Flash Fiction. It's a thing. Who knew?
While there's no nudity, it does require stripping - stripping a story down to less than 1000 words. That's about 2 pages. That takes about twenty-five minutes. No biggie, I can totally do that. But see, the thing with the NYC Midnight Challenge is that you only have 48 hours to write your less-than-a-thousand-word story, and you don't know what your going to write it about until they say 'Go!"
My prompts were as follows:
Genre - Mystery
Location - Homeless Shelter
Object - Shovel
The problem is that typically when I'm 1000 words into a story I'm still setting up the scene. If you've ever read anything I've written, you know I like to ramble, so this was harder than I thought it would be. After typing up the story I could make of those prompts, I was at 1589 words. This is where the stripping comes in. Paring it down to only the most essential parts of the story; cutting out anything that wasn't necessary.
So, here's my first attempt at Flash Fiction, let me know what you think!
The moth was back, dancing between his face and the tattered newspaper he’d been reading on the back steps. He swatted at it with the paper, hoping it would join the other bugs flitting around the light over the shelter’s back door. With a critical eye, he noted that the faded blue paint was peeling from the door, revealing streaks of rust beneath it. Maybe he would offer to paint it. The paper said it wasn’t supposed to rain tomorrow; he could do it after he set the posts for the garden pergola.
The garden, located behind the low-slung block building that housed the Guiding Light Shelter for Men, had been a big part of the reason he’d accepted this job. The abandoned lot, enclosed on three sides by the flat, windowless walls of the surrounding buildings, had been purchased by the shelter and turned into a vegetable garden. A privacy fence separated the lot from the street to keep vandals out. Tended by the men here, they planted, weeded, and harvested the vegetables. It gave them a sense of purpose. He’d known as soon as he laid eyes on it that this was the perfect place for him.
The earthy smell of the composted horse manure he’d tilled into the garden earlier in the day hung thick in the air around him as he enjoyed his well-deserved break. He didn’t mind the smell. It was of the earth, serving a purpose, just like him. He leaned against the iron pipe of the stair rail and took a drag on his cigarette, barely noticing the quickening of his heart rate as the smoke filled his lungs. The moth was back again, so he blew the smoke in its direction, chuckling as it fluttered away into the dark. Like people, insects were easily confused. Blow some smoke, misdirect, and they wander off, no questions asked.
He turned back to the front page of the paper where the smiling face of a pretty woman stared at him under the headline, “Body Found Under Bridge.” He wadded the paper in disgust and took another drag. He’d been following this particular story for a few days - a suburban housewife killed in her home. Blood spatter, shoe prints, hair and fiber samples… and now the police had a body. He disapproved of such negligence. He drew in the last pull of smoke before grinding the cigarette butt beneath the heel of his mud-spattered work boot. He picked up the discarded butt, depositing both it and the newspaper into the garbage can next to the stairs. He paused for a moment to admire his handy work - the large hole he’d just dug in the tilled earth. Brushing the loose dirt from his overalls, he turned to go back inside.
A single row of lights in the open kitchen were kept on all night, and the light that spilled over the long counter cast deep shadows on those that slept here. The strong smell of the ammonia he used to mop the floors every evening comingled with the aromas of body odors and urine stained fabric. He didn’t much mind that either. Pulling black cotton gloves from his pocket, he slid them over his hands as he walked. His rubber soles were silent on the cracked green linoleum tiles. Tonight’s head count was thirty-four, and all were sleeping like the dead. He walked amongst the rows of cots, listening to their breathing, their soft snores. Everything seemed normal. No adverse reactions.
He’d been hired three months ago as a sort of combination night-time janitor, and bouncer. While sometimes the general sadness and despair here was overwhelming, overall, he enjoyed his job. He liked talking to each man after the bustle of the dinner rush was over. He enjoyed getting to know them, hearing their stories, their triumphs, and their sins. Especially their sins. He could sense them either way, but he liked to talk with them before making any decisions.
He came to the cot where David slept. David was a child molester. He’d known, of course, as soon as he shook the man’s hand. He’d sensed it. It had oozed like a sickness from the man’s pores. Subsequent conversations had confirmed it, even if David had been too smart to admit it. He preferred his contributions to confess to their sins, but no, David had played coy. Rolling David onto his back, he was happy to see that the GHB he’d slipped into everyone’s juice before bed was still working. The body was slack and malleable. He stripped off the man’s clothing and wadded the shirt into a ball. Holding it over David’s mouth, he pressed down until the feeble attempts to fight ceased.
He tossed the shirt onto the pile of clothes to be dealt with later. He carried the body across the room, back through the peeling blue door and into the garden. Dumping his offering into the hole, he curled the body onto its side to make it fit. He picked up a bag of quick lime from his stack of construction supplies and ripping it open, poured the contents over the body. It would dissolve soon. No one would notice two bags missing, just like they would never notice a homeless man missing. Rolling the bags into small balls, he set them aside. He would throw them away with the clothes before the others woke up. The garbage would be picked up in the morning and all the evidence would be gone. Picking up his shovel he began pushing dirt over the body, burying the sin.
An offering should never be violent and bloody, he thought as he shoveled. His mission wasn't to kill innocent people and leave evidence all over but to weed out the evil in society. Quietly, quickly, and with no trace left behind. For twenty-three years, the Lord had shown him the truth, and he’d done his part, steadfast and unwavering.