Tag: Flash fiction (Page 1 of 3)

Unnecessary Ceremonies Flash

Validation is one thing, pandering is another.

Did you know they have Kindergarten graduation now? Preschool graduation? Participation trophies and ribbons and certificates that celebrate you losing your first tooth and a different certificate that says you successfully grew an adult tooth? Great, now we’re congratulating kids on a bodily function over which they have absolutely no control.

I was good with high school graduation, that’s such a milestone in people’s lives, the culmination of some people’s education. And then there’s college graduation and then grad school graduation, but most people seem to ignore that one because they just can’t be bothered to spend three hours in uncomfortable seats to be reminded of just how much money they now owe the US government. And, okay, maybe the kids graduating from brat-school are kind of cute, but things are just getting out of control.

Today my kid came home from scouts and proudly handed my a yellow ribbon which proclaimed “I’m Special!” but with no indication what for. “Congrats, honey, I guess, what’s it for?”

“I was the only kid to not cut myself learning how to use the knife today!”

“That’s great, but at 14, shouldn’t everybody be able to avoid cutting themselves?” Have I mentioned just how sheltered these over-validated childlings are getting as well?

“Maybe. But the Court of Honor is next week! Are you coming?”

“Didn’t we just have one a month ago?”

“Yes, but they’re making them monthly now instead of quarterly so we can get our badges and patches sooner.”

I remembered having to wait until the twice yearly ceremony to see my badges, the three or four that I had managed to earn through blood, sweat and tears. Lots of tears sometimes. Especially that wilderness survival one, I didn’t appreciate being left in the middle of the woods alone at night. Very funny, guys. “I guess I can be there, what are you getting?”

“Homework Completion badge, finally, and I get my patch for not falling down a mountain this time!”

I patted them on the head and said, “I couldn’t be proud. Absolutely could not.”

 

 

"I'm Special" ribbon

Tongue Out Flash

And here’s the other piece of flash fiction that I owe you! If you don’t remember, it was in response to this guy:

An older man with wild white hair and beard sticks his tongue out to the camera

 

I leaned against a fresh fence post, leaning back and forth, waiting for my turn. “Granda, how long have you lived out here?”

He paused midway through yanking out another clod of soil with his post-holer and stepped back, wiping down his face with the bandanna he always kept in his back left pocket. “I would guess it’s about 60 years now. Your gran and I bought this place soon after we got married. Didn’t have any barns or anything then, just wide and open as far as you could see. We weren’t in it for the farming, which you can’t right do in most of Montana anyway, and we had no desire for ranching, we just wanted the space to either side of us, enough room to stretch a little.” He tucked the bandanna away and yanked the ‘holer from the ground, neatly removing his clump of dirt.

“This was back when you started teaching, right?”

He nodded to himself before shoving the ‘holer into the ground for it’s final time. “When I thought I could still make a smidge of difference at it.” He tossed the ‘holer aside and beckoned me forward with the final fence post. I stepped forward and slammed it down into the hole and started nudging dirt in around it with my foot.

“Why’d you ever stop, anyway? Mom always says you were a great teacher, one of the best.” I stamped and stamped around the post, trying to pack the dirt in as tight as I could.

“That’s good, that’s good, let it rest. I’m not going to string the wire tonight anyway.” He turned and slung the ‘holer over his shoulder and started back down the hill towards the barn that stood beside his house.

“Granda, really. Why? No one ever talks about it and I hate not talking about things.” I nearly ran into the ‘holer over his shoulder, he stopped so fast. His shoulders drooped and he dropped the tool to the ground before turning to me.

“Because it didn’t make one whit of difference when I’d be teaching this baby boys and they’d just go off and get themselves killed in war, or these young girls who’d just go and get pregnant. They were only at college to catch a man anyway. Once they’d accomplished that…pft, off they’d go. I got tired of trying to pound an ounce of knowledge into skulls too thick to make any use of it. That and after Marta died I may have slept with the Dean’s wife…and the Bursar’s wife. They weren’t too kindly towards me after that, let me tell you.”

“I…well. Not what I was expecting to hear, not by a long shot.”

