If someone would have told me a week ago that I would be posting the third flash fiction story in a week today, I would have called them crazy.
But here I am.
This story doesn’t come from Chuck Wendig, but from the team at Today’s Author. Here was the prompt:
Winning the lottery was not as amazing as they expected it would be.
When I started writing, I wasn’t sure where this was going to go. But as I put my fingers to the keys, it became apparent that the story had already decided what it wanted to be, and was telling itself. Here it is.
The Sure Thing
His little boy tossed a rock, squealed, and took a running jump forward. His girl – who wasn’t so little anymore – followed soon after. Each moved from one lopsided square to another, one arm bound under a ratty coat, and skipped the square holding the rock. She won.
The chill in the air was almost something you could touch. It nipped at his skin and dragged long, sharp fingers through his hair as it ground by. No matter how long the sun stayed in the sky, it never warmed up to a temperature at which one might rest.
“Be careful not to get too close to the water,” he said, then wondered if the wind would carry it to the children or away.
His son turned to him and waved. He had heard. His daughter didn’t acknowledge him. Then, she rarely did anymore. She blamed him. He didn’t dispute it. Everything was his fault.
Thunder sounded in the sky, far down the craggy island, but close enough that he knew he had to get them inside.
Inside? He laughed. Shelter it was, but inside was relative.
“Come on, let’s go,” he called.
The girl turned to him with eyes so wise, it startled him. She looked just like her mother. Then she pushed her dirty hair out of her face, stuck her arm back into her coat properly, and gestured for her brother to follow.
They picked through the scrub toward him, climbing over boulders the size of cars, sliding down the boulders’ slick faces as the rain started to come down. Every time they came when he called, he was more surprised.
“What were you laughing at?” she asked suspiciously.
No matter what was happening, she was wary of his good moods. The hint of a smile was always tested until it broke and fell away. She remembered the last time he was giddy with trepidation. They all did. It had been their downfall.
“Myself,” he answered, then ushered them inside the cave.
He piled the entryway high with slabs of rock, then lay the woven thing he called a door over it to cut back some of the colder gusts of wind. He looked at it a long time before he walked back into the cave where the children had already settled.
His daughter would have laid out the several woven mats on the floor, helped her brother out of his wet clothes, then hung them on some sharp rocks on one cave wall. Then she would have wrapped him in more mats woven from whatever they could find on the island, weighted their edges down with stones, and settled off side of him.
That’s how he found them. She was sitting on a small mat, a larger sheet of the stuff draped around her shoulders and her hands busy pulling berries from their stems. She glanced up at him as he walked into what had become their communal bedroom.
Her nose wrinkled. She despised him.
He huddled down on the other side of the boy, who had already fallen fast asleep, and watched her hands move. It reminded him of sitting with her mother while she sorted through the little things the kids had collected on the beach for her. That was before she was gone, back when his daughter still thought he could do anything.
“How much do you have sorted?” he asked her, his voice barely carrying the several feet between them.
She kept working, her head down, but her mouth pursed in concentration. A moment later, she said, “Enough to last us the week. If you don’t bet any of them, that is.”
It sounded so familiar, he was almost certain his wife was sitting in her place. The girl’s mother hated his gambling, even when he won.
Even when he won, like the last time. She had been angry that he had bet it, which he understood; it was their rent money, after all, and they were running out of apartments to be kicked out of.
“It was a sure thing,” he said. It had been. The bookie had assured him that no one had ever bet as much and not won the contest.
His daughter looked up at him. “You had a sure thing,” she spat.
He hadn’t realized he had spoken aloud. Swallowing hard, he nodded. She was right. His wife and children were his sure thing. No matter how many times he screwed up, they all still greeted him at the door with hugs and kisses. She asked him how the job hunt had gone, the kids told him jokes or begged to see a magic trick, and no matter what happened, they would end up laughing.
Then he finally won.
The contest was simple. You put enough money in, and you won a spin on the wheel. The least you could win was part of your money back. But the top prize was an all-expenses paid vacation to an island with white sand beaches, crystal clear water, and anything they could possibly want to eat, drink, or experience.
And he’d won.
Then the boat crashed. And she hadn’t died, not right away. She had suffered while he tried to figure a way off the island. No one knew how to contact them. Their stuff was in storage, they had given up their lease, and they hadn’t had cell phones in over a year before he won. They were off the grid.
Everything he had ever wanted.
His daughter cut her eyes at him and sneered. “You are such a baby.”
He wiped the tears from his cheeks and looked away from her knowing gaze. She shook her head and went back to her work. Her mother would have been so proud.