Eyes Front | Flash Fiction

There is nothing you can do. No time. When Daddy says get in the car, you get in the car. You don’t make him wait. You don’t talk back. You don’t ask questions. You sit in your seat, eyes front, buckle your seat belt and be ready for the ride.

You won’t know where the two of you are going. It does not matter. Where Daddy goes, you go.

Sometimes it is scary because it happens so quick. One minute you are eating Cheerios together in the living room, watching late night TV and you are laughing together about the stupid things people tell Johnny Carson and everything is great and happy and fun and then, with exactly no warning, Daddy goes all still, listening for something you cannot hear. And he leans forward in his chair, suddenly tense and ready to spring, like he is waiting for something to happen and then he is yelling and grabbing for his keys. Pulling at your arm, telling you to hurry. Yelling for you to be quiet. And there is urgency in him. There is precision. And you reach for your favorite toys because there is no telling where you will be going this time, for how long. You manage to grab Dolly which is good because Dolly is the only important doll anyway. She’s the one your momma gave you when you were too young to remember. And it would be awful to leave Dolly behind since you don’t really remember your momma except for a few pictures but you like to think that Dolly remembers her and leaving Dolly would be the same as forgetting, except forgetting forever, which would be another kind of dying for your momma who is dead already. At least that it what Daddy says but you can’t be sure because sometimes you look behind you to try and find the person driving the car that is following you in the abysmal dark and it is a woman so you think it might be your momma but you don’t dare ask your Daddy about that because he just tells you to shut up about that and keep eyes front.

Eyes front is the family rule. Look ahead. Be ready to move. Go when Daddy says go.

And you are in the car and you are trying to be brave even though you are really scared, which is not the same thing, Daddy sometimes tells you when you are safe and quiet at the hotel or truck stop or wherever the two of you will be sleeping tonight. Even when you are scared, you can always be brave. Actually, when you are scared is the only time you can be brave. And it is good to see him smile when he tells you this but it isn’t his good smile. It is his eyes front smile. The smile that isn’t happy or glad about anything. The smile that doesn’t want questions.

It would be nice not to have to be brave so much all the time. But even that doesn’t matter after a few hours on the road when Daddy is playing the radio and singing along and he isn’t driving the car so fast and there’s time to watch the night time world pass by. The way the world seems to emerge into the headlights. Like the trees are stretching out to touch you. And the yellow dashy lines from the narrow, country highway strobe in the dark. There are no gas stations out here and Daddy is keeping his eye on the gas needle and also an eye on the speed needle but mostly he is practicing what he has told you. Eyes front. Looking forward.

He drives until you fall asleep. You wake up in a strange, different place. Dolly is with you so maybe momma is with you too. You don’t tell Daddy this. It would just stress him out. He looks sweet and peaceful, sleeping in the hotel room lounge chair. He needs to shave. He needs to brush his hair.

You should brush your teeth but you can’t because you left too fast and didn’t bring your toothbrush. You lay on the bed in the dark room and look up at the hotel ceiling, an unfamiliar sky. There’s nothing to see there. You look anyway. Eyes front.

After a while you will be sleeping and then there will be the dreams. Momma and daddy and kiddo. All one happy, smiling family.

Prompt: “No Daddy No” by Pretty & Twisted.

Snippet | Flash Fiction

He wakes up in the litter of last night’s bender. His head pounding, eyes swimming in and out of focus. Sheaves of crumpled paper. Too many empty bottles.

There is something he is trying to remember.

The bed sheets are all twisted up on her side of the bed.

He scratches himself impolitely, listening for sounds of her elsewhere in the apartment. It would be like her to wake up early to get in her morning yoga. Or to be in the kitchen, brewing coffee and buttering their morning toast.

He listens. The apartment is silent. There is something he is trying to remember.

Morning garbage truck passes outside, malevolent, insensitive.

He calls her name and listens patiently. Expectant.

He sits up, calls her name again. Impatiently.

The spreading emptiness of the apartment swallows him. She is gone.

He gets out of bed. Puts on wrinkled pants and shirt from the floor.

