Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: Always a Bridesmaid, Part VIII

Still exhausted, but here's the next installment of my Friday Flash serial Always a Bridesmaid. To read the story to this point, check out the More Fiction page on my website. For some great flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter. I've already read a few, and you won't be disappointed.

Always a Bridesmaid, Part 8: No rest for the good

Toby woke just after he shook hands with Lydia. Too bad – he wondered where the hot blond, the one who'd been assaulted by the guy in the tuxedo, went.

He tried to roll to his back, but something blocked him. Ditto when he stretched his legs out. He opened his eyes and found himself curled up in the back seat of his extended cab truck. The boxes that had been back there, the ones with the linens his mother had made for Lydia, were piled high in the driver's and passenger seats and wells.

"What the hell…?" He looked out the window and saw a squat brick building, vending machines, and lots of empty parking spaces around grassy islands. One of them had a brown sign, "Pet Walk – Watch Your Step." There was no sign of the diner, the small bedroom he'd been tucked into, or Raphe. His shoes were on the floor in front of his head, and in the other backseat well, a large brown grocery bag, the top folded over. It moved, and Toby hit his head scrambling away from it.

The bag shook, and wet stains appeared on the side. Toby was trapped. He couldn't get out of the backseat without moving the boxes that were in the passenger seat, but then he'd have to get closer to the thing in the bag.

"You fought a demon in a tux last night," he told himself, although he wasn't sure how he knew it was a demon. "Surely you can handle a thing in a bag."

"Who are you calling a thing in a bag?" Its voice sounded familiar.

"You." Maybe he was still dreaming. "You're the thing in the bag." He almost giggled to release the bubble of tension in his chest.

"And you're the dumb thing staring at it. Now get me out of here! It smells like wet paper sack!"

"I'm still dreaming, that's all." Saying the words out loud made them believable. Toby opened the bag and found a large plastic food container, holes punched in the lid, and inside, a pissed-off bearded catfish. When he saw the fish, Toby almost dropped the whole thing.

"You!" he said.

The fish swam the tight radius he was allowed. "Yeah, yeah, it's me. The bearded catfish. The one you didn't want for dinner."

"I don't eat things that talk to me."

"That's a good policy." The fish stared at him with big eyes, its irises the color of mud. "You're no great catch, either."

"I'm being insulted by takeout," Toby said. He put the fish's container back in the well and managed to move enough boxes to wriggle into the passenger seat, from where he rearranged everything else, including the fish, which got strapped into the seat with the seatbelt so he wouldn't tip over. The catfish, meanwhile, sulked.

"Okay, I'm going to get some coffee. Maybe then I'll wake up." He put his shoes on.

"You're not dreaming, kid."

Toby paused mid-lacing. "What?"

"You're not dreaming. This is all real."

"No it's not." Toby shut the door, pressed the "Lock" button on his remote, and walked into the squat brick building. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin and hoped he didn't look too bedraggled in case any other blonde damsels needed rescuing.

"Welcome to Alabama," said the gray-haired woman behind the counter. Her nametag said "Ruby" and had red rhinestones glued to it.

"Is that where I am?" Toby asked. He saw displays with brochures for attractions from the U.S.S. Alabama to Desoto Caverns to Little River Gorge.

"How long were you on the road yesterday, honey?" She handed him a cup of coffee. It felt warm and solid in his hand, and he started to doubt that he dreamed. His were never this vivid.

"I'm not sure." He took a sip and nearly burned his tongue on the hot, bitter liquid. "Do you have any cream and sugar?"

She handed him two packets, one of each, and shook her head. "You know, taking meth before a long trip is only going to mess with your head later on, dear. You should really be more careful. What would your mother think?"

"I'm not a meth-head," he said and shook the powdered creamer and sugar into his coffee.

"Right, dear. Now why don't you go into the bathroom and make yourself presentable? You don't want the cops pulling you over. They're very strict here."

Toby could only shake his head, but at least the coffee was drinkable now. And his stomach growled. If Michael was going to send him with a bag of stuff, why not biscuits?

The longer he spent in the Welcome Center, which he found out from Ruby was on the Western side of Alabama, the more he believed that he had driven there, parked, and slept in his truck the night before. The talking fish had to have been a hallucination. Ditto the diner. It was just a trick his mind had played on him after he'd watched the lines on the road for hours the past few days. He'd probably get back in the truck and find the container was full of his mother's cookies or something.

But still, he hesitated getting back in the truck even after Ruby had shooed him out when a young couple came in looking for the bathrooms. She had cheerfully offered them some condoms.

"More road trips than rock concerts have bred babies, you know," she told the blushing girl.

Toby didn't even look in the passenger seat when he got in. He put his new "Heart of Dixie" travel mug in the cup holder and started the engine.

"It's about time you got back! I'm starving!"

He jumped. Yes, the fish was still there, and it looked at him through the plastic with its mud-colored eyes.

"By the way, if we're gonna road trip together, my name is Bert. I hear that Alabama has great chicken biscuits!"


Marisa Birns said...

The story continues with intrigue and great humor!

"I'm being insulted by takeout," made me laugh out loud.

Good stuff!

Sam said...

"I'm being insulted by takeout," Toby said.

ROFL!!! I love it! I am so going to have follow your link and read more of this series.

Laura Eno said...

"I don't eat things that talk to me."


"I'm being insulted by takeout,"

Those are wicked funny lines! Fabulous series!

Tony Noland said...

I am goggle-eyed at a talking catfish.

Sulci Collective said...

Yep, those two lines are killer funny!


marc nash

John McDonnell said...

I agree with the others; "I'm being insulted by takeout," is a classic line. Good descriptions and dialogue. Well done!

ganymeder said...

Hmmm,I wonder if the fish will give him 3 wishes for not eating him? Great story!

Anne Tyler Lord said...

I'm also laughing at the "insulted by takeout" line. Very funny - the fish wants chicken biscuits! Great fun!

trev said...

Love this. A touch of surrealism always helps start my day off right.

michelle said...

giggling - great to read :)

Cathy Olliffe said...

The fish! The talking catfish strapped into a seatbelt. TOO FUNNY! Totally original character. More fish! More fish!

Man Island said...

mmmmmm ... catfish ... I'd eat him and get it over with.

Tomara Armstrong said...


Bert is an excellent name for lunch ;-)


Susan Cross said...

Time to clean out the truck. No meth? Are you sure? Well at least he'll have someone to talk to while he's driving.

Mark Kerstetter said...

I think he should offer the catfish a cigar and a nice glass of French wine and make friends.

Eric J. Krause said...

Good stuff! Lots of great lines in this one. Looking forward to what's next!

Anonymous said...

Love it, great sequel!

mazzz in Leeds said...

a talking catfish that eats chicken biscuits? I love it!