A Silver Ribbon (NYC Midnight Flash Fiction)
This story is the result of the following requirements:
- Location: A Military Base
- Object: An Outdoor Grill
-Genre: Ghost Story
A Silver Ribbon
By: Marina Mehrtens
Sandrine’s feet pounded against the hard dirt as she ran. Blisters on her toes were throbbing. The pain made her want to go harder, run faster. This was her fourth week at Sanders Boot Camp for Troubled Youth, located at an old military camp in Kansas. Sandrine had been diagnosed “troubled” following her attempted robbery of a Stop and Shop. An icy wind overtook the warm air that had been on the course just moments before. Really, Sandrine thought. She picked up her pace and quickly climbed the rope wall.
The rest of the day blurred by: her shift in the work yard, the conversation over lunch. 7 o’clock came around and the sun was setting. The other girls at camp chattered in their bunks about the summer barbeque that was happening that evening. Mags, a repeat resident of Sanders Boot Camp, was excitedly yapping at Tay, whom was the youngest, smallest girl at camp and often the target of cruel pranks.
“Years ago Pam Gardner, a girl a bit younger than me, like 13, struck a match and burned down her home. This girl got sent to Sanders for arson.” Mags smiled mischievously.
“What’s arson?” Tay asked.
“Its when someone likes to set shit on fire, Tay,” Sandrine chimed in.
“Anyways,” Mags got up from her bed and walked to the middle of the room, “Pam was the perfect little inmate. The only odd thing about her is that she never said a single word.”
“Mrs. Getty must have loved her.”
The girls laughed. Just yesterday Mrs. Getty stormed into their bunks demanding that they shut up because the noise was ruining her favorite soap opera.
“So finally the barbeque came. Pam went with the other girls to the campsite. The whole time she just stared at the grill. She liked to watch the flames dance.” Mags took a little spin. “She thought they were beautiful.”
The entire room was focused on Mags now. Sandrine was leaning in closely to hear.
“So what happened?” someone shouted.
Mags jumped up on the bed frame. “Pam ran over to the grill, kicked it over, and poured a whole bottle of lighter fluid over her head. She stepped into the flames and they swallowed her alive! She had not said a single word in her entire eight months at boot camp but that night every girl and every councilor heard her piercing, painful scream.”
Mags lowered her voice. “Some people say that she screamed the entire time her body burned. Others say that she screamed just for a moment and then peacefully allowed the flames to ravage her. But one thing is certain. Every year, the night of the barbeque, Pam comes back. She chooses one girl…”
Everyone leaned in.
“And kills them!” Mags leapt from her post on the bed and some of the girls screamed as she cackled with laughter.
Sandrine smiled. If Mags could steal wallets as well as she could tell stories, maybe she wouldn’t have end up here a third time.
At the barbeque, there was only one scuffle over burgers but that was quickly snuffed by the threat of more work hours. More stories were told and one girl almost peed from laughing so hard when Tay was tricked into eating a spider.
Sandrine could not get Mags’ story out of her head. She wondered what would drive a girl to burn down her own house and then burn herself alive. As she stared at the flames on the grill, Sandrine imagined what it might feel like be cloaked in a blanket of fire. The flames picked up and Sandrine leaned in. In the fire, she could distinctly make out the face of a girl. The details were clear: cheekbones well defined, the nose skinny, and with a square chin. What stood out most were the two fiery, black holes of anger that were the eyes. The face disappeared. So did Sandrine’s breath.
“You’re real,” she whispered. The trees shook behind her.
“Why did you do it?” Sandrine asked in her head. “Why did you want to die?” She closed her eyes and the face was back. The flames in her head danced around and morphed into a vision, a memory that was not her own.
Sandrine was in the house listening to adults yelling, Pam’s parents. Her mother was crying, begging. Her father was laughing. She walked away from the window and passed a mirror. Sandrine saw the reflection of a pale girl with long black hair. It was the face from the fire. The face was expressionless but the black eyes told a story of resentment, disappointment, and rage.
She reached up to touch the silver ribbon that carefully tied up her long black hair. Then, she glided to the closet to retrieve the matchbox. She struck two matches without success but the third one sparked and lit. She smiled at the small flame and watched as it devoured the stick that held it prisoner. Then she tossed the stick at the curtains and watched as they slowly came alive with fire. She felt strong. She wanted to watch the fire destroy the room but the fire alarm rang and Pam’s parents pulled her outside.
Sandrine’s eyes flew open. The girls were still there, Mrs. Getty was in her corner taking long drags from her cigarette, and Sandrine was still just sitting on a log. Nothing outside had changed but Sandrine knew something incredible had happened. Goose bumps rose on her arms and her heart pounded. What she had seen in her head was so vivid. She wanted more memories, more answers to the questions that were piling up.
Come back, she begged. A force shot through her chest and melted into her. Sandrine’s body convulsed for a second and then she shot straight up.
“Sandrine, are you alright?” Mags asked.
Sandrine nodded and smiled. But her piercing black eyes told a different story.