Hello all you lovely readers and writers. I have two flash fiction, short story collections and I’m getting ready to pull together a third…because ‘hat trick’. (Which may make a good title: notes for later.) The following is an excerpt from a short story found in Down The Rabbit Hole: Another Experiment in Flash Fiction. My first collection is Haunted Hydrangeas: An Experiment in Flash Fiction containing twenty-four selected works ranging from a quick 200 word flash fiction piece, to an elaborate 3074 word short story. With out further interruption here is the beginning of The Bag: Enjoy -Megan
The trail had gone cold. That was the frustration which James Newton was feeling. He saw the target disappear into the woods but the trail went cold as soon as they hit the rocky cliff. If he had been more steadfast into making the jump down the steep incline, he would’ve had him. He could’ve then bargained for the woman whom they all knew was going to be harder to catch. Five long seconds of indecision and he lost his chance. He knew it. But, he wasn’t as desperate.
James was squatting over his boots and staring down at the muddy trail, squinting for any signs of fresh tracks. The wellpacked hiking path was smooth as a consequence of the water cascading from the nearby hillsides eroded any signs of footprints in the drenched dirt. He knew they were close. He could feel it. Maybe it wasn’t this trail. Maybe they’re only a few feet off course and they’ll come up to the trailhead where the paths diverged. There might be signs of them there.
He turned around and spotted Thomas “Tommy” Russell stealthily stepping over the mud trail onto the side of a nearby embankment. His short stature and lanky build made him easy to lose in the thick forest. The camouflage was working. It also helped that Tommy had smeared mud to further obscure his appearance. Two nights ago that seemed like a good idea, but he was starting to regret it. In the brief breaks between bouts of intense precipitation, insects would swarm near his eyes and mouth. Leaves would stick to his skin. It made him look like a walking pile of foliage; real textbook Ranger School stuff, he thought to himself.
James then spotted Robert Todd, playing sentry over the scene, sweeping the area from atop the hill depositing water onto the trail where James was resting.
The fourth and final man was nowhere in sight. They might have thought that they’d lost him but could hear his footsteps. Unlike Tommy, Henry Walker was somewhat heavier on his feet. At 6’ 11”, north of 300 lbs., he was also larger than the other men. It was a major consideration in the decision to call him in to tag along in the search for the couple that ran into the woods.
Visibility had dropped as the cold humidity made the air thick with fog masking the ungodly stench of four men desperately in need of showers. They knew they were close. As unbearable as the weather had been the last few nights, the rain was letting up and with it, they’d have a better chance at tracking them. At least that’s what James was telling himself.
Robert started his slide to join Tommy and James on the trail, swiftly making his way down the hill, slowing his descent by keeping his body low and grabbing onto the limbs of every tree that would bear his weight. He finally arrived near James, stopping short of the trail which both men were careful to avoid.
Tommy joined them a moment later.
“Another night and I still don’t have that bag,” he mused aloud.
James looked at Robert for signs of shared frustration.
Tommy quipped stoically, “At least you look rested.”
Tommy looked back at Robert, possibly nonplussed. Any other day he’d be easier to read but his muddy face masked any facial expressions. James couldn’t help but crack a smile.
Tommy looked far from rested. His usual wiry behavior was curbed only by his obvious sleep deprivation. There was two possible outcomes for the end scenario. Both of them involved sleep. One was just slightly more permanent than the other.
“We’ll sleep when we’re dead. And I’m dead if we don’t get that bag,” James said. “Let’s keep moving. We’re close.”
A large mass approached from the direction they had come from, shuffling up the trail that they all so carefully sought to avoid spoiling. It was Henry who had staggered up. Tommy held out his hands palms up questioning the logic of coming directly up the trail.
“What are you doing,” James asked.
“I found them,” Henry responded, pointing back down the trail, drawing shapes as he spoke, panting, short of breath.
“They’re huddled under an embankment, thing, under a tree, near the river. They were huddled together.” It was enough for Robert to break character and look excited.
“And the bag,” Tommy shot back.
Henry nodded in acknowledgement.
