Flash fiction is usually defined as a short story of less than one thousand words. I love this genre and hope to devote more time to it. I saw a kid huddled against a wall at our library one night with his computer. He was accessing the wifi signal. What if the kid was homeless and he saw something sinister one night?
To Catch a Wolf
When the woman didn’t come back to the chopper with that guy, I figured something bad had happened. There was just a slice of moon, and all I saw when they pulled up was the outline of this humongous biker with a beer gut and sloped shoulders and a tall woman who was singing the words there’s a little bit of redneck in all of us over and over again. It was two fifty in the morning, and I was huddled against the wall of the county library where I could pick up a nice wi fi signal. I didn’t hang out at the library during the day. I don’t dig those why-aren’t- you-in-school looks.
I closed my computer—an ancient MacBook I’d bought cheap off a tweeker—and watched as they disappeared down the steep bank to the creek. The singing died out, and I’d pretty much forgotten about them until the man started up the motorcycle and pulled away maybe thirty minutes later. The bike was low slung with high curved handle bars and chrome forks that thrust forward. The chrome gleamed in the moonlight, and the engine made a deep loping sound that snaked a shiver down my back.
I sat there hoping the singing would start again but knew it wouldn’t. I finally put my computer in the case I’d found in a dumpster, hid it in the bushes and crossed the highway. The woman was face down in the water, lifeless. I pulled her out and stood over her, shaking like a little kid. I felt real sad, too, but no tears came. All I could think of was my sister, Amy. I looked down at my hand and realized I was holding a necklace that must have come loose from her neck. It shone like gold in the weak light. I put it in my pocket and washed my sticky hands in the creek before climbing back up the trail.
The woman was stretched across a jogging path and would be found in the morning, I told myself. No way I’m calling the cops. They’d start asking questions and pretty soon some judge would want to send me home. No, I wasn’t going back there, where my stepfather ruled like Jabba the fucking Hutt. I told mom what was going on with him and Amy, but she wouldn’t listen, and Amy denied it. That’s when I decided to take off.
I spent a restless morning back at my tent. I got the necklace out and looked it over, trying to figure out why I’d taken it. It was heavy like real gold, a collection of different shaped leaves strung on a chain. On the back of a maple leaf was inscribed To Tayla from Daddy. Xmas ’09. My eyes burned but stayed dry, and a mixture of guilt and anger flowed over me like hot tar. I ached to talk to my dad. If he was alive, he’d know what to do.
That afternoon, I put the necklace in my backpack and headed out for Dougherty’s, the only biker bar in the county. It was a good five mile walk, and I arrived just as night fell. I got a single slice of stale pizza at a little market across the street and strolled over to the parking lot behind the bar. I almost choked on a bite of pizza when I saw the big chopper with the high handle bars. I waited around, and when a couple of dudes came out and mounted their bikes, I pointed to the chopper and said, “That’s a bitchin’ bike. Know who owns it?”
The taller one scowled and said, “That’s Lobo’s bike.” The fat, ugly one laughed and added, “Better stay away from it, kid.”
I backed off and waited in the shadows, trying to figure out my next step. An hour later a man approached the chopper. My knees got weak when I saw the beer belly and the big, sloped shoulders. It was him for sure. As he got on his bike, I stepped forward, swallowed hard and said, “Hey Lobo. I’m Danny. Love your bike, man.”
He wrinkled his brow for a moment then flashed a surprisingly friendly smile. “Thanks, kid.”
I took a couple more steps and swallowed again. “Bet you did the work yourself.”
He held the smile and seemed to puff up a little. “Fuckin’ right, man. Every nut and bolt.”
“Bro, that’s genius,” I gushed as I moved behind him to stroke the fine leather of his saddle bags. “These bags are awesome, too. Say, my uncle’s working on a chopper like this, but he’s not much of a mechanic. Think he could talk to you about it?”
Lobo shrugged. “I guess so. Have him give me a call.” With that, he kicked started his machine and took off. I stood there listening to the deep, awful throb of his engine receding into the night while I committed the cell phone number he’d given me to memory and moved my fingers around in the pocket where the necklace had been.
I walked back to my tent against a cold wind, but didn’t feel it much. At the library that night I uploaded this in the jewelry section of Craig’s List—“Beautiful necklace of miniature tree leaves made of gold on an eighteen inch, twenty four carat chain. Cash only.” I signed it “Lobo” and gave his cell number.
