The Time Merchant, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 42

time merchant fiction flash

The Time Merchant follows the story-line of Ferris Wheel (1), Two of a Kind (2), and A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon (3), my contribution to fiction in a flash challenge week 42 based on the image prompt provided by Author Suzanne Burke.

The Time Merchant (4)

Dangling above the abyss, at the end of a rope, the man felt thankful that it was not tied around his neck. He would have been dead by now. And angered, for he was tied up like a cocoon and could do nothing about it, except talk.

When the picture slid down the cord and slapped his face – why everything slapped him lately? – his first reaction was to protect his eyes so he twisted his head till it cracked. Due to the human skin’s elasticity, the neck should be twisted 360 degrees twice before it comes off completely, his mind offered. But that still won’t free me.

‘Remember her?’ words rolled over his head.

‘I can’t see the picture. It’s too close to my eyes. Can’t focus!’ He dangled himself, throwing his head further back, sweat building around his receding hairline, the cord sneaking tense overhead, creaking like the voice of death in his childhood’s fairy-tales… Yet the picture, secured by a carabiner, remained glued to his face.

Despite the freezing air a trickle of sweat rolled down his temple and itched. Scratch and die.

Not his nature. He angled his head the opposite way and used the photograph to scratch his itch. It envenomed it.

Lead negotiations with a clear mind. Fresh air all around, teased his brain.

The man dangling from the rope suspended from a hot air balloon by a woman wearing a caviar-beige Channel gown and perfume, a woman with whom he shared a passion for bird-watching, that man decided to take control over his situation.

He parted his lips and made a whooshing sound expelling the little air left in his lungs. Sealing his lips he inhaled slowly counting to four, held his breath, and exhaled taking double the time. Repeated twice will have to suffice loosen his anger, allowing him further decisions with a clear mind. Time was of the essence.

‘I want to remember her, but I must see her face. And I can’t, not tied up like this,’ he spoke up.

Only the wind whooshed around, slapping the picture against his cheek, slap-slap-slap. He made no attempt to protect himself. Was his voice strong enough to carry his words? His self-assurance?

The rope groaned overhead.

He lowered his tone to the pitch of a mellow cello, ‘I want to offer you answers. You deserve them. She deserves them. For the sake of the time we shared bird-watching -‘

‘Leave that out!’

He angled his approach.

‘How long ago have you lost her?’

‘Too long to count.’

‘Was she related to you?’

‘She was my baby sister and you took her away from me! Why her?’

So many reasons that didn’t make sense anymore…

‘Let’s work out a plan so I can see her face and offer you the answers you long for. You still want to know, don’t you?’

‘NO. I’ll give you her name.’

Too many names… complained his mind, but he kept that to himself.

‘Blanche-Rose,’ she said in an agonising whisper.

Had he heard it or his mind had groped for the rolling consonants? He remembered that name, and he remembered the sweet face framed by ringlets, and the earnest, hopeful look in her eyes when she had asked him for more time. Just a little bit more time.

Now it was his turn to ask for time.

time merchant, fiction flash
Clock image by Marka Merka, Unsplash

‘It is a lengthy story. We need to sit for you to understand what happened,’ he called.

The sun was shining in his eyes by now and he began to feel like a pig on a spit. Above his head, the rope cried and cracked. How much longer will it support his weight? All that aged whiskey gone to waste…

‘There is nothing more for you to tell me! I was lost when she disappeared, confused and hopeless as if a part of myself had been torn… I blamed myself for not trying harder, I was angry at the world, I lost friends, I lost a life, my life, as I had lost hers… I prayed, and I vouched that I will not stop till I find the one, the one responsible for her disappearance. For her… death.

‘She is NOT dead! I don’t kill, I sell time. Time people need to fulfill that ONE dream. Time for THAT illicit love affair. Time to do with as THEY please. I am the Time Merchant. Now, do you know how to land this thing?’

‘What? NO, I don’t!’

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Hello everyone and welcome to the “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week Author Suzanne Burke will feature an image and invites everyone to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. Suzanne runs a great blog as well as authoring many exciting books. WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 41

ride in a hot air balloon flash fiction

Following the story-line of Ferris Wheel and Two of a Kind read A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon, my contribution to fiction in a flash challenge week 41 based on the image prompt provided by Author Suzanne Burke.
Enjoy! I had so much fun writing it 🙂

A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 41

A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon

The ballroom was a giant aviary. People’s actions, she found, mimicked those of birds. Courtship, chatter, hunt, all here. Except that birds, birds didn’t belong in a cage.

