What the…?

Robin had gone to the mall in the vague hope that she would feel like she was doing something entertaining.  She was sick of her life, sick of her job as a claims examiner, sick of her four room apartment on the third floor, sick of TV.  She was even sick of her friends, both the married ones and the single ones.  How had life turned out so boring?

She stood outside the Bath Barn and wanted to vomit when she thought of buying one more candle as some sort of consolation prize.  Odd, how the sales lady in there looked like her sixth grade teacher, dyed black pompadour and everything.   Robin pivoted toward the escalator, and hey, was that what’s-his-name she’d dated in college headed up the moving steps?  But he lived in England now.  Weird.  Low blood sugar?  She headed toward the food court, and oh no, the guy behind the Jazz Up Your Pizza counter was her Uncle Lyman who had been dead for fifteen years.  What the…?

42 responses to “What the…?

  1. Reality Games (A 100-word flash)

    Tomorrows sank her to her knees like a kick in the nuts. Todays were but continuing mouthfuls of pumice which choked and suffocated. Her solace lay bleeding in her yesterdays which she manipulated into some copeable reality that only she understood. She smeared her face with imaginary birthday cake topped with five candles burned black as sneers. The stuffed animals she buried under a crescent moon came alive and licked the frosting. Her mother drank tea sickening sweet with sugar from a vodka bottle. Then, the memory of her father’s hands on her legs. That never had a happy ending.

    • Jeff, I love these! I think I’m going to give this a try on the next challenge.

      • Hi Gary – always nice to lure someone to the dark side of flash fiction. Looking forward to your take on the next prompt. There are a few sites devoted to short prose. Just Google the obvious words. There is one – 100wordstory – that has a monthly-long (or longer) photo prompt. Gullie gave it a try once, and also Marion, I believe. Krys and I are both participants there. It is currently down, (does that on occasion) but worth checking on.

    • So much is going on here, even a bit of gender confusion and child abuse. Grim, but very chewy.

    • If this were an opening paragraph to a longer work the reader would be hooked, there is so much you can expand on. I like flash fiction because I tend to come up with an idea, write a few words, then fizzle out. Nice work Jeff.

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      Yikes! Your profile photo shows a man who’s deliriously laughing. Your flash fiction “Reality Games” shows the opposite end of your unique personality spectrum. I’m loving all your talents.

      • Hi Cheryl – why thank you for your positive response. I never know who is going to recoil and who is going to enjoy it. (someone once mentioned that they thought my dog was going for my throat, perhaps wishful thinking on their part! LOL)

  2. Robin had gone to the mall in the vague hope that she would feel like she was doing something entertaining. She was sick of her life, sick of her job as a claims examiner, sick of her four room apartment on the third floor, sick of TV. She was even sick of her friends, both the married ones and the single ones. How had life turned out so boring?

    She stood outside the Bath Barn and wanted to vomit when she thought of buying one more candle as some sort of consolation prize. Odd, how the sales lady in there looked like her sixth grade teacher, dyed black pompadour and everything. Robin pivoted toward the escalator, and hey, was that what’s-his-name she’d dated in college headed up the moving steps? But he lived in England now. Weird. Low blood sugar? She headed toward the food court, and oh no, the guy behind the Jazz Up Your Pizza counter was her Uncle Lyman who had been dead for fifteen years. What the…?

    Robin sat down on a bench and took a drink from her water bottle. As she watched the people walking they all seemed so familiar, as if everyone she had ever known or ever seen was returning to her. Robin closed her eyes and rubbed her face against the strange surrealism that had befallen her. When she opened her eyes she noticed a strange woman across the walk staring at her. The women seemed to be the only person there who was not familiar. The two stared at each other interminably. It was unsettling to Robin to have this person staring at her. She resolved to approach the lady and find out why.

    As Robin stood up, the woman stood up also. She reached for her purse and so did the woman. When Robin moved her arms, the woman moved hers also. She seemed to mimic Robin’s movements. She sat back down and the lady sat back down. Robin decided to keep her distance.

    Meanwhile, faces from the crown kept emerging more and more familiar. Relatives, deceased or living far away walked by, as well as co-workers from past jobs and students and teachers she had known. Robin tried greeting them but the faces stared right ahead and kept walking. Suddenly her mother approached and touching her shoulder, offered some comforting words. Robin felt better. She noticed her mother was wearing a white dress and appeared much younger. Robin looked across the walkway and now saw that the woman had left and a little girl sat in her place. The little girl was staring at Robin in the same way. Robin moved her right arm, and the little girl moved hers also. The little girl’s feet did not reach the floor and she swung them back and forth. Robin tried to move her legs in like manner but they wouldn’t move. It was as if her feet were nailed to the floor. She tried with all her strength to move her legs. Robin grew frustrated and angry. She screamed at her feet to move and wrapped her arms around then trying to dislodge them from the floor. She wanted so badly to do what the little girl was doing.

