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Entered this flash fiction contest. Came a couple points shy of making the finals. Below is my submission for the second round. I was given the location the genre Mystery, location Sauna, object Newspaper. Here it is:


They were there again. These comma-shaped swipes of hair, left in the wake of a mop-stroke. Somebody else’s hair. Body hair. These lank, dead-looking tadpoles of somebody else’s pubes and pit-hair and navel lint. Baking on the floor of the sauna. It was gross.

Gerald rested his knuckles on the paunch-roll over above his hipbones, stared at the tadpole of dark hair, which he imagined he could hear sizzling over the ticking of the electric stove heating the rocks inside. He imagined he could smell the oily bodies the hairs dropped from – redolent like yeasty meat, the manifold bouquet of simmered atrophy when you cut a plaster cast off a healed arm. He hitched at his towel, considered padding back to his locker to grab his phone and take a picture of this sickening pollywog to show that guy at the front desk – Maury? Morris?

Gerald decided against it. He’d just bitch him out, like usual. Morris. It was Morris, wasn’t it?

Gerald was a bit of a fixture at the front desk at this club. He’d been a member for nearly fifteen years. He knew all the staff thought he was a pill, but he didn’t care – he paid good money to have a place for a swim and a steam, a treadmill and a sauna – and he felt it reasonable to expect it to be clean and well maintained. And if the price for this reasonable expectation was that the guys working here felt a little put out, then so be it – he was the customer, he was right. Always.

And he’d be goddamned if he’d permit this crisping pollywog of pubes to remain on the floor of the sauna without remarking on it to those responsible for its removal. Gerald had half a mind to march out of the locker room in his towel to talk to… what was his stupid name? Morton? No, Mario? Dammit. In one of the chain gyms – Gerald refused to call them fitness centers – he would never consider marching around in just a towel. But this was a Men’s Athletic Club, so it wouldn’t be the same scandalous kind of deal as if this was a coed place.

Still, though. Gerald would feel self-conscious. He eyed himself in full-length mirror on the opposite wall. His pointed ski-jumping little man boobs jiggled with every step, so the prospect of trudging across the vaulted lobby to approach the front desk was a little more than he could face – Gerald felt a bit mortified when he pictured himself in his bleach-smelling towel skirt, fwip-fwapping is way across the plush carpet of the lobby in his shower sandals.

He’d bitch the guy out when he was leaving. Dressed. In command. He’d give Morris or Maury or whatever a piece of his mind about the deteriorated condition of this facility. Gerald fwip-fwapped over to the bathroom area, pulled out a couple of tri-fold paper towels from the dispenser on the wall, went and hauled open the cedar airlock door on the sauna, bent grimacing to pick up the scalded tadpole of hair, the sauna exhaling its burnt breath. He walked the wadded pube creature, pinched hard between thumb and middle finger like something poised to wriggle free.

He dropped it in the wastebasket and caught sight of himself in the mirror again. He wondered, as he stared a moment at his high spotted forehead, the fastidious trim of his white mustache, if over time he’d become full-on peevish instead of particular. 

“Doesn’t matter,” he muttered at his reflection. “I’m not wrong.”

Later, after he’d baked in the sauna for a while, and had showered, he was pulling the Velcro on his shoe into place when he noticed, finally, that he had seen no one since he got to the club nearly two hours ago. Nobody. Not Front Desk Morty, not the midday gaggle of old racquetball guys, with their braced knees and trailing Ben Gay-smell. Not the valets out front, not the locker room attendant Gerald inwardly called Simple Jim. Not anybody.

It was unsettling. Hearing the sigh of the AC in the vents, the burble and lap of the pool echoing off the tile in the showers, the ticking of the sauna. But no footfall, no splashing, none of the thunder from upstairs as free weights hit the padded floor.

Gerald’s stride grew tentative as he crossed the lobby, toward the unmanned front desk. He picked his way across the woolen expanse of carpet. Each step seemed loud to Gerald – he could hear the edges of his shoes mashing the fibers of the deep pile; could hear each lazy swoop of the ceiling fan high above him; could hear the blood traveling through his neck.

He reached the desk. His mouth was dry.

His hand hovered over the call bell. But he did not strike it.

Folded smartly on the black walnut ledge, exactly parallel with the edge of it, sat a newspaper. The headline: “Shooting at Area Health Club: Gunman Slays Eleven, Kills Self.”

Gerald’s hand withdrew from the bell and dropped to his side. Droplets of sweat sprang up on his palms. He read on.

“Just before noon yesterday at the Excelsior Gentleman’s Athletic Club on South Magnolia, police allege that longtime staffer Maurice Gibson, armed with a pair of handguns, went on a rampage that left eleven patrons dead and nine wounded. In the ensuing standoff with police, Gibson turned a gun on himself. He was pronounced dead at the scene.”

Gerald’s gaze drifted to the masthead. To the date. September 18, 2017.

He looked at his phone. September 16.

Gerald backed away from the desk and made his wary way to the polished brass of the revolving doors.

He stepped out into the buzzing heat of the day and began walking.

Maurice. The desk attendant’s name was Maurice. Gerald would remember it now.

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