A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com
Based on a recommendation Chuck provided in his “250 Things You Should Know About Writing”, I am taking new character Mike Halen (introduced in my next book “Blinded”) for a joyride in a short story. Kill two birds etc. In less than 1,000 words, Andrew’s new roommate has developed a tasty complexity. Thank you Chuck.
Jules and Andrew breezed through the double glass doors ahead of me, almost instantly separating in different directions. She fixated on a stall of quilts while he cut to the right, wandering lost among other people’s flotsam. The repurposed big box building held as much junk now as it did when it was a Wal-Mart.
I couldn’t help but notice the distance between Jules and Andrew. Usually you needed a crowbar to pry them apart. I spent a lot of time being that crowbar.
“Hey, Andrew!” He stared at a table stacked with old toys and books. They sat under a sign that read ‘$1.’
He lifted up a mid-century Fisher-Price toy still bright with color. “You ever have one of these?” It was first produced when I was two hundred and ten years old. Andrew didn’t know that. He thought I was some dumb farm boy from Iowa. They all did.
“Yeah, man! I used to chase the chickens around with that thing!” I pretended to chase chickens as I clucked and flapped imaginary wings. Like always, Andrew laughed at my idiotic joke. Humor made him soft.
He turned away to pick through more stuff, moving from table to table, stall to stall. I kept an eye on Jules as she followed. You never knew when the perfect opportunity might present itself. It was simply a matter of waiting when you had all the time in the world.
“Mike! This has your name written all over it.” Andrew gestured at a Jim Beam decanter. These littered every flea market in America. This one featured the 100th anniverary of baseball. I could give a shit about baseball, but participating in organized college sports was a sneaky way to blend into the group. The benefits? The outfield wasn’t too much work. Plus, I got a kick out of the astonishment on people’s faces when I jumped barely high enough to catch an impossible out-of-the-ballpark hit.
“Dude, I need that like I need a hole in my head! Look at all this stuff!”
He set it back down, grinning. Suddenly, Andrew stopped and looked around. He tracked Jules with his eyes, visibly relaxing when they settled on her. Of the three of us tracking her, he was the only one who had not a clue about the others. How long would it be until Nicholas, Jules’ Guardian, told him? The window was closing. I enjoyed myself, maybe a little too much, with the teenage Humans. Time to get down to business. In the meantime, I had to be careful not to blow my cover. If Nicholas saw through me, the charade would be over. Faith. Last time, the execution was flawless. The second would be also.
I savored the details of my plans for Jules as we wandered around gazing at the remarkable collection of cast-off debris. I couldn’t believe people wanted it. Give me a pasture on a lake, a never-ending supply of fresh hay, a couple of villagers to terrorize, and I was happy. Why did Humans need massive amounts of things to feel O.K.?
At last, Jules joined us, linking her arm through Andrew’s. While his attention was preoccupied by a display of mid-century drinking glasses, I winked at Jules, allowing myself the slightest of leers. Her eyes widened. She looked away, hands tightly gripping her purse. I really shouldn’t have but I couldn’t help myself. Her fear fed me on cold dark nights.
At long last, we arrived back at the entrance to the flea market. Andrew asked, “You ready to go?” Jules nodded.
Then something caught my eye. I’d overlooked a box of black and white photographs in the last stall.
“Just a minute.” I quickly flipped through them. These were old – easily over a hundred years – and the kind I liked. Bless the Victorians and their dour faces. It was easier to see the hardness etched by life’s tragic disappointments when they didn’t smile like chimpanzees. One in particular was outstanding. A deathbed photograph of a Victorian child in a coffin. Her pale skin was offset by the dark following hair around her angelic face. Excellent!
“Mikey! Get a load of Jules!”
I turned. “Jules?” I fought for breath. Could it be? How had I not noticed before?
A moment later I inhaled, breathing in the sight before me. She stood in front of the quilt stall, her hair tucked into a white bonnet. I stared. One skinny arm reached up to touch the ribbon at her throat, and she blushed. Yes, it was her! Heart of my heart, core of my soul, the girl who chose Nicholas stood before me. My Lovely. My Lovisa.
It took every ounce of control to not rush forward and clasp my arms around her. Ten generations removed and stripped of modern frippery, Jules was the reincarnation of her grandmother.
It was then that my heart beat again. One long slow pulse. The sound filled my ears like a tidal wave. In that moment, I was fifteen again and in love. Eons of bitterness fell away like layers of onion peeled back. I felt naked. I felt alive. The plan morphed. This time Lovisa would be mine.
“Stare much, Halen?” Andrew slapped my upper arm. “Are you all right?”
Was I all right? My laugh sounded slightly hysterical above the new rhythm of my thumping heart. It was an unexpected second chance.
I waved the tintype. “Can’t you tell? I found what I was looking for!”