    Crying and screaming, Robin threw herself to the floor and there she was able to kick her legs in the air. She felt a certain satisfaction but she was unable to calm herself, she thrashed back and forth on the floor and flailed her arms and continued to kick her legs in the air, all the while screaming and crying. Her mother approached again and asked her what was the matter. Then two teachers from her grammar school showed up to restrain her. One held her arms and the other held her legs, her mother came closer with comforting words. Robin felt a pinch in her left arm.

    • Sometimes I am Waldo and sometimes I am me. It’s not that I don’t like being me, it’s just that Waldo is taller, thinner, and younger.

      • Very mysterious story. I wonder if her mother was the one who pinched her. I’m glad you found your Waldo self, DV.

    • Hi Waldo – I liked the concept of this very much. A couple things were unclear. I didn’t understand the inability of Robin on the bench being unable to move her legs but was able then to throw herself on the floor and then kick. Also, where Robin feels a pinch in her left arm – was the adult Robin feeling an adult Robin pinch, or was she feeling the pinch of the child Robin? But I could visualize the crowd in the mall, the faces passing, her memories. I think there’s a lot going for this.

      • Thanks Jeff, The theme that popped into my head, based on the prompt, was psychosis: “a regression to the more comfortable time of childhood, due to the stress and demands of the present…” A Kafka ripoff. The little girl was Robin, the people were hospital staff, the mother was a nurse, the pinch was a needle. This needs work, for sure. Thanks for the input.

      • Thanks for the explanation. I was going for the literal fantasy of it. I think your approach takes to a more literary level. I hope you are able to work it out without needing an explanation.

        That is similar to what I was trying to do in my short piece, but working of the general idea of delusion, a terribly warped psyche for the story, but not a literal continuation of the prompt.

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      I love how you took Ann’s beginning and ran with it. Your imagination is admirable.

  3. Eh? Where is Waldo? Calling on Waldo!
    With all due respect, the story is about Robin. Do you know her?

    Krys

  4. Krystyna Fedosejevs

    He (101-word FF)

    Robin felt someone clutching, lifting her from a fall. She stood up facing him. A stranger. Told her he worked at the pet store, other end of mall. Asked if she was OK. She nodded. Thought he said something about spiders, chocolate-coated. He left.

    She followed his trail, stumbled into his hideout. Didn’t see him, only animals to cuddle until …

    Snake meandered towards her. Smiling with his eyes. She let it coil around her neck in a tightening embrace. Tighter, tighter …

    Robin gasped, unable to move. Looked into piercing eyes of person on top,
    her lover.

    What the …

    • “Smiling with his eyes” I had fun imagining a snake doing that. You have a good imagination!

      • Thanks, Ann, for imagining.

        Can’t forget those reptile eyes in India a year ago.
        Imagine my foolishness at leaning forward, peering inwards when a man sitting on the sidewalk popped open the lid of a basket.
        That snake had grinning eyes!

        Krystyna

    • Chocolate-coated spiders, always works for me, especially at Valentines! Better than halloween candy for sure. I liked this a lot, a certain dream-like quality. I keep going from viewing it as a hallucination to reality. Some things better left unsaid.

      • Jeff, you are spot on; that’s the effect I intended, dream/hallucination to reality.
        Thanks for stopping by. Appreciate your comment.
        Say, I’m thinking of making that chocolate delicacy, want some?

        Krys

    • Leaving off some pronouns gave this an interesting cadence and a certain mystique. Nice writing.

      • Thanks … Oh where is Waldo?
        Fell like a butterfly dancing the skies with joy with your heavenly comment.
        Thank you!

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      You deserve all the wonderful comments you’ve gotten here. I can only add that the twist at the end blew me away.

  5. The Mall of Entertainment
    Season 1, Episode 10
    Original Air Date: 12-2-1959

    Robin had gone to the mall in the vague hope that she would feel like she was doing something entertaining. She was sick of her life, sick of her job as a claims examiner, sick of her four room apartment on the third floor, sick of TV. She was even sick of her friends, both the married ones and the single ones. How had life turned out so boring?

    She stood outside the Bath Barn and wanted to vomit when she thought of buying one more candle as some sort of consolation prize. Odd, how the sales lady in there looked like her sixth grade teacher, dyed black pompadour and everything. Robin pivoted toward the escalator, and hey, was that what’s-his-name she’d dated in college headed up the moving steps? But he lived in England now. Weird. Low blood sugar? She headed toward the food court, and oh no, the guy behind the Jazz Up Your Pizza counter was her Uncle Lyman who had been dead for fifteen years.

