“Liar” Flash Fiction Friday Post

This one is for terribleminds flash fiction post based on a song title. This is “Liar” by The Cranberries.

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“They haven’t stopped. Three weeks. No stop. It must be some sort of drill they’re using, a small augur. Oh, yep, there they are, small shavings of wood from the roof and no doubt bits of shingle are dusting through the air. Landing on my bed. I really can’t believe it, they’re still doing it. I tell you it’s hell and to top it off they deny it all.”

Mikel wiped the particles from his homework with the back of his left hand, looking up at the pinky-size hole. He squeezed the cell to his ear a little tighter, “I shouldn’t’a come back. Wait, give me a second.”

Mikel stood up on his fold-out army surplus cot, balanced on his tip-toes and pasted an orange sticky-note lined with tape just over the newly drilled hole.

“Are you there, good. I tell ya man, like I said, the worst part is that they deny it, they sit there in the morning, tired cuz, you know, they were up all night too. I know for sure I stabbed Jonas in the eye two days ago… What? … I used a pencil. I saw him in the morning with gauze and tape over his eye. If you can believe it I even apologized. Shouldn’t have but I did. He still denied it. Nope, he said it was an ‘infection.’ What kinda bullshit is that.”

Mikel adjusted the clamp-end of his lamp tightening it down to the heaved-on-its-side bedframe, sheets stapled to each end surrounding his cot.

“What do you think I said? I told them, I called them out on it last week… No, they haven’t drilled through the floor yet. I know it’s only a matter of time though. Wait, give me another second.”

He pulled the dark blue sheet to the side and peered at the far wall, riddled with new holes and old taped-over ones which were outnumbered two to one. Most of the holes were backlit by the incandescent bulb hanging in the adjoining laundry room. He looked at the small circles that were not lit from behind. The wood creaked under his sneakers as he feigned ignorance of the dark spots, rather staring up, somewhere in the corner of his room. With a sly jab he sent the sharpened No. 2 pencil lead-first into one of the dim holes. A howling scream followed. Once again all were backlit.

“Yea, everything is OK, I just stabbed one. I don’t know who, coulda been Mom, the scream kinda sounded feminine… Yea, of course they can hear me.” Mikel turned from the phone and shouted in no particular direction, “Can’t you, you fuckers. I don’t care that you’re listening!” He turned back to the phone. “Sorry, it’s just getting to me. Yea, I understand. Yea. Maybe I can find another place. Ok, Ok man. I’ll talk to you later, no it’s OK. Yea, homeroom, I’ll see you there.”

The phone beeped quiet leaving a deafening silence in Mikel’s room. The voice of his conversation rang in his ears. He scribbled some more into his notebook, words erased and rewritten several times over left a gray smudge below the title, “Shakespeare’s Hamlet: an essay for English II”. He fought his drowsiness with a slap on the cheek but his exhaustion took hold and dragged his eyelids closed. Lamp-on, he fell asleep with the red-stained pencil clutched between his fingers.

Breakfast with the family was terrifying in its failed attempt at normalcy. Mikel’s older brother Jonas stabbed several times at the too runny eggs that slipped and slid across his plate. The gauze taped eye was still affecting his depth perception. His father was hovering over the oven, flipping burners on and off, turning the bacon too quickly and altogether ignoring Mikel’s advice to leave it and sit at the table. The mother was wholly absent and the vague reason mumbled by Jonas to Mikel upon his asking was that she had to see her sister for an emergency. Mikel’s father mmhmm-ed in agreement with Jonas’ altogether ridiculous story.

“Is her eye OK?” Mikel asked, stomach fluttering though he expected their response.

“Nothing is wrong with her eye.” His father was quick to point out, still stirring the pan of bacon.

“Is that right? Well I’m pretty sure I stabbed it last night, and yours too,” Mikel looked at Jonas, “I stabbed yours, Jo, two days ago.” He looked at his brother who, for a worried moment searched in his goopy egg for an answer but ultimately laughed it off, “Yea, Mikel, you gave me an infection in my eye.” He forced a laugh directed at his father.

