Flash Fiction Challenge: Happy Birthday?

pink roses Flash Fiction writing prompt copyright KS Brooks
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

It had taken four years, but last night Vanessa finally told Phillip why she hated her birthday so much. Now he understood that it wasn’t just her attempt at getting attention.

Poor thing, he thought, while standing in the florist’s shop. He’d ordered the roses a week ago.

Now, the question was: what to do? Should he try to break the cycle of sorrow at her birthdays, or should he respect her wishes and let another one go quietly by? Everyone deserves to have a nice birthday, don’t they?

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. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

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 Saturday morning, 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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12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Happy Birthday?”

  1. ***FINALIST***

    Phillip stared at the pink roses the sales clerk handed him. These would never be enough to replace the memory of losing your favorite pet on your birthday. Looking at his phone he asked Surry for the nearest pet shop. A short time later the wet tongue of a cute yellow puppy licked his cheek.

    “You’re cute but will you be enough?” he wondered.

    Once again, with Surry’s help, Phillip opened his wallet and handed over his Visa card.

    Two more stops and Phillip was satisfied that this would be a birthday Vanessa would love to remember.

    When Vanessa opened the door to find the roses, a large bouquet of balloons and an adorable puppy with a diamond ring tied to a shiny new collar, she let out a wrenching sob.

    “Oh Phillip!”

    Confused by her reaction he wondered what could be wrong.

    “I just got a call from my parents, my gold fish Andy died, they had to flush him down the toilet!”

    Phillip rolled his eyes and searched his phone for the nearest tropical fish store.

  2. ***FINALIST***

    Phillip smelled the roses he had ordered for Vanessa. Despite the wonderful fragrance, all he could think about was how scared he was of her.

    He remembered last night’s confession. Vanessa was usually careful with alcohol, but things had gotten away from her. While Phillip held her hair at the toilet, their bond had never been stronger. That was when she told him.

    “I killed a guy. Twelve years ago. On my birthday.”

    Phillip thought it was a fantasy, albeit a weird one. But Vanessa provided enough details in her rambling drunkenness that he realized it was true. She beat a man to death for nothing more than stealing her Bon Jovi tickets.

    Of course, drugs were involved and Vanessa came from an awful neighborhood – but she actually killed someone. No amount of explanation could ever make that right.

    Now what? In one split second, Phillip went from planning to spend his life with her to trying to figure out how to get away from her.

    He couldn’t turn Vanessa in. There was no evidence. Plus, he really didn’t want to see her suffer in jail. That wouldn’t bring the guy back. But the spell between them was broken, replaced by fear.

    He had come here to cancel the flowers. Was that smart? If you share keys with a murderer, is it smart to not get them flowers? But he wasn’t sure it was smart to get them, either.

    Phillip dug in his pocket for a coin to flip.

  3. Vanessa followed Phillip from base to base, and now they had finally returned to Fort Riley. All the memories came flooding back.

    Being a soldier, Phillip was so comforting and understanding, he understood about sudden death and dismemberment. It took some doing, but Phillip finally convinced her that they had to face what happened on her birthday, so long ago. Not just for her, but for him because he couldn’t cry either. It was just to terrible.

    She was so afraid and didn’t want to go, but she knew he was right, especially, when he came home with the flowers last night.

    This morning, he didn’t wish her a happy birthday, instead, they quietly headed out late morning. It was a long, silent, four hour trip, and took the better part of the day. It was late when they arrived.

    In the twenty years they were gone, Oklahoma City had changed so much that they had trouble recognizing anything. Phillip finally found a parking space.

    Slowly they searched the park. She stumbled a couple of times, so he handed her the flowers. He may have lost an arm in Afghanistan but he still wrapped his remaining arm around her, supporting her.

    It wasn’t until the lights came on in the memorial chair bases that they found the chairs of her mom and baby sister. They placed the roses, and for the first time in twenty years their tears streamed down their cheeks.

  4. The flowers were beautiful, the gifts splendid. By anyone’s standards the party would have been considered a success with delicious food and all of her friends in attendance. Vanessa tried but had failed to get into the festivities and felt she resentful. How dare Phillip throw her a surprise party? After she confided in him about the heartbreak of losing her father so violently twenty years ago.

    Walking home from the restaurant Phillip tried to apologize, explaining his wish to create a new and wonderful birthday memory for her. Suddenly several loud pops rang through the air. History was repeating itself and for Vanessa, horrific memories came rushing back. The screeching of tires and screams of nearby pedestrians surrounded her. After the car and its shooter escaped down the street, Philip laid in a pool of his own blood at Vanessa’s feet, his lifeless eyes stared blankly through her.

    Vanessa’s fractured mind wouldn’t comprehend what had happened. Another violent murder in front of her eyes. She wasn’t ten years old anymore but thirty and another man she loved was killed on her birthday by a drive by shooter.

