right.’
    ‘I think, Sir, you should listen to your aunt.’
    ‘There you go, Percy. Even your wretched butler agrees.’
    Parsons put a long perfectly-formed finger to his lips and led his master away. ‘If I may be so bold, sir. Just apply your usual charm, propose and, well, I think you’ll have the answer you require.’
    ‘You mean she’ll refuse me?’
    ‘Exactly, Sir. Miss Millicent, while charming, is also far too perspicacious to accept. And that will leave your aunt where I think she deserves to be.’
    ‘In plaster?’
    ‘In agony, Sir. Shall I serve the sherry?’

  6. 300 words
    Fiddler; Ballroom; Romance

    A Messy Romance

    It was a romantic, if lonely, setting for a first date. Other than the fiddler, the two of them were alone in the vast space. The violinist, staying out of earshot, serenaded them with a medley of tunes; light and merry, the music went unheard by the two lovers intent upon each other. To say they were besotted was putting it mildly. A table had been set in one of the smaller alcoves surrounding the dance floor and it was there that they dined in silence. Waiters flitted in and out of the room, attending to their needs, bringing new courses and taking away the finished plates.

    As they dined, they gazed intently into each other’s eyes. This, as you can imagine, had undesirable consequences. You try eating a lavish four course meal whilst staring into the eyes of your loved one. It wouldn’t be long before you both started to become distracted as you witnessed the resulting mess. That perfect little black dress becomes a little less perfect as it becomes decorated by each proceeding course. That sharp, stylish suit degenerates into something that perhaps a homeless person might wear.

    Oddly enough, neither party seems to be aware of the deteriorating state of their clothing. One of the waiters coughs quietly to attract the lovers’ attention and deposits a tray of hot towels on the table, hinting that they might want to clean themselves up. They seem to wake, as if from a trance, and make a half-hearted effort at cleaning each other up. Matters are improved but they still look a mess. They exchange a grin, rise from the table, and take a quick turn around the floor before exiting, oblivious to anything but themselves.

    Just going to prove, as we all know, that love is blind.

  7. @beadanna7
    300 words
    Fiddler; Ballroom; Romance

    In Which a Peasant becomes King

    Looking around the room, I opened my case and drew out my instrument with shaking fingers. Even though the massive ballroom was nearly full with members of the queen’s court, all of whom were of royal blood, I had eyes for only one of them. She was the only daughter in a boisterous family of princes, Princess Penelope, the apple of her father’s eye. She sat in her chair upon the dais, looking prim and proper as she surveyed her mother’s subjects, soon to be hers. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as I set the chin rest beneath my jaw and softly tuned my violin. She glanced nervously at me as the first soft strains reached her ears. I set up my music stand and nodded to the page boy handing me the sheaf of music as I set it down, but my eyes were on her as I began to play the song I had written for her.

    I didn’t notice myself walking as I lost myself in the music, stepping down from my podium and across the dance floor toward her. You could hear a pin drop in the room when I was done, and I looked around, blinking, surprised to find myself standing in front of her chair. Facing front once more, I gazed into her eyes, wet with emotion, and waited for her response. All eyes were on her as she rose from her seat. I swallowed and stepped back to give her room, but when she raised her arms and placed them on my shoulders, the collective gasp went around the room like a wave. And then she kissed me and my instrument fell to the floor as I lost myself in her embrace. It, nor I, will ever be the same.

  8. 300 words
    Captive; Ballroom; Romance

    Her Illusions, or Mine

    No creature can see through power if shown.
    No one has power without being first influenced.
    By power.

    Then why do they have power over me?
    I, a captive in this room.
    My hands feel strange. It is too well kept here. Too beautiful. A ballroom. Where people dance, where small flirtations turn into more by the end of the night.
    I knew that.
    Didn’t I ?

    Dancing across the floor, heels clicking closer to me, her dress, a deep blue lined with silver. She is beautiful. Thick raven hair twisted into an updo that shows off her neck.
    I look down to inspect myself. While my hands still feel heavy, the rest of my figure is light. A red dress falls from my waist, sparkling with gold. Looking up, I want to close the space between us, to be with her once again. We fell in love here.
    Wait we did?
    Of course we did.
    But how?
    This is only the start of the night, how did we–
    Déjà vu?

    It hits as she slams into me, our skirts colliding. I stumble backward, and realize there is no music, no other civilians… No one here. I look down again, my head pounds. I am wearing gloves. I am dressed in loose white clothes. Reaching up, my hair is cut short. Buzzed off. My ballroom is blank, no elaborate artwork lining the walls. And no other woman. My love has disappeared.

