Talking of flash fiction and my first publication (see earlier post), there was another story which I got on the 13 Human Souls website. They'd asked for Christmas-themed stories for December 2007, and this one was accepted and put on the site. It isn't online anywhere now, so I thought I'd post it here in full.
I have to say I'm not as happy with this one as I was with "Mirror Image". I guess that's one thing about writing, you look back at your stories and think "Hmm, I could have done better there". Anyway, here it is - see what you think:
Tommy knew just what he wanted to get his little sister for Christmas.
The first nine years of his life had been good ones. He was an only child, with rich parents, living in a rich suburb, and he was given everything his heart desired. Then, one day his parents told him they were going to give him a little brother or sister. “Why?”, was all he could say.
When his little sis was born there were problems. His mom was very poorly (she was too old, he heard someone say), and sis was born too soon. His sis was starved of oxygen and it damaged her brain.
“She’s a special child, with special needs”, his mom and dad told him. But wasn’t he special too, he wondered?
“You’re old enough to look after yourself now, Tommy”, they went on. “We all need to help your little sister”.
And so everything changed. They didn’t bother much with him any more; they were always coo-ing and fussing over his sis. But all she did was sit strapped into her chair day after day, dribbling and messing her pants. He’d put up with it for four long years, and now he knew what he had to do.
On Christmas Eve, he took the bus over to the poor side of town; to the pet store which he regularly looked round. This was no ordinary pet store. No cute puppies, cuddly kittens or fluffy bunnies here. The store’s name proclaimed itself above the doorway in bold letters as “PREDATORS”. Its peeling paintwork and metal barred windows were adorned with signs advertising snakes, lizards and tarantulas for sale. Another sign declared: “Live food sold here!”.
As he walked into the store, the owner turned to look at him. A muscular man, his arms covered in tattoos, he was holding a mouse by the tail over a large tank. The hapless rodent’s legs pawed at the air in its attempt to escape, but it was too late. The man dropped the mouse into the tank, and a sudden movement from inside sealed its fate.
“Hi, Tommy. What can I do for you?”, the man asked.
“I want a beetle”, the boy replied.
The boy led the man to a corner of the store where he kept the insects: large hairy spiders, stick insects and beetles were visible in row upon row of tanks which filled the shelves.
“That one”, the boy insisted, pointing to a large beetle, black as coal with blood-red pincers. Tommy knew what he wanted; he’d seen them in his book. He realised it was just what he was looking for when he’d read the words: “Its bite can be fatal to the very old, the infirm, or the very young”.
The store owner knew he shouldn’t sell something like this to a kid. But the kid had money, and the notes he waved in front of him now were just too tempting to resist. Fuck it, he’d sell his old granny for a wad of notes like that.
Tommy had no trouble sneaking past his mom and sis when he got back home - they didn’t notice him. He climbed up to the attic where he’d found the Christmas presents all neatly wrapped, but not yet labelled, a few days before. There was a small box wrapped in shiny green paper, and a large one wrapped in bright red. He knew the big one must be for his sis; she always got bigger and better stuff than he did. A corner of the tape had come undone, and there was just enough room for him to carefully insert his newly-acquired pet through the hole, and under the lid of the box, before sealing it back up again. Boy, he couldn’t wait to see the look on everyone’s faces tomorrow when they opened up that box in front of sis!
The next day, Tommy slouched downstairs to the dining room for his breakfast; late as usual. Mom, dad and little sis were already there, and his sis was …… happily hugging the teddy bear which had been removed from the small green box! He looked over towards the Christmas tree, and there was the large, bright red box with its label attached: “To Tommy, with love, from Mommy and Daddy”.
“Hey, Tommy”, his dad said as his mom bent to kiss him, “Aren’t you going to open your present?”.
(c) Caroline Callaghan