Chaos [Flash Fiction]

The store was frantic. There were three strollers filled with screaming babies, four toddlers running underfoot and knocking into peoples’ shins, and even a dog barking, although the store allowed no pets. Then there were the adults, all of whom were shouting to be heard, bickering over items, and breaking into loud arguments over prices with the cashiers. The noise level was incredible.

Hans and Lila sat on the broken ceiling fan and watched the unfolding scene with relish. They were each about a foot tall and chubby, with rosy cheeks and bright green eyes that winked maliciously out of their cherubic faces. They also happened to be chaos demons.

“I love Black Friday,” said Lila. She took out a toffee from her pocket and set about unfolding the wrapping. When a corner was revealed, she took a bite out of it and offered it to her companion.

“No. I hate that garbage.”

“How can you hate toffee?”

“How can you like it?”

“I can’t believe they partnered me with someone who doesn’t like toffee.”

“Well, darling, I can’t believe they partnered me with someone who dresses like a human.” Hans gave Lila a withering glare and let himself drop from the fan onto the head of a slim, perfectly coiffed woman who had managed, so far, to acquire about fifteen items. She shrieked and grabbed at her hair, trying to figure out what was on her head, but Hans was already moving too quickly for the human eye to see, jumping from shoulder to shopping cart and back to head, making people drop their things, yell out and begin accusing each other of assault.

Lila watched sullenly from her perch on the fan that she’d broken earlier that morning. She’d thought it was a clever idea, but Hans was much more dedicated than she was, not content unless he was actively sowing discord and confusion. Lila preferred to sit on the sidelines and watch, preferably with a piece of candy to enjoy the spectacle with. Her boss had been perfectly pleased with her work so far, and she resented the new regulations that paired them up. The pamphlet she’d received had said that it was for the demons’ own safety. Apparently there were some humans who were beginning to see them and who were content to smack down a stray demon whenever they saw one. As if they were flies. The indignity of it all still made her jaw clench.

Hans landed back on the fan blade, roaring with laughter. He’d caused two mothers to begin brawling while their babies cried bitterly, untended. Lila sulkily acknowledged that he had a knack for his work. She was about to apologize for her mood and ask him to teach her some of his tricks when-

“Uh oh,” said Hans.

“What?”

“Look. There. No- there. At the door. The kid with the hair over one eye and the tight jeans. He’s looking right at us.”

“He sees us?!” Lila had never encountered one of these and she stared at the boy in fascination. Hans took her hand roughly and began to tug her in the direction of the air duct through which they’d gotten in.

“Time to go,” he said. Lila wondered if she’d ever get another chance. She looked at Hans, his muscles tense with fear, and decided he wouldn’t come after her. Pulling her hand out of his she leaped down into the crowd and began to run towards the boy, the first human who’d ever seen her.

Sugar-Coated

Words on paper; black words on white paper, to be exact. Words, formed of letters, each individually meaningless shape coming together with others to create forms that the eye, or maybe the brain behind it, recognizes and understands. Words, meaningless things, really, when you get right down to it. Words are used to express every trite emotion in the book, every cliche of humanity. Words are nothing more than sounds rolling off the tongue, sticking between the teeth like bits of food that weren’t brushed out properly. Words are like phlegm, coming up the inner-tubing of the body and coughed out messily, loudly, sometimes violently. Words are just like any other bodily function – they serve their purpose, but they’re not to be discussed, not to be praised, not to be loved.

Of course, it isn’t so. If words are like food, they’re like the richest dessert, the most delicious cream-filled, frosted and glazed piece of chocolate cake that ever touched your pallet. If words are like bodily functions, then they’re like the satisfaction of a wide yawn, the comfort of a stretched muscle, the lulling sound of the pulse beating softly in the ears. If words are nothing more than sounds, then they’re like the sweetest music, the most poignant, the most touching of all pieces ever composed by man.

Words are never simply anything. They’re never simply, for they’re never simple. Words are mazes, sentences are labyrinths, paragraphs are cities and pages are countries – novels are entire universes, poetry galaxies.

In the wrong hands words can be dangerous. In the right ones, they can save lives. Falling from the right pens, words can change the world. Dripping from those poisonous ones they can destroy it.

Words on paper. Simply words, or rather words, complicatedly.

Watched Pot

It was four in the morning, still dark, and Laura leaned against the counter and sighed. The coffee-maker burbled behind her, trickling the dark liquid into the clear pot – taking what seemed like forever. A watched pot never boils? Well, even if you don’t watch, they take as long as they like. She was in a sour mood.