“And just what were you expecting? Murder and intrigue on the high seas? The romance of the life of a rancher overwhelmed my distaste for these rotten creatures? Hell, boy, you watch too many movies. Life happened, end of story. Things change, your fate rises and falls, and sometimes you can’t do a damn things about it.”

I gave a half laugh. “Sounds like you were making your fate rise and fall all on your own, over and over again, am I right?” I nudged him in the ribs and winked Three Stooges style and he stuck his tongue out at me before slinging the post-holer back over his shoulder and starting back down to the barn.

Food Flash

So I’m almost all caught up and refocused, so here’s one of the fiction pieces I owe you! In case you forgot, one of the pending writing prompts had to do with food…
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I’d never known that I was different until I started a biology class in college where the professor had a particular fascination with synesthetes. You see, in this incredibly small portion of society, the senses are somehow linked together. Some people associate scents with particular words or colors even. That seems to be the most common, the words/letters with colors thing. At least, that’s what most of the literature seems to be about. It yaks on and on about all the famously talented people in the history of the world who were helped along by this slightly unfair advantage. I mean, when a composer sees colors associated with his music, he has an extra leg up because he can actually see if what he’s creating is beautiful, am I right? Maybe, who knows. Maybe I just want to believe that.

You see, I haven’t found anyone else like me in the literature yet and I’m hoping that this actually has some useful application rather than being the horrid nuisance that it has been for most of my life. For me, my sense of taste is directly linked to tactile sensations. And not just unilaterally, either, which seems to be unique unto me. When I eat, I feel things over my entire body and when I touch things, I taste them. Their texture and temperature seems to be the biggest factor for what I taste.

You ask what this means for me; let me give you an example. I have to buy 1500 thread count sheets because anything less leaves me awake all night long because every time I turn over I taste sulphur as the fabric scratches across my skin. I can’t eat anything minty in public because it stimulates…well…rather pleasant regions of my body. In fact, mint chocolate chip ice cream can send me right to an orgasm after a few bites.

I’ve broken up with people because the texture of their hands made me wretch and I’ve fallen in love with others because the taste they leave in my mouth is just so sweet. I hardly ever go to restaurants because hidden spices and herbs in my food can leave me itchy or feel like I’m burning.

I sat down to talk to my professor about all of this one day and ask for his advice in dealing with my problems. I was just so tired of not being able to function like any normal human being, shying away from touching anything when I’m out and spending outrageous amounts of money on clothing and furnishings just so I could live a comfortable life.

After his initial flurry of questions, most of which were fairly standard to determine whether someone was a true synesthete (I am, fyi) he asked me how I fed myself. We’d already been over the topic of restaurants, but we hadn’t talked all that much about what I did like in food. I started to tell him about the experiments I used to do when I was younger, combining different spices from my mother’s cabinet just to see how they would make me feel.

And then he asked whether I had ever consciously constructed a meal to evoke particular feelings. I hadn’t really thought about it until then, but that’s what I did on a daily basis. I knew certain combinations of foods made me feel good and didn’t set off any unpleasant sensations and I normally stuck to a fairly safe but boring standard fare. Pasta was good because it was a fairly neutral feeling, sort of this subdued warm glow. I could always rely on it when I’d had a bad day.

Then he asked, what if you started deliberately designing meals to make you feel a certain way, three course meals, five course meals that took me on a tactile journey, almost like making love to myself with the food. I joked I’d always end with mint chocolate chip ice cream and he laughed a bit uncomfortably. But seriously, he said, what if?

So I went home and thought about it for a while, tried a few combinations of flavors out, went shopping, and then sent out invitations to several friends and my professor to join me in a gustatory evening of trial and error. I had planned it all out…appetizers, salads, main course, dessert, and if my tactile senses didn’t steer me wrong, then this was going to instill feelings of warmth and soothing pleasure in all of my guests.

They arrived one at a time and I plied them with a wine I had matched to the meal, just to ensure they were a bit lubricated before introducing them to my cuisine. I’d never cooked for anyone else before, so I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I was going to get.

The appetizers left me with a fizzy sensation tingling up my fingers and no one had anything bad to say about my home-made tapanades and crackers, so I moved them on to the salad. It was Mediterranean inspired, but with a slightly different spice base since cilantro leaves me feeling like nails had just run down a chalkboard. For the main course I served fish done in honey and mint, but a more gentle orange-mint so as not to overstimulate myself. Instead, it just left me feeling primed and amorous. And I finished it all up with a fruit tart with fresh mango sorbet on the side that defuses my arousal and leaves me with a pleasant post-coital glow.

