Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Starfish

Starfish in a window
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.

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!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms. Please note the rule changes for 2018.

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14 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Starfish”

  1. Pipe Dreams

    I float outside, through the open window and look back. The painted ledge is wearing down, the row of starfish aligns like they are sentries. Stick sea-creatures they are, white fingered starfish, or perhaps pipe cleaners.

    But I am again back in my bed, staring out the window. The view is the same. I see the same sentinels. They are my protectors. They are my dreams brought to artificial life. A taste of the sea, a memory, a fabrication to soothe my still active imagination.

    As a child, I lived on the ocean. I rocked in my cradle, perched on the outside engine, always humming, a slight motion as we slice into the fog, sluicing through the gentle waves, dropping anchor, being lifted into my mothers arms, we clamor into the skiff, my father rowing us to the shore.

    As the fog lifts, the sea life on the shore is revealed, the tide slowing slipping out, the touch of purple starfish, the oysters, shucked, the roaring beach fire, the dream is always the same.

    The taste fires my heart.

    “Do we know?” I hear her ask.

    “It’s hard to tell. He seems…poised,” the Doctor says.

    “Poised! Yes, I like that,” she says.

    They leave.

    I smell the salt sea. I see the child that I am, lifting the stone, exposing the scurrying crabs. They fear me, yet I pose no threat.

    I walk beyond them, slipping on the wet rocks, the curtain ruffled, the sea taking me in.

  2. I remember that first vacation with pitch-perfect clarity. Michael, always the sweet romantic, had carried me across the threshold of our new summer cottage while a grinning Ginny held Johnny’s hand as he laughed, toddling behind. New to us, the original owners were moving to Arizona, exchanging windswept dunes and salt air for dry heat and cactus

    Our first meal had been gathered from an open-air market. Shrimp heavily spiced with Old Bay, roasted ears of corn, potato salad, sweet coleslaw and biscuits I’d whipped up from scratch. Hamburgers for the kids. We’d dined al fresco on the rustic picnic table left behind.

    That first night we’d left our windows open to the tangy breeze, the motion of the white sheer curtains mimicking the ebb and flow of crashing waves. Our first week had passed quickly, part exhaustion, part giddiness. We’d built a swing set fort that Johnny declared a pirate lair. Ginny played along, not yet having reached the age of not believing. Sunrise walks on the beach soothed while gathering shells or feeding gulls.

    We’d found four starfish on a trip to town, a local gift shop where we’d bought a few more knickknacks for nesting. Those graced the living room window overlooking the water. Seven summers later we’d added one for our adopted stray, Arby.

    Twelve years later it’s just the kids, the dog and I. Michael’s starfish we slid slightly to the side, there but…not.

    Time and tide, soon my starfish would be joining his.

  3. ELIGIBLE FOR EDITORS CHOICE ONLY

    Dr. Strangefinger

    Agent Stone subdued the guards and slipped into Strangefinger’s office.

    “Sooo, Agent Stone. We meet again.” Dr. Strangefinger stood beside his desk and lit a cigarette. “How did you find me?”

    “Elementary, my good fellow,” replied Stone, straightening his tie. “I was on vacation in the South Pacific. While there, I overheard two fishermen talking about special experiments taking place in a nearby compound. When I investigated and saw five starfish representing your organization, I put two-and-two together. And here I am.”

    “Very clever.” Dr. Strangefinger was a member of the international organization called S.T.A.R.F.I.S.H. It stood for Specialists in Terror, Arson, Revolution and other FISHy activities. Five starfish were the organization’s calling card.

    “And I know what you’re planning,” said Stone, moving closer.

    “Do tell,” replied Dr. Strangefinger, calmly exhaling some smoke.

    “You plan to inject people with a special virus. Once the injections have been completed, you plan to control them using a high frequency machine. In effect, those infected people will become living automatons, whom you intend to use in your nefarious plans.”

    “I underestimated you, Stone.”

    “You’re coming with me.” Stone took a step towards Strangefinger and accidently stepped on a roller skate. This launched the agent towards the doctor, causing both of them to crash to the floor.

