Incident in a Park

(1350 words)

“May I ask you a personal question?” A young woman with long, bright-blonde hair had approached me in the park.

“What? Why?”

“Oh, there’s just something I’d like to ask you.”

“What, then?”

“How long is your penis?”

“What kind of question is that!”

“Just a question.”

“Yes, I know that, but why do you want to ask it?”

“Why do I want to do anything. I dunno, I just do.”

“Well, how long is a piece of string?”

“I don’t know how long a piece of string is! It’s as long as it’s long, I suppose. My name’s Ezer.”

In the distance, two men in white coats, running in our direction. The alarm bells rang.

I gestured in their direction. “Look … Ezer … I don’t know what your game is but do you know those men? “

A look of horror came over her face. “Look, we gotta run!” 

“I don’t have to run.”

“Yes, you do, they’ll kill you too.”

I didn’t have to ask her if she was insane; it was pretty obvious. It was also obvious that the men meant me no harm. Probably.

She grew agitated. “Look, I’m not joking, we gotta run.” With that, she turned and took off.

I stood, watching the approaching men, now perhaps a hundred metres away. Even from that distance, I could see they were big men, quite young. Fit and strong no doubt, from the speed and ease with which they were running. Looking the other way, Ezer’s blonde hair was disappearing into the tube station. I looked from the men to Ezer, then back to the men. Decision time.

 

The day hadn’t started so well. No sooner had I sat at my desk at the Richmond Chronicle and turned my computer on then I got a call to go up to the editor’s office. 

I knocked and heard, “Come.” It was like being back at school. I half expected Lawrence Rossiter to be waiting for me, tapping a cane against his palm. But no, Lawrence wasn’t holding a cane. Instead, he was brandishing a red felt tip pen. He jabbed it in my direction. 

“Tony, this article, about the haunting at the King’s Arms, it’s very lacklustre. Too wordy by far. I lost interest after the third sentence.” He held up my report and I saw that about a quarter of the article was obliterated by red ink.

“And have you forgotten the ‘six honest serving men’? Nowhere does it tell us ‘when’ this ghost was sighted, nor ‘who’ it is, or was, I should say.”

“Well, sir, er, seems no one’s actually seen a ghost as such, just a kind of shadow flitting about, where a shadow oughtn’t to be.”

Lawrence stood up and gesticulated at me with the pen. “Look, readers don’t want to read about a bloody shadow. Give ‘em something they can get their teeth into, like a headless nun or an evil coachman! And what time of night this evil spirit stalks the staircases and landings, or whatever.”

“Well, sir, I spoke to Molly Chopra, the landlady and two of the barmaids, Francine and, er, Fredette. Nice girls they seemed. They’d all seen this shadow. They were pretty spooked by it too, sir. Sometime in the evening, they thought, but none of them could give me anything more concrete.”

Lawrence almost exploded. “Look, Tony, you’ve been on the staff long enough. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story! Get back down there and don’t come back till you’ve got a tale that’ll send shivers down the spine of every man jack who reads the Chronicle. And every woman too!”

Well, after twenty minutes of trying in vain to coax the staff of the King’s Arms to give me something more dramatic and horrifying, as my editor had demanded, my luck changed. I was pointed in the direction of ‘old George,’ renowned for propping up the bar since time immemorable and a font of local myths and legends.

So, for the price of a couple of pints, he gave me enough for half a dozen stories of lurid hauntings, if padded out with plenty of photographs of the nooks, crannies, and ladies of the King’s Arms. That should cheer Lawrence up, I thought. As to the veracity of old George’s tales, well, what did it matter? I’d had my orders, and, after all, ignorance is bliss, as they say. Feeling pleased with myself, I decided to take a stroll in the park before going back to the office ….

 

I hurtled down the escalator, pushing past people as if they didn’t exist. I didn’t look behind me. On the platform below, visible in the crowd boarding a tube train that had just arrived, long bright-blonde hair.

I jumped through the closing doors and collapsed into a seat, breathless. Opposite me, smiling, was Ezer. As I regained my breath and composure, aware of some odd looks from other passengers, she got up and came and sat next to me. She held my arm and whispered. “Look, I’m sorry. They were scrambling my brain up there; I didn’t know what I was saying.”

“What d’you mean?”

“Wait. I’ll tell you soon.” 

The train stopped at a station, and Ezer stood up. “We get off here.” She stretched out her arms and pulled me to my feet.

Soon, we were in another park, sipping coffee. Her large brown eyes stared into mine. “I owe you an explanation.” She smiled, and I suddenly noticed how pretty she was. “Look, there’s a bunch of us. I know this sounds crazy, but you’re going to have to trust me on this. We’re from another planet, another galaxy, in fact. We made contact but your guys conned us. They implanted us with chips and kept us prisoner for all kinds of horrible tests.” Her eyes moistened at the memory. “Then, today, I found my chip had stopped working, they couldn’t track me. So, I escaped. I don’t know if it’ll stay like that. I’m frightened.”

“Look, Ezer, I want to believe you, but ….”

As we stood up to leave, she suddenly threw her arms around me and kissed me hard on the lips. I found myself hugging her as if my life depended on it. I realised I didn’t care if what she was telling me was true or fantasy.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped. It was a man, young, good-looking, blond, and slim, the male equivalent of Ezer. “Peace, brother. I am Horad and this,” he gestured to another man who could have been his twin, “is Marak.” They stood around me and all linked hands.

“Hey, what’s this about?”

They all closed their eyes and their bodies stiffened. Then as I watched, a yellow-white glow appeared around them, and I felt a vibration in the air. Horad opened his eyes. “We’re going back. We’re taking you with us.”

“What, just a minute, I don’t want to go anywhere!”

He smiled, closed his eyes, and I felt myself surrounded by throbbing, pulsating energy. I wanted to move but I couldn’t seem to think straight. My body refused to cooperate and helplessly I watched the park around me begin to fade.

Then suddenly I was back to full consciousness and the three of them lay on the ground. There were the two guys in white coats, both carrying what looked like Tasers. One smiled. “Look, it’s complicated. But these three, well, they were planning on detonating some kind of futuristic thermonuclear bomb. They won’t be doing that now.”

“Are they …?”

“No, just unconscious.”

“But why did they want to do that?”

He flashed an official-looking pass at me. He nodded down at Ezer’s prone figure. “A snake in the grass, that one.” She looked very thin and fragile. “We don’t know. But we’ll find out.” He gave a wry smile. “Yeah, we’ll find out.” 

I turned to go back to the office, feeling confused. The stories of hauntings I’d recorded in the King’s Arms didn’t seem quite so thrilling anymore.


Taken from the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories



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