A Helping Hand (Flash Fiction)

Bob sat on the dead grass and rubbed at his hands. They skin was worn and red and his muscles were cramped. He squinted into a sun mired by thick haze. There was a forest fire a few miles out on a nearby hill. It had been burning for days, and the smoke was starting to get at his lungs. He hacked out half a cough and grabbed for his water bottle. He could taste his sweat on his lips. The water was cold, refreshing. He sat and rubbed at his weary hands while he caught his breath.

Bob didn’t hear the ground behind him shift. The soil was loose and dry thanks to a long, hot summer. Even as September churned through its days, there was no rain or relent from the heat. He didn’t notice the dust either. His gaze was captured by that smokey orange sun faded far away into the sky. The smell of smoke dulled his nose and gave his head a slight ache. Bob was anxious to get back home and back inside when his work was finally done. No one else was willing to stay and help him.

It was the retching sound of dry heaves that startled Bob. He spun in a turn and accidentally flung his water bottle. The liquid curdled on the dusty, reluctant soil.

“Holy shit!” Bob said.

Brian coughed and retched and vomited nothing but horrible sounds and dirty air. “Help me, Bob,” he said with a raspy voice. “Help me, goddamnit!”

Bob shuffled back in a hurry. In his startled motions he knocked into his shovel and it thumped to the ground. He hurried back on all fours, kicking up dust and dragging his ass through the dirt.

Brian snarled. Dirt clung to the blood spots in his hair. He dug his fingers into the ground and pulled. One of his finger nails folded back, but he didn’t notice. “The hell’s wrong with you!” he screamed. “Ain’t you gonna help out your friend?”

Bob panted and gave a frozen stare as his dead friend Brian pried himself from his shallow grave. “I tried to help you!” Bob screamed. Panic poured into him. “I tried and I tried but you wouldn’t listen. You went into that house anyway!”

Brian pulled his body from the hole and clawed forward. His legs were meaty stumps that trailed clumps of dirt. “The hell you on about?” he asked.

“Brian, goddamnit! Look at you. Yer dead!”

“I’m not dead,” he howled. “I’m alive you sumabitch!”

“Yer dead! I buried you,” Bob insisted. He pointed a shaky, blistered hand.

Brian looked back at the hole and then at his lacking legs. He looked to his friend Bob with an empty expression on his face. Behind Bob he saw a weakling sun fading into a smokey and premature night. “What’s happening?” he asked.

Bob stood up, grabbed the shovel, and held it up in his hands. The sharp side was pointing down. Bob looked as though he were about to take the head off a snake. “It’s the apocalypse,” he said. He strode slowly and carefully toward his undead, legless friend.

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