Flash Fiction Challenge: Share an Image, Write a Story

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Fiction, Flash Fiction Challenge
Tags: ,

The challenge over at terribleminds this week was to use an image (either provided by El Wendigo himself or by someone else in the comments) and write a story based on it. I decided to use the image provided by Wendig (of a business’ sign proclaiming OBERON IS HERE) and came up with “Private Party”:

Steve rubbed at his eyes as his gaze flicked up to the rearview mirror, taking in the purples, oranges, and reds of the setting sun behind him. He’d been driving since well before dawn, trying to put as much asphalt under his tires as he could in the effort to have this business trip come to an end. Though there was a very large part of him that bridled at his company’s penny-pinching denial of plane tickets – as if all of the gas and the overtime he was getting while driving was less than the cost of airfare – there was another part that enjoyed the cross-country trip and the sights it afforded.

He needed coffee, though. And a rest for a bit. The chance to close his eyes for five minutes and reboot his brain.

Food wouldn’t hurt either.

As he passed a billboard that advertised “Llewelyn’s Family Diner & Party Hall” at the next exit, Steve shrugged and kept his eyes open. He pulled off the highway and followed the few signs until he spotted the restaurant, pulling into a parking space with a distinct sense of relief and relaxation. Closing the door of his company car, Steve stretched for a moment or two, easing his stiff muscles until they felt up to the task of basic movement. As he stretched his neck, his eyes glanced up at the sign that towered over the lot. LLEWELYN’S! it read in big, black, italicized letters, but it was the words beneath that – in blocky, prefabricated fashion like so many business signs that needed to be changed regularly to advertise new deals and such – that drew a raised, questioning eyebrow from him.


“Huh,” Steve grunted after a moment, shrugging his shoulders and heading inside. It was a fairly simple building painted in pleasing, pastel colors inside and out, with a front section for the diner and double doors in the back that Steve guessed lead to a multipurpose room of some kind, likely used for birthday parties and other large gatherings. It wasn’t packed inside, but there was at least a dozen other individuals, couples, or small groups peppered throughout the diner, so he helped himself to a seat at the counter and snatched up a laminated, one-page menu from between a pair of nearby napkin dispensers.

“Evenin’, friend,” said a friendly-looking man as he ambled over toward Steve from behind the counter. “What can I get ya’?”

“Ummm…I’ll have a coffee and…a club sandwich,” Steve replied.

“Excellent!” said the man, calling the order back into the kitchen as he went about preparing Steve’s coffee. “Say,” the man continued as he set Steve’s coffee down in front of him, “can I ask you something? You don’t look familiar, so I’m assuming you saw our billboard on the highway, right?”

Steve nodded as he dumped creamer and sugar into his cup. “Yep.”

The man snapped and his face broke out into a large grin. “Hot damn! I knew that was worth the money,” he said. “We’ve have more new business stopping in over the last month since we had that put up then in the last six months combined. Travelers, truckers…heck, we even scored a birthday party out of it!” He nodded his head over his shoulders toward the back. “All because of that sign! Man, Sue is going to eat crow!” He laughed amiably at that.

“Is that who Oberon is?” Steve asked casually before taking a sip of his coffee.

The man quirked an eyebrow. “Who?”

Steve jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Your sign out front. It says, ‘Oberon is Here’.”

Confusion deepened on the man’s face. “What? No, that ain’t right…”

He moved from behind the counter and Steve, unconsciously pulled along by the momentum of the situation, followed the man to the front door. “Nah, see,” said the man, pointing at the sign. “It’s says, ‘Happy Birthday, Ollie!’ You must’ve misread it, sir.”

Steve blinked at looked at the sign. Sure enough it read HAPPY BIRTHDAY, OLLIE!, but his vision blurred slightly as he stared at it. For a half-second he could almost see the words IS HERE but they were gone a heartbeat later. He shook his head as the man gave him a friendly pat on his shoulder. “Come on,” he said, looking back toward the counter. “Looks like your sandwich is ready.”

Steve sat back down at the counter, confused. He knew he’d seen OBERON IS HERE spelled out on the board, but he also knew that he was tired from the road. Maybe he did just misread it. With a sigh, he tucked into his sandwich and ate. He was about half-way done when there was a loud sound from the back room, like applause or something. Glancing around the room, he saw that nobody else noticed it or paid it any mind. Looking toward the double doors as he chewed, Steve couldn’t push away the feeling that something was going on back there that wasn’t a birthday party. Seeing that the cook – or waiter or owner or whomever the man who’d served him was – down at the other end of the counter, chatting with a mother and her young daughter, Steve casually stood and made his way around toward the double doors.

“Private party,” croaked a voice as Steve reached a hand out to grab a door handle.

Startled slightly, Steve looked to his right and saw a small, elderly man with the most froglike features he’d even seen sitting alone at a small table for two near the doors.

“I’m sorry?” Steve stammered.

The old man bobbed his head toward the doors. “It’s a private party in there. No outsiders,” he croaked out a reply, and with that kind of voice Steve could imagine the little man having smoked three packs a day since he was five. “Please.”

It was the last word that got Steve. He blushed slightly in embarrassment. “S-sorry,” he said, then turned and walked back to his seat at the counter. He finished his sandwich, occasionally glancing up and seeing the little, elderly man looking at him, before paying for his meal and heading outside. He stood by the driver’s side door of his car for a long moment, waffling between just getting back on the road and satiating his curiosity. Finally, he sighed and glanced around the parking lot, making sure that no one was watching before he headed around toward the back of the building.

There were a half-dozen small windows near the top of the wall on the backside of the restaurant, shining soft light out into the twilight darkness of the parking lot, that Steve could only guess looked in on the back room. Climbing on top of one of the dumpsters, he cautiously peered into the nearest window as he balanced precariously on the metal rim.

He wasn’t sure what he was looking at for a long moment.

Inside he saw the motliest assortment of persons and creatures clustered around tables that for a second he thought he was hallucinating. Some looked anthropomorphized animals, others like trees and rocks and flames given human form, while others resembled storybook monsters of one stripe or another. And they were all facing a beautiful, regal man seated along one wall of the room, who was flanked by a quartet of ogrish creatures who looked malevolently out at the room.

Several of the creatures in the crowd spoke, their words muffled and unclear, eliciting a weary sigh from the regal man followed by a rubbing of his temples. Steve watched for another short moment, then carefully jumped down from the dumpster.

He didn’t know what he’d just seen, but he knew that he didn’t want to get caught out here, thinking only of the strange, amphibian stare the elderly man inside had given him. Numbly, Steve walked back to his car and got inside. As he pulled back onto the road, he glanced up at the shine, shivered slightly at the sight of HAPPY BIRTHDAY, OLLIE! and drove back to the highway.


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