This is something a bit different than, “Smoke Eater.” This is a done in one piece of flash fiction, just under a thousand words. It’s silly and fun. I hope you enjoy.
By: Martin Cahill
Felix was halfway through the last chapter of Hold Me Tender, when he heard the man in the stall next to him groan, in a deep and bear like manner.
Felix did not react. It was exactly the sort of sound one could expect from a bathroom on a Friday afternoon after the fish taco lunch special.
In fact, he’d grown used to the orchestra of bowel movements. It was music he had to tolerate if he were going to indulge in his guilty pleasure at the office: romance novels. While many of the men in the office came to the stalls to release, to relax, to unwind, Felix came to hide in a book, a book he dare not be seen reading.
The other men, the guys, the joes, the bros, the fellas, they just didn’t understand. To them, romance was coaxing a blowjob from their girlfriends after a long day of work, a quick handy courtesy of a surprise bouquet of roses. Their crude methods and meager rewards were worth a high five, a fist bump, and a pat on the back.
Good job tricking your wife into a quickie, Mark, you’re the man, thought Felix on many occasions. True romance he knew, was giving selflessly, massages or cleaning dishes, rubbing feet or taking the dog out in the rainstorm. He held the guidebook here and did his best to learn. And some of the writing he had learned was quite good.
But the other guys didn’t understand. Mark had once glimpsed the rose pink/sky blue cover of In Another Lifetime, Lover, and almost had a heart attack, he was laughing so hard. It took everything in Felix’s Bullshit Reserve to convince them it was his wife’s. He still didn’t know if they believed him.
So he took to hiding in the bathroom, between 11:25 and 11:40 in the morning, and then between 3:15-3:30 in the afternoon, Monday, Tuesday and Friday.
Most days he didn’t mind the cacophony of flatulence or the acrid smell of lunch’s memory. Except there was something very odd about the man next to him, very odd about the way he almost seemed to be growling. And the air didn’t have that usual taste of shit. It almost smelled like barbecue.
His better sense told him to get up and leave now before the bomb dropped. But … he was only six pages from the end.
Felix jumped then, as a fist slammed into the wall next to him. Felix heard panting.
“Fish tacos, huh?” Felix mumbled, breaking the unspoken code of the men’s bathroom: conversation.
“You better get out of here,” said the growling man, his voice high and wheezing. “You’re not going to like it when he gets here.”
Felix chuckled. He checked his page count: four and half more. “I think I’ll be fine for a few minutes,” he said, trying his best to ignore the odd barking sounds that came between the panting.
A succession of bangs against the wall now, and Felix heard the clang of porcelain as the man jumped on the toilet seat. The barbecue smell was slowly being poisoned, and turning into, what? Brimstone and burning rubber? Felix could feel his pulse quicken. He checked his pages: three.
“Uh, listen pal,” he said, “Do you want me to call someone? That doesn’t sound like any sort of fish taco I’ve ever heard.”
“Do you have a priest on speed dial!?” the man shouted.
“Then nothing can help meeeAAAAARRGH!” The man’s words became a howl of anguish. Felix gave a cry of surprise as the lights went out. Not because of the sudden darkness, or the strong scent of brimstone and smoke or the new, crimson light flooding from underneath the stall, but because he was on the second to last page and was almost done.
All was quiet.
Felix’s stall door burst open. Inhuman strength broke the lock, revealing Felix curled up on the toilet lid, clutching the book to his chest.
The man from the other stall stood in the doorway, his eyes leaking smoke, a fiery light shining through the gaps in his teeth. The air around him seemed to bend outward, as though the very fabric of reality was frightened of him. When he spoke, the voice was like the inside of a cement mixer.
“Apologies,” said the demon man. “Freddie and I share this body. He gets weekdays. I get weekends. He didn’t want to pony up, but I have an early appointment this evening and I simply cannot wait for sundown.”
Felix stared. “Freddie from IT?”
The demon possessing Freddie nodded.
“Are you going to eat my soul?” Felix asked, holding the book between like a shield.
“Do you want me to eat your soul?”
Felix shook his head.
Demon Freddie shrugged. “Then consider it not eaten.” It was then the smoking eyes saw the book that Felix held. Demon Freddie raised an eyebrow. “Really?” he asked.
Felix felt the heat of shame flush his cheeks. He glanced down at the book and then back at Demon Freddie. “Our little secret?”
Demon Freddie chuckled, and gestured to his smoking eyes and glowing mouth. “Our little secret?”
“Deal,” said Felix.
“Deal,” said Demon Freddie. He passed a hand over his face. When he removed it, he looked just like normal Freddie, though Felix swore he saw a light behind the teeth. The lights snapped back on. Demon Freddie took the stall door, and gently swung it shut on Felix.
“Enjoy the book,” he said.
“Have a nice weekend,” Felix offered.
The footsteps of Demon Freddie faded as he walked away. The bathroom door closed with a gentle huff. Felix was alone with his book.
Shaking, and keeping an eye on the broken stall door, Felix opened the book with trembling hands and tried to focus on his book. He had to finish it.
There was only one page left.