Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Flash: Easter Surprise

Easter Surprise
by Clara Zane

Hannah watched Kayla run up to the potted plant where the green plastic egg lay and snatch it. A little boy, probably no more than three years old, two years younger than Kayla, reached for it seconds too late. He and Kayla looked at each other, and Kayla handed him the egg. The boy beamed at her, and they raced off in different directions, on the hunt for more. In that moment, she couldn't have been more proud of her daughter.

A few seconds later, a man came up to her. A man, she had to admit, who had ruggedly handsome down pat. Short brown hair, smoldering brown eyes, and what looked to be a chiseled chest and shoulders under a neatly pressed blue dress shirt. No doubt a six-pack also hid under there. She couldn't help but peek at his left hand and see no wedding ring.

"Hi," he said. "Is that your little girl that gave the boy the egg?"

"Yeah, that's Kayla."

He gave her a smile that had her biting her bottom lip. "I figured by the way you're watching her. That's my son, Chase. This is his first Easter without his mom, and he wanted to find as many eggs for her as he could."

Hannah let out a gasp. "I'm so sorry. It must be so hard on you both."

"Oh, no, no," he said, holding up his hands. "She's not dead. We're divorced. Chase usually spends holidays with her, but she couldn't take him this year, and asked him to get as many as he could and send her a picture."

"Oh, that's good. I mean, not that you're divorced, but that … that she's not dead."

He laughed, a magical sound. "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you. I'm Rick, by the way."

"Hannah." They shook hands. She couldn't help but notice how his was that nice mix of rough but gentle. Like he not only worked with his hands, but knew what he was doing. Despite trying her best to not let men get to her since Dan left, she couldn't help but wonder how gentle but rough Rick's hands could be on her. She felt a blush rise to her cheeks, and hoped he didn't notice.

They watched their kids for another minute or so before he asked. "So, is Kayla's dad somewhere getting this on video?"

"Is that your clumsy way of asking if I'm single? I am, by the way." She nudged him lightly with her shoulder, which he gave her another of his breathtaking smiles.

"I didn't think it was all that clumsy."

"It was." They laughed, and she watched Kayla outrace another girl her age for an egg on a low branch of a tree. She didn't hand that one over.

"Do you and Kayla have big plans for the rest of your day? A family party?"

"No. Family is on the other side of the country. This is our big shindig today. How about you and Chase?"

He gave her an eyebrow wiggle, which was beyond corny, but he actually pulled it off. "I'm taking him to Blueberry's Waffle House for brunch. How's that for fancy?"

She laughed. "For a kid that age? Believe me, I know what a biggie Blueberry's is."

"What do you say you two lovely ladies join us? I'm sure Chase will be all for it." They looked over and found Kayla giving him a boost to reach an egg just out of his reach.

How could she say no? The kids had basically made the choice for her, right? He then leaned in close, and said, "In fact, the egg hunt will go on for a few more minutes. Are you interested in sneaking off somewhere a bit more private while they finish?"

"Yes" rushed to her lips and escaped before she knew what she was doing. How in the world had that happened? She wasn't like this. Sure, she wanted to go to breakfast with him and see where that led, but she couldn't do anything else so soon. Before she could come to her senses, he had her hand and led her towards the nearby restrooms. She knew there was a family restroom built in, so they could have some real privacy.

Once the door closed, and he locked it, she reached for him to kiss those magical-looking lips, but he instead grabbed her by the throat and pushed her hard against the wall. Her head hit the concrete with enough force to daze her. Before she knew what was happening, he put a plastic bag over her head and punched her in the stomach so hard that she couldn't scream out. He slammed her head against the wall again, and she didn't know much else. As Rick, or whatever his real name was, ripped off her dress, her last conscious thought before she ran out of air was of what would happen to Kayla.


Someone blew a whistle, signifying the end of the Easter Egg Hunt. The little boy ran over to her and gave her a hug. "Thank you for helping me."

She smiled down at him and said, "You're welcome."

