Second Chance {Fantasy Flash Fiction May}

 

 

Photo by Savs on Unsplash

Photo by Savs on Unsplash

Second Chance by Natasha Brown

Penetrating smells filled her nostrils, but they weren’t the promising kind. Not the kind that held the potential of food. She’d already nosed around the metal trashcan and turned over a canister filled with something dark that had spilled onto her paws, soaking into her fur and pores. It tingled on contact and was so pungent, she barely smelled anything else.

A noise echoed down the alley, and she stopped to stare in the direction it had come. Her dry nose lifted so she could blink out at the street. It had been too many days since she’d been separated from her brothers and sister. They’d been gathered up by a human. But she had remained tucked under a parked car. It was what she was good at—hiding.

She arched her neck to gawk at the people passing by before scurrying farther down the alley. A ribbon of acrid smoke curled above her head, and she was startled to discover a human sitting on a concrete step. Her body coiled to bolt, to take her far away from this scary, unknown situation, but she stopped.

She stared at the young man with his head hanging low and a strange feeling took hold of her. Her heart pattered even faster in her immature body as he glanced up at her. His green eyes were filled with sadness. She knew what that looked like, for it had consumed much of her life.

The young man pressed his smoking stick into the ground, put on his hat and held out his hand to her. This normally would have signaled trouble. Today, this moment was different. She took a cautious step toward him until his fingers were close enough to touch her dirty chin. His smell was familiar to her.

“Hey, there. You alone, too?” the young man muttered and ran his fingers from the top of her head to the base of her spine. It was such a pleasing sensation, she moved even closer so he could repeat it. The corners of his mouth upturned. “Looks like you could use a bath.”

He reached into his pocket, unwrapped something and held it out to her. She didn’t have to smell it to know it was food and swallowed it without even chewing. Her stomach groaned, and in that instant, she gave into the feeling that came over her. Trust.

The young man lifted her into his lap, and she let him. He held her close, smearing the grease that covered her paws onto his clothing. He didn’t seem to mind. Instead, he opened his backpack and lowered her inside. Strangely, it made her feel safe being held, not having to worry about her legs carrying her someplace new. Her head bobbed around as she watched the city move by. Exhaustion consumed her, and she let her eyes droop until she fell asleep.

Movement woke her. She was being pulled out of the bag and lowered onto a tiled floor. She perked up her ears and raised her head to stare into the young man’s melancholy face. His half-smile assured her everything was okay, but she backed into his legs as a loud sound filled the room.

“You’re safe.” His voice echoed softly. “You need to get clean.”

She’d heard that before. She was almost positive.

He lifted her into a large white basin filled with warm water. Never had she been bathed like this before, yet it seemed such a familiar action. Dark plumes of dirt and oil filtered away from her smelly body, threatening to contaminate the remaining water. Flowery smelling soap was massaged through her fur until bubbles spilled down her legs. Her muscles shook with pleasure.

She was taken from the basin and set on the floor. Instinctively, she shook herself off, splattering droplets across the room. The young man raised his hands and laughed. “I’ll get you a towel.”

He opened the door, and she saw into the place he’d taken her. A hallway filled with more doors. Bedrooms.

He walked out of the tiled bathroom, and she took a step closer to the threshold. She cocked her head and realized she knew this place.

Without hesitation, she went down the hallway to a door that wasn’t latched, pushed it open and slipped inside. Posters of bands covered the walls, dried flowers hung from the dark curtained window and a box sat beside the closet. She padded over to touch her nose to the cards that filled the cardboard container. This place felt empty like it was missing something.

She took another step toward the closet. Clothing hung like Spanish moss nearly to the shoe-covered floor, yet she stepped into the darkness out of habit. Hiding was what she did best. She stumbled over the boots and flats that would never be worn again until she reached the corner and curled up, resting her chin on an old teddy bear.

This was where she remained while the young man called for her from the hallway. “Where are you, puppy?”

His voice traveled near and far as his echoing footsteps rattled the floorboards. His cries got more frantic, and again, she sensed she had heard this before. Except, he was saying her name all wrong. It wasn’t puppy, it was Penny. This she was sure.

Then his footsteps slowed and quieted. A shadow blocked the column of light from pouring into her hiding place. The closet door swung open, and there he was. She had never known him to be so sad. He crawled into the dark corner with her and started crying. His whispers were all she heard. “This was where Penny went when she was feeling sad. This is where I found her.”

