Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Twin Stacks

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Use the photograph above as the inspiration for your flash fiction story. Write whatever comes to mind (no sexual, political, or religious stories, jokes, or commentary, please) and after you PROOFREAD it, submit it as your entry in the comments section below. There will be no written prompt.

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture at left. 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 Wednesday, 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.

Once a month, the admins will announce the Editors’ Choice winners. Those stories will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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19 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Twin Stacks”

  1. Viewpoint

    We stopped at the small lookout, got out, and took in the sea view.

    “Let’s go there,” she said, pointing to the promontory beyond the barricade.

    “It may not be safe,” I suggested.

    “Chicken…chick…chick…chick…,” she pecked at me. She loves to peck at me. I often find it cute. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps its love.

    “Fine! Lets risk life and limb…”

    My courage knows only the barest of bounds. Its one of my finest qualities, risking little, risking the minimal amount.

    We climbed over the barrier and made our way to the narrow outcropping.

    “It’s magnificent,” she said.

    “It is,” I agreed.

    “Look,” she said, stretching her digit in the direction of two small shapes positioned on a large rock, possibly a petroglyph, weathered from eroding time.

    “A pile of rocks,” I dismissed the sight. “Brilliant!”

    “You’re so cynical. And it’s a cairn.”

    “I could cairn less,” I said, reaching deep into my sparse wit drawer.

    That got no response. Wit wasted.

    I opened a second drawer of possibilities. “Why are they always round? There are so many other shapes.”

    She rubbed her eyes. She often does that when she regrets. Regrets me, I suppose. I often compel her to rub her eyes.

    “They aren’t always round. You know that. Stacked stones can be any shape. Personally, I love round objects. You, for instance. You may not be well-rounded, but you do have a plump round quality.”

    She smiled, kissed me, and we returned to the car.

  2. Intelligence Report

    Subject: Special Occurrence

    Date: May 18, 2025

    Agent: Ortez

    Some time ago a mysterious virus infected millions of people across the country. Despite the size of the outbreak the infected do not know they have been contaminated.

    Based on initial reports the virus appears to affect a person’s thinking process. Those infected develop a slave-like adherence to a concept known as Mind Doctrine. Consequently, they cannot tolerate anything that does not fit within their highly conceptualized beliefs. They will seek out and destroy those whom they feel exhibit an incompatibility of thought.

    They exist within every level of society: military, government, industry and education. In outward appearance they seem normal. This is the insidious nature of the contamination. We cannot tell who has been infected.

    Analysis indicates this intelligence agency has been compromised. My Section Chief may be one of them. I do not know for certain since he is quite secretive.

    I am being watched. On at least two occasions I was followed. I know too much and may be a target for elimination. Recently I learned I will been given a field assignment. This is unusual since I am a desk analyst. I have taken the usual precautions.

    This report will be placed in file: Special Occurrence.

    If I feel my position has been compromised I will place stone markers at Point Freedom. This will be a signal to other trusted agents.

    End Report.

    [Agent Ortez never returned from assignment]

  3. They’d been only twelve that summer when she and Randy had straddled the aging trunk and stacked their stones. She’d told him to make a wish but didn’t know if he had. Each year, for the last eleven she had returned to check. In spite of winds, snow, and wandering wildlife the stones still stood tall. Her wish remained intact.

    Randy had gone to college and spent the last two years at a dig in Mexico. She had studied nursing and accepted a job at the local hospital. In spite of distance and time they stayed in touch, still best friends.

    Yesterday he came home “for a visit”. He wanted to show her something. Would she like to visit their old tree trunk again?

    “Of course,” she said, though her heart wasn’t sure. Was this the end of her wish?

    He looked as apprehensive as she felt as they sat facing each other, just as they had then.

    Her hands flew to her mouth with an “Oh” of dismay as he knocked the piles down so the stones fell into each other.

    He chose the two that had been on top and held them toward her in one open hand. “My wish was that our lives would blend and touch forever, just as these stones now do. Will you marry me?

    She let go her breath. “Oh, yes. That was my wish, too.”

    They gathered the stones into a single pile between them and embraced for the first time.

