Flash Fiction – Bells

When it was quiet, it was possible to hear the bells ringing in the church clear across town. Erika heard them often in the crisp evenings when everyone else was asleep. They kept her company, marked the approaching dawn, giving her increasingly insistent warnings that soon it would all begin again.

It occurred to her that there might be someone on the other side with the bells—a Quasimodo. She refused to believe that they were hooked up to a system of levers and pulleys that were programmed by a faceless computer. No, it was someone with strong arms and legs; a solid weight pulling down on a thick rope that burned their palms as they let it slide through before seizing it tightly to pull down again.

“I want to go to the church,” she told Kerry one evening.

Kerry frowned, brow furrowed. “Any church in particular?”

“The one with the bells.”

“I think they hold mass at nine o’clock,” Kerry nodded and shrugged. “But we can go.”

“No, not on Sunday. I want to go now,” Erika insisted rising.

“Uh, honey…”

But Erika had already left the room and left the house walking in the general direction from which she knew the music of the bells carried.

Kerry ran after her with a blanket to wrap around her shoulders despite the fact it wasn’t actually cold.

“Let me do this,” Erika told Kerry. “I’ll be fine.”

Kerry pressed her lips together but stepped aside. “If you head for Main Street—”

“I’ll find it,” Erika dismissed the offered directions.

“Just… be careful.”

Erika walked. She stopped at the ends of sidewalks and waited for cars to pass and the light to turn. She didn’t flinch when dogs barked at her from behind their fences and ignored a group of teens gathered outside a fast food place jeering at her and smacking one another on their arms and backs as though they’d accomplished something.

She checked her watch and waited closing her eyes.

There it was; ten, perfectly-spaced, deep tones that resonated with her bones. She turned and adjusted her path.

Her steps were small but determined. It wasn’t as silent as she’d always thought. The noise from televisions slipped through open windows, the light peeking through the cracks in shades and blinds. There were insects out and about as well as the bats, electric zappers, and other nocturnal beings that caught and devoured them. Cars idled at intersections and then sped off when the spectrum shifted.

Knowing all this made the bells that much more impressive. They cut through all the nonsense and made themselves heard, made their presence felt. And yet for so many they faded into the background too.

Erika stopped and waited again ignoring the woman who spotted her through her front window and came out to ask if she was lost. Erika held up a hand, confusing the woman until she started; eleven.

“No, I’m not lost,” Erika whispered as she started walking again; she was close.

Most everything was dark when she finally found the church. Only the streetlamps and the headlights from a solitary car competed with the moon and stars to light Erika’s way.

It was different this time. They started early—five minutes before the hour; they had a whole song to get through before the day officially ended.

Erika stared up at the bell tower and smiled. She wondered if they played the same song every time or if the unseen Quasimodo changed it from night to night.

Tears of triumph trickled down her face with the tolling of each of the twelve bells welcoming the new day.

Advertisements

April Fools

For the record, this is based on something that happened to me my freshman year of college, right down to the fact it happened on April Fools’ Day.


 

“Hello?”

“Dad? It’s Em.”

“Em? Why’re you calling? You should be on the road still.”

“Well, technically I’m on the road—or the side of it anyway.” She sighed and waited for a large semi to pass by so she could be sure of being heard. “First off—I swear this isn’t a prank.” Why of all the days for something like this to happen did it have to be April Fools’ Day?

Not a prank?”

“Right. I’ve blown a tire on my car and I’m going to need you to come meet me.”

“A tire? On the highway? Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s late enough that it’s not to crowded on the roads so I was able to get over without a problem. I wasn’t going too fast either so I didn’t swerve a lot when it blew.”

“Have you called AAA?”

“Yeah and I’m pretty sure I have a donut but I’m not even halfway back to campus.”

“How long till they get there?”

“Shouldn’t be more than a half hour. One of the state troopers already stopped to check on me once. He said he’d come check on me again when he got a chance—that he’d make sure the roadside assistance guy showed up before too long. He offered to help me get the donut on myself but I don’t have the right tools to do it.”

“I thought we got you that kit for Christmas?”

“It’s got the lug nut wrench but no jack.”

“So the AAA guy’s on his way?”

“Yeah. Once the donut’s on, I’ll head up to the next exit and head for a gas station or something. If you can meet me there and then follow me back home—I just don’t want to wind up stranded again. If the donut goes, I can get AAA to tow it, but I’ll still need a ride back.”

“And you’ll need a ride to campus in the morning, I guess. What time’s your first class?”

“Not until ten. And I’ll buy you one of those pastries you like at the café. Coffee too.”

“Oh, I’ll be needing two of those pastries, at least—one for a late breakfast and the other for the ride home again,” her father teased. “What exit is it?”

“I think it’s Exit 15—but it might be 14.”

“You don’t know where you are?”

“It’s dark and I’m not near any of the signs. I know I passed Exit 10 but I don’t get off until 27. I think I remember the sign for the outlets a little ways back and those are at Exit 13. It’s not like I was expecting this to happen.”

“Fine. I’ll head out now and when AAA gets there and you get the donut on, figure out where you are and call me when you’re at the gas station.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Emily said, ready to hang up.

“You promise this isn’t a prank?”

“I swear, it’s not a prank.”

Flash Fiction – Toddler Carols

Karen double-checked the restraint on her daughter’s car seat as they prepared to head home from the day care center.

“What’d you guys learn in school today?” she asked, conversationally as she climbed into the front seat and fastened herself in.

“We gonna have a concert!” Maya shouted joyfully.

“What kind of concert?”

“A Christmas concert. They gave me a paper in my pack-pack.”

“You’re going to sing some Christmas carols?”

“Ah-huh. Can I wear my red dress?”

“We’ll have to wait and see—Gram-gram bought it for you to wear when we go to their house for Christmas dinner. What about your blue dress? That one’s pretty.”

“Blue isn’t for Christmas, Mama,” Maya said, laughing at her mother’s absurd suggestion.

“We’ll go through your closet when we get home then. What about the songs? What ones are you singing?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, here,” Karen said, reaching to turn on the radio. Some the main stations had been playing Christmas music since Halloween but it made Karen’s hair stand on end to have anything to do with Christmas until Thanksgiving was over—she had a three-year-old, she was incapable of planning that far ahead for anything.

“That one, Mama!” Maya started screeching. “I want that one!”

The Twelve Days of Christmas—the Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall of holiday songs.

“What’s a partridge?” Maya asked.

“It’s a kind of bird, Sweetie.”

“What kind of tree’s it in?”

“A pear tree.”

“Oh. Five golden rings, four killing birds, three French horns, two tuttle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree,” Maya sang along, counting down with her fingers.

Karen smiled in the front seat glancing into the rearview mirror periodically to watch Maya’s enthusiastic expression.

Each time through it became harder for Karen not to laugh. They had almost made it to their driveway when the song ended and she began to breathe easier.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas came on—repetitive but that just made it easier for Maya to pick up… at least as far as the tune was concerned.

Karen waited until they were having dinner that night to bring up the concert again.

“It’s two weeks away,” she told him. “Do you think you can get the morning off?”

“I’ll put in for it,” he promised Maya who was beaming. “Do you know what songs you’re going to sing yet?”

“The teacher put in a list,” Karen said with a broad grin. “We actually heard a few of them in the car on the way home today. Honey, why don’t you sing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ for Daddy.”