“Fuck right I did, and you’re going to get more if you keep drilling holes into my room and watching me at night.” Mikel tried to stare him down but he refused to look up.

“STOP IT WITH THE LANGUAGE!” The father turned around, red-faced and fuming. His left-eye was covered with gauze and tape. Smudges of blood threatened to pour from the center of the bandage.

“You too.” Mikel mumbled, “It was you last night. And Mom, where is Mom?” He stood up from the table.

“She’s with your aunt, we told you.” Jonas replied.

A thump was followed by the faint sound of power tools, the hum came from the basement door just behind Mikel.

“And what was that?” Mikel turned and jumped for the door.

“MIKEL NO!” he could hear his father shout. But they couldn’t catch him if they tried, he was already stomping down the dimly lit stairs. Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. He felt the cool cement floor through his socks. “Mom?” He called into the darkness of the far corner. “Mom, are you ok? Have they done something to you?”

Mikel slid his feet along the floor and put his arms out in front as he felt his way through old boxes and stacked patio furniture. “Mom!?” He called again but only heard the dripping of the pipes in the distance. Mikel turned the corner on a stack of boxes and there she stood. “Mom! What are you doing, it’s so dark.” He grabbed his cell from his pocket and turned the LED light on.

Before him his mother stood, sleep deprived with dark sagging circles under her eyes. Behind her was a ladder. Mikel noticed a battery-operated drill resting on one of the steps. He looked up, realizing the ladder stood just below his room. “Mom.” He plead with a tearful outburst that had been pent up for weeks. Weeks of listening to that drill pierce holes through his walls, weeks of pleading for answers to why they were watching him. “Stop. Please stop watching me.” he let out through tearful sobs that he refused to hold back anymore.

His mother reached out and grabbed Mikel’s shoulder, it had been too long since he’d felt an embrace. “Mikel,” she began with a heave that highlighted her own exhaustion, “I’m putting new wires in your room, the old ones seem to be defective.”

Mikel cried out a scream that rattled his lungs. “Liar!” He sobbed, “You liar…” He fell to the floor and listened to the footsteps of his father and brother as they squeaked down the old wooden stairs.

Prompt “Twisted Love”

Prompt from terribleminds called “Twisted Love.”

“Yea but you don’t have a grandma!” A little boy with one front tooth shouted to the brown haired one sitting across from him. His shrill voice managed to travel over the raucous lunchroom chatter.

“Yes I do too!” The brown haired boy replied with an earnest face, sincerely attempting to convince all the boys at the table that he did in fact have a grandma.

“Yea, well what was her name?” Another inquired, looking down at the ground, unsure who to believe.

“Rusalka. She lives in the lake!” The brown haired boy was earnest still, even against the laughter of the other boys. “It’s true!”

“Then you must be a fish!” More laughter ensued.

“Tell us about her then.” A fourth boy with glasses smiled at the brown haired one.

“My Pap told me that it was like a bunch of years ago when he was cutting logs for the timber man. He was hiking with his big axe, like this big!” He spread his arms out as far as they could go. “And one day when he was hiking up by Shady Point lake he laid down to take a nap, he already cut like fifty trees that day…”

“Fifty trees!?” The toothless boy was skeptical but the brown-haired one assured him it was true.

“Yea, he used-to do like a hundred a day sometimes!”

The boys eyes were wide, the lunch room seemed quieter as they focused on his story.

“So he took a nap and when he woke up he saw seven ladies all around him. They had long black hair and had no clothes on.”

“Ewww” The boy with glasses proclaimed to a bout of laughter.

“They started singing to him,” the boy continued, “they sang a song that no one had ever heard before. But my Pap knew what to do, he knew that if he stood still and listened, they’d drag him into the lake and drown him!”

The boys oohed and awed.

“So my Pap took his finger and drew a cross in the mud, then he stood on it and none of the Rusalkas could drag him off. But he did something else too…”

The toothless boy asked what.

“He took off his cross, the one with St Peter on it, and he wrapped it around one of the Rusalka’s necks!”

“She had to live with him then, didn’t she?” The boy with glasses asked, half remembering the rules of the old stories.

