Category Archives: friday flash

Friday Flash: Eloise’s Secret

Eloise liked to photograph the dead. She would hide in funeral home bathrooms until they were locked up for the night. She used a Polaroid camera because she could watch the faces reappear as if she were bringing them back from the dead. Life fading in instead of out.

This particular Tuesday evening, she fell asleep waiting in the bathroom closet and things were quiet when she awoke. No last footsteps, no doors closing. Just silence. She padded down the hall, slippered feet on thin, floral carpeting. Sallow lights clinging to the paneled walls, glowed faintly. Shadows followed Eloise, sliding along the floor behind her. She moved into the first room. Oh, the sweet scent of fresh sorrow. Carnations and roses, lillies and daisies, condolences and compassion in the shape of hearts and sprays and wreaths of grief. It made her dizzy. Eloise pressed her nose into a large snow white display of Gladiolas. This is what people did when you were loved. They filled the last space they would see you in with beautiful things, fragile things that would die, too. A reminder to press up against color and scent while it remained. Or maybe they just mask the smell of decay?

Eloise ran her hand along the casket. Pine maybe or walnut. Anyway, some tree was chopped up and reshaped, separated from its own life to serve as a last container for ours. Her fingers caressed the casket lining and then she peered in.

Only the top half of the casket was opened so she could see down to the woman’s folded hands with freshly polished nails. She wore a melon colored polyester suit and pearls, a cloud of white hair lost in the white silk lining. Her wrinkles were hardened, powdered and rouged; her lips painted coral. Eloise lifted her camera. The click and whirl of the photo being birthed interrupted the silence. She sat down on the floor, intermittently shaking the wet paper and checking it for signs of life.

The woman reappeared slowly in her hand—over-exposed from the close flash, glowing and blurred a bit, as if she had moved. Of course, Eloise knew it was only her hand that moved, but no one else knew that. In the photo, the woman was an angel taking flight. She could just see her picture now on the cover of the Statesville Times with the headline “Local Photographer Captures Soul of Dead Woman”.  Satisfied, she slipped the photo into a leather pouch around her waist, thanked her politely and moved into the next room.

This one smelled like disinfectant and damp air conditioning. Where were the flowers? The white marble casket was set up against velvet drapes, open and empty. Eloise looked around the dark room and then climbed up into the casket. Her head pressed into a tiny square pillow, the white quilting cocooning her as she placed her camera on her chest and folded her hands. It was quite comfortable. She lifted her camera, positioned it above her own face and took a picture. As she sat there shaking the photo and waiting, a series of beeps caught her attention. Someone had just turned off the security alarm. She froze. Was it morning already?

The door opened and the lights flickered on. The sound of a vacuum suddenly filled the room. Well, Eloise thought, she would just lay there until the cleaning lady moved on to the next room and then slip out. Being dead was not as peaceful as she thought it would be.

The in and out roar of the vacuum, coming closer and moving away, was a bit soothing. She began to relax, closing her eyes and holding her breath. She wondered if she could make her face as white as the lady’s in her last picture. She realized the vacuum was still running very close to her, but it was no longer moving. She opened her eyes. The cleaning lady was staring down at her and—when Eloise opened her eyes—she screamed and stumbled backwards, tripping over the vacuum and landing with a thump on her back. The plug had been pulled from the wall so they were now silent—the vacuum and the cleaning lady. Though, both the roaring and the screaming were still ringing in her ears.

Eloise climbed down carefully from the casket. She held her finger under the woman’s nose. No breath. She pressed an ear against her gray buttoned uniform. No heartbeat. The smell of outside air still clung to her skin. Eloise could almost see the sunshine in her hair. She lifted her camera and clicked. As the photo spit out, the woman suddenly gasped for air. Eloise jumped back, falling on her butt and then scrambling quickly to her feet. The woman coughed and then lay there, breathing. Just breathing, which sometimes is enough. Eloise shook the wet photo and watched it develop. She shook it harder to dry. Nothing. Just a bright white spot. Useless. She dropped it on the floor beside the woman and tiptoed out.

