We often see themes in stories that aren’t necessarily inherent in the prompts, and this contest was definitely one of those. Stories covered psychosis, murderous dreams, and games the mind plays when it thinks it’s found a killer. Sarah Lambert’s story stole the prizes for its “most creative use of a prompt and best incorporation of an ending, according to judge Néna Rawdah. Congratulations, Sarah!
Character: A man who has killed
Action: Lying down
Setting: A small-town parade
Prop: A city bus
by Sarah Lambert
What time was it?
The man woke to a pounding in his head. What time was it? There was a thrumming noise in the background, strange and incongruous to the thumping in his head. Hung over. Was it a hang over? What had he done last night?
He realized slowly that it was pavement under his head. The grit of gravel against under his cheek said that whatever had happened, his night had not involved the warm embrace of a good woman. Gradually his senses took in other things – the taste of bile in the back of his throat, the brightness of the sun shining in his eyes. Morning, was it morning, or had more of the day passed? How much time had he lost? What time was it?
Slowly he moved to sit up and realized his body was too sore, too stiff, for such exertions. The noise in the background grew louder and began to shape itself into distinct sounds. Brass music, cheering, an engine honking. Was it a parade? The thought was so ridiculous he almost laughed out loud, but his throat was raw with vomit and no sound came.
The man lay still on the pavement, willing movement but surrendered to the awareness that none would come. The parade – if that’s what it was – came closer. Where was he? Laying still was his best action, but he allowed his eyes to move and gradually adjusted so as to come up on his elbows. The sun was bright overhead, his awareness had not been wrong. He’d been lying in an alley behind what looked like a warehouse, slightly back from a street. The sidewalk of said street had a scattering of people on it, none of whom was looking at him. They were all looking out, waiting for the…the honking, and the brass instruments, and the people…the parade. The goddamn parade.
The man remembered being a child, his excitement at 4th of July, begging his parents to take him to the parade. He wanted to see fireworks and sparklers and eat a hot dog and enjoy the music. Somehow waking battered and hung over with no memory in an alley, the presence of a parade brought all the innocence of the child he had been forcefully back to him, and the man smiled with the delight of one who’s parents allow him cotton candy.
That was when he noticed the blood.
Not a lot, not enough to be his. On his hands mainly, but there were splash marks up his arms. His heart froze in his chest, and somewhere deep inside he felt a moan but no sound came out. Blood. What had happened, where was he, what time was it?
Once long ago in another life he’d received a massage. At the end of it the therapist had said, “when you are ready, slowly turn to one side and sit up.” He heard her voice in his head now, clear as if she had been standing next to him, and he slowly rolled to his side and pushed himself up to sitting. The effort made him dizzy but he succeeded.
The parade was closer, almost to his block. He saw a child waving an American Flag. Was it the 4th of July? He was probably the only person in the world at that moment who didn’t know. The child had a flag, he looked for sparklers but didn’t see them. He liked sparklers.
No one saw him, or if they did they pointedly looked elsewhere. He didn’t know how he looked, but he could venture a guess. It would probably be easy to ignore him, to assume he was street trash and leave it at that. Another day – yesterday – he would have done the same.
He had money, and a home. A job, not much but enough. The parade was at his street now, and the thin crowd made it easy to see. The expected brass band at the front, no doubt with a sign announcing they were part of some community center, a black car with the mayor (it did most of the honking), others to follow, his vision blurred and memories began to splice back together in his mind.
He’d taken Julia out – his on again off again friend who was sometimes more but usually less – a nice quiet dinner away from the city. His car broke down on the way there. She was unforgiving of his suggestion they get a cab to go the rest of the way and had used it to take her home instead. He couldn’t leave his car and was mad at her for abandoning him. Fortunately the road was on the route of a city bus and the driver was able to take him part way to a mechanic shop. He had to walk the rest of the way, but it was okay.
His memory suddenly became blurry again, his heart rate increasing. Something about the mechanic shop…something there. The sound of the parade was no longer comforting or innocent to him. It was clashing against the terror of his memory. There had been a drug deal, he had walked in on it, his life had been in danger, and he had survived.
That was what the man remembered as the parade marched on.
His hands were red but they would wash clean, as the whiskey had washed his memory.
© 2012 Sarah Lambert
Sarah Lambert is a local business owner who enjoys writing for the most part as a hobby, though is not above attempting the occasional book. More of her writing is available on her blog, Notes from a Rational Psychic, at www.bodyinsights.com.