Flash Fiction Friday: Gift of a Lifetime

Welcome to my irregular feature, Flash Fiction Friday. Every once in a while, I dash off a short piece. It’s kind of a vacation, maybe even a recharge when I’m working on novel-length stories. I’m not going to tell you what the story prompt was this time. Guess it if you can. Even if you can’t agues it, I hope you enjoy this short piece about a gift of a lifetime.

Gift of A Lifetime

Photograph of a sad young woman sitting on the floor, against the wall. The only light from an arched stained glass window. A perfect illustration for this flash fiction friday story: Gift of a Lifetime.

She sank down the wall, sat on the floor with her knees tight to her chest, and stared… at nothing. Because she had nothing left. They were supposed to have a lifetime together. But her husband died six months ago. Systemic organ failure, the doctor had said. How did a young man in the prime of his life die of organ failure? A flaw in his DNA. That’s not supposed to be possible. A century ago sure, but not today. Not to her husband. Except it had.

Outside, rain fell in a steady downpour. Suited her mood, though her tears had dried weeks ago. She should get up and fix something to eat, but she had no energy. Had no desire to eat. No desire to move. No desire. So she sat. And didn’t eat. Didn’t move.

A sound roused her. It was dark. She hadn’t turned on any lights. The doorbell rang.

She rolled to her knees, stood. Her stiff muscles protested. She stumbled, her legs weaker than they should be. The house sensed her movement, turned the lights on.

“Special delivery,” said the man in the brown uniform. “Want me to bring it inside?” He pointed to an enormous box.

“I didn’t know you’d deliver it at night.” She couldn’t take her eyes off the box. Noticed the delivery man’s eye roll. “Yes, please. Bring it in.” She stepped out of his way. “No, not on the rug. Over there, on the tile.”

Touched her third finger and thumb together, then waved her wrist over the delivery man’s scanner.

“Thanks for the generous tip, Mam–”

Press the door closed on him, her palm flat against the center panel. The door latched and locked.

Circling the box, she reached toward the seal, her hand shook. She drew her hand back. Held both hands against her trembling chest. Slow breath in and out. First things first.

She dragged a tall goose-necked lamp to each corner. Adjusted their shades so their light warmed the cold cardboard.

Ate a bowl of rehydrated vegetable soup. It was hot but tasted like cardboard. She drank a large glass of water.

And returned to her chair. Stared at the box under its lights for days.

On the twenty-first day, she stood toe-to-box and placed three of her fingers on the seam in the order of her official signature. The box unsealed.

Another touch and the box flowered open. The milk-colored sack crisscrossed with brown veins quivered and rounded. Then stretched upward. Stretched thin. And thinner.


She caught her breath. Quietly clapped her hands.

First one, then the second glistening hand reached through the hole in the sack. Both hands reached toward the ceiling then spread apart. Ripped the bag all the way open. A watery fluid wet the cardboard and floor.

Her chest filled with warmth. She cupped the cheeks of the young man with dark, soft as down hair.

He rose from his fetal position.

“Happy birthday, Adan,” she said gaily. “Let’s try this lifetime thing again, shall we?”

Thank You for Reading

Did you guess the writing prompts for this piece? You might also enjoy “All Systems Nominal” or “For Better or Worse.”

Did you like “Gift of a Lifetime”? Want to guess at the writing prompts? I’d love to read your comments.

Flash Fiction: All Systems Nominal

Flash fiction comes in all lengths. The very best flash fiction has character, conflict, and plot. For me, flash fiction is all about mood. I hope you enjoy my flash fiction, “All Systems Nominal.”

All Systems Nominal


Lynette M. Burrows

The soft whirring sound of M.A.R.C., the best medical assistive robotic caregiver money could buy, moved closer to the bed  The bed’s occupant, a human male, age 100, didn’t respond. 

All Systems Nominal. Flash fiction by Lynette M. Burrows Image shows an Android-style robot with a puppet-style face.

