Well, here is the second round attempt for the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction competition. I scored first in my heat last time, and I was worried about getting Political Satire for the second round. I ended up with Fairy Tale in an orphanage with a pineapple. Not sure that was any better. I googled it, and Fairy Tales have elements of magic, good and evil, and happily ever afters. Here’s what that looks like in 1000 words, at least my version of it. If I can place somewhere in the top half this time, I think I should be good for the next round. Fingers crossed. This has been fun.
Sometimes, the only Happily-Ever-Afters you get are the ones you give away.
The slow spin of the buffer sliding across old linoleum sounded like rain on the windows. Cephas opened his eyes to see Bobby sitting on his bunk tying his shoes. A silver, pineapple pendant hung from the chain around his neck, glinting in a beam of morning light through the window. Bobby looked up, tucked the pendant and chain under his shirt, and gave Cephas a sad smile. In his third orphanage in as many years, Cephas only knew pain and suffering. Then he came here. Met Bobby. And it kept him from running. But Bobby aged out today. Everything was about to change.
“Ten-hut!” Jerry yelled from the doorway across the room. An old Marine from wars gone by, Jerry ran the orphanage like Paris Island. Welcome to the suck was the first thing he said when he met Cephas. They were ammonia and bleach. Bobby kicked the edge of Cephas’ bunk to get him moving.
“What’s he gonna do this time?” Cephas grumbled. “Ground me from getting adopted.”
“I told you, Ceph. You get up for the other kids,” Bobby whispered. “He don’t make it hard on you. He makes it hard on them.”
“Ladies,” Jerry said at the top of his lungs, “what have you got to say for yourselves?”
“Oorah, sir!” they yelled in unison.
“That’s what I like to hear. Now get this place in order. Who knows? Do it right, and one of you pound puppies might find your forever home today.” Jerry laughed and leveled a measured glare at Cephas, now sitting up in bed. Then he looked at Bobby. “You’re eighteen today, right Moreno?”
“Oorah, sir,” Bobby yelled.
“Moving on to bigger and better?”
“Let’s make today count then, shall we?” he said. “Starting with your friend, Seef-ass, there.”
“Oorah, sir,” he said, kicking Cephas’ bunk again. “Get moving, boot,” he said with obligatory force.
“Oorah, Bobby,” Cephas said, sarcastically. Then he slipped on his boots and began straightening his bunk.
Bobby winked at him and started down the line of bunks, until he got to a scrawny, nervous kid named Gordon.
“Hey Gordo,” he said. “How goes it?”
“Good, I guess,” Gordon said, quickly adding, “sir.”
“Relax, Gordo,” Bobby said. “Which Saturday is this for you?”
“Seven zero, sir.”
“Seven zero?” he asked, incredulous. “You yankin’ my chain, Gordo?”
“No, sir.” he said, smiling. “Almost sixteen months.”
Bobby put a tender hand on his shoulder. “Well then, maybe it’s about time?”
“You think so, sir?”
“I do,” Bobby said, and moved on down the bunks.
Couples started arriving after lunch. Young, urban professionals. As always, the women searched for hidden cribs or toddler beds amid the rows of bunks. They were polite, but they quickened their pace when the bunks were all they saw. One Saturday, Cephas caught the tail end of a conversation from an open window as they made a beeline for their car.
“Why waste our time?” the husband yelled. “Our application clearly states newborn.”
“Yes, sir,” Jerry said, “but – ”
“We have three girls at home,” the husband said. “We don’t need some broken, teenage boy perping on our girls.”
“Perhaps next time,” Jerry said.
But there never was a next time.
Around three, as another disappointed couple was making their getaway, Bobby stepped into the bay. He smiled at them and the husband averted his eyes, but the mother hesitated. Bobby touched her hand and whispered something into her ear, as he had many times in the past. The woman smiled, and turned her head to see Gordon flying an action figure over his head. Gordon jumped a little when the woman tapped him on the shoulder.
“And what’s your name?” she said.
“You ever going to tell me?” Cephas asked Bobby, who was emptying his footlocker into his backpack.
“You know what,” he said. “Those people were sprinting out of here, but you stopped them, and now Gordo’s gone.”
“I seen you do it before, too.””
Bobby smiled and sat down on his bunk. “Hold out your hand.”
Bobby reached around his neck and pulled off the silver chain. “Hold out your hand.”
Cephas did, and Bobby dropped the chain inside and clasped his hand around it, like a blood oath. “I been in this place eight years, right?”
“Two years in, another boy aged out, like I am now.” Bobby nodded at their hands. “Gave me this.”
Cephas felt the clump of silver tingling in his palm.
“You put this on your neck,” Bobby said solemnly. “You ain’t never gonna get adopted.”
Cephas pulled his hand, but Bobby’s grip tightened.
“You also won’t never be treated wrong again,” Bobby said. “At least, not here,” he added. “And you’ll see thing you can’t explain.”
“What are you talking about?” Cephas asked.
“Making dreams come true, Cephas.” Bobby said, pointing to the boys in the room. “For them, and those who come after.”
“Because I got this passed down to me, and when you age out, you’ll do the same.”
“You pick a boy like you. Twelve or thirteen. Don’t need nobody to make them whole. A rock.” Bobby smiled, and let go of his hand. “You take care, Cephas,” he said, slinging his backpack on his shoulder.
Cephas sat stunned for a second. He looked at the pendant in his hand. Sparks showered all around it. Without thinking, he slipped it around his neck, and the room exploded in prisms of light, each boy taking on a different color of the spectrum. When he looked up, Bobby was gone.
“Moreno says you’re my new number one,” Jerry said from the doorway across the room. His head glowed a brilliant, amber light, and all the rough edges had fallen away.
“Excuse me?” Cephas said.
“You ready for some happily ever afters?” Jerry asked, with a smile on his face.
Cephas hesitated, but then said the first thing that came to his mind. “Oorah, sir.”