    That’s when she saw the small box in Phillip’s hand. A solitaire diamond sparkled in the light of the street lamp. She slipped the ring from its velvet nest and onto her slim finger. It would have been a wonderful memory to become engaged on her birthday.

  5. Flash Fiction Challenge: Happy Birthday

    Vanessa’s words pierced Phillip’s brain like a hypodermic needle.

    Birthdays are times of reflection.

    Her voice fell to a whisper as tears stained her flushed cheeks.

    She mopped her eyes and in barely audible tones continued. If another sole says “You’re adopted! You’re so lucky.”


    Venom peppered her lips. I’m a bastard. I’m a secret, I’m a mistake,! am shame.

    A sigh travelled straight from her broken-heart and hung in the air.

    Phillip knelt by her chair. Beads of perspiration ran down her temples as he took her hands in his. Why didn’t you tell me?

    Her body twitched as she struggled for breath. You’re not adopted, you’ll never understand.

    Phillip held tight as he ventured on to the arm of her chair. The silence broken only by the crackle of the log fire.

    That’s why you take your sabbatical in January?

    She nodded, and he cradled his bundle of joy. Her head tilted as she kissed his sallow cheek.

    I plant out spring blooms. There’s no time to dwell on the woman who, thirty years ago, walked out of hospital and abandoned her newborn daughter. Hatred can destroy. But I still hate my freaking birthday. Roll on Springtime.

    As Vanessa washed up the breakfast pots the doorbell rang.

    Phillip sidled into the kitchen, an extravagant bouquet of pink roses clutched to his chest.

    Tight lipped he held out the flowers as she read the message

    Happy Springtime. My Bundle of Joy XXXX

  6. “What the heck,” Phillip thought, and bought the long-stemmed roses.
    “She’s a great gal and has been through a lot. Maybe, someday, we’ll be more than just friends.”

    The florist did a fine job of arranging and packaging the blooms.
    “A little pricey,” Phillip mused,” But she’s worth it.”
    As the taxi arrived at the midtown brownstone, it was intercepted by a line of ambulances and a police cordon.
    “Officer,” Phillip said,” What’s happening. This is my friend’s house!”
    “Young man,” he replied,” They’ve found a body. A certain Vanessa Williams. It appears to be suicide. Do you know her?
    “Y..y..es! She is, was, my friend.”

    Happy birthday, Vanessa. Happy death day. Suffer no more.

  7. He bought the flowers, couldn’t see a way around it. One dozen long stem roses would have been the perfect cliché to show his love for her, but after her confession it just felt drab. Philip pulled his phone out of his pocket and spoke Vanessa’s name into the mouthpiece.

    “Get dressed,” he said when she answered. “I’ll be over in about fifteen minutes. You don’t have to do this alone.”

    She had been crying. He heard the crack in her voice when she said hello, felt the tears on her cheeks though he was still several miles away. He wanted to hold her, whisper in her ear, tell her he was there for her, but he didn’t know, couldn’t know the pain she felt every year on her birthday.


    “She was older, came out a minute before me.” Vanessa leaned against him as she looked out beyond the stone that rose up from the grave. “It was all my fault…”

    “I’m sure she never blamed you.” Philip laid the flowers in front of the tombstone.

    She turned to face him for the first time since they had made the trip to the cemetery. “You weren’t there,” Vanessa said. “You didn’t see her eyes as she died in my arms. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t say anything. But her eyes…”

    The way she looked at him then, the glow in her eyes, Philip fought with himself to hold her gaze. But it burned and her eyes had gone cold.

  8. ***FINALIST***

    Vanessa’s revelation caught him off guard. The candid confession devastated his sense of reality. Phillip’s eyes were blank yet his mind was bursting with fury. He brushed the tears from her cheeks as her lips fumbled with the words. Her hands trembled while she avoided his stony gaze. The absurd explanations shattered the beliefs he had harbored for so many years. A single night of reckless behavior was the pathetic excuse that threatened to destroy the bond they shared.

    She begged for forgiveness. A gentle wheeze filled the gaps between her uncontrollable sobs. He noticed how she looked even more beautiful when she cried. Phillip struggled to contain his emotions. He clenched his fists and closed his eyes. Her voice was intoxicating and her breath was warm against his ear. She whispered senseless promises, declaring her sincerity and devotion. He walked towards the door fully aware that it was impossible to change the past. This would be the last birthday they would spend together.

    Phillip returned from the florist and stood in the darkened hallway. An eerie silence welcomed him. The roses were beautiful, but were no match for Vanessa’s beauty. Their softness brought back memories of her loving touch. The sweet fragrance caressed the dull ache within, distorting his perception. However, the scent of betrayal was too strong. His fingers crushed the delicate petals, defiling their exquisiteness. Vanessa deserved much more than roses. She deserved all the happiness in the world.
    What she didn’t deserve was him.

