Flash Fiction Challenge: DREAD

00 dread 1
Uh, no.

This one is difficult…


Ugh, that feeling of impending… well, I’m not gonna say, because it’s up to you to show us.

DREAD Definition: anticipate with great apprehension or fear.

Yep. That’s it all right.


00 dread 1
You can see the OH NO on her face.

I think they key element that separates fear and dread is anticipation. It’s coming, you know it’s coming, it’s gonna be horrible – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Make a scene where the character is DREADING something. Make us squirming on our seats for the character. Make us hating to read the next word.

Tests in school. Bad news from the doctor. Relatives vising for Thanksgiving.

D.. R… E… A… D!!!

Put it out there. (Some of you are dreading this challenge. Good. Use that.)

scared child
Oh, dear.

One way to GET THERE is to think of a time when you were dreading something. Maybe you were bad as a kid and had to sit in your room until Dad came home. Maybe it was a trip to the boss’ office. Maybe an incident involving the police. Maybe an ugly situation with the spouse.

In my new book The Water Castle, fifteen-year-old Gina did – and kept doing – something her mother Nikki seriously disapproved of.

Gina checked the time on her phone. Barely 4pm. Plenty of time to get home for dinner.

So much to do, so much to do!

She ran up the steps and shoved the dress into her backpack. The nightly routine would go off as usual. Take-out dinner, X-box for her younger brother Kyle, computer for Nikki…

A quick day at school and then back to the tower.

She grabbed the bike from wall.

I wonder how many dresses Stacie has. And where can I learn a really good poem?

She walked the bike down the outside stairs, contemplating lyrics and what she might wear tomorrow that wouldn’t be so stifling. The heat had been unbearable

“There she is.”

Gina stopped, nearly dropping her bike. Her mother stood in front of her, arms folded, face in a scowl.

Oops. Busted.

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Well, we’ve all been in a situation like that, right? Think about when it happened to you. The embarrassment, the awful waiting. And while you don’t really need that first part of The Water Castle to understand the dread shown in the second part, I included it so you’d have some perspective on my story. How do these characters feel? What’s going through their minds?

Here’s one of my takes on dread in the book (there are others):

Nikki spoke through clenched teeth. “Get on that bike and get your butt home as fast as you can pedal.”

That was it.

That was enough.

Gina didn’t say a word, just swallowed the giant lump in her throat and got on her bike. Aunt Sam and Nikki followed in the car.

The ride home seemed to take days. Gina tried to think through scenarios to prepare herself, but they all blurred together. She didn’t know what her mom would do. She didn’t dare think it.

All she knew was how happy she had been a short while ago. It seemed like a different life, erased from reality like a big wave washes away a sand castle. The fear of her mother’s wrath was so large it overwhelmed everything else.

Gina rode up to her house, going around back by the patio, and leaned her bike against Kyle’s. She waited a moment, not even sure if she was supposed to go around front or be let in.

Car doors a slammed in the driveway. She waited to hear some kind of indication of what to do from noises at the garage door or the front door, but none came.

When she heard the front door open and close, she knew it was time. She pulled her house key out of her pocket and let herself inside.

The house was dim, since no one had been home to turn on any lights. The trapped air smelled a little musty, because the air conditioning hadn’t been running yet, either. All that would have been done by Gina by now, typically, in the bright after-school sun, and not the sidelong shadows of the coming evening.

Gina stood in the living room while car keys clanked on the dresser in the master bedroom. Aside from that, the ticking of the kitchen clock was the only noise in the house. Bits of dust floated by in the sunbeams as the willow tree swayed outside. Green and bright out there, dim and stale in here.

When her mother emerged from the bedroom, her eyes were tired. Older than before. Worn down. But she still had the look.

Nikki glanced at Gina and nodded to the couch. “Have a seat.”

The position Nikki took would say a lot. Side by side on the couch would mean compassion. Sitting at her desk would be authoritarian. The love seat might actually imply a pardon.

Aunt Sam appeared in the hallway, her hands in her pockets. Her expression said volumes. She looked worried.

Nikki stared out the window while Gina went to the couch. She lowered herself slowly onto it as though the very act of sitting incorrectly might make her mother even more upset with her than she already was. 

Courtroom theatrics were a tool of Nikki’s employers, though, not her. She would be blunt.

Watching her mother, Gina folded her hands in her lap, looking for any signs of what was about to come.

Now, this is a first draft of The Water Castle, so it is lacking things, but you get the idea. In this challenge, you are setting a stage, not writing a whole scene with a beginning, middle and end. (You can write a whole scene if you want to, but take your 500 words of dread and pull them out for us.) 