M.A.R.C. extended its sensor arm precisely two inches above the human’s still form and swept the man from head to toe. Readouts of respiration, pulse, core temperature, blood pressure, and other biological measures flickered across M.A.R.C’s chest. All systems nominal. Sleep mode. A mechanical arm reached out and tucked the blanket under the old man’s chin. 

M.A.R.C slid back away from the bed and into its charging station. The parameters of its programming satisfied, it wouldn’t stir again for another sixty minutes. If the patient’s implanted A.I. detected an anomaly, it would alert M.A.R.C. M.A.R.C.’s programming included responses for all medical emergencies and would summon human help if necessary. But for all systems nominal, it would wait until the next programmed time to check on his patient. 

His Early Life

When the man had been a fetus suspended in the nutrient soup of the artificial womb, the analysis of his DNA indicated that he had a forty percent risk of diabetic and vascular dementia and an eighty percent chance of developing cancer. The chances that he would develop one of the few incurable cancers that remained were less than one percent. Confident their offspring would lead a long and healthy life, his 100-year-old parents did not push the abort button. 

His parents cherished the child he became. And he cherished them. 

He grew into a productive citizen and amassed a great fortune. When his parents reached their second century mark, they held an extravagant end-of-life ceremony and pushed each other’s euthanasia buttons.

During his grief, he rebooted their A.I. backups frequently. They comforted him.

As time passed, he rebooted the backups less and less frequently. His work became his solace. He spent time in meetings with the world’s greatest scientists and engineers and robotics manufacturers.

His Work

He tweaked and improved many time-saving devices and created a master control center for all of them. The world’s oldest citizens called this, his primary invention, the Jetson Control Center. His own home had one. It was the one he tinkered with to test new ideas.

Even with the amazing buttons of the master control center, he found that some things required a more hands-on-approach. But androids that looked too human, whether from his or someone else’s company, frightened real humans too much. Even androids and robots painted clownish colors did not ease human fears. He created androids and robots that looked machines and still the humans were frightened. But when his androids and robots looked like toys or dolls or puppets the humans were unafraid. In fact, the real humans loved them.

The First Alert

In his sixties, his implanted A.I. alerted. He went to the doctor for confirmation. Chance had not favored him. Diabetic. He poured all his energy into refining the artificial pancreas. His body rejected his. They tried every known metal and even tried an organic transplant. His body rejected each of them. Not even rejection suppression medication helped. 

He refined and improved the first robotic caregivers and created the M.A.R.Cs. And as the diabetic vascular dementia took over his brain and his body, he relied more and more on his A.I. 

His A.I. restored his sense of balance and kept his paranoia from flaring. It allowed him to continue to function as the COO of his corporation, but it did not support creative thinking. Still, he felt and was productive. It was unusual for him to stay in bed past 6 a.m. But his A.I. Did not send M.A.R.C. an alert. So M.A.R.C. Stayed in his charging station, leaving only to check on his patient every hour. 

M.A.R.C. went to the bed. His sensor arm swept across the old man. All systems nominal. Sleep mode.

The Last Alert

The medical bed’s A.I. recognized that the old man lay without moving for too long and rolled him on to his right side. His deep regular breaths didn’t change. His open, unblinking eyes remained unblinking. The AI that supplied his dementia addled brain with sufficient connections to overcome his condition ran a continuous alert to the old man. The hologram message floated above his unperceiving eyes. Backup Failed.

“All Systems Nominal” is about dementia and human hubris and Murphy’s Law. Dementia is a horrible disease process that comes in multiple forms. All of its forms cause deep heartache for victims and families and caregivers. If you or a family member or a friend are dealing with dementia, please reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association (it’s for all types of dementia, not just Alzheimers). They have information and resources and support. And they could use your support if you’re inclined to offer a donation.

If you enjoyed “All Systems Nominal,” you might also enjoy For Better or Worse or The Yellow Rose of Valentine’s Day.

