So, this entry in ’Nathan Burgoine’s June Flash Fiction Draw is a bit of a cheat in two ways.
First off, it’s Tuesday, and these are supposed to go up on Monday. Hey, I’m slow. Sue me.
Second, the prompt for this month’s flash fiction is:
Well, I’ve got the hot chocolate and the scrapyard, but the fantasy is probably more science fiction, although something sorta magical does happen.
Like I said, sue me.
OK, there’s a third reason this breaks the rules: it’s not a standalone flash piece. This is a trend: I have a problem starting and ending something in these flash pieces. This piece continues a story started in a Friday Flash Fiction piece from a while back, “How to Get Off This Rock.” Check that out first if you want to understand what’s going on here, although I do skip forward a bit from the end of that piece, too.
And be sure to check out the other entries written for ’Nathan’s flash prompt.
The scrapyard is adjacent to the spaceport. Periodically, autoskimmers scoop up the waste from repair bays along with random bits lining the launchpads and landing strips that have fallen off ships, which happens more often than people like to think about. Daniel follows the man from the diner, trailing far enough behind that he can duck into doorways and between buildings when the man glances behind him, which is often. Although the man’s wearing gloves now, the memory of the ring on his left hand blazes in Daniel’s memory. It’s the same ring his mother wore, and it was on her hand when she left.
The man stands outside the gate for a moment, pulling the collar of his black coat close around his neck. He looks left and right, then glances over his shoulder again. Daniel ducks into the shadow of a warehouse doorway, trying not to jostle the cup of hot chocolate that’s long gone cold now. Hermione had handed it to him just before she left—”cold out there today”—and it had warmed his hands along the way. Now he’s shivering as he sets it down on the stone steps. When he risks a glance toward the scrapyard again, the man isn’t there, but the gate stands slightly ajar.
The gate attendant is out of order, so Daniel has no problem slipping in. The scrap is arranged in orderly piles that tower above him, and every so often an autopicker scrambles up the side of one, scanning and sorting, looking for salvage. Sometimes, they’re accompanied by ragged-looking humans or other species. Competition.
Daniel lets his guard relax as he makes his way along the paths between the scrap mountains, scanning the scavengers for the man from the diner. He figures there are two possible explanations for the ring: one, which he hopes is wrong, is that the man stole it from his mother. The other is that she didn’t have the only ring like that, and hopefully it’s significant and not just coincidence.
The one thing he hasn’t figured out is how he’ll approach the man, which might not be a good idea anyway, if the ring is his mother’s and the man stole it. Pausing, Daniel scans the nearest junkpile and finds a length of conduit, one end broken and jagged looking. He picks it up. It’s got heft, but not unmanageably so. Grasping it two handed, like a sword, he advances to the next corner and turns.
The man is right in front of him.
Somehow, Daniel manages not to yelp or stumble. The man’s back is turned as he crouches near the edge of a junkpile to the right of the path, sifting through the debris scattered at its base. He tosses aside scraps of plastic, metal, bits of fabric—it’s almost as if he’s looking for something in particular. Something small. Daniel again looks upward toward the peaks of the mountains of junk, wondering how anyone could expect to find anything in this place.
Daniel tightens his grip on his make-do club and moves toward the man, still not sure what he’s going to do: whack him in the head? Poke him in the back and threaten him?
He ends up doing neither. The choice is made for him when a cascade of debris tumbles down the side of the junkpile between them. It’s not even enough to be dangerous, but it’s startling, and both he and the man jump back at the same time. The man turns and faces him.
Only, it’s not a man. It’s his mother.
She gasps. Or he gasps, he’s not sure which. In an instant, she yanks her glove off—there’s the ring, and she twists it.
Daniel drops the pipe. From somewhere up the side of the junkpile, an autopicker, probably the cause of the tiny avalanche, gingerly makes its way down to the ground. It pauses, flexing on its six legs, the red beam of its scanner passing over the conduit. It picks it up and tucks it in its storage compartment, then skitters toward the next pile, oblivious to the boy standing dumbstruck staring at the spot where his mother, whom he hasn’t seen for going on two years now, stood just a moment ago.