Posted in flash fiction

The flamingo

As he pulled into the driveway, beads of sweat began to run down the side of his face. His stomach knotted. It was right there, in front of his house, was the upside down flamingo. They knew. They knew everything.

He had been so careful. He never used his real name. All the money was offshore. He never used the same burner phone twice. Every communication went through at least a dozen servers all over the world, each with different encryptions. Long hair, crewcut, mustache, goatee, clean shaven – he changed his look every month.

How did they know? How did they find out? How did they find out where he lived?

It didn’t matter. His whole world just turned upside down. He just kept on driving. He couldn’t go home. He couldn’t call his family. Or a friend.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few folder bills. Thirty-seven dollars. He wouldn’t get far with that. But he couldn’t go to the ATM. He couldn’t cash a check. He dared not use a credit card. If he drove his car, some camera would pick up his license plate. He just had to keep moving. He had to keep out of sight.

There was only one option. He jabbed at the unused burner phone to get a taxi. He had just enough for a ride to the zoo. Flashing a fake membership card, he went from the turnstile right to the flamingo pond. Leaning on the rail, watching the wary birds, a quiet voice said, “That didn’t take long.”

“What do you want? Just leave my family alone.”

“You know what we want.”

He took the popcorn box, not surprised at how heavy it felt. It was the usual Glock. The clip was full, but he would only need one shot. He slowly walked towards the exit.

He vowed this would be the last time.

Just like last time.

Posted in flash fiction

That’ll teach you!

“You son of a…”

From my backyard I could hear the volume go up with each expletive and each futile tug on the starter rope. My neighbor was reaching the end of his rope but wouldn’t give up trying to revive the expired lawnmower.

I climbed into the backyard kids fort to watch the kicking, screaming, and frustration reach the point of no return. Suddenly, with surprising strength and the wrath of Khan, he picked up the mower and angrily snapped it in two over his knee! “There! That’ll teach you!”

Now it sits out in front of his house, a memorial to his rage,

Posted in flash fiction

Ding

“Ding.”

Oh no. Not again.

“Ding.”

“Andy, if I hear that bell one more time, I’m going to throw it out the window!”

“No! I found it. It’s my friend.”

That’s how the conversations go on the summer youth mission trip. Someone always finds an annoying “friend.” An inanimate object that works its way into the group.

“Ding!”

Don’t say anything. Just let it go. Maybe they’ll fall asleep.

“Ding.”

Before I could open my mouth, a series of clunks echoed down the hallway. The slamming of metal bars woke the whole room of sleeping youth.

“What was that?”

Our whole group had to move up stairs. The church where our summer mission group was sleeping needed the space for one of their summer programs. No problem. We carted all our backpacks, air mattresses and sleeping bags up to the third floor.

The long hallway on the third floor was lined with doors that split in the middle. The top half of each was a smoky glass. Both halves were locked. The doorknobs turned, but the doors wouldn’t budge. What was back there?

We all sat up from our sleeping bags as the ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk continued from door to door.

I went to the door and looked out. “Don’t go out there!” I held up my hand. Shhh. Relax. Sit still. “Stay here.”

When I stepped out into the hallway, I saw the top half of each door ajar. It was like the whole place was suddenly open for business. I slowly walked toward the first door. It squeaked a little as it swung open. I cautiously peeked in.

I saw stacks of chairs, an erased chalkboard and two large empty trashcans. Nothing too exciting.

Feeling relieved and bolder, I moved towards the second open half-door. I took a deep breath and stepped right up to the doorway.

I quickly stepped back, pressing my back against the wall. Did he see me? I stayed perfectly still. I didn’t even breath. I know he saw me. What do I do?

I saw a few heads peering from the doorway down the hall. I frantically motioned them to go back.

“Ding.”

I gasped. The bell’s ring lingered in the air for seconds, finally fading into silence. I didn’t move a muscle.

What was that sound? I looked down to see the floor boards rising and sinking, as if some unseen feet were walking by. I could feel the slow, steady movement of the floorboards under my feet. Whatever it was, it was moving towards the room where our youth were no longer sleeping.

I took off down the hall. I had to get there first. “Let’s go. Everyone. Out. Now. No, don’t take anything. Just go down the stairs and out!”

