It’s been a long time since I regularly participated in #FridayFlash, but we’ve got just three Fridays left ’til NaNoWriMo, so it seems like a good time to jump back in and warm up my fingers for prose.
If you’re new to #FridayFlash, the goal is to write a story of less than 1,000 words every Friday and to then tweet the link with the #FridayFlash hashtag as well as enter it into the #FridayFlash Collector. Go around and visit other people’s entries, comment what you thought, and–if asked for–offer constructive feedback. It’s a great way to get in the habit of churning out writing every week as well as to discover some great short stories out there.
So, without further adieu, I present a bit of Halloween short fiction (hopefully) for your reading pleasure.
PUMPKINS, CORNSTALKS, AND MUMS FOR SALE
The boy sat on a hay bale and watched as his mother doted on his three-year-old sister. All golden ringlets and frilly dresses, the girl twirled, sending a peal of laughter through the pumpkin stand. The boy pulled his secondhand sleeves down over the greenish-purple marks on his wrists and wondered if the musty smell would ever come out of his clothes. At only six, his eyes had that sort of world-weariness that only sorrow can produce.
“Watch your sister,” his mother snapped at him, setting a ball of giggling pink fluff down next to him. “If anything happens to her…”
The boy nodded, having no need for further elaboration. She gave him one final glare, kissed the girl tenderly on top of her head, and left them there. The boy breathed a sigh of relief. His sister kicked happily at the hay bale. The boy imagined he could have loved his sister if only his mother loved her less.
As his mother went from pumpkin to pumpkin, trying to find one that matched the perfection of his sister, his eyes found the sign that faced the road. He’d missed it on the way in, as he’d been staring intently at his toes to escape the wails of his mother about something he’d done that he couldn’t remember doing. He squinted to read the mirror image through the white fabric.
Pumpkins, Cornstalks and Mums for Sale!
As he considered the words, his mouth hung open just a little. Before he’d reached a proper conclusion, a wizened woman smoking a cigarette interrupted his thoughts.
“See something you want, dearie?” she asked, dropping the cigarette to the ground and stamping it out with a long-worn suede boot.
“Mum says we’re not supposed to talk to strangers,” his sister piped up.
The old woman paid her no attention, focusing only on the boy. His face felt flushed, and he tugged at his sleeves once again, but her eyes would not leave him.
Finally, he asked, “Do you take trades?” His voice was barely audible over the day’s gentle wind.
The woman smiled and shook her head. “Not usually, darling.”
The boy nodded; it had been a silly thought anyway.
“But I’ve also been known to make an exception from time to time. For special cases. Like yourself, perhaps.”
“Jack…” His sister pulled at his shirt, causing the rip in the shoulder seam to widen by another stitch.
“I’m afraid the cost would be slightly higher than if you were paying cash.” The old woman looked to the girl for the first time, her eyes greedy.
“Jack, let’s go find Mum,” the girl insisted, widening the seam another three stitches with a more aggressive pull.
“And there are no returns,” the woman said. “That is one rule to which I make no exceptions.”
Another tug, and another couple of stitches. The sleeve was only half attached now.
“So you must be certain,” the woman said, her eyes returning to Jack, full of warning. “Do you understand?”
He looked at his sister and tried to gauge her innocence. But he could only see his mother’s eyes staring back at him.
He turned back to the woman and nodded.
“Are you ready to go through with the transaction?”
He thought of looking for his mother but decided there was little point in last looks. He nodded. The woman held out her gnarled, arthritic hand. The boy shook it.
The clouds covered the sun, and suddenly the wind felt like ice.
“Go wait in the car, young man,” the woman said.
He obeyed, and only once did he look back over his shoulder to see his sister looking at him. There were tears on her cheeks, but she didn’t scream like she normally did during her tantrums, and she didn’t fight when the old woman took her hand and led her away.
He sat in the car for what felt like hours, afraid to look out the window. Only when his door opened did he look up. A dark-haired woman stepped in and held out a pumpkin, grinning with delight? “Isn’t it perfect?” she asked.
He looked past her just long enough to see the old woman smile and wave. He looked back to the pumpkin.
“It’s the best,” he whispered, as if unsure she was talking to him.
“A perfect Jack o”Lantern for my perfect Jack,” she said. She handed him the pumpkin and kissed his head before gently ruffling his hair.
She caught sight of his sleeve and laughed. “Oh, Jack, whatever shall we do with you?”
He was afraid, but she just squeezed his arm and said, “Let’s get you home.”
She closed the door and went around to the front. As she started the car, she turned back and smiled at him.
“I love you, Jack.”
He didn’t feel anything yet, but nothing was better than despair. “I love you, too, Mum.”
She blew him a kiss and then pulled away from the pumpkin stand. Jack did not look back.