This was another story I wrote as flash fiction on a prompt with my friend Leslee. If I recall, the prompt was "two people on a beach, one towel". Leslee did a story about a couple arguing over a towel (they were great, vivid characters), and I wrote this rather twisted piece. It has the vice of being ended too quickly, but Starbucks (where we were when we wrote to this prompt) was about to close. --K.O.
Jeffrey held the soggy towel to his chest. He stared at Jane in the distance, a dark speck barely visible through the winter snowstorm on Johnston beach.
"Hey!" She had evidently caught sight of him.
"Stay away from me!" Jeffrey shook with anger and fear.
"I'm not going to hurt you Jeffrey! You know that! I just want to see it!"
"No, you can't! I won't let you. You stay away." he wrapped the towel tighter around the precious bundle.
"I'm not going to take it Jeff."
"You always kill them - I won't let you kill this one, not this time!"
"Jeff no, I --" Jane trailed off. She couldn't deny the truth of his words. He turned his back and started slogging through the snow crusted sand. He moved towards the steaming, lapping ocean so that his footsteps would be erased. It was ultimately futile since he lived in the same house as Jane, and she knew all of the places he kept his jars.
"Come one Jeff. I just want to see it. Just let me look at it. Let me take a photograph at least."
Jeff spun around and slipped in the snow. He landed on his back, clutching the bundle even closer. The being inside struggled at the shock of the fall.
"Leave me alone!" He wriggled to his knees. "You just want to vivisect it!"
"Well, yeah. That's how you do research. We've been over this before. But this time Jeff, this time I promise, just a photograph."
"No...You always promise but you never mean it." Tears started rolling down his face. "No..."
"Don't call me that..."
"Jeff, I just want a look." By this time Jane had caught up to him. She came to a stop about four feet away from his sobbing figure. She shoved red mittened hands into the pockets of her tattered pea coat. "Let's at least take it inside. The electricity will be on in an hour or so. Damn rationing. I hate being bundled up all the time." She looked more intently at the bundle. "That thing is going to get a chill. We shouldn't let it die here."
Jeff thought she wanted it to die "there", at their home. After a moment, Jane continued.
"I think there is some soup left. Doesn't that sound nice?" Jeff looked up at her wondering about her perverse tendency to pretend that everything was completely normal. He saw her eyeing the bundle. Suddenly he wondered where she had gotten the soup, bad as it was. It wasn't anything that had been canned. There were large chunks of meat. Where had she gotten that? There had been no food in the supermarket for a month at least. Her eyes shifted to his face, the they narrowed as she tried to read him.
Slowly he got up, trying to restrain his expression. She smiled. A puff of breathe condensed in front of her face.
Jeff bolted towards the breaking waves.
"Jeff, no!" Screamed Jane.
Jeff waded out as far as he could before a wave broke over his head and he lost his footing. He was swept under. He lost his grip on the bundled towel. As he somersaulted in the surf, he caught a glimpse of the baby mermaid escaping the towel and swimming away. Jeff felt relieved. Then his neck snapped against a rock protruding from the sand.
Later that day Jane buried him in the sand by their house, placing her red mittens on top as a marker.