As the last one disappeared down the stairwell, I felt something grab my shoulder. I twisted away, dropped to the ground, rolled and got back on my feet. “Oh no you don’t,” I whispered as I sprinted towards the stairs. Two, three stairs at a time, I hit the first landing hard. Panting, I burst through the exit out into the courtyard. “Go! Run!”

Looking over my shoulder, the door behind me closed. Windows on all the floors slammed shut. A light flashed and then everything went dark.

“Ding.”

Posted in flash fiction, Stories

Scavenger

She would never forget.

She would never forget how life had stripped away every song, every feather and every freedom.

She would never forget how she became a scavenger. Just like him.

The restaurant closed. Unemployment ran out. The stimulus was spent.

The lights were on. The water ran. The rent was paid. But that’s it.

It’s amazing what you can find if you look. A discarded Visa gift card with $2.71 left on it. A mattress, bookshelf, chair, lamp, coffee maker and carpet remnant by the side of the road. A neighbor’s wife without a password. A bag of clothes outside an overstuffed donation bin. A gel pen by the side of the road. Half-used spiral notebooks, half-full shampoo bottles, half-read books and half of a pizza out by the road in front of a cleaned-out house. The Gideon gave her a bible. The pastor gave her a few bags of food. Lightly-used toys by the curb became gifts for the nieces and nephews. Free samples at Costco, even if you don’t buy anything. A free Krispy Kreme donut because she got the vaccine.

That was a rough year. Until the restaurant reopened. The customers came back. The hours were long. The tips were especially generous. They remembered her. They understood.

Her car wasn’t fancy, but it got her there. She sang along to the radio. The lights were on. The water ran. The rent was paid. She brought a bag of food for the food pantry. She donated some extra clothes. She bought a few things at Costco. She bought a coffee to go with her free donut.

But she would never forget. Every time she glanced in the rearview mirror, she would see his bones.

And she would remember.

Posted in flash fiction

The white violin

“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“Want to give it a spin?”

“Sure!”

What else did I have to do since the funding for the symphony dried up and I lost second chair. Without rehearsals or concerts to worry about, I had plenty of time on my hands. I’m not even sure why I wandered into the pawn shop. Just curious, I guess.

Plenty of jewelry in the glass case. I wonder how many engagements ended right here? All kinds of knives. People really carry blades that big? All kinds of bicycles. Tools. A few hardly used beginner trumpets and clarinets.

And a white violin.

It wasn’t a toy. It wasn’t spray painted. It was whitewashed and shiny. The strings were fairly new. The bow hardly used. When I ran my fingers across the strings, it was surprisingly in tune. It felt light in my hands and fit comfortably under my chin. Music resonated with the first pass of the bow.

“Can I step outside and play?”

“No problem. Give it a try.”

A few scales led to a couple of etudes and then a solo I had been working on. The notes filled the space outside the shop as the second movement changed to a minor key.

She stopped. Sobbing with tears running down her face, she just looked at me. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it. I’m a wreck.”

I stopped and so did she. “I’m just trying out a white violin. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

She just stared as I played a few syncopated major scales. And laughed. Along with the baby in the stroller. Not just a chuckle, but a side-splitting laugh and silly giggles.

I stopped and so did she. “Thank you,” she said, pushing the stroller down the street.

I launched into an aggressive series of diminished arpeggios, only to be confronted by an angry young man who stepped up and challenged me, “Oh yeah? You want a piece of this?”

I stopped. So did he.

Puzzled, I walked back inside the pawn shop. “What do you know about this violin?”

He shrugged.

I said, “How much?” He shrugged. I said, “Here,” and gave him a crumpled wad of bills from my pocket. It’s all I had. No supper tonight. I didn’t care.

I began walking down the street, playing. A familiar jingle from a fast food commercial. A car stopped and dropped a bag at my feet from that restaurant.

After supper, I played the theme from a car TV advertisement. A driver in that car pulled over and asked, “Need a ride?”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll walk.”

I paused for a moment, then started to play a well-known love song.

“Hi,” she said. “Are you free tonight?”

Posted in flash fiction

Best hill ever

“Are you OK?”

