Mr. Chuck Wendig, esq put up a flash fiction challenge earlier this week: spin a thousand-word yarn riff off the term “Irregular Creatures”. Now, I’m exactly the sort of person to say no to a challenge, but I had a look at some of the excellent entries (don’t miss Marko Kloos’s Seeds if you have bird feeders and the problems that come with them)
Thusly inspired, I dashed together this little piece that I call,
James Kennedy had stared at his sock drawer for a good ten minutes that first morning, dumbfounded. He’d never seen it so neat, and he didn’t remember doing it. But there they were, tidy and folded.
The next morning had been his kitchen cabinets: Peanut butter, coffee, cooking oil, lined up by size. Ramen in neat rows. When had he done that? His hands trembled as he closed the cabinet doors.
The third day, he got home from the unemployment office and went to his desk for a stamp. It was even cleaner than the cabinets. Pens, pencils, erasers neatly arrayed. Good god, his bills were sorted by payment date.
James thrust his hand into his pocket and squeezed his one week token. He hadn’t… And anyway he wouldn’t… This wasn’t like waking up next to a bottle he didn’t remember finishing. Something else was going on.
His grandmother had told stories. From the old country. Little people who helped make shoes or something. He didn’t remember stories of them cleaning houses, but it was crazy anyway.
He worried at the thought like a loose tooth all evening. He barely remembered microwaving dinner, let alone eating it in front of the TV.
He took the milk from the fridge, and sniffed it. He poured a glass half-full, put two Oreos next to it. He felt stupid, but hey. Worst that could happen, he’d be out half a glass of milk. Not that he could afford to waste food.
He brushed his teeth and went to bed.
James woke coughing and spluttering. He was wet and he smelled milk. He couldn’t move.
“Are ye mocking us?” came a high-pitched voice.
It was dark. James struggled against something he couldn’t see.
“Enough games. Give it over.”
Something hit him in the eye. He blinked furiously to get rid of crumbs.
“We searched yer drawers, yer cabinets, yer desk. Now I’ll ask ye nicely. If ye don’t answer, I’ll be angry. Where is it?”
The lights flashed on, searing James’s eyeballs. Angry murmurs surrounded him.
“I don’t understand. Where’s what?”
James struggled to raise his head — standing on his chest, wielding half a pair of scissors, stood a little man half a foot tall. His little face was red and contorted like a gargoyle’s. He waved the scissor at James’s face.
“Where’s the fecking whiskey?”
James froze, then laughed. He’d finally cracked up.
James yelped in pain. His big toe burned. It sure felt real.
“No joking, Jimmy.”
“There’s no whiskey, and there won’t be. I’m sober, and I’m going to stay that way.”
“Do I look like I give a good goddamn whether yer sober? It ain’t fer you, it’s fer us. It’s always been fer us, we just shared it. Until you hid it!” The little man stamped down hard. James winced at the sharp pain, wondered if he’d cracked a rib. “Now give it over.”
James’s mind cleared. He’d gone through bottles and bottles, more than he remembered drinking. The day he’d poured it all out, he’d felt such blessed release.
He was brought back by a sharp pain on the cheek. The little man’s scissor dripped blood.
“I threw it out.”
The room went quiet.
”And why, pray tell, would ye do that?”
“It was wrecking my life! I lost everything — my wife, my job, my self-respect. Throwing that junk down the drain was the best thing I ever did.”
“All right,” the little man said quietly, lowering his bloody scissor. “I respect that. How’s about this. Get us one more bottle of the good stuff, and we’ll call it even for tidying up.”
James hesitated, testing his bonds. “Fine.”
The little man scrambled off his chest. “Let him up, boys!”
James sat up. He considered jumping out and thrashing the little bastards, but his heart wasn’t in it.
He got dressed, limping, ignoring the many pairs of eyes on him. “There’s an all-night liquor store down the street. I’ll go there.”
James pulled his jacket on and grabbed his wallet. He peered inside and grimaced. “How ‘good’ do you mean by ‘good stuff’?”
The little man with the scissor strode out onto the table and glowered up at him. “Just what do ye mean by that?”
James pulled the bill out and waved it. “I’m down to my last twenty.”
The little man folded and unfolded his arms. “How many ye need?”
“For really good stuff? Three of those. More would get better.”
“Give it here,” he said. James folded the bill twice and handed it to him. The little man studied it. “Wait here,” he said, and they scattered.
James shed his jacket and sat at the kitchen table. He wrung his hands for a few minutes, then looked up at the clock. 3am. He got up and made coffee.
He’d nearly convinced himself the little man with the scissor was a hallucination when they returned. Four of them, holding — James choked on his coffee.
James couldn’t speak. He picked up a handful of proffered twenty dollar bills.
“That… That’ll do.” He gulped. “You know, maybe I was a bit hasty before.”
He turned. “Donnie! How are you?”
They clasped hands. “I’ve missed you. It’s been weeks. But you’re looking really good — are those new clothes?” Donnie glanced at the liquor store sign, then down at James’s clanking paper bag. “Oh, James. You’re off the wagon?”
“This is for a friend. No, really!”
The door opened behind him, and the owner, Joey, emerged. “Hey Jimmy?”
Donnie gave him a meaningful look. “Be seeing you.”
“Uh, yeah, Donnie. See you. Yeah, Joey? What’s up?”
Joey wore a pained expressed. “I’m sorry, Jimmy. You’ve been a good customer lately, but… Come on, you thought I wouldn’t notice?”
James didn’t see the police officers until they’d taken him by the arm. “What’s going on? Notice what?”
“Jimmy, all those twenties… Did you think I wouldn’t notice they all had the same serial number?”