Main street used to be the center of activity in our little town. I got my first haircut right down the street at Luther’s Barber Shop.
When I was a teenager, we used to hang out at the fountain over at Huxley’s Pharmacy across the street.
Times change. Main Street got pretty run down for a few years. Most of the merchants couldn’t compete with the big box stores.
Now there’s a couple of new places opening.
Think I’ll go see what they’re selling.
In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.
Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.
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12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Main Street”
I leaned out the window and saw his distinctive pale hat gleaming in the streetlight below. He stopped right below me and studied the Riptide menu, standing back a little to see it better.
Eyes not so good my friend? Getting old eh?
‘This is my chance,’ I thought.
I reached for my long handled bolt cutters and leaned slowly outwards. Oh so carefully and quietly I crunched through both wires at once at the point where they crossed. Of course he heard the sound and looked up.
Because he was looking up, the falling steel crab got him full in the face. He didn’t die. But he’d never be pretty again. He wouldn’t be stealing any more of my girls.
I love reliving the next few moments as he staggered blindly up the street with his hands over his face, trying to stem the flow of blood obscuring his eyes. He crashed through three heavy concrete potplant tubs – then tripped over a set of low steps and collapsed unconscious, face down in a pool of blood.
They tried and tried but no matter how hard they scrubbed , they could never quite remove the bloodstains from those steps. I see them daily as I pass on my way home from the fishmarket, a pleasant reminder of what comes to those who try to take what is mine.
Of course I made sure the long-handled cutters were at the bottom of the bay, well before the police arrived.
It ‘s still pretty much a ghost town, like I said the big box stores came and pretty soon everything disappeared including them. Arrogant creatures, humans. I’m an old man now, but I remember life, as we knew it—gone in a New York minute.
The cerulean sky held back the secret for as long as possible and then the reveal. God! There must have thousands of them, other life forms and we soon found out we were on the bottom of the pecking order. The war raged until they became bored with the hunt. Nothing remained.
Young Pete Flanders passed the word that two stores had opened up in town. I wondered if that old crab still hung over the restaurant? Well curiosity dang well got the better of me. Side by side the sentinels stood their ground, guarding their secret. Yep, the crab was still flying in the breeze. Next door a freshly painted storefront with old tapestry curtains hanging across the front window bid me welcome. Voices drifted from another room, I tiptoed to the threshold; I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Tables heavily laden with something I thought I’d never see again, books, hundreds of them. Weren’t they all destroyed? Sandy McGinty took me by the arm, “Come along and let’s see what we can find.”
“How did this?”
“Authors, Indie authors. Ignored for years they kept writing, and now are sharing their gifts with the world.”
I wondered what treasures the old Riptide might hold?
The shop painted burgundy piqued my interest first. The renovations were only half finished, I hated the colour. Still, I was compelled to try the door. To my astonishment the handle turned and the door gave way. I stood in front of the opening, hesitant. This was the shop that ruined me. I never wanted it, but after Dad died I felt responsible for the business. It wasn’t all bad – I met the love of my life in this shop, but then again, she left after it bankrupted me.
“Are you going to come in?” A young voice startled me out of my past. I cleared my throat and stepped inside. The door slammed behind me and I felt dizzy. Groaning, I leaned against the nearby wall. When the world stopped spinning I looked around and felt my jaw going slack, the room had changed.
“I’m not open yet.” The young man began, walking around the counter. That was all there was, a counter, and a boy shaped by flickering candlelight in an otherwise shapeless void. All else was black. “But I can make an exception for you.” The soft cheeked youth made his way toward me. Despite appearances he carried the weight of age on his shoulders and around his smouldering eyes. “Tell me your troubles, darling, I can give you what you desire.”
“Can you give me my life back?” I grumbled. He took my hand.
“At a price.”
Up in smoke, the newspaper-stand and the boy heard for blocks outside Geddes’ Tobacconists.
Chimed out, Sally-Anne’s bells at the entrance to The Thrift Store, and, burnt-out, the spicy bouquet of ‘Ms. Magik’s’ home-made soaps, candles and perfumery, the exotic aroma from ‘Mingeeta’s’ that’d blend with them that’d be ‘curried’ in our windows. Tongue-tied, licked by flames, Luther’s, the cat-wailing barbers – a dentist’s now. But the old man shouldn’t have been living there. Run out of time, old Gassy Jack, the steam-clock that‘d chime unexpectedly in the night. And sugar-free, these days, children; silenced; too busy playing computer games to run excitedly into Prudence’s for boiled candy, to scream with delight amid the refreshing mist of the fountain in summertime. Kicked away, the flickering neon sign of a massive boot with an electrical buzz so loud that it might’ve taken flight from Zagreb the Cobbler’s.
Yup… don’t recognise the old street, transmogrified; even buskers moved on for daring to fiddle a penny or two; bylaws uptight.
Yes, I like to think that I could go see what they’ve built down there now… but then I keep saying that; agoraphobia ain’t gonna get up and walk itself out the door after forty years though… well… ‘cept for that one time someone set half the street ablaze. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do; that box of matches best tuppence I ever spent. ‘Heritage’ my ass.
