Well, I’m having way more fun with NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge than I had with the Short Story Challenge earlier this year, which gave me the boot after Round One. I’ve made it to the Final Round of the Flash Fiction one, and submitted my last 990-word story to the judges over the weekend. Rambling writer that I am, I’m surprised to have made it quite this far in a contest that’s all about getting to the point, but actually the ruthless editing (“Aww, what a sweet thing to say…” Delete!) has been kind of fun.
The assigned genre for this final round was Open, meaning any old genre you want, which I saw first as a blessing, in that it wasn’t “Ghost Story” or “Spaghetti Western”, but then saw as a curse, in that it gave me no direction to go in with the no-help-at-all location prompt — An Iceberg — but have ultimately decided to embrace as a blessing because now I don’t have to categorize the story I ended up with. The assigned item was A Lighter, and it eventually set the scene. Participating writers are encouraged to “interpret your genre, location, and object assignment in uniquely creative ways…” so I’ll either get big points or get disqualified for this one. We’ll find out which in January! Herewith my final entry in this year’s challenge:
Got a Light?
Of course I knew she was a dude. Just cuz I’m not gay doesn’t mean I have no sense of adventure. She had legs for days and a butt you could eat breakfast off of. I figured if I took her home and fucked her, when we were finished she could flip me over and fuck me right back, and you don’t hit that jackpot every day. That’s what we all loved about the Iceberg: you never knew what was gonna happen, but if you kept your wallet handy and your wits about you, you were guaranteed a wild time.
So named because its street-level frosted-glass cocktail lounge façade revealed nothing of the depravity that hulked beneath as you descended the depths from one sub-basement to the next, the Iceberg was the hottest club in Saint Paul. And it was on the Right Wing’s shit list from opening day. Board it up, burn it down—they didn’t care how they were delivered from its scourge, but Wouldn’t somebody think of the children?! Meanwhile, the queers? The fornicators? The sinners-for-sport? We lined up to get in, to hit the spray-painted stairs and see how low we could go.
I had purple hair, tight abs in a tight T-shirt; I got in no sweat. Clomped down the stairs, blew past the first landing—hometown DJs, go-go dancers, big whoop. The second basement got more interesting. Here the hustlers and the gay-for-pay porn stars took off their shirts and licked their lips, enticed daddies and chubs to pop for a beer or a blow job while the drag queens with the highest hair in the Midwest lip-synched Katy Perry until she would have been sick of the sound of her own voice, had she managed to flirt herself past a bouncer. That’s where I saw her: strong freckled shoulders in a sequined tube top, seven feet tall in platforms, whipping that ponytail around the stage like a propeller, she was as white as any Minnesota blizzard I’d ever shoveled my way out of and called herself Vinda Lou Curry. So she got points for creativity on top of the Perfect Ten her body demanded. When I saw her duck up the stairs after her number, I didn’t think about it, I just followed. She cut between two bars to the back door. I bummed a quick cigarette from some underage twink as he scampered by, hung it from my lip, pushed into the alley. She had a fan club; I elbowed in. “Got a light?”
She turned to scoff, did a double take, smiled instead. “Sure.” Gabbing away to her fans, she handed me a Zippo bedazzled with tiny rhinestones in the shape of Hello Kitty’s head. I lit up, took a drag. Passed the lighter back, but she was busy being adored. I tapped her elbow once, then twice, then pocketed it—she’d ask for it, I’d have it. It’s not like I was running off.
She dispatched with her acolytes. All but one. “Great name,” I said. “I love Indian food.”
“Yeah? You sure vindaloo’s not too spicy for you?”
“I like it hot.”
She laughed. “I’ll bet you do.” Looked me up, looked me down. “I do, too. Buy a girl a drink?”
I bought her more than one. Kissed the lipstick off her face. Pulled her by the hand down towards the third basement. The deepest. The darkest. Men only, no shirts allowed, no telling what might happen. She hesitated. “I don’t know…”
“They’re not big on queens…”
The bouncer was big, and he wasn’t gonna budge. “No drag queens.”
“He took his shirt off.” We both had. For a skinny dude, she was stacked.
“No drag queens.”
“He took his wig off.”
“No drag queens.”
I scowled. We went back upstairs. “We can walk to my place,” I told her. “Five blocks.”
She batted her fake eyelashes. “Now you’re talking.”
She dipped into a dressing room. Came out in boy jeans and a boy’s jacket, still in heels, lipstick shiny fresh. “Lead on.”
We were looped. Fresh air felt amazing. She shook two cigarettes out of a crumpled pack, one for her, one for me.
“Got a light?” I asked. Remember? I grinned.
“Oh shit,” she said. Patted her pockets. “My lighter. I’ll be right back.”
We hadn’t walked half a block. I watched her scurry back to the Iceberg, swinging her hips in her high-heeled hurry. She flung open the door, swished back inside. For a skinny dude, she had a big butt; this was gonna be way fun. Watching her, I had to adjust my junk. I put my hand in my pocket. Oh yeah. I opened my mouth to call her back. I felt the lighter just as I felt the wall of heat. I don’t remember the sound. I remember flying into the street like a kite, and I remember waking up to beep beep beep in a blinding white room.
The nurses wouldn’t let me watch the news. You were there. You really wanna watch them people blown to bits on a constant loop between Wal-Mart commercials? My sister read me an article from her phone. They’d died by the dozen, trampling each other in a smoke-choked panic, burning like logs in the stairway to Hell. I was burned on my arms, my neck, a good third of my face; Vinda Lou—being among the article’s “lounge patrons nearest the bomb”—was “incinerated,” if you’re gonna believe the Internet.
There were surgeries. There are scars. I’ve recovered to the point some days I can recognize myself in the mirror. As much as it aggravated my sister and the nurses—Why would you want a souvenir from a thing like that?—I kept the lighter. To remember her by, I guess. Although the way she sashays through my dreams, it’s gonna be a while before I forget.