Tag Archives: short story

Pegasus Intelligence


Beer, Beer Garden, Thirst, Glass Mug, Drink, Beer Glass“Ernie Collins.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell. Then again, I’ve only been working here for six months or so.”

“Oh. Well. He’d have been here back in ’07.”

“I see.” Lana, feeling that the conversation had reached that inevitable point where things peter out and the bartender and patron go on with their individual existences, began polishing glassware, and only when she noticed Eddie gesturing at her did she realize that he had continued speaking.

“And from there, it’s on to Melbourne, to a little hole-in-the-wall joint called Dingo Lingo.”

She angled back into the conversation as best she could. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Of course not. Very few people who haven’t cracked the top-10 bestseller list have.”

Lana squinted at him, still turning a glass in her hand. It was impossible to tell if he was putting her on. The crazy ones never seem crazy. “And you’re going there to …?”

“To drink it all in, man.”

“What, Dingo Lingo serves some proprietary drink?”

“No. What? No. Look.” Eddie pulled out his phone and opened his notes app. He tapped on a file, zoomed in on a maniacal-looking spider web diagram dotted with pictures of towns and bars and faces she didn’t recognize, clicked and zoomed and scrolled a few more times, and finally stopped and shoved the phone toward her. On the screen was a picture of an absolutely normal-looking guy. Slightly unshaven, slightly frumpy, a below-average intelligence gasping for help in his faraway stare as he sat at a Starbucks street table. “Because of him. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I fear I may have lost the thread.”

Eddie sighed. “He’s a Pegasus.”

“A what, now?”

Eddie sighed again, harder this time, to make clear that he was explaining something he shouldn’t have to explain. “In Greek myth, Pegasus was said to strike springs from the very ground where his hooves touched.” He smiled at Lana as if this should have meant something to her, but it obviously didn’t. “Pegasus was the personal transport for the muses. Like Uber, but, you know, a horse.”

Lana gave an ever-so-slight shake of her head. “Muses?”

“The Greek goddesses of inspiration.”

“Okay, and you want a drink from the bar because –”

“It’s a metaphor, man! It’s not a literal spring. Ernie Collins is not a goddamned winged horse. But he’s a Pegasus in spirit. He travels the world on his parents’ retirement fund, and every so often:” here Eddie rapped his fingers on the tabletop and made a clop-clop noise with his tongue. “Inspiration springs forth.”

“So you think,” Lana said, studying the freshly polished bar as if it might offer some insight on how to deal with a clearly deranged individual, which it did not, “that just by being in these places, you’ll … what, soak up some inspiration?”

“Exactly.” Eddie folded his arms and leaned back from the table as if he’d just solved a two-hundred item crossword puzzle. He raised his eyebrows at her, again, as if he expected her to be impressed.

“And that’s why you haven’t ordered anything but that one beer, then?” She tried to keep the edge out of her voice, but he’d been nursing the one drink for three hours. It wasn’t like she needed him to vacate the stool — it was a Tuesday night, after all — but principle dictated that a bar tab should at least exceed in dollars its length in hours.

“Nothing personal, you understand.” He picked nervously at the label which had already been thoroughly picked at. He came away with bits of glue under his fingernails. “But I’ve got quite the itinerary ahead. Atlanta. Seattle. Toronto. Melbourne. Tokyo. Gotta make every dollar count.”

“You can afford travel to all these places, but you can’t afford another drink?”

“I’ve got a GoFundMe page set up. I’ll move on when I can afford airfare.”

Won’t hold my breath for a decent tip, Lana thought. “You’re a writer, then?”

“Trying to be,” Eddie replied, a sort of self-satisfied smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“What have you written?”

“Well.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Nothing yet.”

“Oh, a work in progress?” Lana returned to wiping glasses. “I had a roommate in college who always had about a dozen works in progress. Never did get published. Wrote like a demon, though.” She glanced sideways at Eddie. “Ordered more than one drink at happy hour, too.”

