Because WNO isn’t a competitive endeavor, and because flash fiction needs to be read in a short span of time, but not necessarily written in a short space of time – indeed, I think the calendar/clock expenditure per word is probably higher for flash – it occurs to me that there’s no reason why the exercise rubric shouldn’t be shared in advance.

So for Monday night, I plan to do a brief burble on flash fiction, its care & feeding, blah, blah, and then a round-robin session of readings from the results of the exercise. I’d like to feature also a few minutes feedback from the audience for each reader, in real time.

Yes, this sounds a lot like the WFoD Flash Workshop format. Because that format has produced some pretty good flash fiction over the past couple of years.

So the exercise is simply this:

  • obviously, read the text below,
  • finish it, i.e. write the old man’s note, then
  • edit/revise it down to around 500 words – it’s 616 as it stands, and how long the old geezer’s note is is entirely up to you. [note that 500 words would still probably fall outside the target for the NHWP Three Minute Fiction Slam. But Flash fiction itself has no such constraint. If you’re interested in what it takes to be competitive, shoot for 400 words.]

The implicit expectation of course, is that your additions and edits should make a coherent, engaging, and entertaining whole story.

Notes on the text:

It’s mine, entirely. I’ve been struggling with it for a couple of weeks and was about to put it away for a while when it occurred to me that this might be a better use for it.

It’s entirely first-draft, I haven’t done any doctoring or revising or anything. So there’s plenty of edit-fodder.

Friends familiar with more of my work than the flash stuff will feel at home.

The text:

Last Call at the Tin Hat

The big round booth in the corner of the Tin Hat had been empty all night. Now the whole place was empty. Lenny turned as he wiped the bar down to look up at the clock – 2:44. He smiled as the Frank Sinatra lyric trudged through his head.

“Last call,” he intoned up the length of the empty bar, “y’all,” he added softly with a slight smile.

“Double Johnny Black, please,” came from the corner booth, startling Lenny. He looked and there was an elderly man in battered brown fedora and tweed jacket, Oom Paul pipe dangling under a ramshackle mustache. “Straight up, please.”

Lenny recomposed himself and poured. “Double Johnny Black, straight up” he repeated as he put the glass on the bar and pushed it gently toward the end nearest the corner booth. It came to rest perfectly aligned in the apex of the ninety-degree bend in the bar that pointed into the corner. The old guy was there waiting for it, and took it back to the booth, leaving a deuce in its place. Lenny took the bill, rang up $1.25, took six bits from the till and pocketed it.

“Thanks,” he called over his shoulder.

“Don’t mention it,” came from the corner booth.

As Lenny turned to remind the customer that it was ten minutes ‘til closing time, he saw the door to the john swing shut. There was no one in the corner booth, and the rocks glass on the table was empty. He walked over to collect it, and said “Ten ‘til closing, my friend,” loudly at the door to the Gents’. The reply was muffled but sounded amiable. Lenny continued his closing routine.

At last, and at 3:04, Lenny locked the back door that led to the alley and began to shed his apron as he threaded his way among the kegs and empties in the furthest-back store-room. Back in the bar he saw the old gent’s fedora on the table in the corner booth, the big pipe still in the ashtray.

“Oh shit,” he muttered and headed for the john. “Anybody in here?” he shouted as he poked his head into the gents’ room. There was no reply. He pushed the door open further and looked around, having no idea why he was being so careful. There was no one at the urinals or the sink, so he walked toward the two stalls, almost on tiptoe. Under the door of stall #1 he saw the shoes; crouching a bit, he made out a right hand sagging to the floor. “Shit,” he repeated, and reached out and rapped on the stall door. “You ok, mister? Closing time.”


The cops had cleared out. Nothing to interest them, old guy checked out in the john of a little neighborhood bar. As the ambulance drivers got ready to haul out their sad cargo, one motioned to Lenny and took a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. “Found this under his shoe,” he said, handing the paper to Lenny.

Lenny held the paper gingerly and looked at it for a few minutes. The he realized that he was alone and it was nearly 4:30 in the morning. He locked up the front door and turned off the lights in the bar, then headed for the little office to get his coat and lock up the night’s receipts. He dropped the keys into his pocket and they jingled on the three quarters from the old guy’s tip. He took the paper out of his pocket and read it.

Dear Lenny – 

copyright 2019, Dean Quarrell

There are two parts to this exercise:

1) write the old man’s note, and 

2) then pare the whole text down to 500 words.