“I didn’t bring a penny,” I said.
Damien did his best not to look perturbed and fished a penny out of his own pocket to give to me. “Here,” he said, proffering the coin. “Just make a wish, throw the penny in the pond and then jump in after it.”
I took the shiny copper disk from him. “I’ll make a wish and throw the coin in, but I don’t want to jump in the water. It looks all slimy.”
“You have to jump in,” he said, “If you don’t your wish won’t come true.”
I didn’t want to argue with Damien. He had a reputation as being a little off-kilter, but there was no way I was jumping into that scummy pond. I tossed the coin, but it didn’t make the splock sound I was expecting. It had landed on something in the water.
I turned around to see Damien rushing at me…
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12 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Penny for Your Thoughts”
“Is that an alligator?” Said Jimmy, Lisa’s 10-year-old big brother.
Lisa laughed and bit her bottom lip. “He ate Missy.”
“The neighbor’s poodle?”
She laughed. “It went to Alligator World. That’s where he takes them.”
“Them, who?” Said Jimmy. “What else did you feed it?”
“Things I’ll need,” she said, and smiled. “My favorite shoes and teddy bear. Look, his eyes are red when he opens them.”
“They’re closed,” said Jimmy.
“Touch his nose, you’ll see.” She giggled.
Jimmy touched the nose and the alligator quickly opened its red eyes and mouth and took the boy in head-first. Lisa laughed and said, “Now I’ll have a friend with me in Alligator World!”
Over the next hour she fed the reptile her favorite things that she would want to take with her on any long trip. She tapped its nose with a stick to get it to eat some things, such as her favorite brush, some clothes, and the house cat.
“I’ll name you Betty,” she said. “Ok, Betty, I’m ready. Show me those red eyes!” It opened its mouth quickly and she peered into the darkness of the gaping mouth, looking for the magical forest she just knew awaited. Her last word was muffled: “Jimmy?!”
I ducked, and Damien went flying over me. He’d anticipated hitting me up high. Thank goodness I didn’t hesitate.
Running up the embankment, I tripped over a stick. I picked it up, figuring I could use it to defend myself against Damien. But it wasn’t a stick. It was an arm. It was stiff and hard, so I struggled to my feet and stood with it like a baseball bat.
To my surprise, Damien wasn’t chasing me. He was standing at the edge of the green water, wiping the dirt from his knees – and laughing.
“I was wondering where that went!” He held his belly he was laughing so hard. “I guess you could say ‘that arm had legs’!”
My stomach started to come up into my throat when I realized I was actually holding part of a dead guy. “Who – whose arm is this?”
“That, my friend, belongs to the school shrink.”
How? Why? I wanted the answers, but I wanted to get away more. But once I got away – IF I got away – what would stop Damien from coming back after me again and again? I didn’t know what to do.
Finally, I asked. “How’d you get his arm?”
“If you give it to me, I’ll tell you.”
It was then I realized that the arm could save my life. If I brought it to the police, I could tell them what Damien had done to Dr. Novak, and they would lock him up. “How about if you tell me, I’ll give it to you?”
“Okay.” He bent over and picked up a rock. “Dr. Novak told me he was going to tell the police I was a serial killer in training. What an idiot. I’ve already been a serial killer for a long time.” He grinned.
Gator, gator in the pond
With my penny you abscond
“Arrrrgugh,” Melissa groaned tearing the page from her notebook, wadding it up sending another two-pointer to her trash basket.
There was an old lady from Mudsville
Who did her wash in Sudsville
When crossing the stream
She let out a scream
That silly old lady from Mudsville.
“Teacher said a poem not a limerick.” she said as she slam-dunked yet another two-pointer.’
In sophomore literature class next day Melissa sank low in her seat, hoping to avoid Miss Sheldon’s attention.
“Melissa, you want to read the class your poem?”
“No, poem, ma’am.”
“Then pay attention to those who made the effort.”
“I did and they were stupid. ‘Sides I hate poetry and I can listen and think at the same time.”
“Please, share what you were thinking just now while listening.”
“How that wrinkled-up old gator came to have a penny on its head? Then it came to me it was the tearful girl standing on the bridge above the mud!
“Throw a penny and I’ll give you a penny’s worth of advice,” the gator said swimming toward her.
“What do you know?”
“Throw me a penny and find out.”
The gartor smiled, rolled over and caught the penny atop its head.
“Don’t you know it’s best to roll with the punches? I do.”
“I can’t she cried. My life is ruined, everyone is laughing at me.”
“Cause I’m fat.”
“Look good to me.”
“Yeah, and you’re a gator.”
The gator’s jaws snapped closed on air. Air where my legs used to be. Damien tackled me out of the way of certain doom. But it wasn’t over yet. That gator wasn’t happy about the lost meal. It snapped at my feet again as we rolled away from it.
Damien quick on his feet, grabbed a large stick. He held it ready, dancing to entice the gator to come at him. It struck at him, but he was ready. I felt like I was watching a cartoon when the gator chomped down on the stick. With it’s mouth wedged open, I knew we would not have much time.
