Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – After Hours by Bill Chance

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#77) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


After Hours

Barry Carpenter and his daughter walked out onto the beach in the darkness. Even the waves seemed to respect the night, rumbling low in a tumble of phosphorescent foam. The sand was cool between their toes and the offshore breeze warm on their faces.

Far out to sea a violent store raged. From the beach, all that could be seen was a spreading mass of black cloud, curling above the unseen horizon, blacker than the black sky above. The clouds were silently and invisibly roiled but the violence was revealed by the strokes of electric veins flashing across and through the distant storm. Sharp traces of lightning flared alternated with the soft blue glow of deep interior discharges.

They stood on the smooth wet sward of damp sand, stood there and let the breeze blow bits of foam, the last extent of the crashing salt sea undulations, kiss barely against their bare toes. They stood silent, staring, shoulder to shoulder, together, and alone.

Barry Carpenter became aware that his daughter wasn’t completely silent, or utterly still, like he was. He turned his head and, since his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the moonless night, he could tell that her shoulders were shaking, her head moving a little in an irregular fashion. He wasn’t sure at first but then he caught a little sob, heard a bit of sniffle. Though she was trying to conceal it, his daughter was weeping. She was standing on the sand next to him, looking out to sea, and weeping.

He had no idea what to do.

The tiny sighs and subtle sobs, almost drowned by the noise of the surf, were powerful blows. He felt a deep and primordial panic welling up until his mind could not stand it any more.

Automatically, his memories poured forth; inexorable images welled up. He remembered another beach at night. A long time ago and a long way away. Another continent. It was another ocean – a much warmer one. He was young then, and so were his friends. And they were out of rum.

They were walking down the beach. Back behind them was the tourist beach, with the lifeguards and the all-inclusive hotels. There the sand was scrupulously clean, swept every day at dawn by a mob of barely-fed workers. The tourist beach was no fun.

Barry and his friends liked to hang out at Calangute… the people’s beach. Here the sand was always littered and the dunes filled with thatched huts rather than glass hotels. Thick blue smoke from hundreds of wood cooking fires battled the sea breezes – the unique magnificent smell of third-world grease and spice hung on everything. There was always a party at Calangute.

Except now, it was too late. The poor people of Calangute all had to work, somehow, to eat and it was four in the morning. Everyone was asleep. Everyone except Barry and his friends, who didn’t have to work and never liked to sleep. And they especially didn’t like it when they were out of rum.

They were working their way down the ocean-most row of shacks, wobbly crude constructions of sticks and palm fronds, intended during the day as tiny storefronts, selling food, drink, cheap plastic childrens’ toys. This late they were all closed and bundled up and took on their second purpose as houses for their proprietors.

The boys would shake each shack, watching it wiggle, shouting, “Oye! Oye! Rum! Rum.” Every shack had somebody in it, but… maybe they were afraid, maybe tired, maybe sick of the noisy rich kids… probably all three – and nobody stirred. They would wait, fain slumber, until the teenagers lost their thin patience and moved to the next hut.

Finally, a groggy woman’s voice grunted agreement from the inside of a particularly tiny and crude, hut. Barry figured she needed the money more than she dreaded the disruption. He pulled a wet, sandy, lump of bills from his pocket and waved it in the dark, knowing it would be more than enough for a bottle of the rough, clear hooch sold at Calangute. The stuff tasted like paint thinner, but it got the job done.

A low, yellow light snapped on within and the handmade door opened up a crack. Barry went in to pick up his purchase. The only light was a cheap lime-green flashlight with obviously failing batteries, but there was enough light to see the scrawny sick-looking woman holding out an old-style glass soft-drink bottle filled with a cloudy liquid and stoppered with a hand-carved wooden cork.

Barry looked around the inside of the shack and saw that it was filled to bursting with children. They were sleeping in piles all around the edge of the room, so deep there was barely enough room to stand in the center. There were too many to be the children of the woman with the bottle, and she seemed to be the only adult present. Barry realized that these were the ragged children that ran on the beach all day, selling tiny boxes of chewing gum, or worthless hand-carved trinkets, or simply offering to fetch a drink of bit of food in exchange for the tiniest of coins. He had always assumed these children to be a member of a family – sent out all day in their rags to bring home a little extra for their parents – but it seemed that they formed a family of their own – on their own.

As he took the bottle and turned for the door he reached into his pocket a little deeper and found one last bill crumpled down at the bottom. Though he already had his bottle he let the last bit of money drop, down, among the sleeping children.

The yellowed memory sight of the grimy bill dropping down into the rags on the floor was the end of his reverie. He was back on the cooler beach, still standing beside his softly crying daughter.

He reached out and placed an arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close to him. Looking outward they both noticed that something had blown the foggy beach air out and replaced it with clear, fresh, atmosphere. Above the distant bank of dark electric clouds the stars appeared.

In particular, they could see a bright star, or planet, maybe Jupiter, hovering just above the remote tumult. And above that, a starry smear, a small cluster of tiny dots, connected with blurs of glowing gas.

See that,” Barry Carpenter said to his daughter, “those are the Pleiades.” She nodded. She knew what they were.

The two of them, nothing being said, began to walk out into the water. The waves poured sand over their feet, licked at their knees, and splashed bits of salty drops onto their faces. They walked until they were waist deep and could feel the bigger waves pulling until they would have to stumble a bit.

Barry saw his daughter pull something out of her pocket. It was a bit of vine covered with small white flowers. He remembered them – they grew on a little terrace in back of the beach house the two of them had rented for the weekend. As a wave collapsed his daughter threw the bit of green and white into the receding foam.

Ok, let’s go back now,” his daughter said.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything, and they turned and walked back, arm in arm, in silence.

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