A writer from Goodreads told me about author, Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge contests and this week’s challenge was to select one of 24 photos of actual places that don’t look like they are actual places and create a story that utilizes the image in some way and is 1,000 words or less. Here’s what I came up with:
When Dave Allbright entered the office he stopped dead in his tracks, believing for an instant that Charlie Mays, the man sitting behind the desk with a phone pressed to his ear, was dead. Charley didn’t move, didn’t blink, didn’t acknowledge Allbright and didn’t utter a word until his right arm slowly descended to return the receiver back in it’s cradle with a soft click.
“Jesus, Charlie. You all right,” Allbright asked. He sat down in one of the leather chairs facing his boss’s desk. A small laugh, actually more like a puff of air emerged from Charlie’s throat. It was the kind of response a guy might make when he and his wife are getting ready for bed and a moment after he turns out the light she says she’s leaving him for their optometrist.
“I just got off the phone with one of our crisis management guys in Europe. You know, I can’t even remember his name. A limey, I think. Anyway, you’ll never guess who’s the toast of the town in Senegal?” Charlie turned his chair around to face the window overlooking the Hudson and Jersey City on the other side.
“Who’s the toast of the town?”
“We are. Pepto Bismol. Pepto Bismol is the toast of the town. Particularly if you live in or around a certain, what is it? Lake Retba. They love us there.”
“What are you talking about? The only markets we have in Africa are South Africa and Tanzania.” Charlie spun his chair around slowly and leaned across the desk, looking directly at Allbright for the first time that day. He grinned and Allbright suddenly saw the image of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” pinballing across his brain for a brief instant before disappearing again.
“We got Senegal now, well, at least Lake Retba. Wanna hear how?”
“Let me get some coffee first,” Allbright said, pushing himself out of his chair and crossing the office to where a coffee urn from the 18th Century sat regally on a black walnut credendza of approximately the same vintage. “You want something?”
“Yeah, see if you can find a bullet and a gun over there and if you can’t find a gun, just a bullet’s fine. Maybe I can push it through my forehead with my thumb.”
Allbright returned with his coffee and sat down.
“Story of my life,” Charlie said. “Here it is. Some knuckleheaded marketing PR guy decided it would be a great Mother Theresa moment if we loaded a hundred thousand gallons of Pepto Bismol and transported it by helicopter to a refugee camp in some God forsaken place in West Africa only the rubber band or whatever the hell they use snapped and the whole kit and caboodle came crashing down on some rocks in the middle of Lake Retba, Senegal and the entire body of water, at least what I can see from the photo, is now pink.”
“Jesus H. Why would we be giving refugees Pepto Bismol in the first place? I thought the biggest problem was that they didn’t have food to begin with! Who approved this?”
“Apparently I did.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I approve all sorts of stuff. Thousands of things. Who’s got time to scrutinize everything? If I looked at everything like it was the agreement for a Microsoft Word software update, I’d never get anything off my desk.”
“Jesus, Charlie. Jesus. Who knows?”
Charlie stood up and walked over to the credenza. “Most of the fish for sure. Probably some birds, crocodiles, hyenas, I figure whoever starred in that kid’s picture, “A Lion King”, they know. A couple of fishermen and oh, the President of Senegal. He knows. The limey crisis guy, what the hell is his name, it’s bugging the daylights out of me. Said he received an email from the President of Senegal this morning. Apparently the President speaks Spanish, too. Said he must have mentioned the word “Valdez” something like thirty times in the email.”
He crouched down to select a bottle of Scotch from a bottom cabinet and poured eight ounces of it into a coffee cup and wandered slowly back to his desk, pausing to stare out the window for a long moment before draining the cup in one swallow, tossing in onto a leather couch on the other side of the office and sitting down again. “Dead man walking. That’s me. ‘Hi! My name is Michelle. Have you met my husband, Dead Man Walking? No dessert for him, he’s on a diet’.”
“C’mon, Charlie, get a grip. There has to be a way to spin this. Any chance the Bismol is good for the fish? You know, environmentally? Maybe we could get lucky here.”
“They got a pink lake, Dave.”
“Well, I guess the only way to fix it then is with a little green,” Allbright said as he stood up. The two men looked at each other and smiled.
“A lot of green,” they said at the same time before laughing out loud.
© 2013 The Monkey Bellhop and John Hartnett