Welcome back to Panel 350, our experiment in flash fiction (stories told in 350 word or less). Here’s my contribution for this week:
The Old Man’s Book
By Dara Naraghi
The old man shifted his weight on the park bench, basking in the rays of sunlight filtering down through the gangly trees. It was a rare January day in New York, with temperatures hovering around a comfortable 70 degrees. The first real break in the heat wave had brought him, and a few dozen other adventurous souls, out into the last green vestiges of Central Park.
Turning back to his book, he flipped a page on the massive hardback, his eyes dancing across the old typeface. In the background, the constant hum of the irrigation pumps, delivering precious water from the Hudson River, drowned out the chirps of a few lone birds.
A teen flopped down next to the old man, breaking his reverie. She pulled out her mobile and powered up the virtual display. A half dozen distinct feeds began playing at once, music and news and movie broadcasts simultaneously competing for attention, audio waves rolling over each other like waves whipped up by a storm.
“Holy shit, is that an actual book?” she asked, mockingly.
He sighed. “Yes.”
“Oh, wow! That’s so old timey! I mean, like, it doesn’t do anything. It’s not even wired. Come on, grandpa, get with the–”
And then she screamed.
The old man looked up to see a mutated spider, the size of his fist, crawling across the bench towards her. It was likely not poisonous, but why risk it? He lifted the massive book and brought the full weight of it down on the intruder, ending the threat with an obscene, squishy thump.
If there was a hint of gratitude in the teen’s eyes, it was lost behind twin pools of horror and disgust. She fled the bench without a word, raucous mobile in tow.
The old man bent down and wiped the back of the book on the grass, dislodging the spider carcass. He then repositioned himself on the bench, and continued reading.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, a shrill voice echoed “Like, it doesn’t do anything.”
A smile crept across his lips.