Seeker

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!

—————————————————-

Seeker

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.”

Ordinary

I was looking for something ordinary. When the war ended, that’s all any of us wanted. I’ve been a soldier as far back as I can remember, when the occupation first began. Now, decades later, I’ve lost everyone. My parents. My friends. All I have is this lonely apartment the World Army put me up in after my decommission and a cat named Libby that apparently comes with it.

I hate cats.

Currently, she sits on my feet. I don’t even try to get her to move. Kick her off a thousand times, and she’ll just come back for more.

I sit in one of my two kitchen chairs, facing the window to watch the occupiers leave. It’s a big day. The Council invited me to be there, but I declined. I’ve seen enough of those ships to last a lifetime. Glancing down at my watch, I realize the treaty is being signed right at this moment. I suck in a mouthful of air in an attempt to calm the unrest within me, and as my breath escapes, the ships rise like clockwork into the air. I’m only about a half-mile away from the ceremony. They hover, ghost-like, before turning skyward.

My leg begins to bounce, and I hear Libby hiss in frustration. I scowl down at her but press my hand down on my knee all the same. A thin sheen of sweat breaks out across my body as I watch the ships ascend until they’re just small, black dots in a giant sea of blue.

What the hell do I do now?

Glancing around at the drab room, I wonder how I’m ever supposed to call it home. There is no food in the fridge, barely any clothes hanging in the closet. I don’t even know where the closest grocery is located. It’s never been something I needed to know.

You’ve served your time, they said. Go live your life.

What life? I survived twenty-seven years of war. A dirty war too. A war we weren’t supposed to win. They had every advantage, but we refused to give up, and somehow we won. Somehow, I made it through. Not many people can say that. I only have to visit the graves of all my friends to know.

Bending over, I lay my head in my hands as the first wave of fireworks shoot off across the city. The Council had warned me about them, thank goodness. My fingers plug my ears as the vibrations reach their crescendo before vanishing away like the retreating ships into the sky.

I expect to hear the cheer of the crowds, but only silence greets me. Is everyone already leaving, ready to get back to their ordinary lives and ordinary jobs? Twenty-seven years, and that’s it. Time to move on, everyone!

The lack of noise presses down upon me, and my chest feels like it may explode from the pressure. Standing too quickly, Libby scurries away at the sudden movement. I grab hold of the window pane just as the whistle reaches my ears. I think it’s just in my head, but as it grows louder with each passing moment, I realize it’s coming from above.

Turning my eyes to the sky, the small, black dots grow larger once again. I can only stare as the first one slams into the city, maybe a mile from where I stand, the others racing down behind it. My phone starts ringing within seconds.

“This is Jackson.”

“Vacation’s over,” I hear Patterson yell over the chaos. My anxiety vanishes, the nausea vacating my stomach at the sound of the familiar.

“Get your ass over here. Now.”

He hangs up on me, and I stare out at the city disintegrating before my very eyes. Grabbing my pack from the counter, I run to the door, yanking it open before turning back one last time. Libby now sits in the chair I vacated, staring out at me with her cold, black eyes, her long tail twitching back and forth. I narrow my gaze at her before turning back and slamming the door behind me.

Perhaps ordinary just isn’t something I’m meant to have.

Introducing the yeah write super challenge!

Hello!

As you may know, I’ve been involved with yeah write for a few years now, and it’s been such a wonderful experience to be able to watch yeah write grow and evolve. The next step is a fun and exciting one, and we’ve all been holding our breaths for weeks trying to get everything perfect for you guys.

And it’s finally here!

The yeah write super challenge is a six week, three-round competition that will help you stretch your muscles as a writer and storyteller. Each participant will walk away with detailed feedback on their entries, and the winners will walk away with sweet prizes. The more people who enter, the bigger the prizes – so invite your friends!

For our first super challenge, we’re calling for nonfiction entries of up to 1,000 words (fictioneers, you’re up next!). For those without a blog, don’t worry! Submissions will be accepted via email so no personal website is required. We’ll simply give you a prompt, and you’ll give us your best short essays and mostly-true stories. The early entry fee is $20 USD until 11:59 pm on June 30, 2016. From July 1 to 11:59 pm on July 6, the entry fee will be $25 USD.

We’ve collected all the details for you on one page. Check it out, read the official rules, and start warming up those typing fingers. The yeah write super challenge starts on July 8, and registration is open now!

Please feel free to spread the word if you think anyone you know would be interested in our very first super challenge. We are so excited to get this started! Less than two weeks to go!

Cheers!

Arden Ruth

eds-badge-200

Sakura

Cherry petals bloom

and blow away on the breeze –

buds begin anew.

 

Begin Again

Yanked through the Gateway, I fight down the bile as Mike hastily pulls me from the ground.

“Where are we?” he asks.

I can only stare at the field of sunflowers where our sprawling city just stood.

“Not where,” I answer.

“When.”