I pulled at Damien’s shirt. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Good choice.” He didn’t look back to see if I was following him.
Not far from the struggling gator, we heard the crack of the stick in its mouth snapping. Damien and I shared a glance then pushed harder to outrun the gator.
I’ve heard that alligators are fast, but until now I did not realize just how fast. The beast was nipping at our heals. Why did we park so damn far away? In hindsight, that was a really bad idea.
I pulled ahead of Damien. He never did have much stamina for sustained running. It was the scream that I wasn’t ready for. No way I was going back for him. I made it to the car out of breath. There was no way I was going back for him.
I simply stepped to the side as Damian flew past me. It all went just as I planned, and once again Jezebel was one happy gator. If a gator could smile she would be grinning from ear to ear. Boy did she have a great death roll, I was so proud of her.
One thing people have got to learn is just because I’m poor, I ain’t trash. Damian and his buddies tormented me from day one. Well, look whose laughing now. Jezebel and I go back a few years. Momma said I had to get rid of her when she got too big for her tank. The pond was close to our house, and it was a perfect new home for my pet.
Damian’s arm flew up as he grasped at the air, like it would pull him out of Jez’s mouth. Yep, she was just about done and would tuck him away for later, she liked her meat gamy. She let him surface so I could see his face, eyes the size of momma’s teacup saucers pleaded for help.
“Hmm, sorry Damian. Hey, penny for your thoughts?”
I made my way up the hill thinking about Jez’s next meal.
“Run you idiot!” Damien flew past me, knocking me sideways in his haste.
I turned to see the biggest gator I’d ever seen rise out of the stagnant water. I was too terrified to move as the ancient-looking creature drew closer.
“Don’t just stand there, run!” Damien screamed from several feet away, while leaving me to my own demise.
The gator stopped directly in front of me and the tough scaled facial features suddenly took on a softer appearance. Then an ‘eyebrow’ rose and it cocked its head to the side.
“Ya’ll a Cajun?” it said.
I shook my head negatively, too shocked for words.
“That’s a shame. I was hungry for some Cajuns.”
“Y-you’re talking?” My mouth was dry and I could barely form the words.
The gator sat up on its hind legs, while using its tail for balance and pointed to my hand. “Well of course I’m a talkin. Ya’ll gots the magic penny, right?”
I opened my hand.
“Ah ha!” The gator laughed. “You gets your’n wish, but you gotta come real close and whisper it in my ear.”
My heard pounded as I inched closer. An earsplitting scream suddenly came from behind and I turned to see Damien struggling in the jaws of another gator.
“What’d you do?”
“I read your thoughts, boy. He won’t bully you anymore.”
A wicked little smile touched the corner of my mouth as I watched the gator slip back into the slimy water.
“Next time bring me some Cajuns!”
I thought the penny landed on a log but two eyes opened as it hit.
Confused and fearful I turned around to see Damian rushing at me. He grasped my wrist painfully.
The realisation he really was a nut job dawned on me. Oh, oh.
“Let go! You’re hurting me!”
I tried to pull away but he held tight and screamed in my face,
“You didn’t do it right. It has to land IN the water and YOU have to jump in after it. You’ve ruined everything! “
His crazed eyes bore into mine as he pushed another coin into my hand.
“This penny is going into the pond and you with it!” he hissed. Damian grabbed me round my middle and lifted me off the ground in a crushing bear hug. He let out a terrifying roar, his face a contorted mask of rage. Racing to the edge of the pond, he readied himself to throw me in.
As I pushed futilely at his face, the penny slipped from my grasp and tipped into his open mouth.
He dropped me and his hands flew to his throat. He stumbled around, eyes bugging, face turning blue, emitting a horrible keening sound. He was choking on the penny!
As he staggered towards me I spun and kicked him hard in the stomach, knocking him off his feet and into the water. Yellow eyes followed as Damian slipped beneath the surface.
“Penny for your thoughts Damian,” I whispered. “ Make a wish.”
I froze—and fell backwards.
Damien’s 1914-D wheat penny had landed on the head of an alligator—or maybe a crocodile—that was half submerged in the murky water. As foul fluid rushed up my nose, I didn’t care what the beast was. A monster with fetid breath planned to devour me.
Its teeth were sharp. Period.
Now that I’m about to die, you’d think my mind would focus on something besides insignificant details.
I pushed myself off the bottom. When my head broke the surface, the creature’s guttural growl sounded like a roaring lion in an echo chamber. I smelled death—mine. I gasped for air, and swallowed a mouthful of brackish liquid.
This is like a slow-motion movie clip. I wonder if he pushed me on purpose.
I realized that the pond was shallow enough for me to stand—not that it would help. The monster was almost upon me.
Damien yelled. “Get out. Move!” He pelted the creature with rocks. “Hurry.”
My pants tangled on a branch but my efforts to dislodge them were futile.
The creature grabbed my leg. The water churned red. My heart raced and I panted. My lungs demanded more air.
“Keith. Keith, wake up.”
Damien shook me. My eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness of our dorm room.
He smirked. “A penny for your thoughts.”
“I’m sorry I threw your collector’s coin in the toilet this morning.”