Two days later, she saw that photo again. It was on the front page of the Statesville Times with the headline “Maid Captures Ghost at Yates Funeral Home”.

Eloise shook her head in disbelief. “People will believe anything.”

Friday Flash: The Pigs

Michael’s assignment of monitoring and cleaning up after twelve pigs seemed easy enough.  At the end of the sixteen week program, he would receive board eligibility for the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.

Day 1~  Needles of rain stung his face beneath the plastic hood as he trudged through sucking red mud and entered the long white building housing the pigs. Inside, he was bathed in warm yellow light and the sickening sweet smell of fresh, damp hay. A few grunts and soft snuffing sounds greeted him as he carried fresh water to the pens.

“Ellooo, piggies,” he sang, peering through the wire fence. He dropped the water bucket on his foot, soaking the ground around him. “Je suz,” he whispered. “You are about the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.” He took a step back, shaking his head like a dog trying to get water out of his ears. Their bodies were hairless, pink and fleshy like human skin, with large bulbous growths on their oversized heads. They all stared calmly at him. “Sorry, fellas. But for the good of mankind.”

Day 13~ Time to get a blood and tissue sample from one-six. Michael had gotten used to the pigs’ strange looks, but sometimes their behavior still creeped him out. He spent the first hour or so in their pen as instructed; talking to them, petting them, cleaning and washing down their bowls and rubber toys. He decided to take the samples while they were distracted with eating. “All right,” he said, checking the tattoos on their hindquarters. “Which one of you lovelies is number one?” They glanced up from their trough, chewing and then went back to eating. “I know, you don’t understand any of this,” he rambled as he found pig one and gently inserted a needle into a stubby leg vein. “But, you have important jobs. Helping us figure out how a nasty little thing called Alzheimer’s works.” He capped the blood filled syringe and got out a scalpel and bag for the tissue sample. “Besides, better than ending up as bacon on someone’s breakfast plate.” He laughed to himself and glanced at the other pigs as if they’d get the joke.

His heart did a little flip flop and he froze. The pig on the end was staring at him, two black beady eyes meeting his gaze. Now, he’d seen animals acknowledge people, glance at them warily, but there was something so aware, so purposeful in this pig’s stare that he actually felt the hair stand up on his arms. It wasn’t until he slowly backed out of the pen and shut the gate that the pig broke eye contact and went back to eating with the others.

Day 27~  Michael discovered sow number eight–or Lucy, as he had nicknamed her–dead of a brain hemorrhage. Hay had been pushed over her body. Six of the pigs, including Cujo—the one that always stared him down—were standing around her in a circle with their heads hanging. He would have to make a note of this. Along with less rooting, they were exhibiting expanded social behavior.

Day 42~ During one restless night, when he couldn’t sleep, he decided to check on the pigs. He found them standing in a circle. Loud grunts were coming from the circle. Were they…arguing? When they noticed him in the shadows, they all stared for a moment then slowly walked away and began to root in the hay. Which would have been fine if they wouldn’t have kept glancing up at him to see if he was still watching. He decided to have a talk with the Director.

Day 43~ The Director excitedly showed him scans of three of the pigs’ neocortexes. Larger and more folds than should be there.

“Do you think this is such a good idea?” he had asked.

“Well, why not? Think of the possibilities, Michael.”

“I am.”

“Ack,” he waved his arm in frustration. “You’ve just watched too many science fiction movies. It’s not like they’re going to start talking or knitting sweaters, Michael.”

Day 44~  Michael entered the facility and was trying to get the lights to come on when something smashed into his body from behind. He felt the warmth of the heavy mass scramble off of him.  Dazed, he pushed off the ground.