    Robin began to spin around. Everywhere she looked there were people she knew from different phases of her life. Around and around went the mall until the faces became a blur.

    Then, darkness.

    She awoke staring into the face of a kindly looking gentleman, who, thankfully, she didn’t know.

    “There, there, now,” said the man in comforting voice. “You took a nasty spill.”

    “I, I, had the most awful dream,” Robin said as she struggled to a sitting position. “I was seeing people. People that shouldn’t be here.”

    The man laughed with a Santa Claus kind of laugh and said, “My dear, that’s perfectly normal. You came to the mall for entertainment didn’t you? Well, you’ve got your wish.”

    “What do you mean? How is this entertaining?”

    “Well,” said the man who actually did look a bit like Santa Claus except his hair and beard were jet black, his beard was short and immaculately trimmed, and he wore an expensive-looking three piece suit. “This is the Mall of Entertainment. You can interact with *anyone* from your past life.” He paused, “You’re really quite lucky you know. It’s a opportunity few ever get.”

    As Robin managed to get back on her feet, she was starting to become a bit more suspicious of this stranger. ”So, tell me, just how is it I managed to be so lucky?”

    The man laughed the Kris Kringle laugh once more as he pulled a small notebook from his vest pocket. He opened it right to the page he was looking for, and, placing his finger on a specific spot, said, “Well, you do often park in the handicapped spot at work don’t you?”

    Robin stammered, “Well, yes, but…”

    “And you do curse the crossing guard for not hurrying the children across the street on your way to work?”

    “Hey, only when I’m late..”

    “And you did share a settlement with a client for a fire that never happened?”

    “Now you just wait a minute!” said Robin, now indignant. “You can’t prove that.”

    The man laughed again, “Now, now, miss, I’m not here to judge. I’m here to *entertain*. Why don’t you just let yourself enjoy this gift? You’ve certainly earned it.”

    He closed the little notebook and placed it back in his vest pocket.

    “Now miss, as you appear to have recovered sufficiently, and if you have no further questions, I will take my leave of you.”

    With that, the man turned and began to walk away.

    “Wait,” shouted Robin, “What’s your name? I didn’t get your name.”

    The man didn’t turn, but Robin could hear him say “Devlin, they call me Mr. Devlin,” and he disappeared into the crowd.

    Alone again, Robin turned back toward the Bath Barn and her old sixth grade teacher.

    “Let’s see just how frigging ‘entertaining’ this turns out to be,” she muttered.

    Back inside the Bath Barn, the sixth grade teacher recognized Robin immediately. “That’s her, that’s her!” the woman shouted. “She’s the one who wet herself in second period. She pissed all over her dress, the chair, *and* the floor!”

    Robin was horrified. Everyone in the store stopped to stare. A small boy looked down at the floor between her feet, presumably to see if she was peeing now.

    Robin ran from the store in a panic.

    Looking to see if any of the Bath Barn patrons had followed her, she found herself at the Jazz Up Your Pizza counter. Uncle Lyman touched her on the shoulder. “Dead people can see what you do you know. Even in your bedroom. The hair brush handle! You should be ashamed! Aunt Matilda would never…”

    Robin screamed as loud as she could and ran for the escalator. Anything to get off this floor. Anything to get out of this mall!

    As she started the climb to the second level, she spotted her old boyfriend. “Hi, Robin,” he said kindly. “You sure have gained some weight, do you feel well?” He paused, “Oh, how rude of me.” Motioning towards the woman beside him he continued, “This is Kate. You may have seen her on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It’s a magazine for sports enthusiasts, but perhaps people like you don’t read it.”

    With that, Robin leapt from the escalator, hitting her head hard on the tile floor below.

    As she lay on her back, she looked up. High above her were throngs of people, all looking down. Looking down at her! As her vision cleared, she could see they were not really people at all, but instead, hideous ghouls hissing and screeching in apparent delight.

    “Devlin!” she screamed. “You said entertainment. Who’s entertainment? Who’s, Devlin? Answer meeee!”

    A woman in a place most women love. The mall. Only for this woman, it’s not a place of fashion, exotic perfume, discounts, or even a pleasant lunch at the food court. This is the Mall of Entertainment. It’s open twenty four-seven with ample parking, in a place we call, the Twilight Zone.

    • Very entertaining Gary. Rod Sterling eat your heart out…

    • It’s fun to hear Rod Sterling’s voice there at the end. I like the idea of the devil looking like Santa Claus, except for the hair color, the trim of the beard, and his lovely suit. Must be the voice.

