Flash Fiction Hidden in Dictionary Definitions
The following flash fictions come from Dictionary Stories: Short Fictions and Other Findings, a collection of very short stories each composed entirely of example sentences from dictionaries.
The eleventh fairway of a tiny golf course on a hot, airless night. One of the great stars in the American golfing firmament, insensible with drink, was in a bad temper.
“Go to hell!” he spat. It was past midnight.
Socks at half-mast, missing putts that he would normally hole blindfolded, he swore violently under his breath, like an axeman at work in a tangled thicket. He was then at the height of his sporting career. He unscrewed the top of a flask and drank the contents.
He hit his third shot out of bounds at the 17th. Like a red rag to a bull. His face suddenly turned puce with futile rage, the ball bounced away, and he chased it. He fell with a thud that left him winded.
He lay exhausted and inert, his eyes closed, and with little to distinguish him from one already dead. He lit a cigarette to calm his nerves, and watched the smoke wreathe into the night air.
Sources: New Oxford American Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary, Macquarie Dictionary
The Greatest Story Never Told
“I’m going to tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Here is a children’s fable about love and honesty. It’s a tale about the friendship between two boys, a drama about two young brothers who are abruptly abandoned by their father. It’s an adventure story, a tragic love story, and an unforgettable tale of joy and heartbreak. You’re going to enjoy this.
“The novel deals with several different topics: the sanctity of human life, the dangers of religious extremism, our obsession with the here and now, the yoke of marriage . . . Lots of people don’t bother to get married these days. I wonder whether you have thought more about it? That’s getting off the subject, but never mind. Nothing is more irritating than people who do not keep to the point. Let’s get down to business! Shady characters, an intriguing story, a touching reconciliation scene . . . it’s the best novel I’ve ever read. Now, let me see, where did I put it? Ah, there you are! The book was filmed as a six-part TV serial, and the play was adapted for the big screen! I didn’t enjoy the film; the acting was dreadful, but if you like steampunk, this is a great book for you. Oh, look! The sun’s coming out! I’m kind of thirsty. Would you like a cup of coffee? Shall we have a drink? Let’s have a cup of coffee. Hold on a minute, I’ll be right back.
“Are you all right? You were screaming. Anyway, um, where was I? Let me see, now; oh, yes, I remember. The book is set in the 1940s — ”
Sources: New Oxford American Dictionary, Collins COBUILD Primary Learner’s Dictionary
Fifty More Ways to Leave Your Lover
A fire escape.
A getaway car
A luxury yacht.
A formal complaint.
An uncomfortable silence.
The 100-meters sprint.
A trick question.
A divine revelation.
A foregone conclusion.
A humiliating defeat.
A tearful farewell.
A leaked government document.
A blunt statement of fact.
A bleak prophecy of war and ruin.
A fabulous two-week vacation.
A lack of common decency and sensitivity.
A deliciously inventive panoply of insults.
A joke in very bad taste, the one about the chicken farmer and the spaceship.
Clutching a large black Bible under your arm.
Stowed away on a ship bound for South Africa.
In the labyrinths beneath central Moscow.
A hallucinatory fantasy.
Struggling under mountainous debts.
Nitpicking over tiny details.
Chasing after something you can’t have.
A dozen bottles of sherry.
A fifth of whiskey on a very hot evening in July.
Screaming incomprehensible blasphemies at one o’clock in the morning.
Sheer wanton vandalism.
Holding a corrections officer at knifepoint.
A misunderstanding of the facts and the law.
Compulsory military service.
Accusations of bribery.
Under the guise of friendship.
A mood of resigned acceptance.
A series of lies and deceits.
A feeling of inferiority.
An aching feeling of nostalgia.
A serendipitous encounter.
A beautiful young woman.
An attractive, charismatic man.
A careless error.
A narrow escape.
A short speech.
A natural death.
A pretentious literary device.
Murder most foul.
About the Author
Jez Burrows is a British designer, illustrator, and writer. He is the author of Dictionary Stories: Short Fictions and Other Findings (Harper Perennial, 2018) and his writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Smith Journal, and It’s Nice That. As an illustrator he has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, WNYC, Cards Against Humanity, and others. He grew up on a farm in Devon, studied graphic design at the University of Brighton, and now lives in San Francisco.
From the book DICTIONARY STORIES: Short Fictions and Other Findings by Jez Burrows. Copyright © 2018 by Jez Burrows. Reprinted by permission of Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.