Tag Archives: flash fiction

Flash Fiction: Monkey’s Money

I was in the mood for something different this week, so I went to my favourite place for flash fiction prompts:  Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.  I chose a random letter and clicked on a random page, and here’s what I got:

“Monkey’s Money:  I will pay you in monkey’s money (“en monnaie de singe”) - in goods, in personal work, in mumbling and grimace. The French had a law that when a monkey passed the Petit Pont, of Paris, if it was for sale it was to pay four deniers (two-thirds of a penny) for toll; but if it belonged to a showman and was not for sale, it should suffice if the monkey went through his tricks.”

* * *

Monkey’s Money

George blew out a long sigh.  Here we go again.

He shuffled into the crowded holding area, trying to ignore the jostling bodies around him.  Hunkering into the relative privacy of a corner, he eyed the antics of the others.  A few familiar faces, but mostly new talent.  Or lack thereof.

From the opposite corner, Bruno gave him a pointed glance and curled his lip to expose gleaming bone-white incisors.

George ignored the challenge.  Yeah, asshole, whatever.  So your teeth are better than mine, so what?  You’re still in the monkey pen with the rest of us.  He eyed the steady stream of passersby outside with undisguised envy.  What he’d give to be one of the privileged few who were granted the dignity of actual money!

How many times had he made this demeaning passage, performing over and over for indifferent audiences?

It had seemed so exciting in the beginning.  He had thrown his heart and soul into it; had thrilled to the slightest sign of approval; waited with pounding pulse to see if he would be one of the chosen ones; dreamed of the day he would strut past the pen and into the coveted status of ‘moneymaker’.

But now his clever tricks seemed so mundane.  In each performance he struggled to imbue them with new life; to wring fresh nuance from the same stale material.

He sighed and squeezed his eyes shut.  God, this place reeks.  Too many desperate bodies clambering over each other for attention.

The shrieking and chattering intensified and his eyes popped open.  Lula again.  Christ, look at her shoving her ass in everybody’s face.  She’ll screw anything that moves.

And now every other female in the place was taking exception…

Oh, God, not again!  George shrank into his corner, trying to make himself a smaller target.  Always, dammit.  Every damn time some idiot starts flinging poop. And then everybody joins in.

Ignoring the commotion, the bored man with the list caught George’s eye and jerked a thumb toward the stage.

My turn at last!  George straightened, willing energy into his body.  Summoning every ounce of talent, he threw himself into his performance.

Maybe this time they’ll realize how good I am.  Maybe this time, somewhere in that small audience, jaws will drop in awe and delight and someone will rush forward offering precious money.

Maybe this time…

It’s over.  Already. 

Damn, if they’d only allowed me a few more minutes.  A few more seconds, even.  I was just getting into it.

But there’s still hope.  The knock-‘em-dead scenario was really only a fantasy.  It usually takes a while before they make the final selection…

Exhausted, George shambled out.  His cell phone rang, and he picked up the call as he slid behind the wheel of his car.  “Hi, honey.  Yeah, it was the usual circus backstage, but my audition went okay.  Now I just have to wait for their decision.”

* * *

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Filed under Flash Fiction, Writing

I’m Amused

In the vagaries of the English language, I’m “amused”.  I’m also amused by the vagaries of the English language, but that’s not actually what I mean.

No; if “amoral” means “lacking morals”, and “atonal” means “toneless”, and “achromatic” means “without colour”, then I’m “amused”.  As in “lacking muse”.

Which is a fancy way to say I don’t know what to write about today.

So I shall resort to poking fun at the English language.  If the prefix “a-” indicates absence or lack, then why doesn’t “acute” mean “ugly”?  Why doesn’t “along” mean “short” and “alike” mean “hate”?  And if I amend an item, am I actually ripping it apart?

After coming up with a few other examples, I just couldn’t resist messing around with some flash fiction:

Flash Fiction: Afoul Play (On Words)

Setting my torch alight, I stood blinking, blinded by the sudden blackness.  When the vague outlines of the hallway emerged from the dark, I crept forward.  The groan of a loose floorboard underfoot made me flinch, my heart drumming against my ribs.

