Graffiti Beast

Flash Fiction in 440 Words
By Melissa F. Kaelin
May 2019

This piece of magical realism was inspired by “In Our Element,” the ArtPrize winning mural by Ruben Ubiera.

Flipping the car out of Fishladder Park, Tonya took a few wrong turns.

In a 1967 AMC Marlin painted Seaside Blue, she veered around the corner of Clover, only to end up near the river on Front Avenue. To everyone else, her AMC was an antique piece of junk, but to Tonya, the car was a comfortable bubble. She relaxed against the pleated interior, soft like fish gills. On the outside, the fins glimmered brightly, even as midnight darkness consumed the edges of downtown.

Knowing little about Grand Rapids, Tonya turned onto a closed drive. A gate towered above the roadway, with a stirring gothic frame and a sign she was too tired to read. This place had an urban pop soul. Tonya knew she’d grow to love it here, but tonight, she felt like she was drifting down river. She spun the car around, venturing under a highway bridge that appeared to be underwater. A sea of goldfish with veils for tales swam in graffiti, painted under arches in the architecture.

Submerged in an aquarium dripping in blue butter, Tonya spotted a menacing face. Long, white fangs curled over its jaw. She switched on the high beams, as the graffiti beast pounded toward the pavement, carrying a table knife the size of a skyscraper. She became one with the school of goldfish, desperate to escape. Their winsome veiltails fanned out behind them, but their mouths gaped open as they tried to save their own leopard-spotted bodies from becoming a fillet. Tonya glanced at her fingers, only to watch them whiten as they clamped the wheel. The graffiti beast leapt out from the arches and into the street behind her.

One with the school of fish, she pumped the accelerator. The veiltails gained speed as she did, but they couldn’t swim fast enough to evade the menace’s grasp. The Marlin knew what to do. Marlin lifted off the ground, his tires floating just an inch above the pavement, and he created his own waves. While the beast lashed out from the arches, swinging its mighty knife across the highway bridge, the headlights emerged from the tunnel alongside a dozen beady fish eyes.

Marlin swam higher into the air, buoyed by his dorsal fins, and he transformed into a humpback whale – a mechanical mammal of wonder. He breached into a river of sky, sprouting a blowhole and releasing a ring of bubbles from his fluke. The bubbles, glimmering white and navy blue, formed a protective layer around Tonya and the veiltails.

The Marlin blew bubbles once more, creating an opaque stream that catapulted Tonya and the goldfish safely to the stars.

.          .          .

Crossing Seven Bridges Road

Flash Fiction in 440 Words
By Melissa F. Kaelin
September 2019

Under the harvest moon, the highway transformed as it entered the hills. The eight-lane interstate narrowed to a mere lane on Lucy’s side of the road. Less like an interstate and more like a rattlesnake, the road veered to the left at sharp angles, dipping into the gorge and wrapping around the cliff wall. The path above Lucy’s car pitched its scaly head in the dark, the cliffs jutting out over the pavement. A looming presence insisted there was more to the scenery than one person’s vision let on.

Her eyelids heavy, Lucy pulled off on the first exit ramp she could find. At first, this part of the south seemed desolate. Small towns propped themselves up against the curbside, with vacant shacks standing here and there. She drove for miles, searching for somewhere to stop, anywhere with a light to battle the darkness and a welcoming door. She found nothing. She followed the curve of the road out into the countryside, where an untamed expanse of trees draped in thick vines reached out toward her. The time was nearing midnight.

Exhausted, Lucy slowed her 1969 AMC Javelin to a halt. Curious to breath the southern air, she rolled down the window. The air was bittersweet moving through her lungs. To her left, the branches of the forest draped down from extreme heights. On her right, a swamp beckoned with the music of tiny, unseen creatures. Cautiously, Lucy stepped out of the car. Darkness closed in. But drawing closer, too, was the firmament, a celestial mess of pinpoint beacons in outer space.

“What would you give?”

The question drifted on the midnight air, floating on a lazy breeze between the leafy locks of the rain-drenched willows. A country road in South Carolina stretched out before Lucy, the yellow lines still shining from recent showers. She stood near the ditch, her Javelin pulled onto the grass and parked, pointing south. The scene glistened in the starlight. In that space, everything in nature seemed to have something to say.

Alone in the depths of the south, she saw a sign for Seven Bridges Road. The first bridge stood only footsteps beyond the car. It beckoned to her. She could almost hear a voice in the mist that gathered over a small creek-bed below. What price would she put on her own life in this place? What would she risk to cross to the other side?

A mystery waited there. A strange craving called to her, urging her to walk down the lane in a different kind of light. Lucy took a ragged breath, setting her arms loosely at her sides. She crossed onto Seven Bridges Road.

.          .          .

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