I’ve been thinking of ways to thank my faithful readers and fans and came up with Short Story Sunday. I’ll post a free short story on my blog on Sundays, Probably random Sundays, if I know myself.
This was my first one ever published, in the July-August issue of Future Mystery Anthology Magazine, with the title of “Flash.” Later, the next February, it places 2nd in their “Fire to Fly” contest among their own published stories.
I really got my money’s worth out of this one. In the form below, it appeared in April in Web Mystery Magazine. It was slightly edited by Rosalie Stafford, the editor.
Then, in 2007, it was reprinted in B.J. Bourg’s Mouthful of Bullets magazine. As you’ll see it’s a bit dated now, since electronics are involved, but I still like the way it reads. I hope you will too.
**After the end, I posted an awesome review it received in 2007.
FLASH MOB by Kaye George
Two hundred beepers woke up and chirped their signals to their keepers. The ones being paged read the scrolling messages, smiled, stuck the devices in their pockets and purses, and headed out.
Melissa breathed a barely perceptible sigh of relief. Can’t relax too much yet. In two hours it will all be over.
Last week he called her at work.
“We should go out to dinner tonight. I made a big sale. Got the check in my hand.”
“That’s great, Matt! What time?”
“Sure you’re up to it, Mel?”
Not that again! Yes, she had cancer. Yes, she was weak from her treatment day before yesterday. But please, Matt, don’t treat me like one of your porcelain dolls. She ignored his question and asked her own.
“What did you sell?”
“That Currier and Ives print – the one you always hated.”
“Ah yes. The one that has brown all around the edges and people that look out of proportion. How much?”
“Hang on to your wig.”
She gritted her teeth. How many times had she told him not to joke about her wig?
“I got three hundred. And it’s been a very good week.”
Her jaw relaxed and she pictured his proud, shining eyes, the color of melting dark chocolate. “That’s great, hon. Let’s go to the new place in Dover. Lisa said the food was good, atmosphere great, and the prices not too awful.”
“I’ll be home around six. Leave around seven?”
She remembered that as their last good night.
Two hundred email flags popped up with their various dings, chimes and whirrs. Two hundred users clicked on the latest notice, grinned, and got up. Time to go!
The restaurant was even better than Lisa had led Melissa to believe. The food was excellent. And the ambiance was positively romantic.
Matt’s eyes were dark pools in the dancing candlelight. And Melissa knew she looked better here than in a brightly lit place. Her pale skin had grown papery thin and even sagged a bit at the jaw line. Cancer treatment was not for the faint hearted.
The salads had just been cleared and the table crumbed when Mel caught a whiff of strong perfume. She felt almost dizzy from the nausea that rose in her throat. Intolerance to strong odors was another not-fun side effect.
The wearer of the offensive stench paused at their table.
“Matt, darling!” she effused and leaned over to smooch him on the cheek, her mink dripping onto the tablecloth. The woman, forty-ish, slim, and overly jeweled, looked at Melissa.
“Is this the little woman?” Her smile, stiff with what was probably Botox, was aimed at Matt. Good thing. She missed the daggers coming from Mel.
One hundred cell phones rang, cawed, tweedled, and sang. One hundred people pressed buttons and watched messages go by. All right! Fun time.
“Who was that?” spat Mel after the clanking, furred socialite drifted off to her table in the rear of the restaurant.
“Shh! Not so loud,” whispered Matt. “She’s the rich bitch who bought the Currier and Ives.”
“Oh, so she’s stupid, too.”
Matt frowned as the waitress slid their entrees onto the creamy white of the linen tablecloth and asked if they would like their drinks freshened.
“What do you mean ‘too’”? Matt asked when they were alone again.
“You said she’s stupid, too.”
“Oh, I meant besides being generally annoying. I mean – kissing my husband in front of me. How gauche!”
Matt bent his head to his food and his nostrils flared in that way that said he was pissed.
“What?” she demanded. “Why are you upset with me? Because I don’t personally like one of your customers? No big deal. I’ll probably never see her again and certainly won’t tell her what I think.”
His look softened. “I know you won’t, Mel. Sorry.”
Melissa wasn’t really looking for it, but couldn’t help noticing how touchy he was the rest of the evening. She also noticed the society babe give Matt a wink as she left a few minutes before they did.
Dozens of grocery stores, marts, and drug stores experienced a run on red balloons. Disappointed shoppers, arriving after the red ones were sold out, settled for pink and orange. They were all in a big hurry.
The next night Matt was late again, but brought roses home. She’d had a tough time staying at work all day. Her boss had given her permission to leave whenever she couldn’t make it through the day, but she rarely missed more than two days for her treatments. It was getting harder, though.
Matt, looking extremely pleased with himself, found a vase under the sink, filled it with water, and stuck the fragrant blooms on the table beside the couch where Melissa had collapsed a half hour earlier.
Melissa, drained, couldn’t summon the energy to move the roses. “Matt, honey, could you please put them across the room? The smell is bothering me.”
“Sure thing.” He swooped the vase up, set it on the shelf near the window, and strode with enviably healthy legs back to the couch. “Rough day?” He smoothed her forehead and gave her a chaste peck.