Glad to be alone, I turned to Jim.  “Man, why did we let Rick talk us into this?  And why are we still doing it when he didn’t even bother to show up?”

Jim replied with his usual unintelligible mumble before pressing his lips tightly agape, but I didn’t let it bother me.  He always spoke aloud.

Behind me, Lucy whispered, “Light the torch.  This is too creepy.  Maybe we heard Rick aright.  After all, it was two weeks ago.  Maybe he meant twelve noon, not midnight.”

“No, I’m sure he meant midnight,” I argued.  “He said we had to sneak in when it was dark, and he teased me that I’d probably arouse at eleven and sleep through the whole thing.”

A few minutes of stealthy tiptoeing later, Lucy hissed, “Oh, gross!  Do you smell that?  There’s something alive here.  It smells like it’s been rotting for weeks!”

“Probably just a dead mouse or something,” I said with more confidence than I felt.

“It can’t be.  It’s too strong.  It smells like something…”  Her voice trembled.  “Something big.”  Her nails dug into my shoulder.  “What’s that aloft?  On the floor under that big table?”

I swallowed hard and peered through the dimness.

“Light it!  Light the torch!”

Jim’s shout startled me so much I nearly dropped the torch.  It bobbled dangerously and Lucy’s shaking hands clamped over mine, pulling the torch atilt to prevent the oil from spilling out.

My lighter clicked.  Flames flared high, revealing the reason why Rick hadn’t joined us tonight.

“Rick!  Ohmigod, Rick!”

Lucy’s screams echoed in my ears as my stomach lurched.  My knees gave way and I arose to the ground, the impact jarring me asleep…

Which means awake… but “awake” actually means asleep.

Which would mean I was awake to start with…

Which means I was sleeping…

So did this really happen, or was it a dream?

Well dang, it looks as though I’ve written a blog post after all.  Maybe I wasn’t as “amused” as I thought.  But I still think English is a very funny language!

* * *

Addendum:  It seems WordPress has been having difficulties lately, and sometimes when you try to leave a comment you get a page that says “This comment could not be posted” or some other error message.  If that happens to you here, I’m sorry, and thanks for trying.  If you want to try again, here’s what has worked for me on other blogs:

  • Type your comment as usual, but before clicking Post Comment, highlight the comment and press Ctrl-C on your keyboard to copy it. 
  • Then click the Post Comment button. 
  • If a page comes up saying “This comment could not be posted”, click the Back button to return to the page
  • Then press the F5 button on your keyboard to refresh the page. 
  • Paste your comment back into the comment box by pressing Ctrl-V.
  • Click Post Comment again. 

Usually the second time’s the trick, but sometimes it wants a couple of tries.  It’s a huge pain in the butt and I hope they have it resolved soon, but in the mean time, thank you for trying.

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Filed under Flash Fiction, Humour, Writing

Flash (Non)Fiction: Labyrinth

I just got back from a week’s holiday on Vancouver Island, and I thought I’d post something a little different for a change.  Thanks to Sacred Circles, Healing Hands for the inspiration of the labyrinth at the Milner Gardens and Woodland, Qualicum Beach, BC.

_________________

Labyrinth

It doesn’t fit my preconception of a labyrinth.

It’s about fifteen feet in diameter, a shallow muddy path worn into the brilliant green rainforest moss.  A few stones lie in the middle.

I stand beside it, my cynical eye tracing the route from entrance to centre. It’s probably a trick; a series of dead ends to confound those foolish enough to attempt it.

But it’s simple.  Around and back, a couple of reversals and a turn.

The sign says I may walk the labyrinth to meditate, experience feelings.  That there’s no “wrong” way to walk.

Why bother?  I already know the route and there’s nothing remarkable at the end.  The concentric paths are narrowly spaced.  Walking in circles would be a waste of time.  I’d look like an idiot.

I stand outside the labyrinth looking in.

Imprisoned by ego.  Unwilling to court ridicule.  Too old for magic.

I turn to walk away.

I stop.

Turn back.