Maya swayed in her chair as she started singing.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas,

We wish you a Merry Christmas,

We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a cup of good beer.

“Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring us some freaking pudding,

Oh bring it right here.”

He nearly choked on his dinner.

Flash Fiction – The Arrangement

“But… that’s my allowance!” Caitlin complained when her parents told her they wanted her brother to start washing his own bed sheets and making the bed himself. “I get two dollars for each of the beds in the house, ten cents for each thing I iron, fifty cents when I put away the dishes…” she listed.

“We know,” her mother said in an exaggerated tone. “We’re the ones who set up this little pay-by-chore system. But you’re hurrying through and doing everything before your brother has a chance. He needs to have a chance to earn his allowance too.”

“He gets five dollars when he mows the lawn and he gets to sort the recycling,” Caitlin remained adamant in her objections. “If he isn’t fast enough to do the laundry, that’s not my fault.”

“He needs to learn how to do it and that’s that,” her father said, laying down the final word on the matter.

Caitlin turned on her heel with a loud grunt of frustration as she stormed off.

*          *          *

“But I don’t want to,” Caleb complained when his parents told him he’d be laundering and reassembling his own bed from then on.

“I don’t care if you don’t want to,” his mother said in a dismissive tone. “It’s something you’re going to need to know how to do for when you get older and move out. Get used to it now.”

“But—” he started to complain again but he stopped when he saw his father’s impassive expression, backing his mother up.

Caleb rolled his eyes and shuffled off with his a loud sigh.

*          *          *

Caitlin hovered near the door to Caleb’s room as he played his Gameboy sprawled across his disheveled bed.

“I’ll do it for you,” she said with a glance over her shoulder to be sure their parents weren’t around.

“You will?” Caleb asked, pausing his game.

“Five dollars and I will.”

Caleb’s face scrunched up as he considered her offer, his eyes lingering on the device in his hands. “Deal.”

“Great. Get up and I’ll strip the bed while you get the cash.”

Caleb moved to his dresser and peeked to be sure Caitlin’s back was to him before reaching behind it to retrieve his wallet from a pocket he’d made out of duct tape and attached to the back.

With the sheets gathered against her chest, Cailtin took the five-dollar bill Caleb held out for her as she left the room.

*          *          *

“You did the beds?” their mother asked while they were eating their ice cream in the living room that night.

“Yup,” Caitlin answered.

“Here.” Their father handed Caitlin six dollars.

She furrowed her brow.

“You did all the beds, didn’t you?” he said.

She nodded. Caleb realized what was going on and objected. “Hey!”

“She made your bed didn’t she?”

“Yeah, but she made me pay her for it.”

“Well then, let that be a lesson to you,” their mother said with a shrug.

Flash Fiction – Trick-or-Treat Pt 3

With the exception of Zoe they were soon laughing about the incident.

“You should’ve seen your face,” Lani laughed with Rita. “Your eyes were like,” and she contorted her features so her eyes bugged out while she gasped and clutched the kerchief around Rita’s neck.

Zoe refused to walk ahead of them and clung to Travis at the next few houses, dragging him to the door while the girls waited on the sidewalk.

“How much longer do you think this is going to take?” Maggie asked, her arms crossed over her chest, her hands tucked into her armpits.

“Weren’t you the one who was all excited to be spending time with Travis?” Lani pointed out.

Maggie didn’t have a chance to respond because Zoe came running back towards them crying. She moved to go past the group but Rita reached out an arm and caught her.

“Thanks for that,” Travis said as he came up a moment latter with Zoe’s plastic pumpkin in one arm and a handful of candy that had fallen out of it in the other.

“What happened?” Rita asked, kneeling in front of Zoe and directing the question at her.

The girl was crying too much to make out anything coherent.

“Her tiara is missing,” Travis explained. “Do any of you remember where she had it last? She wants to go back and look for it.”

“Well, it can’t be too far,” Rita assured Zoe who was slowly beginning to calm down. “Why don’t the rest of you go on ahead and I’ll walk back and look for it?” she suggested. “I can find it and run to catch back up when I do.”

“You can’t go alone,” Maggie objected. “We all go or none of us do and frankly, I’m ready to call it a night.”

“No way,” Lani chimed in. “I’m not done yet.”

“Well I’m going back to the house where it’s warm,” Maggie insisted, turning to go back the way they came.

“It’s actually quicker to get back if you keep going,” Travis explained, hiding his amusement as Maggie turned around again, her exasperation building.

“This is ridiculous. I’ll find your tiara, Zoe,” Rita said before hurriedly retracing their steps.

It was getting late and most of the trick-or-treaters were finishing up. A few houses had turned off their lights and were closing up for the evening.

She spotted the red glow of the front door where the dummy had come flying at her and Zoe—the girl’s tiara must have fallen off there when she’d jumped in surprise. Easing her way back to the driveway, she kept an eye out for the movement that would indicate the dummy’s return. Spotting and nabbing the plastic tiara, she sighed with relief and headed back to the sidewalk.

Something reached out and grabbed her by the arm, causing her to scream.

Travis laughed before wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close.

“Relax. Zoe wanted me to make sure you were okay.”

Flash Fiction – Trick-or-Treat Pt 2

“I’m freezing,” Maggie whined hugging her arms to her torso as they walked along the sidewalk.

Rita refrained from commenting but Lani had no problem saying, “We told you so.”

Zoe skipped a few steps ahead waiting for them at the next mailbox.

Travis wore black robes and carried a cheap plastic sickle. When he put the hood up, he wanted to into the night, the foreboding figure of the grim reaper watching from the edges of perception. But his parents had forced him to put reflective tape across the back of his cloak as well as on the hanging sleeves for safety reasons. He decided it didn’t matter. He let the hood hang down, any enthusiasm he might have felt on his sister’s behalf would have vanished anyway the moment he came face to face with Rita and her friends—he needed to keep his cool.

“What are you supposed to be?” Zoe asked Maggie, pausing in her skipping for the rest of the group to catch up.

“A witch.” Maggie’s tone was blunt.

“You don’t have a broom,” Zoe pointed out. “And you didn’t make your face green.”

“Not that kind of witch,” Maggie tried to explain.

Zoe shrugged and continued on, stopping at the next driveway. She’d learned early in the evening not to run across the grass in her haste after seeing a boy in a pirate costume slip in a mess of dog poop on his way to get candy. His mother had carried him away crying and told him they were done for the night.

“Well, go ahead,” Travis urged. “Get your candy.”

“I want you to come too,” she insisted, tugging at her brother’s hand.

“Come on, you can do it by yourself. Just follow the path there and push the door bell.”

“But it’s dark and I don’t want to go by myself.”

“I’ll go with you,” Rita volunteered, reaching for Zoe’s hand and leading her down the driveway towards a converted barn. A rock-lined walkway ran from the driveway to the front door where lights on either side of the door had been shrouded with red tissue paper, casting everything in an eerie glow. Cobwebs were strung along the shrubs and somewhere they must have had either a fog machine or dry ice in a bucket leaving a cloudy haze hovering over the grass.

Rita tugged on Zoe’s hand, urging her forward. “We can skip this house if you want,” she suggested as Zoe froze in place.

The girl didn’t respond, her eyes locked on something just past Rita’s shoulder.