Yes, quiet in the old neighbourhood now. Peaceful. Orderly. Gentrified.
I couldn’t believe my job had transferred me to this quiet little town. It was practically deserted, killed by the recession. I’m sure in its hey-day it had been bustling and brimming with street vendors and happy customers. Not anymore.
The storefronts had been repainted, but their contents were the same-old same-old. Tee-shirts, trinkets, used books, yaddah yaddah. Whatever. No wonder they were bereft of customers. I continued my stroll to the ecru building. Window shopping just wasn’t as fun without my friends. I was going to have to get used to the fact that I was alone here. At least I felt safe.
It wasn’t the fashion displayed inside that caught my eye. I’m not sure what it was. The female mannequins were wearing black fitted tank dresses with long, sheer layers over them, and the latter fluttered and sparkled in the breeze from the desk fan. Very smart, I thought, using motion and shiny things to catch the eyes of passers-by.
I studied the mannequins – their poses were so natural. One man and a woman were seated at a small table, leaning forward as if in intense conversation. The other couple was locked in an embrace, with the woman shying away from the man’s gaze. It reminded me of a modern version of the Renoir painting Danse a Bougival. It was fascinating. I couldn’t resist the urge to go inside.
The bell jingled, announcing my entry. I immediately felt a blast of cold air. I shuddered. When I got closer to the mannequins, I realized why it was so frigid. They were corpses. I spun towards the door only to see a woman with a big grin and an even bigger knife. She locked the door.
I wasn’t alone. Poised in front of the two new shops, I smiled at my familiar compatriots, those Sole Seekers of Stimulation.
Jackson braved the first store himself, seconds before we all filed in, ding-a-linging its bell and looking around us. Inside, nothing seemed out of the ordinary––antique knick-knacks, history books, and an old fortune-tellers’s booth in the SE corner.
Our fearless leader be-lined towards the teller’s lair, pulling its side lever and ignoring our chuckles as we continued our own explorations.
But soon, we grew collectively restless. “Hey, let’s go check out the shop next door!” was tossed out and before we knew it, we stood in a place whose decor rang out as polar opposite. Metallic furniture, trendy objects-d’art, and a painted white-arrowed path angled towards a bathroom. Obviously the rest of the world took Feng Shui a tad more seriously than was usually evidenced on Main Street.
Peter headed towards the WC as I looked for a missing Jackson, whose name, along with Peter’s cropped up later while we sipped our Styrofoam-cupped coffee in the park. We were busy discussing the probably dire fate these mismatched stores would surely encounter and where the hell were our two Diehards, when a brisk wind flurried our napkins and sent two sheets of paper towards us.
“PLEASE get me home! 1303 is not what I thought it would be!’ wrote Peter.
“1732 is so ghastly! Bring me back, PLEASE!” signed Jackson
I parked halfway on the sidewalk at the corner of Main Street. Hat pulled low over my brow and coat collar up over my chin. I strolled down the street which wore an air of neglect.
A few people were milling about, youths stood chatting and shivering in the cold air. A couple of old timers who were cursing the weather, ceased their gossip and eyed me suspiciously as I continued toward my destination trying not to limp but being unsuccessful. My bum leg burned like a hot poker and this damn cold fanned the heat.
Nearing the middle building on the south side my heart began an irregular thumping, my ears buzzed and I broke into a sweat. I had to know you see, needed to find out what the old bakery was now. The shiny new store front did little to dull my memory, images of the fire swirled in my mind. I could actually feel the flames again hungrily devouring my flesh.
Someone uttered a keen moaning sound then I realised it came from me. A guy with a roll up hanging from his lip asked if I was ok then gasped in horror as I turned to look at him. The bright winter sun lit my face, revealing it in all its scarred and mangled glory.
I pointed up at the sign over the store window and my grotesque mouth grinned. The sign said: Health and Beauty. Oh man, the irony of it
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Memories play tricks, especially with feelings.
I hadn’t been back home, or rather, where I grew up, for ages. But when Mom took her last breath in the nursing home, where she’d languished for nine years, something drew me back. Maybe I wanted closure. I don’t know. I had closed and sold the house back when Mom could no longer look after herself, so that wasn’t it.
The Queens Hotel used to be a hot spot. Saturdays they had live bands, food, booze, and everyone gathered there to shake off the stresses of their work week. I used to join them before I left to make my way in the world. Now the dingy bar and drab room I place my weekend bag in seemed hung with a sad shroud.
I trod the main drag with reluctant feet to where Huxley’s Pharmacy used to sit. Now, when I looked through the dusty window, the happy voices of kids chugging after-school sodas faded ghost-like from my mind, ephemeral shadows of what they had been. The bright coloured store-fronts from my childhood mocked me, tired and worn beyond recovery, resigned, waiting the final knell that would signify their end. Some had already passed, dead eyed windows open soul-less onto the street.
