Welcome Back to Flash Fiction Friday!
Thanks for coming back, Arrowheads! This week’s Flash Fiction piece is a modern retelling of the Japanese fairy tale, “The Boy Who Drew Cats“. I found a writing prompt on Pinterest last year about retelling a fairy tale, and I wanted to center the story around a lesser-known (well, at least to me) fairy tale. So, without further ado, here’s “Illustrate Your Faith”! 🙂
Illustrate Your Faith
One round face, two triangles for ears. A long, swooping tail, and a body with four paws attached. I set the black crayon down after I color in the patches of fur and admire my artwork. “Smudge,” I decree its name, another addition to my sketchbook. This makes about thirty.
“Koda, stop drawing! You’re going to be late for school!” Father shouts from the opposite side of the bedroom door. As I take care to put my crayons back in their box, he throws open the door and grabs the hood of my red jacket, jerking me roughly into the hallway. “I said go get on the bus, you ignorant freak! Your brothers and sisters have already left on their bikes an hour ago.”
Without comment, I bolt downstairs to retrieve my worn backpack. My unfinished homework sheets fall out of the gaping hole while I shuffle down the dirt walkway that leads to the bus stop on our corner, and then on to school. Though father called me ignorant, the term fits him more so, because the school bus stops by at seven, and it’s a quarter to eight. But, what more can I say of a deadbeat man who dropped out of school at age sixteen to start a family he would soon come to abuse?
Halfway through my journey to school, I decide to skip out on class altogether. Not to be like my father; I never intend to follow in his greasy footsteps. But school just isn’t what I’m interested in. I live in the poorest school district of my state. Extracurricular activities and classes, including art, haven’t been around since the 1960’s. Except for when I doodle in class. And Mrs. Phillips, my fourth grade teacher, hates it when I don’t pay attention. Which is almost always.
Instead of sitting through another mundane lesson on spelling, I head to the back alley of Figaro’s, one of the restaurants in town. Though I’ve never had enough money to actually eat anything freshly made from the half-Italian, half-Mexican restaurant, I spend a lot of time scrounging through the dumpsters out back for food scraps. Father, as it seems, can’t work to provide food for my siblings and me. But really, I prefer Figaro’s because there’s an entire crate of unused napkins sitting next to the dumpsters. Apparently, the customization company mistook Figaro’s penmanship on the order form and applied the words “Firgary’s”. Figaro, per usual, only deems the best products as acceptable for his restaurant, so he tossed them aside. His loss, my gain.
As I’m adding detail to the paws on my newest feline—a white female named Marie—I hear soft footsteps approaching. Glancing up from my drawing, I see a middle-aged man in a flannel jacket looming up to me cautiously. Father—among other men in this poverty-stricken town—often has bad intentions when approaching strangers, especially helpless children in alleys behind the few thriving businesses. While there’s still a fair distance between us, I scoop up my belongings into my backpack and begin to hightail in the opposite direction. When I come face to face with a brick wall, I curse my stupidity. This is an alley, you idiot! He’s blocking my only escape!
“Don’t be afraid, son,” says the man as he continues to walk toward me. I back against the wall, wishing I was better at climbing, like my brothers. Dyami and Nodin would’ve found a way out of this by now; beating the guy down would’ve been their top option. The man notices something on the ground beside the dumpster: my gray coloring pencil. I use it on most of my drawings to construct the outline of the cat before I fill in the fur patterns. Now, I feel I’m going to suffer from a stabbing wound caused by it.
“I think you dropped this,” the man groans as he picks up the pencil, placing his hand on the arch of his back. As he struggles to return to his former stature and hobbles forward, he looks older than I previously thought. He may even be in his late sixties. But I’ve got enough street smarts to know to never trust a strange man in these parts, so I don’t respond.
Still, he continues to advance towards me at his slow pace. “It’s okay boy, I won’t harm you. I’m a pastor.”
“I don’t believe you!” I find myself responding, scared out of my wits. I wish I was older, so my voice wouldn’t sound so shrill.
“Would you like some food?” The man pulls a small sandwich wrapped in wax paper out of his jacket pocket, along with a bag of Doritos.
“Mother always said to never accept food from strangers,” I counter, though I never even knew my mother. She died while giving birth to me.
“God as my witness, I haven’t poisoned it.” The man raises his hand towards the sky, “and to be sure it’s better than these scraps you’ve been eating out here.” My face must have shown my shock, as he explained, “the church I pastor is across the street. I’ve seen you come and go from here many times and wanted to help you.”
He extends out his hands with the food cradled in them, and I take a few careful steps forward, snatching up the contents. The pastor laughs at my skittish nature. “What’s your name, son?”
“Koda,” I submit, opening the wrapping on the sandwich. I’ve never seen such a beautiful sandwich. It has different types of cheese, some vegetables and sauce that is so sweet I smile while biting into it. I grin at the pastor to show my appreciation.
