Contract: Flash Fiction

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Contract

The door to the Principal’s office opened just as Tammy approached, hurrying because she was late for class. Tom, her Department Head, stepped out and stood in her way.

“Tammy,” his tongue swiveled around his thin lips in nervous fashion. “I’m just talking with the Principal about your new contract. Come in,” he extended his arm and shepherded her towards the open door.

“Not now,” Tammy replied.  “I’m late for class. “Can’t it wait?”

“Strike while the iron’s hot,” Tom showed teeth yellowed from tobacco. “We’ve got a great deal for you. Come in, come in.”

Tammy found herself face to face with the Principal.

“Tammy, my dear, we’re so proud of you,” the Principal flashed a row of crocodile teeth, two of them gold-capped. “I have some papers for you to sign.”

“But, I’m late for class and …”

“I know, don’t worry. This won’t take a moment,” Tom winked at her as he and the Principal led her towards a typewriter that sat on the desk with a blank page and two carbon copies inserted in it.

“Here, at the bottom of the page, just sign here,” Tom pointed.

“But it’s a blank page. I can’t sign a blank page,” Tammy stammered in response.

“You’ll see it when it’s typed and signed,” the Principal assured her. You can always change it later.”

“Can’t I come back after class?”

“I’m afraid not,” the Principal frowned. “I have an important meeting in half an hour, with the school board, and you’ll still be in class. This must be signed now if it’s to get board approval.”

“But you said … you said I’d only be here for a year …”

“We’re very pleased with you,” the Principal flashed the sunshine of his teeth. “We want to keep you here.”

“Very pleased,” said Tom. “This is a first class, independent school run, as you well know, on a non-profit basis. Only the children of the rich and privileged come here to study,” he paused. “And some of them come here because of you. That’s why I’m recommending you for this new and improved contract. I signed my first three-year contract this way, didn’t I?” he looked towards the Principal.

“You did indeed,” said the Principal. “And just look where you are now: Head of your Department.”

“A three-year contract …” Tammy blinked and ran her tongue over her lips. “I wasn’t expecting that. I thought a year … thank you … but …”

“No buts. Jobs are scarce nowadays, particularly in your field,” Tom looked at his watch. “Time’s getting on. You don’t want your students walking out of your class, do you? Here you are now: just sign here,” he handed her the pen he held in his hand.

“You’d better be quick,” the Principal said. “This offer may not be here tomorrow and … my goodness, look at the time. You are running late.”

“Sign,” Tom told her. “I signed and I never regretted it. Remember, we can always change the wording later.”

“Drop in after class,” the Principal smiled. “It will all be approved by then and you can read it and we’ll modify what you want.”

Tammy sighed and signed.

The Principal and the Department Head ushered her to the door.

“Hurry,” they exhorted. “Run. You don’t want to be late.”

Tammy ran to her class.

The two men watched her go. Then they went back into the office, shook hands, and grinned at each other.

Tammy never saw that contract. She stayed at the school for three more years, as she had promised, but in all that time she never got a pay raise and the not-for-profit school board never allowed her to join the employees’ health and pension plan.

Raptors Flash Fiction

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Raptors
Bistro 21

“Falcon, Richard?”
“Here, sir.”
“Finch, Thomas?” Mr. Shrike’s predatory eyes squinted out over half-rimmed glasses.
“Thomas Finch?”
“Not here, sir,” Dick Falcon answered.
“Why not? His trunk’s here.”
“Don’t know, sir.”
“Hawk, Peter?” Mr. Shrike continued.
“Here, sir.”

* * *
“Tom Finch not back?” Mr. Shrike perched by the fireplace with his conspicuous, upright stance. “Why not?” He addressed the staff room then spat in the fire.
“Tricky business,” Mr. Slaughter replied. “Important birthday, his mother said when she called. He’s at home but his trunk’s here. He’ll be back.”
“Pity,” Mr. Shrike winced. “That boy’s spineless. I’d like to…”
“Impale him on a thorn and hang him out to dry like the butcher you were in the war?” Mr. Slaughter peered down the long beak of his nose. “Not on school grounds, I hope,” he sniggered.

