Category: flash fiction

Believe

 

She walked across the dimly lit kitchen to pour herself another cup of coffee. Cream only, to make it less intense – she didn’t like it sweet. She wondered why other people wanted sugary dessert coffee for breakfast; how they could tolerate the stunning first-thing smack to the face of sweetness that she couldn’t.

He continued the argument as he filled his to-go cup. “It’s only logical that it should be that way.” A miniature tornado of steam steam swirled around his hands while he talked.

“Why does everything in life have to be logical?” she asked scornfully. “Where is the room for mystery and magic in your world? It doesn’t always have to make sense.”

He screwed the top onto the portable stainless steel mug, and gathered his things together to leave. The car keys jingled merrily in a way that annoyed her.

“Honey, I work in forensics. Logic and sense catch the bad guys. You want us to catch the bad guys, don’t you? The bad guys don’t believe in magic either. The bad guys want to crush your magic.” He smacked one fist onto the flattened palm of the other hand. He made the fist explode as it hit, fluttering his fingers in the air like fireworks.

Unimpressed by his display of hand magic, she stared at him sullenly, leaning against the sparkling granite countertop.

He smirked at her. “You spent your childhood building little stick and leaf houses for imaginary fairies in the woods, but I played cops and robbers. You want to play with good, but I want to protect good from evil.”

She narrowed her eyes and sighed in frustration. He wasn’t understanding her brain, as usual.

“Maybe the bad guys became bad guys because they didn’t believe in magic and fairies in the woods,” she said. “And maybe everything you see that can be explained by logic and sense wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for magic. Why are we even here? You can’t answer that question with logic and sense. It’s the why that makes everything magic.”

She took a deep breath, and then a sip of the hot coffee, enjoying the way it burned her upper lip. Pain always made her feel alive.

He refused to be baited into further existential discussion. Rolling his eyes skyward, he opened the door to head to the car. The sunrise glowed orange and pink into the kitchen, temporarily setting her thin white nightgown on fire.

“Love you. Have a good day talking to your fairies, dear. Put in a good word for me with the angels.” He closed the door behind himself.

She grabbed the dishtowel from its hanging place, and threw it at the door as hard as she could.

Unspoken

 

Key twisting in the lock, she opened the door to the apartment they shared and flipped on the overhead light. The intense white blast turned the room into a washed-out, stark dwelling. She shivered in the cold and closed the front door, heading for the thermostat to turn it up a few degrees. He was always so much warmer than she was, and their temperature-of-the-heater battles were legendary.

It had been a long day at the restaurant, and her legs were killing her. Business was slow, and all of the standing around made her knees and feet ache so much more than a busy day spent briskly walking. Her tips were equally painful, and all she wanted to do was to put on her comfortable clothes, grab a beer, and settle down with him in front of the television.

She wondered why he was not yet home. She was certain he got off work earlier than she did today. They’d even discussed it that morning as they showered and got ready to go earn the money that paid the rent on their place.

She got undressed, blissfully removing the bra that bit relentlessly into her chest, and changing into the loose cotton yoga pants she tended to wear around the house with a T-shirt. She sauntered into the living room and sat down on the couch. As she reached for the remote control to turn on the television, she noticed a photo tucked underneath it, obviously intended to be found.

Studying the image of ice-covered trees in a snowy landscape, she thought about the peaceful world inside the picture. She wondered what it would be like to live in a house alone there, all by herself, with nobody else around to argue about bills, and ridiculous little pointless things like turning the thermostat up too high in the wintertime.

She flipped the photograph over to find writing on the back. It was a note from him, ballpoint pen-inked in his messy handwriting.

“In your silence, I hear the vitriol you’d like to shout.

In your absence, I learn everything you’re not about.

I thought you gave me something whole and real and true.

But everything you are is wrong and broken.

And you thought you told me something new, but you were wrong.

Sometimes the loudest words are unspoken.”

She gasped and dropped the picture on the coffee table. Standing, shaking, she walked quickly into the bedroom and pulled open all of the dresser drawers. His clothes were gone. She ran to the bathroom to find his toothbrush and toiletries missing as well.

