Flash Fiction: Sulfur by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write about a fictional something that should be left in the past. Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of the poignant YA novel The Girl Who Flew Away: https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Flew-Away-ebook/dp/B06XKDFXTZ


By Val Muller

Even in Georgia, the day was brisk, leaving streets empty. It was the first week of January, and most people still had their Christmas decorations up. Was it to make the cold snap feel less brutal? Or maybe the Southerners simply hibernated when temperatures dropped too low: the decorations would come down when they could move again.

In any case, it worked out well for Andrea. She’d used extra perfume this morning—“holiday sparkle,” it was called, and it paired perfectly with the pine needle potpourri she stuffed into her satchel. If he asked about the scent, she could claim she was just being seasonal. Celebratory. That’s what people looked for in a nanny, right? A celebratory nanny would never have been involved in a—no, she had to move past it.

She took a deep breath and double-checked the address on her phone. Yes, this was it. 13450 Hummingbird Lane. His name was Mr. Weinstein, although her expansive Internet searches could not tell her whether he pronounced it as steen or stine. A forgivable offense, but given her situation, she couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.

He answered the door holding a handkerchief to his nose, then he dabbed his red nostrils and invited her in. He closed the door behind her before reaching a hand and offering a shake. She told herself not to hesitate and to grip firmly, glad she was wearing thick leather gloves against his germy hand.

“Andrea Climbury,” she said.

“Goob to meet you,” he said. “Excuse the mose.” He motioned to his head, obviously congested.

“Of course,” she offered. At first she frowned at his lack of introduction—she still didn’t know how to pronounce his name. But then her face broke into a smile. With a stuffy nose, there was no way he could smell anything about her—pine tree or otherwise. She swore with the last interview, the sulfur ruined everything.

“Come on into the study,” he said, checking his watch. “Elissa is just finishing her map.” His face drew into a smile at what must have been Andrea’s surprised expression. “She still maps. She’s only three,” he said. “I mow, my ad made her sound a bit older. Unintentional. She’s a bit precocious, is all. She loves books.”

“I certainly do love to read to the little ones,” Andrea said. “It’s one of the reasons I answered your ad. At my last job, books were a big—” She caught herself. “And I’ve worked with children of all ages.”

Mr. Weinstein motioned for her to sit on the couch. She glanced around the study. The books were all leather and looked older than even Mr. Weinstein. They had to be worth at least twice what he paid for his house. Several rare volumes sat open on pedestals.

“Elissa loves to read,” he explained.

He retrieved Andrea’s resume from his desk and joined her at the other end. “So, Ms. Climbury, I see you’ve moved here from up north. Andover, was it? Now where do I know that town? I’ve never been to Massachusetts, but the name sounds so…”

Andrea sighed. This was it, then. He’d make the connection and she’d be on the search for a job again. If Georgia wasn’t far enough, then where in the world could she go? Distract him, stupid!

“Yes, there was a little girl there. Madison. She loved to read, too. That’s how—” She forced her face into a smile. “Anyway, I was, um, heartbroken when her parents decided to send her to boarding school.”

He nodded, but his face was elsewhere, trying to retrieve a memory. Then it relaxed. “That’s right! Andover. Late last year—Andover was the site of that, well. I don’t know what to call it, actually.”

The Portal to Hell. That’s what the media had called it. The house that randomly opened up in a sinkhole filled with what appeared to be smoldering magma. Unexplainable by geologists, architects, and city planners. A new tourist destination for fans of nearby Salem, and witchcraft, and the occult.

Andrea scratched her nose, and it burned with the familiar scent. She feared she’d remember the scent as long as she lived. To be fair, Madison had been a nice girl. Even to this day, Andrea blamed the books. They’d turned the child into a young Dr. Faustus. And then all it took was a passing taunt on the way home from little Madison’s rival. A few Latin chants later, and little Jenny’s house had become a portal to Hell.

Madison’s parents told Andrea the decision for boarding school was unrelated to the sinkhole incident. It wasn’t completely clear they knew their daughter was to blame. So what if Madison had been standing on the rim of the smoldering crater when the fire department arrived? But Andrea suspected they’d put two and two together. Why else would they send their daughter off to Wisconsin?

Same reason Andrea was down in Georgia.

Andrea looked up to see that Mr. Weinstein was frowning at her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You probably don’t like talking about that very buch.” He sniffled. “I’m sure it was traumatic for your town.”

Andrea turned her face to sniff out the pine scent of her satchel. It helped cover the itchy sulfur that had infused itself into her on that fateful day. “In any case,” she said, “I’m eager to start in a new position right away. Like I said, I love working with kids.”

A pitter-patter on hardwood interrupted the conversation. “Speak of the devil,” he said, “here’s little Elissa now.” He turned to a wild-eyed little girl in a pink, frilly tutu with a sequined purple witch hat. “How was your map? You ready to do some reading?”

“Yes!” she squealed.

Andrea looked around, searching for the stash of children’s books that had to be somewhere. But little Elissa was already busy pushing a wooden stool up to a pedestal stand containing a very old, leather-bound volume.

“The Necronomicon,” she chirped, offering a toothy toddler smile to Andrea and her father.

Mr. Weinstein turned to admire his precocious little daughter. “Miss Climbury, I’m sure the two of you will get along just fine. I’ll leave the two of you to get acquai—”

But when he turned toward Andrea, he saw only an empty couch, felt the draft of the front door opening to the cold, and even through his congestion caught the faintest whiff of sulfur among pine.

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com



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