Mel swallowed. There it was! That horrid perfume. She lurched up and made it to the toilet before losing her lunch.
“You okay?” Matt called from the hallway outside the bathroom.
“I’m fine. Just go ahead and have dinner without me.” She sat on the floor, leaning against the cool gray tiles of the wall, too tired to cry.
The next day she called in sick to work, then phoned the doctor’s office and said she had to see him that day. When she got there she only had to wait fifteen minutes in the outer waiting room and five in the examining room.
Dr. Leigh bustled in, shut the door, and took a seat on his stool, shuffling the papers he was holding and avoiding her eyes.
“I’m not doing too well,” she started.
He held up his hand. “I don’t doubt it.” He raised his gaze from the floor and concern filled his eyes with pain. “I got your last test results early this morning. They’re not good.”
“Not good,” she echoed, the chill of the room entering her spine.
“The tumors are growing. Your treatments aren’t working.” His voice was gentle, kindly. “I’m sorry, Melissa. I think it’s time to stop treatment and make you comfortable.”
So that was it. She had the death sentence. Tried, convicted, and no appeals allowed. Melissa had intended to confide in Dr. Leigh that she suspected her husband was having an affair with one of his rich customers. On her way to the office she had pictured his soothing presence convincing her that she was wrong. She had pictured leaving with her heart lighter. Instead, her heart weighed so much it felt like it was sitting on her stomach as she drove slowly home.
Maybe this would be the last session with the toilet bowl, she thought as she wobbled to her feet after vomiting for a good ten minutes. Without treatment, she should at least feel better. That’s what Dr. Leigh has intimated.
But how could she feel better when she knew – okay she admitted that she did know – that Matt was getting something more out of that client that her money? She tried to look at their life from his point of view. She had been extremely hard to live with since her cancer was diagnosed. One treatment option after another had not panned out and now the last resort had been declared a failure. She was given a few months at the most.
Matt would be home in a couple of hours. Unless he called again and said he would be late.
How could you abandon me when I’ve never needed you more?
She called him some choice names out loud. That felt good. Maybe she would let him have it when he came through the door. She paced, energized by her bitter hatred, rehearsing the coming scene.
Then she stopped. Wait. If she told him she was dying, what would he do then? Would he just leave her completely? God knows things had been rocky since her diagnosis. Matt had never dealt well with illness, his own or others, and hadn’t displayed many moments of graciousness lately. Mostly just impatience and exasperation.
No, she wouldn’t tell him. But she would have to do something.
Five hundred people got into cars, onto buses and bicycles, or just started walking toward the antique district.
She called in the next day, Friday, and quit her job. Her boss said she had five days of vacation pay coming, and he’d see if they could keep her on the payroll for two more weeks.
After she hung up she thought how odd it was that she had told her boss she was terminal, and not her husband.
The weekend was pleasant. She could tell Matt sensed that something was drastically different, some line had been crossed, but he had no way of knowing what it was. Maybe he suspected she knew of his affair. She didn’t tell him she had quit her job, but pondered how she was going to keep him from knowing. And why she wanted to.
As she watched him flip the burgers on the stove Sunday night she wondered if she had been too hasty. Maybe he wasn’t having an affair. Her overwrought state could be making her imagine things. Maybe the client had merely been in the shop and that overpowering smell stayed with Matt after she left.
She seemed to have more energy than she’d had in a long time and jumped up to get the salads as he pushed the patties onto the plates she had set on the dining room table. The meal was restful and they watched out the window in a companionable silence as the winter sun sparked its radiance into the sky just before it died for the day.
Some people arrived a little too soon and found ways to loiter until the appointed time. Others circled the block looking for parking spaces. The four-tiered garage at the corner filled up and cars started entering the one two blocks away.
It was a relief to quit her job, but she missed the people after just two days. Two busy days, though. There was an urgency to her life, now, since she knew if was finite. The first thing she did was clean the house from top to bottom. Amazing how much better she felt without the deadly treatments. Dr. Leigh’s prescribed pain relievers gave her a sense of floating above the world, but didn’t seem to prevent her energy from flowing.
By the time Matt got home she made sure she was dressed in her regular working clothes so he would think she went to work. She tried to act tired from work, but he noticed how bubbly she was and attributed it, rightly, to her condition. Wrong condition, though.
“You’re bouncing back from this last treatment, Mel. Maybe something’s finally working.”
“I hope so,” she murmured, sipping the wine he had so gallantly poured. She rested her head on his shoulder as they watched a movie on television, smiling when he started snoring softly halfway through the picture.
Nearly five hundred people blew up their balloons, mostly red, ready to for the next step.
Now that Mel knew exactly what to expect, a weight was lifted. It was wonderful to know that her last days on earth wouldn’t be lived in the torment she’d undergone for months. She didn’t have to worry about how many pain pills she took because the end was so near. And she didn’t have to dread an unknown future. Somehow, she didn’t really dread her end.
The next day, Wednesday, Melissa decided to go through her closet and dispose of her clothing and jewelry. She pulled a box out of the closet and discovered a cache of old photographs she’d forgotten all about. It was great fun to go through them. Sort of a summing up of her life. She wondered vaguely what would happen to her photographs, her books, her favorite set of china. Maybe it was the painkiller, but she couldn’t get too worked up about it.
