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.

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 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.