Below are the various flash fiction pieces I’ve put up on this site. While I am most definitely a long form writer, I honestly do enjoy the challenge of putting together tiny stories. Although this kind of writing started mostly as a practice exercise for me, it has come to be an interesting — and very different — creative outlet from my usual.
A quick reminder: I’m a lazy slacker, so I use the terms “flash fiction” and “microfiction” pretty much interchangeably. When I create one of these pieces, I set myself a word-count maximum that is generally 200-300 words, but can be up to 500. I then take a single thought, image or inspiration and give myself one hour to write, edit and post it. One hour, that’s it. That … err … that ain’t a lot of time to a guy who takes nine or ten months to conceive, prepare and write a novel-length story…and that’s why I love the challenge of doing these.
“Unfucking A Life”
We’re all broken.
I don’t know much, but that I understand.
Some of us just hide better how we’re fucked up.
For years, I did.
Then the booze and pills took over again. They took over as much as they had in the first place.
My memory burned: a face, and the quiet whisper of a voice I couldn’t quite hear. But the eyes…those eyes always remained.
Emotion and memory, words and reality. That face said more than any book I’d ever read.
Just how do you get it all back?
The trigger was the loudest sound I’d ever heard.
The rain poured down, plastered hair to head.
It wasn’t enough. Not enough to wash away the pain; not enough to change a life.
The cold iron pressed, made its mark.
A breath…two…it was time.
“I almost didn’t find you,” she said, “I’m sorry I’m late.”
He did look up, then. Only one thing did he see: those eyes. The eyes that encompassed his life.
“You’re not late,” he breathed. The rain was unnoticed, now.
A hand on his head. Fingers through his hair, trailing the warmth and strength so long missed.
He closed his eyes.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Desperation and hopelessness. The bitter taste of failure. It was supposed to be better than this.
Wearing a cap and gown, he was told it would be better.
When he put the ring on her finger, he thought it would be better.
When he signed the divorce papers, he hoped it would be better.
When the layoff notice came, he prayed it could be better.
In the news, he heard all about how it was better. Better, he knew, for someone else. For everyone else.
It was supposed to be better than this.
“Crossing the Line”
Dozens of tattoos, Agwe had. Every single one was a memory, a moment in his life. And with every one, he’d felt the pain of the needle and ink as it marked his flesh. Drunk or sober, every tattoo was a memory that included the suffering of its creation.
Except this one.
This one was different.
For this one, he’d sweated and worked. He’d suffered and been shaved. He’d been covered in oil and sludge. He’d kissed the Chief’s belly. He’d earned his citizenship in King Neptune’s court.
The outline of the turtle on his arm was simple: incomplete and basic.
He remembered sitting on his bunk, remembered the hard-won pint of moonshine he’d paid to Schwartzie to memorialize the crossing.
The klaxon sounded, then, in his memory. The pounding of feet, the sprint from his bunk to the gun.
A plane…grey and green and far too fast.
The noise, and the flame. The frantic scrambling for Schwartzie’s arm.
His tattoo would never be finished, now.
He’s falling apart. He’s late, and he hates it — late because the work never stops, and because the traffic is nothing but worse. The stress makes him reach for a cigarette, even as he stomps the accelerator.
This is too important to be late.
The car’s controls are worked like a maestro. If he’s late, he’s ruined.
A screech of the tires, and a winded sprint up the stairs. His heart hammers as he runs.
He bursts through the door, flustered and sweaty and mouthing apologies. The others simply shake their heads — his foibles are well known.
The job at hand is thrust at him, a package to be unwrapped and tended to.
He hesitates, afraid. Afraid to touch, afraid to commit. The “what ifs” wrack him, the visions of everything that could go wrong. But the package won’t wait. Not for him, not for anyone.
A twitch of his fingers and the wrappings are pushed aside.
The eyes open, tired and confused…oh so confused.
He is frozen, dominated.
Those blue eyes hint at everything in the world: at commitment, and at the pitfalls and emotions to come.
The eyes close, and he is released.
“Welcome, son,” he whispers.
“Someone Else’s Skin”
Every movement was awkward and uncomfortable. Nothing felt right, nothing felt like it should. I stared and studied throughout my morning routine, but the face in the mirror stayed a stranger. It was close to my own, but not close enough.
More minutes, and more routine, and my clothes didn’t fit right. They hung and they clung, in all the wrong places. They were clothes for someone else…for that face I saw in the mirror.
The face that wasn’t me.
Time in the car gave more time to wonder, and to fear. Who the hell was I?
I stepped through a door, then, and strange faces smiled and called greetings. Faces I didn’t know, in a place I didn’t recognize. Dread grew and I feared I had lost everything.
