Flash Fiction!

Irresistible.  His scent is delicious. His eyes are caring and confident. He’s perfect. You become frustrated. This is a familiar feeling.

Most people fall into one of two categories: they believe that everyone has one soul mate or they believe that the idea of soul mates is ridiculous. You know better. You have several soul mates. As does everyone. You’re only 26 and have already met four of them. Five now, actually. And number five is just as unimaginably perfect to you as one through four were.

Continuing to eye soul mate number five, you remember the time when you told your best friend about your ability to spot your soul mates. Oddly, she had no doubt in what you said. Maybe not oddly. She was one of those suckers who had spent thousands of dollars on psychic hotlines by the time she was 20 and would hand over her social security card to a stranger if they made a convincing enough argument as to why she should. She was a fool, yes. But if you could spot out soul mate best friends, you were sure she’d be the one for you.

You had laughed almost manically when Isabella had called your ability “a gift.” You could see how a lay person could mistake this curse for a blessing, but you had suffered through it too many years to call it anything but what it was: a disaster.

You were engaged before. Four times, actually. You were currently engaged, but you probably wouldn’t be for long. You had a feeling you would be engaged again relatively soon, though. Soul mate number five was new at the office, but you were certain that he would be new to you for only the next day or two. You would feel an unnerving pull to him as soon as he left, and he would feel it too. Then, after a few dates he would want you to meet his family and he’d want to meet yours, both sides would love the happy couple, he’d go ring shopping, you’d ecstatically say yes, and then …

That was the curse. As confident as you were that after summer there’d be fall, you were even more confident that you would meet soul mate number six and fall totally, madly, and deeply in love. You would (guiltily) leave soul mate number five, the soul mate you currently could not stop thinking about even though just minutes before you had no idea existed, and ride off into the sunset with soul mate number six. And then seven. Then eight. Nine. Ten. It was a cycle and you were doomed to repeat it for the rest of your life. Or at least until you ran out of soul mates.

But maybe number five would be different. Maybe this time … You hastily leave your cubicle to go find him. You run into him. He was coming to find you too.

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Always Pick Dare

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The sun’s rays couldn’t quite make it through the haze, but their warmth still caressed our bodies. It was June on the outskirts of Lincoln, Nebraska and the muggy air drained us. It was just the beginning of summer, but it was hot. Yet, we kept playing. The yard was large, only to be cut off on one side by a forest of tall grass and beetle infested trees and County Road 7 on the other. The grass in the yard, less than a week before a lush green, was now fading to yellow and flattened by tire tracks. The only hours it was allowed peace were during the memorial service and once the sky reached a vibrant mixture of deep purples, soft blues, and effervescent oranges – the time of day when soft, smooth arms turn into itchy feeding grounds for mosquitos.

It was aged; its tires needed refilling about every 20 minutes; its paint was chipping in spots. It was aged, but it was mine. Not only was it mine, it was mine and no other grandkid had even received a dime! My 13 year old self viewed it as a symbol for how loved I was; it showed the world that I was the favorite. I was the proud owner of the golf cart and the other four grandkids owned nothing but their jealousy.

Looking back, the fun we all had, the laughter we shared while ruining Grandma’s lawn, it feels somewhat wrong. Sure, grandpa’s funeral had taken place months ago. Our grieving had occurred way back in October, and even before then when we found out about his cancer. But the reason for our 12 hour trip to the edge of the state was for his memorial service. Our time there should have been spent reliving memories of him, not killing all of Grandma’s sod and almost one another in the process. But we had found out months ago when Grandpa prepared his will that he was leaving the golf cart to me and we had been waiting to put its nine horsepower engine to the test. And put it to the test we did.

We flew around the corners of the house, verbally agreeing to not let any of the wheels off the ground, but secretly trying to tilt it just enough… . We sailed over culverts (which led to a list of over a dozen agreed upon rules on how not to drive the golf cart), we crashed into trees (rule number six or seven, I believe), and we nearly sent me to the E.R. (breaking at least half of the rules). The time I could have died is actually really rather a funny story (or at least that’s what we tried to tell our mom years later when we finally fessed up to how we really used to spend our time on the golf cart).