If you don’t wanna write your own – because you’re busy, or shy, or whatever – then do this. Enhance my scene. Where would additional words and emotions play well in the piece above? 

What? Sure!

fear 5
Here it comes…


You’re not gonna hurt anybody’s feelings. Part of writing is editing. And putting your stuff out there for the world to see (and possibly not like). Have a whack at it. See where YOU think the scene needs a dash of salt – or a major overhaul. Rewrite the whole thing if you want. That’s what a Flash Fiction Challenge is; there really are no rules.

Either way, put your emotions on the page and have your character show it all to us.

BLEED into the typewriter, as ol’ Hemingway used to say, allegedly. (He gets a lot of attribution; who knows if he said any of it?)

Or make something up. Here’s your random character generator. THIS is your victim who is involved in the scene that will paint the walls with DREAD:


Use the random number generator HERE to place your character into a setting using the list below:

  1. parking lot at night
  2. big, open office with lots of people 
  3. aboard a lifeboat from a cruise liner
  4. street corner in a bad part of town
  5. free pick – you get to pick your own from the list (but not number 10)
  6. doctor’s office
  7. outside a burning or burned down house
  8. morgue waiting room at 2am
  9. abandoned shack in the woods in Fall
  10. wild card – make up your own setting or use one you like in the above list

NO CHEATING! One spin of the wheel of fate for your character, one for your setting!

You know the drill:

  1. Use the Random Character Generator to pick your character
  2. and the Random Number Generator to get your setting
  3. Write a scene up to 500 words AND NO MORE, that is obviously written using both the character, setting and this week’s emotion. (No, it won’t be emotions the Flash Fiction Challenge from now on. They’re gonna get much harder.)
  4. Or rewrite mine, above.
  5. Post your story below in the comments with a link to your blog where
  6. You also post it on your blog (No blog? Just copy paste the whole thing here.)
  7. Mention ME and
  8. what the heck this is so people don’t think you’ve gone schizo
  9. Please read and comment on OTHER people’s entries. That makes it fun. Allegedly.
  10. You have one week. Noon Friday a week from this posting date, sunny, warm Tampa, Florida, USA time. (Today’s it’s 36 degrees, so not so warm, but still plenty sunny.)

Get to it!

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Your humble host.


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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.


Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

International bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 17 titles published in over a dozen languages. From Romance in Poggibonsi to action and adventure in the sci-fi thriller The Navigators, to comedies like Night Of The Colonoscopy: A Horror Story (Sort Of) and the heartwarming and humorous anecdotes about parenting in the popular Savvy Stories series, his knack for surprising audiences and making you laugh or cry - or hang onto the edge of your seat - has been enjoyed by audiences around the world. And you are guaranteed to get a page turner every time. “That’s my style,” Dan says. “Grab you on page one and then send you on a roller coaster ride, regardless of the story or genre.” Readers agree, making his string of #1 bestsellers popular across the globe. He will make you chuckle or shed tears, sometimes on the same page. His novels always contain twists and turns, and his nonfiction will stay in your heart forever. Dan resides in the Tampa area with his wife and daughter. You can find him blogging away almost every day on www.DanAlatorre or watch his hilarious YouTube show every week Writers Off Task With Friends. Dan’s marketing book 25 eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew has been a valuable tool for new authors (it’s free if you subscribe to his newsletter) and his dedication to helping other authors is evident in his helpful blog.

15 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: DREAD

  1. I love this. Yes, DREAD is a great writing device. I’ll work on your suggestions, but perhaps using my own character in the book I’m writing. I may take one of your settings. Parking lot at night is a good one. 🙂 Thanks for this helpful post!

    1. Great idea! Yeah, dread is a big thing for me. It’s one thing to have the big surprise parentheses good or bad, and then it’s done and over with. It’s another thing to know it’s coming to be sitting there suffer that whole time. I guess it’s the amount of suffering that makes dread so awful. When the bad thing happens, there’s a lot of suffering – but then it’s over. With dread, the bad thing is still going to happen and you get all the additional suffering you do yourself before the bad thing happens, so it’s a double whammy.

  2. A spontaneous 23 year-old woman, who comes from a poor background, lives in a fisherman’s cottage and tends to be rather lazy aboard a lifeboat from a cruise liner.

    (Author’s note: given the restraints of word count, character and setting, I take license on backstory. To the question, “Why is she on a cruise liner with this guy?” I answer thusly: because flash fiction.)

