Thursday, April 1, 2010

Daniel B. O'Shea's flash fic challenge: Hilary's Scar

We interrupt the hiatus of this blog to participate in the Daniel B. O'Shea flash fic challenge.

Here's the setup from Dan's blog:

So a little while back, Hilary Davidson let slip she’s had a bit of a health scare — seems some of her skin cells maybe caught a few too many rays and went rogue on her. She had to go in for a biopsy (everything turned out fine, thankfully) but that’s gonna leave a bit of a scar on her bicep. I jokingly suggested that perhaps Hilary’s Scar should be the subject of my next flash fiction challenge. I was kidding, but my subconcious wasn’t. Something nasty bubbled up — something, dare I say it, Davidson-like.

Since then, Hilary's Scar has been the subject of quite a few gripping offerings of flash fiction. They go from dark to darker. But I don't do dark. So here's my take. And be sure to read Hilary's debut crime novel, The Damage Done, out from Forge in October 2010. None of the publishing types appearing in my piece are at all based on Hilary's fine team at Forge. I made them all up.

Hilary's Scar
By Ellen Neuborne

“What about a knife fight?”

Faces brightened all around the conference room table at the suggestion, but optimism was quickly doused by Doug Miller, marketing team leader.

“No good,” he said. “A knife fight would need too many players. An adversary, witnesses, maybe even law enforcement. No way we could hold that story together.” He sighed and dropped his head into his hands. “We need a simpler lie.”

Hilary looked at the pained faces gathered in the glass-walled room. She willed herself not to shiver, even though she was sleeveless and the AC was whirring like an aircraft engine. On the conference table sat a stack of her soon-to-be released debut novel. On this meeting’s agenda: how to explain the brand new four-inch scar on her bicep during the already paid for book tour.

“Maybe a tattoo removal?” suggested Elias, from promotions.

“Sure, but why would she have a tattoo removed? A tattoo would be well inside her brand parameters – cool, sexy, mysterious…”

“We could say it was a skinhead tattoo.”


“No,” said Hilary, trying to sound more firm than alarmed. Then she added, “Why can’t I just wear longer sleeves?”

“Un-ac-CEPT-able!” shrieked the stylist Hilary knew only as Cube. Wrapped in a black cashmere throw, curled in a ball in the corner of the room, Hilary had forgotten he was there. Cube unfurled to make his point clear. “You finally send me an author who looks like something. A woman with great cheekbones and lips to die for and Michelle Obama arms and you want me to put her in SLEEVES! I can’t work like this. It’s just too much. You ask too much.”

“Okay, okay, let’s just settle down a moment,” Doug tried to regain control of his meeting, which wasn’t easy. The six around the table had spent months convincing their reluctant bosses to invest in this book tour. Sherri Strom-Singleton, liaison to sales, voiced what everyone around the table was thinking. “That scar is just to big and angry to go unnoticed. And it’s not like we can say what really happened--”

“God, no!”


“Brand suicide.”

“True, that.”

“Which means,” Sherri continued, “come the January budget reckoning we are all--”

“What about surgery?” It was Elias again.

“Oh, yeah, right, she had her appendix out and they went in through her bicep.”

“So, some other kind of surgery.”

“You know an organ in the upper arm?”

“Tennis elbow?”

“Off brand,” said Sherri. “She’s cemetery chick. Not country club maiden.”

“Or mole removal?”

“A four-inch long mole? And we were considering sleeveless? They’ll just fire Cube.”


“Rogue cells.”

“What?” Doug lifted his head from his hands and looked down the table at Oliver, the summer intern from the marketing department.

“My Aunt Janice had a mole removed and they had to take out rogue cells. She had a scar like a hot dog.”

Silence around the table.

“Rogue,” mulled Sherri. “I like it.”

“Me, too,” said Doug. “It’s dark. It’s dangerous. And it’s easy to maintain the story. Anyone really asks for details and we’ll just cry HIPPA. Rogue cells it is.

Around the table, sighs of relief. Hilary had to clear her throat twice to remind them she was still in the room.

Doug turned to Hilary. “You know we only want what’s best for the book.”

Hilary looked at the stack of her novels and nodded.

“And no mention of… that other thing. No more going downtown, right?”

Hilary nodded again.


Downtown an hour later, Hilary entered the building through the basement entrance. She stood in the doorway for a minute, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness.

As she approached the double doors, she could hear them. Their voices rising, keening, shrieking. She was late; they’d be on edge. They were in there, waiting for her, her weekly hour in their midst. She took a deep breath and pushed open the doors and entered.

“Miss Hilary! Miss Hilary!” Eleven three-year-olds surged towards her, enveloping her in a massive pre-school group hug.

“Can we do the parachute first?”

“Can we sing the bubbles song?”

“Are we doing circle time?”

As quickly as they gathered, they spun back out into the room, jumping on the play equipment, shrieking and yelling as they ran.

Except for one.

“Hello, Milo,” Hilary said to the boy. He raised his eyes. “Green Arrow is sorry about your boo-boo,” said Milo, holding up the classic action figure he’d stolen from his father’s collection. An original, made in 1961, it had all its factory features. Including, gripped in the action figure’s plastic fist, a surprisingly sharp arrow.

Hilary took the action figure carefully and placed it on the windowsill. “I think Green Arrow should just watch today,” she said. Milo nodded soberly and ran to join his playmates.

A lanky young man with a set of bongos under his bony elbow approached.

“I wasn’t sure they’d let you come back,” he said, smiling at her.

“Oh, they didn’t.” She smiled back at him and picked up a tambourine. “I’ve gone rogue.”


  1. Ellen, this is fantastic! You made me laugh over and over again, to the point where I almost fell off my chair. Thank you so much for this. BTW, my crime friends who are reading this should know that Ellen is being modest when she says she says "I don't do dark." Read her THUGLIT story "Blackballed" for proof.

  2. Well, I guess "dark" is a relative term. Generally, all the characters in my stories survive their experience with me! I am a low body count writer.
    Glad I made you laugh.