The wrong face, the wrong clothes…the only thing that felt the same was me, but a me that was shrunken and hidden. I was a beaten thing, I realized, hiding from harm and danger. And from loss.
I was right, I had lost everything. Everything but me.
To wear someone else’s skin, to be someone else… Was I hiding, or had I finally surrendered? Had I finally accepted “better than nothing”?
Was I the stranger, and that stranger’s skin the real truth?
A return greeting for all those strange faces — a smile, even — and the answer began to terrify me.
They say the dark is oppressive, that it carries fear and danger.
Not when the dark is your friend, I say. Not when the dark hides the dangers. The dark has been my friend since the day I was born.
The sound of feet and we all moved, we all pushed and crawled deeper into the dark. The sound of a voice and that crawl became a sprinting brawl — the dark was about to end.
A heaving body next to me, all breath and sweat and fear. There were no words. There could be no words, the dark was about to end.
An iron rattle, and a creaking, and the dark was shattered by that demon we all feared, by the light. The world disappeared behind that light, behind that which made us blind and helpless.
Words, then, from that body next to me, “No! Not me!”
I cracked an eye and saw the shape we all so feared, saw the huge silhouette with reaching hands.
That body next to me continued to scream, even as it was pulled away by those hands. I don’t know why, but I stood. I stood and kicked at the silhouette. I came only to its waist, but still I kicked. Still I tried to stop the disappearance of yet one more of us from the dark.
One of those hated hands lashed out, sent me reeling. I stumbled and fell. I don’t know if my tears were for the screaming voice I had not been able to save, or for myself. All I knew was that I would be next. All I knew was that, after years alone in the dark, I would be next.
I wanted to see her again; I needed to see her again. It had been a year, and never had we gone so long without seeing each other.
I still loved her. That hadn’t changed, and never would, but the vagaries of life and circumstance had changed everything else.
Today, we would see each other. Today I would feel again that rush of warmth and comfort. Today would make the last year seem but a blink.
I watched and I watched. The sun climbed the sky, turned and started to descend, and still she hadn’t come. There was nothing I could do but wait. She would come. I loved her, I knew she would come.
There…there she was. She had come!
I wanted to jump up, wanted to gather her in my arms once again. I wanted the years to have disappeared, to have everything back the way it used to be.
Against the green of the grass her dark dress stood out, highlighted the flowers filling her arms.
I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. The years fell away, and that longed-for warmth and comfort overwhelmed me — she had come!
Tears stained her cheeks as she laid the flowers at my feet.
I wanted to move. I tried to move, to touch her cheek, to stroke her hair…but I was rooted, immobile. No matter how much I needed to touch her, I couldn’t move.
“Happy anniversary, my love,” she whispered. A sob, then, and her voice broke, “God, I miss you…”
“Past the Breakers”
The boy was afraid of the waves. He’d always been afraid of the waves, and always would be, he thought. His brothers swam and played out in the waves, tried to draw him, but his faltering legs refused to move deeper into the sea.
What if I fall? he thought. What if the water gets me?
Water to his ankles…warm sand and even warmer sun…all the comfort of other kids, and their parents, close around him. There was safety where he was, even if that safety lacked the daring of his brothers.
He ran and played in the shallows, but always with the soundtrack of those familiar voices shouting and calling, “Come out with us! You can handle the waves, that’s where the fun is!”
Tears, then, of frustration and fear…and of anger. If he never left the shallows, how would he know if the waves truly were fun? How would he know if he could ever overcome them? How would he know?
Water to his knees, then to his hips, and a wave knocked him down. A spit of salty water and he climbed to his feet, anger pushing the fear far behind him. Soon, his feet left the sand and he was swimming, ducking under the waves as they broke above him, then surfacing for a gasp of air.
His brothers had been right! It wasn’t just fun, it was exhilarating, and he threw everything he had into his frolicking battle with the sea. He felt tremendous, he felt…powerful. A look around and he realized he’d done it, he’d swum father than any of his brothers! He felt like he could do anything.
A moment more and that excitement faded as quickly as it had come. There were no more waves to battle. There was no more exhilaration, nor excitement. There was no more anger. There was just fear, and an incomprehensible sense of loss.
The voices calling to him from the shore were tiny and incomprehensible, too distant to hear. His arms were beginning to numb, and his legs wouldn’t kick properly. He was exhausted, he discovered. Although the waves were gone, the ocean still moved, and with every heave the waters washed over him, higher and higher.
He heard a voice, then, barely. One single voice, that of a brother, “…he’s too far out…”
Too far out.
Another heave of the sea, and he slipped under.
The voices called and called, the shouts turning to shrieks and cries, but nothing could penetrate the sea.
There was no sky, only clouds. There was no sun, no light, only clouds, leaden and grey.