She spotted the gold-trimmed black mask the instant she crossed the doorway. Nothing ever escaped her eagle-like eyesight. Yet she pretended not to, allowing him the illusion of initiating the hunt. Men fell for that. So she stood atop the stairs, in her black and caviar-beige Channel evening gown, the perfect shade of beige. She stood, tensed, the center of his attention; him, the man with the mask matching hers. She stood; unable to enjoy what was finally coming. Feeling none of the happiness she thought she will.

Why they call it sweet revenge? She tasted bile.

 It had been stipulated in the contract. Both parties involved will be issued matching masks. Both parties will be aware that arriving at the masked-ball involved and was conditioned by, establishing contact with their prescribed partner.

He’d come. He was watching her, facing her, as she closed the distance. One step at a time, oblivious to music, and the agitation surrounding them. Aware of her dry mouth, her increased pulse, and the reason she’d done it all. To right a wrong.

For the first time since she dressed she was thankful for the mask, covering her flushed cheeks. Her lips, frozen in a sneer she hoped mimicked a smile. The pain she had harbored forever, she allowed it to escape as she took step after step. There was so much hatred that letting some steam escape, by staring at him, didn’t matter anymore.

By the time she had descended, he had closed the distance extending his hand to aid her take that final step. Her arm stiff, to mask tremor, she reached for his.

Their touch felt electrifying, and he smiled the moment he saw the specks of aged whiskey in her treacle eyes.

‘I am sorry I wasn’t there, at the foot of the Ferris Wheel’, he said, so she recognized him. Really saw him. Past the black mask trimmed with gold, past her veils of hatred. It was him, as the contract stipulated it will be, the man she wanted for her revenge, yet he was also himself, the man she had met in the park.

‘The bird-watcher!’

He smiled.

Too late. His had touched her gloved one, the double glove soaked in poison. Soon, his somatic muscles will paralyze. Her plan would have reached its climax.

~

He came through with a strange feeling, that his feet were not touching ground. And he was cold, chilled to the bone.

He was dangling.

Was he dead? His eyes were open, he thought. All he saw was blackness.

Black is the impression of lack of color, his mind offered.

He heard nothing either, only the blood rushing through his ears. He would have touched his eyelids but his arms were secured against his body, tied like a cocoon. He could wiggle his fingers though, frozen stiff.

His mouth shot open. A yell came out.

No echo. His voice just left his body – and was gone. And his body was dangling in space.

At least he wasn’t buried.

Purgatory?

He looked around again. Above, as below, he discerned specks of light. Of all sizes. Then a river of them as if someone had spilled, in the dead of night, milk across the floor.

The Milky Way!

More crumbs ablaze caught his eye in the celestial horizon. A handful of fairy lights. A city!

And his body, dangling between them.

From what?

Ignoring his stiff neck he forced it backward and stared, forcing sight. A silk glove tied around his neck brushed his cheek like a slap. After the ozone-rich air an explosion of freesia invaded his senses. It matured, denoting elegance and grace

Stop it, you old goat.

And another note, above the spring-like ones: shimmering hints of honey.

The dawn, lifting the horizon, removed the amnesia cloak too. He remembered the masked woman descending the stairs, their bird-watching, and she, his project for the night. The disbelief that slashed his heart, and the electric shock when their hands touched. Losing consciousness…

‘Why?!’ he howled at the moon.

From the height of the hot air balloon gondola the woman in the black and caviar-beige Chanel gown retrieved a picture, kissed it, and let it slide along the cord to the man dangling below.

‘That’s why,’ she raged, her scathing tone like knives. ‘Remember her?’

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Hello everyone and welcome to the “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week Author Suzanne Burke will feature an image and invites everyone to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. Suzanne runs a great blog as well as authoring many exciting books. WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

What do you think of the story thus far, in its three installments? I’d love to read your impressions in comments below.

Two of a Kind, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 40

flash fiction two of a kind

So many of you enjoyed the Ferris Wheel story that this week I wrote a follow-up in Two of Kind inspired by the image prompt provided by Author Suzanne Burke for Fiction in a Flash Challenge 2021, week 40.

Two of a Kind

He was never late. Always minutes early, time used to accustom himself with his surroundings, or people watching.

