This weekend saw the completion of another NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Until the confirmation email has been received I’m unable to add the story to the Literature Reflective. However, it has come to my attention that the second round one story from the 2015 Flash Fiction Challenge never made it here.
It has nothing to do with how I’ve always been a sore loser (honest), just a genuine oversight. It scored six points which brought my overall total to fifteen for the first round. Unfortunately, it placed me seventh, two spots off promotion.
In many other groups that haul would have been sufficient but my group’s higher scorers were consistent in both challenges. Alas, I was doomed to experience elimination.
The truth is, it was deserved. Mindful of the points situation, I tried to play it safe.
The prompts we had to use were:
Location: A Candy Store
Object: An alarm clock
* * *
The Nick of Time
Patricia finds her father on the floor of his candy store with a masked perpetrator wielding a gun. As she tries to piece together what has occurred she fails to understand that time is her real enemy.
* * *
“Don’t move!” Patricia shouted.
It was an unusual sight, an unarmed woman in her forties barking orders at a stocky armed gunman. Her father splayed on the floor meant rules regarding Patricia’s safety were suspended.
“Missus,” the intruder pleaded, “I didn’t do anything.”
“Then why is he on the floor?” her eyes gave a look more deadly than a bullet.
“He collapsed,” he replied.
“And all this mess? Did this put itself on the floor?”
Black cloth concealed his identity, only eyes could be seen through a small slit and now they shifted left-to-right. His attire resembled that of a terrorist but to Patricia he looked more like a naughty child surveying a scene of broken toys.
They both took a minute – Patricia to compose herself, the gunman to consider a better explanation – and examined the broken sweet jars.
Patricia also noticed her father, Norman, had tiny cuts in his forehead. Initially she assumed they had been done in the fall, that Norman must have landed on broken shards. Then a darker image entered her mind: the gunman could have roughed him up while she was upstairs.
This chilled her. Blame became mingled with separate yet simultaneous fears. Not hearing the struggle was explained quickly thanks to self-administered castigation.
Dad would have kept the noise down to stop me from worrying.
She knew this was the way Norman did business. He’d restrict the flow of information to spare his daughter. This just made Patricia worry even more. She could deal with facts, just like she could deal with armed gunmen, by facing them head on. It was unknowns that troubled her.
Not knowing how bad her father’s heart troubles were, he always offhandedly dismissed her queries, had kept her awake at night. The cuts on his head precluded the processing of this thought to its logical conclusion.
This acceptance that the gunman had been violent became more worrying than the metallic device in his hand that may or may not be loaded. It meant he could easily turn on her. Beating a person makes less of a commotion than the sound of a pistol shot.
The gunman hissed from behind his mask. Patricia realised it was a gasp for air, that the nylon looking cloth was never designed be used as a breathing mask. This enabled her mind to start piecing the situation together.
If he was beginning to struggle in the mask he’d been here awhile. She looked, with slow deliberate movements now, to the candy shop door. The answer Patricia didn’t want to find was the one she got.
The blind on the door had been pulled down to blank out the glass. The sign on the other side of it, facing an unsuspecting public, would have been turned over to display the word: Closed. And she was closed in here with a man that was halfway through enacting his plan before something went wrong.
Norman collapsing and losing consciousness had halted the gunman’s momentum. Without the shopkeeper the till was locked like Fort Knox.
“What sort of person attacks an old man just for the money in a candy shop?” Patricia asked.
“A desperate one,” the gunman replied.
“Did you have to beat him?”
“I saw him fidget under the till,” the gunman said. “I was worried he was pressing an alarm or pulling out a gun. All I did was pull him over the counter. Then he passed out.”
“He’s an old man,” Patricia said. “That alone could kill him.”
“I never meant to hurt him.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Patricia said. Tears followed her words. This felt like the start of a farewell.
Norman tapped his watch.
Patricia looked at his wrist and could only return a confused expression.
Norman tapped it again. His eyes more bright now, alert and determined.
She looked again and all she saw was a broken digital watch. It wasn’t even expensive, it had been on his wrist for years, she couldn’t understand why the damage it suffered in the tussle would concern her father.
“Yeah, Daddy,” she said, “I know, it’s broken. We’ll buy you a new one.” She stopped before the sobs came, she was going to add: After this.
Norman shook his head and hammered his broken watch again.
“Here, miss,” the gunman said and handed her the clock from the wall.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“He obviously wants a clock for something.”
Unsure, she placed the clock face, with its large numbers and thin black arms that read a time of twenty minutes past nine, in front of her father.
Norman gave the number nine three fast jabs with his forefinger. He tried to speak but wheezed and coughed instead.
“Yes!” Patricia squealed. “9-9-9! The emergency services, he’s just asking for help. I should have called.”
Without needing to be prompted the gunman replaced the weapon in his hand with a cell phone and made the call. His compassion placed him at the crime scene thanks to phone records.
Norman, despite the voice of the gunman asking for an ambulance, tapped the number nine again.
“Yes, Daddy,” Patricia said. “It’s coming.”
With a wide-eyed look of defeat and acceptance he went limp in her lap as she cradled his head.
Patricia wasn’t to know that his broken watch had an alarm clock on it, that every day it beeped when he needed to take his medication. Just as the gunman couldn’t have known that Norman had been trying to protect medicine bottles when he came in waving the gun.
He was tapping the number nine because that was the time he needed the tablets – and in the excitement he needed the special ones the doctor said to use if he had “an episode.” The gunman’s altercation had accidently consigned Norman to a grim fate, exacerbated by Norman’s unwillingness to share information with Patricia.
People often remarked he’d kill her with kindness. In the end it had been kindness that inflicted his demise.