Yes, I know it’s Tuesday today, not Friday. I’ve been following the blog Flash Fiction Friday for the last several weeks and I’m excited that I finally had enough free time this week to participate. Flash Fiction Friday is a community writing project that invites people to write a short story every week based on that week’s prompt. The entry has to conform to any specific requirements mentioned and be posted by Wednesday.
I told a friend I was writing a story for this week’s prompt and he said “What do you get if you win?” It took me a few minutes to realize he thought the entry was for a contest that awarded a prize for the best story. It took me a while to explain that the story IS the reward.
I don’t expect to be able to participate every week, but I will try to take part as often as I can. It thrills me to no end to know there are other people out there writing stories simply for the joy of writing.
So, without further ado, here’s this week’s entry!
Prompt: Use the starter sentence “You know Javier, poets say that in the spring a young man’s thoughts turn to love, but I think they’re wrong.”
Word Limit: 1,000 words
Deadline: 9/28 at 8:30 EST
The Currency of Death
“You know, Javier, poets say that in the spring a young man’s thoughts turn to love, but I think they’re wrong.”
“How many times do I have to tell you, mister? My name ain't Javier. I'm not even Hispanic!”
“No, it's not love his mind turns to when the flowers bloom. It's something far more sinister, more base. Wouldn't you agree, Javier?”
“Fine. You know what? Call me Javier all you want. I don't care. I just need to know where you wanna go, k? Where do you want me to drive ya?”
“A young man's desires drive his mind, take him where they will, but never more than in the beginning of the new year. Life springs up all around him, suffocating him with its vitality. Do you know what young men do when faced with such vigor?”
“Look, I don't really care, mister.”
“Oh, but you should care, Javier. You are a young man, are you not? It is of you I speak!”
“You know I'm just driving around aimlessly, right? The meter's runnin' and it's on your dime. So do ya wanna tell me where to go or not?”
For the first time since entering the cab, the old man sat silently. He sighed in resignation. “I've been telling you, Javi. My stop is here, but yours will never come. Not until you've sated your primal nature, rent the blooms from their stalks, and crushed Imbolc beneath your heel.”
“Here? Like, right here? You know there ain't nothing but vacant buildings in this part 'o town. You're gonna get yourself mugged getting out here.”
The man waited for the cab to come to a full stop before stepping out into the street. Holding the door open, he looked back at the cabbie. “Heed my words, Javier. I was a young man once, too, and I see that darkness in every shrug of your shoulder, every turn of your head.”
“Geez Louise! I'm getting sick of your bullshit, mister. You gonna pay me or what?”
The old man dug in his coat pocket for a minute before pulling and tossing a coin onto the driver's side seat. The cabbie reached over and grabbed it. “A quarter? Your fare's more than a lousy qua- JESUS!” The coin burned the skin off the cabbie's fingers where he had touched it, filling the air with the smell of charred flesh.
“That hurt, you friggin'- Hey! Where'd you go?!”
The cab door still stood open but the sidewalk was empty. Muttering under his breath, the cabbie got a roll of paper towels out of the trunk, wrapped his hand with it, and kicked the back door shut as he walked back to his seat.
“Crazy 'ol loon. Last time I'm pickin' up anyone from Montrose.”
The cabbie drove down several streets to the nearest coffee shop. A waitress looked up from refilling a truck driver's coffee mug when she heard the jingle of the front door opening. “Hey, darlin'. Be with you in a minute.”
“Take your time, miss. I'm in no hurry,” was the cabbie's response as he leaned against the front bar and waited his turn. Halfway through looking at the menu, he felt a hand on his left shoulder. He turned to see a man staring at him intently.
Letting go of his shoulder, the stranger said, “Xavier? Isn't it pretty early for you to be out? It looks like you forgot your 'tools', too. I didn't think you ever left your house without them.”
“Look, my name ain't X-whatever; It's Ray. I don't usually drive this far into town, mister, so I guarantee ya you got the wrong guy.”