  4. Stepping stones

    “Oh, Katie why don’t you go play outside with Amber?” Mom asked when I came home.
    “Because there’s nothing to play,” I answered.
    “How about stepping stones?” She suggested.
    “I guess we could try. Can you call Amber’s mom and see if she can come over to play with me?”
    “Sure, sweetheart no problem.” Mom answered.
    When Amber arrived, we went outside to collect stones. After a while a boy named Charlie asked to play. We said, “yeah, we’d love you to.” Every kid on the block asked to play soon.
    “Look we’ll have people to play with everyday if we play it again,” Amber said.
    “Yeah, we could play fun things every day. This is fun. I have to thank my mom!” I said.

    “Hey mom thanks for the stepping stone idea. A bunch of kids came over to play. We had a blast.”
    “Well, I’m glad because I used to play it with your Aunt Suzie all the time and she just admired the thought of you playing it.”
    “Really?” I asked. “She did?”
    “Please ask if she can come over with the girls so we can play again,” I asked pleadingly with my puppy dog face and eyes.
    The next day, Aunt Suzie came over to play with us, but the girls were sick. It was awesome Aunt Suzie came to play.
    “I hope we can do it again someday Aunt Suzie.”

    “So, do I Katie,” said Aunt Suzie, lovingly.

  5. “Whoa, will ya look at these, will ya?!” Allison shouted to me as she crested the ridge in the Grand Tetons.”
    We’d been hiking since dawn, finally reaching the Teton Crest and the spectacular Jedediah Smith Wilderness.
    “What is it?” I yelled, struggling to keep up with her.
    “Two little piles of stones,” she shouted back.
    “Oh sheesh,” I mumbled as I finally caught up with her. We’d taken a path far removed from any trail marked on our map—something we preferred doing when hiking the backcountry—and finding these little stacks, not true cairns, by any stretch of the imagination, upset me. “Why would someone think it’s a good idea to mark a trail way out here, if that even were their intent?!”
    “Whaddaya mean, Josiah” she asked, slinging her backpack to the ground and reaching for her water bottle. She took several sips before handing me the bottle.
    “Well, we both know how far off the trail we are. There’s no path here. Look where I place us on the map. Now, suppose you’re an unsuspecting hiker in trouble, find these and other stacked pebbles around here, and start following them. To where? They’ll just lead you further astray. We both know these are nothing but ‘trail graffiti,’ something someone left to say: ‘I got here before you!’
    “I think the person who built these stacks has an ‘edifice complex.’ ”

  6. A small, peaceful tribe lived by the beach in what is now Patchogue. Chief Flying Eagle and his wife Singing Willow had three sons and two daughters. The winter was harsh, and while they kept their tribe and five children safe, she succumbed to a terrible fever.

    Chief Flying Eagle and the children were heartbroken. In spring, he made a monument on the beach remembering Singing Willow, stacking stones with pitch to keep them together. He told the children to look at the stack, and think of their mother looking after them, up in the clouds.

    In summer, the Chief married a lovely squaw, Leaping Deer, who looked carefully after the children. But the next winter was worse, and Chief Flying Eagle fell off his horse, while hunting game. He soon died, also.

    Leaping Deer was grieving, but she knew how the children had been comforted by the stack of stones representing their mother. So she made a taller one for Chief Flying Eagle. The children visited the beach to remember their parents, and Leaping Deer cared for them as her own.

    When the new leader, Chief Standing Moose, saw her devotion and wisdom, he took her into his tent and made her his wife. Leaping Deer had four more children, and continued to nurture Chief Flying Eagle’s children also.

    The stacks remained, reminding everyone of the great love of a family. They outlasted storms and breaking waves, because they were built to last. Generations remembered them all.


    She stood at the water’s edge, wind from the sea whipping the plain grey dress around her ankles, stinging her face. Shielding her eyes, she searched the horizon in vain—again–the second week since Danny O’Boyle had slipped the moorings from his boat–setting out to save the sailors on the crippled Maeve Ryan adrift on the stormy Irish sea.

    When Danny got down on one knee only three weeks ago, red-faced, shy, fumbling with words “Ye’d think I had no mouth on me”–he said with a grin. And, finally, “Will you, Elspeth Ross?”

    She replied quickly, laughing “Yes, Danny O’Boyle. Yes. I’ll gladly marry ye.” So she came from her father’s home in Cairnryan to Cornwall to be his bride.

    The first week since he had sailed, beside the sea she built a cairn from stones meant to ring their garden. A cairn to guide him home. She returned to the quiet cottage, to the welcome crackle of the fire, to the warm yellow glow of the oil lamps. And to hope.

    The second week, as she balanced the rough stone atop the second cairn, a tear fell followed by another. And another. Hope had died.