He stands there in the middle of his disheveled bedroom, trying not to notice the sight of himself in the dresser mirror. Paunchy. Unkempt. The morning after look he has adopted now for weeks or months.

He stumbles to the bathroom for a long, heavy piss. Interrupting every time he hears a sound at the front door. Imagined. He finishes his business, which takes more concentration than it probably should.

There is something he is trying to remember. Standing at the bathroom sink, staring at his morning breath face, wondering what she ever saw in him in the first place. He was disgusting. His apartment was disgusting. His whole miserable life was disgusting.

He brushes his teeth, having squeezed the last life from the toothpaste tube. It doesn’t help. He has morning breath face. He is a morning breath man living a morning breath life.

And there is something he is trying to remember. Something she told him last night. Something she wanted him to write down. But he didn’t. He never did. He couldn’t be bothered. Always trusting that she would be there the morning after to wake him with sweet kisses, to caress him back to life, to remind him.

But she was gone now. He had known it would happen. Still, it hurt and surprised. He hadn’t heard her go. She hadn’t even said goodbye.

He tried to remember the details of their last night together but even that was fading now. Even that was becoming far away.

In the bedroom, the piles of pages scratched out and empty. False starts and hesitations. His laptop still open on the desk but the screen dark. The battery died. A post-it note on the screen, written in her neat, efficient hand. Goodbye. I tried. With a fancy, little heart at the end.

He held the note. Pondered its meaning. The familiar fear seeping up. The silent apartment wrapping him. Even the garbage truck taking its leave.

There was something he was trying to remember but she was gone.

A writer’s life.


via Daily Prompt: Snippet

From Flame | Flash Fiction

She wakes up on the couch, the sour mash of regret in her mouth. It takes a while for her eyes to adjust. Everything is at a distance. Bleary. Far away. The clock on the far living room wall. She can see the shape of it there, marking time but she cannot find the hands.

It is daytime. The bright judgment of afternoon sunlight angling through the blinds. Late for work again. She groans, reaching for the pack of cigarettes somewhere on the coffee table, finding empty bottles instead. She prowls blindly through the maze of empties, sets them tumbling, rolling to the floor.

Leaning forward, she finds the cigarette pack. Empty but for one crushed cigarette in the bottom corner. She shakes it out, lights it. Breathes deep the stale perfume of her life’s disappointment.

This is too much. Observe without judgment. This is her therapist’s voice. She hasn’t been in several months. When something you are doing isn’t working, try doing something different. Also her therapist’s voice. Also good advice. She stopped going to therapy.

A few drags on the cigarette settles her into the day. The little light on her answering machine flashes. One, two, three messages. It is one thirty in the afternoon. It is probably Thursday though, if pressed, she couldn’t swear to it.

The place was a wreck but she had seen it much worse. Things out of place. Wrappers, bottles and food containers not yet thrown away. Piles of unsorted mail and catalogs. Things not dealt with.

She could deal with those things later. She knew she should call work, but five hours late. What could she possibly say? What was the point? They already knew. She already knew. She’d need to find another job, which was getting harder and harder as her list of people willing to vouch for her grew shorter and shorter.

Tell us the reason for leaving your last job. That was always the hardest interview question. “I didn’t leave my last job. It left me.” Things you could not say.

The light on the answering machine still blinking. One, two, three. It would be her mother. Her mother was the only person who still bothered calling. Her mother who would press in on her from every side, making sure she could not escape the fact of her profound, ongoing disappointment.

Her mother loved her and surely deserved much better. But her mind would not let her dwell here.

She put out the cigarette. The taste of smoke, as ever, too much with her.

She starts to think about that night so many years ago. The bright walls of flame screaming at her from all sides and the sound of her mother’s voice also screaming but from just one direction and she turns every which way but cannot find her mother anywhere. And her older brother, also screaming. He seems close, very close, but she cannot see him.

Alarms and sirens. Furniture, carpet and curtains burning. The entire world is screaming.

And through the noise and confusion, their mother’s voice calling both their names, bright with panic.

