Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Flash #62: Good Fences

"Are you moving?"

I stopped myself from uttering the sarcastic response that sprang to mind in light of the moving truck and obvious packing going on, and settled instead for a brief nod.  The elderly busybody thrived on knowing everybody's business, whereas I thrived on privacy.  We'd never gotten along particularly well.


"I'm concerned the cops will discover the bodies in the basement."  Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped.  I left her standing there and went to collect the next box.  I wondered what it said that she was at least contemplating believing my wild fiction.

"Where are you going?" she asked as I returned.


She waddled in front of me, so I had to either step through the gardens or push her out of the way to continue being productive.  I rolled my eyes as I finally met her gaze.


"I don't know," I told her, and I wasn't entirely lying.

"Well where is the truck going?"

"It's taking my stuff to storage.  If I ever get it packed…"

She didn't take the hint.  I can't say I was surprised.  I took a deep breath in an attempt to give my internal censors time to work.  I shook my head and shoved past her, closer than would ever be deemed polite, but not so aggressively that she lost her balance.  When I returned, she'd removed herself from the path, but still watched every move I made.  Her husband sat, as he always did, in his rocker across the street.  In five years, I'd yet to hear him say a word or see him venture farther from the house than his porch.

In truth, I didn't know where I was going.  I just felt immensely dissatisfied where I was and had deemed it time to move on.  My job allowed me to work from anywhere with a decent internet connection.  I had vague plans to drive south and east until I found somewhere warm and sunny.  This town, which had once seemed so quaint and peaceful, had been plagued by the same issues as small towns everywhere and the novelty had worn off.  But worse than boredom inspired drug use and a disproportionate number of teenage pregnancies, people had been going missing.  As the anxiety rose on the streets and local news celebrities had been replaced by state reporters, it occurred to me that nobody would even notice if I were to disappear.  Work would clue in eventually -- but I doubted they'd do anything other than have HR fire me via email.

So I decided it was time to go.  Start over somewhere that I wouldn't have to shovel the driveway.  Maybe a city this time, where anonymity was the expectation rather than the exception.  Somewhere I could pay an exorbitant amount for an average latte served by a barista who can't spell.

By the time I finished packing, my own personal neighbourhood watch had her lips curled in tightly and anger creased her forehead.  It became a stubborn point for me not to address her.  As I climbed into the truck, she never moved.  I didn't say goodbye and she didn't wave.  I just left her standing there glaring as I pulled out.
A few days later I found myself on the other side of the country, contemplating options for my next home.  I sat in a busy sports bar and half-heartedly watched the tv while I awaited my order.  Football switched off as two talking heads appeared.  Breaking News!  The national anchor started talking, her words transcribed on the bottom of the screen.  Husband and wife serial killers arrested.  Parts of dozens of bodies spanning a time period of decades found in their basement.  Neighbours describe them as quiet, loving, and part of the community.

On the screen showed the house across the street, the porch swing now empty and still, accompanied by a mug shots of my nosy neighbour and her quiet husband.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Friday Flash #61: Dragons and Coffee

I was cold and wet and miserable.  It was the kind of fall day that screams at you that winter is coming and unless you have a fabulous travel budget, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.  The downtown core was uninviting as commuters flocked by the thousands to their preferred form of transit – all hunched over and lost in their own worlds.  Shops lined the streets advertising already for Christmas, but easily ignored.  I had to sidestep as a door I must’ve walked by a thousand times without ever noticing opened and a rather strange looking little man stepped out carrying an A-frame.  I swerved to avoid him, muttering under my breath.  But in doing so, I happened to read the sign – it offered free baked goods with any coffee purchase.  And suddenly, in all my misery, coffee, especially coffee that didn’t come from one of the half-dozen chain stores I’d already passed, seemed like a fabulous idea.  And, well, what could possibly go wrong with baked goods?  So I stepped through the red door.

The warmth hit me first and then I took it all in.  The room was huge – far bigger than the store frontage would’ve led me to believe.  Set up like an old private library, it was my own personal paradise.  A roaring fire rapidly shed all memory of the weather outside, large leather recliners surrounded the room – each with their own little round table.  Wooden shelves lined the walls – complete with a rolling ladder attached to them.  The books that lined them ranged from the latest pop fiction paperback to editions so old they predated printing and had to be worth thousands of dollars each.

