The Snap and Flutter of Freedom

3rd round entry for NYC’s Flash Fiction competition. The set up was a romance set in a prison and featuring a flag.

 

The Snap and Flutter of Freedom

 

Cheek rolled the ball of bread, pushing it with his nose.

 

Jowl waited at the edge of the strip of light, until Cheek had delivered his gift. As he stepped back she shuffled forward and nibbled delicately at it.

 

It seemed to Ben the two rats played out their romance just to entertain him. The thin rectangle of light that fell into his cell was a stage on which they measured out their courtship. An inch or two to either side and he would have been blind to it; the scratching of their feet and the brushing of their fur would have been another unknown horror in the dark.

 

He broke another piece of bread and dropped it at the edge of the light. Cheek scampered back to claim it.

 

Sometimes Ben wondered if this was normal behaviour for rats, or just the product of his fevered imagination, a delirium born of pain and darkness.

 

*

 

The Princess had come to him to mend a broken buckle on her saddle. Her face was flushed and hair wild from a gallop; her stride long with the confidence of one who knows the world will bend around her whim.

 

She was his forge made flesh, wild, fiery and radiating a fierce attraction. He was soot stained and sweaty, everything she had never seen: potent, capable and anchored.

 

When she left he laughed at his own drop-jawed infatuation. She looked back twice as she mounted her horse.

 

She returned the next day to thank him, and then to commission new brackets to hang the lamps in her chambers. He drew designs with charcoal on scrap pieces of wood; she leaned close to add details. There was a febrile edge to the burned air from his forge each time their heads drew close.

 

He made her a gift. It was a jeweller’s work, not a smith’s. His thick hands cramped over the delicate effort. Her fine long fingers brushed slowly over the bright metal, a flag brooch. As she took it her hand stayed in his for a moment longer than necessary.

 

She gripped the precious token in one hand and trailed the other over the grimy surfaces of the smithy, then touched her fingers to the pale skin of her neck. Black spots of his world close to her heart.

 

Neither knew enough to fear the detail in the brooch, their nation’s flag, her father’s flag, curled as though it snapped and fluttered in the wind. Inadvertently when shown thus in motion, it was a symbol of rebellion.

 

The brackets were also decorated with the curled flag motif, something they had shyly agreed on. He went to the palace to fit them himself. There was a moment, an intake of breath between heartbeats, when they were alone together and her hand had crept into his. That was how they were found, and his craftsmanship presented as evidence of subversion.

 

He had no stomach for insurgency, but as the guards gripped his wrists, he learned he could not tolerate captivity either. Ben had burst free with the strength of his hard labour only to be felled with a poleaxe. He did not recall the second blow, only her cry that echoed into his imprisonment.

 

*

 

Jowl was dead. Cheek nosed curiously at her lifeless body, trying to rouse her and failing to understand the stillness. He nibbled at the bread as he wondered what to do. His whiskers brushed against Jowl’s whiskers, and then life left him in a single quiet exhalation.

 

Ben watched the two dark forms on their little stage of light, surrounded by a confetti spray of crumbs. He sniffed the remaining hunk of bread on his pewter plate, but his senses were too far dulled to find any hint of addition.

 

He ran his remaining fingers around the edge of the plate, trying to assemble an interpretation. His mind raged against the dullness imposed by his weakened body, but the lethargy wrapped around him like a blanket.

 

There was an imperfection in the plate, a scratch under the rim. Ben dismissed it as damage or apprentice work, but it drew his fingers again and again. The ache in his hands reminded him of the flag brooch. He had made it snap and flutter in the breeze to mimic her windblown hair the first time he had seen her. Perhaps this was a crudely scratched image curled like their flag, the symbol of their love, and coincidentally the symbol of rebellion.

 

He heard a distant bell, out of sequence, out of time. He counted the uneven cadence; a royal death. For whom did it toll? His eyes fell on Cheek and Jowl. The Princess had gone before him. Her father had finally sentenced him to death, and she had gone before. Perhaps the bread was her last gift to him.

 

Or perhaps the bread was from the King, a mercy on his daughter so she would not see her lover hanged, and the bells tolled only in his head. In the end it did not matter. She was a princess and he was no longer a blacksmith, but a broken, wretched thing.

 

He broke off a piece and put it to his lips.

 

*

 

Silence was a heavy shroud over the royal bedchamber. When she rose from her father’s side it was with a confusion of sorrow and relief. She summoned a scribe to write a pardon and the captain of the guard to release her love.

 

She played with the brooch, the snapping fluttering symbol of the freedom she had been denied and would now claim. The captain’s returning step at the door of her chambers was heavy and slow. The stem of the brooch pierced her finger. Her chin dropped, resting where she had once marked herself with soot.

 

Her dream snapped and fluttered free for a moment, released from her father’s cruel edict, only to be lost on the wind.