I leaned back, savoring the last of the wine in my glass and asked my friends what they thought, if they had any ideas or suggestions. Did they like it? To a one, they were quiet, but most of them were grinning happily, a few of the more reserved friends looked a little sheepish and confused. My professor raised his glass in a silent salute.

Eventually, they recovered themselves enough to make a bit of small talk as we were clearing the dishes and they slowly trickled out, leaving the professor and me to talk as I started the dishes. I floated the idea of transferring to a culinary institute but he just shook his head and instead offered the idea of molecular gastronomy, sticking with the hard sciences like physics and chemistry, mainly because he felt I’d already surpassed what most people learned at a culinary school. He wondered if I couldn’t take things to a whole new level and completely revolutionize the concepts of comfort food or a dinner date. Imagine, food that feels like a caress, a kiss, a mother’s soothing touch. What if I could replicate that for everyone, anytime?

Mother Flash

Sorry for the delay today! I keep posting prompts I’m unsure how to respond to and then it takes me a while to think up something I’m happy with…
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Doreen wandered around the small one-bedroom apartment, idly adjusting the tchotchkes to a better arrangement. A better angle on the room, pulling them out from behind each other so someone walking in the front door could see them all. She was waiting for Mrs. Lebowitz to get home from her weekly bingo night, ready to greet her at the door.

She had always been fond of the old biddy, admired the strength the woman had for living out her life all on her own, both her husband and children having passed already. She had promised Doreen that when she finally passed on, Doreen would get her population voucher. The precious spot on the Earth, fulfilling the maximum population numbers as set down decades before Doreen was born. Her parents had been lucky enough to score two when a childless aunt and uncle passed and so she got to have a brother. But now, all she wanted was a voucher of her own.

Because she was pregnant again.

They never could quite figure out how they had gone about it wrong, Doreen and her husband. They followed all the contraceptive laws but somehow they kept getting pregnant. Super fertile or something like that. But she was never allowed to keep the baby. It didn’t matter if you kept the pregnancy secret for months, the state always figured it out and issued a Decrease Population order, which for all the fancy wording in the nation, only meant a state-mandated abortion. They’d even take the life right out of you a week before the due date, if you hid it that long.

But this time she would have her baby. A little girl, she just knew it. She would have a voucher in hand by the end of the week. Doreen never really wanted it to get this…difficult, but she didn’t see how she had any other choice now. At the last abortion, the doctor had told her she couldn’t suffer through any more or she’d never be able to have children. He’d jokingly handed her the pamphlets on “If your contraceptive isn’t working” and left her bleeding on the table for the nurses to take care of.

A key rattled in the door and Doreen took one last look around the apartment, at the disarray she had carefully instilled to make it look like a robbery. Then she stepped behind the wall dividing the entryway from the kitchen and fingered the handle of the knife she carried.

“For my baby,” she whispered.

Silo Trees Flash

“Oh, pull over, pull over, this one is perfect!” Trish reached into the back seat of their volvo and dragged her camera bag onto her lap. Cody sighed and turned on his hazard lights, drifting to a stop on the old country highway.

“Haven’t you run out of film yet? This is the fifteenth farm you’ve said is perfect in the last two days.” He slumped in his seat, arms crossed as the traffic whisking by made the car rock.

“Nope! I’ve been rationing myself.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask.”

“I’ve made it through 30 rolls of film so far and have another 15 still in the trunk. I’ll be right back!” She leaped out of the car and hurried to the broken fence surrounding a farm house that was boarded up and falling in.

“You should try going digital!” Cody shouted from the open window, but Trish ignored him. “I had to date an artist. Photography’s not art, it’s record keeping.” He pulled out the latest graphic novel from Darkhorse and prepared for a long wait. She could take upwards of an hour trying to get just the right angle and light on these stupid buildings. One of these days she was going to get herself shot for trespassing and all he was going to do was laugh.

“Cody!”

For a second he thought she had been caught and felt briefly bad about laughing at the mental image of Trish with buckshot in her ass. But when he looked up at her bustling through the field, she was laughing.

