Pen Monkey Chuck Wendig has recently been ordained into the holy fraternity of new fathers. So, when he's not covered in baby poo, he's been posting occasional transmissions from the other side like some zombie holocaust survivor. One thing to spring forth from the ether: a new flash fic challenge. And this time, the pot has been sweetened. Chuck's top 10 will get free ebooks. SCHWAG!
The challenge: 1000 words with nothing but the prompt "an unexpected guest". Any genre. Whatever those 3 words evoke...run with it.
I had several ideas for this one including pregnancy, alien supplicants and faery politics. But, I finally settled on one that is near and dear to me. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you enjoy.
By Jamie Wyman
You don’t fuck with my poker night. I don’t care if your house is burning down or if you’re being chased by a rabid horde of Girl Scouts selling Thin Mints, you save me a box and come back tomorrow. So when someone insistently rang my doorbell one drizzly Thursday night, you could say I was surprised.
“Someone better need a goddamn kidney,” I snarled as I ripped open the door.
Standing there, a mess of runny mascara and snot, was my friend Penelope. Her mouse-brown hair pulled at her grief-stricken face to the point she looked like a pathetic clown. I almost felt bad for being inhospitable. Almost.
Her lips quivered and her voice came out in a thick bubble. “He left me and I have no where else to go.”
Before I could respond she charged through the door, her tale spewing out of her. The torrent of her sadness escalated into an unintelligible mixture of hiccups and squeaks that only dolphins could interpret. When her emotions seemed ready to go Chernobyl, I threw a few pretzel sticks at her.
“Pen, focus!” I barked.
She blinked in astonishment. I won’t say that the sun came out and she was miraculously cheerful, but behind her eyes, a new awareness came to life. She looked around as if just now realizing where she was. Her eyes drifted over my living room and then fell on the faces of my poker buddies. All three of them stared with the keen interest.
“Shit, E!” Penelope said. “I forgot it’s Thursday.” She stood up and pulled her purse over her shoulder. “I’ll just go.”
If I’d lit a fire under their asses those punks wouldn’t have moved faster. In an instant the three guys were on their feet and stammering over themselves to get her to stay. Even the old Indian—sorry, Native American—seemed to teleport to Penelope’s side.
It’s bad news when these guys smell blood in the water.
“No,” I said flatly. “Each of you step the hell back. Besides, we’ve got a game to play, remember?”
The old Indian’s worn leather voice rumbled in a deceptively soothing baritone. “Now, now. The girl is obviously in pain and should not be alone. She can join our table.”
And just like that, the vultures ushered her to the table and sat her down in the chair opposite mine.
“Seat’s taken,” I said, trying to remind my friends why they were here.
Loki, blonde and broad, grinned. “Just got a call from Puck. He is unable to make it this evening and sends his apologies.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Really?”
“Cross my heart. Accidents happen I suppose.”
I looked back to find Penelope caught between two wenchers. The old Indian poured a few fingers of his whiskey and passed her the glass. The Hawaiian with the sun in his smile, stroked her hair.
I folded my arms over my chest, scowling at the three of them. At my table. On my poker night.
Over my shoulder, Loki whispered, “Jealousy has never looked good on you, you know?”
It’s true that I’ve always envied Penelope. She is petite and soft and young whereas I look like Iggy Pop before he gets a tan. I’m lanky, lean and I can’t get my dark hair to do a damn thing in this humidity. Penelope’s life is all in order. She knows who she is and what she wants. Perhaps that’s what drew me to her.
I threw a weak fist into the smug bastard’s stomach and took my seat at the table. The spark-hiss of my Zippo called the happy little trio back from their flirtations. I took my time lighting the cigar, enjoying the feeling of being the center of the world.
“Penelope, I’d like to introduce Loki, Cy and Maui. Guys, this is Penelope and she’s got a fiancé to go home to.”
Maui folded a dark hand over Pen’s. “She said he put her aside. Wasteful, if you ask me. Unappreciative, too,” he said flashing his teeth. I’d seen him work this mojo before. Maui’s dark eyes held the girl’s attention. “Tell me,” he said, “have you ever been to Hawaii?”
Smoke plumed out of my nostrils with the flare of my temper. “Enough,” I said. “Penelope, why don’t you go take a nice long bath in my room. Light a few candles, put on some soothing music. You’ll feel better.”
I saw Cy’s eyes gleam like a dog hoping for bacon.
I pointed the fire of my cigar right at the Indian. “No.”
“A bath sounds really good,” Penelope said. She pushed away from the table. “Um, E, I’m really sorry to intrude like this, but do you think I can crash here tonight?”
I nodded. “Of course. You can borrow some pj’s from my closet and tomorrow we’ll go back over to your place and see if we can’t talk some sense into that idiot of yours.”
Relief flooded out of her and so help me she looked even prettier. How do some women manage to be a sobbing mess and still lovely? Bitches, all of them. She held their attentions as she glided over to my side and placed a grateful kiss on my forehead.
“Thanks, E. You’re my lucky charm.”
“Don’t mention it,” I said around my cigar.
I started dealing out the first hand.
When the door to my bedroom clicked shut, Loki cleared his throat. “Lucky charm? Eris, have you been honest with the girl?”
I snorted. “I never said I was good luck.”
Loki tapped his nose. “Touche.”
Chuckling, Coyote refilled his glass. “Shame. She seems such a nice girl.”
“A nice girl with poor taste in friends,” Maui said.
I sneered. “Thief.”
“ Maui, so help me, I will own you by the end of the night.”
The Hawaiian produced one of my golden apples and took a loud, wet bite. “Wanna bet?”