Flash Fiction Friday: The Great Fire

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The old man watched as the house burned.

The fire spread from room to room in a crackling orgy of smoke and flames. The smell. The noise. The heat. There was a strange beauty to it—a fatal, blackening dance that consumed everything in its path.

The old man was not sure how long he stood there alone with the fire and the flames. The house was on the end of a long winding road deep in the woods. The nearest town was at least 40 minutes away, and the closest fire department was even further. He made no move to call either, or to fetch help. There was no point.

Eventually a fire truck came, the siren blaring in the night. Someone must have seen the fire blazing like a lighthouse in a sea of trees. The firemen knew their jobs and they acted quickly, expertly. It was too late for the house, of course, as the old man knew it would be, but they strived mightily to keep the flames from spreading.

The trees and brush were unusually dry for the time of year, and a forest fire could have consumed a whole swath land. There had already been three in the past month. An epidemic or a plague.

One of the firemen asked a serious of questions in a low, calm voice, as if speaking to a child, and the old man responded slowly in a monotone voice.

“Where did the fire start?”

The attic.

“Was their anyone else in the house?”

Just me. I live alone.

“Are you hurt?”

No.

They left him alone after that, although he caught a few worried glances. They thought he was in shock, of course. Only natural. But he wasn’t. He was simply lost in the flames.

“Do you have anywhere to go?” the fire chief asked finally. He was big man with a greying mustache, caked in soot and ash.

“I have my hat,” the old man said. “And I have my coat. Don’t worry about me.”

The fire chief frowned. “Are you sure? One of my men could…”

But he was talking to the air. The old man was gone, as if he’d never been there. Leaving only footprints in the dirt.

“Where did he go?” the fire chief demanded. The others shrugged. They had been watching the fire. “Did you even catch his name?”

No.

There was a suitcase waiting in the bushes about half a mile down the road. The old man reached down into the bramble, ignoring the minor cuts and bruises, and retrieved the battered, leather  case. It was nearly as old as he was, and untouched by any flames.

He turned at the end of the lane for one final glimpse of the fire. A wisp of a smile crossed his face and then he was gone.

It was not his house. He just liked to watch the world burn.

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Flash Fiction Friday: Along the Waterfront

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They waited on the waterfront for Mr. Birch to arrive. There were five of them—distinguished men in long coats and expensive shoes. Their cars were parked down the road, and their drivers were milling around out of sight. None of them wanted to be there.

Mr. Summerscale checked his watch for the third time and sighed. He was familiar with Birch’s peculiarities, and had brought a crossword to pass the time. Five across was proving exceptionally stubborn, but he had no intention of admitting as much. The others would have laughed.

Young Mr. Bennett, who must have been nearly fifty by now, would have sneered and made some spiteful comment about his age. Summerscale had never like the little upstart and the feeling was mutual. In fact, Summerscale was not particularly fond of any of his compatriots. Burton was an uncultured snob, who substituted volume for taste. Isenberg was always smiling as if he knew a secret no one else did, and he might. And as for Preston, Summerscale shuddered. No one liked Preston.

He was standing apart from the others feeding the birds. They flocked to him, pigeons and seagulls mostly, squawking and bitting and flapping. Preston preferred birds to people. He had an entire taxidermy collection that was infamous in certain circles. PETA was rumored to have an entire filing cabinet devoted solely to the east wing of Preston’s mansion and another for the west.

These were the people Summerscale was forced to consort with, the other members of their little cabal.

Birch had chosen them all years ago, perhaps on a whim, and bound them together with shared secrets and shared wonder.

Summerscale checked his watch again. 3:00 PM precisely.  It was time.

He folded his newspaper under his arm and removed his reading glasses. Around him the others stirred nervously. Isenberg’s smile became strained, as if his store of secrets had turned sour and even Preston shuddered briefly beneath his coat.

Finally there was a great flash of light that burned across Summerscale’s eyes, igniting his corneas in an explosion of stars.

When the lights faded, there was a man standing on the waterfront, brushing ash from his suit.

Mr. Birch had arrived.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Last Flamingo Trainer

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It was two o’clock on a Friday afternoon, when the flamingo trainer presented his card. He was a stout, little man with oil-slick hair and a dark woolen suit.

“You may inform your master that Mr. Frederico Ardovini is here,” he announced grandly. “The Greatest Flamingo Trainer in the world!”

The old man who opened the door regarded him skeptically for a long moment with sharp, milky eyes.

“I am the master of the house,” he said finally. “And I have no need of a flamingo trainer, the greatest or otherwise.”

You are the master of the house?” Ardovini asked incredulously and with not a little scorn. It was a very grand house, after all, with over a dozen bedrooms, four libraries, an orrery in the attic, and over five acres of grounds. The thought that such a man would answer his own door was unthinkable. Almost as unthinkable as a man in possession of a flamboyance of  flamingoes not requiring a flamingo trainer.

“I am,” the older gentleman said with all the wounded dignity of a man of sufficient wealth and station to answer his own door if he wished to, and to close said door in the face of any itinerant flamingo trainer.

“Forgive me,” Ardovini said with a bow and a tip of his hat. “I meant no offense, Mr….?”

“Albert Barnett Jennings, esq.” The old man smirked. “And no doubt you were simply expressing surprise at my…?”

“Humble demeanor,” Ardovini interjected without a moment’s hesitation.

“Ah.” Mr. Albert Barnett Jennings nodded with a mocking twinkle in his eye. “Of course. Well, Mr. Ardovini, regardless of my demeanor, I am still not in need of a flamingo trainer.”

“But you have some of the finest flamingoes in the country here,” Ardovini protested. “They are known far and wide for their plumage and their bright color.”

