I thought I was stuck for #FridayFlash this week, but then I remembered this Southern Gothic tale I’d written for a writing group a few years ago. It’s funny how experience changes your writing, especially over the span of years. That might make a good blog post at some point, so I’ll just say now that I’m glad to have mostly kicked the “as” habit. For more flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.
We Love Yankees
The First Primitive Church of the Holy Redeemer had the prettiest garden in Sleepy Hills, Georgia. That’s what Missy Smythe thought as she walked down Main Street, camera in hand, looking for local color she could capture and bring back to her studio.
“You look like a young lady who’s going somewhere.” The pleasant drawl belonged to a tall man, grey-haired, with glasses, who knelt behind a hydrangea with a fist full of weeds. The plant had balls of flowers bigger than Missy’s head, each one a brilliant shade of pink or blue. Bees buzzed around them.
Missy smiled. “I don’t know about going,” she said, “I’m just trying to get home.” She’d had a fight with her boyfriend Beau at the Country Bear Jamboree in Disney World, and he’d canceled her ticket and left her there. After renting a car and heading up I-75, she took a random exit in South Georgia just to drive in the shade, and here she was, walking down Main Street with dwindling hopes of finding a coffee shop with something frozen.
The man took off one of his leather gardening gloves. “I’m Rick,” he said and held his hand out, “the pastor.”
“I’m Missy. I’m just passing through.” She shook his hand. It seemed cool in spite of the day’s heat.
“Well now, Missy, no one just ‘passes through’ Sleepy Hills. Why don’t you come to the Church tonight? We’re having a covered dish, and we’d love to have you.”
“A covered dish, when everyone brings something. But you’d be our guest.”
“Oh, a potluck! That’s what we call them at home.”
“And where’s home for you?”
The corners of Rick’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. “We love Yankees around here. We even use Yankee fertilizer on our garden.”
“It’s lovely.” Missy tilted up a crimson hibiscus flower as big as a dinner plate. “I’ve never seen flowers so big! Or bright.”
“It’s the perfect place for them to grow, here in front of the house of God.”
Missy released the flower and with her friendliest smile excused herself. She wasn’t in the mood to talk about God today. In fact, she’d been having sinful thoughts about what to do to Beau when she got back home. Maybe she’d stay a while, make him worry about her…
Main Street brought her into town, where she found an old-fashioned Confectionary Shop. The smell of freshly baked bread lured her in.
“May I help you?” asked a petite woman, her hair a helmet of gray curls frosted with the flour that hung in the air. The white lace curtains in the windows blocked out more light that Missy would’ve thought possible. The cookies and cakes slumbered inside the glass cases like lumpy gremlins. A large black fly bumped against the inside of the window with a buzz-thunk.
“I think so. Do you know where I might find a hotel?”
The woman cocked her head. “Are you new in town, honey?”
“Just passing through. Pastor Rick invited me to a covered dish tonight at the church, and I need a place to stay.”
The woman smiled. “Well, then, you’ll likely be staying at the church.”
“Oh, do they have a guest house?”
“Somethin’ like that.”
Missy watched the flour motes drift in the dim sunlight streaming through the windows. “He didn’t say anything about it.”
“You’ll probably be invited to later. Most Yankees are.”
“And I’ll even bake some of my special cookies for the occasion. We like Yankees here.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Missy felt a droplet of sweat trickle down the back of her neck. The air that swirled the flour didn’t touch the oven-like heat of the store.
“Can I get you something, honey?”
Missy shook her head. The air pressed her eardrums and shot fingers of pain through her temples. “I think I’ll go now.”
“Take a cookie, dear.”
Missy reached for her purse, but the woman shook her head. “Welcome to Sleepy Hills.”
Back in the full sunlight of the sidewalk, Missy took a couple of deep breaths and tried to calm the raised hair on the back of her neck and arms. Something wasn’t right about this place. But they liked Yankees, so she kept walking and munched on the cookie, which tasted of ginger and something else she couldn’t place.
Missy walked back to where she thought she’d parked, but the rental wasn’t there.
A deep breath, then another. Stranded in a weird Southern town with nothing but her camera and her purse. Check that. Her camera. She’d lost her purse. She walked back the way she came, but she didn’t see it, and the Confectionary Store was closed. She couldn’t even find a pay phone. Finally, she went back to the church and knocked on the door.
The wooden door of the church, pitted and scarred from a hundred years of humid summers and dry winters, swung in.
“Hello?” she called. No answer. The air, cool and inviting, drew her in. She found a pew and decided to wait until Pastor Rick re-appeared. Someone couldn’t just disappear forever, right?
The late afternoon light streamed through the stained glass windows and colored Missy, the pews, and the flagstone floor of the church in splotches of crimson, green, and gold. She reached for her camera, but her clumsy fingers wouldn’t work. The colors ran into each other, mixing and melting until a black vortex sucked them in. It, too, faded with the buzz-thunk of a fly against the window.
Pastor Rick found Missy slumped against the corner of the pew and gave her a shake. Nothing. The girl’s shoulder felt cool.
“Well, Miss Ida May, we have another one.”
Ida May, flour still in her curls, shook her head. “Poor dear, the heat must’ve gotten to her.”
They exchanged a knowing smile.
“What should we do?”
“I’m sure she’ll be comfortable resting for eternity in your garden.”
“True. Yankees do make the best fertilizer.”