I stood in the entrance wanting nothing more than to relax into one of those chairs with a book and the promised coffee, but it was clearly private.  I looked around, a little awkwardly, wondering where the people were.  Had I misunderstood?

“Come in, come in!  I’m sorry to keep you waiting!”  I jumped at the sound, and turned to find the little man beside me, holding a plate of cookies that smelled as though they’d just come out of the oven.  “Welcome to our little café, please have a seat.”  The man gestured into the library.  There was something not quite right about him, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what.

“Is this your shop?” I asked.

“My family’s,” he told me.  “It seems like we’ve spent a thousand years preparing it, and now we’re finally ready to open!  You’re our first customer.”

That explained a lot – from the expensive books being out in the open to his speaking in exclamation marks, to the lack of visitors.  I was pretty sure the first book would be stolen within the week and that would be the end of that ambiance, but I hoped the rest might remain.

“You’ll find our menu on every table, but allow me to start you with some cookies.”   He nodded to the room, and backed out through a cleverly concealed door.

I took a seat with a smile, entirely committed now to enjoying the experience of being an excited proprietor’s first customer.  The menu was actually printed on the table – the prices were reasonable given the location and the ambiance, so I made my choice and looked up.

Only to discover I was no longer alone.  I squeaked in surprise.  Yes, I squeaked.  I admit it.  I didn’t squeal or yell or faint or even react with any kind of dignity.  I squeaked.  And I suddenly understood why the room was so large.  For you see…  Yeah you’re never going to believe me.  Maybe it would be best if you stopped reading now.  Seriously.

Sitting in front of me was a dragon.

No I’m not kidding.  Nor am I delusional.  I hadn’t eaten any of the cookies yet so nobody had drugged me.  A stunningly gorgeous dragon lay in front of me.  His tail was wrapped tightly around his body and none of the furniture or books had been disturbed.  His scales didn’t sparkle or glitter, but they did seem to change colour depending how the firelight hit them – varying by times through purple, green, grey and almost pink.  He was looking at me and had cocked his head just like my puppy used to do when I was a child.

“Hello?” I asked tentatively.  Partially I felt ridiculous – seriously, who talks to a dragon?  But that went away when he answered.

“I am Illarion.”  His voice sounded like Mini Mouse.  I am not even kidding you.  I deserve a medal for keeping a straight face and not reacting when he first spoke.  This giant, majestic creature that by all accounts I’ve heard should either be extinct or never have existed, exists, has the ability to speak, and has a voice like Mini Mouse.  It was Just. Plain. Wrong.

“Nice to meet you Illarion.”  If you only had one question to ask a dragon what would it be?  Have it prepared now, because I’ll tell you – on the spot, it’s hard to think of anything good.  Now?  Now I have heaps of ideas, but then…  Alas, I’m ashamed to say the best I could come up with was “where are you from?”

“I was created by dreams and magic and nature and gods.  But if you mean where on this planet, the answer is Russia.”

Okay then.  Have to admit I liked his first answer better.  I wanted that on a bumper sticker.

“Would you tell me about yourself?” I asked, wondering if I was being rude.

“Such knowledge must be earned.”

“How do I earn it?” I asked, my competitive nature instantly engaged.

“We will play rock, paper, scissors. If you win, I will tell you my story and if you wish, take you to my home.”  I suspected he wasn’t talking about Russia.

“And if you win?”

“You will learn no more today.”

Okay so that would be disappointing, but not tragic.  And I’d still have coffee and a fabulous new café.   And so we played.

For those of you who have the capacity to learn from others.  Should the opportunity ever arise, do not, I repeat, Do Not play rock, paper, scissors with a dragon.  It turns out fire beats rock, paper, and scissors.

Suffice to say I lost.  I would argue he cheated, but when playing with a dragon, you have to play by dragon’s rules.  I’d like to say my life changed that day, but the reality is I found myself a faceless member of the masses on the same cold, wet street.  The red door, the sign, and the wonderful bakery smells were strangely absent.  I didn’t get to travel to wherever he was from.  I didn’t even get my free coffee.

But I will admit that these days when things are really dreary, I keep half an eye out for a red door.  Because next time, I might win.