The Dead Servant (Flash Fiction)

He reaches the end of the hall with slowing steps of trepidation. Tired torches burn from their sconces, the stone walls behind them charred from years of smoke and fire. With his footfalls echoing down the long corridor, he knows before he turns, before he sees, that the door just around the corner will be closed. Late at night, when the manor is quiet and empty, the servants retired to their chambers for the evening, he’s heard the thumps of thick oak and the squealing of iron hinges.

While the living servants rest, one restless servant stirs.

He holds his breath, though not by choice. In the passing weeks, it’s taken more and more effort for him to approach his study at night. First it was the rumors, the other servants whispering amongst themselves, laying claim to unsettling sights and sounds. Then the whispers turned to startled gasps. Then to screams. He hadn’t seen the ghostly visage himself, but the horror in his servants eyes when they told their stories made it clear others had.

Running his fingers along granite walls, he rounds the corner. Before him, the large, oak door to his study stands closed. Expectations met, he lets out an unsteady sigh.

He wonders if this is the night when his fears are confirmed. He wonders if this is the night when his mortal vessel comes face to face with the wandering dead, with a lost soul. Cold air prickles his skin. His breath shortens.

He steps forward.

For weeks he feigned disbelief, always striding toward the closed doors with an air of confidence and throwing them open without regard. As if the act of bravery could dispel a lingering presence. As if a meddling spirit would be impressed by such trivial things. But as the presence grew stronger, as the chilled air grew icier, the pitiful mask of his bravery crumbled. Beneath the ruins of courage, only timid fear remained.

He approaches the door, silence hanging, and grabs hold of a large, iron ring. Wrapping his fingers around the metal, he feels the cold soak into his skin. His breath fogs. He breathes in, sets his feet and pushes against wood bounded by metal.

Hinges singing, the doors swing open.

As they part, he waits for a pale phantom to appear before him. He waits for a psychotic wail or reaching fingers or a hate-filled breath to whisper into his ear. The tales have been shared a dozen times each, so often that his servants no longer tend to their duties along the south wing. The legend of the dead servant has become very real.

But instead of those things, a feeling far more horrific finds him. Pushing against those heavy doors, he suddenly feels them swing open as if someone assisting with his entrance were pulling from the other side. The iron rings fly from his hands, and he stumbles forward into his study, landing on his knees beside a large, cherry-stained desk. He whirls and looks back, desperately scanning the room, a frightened scream already waiting in his lungs, begging to be released.

But the room is empty.

Around him, oil lamps burn a dull yellow. Books line the walls. Silence floods the room, and with it, a heavy feeling of unseen eyes watching his every move.

Unsure, he mutters the only words his mind can muster. “Arthur,” he asks, speaking the name of his deceased servant. “Is it true? Is it you?”

Silence.

He stands in frightful observation, waiting for a book page to turn on its own, for charts and maps to leap from the table, for his large globe to spin so quickly it finally topples over. All events that have happened before, he thinks. But the room sits still in its waiting. The feeling of watching eyes presses down.

“Arthur, you mustn’t worry,” he says, trying to shake his fear. “Your days of service have ended. I’ll always be grateful for your efforts, old friend. You’ll never be forgotten.”

The room seems to sigh, long and steady. Then slowly, the heavy, oak doors begin to close.

He watches in horror, hearing the iron hinges scream, hearing the telling creaks and thumps of those doors going closed, sounds he’s heard night after night from the distance of his bed chamber. His eyes grow wide as an iron locking bar slides in place and engages.

“Arthur?” he asks, his voice trembling. “It isn’t true, what happened between me and your daughter.”

Along the wall, an oil lamp goes dark.

“It isn’t true, I swear it,” he begs. “I loved her as one of my own. As one of my own.”

Another lamp dims, the feeble flame inside dwindling down to the tiniest wink of light, then goes dark.

“She was a beautiful girl, Arthur,” he says, his voice on the verge of weeping. “A wonderful, beautiful girl. I would never hurt her. Could never hurt her.”

Rounding the room, another lamp falls victim to an unseen hand and succumbs to darkness. A single source of dull, yellow lingers in the corner, a small island in a sea of horror.

