stay tuned for a temporary flash preview
of my latest foray beyond flash fiction '33 1/3rd rpm'
(2,467 words)
© 2017
by Shaun Lawton

Sick Story Time

Cherry Cyst

On her way into work Wednesday morning, Sira felt an uncomfortable sensation begin in the pit of her cervix. At first she gripped the bone handled steering wheel harder, whitening her knuckles to pale translucent creases. The streetlight in the intersection ahead went from green to yellow to purple under the slanting rain. The new county mandate set up the random purple traffic lights as motivation for the general malaise infecting the populace.

In recent years this plague of popular apathy spread like a fuzzy mold over a field of fallen crabapples. It became more noticeable throughout the seasons during each city hall meeting. Every Saturday when the local townsfolk gathered in the dilapitated whitewalled church, there were more pathetic weary lined faces and fewer shiny bright eyed ones. Eventually there came the day when only two members of the community were left who cared about anything. They spotted each other across the room.

"Just think," offered Sira, as she eyed the remaining apaphiles silently drooling in the assembly hall, "what implementing a randomized purple streetlight might do for the community."

Her fascinated crony thought about it and replied, "Um...yeah, but what exactly will the purple light mean?" He was a nineteen year old skater bible boy named Bills.

"That's just it Bills - it could mean anything. I was thinking it could be a license meant to trigger a spontaneous reaction from the driver."

"You mean like spinning a chamber with one bullet in it then pulling the trigger."

"No Bills, that's not what I was thinking exactly. I meant...more like, if the light turns purple, then you could do anything you wanted."

"But the options are so limited. You mean, if you wanted to stop, then stop, and if you wanted to keep going, then keep going?" Bills index finger paused just shy of his left nostril, as if caught before the cookie jar.

"Well yeah. And if you wanted to get out of your car and walk away, the purple light would sanctify that." Sira glanced over at the remaining assembly, who weren't paying attention in the least.

"This could really be a motivating factor in the ordinary mill of our lives," speculated Bills.

"Just imagine it," ventured Sira. "You're approaching the traffic light, ready to turn right. You see the light go from yellow to purple. Immediately you decide screw it, I'm turning left!" Sira watched Bills expectantly.

The light of realization crept into Bills's orange eyes. "I see what you mean. Maybe they decide it's not such a fine day to go to work, after all. So instead they turn left and drive right out of the town limits. Maybe head up the canyon, go for a quick mountain hike..." Bills's mouth hung slightly open at the thought.

"Exactly," Sira sighed. "We could really use a purple streetlight. That's it, I'm putting it into effect immediately. Any objections?" she asked the disconsolate crowd seated around them in the auditorium. No one so much as acknowledged she had spoken.

Bills and Sira shook hands firmly. She faxed Engineering about the matter just before leaving. Unsurprisingly, no one else in the hall bothered to get up and leave. Bills and Sira just left them there.

Engineering was an efficiently run department. They had the new traffic light system set up within a week. Thank god for outsourcing, Sira thought as she headed into work on that Wednesday morning, when the dull ache began in her cervix. When she saw the light go from yellow to purple she actually squealed out loud. Her mind raced ahead to all the possible permutations of choices before her.

Suddenly she jerked the cracked bone handled steering wheel to the right, and jumped the curb onto the sidewalk. Three homeless persons scattered out of the way, paper bags dropped and potatoes rolled across the sidewalk into the gutter. She began maneuvering the vehicle down the sidewalk, focusing on avoiding random obstacles. A fire hydrant, a street sign, a bicycle rack; Sira evaded these with ease. She then reached the corner and turned right, where the sidewalk ahead of her was formed of cobblestones. She proceeded up that walkway across the rounded stones, her car jouncing as her silky straight black hair bobbed along to the cobbles. She concentrated as she worked the steering wheel to avoid the occasional rabbit or puppy wandering out of the passing alleyways.

Just before reaching the sidewalk's end, an apple stand blocked her way, so she set the car in park and turned off the engine. She opened her driver's door and stepped out of the car. A tongue of wind licked at her bobbed hair. She strode over to the apple cart but the vendor could not be seen anywhere. Every apple was a different color. Some were striped in the fashion of a barber pole. She suddenly realized she was out of pocket change. Quickly looking up and down the street for the vendor, and not spotting him anywhere, she decided to follow her impulse to steal one of the barber-striped apples. And that was okay, because she was still following the impulse from the purple traffic light. The light told her to do it.

