Flash Fiction Challenge: To Die and Not to Die

doctors office  flash fiction prompt IMG_20150213
Doctors Office photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Death comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it swoops from the blue and carries its victim away in the blink of an eye.

It was not like that for Barry. Death had nestled inside him – an incubus, coiling its black tendrils ever tighter around his vital organs. It sapped his strength, then his will.

It went on like that for a long time. Everyone expected Barry to die at any moment, but he just lingered at the gates of death. One day, Barry got tired of it and he just decided not to die after all…

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture and the written prompt above. Do not include the prompt in your entry. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please.

On Tuesday night, judges will select the strongest entries, and on Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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16 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: To Die and Not to Die”

  1. …Well…I’d been a nurse.
    I’d been there.
    Now I’m here.
    And dying.
    Just changing places, I guess.

  2. *****FINALIST*****

    Everything he needed was in his room: rubber gloves for lungs, sponges wrapped together for a liver, and one of those blood pressure thingies to keep his blood moving through his veins. Or arteries, whatever. He could be up and moving in no time.

    He was almost done stitching himself up when the nurse came in. She took one look at the squishy lumps that used to be his organs and passed out. He had his pants on when the second nurse came to check on the first. She let out a scream that rattled the windows. Barry walked past her in the door, casually pumping his blood with the blood pressure thingy.

    He was downstairs and almost out of the hospital when the security guard tackled him. His stitches popped and the mass of sponges came loose. Worst of all, the tube to the blood pressure thingy slid out of his arm. He had beaten the ravages of the disease only to be killed by a rent-a-cop.

    He was put on a gurney and rushed through the emergency department to one of the operating rooms. The doctor went pale when he saw what Barry had done to himself.

    “Hey,” Barry whispered. “I gotta question.”

    The doctor leaned close. Barry held up the blood pressure thingy.

    “What’s this called?”

    “Uh…a sphygmomanometer.”

    “Ah,” Barry said, and died a wiser, if incomplete, man.

  3. *****FINALIST*****

    Barry sat up in his hospital bed and pulled the wires from his chest. Panicked nurses rushed into the room only to stumble over each other when Barry said hello. He paid them no mind after that as he pulled the IV needle from his wrist.

    “Well, then,” Barry said. “Now where are my clothes?”

    Janice, the night lead recovered first. “You haven’t got any here,” she said. “Your coma… Family needs to be notified…”

    He yawned and stretched, refreshed from a good nap. “I can’t leave, not dressed in this.” Barry twisted and pulled at the hospital gown, a brisk breeze attacked him from behind. “Could you be a dear and get me something to wear?”

    “Sir… Barry… You’ve been in a coma for the better part of six months,” Janice said. “You shouldn’t be up and about.”

    “Tut, I’ll have none of this talk,” he said. “I’ve been a lazy lay about for long enough.” Barry marched to the door, past the gawking nurses. “Don’t hold my calls. I’ll be on the way home now.”

    Janice raised her hand and opened her mouth but had nothing else to say as he slipped through the doorway.

    “I hope I can catch a cab.” Barry’s voice drifted down the hall after him. “I’ll catch a death without proper clothes…”

  4. “It’ll be alright.” Barry knew it was not alright and would not be alright. Needles stuck into his body, and death waited, along with a dozen doctors and loving relatives.

    “Cherish each day.” He felt sick. “It’s not fair. You’ve never had a day’s rest in your life. Not like Tom.” He thought of his old friend. Why not have a last drink?

    Barry struggled to sit up. “He’s having a fit!” A nurse pushed him back onto his bed. He fell back, but pulled the tube from his mouth and breathed fresh air.

    “Stop it, darling. You’ll hurt yourself.” He pushed her away; she called for the doctor.

    “Is he dying?” She was silenced by the others.

    “I want a drink with Tom before I die.”

    “Not in your condition,” they shrieked. “It’ll be your death?”

