Today’s post is a little flash fiction exercise, which just means it’s a really, really short story. It was inspired by this challenge. Probably would have been better suited to get posted on Monday, but I hadn’t written it then. So there!
It’s always hard the day after. You build up to a thing for so long it’s impossible not to be a little out of sorts, to feel a little adrift after it’s done.
So it was on Monday morning that Frank woke up unsure what to do with himself. He had counted down to this day for months. It was like the first day of summer vacation in his line of work, but what on earth should he do with it? You spend months and months busy, and suddenly not having anything to do, no real responsibilities…it’s jarring.
As he walked from his bedroom to the kitchen, he knew what he should do with his new-found free time. The place was a mess. There were plastic wrappers and baskets, strange candies and treats all over. Each year they tested an insane number of product prototypes, and the stress leading up to the big day meant at some point it became impossible to keep it all orderly. Especially that stupid fake grass. No matter what he did, it got everywhere.
Nope, he thought. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not dealing with this crap today. It can wait.
Frank glanced out the kitchen window. It was bright and sunny out, a beautiful spring morning.
You did your job, worked your tail off even. Almost literally. He thought back on just how close a call that had been and shook his head. Stupid, friggin’ mutt on 37th. Will that thing never die? He sighed. Treat yourself, Frank. You deserve something.
But what? He bit his lip trying to think, and it came to him as his belly let loose a low, anguished grumble. He spoke his thoughts aloud to no one but himself.
“Breakfast at Maggie’s. Get yourself a great big breakfast and see where that takes you.”
The decision made, Frank grabbed his keys and headed out his front door. The sun was warmer than he expected, but it felt wonderful. He made his way to the sidewalk and strolled the three blocks to Mickey’s at a languid pace while chirping birds, newly returned from winter, provided the soundtrack. He opened the door to Maggie’s and bells clanged against the glass announcing his arrival.
“Frank you miserable so and so,” a voice called from behind the diner counter. It belonged to Maggie herself, owner of the eponymous diner and maker of the best corned beef hash in all of creation. “Been awhile, eh?” she added.
“You know how it goes this time of year, Mags, but it’s vacation time now.” She nodded as Frank made his way over to the counter and hopped into a seat. A cup of coffee appeared in front of him a second later, tendrils of steam climbing toward the ceiling.
“Usual?” she asked.
“You know it. But how about a side of bacon, too. And you know what, gimme one of them cinnamon buns. I’ll probably regret it, but I’m livin’ large today.”
Maggie chuckled. “You’ll be gettin’ large, eating all that, but the customer is always right, they say.” She disappeared into the kitchen.
Frank leaned on the counter and looked around the diner. There were a few tables occupied, but the place was pretty quiet. It was going on 10am on Monday, after all, so it was only the retirees hanging about. He preferred it this way. He had never grown entirely comfortable being out amongst people. Always felt like they were looking at him, which they probably were. It was not like he blended easily.
His job suited him in this way. Other than some prep work and occasional union meetings down at EBU local 236, it was mostly solitary work. It was kind of like being a postal worker. You had your area, and you covered it on your own. The main difference was you only had to make deliveries once a year, but those deliveries had to be precise. It was important to make them challenging. Frank got a special glee in making at least one of his special packages virtually impossible to find.
Make the little squirts really work for it. Make ’em sweat it, he thought.
Something flashed in Frank’s eye. He ignored it, thinking it was maybe a reflection coming from the windshield of a passing car. Then it happened again. He squinted and tried to look away. It could not be intentional, after all, could it?
But the flash found him once more. Frank looked around trying to find the source, and there, standing outside the diner window was a small girl in a bright yellow dress holding a mirror. The dress looked like the kind of thing she probably wore the day before while hunting for Frank’s deliveries.
He looked over at her and made an irritated face, hoping she would take the hint it was not polite to flash a glare into someone’s eyes. She smiled, close-lipped and mischievous, and curled her right pointer finger signaling he should come outside. The hunger in Frank’s belly gave way to unease. Whatever this girl was up to, he wanted no part of it. He turned back toward the diner and looked into his coffee cup.
Another flash in his periphery. Now he was just annoyed. What had he done to deserve this? Had he not brought her treats and goodies just a day earlier, not given her what she wanted? Frank swung his head toward the window, expecting to find the little girl laughing at him. Instead, where the girl had once stood, sat a bright pink basket filled with fake grass just like the stuff strewn about Frank’s house.
He swung his head around, convinced there was some sort of conspiracy going on in the diner. Were they all trying to trick him somehow? The few patrons were either surprisingly adept actors or, more likely, there was no conspiracy. Frank’s curiosity got the best of him, and he left his coffee and disappeared out the door of the diner. He went around to the side where the girl had teased him with the mirror and picked up the pink basket. In it he found a note.
If you pick up what you find
You’ll get the goods in no time
Frank smiled at the awkward couplet. That’d never get approval from HQ, he thought.
As he raised his head from the note, he noticed something he was certain had not been there just a moment earlier. Out on the sidewalk heading in the direction back toward his house was a trail of brightly colored eggs.
Might as well see what it’s about, he thought.
He began picking up the eggs and placing them in the basket. He followed the trail wondering if it would lead back to his house. It made him nervous. Did this mysterious girl know where he lived? What could she want with him?
On the other hand, the egg hunt was great fun. It was mostly just following a trail, but there were a few hidden just out of sight. Finding them was so satisfying. He had never been on this side of it and began to reconsider the disdain he had toward his job.
I get it now. I get why they like it so much.
Still, he was relieved when the trail took a right turn a block from his house and lead into a small postage stamp park. The ground was wet and mushy from spring rain, and the grass was just beginning to recapture its green. Towering sycamore trees ringed the space with a small clearing in the middle. It was there the trail of eggs ended.
The little girl stood in the center of the clearing with an egg in her hand, a stunning yellow to match her dress. Frank took it, and she spoke to him.
“There is but one egg left to go. Search it out and then you’ll know.”
“Know what?” he asked.
But the girl ran off before he even realized it, disappearing behind a bush.
What is going on here? Who is this girl? he wondered. He shook it off. He would find out soon enough. No matter. Just find the egg and you’ll figure it out.
And so Frank hunted. He looked in the shrubs and bushes. He climbed trees. He looked under, around, and through all the playground equipment. He even dug holes. He looked everywhere. After more than an hour of looking, he stood in the clearing, exhausted and exasperated.
“I give up!” he shouted. “I can’t find it. Just tell me! Tell me where it is!”
There was a tap on his back, and he turned around to find the little girl staring up at him.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, but she did not answer.
“You give up, you say,” she said, “are you sure?”
“Yes. Please. I’m about ready to pull my ears out looking for your stupid egg, and I think you know how attached to my ears I am.” He paused and collected his breath, surprised at how tired he was from the ordeal. “Can you tell me? Whatever the final message was, can you just tell me?”
“I already have,” she said, glaring at him through vengeful eyes. “Now you know.”
Frank huffed. “Nonsense! You haven’t told me anything. Know what?”
She smiled a wide, satisfied grin. “Now you know what it feels like.”