Posts Tagged With: short story

Flash Fiction, January 31: Blood is Thicker

This week’s assignment: write a drink recipe, and a story around it. Here is the drink, and the story:

BLOOD IS THICKER

My aunt and uncle died together at 11:54 p.m. The accident was caught on the red-light camera at the intersection. The coroner told me the force of the giant SUV slamming into their little car was vicious enough that they both appeared to have died instantly. It was good to know these details. Who knew the timing would be so important later?

I love my Aunt and Uncle. What I did I did out of pure necessity and desperation. Both valuable ingredients, as it turns out. We have a small family. My mother had only one sister, much younger than herself, and my father disappeared just after my birth, cutting the number of available relatives in half.

I became the legal guardian of my two cousins. They had been late-in-life babies, a surprise. Now they were my surprise. Seven year old twins, all of my own. I looked at their little grief–stricken faces, and felt mainly fear. I shoved my own feelings aside for the moment and tried to think. What do children need?

Parents, kids need parents. Not cousins with dubious skills and bad habits. I looked at them. They looked back. They had their doubts, I could see that and I couldn’t blame them. But I was the only choice they had, other than an orphanage, and I couldn’t do that to them. Not to my own blood. My mother died when I was 17, only 5 years ago now. I had some idea how these little orphans were feeling. Now they were mine, and I would do my best.

It turned out that my best sucked. Children are not pets. They need more than food and water and a warm place to sleep. The problem was, I didn’t know exactly what they needed, and neither did they. They fought with each other constantly. They fought with me. Or they ignored me. They hated school. They hated everything. I could hear them crying at night, and lay there awake, frustrated and worried. I always tried to comfort them, but they resented it. They punched me and told me to go away. They really didn’t want any of the comfort I had to give. They had each other, but that wasn’t enough.

Something had to be done before my little charges ended up in prison. They were on a dark road, and from what I could see there were no turn-offs, no side roads leading to happy-ever-after-ville. Jamie started stealing from the corner store. Christie cheered him on. When I found out about it, all they had to say was, “You’re not our real mom! We hate you! You’re ugly!” None of this was a surprise, but it was hurtful. I didn’t know what to do.

While all this happy family drama was going on, I still had to work. I’m a bartender, I work nights. With my two delinquents-in-training at home, I had to take day shifts, and work while they were at school. Or while they were pretending to be at school. They might have been knocking over the 7-11 for all I know. It was very easy to get switched to days, because nobody wants to work then. The bar is open mid-morning for the career drinkers who like to get an early start. A few souls will show up for lunch. None of these people tip very well. My income dropped drastically, while my expenses ballooned. My aunt and uncle had not left a lot behind, and what there was was tied up in legal issues. Eventually, some cash would come our way, but it would take a while.

We were all unhappy. I was worried, the kids were freaking out. Our little family was going downhill fast. Something drastic had to be done.
So one drizzly gray afternoon I was sitting by myself at work, wiping an already clean bar and trying to puzzle my way out of this. Someone came up and pulled out a stool, startling me.
“I didn’t even hear you come in,” I said, looking up to see my neighbor Mama Jo. Mama does psychic readings out of her house, with a bit of voodoo on the side. She’s a blonde lady somewhere in her thirties. She’s cultivating a Caribbean vibe, thinking it’ll make her seem more authentic, I guess. She’s asked me to call her Mama Jo, and when she remembers to she speaks with a Jamaican accent. She’s kooky, a bit silly, but I like her a lot. She lit up a flavored cigarillo. There’s no smoking in here, but who gives a shit. You see anybody around to complain about it?

“You and dem little ones be having a hard time, ja?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” I told her, pouring each of us a shot of dark rum. Not supposed to be drinking at work, but like I said, who gives a shit. “I’m almost broke, the kids are depressed and they hate me. I’ve got to turn this around, but I am out of ideas.”

She shot back the rum. “What they need is der modda and fadda,” she said, like I don’t know this.

“Well they’re gone, so all they get is me. Not a great trade, but what can you do.”

“Maybe not so gone. Maybe Mama can work a little sumthin for you to help with those little ones. You let me think on it, dahlin.” She pushed the glass back to me, and thanked me for the drink with a nod. She left the bar in a swirl of scarves and skirts.

I cleaned our glasses, thinking her voodoo wasn’t going to help, although I appreciated the offer. Messages from the grave are probably not the best way to parent. Then the taste of rum in my mouth and Mama’s voodoo started to combine in my mind, and I began to wonder if there was something that she could do for me, after all.