    Barry pulled the needles from his arms. They stung, but each one out felt better.

    “Think about your family,” the doctor said. “How will they cope?”

    “They’ll send for a hearse.”

    “You’re being selfish.”

    He hesitated. He was not a selfish man, he loved his family and they’d spent a fortune on his healthcare. He sat back on his hospital bed. “It’ll be alright.”

    But it wasn’t alright. Wailing relatives followed him from the hospital.

    Ten years passed, and the doctor had died.

    Barry stood close to the cliff.

    “You can’t just jump off.”

    “I know.” He walked into the wind; his glider soared. Others stressed in competition, but he flew for fun.

  5. *****FINALIST*****

    Barry kicked at those pearly gates, guffawed and turned tail. The world took on a sunnier turn, considering he’d looked Death in the face and lived to tell. Over the following week many a tall tale was told and he found himself somewhat infamous. The only trouble was Barry didn’t know what to do next. Everything seemed an anti-climax. So he took to his bed, gave his pooch to his neighbour and nestled down to his dreams where he could dance with Death again.

    Since their first meeting, Barry felt intrigued, entranced, and tried to revive the memory. Yet his imagination could never quite get it right. Sometimes Death was too tall, too small, too rotund, and sometimes even female, which was just darn wrong to Barry, who had been brought up to believe God was male, so surely Death was too? However, his mother-in-law had been a pain in the proverbial, so there existed a faint possibility.

    And Death was considerably better looking as a woman. For fifteen nights, she teased Barry to elope with her and he was sorely tempted, for life held little meaning without these philosophic exchanges. He looked at things anew; the details bounced out. At least they did while he dreamt…

    Barry opened his eyes, shook his head and blinked. Leaping in the air, he tore open the curtains and beheld the new day, only to see his Labrador peeing up his prize begonias. He roared with laughter. “Screw Death, Lily, I’ve missed you!”

  6. *****FINALIST*****

    “Good for you, Dad!”

    “Yes, Darling. That’s the old spirit.” Barry’s wife, Rhonda, patted his hand.

    “And I’ve figured out a plan,” Barry continued. “ It’s easy to follow.”

    The nurse took his blood pressure.

    “ Listen up!” Barry was in a hurry to get this organized. “ I want you to bring my wet weather gear and the boat keys. And check the petrol. Also bring a flask of tea and sandwiches. I could be away for a while.”

    “ O.K., Love. Now, you get some rest. We’ll gather up those things for you. Back soon,” Rhonda smiled. She wanted an update from the nurse.

    Everyone, apart from Barry, left the room together. At the end of the corridor they formed a huddle.
    The nurse said,“ I think you should stay over night. He hasn’t got far to go. Anytime now.”

    “ But Dad’s so chirpy today. Of course the boat is out of the question, but it’s good to see his enthusiasm. Do you really think he’s that close?”

    The nurse nodded. “ I’m afraid so,” she said. “ We see this occasionally. A few patients make a decision that they will continue to live, even after death. Barry’s made that decision in his own, practical way. He’s preparing himself.”

    “ Well, he always likes to be in control,” Rhonda sighed.

    While they chatted, Barry was too excited to wait any longer. He cast off and set sail for the horizon.

  7. *****FINALIST*****

    Could he resist this inevitable end? The subversive idea kept swirling inside his head, just like the vicious killer that coursed within his body. Could his mind sabotage the disease? Halt it? Defeat it? If he directed his thoughts to surgically enter his flesh and destroy the invader in its myriad of hiding places, could he actually cure himself?

    His mind’s eye needed an imaginary tool to search out its enemy; he visualised the doctor’s office with its collection of instruments on the wall – was there anything his brain could latch onto? Inspiration! Those black nozzled gadgets armed with their pointed probes would direct a healing beam along with a virtual flash and hum. For three hours every day he mentally concentrated his medicinal light on every organ in his body.