My wander through the new box stores nailed the final blow. “Home” had been replaced by neon conformity, cloned consumption and plastic value.
The adage was right; you can’t go home again.
I had my first kiss on Main Street, outside the art gallery that used to be a fashion boutique. The name of the store escapes me, but I’ll never forget the name of the girl: Delilah. She was an Army brat with strawberry blonde hair that surfed just past her shoulders. We were walking past the Riptide and stopped to admire a blue dress in the display window. The boutique was closed but a soft light shone on the dress, beckoning Delilah. “Look at it,” she whispered. The dress shimmered and seemed to move like the calm but restless motion of the bay.
I wished I could buy it for her, but with my after-school job, I’d have to work for 20 years to afford that thing. I stepped behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. I had never done such a thing, and I can’t say what propelled me forward, other than the reflection of Delilah’s transfixed eyes in the window. My heart thudded against my chest. “I’d rob every bank in the world and go to jail forever just to buy you that dress,” I said.
It was the worst line in the history of romance. But it worked. She turned and smiled, surely because I was more of a sweet loser than a cavalier stud, and she kissed me.
We never had a second kiss. Her family moved again – where, I don’t know – and I returned to the quiet routine of my senior year.
Mike sneezed as the cloud of patchouli incense assaulted his sinuses. “Hello?” He fished a tissue out of his pocket. “You advertised for a groomer?”
An old dude with a gray ponytail and a Warren Zevon T-shirt popped out from the back, drying his hands on a towel. “Namaste,” he growled. “Sorry about the ambiance. It’s the only thing that covers up the wet dog smell. Keeps the neighbors from complaining. It’s not gonna be a problem, is it?”
Mike shook his head and sneezed again.
“Most people get used to it.” The guy eyeballed him, one brow climbing his forehead. “No offense, brother, but you look kind of puny for this work. Some of these critters pack serious poundage.”
“I had a bunch of Irish wolfhounds at my last gig,” Mike said.
“Wolfhounds. Funny.” Crooking a hand, he gestured for Mike to follow him into the back. “They can smell fear. So be cool.”
“Be cool?” Mike said. “I love dogs.”
The dude smirked as he pulled back the curtain. “Just remember that.”
Mike gaped. There was a big tub. And one giant cage. Eight hounds paced a restless loop, softly whimpering. Their variegated coats blended and swirled as they moved under the dim lights.
“They like to stay together. Pack animals.” He turned to Mike. “So when can you start?”
One hound bared a glistening fang. “Uh, right away?”
“Groovy. We’d better hurry, though.” In the shadows, the dude’s eyes seemed to glow. “There’s a full moon tonight.”
Main Street used to be the hub of our little town. It still is, but things have certainly changed.
“Luther’s Barber Shop”, where I got my first haircut, is now a tattoo parlor. “Jones the Butcher” is no longer here – it’s been replaced by “JB’s Hip-Hop Clothing”. “George’s Greengrocer” is now “Super-Mart”. And the crab that heralded “Riptide by the Bay” restaurant now hangs out the front of an STD clinic.
The only thing that remains unchanged is the fountain outside “Huxley’s Pharmacy” (now “Buy-Cheap Chemist”). I used to hang out here with my friends, whistling at the pretty girls, smoking, and trying to look cool.
I remember standing at the edge of this fountain, throwing in a coin, and wishing that things would change. That I would stop living my boring life in this boring town, and that my life would be full of adventure.
That year, I got my high school sweetheart pregnant and thought that was the end of that. But wishes have a funny way of coming true. Whilst we stayed in this town, things were anything but boring. Our life together was an adventure in itself. Unfortunately, my wife and son are no longer here …
“Do you have a coin, dear?” I ask my pretty companion.
She hands me a coin and I toss it into the fountain. I wish everything would go back to the way it was, I silently intone.
My nurse turns my wheelchair around and we head back to the old-people’s home.
With any luck, I’ll be back tomorrow, one way or another.
Ever since my folks took me to Riptide by the Bay as a kid, it’s been my favorite restaurant. They plopped a huge steamed lobster in front of me and I was hooked. Tore the whole thing apart and ate it myself. That old restaurant is one of the few places left here on Main Street from my youth. Even Luther’s Barber Shop, where I got my first haircut closed. And Huxley’s pharmacy across the street, they went bust two years ago. I sure miss their soda fountain. I spent a good portion of my teen years hanging out there.
I guess life is all about change. I’m certainly not the same fellow I was fifty years ago. This old street has taken quite a beating, but it’s not dead yet. The coffee place next door to Riptide isn’t bad. And that new pastry shop makes the most delicious éclairs. New paint is on dozens of shops. Brickwork has been cleaned up. The sounds and smells of life abound.
Grand openings are wonderful, but today feel like a grand reopening. I’m going to check out a few new places today. Not sure what a bear essential store sells, but maybe they’ll have something my wife would like. And I bet bare secrets will have a great gift for my grandkids. I have a coupon for some kind of flavored pants. They must have meant paint. Sounds odd, but you never know what you’ll find if you don’t look.
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