I love the bizarrely brilliant stories that emerge sometimes. In flash fiction there’s no time for the writer to second guess themselves, they can just charge ahead recklessly.
The bartender drew the glass from the faucet and slid the mug across the hardwood top to Kay. “Here y’go, miss. Enjoy it.”
She took the glass wearily, took a sip, looked up, turned, spat, looked back, turned again, looked back again, looked down at the drink, looked up again. She cleared her throat nervously and leaned forward. “Um, excuse me.”
“Somethin’ the matter with your drink, miss?”
“Er, no. No, it’s just that, um, well…” she coughed. “You’re a skeleton now, and you weren’t fifteen seconds ago.”
He nodded. “That I am, miss. That I am.” His appropriately-bone-white hand plucked a rag off the back shelf and began to wipe down a spare mug with it, click-clack-click-clack-click-clack.
She tried again. “So, if I can ask… why are you a skeleton?”
“Don’t much know m’self, miss. Sometimes things just happen.” He tapped a fingerbone on the stark-white china pate that was his forehead. Was that what you would call it now? Maybe it was a forebone. Kay didn’t know. Kay really, really didn’t know.
Her eyes flicked down to the mug still in front of her. Oh no. “Oh my god, you- you put some kind of drug in here, didn’t you-“
“Miss, it’s water. You saw me fillin’ it with your own two eyes. Plus, ain’t those your friends or coworkers or what have you over at the pool table? ‘Twouldn’t be much use for me to try anything when they’d jump down my throat the minute anything went funny.” He tilted his head, raising an eyebrow that wasn’t there anymore. “Plus – I may be nothin’ but bones, but that just ain’t right.”
“Okay. Water then. Right.” She took a shuddering breath, closed her eyes, and counted to five. One, two, three, four, don’tbeaskeletondon’tbeaskeletondon’tbea-
Still a skeleton. A kind of faint whimpering noise escaped her mouth. The bartender shrugged. “I am sorry about this. It ain’t ever easy seein’ someone get turned into a stack a’ bones right in front of ya, I know. But ‘twasn’t a thing I could do about it. These things happen, y’know?”
“No, no, no, I don’t know,” she said, her voice turning more than a little desperate. “I don’t know that people turn into skeletons sometimes. Are you dead? Oh god, am I dead?”
“Probably and probably not,” he replied. He tilted his head again and clicked his teeth together in thought. “Well, actually, I’m probably not dead either. So probably not on both fronts.”
“If I scream, are people going to look over and see a normal bartender?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me. ‘S how these things work, don’t they? Trouble comes outta nowhere, lands right in your lap, and minute you try to offload it on someone else it slips out the back porch, and you wind up lookin’ like a crazy person. ‘What,’ they ask, ‘is possibly the matter? I don’t see the trouble.’”
She leaned forward. “Mister Skeleton, please don’t start giving me life advice right now, I think I might be about to pass out.”
“Drink some water then. No point in gettin’ all worked up about it. You gotta roll with the punches, right?”
“Look, my boss reassigned my account this morning. My deadbeat brother took my car and didn’t say when he’d be back. My girlfriend’s not answering her texts, my dog’s vet bill is three times more than I thought it would be, and now my bartender’s turned into a skeleton. I think I’m allowed to stop rolling by now.”
He shrugged, his collarbones swinging up and down like a see-saw. “Alright, alright, I follow ya. But this is what I’m sayin’, y’see? Can’t just let it all get ya down. Ya gotta take it head on. Skull on, in my case.”
Kay grabbed the glass of water off the bar and began to chug it. Don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about the skeleton don’t think about it just finish the water, get up, go play pool, give Jen another text, go home, call the vet, send Jim an e-mail, get Mom to call Ted just don’t think about the skeleton.
She gasped and slammed the mug back onto the bar. The bartender took it. “Y’want another round?”
Primly, she stood, grabbed her purse, turned 180 degrees on her heel, and walked off towards the pool table. Behind the bar, the skeleton clacked his teeth together a few times.