“Thing is, I don’t want to just write anything. When I actually sit down to write, I want it to be the best. Hence: following in the footsteps of Pegasus.”

Lana frowned thoughtfully. “I suppose there’s intelligence of a sort in that.” Then her thought caught up to her frown. “Wait. You mean to tell me you haven’t actually written anything yet?”

“Er.” More glue, more fingernails. “Not as such, no.”

“Not a draft, not an outline, nothing?”

Eddie shook his head.

“I mean, you at least know what you’re going to write about, though?”

“Well, kind of. I mean, I have some ideas.” He jabbed at his phone again, and showed her the picture of Ernie Collins. “Truth be told, that’s kind of what I was hoping this whole Pegasus thing would help me out with.”

“Let me make sure I understand clearly,” Lana said. She set her glass and rag down and leaned in close. “You want to be a writer, but you haven’t written anything. Instead, you’re going on a trip around the world, on the dime of internet strangers, hoping to sponge up some inspiration … from a man you feel is the embodiment of a winged horse?”

“To be honest, the GoFundMe only has fifteen dollars in it so far.” He eyed the last swig in the bottom of his bottle, felt the moment was right, and swallowed it. “From my mom. Actually –” he waggled the empty bottle — “how much did you say this was, again?”

######

Chuck’s challenge this week: The random title challenge. My title for the week was “Pegasus Intelligence,” which was the fanciest bit of nonsense I’d heard in a while. A little bit of research, though, led me to a place I didn’t entirely hate. It’s more of a vignette than a story, but, well, that’s life, innit?

Also, about halfway into the writing, I realized that I have here the seedling for a … not exactly a sequel to my first novel, but for another story in the same universe as that one. Dammit, Chuck. These short stories are supposed to let me vent pent-up creative energy, not spawn entire novels to go clanging around in my skull.

 

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The No-Call


Chuck’s challenge this week is a story in 100 words. These are tricky, and Once Upon A Time is back from its hiatus, so…

Sandal, High Heels, Sets, Female, Women'S Fashion, Shoe

Cindy gave her sorority sisters the slip and went to the party anyway. They’d never let her pledge if they found out.

She drank too much. Danced all night. Deftly parried the drunken advances of some guy in a crown.

Next morning, the house was aflutter; the fraternity president was making rounds to name his queen for the spring formal. He had the shoe, he proclaimed, of the magical girl whose company he had shared the night before.

Cindy ran upstairs and threw her mismatched pump in the garbage chute, vowing never again to waste her time with silly boys in costumes.

 


The Sisters’ Snack


Man, Face, Fear, Risk, Grunge, Art, Eyes, Waste, Dirt

It happened early this morning. Neighbors heard what they described as a “loud, tearing sound” and came running to their windows. In the darkness, they couldn’t see who or what was responsible, but there are several reports of an enormous shadow moving away down the street. You can see here the shell of the house, sort of like a seed pod that folded open. It appears to have been torn apart, almost as if from the inside. The owner of the house, thirty-three year old Kaitlyn Ziller, is nowhere to be found. We’ll be following this story as it develops.

#

We’re confirmed reports now of a similar occurrence in the neighboring community of Riverside belonging to Mrs. Ziller’s sister, Kim Smithers. Mrs. Smithers’s husband, Ron, joins us now. Ron, can you describe what you experienced?

“Well, I was asleep, with Kim next to me. It’s been a long day at work, and I have an early shift tomorrow morning. Kim gets up at four to run — she and her sister are getting into fitness, you see, doing this crazy juice thing — so I heard her get up but didn’t think anything about it. Next thing I know the house is getting blown to pieces, like a damned tornado blowing through. Ground shaking like an earthquake, and I heard this pounding, like footsteps. I wound up on the front lawn in my boxer shorts and ran back in to see if Kim was all right, but I couldn’t find her anywhere.”