“Lord above, have mercy,” he mumbles, clutching his hands to his chest. “Lord, please, I beg of thee, protect your humble servant in his time of need.”

The frozen silence in the room is broken by whisper so quiet it’s barely heard. “Servant,” someone scoffs.

The final lamp is put to rest, and the study falls to absolute darkness.

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Imperfect Meetings (Flash Fiction)

The moments are rare, but he tries. With effort and heart and dire determination, he pushes beyond five dollars mailed inside of birthday cards, beyond a quick video chat to shout out, “Hi!”. He arrives for a designated weekend, a rare appearance after missing many for reasons he can never understand or describe. He shows, plans or not, and two confused souls come together for a rare moment as father and son.

And those moments are golden. Against all fears and uncertainties, regardless of their flaws, every moment is golden. Precious memories are formed and hurriedly stored in a secret place, stored and saved and readied for darker days. And for a rare moment, the man so distant and lost no longer feels broken.  He sees himself through the lens of a capable father, sees himself able to bring happiness to a precious man in waiting, and he rejoices. Young, smiling eyes wipe his tears clean. Giddy laughter replaces his screams. His failings, all of them, fall away, and all things upside down in his life are temporarily turned upright.

But then time expires. The ending for visitation rights comes. The afternoon concludes, and father and son, still two souls both lost and confused, separate once again. The lens held in focus for those precious moments shatters, and the man, into several thousand pieces breaks apart.

Alone once more and left with only his failings, he departs, and darker days return. Golden moments are besieged and ruined. He digs deep in search stored memories, and though he can hear the laughter and see the smiles, those memories are distorted by a fatherly lens shattered well into a thousand pieces.

And while the broken man wrestles with the idea of permanent departure, his demons overpowering, his failings overwhelming, the young man in waiting anxiously anticipates the next imperfect meeting between father and son.

Six Years (Flash Fiction)

“Happy Anniversary,” she says in a dull tone, as if announcing the time or the weather or any other mundane piece of information.

He breaks away from his book, the first time in a solid hour, and looks at her. Watching her settle a small plate of cupcakes in front of him, he waits, choosing his words carefully. “I’m sorry? What was it you said?”

“Happy anniversary,” she repeats, pretending not to notice his quick decision to pretend not hearing her the first time. “Six years ago today we went on our first date.” She speaks the words in a matter-of-fact tone, like a newscaster casually breaking the news that the local sports team lost or that the stock market tanked during the day’s trading. “Can you believe it?” she asks, not caring to hear his answer. “It’s crazy, right? How fast time goes by.”

Agreeing, he nods out of habit. “It is,” he says, working hard to conceal his disappointed surprise. “It really is. I guess it’s true what they say.”

“What’s that?” she asks quickly, hoping to catch him off guard.

“Oh, you know,” he says, “the older you get, the faster time goes by.”

Together on the porch, bathing in another setting sun, she settles down onto the outdoor couch, making sure not an inch of her skin comes into contact with his. “My grandparents used to say the same thing,” she laments, wishing her grandparents were still alive, wishing that the last six years had not gone by, wishing that anything could be salvaged from this obvious lie. “I can still hear them, ya know? I can hear my grandpa telling me, ‘It goes by so fast.'” She forces herself to laugh, though it’s the last thing in the world she’d like to do. Inside her lungs, an eternal scream of frustration blooms. “And now here we are,” she says, ignoring the emotion boiling inside of her. “We’re just like them, aren’t we?”

He glances at her and catches her gaze. It’s a look he’s seen a thousand times before, and like always, he ignores it again. She’s just pining, he thinks. She’s just wishing our lives would go the same way theirs did. It’s normal, he reassures himself. Most girls want to live out the fairy tales of their parents or grandparents lives. It doesn’t matter that times have changed. It doesn’t matter that my love has drifted and died and blown away. That’s how love was back in those days. Passive, obligatory and altogether pointless.

“Don’t you think?” she asks, urging his reply. “I mean, can you believe my grandparents were married before they were both nineteen? And here we are, ‘so mature’ as my mom likes to say, taking our time and making sure everything is just right.”