“Nice to meet you, Koda. I’m Pastor Carson, but you can call me Todd if you like.” I nod, glad my former premonitions were not true. Todd watches me practically swallow the sandwich whole before he adds, “If you ever need somewhere to stay, the church is always open. It’s not much—not a lot of people have the money to tithe in this town—but I’m thinking maybe it’s safer than home?” Todd glances down at my bruised arms; I pull down my jacket sleeve to cover them up. I’ve heard the system is bad, and I never want to be put in it, no matter how much damage father does. The church doesn’t sound that bad though.
“Can I?” I ask shyly, stuffing the uneaten bag of Doritos into my pocket. The sandwich was filling enough since I’m not used to eating a lot. “I don’t have a blanket or pillow though. And my belongings are at home.”
“That’s okay. If you want, I can walk you home so you can get some things. We have a collection of quilts and pillows from the women’s ministry, though, so you don’t have to worry about that.” I must seem apprehensive, because he crouches down to my level. “It’s going to be okay, Koda. We’ll be in and out before your father notices.”
I nod, weighing the possibilities in my mind. Father drinks without ceasing, so there’s a good chance he is passed out at home. That means I can retrieve my stuff with ease.
We walk in silence through our small town, guided by the broken sidewalk that ends once we reach the gravel road I live on. Every crunch of gravel beneath my feet fills me with anxiety, as I’ve never left home before. If Father were to catch me, there’s no telling how long the bruises will last—if I last, that is. When we reach the front door, I point to a spot underneath a window, providing Pastor Carson with a warning to not go inside with me. If he were to be caught, I’m positive that he wouldn’t last until Sunday.
I turn the doorknob with caution, inching the door open just enough for me to disappear inside. As suspected, Father is out cold on the couch, an empty bottle of bourbon beside him. Tiptoeing to the bedroom I share with my brothers, I stuff three shirts, a pair of holey jeans, and a pair of brown shoes—the extent of my clothes—into my backpack. Knowing that there’s a good chance Father won’t wake soon, I search the room for more of my drawings. There’s a couple I stuffed under the bed—ones I drew at school. They are hard to reach, so I set my backpack down on the bed and force myself between the gap. It’s a tight fit, and my backpack falls to the floor with a loud thud. I cringe, anticipating Father’s anger.
Silence follows, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Sliding out from beneath the bed, I tuck the drawings away in my backpack and sling the strap over my shoulder. This is all I can think to take with me; this place holds no sentiment in the way a lifelong home should.
I peer around the door frame before leaving the room. The hallway is clear, so I sneak my way back into the living room. One of the many rats that have overrun the house darts in front of me, eager to snack on the crumbs Father’s dispersed from whatever he’s found to eat. Startled, I jump, accidentally knocking the wall I’ve been using to guide myself.
Father stirs, raising his head to meet my terrified gaze. “Kola,” he growls, his words slurred, “Aren’t ya supposed to be in school?” He rises to his feet, shaking his head as he approaches me. “You know I don’t like to be woken up.”
Fear prickles my skin, making the hairs on my arms rise. All I have to defend myself with is the backpack, which I slide from my shoulders and hold against my chest for protection.
“Do you really think that is going to save you?” Father berates, raising his fist at me. I close my eyes as he snatches the backpack away, throwing it onto the floor. He steps closer, the smell of alcohol looming over me. I can almost feel the sting of the first hit when my backpack rattles on the ground.
“What have you got in there?” Father demands, kicking the backpack against the wall. A sharp hiss escapes from the open pocket, causing Father’s eyes to widen. He bends at the knees, unzipping the compartment to further investigate. A black paw swipes his cheek, leaving a bloody scratch.
“You’re hoarding cats now? Why must I have such a weakling for a son?” Father rages, shaking the bag violently. Not one cat falls from the bag, but two. Then two becomes fifteen, and fifteen becomes thirty. Cats are hissing at my father, their green eyes glowing in the darkened room. My eyes begin to sting from not blinking. These are the cats I’ve drawn.
Soon the cats begin striking my father. Gashes surface on his arms, reminding me of the ones he’s given me the last ten years of my life. Father is powerless, for as he knocks one away, two more seem to take its place. The cats envelop him, allowing me to escape without a scratch.
“What on earth is going on in there?” Pastor Carson asks me when I return outside. From out here, it sounds like a brawl is taking place in my former living room.
“My… my cat pictures. They came to life. They saved me from Father,” I explain, feeling as if he won’t believe me. I can barely believe it myself.
Surprising me, Pastor Carson nods, a smile forming on his face. “Ah yes, God equips those who seek Him for refuge. The old Moses’s staff miracle, I see.”
“What do you mean, Sir?”
“Come, Koda,” he says instead, urging me to walk. “We must be getting back to the church. I’ll explain more there. But for now, know that God blesses those who illustrate their faith.”
©Allyson Kennedy, 2017. All rights reserved.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to come back and visit me at Authoring Arrowheads! 🙂 🏹
-Allyson Kennedy 😀