Today, as he lunged in a winged-back chair covered in leather softer than anything nature intended, waiting at The Gentlemen’s Club – a place so private that even its members were on a secret list – he admired the colors in his whiskey glass. Amber, most said, clueless to the fact that whiskey owed its shades to the charred white oak barrels. To him the shade was auburn, with hints of burned amber, he thought glancing through the glass. Like eyes he’d seen once, as dark as treacle and just as deep, yet hiding specks of burned amber… His pupils dilated remembering how he nearly got himself burned. That’s how he chose to remember.

He turned in the chair as one would and exposed the glass to the light slipping between velvety curtains.

Behind the swirling fire from his glass and heart, he observed – effortlessly, through a life-long exercise – the two gentlemen engaged in an animated conversation that the tabloids would have loved to expose together… The zoo of politicians daily at each other’s throats, now enjoying cigars by the fireplace… The man wearing a suit in the wrong shade for such an establishment, now relocating photographs in his briefcase while the gentleman seated across just ordered his 3rd double.

Always useful to arrive early.

He donned his glass and allowed the vanilla and grassy notes to resonate in his nasal passages. For a brief moment, he was in the park, it was early spring and the scent of fresh-cut grass floated like a spell. Across from his bench sat the woman whose eyes held specks the colour of aged whiskey. And just as many promises.

Enough.

Today he’d come here to close a business deal. Time for him to stand and meet his patron, the man who paid handsomely in exchange for his services. He always stood to meet his business partners. Common courtesy, although today’s partner could become tomorrow’s adversary. Some would say enemy, but he always strove towards turning his enemies into business partners. There was always something he could trade. People always had needs and wants. Especially wants. And he could always obtain whatever it was that they wanted when he gave his word. For his word was his bond.

Whenever he looked back on that fatal day he remembers the glass of brown whiskey, not amber, thirty years old – the mark of power – that arrived at the same time with the manila envelope… Although the glass had touched the table first. He still heard the sound of thick crystal against the mahogany, like the deep clunk of an empty gun.

‘From him, Sir,’ the waiter had said and they both knew: from the client he’d been expecting, whose problem he was about to take on. But who hadn’t thought fit to meet him and close the deal in person.

Only that his hand had touched the glass with the brown whiskey, the 30-year-old whiskey, first, thus sealing the deal before the manila envelope had landed on the table. And his word was his bond.

The picture inside the folder surprised him. It was not that of a person. He always insisted on a recent close-up, a time and a location, never questioning his patron’s reasons.

The picture showed two masquerade masks, white and black satin trimmed with honeyed cord. Day and night, female and male, good and evil… symphony and chaos, his mind offered as the white mask held intricate, hand-painted musical notes. And a pearl set in the middle from which feathers in shades of amber protruded. Like the whiskey…

‘She’ll wear the white one,’ was scrawled on the back and an address he recognized. The World Health Organization, WHO, held their charity ball there tonight.

He picked up his felt-hat and left.

True to his habit he arrived early, in a black mask identical to the one in the picture. But tonight he will curse his habit. The instant he saw the woman wearing the white silk mask, his partner for the night -and project – standing atop the stairs looking across without looking down on anyone, holding her clutch as if it was a drawing book, her right fingers poised as if they held a pencil, that instant, he knew it was her.

The woman from the park. The problem he had to solve.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Two of a Kind fiction flash with masks

What happened next? Find out in A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon.

Hello everyone and welcome to the “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week Author Suzanne Burke will feature an image and invites everyone to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. Suzanne runs a great blog as well as authoring many exciting books. WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

Enjoy short fiction? Have a look at my 100 words story, Short Stories or my Humorous stories 🙂

What do you think, should I go on with this story?? 🙂

Subscribe to my e-Newsletter for fun and informative content on dogs, books, history, folklore and a castle or two:

The Ferris Wheel, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 39

ferris wheel flash fiction

Welcome to Ferris Wheel, my week’s response to the image prompt of Fiction in a Flash Challenge 2021, week 39, as initiated by Author Suzanne Burke.

The Ferris Wheel

The man with the felt hat liked the park because its tangled alleys – bordered by old trees that saw as many sunsets as he did – made him feel like a ship wandering the seven seas. He would come here whenever he caught an opportunity, sometimes as often as every second month – he was an optimist – for the man with the felt hat had a job, a job he once enjoyed, like a fisherman reeling in the big catch of the day. Now he was more like a fish in a net… so to say. To keep up with the nautical theme, he smiled.

But not today. Today he was a ship choosing its course across seas he knew too well. A ship with a set compass.

Left at the newsstand, then the first alley left again stood the tree where he’d last seen the Bishop. Ah, to spot its red head profiled against the crisp winter sky again!