He was gone. She walked around the apartment in a daze, bereft and frightened. She didn’t know how she was going to pay the rent. She didn’t know how she was going to sleep that night. She didn’t know how she was going to go to work in the morning.

She walked to the refrigerator for a beer.

This Place Gets Kind of Empty

 

She remembered being a shy, quiet little girl, browsing in the mom and pop record store with her older brother, who was a huge music buff. He especially loved vinyl, and this particular music shop had a large selection of used records. He would wander away to peruse the bins while she explored the store, entertaining herself by thumbing through the CDs and playing with the knickknacks for sale.

She found herself entranced by the artwork on the fronts of the albums. Sometimes an artist would feature a photo of themselves or their band, and those were interesting for a second, but her favorites were the CDs designed like tiny, colorful works of art, with paintings that told a story. She wondered how one might come to have a career in the field of musical artistry.

She paused to study the plastic key chains the store was hoping to sell as impulse purchases, by the presently empty front of the store. They were shaped like aliens, and they glowed in the dark. Their large, hollow eyes stared back at her, and their hands were raised in spooky extraterrestrial greetings.

There was nobody else around, and the man who had been following her around the store (who thought she didn’t notice him) finally decided to come over to talk to her. She thought it was odd, an adult wanting so strongly to speak to an eight-year-old girl, but people were odd. There was a lady a few houses down from her own who chased kids out of her yard by throwing figs from her fig trees at them, and that was pretty odd too, but nobody seemed very bothered by her.

He smiled at her, catching her eye as he’d hoped, opening up the conversation. As she held onto the plastic yellow-green alien, and turned it over in her hand, he asked her if she liked aliens.

She hadn’t really thought about it before that moment. She supposed she liked them okay. “Sure,” she replied.

“What do you think aliens eat?” he asked.

She thought about this for a minute. Never having thought much about aliens at all before this moment, she tried to imagine what they would serve for dinner.

A starry sky popped into her head, and a spaceship. She pictured the spaceship flying through the galaxy, and wondered what would be out there in the great beyond for aliens to farm for sustenance.

“Clouds,” she answered. “I think aliens eat clouds.”

He smiled at her again. “I think you’re probably right about that, sweetie. What’s your name?”

She hesitated to say anything more. He had moved closer and was now looking at her intensely. It had started to make her uncomfortable. “I’d better go find my brother. He’s probably wondering where I am.” She scanned the store, trying to find him quickly.

“I could buy you that alien key chain if you’d like it. If aliens eat clouds, do little girls eat candy? I have candy in my car outside,” he said, pointing to a battered, old beige car she could see parked outside through the storefront window. He grinned widely, trying to be playful, but all she saw was teeth. Rows of big white teeth. She looked up to meet his eyes. His eyes weren’t smiling anymore.

She turned, shaking his hand off her arm as she ran to the back of the large building, quickly spotting her brother browsing near a wall. She ran to him, frightened and babbling about the man with the teeth and the clouds and the aliens.

He rolled his eyes and told her to stop being so dramatic. Aliens didn’t have big teeth, stupid. She tried to explain what she meant, but he was tired of listening to her nonsense, and walked away to pay for the records he’d found that day. He couldn’t wait to get home and listen to the old vinyl by the band The Church that he’d found. What a score. He loved their song, “Under the Milky Way” and couldn’t wait to hear it come to life on his vintage record player.

She stayed close behind him for the rest of their time shopping, and for the walk home. The man was gone from the front area of the store where she’d held the plastic alien, and the car he’d pointed to – the car with the candy – was gone when they stepped outside. She almost wondered if she’d made up the entire incident. She felt ashamed for being unkind to an old man who was probably just trying to be nice, and crazy for deeming a friendly smile evil.

Years later, sitting in her house at the top of the stairs, alone on the hill (except for her sleeping dog), she looked out her window, and remembered the incident. Over the years, she had learned to trust her own instincts, and knew the man was most likely a lecherous molester, at best. She congratulated her eight-year-old self for having the guts to act on a strong feeling.

