It’s that time again! Once again Chuck Wendig has issued a Flash Fiction Challenge for the week, this time with the instructions to simply use in our story four of a list of ten random items. The four items I chose (because they’re prime numbers!) are:
- #2. A dead man’s guitar
- #3. A rocking chair
- #5. A road sign
- #7. A leather mask
With that as our starter yeast, here is “Shrine”, my shortest weekly story yet.
Lucinda rocked slowly in the tattered wicker rocking chair, the bleached and weathered slats of the porch creaking underneath her in time with the chair. There was little breeze to be had and the air was stifling. At least now that the sun was getting low the porch was in shade.
With her eyes closed, Lucinda heard the car before she saw it. The crunch of gravel from the side of the road caused her to open one eye a slit.
On the shoulder of the road, next to the long driveway up to the house, a dilapidated sedan with a mismatched fender was pulling to a stop, trailing a cloud of dust. The swirling dust filled the car through its open windows as a young woman set the brake and got out, the car door hinges shrieking.
She slowly walked over to the highway sign on the opposite side of the road, fanning herself with a piece of paper. One of the sign’s support posts had been broken and the road crew had done a slipshod job on the repairs, leaving the sign with a noticeable cant. The lettering on the sign was as grimy and faded as everything else in sight but still more or less legible. “Hobbs, 53 miles. Carlsbad, 121 miles. El Paso, 280 miles.”
The woman glanced up once at the house where Lucinda sat, shielding her eyes with her hand and squinting through the dusk and dust. Then she turned her attention to the makeshift shrine that lay scattered across the gravel around the broken sign post. All of the flowers were weeks old and had long since wilted and blown away, leaving only broken vases and a collection of tin cans in the drainage ditch. A few bouquets of artificial flowers were still clinging to the wooden post, held on by staples, nails, or crumbling duct tape.
Higher up on the post were nailed two crucifixes and a leather lucha libre mask. The once garish mask had originally been stitched with pearls and rhinestones but few now remained as it hung limp, gibbetted in the heat like flesh stripped whole from a skull. Slowly, reverently the woman reached up and touched the mask, stroking it gently.
The woman walked back across the road to her car. She opened the trunk and took out a guitar. Walking back across the road to the shrine, she held the guitar out for a moment, like an offering. She slipped the strap over her head and began to play.
Lucinda could hear the music faintly as the dusk grew deeper, although she could not hear the words. The song was slow and mournful, the chords progressing along in a minor key. After a verse and a chorus, the woman’s voice began to falter and the plaintive tune stumbled to a stop.
The woman unclipped the guitar strap and knelt. She leaned the guitar up against the post and wrapped the strap around it several times for support before securing it back to the base of the guitar. She stayed kneeling there for several minutes.
As a tanker truck roared by, rocking the sign and rearranging a whirlwind of dust and gravel, she stood, checked for traffic, and walked back across the road to her car. Before she got in she looked up at Lucinda again. For a heartbeat their eyes met. The young woman bowed her head and melted into her car. The car slipped on the gravel and then pulled a violent U-turn before driving off back to the west as her headlights blinked on.
Lucinda closed her eyes again and continued to rock as the sun slipped below the horizon and the first few stars began to appear.