“You’ve got to see this, come on!”

He sighed, turned the car off and waited for a break in traffic before getting out. Maybe if he humored her they would actually get to their friend’s cabin before dark.

When he reached the fence, she had already disappeared behind the house again, so he made his way through the waist high grass, praying there were no ticks. When he made it around, inspecting his legs all the while for ticks, he sighed. “What is it?”

“Look.” She was just in front of him, pointing towards a small silo that had been obscured from the road. It took him a moment for his brain to make sense of the scene, but he finally figured that the tree he saw had to be growing out the top of the silo and not behind it.

“Is that tree actually in the silo?”

“Yes, I’ve heard of this but never seen it before. A seed blows in, grows straight up for years with hardly any sun and then, bam, it hits the clear sky and just explodes. They call them Silo Trees. How imaginative. Let’s see if we can climb in!” She ran off towards the silo, camera jouncing against her breast.

Cody followed more slowly, still finding it hard to get his mind to accept the layering of the landscape as he knew it had to be. The lower hatch on the silo had rotted away ages ago and she crawled in, Cody right behind her. They were barely in before she was angling around with her camera, hunting for just the right lighting.

The snapping of the shutter annoyed him and he reached around her and took the camera out of her hands just as the shutter snapped at an odd angle. “Hey! You ruined the shot!”

“Shhh.” He pulled her close to him, so they were both facing the tree. “Just take a moment and see this, don’t just look at it. How long do you think it took this tree to do this?”

She squirmed a little, but gave in when he refused to loosen his hold. “I dunno, a long time.” She made a grab for her camera which he held out of her reach for a moment more, hoping she’d quiet down. She didn’t

He finally gave her back her camera and she started rolling around on the ground looking for just the right angle. He shook his head and walked over to the trunk of the tree. “I wish I had the kind of patience this tree had.” It had the straightest trunk he’d ever seen. He made for the hatch, calling back, “Make sure you brush off before getting back in my car.”

She ignored him.

A picture of a silo tree from inside the silo

Public Transportation Flash

I decided his name was Marlin. It just felt right. An old style name for a man who obviously wasn’t all that comfortable in this decade, for all that he was in his early twenties. His black suit was slightly too small and over-drycleaned, the white shirt slightly transparent. His too-short pants legs revealed thick black socks but worn brown shoes that featured two different colors of polish. He carried a faded, gray felt hat and a hardcover book missing its jacket, his hand obscuring the title on the spine. The only part of his attire that looked at all wealthy was a bright blue silk tie and pocket square set. I decided they had been a gift to him.

He sat there, chewing absently on the inside of his lip, occasionally smiling to himself or holding in a yawn, oblivious to the rest of the midday traffic. He had entered the train at MGH and, though I desperately wanted to talk to him, find out what book he was carrying, I found myself held back by his seemingly contented self-absorption.

Instead I started to build a life for him. He was a medical student, since he had gotten on by the hospital, during his last bit of residency. He came from a rural town up in Maine and that was his father’s suit, the tie the only new thing his mother had been able to afford to give him as he was heading off to the city to become a doctor. Because that was all he had ever wanted to be. He had been a healer all his life: stray birds, childhood scrapes and bumps. He never flinched at blood or a broken bone. The town had banded together and raised as much money as they could to send him off to the big city, because they knew it was expensive. Marlin didn’t have the heart to tell them that they only managed to raise enough money for half of one semester. He thanked them profusely, joking that now he didn’t need to find a job while studying.

He planned to return to his home town when he had finished, open a practice with emergency services out in the rural area so things like his father’s accident weren’t such a tragedy. So he focused on trauma medicine, spending as much free time in the ER as humanly possible. In fact, he was just getting off shift now. It had been a good night, no deaths, and slow enough that he could flirt with the desk nurse. He had started to hope that she might follow him home. Maybe at first just as a new nurse for his practice, maybe as more later, when they knew each other better.

The train was entering Harvard now and Marlin stood, shedding the story I had created for him. I wanted to follow him out of the train, catch up to him and talk to him, ask him about his childhood sister and their farm, playing freeze tag in the cow pasture where they pretended that cow patties were freezing landmines. But he was gone and the doors were closed by the time I had worked up the courage to follow.
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Also, this guy:

Man feeding baby squirrel on the T in Boston

Yes, he’s feeding a baby squirrel, on the Red Line in Boston.