She lifted her chin from its resting place on the teddy bear to drag herself closer to him. Her wet paws touched his quivering chest, and she stretched her nose closer to his face. Tears traced their way down his cheeks and lips. He was always the more emotional one.

When she struggled to feel anything more than emptiness and sadness, he was the one playing guitar in the sun or laughing with his friends in his room. She barely recognized him so grief-stricken.

“She left me,” he choked through his tears. “I’m all alone.”

And she knew why she was there.

She started licking his face, clearing away his salty lament and laid her wet body across his chest. His hands fumbled to pet her clean, soggy fur, and he stopped crying. They remained curled together until she dried completely and the light coming in through the window dimmed.

For the first time she could remember, she had purpose. She would be there for him the way he needed her most. Loyal companionship. Love. This was her second chance.

He took a deep breath and carried her out of the room that held so many sad memories, shutting the door behind them. And in the twilight, she chased him around the yard until his laughter danced through the neighborhood, chasing away the day.

Desert Wind {Fantasy Flash Fiction April}

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Heat expanded in Liza’s lungs, making it hard to breathe. She tilted her head toward the open passenger window. The warm breeze swept her black hair around her face, and she blinked at her reflection in the sideview mirror as the desert landscape sped by. Her lipstick and eyeliner were perfect. As it should be on her wedding day.
“Hey, babe?”
She turned to blink at Pete. He was in his favorite pair of jeans and the button-up shirt he wore for interviews. His hair was disheveled as it normally was, and a pair of aviators were perched on the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t exactly the man she’d imagined settling down with when she’d daydreamed about her future, but he’d asked and she was alone.
“Yeah?” she asked.
Pete pulled out a cigarette and pinched it between his lips. “Did you bring any cash? I want to go out tonight and try my hand at roulette. Tony told me the secret to making easy money.”
After twelve years of working every job she was qualified for and a few she wasn’t, Liza knew there was no such thing. Every dollar she’d made was from hard, sometimes dirty work. She sighed. “I have enough for the basic wedding package—a thousand. You said you had enough for the hotel, right?”
Pete pulled the unlit cigarette from between his lips and scowled at her. “How much to get married? I was thinking it would be like a hundred. What a rip off. They’re just preying on daydreamers who want to be sold a fairytale. We should take that money and put it to good use—double or triple it.”
Liza looked down at the layers of white mesh that covered her legs. She’d found a wedding dress at the Spend Thrift before they left town for Vegas. It had a stain on side of the bodice, so she’d thrown on her black leather jacket to cover it. She was sweating like crazy because the car’s air conditioning was broken. But whoever said looking good was easy.
She stared at Pete’s profile and couldn’t keep her annoyance from her voice. “I thought we were going to Vegas to get married, not to make money.”
He grabbed his lighter and lit the end of his awaiting cigarette. The acrid smoke filled the air before getting swept out the windows. Liza scrunched her nose and sighed.
“Only money will get me into the ground floor of Tony’s new business.” He held his cigarette near the open window, and bright ashes were carried into the backseat.
Liza frowned. “But, I thought…”
“Oh my God! You just don’t get it. This isn’t going to work.” Pete glanced to the side, put on his blinker and slowed onto the dusty shoulder of the empty highway. “Grab your crap and get out. I don’t need a wife or anyone else who questions all of my life decisions. I already have a mom.”
Liza stared at him in disbelief. She’d known he was impulsive and self-centered to a fault, but this was just crazy. “Can you at least take me into town?”
He reached across her lap and opened her door. “Show a little leg and someone should stop for you.”
Liza grabbed her purse and stepped out of the car. She was about to reach into the back to get her bag when Pete started driving away. The wind carried off the string of profanities she yelled at him, and within moments, she was standing alone on the desert highway in the hot sun.
Tears welled in her eyes, but she quickly wiped them away and collected herself. Her feet started getting warm in her combat boots. At least she hadn’t worn a pair of flats.
Liza looked up and down the highway and saw nothing but scrub brush, dirt and rocks. It seemed she would need to start walking, so she continued in the direction Pete had driven. Her boots scuffed against the gravel, sending up a wisp of dust in the wind.
Liza’s thoughts were consumed with anger toward Pete until movement caught her eye. Off the side of the highway beyond a dusty slope, a pair of eyes stared at her. She squinted beyond the scrub brush, recognizing the bird’s feathered mohawk. A roadrunner.
It began to scurry parallel to the highway before stopping to look back at her. She took a few quick steps to follow, and a smile crept onto her lips. Memories flooded her thoughts of her Grandpa, the man who’d raised her. How he’d sit on the deck of his Arizona home, watching wildlife and hand feeding the wild roadrunners raw meat as they passed through.
When she’d ask him why he did it, he’d answered, “Because, my desert flower, they are protectors. They have traveled far and wide and know every trail from here to the sea, and if you are ever lost, they may remember our kindness.”
The smudge of red feathers on the bird’s head was the only burst of color in the beige landscape. She ignored the heat, finding purpose in her steady pace. Her grandpa was with her. She felt him in the wind at her back, pushing her forward.
The roadrunner scurried from grassy hillock to sandy dune and stopped to look back at her. Without having noticed, she came upon a turnout. A large tan bus was parked in the sun and light reflected off its dusty windows. Liza rubbed the sweat from her brow.
The doors opened, revealing an elderly woman with a creased grin. She put her hand on her hip and tisked. “Honey, you look like you could use a drink.”
At the thought of water, Liza’s throat closed up, and she nodded, unable to speak.
The woman waved her over to the vehicle. “Are you alone, sweetheart?”
Liza glanced to the dunes, finding the roadrunner’s eyes blinking back at her. Then the wind swept around her in an embrace.
She swallowed and climbed into the bus with a smile on her lips. “No, I don’t think I am.”

