I am going to be writing a series of flash fiction pieces to improve my chops to get ready to submit some for publication. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the shorter the work of fiction, the easier it becomes; because short fiction is hard and flash fiction is some of the hardest of all! Flash fiction is 1,000 words. Here is the first of these stories. It is a work of magic realism.
By Denise Ruttan
Howard curls up inside himself, the cold cement hard on his ass. He has sat here all night. He clutches his backpack. This life is new to him. This staying out in the cold in his threadbare socks. He has not showered in weeks. He has not slept, because the backpack is all he owns and he doesn’t want anyone to steal it.
It is that time of the morning when all is quiet. In the old days, he would go on walks in this hour before dawn. Most people think it is too quiet. But most people are used to their 9 to 5 and their comfortable office and their Saturday afternoons playing with the kids in the yard with the sun on their face. Howard’s hand is shaking. It does that when he remembers the past. The past is like an alive thing, like a separate thing from his mind, a place in time that he views with a mixture of scrutiny and wonder.
Howard’s head is still swimming from last night’s booze. He is, in fact, still drunk. His neighbors stir briefly. Howard makes a decision. He stands.
But Randy grabs his ankle. He feels like calloused sweat.
“Don’t.” Randy is a schizophrenic. But his eyes meet Howard’s with a piercing clarity. “Don’t go at this hour. Wait. Wait. Wait.”
“Why should I wait?” Howard humors the raving man. It is all he has left. The attention of others.
“Not at this hour. The faeries. They like to steal people like us away. They love this hour. They dance on the empty city streets and make their mischief and cast their magic spells.”
“Oh, Randy,” Howard says. “Faeries are not real.”
Randy’s clear blue eyes now fill with horror. Howard can’t help but be affected by the dread oozing from his body. Randy’s cold hand grips his ankle tighter, desperately. “Faeries. Faeries are real. Faeries are so real you will shit yourself. Don’t do it, man. Stay. Stay. Stay.”
“You must have taken some bad acid this morning, man.” Howard finally kicks Randy away. Randy starts shaking more violently and begins to sob. The sound violently punctures the stillness.
Howard wraps his blanket around his shoulders in the cold. He leaves this sidewalk with its illusion of safety and its stench of piss and booze and helplessness.
He heads into the light. It glints off the buildings. The sun is beginning to rise. But there is still too little of it just yet. Howard loves this hour. He thinks of it as the magic hour. He breathes in deeply. This is a downtown shopping mall. He sees Macy’s and other department stores towering above him. His eyes glitter. He misses the days when he could go into these stores and buy whatever he wanted. All he had to worry about was paying down his credit card. He misses material comforts. He doesn’t want to buy anything in those stores now, but he misses them, just the same.
There is no one out today. That is unusual. This isn’t a large city, but it should not be an empty one, even at this hour.
Howard can feel the beating of his heart, pounding away in his ears. He tugs the thin blanket closer around his shoulders as a biting wind sweeps crumpled newspaper up from the sidewalk and swirls it around with vigor.
Howard walks aimlessly. He wanders through the bus station parking area. There are not even any people waiting for early buses. That part compounds the eerie feeling that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. There are some buses parked along the street. Everything is empty. Everything is dead, like his life now.
He takes a seat. In the old days, he would have taken out his smart phone. Connecting to people who aren’t real. People in the machine. Instead, he simply takes out his only cigarette, and smells the tobacco.
The wind continues to rise. He thinks of Marlene, and her cool hands on his son Ned’s face when he was sick. He thinks of Ned’s laughter, his four-year-old laughter, and he wonders what the boy will grow to become. That world is a world that exists outside his head and beyond this one. A world he can never visit again. He must stop thinking about it. He must stop thinking about things that bring him pain. Tears prick his eyes.
Suddenly, he notices a nearby presence. He thinks it must be a squirrel. But as he looks over, a small person, about two hands high, perches on the edge of the bench. She looks like Tinkerbell. He blinks his tears away. A drunken hallucination. Obviously.
“Do you want the memories to go away?” He expects her voice to be small and quiet, but it floods his mind with a soothing cascade, like the sounding of Tibetan bowls.
Without thinking, he says, “Yes.”
“Done.” She nods.“Pain is gone.”
Howard blinks. He looks over his shoulder again. For a moment he imagines he sees a cloud of little faery creatures, cavorting in the winds. They shriek with maniacal laughter. His stomach lurches in protest.
He remembers… something. There was someone… But… no. The cobweb of memory fades, like a dream he forgot upon waking. He puts his hand out into the air and his skin feels clammy. What is he?
He remembers his name is Howard. The rest?
He blinks his eyes into the pounding wind, and sobs.
Later, Randy will approach him as the being called Howard wanders the city, alone. But Howard doesn’t know him. Randy will hug him, the movement so unexpected that it takes Howard’s breath away.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Randy will say, his voice hot with emotion. “I told you to wait. I told you to wait. I told you to wait.”
Howard hugs him back, without knowing why.
Perhaps he should have punched him in the face.
My work is offered to you free because I believe in the public domain, but if you enjoy my creative efforts, support of $1 donation to my Venmo would be appreciated. http://www.venmo.com/denise-ruttan