This is silly.  It’s cold and cloudy and starting to rain.  It’s just a patch of dirt and grass.

And yet it holds me.

When did I become so jaded?

How often have I hovered on the outside, unwilling to step forward and risk disapproval?

My boots squish softly on the wet ground as I skirt around to the labyrinth’s entrance.  I mustn’t reject the established way.

Compelled to the path, I place my feet carefully within the narrow tracks, walking back and forth; around and around like a fool who can’t see that the destination is only a few feet away.

But it’s not about the destination.

I complete the final turn and stand looking down at the stones on the ground.  Just a few ordinary stones.  No discernible pattern.  No reward.

But it’s not about a reward.

Freed, I step lightly, respectfully, straight across the labyrinth.  I place my feet on its paths, but I am no longer constrained by its direction.

I stand contemplating my journey for a moment before I turn, smiling, to rejoin the world.

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Filed under Flash Fiction, Life, Writing

At Least I’m Edible

This post is not for the soft of heart nor the delicate of spirit.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

**************

I can barely remember the time before my confinement, before this eternity of solitary darkness.  I was not always contorted like this, but my prison has molded me inexorably to its shape.

A shattering burst of sound.  Rough hands drag me forth.  My disused senses are flayed raw by sudden noise and light but I cannot move, cannot flinch away.

This is not the gentle liberation of my long dreams.

The hands pull mercilessly at my twisted form, forcing me to resume a long-forgotten shape.  The assault is savage, excruciating, but my voiceless state prevents me even the meager relief of screams.

They speak, but their words have no meaning.  Perhaps they try to explain, to apologize.  Or perhaps they mock my pain, taking pleasure in my suffering.

No.

More monstrous yet; they are indifferent.  Though their eyes are upon me, their attention is on each other.  The hands rend me open with eager brutality.  Time congeals in mind-crushing pain.

The attack stops.

But it is not over.

Trapped helpless between them, their fierce heat laves me, easing my tortured body despite my terror.  It is only a bitter glimpse of impossible salvation, for now I understand.

This is their unholy celebration; the culmination of their depraved rites.  They will consume me slowly, their teeth shredding me, their lust burgeoning with every bite.

There will be no clemency for me.  No deliverance.

My doom approaches.  A ghastly abyss of putrid breath.  A hot, slimy tongue ringed by cruel teeth.  My spirit quails.

The teeth tear into me, but I cannot struggle, cannot cry out.  Can only endure in silent desperation, entreating the distant mercy of death.

One final thought drifts above my roiling sea of agony.

At least I’m edible…

****************

…And that’s the first time I’ve ever written from the point of view of a pair of edible underwear.  Might not be the last, though – you never know. Every pair has a story, however tragically, er, brief.

And hey, look what I found just for my loyal readers:  Instructions for making your very own edible underwear!  (Click on the pictures for links.)  You know, just in case you were looking for a little something to spice up your… um… diet.

Just in case you were wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

Knit it yourself from licorice laces – only 302 calories!

Note:

Madame Weebles is to blame for this post.

It all started with Nigel Blackwell’s post, “What’s In A Name?  I’m A Pig”.  The post includes the French Revolutionary Calendar, in which my birth day is named “millet”.  So I commented, “blah, blah… at least I’m edible… blah, blah”.

Whereupon Madame Weebles dared me to write a post with that title.  There was actually a small wager involved, but it wouldn’t be fair to hold her to it.  She’s one of my newer blogging buddies, and I don’t think she’d read my post “Doin’ It On A Dare”.

With a title like that, it was tempting to go raunchy, but… nah, too predictable.  I can write dirty jokes about anything, so it was far more interesting to write about edible underwear without a single rude word or double entendre. 

…’Cause it seemed like a good idea to keep my edible undies clean.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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Filed under Flash Fiction, Humour

Flash Fiction: IgNobel Prize

This is another flash fiction challenge.  Our assignment:  choose something from the “M” section of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and write up to 1500 words before Friday.