    Barry had been using his mind machine for over three weeks when his next check up was due. For the first time in his morbid saga, he felt upbeat, powerful, optimistic. If the relentless onslaught of his disease was slowed, even a little, he was convinced that eventually he’d succeed. Stepping into the doctor’s office he eyed his secret weapon hanging innocently on the wall.

    ‘You look remarkably well today Barry.’
    ‘I think I’m getting better.’
    The doctor eyed him suspiciously. In the last stages, the mind is often affected. CAT scan results, however, showed no further physical decline.
    Barry laughed knowingly as he heard the result. Could he cheat death forever?

  8. Barry’s eyes popped open. For the first time in ages, he was hungry. Not just hungry, but ravenous.

    The tubes in his nose were uncomfortable, so he tugged them out. The catheter in his arm was painful, so he yanked that out, too. He unclipped the pulse monitor and threw it to the floor. Barry scanned the room for a tray table, hoping to see a plate with a sandwich, or Jello, or something on it. But there was nothing. No water, nothing to drink. A box of tissues sat on the window sill.

    He could feel his stomach turning inside out. It twisted and gurgled as if having a tantrum. That was it. Barry threw back the sheets and, as he carefully lowered himself from the hospital bed, a nurse entered the room. She gasped at the sight of him. His sunken features intensified when he saw her.

    Barry’s eyes narrowed with contempt. He willed the door to close behind her. It did. The sound of the lock latching startled her.

    “So you’re the witch who was supposed to be feeding me,” Barry nearly snarled. His voice was gravelly and scratchy from lack of use. But his brain was working, as was his memory. Through a fog, he saw her swilling down the meals she was supposed to deliver to him.

    “Mr. Robbins,” she stuttered, “you – you shouldn’t be out of bed!”

    “And you shouldn’t be a nurse,” he replied, lunging at her. It had been years since he’d had ribs.

  9. *****FINALIST*****

    “Ever since the day I walked into that specialty shop, a dark fury has twisted in my gut, weaving threads of poison through my body. I’ve been gnawed to a papery shell. Stomach, lungs, liver, kidneys, heart; all have fallen to this festering termite. Now I’m a puzzle with missing pieces.”

    I pause and glare as a nurse checks the machines I’m wired to. Her patronizing smile waves over me, but there’s no eye contact. They’re all like that, waiting for me to die already. It’s been months since I fell ill. My gaze returns to my ghostly guest as soon as she departs.

    “See what I’ve become? A rag doll with no substance. Death rings, but runs when I answer its call like an auto-dialer. I’m tired of waiting, tired of all the well-wishers who hover with painted grins. Their pity is more torment than the evil inside me.

    The ghostly figure tilts its head. “What are you saying, Barry?”

    “I want to live.”

    “You could give in to it.”

    “And become a shade? Never.”

    “There’s a price for what you ask.”

    “There always is. I’ll pay it.”

    Laughter rings out as a glowing hand touches my forehead. Heat rushes through my body. When my eyes clear I’m back in the shop. A young man reaches for a package. I move without hesitation and smack his hand away.

    “That’s concentrated Carolina Reaper juice, you idiot! It’s stronger than a habanera pepper. It’ll destroy you.”

  10. *****FINALIST*****

    Even as she held his hand, she could feel the life returning to him. She had always known he was strong, even when he’d lost the will to do anything – even when he’d lost the will to simply die.

    She’d waited so patiently for him. All his life she’d watched, admiring his passion, his strength, his joy, and she’d wanted so badly to be a part of it. Late at night when he talked in his sleep she often imagined he was talking to her, and she loved those conversations. Sometimes she thought he even smiled at her jokes, or cried at her stories, though deep in her heart she knew she was being silly.

    She chuckled. Her, being silly. Who would have thought that were possible?
    But it was true. Barry was so perfect, so wonderful. Even Death herself couldn’t help but fall in love.

