It’s been a while since I posted some flash fiction! Here are two fairly recent pieces written for the Monday Flash Fics Facebook Group. In both cases, I took one look at the picture and a complete moment fell into my head. Those are always my favourite pieces.
The gritty surface of the road made barely any sound as I took one step, then another. Then another, not consciously counting the soft scrape of my shoe soles. With little other sound penetrating the light fog settling over hillside, every footfall seemed timed to my breath—or perhaps the beat of my heart.
When I got to forty, the quiet rumble of the car engine died away. He wasn’t following me.
Would he really let me walk away? For a moment, the pounding of my heart obliterated all sound and thought. I felt trapped and anguished. I thought I might fall down in the road. Then I wanted to fall down and maybe roll off to the side. Tumble down the hill and get lost in the mist.
He wouldn’t come looking for me. He wouldn’t miss me. He was letting me walk away.
It’d been a minute now. When had a minute ever felt like a year? My throat ached, and trying to swallow had become an exercise. A thing. I still couldn’t hear the car and I wanted to turn and look over my shoulder.
I wouldn’t turn.
God, this was it. The argument that broke us. We were done. Along the side of the road, the dense clumps of long grass seemed to offer a cushion for my bruised soul. Instead of rolling down the hill, I imagined simply lying down and letting go. I could hide in there. Let the moisture clinging to the thin spines dissolve me.
I managed to swallow and it hurt. My throat locked then, and breathing became the next chore. My feet had stopped moving and I’d lost count of my heartbeats. Silence rang in my ears, loud and clanging. Around me, the mist billowed and whirled. A tremble worked its way up from my knees until everything that was me shook and swayed.
Had it been a hundred? Had I counted to a hundred?
A scuff of boot against pavement turned my world upside down. I spun around and the mist roiled about me, ghostly fingers prodding and poking at my skin. And there he was, standing right behind me. No car, no flashlight. Just him—dampened curls pressed across his forehead, heavy coat dragging his shoulders down. His face in shadow, his posture as defeated as mine.
I took a step. He took a step.
One hundred and one, one hundred and two.
I held out one shaking hand and the spell broke. I don’t know who ran first, but we crashed together like a storm, arms tangling, knees banging together painfully. I hooked my chin over his shoulder and buried my face in his wet hair.
I said it, he said it. I clung to him and he clung back, his trembles mine, my sobs his. And the mist wrapped around us, no longer stabbing and poking. This time it was a cloak and it would shelter us both until our heartbeats resumed, until everything settled and made sense.
Until we retraced our steps to the car he’d left somewhere back along the road.
The Last Race
“All here, all accounted for.” The quiet rumble of engines swallowed the tap-tap of my pen against the clipboard. I kept tapping anyway.
“Good.” Rory gestured for the clipboard and I passed it over. “What about the supplies. Did we hear back from Bettina?”
“Not yet. But no news is good news from her. She’d have let us know if she couldn’t make it.”
“Fair enough.” Rory held his hand out again and I gave him the pen, leaving me nothing to fiddle with. “Nervous about something?” he asked.
“We’re about to cross four hundred miles of hostile territory with our own fuel, water and supplies, making us the biggest target south of Vegas.”
Rory flashed a faint smile in my direction before noting something on the clipboard. He tucked the pen into a pocket. “It is what it is. Worrying about it isn’t going to change the odds.”
I tried to tell myself that, but some of us were born worriers. Me, mostly. It was my job, along with taking care of details. Worriers were good with details.
“Know what you need?” Rory asked.
“I don’t want a drink. Last thing I need is a headache while we’re loading the trucks.”
Rory reached over to mess with my hair. I ducked away from his meddling fingers. He chuckled. “One day you’re going to forget to worry for five minutes and actually have some fun.”
“Fun.” It shouldn’t be such a foreign concept.
“Might even be tonight.”
Oh no. I knew that tone. “Rory—”
“Which of these beasts do you think can cross the finish line first?” Rory nodded toward the idling trucks.
“End of the airstrip. It’s…what, a mile?”
None of us could see the end of airstrip, which was kind of the point. Pilot’s Rest was nothing but a shed on cinder blocks and a square mile or so of hard packed dirt. No power and little shelter.
“You’re not serious.”
Rory clapped a hand to his chest. “As a meteor strike.”
“Pick a truck, Sam, and make your wager.”
I didn’t want to. Racing the trucks before we loaded them was stupid. What if something happened? Folks in San Diego were counting on this convoy.
I knew they’d race whether I made a bet or not, though. While I stood there chewing on the inside of my cheek, Elijah, Mary and Quin would pump pedals, ratchet through gears and have a little fun.
One of the engines roared louder, as though urging me to choose it, and I had a sudden sense of being left behind. That the race was something else. An excuse.
It was also something I couldn’t stop, no matter how much I groused.
“Which one is Mary driving?” I asked.
Rory pointed toward the middle of the pack.
I dithered for what felt like a century before glancing up at Rory. He still wore a faint smile, just visible in the night. They were waiting for me. All of them. Because they didn’t want to leave me behind.
“Two chits on Mary,” I said.
“I’m making a bet, okay? Let me get used to that before I start figuring how much I can take you for.”
Rory reached for my hair again and I let him muss it, knowing he’d grasp the back of my neck in that casual way he had, making me feel like I belonged. “Two chits on Mary,” he murmured before signaling with his other hand.
The engines growled.