    He was in there with her. Everything was still blurry. She rubbed her head where something had hit her. She couldn’t remember his name, but she knew it was him. She could end it, too. He was the one who bought her father’s boat, right along with the rest. He was the one who bought them all. He brought in those hired captains who were already unpacking their bags and stripping the boats before taking them away. They would take with them the only thing the people in her village knew how to do. For 200 years, they fished. They lived. They were. What would they do now? She saw women like her haunting the streets in rags. The men were gone, and all the girls had left was clunking each other over the head in the middle of the night. She felt her head again. What do you do after you’ve taken her rags, the pennies in her pocket and the rest of her tomorrows crushed in a single moment that never comes back? She looked at the man again. He was big and snooty. He was cold and weak just like the rest of them. He was heavy, though.

    The worst of it was her man in her house. Would he even be there when she got back? Would he sit in a cold cottage looking at the last fish and tell himself, “No, wait for her.” She had to push that thought away. She had to strangle it, throw it in the water and will it to drown. Dreams can’t crush you if they are drowned in the sea where nobody can find them.

    The woman next to her was crying. Stupid little tears splashed on her pearls and her fat lip quivered. “What is it?” I asked. Sullen eyes, broken windows to her soul, turned to me.

    “I’m not ready to die,” she said. Huh. I hadn’t thought of that. I think of us wasting away, all of us becoming the same frozen scarecrow cast on the black waters of forever. There would be no more worrying about the boats, my village, my home, my man. None of that would matter, would it? But it’s not enough. All of that still lies over the horizon. God works that way. Dying here and now would make too much sense. Going home to death lingering around every corner but never telling you when it was going to step out from the shadows and clunk you on the head – no, there was no escaping that. She felt her head one more time. She looked across the black void that she knew was cold water that stretched on forever.

    He was cold and weak, just like the rest of them. And she still had enough strength to push him.

  3. I hope I captured the emotion but anyway, here goes. My setting was a morgue waiting room at 2 am and my character was a generous 44 year old man from a comfortable background and lives in a penthouse.
    It’s a little on the intense and depressing side, but I guess that’s life sometimes.

    The phone rang as I was looking at the stars. The night was clear and I had dusted off the telescope that was relegated to the corner of the balcony. I had rescued it, ignored and condemned to obscurity behind a dwarf lemon tree and had just finished adjusting the various knobs when the phone sounded. Who was calling at nearly two in the morning? A foolish thought. It would only be him.
    The old feelings that were supposed to be under control resurfaced. It was always this way. Just when I was able to think that maybe things would go back to a form of normal, something like this would happen to make it all reappear, as if the year had not elapsed and the wound was as deep as it was at first.
    “Hello.” I recognized the answering voice immediately. We had become what was close to friends in the past twelve months, as odd as that seemed. “No, Detective, I wasn’t asleep… oh, I see… yes, I know you said that last time… no I’ll come alone… she has trouble sleeping you see and the doctor gave her some medication… there’s no need for that. I’ll take a cab…Yes, thank you… i hope it’s another false alarm as well.”
    My analytical mind took over. I put on a jacket, collected my keys, put the phone in my pocket, took the last sip of my drink. I paused at the bedroom door, debating whether to leave a note on my wife’s dresser, then walked past it, afraid of waking her.
    The doorman called a cab for me. He had the same look in his eyes as all the rest of them— my co workers, friends, acquaintances, even the girl who groomed the dog. None of them made eye contact anymore, just looked away quickly. They acted as if it was an effort to talk to me. My mother said it was because people didn’t know what to say. The only one who did know was the detective, but I suppose it was his job.
    He met me at the door. He was pacing and smoking a cigarette. He put it out when he saw me and we shook hands. There were circles under his eyes. He had aged in the year since we had met, He apologized for dragging me down here but I shook my head, attempting a smile that didn’t quite reach my lips. He opened the door with some kind of card key, and I was ushered into a waiting area, the same as last time.
    Only when I was alone did I let myself feel the gravity of what I was doing. It started with a tightness in my throat that traveled to my stomach and then deep down in the recesses of my abdomen. My forehead felt moist but my hands were cold, the tips like icicles. What had brought me to this? To sitting in the waiting room of a morgue? Unbidden, her face was there, the last time I had seen it, dressed for school on that ordinary morning that turned out to be anything but ordinary. She was there, and then she wasn’t. Vanished two blocks from home, and only ten years old. Ten. It wasn’t enough life for her to live, but perhaps it was all I had of her.
    The detective’s hand was on my shoulder. Please let it not be her, or please let it be her to stop the torture. The trembling started when I got to my feet and he had to help to steady me as he opened the door.

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