Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Sugar and Spice"

Note: The following piece was written as part of the "Michigan Man's Tastes Get Him Into Trouble" flash fiction challenge hosted by Patti Abbott. Patti has published numerous short stories in various literary journals and crime zines. She blogs about writing, books, movies, politics, life, and music at pattinase.

Ralphie was slicing a Granny Smith with his flick knife when the woman walked by his cab.

Until then, it'd been a Holland day. Mercury dipping into the fifties, a sky perpetually robin's egg blue, white steeples on every corner, everything Dutch as the day was long. Ralphie had landed in Holland after the mess in Ann Arbor. The world took on a prosaic pattern here. Each day became a Holland day.

Nothing prosaic about this woman, though.

Pantsuit fifteen years out of style, but who cared with that figure. Ralphie could watch it all day, everything fine and firm. Cornhusk hair down her back. Full mouth, pert nose, eyes like green beach glass. Made him glad he'd parked downtown.

Ralphie ate the slice of apple off the blade, flicked the knife shut, wiped hands on the protuberance of his belly, and rolled down the taxi's window.

"Need a lift, lady?"

She pulled up. Those eyes focused on him like sun through a magnifying glass. Heat rose in his abdomen.

"You will take me?" Her words rode an odd cadence. Definitely not Midwestern.

"Yeah, I'll drive you."

She opened the back door. "Drive. Yes. I desire waffles. Drive me to waffles and wait. I will pay with this." She proffered a hundred-dollar bill. Her perfume filled the cabin, spicy sweet like honey and cinnamon.

"There's an IHOP on Beeline." He stuffed the bill in a pocket -- and looked up into a male face cold as Lake Michigan in December.

The guy stood smack in front of the taxi. Hair slicked back like in that ad agency show. Old suit, too. Frost-blue eyes.

Ralphie tapped the horn and gunned the cab around him. Weirdoes everywhere, even in a pretty little town like Holland.

At the IHOP, Ralphie watched from the taxi as she took a window seat. He studied the line of her jaw while a waitress brought her plate after plate. Her lips parted for a single bite from each dish. Delicate fingers dipped into a purse and passed a wad of bills to the waitress, whose brow crinkled in pleasant surprise at the size of the tip.

Ralphie's stomach growled. He'd pared the apple to its core during the wait. Had to watch his diet. No one would be looking for a skinny man.

When she returned, he asked, "Where to, boss?"

"You have a local dish? Called kraklingen?" Gravity tented her blouse as she ducked inside the taxi. Braless. Well, well.

"Yeah, let's go," he said. The curves of smooth, shadowed flesh had been suddenly replaced by a man's silhouette in the rear window. Dark suit. Slick hair. Icy gaze. Ralphie took Riley Street to Highway 31, then doubled back via James and 120th Avenue. Jealous husband, curious bystander, whatever. He didn't want any part of it.

She ordered krakelingen at de Boer's, biting the edge from a sugared hoop, paying with a fifty. Ginger cakes at Vander Veen's, which she nibbled, dropping a Benjamin. It was as if she understood the idea of money, but had no practical experience with it. Heading back downtown, Ralphie idly mentioned that the meter never stopped running and got $237 for his trouble. The taxi was rank with the scent of cinnamon and honey.

At the Alpen Rose, he went in with her. Fancy place, pale-wood wainscoting, wrought-iron light fixtures. She ordered speculoos and sweet espresso. One chew, one sip.

Ralphie nodded at the plate. "No good?"

"I would not say that. In my experience thus far, it falls into the upper quartile."

"You a food critic? In town on an assignment?"

"An assignment? Yes. During my time here, I have heard of a man called Noah and his boat of animals. It is the closest correspondence. I am the Noah of saccharides."

Ralphie blinked at the non sequitur. "Come again?"

"Saccharides. Sugars. I am their preserver."

He laughed. "What, planning on the world ending tomorrow?"

"I have not yet made the precise calculations."

Ralphie excused himself. Went to the bathroom. Splashed water on his face, ran hands through what remained of his hair. She was scrambled as an egg, stone crazy. But that shadowed cleft beneath her blouse, slope of her haunch when the jacket slipped up. Yeah, police rarely took the mental ones seriously. But this time, he'd probably have to leave the state, new identity, the whole works. Better than getting caught, though. He'd punch his own ticket before they locked him up.

Back at the table, Ralphie said, "Hey, I know another place you'll like."

He bolted down the barely touched cookie in a single bite.

The place proved a blind alley. The taxi thumped over a discarded pallet, came to rest behind a dumpster.

"Let's get out," Ralphie said. His pulse had slowed. This sort of place was familiar territory.

The woman surveyed her surroundings. "I do not believe there is anything here for me to sample."

Up and out, Ralphie yanked her door open, dragging her by the arm, flicked open the knife, said, "Down on the ground, and don't think that anyone will hear you back here," free hand fumbling at his belt, but she just stared at him, stupid, so he drew back the knife --

And she said, "He will like you. You're a good specimen."

A hand seized Ralphie's wrist. Twisted. Sound like a green branch splintering.

Concrete hit his back then head. A face appeared, slick hair, cobalt eyes. The sky above a pastel blue.

Someone was screaming.

"Yes, he is perfect." The man bent toward Ralphie. "Understand, this is our task with every imperiled civilization. We acclimate to preserve both their beauty and blemishes."

"He is the Noah of criminals and convicts," the woman said brightly.

The screaming continued. It sounded familiar to Ralphie.

"We must move quickly. Do not worry. You will have a small space all your own for the remainder of time and space."

The sky was beginning to shade a sickly, bilious yellow.

The woman sounded concerned. "But if time is short, what will we do? You cannot take him into yourself."

"I will remove his head. We will animate it later."

The screaming rose in pitch.

Strong hands seized Ralphie's neck. The man's eyes were frigid as distant nebulae.

"I am sorry," the man said, "but this may hurt."


pattinase (abbott) said...

Yikes. We are a bloody group, aren't we. And in dear old Holland--where I have never been despite living in Michigan for 40 years.

Loren Eaton said...

Holland is beautiful, Patti. You should really go there sometime.

Loren Eaton said...

The Alpen Rose is a nice place to eat, too. The chef is from Austria, I believe.

sandra seamans said...

Just wonderful, Loren! I so loved that last line.

J F Norris said...

Each time I read one of your flash stories Loren I feel like I've opened an issue of Weird Tales.

Wonderfully bizarre and wacky and grisly.

Loren Eaton said...

Sandra: You are very kind, madam. I'm glad you enjoyed.

John: For some reason, I always end up with these weird flourishes in my fiction. Who know where they come from? But I'm glad you liked it all the same.

Evan Lewis said...

Yikes. It was biblical!

Loren Eaton said...

Or at least a close correspondence for ... whatever the man and woman are.

Kelly Robinson said...

Wow, this is my favorite one so far. Wonderfully weird.

YA Sleuth said...

Awesome dialogue--love this story.

Loren Eaton said...

Kelly: You are for too kind, ma'am. Many thanks.

F.T.: Wow, that's encouraging. I usually think that my dialogue is a little sub-par, so I'm glad you enjoyed it.