Flash Fiction Friday: The Bradley Portrait, Part 1

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Content warning (though I’d say this is relatively tame): Fantasy drug use and cramping of the female variety.

Jess paused mid-sip of her black licorice milkshake to glare at Ben across the linoleum table top.  “A haunted house party?”

“Yeah!” He leaned in further.  “I mean, think about it.  Why waste time trying to fight all the other booked-up venues and DJs for space when we can throw our own party on our own terms over at the Bradley House? Kevin can bring his equipment, I can borrow my dad’s generator so we don’t have to worry about power, and you can get food and drinks!”

Jess threw her head back and groaned.  “But it’s so cliche, Ben! And the Bradley House? I know it’s not that bad or rotting or anything.  But you can actually picture Hailey and Jenny and Kevin and Rodrigo dancing with each other and not caring about the cobwebs?”

Ben twiddled his thumbs.  “Well… if they’re high enough.”

Jess’s head rolled back to its proper place, an inquisitive eyebrow raising higher and higher.  “Go on.”

With a grin, Ben laced his fingers together and lowered his voice.  “Okay, so here’s the thing.  You remember Manny on the corner of Lafayette and Briggs?”

“Yeah, the hobo clown.  What about him?”

“You know all those recycling cans he carries in his shopping cart?”

“Yeah.”

Ben snickered.  “Let’s just say when I saw his stash, he was ready for the apocalypse.”

Jess’s jaw dropped.  She shoved Ben in the shoulder.  “No way.”

“Yeah!” Ben almost squealed.  “He has tons of them.  Never opened.  I brought him all the cans I had, and he gave me, like, forty!”

Forty Rainbow Pops?

“Shhhh!” Ben quickly placed a fingertip to her lips.  “Inside voices.”

Jess rolled her eyes.  “This is Marty’s Malt and Liquor, not a library, Ben.  And besides…” She eased away from his finger, sipped the last of her milkshake, and rose from the yellow leather booth.  “You should know by now that no one can tell me what to do, not even you.”

Ben blinked at the seventeen-year-old high school senior standing before him.  All 150 pounds of blonde, somehow surfer-goth-volleyball-jock that he’d known since seventh grade.

A new palpitation fluttered across his heart. “No, Ma’am,” he said.

She smirked and bit her lip close to the new silver loop piercing.  “Get Kevin up to speed.  Get your dad’s generator.  And get the juice pops.  I’ll take care of the rest.”

Ben gave a mock military salute and grinned again.  “Thanks so much, Jess! I won’t let you down on this one.”

***

The Bradley House floorboards creaked and groaned under its new guests, the booming bass from the record tables, and the food tables scattered along the edge of the living room “dance floor.”  Once Hailey, Jenny, Rodrigo heard of the party (and the juicy party favors), nearly every senior in the school had heard of it.  Thankfully, no one snitched to the police.

The best they could snitch about tomorrow, if they remembered anything, was the cobwebs lined in their hair.

Hailey and Jenny danced with each other, their bodies too close to hell for most Puritan standards.  As Rodrigo, lead air guitarist and winner of the Longest Hair Award in 2012, assisted DJ Kevin-essence at the turn tables.  About one hundred more students whose names Ben and Jess didn’t know jumped up and down to the infectious house beats, sucking on their contraband Rainbow Pops and shouting, “Best party evar!”

Ben watched the beautiful chaos from the upstairs wooden balcony with Jess at his side.  This was the one thing they seemed to have in common — not going to parties, but rather throwing them, and watching other people enjoy themselves.  Watching bodies convulse like the electronic music waves they listened to.  Being the architects.  The artists, rather than the jammers, down below.

Yeah, Ben thought.  This party machine is going to run for a long time.  “We did good, Jess.”

“Yup.”

“We did real good.”

“Yup.”

He turned to Jess, donned in an orange sleeveless top and black jeans.  She held onto the railing, clenching it every so often.  Strobe lights brightened the beads of sweat at her temple.

“You okay?” Ben asked.

She exhaled.

“Do you need like Tums or something? I’ve got some in the car.”

“No. Just… don’t worry about me.  I’ll be fine.”

Ben folded his arms.  “Jess, I know you don’t like to delegate party ideas to me sometimes, and I’m cool with that.  But as your trusted friend, and your partner in all things partying, I think I have a right to know what’s up.”

Silence, filled with booming bass and stuttering triple beats.

Jess wiped away the sweat at her forehead and tears along the edge of her eyes.  She took Ben’s hand and led him down the corridor, pushing open the door to an empty bedroom with a queen-sized bed, a sepia portrait of the deceased Bradley family (three children, two parents), and drawers with locks on the their hinges.

As Jess let go of his hand, Ben watched her sniffle again.  He frowned.  Geez, whatever this is, it must be pretty rough for even Jess to cry.  I gotta make her laugh somehow.  “Erm… you’re not going to turn into a vampire or a werewolf and eat my guts out, are you? ‘Cause I’d still like to graduate valedictorian before I die.”

On cue, Jess rolled her eyes and shoved him onto the bed.  “I’m having period cramps, you idiot!”  With a scoff and her fists balled at her sides, she added, “Honestly, if that was your attempt at trying to make me feel better, you’ve still got a long way to go.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Ben rubbed the back of his head.  “Sorry.  What can I do to make you feel better, then?”

Jess sighed.  She sat beside him and removed her shirt, leaving behind her black lace bra.  “A back massage would be nice.”

Ben’s face went fifty shades of red.  He crawled behind her, his hands twitching.  “Erm… are you, uh, do you — Are you sure you need your shirt off?”

“Be sure to use your shoulders, too.  Don’t use just your wrist,” she said, mining the motion in front of her for Ben.

“B-But-But your shirt–”

“Just do it, Ben.”

Ben swallowed.  He hadn’t heard that lower register of Jess’s voice since her ice cream cone was stolen by a seagull.  To prevent his head from turning into the next volleyball she spiked, he started slowly, targeting her lower back.  He circled the tips of his thumbs, indenting small, red circles into her skin.

She lolled her head and shoulders forward, loosening both.  “More.  I mean, larger.”

Ben nodded.  He widened the circles, added his other fingertips, and pressed deeper.  “Like that?”

“Mmm… yeah.”

Ben’s face turned fifty more shades of red.  Did she just purr at me? He tensed his hands and shoulders to keep from shaking.  “G-Good.  I… I want you to feel better, too.”

“Mm, yeah.”

Then the Bradley Family portrait fell from the wall.

~~~

This week’s Flash Fiction Friday piece is brought to you by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: A Scary Story, Part 1.  Go and check out some of the other stories as well if horror and writing challenges are your thing.  Do a challenge yourself if you’re up to it 🙂 . I recommend it.

And… yes.  I wrote more than a thousand words.  But I had fun with this one.  I deserve an extra hundred.

 

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