As she stared up at the starry sky, imagining that she could feel the planet slowly turning, she once again visualized the aliens eating clouds for dinner. A whole family of aliens bellied up to a celestial table, passing around the cloud loaf and mashed clouds, with big glasses of cloud juice on the side.

And she smiled.

Four Friend Requests and a Funeral

I boarded the plane headed for Phoenix. One of my Facebook friends had suddenly died and we were all going to her funeral. We were in her private Facebook group called BFFS, after all. That meant a lot to us.

Jennifer had stopped posting on our pages and leaving opinions in our comment sections. She seemed to completely disappear from the cyber realm in which we existed together, and we were all wondering where she had gone.

A quick glance at her profile answered our questions. Her sister Anne had recently posted an explanation online; it seemed our friend had been in a car accident. She was killed instantly.

Her Facebook page immediately became a memorial website, rapidly filling with messages about how much we’d all miss her.

Jen’s Facebook friends were invited by her sister to the funeral in Phoenix this weekend, and many of us agreed to attend. It was a sad excuse to finally meet the people we’d been getting to know online for so long, but we decided Jennifer would have wanted it this way.

Anne had been remarkably helpful in facilitating the attendance of Jennifer’s online friends at the funeral, arranging to pick each of us up at the Phoenix airport. She even made a deal with a nearby hotel to provide affordable rooms. I was touched by the kindness of the airlines and lodging, providing cheap rates and discounts for us all.

The funeral was scheduled for Saturday evening, so we decided to fly in Friday afternoon to have an impromptu memorial service and meet each other in person. Anne suggested this, actually, and rented the recreation room of the hotel we were all staying in to give us a large meeting place.

Despite the sad reason for being there in the first place, I was really excited to meet these people I’d been getting to know online for over a year. Jennifer had always been a boisterous, fun girl and said, “Any excuse for a party!” I hoped she really meant it and wasn’t looking down on us from the ghost world for having a getting-to-know-you celebration in the aftermath of her sudden death.

I deplaned and walked through the Sky Harbor terminal until I saw the sign with “Alexa” on it. That’s me, I thought as I greeted the driver. We drove away from the airport, passing palm trees and saguaro cactuses as we traveled along the heat-shimmering road.

The hotel was really nice and I couldn’t get over the low price as I got ready for the Facebook friends BFFS party. Make-up and hair to my liking, I walked down the hallway to finally meet my online friends in real life.

At the entrance to the large recreation room, there was a big sign that shouted, “Welcome Jennifer’s Internet Friends!” in a bold font. I couldn’t believe Anne went through the trouble to have such professional-looking signs printed up for this gathering. She really had her wits about her for someone who had just lost her sister. I felt momentarily jealous of her coolness under pressure, decided that was unkind of me and entered the room.

There were over fifty people there. An anorexic-looking blonde girl quickly walked over to me with a somber smile and introduced herself. A man with a large camera followed her closely, filming our meeting.

“I’m Jennifer’s sister, Anne. Thank you so much for coming… Alexa?” she said questioningly.

“Yes, I’m Alexa. Call me Alex. How did you know?” I asked.

“I recognized you from your Facebook pics,” she replied.

She gestured toward the camera.

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m having Jennifer’s memorial filmed by a professional crew. There were a lot of internet friends who couldn’t make it to Phoenix, and I want to put this on You Tube so they can feel like they were here. Jennifer would have loved it.”

“How many Facebook friends did Jennifer have?” I wondered aloud. It seemed like the room was full of people.

“Oh, this isn’t even a third of her Facebook friends. She was also popular on Twitter. My sister was a friend to everyone she met,” she said, shaking her head sadly.

She quickly had me sign a release form so that she could use my filmed moments in her You Tube memorial, stating it was just a formality. I didn’t mind. I had nothing to hide, after all. That’s why I was on the Internet in the first place, right?

After thanking her for being such a great hostess and offering my condolences on her loss, I left Anne and the camera guy to walk over to the open bar. I decided that Jennifer and Anne must come from money, as I ordered a free beer. I left my usual twenty percent tip because I’ve had that job, took a deep breath, and looked around.