The “M” section is enormous.  I started reading the first page and quickly went into overload, so I clicked on a page, closed my eyes, and randomly clicked the mouse to select my phrase.  The phrase is at the end, ‘cause if you read the phrase first, there’s no point in telling the story.

*F-BOMB ALERT* – CONTAINS (more) COARSE LANGUAGE (than usual)

IgNobel Prize

“We’re really putting our asses on the line.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Martin snapped.  “It’s worth it.  Pass me that pipette.”

“No, really.”  Devon handed over the glassware and pushed his glasses up again, peering through the thick lenses.  “It was fine as a theoretical exercise, but going ahead with it?  There’s a reason why the senior researchers won’t touch this.”

Martin blew out an impatient breath, careful to direct it away from the delicately balanced equipment.  “Yeah, there’s a reason.  They’re pussies.”

When Devon didn’t reply immediately, Martin spared him a quick glance.  “Come on, man, don’t be a douche.  The simulations went fine, and our dry run was perfect.”  He transferred his attention back to the digital temperature readout.  “We’re almost there.  Let’s gear up.”

He slipped on the goggles, gloves, and mask, but Devon hung back.  “Martin, we shouldn’t be doing this at all without faculty approval, and even if we had approval, we should be doing it in a clean room, not in an open lab.  If we get some contaminant in the solution…”

“Jesus, Devon, how many friggin’ sims did we run?  Yeah, it’s critical, but we’re not talking nanoparticles here.  Unless some big chunk of lint or something falls in, it’ll be okay.  Just don’t drop any of your goddamn hairs in it, and we’ll be fine.”

Devon stiffened and glared.  “You just have to keep rubbing it in, don’t you, Mr. Perfect-Hair-Chick-Magnet?  Just because I’m follicularly challenged…”

“Jeez, dude, chill.  Can we please get back to the experiment that’s going to make us household names in the scientific community?  The one that’s going to make us a fortune and win us the Nobel Prize?  You know, that one?”

“Or the one that’s going to blow up the lab, and us with it.  Martin, this isn’t a good idea.  Let’s just shut it down for today and run it by the senior researchers on Monday morning.”

“Yeah, so they can take all the credit.  I don’t think so.”  Martin shot another look at the temperature readout.  “Come on, man, set me up here.  It’s time.”

Devon shuffled over, reluctance in every line of his body.  Martin placed his forearms in the supports that would hold his hands rock-steady and nodded up at Devon’s frown.  “Go.”

With the precision Martin had always secretly envied, Devon placed the instruments in Martin’s waiting hands.  Devon was by far the better technician.  Good thing he was too much of a chickenshit to do this on his own.  Martin suppressed a smile.  He was the one actually doing the procedure, so he’d get the bulk of the recognition.  And the money.

A hair drifted down.  “Devon, for fucksake, you’re shedding again!  Get your fucking hair out of here!”

“Sorry, sorry!”  Devon whisked the loose hair off the workbench and drew back, one hand self-consciously covering the thinning spot where his scalp peeked through.

Martin jerked as his phone vibrated on the table beside him.  “Jesus!  I thought I’d turned that off.”

Devon turned an ashen face toward him.  “Holy… crap!  Thank God we hadn’t started the fluid.  You’d have blown us up, twitching like that.”

“Yeah, man, turn it off for me, would you?”  Martin held his voice steady and took a few deep breaths, feigning calm.

Devon snatched up the still-vibrating phone.  “It’s Lisa.  Why is she calling you?”

Martin gulped down sudden consternation.  “I don’t know, man, just turn it off…  Shit!”

Devon had punched the Talk button, his round face glowing with happiness.  “Hi, Lisa.”

Martin’s fingers tensed around the instruments, and he concentrated on relaxing his grip to hold them just so.  He couldn’t put them down now.

His heart sank at the look on Devon’s face.  Shit, shit, shit!

“Lisa, this isn’t Martin, it’s Devon.”  Devon’s voice was hollow, and Martin averted his eyes from his friend’s stricken face.  Well, probably ex-friend, now.  He could hear the urgent chatter at the other end of the line, but Devon interrupted, his voice flat.  “I might have believed that, if you hadn’t said his name before you started your little X-rated phone show.  Goodbye, Lisa.”

