My entry in the Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Flash Fiction contest. Below is the prompt they gave us.
The fruit vendor smiled at her through sightless eyes, enjoying the warm breeze and salty air. During casual banter with his customers, he seemed to remember the smallest details, even ones they couldn’t remember sharing with him in the past. The girl had been coming to his stand daily for as long as she could remember. As she turned to leave, she patted his hand and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.
Still smiling, he replied, “No, you won’t…”
We had from noon Central time on Saturday to write something and submit by the same time on Sunday. I was pretty drunk when I wrote and edited this at 11pm, so we’ll leave it up to the fates whether it gets noticed. Enjoy!
A Very Good Liar
Inigo had a very good memory. Some said it was rare for a man of his years to remember things as well as he did. Others said that he made everything up, a liar.
Aside from selling fruit, Inigo was a storyteller. To some, this was endearing. They said that people–especially children–needed a dose of fantasy, no matter how wild it might be. As the oldest man alive, Inigo had many stories.
“There used to be more,” he would say, twirling a strand of beard between fingers. “We used to be more.”
Children would gather around his cart in the evenings–with their parents’ permission, of course. The young were in love with stories, those things that older people said, legal lies, fiction. Adults could tell lies and not get in trouble. The fact that Inigo was as old as he was made the stories seem so much more real.
He would sit on an old wooden stool when enough children had gathered around, their dirty butts on the concrete, turning gray with dust, filthy faces tilted upward. They would tug on his hems, gently, just enough to let the old man know he had an audience.
“Tell us,” they would say.
“Yes, tell us of the time before.”
“Tell us of the time before the white.”
And Inigo would laugh. “Oh, so you want to hear about the white again. Haven’t I already told you all about that?”
“Yes,” they would say, “but we love the stories so. We love to hear. Did it hurt, the white?”
“No,” Inigo would tell them. “It did not hurt at all.”
Sometimes parents would come by and take their child away, feeling in the dark for their grubby hair and dragging them, protesting, by an ear or an elbow. “You should no listen to such things.”
For knowing such things was dangerous. Making children think that there was once a time when we knew more, when we were more than we are now. It was a cruel thing Inigo did, telling children how the people before them were once so powerful, back in a time before the white descended.
One time a woman had set fire to Inigo’s cart, screaming at him as the flames spread. People ran and cried. They did not know what to do. The fire ravaged several houses before the soft rains quenched its thirst.
“You are a cruel, cruel man,” she screamed at him as the town burned. “You tell them things they can never be. How can you do so? You are a monster!”
“I only tell them the truth,” said Inigo, clutching the last of his wares, a bunch of bananas and dried pears. “I only tell them what I know.”
Tears ran from his useless eyes, down his leather cheeks and onto his shirt, brown and reeking of filth. It took Inigo five years to build his business up after that day. But the woman never returned. Some say she was run off by the other townspeople, shamed for her outburst, for the reckless damage she had caused.
But still the children came, pleading, begging for stories.
“Tell us,” they cried. “Tell us what it was like.”
And eventually, Inigo conceded. “Okay,” he said. “I will tell you of the time when man owned the earth.”
“The ground?” asked a young boy.
“No, Philip. Not the ground. Not the soil. The earth is this world, a giant ball of rock and water. It hurls through the universe at a terrible speed.”
They laughed. “How do you know?” asked one child, for there was always one in the group who would question Inigo, always a challenger to his stories.
“Because I was one of them,” he said. “That is how very old I am.”
And it was true. Inigo was perhaps the oldest man in all of Nova Illuminati, a man so old, he remembered things called pictures, a sense called sight. He told stories of humans who had not four senses, but five, a time when eyes were more than useless pale stones in people’s faces, collecting flies and disease.
“A fifth sense,” parents would exclaim, “Can you imagine who would say such things to children? Sight. Such bullocks.”
“Well, before the white, before the virus…” others would argue.
“Fairy tales,” others would argue. “No one is that old!”
But Inigo knew his time in Nova Illuminati was almost up now. Generations had all but forgotten. The woman who burned his cart, who accused him of lying, she was not alone. There would be more like her. Yes, it was time to move on.
Inigo had been packing up when Lizbeth arrived right on schedule for her morning apples. He recognized her by the clicking in her throat, echoing off the nearby walls and gutters, navigating by sound like all people.
“Good morning,” she said and he could tell by her voice she knew. She had been crying.
“Hello, Lizbeth,” he said handing her a ration of dried fruit. “You should try Rodriguez tomorrow. I’m afraid I do not feel so well.”
As he handed her the bag, each of them finding the other’s fingers in the dark–the eternal night all humans lived in now–he felt her pat his hand.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, her voice hopeful.
“No,” he said. “No, you won’t.”
(c) 2011 Marlan Smith