Today’s flash fiction (1036 words) was written by yours truly! The bolded sentence was the prompt. Everybody wrote SUCH different takes on it that evening, it was truly amazing! But this is what I came up with:
The elephant stared at him balefully, its tail twitching slightly. He turned…
…to the sound that came from behind him and shuddered. God he hated clowns. And the circus. Yet he here as in Omaha, Nebraska cleaning up elephant shit. How far he had fallen. But no time for self-pity, the elephant had mowed over the last guy who had this job somewhere near Tulsa and that was the end of Dwayne.
After his bucket-and-sponge bath, which washed away most but not all the elephant stink, Allen took to his bunk to think. Which was hard to do with the midgets outside. Hard drinking bunch, they were, loaded every night after the last of the audience had trundled off into the night. Most of them were clowns but two or three worked the high wire.
Cheryl had left him on the same day he’d been fired. Such clichés do happen, believe me you, which is something Allen enjoyed saying quite often.
Allen had worked in the sporting goods department of the Walgreens his soon-to-be father in-law managed. It had been a good job until a practical joke had been deeply misunderstood. Where Allen came from, a loaded hunting rifle poking out of the fishing rods would have been hysterical, believe me you. Cheryl’s family never did have a sense of humor, much.
It wasn’t long after that Cheryl meted out her withering justice in the form of an engagement ring thrown in his face. Allen had paid at least two-hundred fifty bucks for that ring. Carmelite or something. He got it at the County Fair from a “distinguished jeweler” from Tuskeegee. Some women had no gratitude.
That night, as Allen stumbled down Marvel Street sipping bourbon from a brown paper bag and weeping, he saw some lights in the distance and heard magical music – carnival music. He stumbled closer and soon the snapping flags and cheering crowd drew him in to the next phrase of his life. Things just happened that way for Allen, ever since he was a kid. Just stumbled into opportunities.
When he woke up the next day, he was in a railcar being rocked gently beside a mountain of stinking flesh and a soft pile of – shit? Was it shit? Allen snapped awake and realized he’d apparently joined the circus.
But that was at least six months ago and Allen was considering getting another tattoo. His first one was quite elegant, really, a fanciful depiction of Cheryl as a cabaret dancer with fleshy thighs, ostrich feathers blooming from her head and lolling, crazy eyes. One of the midgets had done it. It was nicely placed, too, across Allen’s pudgy, freckled back.
A sharp rap on his trailer door awakened Allen. The campground was still roiling with carnie shouts and fistfights. Groggily, Allen opened to door to see the pimply sword swallower looking quite agitated.
“Your elephant tooka dump.”
“What? Of course he did. I’m sleeping.” Allen tried to shut the door but a sword was inserted at the last second, making that impossible.
“He tooka dump right in fronta my trailer. You better do somethin’ about it.” And with that, the gangly, acne covered sword swaller limped back toward a raging bonfire somewhere near the clown trailer.
It took a moment for it to sink in. Allen’s elephant was on the loose. He shoved his chubby legs into pants and grabbed an Aflack tee-shirt – which was the closest thing, and sprang out of his trailer. What the – how was this HIS problem?
“This is coming out of your god damn paycheck, Miller!” The ringmaster, sodden and lisping prodded him with a stick. He had on a sweaty wife beater tee shirt and his top hat.
“ You get out there and you find that thang or it’s your ass!”
“I will Mr. Fletcher, believe me you!”
“Git goin’ then.”
The ringmaster tossed his cigarette into the sawdust and turned back toward his trailer. His top hat fell off and his trailer door closed. The door opened again and the hat was snatched up.
Momentarily speechless, it occurred to Allen that in general terms a hulking creature of this nature probably wouldn’t have gotten very far without being detected and wouldn’t be hard to track.
“Myrtle?” He called into the night. Laughter from the bonfire drifted over as all painted and sequined eyes were laid upon him. One of the midgets said something particularly funny and fell over onto the ground. Something glass shattered.
Allen switched on a flashlight and set out into the Omaha summer night, swatting at mosquitoes and fireflies. The Platte River bordered the camp on one side, and the highway on the other. Myrtle can’t have gotten far, he thought. He stepped into a pile of elephant shit – or was that mud? He shone his flashlight down. It was shit. She had to be nearby.
Allen heard the faint sound of a train whistle. It reminded him of growing up and all the dreams he used to have. It reminded him of root beer and warm blankets and his mother’s perfume.
The train whistle grew more and more shrill and Allen slapped a mosquito from the back of his neck and felt his own blood splat on his skin. Then the train went silent.
When Allen found Myrtle, she was lying prone with the freight train derailed just a few yards beyond her. Smoke and steam roiled up from the train. If its wheels could still be spinning they would. The stunned Engineer climbed out from the wreckage.
“What in the hay-ull? What’s the matter with you, boy? Where’d this thang come from?”
Allen thought of everything that had happened in his life, he thought about train whistles and childhood and Cheryl and Carmelite. He thought about his father whom he’d never met, only heard referred to as that a-hole, and he thought about how his bed was getting cold back in his trailer. Probably for the best, he thought.
He knelt beside Myrtle. She heaved a last breath and stared at Allen balefully, even in death. Allen looked up at the North Star, so high up above and wondered what opportunity he was about to stumble onto next.
-Julie Gray, Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon, August 2013
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