The stranger looked puzzled a moment, then his face cracked open into a big smile. “You're kidding, right? Man, it's so not like you to josh around! You drink something weird or somethin'?”
Ray's right hand balled into a fist, further saturating the paper towels wrapped around his fingers with blood. “I ain't joking around, mister. I'm not this X guy and I'm not in any mood to play games right now.”
The stranger's smile faltered and, after a few moments, died entirely. “It's been a while since you've done this. Look, I'm not playing around. I've been waiting for you all afternoon.”
“You were waiting for me?”
The stranger ran his fingers through his hair and sighed loudly. “Man, I hate when you space out like this.” Grabbing Ray's arm, he led him to a back table and they sat down. “I'm Tom. You're Xavier. We're exorcists. Got that? Here, I'm supposed to give you this. Monseigneur entrusted me to give you this if he should ever pass away. Well, guess what, our friend the Bishop has died a most unnatural death and I'm complying with his last wishes.”
Tom pushed a leather wrapped package towards Ray, who pushed it right back at him.
“Whoa. Just...whoa. You're a what? No way. This ain't happening. Whoever you think I am, I'm NOT. This is crazy. I'm getting outta here.”
Tom pulled the string on the package and it fell open, its contents spilling onto the table before the cabbie could get up.
“He left this for you. Not me, YOU. It's really important that you take it, o.k.? God! Today of all days, why can't you be acting friggin' normal?”
Ray didn't respond to Tom's outburst because his eyes were riveted to a silver hand-mirror that had spilled out in front of him. Looking into it, he saw two other faces superimposed over his own. They were all him, but not him. The bone structure was the same for each face, as was the hair and eyes. But the similarities ended there. The longer he stared into the glass, the clearer the faces become, until they started separating, one from the other. Ray felt a burning begin in his chest then, and it spread across his body and intensified with every second his eyes remained glued to the mirror. Only ten seconds had passed before Ray was in agony.
“Hey, you o.k., man? You don't look too goo- Holy shnikey!” Tom reached out and tried to move the mirror, but it was riveted to its spot on the table. Thinking quickly, he grabbed the leather wrappings it came in and threw it over the mirror, breaking its connection with the cabbie.
“You o.k., man? Sorry about that. I should have known the Monseigneur would leave you something powerful. The runes carved on these wrappings should have been a give-a-way, but I didn't want to go through the package's contents without you.”
Ray sat dazed. “What was I looking at? What were those faces? And why do I hurt so bad?”
Before Tom could answer, a bestial shriek cut through the coffee shop, coming from all directions at once. Patrons were pointing to a spot on the far wall that was darker than the surrounding shadows. The spot grew steadily until it engulfed an entire wall. It moved towards the nearest table and that's when the screaming began. People sat paralyzed as they were ripped limb from limb, the shadow beast stopping only to shake more cries from its dying victims.
As fast as he could, Tom bundled up the items on the table back into a package and shoved it at the cabbie. “Get outta here, NOW!”
“What the hell is going on?!”
“Go, just GO! You don't have your tools on you! I'll deal, so go!”
His confusion mingling with fear, Ray ran to his cab, looking back once to see Tom grappling with a shadow. Claws tore at Tom's abdomen and Ray turned away just as Tom's innards spilled onto the floor.
“Ohmygod. Ohmygod. Ohmygod. This isn't happening.” Ray's hands shook as he turned the key in the ignition. The car sputtered and stalled.
“Oh no. Not today, not now. Please, baby. Work for daddy. Come on, come on...”
The engine revved so quickly that the car jumped forward, jostling everything in the cab. Ray pushed the car into drive and slammed his foot down on the gas. The contents of the cab shifted again as it sped off, causing a quarter-sized coin to slip unseen under the floor mat. Glancing up at the rear-view mirror, Ray saw the coffee shop disappear as it was engulfed in darkness.
Photo credit: JCarlosN