    And yet even now, as his strength and will came back and life slowly returned to him, she was happy. “Live, my darling. Live and be in love with your life. I will always be waiting for you.”

    Death took one last look over her shoulder as she left the room. She couldn’t be with him yet, couldn’t take him in her arms and tell him how she felt, but she could drink in his strength and vitality from afar and imagine that she, herself, could also be alive.

  11. *****FINALIST*****

    As soon as he made that decision, death stirred. He actually felt it raise its hideous head and stare. He stared back, defiant.

    “I am not ready just yet,” he whispered. “You know I must finish the job. You will reap a lot more if you let me do it.” It was a stupid argument, he knew. Death needed no help.

    Death said nothing, but continued to stare for what could have been an eternity; time had stopped.

    Then it moved. It left him, just like that; the relief felt like a dip in an oasis.
    He sneaked out from the home an hour before dawn.

    He got to the general and his aide three weeks later. It cost a grand to the waiter who served their whiskey. Two weeks later, he got his chance at the pharmaceutical president at the discreet restaurant the bastard frequented. It took him a month after that to get to the facility’s water source.

    He called the general and the president the next day.

    “How does your own medicine taste?” he asked. True to type, the general said nothing and the president started babbling.

    That evening, he couriered a bulky manila envelope to each of the five media houses in five different countries that he had chosen after great deliberation.

    That night, sleepless in the safe house he had prepared so long ago, the visitor he was anticipating came.

    This time, death would not be denied.

    He did not care.

  12. *****FINALIST*****

    The Option (250 words)

    Barry had caught a glimpse of it outside his hospital room door. Sometimes it was a man, sometimes a woman. He intuitively knew what it was. It came only to those with mere days to live. It came with an option. The moment he decided he would take that option, no matter what the cost, a man appeared. The specter he had seen outside his door, patiently waiting to be asked in, now took the form of a slightly chubby male nurse, red cheeked with small eyes that changed colors like a stoplight.

    “Hello Barry,” it said in a calm, monotone voice. “You are ready for me.” It was not a question.

    “Yes, please, I think so,” Barry stammered.

    The nurse spoke. “You know so Barry. This is how this works. You will steadily recover. You will go home with your family. You will not age. Ever. You will not die. Ever.”

    “How is this possible?” Barry asked incredulously.

    The nurse squinted its morphing eyes. “It is not for you to understand. All that you need to do is follow the rules.”

    “Yes, of course. Anything.” Barry uttered as he looked around at the array of medical equipment keeping his failing body alive.

    “Each passing year, on a sunny Spring day, you must take a life. Someone related to you.”

    “What! No! I can’t do that!” Barry exclaimed.

    “You will, or they will all die within one year. Enjoy your time.”

    Barry’s monitors began to show his improvement.

  13. After the nurse took her son’s temperature, she handed his mom a small paper cup.

    “He needs to give a urine specimen.”

    “What’s that, mommy?”

    “Well, you need to pee in this cup.”

    “But I don’t want to.”

    “Sweetie, I’ll help you.” Mom scooped him off the exam table. His face was hot and flushed from fever. If the doctor suggested blood work her real worries would begin. Her son started to cry.

    “Ryan, it’ll be okay.”

    He was a healthy four-year-old, illness was a rarity. Mom tried to make a game of it, something he normally would’ve enthused over. Not today. She always carried a small baggie of cheerios in her purse as a snack for him and this situation called for creativity. She dropped a few circles of the cereal into the toilet.

    “Let’s see if you can sink these.”

    He stared at her through glassy eyes then did his business sans emotion. After catching some urine in the small cup and telling him she was proud of him, they washed-up and exited the bathroom. He walked back to the room as if he was headed to the electric chair. Mom put the cup on the counter and held him in her arms.

    “I know you don’t feel good.” She heard a hitch in his throat and felt his warm tears on her neck.

