It's been a month since I first experimented with putting a flash fiction story on my blog. I promised to do one a month, so here I go again.
This story stems from when I used to work at a private special education school in West L. A.. We had this tiny campus, and it was down the street from a community park. For P.E. we would often walk the kids down to the park and let them play there. It was generally safe, although it was Los Angeles, so you know, we tried to be extra aware of our surroundings. For several days in a row this older man began showing up every day while we were there, and he made little wire puzzles. A few of the kids managed to sneak over and get a couple. Well, a parent found out, and I'm sure you can imagine how that went. Needless to say, I always wondered if the man and his puzzles actually formed any real threat.
I have several versions of this story, because I never could quite figure out how to end it. I think I like this super short version best. I hope you enjoy this little, creepy story too.
The Puzzle Maker by D. G. Driver
My children told me about this guy who gave away puzzles in the park where their teachers took them to play for recess sometimes. Naturally, I wanted to meet him for myself and see what he was all about, so I headed over there after I dropped my kids off at school.
I spotted the puzzle maker right away. He was sitting where the kids said he would be, at the picnic table in the park. When I approached, he offered me one of his puzzles by holding it out to me but not with words. I took it, saying “Gracias” to him. He smiled. I sat next to him and tried to figure out how to untangle the puzzle, wishing that I could speak Spanish so I could learn more about him.
Watching him bend the wires with his set of pliers, I couldn’t imagine him being anything but this sweet, darling man. He was probably someone’s grandfather. Retired. Had nothing to do all day. So, he came to the park and made puzzles. Gave them to kids. Simple story. Nice guy.
I summed him up so completely in my head as I sat beside him that I honestly felt we had just finished a long conversation together. In some way we had become friends.
Getting up to head back to my car, I accidentally squeezed the puzzle in my hand against the tabletop. A sharp prick to my palm caused me to fling my hand open and drop the puzzle into the grass. I swore under my breath and brought the beading wound up to my mouth. Just before I sucked the drop of blood away, I heard a noise from the puzzle maker.
I glanced over at him to find that he was watching me. Watching me and chuckling. He pointed his finger at me like he’d just played some great joke on me.
No, I thought. He can’t be vindictive. I won’t believe it. I can’t believe it. This was just an accident, and he finds it funny.
At the same time, however, he darted to the ground to retrieve the puzzle that had injured me. He tucked it into his jacket pocket and winked before walking away.
I ran then. To the public restroom, where I rinsed my hand with lots of water. Was it an accident? Did he do it on purpose? If so, why? Was he trying to make me sick or was it just a practical joke? What kind of person was he?
The two famous stranger slogans flashed in my head like conflicting neon advertisements. “Don’t talk to strangers!” “Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet!”
Which was he? A danger? Or just a nice guy with a weird sense of humor? It was a puzzle I couldn’t solve.
When I came out of the bathroom the man was gone. His spot under the elms taken over by a picnicking family.
All I could think was, “How many of these puzzles are in my children’s backpacks?” I had to get to their school, and confiscate them before they got hurt too.
But I couldn’t get there. I collapsed to the ground. As the world turned black, I heard the puzzle man laughing again.
I hope you enjoyed that. If you did, feel free to poke around my website and see if there's anything else I've written you might enjoy. I have more free stories, including a spooky/campy one about werewolf babies at Wattpad, and I have some fun YA contemporary fantasy books. Feel free to leave a comment.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.