Monday, May 24, 2021

The Pete Wood Challenge • "Would you like fries with that?"

Way back before the Dawn of Time there was a writing contest -slash- workshop called The Friday Challenge that encouraged people to try their hand at writing fiction, by spotting them the beginning of a story and then posing some form of the question, “What happens next?”

The Friday Challenge was a lot of fun—and a lot of work—and eventually became more work than fun, so we had to let it go… but not before we’d gathered a dozen of the winning entries into the original version of Stupefying Stories, which you can still find on Amazon for ridiculously inflated collector’s prices.

Or in a box on a shelf in the back of our stockroom, if you’d rather buy it directly from us. So if you’d like to buy a copy, drop me a line at and I’ll be happy to work out the details with you.

In the meantime, as the years rolled on we from time to time talked about bringing back The Friday Challenge, because it was so much fun, but could never figure out a way to do it that would not also be an ungodly amount of work.

Until Pete Wood stepped in, and proposed a new thing, which I hereby christen “The Pete Wood Challenge,” to differentiate it from The Friday Challenge. I will leave it to Pete to explain the rules, if he so desires: all I care about is that he has found a way to get people to write good little stories that we can publish, all springing forth from a simple challenge. Therefore, this week we will be presenting ten, count ’em, ten microflash stories that all began with a simple challenge: to write a 100-word story that involved the line:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Here are the first two. Two more tomorrow, and two more the next day, and… well, you get the idea. Enjoy!



“Untitled,” by Anatoly Belilovsky 

“Was it my accent?” I said.

The woman from MI5 shook her head. “No, I must say, your Cockney is excellent. You must convey my congratulations to your training officer. If both you and your TO are still alive when your sentence expires.”

I closed my eyes. The prospect of a twenty-year stretch in the Boris Johnson Memorial Detention Center...

“What gave me away?” I said, not really expecting an answer.

She grinned. “Well, cowboy,” she said, “around these parts, we call them chips.”

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later, he learned English from Star Trek reruns, apparently well enough to be admitted into SFWA in spite of chronic cat deficiency. He has sold original and translated stories and poems to NATURE, F&SF, Analog, Asimov's, Daily SF, Podcastle, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. His Twitter feed @loldoc is equally divided between punditry and puns.

Anatoly’s first appearance in our pages was “If This Be Magic” in the now out-of-print Stupefying Stories #2, but “In Vino Veritas” is still findable (for now) in SHOWCASE #7 and his delightfully horrific tale of coming to America, “Tempora Mutantur,” is in SHOWCASE #9. We are delighted to welcome him back.

“Ringing in Her Ears,” by Ephiny Gale

Before she died in apartment 27, Nellie worked long shifts at the nearby fast food joint.

Sometimes she worked the back and burnt her fingers sliding patties off spatulas, and sometimes worked the front where customers complained the prices had changed since 1990.

Nellie always returned home with the beeping ringing in her ears. She still hears it today: the beeping grill and the fryer and the whole goddamn kitchen.

The new residents of apartment 27 don’t hear the beeping. But they do smell the grease of Nellie’s clothes, and they hear her sometimes: “Do you want fries with that?”


Ephiny Gale is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes that have appeared in publications including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Constellary Tales, and Daily Science Fiction. Her fiction has been awarded the Sundress Publications' Best of the Net award and the Syntax & Salt Editor's Award, and has been a finalist for multiple Aurealis Awards.


~brb said...

Hmm. "Dawn of Time." If that is not an illustrated children's book series about a plucky tweenage time traveler and her various companions, it should be. Who wants to write it?