    Strangefinger was out cold. Agent Stone was just embarrassed. He was wondering how this was going to look in his report.

  4. I looked again. They were there, lined up in my daughter’s window, standing at attention like some tiny bizarre army. Keeping watch over our backyard, far from their home.

    Every year we would all go to the shore and every year Katie would bring one back. A single starfish. She would stand it up and set it in place, adding to the bizarre lineup in her window. The collection grew, year after year. It became our inside joke, a family tradition.

    That was a long time ago and Katie has her own family now. They have their own jokes, their own traditions. Katie doesn’t need those things with us anymore. She left those starfish soldiers alone a long time ago.

    So I’ll admit, it confuses me. I know Katie hasn’t visited her collection. I don’t even think she remembers it. So where are the new ones coming from?

  5. Esther reassured herself by gnawing at her lower lip as she reminisced in her late father’s beach bungalow, just this minute rendered vacant by a local junkman.

    Dad had built this shack from scratch when he came back from WWII. It sat on a backwater estuary. He had company. His friends from work all shared his desire for the comforts of the beach in the summer. They worked long hours in the copper and brass plants further up the valley. They were newly middle class and proud veterans, spending their earnings on a special life. He chose to die here.

    She walked around the vacant structure, it seemed so diminutive and ordinary now, but foaming with family history. There were good times. Love. Drink. Merriment. Also, tragedy. Nothing left now but memories.

    The beach had changed in 75 years. New Yorkers were moving in to renovate or destroy and rebuild their own dreams. Esther’s sibs agreed to sell after their dad died. This was goodbye.

    She turned to go. The light from the marsh window caught her eye. Her mom called it the wishing window. Esther and her sisters used to look out over the marsh and re-imagine theirs and other worlds. Mom had affixed dried sea stars for every girl in the crevices of Dad’s handiwork. There were so many stories told here.

    She asked the junkman for a screwdriver and pried the relics from the kitchen sill. She would keep them. Perhaps they would tell her more.

  6. George and Martha, the elderly couple of the neighborhood, walked gingerly along the snow-covered sidewalk in front of the Rivera’s house. Thanks to his cane, George was able to steady Martha as she slipped on the snowy sidewalk.

    “What are those?” asked Martha, pointing to five white starfish-like things resting on the inside of the Rivera’s front window.

    George squinted. “Maybe Christmas tree decorations? Something the kids made? There are five of them and there are five Rivera kids.”

    Martha plowed on. “Christmas was two months ago,” she said. “They’re usually pretty good about putting holiday stuff away right after New Years.”

    George laughed. “Not like the Fitzsimmons. Their outdoor lights are still up. Maybe they’ll keep them out till next Christmas. Save time putting them up.”

    Martha stumbled a bit and George took a quick step to grab her arm. “Not so fast.”

    “Gosh,” said Martha. “Look at all the newspapers on the Rivera’s porch. They must be on vacation and didn’t stop the paper.”

    “Vacation?” said George. “I don’t think there’s any school vacation now. Mid-winter break’s coming up so they wouldn’t take the kids out of school now. They’re good parents.”

    A black SUV pulled up at the curb in front of the Rivera’s house.

    “Do you know anything about the people who live here?” asked the burly driver, dressed in a black flack jacket with white ICE initials emblazoned on it.

    George and Martha looked at one another. “Not a clue,” said George.

  7. My daughter Tyra was five when she found the white clay near our stream. She molded stick figures that looked like the spokes of a wheel. When I asked her what they were, she said, “Starfish.”

    “There’s no such fish shaped like that,” I responded.

    But she just shook her head and continued with her project.

    So I made the long trek across the empty fields and forest to town. There I placed my written request into the Little Library box. “Wanted: books about ancient fish.”

    Within a few weeks people had donated their books for loan. And my research proved Tyra correct. In the ancient seas lived a creature, long extinct, shaped like a rimless wheel. It was named “Starfish.”

    That’s when I knew Tyra belonged to the Gifted – those who can tap the collective memory store of all mankind. Only one in 100,000 are born with this precious ability. Tyra was destined to become a member of the Wise Council when she came of age.