Sometimes you just got those customers you had to turn into a skeleton to help out.
“Her Property”, by Will
The wiccern lives at the heart of the orchard: a grove of twisted, living trees. One does not eat the fruit of those trees, not even animals. They are Her Property, and she is always jealous…
So when I came upon the man in gray sitting beneath the shade of the orchard tree with a thoughtful look on his face and an apple core in his hand, my first thought was that he must be mad.
“Are you mad?” I asked, shifting my books from one hand to the other. The man glanced up with eyes like jet and drew his feet together beneath him. He laughed.
“Mad? Maybe. What do you mean?”
“This is the wiccern’s orchard. Don’t you know? You don’t eat from her trees. She’ll get you for it.”
“Is there a sign?” he asked, and his mouth twisted up in a smile. His chin was covered in stubble, and his gray clothing looked much weather-worn. I could see rips and tears in the hem, and he wore no shoes.
“You must not be from around here.” I sneered a little.
“Very perceptive of you, boy,” he replied. “I’ve come from away to the west. You see this?” He thrust out a fist, and something dangled, glinting, from the chain that was clenched between his fingers. It was metal–a medallion. I stepped forward hesitantly. Best not get too close to this mad stranger.
“What is it?” The shape of a leaping fish was engraved upon the metal, and an odd symbol. It was a sailor’s charm, I thought. We’d learned about them in schoolhouse last season.
“This is something I’ve had for a long time, boy. But it failed me five days ago. Did the storm come this far inland?”
“Storm…what are you talking about?” The weather had been overcast for the past few days, but that was nothing new.
“Ah, well maybe I am mad then. Too much time at sea has made me more fish than man…”
So he was a sailor.
“You came from the coast?” I asked, “That’s a long way, I think.”
“I’m a fast walker, boy, when I put my mind to it.”
“Well, anyway, you shouldn’t eat from the orchard trees. It’ll be bad luck for you.”
“Bad luck…” He fingered the medallion again, lids half-closed over his jet-black eyes. “Bad luck’s all I’ve ever had, I think. They say when I siren calls you from the rocks, the call stays with you all your life, if you manage to resist it. Like a fish in her net, trapped…”
“Sirens?” We’d learned about those in schoolhouse too, but they were only myths. Fish-women who led sailors to their deaths on hidden shoals.
“Aye,” he shrugged and turned away from me, staring into the darkness under the orchard leaves.
“Well, I don’t know about all that, but you’d best not stay around here,” I said, stepping back toward the country road. The school bells were ringing down in the town by now. I’d be late if I didn’t get going, and I didn’t much want to exchange more words with this strange man. His words made me shiver.
“Mm, you’d best get along to school then, boy,” the man said.
He turned back toward me for a moment, eyes wide, face smiling.
“I’ll be just fine,” he said, and winked, tossing the apple core over his shoulder into the dark. Suddenly there was a noise in the air, like a voice, but without words. It was a song. Someone singing from a great distance. The man stood up all at once, and I backed away, shivering. The sun must have gone behind a cloud, because it had grown very dark, as dark as the shade under the trees. The song rose and fell, and man turned his back to me. I thought to warn him again…but then I found that I didn’t want to, because I wanted to follow him. It was a terrible feeling, and my heart began to pound.
The song was a call. It was calling him, and me. Like a web being drawn tight. I saw the medallion flash in the dimness where it hung from the man’s hand, and suddenly he was not alone beneath the trees. Another figure stood there with one hand resting against the tree. Her mouth was open, and the melody came dancing from her throat.
The man’s voice rang out again, breaking through the song for a moment as I stood quivering by the road.
“I’ve been too long on the iron sea,” he said. “Too long running away across the waves.”
The wiccern inclined her head, and her long hair fell over one shoulder. I had never seen her before, and she was not one to be described. Her eyes were very piercing though…that much I know. She looked at the apple core that lay in the grass. Her Property. He should not have come here–
“You called me, all those years ago,” the man continued abruptly. “I know it was you, even through the mist and the rain. I’d lashed myself to the mast, you see, and the rudder carried me to safety, but I was always pulled back. Like a fish on a hook…”
His head whipped around, and jet-black eyes fixed me.