    Her father, in his wedding toast had said “May you have laughter to cheer you, those you love near you.” Now all she heard on the brutal wind whistling between the hard stones of the cairns–“For I shall never pass this way again.”

  8. By Mark Ready

    I don’t know if you could call them cairns, they were just two small piles of stones on a weather worn log. They could have been made by a child. I knelt on the wet sand and sighted between them, there was something yellow flapping in the distance. I brushed off my knee and turned to my partner. “We better hurry, the tide is rising fast.”
    “You don’t think they’d leave the kid laying on the rocks. Do you?”
    I looked at his rookie face. “I don’t think they care, Sam. They got their money. I don’t think they give a rats behind if it lives or dies.”
    My city shoes filled with sand as we crossed the spit to the jetty. The yellow thing was a plastic bag duct taped to an old Colman cooler. It rattled in the wind. The cooler lid was closed, but there were air holes. I flipped it open. The kid was sweaty, but safe, and sucking on a baby bottle like nothing was wrong.
    “Come to papa little fellow. Your Mommy and Daddy will be happy to get you back.” I picked him up and his diaper pulled away. It was a booby trap. The baby burped and I was immediately covered with poop and vomit. It dripped down the front of my starched white shirt and Gaberdine slacks. Prune juice, they’d been feeding the kid prune juice. I shook my head and said under my breath. “You Bastards!”

  9. I came to with a humongous headache. Leo was gone. I was pinned to the ground by a dead eight-inch limb from the nearby oak. My head hung over the edge of a swift running creek where I saw the reflection of the full moon. I knew what that meant
    The first saber cut the thatch from my head clean to the skull. The first lance pierced my lung, the second lance stab barely missed my liver. The next stab went through my calf.
    The oak limb leveraged off me, my savaged body was freed, I was hoisted in unison skyward by the spike points.
    The noise was frightening and I didn’t understand the language.
    “What do we do with him now?”
    “Take him to camp, we’ll decide there.”
    My blood rained down on the creek pebbles dyeing them like Easter eggs as our macabre caravan headed out. I fought to remain conscious using the excruciating pain from swinging by my innards to my slim advantage.
    Back at camp the lances were placed butt end first in the ground leaving me dangling by three points as my aggressors started laying a fire beneath me.

    Leo, my dog, returned just in time with re-enforcements that routed my foes and cut me down. I was rescued.
    My recovery eventually halted at about the halfway point back to normal. Days, now, I sit and plink stacked pebbles from a distance with my Hotchkiss and think back on what my life might have been

  10. Stones of Life by Jeremy James Smith

    “Hey Dad, look what I found,” shouted the ten-year-old boy, “come see!”
    “Yeah,” panted the forty-something father, “I could use a break. What’d you find?”
    “Somebody stacked up some rocks.”
    “Cool! What do you notice about them?”
    The boy considered. “That one is taller, and has more rocks.”
    “OK, what else?”
    “The bigger – no, the taller stack is piled with flat rocks that fit together nicely. The other is kind of slanted.”
    “Which one is better?”
    “The taller stack has more rocks.”
    “That’s not what I asked. Which one is better?”
    “I guess they are about the same.”
    “Which one do you like more?”
    Dad smiled as the boy pondered.
    “They both have things that are interesting,” said the boy at last. “One is taller. It has more rocks. But I like this one. The stones are round and angled; I think it was harder to stack.”
    “Good answer. Not the only right one. What if these stacks represent life? If you start out with a large, flat rock on a stable, regular surface like this one, the next rock is easier to place on top. Flatter rocks are predictable and easy to stack. Many people would say that’s best.
    “Sometimes you might find an oddly-shaped rock. It won’t stack as easily, and it might not allow the tallest stack. They may fall and make you start again. Asymmetry can be difficult and beautiful.
    “Any balanced stack that makes you smile is prideworthy.”

  11. Tendrils of fog crept down the mountain, slid over the chill surface of Ipasha Lake, and penetrated the forest beyond. Sky, water, rock, and foliage grayed at its touch. Crouching on a slip of granite at the water’s edge, Shawna Givens tightened her coat against the fog’s chill fingers. She peered across the lake, imagining shadows breaking its surface.

    It was out there.

    Before her, two small cairns marked her previous sighting. Just last week she had watched, eased the stones from her pocket, and built the cairns to frame the sleek black form across the water. If she focused one eye dead center between them, she could almost see it again.

