Monday, April 2, 2012

My Short Crime Fiction For The "At The Zoo" Flash Fiction Challenge

***This is my contribution to the Flash Fiction Challenge (setting: at the zoo), a short crime fiction bit to take me back to my roots for the day. No kid lit, but the main character Angela Stark is a supporting cast member in my upcoming MG debut. I wanted to give her a turn, and develop her story a little.

Find more stories at Patti Abbott's blog.***


Meet me @ the wolves. 9:30 a.m.

            Just a text, after all this time. Not even a phone call. Angela Stark wondered if he still looked the same, her big brother Rupert. It had been ten years. People change in ten years. They get fat, grow out their hair, get new jobs. Like she did—well, the job part anyway.

            Rupe was thinner, sitting there on the metal bench that faced the wolf habitat, but he looked pretty much the same otherwise. Just a little more wiry and worn. “Angie.” He nodded as a greeting. Tried a smile, but he winched in pain instead. “How are you?”

            How are you, Rupe? was what she wanted to ask, but there was no need. It was written all over his pale face: the sweat, the jitteriness, the darting eyes. He was hurt. Shot, probably.

            A little girl popped out from behind him. She was about seven, her long hair tangled and matted where she’d slept. Her pink coat was faded, probably a Goodwill buy after some other kid already sucked the goodness out of it. She squinted. “Are you my aunt Angie?”

            Well look at that. Rupe went and had a kid. Stark didn't like kids much. She slid away on the bench, putting some inches between herself and the disaster that was Rupe's family.

            He smiled and rubbed the girl’s head. “Ruby, why don’t you go watch the wolves while me and Aunt Angie talk, okay?”

            Ruby nodded. “Did you know that wolves aren’t that aggressive at all?” The girl didn’t wait for an answer, but moved to the glass and pressed her hands against it. Her giant purple backpack had a broken zipper, leaving a sweater sleeve dangling like a flat, dead arm.

            “I know, I should have told you,” Rupe said as he got up. “About Ruby.” He winched, and stepped closer.

She could smell the stale sweat, the fear. And there was dried blood on his wrist. He’d washed his hands, but forgot about the details. That was Rupe.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “Ruby wasn’t there. Not like we used to be.” He sat down again, and this time, he didn’t hide his pain.

When they were little, Rupe was the one who got to go inside the bank with Dad. They would be ‘where the action was’ (those were Rupe’s favorite words). Stark (before she was Stark and still Little Angie) would sit in the car. Waiting. Listening, for sirens.

“I wouldn’t do that to Ruby.” Rupe’s voice crackled.

Ruby still stood at the glass, waiting for something to happen. There wasn’t a wolf in sight.

“Going to work?” Rupe pointed at Stark’s shoes. They were black, rubber-soled, the kind you could run in, but would still go with a suit. Agent shoes. “It’s okay,” he said. "I know they're waiting out there."

They both knew this could only end one way now.

“Daddy, look!” Ruby turned and smiled. “I think there’s a wolf coming.”

“That’s good, baby.” He wheezed. “She needs glasses. Ruby. I forgot them when we packed.”

The girl turned and smiled. “Did you know that—”

“Hush, Ruby!”

The smile on the girl’s face disappeared like a speeding bullet. She turned back to the glass, and leaned her hands and nose against it.

“Tammy didn’t make it.” Rupert exhaled the words, like they were the last air in his lungs. “It all went bad, Ange, like that time in Barstow. Remember, with Dad?”

She remembered. Five gunshots. Back when she was Little Angie, waiting for them to come outside, and when they did, seeing the dead body on the ground. The black soles on the security guard’s boots as he lay dead on the floor, before the doors closed.

“We made it out this time, but had to take out a guy. And Tammy got hit in the chest, didn’t make it fifteen minutes.” Rupe sank in his seat. His breathing was heavy. Hit in the shoulder, Stark guessed, possibly in the gut, too. “We drove all night. Ruby slept some in the car.”

Stark saw the wolf now. It walked down the wooded hill of its habitat with a slight swagger, an ease that came with knowing you owned the place. Probably smelled the girl. Or Rupe’s blood.

“Well I’ll be,” Rupe said. “There is a wolf.” He smiled and sat up. Groaned, and clutched his side.

The wolf got close to the girl now. It paced back and forth near the glass, teeth bearing. But the girl didn’t flinch. She kept her nose and hands pressed to the glass.

“Ruby loves animals. She’ll blabber your ear off with her gazillion animal facts.” Rupert reached under his coat. Stark expected him to check his bandage, but instead, he pulled out a piece. Her brother had been packing, and she hadn’t even noticed. This was why it was better to keep your distance. Family messed with your mind. Turned you into Little Angie again.

“You can take care of this, right?” he whispered.

Stark tucked the gun in her holster. It didn’t occur to her to bring a gun to the zoo, so she had room.

Rupe slid a folded piece of paper across the bench. There was a smeared bloody print on it. “The take’s location, for Ruby. Don’t let ‘em take it, okay? Keep quiet.”

The wolf lifted its head and started howling like a siren. Right next to Ruby.

It startled Stark. She jumped up, and took the girl by the hands, away from the glass. When she turned around, her brother was gone. She could just make out his slumped back as he disappeared in the crowd. His tired walk.

“He was calling his pack, Aunt Angie,” Ruby said with a smile. "The other wolves will come now." They sat down on the bench, but the girl’s backpack was too fat for her to lean back, so Stark took it off her. “Daddy says I need to hush up.” She waited for Stark to say something.

Stark listened for the sirens that she knew would come soon. But not yet. There was only the howl of the wolf, calling his pack.

“Daddy says you don’t like it when people talk.” The girl squinted. “I can be quiet.”

“No.” Stark held the broken backpack. “Tell me more about the wolves.”


  1. Wonderful story, FT! You've packed so much of Stark's story in this short piece that I feel like I've known her forever.

  2. Thanks, Sandra! It was fun to give this supporting castmember the spotlight for once :-)

  3. This was terrific. The line "turning into little Angie" was so haunting. Poor Ruby. I hope she doesn't turn into little Angie, stuck with an aunt who doesn't like kids.

  4. Thanks, Patti! I'm hoping things turn out okay for Ruby, but time will tell... :-)

  5. A moving story, F.T. Ruby seems like a charmer to me. I'll bet she'll win over Stark in no time. Maybe.

  6. I hope so, Yvette. Thanks for reading :-)

  7. You did an awesome job with the challenge, F.T.
    "Her pink coat was faded, probably a Goodwill buy after some other kid already sucked the goodness out of it." ~ so sad!
    How ironic our zoo stories included brother-sister relationships :-)

  8. Zoos are such places for family drama, aren't they?

    Thanks for reading!

  9. There's more in this story than in a lot of novels. Good tight job.

  10. Ah, Agent Stark, I knew there was more going on there.

    Wonderful job. Your short fiction always amazes.

  11. Oh, I really like this one, especially the parallelism between the encroaching agents and the wolves.

  12. Thanks, guys! She's a cool character, so this one was fun to write.

  13. Al: I couldn't tell where I could comment on your story, but I wanted to say I loved it. That dialogue sings.