She’d draw him in his nest, the woman who sometimes sat on the bench across from his. She’d been lucky to spot him in his nest long enough to sketch him. Quite the artist she was. A natural talent. A natural beauty too, her alabaster profile against the clear blue sky. If he’ll only see it again.

‘He’s got himself a pair, you know,’ she spoke as he walked past her bench.

‘The Bishop?’ he asked like it was the most natural thing in the world for two strangers to engage in conversation about a bird.

She nodded, forcing him to turn his head back from the bare tree and to bend to see her drawing. She turned the sketch pad to show him what she’d been working on.

‘You’ve been away for a while,’ the woman smiled. ‘It was a treat to watch them meet. But I drew them for you, so you won’t miss it.’

‘I do wonder how they see us,’ and he accentuated they with a tip of his head towards the tree. His hand flew up as if he was measuring the height of the arbor. ‘From the height of their branch,’ and his head stood upturned for a moment, smiling at the sun, and at the peaceful life of the little birds.

That’s when his phone rang, like a cloud chilling one to the bone in a flash, in the heat of the day.

She smiled and returned to her drawing, allowing him his privacy.

‘Work,’ he sighed upon his return.

‘And you have to go,’ she said and she tilted her head the way she used to whenever the Bishop would fly away for the day – and she knew the bird-watching was over… ‘Again,’ the slant of her head had added, like a whisper, and he’d heard it.

Was he right in assuming? Should he? At his age? Should he be a  Bishop?

‘I wonder,’ he started then stopped as if a blast of wind had frozen the words on his lips.

‘Yes?’ and her eyebrows arched the way they did whenever the Bishop was in sight.

‘The Ferris wheel,’ he waved towards the far end of the park. Last carriage goes up at 17:45. Would you do me the honour and join me? We’d get a Bishop’s glimpse over the world.’

He couldn’t tell her how he knew the schedule. He couldn’t tell her it was his job to know everything, any trivial piece of information, and use it to his advantage.

She smiled but didn’t ask how he knew such details. She smiled brighter than he’d ever seen her smile for the Bishop, and she tilted her head.

Had she agreed?

‘I’ll wait for you at the leg of the Ferris wheel. With two tickets,’ and he lifted his felt hat in salute.

He didn’t count on the crowds, on the rowdy group of teenagers celebrating a birthday. For the first time, he didn’t count on being swept by the crowd inside an open carriage. He was at the top of the wheel before he knew it. The ground squeezed below, too far for him to see clearly with his reading glasses.

Was she there? That speck on the ground, was it she? He boxed the air to reveal his watch. 17:49 and darkness all around.

The lights of the Ferris wheel mocked him, as did the glow of the city.

He was but a fish trapped in a net, a fish who dreamed to be a Bishop for a night.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

I wrote the follow-up: Two of a Kind. 🙂

Hello everyone and welcome to the “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week Author Suzanne Burke will feature an image and invites everyone to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. Suzanne runs a great blog as well as authoring many exciting books. WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

Enjoy short fiction? Have a look at my 100 words story, Short Stories or my Humorous stories 🙂

Subscribe to my e-Newsletter for fun and informative content on dogs, books, history, folklore and a castle or two:

A Room to Swing a Cat In, a Short Story for Thursday Doors

A Room to Swing a Cat in - Short Story, Thursday Doors

A Room to Swing a Cat In is a short story inspired by the history behind the house of Nicolas Flamel, 51 rue de Montmorency, the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, while its majestic doors represent my weekly contribution to Thursday Doors.

A Room to Swing a Cat In, Short Story for Thursday Doors

A Room to Swing a Cat In

What the plague hadn’t claimed was gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève. Parades, farces, mocking jokes, they were all washed down with copious amounts of weak wine.

You either have the guts to do it or not.

So he did it. When the crowds broke in laughter his hand was elbow-deep in his surcoat, the parcel secured. Then he ran, the laden weight of a low Parisian sky hanging over his shoulders and him, a moving dot in a monochrome city.

He darted through a passage, away from their cheers, jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot, slowing down past les gendarms whose hand always fell heavy on his kind of folk. His mother’s kind. Dark, with luscious hair, the keepers of the laughter and of the magic. He was proud of her gift for reading people and foretelling their future. ‘One God,’ she’d taught him, ‘for everybody.’

Yet not all were equal. And God was up. They were in the sewer.

The drizzle hitting his face forced him to bury his head between his skinny shoulders and look down when he reached the church of St Merri, that fed him now. It was the rain wetting his face, not his shame. The rain that also stung his eyes. So he picked up the pace, feeling only his heart hammering in his jacket.