There was a high-pitched cackle as Rita turned and found herself face to face with a glowing skeleton dummy that had been attached by a zip-line from the barn to a telephone pole, a young boy laughed from the window of the loft where he was already pulling the line to retrieve the dummy.

They both screamed and ran to rejoin the others who’d been startled by the noise.

Flash Fiction – Trick-or-Treat Pt 1

“How did you get Travis to come trick-or-treating with us?” Maggie hissed at Rita.

Rita sighed as she untangled her hair from the kerchief tied at her throat. “We’re friends okay,” she reiterated. “He doesn’t want to get stuck taking his little sister out alone so I said we’d go with them.”

“But will he be dressing up? I don’t want him to know that we’re in eighth grade and still trick-or-treating.” She pushed the witch’s hat further back on her head and began playing with her hair.

“Lani didn’t freak out like this when I told her,” Rita teased lightly.

“Shut up. You know it’s just a little crush. I’ll get over it,” Maggie said forcefully—as much to herself as to a quietly amused Rita.

“Rita!” her mother called. “Lani’s here!”

“You look great!” Rita and Maggie chirped as Lani appeared in her cheerleader get-up.

“You’ll be happy you have that sweatshirt when we head out. It’s supposed to be freezing tonight,” Rita added as she frowned at her half-ass attempt at a cowgirl. The boots weren’t quite right but she had put off figuring something out sooner so she was stuck with the contents of her closet—and jeans were just so damn comfortable. Flannel shirt, checked kerchief, and the cowboy hat her mom had been trying to get her dad to throw out for ages and she had a workable costume.

“You look adorable,” Lani told her, tweaking one of Rita’s braids. “Did Travis say what he was going to be?”

“No, but Zoe told me all about her princess costume. She’s excited to be going out with the big kids tonight,” Rita smiled with amusement.

Maggie rolled her eyes not realizing Lani and Rita could see her in the mirror. They exchanged raised eyebrows of their own. Whenever Maggie had a crush on someone, she became incredibly possessive and defensive regarding any mention of him.

There had been times growing up when the three friends’ interests had centered on the same boy and after the first time they made the mistake of sharing that information with Maggie, Lani and Rita knew their friendship with her would never survive if they shared that kind of secret with her again—so they confided only in each other on that score. Lani had liked Travis briefly but now she had moved on to Ron and though Rita hadn’t said anything, Lani sensed that she too had a bit of a crush on Travis—of course, instead of being dramatic about it or simply liking him because everyone else did, Rita had been friends with Travis for a while.

“So, what do you think about my costume?” Maggie asked, posing provocatively.

She’d gone for one of the store-bought witch costumes. It sagged in unflattering places and it would have helped if there were more of it.

“Are you sure you don’t want to borrow an extra layer to wear underneath?” Rita offered.

Maggie shook her head. “I’ll be fine.”

Flash Fiction – The Prophet

“Are you sure you should be—?” Eric started to ask but Taylor had already downed the shot.

“Woooh!” she squealed after swallowing and setting the glass down. She shook her head as the others laughed with varying degrees of sincerity.

“I think you should slow down a bit,” Joan advised, nudging the bottle of tequila out of reach.

“What?” Taylor slurred. “Why? I’m just keeping up with this guy.” She threw an arm around Eric who was grinning from his own buzz. He turned to look at her and she pulled his head towards her so she could give him a kiss on the cheek. Before letting him go, she licked the side of his face and then giggled.

“Okay,” Steph said with a groan. Despite the fact that they were at Eric’s apartment and all lived within a three-block radius, Steph had switched to just water as soon as she felt warm enough to lose her jacket. Billy squeezed her leg to caution her about butting in but Steph kept talking. “Taylor, you can’t keep up with Eric. He’s got ten inches and a hundred pounds on you.”

“Watch me,” Taylor said with a wave of the hand that almost knocked the half-empty bottle of tequila over, the arch of her arm wider than Joan anticipated. She grabbed the bottle out of the way.

“No, we need to get you home,” she agreed, downing the last of her margarita and rising to fetch their coats. “I’ll walk you home.”

Taylor leaned too far into Eric and they both slumped against the sofa, Eric’s arm coming up and stroking Taylor’s arm. She didn’t seem to notice. She was too busy watching Steph and Billy. They’d just made their relationship official a few days earlier and it was the first time they’d gone anywhere as a “couple,” even if it was just hanging out and watching movies at one of their apartments.

“You know…” Taylor said, ignoring Eric’s other hand moving to her thigh. “You two… you’re gonna make it. I… I can just feel it.”

“You can feel what?” Joan asked, reentering the room with a pair of coats. Her eyes went straight to the hand massaging Taylor’s thigh.

“And you,” Taylor said, rising and pointing an accusatory finger at Joan. “When are you going to dump Jack-the-Ass? You can do soooo much better. He’s just gonna keep treating you like shit.”

Joan flushed and looked down, fiddling with the coats so they wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

Steph shook off Billy’s touch as she hurried to get Taylor to her feet. “I’ll go with you guys,” she volunteered.

“Come on, Steph. Stay,” Billy implored. “I’ll walk you home later.”

Joan and Taylor were already in the hallway. “Nah, I’m gonna help Joan,” she said with a significant look, trying to communicate with him silently. Billy rolled his eyes and finally let her go.

They broke up a week later. Joan and Jack lasted six months longer.

Flash Fiction – The Walk Back

Kelly pulled her keys out while she waited for Cait to say her goodbyes. It was still relatively early in the evening but with a meeting at 8:30 the next morning, Kelly needed to get to bed and soon.

Cait was hugging Adam, congratulating him on his gallery show for the millionth time. Their eyes met. Cait rolled hers as she turned away from Kelly, who sighed and glanced at her watch. She felt guilty dragging Cait away. She walked over, pulling Cait gently aside.

“Look, if you want to stay, why don’t you see if someone else will just give you a ride home after?” Kelly suggested.

The light of relief in Cait’s eyes caused Kelly to shake her head. Why she couldn’t have thought of that solution on her own…

“You sure you don’t mind? I feel bad… I mean, I begged you to be my ride and now…”

“We’re cool. Have fun. I feel bad that I have to cut out so damn early,” Kelly assured Cait who looked visibly relieved.

Cait hugged her tight for a moment. “You’re the best,” she told her before disappearing back into the gathering of their friends for more art and wine.

Kelly gave a smile and brief wave to the few who noticed her departure before she’d vanished down the stairs and emerged into the cooler evening air. She checked her watch again—she hated how early the sun set during the fall. Was it one week or two until they switched the clocks?

She paused to look at the gallery behind her. The other thing she hated about early sunsets was the way it distorted things like distance as well as time. She’d found a parking spot on the street three blocks away from the gallery. In the daylight it hadn’t felt like a great distance but with the darkness stretched out between her and her car the distance felt infinite.

She felt her keys in her hand, making sure she had a good grip and at least two of them faced out from between her fingers. Her finger felt for the panic button on the remote door-lock gizmo and she prayed it she wasn’t too far out of range for it to work if she needed it.

Counting the deserted side streets as she passed, there was only one block left to walk when Kelly heard the chime of a bicycle. She turned, confused by the childish sound emanating from the shadows.

“Need a ride Sweet-cheeks?” The question set her skin crawling and her feet moving a little faster. She turned her focus back to the sidewalk ahead but could hear the bicycle’s chain as its rider followed her.

“Come on, Honey,” he called to her. “I’ll take good care of you.”