As she drew a picture of Matt on the beach out of the bottom of the box she heard his voice downstairs. A glance at the clock showed it to be noon. He didn’t usually come home from his antique shop in the middle of the day, usually ate in the store and gave the employees a lunch hour.
She was about to call to him when she heard another voice. A female voice. A chuckle, then a grating laugh. Footfalls sounded on the stairs and Melissa smoothly shoved the box into the closet and followed it in, pulling the door shut behind her.
The next hour was torture. She hunkered in the dark and listened to her husband confirm her fears, the ones she had dismissed as irrational. She recognized the society dame’s harsh smoker’s voice and heard the clank of her bracelets as the mattress – the mattress to her bed -- gave creaking noises and the headboard whacked the wall in a way Melissa didn’t recall it ever doing.
After some sickening sweet talk they took an interminable amount of time getting reclothed and leaving. As Melissa heard the front door slam she burst out of the closet and looked at the bed in horror. One of them, probably not Matt, had made it up so neatly she would never have known. She knew she wouldn’t sleep there again. She would feign nausea and take up residency on the den couch.
Almost five hundred people gathered outside the shop, Matt’s antiques, their balloons swaying in the slight breeze, strings becoming tangled. Some of them began to laugh.
She had read about flash mobs in the paper. The first one she heard of, at Grand Central Station, was a gathering of people who burst into applause at the Hyatt Hotel for fifteen seconds. Others consisted of people all going to a certain store and asking to see the same rug or pair of shoes. According to one report, the appeal of the flash mob was its lack of agenda. Folks got the message on their pagers, their computers, or their cell phones, then willingly, eagerly, convened at the appointed place and time and followed the instructions given on their various electronic devices.
The gatherings were mostly innocuous, with a few exceptions, one being a photographer who was beaten by the event organizer. The report in today’s paper, hinting that the fad was likely to die out soon, spurred her to make up her mind quickly. The idea she’d hatched seemed perfect. The cover it would afford was ideal. She knew Matt’s gun would be in the drawer at work where he always kept it. There was one at home and one in the shop. They had both taken the course required by the licensing people when they bought the guns. Matt’s valuable inventory had decided him to get the first one, then it seemed only right to have one to defend the house also.
Melissa looked at her watch. Time to go. The note was written which would explain everything. She tucked it into the bottom of the desk drawer, next to her insurance policy which named Matt as the beneficiary, put on her coat, and left.
Matt looked out the front window. The street was full of people carrying balloons. They started into the shop. One balloon caught on the ceiling fan and popped. The mob twittered.
“No!” shouted Matt. “You can’t come in here. Get out!” He flapped his hands and even pushed a couple of them, but some of the crowd forced their way in. Dozens of mobbers filled the shop and the ones that didn’t fit pressed up against the window, all getting as close together as they could.
“Hi Matt.” He whirled around. Melissa had come in the back way. She smiled.
“What is going on?” he called to her, fighting his way to her side. He grabbed her arm.
“Come into the office with me, Matt,” she said, putting her lips next to his ear.
Puzzled, he followed her.
The crowd grew eerily silent. Matt closed the door. Mel went behind his desk, drew the gun from the drawer and brought it slowly up in front of her. Matt froze.
The mobbers checked their watches.
Melissa checked hers. She pointed the gun at Matt with her gloved hand, just to see what he would do.
“Mel,” he breathed, hyperventilating. “What are you doing?”
“Saying goodbye, Matt.” She knew his were the only fingerprints on the gun. As five hundred balloons popped, Melissa pulled the trigger.
Those nearest the office noticed the sound, in spite of the noise. Melissa had calculated correctly. The first ones into the room drew the conclusion she had planned. Matt was standing over her body. His prints were on the gun. Five different cell phones were used to call Nine One One and the response was instantaneous, since the police, suspicious of the mob, had converged outside.
The note was found in a search of the house. It instructed the authorities to question Matt if anything happened to her. Matt was convicted within a year and sentenced to life in prison.
This review appeared a blog called Speakeasy, which, like the magazines that published this piece, is bygone.
Friday, November 2, 2007
This well-told tale has such a clever device I'm envious that I didn't think of it. The intercuts of people answering their cell phones and checking their palm pilots is so intriguing that you keep reading just to find out what that's all about, to heck with the crime. The characters are beautifully drawn, especially the viewpoint character. You feel sorry for her without having your tears jerked. Keep your hands off my tears, thanks anyway. That George doesn't dissolve into maudlin sentimentalism in order to suck you in makes this a vastly better story than it would have been otherwise. The story is taut and believable. Check it out over at Mouth Full of Bullets.
Posted by Susan Brassfield Cogan at 12:26 PM
*****AUTHOR’S NOTE: I, of course, see edits I would love to make now, but I have refrained. You will, no doubt, especially after I’ve pointed it out, notice my inexplicable but persistent penchant for names beginning with the letter M. Also, the double-spacing between sentences, which is how we used to do it.
photo from morguefile.com by Prawny