    Now I must nurture her ability as well as I can. I must also learn all she will show me. Every time she models something new I research it through the Little Library.

    Today she is working another white lump of clay into an animal-like shape. As I prepare for another trek to town, I ask what it is. She stops for a moment, stares into space, then answers, “Polar Bear.”

  8. Bernard hated distractions. Distractions made for sloppy work, and sloppy work led to prison. But his wife Melody couldn’t help be distracting. That beautiful auburn hair, that beautiful smile, that beautiful, well, everything, not to mention that air of supreme confidence that broadcast the most astonishing thing about her: the Almighty was squarely in her corner. If you didn’t know she was a thief—very few did–you’d swear she was a filthy rich philanthropic heiress.

    But that wasn’t the distraction today. The distraction was the row of five bone-white starfish Melody was carefully arranging in a window of the mansion they were robbing—the mansion of an actual filthy rich heiress, although not so philanthropic, which made robbing her okay. Melody stood there grinning, her drop-dead gorgeous self on display to anyone outside, lining up starfish.

    “What the hell are you doing?” Bernard snapped

    “Found them in the bathroom,” she said. “They look better in the sunlight.”

    “Someone’ll see you!”

    “I know.” She waved at said someone, or pretended to.

    “Mel-o-dy.” Bernard approached and looked over her shoulder. Outside, the sun shone, birds flitted by, and a young man holding a whirring edger gaped at Melody, smitten.

    “Chill, Bernie.”

    “But he’s seen you!”

    She tweaked his nose. “Don’t be jealous. You’ve seen more of me.” She returned to her thievery, unconcerned.

    Bernard groaned and did his best not to worry. He supposed she’d get away with it. After all, the Almighty was squarely in her corner.

  9. Tubular starfish. A fish’s four-leaf clover. My sister told me that one day at the aquarium. It was March something. I guess the closest Monday to St. Patrick’s Day since that’s the day I’m off work at the aquarium. Yes, I take my sister where I work on my days off. She loves it! The Mantis Shrimp is her favorite fish. Half crab, half fish. Kinda like a minotaur of the deep, where the Ocean is its maze. Well, in this case, a ten foot round case which houses many other creatures of the deep. My favorite is the cowfish. I was having water cooler talk with one of the dolphin trainers one day and they keep wondering when the dolphin show is going to close.
    “You heard what they did to Barnum and Bailey.” they said.
    So when I look at the starfish my sister made out of paper and put in our window, i have to think…its not going to be a lucky day my sea friends are taken away…not lucky at all.

  10. There we were, years ago, opening night, 4 Guys and a Gal, making our Broadway debut. We bounced out onto the stage kicking and cavorting to “Lullaby of Broadway,” everybody’s favorite at the time. The audience, we noticed, had all the critics that mattered, eager to get back to their desks to spread the word.

    We really didn’t care whether or not they liked us because we loved entertaining and were going to close the show with something we thought would blow the top off the theater.

    Segueing into “Forty Second Street,” there was an enthusiastic response to our change of tempo. The theatergoers began tapping their toes in time to our rhythms, poking their partners and rocking to our foot stomping beat.

    We responded by swinging into a rip-roaring rendition of “Give My Regards to Broadway.” The carefree customers began dancing in the aisles and singing along.

    Racing offstage we slipped into our true clothing to close the night. The curtains rose. We came out of the closet high kicking across the stage like the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. The audience screamed their approval and skyrocketed us to stardom to entertain the world as the
    4 Guys and a Gal doing 4 Gals and a Guy doing 4 Guys and a Gal.

    Clinking glasses of chilled champagne, we capped off the evening by getting the thrilled first-nighters to join us in an unconstrained rendition of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

    Ain’t no business like it!!!.

    Quelle nuit!

  11. Flash – Starfish

    The elderly man placed a small rather crudely carved box on the table. A brief bittersweet smile passed his lips as he studied the few people with him in the bank’s vault.

    “In a moment, you’re all going to wonder exactly why I keep this box and its contents in my safety deposit box. Well for your information, I consider the contents of this box, including the box itself, the most valuable things I own.”