“Yep” he continued, “Pap went home that day with the Rusalka and they lived together for years. They cooked and they cleaned together, they played games and sang. Pap said she could dance faster than a cat after a mouse! They even had a baby.”

More ewwws followed.

“But one day when they were walking by the river, my grandma told Pap that she missed her friends and her family in the lake. And he said it was that day that she kissed him and jumped in the river then swam to the lake to be with her friends and mom and dad.”

The boys thought for a moment in silence.

The toothless boy broke the silence. “My mom says your Pap drinks beers all day and steals the Sunday paper from her newsstand on the weekends.”

“I don’t care what your mom says, it’s not true.” The brown-haired boy pulled an oversized gold necklace out from under his hand-me-down polo shirt. “See this is the chain he used when he found my grandma.”

The boys leaned forward and grabbed it, feeling-out the intricate details on the cross.

The bell rang and the boys ran to their lines. The brown-haired boy tucked his grandpa’s necklace in as he walked. He felt a tug at his shoulder, a girl in his class looked back at him. Her name was Penelope and she had black hair that curled to her shoulders. Leaning in toward his ear she cupped her hand and whispered, “I believe you.”

The Siege of Leningrad

This is in response to the TerribleMinds prompt where Chuck Wendig asked readers to create a drink then write a story about it. I hope you enjoy! http://www.terribleminds.com

When he walked, the man carried with him much more than the weight of his worn and aging body. The particulars of a distant incident, a memory he couldn’t quite shake, laid heavy on his back. Years of this weight turned the man’s shoulders inward and his face to the ground. A lifetime of handwork, twisting these, heaving that, bailing this, knotting those, layered his palms with scars and rough patches. The bridge of his nose was steel-sturdy but the rest of the flesh, the cheeks, the chin, the marks under his eyes, had begun to slide, no longer able to keep up with the bone-strong foundation beneath. Time had changed all of him except for his eyes. Blue. They were the kind that caught your attention and kept your interest. Eyes that made you want to look away in deference like a servant to a king but they held your focus, telling their story.

He once told me his story. Three years ago we sat on two stools side by side, quiet. I’d just become a dad two weeks prior and went out for a drink. He rested a forearm on the counter and tapped his neck with his free hand, ordering something called a Siege of Leningrad. Having been in an unusual humor from the days of sleeplessness I said to the bartender, “Give me the same.” The bartender, stock still, looked at the man, waited for approval, then continued after seeing his nod. I started to the old man, “I didn’t mean to…” But he cut me there. With an accent thick with East European history he gave a story.

“It’s been many years now, since I first arrived. This city, the steel city, has been very good to me.” He rolled one of the palms over his gray stubble chin, pulling tight for a moment the strong cheekbones. “Back home, yes Russia is still home to me, back home I lived in a city you may now know as St. Petersburg.” I nodded my head.

“Good!” He exclaimed, “Have you studied the Great Patriotic War?”

I looked at him and took a guess, “World War Two?” He nodded. “A little, in school.” I added.

“Then you already know my story.” He turned back to the counter, our drinks were waiting for us. He added, “And you know not to drink that drink.”

Confused, I asked why. The man faced me again. “That glass in front of you, that mixture of bathtub vodka, sawdust shavings, and flour picked from between the floorboards of the only mill in the city, is not a drink. It is not a warm release from the hassles of your married life. It is a reminder. It is the memory of starvation, of frozen bodies, and the wiggle of teeth in an unhealthy jaw.”

I looked at the man, grabbed the drink and gulped hard. “Then why did you let him pour it for me?” The burn was immense. I gasped for air and coughed into my arm. Sawdust really was inside. I tasted blood.

The old man smiled with unexpected warmth. “We used to say that no man, right in his mind, would drink it after knowing what was inside.” He paused. “But the man who did could’ve survived with us in the Seige of Leningrad.” He grasped the back of my head with the gnarled hand, still smiling. “My brothers and sisters are all gone now. But I think I’ve found a man worthy of carrying on the tradition.” He finished the drink before him and walked out, leaving a stinging pat on my back.

