Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
A Witch's Revenge
Tim Duggan drove the streets of St. Louis trying not to jump every time the lightning flashed and thunder clapped overhead. There it was! He saw it when the last bolt jittered through the gray-black clouds that looked like roiling smoke.
The locally-owned burger joint seemed out of place among the downtown buildings that towered above it. The orange neon sign blinked a single name on and off through the pouring rain, “Mike’s”, the Madonna, or Cher if you prefer, of the culinary world.
He had passed a dozen other restaurants that served burgers while he searched for this place. Why was he suddenly so obsessed with finding it?
The online advertisement claimed Mike’s served award-winning burgers. Tim was on this errand to get dinner for himself, his wife, Hannah, and their six-year-old daughter, Lacey, aka, Little Lady Lacey. They were waiting for him in the hotel room, tummies growling.
Jangling bells made it sound like Christmas when he opened the door and entered. Not much to it. Just an area for customers to stand while waiting for their orders. Pictures covered the walls, mostly of the rich and famous who had just enjoyed a Mike’s burger.
No one was behind the counter to take his order so he walked forward to see if he could peek into the back and get someones’ attention. A girl, maybe ten years old with dark hair, walked out of the kitchen and stopped across the counter in front of him. He could only see her dark eyes.
Tim wasn’t sure if he was supposed to order or wait for someone older than the little girl. Her eyes did not blink, and he was pretty sure she wasn’t smiling.
“My name is Josephine,” she nearly whispered.
“Hi, Josephine, I, um…”
“I'll be happy to take your life.”
“What?” Tim stepped back. “What did you say?”
“I said, I'll be happy to take your order?” She held up a pad of paper and pencil for him to see.
“No, no, that isn't what you said.”
Josephine continued not blinking or smiling.
“Okay, okay." Tim tore his eyes away from hers and looked at the menu posted on the wall. "I’ll take two of the double cheeseburger meals with fries, and a kids' burger meal with the toy.”
“I’m going to murder you in fifteen minutes.”
“Wha—? Look, young lady,” he pointed his finger at her, but stopped short. The tip of a butcher knife appeared from below the top edge of the counter.
“Sir,” said Josephine, “all I said was that I'll have your order ready in fifteen minutes.”
Tim turned to leave when a man stepped out of the kitchen.
“I’m sorry. I was out back chasing the varmints away from the garbage cans. It’s a constant battle. I’m Mike. Can I take your order?”
“Who is she?” Tim was sweating, his breath coming in short gulps.
“Who are you talking about, mister?”
Tim charged the counter and slammed his fist down on it. “You know who I’m talking about. The little girl who just took my order while she threatened to murder me with a butcher knife.”
“There’s no little girl here, sir, just me. I run the place on my own.”
“But she was right there where you are standing now, and she threatened to kill me in fifteen minutes.” Tim rubbed his temples. “She said her name was Josephine.”
Mike grabbed Tim by the front of his raincoat and pulled him against the counter. “Look, buddy. I don’t know who you are, but you aren’t funny. What Josephine did to the rest of our family was horrible, but she’s a sick girl. It wasn’t her fault.” He pushed Tim away. “Now get out.”
“What did she do?” Tim approached the counter again. “Where is she now?”
“What she did was in all the papers and on the news. Where she is now is none of your business.”
“I'm sorry, but I’m not from St Louis. I never heard about what your daughter did.”
Mike walked around the end of the counter and joined Tim on the other side. He approached the photos on the wall and pointed at one. It was of a man and the girl Tim had seen on the other side of the counter. He could not forget those eyes.
“That’s me and my daughter just a few weeks before—a few weeks before she murdered my wife, son and another daughter. The State of Missouri has custody of her now. They put her in a place for children who are…”
“Insane?” said Tim.
“Yes, but Josie isn’t simply insane.” Mike turned to look Tim in the eye. “She is gifted. She can do things with her mind.”
“What kinds of things?”
“She once caused a dog to stop walking like it was instantly frozen. The dog whined, but it couldn’t move."
"Did she ever use her gift on people?”
“It was a family secret. If she used it on people, she never talked about it.” Mike looked at his shoes for a moment as though he were making up his mind about something. “On my wife’s side of the family, back in England in the 1600s, there was a witch who could do the same thing. The townsfolk burned her. We think she’s come back as our Josie to get revenge.”
Mike went back around the counter. “Sorry, I practically pulled you out of your shoes a few minutes ago.”
“It’s okay. I think I understand now.”
“Well Mister, it looks like you’ve got about five minutes to live. You’d better be on your way unless you want to order.”
“I told you. I already ordered.” Tim stepped out into the storm, got in his car, and left the madness behind him.
About five minutes later, he was sitting at a stoplight when he heard something stirring in the back seat. He glanced up into the rearview mirror. Josephine’s dark, smileless eyes met his, and the tip of the butcher knife glinted in a flash of lightning. The light turned green, but his car didn’t move. Other drivers honked and went around him.
Tim sat, holding the wheel, unable to move. “Josie, I understand you want revenge. But why me?”
“I wish you could remember.” Cold metal touched his throat. “You were the man back in England who lit the fire beneath me.”
“That's crazy. You're just a little girl, and I'm a simple man whose wife and daughter are waiting for me to bring them dinner."
"It's crazy, and it's true."
"What are you going to do to me, Josie?"
“You will burn at my hand like I did at yours.” The car shook from a muffled explosion under the hood. Smoke rolled out and rose toward the black-gray clouds. Josephine laughed her little girl laugh. Flames reached into the passenger compartment like orange and red fingers.
Two things happened in Tim’s mind when the fingers touched him. First, he remembered that night centuries ago in England when he threw a torch onto a pile of wood and heard a woman scream.
Second, he understood why she screamed.
© 2019 Chris Mills