It’s been quite a while since I did one of these, but I’m keen to start cracking out the flash at least once a week. Here’s my stab at last week’s Terrible Minds flash fiction challenge. Slightly over the word count, but what you gonna do?
Here’s the stipulations:
It starts with a bang.
That’s all the inspiration you need.
I want you to write a short story with that in mind — the tale must begin with a bang. You can, erm, interpret that how you choose, but it definitely means we begin in the middle of the action.
– Leave the Gate Open –
A sizeable chunk of meat or blood or bone had lodged itself into my left nostril. And as I stood there trying to dislodge it, Merv asked the inevitable.
“What the hell did you feed that bloody cow, Ry?” he said, with his own share of viscera falling from his shoulders.
Pressing a finger firmly on the unblocked nostril, I blew hard through the other until, with a satisfying pop, the wet obstruction made its way to the grass to join the rest of the mess.
“You really are disgusting,” Merv said. “If you’ve finished with that, you mind answering me? Because in all my years working here, nothing’s ever blown up. Not the barn, not a tractor and–and i really must stress this–especially not a friesian.”
At this, I couldn’t help but unleash a loud, violent cough-snort. But Merv’s glassy stare indicated he didn’t find the situation as amusing as I did.
“It’s not funny, you little pleb. Do you know how much these guys cost?” he said, wagging a finger in the general direction of the large Jackson Pollock of blood and entrails scattered about the field.
I didn’t. And I said so.
“Well, they. I don’t know how much, but they cost a lot. More than I have and definitely more than you have.”
With Merv it always came down to money. How much everything was. How much we didn’t have. How much this and how much that. He never could have fun.
“It was going to die anyway. What do you think they raise these for? Cuddling? I was just, I don’t know, trying to lighten the mood. You’ve been real stressed recently.”
He had, lately, Merv had been on edge day and night. Again, it was money. Not having any. Which didn’t help when he’d fallen for the farmer’s daughter, but couldn’t very well afford to build a life for them away from the farm. Crucially away from her father, who’d have had his balls off in the bullock shed if he’d find out about the two of them.
Though an attempt at humour this hadn’t been. It was merely a test. A successful one, if i said so myself.
“You need to lighten up, Merv. Come on, try and see the lighter side for once” THe only side he saw though was the side of my face, which his hand quickly connected with, leaving my jaw with a dull ache that i knew would carry me through the next few days.
“Just get this mes cleared, if you can manage it. I’m going to go back down to the farm and see how much of our worthless jobs i can save. Mine at least, anyway.
When I got back down to the farm house I found my Merv sitting at the large oak table with Mr Merryweather.
He wasn’t a man who threw many smiles around and he didn’t look as if that was about to change any time in the near future. His thick lips instead were drawn downwards as if actively seeking to be as opposed to smiling as possible.
Turning his saggy eyed gaze from Merv to me he said “I hear you owe me a cow. That’s going to cost more than your job, boy. Should have known you were too stupid to do something simple like close a gate.”
“I’ve told him time and time again to close them bloody gates, sorry, close them gates. Just doesn’t get through, does it Ry?” It didn’t surprise me he’d be playing fast and loose with the truth. rather than contradict him, I went along with the lie. Whatever it took to buy enough time.
“Must’ve got distracted, you know. I usually remember but then–”
“But then you get your thick head stuck up your thick arse and before you know it the day’s gone and so’s my livestock.”
“But you’ve checked the gates are all secure now. Right, Ry?” Merv said, giving me a look that was mostly eyebrow, hinting he wanted to make sure I had cleared up my little me.
“Of course. Nice, tight and securely shut.” Of course, I hadn’t. Five years on the farm had been long enough to teach me that a good scattering of hay covered a great many messes. The foxes and crows would do the rest of the work for me.
That night Merv came to my room, sweating. He looked like he’d been running all over the house in a black bag, his floppy hair sticking to his face like seaweed.
“you’ve really fucked us. You’ve really -” he broke down into heaving, dry sobs, half collapsed against the door frame.
When his breathe came back, he said “you didn’t clear it up, you lying little shit. Now he’s found it.”
“Found it? He barely takes a second step into the great, green outdoors. If he could drive that landy around the house, he would.”
“Didn’t have to. His dog brought back a bone. A great, big bone. Must’ve been its leg or something.”
The bones. I hadn’t thought about them. Most of them had been pretty well obliterated. I started thinking about the endings of all those cartoons “and I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that pesky dog”.