He closes his book, his thumb holding the page to which he’ll soon return, and looks at her. “What a different time it was back then, wasn’t it,” he asks, his question the tried and true way of disarming her intentions, her implications, her every attempt to pressure the situation.

Disappointed yet again, she smiles. “It was,” she says, not agreeing in the slightest. “It really was. Still,” she tries, “six years is pretty impressive.”

“It is,” he says, opening the book to its saved page again. “We’ve been dating longer than some of my friends have been married.”

She doesn’t look in his direction, and she doesn’t say a thing. Instead, she simply nods in hateful spite. She nods, taking the words as a brutal strike against her character and her potentiality of being a wife. “Yeah, those poor things,” she agrees in a dry tone. “It must be hard, their marriage not working out. They must feel so disappointed.”

“They must,” he says, already forgetting the topic of conversation, his book regaining dominance in his mind. “Such a horrible situation,” he says as he turns another page.

She looks over at him, disdain filling her eyes, and unwraps a cupcake. Taking a bite, the taste is sweet and bitter and absolutely disgusting, filling her mouth with six years of rot.

Captain Muscleman (Flash Fiction)

The last of them shuffles in, their three-piece suits disheveled, their movements hurried and anxious. Wooden chair legs bark against the floor as they fill in the missing spaces around an old billiards table. A single light hangs above the green felt, illuminating gold rings and expensive watches. Tired eyes look across to each other. Five o’clock shadows stretch over rough faces.

“Now that we’re all here,” says the leader of the group with tired condescension, “let’s get right down to it. We all know why we’re here. I’ll open the floor to options. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.”

Shady individuals shift in their seats. Some pop their knuckles. Others pop their necks. Despite all the grunts and huffs, not a word is tossed out into the open.

“I’ll just come out and say it then,” the boss says, “I’m thinking about giving it up.”

“What!?” a spindly man says from the corner of the green table. His voice is high and scratchy and just enough to overcome the audible gasps that fill the empty warehouse.

“What choice do I have?” the boss says, already offended. “You’ve all seen the news. You’ve heard the stories. I feel the same as the rest of you, but it’s foolish to think this can go on any longer.”

“They’re lies,” a chubby man scoffs from the side. “Propaganda. Come on, you know how the press is.”

“That’s bullshit and you know,” says another opposite to him. His dark eyes are narrow and sharp. A long, thin scar stripes down the left side of his face. “Big Tony. Little Tony. The Chetsy brothers. And just last night—”

“We all know what happened to Chris,” the boss says. “It’s why we’ve convened. No need to rehash bad news.”

The man with narrow eyes squints in anger. “Bad news? He fuckin’ took Chris’ head off. One clean shot.”

All around, well-dressed crime bosses squirm.

“I said not to bring it up,” says the boss. With a heavy sigh, he pushes his seat back from the billiards table and stands. With his two hundred dollar shoes clicking on the wood flooring, he paces around his seated lieutenants. “We’re at the end of our road, gentleman. Our era has come to a close. There’s no denying it.”

“What do you mean?” asks another, his voice heavy with nerves.

“You know what I mean,” the boss says, his hands folded behind his back and his face down. “This Captain Muscleman… this ‘superhero’. This freak. He’s done it, boys. He’s chased us down, choked us off.” He sighs again. “He can’t be stopped.”

“But it can’t be true, can it?” asks a soldier from New Jersey. A cigarette rests between his lips and bounces as he speaks. “I mean… super-human strength? Shooting lasers from his eyes. It’s gotta be bullshit, right? I mean… what the hell?”

Still pacing, the boss shrugs. “I can’t speak for his strength, but the laser thing seems true enough. Did you see the news a week ago? How he cut right through those concrete walls? Big Tony had no chance. His whole compound was designed around staying inside that vault in the basement. This Captain Muscleman,” he says with a shudder. “He was inside before his guards even had a chance to take him out.”

“So let’s lay it out then,” says a surly gentleman from the table. He picks at the green felt with dirty fingernails. “You’re saying we’re done, finished. What does that mean? What are you proposing?”

