Flash Fiction Challenge: Burt Feathers

Write a story about 
Burt Feathers and Win the Drawing on the Right
The contest closed Monday December 20, 2010
The winner is S.M Florey’s Born to Soar 

Burt Feathers
16"x20" oil, ephemera, bird feathers
and mixed media on masonite
Click on pictures to enlarge

The story you write should be a "Flash Fiction" which is a complete story in one thousand or fewer words.  Please post the story in the comment section, you will have to provide your name and an email address in order to be qualified to win or you can e-mail me at with your info.  There is a problem with how many characters can post (only about 4,000) so if you cannot post it.  E-mail it to me at

Go to my website for more contests:

Winning flash fiction stories will be integrated in with an exhibit in San Francisco at ArtHaus Gallery (April 8th for the reception).

The show is called:
Renovated Reputations: Paintings and Fiction inspired by Vintage Portrait Photographs

The exhibit will include a series of 20-40 paintings and mixed media works ranging in size from 8”x10” to 18”x24” framed with thrift store and vintage frames.  In addition to the exhibited works ArtHaus is publishing catalogs signed by me and as many of the authors as possible.

Catalogs/books will consist of image of the painting with the text of the “flash story” surrounding the image.  If I can get the authors to come to a book signing/party, authors would sign their pages for some of the printed stuff.

We're going to have a photobooth for the show for participants to play with and vintage costumes.

Of course I'll send the authors free copies of the catalogs. I will announce the winners the day after the closing deadline for the competition. I'm planning on doing one flash fiction competition a week every Monday from now until April. 

(If the conditions in the side bar are not to your liking, I'm totally flexible.  Send me a contract that you like and I will mail it back to you.  I just don't want to chase people for signatures when I publish the catalog!)
This was sent by email by Patrick Nelson:

My Dearest Angel,

Please forgive me. I do not want to leave you alone, but You cannot live with me dying. I see how you die a little yourself every time I go for one of the doctors remedies. You have changed almost as much as I in the past few months. It is not your time to go but I am of the certain belief that it is mine. I cannot bring you down with me. I will face my death as honestly and bravely as we have faced life. I cannot let my last thoughts here be of how I brought you so close to death because of mine. We traveled to so many destinations and experienced so many things together since the day we first met. Alas, you cannot come with me to this final destination. Not yet. I would never change a moment of our lives even if given the chance. Well, perhaps one thing.

I hope that my arrangements will allow you to be quite comfortable. I need to feel that you are safe and well provided for.

One thing I am sure of is that if this next chapter be a continuation of some kind, I will do everything in my power to wait for you there. We will be together again. I promise you this as I step away from everything and turn to fly into the mists of my future: you and I will be together again. Forever and well.

Yours in eternity,

This was sent by e-mail:
RC Florey

Burt Feathers.  That was his actual name.  Junior high had been a bitch.  What were is parents thinking?  "Feathers" was bad enough as a family name, but putting "Burt" with it had insured a curse for life.  Or at least so far. 
In the first week of fifth grade, his friends came up with the idea that they should call him "Burnt" Feathers.  His teachers for the balance of Junior high had even slipped from time to time and called on "Burnt" when he raised his hand to participate in classes.
 By the time he reached seventh grade, the girls he wanted to ask to the annual junior high End of the Year dance did not want to have to even say that "Burnt" had asked them to the dance, let alone accept his invitation.  He was out of it entirely.  Being "Burnt" was quite obviously not cool.
The name stuck.  All through high school, he was "Burnt."  His self esteem was constantly challenged.  He got no respect.  His ideas were not valued in any of his classes and he had to occasionally remind his teachers that his name was actually Burt. 
There were more dances to attend in high school, for all the good it did him.  The girls had not forgotten the shear stigma of having to tell their friends that "Burnt" had asked them to the after the football game sock hop.  
 To make matters worse, some of the other students managed to open his locker one fine spring day and fill the top shelf with bird feathers saved from duck hunting and light them on fire.  Burnt Feathers for "Burnt" Feathers. 
Burt went to junior college to get an associate degree in finance, planning to apply for an underwriting position with Kansas City Life.  Several high school acquaintances also attended that junior college and the nickname persisted.
Would he never have the respect that any other person should experience?  He was intelligent, nice looking and personable.  However, no one seemed able to get past his nickname and he was finally afraid of the rejection that would come if he asked a girl for a date. 
Every week since he had turned 18, he had shoved a dollar bill into one of the state lottery machines at the grocery store where he had a part time position. And every week he checked his ticket hoping for the jackpot, while knowing it was very nearly impossible to win.  The dream was that if he won, respect would finally come his way.  The girls would not mind his nickname and would be only too happy to date the nice looking rich guy.  He had even carried his fantasy to the local haberdashery and purchased a beautiful tuxedo in case he won.  
One Thursday morning, reporting for work, he scanned his ticket in the lottery machine and nearly fell over backward, when the screen lit up with a message in big red letters "JACKPOT WINNER."  Then in smaller letters: " Report to the state lottery office for your payout." Immediately, he told his supervisor that he would no longer be working there, part time or anytime. 
 His tux came out of the closet in anticipation of the publicity. He arrived at the lottery office almost breathless and presented his ticket for verification.  He was a winner at last and now respect was going to be the biggest prize of all.  He barely noticed the reporter that had been summoned to record his triumph, an old junior high acquaintance. The million dollar check was presented.  Photos were taken. 
The next morning he could hardly wait to pick his newspaper off the front porch and see the headline.  This was going to be a big moment!!
His picture was there alright.  So was the headline.  "Burnt Feathers Wins Lottery!" 