You say you can’t find your wife?

“She’s long gone. I figure whatever tore the house to pieces took her with it.”

Mr. Smithers, let me clarify. You said “it.” You feel some … thing … destroyed your house and took your wife?

“Damn right. It was dark, but I saw two enormous legs walking off East, toward Roanoke.”

#

We now have confirmed reports of similar events taking place in numerous towns all up and down the seaboard — Tampa, Raleigh, Richmond, just to name a few, though there are over a dozen. In all of these cases, the same circumstances: houses torn apart, women missing, sounds of destruction. The sun will be up soon, and we hope that will shed more light on the matter.

#

This story is getting harder and harder to believe, Jen. As you can see from the photographs we’re sending you, it appears that all of the missing women bear striking similarities. All of them are in their early thirties, all have naturally dark hair and green eyes. In fact, we’ve had some trouble organizing the graphics you’re seeing now because it’s so easy to mistake one for another. In our local case, Kaitlyn and Kimberly were known to be identical twins. Some have theorized that all of the missing women might be related, but we cannot confirm that at this time.

#

This is remarkable, Jen. The rising sun led to our first eyewitness accounts. Kaitlyn Ziller was spotted in a wildlife reserve by motorists, and my team and I got here as quickly as we could. We have caught up with Kaitlyn, and as you can see, she’s … well … she’s over a hundred feet tall. We’ve tried, and local police have tried, to make contact with her, but she’s either unable or unwilling to respond, and she very nearly stepped on the Channel 6 News Van during the attempt. We’ll follow Kaitlyn from a safe distance to give you up-to-the-minute coverage.

#

We can now confirm that all of the missing women have grown in size as Kaitlyn Ziller has. That means that there are more than twenty women over a hundred feet high spread across the Eastern United States. We’ve put together a map showing the known paths of these women, and as you can see, they seem to be converging on a point somewhere in rural Virginia. We don’t know if the women are intentionally going to the same place or if it’s just a coincidence; nobody has yet been able to communicate with them. What is sure is that they are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Many of them are cutting paths through woodlands and other uninhabited areas and are only destroying trees, but some are moving through rural areas, smashing cars and buildings as they pass. Andrea Danvers, of Fredericksburg, has at least been polite about it: she was heard to shout apologies to motorists as she made her way down I-95. Unfortunately, her booming voice was loud enough to shatter glass and peel the roofs off a few nearby apartment buildings.

#

Joining us now is a man identifying himself only as Jones. He claims to work at a hidden military facility in the woods that the giant women are moving towards. Sir, what can you tell us?

“The women — we call them the Sisters — are part of a cloning project we initiated thirty-three years ago with great success. It appears, however, that ingestion of some radioactive material — possibly the bananas in the smoothies that the Sisters outside of Elmington have been drinking lately — has caused a quantum reaction which has rippled out to all of their shared DNA.”

And why are they all heading to the woods of Virginia?

“In addition to their obvious size, we theorize that the radiation has altered their DNA to produce at least a psychic connection between the Sisters, if not full-blown telepathy. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they would converge to puzzle out what’s happened to them.”

But why Virginia?

“Oh. That’s where we created them.”

And what will they do when they get there?

“Hell if I know. We’re going to nuke them into orbit before they get close.”

#

Jen, the scene here is pandemonium. We are unable to confirm the identity of Jones, who we spoke with earlier, but at least some of his information appears to be true. Nuclear weapons were deployed just moments ago, and the results were devastating. The target — our own Kaitlyn Ziller — instead of being destroyed in the blast, has grown exponentially. From ground level, here, many miles away, we appear to be safe, but … well, this is hard to describe. Only her feet and legs are visible at this point, her torsos disappearing above the cloud of the nuclear fallout. Kaitlyn Ziller now towers into the lower atmosphere. The earth itself appears to be collapsing under her weight, and great fissures in the ground are opening up behind her as she continues toward the woods. Her movements are stirring up tornadoes all around her. Just a few minutes ago, she appeared to sneeze, and the resulting squall tossed a 747 from the sky a full eleven miles away.