And then, through the chaos, their mother’s arms find her, wraps around her and lifts her out. They stumble together through the crush of smoke until they stagger together through the front door and fall to the ground. It is the feeling of being born twice, this falling out into fresh air. There’s the choking, the rasping, the agony of scorched lungs. And then the feeling that you are drowning in fresh air.

Enough of this. Push all of this back down where it belongs.

Get up. Do something productive. Push the answering machine button and listen to mother’s tired disappointment and worry. Listen to her wondering if she pulled the right child out of the flame.

In Happier Times | Flash Fiction

“Is this it, then?”

He knows from the way she is standing by the door, clutching that big brown paper shopping bag. She is there but not really there. Waiting with the posture of someone at a bus stop. Normally she would come straight in, bursting with conversation while idly straightening pictures, stacking coasters and sifting his mail and generally straightening his already clean, well-ordered apartment. It was her way. It was what she did, and he had loved her for it. But today there is no putting things to rights.

He watches her shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, clutching that brown paper bag. She often brought him things, small thoughtful gifts like teeshirts from bands he liked or drawing pencils she had found on sale. Small, thoughtful gifts from a bottomless bag of affection.

Today she holds the bag close and closed tight.

“I brought you some things.” She does not look at him when she says it. Looking everywhere else around the small room, taking everything in with small, furtive glances. Last looks.

“Are you breaking up with me?”

She holds the bag out to him, still closed in her tight grip. He reaches for it and for a long moment they held it together between them.

“Your picture’s crooked,” she mutters, letting go of the bag to go across the room to adjust the photo frame on the bookshelf. It is a picture of them together, in happier times, not so long ago. There are few pictures in his apartment. All of them are of the two of them in happier times.

He opens the bag. There are no gifts. The bag is full of his things – drawings he had done at her apartment, a few of his favorite books that had made their way onto her shelves, a spatula, a toothbrush, flannel pants and a few favorite tee shirts. All neatly folded. All accounted. By his quick calculation, this seems to him most of the personal things he had ever left at her place all gathered thorough and neat, which were two of her many qualities he found most endearing.

“I kept the Zeppelin shirt.” She is looking out the window. “I can give it back if you want.” It was her favorite shirt, the one he had been wearing the night they met. She slept in it most nights he slept over, which made it his favorite shirt as well.

“Keep it. Keep all this stuff. You don’t have to do this.”

A siren outside the window catches her attention. The window is closed. She moves to see if she can find it, but all she can see is her own reflection in the dark pane.

“I know. But I do.”

“Maybe some time,” he says. “Maybe you just need some time. You could keep this stuff for a week. Or a month. See how you feel.”

He holds the bag out to her. She does not reach for it.

She looks up at him, and seems surprised a bit to find him there. This time when she looks at him, she does not look away.

“I already know how I feel.”

“Yeah, but feelings change.”

She nods. “That’s the problem.”

The siren is closer now. She glances through the window at the busy world five stories below, the night street full of business, hidden parties and secret emergencies.

“I should go,” she says. It takes the life out of him.

He sets the bag down. “Do you want your things?”

“I don’t have anything here.” And he realizes now that she was right. She had been slowly moving her things out for weeks. She had left before she was gone.

He reaches out for the picture of them, the picture she had just straightened. She moves closer to him. After years of hand holding, the kisses and caresses, they hug awkwardly.

“Take this, then,” he says, offering the picture of happier times.

She is slow to take it.

“I should go.”

And now she is not someone at a bus stop. She is someone actually on a bus traveling at high speed.

“I still love you,” he tells her. “I want you to know.”

“I know.”

And then it is just the work of crossing the small room, the last quick looks.

He opens the door and holds it for her, hopeful that something might change. She steps through.

He watches as she makes her way down the first flight of steps. Listens as she reaches the next. He waits until he can no longer hear her and then she becomes the story he tells himself for the rest of his life.

