Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction: Beating the Odds

By popular demand, Toby and Madame La Mort have returned! Read Fair Game if you want to know what happened to Toby last time. This is my Writers Weights: Tension Challenge exercise for this week.

The challenge: write a scene of 1000 words or less that uses two or more methods to create tension. The theme for this week is: silk.


Beating the Odds
by T.S. Bazelli

Madame La Mort plucked a stuffed pink piggy off of it’s hook with a spindly hand. She offered it to Toby.

“Don’t cry, little one. Here, hold on to this if it makes you feel better.”

She reminded Toby of his school headmistress. She pronounced her words one by one, as if she had all the time in the world.

Toby snatched the toy out of her long fingers and it made a cheerful oinking noise as he squeezed it tight.

“Do you want to try another game?”

“Yes, but not this one.” Toby wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. Monsieur La Vie, threw up his hands and waved them off in frustration.

“Of course. Pick any game in the carnival, and we’ll play it.” Mme. La Mort pushed a wiry pair of glasses up her nose and followed a step behind as Toby struggled to make his decision.

He’d learned his lesson. This time, he wanted to pick a game where he had the advantage. He appraised his new opponent out of the corner of his eye. She was more than twice as tall as Toby. The ball throwing contest was out. She had longer arms than Toby. The wack-a-mole would not do. She was older than his mother. Puzzle games he would surely lose.

Lights blinked golden yellow, and red, and green as they walked nearly the length of the carnival. Toby stared in every direction, seeking out a game he was sure he could win. Shadows began to fall over the carnival, and he knew he was supposed to meet his mother and father again soon.

A crowd of children with icing smeared faces, and silly paper cones on their heads went running past. A birthday party! It should have cheered him up. Toby loved birthday parties.

His eyes followed where they had come from, wistful. Beneath a covered picnic area, paper plates and colorful streamers had been abandoned once the cake had been eaten.

Toby kicked at a ball of wrapping paper. It came to rest against a wooden wall, where an equine shape had been pinned up. He jumped up and down, and pointed.

“Pin the tail on the donkey?” he asked Madame La Mort. He’d won the game at every birthday party he had memory of, and he had a good memory. The elder woman frowned slightly, and he knew he had the advantage. Toby grinned as he squeezed the plush piggy tight. He’d already decided to name him Herbert.

“Very well, ” she replied, and plucked a paper tail off the wall with her long fingernails. She passed one to Toby and reached into a deep pocket, to produce two silk scarves: one purple, and the other blue. Toby chose the blue one.

“I’ll go first.” Toby fixed the scarf loosely over his eyes, careful to leave a little space near the bridge of his nose. He was good at the game, but he wanted to be sure. Madame La Mort spun him around in a circle, and he feigned dizziness as he stepped to the left and the right in a zigzag. Out of the bottom of the scarf, he could see his target clearly. He was careful to tack his tail just a little off the mark to make it look authentic.

When he was done, he removed the scarf and admired his work.

Madame La Mort pursed her lips. “Well done, Toby.”

“Let me help you with your scarf,” he offered. She let him tie the purple silk tightly around her head. Toby fussed to be certain that her eyes were completely covered. Then he spun her round, the requisite three times, and two more for good measure. She tottered slightly off course.

Toby willed her to go right, but she went left. Toby willed her to go left, but she went right. She headed straight towards the X painted boldly on the donkey’s rump.

Toby shouted out in despair when her tack hit the mark exactly. There was no way she could have cheated. Madame La Mort pulled the scarf down to her neck. She did not look one bit surprised.

“I know you cheated, but I never lose at games, Toby. Let this be another lesson for you today.” Her face split into a wide, thin lipped, grin. She plucked the piggy out of Toby’s hands. “And no, you can’t take it with you.” She turned her back and walked away.

Toby realized he’d rather be at school.

22 Comments

  1. Ooh, I love the ending! Madame LaMort is (almost) always on the mark, eh? 🙂

    B.T.W., do you know what happened to Lua? She disappeared into never-never land and Bowl of Oranges is down. Kinda scary. 🙁

    1. Thanks Seph! That she does!

      I replied on Serial Central, but I’ll answer here too. We managed to get in touch with Lua because we were all very worried too. She’s very busy with school and had to give up blogging. She’s fine though, just a change in priorities… but you know all about that. 🙂

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I wanted to take a YA angle rather than a horrific one… but I’m glad there was enough to keep you guessing about the outcome! Or… wait… do you always expect me to do horrific things to my characters?! LOL

    1. Well as Stephen pointed out, death always wins. In lore people would always challenge death and most often they lose, because death wins all games. I am so happy to have been reminded of that.

  2. It’s a great ending. Is it evil of me to have awaited Toby’s death at her hands? I expected something very dark and yet, you delivered an unexpectedly tamed ending. But it didn’t feel like cheating the reader. Very well done.

    1. Eric W

      Actually, I read this without reading part 1, so I can comment on this as a stand-alone piece if you care. I didn’t clue in that La Mort was supposed to represent death, and I was surprised to see her achieve a perfect bullseye. Toby thinks to himself there was no way she could have cheated, and I was left wondering whether that was true or whether our narrator Toby just didn’t know about it. I found the last line kind of weak (about wishing he were in school). My favourite part was Toby’s thought process in choosing the game, that was well done.

  3. This finishes off the Fair Game well. The way it mirrors the first one with him choosing to cheat was nicely done. The name Le Mort and the way he searches for his game and then cheats all added tension that pulled me through to the ending. I think Toby learned something about becoming a man this day.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Thank you Aidan. Toby might have a few more things to learn. I have an idea for a series of carnival stories. Some lessons about the good in the world and some about the bad. Will see what becomes of that.

  4. Some say they expected Toby’s death at Madame LaMort’s hands, but I actually expected him to kill her somehow. Either way, nice way to build up the tension and give us an unexpected ending. Though, truth be told, I was kind of hoping Toby would kill her. Is that awful of me? 🙂

  5. This really surprised me. She’s something else, isn’t she? A lot of layers to the things she’s doing with this kid. But given her name I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised!

    Really enjoyed it. 🙂

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