It was our final day at Grandma’s and we were beginning to tire of our now old golf cart routines. My sister suggested a festive game of golf cart truth or dare, which quickly turned into only dare, since the truths were far more boring. With each dare the stunts grew more and more challenging, more and more dare devilish. On my turn, my sister dared me to jump out of the golf cart. Easy, I said. Wait, there’s more, she said. I had to jump out while it was roaring down the steepest and longest hill on the property, jump out at its top speed, and sing “Amazing Grace” while doing it. Easy, I said. We’ll see, she said.

We coasted up the hill. At the top my sister pressed her foot firmly on the e-brake while she asked me if I had experienced a change of heart. Evidently, my foolish 13 year old self hadn’t though, because the next moment we were zooming down what felt like a mountain. I was standing up, the hot wind shooting against my face, and belting out how sweet the sound of Amazing Grace was. I can remember thinking that it would be a good idea to jump forward when I took my literal leap of faith. My hypothesis was that it would hurt less. Perhaps if things had gone better, I would have been right. But, as I sprang from the passenger side of the golf cart, scream-singing that I was once blind but now could see, my projectile was in line with that of the half ton golf cart. And it was coming in hot.

I did my best to get out of the way. I was fast enough to sit up, but in the milliseconds of time I had to react, that was all I could manage. In no time at all the cart was on top of me. Then it wasn’t. Then it was again. The pain I can remember feeling wasn’t as terrible as the panic that took over once my brother and sister had careened over me, skidded to a halt, and sprinted back to me. The golf cart had trampled my bent over back, leaving deep scratches down its entire length. I was bleeding, but not profusely. I was crying, but mostly from shock. I would be fine, we decided. Mom and Dad would never need to know, we agreed. For days afterwards I was sore. I can remember leaning against the body of the hot car the following morning and leaping up quickly, the sun-warmed metal scalding my fresh wounds. But over the course of weeks the scratches faded leaving no traces of scars. All was fine, and the accident served as reinforcement for every warning our mother had given us about using the golf cart safely. We would never again pull a James Bond and jump out.

Years later, my brother and sister home from college on Christmas break, we told our mother about that summer misadventure. She made me turn in the keys for a week.

Olympic Dreams

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When I was six I had aspirations only a six year old could sincerely have. The prefrontal cortex is incredibly immature in six year olds (in anyone under the age of 18 and some studies suggest up to the age of 25, actually) and this immaturity leads to terrible, terrible decisions. To put it simply, there’s a reason why six year olds shouldn’t work, drive, vote, smoke, and drink. There’s a reason why six year olds should have a caretaker at all times, be allowed to make minimal decisions, and never be allowed to handle anything more dangerous than safety scissors. That reason is their immature prefrontal cortexes, the rest of their immature brains, their immature bodies, and basically their immature, dumb, six year old selves. And as far as six year olds go, in the summer of 2000, I earned the gold medal for six year old stupidity.

That particular summer, Sydney, Australia played host to the Olympic Games.  As I’m sure you well know, Olympic athletes are the super heroes of the world for one short month every four years.

But what a month it is.

They’re on cereal boxes and Firestone commercials, spokespersons for Subway and on the covers of magazines, the stars of the 10 o’ clock news and endorsers of Nike, they pretend they eat McDonald’s for a cool half a million and drink Red Bull because it gives you wings! Yes, for one month they not only look like gods and goddesses, they are gods and goddesses. And my six year old self would have died to be among them.

My favorite gods and goddesses of all were the gymnasts. I loved watching them fly gracefully through the air, perch themselves precisely on the mat like doves, and spread their wings triumphantly at the sound of applause. I loved gymnastics and I so terribly wanted to be a part of it. But, like I already mentioned, six year olds don’t make important decisions. So, when I asked to be a gymnast, my parents decided instead of enabling me to partake in monkey-type activities, they should keep meals on the table instead. And one day, between the meals being on the table, I made the bold decision to show off the Olympic-level gymnast moves that I in no way possessed.

