1.      A Missing Corpse

How do you lose a body on a plane this small?

It was all he could think.  Not the time.  Not where they might be in the world.

How do you lose a body on a plane this small?

He’d heard her the first time.  And if he hadn’t, he could have read it on her face.  One of her best features: she couldn’t keep a secret.

“What?” he said again, anyway, the husky voice nearly lost to the heavy thrum of the Curtiss-Wrights roaring outside the fuselage.

“Gone!  It’s… he’s just… gone!” She threw her hands up into the air and tossed her lush, auburn hair from side to side, looking up and down the passenger cabin again.

She was panicking.  He would panic, too, in time.  For now, though, he could see: she was right.  The upper bunk, not five feet away, empty.  Missing was a large body wrapped in yards of industrial gauze, carefully placed inside a white pine box, sanded smooth like the water where they departed only a few hours earlier.

“Where in the hell is he?  Where’s Quintano?” Standing, the remnants of bourbon-induced sleep fading.

“I don’t know!” she said, her eyes going wide, palms up again. “How do you lose a body on a plane this small?”

  1.     A Half-Burned Notebook

“This is it?  This is your lead?” He held the half-burned notebook in his hand like a turd.

“I told you, Mr. Emerson, this job would not be easy.” The Man in the Crisp White Suit said, drawing deep on the Cuban, the smoke swirling up past his gray head like angels dancing away from a demon.

“It’s barely readable,” Emerson said, leafing gently through the charred pages and brushing back the black, flaking cover.  He examined each page carefully.

A map.  List of names.  Sketches.

“Barely readable,” Emerson muttered again. “I don’t know.”

But he knew.  He’d take the job.  Knew he would take it even before the Man in the Crisp White Suit mentioned the money, which was considerable.  He knew it.

The Man in the Crisp White Suit, leaning back in his chair, the smoke haloed around him, the slant of the late evening sun cutting through the dark wood shutters, said nothing, because he knew it, too.

III.    An Indestructible Tree

They had found him by what the notebook called the Indestructible Tree.  Upon first glance, Maddy thought it looked pretty well destroyed.  Then she peered closer, gingerly brushing a brown curl out of her face.  The tree – a gnarled tangle of ancient roots and knots plowing through surprisingly lush earth – was bent heavy to her left, still sprouting small green sprigs along tired branches.  It begged to be let to the ground.

“It’s real,” she said before she saw him, looking at the mound of stone and brick, hidden only a bit by the tree, water clear as spring air gurgling, soaking the lush, mossy grass around its base.

But when she saw him, she forgot – just for a fleeting moment – what J.B. Emerson looked like, and somewhere deep in her full, generous heart, something broke forever.

  1.    An Ancient Curse

The earthly delights of an ageless body.

The terrible supremacy of a timeless mind.

The power of sentience across endless millennia.

This is not the ancient curse to which the prophecy speaks.  Nor is it the unbearable loneliness, though straying too far from the wretched fountain brings years like the merciless waves of the angry Atlantic, ne’er to be undone.

I live now with this tortured tree.  And with this fountain, her cool, clear, awful water as clean, as blessed as the day it first touched my naïve tongue, the mouth of a young man.

I live here.  Until God, great in His Glory, sees fit to set upon me peculiar circumstances only which may free me from the curse.

For I live with that demon as well.

I live with that most horribly of all.

  1.     A Sudden Storm

Emerson sat on the floor of the small bodega, doors opened to the outside salt air, cradling Maddy in his arms.  He barely felt the burn of the bullet hole in his left shoulder, swallowed the salty blood in his mouth and worked for half a second on a loose molar.

Maddy was out, but he knew she wasn’t dead.  Could see her breathing, angelic wisps of flowing brown hair falling up and down around her open rose lips.  He gave her a quick pat-down, check for anything he missed.  A bullet hole could be smaller than you thought, and two minutes ago, there’d been plenty.

Long legs, fine.  Hips, fine, and he had enough discipline to keep his hands off her ass which seemed to look good in anything.  Pulled the fabric of her shirt against her abdomen – soft, so soft.  No blood dotted the fabric.

Each arm was limp, fallen to her sides, scratched but fine.  He took a moment to breathe her in, and as he brought his hand up — past her breasts — to touch her hair, it stopped, caught in the vice of her grip.

“Don’t you even think about it, you cad!” her eyes were puffy and dark, and there was a bruise forming on the side of her perfect temple.

“Just checking for any damage,” he smiled as innocently as his sinful thoughts would let him.

“We did it,” she breathed out. “We’re alive,’ she breathed again, letting him fall into her. “Kiss me.”

They sat there for hours in the open bodega, waiting on the next adventure, looking out past the body of the Man in the Crisp White Suit towards the sudden storm coming in off the bay.

  1.    An Unborn Child

The curse.

The curse not of untimely death.  The curse of eternal life… but not my life.

When I am born to them, the Curse of Man will only just begin.

© 2013 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.

Originally published at terribleminds for a flash fiction challenge.