Our flash fiction challenge this week at Terrible Minds was another game of aspects, so basically had to randomly choose (from a random number generator) a subgenre, a conflict, and an element to include. I got magic realism, haunted by the past, and hologram. Strange mixture, but here you go. Yay, I kept it under 1000 words, too!
The Sparrow Debt
Each of us has a story, and some a past from which they’re trying to escape. Up until two years ago, mine wasn’t so bad, but then I found myself running drugs to save my life. I owed a loan shark, Rudy, fifteen thousand dollars, borrowed for an investment in a restaurant that never opened. When I couldn’t pay him as fast as he wanted, he gave me a job transporting massive quantities of cocaine across the country. That’s risky in itself, but more so because I might as well have had a beacon over my head with all those sparrows following my Toyota down freeway after freeway.
I don’t know how, but I managed to complete the first job, worth only five hundred dollars to the loan shark. By the time I’d reached my destination, my nerves were shot, and I walked away. I set up a life in New York City. I knew that was risky, too, but I had no one but Rudy back in San Diego waiting for me to return, so New York was as good as anywhere.
For two years, I managed to remain hidden.
Last week, I found the sparrows sitting on my window ledge. They’ve been there every day since.
When I wake up each morning, the ledge is the first place I look. The birds are crammed on there as though desperately awaiting food. Some push others off the ledge, and then the banished come back to land on top of their banishers. The cycle continues until I leave for work. Then, they follow me.
The sparrows work for Rudy, but not every criminal mastermind chooses to employ the birds, mainly because while loyal and efficient, they can become erratic when conditions aren’t perfect. Some criminals choose to stick with using humans for their dirty work. That costs more. If they can afford it, good for them. Rudy uses the sparrows because they are a finger pointing directly to my location, and his local guys can find me. Saves him money so he can lend more to the next sorry, desperate sap.
This morning, the birds are still there, now piled on top of my ledge nearly a foot high, and I know it’s just a matter of time before someone notices them. I rush to the window, open it, and try to shoo the birds away with my hands. Sometimes it works. Today it doesn’t. I grab the bucket of water sitting on the dresser and douse the birds. Most of them fly away, but I know this will be in vain.
I leave for work by the back entrance, through the storage room of the apartment building. I can travel the alleyways for half a city block before I’m forced onto the street, where everyone can see the cloud of birds following me just thirty feet up. When it occurs to passersby who the birds are following, everyone gives me a wide berth. It’s common knowledge that sparrows are only used by criminals. No one wants to be associated with me.
I hail a cab before the driver can notice the flock.
I have a job that barely pays the rent. If Rudy finds me, I’ll have only a mere two thousand dollars to offer him, but if I quit my job and run, I’ll be living like this forever.
There’re also the birds.
“Magnetic fields,” the cabbie suddenly said. He was glancing in the rear view mirror.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“They fuck with the birds’ compasses or something. Attach a scrambler to your car. It sends out a wave they can’t follow. Might buy you some time.”
I feel a smile cross my face. “Dude, thanks. Where do I get one?”
The cabbie, a fat, dirty man with a toothpick between his teeth, says, “They ain’t gonna sell you one at Wal-Mart, I guarantee ya that.” He glanced back and flicked me a business card. “Call this guy. Owns a gun shop in the Upper East Side. He’ll set you up.”
I accepted the card and read the name. Bill Buxworth. “You’re a lifesaver.”
“Don’t mention it. Here you are.”
I nod thanks, pay the guy, and hop out of the cab for Eddie’s Pizzeria, skipping around customers to the back. I put on my apron. Today is payday, so once my shift is done, I’ll take the cash that’s owed to me and head out to see this Buxworth guy.
At lunch, my boss tells me I have a call. My stomach drops. “Hang up on them.”
But by that point, he’s already set the phone on Hologram setting. Before me appears a three-dimensional rendering of the man I’ve spent two years running from.
“Well, well, well,” Rudy says. “We finally caught you.”
I merely stare, at a loss for words.
“You owe me twenty-eight thousand dollars if I’ve got my math right,” Rudy said. “You gonna pay up or do I have to make you?”
“If I had that kind money, Rudy—”
Ruddy nodded and crossed his arms. “Looks like we’re going to have to do this the hard way.”
“If you just give me some time—”
“Don’t you know that line is so cliché it makes me sick? Give me some time, give me some time. You’ve run out of time, you’ve run out on me, and I don’t put up with that kind of behaviour, my friend.”
“I’ll call the cops,” I say, “put an end to your whole drug running operation.”
Rudy smiles. “I’d love to see you try.” He picks up a cell phone and dials.
A telephone rings to my left, in the direction of the back door. I spin that way and see Merek, a henchman I’m quite familiar with, answer his own cell phone. “Do it?”
To my right, I hear Rudy’s voice say, “Take him out.”
I haven’t turned back to Merek before I hear the gunshot.
© Lindsay Mawson 2012