James hurriedly stood up with a renewed sense of purpose. He turned his body towards the trail before the force of someone latching onto his arm pulled him backwards. It was Robert, his grip tightly holding James’s arm.
“We’re not going to hurt them,” he reaffirmed.
James begrudgingly nodded in agreement before jerking himself away.
Tommy looked back at Robert and then back at the ground then wondered out loud to no one in particular, “What happens if it’s gone?”
“If it’s gone, we’ll reconsider,” Robert answered.
The moon was bright. Brighter than it had been the better part of that week. It even forced itself through pockets of cloud cover from time to time. But, it still wasn’t enough to break through the heavy fog that’s synonymous with a cooler than usual early spring in a temperate forest. The crisp air coming from the mountains did little to move it. It felt stuffy at times. Most times, they were just as happy that they all had jackets. The weather could easily take a turn for the worse and they were lucky that the worst they were feeling was a little numb in their extremities.
The trees swayed as they walked up the path. Robert was able to catch a glimpse of the river beyond an outcropping. Ahead of them, the path went parallel with the waterway. Soon it would all be over. They’d have the bag, its contents intact. This would absolve Robert of any notion of misconduct, simultaneously clearing James’s debt.
They all had enough time to think about how they allowed it to happen and how a moment of inattention subjected them to this.
Just three days ago they peacefully liberated the bag from James’s acquaintance. That morning, James, Robert, and Tommy arrived in the industrial park where they were to make the drop. Tommy’s bright red, late 90’s model Oldsmobile Cutlass’ had seen better days. The paint was peppered with rust where it wasn’t peeling. It’s plastic body panels were cracked and scratched from years of bumps and scrapes, exhibiting signs of downright neglect. Its fatigued suspension nearly bottomed out as they pulled into the lot of a trucking company. But, it ran and that made it a reliable car in Tommy’s mind.
James had the small black duffle bag on his lap in the backseat. He compressed it like an accordion while leaning forward, directing his question at Robert, “You ready.”
Robert checked the mirrors and looked out over the lot filled with shipping containers of various sizes and colors. He thought for a moment about how this was the only time in his life where a situation didn’t warrant a weapon and how strange that had felt.
The drop was routine; as routine as a drop can be for a few seasoned criminals. The recipient was a trusted accomplice whom Robert had known for years. They didn’t really need three men, to be honest. Robert knew that but he trusted Tommy to be the driver.
For Robert, it was all about making things right. It was he who introduced James to the game. As his mentor, Robert felt that James needed to be set straight but shouldn’t bear the brunt of the consequences that could be directed at a criminal that can’t make good on their word. Trust, after all, is the bedrock of the lax criminal code. He wasn’t too worried. Robert’s experience gave him the audacity to feel relaxed in the moment.
James was a bit more anxious, “What if they don’t show?”
Robert opened the passenger door and stepped out. He gestured for James to get out. James scooted to the passenger side and opened the door. He initially thought about taking the bag. “Leave it,” Robert instructed as he walked towards the street. James threw the bag through the open window onto the passenger seat next to Tommy and warned, “Guard this with your life.”
Tommy shooed him away, turning the key in the ignition to accessory mode. He tuned the radio to a station that was going to calm him. He was also feeling a bit more anxious than usual.
James joined Robert in the street.
“What have we learned,” Robert asked.
“There’s easier ways to make money. I didn’t think it’d get this far, Robert. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Once they get it back, you’re going to be fine,” Robert reassured him. “Leave that shit to the professionals. You’re getting off lucky.”
In the car, Tommy readjusted his mirrors so that he could see Robert and James in the street. They looked to be 50 feet back, he estimated. He turned to his right and looked at the bag within arms’ reach to reassure himself. It’s right where James had left it. He took a deep breath as the mere sight of the bag triggered a strong cigarette craving. Reaching into the inside pocket of his olive jacket, Tommy began anticipating the quick hit of nicotine destined to calm his nerves. Getting the cigarette was easy but in the time he went back to reach for the lighter he had dropped the cigarette onto the floor. Looking to the floor, past the steering wheel and making way with his knees, he realized that he’d have to contort himself to feel out where it had fallen.