    He opened the box, carefully removed four tiny starfish, and positioned them on the table just so.

    The old man’s voice wavered with emotion, “These were Molly’s. After she had reached a certain age, she did some serious beachcombing the last few times we went to ocean. She loved the beach and these starfish. She called the starfish her “friends” and she talked to them. She claimed they talked to her in return… told her stories and things. Towards the end, Molly always wanted two things: to go to the ocean once more and to find the fifth starfish. Sadly, she was unable to do either.”

    He pulled a small linen wrapped parcel from his jacket. Carefully unwrapping the linen, he smiled and added another small starfish to those on the table.

    The old man looked up with tears streaming down his face. He looked intently at each of us before he spoke this last thought:

    “A parent should never have to bury their child.”

  12. It had been a long journey through space for the scout team. Once their preeminent scientist proclaimed there was limited time to leave their planet to get to a place called Earth in order for their species to survive, an exploration mission became top priority. This was their first attempt at a voyage of this magnitude.

    The captain signaled that a fresh wave of salt water would be circulating through the cabin momentarily, bringing a nutrient burst.

    The compact alien spaceship had performed well. However, a clean entry and landing was where there was the greatest potential for disaster. Statistically, models projected a fifty percent chance of failure, in which the ship and crew would suffer through a metabolic solidification process caused by the extreme temperatures reached while passing through the atmosphere.

    “Almost there,” the captain said to his four companions.

    “If we’re successful, we’ll be heroes,” one commented.

    “We’re explorers paving the way; there’s no second guessing that,” another replied.

    The captain flipped a switch. “It’s time. Starronauts, secure yourselves.” He pressed himself back into his station, feeling the suction cups take hold.

    Minutes later, a blinding light engulfed them; their screams went unheard.

    ***

    Maddie ran down the beach towards her mother. “I found starfish!”

    “Wow, you found five.”

    “I’ll put them in my bedroom window.”

    “They’re unusual.” Her mother held one up. “Fossilized.”

    Maddie’s brother joined them. “I found a weird box thing. I think it’s a spaceship.”

    “Don’t be silly. Toss that junk in the trash.”

  13. While raising our nine children – blended his five with my four – we took them to the beach and often overnight. The kids rode horseback on Rosarita Beach in Mexico, boiled a lobster on the stove in Huntington Beach, swam in the ocean many Saturday afternoons at the end of Beach Boulevard at Seal Beach, and visited the museums along the way.

    Johnny, Joe’s ten-year-old son, made us all laugh later but in horror the early morning when he threw water over the side of the second-story motel in Huntington Beach…onto a woman walking below. She was not happy. He forgot to look.

    One day we saw a group with a coffin that amazed everyone for they were worshippers of the dead, perhaps Goths, and dressed in black mourning outfits. They would take turns lying in the coffin. I had never heard of such a thing.

    Husband Joe brought home many seashells that he pounded gently into wet cement in walkways around our house. When I miss the beach, I can walk outdoors and look at those shells that bring back memories.

  14. The invasion of Earth began on Tuesday morning.

    Deena awoke to find five little figures on her windowsill. They reminded her of the starfish she’d seen when she’d visited her grandmother in Myrtle Beach last summer.

    “What are these doing here?”

    Deena only realized she’d spoken aloud when the answer came in a tinny little voice: “We are your new overlords, human. Prepare to serve the Ilgwak.”

    “But I don’t have time. I have to be at school–”
    “What is this school you speak of?”

    “It’s where we have to work all day learning spelling and times tables and PE–”

    ‘Then you already have a master?”

    “Lots of them. Mrs. Markwalter, Mr. Robinson–”

    The tinny little voice became alarmed. ‘This planet was ceded to the Ilgwak by Galactic law, Article 8, Section 22, Paragraph 39-B. There must have been some mistake.”

    “Guess so.” Deena stretched and climbed out of bed. “Right now I’ve got to get ready for school. Sorry, sucks to be you.”

    With a shriek of frustration, all five aliens vanished in a pop of displaced air. Deena went about her morning routine, blissfully unaware that she had just spared humanity from one of the Galaxy’s most tyrannical conquerors.

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