The silence stretched after Devon hung up the phone.  Martin studied the temperature readout intently.

“So how long have you been screwing my girlfriend?”  Devon’s voice was very quiet.

“Aw, come on, man, it’s not like that.”

“But it is.  She started with some very graphic references to last night.  Before she went on to say what she had planned for you tonight.”

Martin blew out a breath and tried to ease his tense fingers.  “Jesus, it’s not like I’m the only one.  She’s a science slut, man.  She fucks everybody in the research department at least once, just in case they discover something important somewhere down the road.”  He glanced up.  “Christ, don’t look so shocked.  Did you really think a hot piece like Lisa was doing you for your manly physique and great hair?”

He realized he’d gone too far when Devon turned on his heel and strode away.

“Shit, Devon, I’m sorry, man!  I thought you knew…  Come back!  Shit, man, come on!”  He couldn’t turn to see, but the sound of the slamming door told him all he needed to know.

He slumped on the stool, the instruments still balanced in his fingers.  Everything ready to go, and nobody to turn the petcock to start the final flow of fluid.  All the preparation, all his dreams, all the fame and fortune, shot to hell.

A sudden thought made him straighten, excitement racing through his veins.  What if…?

Martin leaned ever so slowly toward the petcock.  Yes, it was close enough.  And he only had to turn it a few degrees counter-clockwise.  He could push it with his nose.  His heart pounded.

Devon was gone, wouldn’t be there for the completion of the procedure.  All the credit would go to Martin.  All the fame, all the money… and Lisa would be all over him.  He grinned and shifted carefully to ease the tightening denim at his crotch as he considered what she’d promised if the experiment succeeded.

Careful, careful…  He nudged the petcock open, and triumph surged through him at the slow drip of fluid into the open chamber.  Temperature perfect, the instruments steady in his hands, all according to plan.

Something moved at the edge of his vision, and cold fingers of fear caressed the back of his neck as he focused on it.  A hair.  Quivering just above his left eye.

He held very still.  Can’t turn back now.  The fluid dripped inexorably.

It must still be attached.  He never lost hair.

It was moving.

His heart banged in his chest, sledgehammer blows that made him gasp.  The hair vibrated with each beat.  Slipping.

Martin huffed desperate breaths, his lower lip pushed out in a futile attempt to blow the hair up and away.  Shouldn’t have worn the goddamn mask!  Shouldn’t have-

**************

The phrase:  “For a hair Martin lost his ass”, from the “Martin to Mary Anne Associations” page

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Flash Fiction: Salvation In The Bottle

This was inspired by a flash fiction contest over at Confessions From Suite 500.  We had to write a story in 100 words or less, including the following words:

Personal
Demons
Hellbent
Original
Sin
And we got bonus points for using the phrase “A Devil’s Own”. 

Here it is.  As always, all constructive criticism welcomed and appreciated.

Salvation In The Bottle

“Aagh, darlin’, help me up.  I’ve a devil’s own headache.”

“Which you deserve.”

“Have mercy on yer poor da.  ‘Tis a sin to waste liquor.”

“It’s a sin to lie to me about laying your personal demons to rest and putting things right.  If it’d been high tide, I’d have taken the boat and let you swim home, cancer or no.”

“I’m hellbent, an’ no mistake.  But, darlin’, that was yer grandda’s last original bottle.”

“You’re not going to revive that hoary old fable again… what’s that?”

“A diamond.”

“It’s huge!”

“Sometimes salvation’s in the bottle, darlin’.  I love ye.”

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Flash Fiction: That Man

Another flash fiction challenge.  We get one week and up to 1000 words.  This one only needed 100.

Here’s our prompt:

All constructive criticism welcomed and appreciated, as always.

That Man

“Mummy, Mummy, look at that man!”

“Shhh, Donny.  It’s not polite to point.”

“But, Mummy, look!  What’s wrong with him?”

“Shhh.  He’s just different, that’s all.  Look, here’s your toy.”

“Was he in a ak-sident?”