“Indeed,” Jennings agreed, whose flamingoes had, in fact, recently won best in show at the 87th Annual Flamingoes, Finches, and Duckbills Festival. “And while that explains why you might wish to work with me, it does not explain why I would need you.”

Ardovini ran a hand through his hair and smiled far too brightly. “I understand your reluctance, Mr. Jennings, esq, but give me five minutes with your flamingoes and I’ll show you what I can do. Please…”

Slowly and against his better judgement, Mr. Albert Barnett Jennings nodded. After all, what was the harm?

*

There were forty-three flamingoes in Mr. Jenning’s flamboyance or colony. They were all gorgeous, pink, long-necked creatures with a violent disposition that ranged from grumpy to down-right homicidal. They inhabited a medium-sized pond, which Jennings had commissioned especially for them and equipped with a constant supply of brine-shrimp and algae.

“If I might have a moment alone with these exquisite creatures?” Ardovini asked, his hat doffed in his hands.

Mr. Jennings raised a dubious eyebrow. The flamingoes were all perched on one leg, staring balefully at their would-be trainer.

“It’s your funeral,” Jennings said. “I’ll give you five minutes and then you’re gone.”

“We shall see.” Ardovini seemed supremely, even suspiciously confident.

“Keep an eye on him,” Jennings murmured to his gamekeeper. That worthy fellow nodded silently and put a finger to his nose. He had been Mr. Jenning’s batman in the war and could be relied upon for his discretion and his willingness to protect the flamingoes as if they were his own children.

*

When Mr. Jennings, esq. returned precisely five minutes later, he found a bewildered groundsman and a grinning flamingo trainer.

“Usually I have more time,” Ardovini said. “To become acquainted with the birds individually, but I’ve done the best I could in the time allotted. Every flamingo is secretly a drama queen, after all. Now, with your permission?”

Jennings glanced at his groundsman who merely shrugged helplessly.

“Very well, Mr. Ardovini. Impress me.”

“As you wish.” Ardovini tossed his hat into the air with a flourish, and cried in a loud, clear, unaccented voice. “Ah one, two, ah one, two, three, four!”

And then, before Mr. Jennings’ eyes, his award-winning flamboyance of flamingoes began to dance the polka in perfect, pink unison.

“So,” the flamingo trainer asked, “are you impressed yet?”

Flash Fiction Friday: The Girl Who Caught Lightning

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There was once a little girl who could ride the lightning as easily as you or I could ride a train or a bus. Her name was Eve and she was six years old.

She lived in a little house on the end of Menagerie Road with her mother, two sisters and a cat. Eve didn’t have a father. Her older sister, Meg, said he ran away with a mermaid from the wharfs and never bothered to say goodbye. Eve didn’t believe her. Even at four, she didn’t believe in mermaids.

Her other sister, Jessie, who was eighteen and married to a longshoreman, said that Papa had simply gone for the milk one night and never returned.

Then she bopped Eve on the nose and said: “Maybe he became a pirate.”

Eve believed in pirates more than she believed in mermaids, but Jessie had been grinning when she said it, and Eve never trusted her grin.

In the end, it did not matter where here father had gone, only that he was gone. It didn’t effect Eve much either way. She only remembered him vaguely as a man with a pipe and a large stamp collection, and her life was much the same as it would have been anyway.

Then came the lightning.

She was on her way home one rainy afternoon, jumping gleefully from puddle to puddle, when there was a sharp crack of thunder, louder than any you have ever heard, followed by a flash of lightning.

Later, when people asked, Eve could never explain why she did it. Instinct, perhaps, or a strange form of vertigo.

But in that moment. she reached out her hand and caught the lightning between her fingers. It was like liquid light and a thousand electric shocks all at once.

And then she vanished.

One minute she was on Menagerie Road, the next she was swimming in a sea of electricity and air, dancing gaily in the light. It was better than anything she had ever imagined. Better even than the ferris wheel she had snuck on one lazy Sunday afternoon.

After what felt like an eternity in the lightning but was only seconds, Eve emerged in a flash. But she wasn’t on Menagerie Road anymore.

She was somewhere else.

Eve blinked and wiped the rain from her eyes. Eve didn’t believe in mermaids and had her doubts about pirates, but she had never doubted her own senses.

The row of dirty rundown houses she called home was gone. So were the battered old cars and the stench of the sea, everything. She was lost. But she was not afraid.

All she needed was another lightning bolt.

Above the storm clouds gathered.

 

Flash Fiction Friday: The Bone Collector

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The girl wakes every morning long before the sun rises. She is eleven years old, or perhaps twelve. Birthdays are for other people. People with parents and sisters and brothers. She sees them sometimes on the edges, walking hand-in-hand, laughing or talking or crying.

The girl never laughs, and she never speaks unless to whisper absently to the rocks and bones. And tears like birthdays are for other people. She has no need of them. She lives alone in a crumbling shack just beyond the sea of bones and is content.

No one knows where the bone yard came from. Fifty square, barren miles of dirt and dust and bones. The teeth are the best. Still sharp and easily adaptable. The girl sells them when she can for food and blankets. Once, when she was young and foolish, she sold seventy-two well-polished teeth for a doll made of straw. She could have fed herself for a month for half the price, but the straw made good kindling in the end.

Occasionally, serious men and women in severe suits and dresses came with their clipboards and false smiles. And their questions. Always the same three questions.

“Where are your parents?”

Dead.

“How old are you?”

None of your business.

“Wouldn’t you like to come with us?”

No.

But they never believed her when she said no. The women would tut and the men would frown, and sometimes they would return with men in long coats and far too sweet voices.

“You need to come with us,” they would say. “It’s for your own good.”

Never.

And no matter how many there were or how fast they ran, she always lost them amidst the bones. Until one day they stopped coming.

Until one day there was only the girl and her garden of bones.