Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina. His debut collection of microfiction, Cienfuegos, was published in early 2010 by Brown Paper Publishing. You can find and harass him at www.Chris-Deal.com.
It was there waiting for him when Lloyd left work. He rounded a van as he thought of opening a beer when he got home, of sitting down on the couch and not moving until hunger drove him out into the world. His car came into view, an envelope glowing in the golden afternoon sun beneath his windshield wiper. His stomach churned with the angry memories of parking tickets past. His perambulation slowed to a measured step at a time, Lloyd's eyes scanning for the offending security guard, but all he saw were his coworkers, amused by their own internal plans for the evening of freedom to come.
It took three attempts for Victor Haggard to break down the gate. The roads were slick with ice and the car was not getting enough traction. It slid forward, bumping impotently against the target. On the third go he smashed his foot as far down on the peddle as his strength would let him and the car screamed forward, the windshield spider-webbing, the metal gate bending back with a grinding screech far enough for him to squeeze through the gap, scratching long, red lines over his chest and belly.
He had this magic trick, my granddad. Said he learned it from a truckstop wizard somewhere near El Paso. This was back before the cartels made them highways impassable to any guerro, before they stretched out like elder tree roots throughout the border states. My granddad, Willie, he'd come up to one of the grandkids, us, with a cigarette perched on his grin.
The grocery store at Harris and Mt. Holly still smoldered, windows blown out, fire dancing in the glass shards on the ground like a million atoms humming with excitement.
'The fire trucks are probably busy,' I said, pointing out a glob at the base of a streetlight, from where we stood far enough back from the flames to feel the warmth on our faces. 'We'll have to walk another three blocks, but we could use the exercise,' I said. The little boy nodded before leaning down and poking the blob. The mass was thick but fragile; a smoke colored jelly, like liquid fog. I made a note to wash his hands the next chance I could.
The wind blew through the trees, over the frozen landscape, holding in its ethereal grasp smoke and rot the two men tried to ignore. The stench had held dominion over the world in the weeks since life broke down. Alberto spat to the ground while Ben remembered for a moment the first day, the way he fell to his knees and retched continuously, in sickness and in grief, until he was fully empty. A fortnight had gone by and he felt like a lifetime had been lost.
'Slate does not exist.'
The darkness was tangible around the holy light pouring down from the single, naked bulb hiding above them. In the spotlight: the spartan table, a chair on each side. The two men were distorted reflections, four hands palm down and shoulder-width apart on the smooth surface of the table; one pair smooth and pale as the North Star, the other the shade of a life's twilight, a continuous circle of simple gold around a finger, a curl of scar tissue across its rear.
Between the elder's hands is a hammer, the gleaming iron like a thunderstone, specks of imperfection lucent, a firefly dying under the bulb.