Picture pine cabinets everywhere. White walls with speckles of pastel colors. Floral sofa, floral couch, floral chairs. Forest green carpets. Everywhere. A curly headed, overly confident, six year old, standing on the garage-sale-deal kitchen table, singing the Olympic theme song. Visualize all of this, and you, my friend, are about to witness a hilarious, albeit humiliating piece of my childhood unfold.

I had gathered my two siblings, my mom, my stuffed animals, and an imaginary crowd of millions to watch my epic, never before performed, backflip. I belted the Olympic anthem three times over (stalling), stretched my legs repeatedly (stalling), and made my own color commentary about what a risky move I was about to perform and how impressed the world would be if my attempt was successful (stalling). And then, when my brother and sister threatened to leave the audience if I didn’t do something entertaining in three seconds, I made a literal leap of faith.

And face planted into the carpet. Hard.

I’d like to tell you that my Olympic gymnast dreams were knocked out of me, but looking back I think all that ridded itself of me were tears and sense. I continued my stunt work, believing that I was leaping, somersaulting, and tumbling my way to greatness. When instead I was leaping into an unnecessary broken pinky, somersaulting into a near concussion, and tumbling down a stair case. In the end, my six year old aspirations began to vanish. I no longer dream of making it into the Olympics. I no longer climb up on the kitchen table to master a new athletic feat. I no longer dive senselessly through the air, pretending that a metal beam will meet my hands or that a narrow balance beam will meet my feet. I no longer even bother with cartwheels. But I do miss pretending that Bob Costas is bragging about me on NBC news. And I do miss the glory days of 15 years past.

Ode to the Park Bench

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Rob was here.
G + S = 4eva.
Call 684-6277 for a good time.
All etched out of the green paint. Each writer remembered not only by their mark, but by their resting weight and resonating body heat. How many tired sets of legs were given comfort by this park bench? How many ornery teenagers out way past their curfew were caught etching out more meaningless marks of the already chipping paint? How many sobbing toddlers comforted by their loving mothers had this bench seen?

It’s truly a thankless job: giving rest to the wicked, a bed to the homeless, a canvas to those with a sharp knife and the misgiving that they had something to say. Used and abused by so many, this bench would never be invited over for Thanksgiving, never be encouraged to relax, never be patted on its back for doing a fine job. It would stand, forever, waiting to be used, reused, and then used again. Over and over, day after day. It would endure the rain, undergo the snow, withstand the sun. Just to see you. Or you. Or you over there. Just to be there whenever you need a rest. It will be there. Waiting for you. Smiling at you. Welcoming you.

Spiders

 

Recently I moved into a new house. Not new new, new to me new. Why I emphasize that is because, although I really like the house, it has spiders. If you’re envisioning some Indiana Jones tunnel of death craziness or something, stop. It’s not spiders in the sense that everywhere-there-is-spiders spiders; it’s spiders in the sense that one-at-a-time-they-appear spiders. If there were hordes of them sprint-crawling around then I would no doubt cut my loses, burn the house down for the good of humanity, and flee, my legs trying so desperately hard to escape that they would nearly fling up and knock against the back of my head with each stride. But there is no spider horde (phew), so there is no need for drastic measures, matches, or extreme cardio today.

Instead, the spiders come one at a time. It’s almost as if there’s a mama spider hatching one egg at a time, telling each baby spider to “check it out. See if that lady with a shoe is gone.” I’m still here, as the latest baby spider can attest. Right now I’m staring at it while it’s probably staring back at me, me wondering if it’s staring at me while I stare at it while it probably stares back at me wondering if I’m staring at it. Mama spider may live to see another day, but baby spider on the wall will not, as it is due to meet my shoe any second.