    “Ryan, what’s wrong? Talk to me.”

    He looked over and pointed to the cup on the counter. “When do I have to drink that?”

  14. *****FINALIST*****

    Barry had cheated many things in his life, so why not Death? He had remembered that infamous quote about the only things certain in life are death and taxes, and he had already cheated on one of them, so why not the other?

    He pondered his options. Maybe he could challenge Death to some board games much like Bill & Ted did in their Bogus Journey. Or perhaps he could take Death’s place and give him a vacation. It was rumored that Robert Johnson sold his soul to a demon at some crossroads, could he do the same to buy more time? Granted all these were fictitious accounts, but could they truly work?

    Barry needed a concrete solution, but where could he look? Would the Internet offer a solution? The library? The church? The government? So many theories out there about secret happenings and societies, did Barry even have the time to find a solution?

    Death materialized before him while he pondered these thoughts. “It is time,” he stated.

    “We have time for a game of chess?” Barry asked

    “No,” he replied. “Your time is up.”

    “Are you sure? I feel very much alive.”

    “My records are correct, Barry. You’ve cheated many things in your life, but you have no way out of this one. Now let’s go, I have others to collect.”

    “Awe, what the hell, I should’ve thought of a way out sooner! I suppose I’m ready to go then,” Barry replied. “Goodbye cruel world.”

  15. *****FINALIST*****

    Pulling back the blankets, Barry swung his feet to the side of the hospital bed. He stood up pulling the IV from his arm. He walked a couple of steps to the door. Nobody was in the hallway. He went down the corridor. A dark figure loomed before him. Death blocked his way.

    Behind him, the alarms went off in the bed. Nurses and doctors rushed into the room. Barry ignored them. He looked at Death. “I decided it was time. I wanted to die on my own terms.”

    There were no eyes. Just a dark space in the hooded opening. An echoing voice answered. “What took you so long?”

    “My tax rebate. I didn’t want the government to keep it. It’s the last thing I could do for my family.”

    Death nodded. Barry continued. “I wanted the forgeries to work. I wanted to make sure everything went through and wouldn’t be discovered. Now that I’m gone, they’ll never catch me.”

    Suddenly, he felt a surge in his chest, and opened his eyes. Nurses and doctors surrounded him. He was back in the hospital bed.

    “I’m not dead?”

    The voice of the tax auditor answered. “No, and everything I’ve recorded will make things easier.” The auditor stood from the chair beside him, and leaned closer. “First time I’ve every heard anyone talk in their sleep. Too bad they had to save you. You’re going away for a long time.”

    Barry shrugged. “Maybe. But you definitely can cheat death.”

  16. *****FINALIST*****

    Barry feebly push the call button for the hospice nurse on duty. She arrived in Barry’s doorway a few moments later, out of breath from running to his room. In the two months since he’d arrived, this was the first time Barry had used his call button.

    “Yes, Mr. Winston,” she said, hurrying over to his bed.

    Barry whispered something, but it was too faint for her to hear. She leaned closer, “Say that again, Mr. Winston.”

    “I’ve decided not to die,” Barry whispered.

    The nurse had heard other dying patients proclaim the same thing but in each case, the proclamation had been false. She gently rubbed Barry’s arm. “Do you need anything else, Mr. Winston?” He didn’t answer. She went back to her duties but was unable to shake the fiery look she had glimpsed in Barry’s eyes.

    The next day when she came into work, she was startled to find Barry sitting up in his bed sipping soup from a spoon
    Thursday morning Jackie was late for work. She arrived on time, but she had sat in her car for ten minutes watching Barry jog around the hospice’s yard, whistling a spritely tune.

    By the following week, Barry had packed his few belongings and was leaving the hospice—something that, in the history of hospices, had never been accomplished.

    “How?” Jackie asked Barry in amazement as he handed the taxi driver his suitcase.

    He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Almost anything is possible in 250 words, Jackie.”

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