“Expert” (Flash Fiction Challenge)

Found myself in the mood to write some flash fiction today. Ended up being a little longer than I wanted, but I think it still counts. I issued a challenge to my facebook friends, one that I’ve issued before and I will now issue to you.

Give me something mundane, something ordinary, and I’ll try to make it scary. It can be anything. A habit, an object, a chore, a personality trait. Just as long as it’s mundane or boring, and I’ll write a story about it.

One of my friends gave me the topic “A Golf Ball” and added that it couldn’t deal with a golf course. The only way my story does is that the golf ball in question came from a putt-putt course, but the rest of the story is completely removed from said locale.

This is an example of me trying to do more with less. I haven’t edited it in any way, and I look forward to comments telling me if I succeeded or not. Obviously I will read it over later and form my own opinions, but I wanted this to be raw, unedited. A free flowing of ideas. It’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. Anyway, here it is.

Expert
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 1124

I never thought I would be an expert on anything. Well versed, perhaps, or possibly “extremely knowledgeable”, but never an expert. If anything, I thought it would happen later in my life. Experts are old, white haired men with beards, tweed jackets and pipes or stern, librarian looking women with horn rimmed glasses on thin, golden chains. They aren’t skinny, pale young men working the McDonald’s night shift four days a week who have to take pills to fall asleep.

At the very, very least I assumed I would have been an expert on something big. Something you could call a subject, a topic. Anything. Anything but this.

Do you know the sound a golf ball makes when it bounces? Well, no, you don’t. Oh, you think you do, but really all you have is a vague idea, an echo of a memory of a sound. That’s all. I, on the other hand, do know. I am, after all, an expert, even if it’s a damn stupid thing to be an expert of. I know it completely, exactly, intimately. The sound never leaves me, and I’ve come to know it well.

You see, I have a golf ball. It’s with me at all times. Small and old, dimpled like a moon cratered by a god with OCD. Once it was a bright, almost energetic red color, exactly the type of hue that would excite a small boy on his first trip to a putt putt course, make him covet the ball, make him hide it in the pocket of his tattered, high water jeans before it disappeared down the twisting plastic tube that made up the 18th hole. These days the paint has faded, completely disappearing at parts, but you can still see the long, thin black smudge slashed across it from that first day, slightly obscuring the name of the manufacturing company stamped on it in bold, white letters. -unset Golf, —-ville OH, is all you can see now.

Before you tell me, yes, I’m aware that different surfaces elicit different sounds. Trust me when I say that I have heard them all. There is the sharp, sudden “tok, tok” of linoleum tile, or similar hard, shiny, synthetic surfaces. These surfaces have very little give, and most of the vibrations explode out into the air in one quick pulse of sound. On ceramic tiles the tone is sharper still, more of a “tak” than a “tok”. You get more bounce on ceramic, and there’s a longer delay between sounds. Not that it seems to matter much where I’m concerned. In that, at least, I’m prepared to admit the irregularity of my own experiences in the matter. To me, the interval is always the same: once every two seconds. Until I turn around, that is.

A golf ball bouncing on carpet is quite hard to hear unless the carpet is thin. It also helps if the surface beneath the carpet is a single sheet of material, plywood or sheet metal, suspended in mid air by it’s sides and supported in as few places as possible. Such surfaces are often part of transitory structures, such as a traveling stage, meant to be set up quickly and dismantled even quicker. The type of stage a school might erect for a graduation ceremony. But, as you walked up the shallow ramp towards the school staff, the summer night heavy and humid like a wet blanket, buzzing with insects and human chatter from a distance, the muted “bunk, bunk” of the golf ball as it bounces up the ramp behind you would still be loud enough to drown out the distant cheers of your family.

When a golf ball bounces on a bare wooden surface the sound is more dependent on circumstances of the surface, the dimensions and surroundings, than it’s composition. Hardwood flooring, long, thin strips of wood often laid over a series of joists produce a dull, almost heavy, “donk, donk” with a peculiar echoing quality that shakes you at the base of your ribs and you won’t exactly know why.

Conversely, when the wooden surface in question is a thicker piece of wood, at least several inches thick, and connected to other, similarly thick pieces of wood at perpendicular angles, the resulting sound is still dull, but short and abrupt. A simple “tk”. Obviously this will vary based on the rigidity of the surface in question, but not by much. Common surfaces aligning to these standards include wooden decks and small docks. But perhaps the most common would be a suitably fashioned headboard. The “tk, tk, tk,” of the golf ball bouncing just beside your head all night long can keep you awake for days, and when you finally do sleep, it follows you into your dreams, the black smudge staring at you like a reptilian iris as it beats it’s relentless tattoo deeper and deeper into your subconscious mind.

Perhaps the rarest and most complex sound I can think to mention is the sound of a golf ball as it bounces off the outside of a car’s windshield as the vehicle speeds through a school zone at forty miles an hour a few weeks after your trip to the putt-putt golf course. If you’ve heard that sound, then I pity you, for you are either dead or haunted. The sound is nowhere near as light or tinny as you might expect. Instead, the initial sound is a sudden, resounding “whack” far louder than it has any right to be. After that the sound morphs into a squeal followed by the roaring crash of twisted metal and shattered glass. There might be a scream, a sob, a prayer, but no one alive now knows. Just when you think the aural experience is over, that the only sound there will ever be again is the blood pounding in your ears, there are shouts, and barking dogs, and sirens, and the comforting words of your mother. There will be no punishment, no accusations hurled in your direction, and eventually you swallow the whole experience into the guilty silence of your blackened soul.

But the worst is not over. When all you know is silence, the faintest noise booms the loudest. It follows you. Tapping and bunking and toking and tking over and over again. It never leaves, it never lets you forget.

If you want my advice, the advice of an expert, then listen well. Buy your own coffin. Line it with the thickest cushions, the finest satin, anything you can to dull the sound, and pray. Pray that when you die and they put you in a wooden box six feet underground, that the sound of tapping on the coffin doesn’t disturb your final rest.

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2 thoughts on ““Expert” (Flash Fiction Challenge)

  1. Pingback: Exit Strategy Retrospective | J. C. Conway

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