I looked to the bartender, “What the hell is this stuff?” He had no answer other than the old man brings it in almost every week. He said the boss doesn’t mind because the old man is well behaved.

On the way home I researched the siege. St. Petersburg was denied access and food for eight hundred and forty seven days. Scenes of cannibalism were common. It was even noted that kitchen floorboards were often lifted so that people could scrape for flour that had fallen between the cracks.

Whispering Murders

My Pentium 920 typewriter clacked furiously as I slapped my calloused fingers against her cold metal arms. DING! as I flipped the release lever. Rain smacked the window behind me, in a moment of contemplative silence I focused on the water’s pings. The tiny sound waves sending their small vibrations through the air, into my eardrum. Too much thought, so I took a swig. It was something strong and amber, I held the bottle high a little longer than was comfortable. The warm slosh down my throat didn’t kill the thoughts though, it released them. I was complete, I’d finally done it. A real detective was what I’d become, a man in a trenchcoat, drink in hand, clacky typewriter. Even the goddamn weather worked in my favor, that dark noir rain. That’s when she came in. A done-up broad with legs longer than… eh screw it. She was hot and in need, just as I had expected. “Mister” she called in that whining twang of Mid-Atlantic English. “Mister, I need your help. I seem to only exist in this universe just to provide you with some, well, some sort of story.” She strode toward me with the sway of the ocean, her head buried in her hands. “And I’ve, I’ve forgotten what to tell you. I’m sure it had to do with a murder, and I know it was in a dark part of town, you know the place Mister. It also involved my dangerous and risque career as a night performer, you see. I sing and dance on stage.” I stepped onto my soapbox, lifted her head and stared into those beautiful blues. “It’ll be alright darling, there’s no stopping Clark Weston.” I gave her a name that sounded strong, a name she could rest her head on. “Oh Clark,” she looked at me and slipped a Virginia Slim from her handbag, I offered to light but she declined. The lightbulb above us grew more intense and she stared into the window and as if reading lines from a script she let out, “Today’s woman can take care of herself.” She winked, still facing the window, then struck a sulphur light that sputtered and spit before burning white.
“Listen Doll, I need to know what you seem to have forgotten in order to get this thing moving. Any ideas on what’ll jog your memory?” From the window a voice seemed to say “whispering murders” but before I could ask the leggy blonde if she’d heard the words, she repeated the same. “He was murdered, my god he was murdered, and before he died he told me that there was a whisper in his ear.” I looked into the strained face, the crow’s feet and running mascara and asked, “Who, Miss, who was murdered?” From the window again, “brother.” I stared at the glass, rain panging away. “My brother, oh lord, my own brother was the one who was murdered…” Her story had quickly become secondary to my primary concern, where was this voice coming from? “Will you help me, Mr. Weston?” the Dame called as I stepped toward the window. “You heard that voice, didn’t you?” I asked, brushing away what I had quickly suspected to be her false concern. “No, nothing but the rain.” But she was wrong, there was more outside than just the rain, there was a voice feeding her lines.
I pulled at the pane and snapped through the layers of paint, this thing hadn’t been opened in years. Rain slapped at my knuckles and face as I poked from the third story. Nothing. Nothing but a couple black cars and flashing neon. I shoved the glass back in place, “Yea, I’ll help you, where do we start?” She flashed a closed smile and swayed her way out the front door to the stairs.
She slipped into the passenger seat of what must’ve been my car. “The Rouge, that’s where we go first.” And although I had never heard of the place my arms seemed to turn at the right moments, twisting the black Crown Vic down the rain soaked streets. The neon greeted our arrival, Girls… Girls… Girls…. hanging on the wall. Three in succession neon orange, neon yellow, neon red. “This is it, better let me inside first.” She didn’t ask, she told. I followed.
The building was alive with topless women and spinning lightbeams. Men with fists of money and drinks stood at the edges of the dancer’s platforms. “HE’S WITH ME” shouted the dame to a beefy brickhead with scars on his cheeks. We made our way past him. Upstairs she shut a door behind us and the music was muffled away. “Okay, your clue is in here.” With that she sat on a folding chair and twirled her locks. I scrunched my nose and began to ask my seedy underground guide how she knew the location of my clue but stopped at the sight of a red splotched teddy bear. Blood. I held it to my face and examined the matted spots. “My god!” shrieked the blonde. “My god it was his. My brother’s bear!” Her face fell to her hands. “Listen here, you told me I’d find my clue, you knew about this bloody bauble. Tell me, what’s the big idea?” With no response I grabbed her arm, “Tell me how you knew this was here? You put it here?” But she wailed without pause.
The door rattled against ferocious knocks. “PROTAGONIST! YOU WON’T SURVIVE YOUR FIRST FIGHT.” The door flew forward, released of its wall-bound hinges. The scarred brickhead emerged from surprisingly theatrical smoke that seemed to fill the doorway. “You won’t be the hero of this story, I’ve crushed many greater than you on my way to the top.” Though reason seemed unwelcome, I had to find why this brute wanted a battle. “You don’t know me, I’ve done no wrong here. Why do you want to fight?” The man relaxed from his hunched position and beamed a pair of intelligent brown eyes. “You want a reason?” He smiled. “Maybe the woman you’re with is my lover and the cries that came from behind the door set off my short fuse. No? Ok, maybe she’s working with me and has lured you into this conveniently small room just so I can arrive and steal your money. Still not convinced? Let’s just say that this is your first test. As I pointed out before, you are the protagonist, you are the hero this time. But don’t get me wrong, that’s no insurance that you’ll survive. I’ve killed four hero’s before you and, if history is any judge, I’ll kill you too. This is your chance to prove yourself, to prove that you can stand up against the brute. Will you use cunning and wit, will your strength win? Ha, I think not. What was the name He gave you? Clark Weston. Catchy. Prepare to die Clark Weston.” The brute heaved the recliner in my direction, but I had already leapt to the side, dodging the explosion of wood and cushions. The brute did seem formidable, by his own count he had killed “my kind” several times before. While I never had the chance to meet them, I had to wonder why they never carried the staple item held by any respectable private investigator, a handgun. But this question among others had no answer. And in wondering all of this, I quickly cocked the hammer on my Smith & Wesson just before unloading three rounds into the formidable gut of the brute. And like a tall rotted log, he fell hard and let a hollow howl. I knew this place wasn’t right from the beginning, the way I just “woke up” at the office and how the voice came in from the window. I needed more answers than who the whispering murder was and I think the best place to start was with that dame.

