Prompt: A homeless man finds a strange artifact in a dumpster.
Few things were that clean in the dumpster. The item was safe thanks to the wrapper it rested in, open like a bloom with the object at the center. Once the truck got to it, it would get tumbled and mixed in with everything else.
It’s a good thing I found it, Rukus thought. It’s a good thing I have nowhere to go. Nothing gets abandoned while I’m around. Rukus vaulted over the side of the dumpster and landed amidst the pizza boxes. He poked the object. It felt exactly the way it was supposed to, like a rock. Rukus had been out of the loop of fancy people for more than a decade, but he knew a luxury item when he saw one. The rock was carved to be the exacts shape and size of a bar of soap.
There were words carved into it as well: for soup. Rukus was no dummy. They hadn’t come for his house, his clothes, and his electronics until after he’d graduated high school. He knew the old tale of stone soup. In it there was a scamp insisting he could make soup with just boiling water and a rock. The scamp kept saying the soup was almost ready; it just needed some salt, a few carrots, a few potatoes, the meat of a hare…
Rukus picked up the rock. It felt normal enough. He exited the dumpster and strolled down the alley next to the pizza place. Here I thought licking cheese out of the boxes was going to be the highlight of my day. He found a puddle out back full of soggy cigarette butts and an empty neon plastic lighter floating around. He sat down next to it, crossing his legs and examining the stone closely.
“For soup eh? Okay.” Rukus gently lowered the stone into the puddle, but the second it touched the water he had to drop it and pull his hand back. Its splash created golden droplets that landed on his pants. He blew on the mild burn on the back of his hand. There before him sat a bubbling puddle of soup, steam rising and warming his nostrils.
He could no longer see the stone, but there were other things floating in it. He plucked out the lighter, leaving only tiny plump sausages, creamy hunks of potato, leeks, and a skin of cheese. So it was true. The stone, wherever it had come from, was for soup. Why did such a thing exist? Did someone invent it just to make the old tales true? Were there magic beans out there somewhere that could grow a way into the sky? Could the days of the TSA be numbered?
Rukus mulled these things over for a while to see if the soup would cool, but the heat from the stone was perpetual. His stomach growled, and then whined. It didn’t have the strength to growl for long. He knew how strange this was, but it couldn’t be wise to look behind the miracle’s curtain. He just needed a spoon so he wouldn’t burn his hands.
The pizza place had free plastic spoons for their fake-chocolate iced desserts. They sat on the counter, in a paper cup he could see from the window. He didn’t even need to use their bathroom this time; he only wanted a spoon. Rukus told his soup to stay where it was and scurried back through the alley to the front doors. He let himself in.
His fingers, the nails admittedly black with grime, were pressed against the handle of a plastic spoon before the manager noticed him. He immediately shouted, he recognized him from the bathroom fiasco two weeks prior, but Rukus ignored the owner. It was a plastic spoon. Pizza Stack was literally giving them away; there wasn’t a chance they’d chase him outside over it.
“Get back here!” the man with the oily black hair and comically large name tag shouted. He pushed his way through the doors after Rukus and followed him down the alley. Rukus kept going. Everybody with a home gave up at some point. There was always a thought that if they walked too far they might not be able to get back. Rukus had no such pressure. He could walk and walk and amble and stroll until all the anger in the world had boiled dry.
He dipped the spoon into the puddle, stood back up, blew on it, and sucked it down. He squished a piece of potato against the roof of his mouth. The creamy stock and cheese slid down the back of his throat and sent a shiver of satisfaction through his spine. His stomach rolled over and moaned in approval. He had just enough time to sigh before the pizza manager grabbed a shoulder and whipped him around.
“What do you think you’re doing? We told you no more free shit man! Are you… eating out of a puddle? What is…” His eyes finally moved to the bubbling soup held in the cracks of the pavement and the edge of a garbage bag. He released Rukus and crouched down, but refused to let the pale fabric over his knees touch the street. He stuck a finger in the soup and then pulled it out with a hiss.
“You should try it,” Rukus offered. “It’ll help you unwind.”
“How did you make that?”
“It’s stone soup. The secret ingredient… is a rock. I found it though; it’s my rock. You know… you have your restaurant, you shitty desserts, that nice name tag, but I have the rock. So we’re even.” He couldn’t help but smile, but his two black teeth did not put the manager at ease. In fact, the sight of his destitute happiness infuriated him.
“That’s the problem with you people, always thinking so small,” he said, growing a crafty expression like a curl of poison ivy. “You find magic soup, and the first thing you do is steal a spoon and tell a shrewd guy like me all about it. Well listen up. This is my street. That soup belongs to me. Sorry. Now get on out of here.” He whipped around, stuck his hand in the garbage bag, and used it to fish out the stone. The moment it was free the puddle went back to its old self. The steam was gone.
The manager marched back up the alley, muttering to himself. He had real plans. A proper man knew what to do with a bounty like that: wall it off and wrap it up safe in Pizza Stack. Start offering cups of soup alongside a slice. Three bucks each. Four bucks each. All he needed was water. Stupid homeless piece of…
Rukus tackled him. They both hit the ground. The stone slid out of the manager’s grasp and onto the sidewalk. They had taken everything from Rukus: his home, his clothes, his electronics… but he’d finished school first. He knew literature, he knew history, and so he knew people. He’d never be allowed to keep his hands on the stone for soup. He had to use some of that cleverness: the only thing he was allowed to keep.
He was up and moving before the manager, simply because he cared more. His hunger was stronger than the man’s greed. He picked up the smooth stone and smashed it against the corner of the building. It broke into seven pieces that scattered everywhere. The manager yelped, eyes as wide and white as his plain cheese pies. They couldn’t go any wider, even when he saw Rukus grab one of the jagged pebbles, pop it in his mouth, and swallow it down with great effort.
“You’re insane!” the manager moved swiftly, fearing another attack. He gathered up all the pieces and rushed inside, calling for help as the door’s bell tinkled. Rukus strolled away. He wouldn’t call the police. They might find out about the stone then.
Rukus had his cleverness, and as a result he had the stone, in a place nobody could find it. They’d have to reach down his throat now. He went in search of a birdbath or a sprinkler, because he knew the second that filthy water hit his stomach it would be glorious, warming, creamy soup. He knew the old story about stone soup, but perhaps he was the epilogue.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by LaurenBrender during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!