Roadside | Flash Fiction

The only thing left is a photograph. Lilian holds it carefully, taking pains not to wrinkle or smudge. She studies the image, trying to imagine what the girl pictured of 28 years ago might possibly be thinking. Ten years old, she stands, smiling into the camera where her mother and father are watching her and she is still believing that life is fair and orderly and kind. That good things happen to good people. That there is meaning and purpose to everything. She is standing roadside in the desert. The front end of the family station wagon peaking to the left. This is quick stop lunch break on a family vacation. The sun is bright and happy. The family is happy and smiling. They are going somewhere. Together. They are laughing. Life is still good.

The girl is ten and Lilian desperately wants to tell the girl to be careful, not to let herself feel too happy. That feeling of easy contentment, of thoughtless confidence and ease. That feeling soon leaves and there is a crushing pain in the vacuum it has left behind.

This picture from that afternoon 28 years ago. She threw all the other photographs away. Let them go to rot. This was the only picture that mattered. This one was the only truth. Ten year old smiling into the unseen future self, that unseen future self staring back. And the emptiness that 38 year old Lillian feels, the gulf that separates them. One is a child who still has parents. The other is 28 years orphaned, which is a way of saying 28 years lost, 28 years bewildered.

The picture girl stands beside the car like she has all the time in the world. She doesn’t realize that all of the time has run out. That life is about to skid and careen, brakeless, into a deep ravine. The body of the car split by guardrail. The bodies of her parents pushed to paste. That girl doesn’t realize how fleeting these moments really are, even the good one, especially the good ones fixed on paper for the future self to see, to remember. She doesn’t yet realize how fearfully long, how interminable the days that pass from them to now. Life is short. Life is long.

And yet, as Lilian studies the photograph taken on the last day of her parents’ lives, she realizes that the girl has something to tell her. Something urgent. What is it? Lilian leans in, watching and listening. As if the girl can speak. As if the scene itself can escape the neat, well-ordered frame.

The girl is holding a half-eaten sandwich. A thing made for her no doubt by her mother. Some quick-made tasteless potted meat on white. What she wouldn’t do to enjoy that sandwich right now. A sandwich made by a mother for long summer car ride between somewhere and somewhere. Enjoy. Chew slowly.

I love you, too.

From the Sea | Flash Fiction

Note: This is a piece of flash fiction I wrote at Campbell Folk School last weekend. I had the opportunity to read it and really bummed some people out. They were much relieved when I told them this is all made up. It didn’t happen. My grandmother is doing well. We have never stood in the surf together. That would be an amazing thing.


I am thinking of the time my grandmother and I stood together at the shoreline, the swirling, salty surf winding between our feet. How the ocean waves rose and fell with the steady, rhythmic tones of a vast, healthy heart. Measureless. We stood there, listening to the entire world breathe, both of us filling our separate lungs with the breath of shared life.

I stared into the waves. The casual press of constant breeze that glides on top. The hushed pulse of unseen lives beneath.

“We tend to ignore those things that crawl from the sea,”  she once told me. “We forget that we ourselves once crawled out from that very same sea.”

And now, I am wanting to cry but the nurses come by too often, peaking their clinical noses into the room, forever pressing buttons, turning knobs, muting alarms that find voice when someone begins to die. The nurses won’t look at me. They know what will happen next. But the orderly comes by, pushing his mop across the already clean linoleum. He looks up from his work, pulling his mop handle like an emergency break. He sees me. I see him. We breathe together, he and I. For just that moment, we share a life. He smiles, nods and gets back to work.

He is gone and I am alone with my grandmother, this fantastic refugee from the sea. And I see the ocean’s work in the soft puddles of her wrinkled face. The soft seaweed of her hair. The thin perch of her teeth pulling away from gum line. Everything about her is pulling away, receding.

I take her hand in mine, cold, frail. I feel the bones of her hand slide together under my careful grasp.

I watch her, wondering what thoughts, what memories, might drift inside that inner tide. And then I feel selfish, petty. Wanting to keep her here, like this, with me in this room, a place she never hoped to be. I set her hand down gently, softly. Let her bones drift back into place.