The Doll (Post-Apocalyptic Fairy-Tale)

The Doll

Artyom emerged from his tent after a long but restless sleep filled with the twitches, mumbles, and groans that, in an unsettling way, mirrored his equally tortured conscious personality. Whose soul wasn’t tortured, though? Certainly in an age when a man as stoic and impervious as the grizzled Artyom was so affected, no human could hope to be spared. Petrov had not only recognized but had accepted that vulnerability in his father. It was something that had to be accepted. And if Artyom wasn’t sweating in his sleep, or calling for his deceased wife between hurried breaths, his son might well think something was wrong.

Petrov watched his father zip the flimsy orange door of the tent with his knotted and worn fingers, careful not to snag on the way around.

“Nothing happened, it was all quiet.” Petrov assured his father. “I think we’re far enough from the city now.” Artyom did not respond, he simply nodded a slow tired nod that made his son feel bad about the unfulfilling sleep. It made him want to tell his father to go back in and lie down, get more rest. But he knew that his father would never allow that, it was surprise enough that he let Petrov keep watch for five hours this time, longer than any other. Besides, Petrov’s eyes had been heavy for the past hour and just minutes before his father emerged from the orange nylon capsule, he caught himself nodding off to the steady warmth of the fire.

Artyom sat across from his son, leaned forward, and uncurled his gnarled hands from their fists and held them above the crackling warmth. The atmosphere was heavy with silence and Petrov understood that his father would not likely want to stumble through light conversation, so he stood up from the log and walked toward the tent, gently placing the semi-auto kalashnikov against his father’s leg.

