Flash Fiction by Dylan Pyles
By Dylan Pyles
A waft of minty tobacco makes its way down the bleachers and into my nose. A dad packs Camel Snus into his bottom lip and huffs. When he shouts at the field, he calls the players by name, like they can hear him personally from the twenty-fourth row. His son who can’t be older than seven stands on the bleacher next to me in camo coveralls and a bright orange beanie, I guess so dad can tell the difference between his boy and an animal he wants to shoot. His daughter is probably too old to sit in her mom’s lap, but she does anyway, and the two form a single blob of pink and camouflage, sucking down one of those massive plastic gas station mugs meant for truck drivers.
When something good happens, they come together in a tangle of high fives and hugs. When something bad happens, the kids watch their dad cuss and listen when he explains, in terminology they clearly don’t understand, where things went wrong. “Gave him a ten-yard cushion on that one,” he says, and even though I know exactly what he means I imagine the boy imagining a literal ten-foot couch cushion.
Chewing tobacco gives way to Cool Ranch Doritos. The breeze sails down a perfect line, pushing all the family’s smells into my face. The boy crunches and the girl reaches to the bottom of a wrinkled bag, coming up with nothing but crumbs. “He ate them all!” she yells, pointing at her brother. Her voice lifts above the chatter of the stadium, and people look at them. No one seems very happy.
“Goddammit,” dad says. His son looks vacantly at the field. The ref calls holding.
“Who was it on?” the boy says. Nobody hears him.
You wouldn’t know it by dad’s assessment, but the home team is actually winning. With two minutes to go in the fourth quarter they all squash together at the end of the bench and dad holds his phone at arm’s length. I watch them out of the corner of my eye. They wiggle around, trying to fit everyone in the frame. It’s not happening. I pretend I haven’t been watching when mom taps on my shoulder and asks if I’ll take their picture. “Of course,” I say.
As the yellow squares locate their faces and bring them into focus, they transform into a giant camouflaged monster with four lovely heads. And somehow, I have been left with the responsibility to capture the proof of its existence. Their foreheads shine, but I can’t tell if it’s from the stadium lights at dusk or a previously hidden glow. They look at me, but they see each other, and they smile like their lives depended on it, which they might. I snap three shots to be safe and consider asking them to send me one. I realize this is in no way socially acceptable, but then again, what is?
Where She Kept the Rare Shit
Every time P.J. drives by that house he can feel the basement mold tickle his nostrils, and he sneezes. Normally, he’s with his wife. She’s so fucking sick of hearing the same story, the time when Cody Heath’s dad was out of town and he invited P.J. over to steal from his dead mom’s record collection, half of which had been destroyed by a small hole behind the upstairs toilet that leaked water into the basement.
This time, no wife. He sneezes and hits the brakes.
The door opens. It is not Cody Heath. It is not Mr. Heath. It’s a man holding a small child in his arms who says, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” P.J. says. He did not rehearse before knocking. “Well, my name’s P.J. and I drive by here a lot and—.” He scratches his beard and looks at his feet. “And I just have to ask.”
The man and his child give P.J. a what-the-hell-is-this-guy-on look.
“Did you know Cody?” he finally says.
“No Cody here,” the man says. A woman appears behind him.
“Actually, what I meant is, are there a bunch of records in your basement?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Would you mind if I come in and look?”
The man turns to the woman, eyebrow raised. She shrugs. “Sure,” he says and passes the kid off. “I guess, yeah. Let’s go look.”
The man follows P.J. into the basement, flipping every light switch he passes.
It smells nice. There’s a big T.V. and a couch. On the couch sits a boy P.J. swears is Cody. He knows it’s Cody when he smiles and exhibits his famous gap teeth. P.J. looks at the man and says, “No records, but that’s fucking Cody right there.”
Cody gets up and hides behind the man. All P.J. wants to do is touch the gap in his teeth. “Go upstairs,” the man says and Cody does. “Watch your mouth in front of my son, okay?” the man says.
“Cody is not your son,” P.J. says.
“No. But Henry is. That was Henry.”
P.J. has been tricked, so he doesn’t feel bad when he winds up and punches a hole in the wall. “Everything okay down there?” the woman upstairs yells.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” the man says.
P.J. reaches into the opening and pulls out a stack of records. “Cody was right. This is where she kept the rare shit.”
“I told you,” is all P.J. could say.
“Wow,” the man says. “Ramones. Haven’t heard that in years. I’ve got a player here somewhere.”
P.J. serves up the what-the-hell-is-this-guy-on look and says, “You don’t play these.”
“Well,” the man says. “I have my old albums somewhere, too. Want to listen to those?”
P.J. is too grateful to turn him down. He helps connect the man’s shitty old table to the surround sound and they spend an hour listening to shitty ‘80s bands like Duran Duran.
Before the Monsters Come Out
I got my hair cut since last time I saw her, so maybe she didn’t recognize me. I took my sunglasses off and said “Hey girl, it’s me!” hoping she would leap into my arms and say “Of course! Sorry, I just didn’t recognize you at first!” But she wouldn’t even look at me.
Her mother, the vampiress, handed me a cup of blood. I took a sip. Too much sorbet, consistency off. “She’s been like this all day,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s just too much excitement or—”
“I don’t think she recognizes me,” I said. “Look at that cute little kitty cat.” I projected my voice toward the corner where she sat, but got nothing. The vampiress shoved a tiny baby into my arms. I looked at the baby, who was sleeping. Wasn’t old enough to be anything yet, just a few weeks. “Here kitty kitty,” I said, and the baby fussed.
“Aren’t you going to come say hi?” the vampiress asked the cat, but she blinked her eyes and held her paw up to her nose like she does when she gets nervous or sees me.
“She’s not used to me. I need to come over more,” I said.
“Don’t feel guilty,” the vampiress said. What she meant was: You’re damn right. And yeah, I did feel guilty, but only when I came over and the small black cat ran to the corner.
The truth was, I loved her now. I loved the shy kitten who was too young to show nervous tendencies like this. Before she was born, I was too angry at her father to think of loving her. Two years later, I needed her love, desperately. Maybe this was payback.
“Are you ready to go, sweetie?” The vampiress picked up the black cat and carried her into the kitchen. “Let’s get your jacket.”
“I want Uncle,” the cat said from her mother’s arms. The vampiress and I were both shocked.
“Well okay, Miss Thing,” the vampiress said and put her down. She ran to me, but her feet got tangled up. She didn’t cry until she was in my arms. Her black whiskers rubbed off on my shirt.
“Come on, let’s get your jacket,” I told her, and she covered her nose with her paw. We only had about a half hour of daylight. The vampiress wanted us back before the monsters came out.
“Thanks for doing this,” she said, implying my inconvenience.
“No problem,” I said and put on mouse ears, the best costume I could come up with.
I picked up the cat and she said “I want to walk,” so I held her hand as we went door to door on the cool autumn streets. Her little kitten legs lasted about six houses, but she remembered me when I saw her again at Thanksgiving.
Dylan Pyles is a graduate student of English at Kansas State University, where he also teaches. His fiction has appeared in Atticus Review and Specter. He reluctantly lives in Kansas, where everything kind of sucks compared to other places he’s lived. He makes do.