Standing at the bar, I scanned the room for familiar faces. Everyone was engrossed in conversation, with Anne and the cameraman recording the memories people shared about Jennifer. Some people were crying in front of the camera while others laughed, expressing different thoughts on the loss.

I quickly drained my beer and ordered another one. I was really nervous about meeting all of these people with whom I’d been chatting so intimately on blog comment boards for the last year. We knew so much about each other, yet nothing at all. It was a strange dichotomy, and hard to marry with my usual go-to friendship formula.

I spotted Kaitlin. She was a sassy, outspoken woman with cool Nordic blonde good looks and one of those mouths that makes even the straightest girl feel stirrings. She met my eyes as I noticed her; the recognition clicked and her expression brightened.

“Alexa!? Alex! Is that you!? It is you!!” she squealed, and came running over to hug me warmly. “It’s so nice to actually meet you in real life!”

I told her it was great to meet her too, and asked her what she thought of all the cameras.

“It seems kind of weird to me, honestly,” she whispered under her breath. “But if Jennifer’s sister Anne thinks it’s necessary, then I guess it makes sense, right?”

I nodded and we stood together making small talk, surveying the crowd of people that seemed to be growing larger every minute. We noticed another friend we often talked to online as she walked through the door, with the cursory introduction and welcome by Anne and the cameraman. She refused to sign the release form. Brooke. Of course.

Brooke was petite, with pale skin and dark hair. She had goth vibe going on. She liked the Vampire Wars application and sent fanged fairies as Facebook gifts. She was dressed in her usual all-black attire, leather boots and wore her signature blood red lipstick. Thinner than I expected with dark under-eye circles, she looked like Snow White’s sister who freebased poison instead of eating tainted apples. She didn’t look like she ate much of anything, actually. Kaitlin and I recognized her instantly.

“Brooke! Over here!” We both shouted her name and waved her over.

She glided our way and stared around the room incredulously. “What the fuck is all this shit?” she asked us.

Brooke was a blunt person. She didn’t waste time on niceties in the written comment format, so it didn’t shock me that she’d work blue with her first sentence spoken in real life. I would have been more shocked if she acted sweet and demure, honestly.

“We don’t really know either,” I told her. “Jen’s sister Anne seems to think Jen would have wanted her online friends who couldn’t be here to be able to watch her informal friends-only memorial on You Tube.”

“Well I think that having a film crew at a private memorial is completely fucked up. I’ll probably write a blog about it when I get home,” she answered. “I’ll put it on my WordPress site and we can talk about it some more, because I feel like an asshole complaining about it here.”

We agreed to revisit the topic in our blogs and continued to walk around the room, drinking free booze and meeting all of the people we knew only from online pictures and occasional written blurbs. It was a strange sociological phenomenon that made me uneasy and out of my element all night. The whole thing felt like a weird dream I’d have after drinking and playing on the computer too late.

After foolishly moving from beer to the hard stuff and drunkenly slurring to the cameras about what a cool person Jennifer was, I hung out with my new/old friends and stumbled back to the hotel room late. I used the laptop computer I’d brought to see if I had any new messages waiting before I passed out, already dreading tomorrow’s more serious service.

I awoke the next day feeling hung-over and strange. I had the “Where the hell am I?” moment as I looked around the hotel room until I remembered. Today is Jennifer’s funeral. My stomach clenched with nervous energy. I was not looking forward to it.

I grabbed the water bottle I’d placed next to the bed in a burst of surprising drunken forethought and chugged. I felt like I’d crawled through a desert with straight vodka in my canteen and only cigarettes to eat.

After spending the day online chatting with friends (some of them in the same hotel), I got in the shower and prepared for Jen’s evening service, wondering if her sister Anne and the camera guy were going to film the actual funeral. It seemed kind of disrespectful and I really hoped not. I also knew I would cry and I didn’t want it caught on tape for all to see.

The funeral home was conveniently a few blocks from the hotel. Anne seemed to have planned everything out perfectly. Once there, I found my internet inner circle of blog commenters and we huddled together in a group with our fold-up chairs pushed together.