I try hard not to count the breaths. Counting instead the growing space between the breaths, the place where time seeps in. Trying hard not panic as the space widens and the breaths themselves grow more and more shallow.

I am not ready, but I will never be ready. Knowing full well that everything which once escaped must one day return to that sea. Hoping that everything I have learned from watching is true. That same tide which pulls things away soon returns. Life takes. Life gives. And all I can do for now is stand watch and notice.

Early Bloomer | Flash Fiction

After the screams fade and the blood has cooled, there is a uncomfortable moment of moral uncertainty. He is wiping off the knives, trying not to let himself fascinate too long with the rigid stares on their stiffening faces. Doubts crowd. And then the flies. He is always surprised by how quickly the flies are drawn. They live inside, he once read, burgeoning, always just ready to burst out.

That is what he does. The media calls him the Butcher but he is nothing so mean or savage. His study is the careful art of release. First the pleadings. Then the sobs. Then whatever secrets need to be shared. And only finally, the blood.

The news people get it wrong. He is not depraved. He doesn’t act only for the blood and terror. People carry secrets, things they need to confess but don’t know how to begin. He shows them the way. The inspiration of steel and a cruelly sharp blade.

Once they start, they often do not know how to stop. Unburdening themselves of every petty crime, every mean thought, every venal act. Some of these are saints, compulsively lamenting ridiculously small sins. Unbecoming thoughts, moments of uncharitable, unsavory decisions. But more than a few are genuine monsters — molesters, abusers, thieves, perverters of truth. These kinds of people beg the loudest and hardest for mercy. These he opens deeper and wider, letting the blood spill faster.

He works quickly, cleaning up the mess with bottles of bleach bought by the case. He has three wholesale club memberships and twelve deep freezers. He does not eat the bodies. That would be monstrous but one does not always have the time to clean up and bury the bodies. Freezers are a necessity. They are a public health amenity. He is always thinking of the safety of others. How the neighbors would want to know he had taken great precautions to avoid a public health emergency.

The news people were the worst. Always sensationalizing. Always conjecturing on identity and motive. The FBI had the wrong profile and the news people couldn’t keep themselves from sharing it out. A middle aged white man with long white hair and narrow set eyes. Hilarious, really. He was in his late twenties. An early bloomer.

The motives they ascribed. A profound psychological disfunction. A obsessive tendency toward neatness and order. An intolerance for disorder. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

It made him want to laugh except he wanted to cry. And he would scream at the TV when they showed his computer generated face which looked nothing like him. He had written two dozen letters to the local papers explaining how far off they had been and why they so desperately needed him to be a middle-age white man. But he did not mail the letters. That would have been folly. That’s how men like Gaussier and Grundy messed up. They told somebody. They wanted to be caught. Not him. He was doing a great service but he did not seek the credit. The world was improved by the working of his art, which was the careful application of selective release. The world could not understand, indeed, would not need to understand his work to benefit from it.

That is the true nature of real art. It changes the world even when the world does not see it. It changes the artist. It changes the canvas.

And the secrets that are confessed in those hurried, anguished minutes of exsanguation are carried with him as a special burden. A tax he carries for his work. He will carry those last whispers with him to his grave, knowing the world is better for having each part of the story revealed.

The Woman in the Water | Flash Fiction

There was no way he could ever unsee the woman’s body floating at the top of the pond. No amount of mental health copays or bourbon shots squirreled through his novice, flyweight stomach would ever wrest the image far from his mind.

The fact that she was beautiful made it all the worse. Not that beauty in women was a thing he cared much about. Beautiful women never gave him the benefit of their glance or a free moment of idle conversation. He preferred women who were clever or hard working or talented in some useful way. Those women might happen to be beautiful as well but when they were ignoring him on a bus or avoiding him on an elevator or simply floating on a pond, you could never know if they were talented or hard working or clever just by looking.

The beauty of her had made it made awful because it had made her more real. She had been someone, recently. She was missing from the pattern of other people’s lives, but some of those people would not realize it yet. Not enough time had passed for the most terrible truths to settle in. She had not floated long enough to become a bloated, waterlogged pond treasure. She might be a missing person but she might not yet be presumed dead.