Coming of Age Flash

I took this prompt to explore an aspect of the new novel I’m working on, so if it doesn’t all make sense yet, in context of the novel it will. For now, please put up with the unusual terminology.
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“Sadly, most characters don’t make it out of their inspirationcy.” The tour guide ushered a group of newly pressed characters through the incubation hall where characters were kept before their creators shared them with anyone else. Their chambers lined the walls, the characters in various stages of formation from their ember state to nearly full grown characterhood. The characters following the tour guide were only a few days past their pressing themselves, but had been declared readable by the experts at the main Hearth.

Sophia inched passed them on her way to the main hearth, wondering why they chose to show this morbid site to the newly pressed. Half of the characters in the incubation chambers fizzled out at the ember stage, another quarter would fade out before they were even fully formed. The last quarter might make it out of the incubators, but of them, only half were ever considered readable, and many of those had to be confined to various institutions for the criminal or insane. It was a sad truth that most of human literature required evil of some sort to spur the story along, and those characters were written into existence right along with the good.

Even after that winnowing process, only a few characters would make it past their fifth year. At that point, they were either published or shared enough to not be immediately forgotten, or their authors and tellers had given up on them and moved on to new stories. Most people thought that the fading out process was painless, a sort of drifting away from yourself not unlike Alzheimer’s, with the added effect of your body fading along with your mind.

Shhft-pop

An ember Sophia passed shriveled out of existence. Another was slotted into place as she shuddered and hurried on, listening with half an ear to the tour guide. “How many of you have heard of the Cannonizing?” A few hands went up. “Excellent. It’s what we all strive for. If, after 10 years, you have thrived as a character with no major assistance from the Storytellers here, you may be Cannonized. Can anyone tell me what that entails?”

Sophia could, but no one who hadn’t already been through it could possibly come close to knowing. It was a secret kept not through silence, but through active dissemination of ludicrous lies. Mainly because most people were too awed by their experience during the Cannonization to want to talk about it. It was intensely personal.

Essentially, a character was brought to the central hub where there was a feast for all the characters being Cannonized. It used to be for each individual candidate, but was now a huge party due to the sheer volume of characters being created every day. Afterwards, the characters would go singly into the main hearth chamber and kneel before the hearth to hear the voice of the Storyteller, the real one, not the acolytes wandering around. The Storyteller would then whisper a story into your ear. A story you alone got to hear and were required to keep in your heart. It contained all the possibilities for you as a character, all the ways your life could go, and how you yourself could shape it now that you were an established character. It was a pledge from the Storyteller to do Their damndest to keep you in active memory and and demand from you to keep as many characters alive in your heart as possible.

It would feel like hours, when in reality only a few minutes had passed. Sophia was almost certain that they were drugged at the parties in the last 200 years or so since she knew the Storyteller hadn’t spoken to anyone at a Cannonization since her own. She knew because They had told her they would remain silent until she had finished the task set to her.

Language Flash

This one was fun guys, you should totally join in–post your response to yesterday’s prompt in the comments!
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It was my second night on a stool in the new bar. Well, the bar wasn’t new, it was just new to me. And judging by the drapes on the wall of the basement, the ratty rugs, and the leaking bean bag chairs, nothing about this place had been new for a very long time. It didn’t much matter though since it was run out of the basement of a friend of this guy’s and they just served free booze to all their friends. Occasionally people would chip in when they had the money, but mostly the alums from their school kept the booze stocked so the underclassmen didn’t have to pay to get drunk.

I know this sounds all kinds of sketchy, but it’s not, promise. It might have been a lot sketchier except that the entire contingent of patrons was comprised of complete geeks who were much more interested in swapping stories of their latest experiment or LARPing game than getting in the pants of some freshman girl.

And that really seemed to be all that they talked about. Never classes, or work. And it was only occasionally what brew they had going in their test tubes. More likely than not, you’d walk in the back door and down the tight staircase (if you’re over six foot, watch your head) and trip into a conversation about game mechanics and combat.

