Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Ceiling

central park zoo 1993 lamp
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!

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11 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Ceiling”

  1. Alas Ceiling

    It’s the waiting that gets you. And the voices. Well, they are often muffled, whispered, hissing vowels and consonants of hesitant noise, meanings lost, to me, anyways.

    Not that it matters. As you exit the tunnel, there is only the blinding light of eternal darkness.

    In any case, they know what they are saying. Even if they are clumsy about it, ineloquent, almost casual, one could say, if one could be heard, they have their glances, their acceptance of loss.

    They are always prepared. For as much as they stumble about, fiddling with tubes, wipes for my failing body, feeble efforts to bring comfort, I am nothing more than an object.

    I don’t mind being that. Whatever I once was, I am now something less. If I were them, I would view me that way.

    A disappearing object.

    Once, I would have had value. At least as much as anyone else.

    Here, a pale, sickly entity, I accept the sentence of time.

    I have had my moments.

    Small pleasures.

    Smaller pains.

    In that sense, I have been lucky.

    So, I rest here.

    I stare at the ceiling.

    It is my one constant.
    Besides the whispers. The glances. The sterile scrubbing of my cramped and limp body. The ceremonial cleansing.

    I begin to see my life unfolding, a screen of memories.

    Nothing special but comforting.

    Loves found.

    Loves lost.

    That small journey to the sea. The tide rolling in.

    The waves crashing.

    The darkness descending.

    The ceiling descending.


  2. Sign of the Times

    It all happened so fast. I was sitting at the restaurant table minding my own business, wondering what I was going to do about college. I remember hearing a commotion, and then the lights went out.

    My head was pounding and my ears were ringing, but I could still hear yelling. I opened my eyes to see a hanging light from the ceiling. I was on the floor. I started to put the pieces together.

    Someone, or some people rushed into the diner, there was some yelling and some shots fired. I think it was a robbery. That’s when someone must have hit me over the head and the lights went out.

    “Give me your watch and your wallet.” A young woman’s voice demanded.

    I rolled my head in her direction. I was looking at a nice pair of legs below a very short mini-skirt. However, the sight of the chrome 45 pistol changed my attention. It was much too big for her hand.

    I wasn’t going to test whether she could use the pistol and slipped my watch off. Since this was Chicago, I pulled out the alternate wallet. It had some identification and a small amount of cash. She stuffed it in a duffel bag.

    I could see two others with guns doing the same thing to the other patrons.

    She pointed the pistol at my head, “Say goodnight sucker!”


    “Honey…HONEY, wake up you’re having a nightmare.”

    I remember those legs.

  3. He bumped at her elbow, making her spill her coffee. “The aliens are coming,” he said, pointing toward the ceiling. “Prepare for a close encounter. You ready for a probe?”

    “No. And you can forget any thoughts of that.”

    She set her mug down. She was already annoyed. He was arrogant and obnoxious, with no respect for people’s boundaries. If only they’d been alone, she could have said what she’d wanted. As it was, she’d have to let her actions speak.

    She uncrossed and re-crossed her legs, catching him sharply under the table. His cry of pain was gratifying but she knew she’d not get another chance. He’d be keeping his distance for a while, suspicious and more cautious.

    “That was uncalled for,” he said, glowering. “It was only a little banter. A bit of gentle fun. You must get that a lot, coming out alone the way you do. It’s almost like you’re inviting it, putting yourself in harm’s way.” He shifted to the end of the bench-seat, swinging his legs out into the space between the tables. She’d made him nervous, but he wasn’t afraid of her yet.

    She looked up toward the counter. Louis wasn’t there. He was probably around the back of the shop, a cigarette in his hand. She turned toward her bag, lifted out a wad of paper tissues. And something else, something to give her comfort.

    “It’s a can of Mace,” she said, raising her eyebrows.” Now what was it you said?”

  4. There’s one dot. And another. Together they are eyes. Look. Look harder. There it is, a series of dots, a sideward smile. Now, one dot in the middle. The nose.
    Look away. Wait. Wait. Look again, find the face. There, there it is again. Let’s find another.
    He felt his bedroom door open. He looked over, seeing Harriet.
    “Breakfast time, sweetie,” she said. She was the nicest person he had ever met. Not like the others.
    He got up, adjusting his socks, the purple ones with rubbery tread.
    Don’t slip on your way to breakfast.
    But in the dining room, there they were. The demons. The possessed.
    Stay calm, he told himself.
    “Don’t stay calm and eat your eggs!” someone shouted, dumping their tray on the floor.
    That was just a coincidence. His heart beat faster.
    “There are no coincidences,” an older woman said, speaking to an empty chair.
    He felt sweat on his forehead. His heart, faster now. His breath—short, rapid.
    It’s not a coincidence. They know. They can see my mind.
    “We see everything.”
    He turned, and saw two staff talking and laughing, seeming to ignore him.
    How did they know?
    Paralyzed, he stood there, mouth agape—but the screams would not come out and Harriet held his arm, helping him back to bed as the dots in the ceiling became faces again, happy, smiling faces.