The funeral home looked brand-new, like it had been very recently built. The light fixtures were Eames-style modern, like hanging cream bubbles with brushed nickel hardware, and the floors were tiled in a rich chocolate brown. The shiny, black coffin was up front on a huge stone table—it almost seemed like an altar—placed on a shaggy, furry cream rug. White roses in silver vases and deep red candles covered every surface, flames flickering. It didn’t have the seventies, drab wood paneling feel of most funeral homes. It felt like MTV Death Cribs.

I could see Jennifer lying peacefully in the coffin, just the very top bit of her pretty face. She looked like she was sleeping. Her hair looked great. I’d never been to an open-casket funeral and thought the dead would look much worse than she did. She was holding a bouquet of white roses and wearing dark red dress that matched the candles. I had no idea that death could be such a fashion statement and was once again impressed with Jennifer’s sister for her amazing attention to detail.

I noticed the Guns ‘N’ Roses song “November Rain” was playing through overhead speakers. How unbearably trite, I thought to myself, vowing to write down the songs I wanted to be played at my own funeral.

As we waited for some sort of religious leader to walk to the front and start the proceedings, I realized I didn’t know to which religion Jennifer belonged. I realized that I didn’t even know her last name; where she grew up or where she went to school. It hit me that I really didn’t know anything about her, or any of the other living people in the room, for that matter.

I was suddenly overcome by the urge to run out of the funeral home back to the hotel. This was all starting to feel really weird. I looked around uneasily and noticed many other people murmuring to each other, with confused faces like mine.

Before I could bolt (or more likely, discuss bolting with my friends), Anne walked to the front of the room with a cameraman behind her, filming every word. She said loudly, “I have an announcement to make and all I ask is that everyone here please listen to every word before you rise to judgment.”

The murmuring stopped and the room was silent in anticipation. Anne nodded, smiled and continued addressing the room.

“This is not actually a funeral and I am not actually Jennifer’s sister. My name is Anne, but I work for a television network. This event we’ve been filming is the pilot for a new reality show that we are hoping will be a really big hit. Those of you who signed the waivers will be featured on the first episode. It’s called Virtual 2 Reality and the premise of the show is to help people who have met solely through social networking websites meet in real life for the first time. We think it will be a fascinating sociological study of the new ways we make friends via the Internet and… most importantly… really great television!”

We stared at each other with mouths agape in disbelief as she continued.

“We didn’t mean to trick you, but we didn’t think as many of you would agree to come if it wasn’t for a serious reason. We apologize for the scare and you will be reimbursed for your travel expenses, as well as paid a respectable fee for your camera time. And I think you will all be happy to know that Jennifer is an actress who is alive and quite well!”

She clapped her hands and Jennifer, who had up until this moment remained motionless in the coffin, suddenly sat up and smiled, waving at the room full of people, still seated in our chairs in shocked silence. Someone started to clap along with Anne, and soon much of the room broke out in applause.

Some people sat still with furious hands in their laps, and some people were crying tears of relief, but overall, the group seemed to recover from the shock very quickly.

People jumped up and ran over to Jennifer as she climbed out of the coffin for hugs. I could see them already vying for their fifteen minutes, schmoozing Anne and the cameraman, giving interviews and reactions to the bogus funeral. Kaitlin was up front, laughing and smiling for the camera, and I was shocked. I never pegged her as an attention whore.

You know the people I mentioned, the ones who were not clapping and furious? Yeah, I was one of those. I looked at Brooke, who had more color on her pancake-pale face than I’d ever seen. She hissed, “This is fucking bullshit. I’m out of here, Alex,” and stood up. I followed.

We went straight to the hotel bar and got ridiculously drunk. We talked for hours and exchanged phone numbers, vowing to make a point of getting together in person at least once a year. We hugged at the end of the night and went to our rooms to sleep it off before the morning flights Anne had booked for us.

I arrived early at the airport, got a cup of coffee at Starbucks, cursing their moronic sizing system as I asked the snooty barista for, “I don’t know, a really big one, I guess,” with a roll of my eyes. I found a table and opened up my laptop. I had one hell of a crazy blog to write.