Grey Harlowe Sampler: Flash fiction alert!

I’m actually not the hugest fan of flash fiction. I’ll admit that its highly challenging qualities mean the writers who can pull it off are actually more talented than those of us who want more length (and depth) to our work, but I’m really not its biggest denizen.

And yet, I’ve done some. It was an ‘everybody’s doing it so why can’t I?’ thing. The four examples below were created for a Halloween contest run by Apex magazine last fall that didn’t float to the top of their 500+ submission haul.

(Content warning: demons, consensual sex, sexual assault, dogs, evil kids and sea monsters are referred to below, along with a passing allusion to the sex trade. R rating these ones.)

*

Demonology

Being a demon conjurer is no fun these days.  It was never easy, but lately, so many tough problems people want a quick supernatural fix for, it’s rough to talk straight to them:  this isn’t how.

I have to reject three customers out of five.  The last woman wanted to sic a demon on her employer, but then she admits her boss is C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 company.  I’m like, “I’m not doing anything that could cause a market crash.  Life is hard enough.”

I get a lot of men requesting succubi.  I’ve tried to warn them, it is possible to get tired of that kind of thing, but they never listen.

My most recent reject was one of the rarest kind I meet, a kid who wanted to turn his former girlfriend into a demon.

“That’s a bad idea,” I said.  “At first, it’s great, you’ve got the ultimate revenge.  Or maybe she’s more fun that way.  But you can’t get rid of a demon.  That’s why I make you sign the waver.”

“You can’t?” He sounded shocked.

“No, dumbass.  What if what she does for the rest of your life is, say, follow you around, kill off all your new girlfriends and otherwise make you miserable?”

He left the store after that, and I looked at the ceiling at the shadow huddled where she’s been for the last thirty years, then at the pictures of my three dead wives.

“Good night, Marla,” I said.

*

One Simple Rule

Little known thing about hell hounds:  they require a quota of human bodies per lunar cycle to stay safe.  For their owners to be around, that is.  Fail to fill the quota and you’re the next meal.

The coven didn’t tell me that before I bought Lucy, after the second time I was raped.  I needed protection and knew conventional weapons weren’t enough.  Neither was a ‘normal’ dog.

“The hound will fight for you until death,” they said.  “You must show it your loyalty.”

I thought they meant give her extra dog treats.  Lucy showed me what they meant when she ate the mailman our first month together.  I buried his bones in the backyard and prayed the cops wouldn’t ask questions.  They didn’t–blamed the nearby meth lab.  The look she gave me:  That’s what I need, don’t deny me.

Next month, I worked to find her a ‘good’ dinner; someone who deserved it.  I went to bars, not for dates, that’s finished, but to look for men who are violent–start fights, push women around.  Lucy eats fast.  I rarely worry about witnesses.

The quota gets bigger as they age.  When she was a puppy, one a month.  Now, she wants two or three.

It’s been two years and I haven’t failed her.  This month, though, I’ve had trouble isolating targets.  Maybe word has gotten around about a woman and her large, black dog.

I’m a little nervous at the moment, because Lucy is looking at me funny.

*

The Experiment

My nephew Grant’s parents have been worried about him.  He’s been acting out, refusing to do chores, giving them attitude.  It’s worse since he changed schools, now he’s struggling with classwork.  He’s in fourth grade, so they’re hoping it’s a phase.

His school’s having a science fair soon, and they’ve asked me to help him since they both have work.  His project is the build-a-fake-volcano thing where you use baking soda and vinegar as the ‘lava.’  We’re building a practice one in his basement tonight.

Since I’m a chem major, I tell Grant about safety: wear goggles and a mask.  I give him mine.  We build our volcano, a paper cone with a foil lined paper towell roll in the center.

“That’s where we’ll put the baking soda and vinegar,” I tell him.

For fun, I give the vinegar brown food coloring so the lava looks realistic.  Carefully, I dump baking soda down the roll.

“Hand me that vinegar,” I say.  He does.  I’m proud to see he’s still wearing his mask and goggles.  I barely notice the strange smell in the cup as I pour it.

Until it becomes acrid.  Burning.

“Grant,” I choke out as he runs up the basement steps and slams the door, “What is this?”

“Amonia and bleach,” he chirps from behind the door.  “Also known as chloramine gas.  Quite toxic.  Too bad mom and dad are at work, and I’m too young to know what to do.”

Then, before I pass out,

“Good luck.”

*

The Figurehead

He first caught sight of her under the tavern’s lampost.  A lady of the evening, perhaps, waiting for her catch of the hour.  He was done with his dock work and wasn’t searching for company, but her dark hair, painted face and clean dress stood out in the port’s dour crowd.  She was staring at the ship.

He’d stared at it too, on and off, his whole shift.  A cursed ship, they said.  At this point, he could not disagree.  The voyage before last, it had been found drifting south of the bay, devoid of crew.  This time, it had returned to dock with a mere two men aboard; one had piloted her to shore, the other had gone mad.  “When it’s missing,” he raved at rescuers, “we’re not safe.  We’re just prey to it, then.”

“Think they’ll send it out again?” she asked as he passed by.

“Probably.  Greedy shipping companies.”

“Don’t think they’ll say it’s dangerous?  Sell her for scraps?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”  He faced the ship once more.  It was off-kilter somehow.  Things could look different in twilight.

“Are you waiting for someone, miss?”

Suddenly, he realized what was missing from the ship, and what was distinct about the woman.  The prow was empty of its figurehead, the dark haired statue he’d seen there during the day.

His last thought before she devoured him was how lovely she had seemed in the soft, cool mist from the sea.

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