I don’t know if you can call two posts a ‘trend’, but are you noticing one? Specifically that I’m hijacking old flash fiction challenges from the incredible blog Terribleminds because I keep missing recent ones, and writing purely from my own ideas is something I’m still trying to relearn. In any case, I hope it’s enjoyable?
This one is still character-driven (that seems to be what I’ll tentatively call ‘my thing’), but it’s based this time on a nifty little generator called The Idiomatic, which takes a blowtorch to popular phrases and welds them together. It’s actually a lot of fun just to see what it comes up with every time you refresh, if a little unintentionally existential.
The piece came out to about 1400 words, and was based on the fun prompt:
“Every dog is a liar.”
Jamie and Conrad made their way through the stolen streets. In the earliest hours of the morning, the sky was still Mariana’s Trench-blue, cut with fading stars that spotlighted the town. Dead leaves crawled across the buzzcut grass, almost keeping pace with the two as they went.
Conrad kicked at a maple leaf aspiring to climb his shoe. “Being out in the open probably isn’t safe,” he ventured, more of a question than a statement. Jamie shrugged, stopping at a nearby tree to probe the bark with his fingers, a frown bending his dark face downward. “Nothing much is anymore. Especially if we’re right, which…” A knock on the trunk seemed to yield satisfying results, and Jamie’s frown morphed to a tight almost-smile. “We might be.”
Another leaf stuck itself to Conrad’s toe. “You’re so dramatic.”
“Says the one who literally just talked about how unsafe we were ‘out in the open’?” Although Jamie was facing away from him, Conrad could feel the raising of an eyebrow at his expense. Asshole, he thought, with little real malice. Instead of expressing that aloud, he went forward with; “What’re you actually looking for?”
“Hollow tree. The inside’s being eaten out, by disease or just plain death. It’s a sign,” Jamie completed, a hand still resting gingerly on the trunk, but dark eyes lasering into Conrad’s.
The wind, with an impeccable sense of motif, began to bite. Pre-dawn cold attacked through their clothes with ease, carrying the carpet of autumn along with it towards the north, and out of the park. Conrad tightened his hands around the baseball bat clumsily stuffed through the belt-loop of his jeans. Jamie either wasn’t affected by it, or was just good at hiding shivers. Probably the coat, thought Conrad. Looking like J.D. apparently has its perks.
Voiceless noises, elongated vowels, started to carry on the wind behind them, equally as cold. Jamie’s arm found its way inside his coat, the hand that’d just been resting on the trunk now braced against it like he was ready to strike. “Do you actually know shit about fighting?” Conrad hissed, gripping his junior baseball bat in his off-hand.
“Nope.” Instead of launching out in the direction of the sound, Jamie instead swung out and grabbed Conrad by the shoulder, clumsily pulling him back into the shade of the near-dead maple. Away from the open path where he’d been standing, the grass eaten away by time and drumming feet.
It only took a few seconds for them to pass by.
Joggers, ten or eleven of them. All clad in offensive shades of neon and lycra in varying levels of taste and tightness, their affordable sports shoes beating a uniform pattern in the gravel and stone. All of the runners had the same dead-eyed look that came with waking up before the sun did. Almost all of them, except the squat crab-like woman at the front, led dogs in front of them.
Conrad was still tense, knuckles bone-white under dusty skin as he held onto the bat. “They’re dogs,” supplied Jamie helpfully, keeping his voice low. “Pet dogs. Pekinese, maybe a few terriers.”
Conrad watched them all pass by with narrowed eyes. “Could be demons or poltergeists or whatever. You know that!”
One of the dogs, a walking wire-brush with hair falling into its eyes, had strayed somewhat from the running platoon. Instead, it wiggled over to the tree where Conrad and Jamie were, and let loose a flurry of urine at the trees’ – and their – feet.
“Sulfur and brimstone,” said Jamie drily, flapping his damp shoe in the air to remove the dog’s efforts. He looked up at Conrad, who had been preparing an overhead swing for the last few seconds, and dove for his arms to hold them back. “Fucking-“
A jogger from the end of the pack with corn-bright blonde hair and matching yellow activewear came running back. “Treacle! This is why I should’ve sent you to puppy school.” The offending dog jumped into her outstretched arms, giving her a saccharine look to avoid any further scolding or threats of puppy juvi.
“Sorry about that,” said Jamie, with a bright smile that was as false as the Monet hanging in the mayor’s office. “My friend here is super into dogs. He’s part of one of those Facebook groups where they post pictures of dogs they see in public?”
Conrad nodded, numb and sore, as Jamie had basically wrestled his arms to his sides to make him presentable to the public. The lady nodded with a worrying level of understanding as her dog snuggled into her arms. “Oh, I totally get it. My friends think it’s a bit weird, posting pictures of other people’s dogs, but dogs don’t have privacy settings, so I really don’t think they care. Or opposable thumbs to set them with, actually.”
Treacle, despite it’s lack of thumbs, still managed to playfully bite at Conrad and Jamie. Only the hellish grip that Jamie had on Conrad’s forearm stopped him from taking several fast steps back and away from it.
“Treacle would love it! She’s obsessed with cameras. Always gets in front of mine when I’m trying to take photos for my journalism work. I think it’s something to do with the flash.” Jamie nodded with the intensity of someone who really, really needed this conversation to be over.
A crackling came from the girl’s waist. “Laura S., are you lost?”
Laura S. smiled apologetically at the two of them. “Sorry, guys, no photos today. Treacle and I have to run.” Snickering at her own joke, she took out the walkie-talkie from where it was clipped to the band of her yoga pants and started to jog off, Treacle bouncing in the crook of her other arm. “Yeah, no, I’m fine. Treacle went rogue again. Call her ‘Star Wars’. I know I should, but the prices they’re charging for training these days is unreal…”
Laura S.’s voice faded into the distance, as she and her startling hair disappeared around a corner of low, bushy evergreens.
“Arms,” said Conrad through his teeth, and Jamie finally released his manacle grip. “Oh my god, are you insane? That dog could’ve been a killer!”
Jamie stretched out his fingers one by one, and flicked an eyebrow at Conrad. “You were about to be one. You can’t assume literally every dog in town is a demon and beat it to death with your tiny bat! That’s just committing a hate crime.” He cracked his stiff knuckles with loud pops, gunshots in the new quiet of the park.
“We just got attacked by the dog on Sarandon. Any of those jogger dogs could be lies. They could be pissing out sulfur and marking their territory for more rituals to bring out more hellspawn demon puppies with cute innocent eyes and swords for claws.”
Silent through that whole tirade, Jamie let out a long sigh, a release of air so prolonged he could’ve been holding it for days. “Okay. In no particular order: no. Jesus, oh my god, no. You’re a fucking idiot. Holy shit. Are you afraid of dogs? And I’m pretty sure that first one was just because Sarandon Street is a shithole populated by suitably shitty people who have shitty pets in turn.”
Conrad looked away, shadowy memories dancing a jig just out of his reach. He had no idea why, but his gut response to Jamie’s question was a resounding ‘yes’. He’d never been assaulted by a dog, hadn’t had a crazy childhood pet who held him down when his limbs were too fat and useless to fight back. Hadn’t been chased by any guard dogs until seven or eight hours ago. But something took his ear and whispered, a voice providing the only certainty in his head right now.
Dogs were not to be trusted.
“Let’s get out of here.” Conrad ventured instead, turning on his heel and hearing the grass under it crunch and snap. Jamie, to his credit, fell into step beside him, though not without a near-audible roll of his eyes.