Military personnel are fleeing the area in droves, not stopping for comment. It’s unclear how long we will be able to remain here.

#

Much of the smoke has cleared, and we can more clearly see what the Sisters are doing. Several of the others have arrived on site by now as well; there appear to be seven or eight of them, milling around, engaging in whispered conversation. The one who was struck with nuclear projectiles — Kaitlyn Ziller, who now towers into the lower atmosphere — has seated herself to better converse with the others. Nothing else has happened for several minutes, until —

Wait.

Ziller has moved into a kneeling position. Even so, she towers high above the rest. She’s —

Christ! Hold on there, steady. Are you all right? Jesus. Did we get any of that?

Sorry, Jen. Ziller has just thrust her hand and arm deep into the earth, causing what felt like a major earthquake. She appears to be reaching, searching — she’s got something. She’s pulling something up from the ground.

It looks like a concrete slab. It’s impossible to tell at this scale, but it might be the size of a football field. No, it’s not a slab; it’s a bunker. There are people falling out of it. My god. She’s shaking it like a can of peanuts.

There! She reaches down and cups one figure as it falls. I can’t see if it’s a man or a woman. She holds this figure down so that the others can see and speak to him.

“That’s Ernst Felding.”

It’s Jones. Get him in the shot. What can you tell us?

“Felding. I worked with him for over a decade. He’s the architect of the Sisters project. They’re talking to him. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes right about now.”

What are they saying?

“Hard to say, but it can’t be good. How would you feel if you found out that your whole life was a lie, and it’s all because of this guy? And now, you’re five hundred times his size?”

Jen, I’m not sure if you can see this. Felding is on his knees in Ziller’s palm, with his hands above his head … he’s holding something. Can you zoom in on that? It looks like … a gun?

“The bioserum rapid injector.”

What’s that?

“An emergency protocol. A bioserum to shut down the cloned genes if they should ever behave erratically. Maybe it’ll work.”

Ziller is holding Felding up to the other women, where he appears to be delivering injections into their shoulders. And — my god, it’s working! They’re shrinking! Jen, you can see clearly now, the Sisters are shrinking — it looks as if they’ll be back to normal in just a few moments. In a dramatic turn of events, we appear to have been saved from certain destruction by —

Wait a moment. Ernst has just injected Ziller’s palm, and she’s beginning to shrink, though she’s still gargantuan. She lifts him to look into his face. The other women, shrinking by the second, nod at her. He looks as if he’s pleading for his life. Now Ziller is — oh, god. She’s swallowed him.

“Um … I’m gonna go. Forget you saw me.”

Jen, the man known as Jones has run into the trees, leaving us only with his story. The Sisters, as they will no doubt be known, are rapidly approaching normal size. Today’s events will be talked about for years to come, but the lives of the women involved have been forever changed, and the man responsible has paid a terrible price for what many would consider crimes against these women.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to buy my wife some flowers before I get home.

********

This week’s flash fiction comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s X meets Y pop-culture mashup. My x meets y: Godzilla meets Orphan Black.

I started with great ideas for this one, but it seemed like too much story for the space allotted, and I had to wrap it up quicker than I would have liked. That, and I have to get back to the real project: the novel. This one was threatening to suck up too much time this week.

Anyway. Be good to the women in your life.


The Cloud Conspiracy


Window, Rain Drops, Glass, Wet, Weather, Person, Female

The rain is heavy this morning, like a herd of waterlogged elephants tap-dancing on the streets above. The dull whoosh is comforting in its monotony; nights like tonight I can lose myself in the sound and almost forget how shitty the world has become.

Almost.