I started over to the pile of little boys who had just slid down the AstroTurf hill on an old pizza box they found in the trash. They kept going when the box suddenly stopped at the edge of the sidewalk. Laughing and dirty, they jumped up and headed back up the hill, cardboard in tow.

Apparently, they were fine.

=======================

“And that’s the kind of playground we think will bring the children of the community together in a safe and fun environment.”

Artists’ renderings of swings, climbing rocks, twisty slides, tall treehouses, spring-mounted animals, swaying bridges, life-sized rope spider webs and winding tunnels wrapped around the meeting room. Rolls of blueprints covered the table. We’ve come a long way from metal monkey bars, squeaky chain swings and boiling-hot-in-the-summer metal slides. Every place a child could possibly fall was soft and cushiony.

The one person who counted, the woman holding a checkbook, sat quietly for a moment. Her eyes were moist but grateful. “This will be a wonderful memorial for a wonderful man who loved children and community.” With a smile, she ripped a check free and passed it across the table. “Thank you.”

========================

“Hey, want to go on the swings? Let’s try out the treehouse. Which slide do you want to try?”

It’s like I wasn’t even there. The cardboard sleds raced past me again and again.

Posted in flash fiction, Stories

A very nice gift

“There’s more?” I wondered as I pulled yet another box of books off the closet shelf. “I’ll never get this all cleaned out.” I might be able to sell a few. I could give some away. I’ll probably just have to toss some.

“That’s strange.” I don’t remember ever buying this book. Hardcover. No slip cover. No title at all. Vol.1 stamped on the binding. Wait a minute, it doesn’t even open. It looks just like a book, but it’s solid, like a prop for a play or a decoration for a shelf. Not plastic, kind of leathery. Where did that come from?

I set it aside and boxed up everything else to stuff into the library donation box. They can deal with it. One more done; so many more to go. I’m talking a break.

I turned the book over and over in my hands. The cover was a raised pattern of overlapping silver, gold and copper crosses. No particular pattern, yet pleasing to the eye.

I’ll work on this some more tomorrow. I picked up the box of donation books and reached for my keys. That’s why that fake book seemed familiar. The small cross on my keychain looked like those on the cover. I usually don’t have anything extra on my keyring, but this was a special gift I had added. I dropped the box and held the cross up the cover of the book. A perfect match.

I felt a small vibration, like a cell phone haptic. I felt the spine of the book shift ever so slightly open in my hand. Opening it like a small door, I looked inside and pulled out a stack of hundred dollar bills, wrapped in a $10,000 band. I riffled the stack. All hundreds.

This can’t be real. Who’s is this? Where did this come from? What should I do with this? I put the stack back in and closed the spine. I couldn’t even tell that it had opened. I held the cross against the book and opened it up again. I pulled out the stack. They looked real. Very real.

The spine closed back up. I held the cross to the cover to open it back up. I don’t know what to do. Opening the book, I couldn’t slide the stack back in. What’s wrong? It looks like there’s another stack in there. No way. Pulled it out. It looked real.

Okay, let’s try this one more time. I shut the spine, placed the cross, and opened it up. Another stack. Quickly closing it up, I placed the book and the two stacks in my briefcase. Pulling out a piece of paper, I uncapped a fountain pen and began to write a better thank you note for the very nice gift.

Posted in flash fiction

One last cut

In the orange hues of the sunset he thought, “It’s still light out. I can finish this job.”

The riding mower made pass after pass through the yard, suddenly stopping at the fence. With the engine running, he jumped out of the seat, and the trimmer roared to life. As he worked his way down the sidewalk, he didn’t notice the mower slowly drift toward him.

First a nudge. Then a grab. As he tried to shake his leg free, he thought, “What the heck?”

As the mower blade began to chew at his foot, the belt caught a shoelace, then a cuff and finally a leg.

“What the…” Caught off balance, he rolled sideways, trying to catch his fall. The whirring string cut into his arm, spattering blood across the sidewalk and the side of his face. “Son of a…” was interrupted as the tractor lurched forward, pulling his foot out from under him. His face smashed into the ground. Everything went black.

“You have one new message.” <beep>

“We’ll be back out to finish your lawn service this morning. We apologize for the delay.” <beep>