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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest—Round 1

The circumstances under which I wrote this were . . .  subideal. I had two shows to review and another commitment. I had very little time to work out the ending, which unfortunately shows. But it looked like I wasn't going to even get the story in for a while,  so I'm glad I did.

Heat: 16
Genre: Fantasy
Location: A food truck
Object: A water fountain
Word count: 1000 on the nose

Title: Topside Curio


Elio’s bell jar has some new whatnot again this morning. Mine does not. It's as empty as ever, but hers has a perch dangling from the dome. 

She’s curious about it. She circles on feet that barely skim the mesh of the bottom plate. Her  wings beat fast enough to set the glass buzzing. It almost drowns out the snick of latches and the tink of the jar against the metal sidewall as the Topsider loops the handle over its customary hook. 

He pauses to watch as she tries it out.

Elio pays him no mind, for once. Her tail coils high around one thin filament. She stretches arms wide, and her fingers clutch the other. She tips backward. She swings, awkward at first. Scowling, determined, interested as she comes to understand the motion of the perch. Counter-motion as her legs pump and set the bell jar swinging. 

The Topsider’s mouth curves. He says something. It's jabber to me, but high-pitched and drawn out. He talks to the smaller ones outside this way. To the four-legged things on tethers the grown sometimes have. 

Give 'em a show

That's what he's saying. I only know because she's told me. Because she's made it a point to make as much sense of him as she can.  

The Topsider moves suddenly. He cups the jar in one immense palm, stealing its momentum just as it’s about to meet metal again. Elio jounces on her perch. Her wings snap into stillness. Her chin jerks to face him, and she shows her teeth. 

I wonder if he thinks she’s smiling. 


Elio doesn’t talk much. Even when we’re penned together night after night in the big plastic barrel the Topsider’s poked holes in, she doesn't talk much. 

I think she hates me, though she’s spared a few words  to deny it. To tell me she has bigger things on her mind than fault, rank arrogance, and stupidity, and I know she’s right. 

We’re dying, her faster than me.

She smells wrong. Even underneath the thick-smoke, sharp-brine tang of the box. Even though he half drowns us every few days. He takes us out into the world, only to trap us in the shallow silver basin. The water shoots high, then rains down to half drown us. For all that, I should still be able to catch her scent, pale green and living. Different from the turned-earth, purple-browns of my own family, but familiar from Beneath. From home. 

Her wings don’t sound right, either. They’re brittle from days swinging in the sun while the Topsider leans out the open side of the box and passes things to others waiting. 

That's what's killing her. The jabbering, even though she listens hard every day to make sense of it. It’s the way they exclaim over us, pawing and flicking their claws against the glass to make it chime, until he yells and shoves things at them. Red and white paper boats heaped with steaming, oily things go out. Silver and  green and thin, good-for-nothing paper comes in. It never stops. 

She has to hate me. She’d never have been here if it weren’t for me. If I hadn't had a grand idea. 

I'd meant it for both of us. I'd meant launch us out of a life dodging Topsiders. Gathering petty pieces for the Knacks.  It hardly matters when she's dying, but I truly meant it for both of us. 

She'd tried to tell me some  knew about us. Some  believed, but it seemed so unlikely. Topsiders were dangerous, but they weren't exactly famous for their powers of observation. For belief. 

And, the new boxes were too tempting. The Archs tagged them off limits right away. Anything that could zip around like that, was off limits, but I figured these were different.  

They'd sit for long stretches, and hopping was simple. Inside, a hundred places to keep out of sight and no chance  even the keener Topsiders would pick up our scent with the melange of meat roasting and sugar-sweet whatevers twining in the air.

Scavenging was hardly work once we learned their predictable rhythms. Once she learned and taught me enough to get by. 

Almost enough. 

She'd never have been here if it weren't for me. She'd never have been caught. 


They loved her before the perch. They love her more each day she grows more daring. The small ones and the grown. The four-legged on tethers. They all tilt their heads and clap as she swings high. 

I wonder if she's dying faster than I realized.  

I'm wondering that very thing when her tail shoots up high. It loops through the anchor at the top of the jar, and she lets go with her hands. Grabs the bar with her knees and buzzes her wings. 

They're delighted at first. A jabbering chorus rises. Our Topsider laughs. He's proud until he hears it. The shattering of glass. 

She tumbles in a tight roll that never lands. Her wings buzz hard. She comes out of the tuck feet first. Right into my jar. I never saw it coming. I'm thrown to the side against shattering glass, then tumbling myself. Falling until I remember that I have wings. We both have wings.

They swat blindly at us. They crouch and snatch, terrified now they no longer have us under glass. 

I see her, plummeting. My tail whips out. It catches her, and I draw her to me. 

Look! I mean to say. Free! 

I mean to remember long-forgotten words. To celebrate, but Elio sobs. She howls, collapses in on herself, and  I see them. Domed cages swinging on every window sill. From the front of the strange wheeled things of small ones zipping here and there. 

I see Topsider jibberish rendered in paint, and behind it, row upon row of bell jars glinting in the sun. 

Choking, she reads it out, word by word. 


Curios for sale


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