    Shawna stood and moved on, circling the lake clockwise, passing slow and silent, a mountain lion stalking her prey. More stones weighed down her right coat pocket, just in case. A notebook slumbered in her left, remembering dates, times, locations, and distances, concealing the secret she ached to discover: where and when the creature would next appear.

    A quarter of a mile on, she paused on a broken shelf of rimed rock. Thickening fog obscured the shore ahead and behind. Above, an unseen eagle cried while wind stirred the trees. Something clattered along the forest floor. Out in the lake, water splashed.

    She willed her eyes to pierce the fog.

    Before her, a fountain of black ink erupted from the lake and jetted into the sky.

    Shawna Givens looked up in awe as frigid rain pelted her face.

  12. Rivalry
    [247 words with title, but without this bracketed comment]

    Incessant pain blurs my vision. I blink and blink again, struggling to focus.

    Ahead of me stands two stacks of rocks. Debby’s and mine.

    “Seven?” I mutter in disbelief, though it comes out as a wheezy croak.

    Five large stones, and two small.

    Five men, two boys.

    I thought I had been clever, padding my numbers with a child, but Debby seems to have thought of it too.

    A potent mixture of jealousy and resentment bubble up inside me, mixing and fizzing like an alchemist’s brew.

    A recurring memory flashes.

    “You’re a loser,” Daddy shouted at me. I broke into sobs when I realized I agreed with him. “Pathetic. Now you’re crying?” He slapped me so hard I collapsed.

    From the living room floor, I spied Debby staring at me through her cracked bedroom doorway. There was no compassion in those eyes, only a hungry, thriving competitiveness.

    Daddy lectured us about standing up for ourselves, about fighting and killing to make our way in a man’s world. We guzzled his proffered hate, wanting his approval above all else.

    I thought three men would be enough, but added little Jared Wexler to cement my victory. All for Daddy’s love.

    “Lost again, Laura,” Debby says as she appears behind me. “I heard there was a police chase. You got shot? You’re going to die from it.”

    I grunt defiantly. With a shaking hand, I place the last pebble on top of my pile, and let oblivion devour me.

  13. The Wayward Wind

    “Wow! This babe is stacked! Get a load of those whatchamacallits and those curves,” Rocky thought.
    He tried to move next to the bewitching creature but was shocked to find he couldn’t budge a fraction of an inch. What was going on, he wondered? He tried to look down to see what was stopping his feet from functioning, but couldn’t move his head. Nothing happened when he tried to call out or wave his arms.
    Roxy, the Rockette, posed invitingly waiting for the hunky guy to get the message and make his move. She wondered what was taking him so long and decided to be more alluring and strike a pose like she did as center dancer in the high-kicking row of beauties who always brought the house down at the Music Hall, but she couldn’t move.
    The wind swept across the lake and wrapped around
    twelve-year-old Melissa. The bright sky dimmed just a fraction. She looked over the rock. Her father, at the foot of the lake, was reeling in another largemouth bass. He unhooked it and dropped it into his creel.
    “It’s getting too windy, Daddy.”
    “Be right there, darlin’. Get ready to leave.”
    As they drove away, Melissa waved goodbye to the rock figures she had stacked and played with.
    Roxy and Rocky exchanged forlorn sighs, but were grateful for the few minutes of life the little girl had imagined for them.
    A wayward wind sent the stones tumbling.

  14. I settle one stone atop the other, easily matching the curves to maintain my lead over my challenger. Three stones to two. I rattle the satchel of stones I collected from the chill beach, waiting for the outsider to topple their stack so I can get on with my day. Get on with leading my village as I have for twelve years.

    There. I draw another stone from the bag and place it with a clink, barely sparing a glance for my opponent. This will be over soon. Four to three. It takes a few minutes for the outsider to place their fourth stone. They’re so bundled up against the elements I can’t tell if a man or woman challenges me, but it doesn’t matter. I smile. They’ll be irrelevant by the time the moon hits the surf.

    I grab my fifth stone, heavier than the others, and look it over. I need to be more deliberate placing this one. I peer closer at a stain on the jagged surface. Blood?

    Wait, this stone—

    It can’t be. I drop it with a grunt, heart racing. How could the stone I flung far into the sea have returned to me? How could the stone I used to such terrible purpose be one I idly gathered for this challenge?

    My opponent lowers her hood. “Place your stone, darling,” Aria says, her voice one I knew I’d never hear again. “You’re almost out of time.”

