This blog post was created for Chuck Wendig’s FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: MUST CONTAIN THREE THINGS. In my case, I had to include the following:

  • A talisman
  • A shopping mall
  • A prison


“How did I ever let you talk me into this?”

“What was that?” the middle aged man replied into his bluetooth headset. While waiting for a response, the man set down his shovel and leaned against the walls of the six foot hole he had finished digging in hallowed ground.

“I said, ‘How did I ever let you talk me into this?'”

The man took a deep breath.

It was 2:00a and he could not stop re-reading at his email:

“Happy Friday: Due to recent changes in our budget, we regret to inform you that your services will no longer be required. Unfortunately, since you were on leave, you do not qualify for the normal severance package. We will be mailing you personal effects in 1-2 weeks.”

“Happy Friday, I just can’t take it anymore. Ever since Crystal died, nothing’s been the same. I can’t live like this anymore. I’ve moved back in with my parents and I’m filling for divorce. I’m sorry.”

“Alert from Wells Fargo: Your bank account has dropped below $50.00 threshold you defined. Your current balance is $2.39.”

The tiny studio apartment Happy occupied was mostly empty. It contained only a well-worn futon, a stack of yellow and pink bills, Happy, and his phone.

Unmoving, Happy sat there in the dark staring at the glowing screen like a zombie – until his phone buzzed. The vibration jolted him out of his haze. A new piece of email had arrived in his in box.

“Great.” he muttered under his breath as he tapped the notification.

“Life getting you down?” the email read. “Don’t see anyway out? Don’t throw your life away! We can help. Come on down to the Grove of Isis in the King of Prussia mall instead. Offer good only until sunrise.”

Happy finger hovered over the “Report spam” button and smirked. “Aw, what the hell.”

The outside of mall was dark except for one brightly green-and-red lit wreath that flashed with seizure inducing intensity. When Happy approached the wreath, he saw it hung on a security door – a security door that itself hung ajar. Taking a minute to look around the empty lot, he muttered, “Fuck it.” before slipping inside.

The door opened to a long service hallway. Red and green christmas lights ran along both sides of the corridor, where the walls met the floor. Following the illuminated path as it twisted and turned in the dark bowels of the shopping mall, Happy eventually found himself in a small, marble floored courtyard with ringed several evergreen trees.

While the entire room was lit with the same red and green christmas lighting as the hall, he couldn’t make out the walls beyond the circle of trees. In the center of the room stood a clean-cut middle aged man in a sharp white suit and black tie.

“Happy Friday.” the middle aged man said with a smile.

Happy flinched a bit. “What-”

“I’m sorry. Perhaps that is a bit rude. Today is Friday, but it may not be a very happy one. But, we’ll see what we can do about that.”

“Sure. Right.” Happy said with a shake of his head.

Still smiling, the other man motioned for Happy to come forward. Moving aside, he revealed a large glass display case full of all sorts of ancient looking jewelry, books, and other antiques.

“Happy you’re here. I don’t get many late night customers.” the well dressed man comments, as he walks around to the other side of the case. He motions again for Happy to step forward.

After some hesitation, Happy steps up to the case and looks inside. “Just what do you sell, anyway?”

The smiling man shrugs nonchalantly. “A little of this and a little of that. But, I do promise that everything in this case will change you life. If it doesn’t, I’ll return your money. No questions asked.”

Happy glances up at the other man briefly before snickering and continue to look over the items in the case. For some reason, his gaze is brought back again and again to a simple gold and silver twisted ring. The tag on it say ‘200‘.

“See something you like?” the other man asks.

With a heavy sigh, Happy responds. “Nothing I can afford. I, literally, have two dollars to my name.”

The other man nods, kneels down, and reaches into the case. “I saw you looking at this piece.” he says as he pickup the ring that had captured Happy’s eye. Standing pack up, he hold out the ring to the 20 something.

“Brass and Iron. Two dollars. Money back guarantee. It will change your life.”

Happy took a moment to look at the ring, and then the other man. His teeth looked practically blindingly white, even in the low light of the court yard.

Pulling out his wallet, Happy said, “Deal.”

“Stand back from the gate.” barked a heavy-set prison guard.

A loud buzzer blared and the heavy gate to the cell door opened. Inside the cell sat a young man in an orange jumpsuit. His face is streaked with tears. A tall, middle aged man wearing a black cassock and white clerical collar quickly made his way through the cell door and turned to the guard.

“If we could have some privacy?” the priest requested of the guard. The prison official nodded and made a motion with his hands as he walks away. The buzzer rang out again and the gate slid closed.

The priest didn’t waste a second. Snapping around, he darted over to the prisoner and knelt down next to him. Looking deep into the prisoner’s watery, blood-shot eyes and grasping the prisoner’s hands; he asked intensely, “Do you acknowledge and take responsibility for your crimes?”

“Y-yes, Father.”

“Do you truly regret your actions?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And would you be willing to perform penance, if possible, to make amends for the hurt you have inflicted on others?”

“Yes, Father.”

The priest smiled at the weeping man. “I believe you.”

Letting go of the prisoner’s hands, the older man reached into his cassock and pulled out a brass and iron ring.

“This,” he said holding the ring up for the prisoner to see, “can give you a new lease on life. It won’t be easy. You’ll have to start over from square one. You’ll have no job, no family, no money, no job. But you’ll be alive, and you’ll be free. All you have to do is put on this ring.”

“I didn’t.” the grave digger replied into his headset, brushing some dirt off his white suit. “If I recall correctly, this all started when you met a very beautiful woman in Egypt – and she asked you if you wanted to make the world a better place.”

Leaning over, he pulled the casket open to reveal a skeleton in an orange jumpsuit and wearing a brass and iron ring on its right ring finger.

“At least he died happy.” the man said, smiling at the corpse.

The image in this post was used without seeking permission. I believe its inclusion falls under fair use. If it is yours, and you feel its use is inappropriate; please contact me and let me know.

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