  5. I lay there, staring at the ceiling, listening to her high heels clicking across the attic floor. Would she finally find the treasure she married me for?

    It was two years ago in Paris at the tea room in the Ritz Hotel. She was alone. Her luxurious raven black hair caressed her shoulders. Her violet eyes sparkled as she reached out to the chef’s trolley for a clotted cream scone. My heart melted.

    Two weeks later we were wed.

    Shortly thereafter, her odd behavior made me wonder why a sweet young thing like her would marry an old goat like me. I remembered my best friends warning me to be careful, that she probably was after the Sewelo diamond, 1,738 uncut carats, I recently unveiled at Louis Vuitton’s. I wouldn’t listen.

    Suddenly, I heard her stepping towards the attic door. She sashayed into our room and curtsied next to me. “I give up, cherie,” she confessed. “Tell me where the stone is. I’ll untie you and leave the country forever.”

    My anxious mind acted quickly.

    “Beloved, let’s forget about all this. Stay with me and live in luxury. I’ll give you the diamond,” I lied. “You won’t have to be a thief living in fear. We’ll have a wonderful life.” The naive little minx agreed.

    The next day, as we left the chateau, we were greeted by the waiting gendarmes who detained her on the spot.

    “We believed your phone call and the note you sent us, monsieur,” they explained.

  6. Pristine

    Creepy, crawly and I can’t take it, it bubbles up like a witches brew in a large caldron. People ebb and flow with empathies, feign smiles, covered grimace and tears but they can’t really understand. Overheard susurrus they think I don’t hear…

    Counting over and over the empty speckled dots constantly losing count as they run together making me nauseous; though I counted about 10 dots in a localized smoke stained square. Conveniently above my head. Was this even allowed in a hospital? Hygienic, antiseptic, pristine?

    Lucky they called me. “We have the best orthopedic surgeon in the North state on staff, there is no need to be life flighted to a larger area.” Anxiety falling away, like the unseen snowflakes outside my room, the snowflakes that covered my face my fallen body, frozen and waiting. Good, I hated to fly and in this position being strapped down, but they said there were drugs. But our hospital is okay, but I’d rather be at U.C. Davis or Stanford; Calgon take me away.

    At my age I needed adventure long forgotten. Preternatural it was time to take on the mountain that shadowed are hyperlocal town like an ominous power drawing me in with promises of an unknown secret. Becoming an annoying skiing tourist had been my plan, never knowing it was the last.

    My eyes blur, tears cascade down the sides of my cheeks, melting away the snow, I blink and the stained, speckled ceiling stares back at me.

  7. All that remained was the red ceiling and the solitary lamp that hung from it.

    Looking up, awaiting resolution, my thoughts focused on times past, when freedoms taken for granted were a given; when time, place and friendships were in abundance. All I could control now was my response.

    “Where do I possibly go now? It was supposed to happen two weeks ago. I am alive, but barely so. How much more patience?”

    Conversations surrounding me were in the familiar staccato and intonations that flooded my soundscape the past six months. I tried to understand with difficulty but kept pace more with body language and eye movements for any clue to my disposition. While my flesh managed to survive the excruciating torment, my soul though still intact, was slowly withering away. There were times suffering cries reached the Almighty, whose existence became doubtful when the pain tore me from reality. When it stopped, comfort came like a cool breeze and I drifted into dreamless slumber. Until the cycle resumed.

    My sight was flooded with tears and my arms lay limp from shaking when I heard the call that made my ears perk up. People around me hurried off in excited tones that faded away fast. There was crossfire, an explosion and a bit of red ceiling powdered down.

    “Major Anna!”

    A voice in a language of my forebears pierced the din. The familiar scent of battle fatigue enveloped me into the waiting wings of the C-17 that took me home.

  8. For the Missing Ones

    Anna Vaughn lay uncomfortably on the floor, for the third day. At least her children had been treated better, although she didn’t know why they wanted them.

    Sara, six, and Joey, eight, were both on the bed, and bound, as she was, but they had been allowed more food, more bathroom trips and blankets. At least they hadn’t been beaten.