James looked at a car slowing down a block away, near an old brick warehouse. He couldn’t make out the make or model; something classic looking, maybe mid 60’s with a teal and white paint job, with white wall tires. It couldn’t be newer than that, he thought. It didn’t look like a car that belonged in an industrial park.
Tommy continued looking for the dropped cigarette. He laid the back of his hand flat against the floor mat and began to sweep.
“Is it them,” James asked.
“I don’t think so.”
Behind them, a short, skinny blonde woman in jeans and a red hoodie crept up to the passenger side of the red Oldsmobile. She slowly reached inside the open window, her eyes fixed on Tommy still searching for the lost cigarette. As soon as he turned towards her, she ripped the bag out of the car window and began running.
Tommy shot up, “Hey!”
James and Robert turned to see the woman running deeper into the shipping yard.
Tommy nearly kicked the driver door open with his knee and gave chase. James instinctively followed while Robert turned back to the car mid way down the block only to see it slowly make a right hand turn. It wasn’t their car. Robert gritted his teeth before involving himself in the pursuit of the bag thief.
The woman made her way between the rows of empty truck trailers, appearing and disappearing behind each meticulously parked 52’ long monstrosity. She eventually arrived at the gatehouse on the other side of the lot before throwing the bag over the fence as one might throw a grenade. Almost instantly after letting it go, she turned right and continued sprinting.
Why did she just ditch the bag? No sooner had Tommy asked himself that question then he realized the bag landed at a distance that appeared to be well out of reach. He beelined for the fence, coming to an abrupt stop and gripping the chain links to counteract its pushback.
James eventually caught up.
By now, Tommy had realized that this side of the lot had a mechanized sliding gate. This wasn’t a particularly helpful observation because he instinctively knew he wouldn’t be able to trigger it. He frantically looked for a safe spot to climb the nine feet it would take to make it to the other side. It didn’t exist. The top of the fence was tightly wound with barbed wire.
James turned his attention to the woman making her way past a field of debris on the side of the adjacent warehouse. It was a tight corridor with brick on both sides. Her red sweatshirt made her easy to follow as she weaved around multicolored barrels, heaps of scrap metal, and unused sheet metal panels. He saw her climb up a stack of wooden pallets in the corner and quickly noticed a green blanket folded over the barbed wire where the brick wall met an adjacent building.
As she carefully positioned herself belly side down, sliding over the fence and disappearing out of view, a matte golden coupe with powdered black rims screeched to a halt shielding the bag from Tommy and James’s view. It looked like some type of import, Tommy noted.
Within a moment, the driver accelerated while simultaneously opening the door to pick up the woman at the other end of the street. She got in, and like that it was over. They had been had.
Tommy started to violently hit the fence with his palms, kicking and exclaiming obscenities.
Robert ran up in time to see James grab his head with both hands and drop backwards against the gatehouse, sliding down while shaking his head in disbelief. His first reaction was to get on his phone and call in what happened. They were expected to be at the drop point and now they didn’t even have the bag.
He spoke with a sense of focus and authority, “You’re not going to believe what happened. You’re going to have to take my cut of the next one and I’ll make good on it. I appreciate it.”
James would’ve felt relieved that Robert was covering for him, if his mind wasn’t spinning from the fear caused by losing something so valuable.
“We’re going to get that bag back. It’s your ass, James,” Robert pointed out.
They had to find the golden colored car with black rims. It was a deceptively easy task. They were in a part of the country that didn’t care much for imports. Of course, this was only a consideration if luck was on their side and the offending party didn’t already start to skip town. Robert was sincerely hoping that wouldn’t be the case.
Upon returning to the car, Tommy let out another bout of emotion. He began yelling at the top of his lungs and kicking nearly everything on the driver side of his car. He reached in and grabbed the cigarette from the under the brake pedal on the mat and threw it angrily on the ground while Robert and James settled back in the seats dejected. They entered with the package and now it was gone.