She spotted her car in the light of a streetlamp ahead. A few more steps and she was safely inside with the doors locked and the windows up, blocking out the noise of that now-creepy bell.

The Gears Are Still Turning

“It usually helps me write by reading – somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear.” – Steven Wright

For those of you who’ve noticed, I’ve been publishing a series of installments in my larger piece titled “Together” every other Friday this summer. I’m not sure what it is or is going to be just yet but I’ve run out of the prepared installments and need to work on writing more. I do have more planned and have started writing some of them but I’m still undecided as far as what I’m going to be doing with them when I’m done. I might publish a few more here to my blog but I’ve also been toying with the idea of self-publishing them (depending on how many I have and how long the overall finished collection of them turns out to be). I’d love to know what my readers think of that idea as I continue to work on “Together” along with the other projects I have in progress (I’ll get them all done eventually, I swear).

In the meantime, I’m going to go back to posting flash fiction on Fridays as well as installments of my Literary Travels series and updates to my progress/recaps of my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort of) Challenge.

If you have ideas for what I should write about in my flash fiction pieces (photos, a sentence, even just a single word – that was all my college roommate gave me when I needed something to get started and “Bees” was the result), either leave it as a comment or send it to me at lenny9987@gmail.com.

Flash Fiction – Father’s Day

Jordyn laid the roses on the kitchen table. She began raiding the drawers searching for the good pair of scissors. Gabe came in. He wordlessly pulled a cereal bowl from the cabinet, filled it, and sat down to eat while Jordyn opened and rifled through each drawer for a third time.

Having taken a few bites, Gabe was finally in a place where he could coherently comment on Jordyn’s increasingly noisy search. “What’re you doing?”

“Looking for the good scissors.”

“I used ‘em last night. Other room,” he explained.

“Why couldn’t you put them away when you were done?” She shoved the drawers closed and marched to the den to retrieve them.

“Didn’t know you were gonna need ‘em.” Gabe was unfazed by Jordyn’s frustrated tone. “What’s with the flowers anyway?”

“It’s Father’s Day,” Jordyn responded as she made fresh cuts to each rose’s stem.

Gabe’s brow furrowed as he squinted at the calendar on the wall. “Huh. Still, what’re you gonna do with ‘em?”

“What d’you think? They’re for Dad, duh.”

Gabe’s chewing slowed. He watched Jordyn wipe the scissors and return them to their proper drawer. She avoided looking at him while she tore paper towels from the roll, folded them, and soaked them under the faucet. His spoon clanged against the ceramic bowl in a not-so-subtle attempt to capture her attention and force her to acknowledge the disbelieving and uncomfortable expression on his face. Fetching a sheet of aluminum foil, Jordyn returned to the table with her eyes intent on the materials she carried for the task at hand. The saturated paper towels were wrapped around the gathered and freshly trimmed stems before the aluminum foil secured the bouquet.

Gabe continued to sit stoically and will Jordyn to look at him as she shouldered her purse, tucked the roses into the crook of her arm, and grabbed her keys from the table. Before she could breeze past him, Gabe spoke up. “Dad’s dead.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So what…” he fumbled to try and make her understand. “Why… Don’t you think it’s… weird… to… you know…” He raised his eyebrows in the direction of the flowers.

Jordyn stared at him blankly for a moment. She opened the door and floated out, letting it slam behind her.

*          *          *

Jordyn laid the bouquet at the base of the granite gravestone. Running her fingers over the etched letters, the stone was warm from the sun.

A few rows over, a pair of boys played catch while their mother watched from a blanket spread on the ground by a carefully tended stone.

Off to her other side, Jordyn could see someone with grey hair and a dark jacket, man or woman, she couldn’t tell, on his/her knees pulling up weeds at the base of an old and weather-beaten gravestone.

Jodyn looked back at the stone in front of her. “I love you Daddy. And I miss you. Happy Father’s Day.” She kissed her fingers and pressed them against his name.

Flash Fiction – The Patch

“Where’re the extra planks of wood?” Ted hollered.

“They’re down in the cellar, just like last year,” Linda hollered back. She turned her attention to the book open to a glossy image of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. She took up her tools again. She just couldn’t get the shape of the head right. The pumpkin’s flesh wouldn’t cooperate.

“I don’t know why you’re trying to get another one finished,” Donovan said, leaning in to inspect Linda’s handiwork. “You’ve already done three more than last year.”

“Would you mind stepping back? You’re blocking the sun.”

“Yes ma’am.” He backed off but Linda still felt him hovering.

“Why don’t you go help Ted?”

“Am I bugging you?” Donovan smiled.

“What do you think?” Linda glared over her shoulder at her annoying neighbor. She hated that he showed up unasked every year, that he thought she was flirting with him. All she wanted from him was silence, to be left in peace.

“Linda,” Ted called from the back door. “Telephone.” He held up the handset.

Linda rushed off with relief.

“It’s that reporter again, from Letter something-or-other. The website,” Ted explained handing over the phone. He watched a shadow lift from her face as she took the phone and disappeared inside.

Ted headed out to the yard where Donovan was examining Linda’s work and waiting for her to return. “I could use some help setting up out front,” Ted offered.

“Yeah, of course.” They headed around the side of the house to finish setting up the makeshift tables before arranging the pumpkins out front. Pausing, Ted glanced up at the moon, already visible in the ripening late afternoon sky. A dark cloud on the horizon might carry rain but looked like it might keep its distance.

“Where do you want these?” Donovan had a few pumpkins that didn’t fit on or around the display tables.

“Switch them out with some of the smaller ones on the ground. These will fall out of the tree but the smaller ones stay up okay.” Ted guided Donovan in the rearrangements, and then showed him a technique for hiding supportive boards in the lower branches of a nearby tree. “Once it gets to be dusk I’ll get out the candles and start lighting them. I guess we’ll be seeing you later tonight when everyone else shows up. Thanks again for your help.” Ted held out a hand for Donovan to shake and did his best to politely dismiss the man.

Donovan headed back across the street where he waited for the sun to descend. A flow of visitors coming along the road grew from a trickle to a river. He fought off sleep at the window as the crowd slipped away, one by one, eventually leaving just Linda in the yard. She went from pumpkin to pumpkin, blowing out the remaining candles that blinked like stars. Trails of smoke created a thin fog as she resisted glancing over her shoulder, somehow aware that he was watching her. 

Flash Fiction – Grave

Matthew grabbed the bowl of candy corn off the table and rushed to the front door where kids were impatiently pushing the doorbell.

“Coming,” he hollered and pulled the door open. There was a man in a police officer’s uniform. Matthew looked around him in search of the shy child that had probably ducked behind him when the doorknob turned.

“I’m sorry sir,” the man said. “I’m afraid your wife and child are in grave danger.”

Part of Matthew was waiting for the guy’s serious expression to crack into a smile and for a playful laugh to go along with a, “Just kidding. Trick or treat.” But another part of Matthew began to panic as an image of Kim clutching a terrified Maddie to her chest flashed through his mind.

The officer remained calm but stoic and Matthew’s heart rate rose. He cradled the bowl of candy against his gut and used his free hand to grab his keys from the small decorative table and his jacket from the hook by the door. He left the candy corn on the front step.