“Don’t you remember those ‘zed? That game was wicked. I thought for sure you’d have been dead but you’d buffed your regen counter to the point that no one could get a kill shot! And then you were up and took all those poor NPCs out and they had no idea what hit them.”

“I know! But you were really brilliant as the General. Too bad you had to be an NPC, stupid work getting in the way of a perfectly good 10 day. You should have been there, cutting your usual swath through the undergrads.”

“They should develop a mechanic for distance play, for people like me who have to work from fuck-nowhere Canada every week.”

This was LARPing–Live Action Role Playing. To be clear, we’re talking about people who get together, write complicated plot lines and character bios (up to 70 or so) and then run a live game that can take anywhere from 2 hours to 10 days where students and alumni are running around the school firing nerf darts and disc guns at each other, forming alliances, solving puzzles, and generally freaking the hell out of exchange students.

It took me a few conversations to actually understand what these people were talking about: ‘zed referred to the enemy characters in a particular game kind of like zombies; NPC was non-player character or basically just a person wandering around without personal game objectives and were there to move the plot along; mechanics were how the game functioned since you obviously couldn’t actual kill your classmates; buffing your stats meant doing something to get creative with the mechanics in your favor. Luckily, I was a girl who enjoyed gaming, so I could understand a lot of what they were talking about in a general sense since a good majority of the functionality was taken directly from those tabletop and console type games. But then you run into odd subjects, like the love mechanic.

You can’t very well have two people who don’t actually know each other get their characters to seduce each other for information. Particularly with just how socially awkward these geeks were. Maybe some lubed up frat boy could have handled it, but not these kids. So mechanics were introduced to handle these situations, such as backrubs.

“Do you remember Kai? God, I was such a man-whore. I was seducing all these women to get the formulas and I had kind of staked out this one classroom for the mechanic, but then their commandant found out and stormed the place? The look on their faces when they came through the door with their guns out and saw her totally face planted on the table while I went to town on her back, that was hilarious.”

“Well you do give good backrubs.”

And they all talked about this as if it was the most normal, mundane events. Like you or I might talk about what happened at work, or rehash a game of flag football. Except they talk as though they are those characters. The reference to Kai? That was his character’s name. But they just keep talking as if he and Kai were interchangeable and the events of the game truly happened. And the conversation flowed smoothly and quickly through game after game while they got drunk.

I know I drifted in and out of the conversations; I didn’t have any knowledge of the games they had played and I found their complete suspension of disbelief a bit uncomfortable, even as a writer, so I would occasionally just stop paying attention. A phrase here or there would jump out and I might sometimes ask for more clarification on a point of reference or a game, but for the most part I just nursed my drink in the corner.

It was at one of these times that I noticed a slight change in how they were talking that caught my attention. It sounded like one of their friends had gotten hurt in one of the games.

“Yeah, he’s doing fine now, got some good scars for it though.”

“Wait, so, did this actually happen?”

“Ha! Yeah. His girlfriend stabbed him seven times while he was asleep, he woke up, got the knife away from her, then restrained her until the cops got there. Kind of hilarious.”

“Didn’t she have a crossbow in the mail, too?”

“I know! Completely inept and no patience. The crossbow would have been way more cool.”

“Seriously. If he had been dating one of the girls from our school, she would have gotten the job done right on the first stab.”

There was a round of agreement from the crew at the bar and I just sat back into my dark corner again, seriously rethinking some recent romantic decisions.

Screen grab from the movie Role Models

Old Man Flash (Fiction)

Mr. Clark went to her every month. He wanted to go more often, but the bus all the way out to her was expensive and he could only really afford it that often. There was always a present in his bag for her; flowers, cards, a book he though she might enjoy. This time, it was the anniversary of when he had officially started courting her and had been given the honor of escorting her to a dance thrown by the local spinster, so he brought along a corsage for her.

The bus route took them along the edge of several large estates, with long winding rows of hedges lining the street and drives. They were all carefully manicured and absolutely forbidden. He hadn’t been back on the main grounds of his old employer since his body had grown too old to keep up with his chores as head butler. He was too prideful. But the lordling had been kind enough to give him a small stipend to live off of for the rest of his life and to allow his sweetheart to remain on the land she had grown up on and served her entire life.

