Posts Tagged ‘ flash fiction ’

Drosera capensis

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There’s something uneven in her step as she clacks down the sidewalk. One heel spikes the pavement with a different cadence than the other.

As she tries in vain to shift her weight and avoid the anomalous rhythm to her steps, something blurs before her. As she breathes in the air from the first whoosh, a second streaks by.

Two children have raced in front of her, careening toward the open gates of a park across the street.

“Hey, take it easy there!” she calls out with a playful lilt to her voice.

The second blur stops his pursuit of the first and turns to her. He’s all lean brown skin outside of his baggy shorts and printed tee.

“I’ll take it easy with you,” he quips, adding a wink for emphasis. From the bravado in his piping voice, she half expects him to throw in a “baby” or maybe even a “sweetheart,” but instead he turns and bolts away.

She takes a moment to start walking again, letting the mirthsome smile warm up her cheeks. She struggles for a moment looking for the right description of the boy’s impertinence, but comes away only with “scamp.”

The curious bemusement walks with her down the next two blocks until, rounding a corner, she sees the same boy huddled against the wall a few yards ahead.

She sees that his body is trembling with tiny sobs.

She approaches and hovers over him, peering at him though he is not yet aware of her presence. Whatever curiosity she might have about how the boy happened to be just in her path again so soon is washed away by some empathic impulse to comfort the child. She bends beside him, her knees buckling out toward him, exposing most of her thigh to the cool air.  Still he takes no notice of her.

“Are you alright?” she asks softly.

“Leave me alone.”

His rebuttal only draws her in further. “Do you need help?” she asks. He looks up. His eyes are still and clear. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?” she presses.

“I lost her,” he says.

“Lost who? Maybe I can help find her.”

“My mommy. Or sister. Maybe my best girl.” She realizes suddenly that he’s not a small boy at all. He’s lean and tall, even slumped against the wall beside her. As he moves his arms away from his face, she sees the etched lines of musculature on his upper arms pushing the cuff of the tee shirt. “It doesn’t matter. She’s gone,” he says with a sonorous voice. Low and inviting. “Maybe you can make me feel better, though.”

“Wait, I don’t understand,” she says without alarm.

“Don’t you? I bet you do. I think deep down they always know.”

“Who? Who knows?”

“The women.”

“What are we supposed to know?”

“That all this is bait.”

“All of…you?”

“A lure. Every piece of it.”

“If that’s true, then why tell me?”

“Like I said, on some level you knew already. They always do–deep down. But they fall for it anyway.”

“Is that what you think I’ll do?”

He stands up and then she’s in his shadow. His eyes glower down on her. Fixed and severe. And then a smile. Of course, there is a smile. Just in the corner. Just enough to make her feel as though it hides more than it reveals. Always a smile.

“Aren’t you?”

She stands as well. He’s still several inches taller, but in the shadow she sees cracks in him. Lines like in old plaster. Whatever’s underneath is gray like mildew.

“I don’t know.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he says, flakes of his ash-like skin falling away, revealing a substrata the color of cooling magma. “There will be another along in just a minute. I think I hear her bad heel already.”

She looks away, seemingly pondering the tarred surface of the road. She shakes her head slowly.

Without another word, she turns from him and walks away…this time.

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Unconcerned

“What if you found out I wasn’t who you thought I was?” she asked.

He wasn’t sure when she’d joined him.  She was sitting on the love seat, pointed the wrong way, but not looking at him exactly, more staring past him as if the window blinds behind him weren’t shut.

“What do you mean?” he asked, clicking off the television because, really, nothing was on anyway and they might talk for a while.

“I was rereading Sabbath’s Theater and I think Roth wanted us to sympathize with Sabbath himself, but I found myself thinking about his lover’s husband and family–how shocked they must have been when they found out about her affair after she died.  Then I wondered, what if I died and you discovered I had another life?  A secret life?”

He didn’t feel any gravity in her voice to suggest she was on the verge of some great confession and, besides, he knew her, knew every corner of her and it wasn’t in her.  But then again, neither was it like her to throw out curious hypotheticals, literary or otherwise.  “I don’t know,” he said cautiously.  “Like in that movie the Descendents, you mean?”

“It reminded me of The End of the Affair, too.  I think I told you about that when I read it last year.  The husband lets his dying wife’s lover live with them.  I wonder if you could be that man.”

“I don’t think so–” he started to say.

“Could you forgive me?  When I was gone?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think I could forgive you?” she asked.  She still did not look towards him and the silent spaces swelled up with their own stillness until the room was gone and the two of them were on a plane alone in nothing, no world except for what was already done and no questions except for hers.

Then he thought on his sins.