    But the men made no attempt to conceal their violence toward Anna, which indirectly controlled Sara and Joey. And not hiding the repeated rapes? Maybe they were grooming them. Anna shuddered.

    She could hear them crying, as she stared at the red hotel ceiling, with its single, brassy light. Anna did her best to comfort her children, during one of the kidnappers’ brief disappearances.

    She was surprised when two hotel maids entered the room. They had kept housekeeping out.

    “We’re CIA,” said the first woman, as they began snipping their ropes. “Sent to free you. Agents Harris and Goodwin.”

    “Thank you, thank you!” cried Anna.

    “Thank us later,” said Agent Goodwin, covering Anna with a robe. “It’s still dangerous. The children were about to be taken in a treacherous international human trafficking operation. You were probably here, short-term, for the kidnappers.”

    “The rest of our team is following your captors. We’re hoping to get information about the bosses.”

    Sara and Joey, unfettered, flew into their mother’s arms, as the agents ushered them to safety. All three were shaking and crying uncontrollably, with emotion and relief.

  9. Henry looked up at the blood-red ceiling that evening. With the soft light from the bronze fixture, the room reminded him of his altar boy days and the somber red glow of the church sacristy.

    A middle aged man with light brown hair and blue eyes, Henry followed strict standards of conduct, except recently, and liked the safety of routine. Still, he prided himself on his open-mindedness. New and exciting was worth examining as long as it was new and exciting and not somber and threatening.

    Henry’s young—and new—wife, Carol, was standing in the middle of what had been their boring living room. Henry could feel how anxious Carol was about how he would react to the new paint. When he’d left on his business trip a week ago, he encouraged her to go to town with the paint.

    “Like it?” Carol asked, so excited she was bouncing on her toes.

    Henry opened his arms wide for a hug. The color was more than he would normally approve, but if it got Carol’s mind off his recent indiscretion and their marriage back on track, all was good.

    Carol, her eyes shining strangely, jumped at him and threw her arms around his neck. Henry was surprised at her effusiveness. She hugged him tightly, so much so that he didn’t, at first, feel the bite on his neck, right at the jugular.

    Only a few deep red drops of blood fell to the floor, but Henry didn’t notice.

  10. Once there lived an emperor who did not like bright colors. In fact he despised bright colors. Bright colors spoke of the joy of life and love. The emperor felt no joy in life. He had never known love. He much preferred a serious discussion of the finer points of his own repressive laws, every one of them enacted for his subjects’ own good, to protect them from every possible harm that could possibly come to them. At first his subjects had appreciated the emperor’s laws, but as time went on they began to resent the constant restrictions on their lives. They determined that something must be done. But what?

    The elders considered everything from assassination to life imprisonment, but being essentially gentle people these solutions were completely unacceptable. One day a young girl who had been listening to the elders’ discussions had an idea.

    The elders listened to her idea and after some discussion decided to try it.

    “Why not?” said the eldest of the elders.

    “Indeed,” the others agreed.

    The following morning when the emperor awoke from his restless slumbers, he found himself under a freshly painted bright red ceiling. At first he was shocked, then horrified, then he noticed that the headache he usually had on awakening was gone. So were the dark shadows in the corners of the room. Life seemed brighter. He thought maybe he would declare today a holiday, perhaps with a parade, and a carnival. Yes, a carnival, and dancing….

  11. We were three days out from Al-Hazrad when the gravs went flooey. One minute I was supervising the robots vacuuming the Champlain Ballroom. The next I was looking down at the ceiling, like an old-time astronaut from the days before grav-planing.

    You expect stuff like this on a tramp freighter. But the Metacomet was a state-of-the-art space liner, and the toffs expected nothing but the best. Someone was going to be in big trouble if they didn’t fix it soon.

    In the meantime, I had problems of my own. With no gravity, I was drifting away from the floor. If I got far enough away, I as going to be in a world of hurt when Engineering got their problem fixed.

    But how to get anywhere in freefall? At least I hadn’t panicked and started flailing when the gravs cut out, so I hadn’t made my situation worse. But I’d been standing in the middle of the ship’s largest pressurized volume, which meant no handholds in reach. How had the old-time astronauts handled it?

    Suddenly I was seized by a tickle in my nose. The sneeze propelled me upward, away from the floor but closer to a ceiling fixture.

    With one breath after another I propelled myself into reach, moments before the gravity turned back on. Hanging on and waiting for rescue wasn’t fun, but at least it was better than falling to the floor with a thud that could break bones.

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