“Stay.” Grumbled Artyom. Petrov returned and looked into his father’s downcast eyes. “Your mother,” he began, “told me a story.” He poked at the fire then stared through the orange flickering, through the dry mud, though the earth, all the way to the constellation of memories scrawled on the back of his mind. “When she was young, her mother pulled her aside and placed in her hands a small marble figure. A lady in a traditional dress. Her mother said, ‘This, Vasselisa, is you. This little doll is to travel with you on all your journeys, it will always be in your pocket. She will smile with you on your happiest of days and it will soak your tears on the saddest. She will be with you through successes and failures, through love, marriage, and death.’ Yes, my dear Vasselisa carried the marble doll through her entire life. When you were born, the doll sat on the windowsill of the hospital.” Artyom now stared at his son in an endearing way that, at any other time, might have made Petrov uncomfortable but given the circumstances, it filled him with warmth. “She said it was the doll that chose me over all her other admirers. She said it spoke to her the night we met, it told her to get on the metro at the exact time that I got on. It predicted our meeting.” His father’s face turned suddenly and he stared ever deeper into the fire. “Now that she is gone, I’ve kept the doll in here.” He patted the inner chest pocket of his leather jacket. “I’ve heard it now too… Through it your mother has calmed me many times on our journey.”

He pulled it from his chest, rubbed it between his fingers, and handed it head-first to his son. Petrov reached but fumbled the marble figure, knocking it into the fire. He was horrified but Artyom laughed, a reassuring laugh. “So that’s how you’ll do it, you sneaky thing, you…” He was talking to the figure, now. “What are you talking about, father?” “The doll, when your mother passed it along to me back in the city, when everything was going to hell, it dropped on the concrete and fractured.” He skillfully coaxed it from the fire with the stick and held it before Petrov’s eyes. “See the crack is the small shape of a heart?” Petrov saw the fracture, unmistakable as a heart on the back. “And what has she done for you?” Artyom examined the doll, blinking his eyes and drawing it nearer to his nose. “Ah, there.” Artyom exclaimed just before going into a fit of coughing. “There,” he regained himself, “just at the neck is a small white mark, in the shape of a seed, no doubt.” Petrov held the doll to his face and rubbed the white mark on its neck. It was permanent, and most definitely in the shape of a seed, a pumpkin seed. Artyom smiled, “She’s still with us.” Then feverishly began coughing again. Petrov thought about the time they carved pumpkins together, many years ago, and how he would squeeze the slimy seeds between his thumb and forefinger, launching them at his mother and father. From that night on his mother had affectionately called him her ‘Little Pumpkin Seed’, often before smiling and squeezing him in a tight bear hug. “Go to bed, son, and keep that with you forever.” Artyom looked back at the fire and began poking again, sending small clouds of glittering coals into the air. Petrov turned and looked to the edge of the forest from which they came. He thought about the small town before it and the city before that. How all the people were gone, either dead like his mom or run out by the ‘howlers’ like they had been. He walked back to the tent and put his hand on his father’s shoulder on the way, looking down to notice his red stained handkerchief.

(Thanks to Chuck Wendig’s blog post for the prompt that inspired this story)

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/10/25/flash-fiction-challenge-the-subgenre-smash-and-grab/#comments

Apocalypse Slave (Terribleminds prompt)

I once was sent on a work related trip from the town of L. in the state of Ohio to the town of M. in the state of West Virginia. On my way to the town of M. I happened upon a small coffee shop and having realized the heaviness of my eyelids and the mental toll the curving roads took on my weary mind, I decided to enter. It could be described as quaint so long as every negative connotation of the word lingered along. The lighting was more dim than the spongebob night light stuffed into the wall of my young son’s room. The pungent smell was not of coffee itself but of the ghost of the black liquid. It haunts my soul to this day. I sat at an empty table, wooden and greatly worn with the carvings of many lovers’ initials framed with uneven hearts. RJ and TL forever. After peering into each corner of the room I, at last, found the dark counter from which I could buy my fog-lifting beverage. Before I could stand though, a man who seemed to have a desperate urge to speak stepped in front of me and stared into my face. I, having been weary from the road and off-put by the strange cafe, discarded all pleasantries asked him his business straight out. With a mouse-eyed face and a twitching cheek that became the focus of my attention, the man of about sixty sat before me and began to speak. “It is you?!” he was surprised and before I could reply he continued in the squeaky voice, “you’ve arrived, I thought it was all a joke but I read the papers anyway, I was the only one in my office…”

