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Ghosts in the Street: Flash Fiction

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

The streets of the city are my workplace. The alleys and culverts, abandoned buildings and vacant lots, breezeways, parks, and that tent community down by the river are the places I call home. The people are my family.

Toward all of this, the people of this town just turn a blind eye. On one hand that’s good because it means my friends and I aren’t always looking for a new place to call home. On the other, it means the homeless have become even more invisible than ever, like ghosts haunting the streets of the city.

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What do I do for them? Mostly I take care of the normal stuff like food, clothing, medicine for a sick kid. Sometimes I have to run off some clueless teenagers who just want to be mean.

There was this little girl, four years old, and she was really sick. I figured the kid was going to die. I don't have a car, so I picked her up and carried her the five miles from the river to the emergency room. No one stopped and offered to help us. We are homeless. We are invisible, like ghosts who haunt the streets.

The little girl had pneumonia. The hospital kept her a long time. When she was well, they wouldn't send her back to her family because they lived by the river. She went to a foster home. I keep an eye on the house and the family. They’re being good to her.

Someone called me an angel, once. Think of that. Me, an angel. I’m a homeless man helping homeless people. I get lucky sometimes and come up with a bunch of groceries or medicine, that’s all.

Two really bad men moved into the riverside community. They were running from the cops and threatened everybody with guns. Said they’d shoot anyone who told the cops they were there. The men took what little food the people had and made a spectacle of eating it in front of them, tossing what they didn’t want into the river.

I had been gone for a while, I can't remember where. But when I came back, I heard about these bad men. I headed over to the riverside as fast as I could get there. The men were in their tent. I called them out. They took one look at me and started laughing. I was one homeless guy against two men with guns.

I reacted without thinking. The next thing I knew, the police were hauling the bad men away. Friends told me I had moved like a bolt of lightning, that I grabbed both men and slammed them against a tree where they fell unconscious. I don't remember any of that. I'm not sure I believe it ever happened. But the men are gone, thank God.

#

It’s been raining for days. I just got a call from the city. They want me to get the people away from the river because there might be flash floods during the night that could cause the river to rise quickly, especially with the added water from the snowmelt in the mountains around the city. Rather than sending someone out themselves, they want me to go. Maybe they’re too busy with other problems.

The officials were a little behind with their prediction that the river might rise. It’s already up. When I arrive, people are tearing down their tents and hovels as fast as they can. One young lady, her name is Mary, is trying to keep her eye on her six-year-old boy, Stevie, and get their things together at the same time. They have a little mutt dog they named Pepper because he sneezes a lot. I help Mary take the tent down, and when we look to check on Stevie, he and Pepper are gone.

I run outside. The roar of the river is deafening now. Stevie is chasing Pepper toward the water’s edge. The dog just wants a drink, but the current grabs him. Stevie goes right in after the dog. A tree sweeps past with its branches snagging other debris as it goes. Like the tentacle of an octopus, a branch snags Stevie just as he grabs hold of Pepper. They are caught in the branches of the tree. It rolls this way, then that, dipping the poor child and the dog beneath the current.

In an instant, I’m there, reaching for Stevie, pulling him to my chest, stuffing the dog between us. I lift them from danger and set them on dry ground. The homeless people look at me like I’m a stranger. When I approach, they back away. I try to recall what I might have done to frighten them, but it all happened so fast, it’s a blur in my mind.

Tree in Flooded River

#

I just woke up. Everything around me is white, or is it light? Is this a hospital? Did I have a heart attack? Was I hurt while helping Stevie? I don’t see any IV poles or anything else you might find in a hospital room. There isn’t even a button to call the nurse.

A man comes in. His smile is so bright, so genuine, he makes me smile too.

“Well done, Thomas,” he says to me. “You’ve earned a rest. Welcome home.”

I get up and follow the man outside. Everything is white. Or is it light? Well, what do you know? Stevie’s words last night as I pulled him from the river make sense now. I’ll never forget the smile on his face in the midst of all the danger. He told me that I had wings. That’s how I saved him and Pepper. I flew to them and carried them back to shore.

