Connection [Flash Fiction]
Themes: Urban Fantasy, Magical Realism, Mysticism
Theo kicked out at a stray stone, sending it bouncing along the sidewalk. It bounced three times, then went plink! as it struck a post driven into the Stukers’ lawn.
In the yard, Mrs. Stuker arranged items on a table, whilst Mr. Stuker brought another cardboard box from the house. The Stukers had been threatening to hold a sale for years, ever since their son had left home to take a job in Pensacola. Dennis had been a hoarder, a fact Mrs. Stuker complained about often.
“Good afternoon, Theo,” Mr. Stuker called. “You just got out of school?”
“Yes, Mr. Stuker.”
“Well, come have a look, if you like. When Dennis was your age, he loved to collect electronic gizmos. Maybe you’ll find something of interest.”
Theo doubted it. He remembered Dennis as a nerdy type. Tall, gangly, long-nosed… he’d looked like a stork. Theo had been ten when Dennis moved away, but even ten year old Theo had been cooler than twenty-two year old Dennis.
Politeness, ground into him by his mother, forced him to accept the offer. “Thanks, I’ll take a look.”
He kept up hope for some rare and valuable comic, but a few moments of perusing left him disappointed. A bunch of Star Trek DVDs. Some faded Battlestar Galactica action figures. A battered Transformers lunchbox. Things that held more sentimental than monetary value.
Just as he turned to Mrs. Stuker with an excuse on his lips, he spotted something poking out from a box still waiting to be sorted. He stepped forward, heart skipping a beat and spirits soaring as his suspicions were confirmed. This was great! His own headphones had broken last month, victim of over-use.
“Something caught your eye?” Mrs. Stuker beamed.
Theo nodded. “Those headphones look cool.”
Mrs. Stuker plucked them from the box, wound up the cord and lifted them up to give Theo a better view. “Ah, I remember these old things. Dennis begged us to buy them for his birthday—they cost a small fortune, at the time!”
Theo could see why. Over-ear headphones had gone out of style for a long time, but now they were back in, and these looked well-made. The pads were leather, or maybe pleather, and the metallic details were fine. He couldn’t see any branding on them, but that didn’t matter. Some of the most expensive ones gave rubbish sound.
“It’s strange,” Mrs. Stuker continued, an odd smile on her lips. “He begged for them for months, then only used them once. I’d be surprised if they still work, after all this time.”
“Mind if I try?” Theo pulled out his cellphone and scrolled to the music player. Mrs. Stuker offered him the headphones, so he slid them on—he was right, they were comfortable—and jacked them in. The song he’d selected came out so loud and clear that he winced at the volume before smiling. “I’ll take them!”
x – x – x
Theo lay in his bed’s embrace as he toyed with his new acquisition. He listened to track after track, marvelling at the clarity of the sound coming through. When his favourite song appeared next on his playlist, he sang along at the top of his voice.
“AND THEY SAY THAT’S WHY YOU GOTTA GET—”
Theo froze, mouth open ready to form the next words. Had he just heard..? No. He was mistaken. Maybe a bit of static on the headphones; perhaps the jack was a little loose. As his heart resumed its regular rhythm, he picked up the verse.
“IT’S NOT LIKE THAT, I DON’T WANT THAT, WHEN YOU SAY THAT—”
“Theo… listen to me.”
With a yelp, Theo hit the stop button on his phone, jerked upright on his bed, and yanked the earphones from his head. He’d definitely heard something, and it wasn’t static. With his heart in his mouth, he slipped the headphones back on.
“Theo, it’s so good to hear your voice.”
He yanked them off his head again. “What the hell?!” This had to be some sort of trick. Prank headphones. Maybe Dennis rigged them to… to what? Say the name of a kid who lived three doors down the street in the event he might one day buy them in a yard sale?
That voice… quiet, raspy. Theo had heard it before. He racked his brain, trying to remember who it belonged to… and when his eyes fell on his DVD player, a layer of gooseflesh peppered his skin.
He leapt from his bed, dashed from his room, and sprang down the stairs two at a time. In the living room, he raided the cupboard behind the sofa, pulling out DVDs at random and leaving them scattered on the floor in his frenzied search. Finally, he found it. The large, clunky old VHS tape in a wallet marked ‘Dad’.
After blowing a layer of dust from the tape, he shoved it into the VHS player Mom insisted on keeping for when Grandma and Grandpa visited. The thing was ancient, at least twenty years old, and—like the headphones—it was a miracle it still worked.