There’s a pile of rags in the corner with a soiled derby sitting on top and a filthy hand in a fingerless glove sticking out the side. The pile shifts once in a while to the sound of wet coughs from deep in a phlegmy chest. Sounds like the late stages of Darkflu. No Vitamin D for years can do terrible things to a guy. Poor bastard. Came down here to die like a dog.

And what am I doing here?

Paying for a new roof, I remind myself.

#

It had been storming for nearly six weeks when she came through my door.

“Mr. Stratis?”

Her umbrella was bright pink, the same pink as her overcoat and her spike heels. Not everybody had adjusted to the fashion that the weather required, but not everybody was this broad.

“Who’s asking?” I kicked my feet off the desk and leaned toward her, focusing on her instead of the syncopated drip-drip-drip that seemed to echo from every surface of my tiny office.

She threaded her way through the rain pails punctuating the floor with the subtlest swishing of her hips. She had the grace not to look up at the sagging plasterboard of the ceiling, pitted and peaked like the inverted Appalachians over our heads, dribbling a dozen interminable streams of water down around our heads.

“Gail,” she said, finally folding back her rain hood. While the constant rain made just about everybody else look positively drowned after stepping outside for more than a moment, the same couldn’t be said for her. The rain hadn’t drenched her so much as kissed her, leaving tiny luminous beads floating in her lashes and her bangs.”Waters.”

I snickered. The rain never stops, and neither do the terrible puns. “What’s your real name, miss Waters?”

“I’m sure you don’t need my real name.” she reached into her purse and produced a stack of only slightly damp bills, her perfect pink nails clicking on the desk.

Five thousand. “You have my attention.”

“My brother has fallen in with some climate deniers,” Gail said. “I need you to find him.”

I look out the window to make sure I haven’t missed something. Still the same lifeless grey squall it’s been for months. “Dunno how to break it to you, but if your brother thinks this climate-change shit is a fraud after all this, you may be better off without him.”

Without a word, she placed another stack of bills on the desk. The roof sprang a new leak, and grimy water trickled down on the faces of Benjamin. “It looks as if you could use a new roof, Mr. Stratis. Consider this a down payment.”

#

It’s dead down here, as dead as the skies. The subways closed three weeks ago when the tunnels flooded out. They say they’ll reopen, but who knows? The rain sure isn’t going anywhere.

Still, it’s a perfect spot for a secluded meetup with a prospective member of your nutty cult. (That would be me.) No prying eyes except for some teenage graffiti artists and the poor sap over there dying from a lack of sunlight.

Footsteps. Tiny splashes on the concrete. A faint shadow growing and spreading by the stairwell.

Son of a bitch, it’s him. I had hoped to infiltrate their ranks and find Gail’s brother that way; I hadn’t expected them to send him to meet me. But there he is, crossing the empty platform and glancing nervously over his shoulder.

#

“Pardon me for asking,” I examined the photograph, angling it into the dim light from the window, “but if he ran off, what makes you think he wants to be found? I mean, say I find him and he doesn’t want to come back. What then?”

“My brother is many things, but a revolutionary?” She laughed mirthlessly. “He’s a frightened child. But through him, the deniers would have access to our family’s money. We can’t have him handing over our grandfather’s life savings to a pack of shysters who think there’s a government conspiracy to manipulate weather patterns for political gain.”

Political ideology isn’t my forte. I prefer to face my opponents head-on. I said nothing, and she continued.

“Rest assured that we have the means to deal with him.” Her lips took on an unpleasant twist, like a wolf scenting fresh meat. “Just find him.”

#

His hair is a little shorter, his jaw a little leaner, but there’s no mistaking Mr. Weathers (not his name): that gangly, too-tall frame, the casual set of his shoulders. He even has Gail’s eyes. They’re bright blue, like the sky we’ve all but forgotten, and earnest, like a kid stomping in puddles and scooping up frogs in wonder.

He sees me and freezes, then calls out a little nervously: “Cloudy out there, isn’t it?”