He then turned and ran towards two adults who could only be his parents, getting picked up high into the air by his dad, while his mom kissed his cheek. Kayla smiled, clutched her Easter basket filled with 22 plastic eggs - she'd counted - and looked for Mom.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Flash: The Carousel

The Carousel
By Clara Zane

She wandered into the empty field and let out a harsh breath at its stark emptiness. Her life all but ended here, and only dirt and weeds remained. Tears, ones she didn't think she still had, stung her eyes. What did this prove? He was gone. He was gone and would never be back. She couldn't do anything to change that.

But she couldn't leave. Not yet.

She wore thick boots, but the ground felt ice cold as she crossed the field. She shivered, but pushed past it and continued towards the middle, towards the spot. She couldn't help but notice the grass hadn't grown back. Would it ever?

Any sign of his demise had been dashed away with the carnival. She stopped and closed her eyes, letting the past wash over her. The memories, the sensations, the smells, and the sounds bathed her. Unseen crowds pushed around her; the scent of popcorn, fried dough, and grilled meats wafted through the air; the excited screams and laughs coming from the rides and games erupted through the field. It all seemed so real that her eyes flickered open, and she fully expected to find herself in the middle of the busy carnival, just as it had been last summer. But of course that didn't happen; it existed only in her mind, her memories.

A shimmer blossomed from the dead grass where the carousel had sat, where David had died, a victim of an unfortunate slip from too much beer sloshing in his gut. She stared at the spot and watched as the rainbow-colored circular contraption, packed full of plaster zoo animals, solidified in front of her. She blinked a half-dozen times, rubbed her eyes, but found it still standing in front of her.

The recorded music, like an old music box, sounded on the breath of a breeze. The colorful horses, zebras, camels, and all the rest began their constant undulation. She stared, transfixed. Nothing else in the empty field moved. She wasn't sure if she wanted to step forward to check if the carousel really was solid, or stand still and believe it was only a part of her imagination, her grief.

And then she saw the hippopotamus David had fallen off of. It bounced around the edge of the carousel, empty as all the others. She kept her eye on it until it disappeared around the back. When it appeared again, she gasped and crumpled to her knees. David sat on its back, waving at her, just as he'd done that fateful evening. When he floated around the back, already starting to slip, she wasn't sure if she wanted him to continue around or not. He'd fall this time. She'd see it all again, and she wasn't sure she could handle it.

She didn't have to. When the hippopotamus emerged from the back, he wasn't there. She choked back a sob, and whispered his name. The slight breeze returned, and this time his voice tickled her ear. A moan left her lips, and then she saw him, standing where he'd fallen. He looked just as she remembered him. She couldn't fight her first instinct, which was to rush at him. He opened his arms, and she knew she'd pass right through him, as he was nothing but a memory, a figment of her overactive imagination, hyped up by this setting.

But she didn't. He was as solid as ever. And he still had his wonderful scent of menthol cigarettes and Aqua Velva. She tried to say something, anything, but no words would come. He, too, uttered nothing. All she could do was silently sob in his arms for days, hours, minutes, seconds. She had no idea which, but however long it was, it wasn't enough.

She had no idea what would happen next. Would he disappear? Would he remain here with here forever? Could she go with him wherever he was headed? She looked up into his face and saw his phantom tears, but also a smile. He tilted his head, and gave her a crooked smile she knew well. It spoke of a coming adventure, and if she wanted to join him. She tried to scream "Yes!" but again she couldn't get a sound out. He would have no problem understanding her emphatic nod.

She felt light-headed for a few seconds, and then the carnival, more grand than she remembered, rose around her. David, no longer a ghost, at least not to her, still held her in his arms. "I missed you," he said.

She found her words at last. "I missed you, too. What happened?"

"I don't know. But you're here with me now."

She smiled. "I am. I'm never leaving you, and you have to promise me you'll say the same."

He kissed her forehead, said, "I have no problem with that," and then moved his lips to hers.

They dimmed away with the carnival, leaving only her mortal coil behind. She didn't miss it.