He broke his run near the open market to check inside his coat, sliding on the slippery stones and bumping into a merchant yelling away his ware. His nose crushed into the fishmonger’s raw hand, yet the smell of burning wood glued to his nostrils blocked the stench. The torrent of curses fell on his ribs, but for once he didn’t care, his eyes jabbing inside his coat for a sign of life.

He licked the pink, hairless nose the way he saw its mother doing it. Two perfectly round eyes opened up on him. Hope.

So the remainder of the road he ran, he ran till he reached the tall house that bent over the road, in protection. He ran up the two flights of stairs with their many doors that sheltered the homeless, like them. He ran all the way to their tiny room at the mansard.  Cozy, his mother would correct him with a laugh.

There, he stood in the only open spot and removed the kitten out of his bosom. It made a noise like a whisper and opened its round eyes on him again. The boy’s dark face lit up in a smile as big as a heart, revealing a few missing teeth. His mother will be so proud. He spun around three times like she’d taught him, making sure the cat was secure in his arms. He spun around to swing the cat for they had a room to swing a cat in. To keep it, as the gypsy believe said to do if one wanted to keep a cat.

In his father’s home, there were plenty rooms where he could swing a cat in. But an executioner’s son was not allowed to own a cat, what was allowed was to inherit his father’s job.

© Patricia Furstenberg, 2001, All Rights Reserved.

A Room to Swing a Cat In, a Short Story for Thursday Doors

A note from the author:

The House of Nicolas Flamel:

The House of Nicolas Flamel appeared on our Paris itinerary due to our daughter’s extraordinary interest in the world of Harry Potter.

About the house itself: Nicolas Flamel had the house built after his wife Pernelle passed away in 1397. The house (as well as several others owned by Flamel) did accommodate the homeless of Paris, or at least a part of them. Yet this is the only one still standing. The frieze above the ground floor dates from 1407, when the house was completed:

“Nous homes et femes laboureurs demourans ou porche de ceste maison qui fu fte en lan de grace mil quatre cens et sept, somes tenus chacun en droit soy dire tous les jours une patrenostre et 1 ave maria en priant dieu que sa grace face pardon aux povres pescheurs trespassez. amen.”

“We men and women labourers residing in the entryway of this house, which was built in the year 1407, vow to recite each day Our Father who Art in Heaven and Ave Maria, praying to God by whose grace accords pardon to those poor sinners (who) trespass. Amen.”

Yet Nicolas Flamel never lived here, in what is today the oldest house in Paris.

Update 🙂 I used a 14th century map of Paris to locate the House of Nicolas Flamel and trace the boy’s route:

A 14h century map of Paris showing the Seine River (bottom) and the road to the House of Nicolas Flamel (top).
1 - "gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève"
La Greve = today Hotel de Ville
2 - "he darted through a passage"
3 - "jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot"
4 - "the church of Saint Merri that fed him now..."
5 - a two minutes walk to the House of Nicolas Flamel, heading NE.
A 14h century map of Paris showing the Seine River (bottom) and the road to the House of Nicolas Flamel (top). Map source.
1 – “gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève”
La Greve = today Hotel de Ville
2 – “he darted through a passage”
3 – “jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot”
4 – “the church of Saint Merri that fed him now…”
5 – a two minutes walk to the House of Nicolas Flamel, heading NE.

The day of Saints-Geneviève:

During the Middle Ages, the Parisians had quite a full calendar, abundant in holidays and events that were enthusiastically celebrated, perhaps because of the precarious lives of the ordinary populace. Thus, The day of Saints-Geneviève, the patron saint of the city who allegedly saved that city from the Huns was and still is celebrated on the 3rd of January.

The origin of the saying “there was not room to swing a cat in it”:

There is a superstition in Transylvania, perhaps brought about by the gypsies whose specialty was to bear the seeds of magic and spread them about here and there, as the winds do to those of plants… In this province of Romania it is said that if a cat runs away, when recovered it must be swung around three times to attach it to the dwelling.

The same is done to a stolen cat by the thief himself, if he plans to keep it. This is a rather strange way to induce an attachment to any animal, but perhaps from the point of view of the professional cat-stealer the size of his room is a matter of greater importance.

On the Executioners Who Inherited Their Jobs

Truth be told, for centuries in France execution was a family matter and the job of an executioner was passed on from father to son.

~~~

Thursday Doors

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – discover more doors from around the world.