Russian Roulette

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Photo CC by Keary O.

The reflection of his smug grin is reflected in the brushed steel as he slides what I don’t want – don’t even want to look at – across the cedar table. My heart is beating louder than thunder, my blood rushing faster than Niagara can fall. I worry that he can hear my panic, I wonder if he can smell my fear.

I try to remember how many rounds we’ve been through. Three? No, four. Four. This will be my second attempt. I scream inside of my head, terror coursing through me. The odds that I cease to exist in a matter of minutes are unreal. How can an object just slightly larger than my hand wield so much power? How can something resting innocently on the table be capable of so much evil?

He clears his throat. It’s obvious that I’m stalling. I nod, and this action surprises me; I’ve felt paralyzed since the empty sound of the empty click from the empty barrel. Empty. Maybe when my trembling hands find the strength to set this revolver – this wicked, wicked weapon – against my skull the small, empty click will be a sound of joy, not of despair.

It’s a lethal game of chance we play, but his calm exterior makes me wonder if there’s more to it than luck. Perhaps, behind his cool blue eyes and his handsome grin, lies the secret to the game. Look at his snakelike stare. It’s as if he has all the aces up his sleeves. But we’re not playing cards. We’re playing with death.

“It’s your turn, Slugger.” His lips barely move when he speaks. They flick up and down, like the serpent he truly is.

“How did we get to this?” I ask, though I am well aware of the answer. It stems back to his infidelity. If he were just a stranger, just another horny bastard in a sea of testosterone perhaps I wouldn’t care. I wasn’t a vigilante, striving to rid the world of cheaters. I wasn’t a saint, striking down sinners. But he wasn’t a stranger. He was my brother, and she was my wife.

When he suggested we solve our problems in this way I was confident, perhaps even cocky. Surely such a thing as Karma existed. Certainly he would be dealt the hand he deserved. But now – now that our scheme, concocted out of malice, has become a reality, now that it’s not just my marriage on the line or merely my brotherhood at stake, now that it’s life on the line, either his or mine – now my confidence has completely dissolved. Almost like a sprinkle of sugar in lemonade, my assurance has disappeared, and with it some of my sanity.

I long for better days. Just last week, before I saw what I will never unsee, we were out having drinks, shooting pool, whistling at college girls too young to give us the time off of an analog watch. We were buddies. The best of friends. And now?

Now I take the gun. The metal, untouched for several minutes, is cold in my clutch. The hot fire coursing through my veins warms it quickly, though. And I feel a new surge of rage. Rage for the cheating whore I’ll forever love but never trust again. Rage for the loss of not only my best friend, but my brother. And rage, rage for the decision I have just made.

I pull out the cylinder, twirl it in position, and lock it into place before he can finish the sentence “That’s cheat-!” When the trigger is pulled this time the sound is not that of an empty click. It is a loud, deafening ‘bang!’ followed by a sickening gargling of blood and whimpers of pain. The smell of iron pushes its way through my nostrils and down to my tongue. The snake eyes grow cold, they remain open, staring up towards me in disbelief. I stare back, unblinkingly, as I reach for the case of bullets, fill the chamber once again, and breathe a sigh of relief. A final sigh of relief.

Beneath the Surface

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Photo CC by Daniel Oines

Fresh asphalt poured neatly on its driveway,
recent beige paint coats its exterior,
its contractor surely given high pay,
and its designer a superior,
one o’ six Maple is unbeatable.
Curtains mask the inside of its windows.
Silhouettes – arguing? – it’s mistakable.
Inside rapidly move two black shadows.
This house, beside two others yet alone,
stands apart for more than its luxury.
Wrecked inwardly, this house is not a home.
Its vast three stories mask an injury.
Cookie cutter, yet something inside calls.
Nightly now comes a woman’s screams of pain;
just audible, muffled by soundproof walls,
what horrors in the night for her remain?
Listen. Tonight it’s loud. Can you hear the screams?
Maybe she’ll escape. If only in her dreams.