short story

The Dying Hour

It happened at the same time every day, the same time that the school bells clanged wildly, signaling the release of the captives who fled in all directions in a blur of wildly colored coats. On a park bench outside the school I would sit each day and wait. I didn’t face the school but the empty lot across the street, the one surrounded by a crumbling wooden fence whose only method of deterrence was its own dreadful ugliness. Each day on that bench I watched the empty lot for the time when the birds would gather to pick at the bones of the man who went there to die.

And he would die each day, each afternoon the same way. He would walk out from behind the tree that stood just outside the lot (for there were no trees in the lot, only scrub grass and native weeds) and duck under one of the gaping holes in the fence. He would then make his way to the eastern corner and stand a few yards from the perimeter, facing west so the sun (if there was any that day) would touch his face. By this point his eyes, which I imagined to be green during life, had already turned gray, and deep hollows nested under his cheekbones. It was then that the silent howling would begin. He opened his mouth wide, revealing his toothlessness like a twist in the plot, and strained his muscles, but no sound came out. He tilted his head back slightly, stretched out his arms—-reaching, reaching!—-and fixed his eyes on some point in the distance. Each time I concentrated all my energy on following his gaze, but he was reaching for something I had no power to see.

Soon the silence of his wailing would be overtaken by the slow fluttering of wings, and I sat back for the final act. The birds were gathering. They would land on him, one by one, politely, until his entire body was covered with sharp little claws that clung to every inch of fabric, skin, and hair. In a grotesque but highly organized process they destroyed everything human about him, pecking, tearing, swallowing. When they had their fill, they flew away to create mandalas in the sky and left only a pile of dirt (or was it ashes?) where the man stood.

The whole thing took only about twenty minutes, not even enough time for your coffee to grow cold if forgotten on the kitchen counter. The children let out from school had seen nothing. The parents who came to pick them up had seen nothing, and neither had the teachers or the crossing guards or the passersby. But I! I could not let it happen with no one watching, with no witness to say “I saw him there. He was there once.” So I went each day, and when it was all over I would stand up, put my hands in my pockets, and walk down the sidewalk until the walls of the city turned to green hedges and the people became rose gardens, lying still in ecstatic moonlight.

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The Bus Stop, flash fiction

Ukrainian Village AugustThe worst is when the air is so light you cannot feel it around you. Nothing is breathing, and you get disoriented and try not to think of death. This happens to me as soon as I step out on the sidewalk. The neighborhood is quiet and fading today even though it is the ripe, middle part of summer when the greenery intrudes upon everything. I walk down the street alongside the promise of rain.

My plan is to go to a café and look for a job, the kind of job I told my sister I already had. Maybe a receptionist or an assistant of some sort. I don’t really know, but I have a hazy outline of what it will be, and that’s what I described to her when she came to visit yesterday. I told her about meetings and offices and working lunches so she would tell the family I am fine. I told her so everyone would know I am fine.

When I am a block from the bus stop I see it pull away. I watch this happen with no reaction, as if there’s a curtain drawn in my mind and I’m shielded from the reality of the world outside. I do not mind waiting, though, because I am in no rush. I have nowhere to be, and the red brick warehouse across the street from the bus stop is symmetrical and nice to look at. From this angle it appears to have no depth and is just a cut-out prop for paper dolls. I am pretty content with this view of the warehouse and of the cars going by, all peopled by little blurs of humanity. I think I just might be alright for a while until a moment later a girl rides by on a purple bike and I realize again how colorless my hair is.

A man joins me at the bus stop, and I immediately get the impression he is not waiting for the bus. Perhaps it is the duffle bag or the gallon of orange Kool-Aid he has with him. We stand there in silence for some time as a line of semi-trucks and work vans speeds past us on the double-lane road. Most people would have put on headphones, but I lost mine a few weeks ago. Besides, the weight of the sky makes up for the quiet. Will the rain start soon? I wonder if the man with the duffel bag is thinking the same thing. I wonder if anyone is thinking the same thing. When the bus finally comes I get on, but the man with the duffel bag stays behind. Perhaps he has not figured anything out about the rain yet.

On the bus I sit next to the window, towards the back, where I have a good view of the interior should I choose to look at it. A woman with a pink umbrella sits with her legs crossed, looking straight ahead. She is dressed too nicely for this bus and for this life, and I cannot bear the sadness of it so I opt instead to look out the window where a car is on fire amidst the weeds and the black top. The rain has just barely started.

flash fiction or w/e

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The open road was the second mistake, but it took a while to get there. First came the boxes: cardboard, made for packing and impermanence. You hated for things to be thrown away, and you hated the boxes, but you kept quiet until the yard sale when the girl with the red backpack came and bought my lamp. You went inside to make coffee but there was no coffee maker anymore and I walked in just as the ceramic hit the floor. It was the loudest thing.

The first mistake had to have been the wooden floors. The creaking was so insistent! More than the dark knots and the smell of dust and yellow light in the hall. It all got to my skin before you did, before you took my hand and we danced in the living room while the seasons changed. I never knew what home was. I only wanted to look at the maps.

Inevitably the floors and the lights and the boxes all led to the open road, the one you insisted you would accompany me down, at least until we hit the coast. Through the city we were alright. Across the plains we were alright. Up the mountains (and down the other side) we were alright, but when we hit the water we started to sink, possibly because there weren’t any floors out here. Howdid we not see this coming! Why weren’t we prepared!

It was not until we got out of the car that we realized The Wanting was terrible and The Leaving was worse. It was not until then that we realized that the colors of the maps were not true and you’d have to go back the way we came and I’d have to stay here. But it was never anyone’s fault.