The Puppet's Tattered Clothes (Excerpted from the forthcoming Flash Novel)

by Alan Bray

On the second floor, he went through a fire door into a corridor lit with another EXIT sign. The room where the puppets were kept should be, he remembered, halfway down.

He released the catch, and the door sprang back an inch. "Hello?" he called, sure that a sound of voices came from within.

A soft nacreous warmth tinted with cold blue and cream filled the room. The moon shone through a skylight onto the row of little hanging bodies, and the big chest that Carly had called the puppets' traveling case. He crossed the room and lifted the lid.

Andy was lying on his back in the center of a circle of five other puppets—including blond Frank and Danni—propped up against the sides of the chest, their little, flexible hands folded on their laps, their eyes closed, as if they were asleep and dreaming. It looked like a scene from a play, a play about actors trying to present something from their other more real lives offstage, except the actors had strings attached, strings that seemed to connect them to each other. Danni's cheeks and eyelids glittered in the moonlight; had she been crying? No, it was because she still wore stage make-up.

Andy had the same costume he'd worn in the show—the King's crown and the purple robe, the H-shaped frame hidden beneath his torso. Kevin lifted him out of the chest, half expecting the others to cry out in alarm. But there was silence; to speak, the puppets needed human help. He left them undisturbed, closing the lid as they sat like old people in the park, staring with rigid, serious expressions and unfocused eyes.

Kevin turned Andy over and unwrapped the strings from the frame; like fishing lines, they emerged from the skin as hair does from arms and legs, connecting to the knees, elbows, wrists, and each fingertip, the ears, and the top of the head. But not the mouth or eyes—and Kevin was sure he'd seen those parts move during the performance. He lifted Andy up, and turned him, and suddenly the eyes were looking right into his. They blinked, and the mouth opened and closed. A string too light to see must have been pulled by accident, Kevin thought, frowning and holding the small body closer to the moonlight.

He gently bent Andy's arms and legs to put him inside a backpack he'd brought, pushing the head down and zipping the cover closed all around. A puppet was a light burden.

In his room, he was happy but worn out. He got ready for bed, folding his clothes in a neat pile the way he'd been taught. But once he lay down, his brain filled with plans—how to fix the broken leg, how happy Carly would be when it was done. He rose and removed Andy from the backpack, straightening his clothes and settling him flat on the kitchen table. The eyes were closed, the left leg loose and limp as if it were hanging by a thread. Kevin covered him with the old towel he used to dry glasses and fell asleep facing the small still form.

This excerpt is from Alan Bray's forthcoming flash novel, The Puppet's Tattered Clothes, which will be published by Bartleby Snopes Press in August 2014.

BIO: Alan Bray was born in 1954 in Detroit, Michigan, the only child of a sales representative for a railroad and a schoolteacher. He grew up reading books, which at that time, meant adult books, as the availability of children's books was limited. There was a lot he didn't understand, but it helped him to grow and gave him a love for literature, for the power of imaginary worlds so much like real life but with something extra. In addition to writing fiction, he's worked as a professional musician, record store clerk, psychotherapist and factory worker. He lives in New Hampshire with a son, a daughter, and a wonderful wife.