The boss does a full lap around billiard table before speaking. His heavy steps cause the floorboards to squeak. He clenches his fists and grinds his teeth. “I’m proposing legitimacy,” he says. “I’m proposing the end of villainy.” He stops and looks over the table. “I’m saying we should go straight.”

“Straight!?” the dirty man from New Jersey exclaims. Around him, others grumble. “How?”

“I don’t know,” the boss says. “That’s where you come in. What are your options? What kind of pies do you have your fingers in? That’s what I wanna know. That’s what we need to figure out. It’s time we change our operations just enough so they exist within the letter of the law.”

A nervous man from Miami, his skin orange with fake suntan, lets an idea slip. “Maybe we could run for office, ya know? Become politicians.”

The boss scowls. “We’re fuckin’ better than that, Larry, and you know it.” The room grumbles in agreement, and Larry shrinks away into the shadows. “Look, nothing extreme, gentlemen. Don’t over-complicate things. Just take a look at what you’ve got going on in your areas and look at them from a new perspective. See if anything can be salvaged by going legit.”

“And Captain Muscleman?” a man asks. “What are we going to do about him?”

“Not a damn thing,” the boss says. “Haven’t you been paying attention? We’re going to beat him the only way we can. By ripping off people using the system instead of bypassing it.”

“But won’t he notice? Won’t he figure it out?”

“From what I can tell,” the boss says, “all these superhero types are the same. They can’t use logic. Their moronic moral compass is set in stone by the criminals that write the law.”

“That’s why we should be politicians!” Larry begs. “If we can write the laws, we’ll own the towns.”

“Shut up, Larry,” the boss says. “We’re criminals, not soulless vampires.” Throughout the room, grumbles of agreement chime in.

Doorsteps (Flash Fiction)

She sighs and takes another long drink from her Seagram’s and seven. Ice clinks in the glass as she presses it to her lips and swallows and swallows and swallows. It’s another mix almost gone in one simple session, and they both pretend not to notice. “Tonight?” she asks. “Really?”

He doesn’t look up. His elbows are planted on his knees, bare arms from a t-shirt stabbing through holes in denim jeans. With the weight of his world, his chin presses onto his hands. “Tonight,” he says again, wondering how many ways he’ll have to tell the same story. “I gotta get out of here. It’s just how it goes, ya know? This fuckin’ city,” he says, not looking at her, not looking at the skyline or the beaten avenue or anything his mind would bother to blame for his misery. “I just gotta get out of this town. Haven’t you ever felt that way?”

“No,” she lies, crunching ice in the back of her mouth. It’s her third mix, and the whiskey has finally found its place. “I love this place. Always have. Where the hell else could you consider home? And what the fuck do you expect to find in California?”

His feet twist on the concrete. Small pebbles grind beneath worn sneakers. “I just gotta go,” he says again, his heart unable to conjure the real truth, his lips unwilling to release the words that would let this young woman know that it’s her, that it’s her absurd attitude, her unrelenting needs, her continual demands that drive him from one shore in pursuit of another. “I feel like if I never take this chance, I’ll never take a chance at all.”

“Chance,” she scoffs. “Fuck that. It’s too expensive over there. Everyone knows that. You’re just gonna bury yourself. And for what? The chance to ‘escape?'” she says, quoting the air around her head.

Which is exactly why I have to leave, he thinks. This shit, this garbage weight strapped around my waist. You and my friends and everyone else. There’s no freedom here. There’s no release. “It isn’t about trying to escape,” he lies. “It’s about opportunity. Ya know? It’s about seeing what else is out there. How can I see the world from the same window?”

She tilts her head fully back, draining whiskey and soda and ice in one. It all goes down, all free of consideration or understanding. “Jesus,” she says, laying on her accusations as thick as she can. “You sound like my mother. See the world, travel,” she scoffs. “Bullshit. Just admit it. You’re quitting. You don’t love this town. You never did.”

Admit it he won’t. It’s a fight he has no interest in winning, let alone engaging. “I just wanna see what’s out there, that’s all. It isn’t personal,” he says in a tired tone, though he knows her words ring true. The further he can get from her, the better off he’ll be.

