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Flash Fiction Friday: No One at The End of The World by Dustin Reade

I saw the homeless man on the other side of the street as I was waiting for the light to change. He was sitting cross-legged in front of the pharmacy.

The light changed.

I crossed the street and approached him on the curb. He had two sliding glass doors in the center of his forehead. A dim light poured through the doors as he looked up at me, meeting my eyes.

“What’s with your head?” I asked stupidly.

“I have an open mind,” he said. “Open from six a.m. to nine p.m. most weekdays, closed all major holidays.”

I nodded. The homeless man held out his hand. I dug in my pockets for a quarter and tossed it to him. As he caught it, something strange happened and I felt my stomach lurch.

Suddenly his dirty frame engulfed my field of vision. I felt my arms and legs shrivel up into miniature arms and legs. I was shrinking.

The homeless man pulled a handful of peanuts from his coat pocket and began chewing them noisily. He towered over me a like a god. A rat the size of a washing machine began shuffling towards me, balancing along the high wall of the gutter.

I scrambled up the frayed ends of the homeless man’s corduroy pant leg.

“Help me!” I screamed. “Help! Save me!”

He picked me up just as the rat leapt in for the kill. His palm was vaguely grey, creased with dirt and grime. I saw filthy yellow half-moons on the reverse sides of his fingernails.

“I have an open mind,” he said again, setting me on a ledge before the two glass doors on his forehead. “Open right now, just for you.”

The doors opened into a vast grocery store. Only instead of food on the shelves, there were people.

Thousands of people, naked, dangling from hooks, folded up on shelves, packaged together like hotdogs. I raced through the store. Down every aisle it was the same. Black people, White people, even Red and Purple people. They all hung silently from their display shelves, watching me as I ran from one aisle to the next. A few shouted pitches at me as I passed, enticing me to buy them. “I do windows!” one said. “Me too,” another cried.  “And I won’t leave any unsightly stains on the sofa!”

“Sorry,” I shouted, passing the multi-colored menagerie as quickly as my legs would carry me. “No time!”

I didn’t know what it was I was running from, or towards, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of intense urgency. Like I was already very late for something, and I had forgotten what it was.

I came to a set of grey double-doors beside a deli full of sleeping children. I pushed my way through and entered into a poorly lit hallway. The walls were lined with bodies, piled high, some reaching as far as the ceiling.

Checking the bodies, I found they were not dead, but sleeping.

I followed the hallway until I came to a single, white door labeled, ‘Employee Lounge’. I went inside. The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air, and a partially eaten sandwich waited on a plate. Other than the sandwich, I was alone.

I sat down at a table and wondered aloud: “What is going on around here?”

“You are in the head of a homeless man,” someone said. “And you are waiting for the light to change.”

“Who said that?” I leapt to my feet, holding a plastic knife defensively before me. I tool a wild stab at the air…

“No One,” they said, taking a seat beside me. “Sit down and I will explain.”

I sat.

No One said: “At the End of the World, there is a row of multi-colored people. They are all dressed alike in white turtlenecks and khaki pants. There are two white people. They make love very quietly in the nighttime. They never make any noise.

“There are Red People, too. Red People with dark red teeth and bright red hair. They are afraid of the sun. It makes their freckles melt off their faces. The freckles are angry. It is said that they bite. The Red People do not understand any language, but they like to watch the White People make love very quietly in the nighttime.

“Four Purple People dangle from an aisle in the Grocery Store. They do not move. They have no limbs and are constructed of solid bone. The Yellow People use them as coffee tables, putting coasters on their backs while they smoke cigarettes and laugh at the White People as they make love very quietly in the nighttime. The Red People are Purple People Eaters.

“I am one of the very lucky ones. I have no color. People know I am there when they cannot see me. They talk to me when they are alone. They tell me about their day. That is how I learned of colors, and that is how I have come to know so much about the End of the World.”

The voice faded away and I exited the Employee Lounge. The smell of smoke died slowly behind me as I passed the stacks of sleeping bodies. Some black, some red, some yellow, some white. I pushed through the heavy grey doors by the deli and made my way to the glass doors at the front of the store.

I saw the city, and the telephone poles, and the Homeless Man’s legs.

Taking a deep breath, I leapt from the doors and landed in his lap. He smiled gently at me and I returned to my original size.

I walked home in the rain, no longer the same color.

__________

Dustin Reade is a funeral director-in-training. He lives in Port Angeles, Washington with his three-year-old daughter, Percephone, and their rat, Michael Jackson. He has been published in several anthologies, as well as a handful of magazines. He likes the rain and gloom of the Pacific Northwest, and will not be moving anytime soon.

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