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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NYC Midnight's Flash Fiction Challenge, Part Deux

So, having entered the longest contest I've ever seen, I recently submitted my second piece for Challenge 2.  Everyone who enters completes Challenge 1 and 2 and are then assigned points for each story.  So far, I'm at 15 points (out of a possible 15 points) for the first story, but won't know how I've done on this one until mid-October.  The suspense may kill me!

Without further ado, here is what I extracted from the prompts I was given.  I hope you like it.

Group 19
Genre: Drama
Location: a dog park
Object: a pistol


In the Quiet


It was late November the day I pulled to the far end of the blacktop lot separating the city playground from the dog park.  The smell of cold earth and decaying leaves was the first thing I noticed as I stepped from the car.  The sound of barking dogs was the second.  I threw the keys onto the front seat before closing the door and self-consciously patting my jacket pocket.  The small caliber pistol I’d bought last week was still there, right where I’d left it.  Someone may steal the car, but I wasn't going to need it anymore.  It would be days, maybe even weeks, before anyone noticed that I was gone.   

The stretch of woods that I had in mind was located behind the dog park and as I started around the fenced enclosure a particularly bouncy dog, a Jack Russell maybe, caught my attention.  As I watched, it lept across the open field and caught a Frisbee in mid-air.  I took two more steps towards the back of the enclosure before deciding to turn around.  I wasn’t on a schedule, I could spend a few minutes watching the little dog play.

I entered the gated park and found a bench at the top of a hill some distance from the entrance.  The wind was stronger here and I found myself shivering a little as it cut through the jacket.  I wouldn’t stay long, and besides, I wouldn't be uncomfortable for much longer.  I was tired of being uncomfortable.  I was tired of being alone, tired of feeling sorry for myself.  As I watched, the little brown and white dog missed the Frisbee.  It rolled as it hit the ground before bounding after the red disc like it was no big deal.  I can’t do that, I thought.  One miss and I’m done, I never just bounce back and keep going, it wasn’t in my nature.

I was so intent on watching the little dog that I didn’t notice the German Shepherd until it jumped onto the bench next to me.  Startled, I started to push it away, but something in its eyes struck a chord in me.  It had one eyebrow raised like it was asking for permission to hang out with me over here in this quiet place.  I looked around for its owner, but there were no unaccompanied humans nearby.

“Hey there, buddy, where did you come from?” I asked.  The dog seemed to take this as an invitation and circled twice before laying down with its big head in my lap.  Its long tail hung off the other side of the bench and it gave a deep sigh like it had finally found the perfect lap to lay on.  I smiled, a genuine smile, for what I realized was the first time in a long time.

As a kid, I’d always wanted a dog of my own, but that hadn’t been an option with the constant shuffle between foster homes.  There’d been a dog once, a huge bad-tempered old thing that had tried to bite me.  I’d almost forgotten about that home, that temporary family.  I hadn’t stayed long.  I laid a tentative hand on his grey ruff, sinking my fingers between the silky strands and stroking him gently.  After a moment, after my strokes became more confident, we both sighed.

“I’ve never had a pet, ya know,” I told the dog.  I moved the hair away from the black collar that circled his neck, noting the words “I’m a rescue,” written in a repeating pattern around the woven nylon circle.  I twisted it around until a flat aluminum tag stamped with the word ‘Angel’ appeared.  “Angel, huh?”  The dog just yawned again before rolling over onto its back in the universal sign for ‘rub my belly.’  I complied.  “Since you asked so nicely."

For a rescue, he looked well fed and clean, his coat shiny and free from ticks and fleas. “What happened to you, buddy?  Did you run away or did someone dump you?”  He licked my hand and to my surprise, I smiled again.  I couldn’t imagine such a good boy being sent to the pound.  The pound was where they killed dogs no one wanted, the ones who were a nuisance or didn’t play well with others.  As a child who’d been unwanted, one who acted out and been treated like garbage, I could sympathize.  As an adult, I still never quite managed to fit in and something tightened in my chest, squeezing a tear from the corner of my eye.  Wasn’t I about to do the same thing to myself?  My time was up, no one wanted me, time to check out?

As I sat in the quiet, peacefully bonding with another living creature, I felt my soul begin to lighten.  There was a shift in the sadness that had filled me for so long and it actually began to ease.  I thought that maybe this was a sign.  Maybe not all signs were rays of sunshine or flashing neon lights.  Maybe I wasn't done yet.  Maybe I could still be loved.  Still give love. Sometimes, even when you were close to death, you could still be saved.  

Angel sat up, his tail thumping against the bench, urging me to get up and do something about it.  So I did.  I looked back as I got to the gate, just to make sure I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing, but Angel had already disappeared, probably in search of his human.

My car was untouched so I made a bee-line for the animal shelter.  When I saw them, brother and sister, huddled together in the corner of that dirty concrete pen, I knew I hadn't misinterpreted the sign.  The two lab-mixes were shaking despite the heat in the shelter, and I recognized their twin looks of fear and confusion.  I knew in that instant that while I could give them a better life, they were going to save mine.