NYCMidnight’s Flash Fiction Round 1 Contest: Tell a story in 1000 words on a deadline! Genre: Horror, Location: Airport Long-Term Parking, Object: Cigar
Synopsis: Vulnerable to the cold, winter night and her failing memory, an old woman struggles to survive and wonders who can she trust and just how well does a parent ever know their children?
Milly hugs her thin, bird arms to her body and winces as a button scrapes the raw, blistered circle near her wrist. The lavender house coat and slippers are out of place on the asphalt. There’s a light dusting of snow. How long has she been here? Her nose is running and she can’t tell if it’s from the cold or the stink.
Shiny support hose cling to her wrinkled ankles and the sour smell of wet nylon penetrates, clearing the mind fog for just a minute. She’s pissed herself again. Amy, her daughter, isn’t going to like that. If Amy tells Wes . . . the thought of her daughter’s boyfriend and his filthy cigars sends a shiver across her hunched shoulders.
She wanders up one side and down the other. Rectangular blobs of colors with too many doors. These aren’t houses; they’re cars. She’s in a parking lot. Not just any parking lot. This is enormous and stretches as far as the eye can see. A sign proclaims “Remote” as if the absence of human life isn’t a clue.
How’d she get here? Notoriously inaccessible. They used to park here on the occasional family vacation. She hated it though. A shuttle, a bus, walking endlessly in the rain. Searching for the one familiar silver car out of dozens of familiar silver cars. No shelter from the sun in summer. Too windy in the winter. Dragging a battered blue American Tourister suitcase in one hand and clinging to whiney Amy with the other. Arthur insisted the $11 they saved each day could be used for extras like dining out. But they never did. Now here she was wandering up and down the aisles. Was she senile?
Now, the cold, white moon slinks behind clouds the color of night. Her hand closes over the silver clamshell in her pocket. Her mind clouds like the evening sky and she feels a tear trickle, attracting the winter wind until it evaporates.
The word emergency flashes across her brain and she struggles to see the small, square screen. 411? She stabs at the tiny buttons with a hooked finger and trembling, raises the phone to her ear. A recording. Directory Assistance. She needs assistance but that’s not right. She slams the phone shut. Opens it again.
DIRTY BEDWETTING BITCH flashes across the screen or her mind or the billboard skirting the far edge of the lot.
A moan escapes her lips on a puff of frozen breath. The sound startles her. Rattles her brain and squeezes her surroundings into sharp, fleeting focus. She can’t have been here long. It’s too cold. She’d be frozen. She opens the phone, dials 411. The same digital voice “Directory Assistance. City and state please.” She folds it closed.
She recalls Amy’s voice earlier. Today? “Why don’t you sit up front, Mom?” So unlike her to defer to Milly on anything. Where were they taking her? “I know you get car sick in the back.” Red. A red door slammed shut. It’s the last thing she remembers and then all the cold, colored cars.
Milly thinks of an article Arthur shared at dinner one night. As an insurance salesman, he was endlessly fascinated by automobile statistics. Silver was the most popular color. “How illuminating,” said Amy before rolling her eyes. She found her parents boring, simple.
Milly keeps moving, curling behind a tall van, hiding from the next gust of wind. She’s not sure how much longer she can walk, but it seems important. She’s not an idiot. Despite what Wes says. Wes always says something. She remembers him saying something. Today?
It seems important and squeezing down on the thought, she stumbles. A heel comes loose of her slipper and she is down, hard on her knee. Clinging to the icy cold of the door handle, she struggles to right herself. Her housecoat rides up on her leg. Loose pebbles dig into her skin and the wet fabric clings to her brittle body.
She needs the number. 114? 411? 119? Yes, it has a 9! She remembers now and flips the phone open, illuminating her feet in a blue circle. That’s when she smells it.
A raw burning in the nose like whiskey on the back of the throat. She stills her shaking with nothing more than will. She turns her head slowly to the right. The January air waves through her wispy curls.
She can’t blink. Her nose hairs crystalize in her flared nostrils. The filthy smell of spit and burning paper and sour breath.
Her wobbling hand sways before her face as she works to wipe her eyes. Sewing is out of the question. She hasn’t been able to thread a needle in years. Used to be steady as a rock. Her knuckles have mercifully stopped throbbing. She can’t feel her fingers.
Nine. It has a nine.
She can’t remember what she was doing. She staggers between the vehicles parked hood to hood. She’s a billiard ball bouncing drunkenly down the aisle. The whoosh of a jet taking off explodes overhead and she rams into a sign. CARS LEFT OVER 30 DAYS WILL BE TOWED.
Thirty days. She hasn’t been here that long. Thirty hours? How much is thirty? She rests on the bumper of a blue pickup. Arthur loved his truck. Arthur was a nice man. Cheap. But a nice man. She shakes uncontrollably.
She stuffs her gnarled hands into her pocket and feels a cold lump. Her phone! She has a phone. Why didn’t she think of that earlier? Are Wes and Amy right? Has she finally lost her mind? She knows she is crying but can’t remember why.
Keep moving or you’ll freeze. She’s lost. She’ll just call 911 like she should have done straight away. One foot carefully in front of the other. She turns down the next aisle and sees a red van. A burning circle of orange the size of a quarter visible through the driver’s window.