“No, honey, he was born that way.  Look, what does the happy skeleton say?  Boo-oo-oo!”

“M-m-mummy, that man… he’s… he’s scary.”

“Shhh, Donny, look, here’s your toy.”

“B-but what’s wrong with his face?”

“That’s called a lower jaw, honey.  Some people are born with them.  It just takes them longer to change.  Don’t worry, he’ll change, too.  He’ll be fine.  Just like you and me.”

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Flash Fiction: Freedom, Too

This is the companion piece for “Freedom”.  For those folks who wanted to know more about Beth, here you go. 

This is the first time I’ve intentionally written a story where the readers already know the ending, but what the heck, if George Lucas can do it, so can I.

All constructive criticism welcomed and appreciated, as always.

Freedom, Too

She gazes up at the giant, dripping trees and draws in a deep breath of pure joy and spicy forest scent. 

Thanks, Dave.

He’s the one who got her here.  She’s never hitchhiked before, but a car would have been too easy to trace.  She knows people will interfere if they find her.  They all want something from you.  Except Dave.

She walks slowly through the soggy undergrowth, her feet squishing in the mud.  She’s soaked to the skin, and her body quivers uncontrollably.  She smiles, accepting the sensation without judging it. 

She hasn’t spoken to another person in days, but she can hear the busy traffic on the highway.  She carefully dodges a couple of hikers, staying out of sight.

Her mind ticks over the checklist again.  She set up the out-of-office notification on the home and work emails before she left.  Watered the plants, left a cheque for the cleaning lady, paid all the bills. 

She struggles up a rise and stops, her entire being possessed by delight. 

A long vista of wind-blown, rain-swept coast.  Silver mist hanging in the tops of the trees.  The briny ocean smell mingles with the peppery scent of cedar.  She breathes open-mouthed, tasting the air, savouring it with all her senses.

She’s probably seen dozens of views like this since she arrived, but each one is a precious gift.

Thanks, Dave.

She’s done everything, now.  Got the promotions, the respect, the money.  Had the loving husband, mourned his early death, got comfortable living on her own again.  Did the charity volunteer work, nursed her parents until the last, helped her friends through sick kids and cancer and divorce.

They can always count on Beth.  She always gives them what they need, even when it feels like she’s sucked dry.  Even when she has nothing left to give.

She’s pushing fifty now, and this is the last thing in the bucket list.  She’s not much of a traveller, but she’s always wanted to see the Oregon coast.

When she set out, she hadn’t really believed she’d get here, but she didn’t know Dave then.

She smiles at the memory of his steady eyes and his plain, honest face.  He let her ride without questions, never intruded on her privacy.  He didn’t expect anything from her, didn’t even ask.  Not for her attention, not for the details of her life, certainly not for her body.

She chuckles softly, remembering the stunned “Who, me?” expression on his face when she’d offered.

A curtain of rain sweeps across the view, and she turns to stumble down the slope again.  Vividly green ferns drip liquid diamonds.  Invisible traffic hisses on the wet highway.

She’s a little shocked that she offered.  She’s never been easy.  Since her husband died, there was only one guy, one time.  She didn’t return his calls afterwards.  She doesn’t need any more attachments.  They all want something from you. 

She’s finished giving.

The wind whistles through the pines and looses a deluge of cold silver.  She feels the icy droplets soaking through her long hair, dribbling down her neck.  Her body shudders, but she stands smiling, cherishing the sound of the sibilant song.

The trickles on her scalp remind her of Dave’s fingers stroking through her hair. 

“Beautiful,” he whispers.

She blinks, and Dave is gone.  She returns to the checklist.  All the loose ends tied up.  No husband, no kids, parents long dead, friends all doing fine.  Everyone’s needs fulfilled.  She’s finished there.

The university is going to offer her a Senior Fellow position.  There’s a sweet, patient man she’s rebuffed repeatedly; a stray cat that’s been hanging around; the next big charity fundraiser.  Another whole set of others’ needs, poised to bind her again in the delicate, merciless chains of love and duty.

But this freedom is just for her.  Pure selfishness.

