So this is my second submission for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction. The competition involves submitting a 1000 word flash fiction written and edited in 48 hours based on given prompts.
The prompts this round were: Ghost Story; Jelly Beans; a Pond
Synopsis: A man dies whilst proposing to his domineering girlfriend. But is this really the end of their relationship?
Disclaimer: This is not the story I submitted. The story I submitted had some glaring typos and some inconsistencies with tense. Consequently, I’m not expecting any points this round, but I wanted to clean it up a little before I shared it. Because I care.
At the centre of the botanic gardens was a pond. I had been instructed to propose marriage to Janine in front of the pond, but instead I died. My death was not graceful. In fact, it would have been an amusing story to tell, had it not been fatal.
Native Australian trees and ferns surrounded the pond, which lay at the bottom of a gully. It maintains a steady temperature around 22 degrees Celsius and was popular on hot days. The day I proposed to Janine was especially hot.
Reeds of deep green swayed in the breeze brushing against the statues of native animals that decorated the pond. Fish danced and swam within the algae covered water. The same algae covered rocks in and around the pond.
“Take a photo of me,” Janine said. Her voice had a rough, nasal quality, which used to set my teeth on edge, but after awhile I got used to it.
“I want to capture this day on film forever.”
“Yes, dear,” I said, taking a photo of her posing next to a statue of a kangaroo.
“Good, now one on the bridge.”
“You stand there. On that rock.”
The day had to be perfect. She had been very specific about how I should propose to her. She was very specific about a lot of things. What I should wear, when I should shower, where things in the kitchen go, who I should hang out with, whether or not my mother was allowed to visit. It took the pressure off me having to think for myself, I guess.
I’ve never been great on my feet, and the algae covered rock wasn’t making things easier. I held her camera above my head when my foot slipped. I fell backwards, but made sure to hold the camera up, so it wouldn’t get wet.
The cold water drenched my clothes, and the back of my head struck a rock, sending a sharp pain through my skull and into my brain, killing me. On the upside, Janine’s camera stayed perfectly dry. The water was cold, but my skin felt colder like it had frozen. Everything around me became very still. There was a great sense of calm in death.
Personally, being a Catholic, I found this somewhat anti-climactic. No lights or tunnel to walk into. Dying, much like the rest of my life, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.
My lifeless eyes stared up as Janine knelt over me. She pulled me out of the water by my shirt.
“No.” Her finger poked my chest. “Do not ruin this.” She poked me several times to emphasise each word.
“Yes, dear,” I said.
Janine returned to the bridge, and my dead legs, much to the horror of the other visitors, lifted me out of the pool. Janine struck a pose and I took her picture.
When she came down from the bridge, I was standing in a puddle of cold water and blood. I knelt before her (rigor mortis was yet to set in) and asked her to marry me using the words she told me to say.
“I will,” she said, generously. “Come, let’s go home.”
“I can’t,” I said.
The world around me became very quiet. I’d heard screaming after climbing out of the pool, but I couldn’t hear it anymore. A blanket of silence surrounded me, and I found myself fascinated by it. There was only one sound left, Janine’s nasally.
“I beg your pardon?” her eyes flashed dangerously.
“I’m dead. I won’t go. I like it here,” I said.
Janine has a lot to say about that. But I wasn’t listening.
When you are dead, there are no moments left to have. Time is for the living where things can begin and end. When you have ended there doesn’t seem to be a lot of point to time.
Only the silence was interesting. I studied the silence and thought back on my life. There had been a girl, Susie, who I met at a party. We’d played a game involving tossing jelly beans at each other and seeing who could catch the most in their mouths. I asked her out, and she had said yes. But after a few dates she stopped answering my calls. I saw her on the street once and called out to her, but she walked past. Like I didn’t exist for her anymore. I started dating Janine, shortly after that.
“Francis!” Janine snapped.
“Yes, dear,” I say, turning from the silence back to Janine.
“You’re not helping me with the tent.”
Janine tried to move on. She dated a few people, but they didn’t do what they were told. So she moved in with me. I’m not clear how she got permission to do that.
I helped her with the tent, which was upside down. She babbles away about her day, and her job, and how inconvenient this was, and how she had brought marshmallows, and she would have to be careful when lighting the camp fire to ensure she didn’t burn down the botanic gardens. It doesn’t take me long to lose myself in the silence again.
I’m aware of things moving around me. People, insects, plants, the moon overhead, the stars through the sky. Sometimes it is wintery cold, other times sunny and humid.
“Francis!” Janine again.
“Aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?”
The shadows that replaced my eyes blinked with surprise. Was it her birthday already? Did she always have grey hair?
“Yes dear, happy birthday.”
She tells me how disappointed she is in me and how she is tired of sleeping on rocks and how children would make everything better. I nod patiently, but my attention returns to the silence. I bathe in the dead air, and the iron curtain rises higher between us.
I don’t know if she leaves me, or if she is still nattering away. It’s easier to be evasive than confrontational.