“Are you gonna drive or should I just follow you in my car?” But the officer was already getting into a car and starting the engine so Matthew hurried to the driveway before he lost sight of his escort. As he pushed the gas to keep up, sugar-seeking kids in costumes flooded the sidewalks.

Matthew sat in the car for a minute when they finally came to a stop outside the hospital. He had to close his eyes and breathe deeply before he could open the door and step out. The officer was nowhere to be seen when he’d reached the sidewalk in front of the building’s main entrance. He couldn’t even spot the car. The guy must’ve gotten another emergency call.

It didn’t matter. Matthew strode up to the front desk and inquired after Kim and Maddie.
“I’m sorry sir,” responded a woman with whiskers drawn on her cheeks and black cats walking across her scrubs. “I don’t show them in our system. Who did you say you spoke to?”

“An officer. I didn’t get his name. He took off again after we got here.”

“I’ll go check with my supervisor. See if we have anyone matching your description. Wait here.” She walked off and Matthew looked around for a seat.

“I think I can help you.” The man’s face was obscured by the orange jack-o-lantern grin painted on it. “Kimberly and Madison, right? I’m afraid their condition is… grave. Follow me. I’ll lead you to their room.”

Matthew let the man lead through twisting hallways and down darkened stairwells. He turned a corner and the man held open a door. Matthew could see Kim and Maddie resting on beds. He walked through and looked over his shoulder as the door swung shut. The man had vanished. It took a moment before his mind set right the backwards letters on the glass window of the door. Morgue.

Flash Fiction – Bad Day

Jennifer saw Gina sitting at table with her forehead resting on her arms, swaying gently from side to side. As she got closer she could hear a slight groaning and Gina began lifting her head a few inches and letting it fall back onto her crossed arms. Dropping her backpack to the ground, Jennifer slid into a chair across from Gina.

“Been waiting long? Did you already eat?”

Gina just shook her head, still resting on her arms.

“Can I get you anything?”

Another head shake, this time with a small groan.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“You’re asking me if I’m sick?” Gina mumbled.

“I guess.”

“Physically, I’m fine. I’m just… embarrassed, humiliated, having the worst day ever.”

“It’s the first day of classes. You go to class, read through the syllabus and do some of those stupid getting to know you exercises that are absurd because all the students know each other already and the professors don’t pay attention anyway. They just do it to kill time so they don’t have to prepare a full lesson. How bad can it be?” Jennifer’s skepticism got Gina to look up and prop her chin on her arms.

“It’s bad. Awful really.”

“You need cheering up?”

“I don’t think you can say anything that will make it better.”

“Come on, give me some credit.” Jennifer smiled but Gina’s expression remained unconvinced.

“You underestimate the steaming pile of shit that’s been my day.”

“Okay, you think you’re having a bad day…”

“No, I don’t think. I know. I know I’ve been having a bad day,” Gina interrupted.

“Well, Tory’s boyfriend Al was talking about some poor kid in his class earlier today who was having a worse day. It was some kind of lab practical with the setups. You know, all the tubes, beakers, flasks, and the clamps holding things up. Anyway, everything was already set up for whatever they were doing. Don’t know what kind of professor would have that kind of lab on the first day. Actually… wait. No, it wasn’t for their class. The lab was for a class later this afternoon. So, they’re taking notes and the professor is lecturing and I guess this kid in class dropped their pen. Of course, everyone hears it but ignores it. So they’re trying to get it back, reach the pen. I guess they bumped the lab bench or something but the whole elaborate setup starts crashing down. Everything broke. Well, almost. Apparently they managed to grab a piece in each hand as it was going down. Don’t really know what happened after that. I guess it would be hard to regain control of the class after that. Not to mention cleaning up the mess. You can’t be having a worse day than that poor kid,” Jennifer said putting her backpack under the table and getting ready to get some lunch.

“Actually, my day is exactly that bad,” Gina said with a small nod.

Jennifer raised her eyebrows. “Oh. Um… oh.”

Flash Fiction – Battlefields 3

The gown refused to close in the back and Sam knew that it didn’t really matter but it bothered him just the same. He didn’t like how vulnerable it made him feel, not being able to see it but knowing from the slight chill that he was exposed back there.

“Are you okay in there? Do you need help?”

“I’m fine, Ma,” he rasped, raising his voice as much as he trusted it, which wasn’t very high.

The door opened a crack and a worried face peeked in. “They’ll be here for you soon.” Tears welled up in her eyes but she held them in place, refusing to let them spill over.

“I’m scared,” Sam whispered.

“Of course you are.” She opened the door more and joined him in the sizeable hospital bathroom. Sam wanted to sit but there was no seat to the toilet and he was already feeling dispirited enough. She came over to him and draped an arm across his shoulders, using her other hand to brush his hair out of his face. He’d stopped cutting it when he heard his diagnosis. It would be gone soon enough. “I’m scared too. And your father. But we also know that you can do this. You’re strong enough and brave enough. You just have to take it one step at a time. And we’ll be there with you for each of them.”

Sam nodded and leaned his head over onto his mother’s shoulder. She held him close for a moment and then patted him on the back gently to rouse him. There was a quiet knock on the door.

“They’re here.”

Sam’s mother reached for the door. Sam’s father was standing on the other side. He couldn’t keep the fear out of his eyes and the color was gone from his face, but he was trying. There were a nurse, an orderly, and his doctor waiting beside the bed behind his father.

“Why don’t you come lie down while we work on getting you prepped,” the nurse coaxed.

“I’ll talk you and your folks through every step of the procedure we’ll be doing today and what our next few steps will be after that,” Dr. Smith said in a way that was meant to be reassuring but came off as condescending. “Knowing what you’re getting yourself into helps you prepare, physically and mentally for the fight ahead.”

Sam laid back as the nurse went to work poking and sticking him, inserting an IV and the monitors’ sensors. The words of the doctor washed over him. He could focus on single words here or there but they refused to make sense when strung together and rattling around in his head. He couldn’t tell whether his parents were absorbing the doctor’s monologue, but they were nodding their heads to indicate understanding.

There was a pause as they wheeled Sam out of his room. He took a few deep breaths and decided silently, “I can do this. I will beat this.”

Flash Fiction – Under the Dock Pt. 3

“What is it?” Iris asked. “A snake?”

“It’s the thing that’s been living under the dock,” Adam said sarcastically.

“Well yeah. But what is it?”

“An eel,” Josh explained. He was holding the line at arm’s length as the long and slimy creature writhed at the end of the hook. A small amount of blood trickled down the dark, slick body and was mixing with the slime coating the dock. The end of the hook protruded from just beyond the gills. Its jaws opened and closed slowly, giving the impression of silenced screams.

“Let it go,” Iris pleaded.

“It’s not gonna make it,” Josh said, looking down at the tiring eel. “There’s no way for me to get that hook without doing more damage. He’s a gonner.”

“Just, let it go.” Iris was adamant.

“It doesn’t look that menacing anymore,” Adam admitted.

“Fine, but I’m gonna need one of you to hold this for a minute,” Josh held the line out for someone else to take. Iris and Adam exchanged a brief look before Iris reached out and reluctantly took the line.

Josh crept over to his tackle box and pulled out a small but sharp knife. He got as close to the eel’s gaping maw as he dared before folding tugging some of the line through Iris’ fingers and creating slack. Folding it over against the blade of the knife, he worked his way through the tough monofilament. The full length of the eel flopped onto the sun-heated dock and continued to thrash.