“They’re gonna turn you into some kind of liberal idiot, you know that right?” she says, pulling a cigarette from her rear pocket and giving it a light. “You’ll be wanting to kill unborn babies before Thanksgiving.”

He sighs, his heart sinking with the realization that the conversation is pointless, that no explanation exists to justify his exit. “It isn’t a big deal,” he says in a desperate effort to end the discussion.

And to his surprise, the words work. She leans back against the steps, cigarette between her full lips, her lungs pulling in and out, bringing an orange ember at the end of her mouth to life. Cars pass by, some strolling in search for parking, others honking in demand for more space, and they watch in collective silence. Their path together has come to an end despite the lies they say, despite the promises they share. He knows she’ll find someone else and she knows he’ll never return.

“Are you staying over?” she asks, ignoring the situation that’s come to pass. The whiskey has gotten to her, and she’s ready for more company, ready for comfort from her departing friend.

His elbows dig into his knees. His feet grind on the stairs. Turning, he looks back at her and the concrete steps leading to her door. “Sure,” he says, disappointed by his own relenting. “I guess I can stay.”

Their eyes lock, and she smiles. “Come on,” she says with a tilt of her head. “Let me make you another drink.”

He agrees, though the beverage in his hand is untouched. Together, in tired unison, they step inside.

Rescinding (Flash Fiction)

Death.

But not the fearful kind. Not the kind that Hollywood instills in young minds, the kind where the doomed soul goes screaming down the hallway, clawing and scratching, fingernails rolling back against the hardwood floor in terrified strain. Not the kind where the screen fills with crimson and black and horrible dread comes crushing down like an endless depth.

None of that.

He’s floating. Not weightless, not without form or presence. Simply there. Simply existing. The lack of weight comes from a lack of pressure, a lack of worry or commitment. A total lack of fear. He turns to look, somewhat ironic since he already knows his place, and sees what he always knew was there. The silly jokes weren’t far off when it came to the Pearly Gates. Light shines, clouds shimmer, and a man stands with a book in waiting.

The man approaches.

“Do you wish to enter?” the gatekeeper asks.

“There’s a choice?” he responds, surprised both in the option and in his own asking.

“Of course. There’s always choice,” the gatekeeper replies. “Existence is choice, through and through, from beginning to end.”

The man pauses with thought. “What are the options?”

The gatekeeper turns and waves a hand. “Entry, for one, as you’ve likely expected. Or rescind.”

The man can’t help but smile. “You mean—”

“I do,” the gatekeeper says with a sly smile in return, his all-knowing state giving privy to the man’s mind. The man laughs, and the gatekeeper laughs with him, and together they share a moment of absolute joy. Eventually, the laughter plays out.

“How far can I go with option two?” the man asks.

“As far as you’d like, though I don’t recommend anything too serious,” the gatekeeper says. “Some go too dark, and they return disappointed. The mortal mind is fragile, after all. Do you really want to scare your friends and family to death? Haunting wails and rattling chains and all that?”

“No,” the man says without hesitation. “Of course not.” He pauses, considering again. “But I’d like to do more than watch. I’d like to help, you know? Interact.”

“I do.”

“I’d like to let them know I still care, that I’m still with them,” the man says, not noticing the gatekeeper’s intuition. “Is there a ‘Casper’ category? A friendly ghost?”

“No,” the gatekeeper says. “But there’s something close. May I interest you in an orb?”

The man squints with question. “Orb?”

The gatekeeper nods. “You can give sensations of calm. You can see your loved ones and be there with them and touch their souls just enough to put a slight ease to their pain. Not enough to end the suffering, of course, no spirit can do that. But enough to take the edge off.”

“And I appear as an orb?” the man asks.

“From time to time, in chance photos, but only in the pictures that matter most. And you’ll only be noticed by those you truly love. They’ll doubt what it means, seeing a faint spot in the photo, but deep down they’ll know. They’ll remember the moment and how they felt, and they’ll know you were there. Nothing so substantial it can be proven, but not a voice in the world will be able to convince them otherwise.”