The tape slid in. Theo grabbed the control. Listened to the player whirr as the video began.
“Theo.” The man on the bed had Theo’s eyes, but his skin was ashen, his cheeks sunken. “There are so many things I want to say to the boy… to the man… you’ll one day become. How sorry I am you had to grow up without a dad. How much I wish I could be there for you. I had plans, you know. I’d give you my old catcher’s mitt, and we’d go to the park every weekend to work on your game. I’d take you to football matches. I have loads of advice to give you about girls…”
Tears blurred Theo’s vision as the man on the bed struggled to say his words. But there was no doubt about it. The voice was the same.
I’ll be returning to my regular blogging and reading schedule shortly. In the meantime, this story’s for the most recent BlogBattle contest. The theme word is Headphones and the genre is Fantasy (Magical Realism). Please check out Rachael’s site for other entries and voting! Also, please spare a moment of thought for the 46 words who valiantly sacrificed themselves to allow this story to come in under the 1k mark.
Great story. I wasn’t sure where it was going and loved that it was a “happy” ending. A little creepy, but there are probably many who would like the connection to a dead loved one. I would. 🙂
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I’ll admit myself to having a giant weakness for onomatopoeia. It’s probably a common writer’s quirk.
“Bang!” The fallen angel exploded against the fiery portal of Hell. Satan cackled at the mist of ectoplasmic particles wafting on the winds of the gasping breaths of innumerable tormented souls. “That’ll take a while to reform into a sad semblance of his former self. I wonder how he displeased His High and Mighty Blowhard?”
A nearby lesser presence grovelled in agreement from beside the tarry, bone-studded throne that currently supported the Lord of Hell’s frightful behind. “Your magnificent evilness! You’re so very right, if you’ll forgive a poor lieutenant for saying so!” Satan twisted toward the annoying noise and scowled. “Snick!” he said.
The lesser presence abruptly lost its head, which sailed into a lava pit of damned souls vainly trying to scrabble their way out with horribly scabbed fingers. The headless body writhed and fell with a thud before suddenly righting itself and scuttling with demonic accuracy to the lava pit in search of its missing part.
“Boing!” The head soared out of the lava pit just before the headless body reached the pit, plopping into its former seat with a squealing noise not unlike a piglet being boiled in oil.
Okay, that’s enough of that vivid vignette of eternal damnation with the hint of an oncoming story. ^_^
BTW, I’m a raw newcomer to the art of fiction writing, but I’ve read millions of words over half a century. The enjoyable piece above would technically qualify as a vignette as well, right? It has the core of an excellent story, but it lacks … closure? Theo has just run head first into a deeply startling phenomenon. How does he react? In what way has his life been changed? Is this sort of abrupt ending understood to be an unavoidable characteristic of “flash fiction”? Is the tear-blurred silence by Theo at the end enough to qualify the work as a story?
With regards to flash fiction, there’s a certain fluidity allowed in the structure of a story. Although it’s possible to tell a story in 1000 words (or hell, even even in six words), short fiction such as flash or drabble tends to be more a ‘snapshot’ in time, either a piece of a larger implied story, or a character piece focusing on the protagonist (or in some cases, antagonist).
That said, I do have a bad habit of leaving flash fiction on cliff-hangers. For me, flash fiction is often a stepping stone, and by leaving an ending open to expansion, I’m giving myself room to think about it further. And who knows where that may lead? 😉
Ah! That makes perfect sense. I rather suspected that the extreme brevity of flash fiction permitted some leeway with explicit closure. I really should experiment with that form myself. It seems an excellent opportunity to flex one’s writerly muscles in short, intense sessions. Perhaps a bit like taunting a farmer’s bull from inside its expansive grassy enclosure just for the brief, exciting flight to the fence.^^;
BTW, the term “drabble” is fascinating. I hadn’t heard of it before now. Google was helpful as usual. It’s amusing to contemplate how my own ultra-short vignette is still way too long to qualify as a drabble even if it held clear conflict and resolution. I obviously need to work on brevity. ^_^
I highly recommend writing drabbles as a way of practising brevity; it’s extremely useful, and there are plenty of great examples out there.
Good story. 🙂 One for the collection! 😀
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a moment of silence for the words hahahaha
Great story draws you in and a touch spoooky reminds me of those goosebumps series we grew up binge reading
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Enjoyed the story! (Big fan of magical realism here)
Also, liked the plink! at the beginning. Good onomatopoeia draws me in. 🙂
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Cheers—I love onomatopoeia, too. So much fun to explore word-sounds! 😀
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