Once again, it’s been a while since I posted some flash fiction! Here are two more pieces written for the Monday Flash Fics Facebook Group. “My Flame” is one of those stories that dropped into my head the moment I looked at the picture. It’s a little creepy, which happens a lot when I write short-form–probably because I don’t have to go back and explain anything. Just serve up a slice of story and let you all decide for yourselves how it happened. The second piece, “Collectors,” returns to the world of Reminders. I like this one a lot and wouldn’t mind continuing this series or eventually writing a longer story set in the same world. One where I actually go back and explain things. 😉
Toby doesn’t know I’m watching him. Most people don’t. I only show myself to young humans, and those old enough to have seen everything else. Toby has seen me. He knows I’m here, but he’s forgotten.
I haven’t seen him for… many seasons, as he measures time. Years, I think. I know what years are, of course I do. But it’s difficult to grasp the passage of them when time moves differently from plane to plane. Here, in these woods, the seasons turn so quickly, it sometimes seems as if they run backward. Snow will cloak branch and limb, cover the floor, and then the leaves will be turning, spinning, shining bright orange and gold.
Today feels like early summer. It’s warm and the leaves on the trees aren’t that deep, verdant green of late summer. Toby is balanced in the branches of our tree, the one we used to climb together. I have squirreled through a knot in the wood, summoned by a familiar hum and huff of breath. So many of my boys disappear forever.
But he is not alone. He has brought someone else to our tree.
I look at the other boy, the one pacing and fidgeting below.
“C’mon,” calls Toby. “You can see the whole valley up here.”
“It’s too high,” says the other boy.
Fear surrounds him like mist. This boy doesn’t like heights. I discern something else, though, something beyond the fear of high places. Creeping closer, I sniff at the miasma floating around him. He’s also afraid of disappointing Toby. Combined, these two fears have near paralyzed him.
I glance up at my boy, the one who doesn’t remember me. We used to climb this tree together, and from the top, we would point out the places Toby wanted to visit one day. You can’t see Paris from here. It’s too far away. But we marked it on the horizon. We also marked Mars, which is a whole other planet. Apparently it moves, though, so it’s probably not where we left it. We also marked Antarctica. I don’t know why Toby wants to go there. It’s very cold.
Has he been to Paris yet? How many years has it been?
Who is this boy fretting at the bottom of our tree?
“I’ll come down and show you how to climb,” Toby says. “I’ll climb back up after you so I can catch you if you fall.”
The other boy snorts. “I’d squash you like a bug.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t mind.”
I sense Toby wouldn’t, and this confuses me. He wants to be pressed up against this other boy, quite desperately. He also really wants to show him the view from the top of the tree—almost as desperately. He wants to impress his friend.
I don’t even need to sample the other boy’s essence to know he feels the same.
Toby was so lonely when he first came to my forest. He was beautiful in his aloneness, a flame to my moth, and so much brighter as he learned happiness. With me. From me. Now, all these seasons later, he is back and… maybe he hasn’t forgotten. Maybe he brought his friend because he knew I would help.
Will I help?
A part of me doesn’t want to. My children so rarely come back. But… he’s here and I think this must be the reason. He wants to share me.
And helping will make Toby happy. He will shine. My flame will glow brighter.
I don’t show myself—I don’t need to. Toby’s friend is too old and too young to see me anyway. I step to his side and take his hand. He doesn’t flinch, which is good. In slow, circular movements, I rub my thumb across his palm until his skin warms, then I stroke upward, sending the heat to his heart.
The boy straightens and pulls his hands together—unaware he has taken my hand as well. He caresses his palm with his thumb and looks up. Toby smiles down at him, and I feel the warmth spreading, encouraging, emboldening. He drops his hands and squares his slim shoulders.
“Okay. I’ll… I’m coming up.”
Toby’s smile is incandescent. It’s not for me, but it is enough. I let go of his friend, of the boy he wants to be more than a friend, and retreat to the shadows. I won’t watch for long. I don’t want to see this pressing together they both want to do. But I’ll linger a while.
I want to see if Toby remembers where Paris is, or Antarctica. Or that floating planet. I want to see if he remembers.
(set in the same world as Reminders)
“How many shoes do you have?”
I open my eyes and blink a few times. His face slowly comes into focus above me. “You need to quit doing that,” I say.
“Shoes,” he repeats. “Where do you keep them?”
“Over there.” I tilt my head slightly toward the left, indicating a dingy wall. A row of boxes march along the bottom, sentries of the apocalypse. “Third from the left, I think.” I rub my eyes. “What time is it?”
He shrugs and retreats from my field of view. “Early. Sun isn’t over First yet.” That’s how we measure time. Which line of buildings, as viewed from our perch, the sun has reached.
By the time I’m upright—and not thinking about the dubious warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag—he’s found the box and is digging through. And humming. He hums a lot. I find it comforting and disconcerting in equal measures. On the one hand, it’s a reminder that I’m no longer alone in a world full of other Reminders. The silent ones. The leftovers of the world that came before.
Breaking the silence sometimes feels wrong, though.
No one knows how or why. We’ve all got theories. One of mine is that we were making too much noise. All of us. Now, only the quiet ones are left behind. The ghosts—like me and him—and the Reminders.
He pulls a fussy pink thing from the box. I grin. I never expected to find a match for it, which, ostensibly, is the purpose of the box. But I always liked the utter frivolity of that slipper.
“Can I have this?”
I let him have it and accept a sturdy work boot for myself. He won’t tell me what they’re for until we’re halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge, paying respects to the Reminder on the outside of a rail. A woman who might have been going to jump.
We slip silently through streets we don’t know. It’s quiet. The only sound an occasional breath of wind. He won’t tell me where we’re going. The sun crosses the river behind us, climbing steadily over the silent outline of Manhattan.
“We need to turn around soon if we’re going to make it back across the bridge tonight.” I don’t like being outside when it’s dark. The quiet feels more menacing then.
He consults a scrap of paper… the ragged corner of a map. “It’s two more blocks.”
I don’t question where or why. Such questions rarely have useful answers.
I see the shoes as soon as we hit the top of the street. A couple, then a bunch, then a long, thickening line of them like ants swarming toward a mound. There, in the center, stands a man. He’s dressed in a suit and hat and holds a briefcase in one hand. He’s looking down at something. Probably the shoes, though it’s hard to imagine all these shoes were there then. At the moment when the world forgot him and moved on.
“Who found him?” I ask. New Reminders are rare.
“Sunny. He gave me the map.” He’s smiling, and it’s the smile I love. The reason why I no longer wake up alone.
He looks around at the shoes, picking a spot for his slipper. I do the same. My gaze is drawn back to the businessman time and again, and the feeling is familiar. It’s always like this when we find a new one. This Reminder has so many more questions, though. It’s the shoes. The tide of them swirling around him.
I haven’t found a spot for my boot by the time he picks his way through the scattered shoes and slips an arm around my shoulders. He leans in. Speaks softly. “We can come back, you know. Bring more shoes.”
That’s when I figure it out, the question I really want an answer for. Where did all the other shoes come from? Who is dropping them off?
I shiver and he pulls me closer. I toss my boot, not caring where it lands. “I don’t want to come back,” I say.
His hum cuts off in the middle. “You will.” He smiles. Noses my cheek. “What else would you have been collecting all those shoes for?”