The man considers. “Wasn’t this in a movie once?”

“More than once,” the gatekeeper says. “Fiction draws its inspiration from reality.”

Without skipping a beat, the man answers. “I’ll do that then. Send me back.” He hesitates. “How long will I be gone?”

“As long as you like,” the gatekeeper says, “though most return after a few years. They help their family through their grief, see to it they find peace, then come home before witnessing their final years.”

Shimmering and already losing his form, the man asks a final question. “What happens to the orbs that stay too long?”

The gatekeeper, knowing the man’s thoughts and fears and deepest concerns, stares for a long moment in silence. “You’ll see for yourself.”

And the man disappears.

The Weight of Sorrow

If I could save you, I would, but I’m too busy drowning myself. Sorrows weigh, press, drag and bury, and you’ve only begun your journey of self-doubt. Press on, sweet friend, and find the depths in which I dwell. Sink and sink and sink, and soon you’ll find me and my sorrows, and you’ll likely wonder what the fuss was about. Not to say that my suffering trumps yours, of course not, but misery and suffering are relative, and I’m on the verge of showing you what they’re all about.

So cling, please, and beg for help. Cry for the moon and scream to the sky and indulge in all of those things that cry for help. And when your throat runs dry and your tears run out, turn to me and see what pain is all about.

Together, we’ll dig our graves with anxiousness. Together we’ll forsake the options that set us free. For those choices, those rambunctious decisions only live in dreams.

Or do they?

Don’t consider the question, the option, that pain is somehow optional. There’s no self-indulgence in it. Never consider the idea that pain can be discarded, love, for if you do, you’ll lose me forever, and you’ve already told me you’d love me forever.

I beg of you, please, never consider the idea that things can be changed. Never consider the possibility that pain is an option and you can be free. No, sweet love, dearest friend, never conjure these ideas. Rather, trust in me, believe in my all-encompassing ideal that pain is everywhere and suffering is mandatory.

Swallow the kool-aid, swear to my fanaticism. Adhere to the binary idea that it’s all or nothing, cling to that, and I’ll bring you with me. Misery so loves company, and I so love you when you’ve committed to ride along with me. I’ve only said so endless times. As many times as it takes to convince you. You and I, misery and fleeting hopes, together we can take to the skies. We can discard the world and abandon possibilities. We can refute all of which may ever seem right. We can drown together in sower as lovers, forever, and as we sink into perpetual darkness, we’ll forever blame the light.

Suspended (Flash Fiction)

She passes through automatic doors, exchanging dated linoleum for dingy concrete, and steps into the sun. She squints, glares, recognizes the pain flashing her eyes, but disregards it. The pain is a nuisance, a mild form of what he is already experiencing. Somewhere, knives are cutting. Machines monitor heart rate and blood pressure. Fluorescent lights shine down on sedated eyes that are closed and unresponsive. A surgeon, aided by assistants, leans forward and proceeds with steady hands and precise care. There’s no comparison, this glare to that fatal danger. She feels ashamed to have even acknowledged it.

The surgeon, knife and monitors, she sees these in her mind while her feet pad along aged sidewalk. Her legs take the lead, guiding her around others standing and passing by, others distracted by their own pains and worries, those chatting and consoling, those making difficult phone calls where the questions are never fully answered and the person on the other end is always left in suspension. Those lost to conversation where the ending is always the same. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll find out more in the morning.

And she can’t help but substitute morning with mourning.

Coming to a split in the path, she pauses. One branch veers around the large hospital, signs pointing directions toward a food court and additional parking. The other turns toward the facility entrance and its adjoining street. Viewing the world with dazed eyes, she’s surprised when her legs take her toward the busy four-lane avenue. Step after step, she wades away from privacy and into the thicket of normality.