Judgment {Fantasy Flash Fiction March}

He’d had enough.

The streetlights were on, shining palely on the colorless pavement. Taxis rushed by Jeremy while he walked down the darkened street just as he always did after getting off the subway. It was well past seven and the commute rush had subsided over an hour ago.

He gripped his briefcase tight, thinking about the things he needed to accomplish tomorrow. If his partner knew what dedication was, she would’ve stayed to help him get the financial research done. But apparently, her family required her lazy smile for dinner. These were the kinds of excuses people made to cover their incompetence.

Jeremy swept his hand over the breast of his suit, freeing a wisp of lint. He hurried to catch the signal so he could cross the street and avoid waiting outside the bistro all of the millennials flocked to with their tattoos and strange colored hair. He imagined they all worked in bookstores and made money off their blogs, or vlogs, or whatever it was they did these days. They were the sort who didn’t know what a long day of hard work felt like.

Moisture hung in the air, and the smell of wet pavement filled his lungs. He glanced up at the clouds in the night sky, trying to beat the storm home. He only had to go a few more blocks until his doorman would welcome him in. Jeremy hoped the cleaning lady had actually taken care of the stains on the carpet beside his door. He’d left a note for the second time, demanding she do a proper job. He wasn’t paying her to spray something on it and hope for the best. But he supposed that was why he made a higher salary than her—skill and knowledge were worth something.

A deep rumble echoed down the street. It reverberated off the concrete and rattled up Jeremy’s spine through his feet. Droplets smacked against the sidewalk and the top of his head. Rain began to pelt full force onto the city below. He quickened his step, the sound of his leather soles slapping the cement was lost in the all-consuming roar.

A bright bolt of lightning struck a street sign and everything went silent. It felt as if the air itself pounded against his eardrums and chest. Jeremy slid to a stop, panting, his eyes wide. He stumbled away from the street and threw himself against the cold brick wall beside him. The bright glow of a neon sign turned his gray suit red. His ragged breathing tore at his throat, and he reached for the doorknob near his hand and quickly darted into the shop.

He stood dripping on the entry rug, gazing outside at the torrential storm when a woman’s voice greeted him. “That was close.”

“What?” he said, turning to find its source.

He was standing in a dimly lit shop he’d never been in before. Beaded strands hung from the ceiling and crystals sat on shelves. The smell of some sort of herb or flower filled the air, causing him to cough reflexively. A tattooed woman walked up to him and flashed a ruby-lipped smile. Her hair was the color of the Mediterranean Sea, and she was very surly half his age.

“Come sit.” She took hold of his sleeve and led him to a padded chair that smelled of his youth.

“No, I need to get home.” He tried to resist, but she was far stronger than he expected. He fell back into the seat, and she flashed him another smile. In her hands were the largest cards he’d ever seen. She was shuffling them effortlessly.

She fanned them out before him and said, “Pick one.”

Jeremy pressed his hands against the chair to get up, but she lowered the cards close to his face, winked at him, and said, “Just something to pass the time until it’s safe outside. No charge—just pick one.”

In order to leave, he decided to appease her and lifted his hand. “Fine.”