Look at me. I am an angel.

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© 2018 Chris Mills

Comments

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 13, 2018:

Thanks for reading, Shauna. It is interesting to consider that maybe there are angels among us.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 10, 2018:

I had goosebumps by the end of this story, Chris. It's nice to know there really are angels on earth.

Great story!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 08, 2018:

Shyron, It is always a pleasure to know you have visited my hubs. Thanks and have a great week.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on July 07, 2018:

Chris, this is a great story, I loved it from beginning to end.

I hope someone takes Thomas to the hospital.

Blessings as always

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 05, 2018:

Linda, thanks for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Just an hour ago I was talking with Thomas, the person I used to develop the story around. He's having dizzy spells and trouble balancing today. I wonder if there is anyone in his life who would take him to the hospital if he needed it?

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 05, 2018:

This is a lovely story, Chris. The plot is interesting and meaningful and the ending was unexpected. I enjoyed reading the story very much.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 05, 2018:

Sean, This is what I love about fiction. The reader can, at certain points, have his or her own opinion about what is occurring. I have one story with an ending I don't fully comprehend. Readers have given a variety of possible answers. Your characterization of Thomas as a human who simply loves others and is therefore a kind of angel is a totally valid view of this story. Thank you for interacting with the story in this way.

As for Philip K. Dick, oh my. Thank you, but I have to transfer all of this over into longer works and even screenplays to fully deserve anything like that. But that is my own, subjective opinion. Again, thank you.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on July 05, 2018:

... or maybe were the Wings of Love that made him an Angel. What if just were growing up all this time?

Amazing work, my friend! In my Heart, now you are beside Philip K. Dick!

Admiration!

Sean

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 04, 2018:

Facepalm

manatita44 from london on July 04, 2018:

Then that's great, bro.

They say once you crack Zen Koans then you are enlightened, no? Lol.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 04, 2018:

Thank you, manatita. I'll be up all night pondering the deeper meanings of "one wing or two" and "rise higher like the flood." Thanks, I'll be watching fireworks tonight.

manatita44 from london on July 04, 2018:

Angel, all right. One wing or two? Work some more and then rise higher, like the flood. Cool, eh? Happy July 4th Bro.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 04, 2018:

RedElf, I'm glad I could mislead you briefly in the story so the ending would be a pleasant surprise. Thanks for visiting.

RedElf from Canada on July 04, 2018:

I was thinking "cop" or "doctor" especially after you mentioned him getting a call from the city - didn't see that one coming, though, but it makes perfect sense in retrospect. Which all good endings should, of course. Nice!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 04, 2018:

Thank you, Eric. I totally agree.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 04, 2018:

Perfectly and flawlessly done. Thank you. A sad state of affairs. Perfect place for an angel.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 04, 2018:

Hari, Thank you for your response to the story. I'm glad the ending surprised you.

Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on July 04, 2018:

The story was interesting and the ending was surprising. Excellent. Loved the flow of the story.

- Hari

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 03, 2018:

Doris, I am pleased that I could keep the truth concealed until the end for you. I actually based this story on the life of a homeless friend of mine by the name of Thomas. He does his best to help others around him, so I felt inclined to offer this tribute to him.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 03, 2018:

Beautifully done, Chris. I didn't know where it was heading, but I can usually guess. Not this time, what a surprise ending!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 03, 2018:

NIkki, Thank you for showing up today and reading this story. I've learned that the people in any society learn to ignore the homeless, not because they don't care but because they don't know what to do about it. Turning a blind eye to the problem is a psychological and a sociological response to an issue that seems to be too big and complicated to make right.

Nikki Khan from London on July 02, 2018:

Wow,,,loved it. You've described it so well, loved the line, " we are invisible, like ghosts who haunt the streets".

Just Marvellous.

Felt so bad for those homeless people, who are indeed like ghosts who haunt the streets of the city, strange and unknown to the society as they never exist.