As she waits for a red hand to shift into a green person walking, her eyes graze over the landscape. Gas stations lists rising fuel prices. Diners flaunt unappetizing specials. Cars funnel into narrow lanes producing coffee and fast food. Disinterested drivers sit impatiently at red lights. As she starts through the crosswalk, she can’t help but feel the distance growing between her and reality, between the world she used to see and the world her mortal form floats through. Her legs carry her, trustworthy escorts in her time of need, as her mind poses scenario after scenario. Pragmatism pushes the most likely to the front, one where she weeps in the doctor’s arms despite the thousands of times she’s told herself not to collapse. The doctor takes a minute to console her before handing her off to another member of the staff that can help with the steps needed to take next. Runner-up is her fumbling attempt to explain the catastrophic results to her children, though she knows for a fact those words will never escape her lips. A split-second of her broken face will tell those two beautiful creatures more than she could ever explain. Lingering further back is where the bulk of her hope clings, crossed fingers and darting prayers making full assault on the outcome of a complicated process going as well as it can, but a follow-up surgery is needed and there’s more work to be done. We’re not out of the woods yet.

The last idea is held like a sacred secret, deep and hidden. Buried and concealed. An astonishing outcome. A medical triumph. They’ve happened before. It could happen again. There’s always that chance.

But that idea waits, suspended. Suspended like the surgeon’s knife. Suspended like the sun in the sky and the cars at red lights. Suspended, simply waiting and hoping and lost in perpetual thought.

She rounds the block and practices difficult conversations in her mind. They did their best. The surgeon was fantastic, one of the best. He was brave and he fought ‘til the end. This kind of cancer is common in men. We all know the healthy life he lived. These things just happen. Forever in our memories. Gone but not forgotten. She considers flower arrangements. Do they even matter? Does he want a fancy coffin? She never thought to ask. She dreads another phone call with her mother. She wonders when the last of the medical bills will come, the financial closure to an emotional disaster.

She tries to think of what she’ll tell her daughter, and her thoughts go into suspension. She tries to consider how she’ll quell her son’s teenage rage, and her thoughts go into suspension.

The sidewalk beneath her feet bends and bulges and cracks against pushing tree roots like the scene of a localized earthquake. Her feet carry her like angels, never missing a step, never catching a toe on a crack, her movement suspended one quarter of an inch above hazard. She glances at the time on her phone, again, to see it’s seven minutes later from the last time she’s checked. She wonders how far the procedure has come. She wonders if the monitors connected to her husband have alarmed in terrible harmony, a revolting announcement of death so far removed from the trumpets God uses when He arrives with His angels. That liar. That hypocrite. But either way, somehow, time has passed, and she wonders: How long have I been walking?

Her mind can provide no answer.

Looking up, she sees the hospital just ahead. With dread, her legs carry her forward. Sidewalk glides beneath her. Streets are crossed. Automatic doors open and shut. With tremendous effort, she forces herself to take a seat in an uncomfortable plastic chair. Though sitting, she feels as if she’s floating, suspended above the ground. Suspended in the air.

Seemingly frozen, time passes. The surgeon suddenly arrives. And though she’s lived this moment in her mind a thousand times, her heart utterly dislodges from her body.

Suspended.

Tuesday (Flash Fiction)

In the summer heat, flies buzz in dazed loops, circling, searching for a pocket of relief never found. The shades are drawn, long stretches of manila that glow like bricks of gold under the relentless sunlight pounding through the windows. A man stands at the counter, waiting, looking through a thick pane of glass laying atop post cards from every place in the world one would rather be—Hello from the Grand Canyon, Christmas in Denmark, a bright red thong strolling along a white beach in Costa Rica. Again, he rings a tarnished bell, and the sound coming from it is flat, dull. Perhaps even the metal has succumb to the heat.

The space behind the counter remains empty. The wood-paneled door stays closed. Bob leans forward to sneak a peak at an old television monitoring two security cameras. One is fixed on the gasoline pumps, the black and white screen turning his silver coupe a dull gray. The other stares at an empty lot in back of the small building. Dying weeds lean and wilt. Dust lies in waiting, anxious for a breeze or trudging boots.

He leans back, rings the bell again and again, and sees a sticky note. It’s yellow color is faded and layered with dust. Failing adhesive struggles to keep it stuck to the wall. Scrawled across the paper is a single word: Tuesday.

