BEHIND THE CURTAIN • by Nicholas Ozment

Hal was a strait-laced guy, except for one odd habit: whenever he went into a bathroom, if the shower curtain was closed he’d draw it back. He just had to satisfy some irrational part of his brain that someone — or something — was not lurking behind the curtain waiting to leap out while he urinated. I knew this because one day we were talking about personal quirks.

We found Hal dead on the bathroom floor in his aunt Sandy’s apartment, one rigid hand still clutching the opened curtain. He’d been in there awhile, and when he didn’t answer Sandy’s entreaties, she called me over to bust open the door.

It was ruled a sudden heart attack. To the day I die, I will never forget the expression of horror frozen on his face.


Nicholas Ozment is a professor of English at Winona State University by day. By night he writes stories and poems for magazines like WEIRD TALES, MYTHIC DELIRIUM, SUSURRUS: THE LITERATURE OF MADNESS, PSEUDOPOD: THE HORROR PODCAST and even more strange publications.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Did the man’s own fears scare him to death? Or was there something else? Very good for such a short, short story.

    Clyde.

  • Gerard Demayne

    Now that was just pure genius for such a short piece. Brilliant!

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Must be Halloween!

  • Michael A. Kechula

    Hello Professor Ozment,

    Though nicely and smoothly written, this is a vignette or sketch, but not a story. It’s quite mundane, and the ending is flat. I see this often in tales that are classified as flash fiction. However, flash fiction as a literary form is more than just dumping a bunch of words that fit into a certain word count established by a magazine editor.

    How dare I say this? Well, this month alone, 34 of my flash fiction and micro-fiction tales have been accepted for publication in magazines and anthologies in 3 countries: England, Canada, and USA.

    Here’s what comprises flash fiction: a tale told in as few words as possible without sacrificing a smooth read.

    Now there’s literary flash, and that’s usually just a bunch of word play that would get A+++ in creative writing class, but is almost always pointless. The demand for literary flash fiction is skimpy.

    Then there’s genre fiction flash which has a protag with a quest, one or more antags who try to prvent the protag from achieving that goal.

    But then, as an educator you already know and teach these things. However, they are often quite difficult to put into practice effectively. I know. I struggled when attempting to write flash fiction. But I finally made the break through. Since then, hundreds of my tales have been published, and I’ve owned my own magazine. I was also editor for three magazines. I also teach novelists how to write flash ficiton. The biggest problem is getting them used to the idea that flash fiction and novels are two distinct literary forms. And next to zero creative writing classes prepare anybody to write flash. Hopefully that will change.

    If your piece qualifies as a work of flash fiction, then I can write a new flash tale about every fifteen minutes.

    I offer these comments to you with all due respect to your talent, knowledge, and position. Perhaps you will take these words to heart and show us some vim, vigor, and great stuff in future flash fiction tales.

    Sincerely,
    Michael A. Kechula … Author of: “A Full Deck of Zombies – 61 Speculative Fiction Tales.” All flash and micro-fiction stories in this collection were previously published in magazines and anthologies in Australia, Canada, England, and US. Several won first prize in writing contests. eBook version available at http://www.BooksForABuck.com or http://www.fictionwise.com Paperback version available from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com
    Author of: “Crazy Stories for Crazy People.” Paperback. 50 stories. Some won first prize in writing contests. Contents include 32 flash fiction tales, 17 short stories, and one novelette. Available through Amazon. http://www.amazon.com

    m.kechula@att.net

    • Mr.Kechula,

      I have to admit that I like your flash fiction (in fact, Transformations was well received in these pages). In this instance though, you are just plain wrong.

      The character arc here is acheived by the first person narrator when he comments that he will never forget the look of terror on Hal’s face.

      The plot is implied, but not implicit in the text. Do you have to have an implicit plot? Not in flash. Case in point: Ernest Hemingway’s six word flash fiction piece (which he thought of as his best work): “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

      The theme and setting should be obvious so I won’t belabour them here.

      Vignettes are usually lacking in one of the above points, and are short impressionistic pieces focussing on one character or a moment in time. The interaction between narrator and protagonist alone should disqualify this piece as a vignette, but the implied plot makes doubly sure that this can be called flash.

      Also, though your writing credentials are impressive, what makes you an authority on a particular subject in literature is not the creation of said literature, but the critical analysis thereof. So your 34 published stories don’t count for this. Provided the magazines you editted focussed on flash fiction, were well read and had longevity, your tenure as editor would count. While the fact that you are educator does not immediately qualify you as an authority, presumably you needed to complete some amount of qualifications which might count as critical analysis.

      • Gerard Demayne

        Are you 100% sure that was Michael A. Kechula and not someone just trying to make him look like a d**k?

    • pointseen well

      your comment could have been written in one word:

      I

      with the title

      Me

  • Although short, I found myself drawn into the story. And a mysterious death is just right during Halloween.

  • Heather

    Cute and creepy. Perfect for Halloween. I can’t help but wonder what inspired you for this particular piece?

  • Tootsie McCallahan

    I loved it. What a great way to end! (although creepy)

  • John M. Whalen

    What I want to know is: What was Hal clutching in his other hand? 😉

  • Gerard,

    Michael has e-mailed me privately from the e-mail address he provided, so it is indeed him.

    While I disagree with his comment, I certainly respect and appreciate that he was willing to voice his feelings in such a thorough comment posting.

    • That’s right. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

      That’s the good thing about EDF, people can read the stories, and if they don’t like them, there’s always tomorrow!

      Clyde.

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  • Nicholas

    Thanks for all the comments! I was gratified to return from World Fantasy Con and see the number of responses to this piece. Feedback is always welcome.

  • so I’ve finally read your tale, Nicholas, and enjoyed it. I’ve no problem with its brevity, though I’m a reader who prefers longer material. I felt the first paragraph to be a tad noirish (which I liked), but that quickly went away.

    Thanks for the brief break in an otherwise blustery day here in the Midwest.

  • The dread you build in under a 100 words is amazing. You know what you are talking about when it comes to frisson!

  • Nicholas

    Thank you Jodi! One nice thing about having work archived online–receiving new feedback two years after a story was published!

    (And thank you Jason–never acknowledged your comment back in 2007.)