      • Lazy writer I suppose. The devil was supposed to be modeled on Sebastian Cabot, who was the quintessential Twilight Zone devil. I thought I could get away with the SC description, which is actually not bad if you were already thinking Sebastian Cabot, but if not, it doesn’t get you there.

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      This is wonderfully creative. Weird, funny, crazy and nearly frightening; it’s all here. Way to go, Gary.

  6. Rod Serling (not Sterling) was an early favorite of mine since his TV show when I was a pup (cross-species confusion) and I have his biography in my library purchased nearly 20 years ago. I thought this a good tribute piece for him. Hairbrush handle, indeed! Jeff

  7. To All:
    Before this challenge came up, I wasn’t sure I belong on this group. Now I know I don’t belong on this group. Reading your stories I realized that you guys are light years ahead of me.
    Here I’m struggling and wrestling with the mechanics of the English language trying to put a sentence together while you are flying away on a carpet of talent propelled by your imagination in search of creativity.
    Jeff, you made me smile when Robin went down on her knees like “a kick in the nuts”. How does she know what a kick in the nuts feels like? Great story.
    Danvitale, with his well put together imaginative story with an unexpected and intricate ending.
    Krystyna: I always expect the unexpected from Krystyna. Finishing your story with her lover on top. How could anyone top that? Great ending.
    Gary: as usual you came with an extraordinary story from another dimension.
    Excellent reading.
    I won’t touch this challenge. I’m a meat, potatoes and a beer kind of guy compared to you dining on oysters, lobsters, soufflés and drinking champagne.
    Congrats to all.

    • Hi Lando – of course you belong here. Every person here had to go through the trials of their first story, their first year, their first fears. Just let your mind take you where it goes. I have a quote posed on my monitor attributed to a William Carlos Williams – “Forget all rules, forget all restrictions, as to taste, as to what ought to be said, write for the pleasure of it…” Jeff

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      I feel out of my league with the other writers here too, Lando. My brain just isn’t capable of the degree of cleverness and imagination on display in these writings. But hanging out with everyone on board this ship is so much fun I can’t walk or, I should say, swim away. I’m hoping some of their talent will rub off on me. If not, I’ll continue to “write for the pleasure of it” per William Carlos Williams. (Thanks for that, Jeff).

    • Lando, thanks for the nice comment. Actually, your post about not belonging here is well written, so you better hang around a while. You sound like a nice guy and I am willing to bet you have a lot of interesting things to say. Just like you did here, write whatever you feel.

  8. What the… February 2014
    (Jeff, Cheryl, Waldo thanks for your comments and encouragement. This is my humble contribution. I hope Ann gives me a dispensation for not adjusting to the rule of using her paragraph as the ending of the story.
    Please, excuse the mistakes

    Hello misery, here I’m again. I told you I wont be back but, back I am.
    I was home alone, so I was in a bad company.
    As you know, when that happens, I go around doing the same things I have been doing all my adult life and achieving the same results: frustration.
    Here I’m, again, at the same mall, sitting on the same bench, sick of my life, of my job, of my four room apartment and of TV. I’m even sick of my friends, both married ones and single ones.
    How had my life turned out so boring?
    I need to be closed to someone who wants to touch me with desire and with love, at the same time, I need someone to touch me with passion and lust.
    I need someone to laugh with; someone to walk with holding hands while talking about our dreams and or ambitions.
    Believe you me, I’ve tried very hard to change my attitude, my clothing, my manners but nothing seems to work.
    Frankly, misery, I don’t know what else to do.
    Still, here I’m playing the same game with myself: placing familiar faces on the faces of those people who pass by and have some resemblance to people I knew.
    So, in my mind I place the face of my six grade teacher onto the sales lady at Bath Barn who has a dyed black pompadour; and imagine that the guy going up the moving steps was what’s his name who I dated in college simple because he has the same hair cut and the same body frame; and that guy behind the Jazz Up Your Pizza counter is my uncle because they have a similar mustache.
    What the heck could I do to break this vicious circle?
    “Excuse me lady, do you know if there is bar in this mall?
    I turned around and saw this not bad looking man waiting for my answer.
    “Yes, there is one to the left of the water fountain there” I said.
    “Would you like to join me for a drink” the man offered.
    “Okay, I will join you” the words came out of my mouth before they were processed by the brain.
    “What’s your favorite drink” he asked
    ‘A scotch martini”
    “What a coincidence, that’s my favorite too.”