Josh stood and walked over to the suffering creature, nudging it with the edge of his sandal. The nudge gave the eel the necessary momentum to squirm the rest of the way across the dock, where gravity assisted in restoring it to the lake below. Their three heads strained to watch as the eel struggled away through the water, listing to one side and remaining close to shore. They lost sight of it as the eel slipped in amongst a cluster of branches dangling into the lake at the water’s edge. A small ripple across the surface was the last indication that the eel had been there. That and the slime that coated the weather proofed dock.

Josh slid as he returned the knife to his tackle box. He re-spooled the line and set the rod aside with the rest of his gear where the stone steps met the dock. Iris fetched a bucket that Josh had hoped to fill with a fish or two and filled it from the lake. Splashing it across the dock, she rubbed at the slime with her foot and managed to clear off some of the blood, but most of the mucus continued to cling to the surface. A second attempt with more water and some sand worked a little better but when she stepped barefoot onto the dock the following morning for a quick swim, the feel of the slick surface raised goosebumps along the skin of her legs.

Flash Fiction – Under the Dock Pt. 2

Josh struggled to kneel comfortably on the dock but the sun had heated the surface to an uncomfortable degree. Shifting was driving splinters deeper and deeper into his flesh. At last he had the bait skewered on the hook and raised himself to his sandaled feet. Securing the lid on the plastic container of pungent dead clams, he heard the slap of flip-flops on the stone steps leading down to the dock.

He expected Iris was about to kick him off the dock, send him down along the rocks and brambles that were overgrown along the shore to either side. She wouldn’t want his hook to pose a threat to her swimming. But when he looked up she was in cut-off shorts and a snug long-sleeved tee.

“Not gonna take a dip?” He moved closer to the end of the dock and prepared to cast his line out. “Head’s up,” he warned, bringing the rod back.

“Not after yesterday.”

“Come on,” he said as he swung his arm and the line flew out, landing in the water with a small plop. “It was probably just a fish. You were working with bait after all.”

“Uh-uh. It wasn’t a fish.”

“Okay, whatever you say.” Josh began slowly reeling in the line, his eyes focused on the red and white spot that would disappear beneath the surface momentarily and then reappear a little bit closer than before.

“Adam believes me.”

“Adam’s always paranoid about something.”

“Well, good luck. I think I’m gonna walk up to town. Need anything?”
“Real bait? I appreciate the effort but these things suck.” He pulled the line up to reveal a hook that had lost its bit of clam. He would have felt a tug if there’d been a nibble so he knew the damn thing had slipped right off.

“Fine. Money?”

“Take ten from my wallet. It’s on the coffee table.”
“’kay.” Iris turned and slapped her way back up the steps and into the cottage. Josh heard the screen door bang shut a few minutes later when she left for town.

Josh settled in to a rhythm of casting out, counting, and reeling in for another cast. He hadn’t had a single bite between the time Iris left and her return at least an hour later.

“You gonna call it quits anytime soon?” she called as she brought down a plastic bag with the container of store-bought bait.

“Something must be scaring away the fish. I’ve never seen them this quiet before. Not even a nibble.” He let the line sit in the water next to the dock while they chatted.

Iris eyed it with trepidation. “I know one thing that would keep the fish at a distance.”

The line began to run out on Josh’s spool. He snapped to attention and began to reel it in. There was less resistance than he expected but it still a struggle to get his catch onto the dock.

“Ewwww!” Iris squealed when she saw it lying there.

Flash Fiction – Under the Dock Pt. 1

Iris waved her hand from left to right under the water, attempting to clear the object in her hand of mud. Squinting through the foggy goggles, she turned it over examining its edges. Nope, just another rock. She flipped it off to the side and it sent up another cloud of silt as it came to rest in the muck on the bottom of the lake.

Iris surfaced briefly, sputtering momentarily then taking a deep breath and plunging back in. She spotted a smooth, curved edge jutting out from the reeds and muck. Grabbing at it, she pulled it up along with mud and a few pebbles. Shaking her fist, she could feel the shape emerge as the sediment washed away and knew it was what she was looking for. She added the clam to the pail bobbing with the waves a few feet from her. She looked at her haul and decided she had enough.

Without touching the bottom, Iris pushed the bucket along towards the dock, only standing when the sludge had given way to the smoother, sandier bottom. A rock lay waiting near the edge of the dock. Iris took a clam out of the bucket and placed it as flat as it would go. She raised the rock and muttered a brief, “Sorry,” before bringing it down on the sturdy shell. A small crack formed. She brought the rock down again and this time the shell gave way and bits of pale flesh spurted through. She picked pieces of shell away to expose the rest of the slimy flesh. Using one of the larger shards of the shell, she cut the mollusk away from the other half.

“Why are you doing that?” Adam asked as he meandered down the cement steps to stand over Iris.

“You said you wanted to go fishing later. I’m just getting you some bait.”

“Aren’t worms more traditional?”

“These’ll work too. Why don’t you throw on your suit and come join me?”

“Nah. Won’t get me near that dock. There’s something living under there.”

“It’s just the fish that you’re hoping to catch later.”

“No, there’s something… else under there too.”

“Oh really? What?”

“Don’t know but I’m not rushing to find out.”

“Baby.”

“Call me what you want, I’m staying up here. Good luck with your bait.” Adam walked away.

Iris rinsed the clam in the water next to her and put it in a pile before moving on to the next in the bucket. She made it through five more then felt something brush up against her leg. She used her other foot to brush whatever it was away. Probably reeds. She went back to her clams and rinsed another in the water at her waist.

The reed rubbed against her shin again. She ducked her head into the water to see if she could uproot the annoying reed. And looked into a pair of hazy eyes that gazed back at her, continuing its attempts to pass.

Flash Fiction – Battlefields 2

The humidity was rising but it wouldn’t be lasting much longer. In a few weeks the crisper air would creep in from the north, brushing fire tinted leaves with a frosty brush before knocking them from the trees’ limbs. But there was much to be accomplished before that happened and she was wasting time standing at the window, gazing past the jungle gym and slide, already hazy as the metal absorbed the sun’s heat and sent some of it back into the surrounding air.

The air conditioning was pumping through the vents in the ceiling and the sporadic gusts sent the planets in the dangling, styrofoam solar systems orbiting unpredictably. She moved one of the desks underneath one display that was hanging precariously. With care, she stepped from the low chair onto the desk and reached for the fraying string that tenuously held the mobile to its mount. But even on the desk, she was a few inches away from securing it safely. She’d have to let the janitor know about it and warn the kids to keep an eye on it for her.

She realigned the desk with the others and wiped her shoe prints from its surface. Tilting her wrist, she checked the time, then checked it against the clock mounted on the wall. Unsure which was correct, she checked the cell phone on her desk, putting it away in the top drawer where the students wouldn’t spot it and be tempted. Picking up the attendance list, she reviewed the names and speculated as to which might be younger siblings of former students. She tried a few aloud several different ways, searching for pronunciation that sounded right and hoping it was right.

Twenty-four names on the list. Twenty-four labeled mailboxes. Twenty-four copies of each text on shelves in the closet. Twelve cubby spaces, each with room for two backpacks, two coats, two lunchboxes. Five markers and two erasers resting in the metal tray at the base of the white board. Six rows of four desks, the sunlight filtering through the decorated windows creating strangely colored geometric patterns across several in the first two rows. Two stacks of papers. One of notices reminding faculty about the need for improving testing scores, techniques for helping students achieve that, goals for the year. One of notes and cards from pupils mentioning their favorite projects and games, letters interspersed from parents thanking her for helping their kids discover new things and making learning fun for everyone, challenging students that needed it, taking the extra time with those who had trouble.

