Life or Death

300 words? Evil. So. Evil.

Red Writing Hood

Flash Fiction can be fun and a real challenge. This week focus on the words and the strength of each to contribute to your story. Write a 300 word piece using the following word for inspiration: LIFE.


Life or Death

She knelt in the soapy water, knees aching in her wet jeans. She stared down at the white kitchen floor.

It had been an hour, but it wasn’t clean.

She started again, methodically scrubbing the tile in front of her.

Top left corner, down the side, across the bottom.

It had to be right.

It had to be clean.

She pushed the rag hard against the floor, scraping her knuckles in the grout and gritting her teeth against the sting of soap on her raw skin. She rocked back onto her feet and fought through the ache spreading through her back. Darkness creeping in.

There was still a spot. She abandoned the rag and scraped with her fingernail. Imperfections would not be tolerated. She would have to start again.

Top left corner, down the side, across the bottom.

If it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t right.

And it had to be right.

A bead of sweat ran from the base of her neck to her waist.

Harder. She had to scrub harder.

In her mind, she saw the crash. The metal crumpled like paper, erupting into flames. Cars twisted. Faces cut by shattered glass.

People lying bloody and broken.

Flashing ambulance lights.


No. She wouldn’t let it happen. She had to make it right.

It wasn’t rational. There was no car. There were no people. But what if there were?

The breath caught in the back of her throat.

What if she was wrong?

What if she missed a spot?

She knew it was the OCD. But she scrubbed, because she couldn’t be sure that spotless tiles weren’t a matter of life or death.


This is fiction based on reality.

It isn’t the OCD you see in Monk. Television shows you the cleanliness, but never the thought process. This is called flashing. For someone with OCD, it can feel very real. The magical thinking that you know is completely irrational, but you still feel compelled to do the ritual anyway, because if you don’t, the pictures in your head might come true.

My best friend still teases me about her all-powerful broom. I rarely sweep to prevent car crashes anymore. Though I did clean my door jambs before my niece was born. Just in case.

Thanks for reading! Concrit WELCOME and Appreciated! 




  1. June 24, 2011 at 4:29 am

    Really powerful OCD imagery. You remind me of Orson Scott Card’s description in “Speaker for the Dead.” You put me in that position. I really liked it.

  2. naomi said,

    June 24, 2011 at 4:37 am

    I’m not that familiar with OCD, but I was enthralled to read this.

  3. DM said,

    June 24, 2011 at 4:42 am

    You really drew me in. I could feel the obsession, though the piece with the car crash confused me a little, until you explained at the end. More words and you could portray that much better without the explanation (damn word count! LOL). There is a lot of strong imagery here. I winced when she knicked her hand.

  4. Ashley said,

    June 24, 2011 at 6:29 am

    Very powerful. I could feel the intensity of the cleaning. You did a great job of showing what was going on both physically and mentally. Great job! And I hope the OCD gets easier for you.

  5. Lilu said,

    June 24, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Powerful read. The imagery was really striking, and at the same time entrancing. Well done =)

  6. Nancy C said,

    June 24, 2011 at 11:22 am

    “scraping her knuckles in the grout and gritting her teeth against the sting of soap on her raw skin.”

    I love seamless sensory details like this. How she works through pain to do this. The necessity of it.

    And yes, the car crash was jarring, but I imagine that’s exactly how those images jump into one’s mind.

    So nicely done.

  7. June 24, 2011 at 11:39 am

    So powerful! “Top left corner, down the side, across the bottom” provided a sense of the repetition and raw need to perform perfectly or face that horrible possiblity. The image of the crash is jarring.

    I think anyone who has even mild OCD (if there is such a thing) can relate to what you’ve written.

    Visiting from TRDC.

  8. KG Waite said,

    June 24, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Great job. You have so well captured that endless loop thought process.

  9. June 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Your writing is very powerful. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into what it is like to have OCD.

  10. Katie said,

    June 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Wow. You provided an all too real glimpse into the world of OCD. I could feel the sense of urgency your narrator felt; the very real need to prevent something horrible from happening. I can’t imagine carrying that weight, feeling that responsibility. As Kelli said, the repetition of the phrase “Top left corner, down the side, across the bottom” provided a perfect representation of the actual OCD rituals. Wonderful job!

    Stopping by from TRDC.

  11. Carrie said,

    June 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Even though it is based on reality, you could have left out the car crash part of it and it would have been just as powerful a piece. OCD disrupts people’s lives so much, it definitely works with the prompt.

    Fabulous imagery and great use of words to convey the compulsiveness of this disorder

    Visiting from RDC

  12. Galit Breen said,

    June 25, 2011 at 3:24 am

    This is really jarring, and informative, honest and true. I really appreciate the glimpse of the thinking behind the rituals. Wow what a difference it would make if we all understood this!

    This line: “The breath caught in the back of her throat.” is a perfect example of the tight writing that you used- descriptive, succinct, perfect.

  13. June 25, 2011 at 4:47 am

    This felt very real. Thank you for sharing behind the curtain – it helps me understand a lot about someone I know well.

  14. June 25, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Yikes. That was definitely a window into a thought process I never really understood. Very raw and jarring.

  15. June 26, 2011 at 4:24 am

    Interesting. I love how you really get inside her mind. I am slightly ocd with things like “I wonder if I left the garage door open?” and freaking out about it until I go back home to check, but never to the extent of this character. Fascinating!

  16. Amanda said,

    June 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Yes, that’s how it works. Well done.

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