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      I like how you used Ann’s paragraphs in your own way. I don’t think Ann cares how we go about using her prompts. You found a very creative way to do your interpretation of Robin’s time at the mall.

      Of course, I’m tickled that you worked scotch martinis into your story. You made my day with that, Lando!!

    • Always feel free to do this your own way, Lando. To me, that’s what creativity is all about. Plus, I like surprises. Good one!

    • You belong here, definitely belong here! Jeff

  9. Cheryl aka Shaddy

    Robin had gone to the mall in the vague hope that she would feel like she was doing something entertaining. She was sick of her life, sick of her job as a claims examiner, sick of her four room apartment on the third floor, sick of TV. She was even sick of her friends, both the married ones and the single ones. How had life turned out so boring?

    She stood outside the Bath Barn and wanted to vomit when she thought of buying one more candle as some sort of consolation prize. Odd, how the sales lady in there looked like her sixth grade teacher, dyed black pompadour and everything. Robin pivoted toward the escalator, and hey, was that what’s-his-name she’d dated in college headed up the moving steps? But he lived in England now. Weird. Low blood sugar? She headed toward the food court, and oh no, the guy behind the Jazz Up Your Pizza counter was her Uncle Lyman who had been dead for fifteen years. What the…?

    In desperation, Robin ordered the biggest cupcake in Tracy’s Treat Store’s display case from the disgustingly skinny teen behind the counter. She grabbed a handful of napkins and snuck over to a tiny table at the end of the food court. She scarfed down the entire chocolaty mess in less than four minutes. She had to; she needed the sugar.

    People were filling the tables near Robin. She wouldn’t look at anyone. She poked at the crumbs that littered her table. She was afraid to look up. What if she starting seeing people again, people who weren’t really there? She looked down when she left her table and emptied her tray in the waste bin. She’d had more entertainment than she’d bargained for here at the mall and being bored at home sounded heavenly.

    Robin made her way along the store fronts, sidling toward the main entrance. She stopped to retie her left shoelace and glanced in the store window. It was Lens Crafters. Maybe I need glasses she thought. I’m just not seeing well. That’s why I was mistaking complete strangers for a long-forgotten, sixth grade teacher, an old boyfriend and deceased Uncle Lyman. And I have been getting headaches lately when I read or work on my computer. My eyes are straining and aren’t seeing like they should.

    Without looking at the woman at the service desk, Robin walked up to her and asked for an eye exam. “I’ll put your name down and you’ll see the doctor next,” the clerk said.

    In about an hour, Robin left Lens Crafters sporting her first pair of eyeglasses. She squinted and scowled, not because she needed to, but because she’d never seen the world through prescription lenses. The doctor had told her she needed only a minor vision correction and that glasses could help alleviate her headaches. Of course, she didn’t tell him that she had been seeing people who weren’t really there. There were places for such folks and Robin didn’t want any part of places for the insane. She knew which one her mother was in but she couldn’t go there. She wouldn’t go there.

    Robin knew she had to stop ignoring everyone. As she headed for her car, she looked at a few faces and breathed more easily when she didn’t see people from her past. She was enjoying herself as she glanced in the windows of Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic and Gap. Robin was feeling entertained after all. She’d forgotten all about her fears…until…she found herself surrounded by her sixth grade teacher, the guy she’d dated and her Uncle Lyman. “Why did you avoid us earlier? Who do you think you are?” they whispered. The trio ushered Robin, unnoticed, out of the mall. Uncle Lyman’s grip was bruising her upper arm and her sixth grade teacher’s glare was meant to bruise her soul. “You are going to learn the hard way to treat people better and to respect them,” her old college date spit at her. “Drink this.” Robin swallowed whatever he poured down her throat. That’s all she remembered of that afternoon.

    Hours later, Robin opened her eyes. It was dark. She didn’t know where she was. She was lying in a bed. A tiny thread of light shone in from a slightly open door. A bed creaked nearby and she saw a white form sit up and come toward her. A cold but gentle hand caressed her cheek and forehead. Robin tried to move but she couldn’t lift her arms or legs. “I’m sorry it had to be this way, my sweet baby girl. You never came to see me and now you can never leave me. You’ll get used to it here, just like I did.”

    • Atta girl, Cheryl!! good sequence building up momentum for the dramatic and unexpected finale. Creepy situation when Robin was surrender by the three ghosts.

  10. Ooooooo. Ultra creepy, Shaddy. You may have just invented a new superhero: Crazy Lady. She can conjure your worst fears and make her favorite insanity come true.

  11. Shaddy! That was really good. Building tension. A perceived solution with the glasses. Problem not solved but gets worse. And the ending that she hoped to avoid. A well-conceived plot.

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