The path that Mr. Clark used to get to her approached and he hauled himself carefully out of his seat and made his unsteady way to the front of the bus. It was always the same bus driver, and even though there wasn’t supposed to be stop along these roads, the man always let him off and on his return route an hour later picked him back up. The old man had only needed to stammer his explanation once for the driver to agree to this unorthodox agreement. They never counted passengers anyway on his bus, so it was no skin off his nose.

Mr. Clark staggered down the stairs and steadied himself against the style that would take him over the stone fence and into the old church yards. No one had used the church in generations, but it still stood at the back of the lordling’s land, unattended but superstitiously protected. The graveyard attached to it was almost uniformly old broken headstones that you couldn’t even read anymore. The only exception was an angel, carved very recently, seated in the clear space under an elm tree. She held her hands out in benediction and Mr. Clark made his way to them, grasping them tightly.

“Hello, my love. It’s a wonderful day today, just your favorite. Clouds skittering across the sky.” He fumbled with the box that the corsage was in, finally managing to undo the flaps. He pulled out the orchid, specially picked from the flower seller stand at the station, and tied the ribbons around the angel’s wrist. “I know they’re your favorite. Its a good thing there are so many greenhouses now, I can get them any time now. Remember how we had to schedule the wedding for when they were in season because you insisted on having them in your bouquet?”

His knees creaked as he sat down in the circle of the angel’s arms and leaned back against her. “It makes me so tired now, coming out here, but I’d never miss it, not even once. Did you know our lordling was going to be getting married next month? It’s a love match, too. Remember how we never thought that would be allowed to happen, how they were reviewing those candidates like horses? I’d say it’s a good thing that his parents passed before they had gotten him squared away. At least now he has the chance to be as happy as we are.” He patted the knee of the statue and leaned back against it. “I’m just going to close my eyes for a bit, before the bus comes back. Wake me when it’s time to go, love?”

When the bus returned an hour later, Mr. Clark was not waiting. Nor did he show up for the rest of the day. The driver hoped that he had caught a ride in a passing car, but didn’t give it a second thought.

Undercover Flash

Devon’s heart raced and his palms were sweating. He’d never realized just how hard his mission was until he was through the door and looking at the desk. There were so many people around, he didn’t know how he was going to plant the box, but he had to. There was no turning back at this point.

He had it hidden behind his back, tucked into his waistband under his coat. He scanned the room, trying to figure out a way to make sure no one was looking in his direction. They were all grouped around the desk he needed to get to, discussing something sitting there. The side of the room with the terrariums was empty, so Devon wandered over and stood looking over the tanks. He needed a distraction, but not one that would draw attention to him.

He smiled when he saw Stanley. Making sure no one was watching, he quickly flipped the tortoise over onto its back and shuffled away. Once he was a good ten feet from the tanks, he turned back to that side of the room and hollered, “Hey! Stanley fell over, look at him trying to get right side up!”

All of the kids in the room rushed to the tanks to laugh at the poor animal and Devon quickly made his way to Susie’s desk. When he got there, he saw what everyone had been talking about. Someone had given her one of the chocolate boxes that had three layers of morsels with different kinds of fillings. Devon looked down at the sad little heart in his hand that only held five little treasures and tried not to cry. It had taken all of the money he’d saved from his allowances the last three weeks just to get this little box.

Instead of putting the box on her desk–like he’d planned–he turned instead to Ms. Mercuzi and handed the box to her. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he mumbled before slumping into his seat. One of the kids had finally taken pitty on Stanley and righted him and the kids were heading back to their desks.

Ms. Mercuzi clapped her hands and asked them all to pull out their math workbooks and turn to chapter 2. While his classmates moaned about the unfairness of starting class with math, Devon quietly got out his books and put his head down on top of them. He jumped when the chocolates were placed back on his desk.

“You should still give them to her, you know. Slip them into her backpack during recess. And make sure you leave a note. She’ll appreciate something personal from you way more than that box of anonymous chocolates, trust me.”

Devon smiled up at her, suddenly realizing that his teacher would make a great secret agent. He didn’t think anyone else had even heard the conversation or seen her hand off the box of chocolates. She winked and held a finger to her lips and he dragged out a piece of notebook paper and started laboriously constructing the perfect note to tell Susie just how cool a girl she was.

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