The night shift was fine, usually. She didn’t mind starting work at eleven at night – that was when she was most awake anyway. She also didn’t mind dealing with the characters that came in and out of the all-night diner. Some were shady, scary even, but Laura treated them just as if they were a couple of middle-aged lovebirds stopping in for afternoon tea. Some of the more aggressive guys would try to hit on her, or else make fun of her relentlessly so that she’d snap at them, but Laura never caved. She was calm to such a degree that it made the thugs get bored and back off.

There were the sad people who came in, too; the prostitutes, makeup smudged, counting their earnings in a corner booth and asking for take-away pie for the kids at home; the homeless men and women who collected enough change during the day to buy a cup of bad coffee and maybe a bowl of fries; one or two crazies who wandered in and yelled about the end of the world or Jesus living inside them. Laura knew most of them, since they were regulars. The diner was the only twenty-four hour one in about a mile around. Anyone who worked or lived on the streets around it would come there instead of trekking over to the all-night Starbuck’s that was ten blocks away.

So Laura normally liked the night shift. The denizens of the darkened city and small hours of the morning were familiar to her and she wasn’t scared or judgmental of them. They were just there, and like anyone else, they needed to eat and drink.

Sometimes, though, like tonight, the familiar tired, worn out, or constantly tough faces were supplemented by others. In the big booth right in the center of the diner sat six of the rowdies, most obnoxious teenagers Laura had ever seen in her life. It was people like them that made her irritable to the point of wishing dearly to serve up coffee with spit in it.

They were obviously drunk or high, and they were laughing uproariously as one of the guys did some imitation of a comedian. Laura was rather glad they’d moved on to laughing about stupid stuff like this, because what had come before had been much worse. She already knew everything about their evening – they’d gone to Big Tod’s penthouse, and they partied there, and then they went to Shazzam, the biggest and most dangerous club in the area, where they’d partied some more, and then Trudy-O met them at the liquor store where they knew her and sold her whatever she wanted and they partied some more right there on the street until some cops came by and told them to get home or else. Instead of doing that, they’d decided they were hungry and wanted to sober up a little, so they came to the diner, where they unknowingly became the stuff of Laura’s nightmares.

Gangsters, she could handle. But these rich kids slumming it for a night? She couldn’t stand them. She knew they were just kids – probably just a few years younger than her, maybe even as little as two – but she felt that their naiveté was like a bad joke. They honestly thought they were living dangerously, taking risks, being cool. Laura could almost hear the thoughts in the heads of the other customer – thoughts of how much they’d like to teach these kids just how dangerous danger could really be, but why bother when mommy and daddy the lawyers will be swooping down on them tomorrow? No reason to create more trouble with the law than there already was.

Laura didn’t approve of harming people just because they were annoying, but she couldn’t help fantasizing about it, especially since these idiots had been mean and abrasive towards her, and she knew that she was going to get next to no tip, despite the fact that they had a big order coming. Including, of course, six coffees, and right now, followed by an audible whisper and giggle concerning white-trash waitresses.

The coffee-maker clicked off, the pot full, and Laura turned back to it. She poured the coffees, put the mugs on a tray, and carried it over to the teenagers.

“Here you go,” she smiled brightly and put the coffees down in front of each of them. She caught the guys staring down her shirt and the girls turning away from her, continuing to talk over her, as if she were invisible. No thank-yous came, but Laura smiled and told them their food would be coming out any moment now. She smiled all the way back to the coffee machine, which she refilled and started up again.

This time, she faced it. Maybe this way she wouldn’t be able to go back to the table to bring refills. No coffee boiled and brewed, no refills, right? So she stared at the machine, willing it to adhere to adage and never boil.

Tamer and Tamed

Lara let the snake coil around her neck, slithering over her shoulders and looping itself once, twice, until its head was comfortably level with her eyes. The effect was ominous, and it seemed to Barriana that Lara could see out of the snake’s eyes as well as her own. She couldn’t hope to stare the both of them down, and shook her head.

“No. Can’t do it, love. Sorry.”

Lara’s eyes flashed and the snake hissed, moving so its scales flashed in the poor lighting, showing off its poisonous green color. The Tamer stood perfectly still, lips pursed. She couldn’t believe her ears. Having brought Barriana  this far, and to hear her say this? That she couldn’t? Lara couldn’t think of a worse insult.

“Don’t you ever call me that again. You’re finished, you hear me? You’ll never be a Tamer, and what’s worse is you won’t be under my protection anymore. I’ll have my friends chase you to the end of the earth if you ever try to come near me again. You hear me? Do you hear me?!” Lara realized her voice was rising in pitch, getting out of control. She couldn’t have that. She stopped, took a breath, and stroked the snake softly on the head with one long, brown finger. “Out,” she commanded coolly.