The Shed

Rudy was seventeen. He lived out in the back yard, in a shed that his stepfather helped him convert into an insulated bedroom. Rudy liked it out there, separated from the glowing warmth of the main house, where his mother, stepfather, and younger brother dwelled. It was quieter and darker in the back part of the yard the shed occupied. The shed couldn't have been more than thirteen by thirteen square feet, all told. His stepfather David used to keep all his tools stored in there.

Propped inside had been a couple of rakes, some snow shovels, even a wood lathe, which had cost David a pretty penny. There was also the regular assortment of toolboxes, wrenches, screw drivers, hammers, a pickaxe, barbed wire, old coffee cans full of nails, and curious odds and ends the two had liberated from various junk yards. The usual stuff a moderate alcoholic kept around for his hobbies and side-projects.

Now a couple of boards resting over cinderblocks served as the front door steps. The sliding aluminum accordion panels which had hung precariously there before were now replaced by a proper door: one of those cheap hollow pinewood deals that almost begged to have a fist punched through it. The shed was situated about thirty yards from the back porch of the main house. The back of it stood about four feet from the chain link fence marking the rear perimeter of the yard. Beyond that was dense Arkansas woods standing in a carpet of dried leaves.

It was early October. For some reason, Rudy dreamed more intensely during this season. He sometimes wondered if it was because the planet tilted at just the right angle this time of year, causing his dreams to fall into his head from a kind of centripetal force. Just a week ago, he had dreamed that he had awoken in his bed out in the shed only to find the walls and ceiling were missing. Kind of like what happened to the kid in the white wolf pajamas from that Wild Things book.

Beyond his bed stretched the desolate forest. The main house was nowhere to be seen. There was no chain link fence. Rudy sat up to get a better look. The stars were out and the moon was three-quarters full, without a cloud in the nighttime sky. The forest surrounding made a lovely pattern of crisscrossing moonshadows along the ground. There appeared to be glowing gray-blue lichen crisscrossed along all the tree trunks themselves. The smell of pines was crisp and clear.

Rudy looked up and saw that strange glowing fungus grew on the trees as high up as he could see. He was surprised how well lit the outdoors was, this late at night. Every last detail was etched in this weird twilight, and underlined by shadow as if a contrast knob had been turned to achieve better focus. Pebbles along the ground, pine needles strewn before the bases of trees, dried mulchy leaves forming a rough bedspread across the ground: all of this was perfectly visible to the naked eye. Rudy noticed every detail, the split veins spreading across leaves, and he thought he noticed an insect scurrying from a curled leaf cover to an acorn's shade, and then disappear behind the small nut's tilted crown.

That was when he heard a deep bass sound. It prickled the hairs on his neck and set his heart beating quicker. It sounded like a forced exhalation accompanied by a meaty snort. Rudy whipped his head around to try and visualize the panorama of forest surrounding his lonely stage in the woods. The floor and steps leading down to the earthen yard were all that remained of his shed, along with the contents of his room: a desk with a Panasonic stereo set up on it. A couple of black RCA speakers served as looming bookends. The cord stemming from behind the stereo disappeared from view behind the desk, partially erased by the night. By the foot of the bed (to the left of where the door would have been) was a bookshelf stuffed with science fiction paperbacks. Rudy briefly wondered if the stereo would work. Then he heard the snapping of a twig directly behind him, about five feet beyond where the chain link fence behind the shed would have been.

That meant whatever was out there couldn't have been more than twelve feet away. Suddenly he could hear it panting. Rudy wasn't scared of dogs, any kind of dogs. He didn't care if it was an untamed wolf or a wandering coyote, they just didn't intimidate him. He perceived himself as an alpha male. For some reason though, his chest tightened up, and his heart beat faster. Maybe it was not a wolf or a dog. Maybe it was a man panting there. Rudy was too paralyzed to turn around and look. That's when he woke up, his sheets already kicked off the bed and his room back to normal, with the posters back on the walls and the cool green glow of the stereo panel indicating the time: 2:17 am. He looked over to the door. It was wide open. Some dried leaves had blown in.

The smell of autumn always reminded Rudy of used coffee grounds. He got up quickly and walked over to the open doorway. He could see the back porch of the main house thirty yards away in the distance. He shuddered from the chill and reached out to shut the flimsy door. Pushing the knob in and twisting it easily to lock it didn't offer any consolation. His heart rate would not slow down. Rudy stepped back into the center of his fragile room and stared ahead in the dark. So this is what it felt like to be a rake or a snow-shovel stored away in his stepfather’s shed.