Sent by e-mail:

Born to Soar  
S.M. Florey

  “Burt, you can be anything you want to be.  You can soar like an eagle!”  That’s what his mother always told him.  And Burt did soar.  Champion quarterback in high school.  Big Man on Campus in college.  Youngest vice-president of his father’s successful insurance business.  Handsome bon vivant and man-about-town.  Married well.  Burt didn’t have to do too much to soar.  He had it all.  And yet, he didn’t.  Something was missing.   A vague feeling of emptiness would overcome him from time to time. 
    One day, as he was driving through the countryside to meet one of his salesmen at a client’s house, a large pheasant crashed into the front of his car causing him to nearly run off the road.  He quickly stopped the car, got out to see what damage had been done and swore when he saw the smashed grill, complete with pheasant dangling.  “Damn!”
     He finally untangled the bird from the grill.  As he raised it in his hand to throw it into the field, the bird’s feathers caught his eye.  He stopped his motion, struck by their iridescent beauty.  An unexpected feeling of pity and loss overtook him.  This had been a vibrant, beautiful creature before fate had tossed it into the path of his speeding car.  It had soared over the land and run through the fields.  It had had a purpose.  Burt wasn’t sure what that purpose may have been other than to someday be someone’s dinner, but it had some purpose.  Unbidden the bitter thought came to him, “What purpose do I have?  I’ve flown high.  I’ve had success – thanks to my father.  But I haven’t done anything for anyone else, fulfilled any real purpose – not even to be someone’s dinner.”    Burt felt a sad emptiness creep into his soul.    
    Caressing its feathers, Burt gently laid the bird down in the field and wept.

This came in by email:

by Stephen D. Rogers

     Dear Helen,
     There comes a moment when you just have to burn your bridges, jump into the nearest plane, and fly away from home.
     I know you think that doesn't sound like the man you married talking, and you'd be right.  I'm the guy who goes to work every morning, who returns home every evening, who spends his nights with the girl he met back in high school.  People at work called me straight-laced and dull, and these were fellow insurance agents!
     See that?  I just used an exclamation mark.
     I tell you, Helen, I'm a changed man.
     You can't imagine what it was like to type that letter to Edward Johnson telling him that after twenty years of faithful service I would not be entering the doors of the Kansas City Insurance Company the next day or ever again.
     For the first time in my life, I felt free as a bird.
     I called for a taxi and instructed the driver to take me to the airport.  The next flight out was aimed towards Boston and so to Boston I went. 
     Rented a car at Logan and drove south and then east until I found myself on Cape Cod.
     Do you remember how many times we talked about visiting Cape Cod?  I have to tell you, Helen, it's everything we imagined and more.  The beaches, the seafood, the ocean.  Life here is a dream come true.
     And this will make you laugh.  I recently met a man over fried clams at this little roadside restaurant.  Turns out he's in the insurance game and in need of somebody to take the place of an adjuster who suffered a stroke.
     That's right.  As of last Monday, I'm in the employ of Seafarers Casualty.
     Now, I'm sure that my leaving like I did came as a bit of a shock to you, and I apologize for every pain I might have caused. You probably hated me for a while, and perhaps you still do.
     I write, however, in hopes that you might consider typing a letter to Miss Peabody, ordering a taxi to Kansas City International Airport, and joining me in this modified cottage that's within walking distance of the beach.
     At night, I can hear the surf, and I would be the happiest man alive if you could too.
     Join me, Helen, and let us stroll the dunes together.
     Yours forever, Burt


This story came in by e-mail:

Intercity Man of Mediocrity 
by D. Charles Florey
Kansas City Insurance Company
Human Resource Department

To Whom It May Concern,

I believe I am the right fit for your recent opening in the sales department.  My resume will show my more mundane qualifications, but I’d like to reserve this cover letter to detail the exciting aspects of my life and show you that I’m a far more intriguing person than just any old salesman.

Where shall I begin?  Well, I would like to note that I am considered “Resident” and “Current Owner” of my address by numerous establishments around town: the local tire store among these.  I’ve also been known to perform magic in the kitchen with nothing more than a few red potatoes and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.  

I’m extremely adept at changing light bulbs.  I found after dozens of failed attempts that you cannot squeeze it too hard or it will shatter in your hand.  I haven’t had one shatter in months.  I can also change a flat tire in under two hours and I have an excellent working knowledge of the city bus schedule.