There was a path for me to follow, ahead, but it was faint and intermittent, nothing more than the barest bit of game trail.
I was lost. Again.
The trail meandered, as they so often will, and the sky offered no help. All I had were the unfamiliar hills and the bowl of trees and rocks in which I stood. A place I had never seen. The last familiar ground was too far behind to turn back, the last landmark a fading memory, and the way ahead even more uncertain.
I had nothing to steer by, nothing to guide me, nothing of comfort or care. All I had was me, and a lifetime of being lost.
I walked, then. The game trail came and went, a distant friend visited only in passing. My feet followed instead that lifetime of being lost, followed the path of experience and memory. When everything ahead is strange and dangerous, that is what you trust: experience and memory.
When you fall down a hole, people say, you stop digging. When you get lost, you stop walking and wait for help.
There is no help, no one coming to save you. You put one foot in front of the other and walk, from one tree, one hill, to the next. I put one foot in front of the other, then, and walked…from one tree, one hill, to the next.
The clouds hung lower and lower, the sky grew ever more threatening and cold. My one friend, that faint trail, disappeared and still I walked. My only survival was in walking, in progress. To stop was to die. I knew that. From long experience I knew that.
No food, little water, my energy fading, I knew the next hill would be the last. I couldn’t climb another. Being lost had finally caught up with me.
The sky grew brighter, even as I climbed. The clouds began to thin, the sun to return. I stood at the crest, then. I stood at the crest and stared. The sun had moved, the world had shifted, and what lay before my feet was…unexpected.
The world hadn’t moved, the sun hadn’t shifted, I had.
What lay ahead was a valley I knew well, the trailhead where I had begun so many days before. I stood and stared, more lost and confused than I had been in the mountains themselves.
I was home, I was safe.
I turned around and began walking to the next valley.
“Good For Nothing”
A scream, then, as background to the sound of fist hitting flesh. Over and over, that sound.
She clutched at his arm, tried to stop the jackhammer blows.
Her voice became a whimpering cry, just short of despair, “Stop…oh God, please stop!”
The face on the floor…it wasn’t much of a face. Not anymore. Not after the rain of blows. She pulled at the arm, tried to pin the blood-spattered hand to her chest.
The arm jerked and pulled, then the other looked at her. That face was hard, had nothing in it but rage and murder when he looked at her. He stopped pulling, then, and his eyes…melted. Pain came, and helplessness, to replace the rage.
“This fucker…he hurt you!” he cried. A child, wailing at the universe.
Sirens and yells in the distance. In the distance, but coming nearer.
A touch to his face, and a tear, then the sirens were on top of them.
Shouts and thuds and a whirl of chaotic violence and both were on the ground. Rough, gloved hands cuffed them, searched them. She felt her wallet taken, knew the cops had everything…
The hands holding her relaxed — a bit — and a voice, harsh and hoarse, spat, “Fuckin’ good-for-nothin’ kids…”
”Written in Stone”
His hands clenched. The hands that had never held a weapon, the fingers that had never pulled a trigger.
He felt the fear, then…the muscle-clenching, bone-breaking fear that all-but consumes your soul. He who had never before felt true fear.
His body refused to move. The muscles refused to obey and the joints to move. He wanted nothing more than to cry, to curl up and sob in his mother’s arms.
Small, he felt, and insignificant. Part of the tears came from that — oh, yes, did they come from that — but only part. The rest? The rest came from debt…from debt and from gratitude.
Once again, he read those words. The words that had brought true perspective, the words written in stone:
“Here rests in Honored Glory
A Soldier known but to God”
“A Hundred Years Ago”
Who the hell am I to judge those who have come before? Who the hell am I to judge those who lived lives so different, in times more alien than any far planet?
A picture it was that drove me. A picture, and discussions about the triumphs and failures of a man who has been nothing more to me than a handful of stories told by relatives already old and fading to my far-younger eyes. The picture of a man who has never been real to me.
Now, his ghost is whispering in the background. He is speaking and trying to teach, but I have to strain to hear.
I carry the burdens of his sins. We all carry those burdens, the ones from our ancestors. The burden of their debts in the economy, in the environment, in our society. But I — we — carry also their victories, and their hard-won wisdom.
The picture I’ve been looking at is simple. There is one of me, in much the same pose. That similarity may have been nothing more than happenstance, but it changed me. A hundred years ago, in a time so different, among people so different, across a gulf of far more than just years, our faces look the same. Our bodies look the same. What else is the same?
There he stood, his newborn child in his arms. He was trying to look stern, I think, trying to be the epitome of the distant, uncaring father…but you can see it in his eyes, the love. You can see just how much that tiny child changed the world for him.
I look down, even as I write this, as I try to calm the squirming and squiggling, and I can’t help but think, “Just like me.”