Grafting Jesus

Camera tightens on Dr. Hochslatman.  As television personality Corretta Vickers leans forward to pose her next question, he strokes his salt and pepper beard thoughtfully.

“Dr. Hochsham,” she says seriously.  “This amazing discovery sounds absolutely amazing.”

He squints at her profoundly enough to crease the skin beneath his eyes.  “Hochslatman, and yes, it is amazing.”

“But how does it work?”

“The procedure we’ve developed uses advanced optogenetics to alter the neurological connections in the subject’s brain, effectively replicating a healthy state of mind in every way.”

“Yes, I see,” she replies with a serious nod.  “But how does it work?”

Hochslatman refrains from rolling his eyes, but his lip does curl as he tries to explain.  “Our personalities are created by both the patterns of interconnection in our brains and our neuron’s innate, genetic behavior.  Through our procedure, we rewire the human brain to be more well-adjusted.”

“I see,” she repeates.  “There’s something I don’t understand, though.”

“Was it the word ‘interconnection?'”

“No, I got that.”

“‘Neuron?'”

“No, still good.  What I don’t understand is how you know what is healthy and well-adjusted.”

“Well, Corretta, that’s actually quite simple.  Psychologists and neuroscientists have long since identified the behavioral characteristics that result in success and happiness, along with their concomitant neurological states.  All that remained was the optogenetic technology to graft those conditions onto a living brain.  Now we can give everyone the state of mind of someone perfectly capable of coping and adapting to life:  a growth-oriented mindset, just the right amount of empathy, a little–”

“Just the right amount of empathy?”

“You don’t want too much, because then you suffer on behalf of others.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Just the right amount not to make you a–”

“Fuckwad?”

“I was going to say a misanthrope.”

“Fascinating, doctor,” she sighs.  “Will this make all of us the same?”

“The procedure has some inherent variability.  There’s perhaps a 5% variance on any trait induction.  That’s not enough for any significant reduction in social adjustment, though.  Think of it as a 5% chance that you won’t find a particular joke funny when everyone else does.”

“That could save Hollywood millions!”

“Yes, creating successful romantic comedies should be considerably easier once the majority of the population has been subjected to the procedure,” he agrees.

“Is that what you think will happen?  A majority of the population?  Do you think there will be some people who will reject your treatment?”

“Reject?”

“Some people who will want to keep their brain the way it is.”

“People who want to remain unhappy?”

“Well, ‘natural,’ maybe?”

“Those people deserve what they get.”

“What’s that?”

“Themselves.”

Dry

On the third day, he forced open his eyes, breaking away the crust of salt that had kept him from seeing the world since the fierce glow of the sun had woken him that morning.  Something felt different in the way the sea was moving his limp body.  He could still feel the bubble of the ocean beneath him, the swell of buoyancy that had allowed him to survive so long, but the waves were no longer batting him back and forth.  The acidic swill inside his stomach had settled.  He no longer had to time his breathing to match the sloshing to and fro of the waves.

He did not bob.  He was still.

At first he could see only the white glow.  But squinting allowed him to resolve faint hues of blue at the edges of the sky.

When he was ready, he lifted his head out of the water and looked around him.

When he saw the objects resting half-submerged in the glass-sheet plane of the sea, he could not identify them.  He lapped in their direction with the remaining strength in his right arm and came close enough to take hold of the nearest of them.

When he gripped it, matted clumps of his soggy white flesh came off, as if the object was serrated on every edge.  From the lack of pain, though, he knew that it was simply a sign of his decaying body–and likely, of his impending death.

The object itself was impossible to identify.  He catalogued its properties with what mental faculties he had left.  It was long, slender at one end.  Some portions of it seemed translucent, others had a pearly shimmer.  He knew it was man-made, but he could not discern if it was a piece of art, some kind of tool, a piece of some larger whole, or if it was something he might have easily identified before he went into the water three days earlier.

He let it slip from his fingers.  It stayed just within the moon shape of his open palm, surrounded by a thin fog of his blood in the water.

Hundreds, or thousands of other items dotted the surface for as far as he could see.  Each might be as puzzling as this one, and he no longer had the energy or will to investigate.

Floating in a Sargasso Sea of refuse, somewhere beyond the reach of the tidal pull of the moon, he was finally finished, finally spent and ready to surrender.  He had survived all that might have been expected of him.

He let his head fall back into the water–slowly, without any audible splash.  His eyes closed again.  Without the splashing of the ocean, he imagined that they would not be sealed shut by evaporating salt water, but he didn’t care.  There were still hours to wait, during which he tracked the heat source above move over his body and followed the orange bloom creep downward through his eyeball.

As night came, the last night, he thought, naturally, of her.