“Go, boy,” his arm went back, and he tossed something at me. I caught it out of instinct, almost dropping my books. It was the medallion, chain and all. It flashed in the sunlight as I looked at it…
The song faded, and I looked up to see an empty orchard. Just a grove of twisted, living trees. Yes…one does not eat the fruit of those trees, I remembered the saying, not even animals. They are Her Property, and she is always jealous…
I continued on down the road, the medallion clenched in my fist. A slight wind whispered in the tree-leaves behind me, and for a moment I thought I heard the sound of a voice.
I didn’t look back.
“Socialize”, by Legolover-361
There’s something so enthralling about being caught in a corner and pummeled till you feel blood dripping down your nose, your head is throbbing like a dubstep bass drop, and your extremities quiver in pain and fear.
Not something to joke about, you say? Right. I’d agree with you, but how the heck else am I supposed to deal with it?
His name is Leon, he’s a linebacker, and he has it out for nerds who refuse to help him with homework because of his drug problems and because certain female friends of those nerds have not been regarded with much respect on his part. Sound corny? That’s because it is. Sound painful? No? Well, that’s the difference between you and me, then: You’re reading this narrative, and I’m living it.
Picture now, if you will, a typical Friday mealtime. Five-foot-two Sarah — auburn hair, freckles, good-looking but just a friend mind you — is sitting across from five-foot-seven me — buzzcut, a bit of unshaven facial hair, a few pimples and contacts. We’re eating lunch. (An aside: There isn’t any “mystery meat” or “mystery vegetables”, but everyone calls them that anyway because we rarely know ahead of time what’s being served.)
The cafeteria’s tables are plastic, circular, and kind of grimy. A rite of passage among our school’s students is that the new kid will be dared to place his hand underneath the table and press hard, and once he’s freed from the table and has washed all the chewing gum off his palm, we say he’s baptized. It’s a public school, but a slew of us belong to a few nearby Christian churches. Not that going to church on Sundays makes half the kids any better. The other half were probably decent to begin with.
I’m getting off-tack.
So Sarah and I are sitting at our own table, eating lunch, and Leon comes over and asks her quite bluntly why he doesn’t have her phone number yet because he would call her, and you can tell from his emphasis on call that he means he’s going to do it.
Sarah smiles and says no thanks, she doesn’t date blockheads.
I fist-pump under the table. Maybe Leon caught my look of exultation, because he smiles, too, and says he has girls lining up at his house.
“To slap you?” I ask.
He looks like he’s going to slap me, but then he calms down. “I have a party this Saturday,” he says instead, handing a slip of paper to each of us. It says, in fourteen-point Times New Roman, PARTY AT LEONS 1:00-MIDNITE — ALL INVITED — 147 ORIENT ST. — TIME OF YOUR LIFE #YOLO. I’m not impressed; Times New Roman is really generic.
“Everyone’s going,” he says — and, as if to prove his point, calls out to the cafeteria, “Who’s comin’ to my place one o’clock sharp tomorrow?”
A lot of voices cheer. I don’t know how Leon got so popular. Maybe rebels attract large crowds; there are surely historical precedents for that, kind of like the American and French revolutions.
“Guess which squares say they aren’t?” he continues.
“I’ll go,” says Sarah.
I turn to face her with a what-the-heck-are-you-thinking look, but she responds with her shut-up-I-know-what-I’m-doing-I’m-old-enough-to-make-my-own-decisions look. Specific, I know, but we’ve known each other since Kindergarten.
“Excellent,” says Leon, returning to wherever his friends are sitting.
I look at Sarah when Leon’s out of earshot. She shrugs. “We’re seventeen. We oughta socialize at some point in our school lives, right?”
“With him?” I ask.
“Who else is there?” she responds.
I’m still thinking of an answer to that question.