  15. On a rock outcrop two men sat cross legged facing each other. The elder said to the bruised young man with a black eye. “I’ll go first,” a stone silently rose from the beach below and floated up gently landing in place between them. “Now it is your turn.”

    The young man cleared his throat and sat straining every muscle in his body until he started to shake. The elder sighed, “No, you’re doing it all wrong again. Do not strain Instead gently reach out.” As he spoke he placed another stone atop his cairn. “Now try again. ”

    The young man closed his eyes, but before he could move a stone the elder sighed, “Tell me how you plan to place your stone with your eyes closed? Now open them along with your mind.”

    The young man opened his eyes to see his stone floating before him. Losing his concentration the stone wobbled in mid-air and dropped clattering noisily off the rock outcrop.

    The elder joked, “Well, at least you didn’t hit yourself in the face this time. Let’s try it again.”

    The young man grinned, “I didn’t get a black eye that time,” as he spoke, he gently placed his next stone into position between them.

    The elder joked, “There comes a time when you stop stoning yourself and your mind bonds with all things. We will make a Jedi Warrior of you yet.”

    The young man’s next stone wobbled as it gently landed atop his small cairn.

  16. Names

    It would be our first and last date. A hike to Ice Lake. Larry pointed at twin stacks of stones perched on a large rock and asked if I knew what the name for it was.

    I shook my head. He grinned. “Ka-ren,” he said, drawing it into two syllables.

    A warm shower of shame washed over me. My ears burned red.My name is Carin, with a C, but for simplicity, especially with my last name, I use the common version.

    Why’d he say that? The phrase, dumb as a sack of rocks, popped into my head. Or was it stack of rocks? He thinks I’m dumb . . . apparently. I mumbled something about being late and left him to ponder the shale boulder that hosted my name.

    My Harley’s engine roared home, tires screeching. I skidded my bike under the carport. Inside, the trailer was dark. I fumbled for the light switch and jetted down the hallway. In the third box, I found it.

    I brushed the dust off Mother’s favorite book. “Pick a letter,” she’d tell me. She’d let me point my finger to any word on the page. Then she’d create my bedtime story.

    Would find a clue here?

    My finger glided down a page of Cs. Cairn. I read: a heap of stones piled high as a memorial. That was it. One syllable, the way Mother pronounced mine.

    To remember. I hugged the dictionary. I would.

  17. “No,” yelled Candice.

    Jim halted his foot inches away from the stacks of small stones. “Why? They’re just some rock piles on an old piece of driftwood.”

    “They’re tributes to honor dead sea-fairies,” said Candice. “You can’t touch them or the fairies will get mad.”

    Jim burst out laughing. “What a load of crock. Whoever told you that is a bit touched.”

    Canice felt her face flush. “My grandma’ma’s not crazy. She knows things most folk have forgotten. This is a sea-fairy graveyard.”

    “Really?” Jim knocked both piles of rocks into the sand. “See, nothing but old rocks.”

    Wind-blown sand peppered them and a low screeching filled the air. Candice cringed. With shaking hands, she tried to restack the stones.

    “Quit acting like a loon,” said Jim, pulling her away. “It’s just the wind. There’s probably a storm coming.”

    “It’s them!” She struggling to free herself. “We have to fix it.”

    “Whatever,” he said pushing her into the log. The stones went flying. “Have fun playing with your rocks.”

    Tears stung Candice’s eyes as he started to walk away. After a couple steps he tripped. Sand whirled around him. There was half a scream, then the wind vanished. A human shaped log lay where he had fallen. Silently, Candice wiped her tears, then rebuilt the two fairy stacks.

    “I told you not to mess with the sea-fairies,” she said, as she placed a stone on the log that was once Jim.

  18. My dad began writing to my mother in Los Angeles because he liked the picture of my mother on the coffee table my uncle and his wife displayed one Sunday afternoon when he was invited to dinner. They were living in Graton, California, near Santa Rosa. After a time he asked her to go to the Philippines as his wife as missionaries. She said, “Yes.”

    After sailing to Canton, China, he from Mindanao and she from the Port of Los Angeles, they were married in Canton and then honeymooned back to Mindanao by ship.

    Several months before I was conceived, my mother miscarried a little boy at three months. She knew he was a son because he was developing the male parts. She had to climb many steps to the bathroom (built high on stilts to discourage rats) and thought the extra strain might have caused her to miscarry. She told me my dad felt badly because she had been after him to build a bathroom with no steps at ground level, but he had thought it unnecessary.

    Timing is everything for if my brother had lived, I would not.

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