But she was. Dead. And Andy was drinking enough to blind himself and split his head as he stumbled across the treacherous path of his living room, the sofa and upright lamp and coffee table all in conspiracy to rap his ankles and pull him down. He fell three times on his way to the bathroom and then realized he had pissed himself well and good long before he reached the toilet.

He lay on the bathroom floor, looking up at the ceiling, trying not to see the memory of the way her face had looked up in that same way. Trying not to imagine what it had been like for her to gaze up through the tangled branches of the bog with flies laying eggs on your eyeballs.

He rolled and puked, his guts clenched against emptiness. Congratulating himself for remembering to roll over. That’s how Jimi Hendrix died. And Mama Cass. And Attila the Hun.

Random facts.

The police had questioned him for many hours. They came back several times, each time with the same questions or slight variations on the same questions asked in different tones of voice and at different speeds. Sometimes the tall guy asked the questions. Sometimes it was the lady. Sometimes the bald dude with the mustache that reminded him of walrus brush. They came at him from all angles, sometimes friendly, understanding, sometimes annoyed and curt.

They were interested in knowing exactly how he had found her. What he had been doing in those deep woods by that lonely pond on that overcast autumn day.

And the fact that he had been taking a walk in the woods, a long walk, because he was the kind of person who enjoyed taking long walks in the woods did not seem to satisfy them. No one does that kind of thing anymore, they told him. Which he kind of believed. Who among the people he had met would chance wandering out far enough to risk losing their precious cell phone signal and LTE internet connection? How could they post pictures of the wondrous things they might encounter? Who would be ready to like and retweet and pin their Instagram feeds?

This was why beautiful women avoided him. His mind had become strange. It was a thing he was only vaguely attuned to when he was in adolescence but now it was even more pronounced. He was weird. It was a thing so real and so true. His weirdness was an island he had made himself so far from shore that no one could see a way to bring him back.

But this was unproductive. The woman in the water had been dead but she looked as if she were only sleeping. Lost in deep repose. Her dreaming deep and dark and rich as the swamp shore loam.

He waited for the nausea to pass. Eventually it did.

And then, the familiar knock on his open front door. He groaned as he sat up, pulled himself to his feet.

He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, and he did not like what he saw.

A filthy, slovenly, wasteful old man. A hermit. A recluse. A suspect.

More knocks at the open front door. Persistent.

He washed his face. Tried on another smile. Practiced saying slowly, “I’m just the kind of guy who likes to take a walk in the woods.”

He adjusted the smile until he was satisfied. Then, he left the bathroom and called out, “ Come in. The door’s open.”

And then he was standing back in the living room, aware of the overturned furniture, the path of his catastrophic collisions. Two uniformed officers standing at the doorway.

“Come in. Come in,” he said in his most inviting way. “I’ve been expecting you all day.”

Heroic Measures | Flash Fiction

Room 137 of the hospital’s Critical Care Unit is the loneliest place on earth. Life is precarious. All life tenuous. No where is that more evident than the small glass box filled with mechanical tubes, wires and diagnostic panels. The small, patient wheeze of the machine that breathes for her husband. The submarine ping measuring each frail heartbeat with a corresponding digital blip traversing the bedside panel like a steady, robotic sine wave.

And worse still, the orderly transit of nurses who no longer even bother enforcing visiting hour limits or pretending her husband’s care is anything more than mere watch keeping. And the faithful way of the custodian who visits twice each day to sweep this immaculate room and remove the already empty trashcan. And the way the custodial staff can not look her in the eye. Even they know what is very plainly evident. Her husband, Mark, was victim of awful circumstance and there was nothing more to be done. Her husband Mark had a bad heart, and he had come here to die.

It was a four day vigil. The crippling expense of it. The exhaustion of waiting for miracles that stubbornly refused to arrive. The chaplin who made the rounds every afternoon and every evening and seemed, each time, genuinely surprised to find them still lingering there. He had prayed but the words were just words. They went nowhere, failing to escape even the closeted curtained space of this little medical unit.