The scent of generic antiseptic cleanser clung to most of the surfaces in the room. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes to listen. The squeal of tires braking on hot pavement and the hum of a motor left running as the bus lingered to deposit students at the front of the school, the babble of voices as they clamored through the halls, sneakers squeaking on the waxed tiles.

Flash Fiction – Perspective

“It’s up and around the corner there,” Vincent said breathlessly. Thanks to the lovely blazing sun and cushioning humidity, he had sweat through his shirt. And underwear. And shorts. And there were dribbles of sweat coursing down his legs and soaking his socks.

Amelia wasn’t saturated yet, but the thick coating of sunscreen applied earlier had pooled her sweat beneath it where it struggled to find a way to the surface. They reached the top of the hill and faced the lighthouse. “Huh. It looks smaller than in the brochures.”

“I’m sure the view up there is spectacular.” He double-checked his moist pocket for assurance his camera had survived the alarming bus ride. Thank heaven they didn’t let tourists have cars. These drivers were crazy enough without putting lunatic vacationers on the narrow, unfamiliar roads.

They approached the lighthouse’s base of, which appeared to have been repainted recently, probably at the beginning of tourist season. They expected a guard or ticket booth of some sort, but found the area deserted. There wasn’t even a sign to caution visitors regarding the railing-less spiral staircase leading to the lantern room.

“Hello?” Amelia called through the opening. “Should we go in?”

“Who’s gonna stop us?” Vincent led the way, hoping the shady interior would provide relief from the sun’s heat.

The interior had been painted as well, but clusters of chewing gum had already reappeared along the wall beside scratches from pens and permanent markers signifying that so-and-so “was here.” Vincent went ahead, tracing his hand along the wall for balance on the ascent, but Amelia shied away from the tacky stone and took her time.

Vincent was busy tugging on the two doors leading to the catwalk when Amelia emerged from below. The locked doors were the only attempt to protect against probable stupidity and inevitable lawsuits.

They stood for a few minutes gazing out at the island stretching out behind them and the blue horizon where the ocean and sky merged at an indistinguishable point in the distance.

“So, what d’you want to do now?” Standing inside a giant glass room was a little too much like standing in a sauna. Vincent wanted to get moving again.

“How long till the bus gets here again?”

“At least an hour.”

“Well, that beach over there doesn’t look too far. Why don’t we just walk?”

The pale stretch of sand appeared to be on the far side of the inlet.

“What the hell,” Vincent shrugged and headed back down the corkscrew death-trap stairs.

An hour and a half later, Vincent stood knee deep in the cool water, his socks in his pockets, his shoes tied together by the laces and thrown over his shoulder. Walking with only a general direction in mind, it had taken much longer than expected to reach their destination.

“Look, there’s the lighthouse,” Amelia pointed.

Vincent squinted, his hand shading his eyes, he was able to make out a dot that was slightly taller than the dots around it.

Flash Fiction – Historic Disappointments – 1

“There it is kids,” said Thomas Jones as they drove up the hill. “Monticello.”

The kids strained their necks in the back seat of the minivan. All they saw were hills covered with trees and indistinguishable crops, enthusiastically green from the recent much needed rain. The kids hadn’t been as excited by the wet weather as most of the other people they had seen during their vacation. So far the nicest day they’d had was the day they left home, wasting eleven hours of it the car. The excitement of waking in a hotel had been extinguished when they saw the dark clouds and heard rumbling thunder in the distance. Changes were made to their itinerary and they spent several days wandering around increasingly obscure museums.

“I don’t think they can see it from here, Honey,” Martha explained, motioning for the kids to get back in their seats. “Davy, get back on your side of the car. Bridget, don’t even think of unbuckling your seatbelt, young lady.”

Tom continued to follow the signs and the minivan slowly climbed through the wooded hills to the visitors’ center. The parking lot was already crowded and people were milling about in various lines.

“Is this it?” Davy asked skeptically.

“No, we have to take the shuttle up to the main house. Shouldn’t be too long though.”

“Tom, why don’t you go wait in line for the tickets and we’ll go look around the center.”

Thirty minutes later, with two bags of souvenirs in hand, Martha and the kids met up with Tom again.

“Can you run these to the car real quick? We’ll wait for you in the shuttle line. Sounds like one of the buses isn’t working so they’re behind schedule.”

“You guys went to the gift shop already? Without me? Honey, it’s been half an hour. There isn’t much to see here except the gift shop, the bathrooms, and the small cafeteria. The kids were bored. Besides, now we won’t get stuck in the long lines later when the kids are tired and just want to go back to the hotel.”

“Fine, see you in a few minutes.”

Another hour passed as shuttles departed and the Jones family inched its way the front of the line. I Spy was soon exhausted and replaced with Twenty Questions. The clouds returned and the sky began to darken as they finally alighted from their shuttle and were faced with yet another line. A small sign announced, “Tours start here leaving every twenty minutes.”

“Why don’t we walk around outside a little before we jump into another line. That way, we’ll have seen some of the grounds and we can be inside taking the tour if it starts raining.”

“The other side is the one you kids’ll recognize anyway,” Martha added, tugging Bridget along beside her.

They walked along the path circling the main lawn and paused.

Davy broke their silence saying what they all were thinking, “It looks more impressive on the nickel.”

 

Flash Fiction – Biscuit

Abigail was pulling the fluff off of dandelions in the back yard with her mother watching from a swing on the deck. Wisps of the downy seeds clung to her hair and clothes while the breeze tossed more into a cloud around her. When the fluff tickled her nose, her giggles carried beyond the boundaries of the yard and the elderly woman working in her garden next door smiled as she trimmed back the hedge. The large golden retriever puppy at her feet wandered over to the boundary between the two yards and paused before dashing across to Abigail.

The girl’s giggles escalated into shrieks of delight. The dog tackled her to the ground and the two began rolling in the grass and weeds. Lying on his back, the puppy exposed its belly for scratching, which Abigail was more than happy to do.

“Abby,” her mother shouted from her spot on the swing. “Why don’t you toss a ball or a stick for him to play with? There’s a tennis ball by the sand box.”

Abigail ran to retrieve the ball with the puppy a few steps behind, its face dangerously close to her quick-moving sneakers. She tried to hold the ball out of the puppy’s reach but her own limbs were too short to be effective and his excitement gave him too much bounce. “Puppy! Stop!” she giggled. Finally she managed to throw the ball and he dashed off to fetch it.

He brought the ball back and put it down a few feet in front of her. She reached for the ball but before she could reclaim it for another throw, the puppy had snatched it up in his teeth again. “Hey! Give me that.” She reached out to take it from him but hesitated when her hand got closer to his mouth. He dropped the ball and slobbered on her chubby fingers.

“Mommy, he’s tickling me!”

Abigail laughed as he continued licking her, reaching her free hand down towards his feet where she was able to get ahold of the moist tennis ball again. She threw it with as much force as she could muster and it reached her plastic slide in the distance. Her mother got up and headed quickly into the kitchen as Abigail wiped her slimy hand on her pants. Looking up to be sure she wasn’t going to get into trouble for such forbidden behavior, Abigail noticed her mother’s absence and ran towards the house, the puppy once again at her heels.