At this point I had to cut him from what would have continued into a jumbled mash of excited noises and squeals. “I believe you’re mistaken, sir.” I started to stand, sure he was a delusional local that the waitress would sweep away from my table at any moment, but he revealed to me an item that validated his excitement. “No, look,” he was fumbling with a rolled group of papers, wrapped in a rubber band. “There, it’s you!” On the table he flattened the papers and pointed at what appeared to be my face in black and white photocopied several times. “What is this?” I had to ask why the town drunk was holding a photo of me that I did not remember having taken. The explanation that followed vouched for his sanity and sobriety but deepened the mystery.

He said, “You need to sit, I’ll tell you everything I know.” He was flustered and I, a little unnerved. I entertained him and found my chair. “I work for the local university. The University of R. And you see,” he swallowed hard and wiped his brow with an old hand, “every Thursday we receive a shipment of mail that is unlike the rest. Where I work is at the front desk and I open all the mail but that is not important right now. Every Thursday I open this letter, addressed from Hong Kong China, and stuff it into my backpack, you see.” He held up the shipping address. Hong Kong indeed. “My coworkers told me to throw it out, that we get mail from crazies every day and it wasn’t worth looking at, especially during the busy time of the year. We’re admitting students right now.” I confess I rolled my eyes at this point and urged the man to hurry his story. “Ok, ok. Well the other pages, the ones that don’t have your face, are all written in code. There are symbols, pyramids, the pythagorean theorem, solar decay, temperature decipher, all of it seemed like gibberish. The ravings of a man short on pills and long on time. But I kept them, in spite of what Barb and Donna and the others told me to do, I took them home and laid them out. I compared them to each other and even figured out the math problems.” He held up scribbled results written on the photocopied sheets. I looked at them, struck with silence. “But I couldn’t figure out who the Apocalypse Slave was.” he continued, “I looked at websites of famous people, websites of world leaders and I thought it might have been the president of Bulgaria. But today, this night, a chance meeting showed me that it was you!”

“Calm down.” I shot him a look and grabbed the sheet with my face on it, above my head was written in a strange hand made font, Apocalypse Slave. “Maybe it wasn’t me.” I thought, pulling the photo to my bifocals. No, that shirt was definitely mine. I had recently worn it to that certain golf tournament benefiting the children of Syria. “Is there a name, who sent this?” He looked at me for a minute, “Nothing, I’ve searched high and low. The post office says they can’t give that information and even if they could it’d be impossible to track… What we should do now is look for your pictures online, see what’s available to the public now that I know your name!” But my answer for the man gave no resolution, I knew exactly where and when it had been taken and none of it involved a digital format or the internet. You see, that image was taken with an old polaroid by my son, we found it in the attic with a bit of unused film and played with it for a day before putting it back in storage. The image now sits in a box under my son’s bed.

The man was only more intrigued after I told him this. He smiled a crooked teeth smile and his eyes glittered in the dimness. Then, something more strange happened that night. The man focused his eyes and seemed to look through my face to the wood panel wall behind. His smile faded and fell to a frown. Upon looking behind I noticed nothing out of the ordinary except for a few prints of old paintings I have long since forgotten the name of. When I turned to see his face, though, I was met with the strongest meaning of the phrase ‘abject horror’. It came to the point that a tear rolled from his eye and without a word of explanation the elderly university worker stood up from his chair, and left for the door. Even the call I made for him at the door did not elicit a response. And with that, he was gone from my life.

Deeply affected by the whole encounter, I dismissed the thought of coffee and grabbed the strange rolled papers. I have since had no developments in the case of my photo with the strange title, Apocalypse Slave. Although, the whole event has led me to request less travel time from my employer, and in those cases where I absolutely must travel, a route that has less winding roads.

The title came from Terribleminds.com

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/10/04/flash-fiction-challenge-roll-for-your-title/