 

END

 

If you are interested in more of my writing please check out my book: Image and Other Stories

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No Son of Mine

My second round story in this years NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition – for the edification of fellow NYCers and the enjoyment of all. This version is as submitted, with no further edits, I’ll post the feedback when it comes in.

 

The set up was a Crime Caper involving a waterfall and a toothbrush, with a 1000 word limit.

 

 

No Son of Mine

 Stolen gems and exploding plumbing bring an estranged father and son back together.

 

 

 

No Son of Mine

 

Five years had passed since I had last seen Dad this close up. I’d seen him from a distance of course: on the news the day he was arrested, across the courtroom during his trial, and from the street outside when they bundled him into the van to put him behind bars.

 

The judge had made parole conditional on Dad giving up his stash of stolen cash and gems. Dad knew he could never enjoy it, that when he did eventually get out every step would be dogged by police and villains alike, but he wouldn’t give it up.

 

The last time we were together he had disowned me. The hurt from his words “You’re no son of mine” echoed down the years. Papers had flown behind the words. They held my entry details to university to study Chemical Engineering. I had to get on my knees to gather them as they drifted to the floor rather than make a dignified exit. On a neat pile on the kitchen table was the other offer letter, the one I wouldn’t be taking up: law school. We stopped talking that day. A week later I went to university and that was it.

 

Mum had backed me. Dad always said she spoiled me, that her indulgence would be the ruin of us all. Not his thieving, not his lust for danger, not his disregard for other people’s property. Mum told me to give him time, Dad would come round.

 

Dad used to say I had inherited his intelligence, the fine analytical mind that saw possibilities where others only saw problems. He’d wanted that mind trained as a lawyer to save him from prison. He knew he’d get caught one day, and that with the swathe he had cut through the rich and powerful there was not a lawyer who would give him a fair run at a defence.

 

If Dad was clever, Mum was wise. “I know your old man, I know him better than he knows himself” she told me, “And there’s nothing that will stop them locking him up, so follow your heart son.” Of course she was devilish clever too, which we would only appreciate years later.

 

True enough here he was in jail and I was talking to him through an inch of glass.

 

“How are you?”

 

“OK. I don’t cause trouble so they’ve given me some privileges.”

 

“I heard. I brought you some things.” I gestured to the guard who was making his way through the security doors with a cardboard box. There was a woven blanket inside, a couple of books, and a toothbrush. The guard had checked everything without comment.

 

“So what are you up to these days?”

 

“Plumbing.”

 

He sat back in his chair in shock. “Plumbing? You spent three years in university to become a pipe strangler?” He sighed. “You could have been anything you wanted.” Fortunately the box landed beside him to stop a reprise of our last argument.

 

Dad picked the toothbrush out of the box. Turning it over in his hands, thinking about the last time he had seen it. I’d retrieved it from Mum’s old house on Statton Street, the one we never went to after her father died, which was slowly falling into disrepair and dereliction. It turned out Dad had been there frequently.

 

“It was all about plumbing in the end.” I explained. He looked at the toothbrush for a long time before he looked up. I think the wetness in his eyes was pride; everyone had looked, but I had found his stash. “It’s all about plumbing now as well,” I went on. “I’ve marked some passages in the books that you should read.”

 

When I left they let him carry the box back to his cell.

 

*                                        *                                  *

 

The old thrill was back when I walked to my cell. I dropped on the steel bed and put my feet up. In the box were two John Grisham novels. The cheeky sod had given me books about lawyers. They both smelled odd.

 

The cipher was a simple one and I read through his instructions carefully before I sat up. There was a nylon filament in the thick wool of the blanket. I began unravelling.

 

After lights out I took the pages I had carefully torn from the books. The first pair were slapped on the wall with a little water. My prison issue sheets went over my mouth as smoke rose in stinking puffs. My regular blanket was draped over the bars of my cell so the smoke would not escape and trigger the smoke alarms.

 

When the smoke died down a little I could see a small hole. A few swift kicks on the weakened mortar exposed the cavity between the walls. A thick water pipe ran up the cavity to the storage tanks on the roof. A second pair of papers did for the outside wall. I kicked the bricks out of that too before playing out the filament and wrapping the sheets round it to protect my hands.

 

I slipped the toothbrush into my pocket and wriggled feet first out of the two holes in the walls. All about plumbing he’d said, and how could I resist? I stuck all the remaining pages to the pipe on the side facing into the prison.

 

It erupted when I was halfway down the wall, and the shockwave nearly made me lose my grip. I held on, imagining the full force of water in the six inch pipe sweeping through my cell. I had been on level three; it would be pouring through the bars and arcing across the atrium. A waterfall as my parting gift, and chaos to cover my escape. As I dropped to the ground a car engine started nearby and an old BMW rolled up.

 

I sat down in the passenger seat and smiled at my boy. “Plumbing, eh?”

 

“Plumbing,” he replied.

 

“Well, lucky for me you’re your mother’s son.”

 

End

If you are interested in more of my writing please check out my book: Image and Other Stories