Time for another installment of One-Hour Flash and another opportunity to exorcise a demon from my hard drive. All these stories were written in one hour for a writing exercise/contest, and for one (good) reason or another, I haven’t done much with them. So instead of letting them pile up rejections like the the good lord intended, I’m sharing them here. Like all the stories in this series, this is more or less what I ended up with after an hour of writing.
This one is called “For Abby,” and it’s the touching tale of a man trying to find the perfect pet for his daughter. 🙂
The place wasn’t like any pet store Dale had ever seen. There were no cages filled with frolicking puppies and kittens, no aquariums sporting colorful fish, no soft chirps of parrots and finches. It was empty; a square room with a bare concrete floor. A red door behind a counter against the far wall stood as a single, ominous note of color. The shop smelled like rotten eggs, and Dale wrinkled his nose as the door shut behind him.
A curious symbol had been scrawled on the concrete in front of the door: a big circle with a five-pointed star in the middle. To Dale’s relief, there was enough room to step around it.
“Hello?” Dale said and approached the counter.
The smell, the weird symbol, and the shop’s emptiness began to unnerve him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the post-it note Dr. Falders had given him. She’d written an address and two words: For Abby. This was the address, though it had been exceedingly difficult to find, in an area of town he’d never visited, had never known existed.
“Is anyone there?” Dale called out. This time he heard muffled footsteps behind the red door. It swung open and disgorged a stink so revolting he slapped a hand over his mouth and turned away.
“Can I help you?”
Dale turned back to the counter. A woman in a white dress now stood behind it. She had long black hair, pale, almost alabaster skin, and curiously large eyes, almost too big for her face. Her age was difficult to determine. She could be eighteen or thirty.
The smell had faded and Dale took his hand away from his mouth. He set the post-it note on the counter. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Dr. Falders sent me . . .”
The woman nodded and smiled. Her lips were very red. “Of course. The doctor said you would be coming.”
“It’s about my daughter. She needs a new pet. Something a little more . . . resilient than a dog or a cat.”
The woman’s smile brightened. “I understand completely, Mr. Richards.”
“She doesn’t mean to hurt them,” Dale continued. “But puppies and kittens are so fragile.”
The woman placed one long-fingered hand on Dale’s forearm. Her skin was cold and smooth. “You don’t have to explain. Dr. Falders told me all I need to know.”
Dale grimaced. What else had the doctor had told this woman about Abby? “So you’re a pet store?”
“Of sorts.” The woman removed her hand from Dale’s arm. “We cater to very special clients with very special children, like you and Abby.”
Dale glanced around the “shop.” “I don’t see any cages.”
“We keep a very limited stock,” the woman said. “But I have just the thing for Abby.”
“Really? That would be great. Her fits are always better when she has something to play with.” Dale was afraid to hope, but Dr. Falders had been right about everything else.
“Step around the counter, Mr. Richards.” The woman opened the red door again, and the stink returned, but it didn’t bother him as much. If this shopkeeper could help Abby, he could put up with a little stench. He followed her into a small dark room that held a big cage, the kind you might keep a wild animal in, like a tiger or a bear. There was something inside, but it was too dark to see it clearly.
“Let me turn on the light.” White light flooded the room from an overhead fixture, and Dale gasped. The thing in the cage lay on its side, its massive head turned in his direction. At first, he thought it might be a dog, but it was too big. Plus, the horns, the burning red eyes, and the shark-like teeth all added up to something very much not a dog.
“Jesus,” Dale said and instantly felt the shopkeeper’s icy grip on his arm, painfully tight.
“That is not a name I like to hear in my shop, Mr. Richards.”
“Uh, sorry,” he said. “Abby doesn’t like it either.” He changed the subject. “What is that thing?”
“A pet for a very special child.” Her smile returned and she released his arm.
“It’s a little big.”
“Look closer.” The shopkeeper pointed one finger at the cage.
He took a step toward the cage and saw several small, squirming shapes in the straw beneath the beast, nuzzling its belly. He realized with mingled disgust and delight the squirming things were the creature’s young.
“I can have one of the, uh, puppies for Abby?”
“You can,” the woman replied. “It will weather your daughter’s . . . affections quite well. When it is grown, it can protect her from those who might wish to harm her.”
Dale nodded, remembering the priest at the hospital when Abby was born. He’d thrown a fit about the birth mark on her arm, and the police had removed him. There had been others, doctors mostly, a few neighbors. They’d moved several times since Abby was born.
“I’ll take it,” Dale said. “What do I owe you?”
He felt the shopkeeper’s cool touch on the back of his neck and shivered. Her voice was in his ear. “Nothing, Mr. Richards. Just keep her safe. All will be repaid when she is ready.”
So, this is one of those flash pieces that suffers from vignette syndrome. I like the premise here and the weird pet shop, but nothing really happens, and there’s no character arc. This happens quite a bit in these one-hour flash challenges. I’ll come up with a decent premise, but what I end up writing is the beginning to a longer tale rather than a complete story on its own. What I have here could make a decent start to a short story, though, and maybe I’ll return to it at some point.
If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.