It took some digging and more than a few greased palms, but I had learned the coded response: “But the sun will rise tomorrow.”

He eyes me appraisingly, then breaks out in a skeleton grin and walks over. I extend my hand in greeting, and he shakes it: warm, firm, confident.

“Glad to have you with us,” he says, clasping his other hand on my shoulder. “Follow me.”

He leads me across town by way of some back roads and alleys even I didn’t know about, finally stopping at an enormous abandoned greenhouse: some inner-city vegetarian initiative. Shut down when the rains started. Now it’s all broken glass and dead brown leaves strewn everywhere.

“Hell of a place,” I mutter.

“It’s important to root in fertile soil,” he says.

Goddamned hippy.

He leads me inside, past rows of dead plant husks, stopping in front of a couple of shriveled cacti set in a knee-high brick planter. He kneels and pushes aside a handful of gravel, revealing a button set in the dirt. He gestures toward it with that same too-trusting smile.

I mask my sigh with what I hope passes for an excited grin and kneel to push the button. The display slides backward with a clunk and a bang that I feel in my bones. A secret stairway yawns open at our feet.

I look back at him, but something’s wrong. His youthful, honest face has gone slack, like he’s trying to read a road sign printed in German. Scarlet blooms on his breast. He crumples like a punctured hot-air balloon and gurgles his last breath on my shoe.

I whirl, and there’s the pile of rags from the subway. Standing. Gun pointed right at me.

All of a sudden, the clouds part, and sunlight streams down through the greenhouse like the fiery hand of God. I feel my skin wake up, and I swear the plants I thought were dead shuffle and skitter toward the light.

The next bullet is for me: I fall, draped across the cactus display, gasping and grunting at the hot spike of pain in my chest.

Measured footsteps approach, wetly clicking in time with my slowing heartbeat. In the sunlight, I can see the shooter’s face, shrouded in rags and smeared with soot and grime. Gail. She raises a radio and monotones: “I have them. And the sun is breaking through here. Bring the device.”

I scoot backwards, the pooled rainwater soaking my lower half. (Or is that my blood?) I raise a hand to defend myself. My clawing fingers block out half of her filthy face. “I just wanted a new roof.”

She shakes her head, almost sadly. “Can’t have you spreading rumors.”

 

**********************

This week’s Flash Fiction comes to you courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s random genre mash-up. My genres: Cli-Fi (Climate Change Fiction) and Noir.


Chick Magnet


Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

Birdman, by Peter Meijer @Flickr.

“I’ve never dated online before,” says Greg, fidgeting with his spotted hands on the linen tabletop. It’s a lie, but one he never gets called on.

Theresa, a silver-haired beauty, grins with downcast eyes at her silverware, her face flushing a little. “Me, either.”

She’s divorced, he’s widowed. Sidewalk cafe. Small talk, overpriced wine.

“Kids?”

“Two. You?”

“Four. Grandkids?”

“Eight. They’re like rabbits.” He laughs, and thank God, so does she. “You?”

“Just one.” She can’t help herself. She reaches for her phone and shows him a picture of the little angel, slumbering in that striped hospital blanket. “Two weeks old.”

“Ahh, it’s the best. You’ll see. Even better than having kids of your own.”

“So I’ve heard.”

She’s wonderful, really. Just like his wife in a lot of ways — same hairstyle, same easy way of talking. But then, she’s different too — quicker to laugh, with a nervous energy that keeps her looking around the room, knotting up her napkin. None of them are his wife, but there’s always something to like. She could be the one.

And then it’s over. Pleasant, but abrupt. She doesn’t look back as she walks away, doesn’t promise to call. Probably won’t call. They never call. He sighs and shoves his fork into his half-eaten portion of tilapia. Wishes he’d just ordered the burger he wanted. Stupid diet. Stupid doctor’s orders. A pigeon flutters up and lands in Theresa’s spot at the table, stabbing its beak at the rice pilaf she didn’t finish. He throws a spear of broccoli at it, and it flaps irritably away.