There was nothing new about the murder in the paper the next two days, and I began to feel like a real idiot, but on the third day, the headlines screamed—Suspect Arrested in Johnson Creek Slaying. The article went on to belittle the biker nicknamed Lobo, who’d been dumb enough to advertise his victim’s jewelry on the internet.
The next morning I packed up my stuff and headed for home. It was time to take on Jabba the fucking Hutt. End
Every once in a while someone survives a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. I wondered what that could possibly be like…
When I scored the last parking space in the big lot on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge, I knew my suicide plans were falling into place. My emotions had bled out long ago, and I was numb. Numb, but resolute. How had it come to this, I kept asking? But I knew the answer. Tomorrow I’d begin a five-year prison term for sexually assaulting a fifteen year old girl. But prison time wasn’t the half of it. My marriage was shattered, my friends gone and as a registered sex offender, I’d never teach and coach again, which is all I ever wanted to do with my life.
I left the keys in the ignition along with my wallet, my cell phone, my wedding band and a paper bag containing what was left of my savings, six thousand seven hundred and fifty two dollars and some change. No note. I had nothing left to say, and the world wouldn’t listen anyway.
The sun was low and patches of fog had begun drifting in. I knew I had better than an hour before the bridge closed to pedestrian traffic, and I’d kept my watch on to keep track of time. I passed a couple strolling hand in hand and thought of my wife, Chloe. I was past caring now, but at one time I felt more deeply betrayed by her than by Jennifer, the young girl who’d falsely accused me. Jennifer was a mixed up kid, but Chloe was my wife, and I’d given her no reason to doubt me. Ever. But our relationship had always been one sided. You know that when the woman of your dreams takes a week to accept your proposal and insists on at least one separate vacation a year. So, after the verdict came down, I wasn’t that surprised when she averted her eyes and said, “I’m sorry Larry, I’ve decided to move on with my life.” Not surprised, but cut to the quick.
I stopped at the half-way point on the bridge and pretended to take in what view the fog gave me. I didn’t want to alarm anyone with my intentions, which burned in my heart like a cold flame. A young girl jogged by and I thought of Jennifer. Like the jogger, Jennifer was tall and pretty, and she had the biggest doe eyes you’ve ever seen. I didn’t see it coming. Her mother suddenly became unreliable in picking her up after practice. The recurrence of a drinking problem, it turned out. Their house wasn’t that far out of my way, so I began covering for her mom when the need arose. I had no idea how emotionally disturbed Jennifer was. We didn’t find out until later that she’d been preyed upon by a succession of her mother’s boyfriends. We tried to use that at my trial, but the jury read it as an attempt to attack an innocent young girl.
The fog hid the sun again, reminding me of that rainy day when she made her move on me. I pulled into her driveway. It was dark and there were no lights on in her house. Instead of getting out of the car, she took my hand and placed it on her breast. I pulled back like I’d touched a bed of hot coals and told her to get out. Later she would tell her mother we had made love that day and on several other occasions to boot. Something had snapped in Jennifer’s mind, and I became the lightening rod for all the pain she’d been subjected to. I gazed down at the bay between swirls of fog and thought about the look she’d given me after the verdict was read. It was agony, not vindication. She’d wrecked my life, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to hate her for it.
I checked my watch. It was time. I let an elderly man and two young women pass before I scrambled over the railing. I heard one of the women scream, and the last thing I saw were my hands pushing me clear of the bridge. I saw every detail, my skin pores and freckles, twists of hair and ridges of tendons, even the luster and striations in my fingernails. I saw hands that had served me well, beloved hands that had held warm cups of coffee, a razor against my cheek, Chloe’s face, and hands that were connected to the rest of me. A primal urge welled up. Wait, my mind screamed, I don’t want to die! But it was too late. I clawed at the fog for a second or two then straightened out and fell like a dart.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that I was the twenty-fifth jumper so far that year. Three of the bodies hadn’t been recovered, including mine. The story went on to say they’d found my car along with my belongings, but there was no mention of the bag of money.
The little bakery in Bangor, Maine, was cozy and smelled of cinnamon and apples. I had a hand wrapped around a warm coffee mug, and every once in a while I’d stretch out my other hand and study it. It was a fine hand, indeed. I was meeting a man to buy a social security card. It’s surprisingly easy to forge a new identity, especially if you have the cash.
The fisherman didn’t see me hit the water that day because of the fog, but he heard the splash. He said I must have been the first ever to survive a fall like that. He was wrong. Actually, twenty six out of some fourteen hundred jumpers have survived. I would have been the twenty seventh had they known, but after I poured my heart out to the fisherman, he agreed not to tell a soul. End