Flash Fiction: Countdown to Payback

Every two weeks writers have the chance to take part in Soliloquies Anthology’s Flash Fiction contest. We publish a new writing prompt as a starting point, and you write a story in 300 words or less. 

Countdown to Payback

12:00 AM

The air is crisp and cold. Fumbling through my trench coat, I find my last cigarette.

“Marlboro Reds, a true American classic.”

They say the average cigarette lasts fifteen minutes at a slow-to-moderate burn.  Fifteen minutes feels like an eternity for a smoker in these winter months, as civilized society has found it routinely acceptable to push us out into the elements as if we are second-class citizens.

I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway. Around this time of year, I can can’t help but feel the cold creep back into my dusty old bones. It’s fifteen degrees below zero, about the same temperature I remember on that day in December, the day that I got the news. The reporter said it was a single forty-five caliber—about an inch and a half in length—that took her away from me. She always was delicate and fragile, pale white like the Manhattan snow stretched over this dark and haunted alleyway.

12:05 AM

Doc says I should quit. Way I figure, the more of these cancer sticks I cycle through, the closer I get to being way back home with her. Time’s not important to me now anyway. So long as I have just enough to wash these sins from my hands one last time, my redemption waits ten minutes away, and ten feet up this never-ending alleyway. Three tours through the gunfire and hell in Vietnam and this grungy seventy-seventh street alleyway is the crap I come back home to.

“Go figure.”

12: 07 AM

Somewhere along the line of my twisted run-away American dream, I find myself as nothing more than a silhouette under the glow of a lamp-post. Never figured myself for the film-noir, detective fiction type, but I guess we never truly are what we intend or invent for ourselves.

12:09 AM

Word around the streets is, “Big VJ” ordered the hit while I was away in Saigon on my third tour. He didn’t count on a dishonorable discharge, but hell, neither did I. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, and contrary to what any B-rate Hollywood “Hoo-Rah” military movie will tell you, there’s no glory in the Marine Corps. Just regret, sadness, and my old friend, sin.

I did what I had to do, to pay the bills. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the only way I could.

12: 11 AM

The glow of my stub-length cigarette is the hourglass which marks the final moments on this cold, twisted Earth.

12:13 AM

I approach Clean Mac’s bar. Word is, Big VJ likes to pass the time there, surrounded by his inbred lackeys.

12:15 AM

I swing open the bar door.

My hands find their way back to the inside of my trench coat. This time, it isn’t a cigarette that they’ve found.

“The reporter said it was a forty-five caliber that took her away from me…”

Author Bio

Anthony Pintabona writes with a melancholy only possible through an addiction to The Smashing Pumpkins.

For more Flash Fiction prompts and winners, visit soliloquies.ca/flash-fiction