  9. ***FINALIST***

    Vanessa had dated that clown for ten years, and then it was over. No reason, no excuses. He showed up at her office, took the keys to their car, said it was over, and left her there: embarrassed, heartbroken, and with no way to get home on her own birthday. Given everything he had ever heard about this guy, Phillip saw the whole thing as a fantastic birthday gift, not that he would ever tell Vanessa that.

    He knew roses weren’t going to be enough, or even appropriate. What he needed was a game changer. Something that would crack the cemented sadness across her face, and let a smile through. It hit him almost immediately, and left the florist wondering why this crazy man was laughing hysterically at a bouquet of roses in her shop.
    That night, after Vanessa was out of work, and expecting to curl up in a corner with a pint of ice cream, Phillip showed up.

    “I have a real surprise for you.” His smile went from ear to ear.

    An hour later, Vanessa’s pent up anger exploded in to a barrage of foul language, as three dozen eggs exploded across the side of her ex’s house. With each burst of shell, and yolk across her ex’s white siding she felt more, and more of her feelings surfacing. Finally, exhausted, and out of eggs, Vanessa rested curb-side, with her head on Phillip’s shoulder, and laughed. He would give her the flowers tomorrow.

  10. He stood at the counter clutching the order receipt. When the clerk turned, her shocked expression reminded him of his disheveled appearance. Despite the additional sleeping pills, he didn’t sleep well last night. His mind fixated on what Vanessa finally shared with him. He respected her wishes, but still didn’t know what to do.

    The clerk finally pulled the receipt from his fingers, looked at it, smiled and turned to retrieve the roses he ordered. Her smile finally gave him his answer. He wanted Vanessa’s smile more than anything.

    “Miss, wait. I don’t want to cancel my order.” He noticed her confusion. “I’m sorry. Could you deliver the two dozen to where they will brighten someone’s day, and I will pay the extra charge.”

    “Okay. I know someone who will appreciate them. Is there anything else?”

    “This is going to sound odd, but can I have one long stem red rose, along with one long stem yellow rose and a pink carnation?”

    “How do you want them assembled?”

    “Please put them together in a vase.”

    “How do you want the card to read?”

    He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry you lost your parents and your baby sister in the car accident.”

    He noticed the young girl’s eyes tearing up. “Could you please put a blue carnation in a separate small vase and on that card put the inscription, ‘you were saved to bring this new life into the world…will you marry me?’”

  11. Phillip shook his head. What a sad story. No child should see their favorite grandma choke on birthday cake and then die from a heart attack. For so many years she blamed herself. It was just a terrible coincidence that happened a long time ago.

    A vision of pink roses, clinking wine glasses and Vanessa’s slow, shy smile helped him decide. After paying for the roses, he called to coax her to go out and run some errands with him.

    When she got in his car, he ventured, “Hi, sweetie. How was your day?”

    She sighed. “It was fine. My mom called and wished me a happy birthday.”

    “That was nice of her. I know this isn’t easy for you…by the way, blessings on your day of birth.” he said with a wink. Vanessa responded with an eye roll. “Could you grab something for me? It’s under my jacket.”

    “What’s this?” she squeaked. “You know I don’t celebrate my birthday.”

    “I know, I know. I just want you to know how much I care about you.”

    “But you know what happened on that day.”

    “I really think that you’re overreacting and to prove it we’re going out to dinner.” He glanced over and reached out to touch Vanessa’s check. As he made contact, he noticed her eyes widen with fear. Sounds of twisting metal and shattered glass hit his ears. As Phillip’s life was slipping away, he wondered, Is there such thing as coincidence?

  12. As the florist handed him his change, Phillip inhaled the roses’ fragrance. It was a little bit soft and a little bit spicy. Like Vanessa.

    He’d been in love with her since he could remember – since the first time he saw her. Even now Phillip could remember the sun lighting up the red highlights in her hair, almost like a halo. It was as if one sunbeam had fought its way through the clouds just to grace her. Vanessa was so perfect, so angelic, with the innocence and sweetness of a child. And now, finally, after all these years – she was with him, and only him.

    It had taken a lot of work to get her attention. So many people stood in his way. What gave them the right to judge him? If they could only see him now: taking care of her, tending to her every need.

    But again, this year, there were tears on her birthday. Honestly, he didn’t see what the big deal was. Those people who died – they weren’t any good for her. That controlling father, her shrewish mother, the pompous ex-fiancé: they were all preventing her from flourishing. The fact they died on her birthday was bad timing, for certain. Everything had been set out and ready for her arrival – the balloons, the streamers, the cake, the corpses. Yes, that put the ‘surprise’ in surprise birthday party. Phillip smiled at his pun.

    Now, there was no one left standing in his way. Eventually, she’d forget them.

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