That day after work I fed the monsters and let them go have a sleepover at a friend’s house. I picked up the bottle of dark rum I had bought after work, and headed over to Mama Jo’s. She wasn’t surprised to see me. Her front room was dimly lit, filled with scarves and candles. I wondered how she’d never burnt the place down. There was a ratty stuffed crocodile on top of a bookcase, tied by cobwebs to a collection of jars filled with objects floating in a murky liquid. If Mama could sell atmosphere by the bottle she’d make a fortune.

She brought out glasses, and I poured us a couple generous shots. “Tell me what you meant, at the bar.”

“Ah, Mama is workin for you, dear. Feelin the spirits in the room, in the air around you and those young ones, doan you fret none now..”

I cut her off. I didn’t want to be rude, but I couldn’t wait. “What can you do besides bring a message back from the dead?”

She looked at me askance. “What else is there to do?” It scared me when she dropped the accent. It’s like, now the shit gets real. “What else would you want? You want to raise the dead, is that what you’re thinking?”

“Why are you so nervous? Are you hiding something?” Maybe there was more to her than I’d given her credit for. It was so hard to take her seriously, with her blonde hair and fresh face, hiding behind scarves and thick incense. I felt bad about underestimating her, but also intrigued. “What do you know, Jo?”

She got up and moved around the room, moving her things around, making some straight and others more crooked. “I don’t know anything. I’ve just heard some things. What you want might be possible, but it’s dangerous. It’s not the same for every person who wants it. You have to figure it out on your own. If you get it wrong, you might end up worse than dead yourself.”

“What do I do?”

She didn’t want to tell me, but she knew my situation, and maybe she knew me better than I thought she did. She knew I wouldn’t give up. “Look for them at the same time they died, and fill yourself with emotion. Yearning, desperation, fear, grief. The spirits love that stuff, they feed on it.”

She was genuinely spooky now. “What else do I do?”

“There needs to be a potion, but you have to figure out what it is, and drink it at that moment.” She looked worried, and frightened for me. “You have to get it right on the first try. Please, think hard on this before you do it. If you fail, those kids are alone.”

I hadn’t thought about that, to be honest. Part of me thought this was all crap anyway, so why not try it? But a bigger part of me thought it could work. I was young myself then, and maybe not as smart as I thought I was.

Over the next few days I made my potion. I thought of my family, our suffering, our love for each other. I thought of voodoo, and dark things, and hope and a light in the darkness. I gathered what I needed.

Dark rum for the base, of course. Dark rum rules all of these things. Two drops of liquid smoke for the souls that were lost. The petals of a red carnation, for our aching hearts. One ounce of orange juice for the health of those returning. On an impulse, I added a shot of pineapple juice. To me, pineapples represented the sun and a life in the good, pure light of day. I felt something wash through the room then, a wave of disappointment and anger. I shuddered, thinking what would have happened if I hadn’t included it. Finally, drops of my blood. One, two, three drops. Three drops for those of us left bereft, wounded and aching. Our blood, calling to your blood. Come home, back where you belong.

I drank it at 11:54 pm, and filled myself with grief, love, and hope. It burned going down, but then warmed my belly. Smoke poured from my nose in two streams, and took shape near the ceiling. A wind came up from nowhere, and blew it away.

From upstairs I heard two claps, one after the other, like a thunder storm in my house. I raced up the stairs, my heart pounding. I threw open the door to the spare room the children had been using. It was empty. They were gone. Their things were gone. It was as if they had never been here at all. My heart pounded in my throat. There was only one place I could think to look for them.

I ran outside and jumped in my old car, and went as fast as I could to my aunt and uncle’s house. There were lights on in the living room. I could see the flicker of a TV. I went up the steps and knocked. My aunt opened the door, surprised to see me.

“Katy, why are you out so late? Is everything all right?” I could see my uncle come up behind her, worry on his kind face.

“Everything’s okay. I had a nightmare.” I felt breathless. It had worked, they were back. They were back at home with their children. My eyes filled with tears.

“Are you guys okay? The kids?” Just then I saw Jamie poke his head over the stairs and wave at me. His mother saw me look, and yelled up to him to go to bed, that was the last time he was getting up tonight. He laughed, waved again, and trotted off.

They looked at me, puzzled and concerned. I smiled and hugged them both. “It’s all good.”

I have to say, I might not be much of a parent, but I’m one hell of a bartender.