He shrugged. “It’s all right.”
“Then why do you have your hands around my thr—”
“Zagliani,” she said in a sigh of pure pleasure as she rolled in her home planet’s rejuvenating muck. Not that she needed rejuvenation, her hide’s ridges and winkles were that of a Gator half her age.
Mezlan proudly wore the copper penny head-badge marking her as master chef for all the thousands of cognizant species who’d conquered space. It took centuries to learn the intricacies of all the various gastronomical preferences in the universe and her people, the Crock-A-Gators, had the longest lifespan.
Tomorrow she’d make history when she took command of the pristine kitchen aboard the first commercial thought-speed liner on its year-long maiden voyage. Guests had two weeks between each of the eight planets-of-call to sample her incredible species sensitive feasts.
“Zagliani,” she whispered remembering her lover for the obligatory Nesting. In the several millennium since she’d dreamt of him often. “Zagliani,” she whimpered.
“Blessed Muck! Mezlan Brog-gan. Penny for your thoughts, lover,” his desire humming loud and clear. Ancient Earth philosophers said daydreams create reality. They were right.
“Zagliani,” she said not disguising the humming hunger low in her belly. This time she’d play hard to get before she let him catch her.
“You’re looking first-rate, Zagliani,” using her own siren’s call. “Wanna join me on a little trip around a few galaxies?”
“Already aboard, nest-making for you,” he said smiling at her confused look. “I’m your assistant. Wanna make a little culinary history?” he said stepping into the mire.
So much for playing hard to get…
“I didn’t bring a penny,” I said.
Damien fished one from his pocket. “Here,” he said, proffering the coin. “Just make a wish, throw the penny in the pond and then jump in after it.”
I took the shiny copper disk from him. “I’ll make a wish and throw it in, but I won’t jump in. The water looks slimy.”
“You have to jump in,” he said. “If you don’t your wish won’t come true.”
I didn’t want to argue with Damien. He had a reputation for being off-kilter, but there was no way I was jumping into that scummy pond. I tossed the coin, but it didn’t make the splock sound I was expecting. It had landed on something in the water.
I turned to see Damien rushing at me, no doubt to push me in after the shiny red wish penny. My old Torero training kicked in, and I side-stepped the rushing bull-sh*t artist. Lacking sword or lance, I used an elbow to gouge his ribs as he blundered past. He took two extra long strides before regaining his equilibrium, but not in time to stop on the dock. Damien went over and into the pond.
That was when I spied the six foot American Alligator swimming toward Damien, with the shiny red penny on its head.
I grabbed the dockline and made ready to toss it. “You’d better catch this; it looks like you have only one chance at it.”
“Make it a good one,” he said.
There is this thing and it’s hanging around the house all the time and it’s gross, like it’s made out of some kind of leather. “Was this alive once?” “It’s an alligator.” “It’s never. Look at all this white stuff coming out of it.” “That’s cotton-batten.” “I don’t know what that is.” “You’re stupid.” (I never know what is going on anyway because I am five. My brother is ten and thinks he knows everything about the alligator with all the white stuff coming out of it.) “See, you rub its stomach like this” (rubs its stomach like this) “and it goes to sleep.” “Not on Tarzan.” “This isn’t Tarzan.” “I’m throwing it away.” ‘Give it back.” (My brother will die when he is 31 in a house fire, but right now he is ten and knows everything about the alligator.) “I’m taking it.” “GIVE IT BACK.” “It’s gross, I’m going to bury it. It’s all cracked. It’s never an alligator anyway.” “OK it’s a crocodile like they have in Africa on Tarzan.” “But those kinds of things roll around, you know, in the water.” (My brother will have a hard life and be in the hospital a lot. I will miss him when he is gone.) “Come back with that.” “You’ll never find it”. And he never did, not until the rains came. And not even then.
Magic is finicky. I’d seen it work before, but not too reliably and there were many charlatans around. But I trusted Damien, loved him. Still, this was one of his wackier ideas, crazier than their hasty marriage three weeks ago.
“You want to jump into that scuzzy water, be my guest. There’s no way I am.”
A frown creased his brow. “We’ve been over this. If you don’t jump in after tossing the coin the magic won’t work. I can’t swim.”
He massaged his head, revealing dark green marks on his arm.
“What’s that green smudge?”
Damien snapped his sleeve down, covering the splotches. He seemed unusually irritated. “Nothing, just some paint.”
I shrugged. He was the magic expert. With a flick I tossed the copper coin in the air. It arced high, then dove strait for the wish pond. Instead of a splash, I heard thump.
Curious, I leaned over to look, but a flicker of movement made me turn. Arms extended, Damien charged, the green ‘paint’ on his arms clearly textured like alligator skin. Yellow reptilian eyes shone with soulless intensity.
My heart shattered with understanding. Damien was a Gator Shaman, bound to the creatures by blood… and I was his next sacrifice. No wonder he knew so much magic. But he didn’t count on my reflexes. Damien tumbled into the water. He cried once before the alligator bit.
I guess he really couldn’t swim. At least I’d inherit his gold. Some wishes do come true.
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