“Well, he’s already firing me…I don’t see what else-”
“Fired? Oh you won’t have to worry about that, he’s gone out right now. To the police. Thinks the bone’s bloody human. Old bastard sells cattle for a living and can’t tell the difference.”
“Am I mumbling? Yeah, the police. You’ve got to get out of here. Whatever you used to blow up that cow–why ever you did–I can’t see many explanations going down well with the coppers. I mean, how did you even make it?”
“There’s no shortage of fertiliser around here, Merv. You smell of it pretty much every day.” He was right though, I didn’t fancy waiting around to explain myself. I just needed a little extra time.
I looked out the window. The moon was still waning. Just two days. That’s all I needed.
I dived out of bed and threw on whatever clothes I had on the back of my chair and pushed passed Merv.
“Where are you going? We need to talk about this”
“You’re always talking.” I said, running to the stairs.
Sitting listen to the wind stroke the water, I watched the lake turn from a dirty blue to a shade off black as the sun went down behind me.
The clearing by the lake was like Gatwick at peak fishing season. But by late autumn it was one of the most peaceful parts of the village.
At the edge, an old tyre swing swayed in the breeze like a ghostly gallows. When we’d first arrived, Merv and would be down here flying back and forth edging each other to go higher on that thing, with the fishermen raging at us about how we were scaring off the fish. I’d always wished it was them we could scare off instead.
A loud crack behind me spun my head around, even though I’d been waiting for him.
“Got your note. Did you really have to be so mysterious?” Merv pulled a crumpled piece of paper from the front pocket of his hoody and cleared his throat. “Wednesday. At night. Meet me near lake. Tell no one. Not even her. R”
He was right. It was overly dramatic. But how often do you get to be legitimately dramatic? We can’t all be Batman, slinging ominous words into every dark corner of Gotham
I stood up off the backpack I’d been sitting on, unzipped it and removed a large, leatherbound book. . “Here,” I said, handing it to Merv. “Open it at the bookmark”
Merv stared at the worn, tan cover as if it was the first book he’d ever seen.
“You brought me out here to read? I thought you had some kind of–”
“Just open it and read what it says.” I said, waving a finger at the cover. “Trust me for once, will you?”
His face went through some kind of internal battle, where the features fought for a superior look of exacerbation. Would the victor be a classic eyebrow raise or a more controversial eye roll?
Settling for something in-between that led to considerable eye twitching, he opened the book to the marked page and began to read in a half-mocking drawl that was no doubt a poor stab at my own voice.
“On the night of the dead moon
With the power of beginning
Blood, flesh, bone undone
Here come the djinn.”
“Poetry? Really? Look, if this is some kind of first date, I have to warn you, we’re siblings. It just won’t work,” he said, clapping shut the book and tossing it back onto my bag. “Seriously, what are we–no–what are you going to do about the pit of shit you’ve dug for both of us?”
“I just did it. Or, you did.” I threw a wicked grin I’d been practising the whole time I’d been waiting for Merv.
“That wasn’t some nonsense bit of poetry. It was a spell.”
“A spell? Christ, you’ve really gone nuts haven’t you. I just, I haven’t got time for more games, Ry. I thought coming out here might bring something better out of you but I’m really to just call it a day.” Merv turned and headed back towards the trees.
Four of five paces away, he looked over his shoulder, mouth open to make a what I’m sure would have been another insightful retort about my being, when a thunderous crash roared through the woods.
Every leaf shook, the ground moaned and Merv was thrown to the ground.
When the trees around us had finally settled to silence, Merv, sprawled in the dirt looked up and mouthed a single word at me that looked like what or possibly twat. I wasn’t sure.
Going with the first, I stood over him and held the book in front of his face again. “You’ve spent your whole life looking after me, in your own shit-twisted way. So, now, I’ve repaid the favour.”
“What have you done?” he croaked.
“I had to waste my wish testing this thing. I’m not nuts, I thought this was garbage too. But it worked. I wished that cow’d blow up and it did. But when I tried again, nothing. So I made one for you, instead.”
Merv tried standing, but the adrenaline had taken all the energy from his limbs so he rolled onto his side instead, looking up at me.
“What are you talking about?”
“This is what you wished for. Merryweather gone. His daughter, free to be with you. She’s his only family, the farm goes to her. Congratulations, you got everything you wanted.”
His face went through another battle of the expressions; none of them looked positive. So I picked my bag off the floor and made my way out of the woods.
Some people will never be happy.