Below the note, a light switch flipped off.

Bob looks around and waits. The air inside the old, neglected shop is heavy and stale. A confused fly buzzes by, buzzing left, buzzing right, questioning the meaning of life. His eyes land on the note and switch again. Tuesday stares back, and curiosity grips him. Bob searches, sees no one, and leans over the counter. Stretching, reaching, he flips the switch on.

It clicks up.

A humming passes through the walls, low and distant. Somewhere nearby, a door opens with a thump. Bob looks to the cameras again, hoping for a glimpse of what could be. His car waits, gas nozzle dipped into the tank but not pumping. The back lot remains empty, the dust still waiting.

Then she’s there, stepping through the small shop like a ghost thrust back into the land of the living, awkward and confused. Her plastic hands articulate. Her legs, metal rods with humming servos and tiny hydraulics, thump-thump across the worn linoleum. The lenses set within her eye-sockets adjust and focus with subtle clicks. The robot stomps through the small shop quickly and exits, the small doorbell clanging with her passing.

With his mouth hanging open, Bob stands and blinks. He looks at the security monitor and sees the robot approach his car, test the nozzle, and turn to the pump. He watches in amazement as the robot begins servicing his vehicle.

“The hell!” shouts a voice as the door behind the counter slides open. A middle-aged man appears with sandbags under his eyes and confusion on his face. “What’d you do!?”

“The pump,” Bob says, struggling with the words, his eyes locked on the aged television. “I needed gas.”

“No shit,” says the man. “Didn’t you see the sign? We’re closed!”

Bob shakes his head and moves his lips, but no words follow. Outside, the robot checks his tires, cleans his windshield. “That’s amazing,” he finally says in an astonished whisper. “Do you call that Tuesday?”

“No, numbnuts,” the man behind the counter says. “I call it trespassing. Now get the hell outta my shop!”

Seeing the robot diligently remove the tiny spots from his windshield, Bob nods. “Yeah, sure.”

Seeing his words unheard, the man glares. “Did you hear me!?”

Bobs nods again.

“That’s it,” says the man. He leans down and speaks into a microphone behind the counter. “Tuesday, perform operation Scratching Post!”

“Scratching Post?” Bob asks.

The man smiles and mimics a cat clawing at invisible furniture. Bob looks to the screen and sees Tuesday pause in her windshield cleaning, re-orientate, and then drag metal fingers along the side of his car. On the monitor, the deep gouges in the metal appear as white lines. From the windows, slipping in through the manila shades shining like gold, he hears the shrill shrieking of metal on metal.

“Helluva Tuesday,” Bob says.

 

To Shine (Flash Fiction)

There are times when I wonder if the sun feels alone. Suspended in so much dark and cold, does it burn with tremendous fury only to feel its light is cast for no one? Does it look across an empty reach of galaxy to see billions of stars clustered together like cities, like families, and wonder, Why must I burn alone?

Imprisoned by nothingness, does it ever consider:

I’ll stop then. I’ll quit. My energy is wasted, for I am beyond reach. I’m alone and lost and only glow toward destructive end. I shine without reason, for my warmth surely freezes before reaching those distant bodies. What use is there in projecting such energy? For what purpose do I exist?

What horrific tragedy.

While suffering in so much dark and cold, I hope our light reflecting back is enough for it to see the smiles and tears and joyous memories its tremendous fury brings. It pours onto friendships and families. It smothers young lovers with warmth while they stroll along sandy beaches, and as it fades into the sea, those lovers kiss it goodnight.

There are times I’ll search for the faintest star my eye can find and marvel at the distance between. Time suspends itself like a breath only held for so long, a wondrous moment that is soon gone. As I stare in astonishment, struggling to fathom a place in this monumental existence, I’ll often wonder, For what purpose?

As if sent from those distant lights, an answer will crawl into my mind.

To shine.

So burn brightly, dearest sun and furthest stars. Burn for those you cannot see or ever know. Send your warmth and love and fear not where it goes. Shine and send your brightness though you may never know why. Shine so your light may stretch through the ages, pierce the darkness, and bring life to worlds unimaginable.