Barriana took one last agonizing look at her, at the magnificent, iridescent and beautifully dangerous Lara. She turned deliberately, completely, and wondered if the snake would attack her. The nape of her neck prickled with Lara’s furious gaze – it almost burned with its intensity. But there were no fangs sunken in her flesh, no claws flashing out, no weight bearing her to the ground. So she walked. She took one step, then another, and another. She didn’t allow herself to look back, because she knew that if she did, she’d return to the Tamer and to the Tamer’s life. She couldn’t do that. It had gone too far.

When she got far enough down the tunnel that led out of Lara’s cavern, she started to run. Not knowing how much time she had, nor where she could flee to, she knew this much – Lara wasn’t the kind to forgive and forget. She’d ruin Barriana’s life if she could – and if not for the betrayal she could have done so at any moment out of sheer meanness or spite. That was Lara, alright. Barriana ran on, emerging into air as humid as the tunnel had been, and not much cooler. She took a moment to steady her breath, and then used one of the talents she’d learned from Lara – climbing up a tree, she began to swing from branch to branch, jumping and landing as lightly as she could where she couldn’t get a good grip with her hands. It would take her hours to traverse the humid jungle Lara called home, but every inch away was a bit of her soul that she got to keep to herself.

Barriana fled, using every bit of willpower and strength to keep going. But secretly, a nasty little part of brain wanted to get caught.

Lucy’s Diary, May 23d

May 23d, Afternoon, Grace Hospital, Room #304

Dear Diary,

I’m thoroughly exhausted. I cannot even explain to you the levels of exhaustion I have descended to in the last few days. My cousin, the one who sent me here, said before she sent me away that I was wild and lacked responsibility in my life [stupid cow, she didn’t know one thing about me nor my life, she just decided that, being sixteen, I MUST be wild]. Well, she would have been proud of the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the last week.

But I’m confusing you, I’m sure. Let me begin again, my dearest, and you shall have the story entire by the time I’m done writing.

The morning after I wrote in you last time, I got a phone call on my cell. It was during history class, and of course I couldn’t pick it up right then and there. It was buzzing in my pocket, and I was so shocked at the fact that it really WAS ringing for once [silently, though, obviously] that I immediately raised my hand and asked to be excused to the ladies room. As I’m a good girl and have never asked to be let out in the middle of a lesson since arriving at Pratt and Smith, the surprised teacher let me leave at once.

You can guess my utter astonishment upon seeing the name “Michael” on the screen of my cell phone when I escaped into the hallway and took it out of my pocket. It was Michael! The guy from the diner! I took the call, and all I could hear at first were some garbled noises. Then, I heard something like “help” and then “ouch” and then some monumental swearing. Then, just as I was starting to really panic, I heard him yell out “Oh god!” and then the line went dead.

Oh, Diary, I stood there in the hallway with the phone pressed to my ear even after the line went dead. I was in utter shock for a few moments and could only stand there, trying to figure out what I should do next. Eventually, my mind began to function a little and I dashed to the offices of P&S – a long run from where I had been, to be sure – and breathlessly had the kindly old secretary there call emergency services.

I had no idea where Michael was, of course, but I told them that I believed he was at or around a place called “Gaitec’s Reach.” The man from the rescue services made loud exclamations at that, and asked if I thought he’d been there during the night. When I said that I supposed he had been, the man got very nervous and then very business-like, and I gather that the area is quite traitorous to one who’s not familiar with the terrain.

You may wonder, Diary dearest, how I dealt with P&S on this whole matter – for of course, Michael was found, and I wanted to get to the hospital to see him as soon as I could. P&S are now laboring under the delusion of his being a distant relation of mine, one who was coming to visit me and who I was very worried about because he had been a dear childhood friend of mine, from the days when I still lived with my parents and not with my evil cousin [this lie was necessary to explain why my cousin has no idea who he is].

All in all, the school has been cooperative and my roommates have been life-savers – Sophie and Maria have been bringing me the homework every day, and Peggy even brought me some makeup [“because you look SO dreary, my dear”]. I’ve been spending most of every day here in the hospital, because poor Michael looks so frail, so very weak. I don’t know why, but I feel responsible for him. I can’t, just can’t leave him here to wake up all on his own! I heard his English accent last time we met, so I know he must be so very far from home, the poor thing.

The doctors say he had a bad concussion, and they think he should wake up in a day or two, but I’m worried. He’s been in and out, mumbling nonsense sometimes and groaning from the pain at others.

Diary, Michaels’s stirring, he may want some more water, so I shall have to resume my conversation with you later.

I am ever yours,

Exhaustedly,

Lucy

P.S. Oh, one other thing – I’m going to tell him my real name when he wakes up, if he tells me what he’s been doing here.