This time, the challenge for Flash Fiction Friday was a location and a thing. Randomly chosen from two lists. I ended up with 'a quiet suburb', and 'animal crackers'. My word count was 997, just under the 1000 limit.
Just Animal Crackers
Patrick clutched his chest and waited for the pain to subside.
“Calm thoughts,” he said. “Breath in . . . and out.” Nothing serious, in his opinion, probably heartburn. Still, these twinges, plus flat feet and a wonky hip, had persuaded him to retire after a career as a security guard. At least he could sleep in, to noon if he wanted. Easily done here, in his home on a quiet suburban street. Too quiet. The parents drove to the city for work, and the kids were all in school or day care. His wife had died a decade ago, and he had no hobbies, so he’d spent several years of his retirement being both alone and lonely.
Until his daughter suggested he help watch her little Liam during the summer.
Now, three days a week, his eight-year-old grandson was dropped off for the day, to hang out with grampa.
“No junk food Dad,” said his daughter. “And not cartoons all day either, okay?”
Patrick smiled as, right on schedule, Liam bounded up the steps, full of energy, and grabbed him in a big hug.
“Hi grampa, Can we go to the zoo again?”
That had been his last job, his favourite. And Liam’s too.
“Gee little buddy, we’ve already been this week. I think the animals need a rest. We’ll walk over to the mall, maybe check out Ali’s shop.”
“Cool, I like Ali.”
Ali’s was an interesting place, a mix of standard 7-11 stock and bits and pieces of remainders. It was Liam that spied the box of animal crackers, sitting by the cash.
“Can I get this grampa? Instead of the zoo today?”
How could he say no? Liam clutched his treasure all the way back, admiring the colourful graphics on the front, bubbling with excitement.
Once home, Liam took his treasure out back to the picnic table. Patrick waited as his grandson pulled at one end of the box, then the other.
“I can’t get it open, grampa. Could you help me? Oh wait, I got it.”
The lid flipped up, revealing a collection of creatures—lions, tiger, elephants, apes, rhinos and more. They were amazingly detailed, and more than plain brown crackers. Their brilliant colours glowed in the sun, a set of tiny perfect little creatures.
He could swear the zebra’s tail twitched.
With a blur, the animals were suddenly out in the yard. All full size. All very much alive.
Liam scrambled down from his chair and darted onto the grass.
“Look grampa, a lion, a real one.”
Patrick froze, then leapt to his feet. “No, Liam, come back, now! I mean it!” Would he make it? With a burst of speed he swept up Liam into his arms and retreated to the corner of the yard. At least the eight foot fences would keep the animal closed in for a while. Give him time to call—who? The zoo? 911?
“Don’t squirm little buddy? Are you okay?”
“Sure, grampa. Look, they’re all friendly.”
They did seem docile. The zebra was trimming the lawn edge, the rhino was munching on the tomato plants, and the lion sprawled in the sun, asleep.
Patrick was just catching his breath when the pain hit. That same knife to his chest, but this time worse than ever.
“Grampa, what’s wrong?”
He couldn’t speak. He was fumbling for his phone when, through a haze of pain, he saw someone walk into the yard.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said the stranger. “Well, at least I’m glad you found my collection. I thought I’d lost it for good. And it seems my box still has them somewhat under control.”
“Are those all your animals, mister?” said Liam.
“Yes, they are, little person. Special animals, many endangered, for my zoo.”
“Wow, can I see your zoo?”
The stranger laughed. “Maybe someday. But it’s very far away. We’d need to take my special plane.” He bent down. “But who is this? Is he okay?”
“It’s my grampa. Sometimes he’s sick, but this time he’s really sick.” Liam gave Patrick shake. “Grampa, what’s wrong?”
The stranger took a small device out of his pocket and scanned Patrick with it.
“Hmm. I can see a few things are wrong. Heart, feet, bladder, and this hip—not good.”
“Can you fix him? Please?”
The stranger smiled. " Of course. Especially since you did such a good job of minding my creatures.” He scanned Patrick again, several times. “There. Good as new. Or at least better. And now for my collection.”
He pressed a button on the side of the box. With a blur, all the animals were back inside. He snapped the lid closed and extended a hand to Patrick. “Here sir, let me help you up.”
Patrick scrambled to his feet, faster than he had done in years. His chest was pain free, his feet and hip felt fine, and even his vision was better.
“Are you okay, grampa?” Liam clutched his hand and looked up at him with a worried look.
“Yes I am, Liam. More than okay. I’m not sure how, and I probably should be really concerned about this. Perhaps later.” He held out his hand. “Thank you, thank you so much. That medical thing, are you also some kind of doctor?”
The stranger bowed, with a little smile. “Sort of. But thank you. Nice to meet you.” He reached into a pocket. “And I owe you a replacement, little one. Plain animal crackers, guaranteed.” He handed the box to Liam with a smile, bowed, and disappeared.
“Way cool,” said Liam.
Patrick chuckled. He sat back down at the patio table and pulled Liam into his lap. “Yes, way cool. Let me check this out for you.” He opened the package carefully. Plain brown crackers, as promised. “Not a word to your mother, okay?”
“Cross my heart, grampa.”