“What the hell?” he shouted, pain turning to anger as he stumbled down the aisle. “What’s going OoNnn…” FWAP! He was flat on his face after tripping over a second warm body that rushed under his feet. Turning slowly over on his back, he stifled a yelp. Cujo was barely two inches from his face, his black eyes gleaming in the dim light; hot, rancid breath choking him. Suddenly, he lunged forward and sank his sharp canine teeth into Michael’s neck.

As the warmth and shock flooded his body, Michael stared at Cujo. Drops of blood were dripping from his bottom lip and…was he smiling?

Friday Flash: America Wholesale

Odis Harding heard the knock on his door; he just wasn’t ready to go. He knew this would be the last time he would see his home.

“Dad? Can you open the door? Dad? Can you hear me?”

“I ain’t deaf,” he whispered, staring at the yawning, blackened fireplace. He thought of all the things he had fed to the flames in exchange for warmth over the years when the snows fell. His wife’s clothes, his daughter’s dolls, books, furniture. All eaten up, gone.

The door busted open with a loud pop. His son-in-law, Robert, fell into the empty room. He was thinner than Odis remembered him.

“Oh, Dad.” Sylvia removed her sweater and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Okay, let’s get you out of here. They’re going to take good care of you.”

Robert moved to help his wife. “When’s the last time you’ve eaten, Odis?” he yelled.

“I ain’t deaf,” he grumbled, grunting as the two lifted him from the floor. His legs threatened to give out.

“You’re lucky Sylvia has some pull, Odis. She got you a fine room all to yourself.”

They got him situated on the wagon, Sylvia climbing in beside him and pulling a hand-crocheted blanket over their legs.

Odis swiped at his eyes with the back of a trembling hand. He stared at his home, trying to burn every detail into his failing mind. Cracked cement steps, banister eaten by rust, windows repaired with plywood, the patterns of lost shingles. He knew within days, it would be an empty lot, existing only for him, until that too was eaten up.

Under the spell of the spring sunshine and the steady clip clop of hooves, Odis could almost remember what it used to be like. His body swayed, his mind wandered as he eyed the farms they passed; farms that used to be bustling neighborhoods full of kids playing in the streets, smells of fried catfish and barbeque, porches alive with card games and laughter deep into dusk.

“Daddy?”

“Hm.”

“What was it like? I mean, we learned about it in school, of course, but what was it really like, for you and mom?”

Odis let himself focus on his daughter, his heart breaking. She would never know what it meant to grow up free. She had asked him a straightforward question though, so he would give her a straightforward answer.

“Nothing made sense that day, Sylvia. The stars could have fallen out of the sky and bounced on the street and we couldn’t have been more shocked. We sat there with our neighbors at the time, Vern and Poppy, listening to the President talk about how China had cashed in their chips and we couldn’t pay. How we made an agreement with them to repay our debt by letting them come in and restructure our economy. We just stared at each other. Poppy said maybe it was a joke. The dread in the pit of our stomachs told us it wasn’t.

“There was some excitement at first as Chinese business men toured the major cities in their silk suits. People were even naïve enough to think maybe they would help us get back on our feet as a nation. Then the bulldozers came and the wrecking balls and the communist uniforms. The changes were swift and brutal. Neighborhoods were leveled; people were relocated to central locations in the cities. Factories sprouted up and were populated with women and children. The men labored on new farms and orchards away from their families.”

“But, why were there riots? Didn’t people believe that America needed new factories? That the desolate and foreclosed neighborhoods would better be used as farm land? The Chinese gave us jobs at a time when there were none.”

Odis felt old rage stir like bees in his chest. He was too tired to embrace it. He laughed instead.

“So that’s what they teach you in school, huh? Jobs? You call workin’ sixty hours a week in a dirty factory just for a roof and enough food to survive a job? That’s slavery, Sylvia, that ain’t no employment.”

“We do get paychecks, Daddy…they just go to repay our debt. It’s not so bad, really.”

“Says the rat in the cage.” Odis shook his head and closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, they were stopped in front of an old prison that had been turned into a state hospital. He glanced at the Chinese guards walking toward them and then into his daughter’s eyes. He saw no spark, no hope and the pain was suddenly too much to bear.