* * *
Tom and his mother lived with her parents. His birthday cake had thirteen candles that year. He blew them out and made a silent wish: “Let me be brave enough to do it.”

* * *
After tea, Tom’s mother sent him into the kitchen while she talked with her mum and dad.
“He’s got to go back to school,” Tom’s grandfather cleared his throat and spat in the fire. Tom’s mum recoiled at the stench of burning phlegm.
“He doesn’t want to go,” she murmured. “The boys bully him and the masters are worse.”
“Just like the army: he’ll get used to it. It’s me paying his fees; it’s my money you’re wasting when he’s not at school,” he spat again.

* * *
Tom leaned over the chipped porcelain sink in the kitchen. His fingers brushed against the damp red flannel and the soap dish. Then he touched the leather case of his grandfather’s cutthroat razor.
The folded razor lay cradled in his left hand. He nursed it, swaying back and forth on his feet. He found the groove and pulled the cold steel blade from its protective casing.
The razor formed a glittering right-angled claw. Then it became the sinister half-wing of a hawk that fluttered for a second, hovering above his wrist.
It pounced.
A fierce talon slashed into Tom’s wrist and a red river of pain sprang out. Tom fought the urge to scream as he stared at the flowing blood. The great claw of the triumphant hawk lay deep in his wrist. Strong wings flapped and bore him away.

* * *
“Falcon, Richard?”
“Here, sir.”
“Finch, Thomas?” Mr. Shrike’s strident voice pierced the classroom. “Thomas Finch?”
“Not here, sir,” Dick Falcon answered.
“Why not?” Mr. Shrike surveyed the class.
“Don’t know, sir. But he won’t be back.”
“How do you know that?”
“Saw his trunk being sent home, sir.”
“Finch, Thomas: absent,” Mr. Shrike looked down at his list and skewered the boy’s name with the absentee’s black cross. He smiled a cruel, calculated smile, and returned to his list.
“Hawk, Peter.”

* * *

Remembrance Day Flash Fiction

 

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Remembrance Day
Bistro 20

Previously published on
http://commuterlit.com/2015/12/wednesday-remembrance-day/

            The old man watched a drop of red wine slide slowly down the side of the bottle. It was November 11, his birthday.

Seventy-three years ago, Father John had taken the boy’s ear lobe between thumb and forefinger and pinched the nail deep into the flesh until the blood ran.
“This afternoon you will go down to the bamboo grove and cut a cane. Bring that cane to me and I will bless it.”

That night, the boy woke up. Snuffles, snores, and an occasional sob broke the dormitory’s silence. The bamboo was a long, cold serpent drawn up in bed beside him.

The next day, he awoke to his seventh birthday.

Father John beckoned and the boy followed him to his cell and knelt with his hands stretched out like those of Christ on the Cross. The priest struck him with the bamboo cane six times on each hand.
“Your Savior, blessed be His name, suffered more, much more for you,” the priest sighed. “Examine your soul. Find fault with each flaw, for you are unworthy. Remember: the eye you see is not an eye because you see it,” Father John droned on. “It is an eye because it sees you. Christ sees you as you kneel there. He sees. He knows. He judges. Examine your soul with care and stay there until I return.” The priest raised his right hand and made the sign of the cross in the empty air.

The boy spent his birthday kneeling before the crucifix in prayer. He contemplated the wounds of Christ. He imagined each blow of the hammer and imagined the pain of cold nails biting into his warm flesh. He tasted bitter vinegar as it dripped off the sponge, gasped at the thrusting spear, felt the lash’s sting as it fell across his flesh. He became the flagellated Christ and knelt before the crucifix, staring at himself eyeball to eyeball in the same way he looked at himself in the morning mirror. The crucified Christ gazed back at him, his brother, his soul mate, his double.