I have been a stand in at numerous banquets and I’m quite good at drinking any kind of liquor, even beer or wine on occasion.  
I should say, too, that I’m a very good dresser.  I don’t want to sound arrogant or stress this too much, but I think it is important to note.  And I will, given the opportunity and as the need arises or rather presents itself, provide helpful hints on attire.  Why just the other day, I was walking down 3rd Avenue and I saw a woman wearing a hideous teal top with a lime green skirt.  I was sure she was color-blind and I told her as much.  Oh not in a mean way, but it needed to be said.  She didn’t thank me, but I told her “Your Welcome” anyway.  Needless to say, I wear a tuxedo on all occasions.  You can never be too well dressed!

As for hobbies:  I am an avid rock collector, I appreciate the difficulty of sorting items using multiple criteria (by color and alphabetically or even lexicographically - the possibilities are endless really), and I do love watching paint dry - gray paint is the best.

I hope this letter finds you well, and I look forward to prompt reply.


Burt Feathers


  1. The Party-wabbitbunny

    I hate Christmas parties

    I agree, they're so, so fake. People milling about, acting as if they are your best friends and a week later, they give you a nod, two weeks later, their eyes are cast down as they pass you, acting as if you were a homeless person asking for spare change.

    You here with anyone?

    A lucky number?



    Don’t get it.

    It’s a small joke.

    I’m sorry, it’s been so rude of me, I haven’t had the pleasure.

    Maleficent, and you are?

    Burt Feathers

    Interesting name, any significance?

    To my parents, myself, or to others?

    Take your pick.

    For my parents, they were both hard of hearing and my dad’s favorite actor was Burt Reynolds, they just heard the name wrong. For other’s I’m an insurance investigator, for fires that may appear to be suspicious and I’m called in to investigate. For me, I guess I just followed the name into my career. And since you asked the question, I’m assured you wished that I asked you the same, any significance in your name?

    As in definition or as the name itself?

    Take your pick.

    I think I’ll let you decide. Hmm, you know what, let’s living up this sleepy party. Let’s go bobbing for apples.

    After you.

    No definately, after you.


    Stiff in his tux and a black butterfly tie, as stiff as hunched is, and uncomfortable he looks, like he’d rather be in jeans and a collarless shirt, and though he seems to smile I know it is not smiling, not in the ordinary meaning of that word, because he is extraordinary, hundreds of years old, and behind his eyes an age of tedium and you can see it if you look, and I know because I have been as close as close is, my breath sucked from me in his kissing, and touching the cropped and folded wings at his back, stiff as taffeta, and like paper when it is burned, and brittle as burned paper too, not at all like John Travolta in that movie, you know the one, where he’s supposed to be an archangel and his wings like dirty sheets, crumpled like they’ve been slept in, and his hair all kink and kick, and he’s a little on the heavy side, Travolta is, not like that except he says he is an angel the same and fallen the same, too, but not trying to get back, not doing good deeds as a ticket to that better place, for Heaven is cold, he says, cold as ice or snow and the screaming air cuts the skin like razor blades drawn deep across the inside of the wrist, there where the skin is whitest, chicken white and soft, and he holds my wrists and shows me the garnet bracelets of my own new-healed scars, and he says next time I should go deeper, deep as bone, but there won’t be a next time, and he knows that, pretends he doesn’t, helps me to the ledge, leading like we are going to dance, and there is music of sorts, in my head there is, and the winking-stars are out in the sky, and the street lights below us, so far they are small as stars only yellow, and he says again he is an angel and I know he speaks truth, and ‘trust me’ he says and a part of me does, so we step into something, into nothing, and we fall, this fallen-again angel and me, and my breath is sucked from me and it is suddenly cold, as ice or snow, and there are no words, only screaming and his laughter.

  3. Burt
    Kyle Toman

    I want to like

    start living off the grid


    //or whatever

  4. I chose S.M Florey’s “Born to Soar” because that is the one that I had the strongest emotional reaction to. In some ways it was the least “clever” story and the most direct and so it had a great punch for me.

    I like the simulated letter aspect of some of the other entries as well. Patrick Nelson, Stephen Rogers, D. Charles Florey’s stories had a great direct tact that took into account the elements of the painting and combined them with a sense of humor and a great fantasy of what the whole picture meant. I kind of wanted to find out the back story on each letter and how the recipient of each chose to react.

    I’m not sure if I “get” all the pieces because many of the pieces took on a Duchamp like surrealist bent. D. Charles Florey’s “Intercity Man of Mediocrity” took a kind of Dadaist approach to the elements and kind of turned the letter into a response to an “object poem” that Breton would be proud of. I like his sense of humor. It read a bit like some other entries such as Kyle Toman’s short nonsensical phrase, the anonymously submitted, “The Party-wabbitbunny,” and Sharon Skolnick-Bagnoli’s “A Safe Flight.” Taking a surrealist vein to a darker place was Dee Turbon’s “Only Screaming.”

    Thanks everyone for entering!