It’s been a while since I last posted any prose writing, so I thought I’d share a flash fiction story. Like the last story I posted, this one was written for the NPR three minute fiction contest. The writing prompt this time was:
Write a story in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning.
My story wasn’t chosen, so I get to post it here.
Like a Penny
By Michael Vest
I found happiness on the sidewalk, just laying there. So I picked it up.
It felt light in my hands, little more than the weight of a coin, or a key, and I was shocked to see how plain it looked, how unadorned.
My first reaction was to glance around, expecting at once to see a figure rushing towards me, a look of relief tinged with trepidation and concern apparent on their features, one eager hand outstretched to reclaim their erstwhile property. I saw no such figure, however, and my puzzlement grew. Who could have lost such a precious thing and not at once felt its absence, burning like a hole in their chest, more urgent and pressing than any other concern? And its loss must have surely been an accident, for what sort of person would discard such a thing willingly? And so casually, too… casting it away like a cigarette butt onto the street…
Even as my mind raced through its imaginations I could feel the warmth radiating out from the object, through my open, cupping hands, up my arms and then out into my chest. When it reached my heart I felt a little thrill of joy and closed my eyes at once as the world grew dizzy. When I opened them again, my hands had closed around the object.
I looked around once more, but still the sparse pedestrians ambled by, heedless both of me and the thing a held.
A measure of reason returned to me, and I began to consider what course of action I ought take. While my hands, it seemed, had already cast their vote, a voice in my head chastised them for their greed. This object, however lovely, however good, did not belong to me. And yet… how to find its owner? How to discern whose claim (and already I guessed there would be many) was genuine? Should I tack posters along mainstreet? Inside coffee shops?
Or, now the thought came to me, should I surrender my find to the authorities, trusting the police (or whomever’s jurisdiction in which this matter lay) to seek out the rightful owner and return to them their own.
All these options and more occurred to me, each with its own merit and flaw. But none drew me, for no matter how long I thought, or how loud my conscience protested, I could not escape one simple fact: I did not want to return it.
My fingers played and idle game with the thing as my mind wove through its guilty web. Why shouldn’t I keep it? It seemed obvious now its owner did not miss it, or they would have come back. Had I lost it I would surely have given in to hysteria by then, retracing my steps with a frantic speed, babbling and shouting all the while at my loss. Even if I could, somehow, track down its former owner, did they deserve it back, having so easily misplaced it?
And anyway, what of my needs? Why shouldn’t I claim it for my own—I, who hadn’t owned the like since… how long had it even been? Long enough that I could not recall, and I was far from old.
Slowly, carefully, I slipped the thing into my pocket. I would keep it; Its owner had abandoned it like a fallen penny, but I would treasure it as a fortune.
Like a Penny–copyright © 2013 by Michael Vest