A pine cone thumps down beside her, dislodged by the wind.  Like Newton’s apple, it brings inspiration.  She sits under the tree and pulls out the journal she brought in case this trip delivered some profound insight.

She laughs out loud, her unused voice trembling on the mist.  The journal is blank. 

She rips out a page and finds her pen.

“Stuff like this doesn’t happen to guys like me.”  Dave’s tired eyes, full of wonder.

She kisses him and whispers, “Sometimes it does.”  She gives herself gladly, because he doesn’t ask or expect. 

He understands the burden of others’ needs.  He sends every spare dollar to his estranged college-age kids and his ex-wife, still loves them with fierce, bewildered devotion. 

They said he wasn’t there for them.  But he’s been there for them all these years, every hour of every long, aching day on the road, every hour of tossing and turning alone at night in cheap hotels.

He was there for Beth, too.  Not knowing why this was so important to her, but doing what he could to help her anyway.

Her old will is tucked away at home, leaving everything to the charities she’s supported all her life.  Always giving.  But the faceless charities seem cold and distant.

Maybe she can give Dave some freedom, too.

She dumps her shampoo bottles out of the plastic bag and carefully folds the handwritten will into it.  Slips it inside her shirt, next to her heart.

She looks up at the underside of the fern and studies the slow progress of the water droplet down its stem.  When did she lie down? 

The raindrops are millions of perfect crystal spheres.  Her breath makes a thinning plume of vapour in the air, but the rain on her face feels warm.

Her shivering stills as the slow warmth envelops her body.  So this is hypothermia.  It’s so comfortable.  Comforting.  Her thoughts spiral lightly through the misty air. 

Thanks, Dave.  Blessings.

Now the rain is falling up, not down. 

She’s free.

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Flash Fiction: “Freedom”

This is in response to a flash fiction challenge based on a photo.  Under a thousand words, in a week or less.  Here’s the only part of the picture I really noticed:

Me:  “Oh, God…”  *shudders*

Those letters in the sky.  They chill my soul.  They do not spell “HOTEL”.  They spell “Weird things will happen here.  Enter at your own risk.  And just try to sleep.  Buwahahaha!”

And that’s just the sight of the sign that’s freaking me out.  My bad hotel karma has scarred me for life.

This preamble is an attempt to justify the fact that my story is more about the journey than the destination.  I’m too traumatized to write about the hotel itself.

But I did use the word “hotel”.  Three times.  That’s gotta count for something.

Here’s “Freedom”.  All constructive criticism welcomed and appreciated.

Freedom

He spotted her about twenty miles west of Winnipeg.  She turned and stuck out her thumb as the rig got closer.  And smiled.

It was the smile that stopped him.  Well, that and the hot body and long, silky hair.  He leaned over and popped the passenger door open.  “Where’re you headed?”

“As far west as I can get.”

“Your lucky day.  I’m going all the way to Vancouver.”

“Great, thanks for stopping.”  She hopped up into the cab.  She moved like a teenager, but there were a lot more years on her than he’d first thought.  The shiny brown hair was shot with grey.  Deep crows-feet around the biggest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen.

“Dave Smith.”  He stuck out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Dave.  I’m Beth.”  She shook his hand firmly.  She sounded educated and confident.  Clean clothes.  Small backpack.  Not your typical hitchhiker.

He pulled back onto the highway and ran up through the gears.  “Car trouble?” he guessed out loud.

“No.  Just looking for some freedom.  And I’d like to see the Oregon coast.”

She rode in silence.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her smiling.  Around Moosomin, he yawned and rubbed gritty eyes.

“Are you tired?”

“Yeah.  Short turnaround yesterday.”

“Do you want me to talk to you?”

“Sure.”

She turned those blue eyes on him, and the next thing he knew, he was telling her about the trucking business and his hometown.  Then about the failed marriage and the bitter ex-wife and the kids that didn’t seem to care if he lived or died as long as they got the monthly cheques for their college educations.

He blew through Regina on autopilot, still talking.  After so many years on the road, he could do this trip in his sleep.  Almost had, a few times.

