Friday, May 20, 2016

Flash Fiction: A Creature of Habit

Like many people, Henry was a man devoted to his daily routine, albeit his patterns were not commonplace. The 66-year-old retiree started each day with three cups of coffee from a local café. Three teaspoons of sugar for each cup, each cup stirred three times.

When he left the café to return home, he waited to hold the door open for three people before leaving the building. Henry circled his car to examine it three times before getting into the driver’s seat. He tested the ignition three times before being satisfied the car would run properly.

On his way home one day, like every other, he passed his driveway to circle the block three times. People he once worked with considered his routines foolish, but his eccentricities afforded him the highest safety record in the history of the factory. Henry kept the same vigilant eye on his surroundings within the neighborhood, always looking for suspicious activity.

“Nothing out of place,” Henry said out loud with a satisfied nod. He completed his first pass around the block, “Another uneventful morning.”

Since his retirement three years ago, he settled into his new daily routine. On his second pass around the block, he admired the neighbors’ manicured lawns while contemplating back to that fateful day 33 years ago. Pronounced dead at the scene, he miraculously recovered 33 minutes later. The doctors suggested the paramedics made a misdiagnosis at the factory because no one could come back after being gone that long. Henry knew he had glimpsed the patterns of the universe and his triple routines have kept him safe so he never allowed himself to believe the doctors’ explanations.

He approached the midway point on his second pass on the route and noticed on the side street a car was rapidly accelerating toward the intersection. Henry checked the speedometer to ensure he maintained his 33 mph speed. An unsuspecting traveler was coming toward Henry from the opposite direction. He cleared the intersection, then flashed his lights three times to warn the unwary driver.

A crash erupted behind him as the runaway driver sideswiped the car he tried to warn. From his rear-view mirror, Henry watched in horror as the two cars spun around, debris flying everywhere, blocking the entire intersection. Before he made his right turn to start his third pass, a young man staggered out of the runaway car.  Blood poured from his forehead as he drifted aimlessly.

Henry trembled uncontrollably. Not only had he witnessed a terrible tragedy, but he also needed to complete his third pass. His routines had always kept him safe so he simply could not abandon them. Tears streamed from his eyes when he considered someone may have died and yet he maintained his course. He abhorred leaving the scene of an accident. but decided he'd stop after his third pass.

Passing his driveway a third time, a cloud of black smoke reached toward the sky in the direction of the accident. He clutched at the cell phone resting in the passenger seat to make a call when he finished his final pass.

Henry turned back again onto the street with the accident and was surprised a police car had arrived. Relief flooded him before he realized the entire street was blocked off by the cars in the accident and the squad car. There was no way for him to navigate the intersection to complete his third pass.

“No! No! No!” Henry exclaimed, looking to the merging side street. A utility pole and concrete barrier blocked his passage on the sidewalk to circumvent the accident scene on the left.

“Please, please, please,” he begged, scanning the right side of the street.

The neighbor’s large oak tree made it impossible to bypass the accident on the right side. There was no way through the intersection which meant he wouldn’t be able to complete his third pass. He sighed with relief to see the doors opened on the vehicles and no one was inside them. All passengers were clear of the wreckage in the intersection.

Usually, Henry planned for stops like red lights and stop signs during his commutes. He had a firm rule to not stop for other cars even if that meant swinging into a parking lot of a business to bypass traffic. Besides, there was generally no problems because his trips were made in the mid-morning hours with little to no traffic issues.

He hoped the officer would notice him approaching the intersection. If the officer were to flag him to stop, it would fit within Henry’s routine rules, however the officer’s back was turned from him. He honked his horn three times on the approach, distracted the policewoman held the young man with blood on his face by the shoulders to examine him.

Out of time, out of street and out of options, Henry opened and then closed his eyes three times, closing them securely on the third. He couldn’t deviate from the routine without consequence, so Henry braced himself for impact.


“Sir! This man is awake and moving!” a panicked paramedic shouted to the ambulance driver.

“That’s not possible,” the ambulance driver replied. “The coroner pronounced him dead at the scene 33 minutes ago.”

Henry opened his eyes as the paramedic’s shocked face emerged upon opening the body bag. “Two down, one to go,” Henry declared. “The third time’s a charm.”

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