Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Flash Fiction Challenge: Pieces of History

From the creative genius known as Patti Abbott comes another flash fiction challenge. This time, those who participated were given a sentence or two from another participant to begin the story. This is what I came up with. I feel sorry for the poor bastard who received my prompt. Anyway, here's mine:

Pieces of History
By Stephen Allan

Bruce kept the bullet in a small pillbox. He would show it proudly to visitors at the nursing home. This bullet ended the life of Henry Lee Patrick, he would tell people. It blasted out of my service revolver and lodged into the gangster’s ticker. Most of the residents of the home knew who Patrick was, at least the ones who still had all of their marbles, and got a kick out of Bruce’s story; but the boy scouts and girls scouts who came every Saturday to volunteer had never heard of the St. Louis criminal. No one’s ever told you about the great Mississippi crime spree of 1947? Good Lord, Patrick and his men were up and down both sides of the Mississippi River knocking over one bank after the other. Had the whole country in a tizzy for near close 3 months that summer. The kids, who normally looked bored and a bit bothered to visit the home, usually just answered with a blank stare as if they didn’t know what to do in a conversation. Well, I ended that crime spree, Bruce would say and indicate the damaged slug pinched between his fingers before putting it back into the pillbox. That’s my little piece of history.

Bruce told his tale until he received the letter from Charlotte, North Carolina. It was typed on flowery stationary and smelled faintly of perfume and cigarette smoke. The signature was familiar.

Bruce had spent over sixty years telling the story of how he killed Patrick and he came to believe it was true. Fact and fiction were bent at first, then mixed together over the years and finally, in Bruce's past two years at the home, blended into a smooth version that had more lies than truth. Yes, Henry Lee Patrick was dead and yes, the slug Bruce kept in the pillbox was dug out of Patrick's heart; but Bruce didn't pull the trigger.

Dear Bruce,

It seems that our stories no longer need to match and I am able to free you of your obligation. This life would not have happened if it were not for you, so you should not be sad in knowing that it has ended. I have instructed my daughter to mail this letter when I pass away. She is very beautiful and has no idea of the gift you have given her. Without you I would have gone to the gas chamber for sure and she would never have been born. I've included a photo of her and her family. Know this is what you have accomplished.


Bruce looked at the photo, and then crumpled it up along with the letter and stuffed it into the pocket of his robe. He opened his drawer, grabbed the pillbox and his lighter and walked out of his room. He made it passed the nurses' station and through the ballroom and down the small staircase that led to the outside garden that overlooked the ocean. The autumn wind felt pleasant and cool against his face. He looked around to make sure no one was watching, especially any of the nurses, because he was afraid someone would stop him. When he was satisfied that he was alone without any spies, he walked to one of the outside ashtrays and set the letter and photo in it. He lit the paper and picture and watched it burn for a moment before walking towards the water. At the fence he looked down at the rocky shoreline. The tide swished in and out rhythmically and he just stood there until he couldn't stand the cold any longer. He pulled the pillbox out of his pocket and dropped it into the water.

Bruce never told the story of Henry Lee Patrick ever again.