“Mom!”

She reappeared at the door with a familiar red box in her hand. “Would you like to give the puppy a biscuit? I don’t think Maggie will mind sharing.”

Abigail ran to take the biscuit from her mother’s outstretched hand and the puppy was right there to snatch it immediately away. He bolted back into the neighboring yard to bury his prize.

“Come back!” Abigail hollered after him. “Mommy, make him come back. I’m not done playing with him.”

Flash Fiction – The Invitation

“What did that sign say?”

“It didn’t say what you think it did.”

“Are you sure? I think we’re lost.”

“We’re not lost. The directions say we have to go another few miles before we’ll see the turn.”

“How many miles does a few translate to?”

“Three point four from where we got off the highway. How far have we gone since we got off?”

“I have no idea but I think it’s around three or four. Are you sure we didn’t go past it?”

“When I see the sign, I’ll tell you but I haven’t seen it yet.”

“Maybe you missed it.”

“I didn’t miss it. We haven’t reached it yet.”

“It feels like we’ve been driving forever.”

“It hasn’t even been forty-five minutes. It takes longer to get to your parents’ house.”

“It’s been at least an hour. We left at quarter of eleven and it’s just about noon now.”

“We did not leave at quarter of. We left at quarter past. We were going to leave at quarter of but then you spent twenty minutes on the phone with your mother. We finally left at quarter past.”

“I was not on the phone for twenty minutes. It was maybe ten.”

“There’s the turn. Slow down. Told you we didn’t miss it.”

“What’s the next road to look out for?”

“It’s not for another two miles. Then we have to look for the house with the balloons in front. Should be easy to spot.”

“Which way do we turn? What side of the road should I be looking at?”

“Left. Oak Park Lane. It should be across from a gas station.”

“We’ve passed three gas stations in the last ten minutes.”

“Those weren’t across from Oak Park Lane.”

“Remind me to get gas after the party. I should have enough to get home but I don’t want to have to remember to get it in the morning on my way to work.”

“Will do. I think that’s the turn up there. Just keep an eye out for the balloons. It should be the eighth house on the right.”

“I don’t see any balloons. What color is their house?”

“Slow down. This is a residential area. The house? I think she said it was grey with blue shutters. Or was it blue with grey shutters?”

“Still not seeing any balloons. And there are two grey houses up there on the right.”

“That one’s not grey, it’s white. Man, they need to repaint that house.”

“Um… there’re no cars in the driveway. Or along the road. It doesn’t look like anyone’s home.”

“That’s the right house. The number matches the invitation.”

“What time was the party supposed to start?”

“Start time eleven thirty. Wanted everyone to be here in time for lunch.”

“Then where is everyone?”

“What day is today?”

“Are you serious? It’s Saturday. Please tell me you didn’t…”

“I am so sorry. The party’s tomorrow.”

“What?”

“At least now we know how to get here.”

“Don’t talk to me right now.”

Flash Fiction – Timetables

Lana carefully maneuvered her purse to extract her phone and check the time. 4:17. The bus would leave at 4:30, so the train had thirteen minutes to go the last three stops. About four minutes per stop. That should be doable. She elbowed the large woman next to her as she put the phone away again.

“Sorry,” she said quietly. The noise of the moving train drowned out her apology but it didn’t seem to matter. The woman didn’t even appear to have noticed that she’d been prodded.

The next stop was a large transfer station and only ten people were left in Lana’s car. But there appeared to be problems with the doors, which chimed their warning before starting to close and then slamming back open again. A few seconds later, this was repeated and four more times after that.

Lana checked her phone again when the doors finally stayed shut and she felt the slight shudder that precedes the train moving away from the platform. 4:22. As the train raced on, she prayed that they would get to her stop in time. She did not want to wait around the station for a half hour for the 5 o’clock bus.

It was 4:26 pulling out of the last stop before she needed to get off. Lana smiled as she calculated that they would arrive at the station just in time for her bus. Then the train began to slow and Lana’s smile disappeared. She heard the brakes squeal and felt the slight jerk of the train stopping. No, no, no, no, no. The intercom kicked on and there was a mumble of voices before the driver made his announcement. “We’ll be moving shortly folks. We apologize for the inconvenience. There’s a bit of traffic up ahead. We just need a platform to open up and we’ll be on our way.”

She looked at her phone. 4:29. The train lurched forward. By the time they pulled in, she got off the train, up the stairs, and out into the bus bay area, it would be after 4:30. The bus would probably be gone.

But maybe not. Maybe the bus would be running a few minutes late. Maybe it would have needed to fill up on gas first and would be a few minutes behind schedule. Please let the bus be late, please let the bus be late. Please don’t make me wait till 5, please don’t make me wait till 5.

As soon as the doors opened, Lana began running as best as she could in her heels. She emerged onto the platform and saw the line of commuters waiting just outside the concourse doors for the 350 to show up.

Catching her breath, Lana took her place in line and glanced at her phone. 4:32. Gazing down the sidewalk, there were no buses waiting in one of the layover spaces. 4:33. Really? Where was the bus? Why couldn’t things run on time?

Flash Fiction – The Hike

The mountain stood its ground as Roger pulled his backpack from the trunk of his compact car. There was a weather-beaten map of the trails laminated on a corkboard next to the entrance of the main trail. The ink marking the map had faded in the blazing light of many setting suns and some of the trails were difficult to discern.

Roger squinted into the light of the sun as it came up over the ridge of the mountain’s summit. He reached out and took one of the maps from a protective cubby built into the display. He never took his eyes away from the summit’s crag as he reached behind himself to tuck the pamphlet into one of the pack’s pockets. There was one final adjustment to the shoulder straps and he was heading up the trail marked by vibrant green circles the size of his palm that were spray-painted on the trunks of trees every ten yards or so.

Usually one of Roger’s buddies or at the very least his dog would join him on his hike. But as luck would have it, one guy had to work, two were on vacation, a fourth had a family thing going on, and Roger’s dog, though willing, was prevented by the veterinarian’s orders and the large plastic cone encircling his head.

So Roger set off up the trail alone, giving the tree a high five on its bright green marker as he passed. Instinctively he looked back over his shoulder only to find that for once, no one was trailing behind. Even with no one to see, Roger shrugged his shoulders, readjusted his backpack because he had just dislodged it from a comfortable position, and continued up the mountain. With no one following but a distracted squirrel and a few burrowing bugs, Roger had no one to say anything about the map that had fallen from his pack as he shifted and jostled it.

Roger, used to having someone moving at a slower pace, pushed himself rapidly along the trail, paying little attention to the forks he chose along the way. Of course, he believed he had a map to reference later when he finally took pause to check. But along with willfully losing his way, he lost his regular references for time. He only slowed down enough to pull out his water bottle from time to time. Until he began to realize he was lost on the side of the mountain.

The green stains transformed to yellow ones before disappearing when he wasn’t paying attention. He finally slowed enough to reach for his map doing an amazing though unappreciated impression of his dog chasing its tail. Pulling the bag from his back, he fought an impulse to hurl it against a conveniently placed tree upon finding the map absent. He looked up towards the peak, backlit by the sun. It was frowned upon to go off the beaten path but since he was already off of it… why not?