It’s a while since I’ve participated in one of Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction challenges. Sorry. The challenge this week was to choose one of fifty unexplainable black and white photos and use it as inspiration for a 1000-word story. (My picture is below.) I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Oh, and make sure you pop over and read the other entries, too.
“Those things’ll stunt your growth,” I said by way of greeting.
He gave me the bird. Then he sat himself up on the recliner. “I’m here to hire you.”
“Right,” I said. I opened the top drawer and dug around for a cigarette. I wouldn’t normally smoke in front of a kid, but he started it. “You’re the Winter boy, aren’t you?”
“My name is Colin,” he said. “Charles Winter is my father.”
“And is he paying for this… whatever it is? You lose a toy or something? Your dog run away from home?”
I’d been glared at by grown men who had nothing on this kid. He didn’t speak for a full minute. I lit my cigarette and puffed on it a few times while I waited.
Finally, he opened the bag he’d been carrying – plain white, just like the rest of his outfit – and took out a small bottle. “I can pay,” he said. “This doesn’t involve my father.” He stood up to reach the desk, and slid the bottle toward me.
“You’re paying me in bad booze?” I asked, amused.
“It’s good booze.” He dropped the butt of his cigarette in the ashtray on my desk, then climbed back on to the recliner. “And there’s this.”
He reached into his bag again and pulled out a handful of black fabric. I watched him unfold and spread it out until it took on a familiar shape.
He nodded. “A silk hat.”
I raised my cig to my mouth and inhaled deeply while I considered the boy in white with the black hat in his lap. “And what do you want me to do for this…” I paused to glance at the label on the bottle. “…fine scotch whiskey and that tattered silk hat?”
“I want you to dig up a body.”
“I want you to dig up a body,” Colin repeated. Calmly.
A host of questions sprang to mind. After a moment’s pause I went with a simple, “Why?”
“Do you read?” he asked.
“Do you?” I countered.
He reached into his bag a third time, and this time drew out a faded square of paper. A newspaper clipping. Without a word, he climbed down and placed it on the desk. Then he returned to his seat while I picked it up and scanned it.
Under the headline was a photo of children standing in a snow-covered field. “I remember this,” I said. “It was a couple of years ago. A group of rich kids said their snowman came to life and danced away.” I glanced at the boy. “You one of them?”
He nodded. “Yes. It really happened. The hat brought him to life.”
He nodded, and lifted the black silk hat up for me to see. “This hat.”
I didn’t say anything, just finished my smoke.
“There’s magic in it,” he said. “It brought the snowman to life. It can bring other things to life. It can bring the dead back to life.”
“Right,” I said. “So you want me to dig up a body for you to experiment on. Is that it?” The kid was starting to give me the creeps.
“No,” said Colin. “I’ve already done the experiments.”
I licked my lips. “What do you mean?”
“The hat can bring things to life, but not all the time. It only works on the Winter Solstice.” He stared at me for a long moment. Waiting. “Tonight,” he added.
“And you know this because…”
“I experimented,” he said again. I must not have looked convinced, because he kept talking. “There are a lot of dogs on my father’s property.” He smiled. “There used to be. I had to find out when the magic would work, so I killed one and tried the hat each day. When the body started to smell, I killed another one and started again. Last year, on the Winter Solstice, it brought the dog back to life.” He paused a moment, then looked me in the eyes and said, “I need the body tonight.”
He needed a body. I needed a drink.
I grabbed the bottle he’d put on the desk and said, “And in return, you’ll give me a bottle of whiskey?”
He shook his head. “No. You can have the booze anyway. If you help me, you get the hat. After I’m finished with it.”
“Won’t you need it?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No. Not after tonight.”
I opened the bottle and tipped a measure into my mouth. Colin was right. It was good stuff. “Whose body?”
“My mother’s,” he said.
And just like that, it all came back to me. Two and a half years ago, the police were called to a disturbance at the Winter house. By the time they got there, Mrs Winter was dead. There’d been suspicions of foul play, but it was eventually ruled an accident. Mr Winter was too rich to be a murder suspect.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll help you.”
And I did. I dug up his mother, and he put the hat on her head just as the town clock struck midnight.
That was a year ago. There’s no need to ask if it worked.
If it hadn’t, he wouldn’t have given me the hat. And you’d still be a corpse.