His fingers danced along the smooth cards until he stopped and pinched one in his grasp. As he gave it a tug, an image filled his head. He saw his cleaning woman reading the note he’d left on the counter and the pained expression on her face. He watched her hunch on her hands and knees, scrubbing away at his carpet. Realizing the stain was still there, she grabbed her purse and coat and left the building to hurry to the closest market. She stooped to gather various supplies and took them to the register. She held out a single twenty-dollar bill to the clerk. Her change was dropped into her waiting palm, which she counted quietly. With a sad smile, she deposited it in her pocket and returned to the apartment.

Though she kept checking the clock on the wall, she continued to scrub and work on the discolored stain on the carpet. Finally, she straightened with her hand at the low of her back and cleaned the remainder of his place. She collected her buckets of supplies and walked street after street to get to the bus stop and was taken across town. With a smile affixed to her face, she nodded at the people she passed until she walked up the front steps of her own tiny apartment.

When she walked through the door, voices greeted her, “Momma! Did you bring home dinner?”

Another sad, creased smile touched her lips, and she answered, “Not tonight. Not until payday.”

“Why not?”

The cleaning woman answered, “Because a job isn’t done unless it’s done right.”

The vision faded from Jeremy’s mind, and he was left holding a card in his hands. A single word filled him with shame. Judgment.

The rain had stopped, and he was standing out on the sidewalk. He tilted his head back to stare at the cloudless sky. Jeremy glanced back at the shop and was surprised to discover the windows covered with newspaper and that the door was locked.

He looked at the card in his hand, frowned and put it in his pocket.

New Moon {Fantasy Flash Fiction February}

alessandro-viaro-94370

unsplash-logoAlessandro Viaro

New Moon – by Natasha Brown

Sweaty and hot from dancing in the cabin all night, Clarie stepped outside. The new moon cast its shadowed face on the snow-covered firs covering the mountainside. But the stars. It was their bright points of light that glimmered and made the ice crystals shimmer like a priceless blanket.

The crisp air cooled Clarie’s face and neck. She zipped up her jacket and moved down the front steps of the lodge, her feet crunching in the snow as she went. The sounds of music and laughter wafted from the party she’d just left, a college graduation bash. It was something she’d never done before; cross-country skiing into the untouched Sierra Nevada landscape to stay at a secluded lodge.

Clarie tilted her head back to gaze at the stars. Her breath billowed into a cloud above her as her eyes traced from one series of points to another. Across the snowy meadow rose the pointed forest. She thought she saw two glassy orbs reflect back at her, and she squinted into the dark, imagining a coyote watching her from afar.

A burst of screams and laughter came from the lodge once again. Clarie turned to gaze back at the stone and wood building. Smoke filtered from the chimney into the night sky. She smiled and returned her focus to the wilderness.

The silhouette of a man stood fifty yards away in the clearing of the snow-covered meadow. His head was tilted back to stare at the stars. Clarie’s breath caught in her throat. She hadn’t seen him moments before, she was sure.

“Who are you?” her voice cracked as she called out.

He continued to stare at the constellations. Had he heard her or was he simply ignoring the question? Clarie swallowed. Maybe he lived nearby or was the caretaker of the property.

Just as she was questioning if she should call out to him again, he turned to look at her. Though he was a distance away, the snow reflected what little light there was into a dull glow. His dark hair came down to his shoulders, and his eyes blinked curiously at her. He began to walk toward her.

Clarie tried to step back, but she couldn’t. She found herself fixed in place. So, she simply watched his approach. Her voice had gone out, like a candle’s flame in the wind.

When the man was only a few strides away from her, the light from the lodge illuminated his almond skin and hazel eyes. There was no appearance of madness or anger, simply curiosity. He came even closer, dressed all in black, and she wondered at his handsome features instead of fearing for her life.

He came to stand beside her and pointed up to the moon. She followed his focus to the darkened astronomical body and breathed in the smell of the firs. He said nothing to her, made no noise. He held out his hand, palm up. Clarie couldn’t help herself. She raised her hand to touch his.

His skin was cool and smooth. It felt the way a human’s flesh should feel, but she knew he was something else. Something more.

From somewhere behind her, an owl hooted into the expanse. She looked but couldn’t spot the animal. Clarie returned her gaze forward. Her hand was still held up in the chilly air, though the man was gone. She stared into the horizon, but there was no sign of him anywhere. No footprints, no silhouette, no hazel eyes.

The edge of the moon shined bright, its crescent aglow. Clarie raised her palm to the sky, letting its light bath her skin just as the sharp cries of a coyote filled the night.