So, lets just skip all the excuses and all the horribly belated holiday greetings. It is a new year and I’ve made a resolution to cut back on guilt trips this year.
So woohoo, here is the first Flash Fiction of the year, of course courtesy of the fabulous Chuck Wendig who is as witty, entertaining and generally fucking amazing in 2014, as he was in 2013. I should have made my resolution to be like him, but I would probably suck at it too much and thus guilt trip, so I’ll just stick with participating in his Flash Fiction Challenges instead.
This first one of 2014 involved two lists of 20 words each and the handy help of random.org. I rolled 2 and 5, dropping the title Devil’s Bookstore into my lap.
And here are the 104o-something words going with that title.
By Trine Toft Schmidt
There are two types of small towns in this country. Those that welcome you with white picket fence smiles and freshly painted facades, and then there are those that turn you away with a brown rotting sneer and gray concrete travesties.
I definitely prefer the latter, since my business is the ugly and miserable.
Bramville didn’t have much potential. It was of the former sort, a pretty little thing, pastel colored cottages dotting sweeping green hills, overlooking the small cozy town. It was peaceful and content and I hated it, but I still parked my car on the main road outside a cutesy little barber shop.
You see, I know these towns. They hide it well, but somewhere below the shining white paint and the cheery signs, they all hide monsters. All I have to do is take a walk and I find them.
I must that Bramville’s pretty went deeper than I’d thought. It wasn’t until I crossed to the eastern side of town, that the painted shingles and shutters reluctantly gave way to ugly seventies tract houses and weed infested empty plots. It was all miserably sad and unattractive, but they weren’t monsters by far. To much care was stowed upon lawns and gardens. It simply wasn’t atrocious enough.
So I kept walking, my gut-feeling urging me further and further down a disintegrating road that eventually came to a complete stop at some old train tracks. On the other side the road was a path leading into a dense impenetrable line of trees. My heart started dancing against my ribs. Something old lurked behind there, I could feel it as a cold happy chill racing up my back. This was what Bramville didn’t want me to see.
Brambles and nettles ruled the forest, grasping at me as I struggled to pull my suitcase after me. Somewhere to my right branches snapped and a flock of crows rose from the trees above me all in a huff. I followed their witch-like caws out of the forest into a field of thistles.
In the middle of the field stood what had once been a beautiful, two story, red brick plantation house with a covered porch sprouting from an impressive Greek revival colonnade in the center. If I closed my eyes I could just see Orry Main leaning against the railing of the balcony on the second floor.
It was in terrible disrepair, nobody had taken a paint brush to the woodwork since sometime before the war and the front door was two warped plywood boards hanging on rusty hinges. The brick had weathered to slivers and only the middle four feet of the porch looked safe to stand on, the rest was a jumble of boards, rusting bicycles, washing machines, sofas and old carpets.
My heart skipped ahead in double speed. It was all I’d ever hoped for.
I stopped and eyed the house. It looked deserted. No smoke came out of the chimneys and a scrap of lace curtain swayed gently in the gaping hole where a window had once been. The only sound came from the crows that had settled in an old chestnut tree to my right. But I could feel eyes on me and one of the curtains on the bottom floor moved minutely. I allowed myself a smile and flipped my suitcase over on its side to sit on, slipping my sunglasses into the breast pocket of my black suit.
I settled into the wait, crossing my ankles and tilting my face to the sun. Above me a crow cawed and flapped its wings noisily.
The sun was on its way down when, finally, the plywood door squeaked open and there was a creak of stressed wood. A thin-as-rails woman with lank mousy hair and creases the size of grand canyon on the sides of her mouth stepped out on the porch.
“What do you want?” Her voice was rusty and phlegmy, courtesy of a forty-a-day Marlboro habit. I brushed off specks of dust on my pants and stood up.
“Madam. I have a simple question for you.” I smiled. She narrowed her eyes.
“Is that right?”
“Are you happy with your current living condition?” I spread my arms to encompass the house and the thistle field.
“Listen mister, get off my lawn. I ain’t buying what you’re selling.” Her eyes flicked to my suitcase. Curiosity is such a bitch.
“Please.” I fondled the handle of the suitcase and she licked her lips. “What harm can come from a simple question?” She snorted and I smiled again.
“Listen if you are from some sort of freak-ass religion trying to sell me Jesus on a stick, then you are wasting your time.” I held my hand up in mock surrender.
“I am not a religious man, madam, I promise.”
“And how is my current living conditions any of your business?” She stepped a little closer dropping her arms to her side.
“I am so glad you asked.” In one fluid move I flipped the suitcase over on its back, released the clasps and opened it up. In two seconds flat my trap was up and operational. She wouldn’t know what hit her.
“I told you, I ain’t buying nothing you have to sell.” She shuffled her feet and tried to wrench her eyes away from the glittery paper that was now on display.
“I am not selling you anything you can’t afford.” I took a step back and she took a step closer. I call it the Swedish dance, my suitcase a perfect substitute for the maypole.
“What is that?” Her eyes were glued to the thick magazines. I took one and presented it to her with a flourish. She took it and turned it in her hand with glittering eyes. The paper sang as she riffled through the pages, fast at first and then slower and slower until each sheet clicked against her nails like a playing card against the spokes of a bike.
“Have you ever heard of Sweden madam? It is truly the land of milk and honey. And this, this is the IKEA catalog.”
But she was already gone, her eyes wide open and dreamy, her fingers gently caressing the image of a deep white sofa.