“I’m sorry, sweet girl.”

Wrapping one arm around her, he breathed in the scent of her hair. His other hand moved to the pistol hidden in his waistband. The one loaded with two bullets he prayed to God he would have the strength to use.

Friday Flash: Mario’s Goddess

Mario fell in love with the goddess of war. Of course, he knew her as Alice Lois, the green-eyed woman trapped at Lake View Sanatorium since the courts deemed her insane at aged seventeen. He had been sticking pills on her tongue for a decade. Two months ago, she had looked at him for the first time. It shook him to his core.

He snuck into her records, finding a yellowed spiral notebook with crude drawings and symbols etched in the cover. He stuffed it into the waistband of his scrubs and took it home, violating all the laws of his personal ethics. He had to drink three Lagers before he could bring himself to open it.

When he finally did, her words made him want to take up a sword and protect her, fight whatever demon was harassing her:

‘My fears are winter wolves charging through the snow, tongues wagging, murderous eyes locked onto me. I don’t know why she has chosen me to destroy but I am the damned. Bitten by a darkness so black, it has seeped into my soul like an oil spill.’

He flipped forward, sinking deeper into her story, his heart being kneaded like dough:

‘I can feel her possession of me. My body is now just a furnace with an angry goddess burning within. She wants revenge, freedom from the chains of anonymity, to not be lost, forgotten or laughed off as a myth. She is hungry for bloodshed.’

He read until stars replaced dusk, until his eyes tired and his heart softened.

Morning found him standing over her, eyeing the pale curve of her cheek, a colorless mouth, the impossibly thin frame, the wide straps holding down this ghost of a woman.

She did not belong here. As if she could read his mind, her eyes opened. The brilliant life within her almost blinded him.

“My name is Enyo.” The only words she would ever speak to him.

He carefully released her, lifted her, placed her waiflike body folded into a laundry carrier, stripped her sheets and lay them atop her, being mindful to leave an air pocket for breathing.

The basement door was not monitored.

It took twenty four hours for the Asenapine to wear off. He fed her oxtail soup, bathed her without removing her underwear, washed her hair on the couch from a bowl and wrapped her in his grandmother’s blanket. He played her an awkward song he was writing on a second hand guitar. He wondered what their kids would look like. Would they have her blinding green eyes?

Two days later, he awoke from his post on the living room floor and she was gone. He scoured the streets for hours then days then weeks. He forgot to shave and change his clothes. Sometimes he remembered to eat. Mostly he wept and tried to hold her image in his mind. It was slipping with his weight, his hygiene and his sanity.

“Breaking news from Washington. The President of the United States is dead.”

Mario froze in front of the portable radio, the centerpiece of people gathered on the apartment stairs. They shushed him when he approached.  Shock twisted their mouths and eyes.

“Treaties have broken down in the past few weeks between the President’s special Peace for Progress Council and the terrorists who held four major US cities hostage just twelve months ago. Details are still coming in…” the voice paused. “We also have reports of coordinated attacks in Atlanta, Chicago and Austin. Thousands are believed perished.” More dead air and then an ear piercing siren.

“This is an emergency message from Homeland Security. Please stay calm and walk to nearest terrorist shelter for further instructions.”

As the message repeated itself–echoing from car radios, shops and bars—Mario sat down on the sidewalk curb and watched the scampering, the screaming, the panic. He began to chuckle, to laugh in loud, manic bursts until he was holding his stomach. What else was there to do but watch and listen?

It was a symphony. And his beautiful goddess was the conductor.

Friday Flash: Love is Contagious

Alice Windsor noticed her hands shaking as she held them under the automatic sanitizer at the hostess station.

“Ready, Ma’am?”

“I suppose so.” She glanced around the candle lit dining room.

“You’ve arrived before your guest,” the hostess winked. “Follow me.”