In his pocket, a newspaper clipping. Ragged at the edges, soft as feathers from all the times he’s handled it and not called the number. He frowns at the back of Theresa’s silvery head. He calls the number.

#

It arrives eight days later: a tiny brown box the size of his palm. Not what he was expecting. No flashy marketing inserts, no fancy designer packaging, only an unlabeled brown medicine vial with a dropper nestled in downy cotton packing. Beneath all that, a note: A few drops will make you irresistible to females! Use with caution!

No sense in waiting.

#

“Another first date, Greg?” Marcus, the waiter, grins at him as he pours him a seltzer.

Greg nods, almost giddy. He thumbs the vial in his pocket.

“I never see you here on any second dates. You take them someplace nicer?”

“Never been so lucky. But today’s different.”

“Oh?”

“Something special up my sleeve. That’s the secret with these older birds; you have to work a little harder.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Marcus flashes him another smile: perfect teeth against his dark skin.

Greg watches: Marcus turns the corner inside and gooses the pretty little waitress. She playfully swats his hand away, then plants a quick, affectionate kiss on his cheek. Young love. So easy, so effortless, like falling into a soft, downy mattress.

Maybe it’ll be that easy for me this time.

Linda’s due in ten minutes. He produces the tiny vial, looks around to make sure nobody’s looking, then squeezes out a few drops on his outstretched fingertip. It’s viscous and gritty, almost like birdlime, but it’s got this pungent aroma of … what? The sea? The sky?

Out of nowhere, a pigeon lights on the table right in front of him, staring at him with round, vacant eyes. It bobs its head a few times.

“Shoo.” He swats at it and it flies away, gurgling. The arc of its flight draws his gaze up toward the street, and he sees her — Linda. Pretty as her picture, red hair feathered and falling around her shoulders as she approaches. She hasn’t seen him yet. He dabs the oily stuff behind his ears. At an impulse, he squeezes out a few more drops, which he rubs into his hair.

Before their drinks arrive, another pigeon — or maybe the same one? — coasts lazily in and settles on the table opposite. By the time Marcus brings the appetizer, there’s a second bird perched there. They’re staring at him, like customers at a deli awaiting their turn. Linda doesn’t notice them, but Marcus does — with a languid wave of his hand, he scatters the critters, and Greg sighs his relief.

But by the time Greg sinks a fork into his seared trout, the two pigeons have returned and become four. They watch him implacably as Linda chirps on about the men she’s dated and divorced. More and more arrive. Another winged watcher lands as Greg picks up the check. Linda’s saying she’d really like to see him again, but Greg can’t focus on her at all for the dozen denizens of the sky sitting opposite. Then he notices she’s looking at him, waiting for a response. Oh. Turned down again. He forces a little smile, says he understands, wishes her luck in the future.

Linda’s face falls to pieces like an egg dropped from a nest. She stands, mumbling in disbelief, looking around, lost.

Her claim on Gary vacated, the birds descend. The first one swoops at her and she bats it away. Another tangles its claws in her hair. They chase her down the sidewalk in a flurry of flapping wings.

When Marcus arrives to take the bill, Greg has been swarmed. Pigeons roost on his shoulders, nuzzle at his knees and ankles, lightly bonk their heads against his fingers as he drums them on the tabletop. One nips lovingly at his thinning hair from its roost on his bald spot.

“Damn, Greg,” Marcus says. “Strike out again?”

“Take it from me, kid,” Greg sighs. “Women are for the birds.”

 

********

It’s been a little while since a Flash Fiction challenge. I really can’t apologize enough for the ending.

Anyway, this challenge comes as usual from Chuck Wendig: the random photography challenge. I found the photo above by Peter Meijer, and, well. He just looked so weary.

Comments always welcome.


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