Flash Fiction: “The Torch”

This week, Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge was to write a 1000 word story inspired by the following picture. I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear what you think.

Where Everyone Knows Your True Name

He called himself Kane, but his real name was Kevin. I almost felt sorry for him when he stumbled into the bar in mid-December, snow swirling around his neatly-pressed trousers. He wasn’t my usual clientele. But that’s what made him interesting.

He was a small man, barely five and a half feet tall, with thick glasses and thinning hair. He wore polished leather shoes with shoelaces tied in double-knots. His hair was parted neatly to one side. The combination on his luggage was probably 1234.

Everyone watched him enter on that cold winter’s day. He pushed the door closed, then turned and peered into the gloom. His eyelids fluttered like spastic butterflies while he tried to get his bearings. Then he made his way to me.

“What can I get you?” I asked. I wiped the top of the bar while I waited for a reply.

He blinked a few more times, but the room didn’t get any brighter. My usual patrons like it that way. But he wasn’t accustomed to the darkness or the tobacco smoke circling his head. Smoking had long been outlawed in drinking establishments, but this wasn’t that kind of bar.

“Scotch?” His uncertainty turned the word into a question.

I grabbed a glass, poured the drink, and put it in front of him with a dull thud. Then I cast a meaningful glance over his shoulder, encouraging the dozen or so patrons to go back to their business. Nothing to see here.

He smiled nervously. “I’ve never been here before,” he said.

I nodded.

“I didn’t even know this place was here.”

I kept nodding.

“What’s it called?”

“The bar,” I said with a shrug.

He frowned, confused. He closed his hand on the glass. “My name’s… Kane.”

The pause was a dead giveaway. I would have known he was lying even if I hadn’t been able to read his mind.

“Hi, Kane,” I said. Then I added, “They call me Pan.”

There was a snigger from the darkness, and then the buzz of conversation being rejoined. To me, it was a symphony of words. Judging by the way Kane spun to peer into the shadows, he heard it differently.

I topped up his glass while he wasn’t watching, and then went back to wiping the bar. Kane finished his drink, thanked me, and left. And that was the end of it. Or so I thought.

#

 A week later, Kane came back. He drank his scotch, stared into the darkness at the silhouettes of the other patrons, and then went back to the world.

He did the same the following week. And the one after that. He came back every week until it became commonplace.Normal. I got used to him. I found myself waiting for him.

It was early spring when his routine changed. He came earlier and stayed longer. He wanted to talk, to get to know me. He wanted to talk about the other patrons.

#

 “How do people even find this place?” Kane asked one night.

I was mixing a tray of Bloody Marys, and didn’t answer immediately.

“There’s no sign out front. You don’t advertise. How do people even know the bar’s here?”

I put the finishing touches on the drinks and moved the tray to the other end of the bar. “You found us,” I said by way of an answer.

Kane was silent, sipping his scotch and thinking. A cloaked figure emerged from the darkness and exchanged the tray of drinks for a pile of silver coins. Kane watched the transaction. His mind projected question after question, but he didn’t speak until he’d finished his drink.

When he did, his words were barely more than a whisper. “Sometimes I get the feeling there’s more than just people in here,” he said.

#

 Kane was an hour early. That didn’t bother me. But the fear and anticipation rolling off his mind did. His thoughts were too scattered for me to read, and he was carrying a big stick.

“Hi, Kane.” I kept my tone pleasant, but I was wary.

I sensed the figures in the darkness tensing, preparing. There was the sound of someone sniffing the air, and then a low growl. Things were going to get ugly.

Kane looked towards me, but walked to the middle of the room and raised his stick. The top half was coated in a dark purple powder.

“What are you doing?” I asked. When he didn’t answer, I said, “Kevin?”

His true name got his attention. He looked at me, but didn’t lower the stick. “I’m sorry, Pan,” he said. “You’re a nice guy. You should know the truth about who drinks here.”

His mind screamed insults. Freak! Monster! Demon! Fiend!

The shadows stirred. Shapes changed. The air was thick with tension, and the only one who couldn’t sense it was Kevin.

“Walk away, Kevin,” I said. “Go home.”

He took a single step toward the door. Then he stopped. I didn’t know enough of his true name to compel him further. I’d done everything I could do.

Kevin squirted sweet-smelling liquid on the salt-encrusted stick. Flames erupted. He raised the torch high above his head and stepped forward with a dramatic, “Come into the light, foul beasts!”

And they did.

They came with flashing fangs and glowing eyes, with claws and hooks and razor-sharp quills, with poison and venom and fury. They came with banshee shrieks and behemoth snarls. And then the fire went out.

He called my name, but I’d done all I could. My cloven hooves tapped in time to Kevin’s heartbeat. Faster, faster, faster, and then slower. And then nothing.

My patrons needed music. I went looking for my flute.

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9 Comments

Filed under Flash Fiction

9 responses to “Flash Fiction: “The Torch”

  1. Nice imagery and revelatory turn at the end.
    Les

  2. That was smooth and I liked how the story morphed into something paranormalesque when I was expecting some poor downtrodden salesman with a bad marriage. Poor Kevin. He found his way there too many times.

  3. Yes, what she said — smooth!

  4. Hi Jo, I really enjoyed that.
    I could see it, hear it, smell it.
    Nicely twisted without being overly explicit.

  5. ZC

    Will admit that I haven’t read any of your other work… but I think I will after this. Third paragraph from the end is my favourite. Very visual piece.

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