After an hour, a red drop of paint slipped slowly from the nail hole in Christ’s right hand. The boy blinked. The red drop trembled then fell.
After two hours, Christ opened his eyes and smiled at the boy.
After three hours, salt-water formed at the corner of Christ’s eye. It glistened in a sunbeam that entered through the cell’s narrow window.
After four hours, tears began to flow down flesh and painted wooden face.
It was Remembrance Day, the boy’s birthday. He was seven years old.

Seventy-three years later, the old man sat at the table. He watched the red wine trickle down the bottle. He remembered it all and his tears flowed again.

Recalcitrant Flash Fiction

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Recalcitrant
Bistro 19

            The annual Old Boys Reunion took place in the sixteenth-century cellar of a world famous winery that also ran a restaurant and banquet service for pecunious customers. A man in a penguin suit, with a foreign accent, and a suspicious looking bulge under his left armpit, ushered the recalcitrant towards a set of well-worn of steps.
            “You are arriving slightly on the late side, sir,” the penguin whispered, staring mockingly at the checkered, American-style sports jacket worn by the man he escorted. “And not dressed like the others. But not to be troubled, I myself will escort you down to the place of the guests.”
As he descended the steps that led down to the former wine cellars, the recalcitrant heard the well-remembered, high nasal bray as his former headmaster’s brass voice pierced the ruminations of the penguin-suited herd that, having sniffed the glorious nature of the gregarious watering-hole, was intent on reminiscing, drinking, and feeding.
“Wonderful place … so fortunate … to be here … thank you … ” the old man neighed.
It was indeed a wondrous place, a semi-whitewashed room, warm in the center where bees wax candles in gold candlesticks blazed on antique tables and cool by the one wall left untouched since that same sixteenth century. Here the damp gathered in great grey clots and the spider webs, also untouched, sparkled and glistened, like “the mythical lights of fairyland” as the winery brochure announced to the limited circle of the wealthy to whom it was circulated.
Empty kettle … the recalcitrant thought as he remembered his old headmaster and then they were, face to face, the head and his obstinately defiant and anti-authoritarian pupil, staring each other down.
“You!” It was an authoritarian call to battle. “I remember you. The boy who denied all authority.”
“Yes, me,” the recalcitrant, eyeball to eyeball with the old enemy rejoiced in his newfound glory. And here he was, back in the old country on a lecture tour of six major universities, one of them being in this city, a full professor now, with international honors, multiple publications, department chair in a well-known university, a household name in his subject, and all of this at forty-two years old. “Yes, me,” he repeated.
“You have done well for yourself,” the ageing donkey brayed.
The gunman in the penguin suit, sensing the tension, placed himself in the gunslinger’s position from which he could survey the whole room. He lovingly stroked the armpit bulge, eyes gleaming with hope.
“Tell me,” the head drew a handkerchief from his pocket and honked his nose into it like a storm-bound goose. “How did your career take off?”
“Well, in two stages,” the recalcitrant paused, partly for effect, partly to gather his thoughts. “Just like a rocket: stage one was when I left your school and stage two was when I left your country.”
The old donkey, blinked, threw back his head, trumpeted down his nose with intense nasal wrath, and turned away with a wave of his hand towards another latecomer who had just descended the stairs. “Ah, there you are Smithers,”the fog horn blared. “At last. Saved me you have. This man was just about to …”
The rest of the sentence was lost in the rush and a hubbub as a new series of delights arrived, tapas, hors d’oeuvres, little sticky creations on fiddly little sticks, they all circulated from hand to hand along with the exquisitely chilled champagne, the single malt whiskies, and the ultimate in estate wines.
Not a penguin spoke to the sports-coated recalcitrant. Nobody offered him a hand. Nobody shared a memory with him. As he arrived at each little group, the penguins gathered in a tight circle, turned their black backs to him, and shut him out. Throughout the feasting, he sensed the gimlet eyes of the gunman glued to a spot mid-way between his shoulder blades.
The recalcitrant didn’t partake of the food or the drink, he just watched. Then, after an hour or so, he turned and climbed the sixteenth-century stairs, the gunman in the penguin suit right behind him, and walked away into the freedom of starlight and the cool night air.
He never returned for another reunion.
He never received another invitation.