Flash Fiction: For Better or Worse

Marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment. But a lifetime has many challenges. That’s why the older marriage vows included the phrase “for better or worse.”

This poignant story tells how a couple handles their challenges.

For Better or Worse

Lynette M. Burrows

They came in together. Gray-haired, bent, similar in size and shape, they held hands. She laughed at his lame jokes. Her laughter lit his face with a sun-bright smile. They shuffled up to the emergency room’s front desk. 

Image of a woman's hand holding a man's hand, an illustration for Friday Flash Fiction: For Better or Worse by Lynette M. Burrows

The ER nurse put him in a wheelchair and rolled him back to the triage room. She listened to their concerns, then checked his blood pressure and listened to his heart and lungs. She told them there were no rooms right now but there would be soon. 

They returned to the waiting room and sat in hard plastic chairs near the interior doors marked staff only. And they waited.

His jokes slowed and her laughter grew strained. The nurses at the desk seemed to pay them no mind as they dealt with the people coming into the ER in ones and twos, and whole families.

And after a while, the nurse called his name. She took the old man in his wheelchair through the staff only doors and the old woman trotted after them. She helped the old man into a patient gown that tied in the back, then helped him onto a narrow bed she called a cart. The nurse in charge of this room will be here soon, she said. She pulled the curtain, closing them in. The old woman sat in the lone plastic chair against the wall. And they waited in the cold, bright room.

Outside the room, urgent voices spoke, radios squawked, and equipment rumbled past. Children shouted and got reprimanded. A man screamed for help. The old man’s smile grew uncertain. The old woman pulled her chair closer, held his hand, and murmured meaningless, soothing sounds.

A doctor whisked into the room. “What brought you to the emergency room today,” he asked. 

The old man opened his mouth and his eyes grew clouded then alarmed. 

The old woman patted his hand. “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll tell him. You interrupt if I get anything wrong.”

She related his long health history that was shorter than their marriage, but still very long.

The doctor listened and nodded and said they’d run some tests. 

The old woman smiled and thanked him. So did the old man.

A nurse came into the room and drew blood and started an IV and asked the man if he knew where he was. He answered every question, then gave a nervous laugh and glanced at the old woman. She smiled and nodded reassuringly.

The nurse closed the curtain again and hurried about her duties. Outside their room, drawers opened and closed, phones rang, and heavy things trolled past. And the old man and the old woman waited. They spoke of their dogs, their plans, and their new grand baby—number eight.

A kind woman with a thick brown bun came and rolled him in his bed out of the room and down the hall for some tests. The old woman waited with her hands in her lap.

After a time, they wheeled him back into the room. He smiled a worn, pale smile upon seeing the old woman and mumbled unintelligible. She reached for him. He wrapped his cold fingers around her warm ones. She told him everything was all right and that he could rest now. He closed his eyes. In moments, he snored softly but he didn’t let go of her hand. She didn’t either.

Doors opened and closed, people moved up and down the hall chatting about this and that. And the old woman waited with the old man.

A long time later the doctor came in, a hand gripped each end of the stethoscope that hung around his neck. He said the results had come in. The old man’s damaged heart was doing okay and his scarred lungs were no worse. His blood tests were normal for a man of his age. But the scan of his brain showed increased damage. Blood vessels had shrunk and the white matter had thinned. His brain is slowly dying, confusing his words and his body. We can admit him until we can find a place to take him, the doctor suggested. 

“Oh no,” said the old woman. “I said “for better or worse” and this isn’t so bad.”

They woke the old man who blinked and blinked and asked, “Am I dreaming?”

“We’re ready to go home,” she said.

He smiled a sun-bright smile, and they left together.

Did you like this Friday Flash Fiction: For Better or For Worse? If you did, please let the author know in a comment below. Want more flash fiction? Read: “The Yellow Rose of Valentine’s Day.”