flash fiction by Aaron Rosenberg
* * *
“You can’t do this!”
Joe Boggs sighed. Why did he always get the crazies? But he forced a smile, turned, and spoke patiently to the lady struggling to get past his workers.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can. All the papers are in order.”
“It’s not ‘ma’am,’” she snarled, pulling her arm away from Tom and Sean and straightening her sweater. “It’s Ms. Capshaw. And legal mumbo-jumbo or not, you can’t do this. Or maybe you can, but you shouldn’t. It’s wrong.”
“It’s an old building,” Joe explained patiently, though his hands clenched around the papers. “It’s rundown, and the cost of repairing it is too high to be feasible. It’s a danger, to its residents and its neighbors. That’s why we’re—”
“—‘demolishing it in order to create space for a new, modern, more livable space,’ yes, I know.” Her words were as sharp as her eyes, each sound clipped and precise. She reminded Joe of his elementary school English teacher. This woman was probably about the same age.
“Then you know this has to be done.”
But she shook her head, graying locks dancing side to side. “I don’t give two figs about the building, young man. You can do what you like with it. But she needs to stay here.”
Now Joe was lost. “She?”
“Yes. She. Her.” Miss Capshaw pointed upward, her bony finger shaking slightly, and Joe followed the gesture. Ah.
“It’s a handsome piece of statuary, I agree,” he admitted carefully. And it was. Or at least it had been, he was sure. Now its edges were worn away from years of exposure, leaving the features soft and smooth. He was impressed it was still in one piece, to be honest. And unmarred by bird shit—that was rare. “But it’s just a statue. The new building will have decorative touches as well, I assure you.”
“Decorative? Hah!” Her snort was surprisingly unladylike. “She’s not decoration, you idiot! She’s our guardian! And you can’t have her!”
Guardian? Joe glanced at Sean, who rolled his eyes and grinned. Great. A loonie. And she had seemed so rational—pissed off, sure, but rational. “Ma’am—” Joe started.
“Don’t bother,” she cut him off. “I know how it sounds. But it’s true. She protects us.”
“Didn’t help much on nine-eleven, did she?” Tom muttered. Miss Capshaw turned on him at once—Joe thought he could almost see the sparks from her eyes.
“Oh, didn’t she, boy? You weren’t here, were you? Here on this street, in this neighborhood?” Tom shook his head, a burly construction worker reduced instantly to a hapless schoolboy being chastised by his teacher. “Well, I was! I saw the smoke, and the flame, and the debris! I watched it rain down on the city, coating everything and everyone in soot and ash and concrete dust. I watched it choke the streets and the buildings and the people! But not here.” Miss Capshaw’s voice turned soft, reverent, as her gaze drifted upward once more. “She kept us safe. Not a flake touched us. Not a shard. Not a spark. She protected us.”
A soft buzzing was in Joe’s head, and at first he thought it was an insect, or the hum of a machine. But glancing around, a shiver ran through him. It was people. The other residents of this street had gathered around them, and they were nodding, murmuring their agreement. People of all ages, all races, people who were clearly respectable citizens. And they clearly believed every word she was saying.
Joe glanced up, studying the figure more carefully. Her wings spread behind her like a canopy but her hands were down, outstretched, as if saying, “I will protect you.” And her face! It was turned up, imploring, pleading, begging the world to heed her wishes and spare her charges.
And, for just an instant, Joe thought he saw her sad, wise eyes glisten.
Something shifted within him.
“Let’s go,” he told Sean and Tom. But he didn’t head into the building as planned. He turned on his heel instead. “Get the others. We’re going back to the office.”
“We are? Why?” Tom hadn’t been paying attention. But Sean had, and he nodded, pulling out his walkie and letting the others know to pull out.
“We’re going back over the plans,” Joe explained, as much to Miss Capshaw and the crowd as to Tom. “We’ll be back tomorrow or the next day, next week at the latest. And we will tear this building down.” He raised his voice to be heard over the gasps all around him. “But not until after we’ve moved her—carefully—to one of the other buildings. You’ll still have your angel.”
Joe’s head was ringing from the cheers as he walked back to the van. But glancing over his shoulder and squinting against the sunlight, he thought he saw that glistening again. Only this time, he somehow knew, they were tears of thanks.
flash fiction by Jason Allard
* * *
The note had said to meet him under the large angel in the cemetery. It had been handwritten on Styx Corporation letterhead, and it had arrived in a company envelope. But, when Rei arrived at the angel, the man waiting for her was not the man who had hired her.
“Who are you?” she asked.
The young man in the black trench coat smiled. “I’m Mortimer. A ferryman. You must be Rei Kaishi. The n00b.”
Rei cocked her head. “Ok, but who are you? Where’s Mr. Grimm?”
“Mr. Grimm is otherwise engaged. I’m his assistant. I’m here to see how things have been going the last few days. I know how tough it can be after you’ve completed your first assignment. Who was it? How did it go?”
Rei scuffed her foot on the grass. “I took the train down to Boston, then the T to the closest stop to the address.” She wiped the corner of her eye. “He was a kid. A scrawny, pimply kid. Couldn’t have been any older than sixteen or seventeen. He tried to fight back, but after the time I stabbed him, he just seemed to fold.”
Mortimer nodded. “So you were successful. What happened after?”
“I went home. I puked. I cried. I stood in the shower for an hour and half, scrubbing and scrubbing until the water went ice cold. I still couldn’t get myself feeling clean. I went out into the kitchen and slit my wrists with a steak knife.”
She looked up when Mortimer snorted. He was trying not to grin.
“It’s not funny. My girlfriend came home and found my laying naked in a pool of my own blood. I barely woke up in time to keep her from calling the cops.” She scowled as his eyes traveled up and down her body appreciatively. “I had to calm her down and show her that I was alright. She’s in church right now, praying to give thanks for the healing miracle.”
Mortimer nodded. “Be careful. You don’t want her to become someone’s assignment.”
“I know. I know.”
“I bet you want to know why.” When Rei nodded, he held up his hand. An image coalesced, floating over his palm. A broad, doughy face with no nose, dark pits for eyes, and a chinless, gaping mouth. “He was putting together a golem to receive the essence of a Hodmedod or Tattie Bogle spirit. Usually found in scarecrows. They feed on fear. Usually from children.”
Rei nodded and rubbed her chin. “So he was a bad guy?”
“Something like,” Mortimer said. He fished a battered envelope from a pocket. “Sorry to do this to you so soon, but this is your next assignment.”
Rei looked at it for several seconds before she took it. “Another bad guy?”
“They always are.” Mortimer threw her a jaunty salute and walked away, whistling.