As the first round of the 2016 Flash Fiction contest for NYC Midnight is officially over, I figured it was time to share my stories! This was my submission to Challenge #1 of Round #1. It had to be a fairy tale, take place predominately in a liquor store, and include a clipboard. This story came in 1st place in my group, earning me 15 points for the first round. Enjoy!
They say kindness doesn’t pay, that nice guys finish last, but what if they’re wrong?
What if being kind is all it takes to give you everything you’ve ever wanted?
Her face flushes red-hot as she watches the teens run away, middle fingers in the air. Layla turns back to Luther, beaten and bloody on the ground outside her store.
“You know,” he says. “Once upon a time, I could take care of myself. I promise.”
Her shoulders slump. “Let’s get you inside.”
Throwing one arm over her shoulder, he pushes himself off the ground. She ignores the smell as best she can, but even breathing through her mouth, she can taste it.
“You don’t have to do this,” Luther says, clearly embarrassed. “I can go wash up out back.”
She ignores him, leading him inside and placing him down in the chair in the corner. He eyes the merchandise, and she simply can’t help herself.
“Pick your poison, Luther. I think you deserve it today.”
He smiles sheepishly and points over to the vodka section. Layla grabs a bottle and hands it to him.
“You are too kind.”
“Let me get some towels to clean you up.”
When she returns, she finds Luther by the register, holding a picture of Layla with her parents and sister.
“You have a beautiful family.”
Her heart stops. Though she keeps the picture out, she tries her hardest not to think of them. It’s just too painful.
“Sit down, Luther. Let me clean you up.”
He obeys, staying perfectly still as she cleans the cuts across his face.
“Well, nothing’s broken, but we’ll need to keep your face clean. Come in every morning. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”
Luther watches her with a careful gaze. It’s no secret that he sleeps behind her store, though she’s never brought it up.
“Why are you so nice to me?” he whispers. “No one is this nice to people like me.”
Layla shakes her head, laughing softly. “It’s just that, Luther. You’re a person. I’m not going to let assholes treat you like dirt just because you fell on hard times. People are cruel. I guess I’m just trying not to be.”
She grins at him, but Luther sees the sadness beneath it.
“Are you happy?”
Her hand pauses at his question, but she recovers, dabbing softly at the gashes once again.
“Why would you ask that?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just… I think you deserve to be happy is all.”
She stops tending to his wounds and looks him square in the eye. “As do you, Luther. You’re good to go now.”
He pushes himself from the chair and holds out a hand, which she instantly takes, gripping it softly and shaking before letting go. He notices she doesn’t go to wipe her hands like others do.
“Thank you, Layla. I hope to repay you one day.”
She shakes her head. “Just take care of yourself, and make sure to swing by in the morning so I can check on you, okay?”
He follows her to the back of the store where she lets him out the door that faces the alley.
“I mean it,” he says. “You deserve to be happy. You’re too kind not to be.”
She stays silent as he disappears into the makeshift home he’s made between two dumpsters. Closing the door behind her, a weight crashes down on her shoulders.
“If it were only that easy.”
She awakens with a start, crying out at the stiffness in her neck. Peeling a receipt from her cheek, she looks down at the clipboard showing she only made it halfway through inventory before falling asleep.
Looking around the dark and quiet store, she wonders what woke her when a large crash sounds from out back. Thinking of Luther, she curses under her breath while reaching for the baseball bat that’s hidden beneath the register.
She runs for the back door and swings it open, only to find nothing but a man alone in the alley, his back to her. He turns, and Layla gasps.
“Luther! What’s going on back here?”
He’s dressed in a suit, a stark difference from the earlier rags. He quickly walks over to her, ignoring her question.
“You thought I was in trouble, and you didn’t hesitate to come out and help me. Is that right?”
She doesn’t understand but nods all the same. “Of course. Why would I hesitate?”
He chuckles. “Many people would, Layla. Many people have.” He grasps her shoulders tight. “Now, will you answer my question from earlier? Are you happy?”
Confusion engulfs her, but she answers nonetheless.
“No,” she whispers, surprising herself. “I’m not happy at all, but why does that matter?”
He releases her and moves to the back door of her store.
“Layla, in my world, I am called the Seeker, though I feel that’s a bit dramatic.”
She backs away a step, thinking Luther may have finally gone off the deep-end when he swings the door open, her eyes widening at the sight. Instead of her store, a bright canvas opens up before her, filled with colors and landscapes she’s not sure she’s ever seen. In the distance, a beautiful estate overlooks a small town.
“What is it?” she asks, eyes filled with surprise.
“My world, Layla. It’s new, created in response to what’s happening here, and I’ve been tasked to fill it with those deserving. It is too cruel here, unforgiving to people like you who still manage to stay kind in the face of all things terrible. I think it could bring you the happiness you seek, if you wish to join us.”
She steps forward, a calm settling within her that she hasn’t felt in years, not since the day her family went for a drive and never came home. She breaks her gaze from the doorway, finding Luther holding out his hand. She takes it, and they step over the threshold together. Warmth engulfs her, and she breathes in the scents around her.
“All this because I was kind to you?” she asks, staring over wonderingly at Luther.
He simply smiles. “Welcome home, Layla.”