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The 2nd Story for NYC Midnight, posted by Michael Trice

So, Monday I leave Texas for Oregon, which in today’s mad, mad world somehow manages to be on my way to England. Before that I wanted to share the 2nd flash story of the competition.

Title: A Place to Keep Them

Genre: Ghost Story

Object: Horseshoe

Place: Circus

SYNOPSIS: A young man on a first date becomes unexpectedly bound to the latest object of his affection, a free-spirit with a collection even more odd than his own.


The young couple clutched hands as they ran through a pasture packed with rows of cars abandoned with all the grace of a minefield.  They chased the nighttime glow of a distant bonfire, around which rested a cluster of tents, bustling crowds, and a swirling feast of scents and cacophony. For James the aromas struck him the most: burning cedar, melted butter, and the hint of animals all floated heavy in the open, pastoral air.

“Okay, brilliant idea,” Sally gushed as they approached the grounds.

“I’m glad you think so,” James returned. “Especially since it’s your idea.”

She smiled at him. “Like I was really going with you to the lake for a first date. At least you’re ambitious.”

“Woah.” James felt the heat flooding into his face. “All in good fun; I’m just stunned you knew about this place. It was one helluva drive.”

“Gave us time to get to know each other,” she said.

James laughed at that. An hour drive into the country had resulted in maybe fifteen minutes of actual conversation, but the festivities had apparently wiped away those uncomfortable moments. She seemed at ease now, perhaps opening up his chances for later.

Sally lifted her nose to the air, her short blonde hair whisked by the wind as she sniffed. “God, you have to love that smell. Why don’t you get some popcorn, I want to check out the ponies over there.” She pointed toward two Shetlands, one white and the other a motley gray, drinking from an old garden hose. Children swamped them with watchful parents at a distance. A few cameras flicked, but the ponies seemed oblivious to all the attention.

The smell of butter led James deeper into the festivities around the bonfire. Shouts arose from various tents in waves, rising and falling in excited exclamations. The masses made him nervous. For all his earlier platitudes, this night had required extensive planning, likely all for not.

Near the bonfire, the smell of cashews and sugar mingled with the heavier scent of butter. The lines for food took more than a few minutes, and James wondered how easy it would be to find Sally if she decided to wander. For a moment, he considered whether it might pay to try and pick up someone else for tonight. He laughed aloud at the thought. A few people stared at his outburst, but he shrugged. It was a circus after all. It had taken weeks of small talk on the bus to get Sally to go out with him, no point in wasting so much work.

His popcorn finally in hand, James pushed his way back to the ponies through the growing crowd.  Nearly two hundred people must be gathered about the pavilions, he guessed. Why had so many people driven so far? You could see more exotic animals in a zoo and see a decent street show without leaving the city. He supposed that had to be the attraction.  Simply coming out into the fringe and gawking at those living there, losing oneself in something beyond the mundane status quo. That attraction to push beyond the boring trappings of the everyday James understood. Not that he wanted anyone gawking at him, but he enjoyed exploring certain fringes. Even near the Shetlands, the crowds had grown denser. At first Sally was nowhere to be seen. Agitated he scanned the crowd more closely, fighting the urge to simply leave.

He started to move closer to where the ponies stood mindlessly drinking. Watching them stand there somehow agitated him further. Why would people watch them doing nothing? A lion he could understand. It instilled fear and respect, the threat reminding people of a mortality easily overlooked in the hustle and bustle of modern life.

A glimpse of a blue dress brought him back to his search.

Not Sally’s t-shirt and jeans, but a sleeve, almost teal, a dress too formal for the circus. James realized he shouldn’t know what the dress looked like from a sleeve, except he did. He had one just like it at the lake.

The woman in blue disappeared in the crowd, but James hurried after her. His hand slipped into his pocket, pushed deep past his wallet to grasp a pocket knife beneath. It was small, but sharp—always sharp enough.

Near the edge of the grounds, he saw the figure in blue disappear into a small tent. The raven hair and bronze skin just how he had remembered it. Reason slipped from his mind as he rushed into the dark tent, pulling out the knife, without one thought for how many people might be within the canvas walls. He flipped open the knife determined to complete what he had already finished years ago.

When James entered he stopped cold. There stood Sally, in her t-shirt and jeans, smiling at him. “For a moment, I thought you might leave,” she whispered.

“Where’s Rebecca?” He shouted, pointing the knife at Sally while scanning the tent. “How did you find her?”

“Oh, James, I found them all well before we found you. They always come to me, out here in the wild. They always ask the same thing—a safe place to corral your kind.”

“You’re insane,” he muttered. “Where is she?”

“That’s difficult, James. She’s in the lake, where you left them, and she’s with us. All of us.”

James made to throw the knife, but hands pulled at him. Dozens of strong, icy hands with slender fingers pulled him to the crowd. He whimpered as they held him, much as they had whimpered. Sally reached into a crate in the tent, pulling out a horseshoe in one hand and nails in the other. “We bind the devil to us today,” she said with a smile. “So he’ll do no more harm.”

James screamed as the nails splintered first his feet and later his hands, attaching the iron shoes one by one, until all that remained were his neighs.

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