    Do you, dear reader, remember my beginning? How I was captive, how I talked power? Well, power and captivity surge through my mind. I am a slave to illusions. So there. If I close my eyes, I am not in an insanity ward; I am back in my ballroom, with my lover. So I do. I close my eyes.

  9. 197 words
    Doctor; Ambulance; Drama

    Doctor Emergency

    “Hurry! We’re losing him!” I screamed at the ambulance driver. Why did Doctor Ashlar have to be the one who got shot? I thought.

    “Emily, hand me the sterile tweezers,” Justine, another nurse said. “I think I can work this bullet out.”

    “The bullet hit him in just the right place. Whoever it was who Doctor Ashlar caught stealing was an experienced gunman. He knew just where to hit him.” I mused, trying to push an oxygen mask on Doctor Ashlar’s face.

    “Yeah,” she said before pounding on the wall dividing us from the driver. “Hurry! He’s slipping away!”

    I sat quietly outside the ER surgery rooms with Justine at my side.

    “Oh, will they ever be done?” Justine asked no one.

    I didn’t answer. I didn’t know. I hoped he would pull through, but I couldn’t be sure.


    “Everyone! Can I have your attention?” the head nurse called out, and the entire room fell silent. Justine and I turned towards her.

    “Doctor Ashlar made it through his surgery! He’s going to be fine!” The whole room jumped out of their seats cheering. Some yelling and whooping, some falling to their knees just thanking God.

  10. 296 words
    Fiddler; Ballroom; Romance

    Fiddler in the Room

    I couldn’t believe my luck! Imagine, a small-time fiddler like me, being asked to perform for the princess. I stood in the ballroom and took a mental image of my life at this moment in time. High, gold-clad walls reached up to a dome-shaped ceiling where chandeliers sparkled like stars in the night sky. I was in awe, and my heart swelled with joy. But this is not how my day started out.

    I was playing my fiddle on a street corner as I usually did, hoping for a few coins to drop into my basket, when I heard a commotion further down the street. Furious whispers reached my ears in no time at all. The palace guards were looking for someone: a fiddler. Now I must be honest with you. I have, on occasion needed to perform tasks that are somewhat underhanded in order to survive. You see, I have no job other than making music, and this is not always enough to provide for my elderly mother and myself. So when I heard that the palace guards were looking for me, my conscience took over and leapt into all the bad things I had done. My feet followed suit and I ran. After searching high and low for me, they found me in the lowest: a chicken coop. The poor guard who had to have me ride back with him looked quite green around the gills. I don’t blame him. I was forced to luxuriate in a bath bigger than my room and my old clothes were discarded and I was issued new threads. I felt, and looked, like a prince.

    The music began and the princess Amelia walked down the stairs. It was love at first sight for every man there. Myself included.

  11. 295 words
    Fiddler; Ballroom; Romance

    A Different Tune

    Timmy Rawlings made and mended Gaelic musical instruments, uillean pipes, bodhrans and his own speciality: the flat-top fiddle which he played like a dream.

    Timmy liked a joke and so did his clientele, so when one of his ‘pals’ saw a notice in the local paper urgently requesting “A professional quartet” to play at the Masonic dinner the following Saturday, lies were told, false CDs were sent, the fee was agreed… and the gig was set.

    “There’s only me, Sandy and Sean… A quartet is four people, everybody knows that.” Timmy sensed a wind-up… but a £100?

    “Ah but you’ll make enough noise for five,” explained the black-hearted villain who devised the plan.

    The lads turned up early, all freshly-laundered and wearing suits reserved for weddings and funerals. This was a proper gig.

    The guests began to arrive, black-tied and newly-frocked.

    The little band had never played better and were well into their third ballad — Timmy on the pipes, Sandy on his banjo and Sean beating a sympathetic rhythm on the bodhran — when the realisation occurred.

    No words were necessary but some would have been spoken by the host had not his beautiful daughter gently prevented him.

    “Come on, lads,” said Timmy, embarrassment apparent in face and voice. “Let’s get out of here.”

    Timmy knew the pub that would have spawned such a deed and the rascals that perpetrated it. He marched in to gales of laughter.

    “Nice craic, lads.” Timmy’s mock frown turned to smiles.

    “What happened there?” asked Sandy.

    “You’ve just learned the difference between fiddle and violin.”

    Two hours later the host’s daughter found Timmy and pressed the £100 into his hand.

    Six years later, they’re on the houseboat West of Chiswick, with two lovely kids to show for it.

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