And on the fourth day, she thinks to pull out Mark’s cell phone to find the number of a longtime friend, to tell the news. But when she turns the cell on, the text messages arrive, landing like a plague of flies.





She drops the phone. It is a living, offensive thing. Her heart and mind swirling as she puts the plain text of the text into view.


But yes.

The messages are there when she picks up the phone.


This was the deepest kind of shock. She stares at her husband, the unmoving weight of his body, still athletic and seeming fit despite the extremis of wires and leads and intubation tubes.

Not fair. This fine, good, decent man who she has loved her entire adult life, grown up together, raised two kids, worked for charities, helped the neighbors. Good, decent husband. Good, decent wife.

And she knows without knowing there had been much, much more to the story of their life.

Who was she? How long had he known her? How long had this been happening?

A maelstrom of question that would have no answers.

And she looks to the phone, hoping to find some name or other clue about the hidden depths of her husband’s secret life. No name. Just a phone number. And scrolling back, no further texts. The history had been dumped, purged clean.

And that was the creeping horror of it. Exhausted from her four day vigil, hungry and tired and feeling diminished. Now needing to have the most difficult conversation of their marriage only to find herself with half an unanswered conversation with a stranger on her husband’s phone.

She sits there, contemplating her next act when the doctor comes in. He enters the room with practiced determination. It is meant to be an act of comfort, this air of focused purpose when there is absolutely nothing left to be done.

“We need to talk about your husband’s wishes. He isn’t likely to recover. We don’t have to decide anything right now but we need to be ready.”

She looks down at the phone, trying to see the stranger on the other end.


She nods, tries to smile through the yawning sickness that has become her whole life. “I know,” she tells him. “Heroic measures.”

Sobriety | Flash Fiction

A brutal passage through the desert. Merciless sun glowering, baking the earth’s withered heart. Punishing glare and scouring sands push every shade and shadow down into narrow fissures where the scuttling, hard-scrabble creatures clatter and crawl.

Not a drop to drink in weeks.

This was his experience of sobriety.

Miserable. Harrowing. Unending.

He had been walking for hours. Wandering the serpentine dunes in concentric circles away from the wreckage that should have claimed his life.

He had fallen from the sky, wrapped inside a screaming husk of metal. The flaming engines howling their death sirens as the airplane fell and fell and fell. Screams. Pleading. Prayers. But surprising how orderly, how calm they all remained as the plane plummeted from air to ground.

And the hammer punch of contact as the world erupted in flame and darkness swept over even as flame licked his face and claimed the bodies of those around him.

He woke up, battered and badly bruised but amazingly unbroken. For one terrible moment he thought he could not feel his arms or legs because there was no sensation when his hands reached out and then realizing the reason he could feel neither of these was that he was holding the charred and severed limbs of the passenger seated beside him. And then the recognition of what had happened and the realization that he had woken in a mound of burnt and broken bodies. He climbed through the molten crush of plastic, steel and flesh, found an opening nearly big enough to push himself through and emerged screaming and bloody like a howling infant from a catastrophic womb.

Emergence was hard fought. The narrow gash in the plane’s steel frame scraping his skin bloody and raw as he wriggled through. He wriggled through and, once outside, lost consciousness.

Thirty seven days. That was his first thought as he regained consciousness and struggled to this feet.

Thirty seven days. He touched the heavy brass token in his pocket, turned it over between his fingers, comforted only a little by the fact of it. Still there.

Which meant he was still there. Everyone else on the plane had died. He was still alive. It made no sense. He tried to comprehend the improbability of it. He looked up to the sky, expecting to see God. The sky was empty and very far away.

Everyone was dead. This was no time for philosophy.

It had been thirty seven days since his last drink. Thirty seven days of gut-wrenching sobriety.

His first coherent thought followed by the overwhelming desire for the kind, always forgiving oblivion of his next last drink.

He started to walk. Wandering without direction. There was no orientation. There was no direction. He did what the program had taught him. Get moving. Keep moving.

There had to be a drink for him out there somewhere.