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Aug 23 Flash Fiction: 10 words

Today’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck:  take all ten of these words and include them in a story.  The words are:

Funeral, captivate, deceit, brimstone, canyon, balloon, clay, disfigured, willow, atomic

So I give you:

In The Red Sunset

The red glow of the atomic sunset was beautiful.  It hovered over the canyon, sending out waves of deceitful glory. The red light filled up the dusty corners, while a hot wind stirred dirt up into small whirlwinds.  The ground was gritty beneath my feet.  It was a quiet and empty place. I knew it was toxic and that it would probably kill us eventually, but since we were all going to die anyway why not enjoy it? 

I stood at the edge of the canyon, drinking in the light and thinking my thoughts.

The funeral had been held yesterday.  The air had stunk of brimstone, which was normal when the wind blew from the west, but it felt like the very earth was being sympathetic.  He’s dead, you know where he’s going!  Exactly where he belongs, maybe.  It’s hard to tell.  Hard to unravel his intentions from his actions.  Hard to know if life would’ve been easier with him or without him.  Hard to know a lot of things.

The boys in the village want to celebrate, that’s for sure.  Maybe not a good thing – all they ever want to do is find excuses to stop working and celebrate.  We’re alive, let’s have a party!  Maybe they have a point, but maybe I’m more like my father than I want to admit.

Bill Gray came up to me, maybe to offer some consolation.  Although I think he’s smarter than that. He got too close to the city’s weapons as a child, back when everybody was escaping into the countryside.  His disfigured face taught him a lot that the other kids his age never had to learn.  Made him more thoughtful. Slower to talk.  Good listener.  I liked Bill Gray. 

“Well Miss Annie, how’s your day?  Thinking about taking a ride in my green balloon?”  He smiled at me, and I smiled back.  His green balloon.  He had made it out of an old piece of silk and some string, and he used to throw it off the porch roof for me when I was little.  It would float slowly down to the bare dirt, and we would make up stories about the times before, and how people could fly in the sky.  Back when he had been little and I hadn’t been born.  I believed him, although it was hard to imagine flying in the air.  I loved it when he told me stories.  My father had no time for such things, when the business of surviving took up all of his time and his thoughts. He was a hard man, and now I understand why, but I would have liked to have heard his stories.

I would pretend to be in the balloon, floating far away. 

“Maybe so, Mr Gray.  Maybe I am.  I’m thinking things are going to be changing around here.”

“Maybe not necessarily changing for the better?”  Mr Bill Gray was a smart man, as I may have mentioned. 

“I’m thinking the boys aren’t going to be doing much work for a while.  I’m not sure who could make them anyway.”

Bill took off his hat and wiped his forehead.  “Well they’ll not be listening to me now anymore than they ever have.”  Mr Gray was also a disfigured man, as I believe I’ve mentioned.

“No, probably not.  No elders around anymore. Not sure what those boys are going to get up to.”

“Best lock your door at night, for a while anyway.”  This startled me, and upset me some.  I hadn’t been thinking along those lines.

“I suppose.”  I frowned.

“Miss Annie..”  he paused, holding his hat in his hands, turning it round and round by the brim. “Miss Annie..”

“I’m right here, Mr Gray.”  He seemed tongue-tied, which was not his way.  He was a quiet thinker, but once he started talking he said what he had to say.

“Miss Annie, what if I did have a balloon?  What if I had made a balloon out of old silk dresses, with a basket made of willow branches?  What if it were down around the bend in the canyon, by the clay banks where nobody could find it?  We could fill it with hot air on the ground and take off.  We might not get very far, but what if we did?”

The whole idea was a surprise, shocking, even.  Mr Gray was not a man given to secrets and hiding things – or so I had thought.  I was beginning to think Mr Bill Gray might have hidden depths I had not been aware of.  I liked that.

I also liked the idea of this balloon.  It quickened something inside me. I’m not a fancy person, so I’m not going to call it hope or anything like that.  But something felt different, and it felt good.  I also liked Mr Bill Gray, as I do believe I have told you more than once.

A balloon.  That was something to think about.

What would we do?  Where would we go?  Who would we find?  I’d like to say anything would be better than here, but I know that’s foolishness.  A lot of places could be a lot worse.

But a lot could be better, even if only a bit better.  We hadn’t seen other people in our little settlement since I  had been small.  We had been all alone here for so long.  Who knew what had happened everywhere else?  The thought of finding out captivated my heart.

Maybe it was time to take some chances, and leave this stale comfort behind.  All of a sudden I was ready to go.  It was time to find out what else was out there, and see what kind of a new life we could make for ourselves.  Something better than watching the poisonous sunset and waiting.

I slipped my arm through his.  “Well then, Mr Gray, let’s go and find out what’s out there.”

He put his hat on and smiled at me. I smiled back.

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