At Moose Jaw, he pulled in.  “Need to eat?”

“No, I’ll just stretch my legs.”

He left her walking around the parking lot.  Watched her through the glass as he stood in the takeout lineup.  Long legs.  Nice ass in those snug pants.

He wasn’t usually a chatterbox, but she encouraged him.  Six hours flew by.  In Brooks, he asked her where she wanted to eat.

“I don’t need anything.”

“You haven’t eaten all day.”

“It’s okay.”

He frowned.  “Do you need money?”

“No.”

He shrugged and went in to eat.  None of his business.  Outside Calgary, he glanced over.  “I have to stop here for the night.  Regulations.”

She looked at him with those big, blue eyes.  “Will you get a hotel?”

“Yeah.”  His usual stop was a dive, but it was cheap and clean enough.  “You can sleep with me if you want.  I mean, uh, in the hotel.  You know.  Not…”

She smiled at him then.  “I’d like to sleep with you.”

“Uh?”  He instinctively glanced over his shoulder.  Nope, nobody else in the cab.  Took stock of his own weary eyes and greying stubble in the rearview mirror, looked down at the generous gut stretching out his T-shirt.  Hole in the T-shirt.  When did that happen?  He shook himself.  Tired.  Must’ve heard wrong.

She leaned over and kissed him.

Hadn’t heard wrong.  Holy shit.

Stuff like this didn’t happen to guys like him.

He didn’t get the regulation hours of sleep that night.  Hauled himself up out of that long soft hair and fine white skin after some head-banging morning sex.  “We need to get breakfast and get on the road.”

“You go ahead.  I’ll wait by the truck.”

“Don’t you eat?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t have any money with you, do you?”

“No.”

He dragged her into the restaurant and bought her a big breakfast.  She ate like it was her last meal.

Heading up into the mountains, he watched her smiling as she gazed out the window.  She got him talking again.  At lunchtime, he bought takeout for two.  She ate everything he gave her, and then took him into the sleeper and rocked the whole damn rig.

He made up reasons to stop often.  Rolled into Vancouver late; sore and exhausted and grinning like an idiot.  Best trip ever.  Holy shit.

In the parking lot, she said, “Thanks, Dave.”  Kissed him and turned away.

“Wait.  Where are you going?”

“Oregon.”

“Come with me instead.”

“Where?”

“Winnipeg.  I leave tomorrow.”

She smiled.  “I’m finished there.  I just want to see Oregon.”

“I’ll take you.”  The words burst out before he could stop them.

“You know you can’t.”

He kicked at the front tire.  He knew he couldn’t.

“Call me.”  He handed her his card.  She smiled, and he knew she wouldn’t.

“Wait a second.”  He pulled out his phone and called a couple of his buddies.  Found her a ride south.  Spent another long, hot night with her in another cheap hotel.

Next morning, she thanked him again and kissed him goodbye.  Got in Frank’s truck.  Waved and smiled as they pulled out.

Three weeks later, he got the call.  Lawyer in Winnipeg.  Yeah, he was Dave Smith.  Yeah, he’d been on the Winnipeg-Vancouver haul a few weeks ago.  Beth who?

Oh.

Shit.

Sitting in the lawyer’s office, twisting his cap between his hands.  She’d been found dead in the woods in Oregon.  Starvation and exposure.  Not far from the road.  No sign of foul play.

He hadn’t even known her last name.  Didn’t know why the hell the lawyer would call him.  Suit droning on, something about validity of handwritten wills.

“…to Dave Smith, with sincere thanks for enriching my last days, and for helping me reach my final goal, I leave all my worldly goods.  Thanks, Dave.  I found my freedom.  Blessings.”

Over a million bucks.

She hadn’t needed him.  She could’ve flown there in a private jet, drinking champagne all the way.  Lawyer said he couldn’t understand it.  She hadn’t been sick, didn’t seem depressed.

He knew the truth.  She was just… finished there.  Looking for freedom.

Holy shit.


For those who asked about Beth’s story, it’s here:  “Freedom, Too“.

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