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.

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