My entry for Round 1 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest!
Word Count: 1000
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Location: Under a bridge
Thing: a weight scale
Synopsis: Two couples shelter under a bridge in a storm on Midsummer’s Eve – and their lives are changed forever. Is it Midsummer magic?
“All of this stuff about midsummer magic is absolute bosh, of course,” said a patron of The Fisherman’s Bed, as he waited for the foam on his beer to die down.
“Well, I don’t know,” said a tall fellow. “Something very like midsummer magic happened to me, once. I’ll tell you about it, shall I?”
And, deaf to our pleas for mercy, tell us about it he did.
The first thing you must know (he said) is that I was engaged to Bess, and that my friend Ronald was engaged to Sadie. Got that? We did.
We were staying at my little place in the country (he continued). It’d been a wet summer; for three days, we’d been cooped up inside, with the rain positively slamming down. So when, on the third night –Midsummer’s Eve (and he eyed us keenly) — the rain stopped, we all decided to take a walk. A mile from my cottage, however, the rain started up again, harder than ever.
“Let’s shelter under that bridge,” Sadie said, pointing. It was a good idea, and we swiftly adopted it. It was one of those little stone bridges, very quaint and charming, and bridging a mere trickle of water. Note, though, that word “little.” It was a tight squeeze.
Ronald took out his pocket torch and flashed it round, revealing a bunch of miscellaneous rubbish. Crisp packets. Tins. Ironmongery. A bathroom scale. Several pieces of partly burned wood, indicating that this was some tramp’s little place in the country. The stream was swollen to twice its fighting weight, and ran fast and muddy through our shelter.
“Not exactly cozy,” noted Bess, “but as long as that torch stays on, I think my nerves will stand it.”
Sadie let out a mirthless chuckle. “Then I reckon,” said Sadie, using the charming American idiom that she’d picked up in the course of growing up American, “You’ve got about a minute. Look, it’s flickering already.” We looked. It was true. “Ronnie,” said Sadie, fretfully, “Why on earth didn’t you put in new batteries like I told you to?”
“I think it was very clever of Ronald to bring a torch,” said Bess, looking ardently at Ronald. “Some men,” and she regarded me, not with ardor, “don’t have the foresight.”
I sank into a gloomy silence. Our wedding was but three short weeks away, on the Friday. Sadie and Ronald would marry on the Saturday, in the same church, thus saving our circle of mutual friends and relations the expense of two trips to Brighton. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I wasn’t sure.
“Clever!” Snorted Sadie. “It would’ve been clever to get new batteries.”
“It wouldn’t need new batteries,” said Ronald, “if you hadn’t insisted on giving that awful child in our sleeping-compartment a shadow puppet show.”
“She was sweet!” Sadie said.
“She put jam in my hair!” Ronald cried. “On purpose- note that! It was an act of deliberate malice.”
“Aw honey,” said Sadie, smiling broadly, “she was only spreadin’ a little sweetness and light.”
I laughed aloud at that one. And Sadie’s remark about the shadow puppets had interested me strangely. I, too, am a practitioner of that art. I was about to ask if she could make a beagle, with a view to showing her how it was done, when Bess shoved her oar in.
“Children today,” she said, pursing her lips, “are permitted far too many liberties.” Ronald nodded, with severe satisfaction.
The light of Ronald’s torch caught a pair of beady little eyes as an enormous rat eased himself out of a hole in the stonework.
The torch flickered and went out.
“I can’t stand this!” Wailed Bess. “I know it’s going to brush against my leg. If that happens, I’ll go absolutely mad, I know it!”
“Old thing,” I said, grimly, “you sound like you already have done.”
Bess gave a shriek of rage, and something struck me in the face before landing on the ground with a metallic clank. “Take this foul thing back! I HATE YOU!”
I lit a match and had a squint around. Lying on the scale was Bess’s engagement ring. “I say-” I said, hesitantly. Bess did not reply. She was sobbing violently, with her back turned to us. I shrugged and put it in my pocket.
“You’ve got matches?” Sadie asked. “Why, that gives me an idea!” She made the wood into a pile and soon we had a fire.
“Jolly good!” I cried.
Ronald started to cough.
“Sadie, you know I’m sensitive to smoke,” he said, when the spasm had passed.
“You and your sensitivities!” Cried Sadie.
“If you think,” said Ronald, icily, “that I am going to marry a woman who is perpetually setting fires, well, think again!”
“Guess you should take this back then,” said Sadie. And she handed him her engagement ring. He snatched it and shoved it into his pocket.
“Bess,” he said, “I am going back to the house. Better die of pneumonia than of smoke inhalation. Will you accompany me?”
Wordlessly, Bess took his arm, and they walked out into the pouring rain, leaving Sadie and me alone.
“I say,” I said, eventually. “Do you know how to make a beagle? A shadow beagle, I mean.”
“Why don’t you show me?” Sadie whispered.
The tall fellow eyed us keenly. “Three weeks later, the bells sang sweetly out in the town of Brighton, on the Friday, and again on the Saturday, and Ronald and I became married men.”
“What?” We cried, baffled. “But-”
“Yoo-hoo lover!” A sweet American voice called from the entryway, and a corker of a girl strolled in, smiling broadly. The tall fellow blushed with pride and pleasure.
“Gentlemen, meet my wife, Sadie,” he said to us, as he prepared to depart. Before he left, he turned back to us. “And it happened,” he reminded us, “on Midsummer’s Eve.”