Great, Alice thought. Even the hostess can tell I’m a nervous wreck. Get it together.

And then a thought struck her. What if he didn’t show up? She would kill Valerie. Setting her up with some dead beat.  She slid into the seat, eyeing the embedded menu. “Glass of Chablis, please.”

Order received. Estimated time of arrival: 4 minutes.

She used the time to situate her silk skirt, smoothing it out along the curve of a hip; breathing slowly as she watched the other couples from beneath dark lashes. They all seemed so at ease with each other; talking, smiling like no one else existed. She had that once. With Larson. A lifetime ago. Stop it. She shook her head, trying to clear it of his name, his memory. Every year Valentine’s Day was a day for her to dread, to wait for like a plague. Not this one. She stiffened her resolve as her glass of wine arrived. And right behind it…her blind date.

“Have you been waiting long?” He leaned over her and they air-kissed.

“No, no,” she whispered, stunned by his sincerity, his large brown eyes, the charm that oozed from him like a physical presence, his mild, oaky scent.  “Just about four minutes,” she said, absentmindedly sipping her wine.

He ordered a drink and then the warning chimes startled Alice. It had been awhile since she had spent time in public and she’d forgotten how loud those bells could be. They reached for the paper masks beside their silverware, placed them over their mouth and nose and held eye contact as the sanitizing ions sprayed from the ceiling to zap and collide with any viruses floating around. Alice found herself smiling beneath the mask. A new predicament for her. Could she actually be happy with a man again?

The secondary bells rang indicating they could remove their masks.

“So, Alice,” he pressed his fingers together in front of him and she had the sudden urge to slip her hand between them. She leaned back in her chair, grabbing her hands in her lap to keep them from acting without her consent. “Valerie tells me you’ve been by yourself for a while. Bad divorce was it?”

Alice pushed her hair off her neck. It stuck a bit, damp and clinging. Was it hot in there? “Yes,” she bit her lip. “Mostly though, I just don’t trust myself not to pick another crazy person.”

His laughter came easy and often through dinner. Alice bloomed beneath it, letting herself relax and open up, all the while fighting the urge to touch him. Which was insane. The violation would land her in Solitary Confinement for thirty days. By the time dessert arrived, she was feeling so out of control, she was beginning to think it would be worth it.

“Are you feeling all right? Your face is very flushed.” That sincerity again. It was killing Alice.

“I’m actually feeling…amazing.” She laughed, licking cream from between the fork tongs. Euphoric was the word she would have used, except she still had enough sense not to scare the object of her desire. That sense was quickly fading, though. She lifted the porcelain plate and ran her tongue over it, lapping up every crumb of lemon cake and cream.

“Alice? Maybe we should…” She suddenly lunged across the table and ran her tongue across his throat, tracing a line up his chin, over his lips, cheek and into his ear. People began to shout and two waiters raced over, grabbing her arms, trying to pry her off of the stunned man.

Pink foam began to ooze from her mouth and run down his neck, into his starched collar. Her tongue swelled into a fat strawberry; her eyes rolled back into her head.  A powerful seizure struck and she fell to the floor.

Alice awoke beneath a plastic tent, straps holding down her wrists, machines and white walls beyond the plastic.  Wincing, she tried to call out. Her mouth was swollen and on fire. A shadow emerged, stood in the doorway and then approached the plastic.

“Welcome back, Miss Windsor.”

A small croak was all she could manage.

“It’s okay. I know you can’t speak. I’m CDC Senior Investigator, Robert Glenn.  You have been in quarantine here at Valley Hospital for ten days, along with the man you…licked.” He paused and Alice wanted to crawl inside her skin and disappear as the memory of the Valentines dinner hit her full force. “It seems your ex husband, Dr. Larson Windsor, has created and infected you with a virus that was activated by a specific hormone cocktail…phenyl ethylamine, serotonin, dopamine, among others. In other words, it was meant to activate when you became attracted to someone as a potential mate. It apparently acts fast, spreads through saliva.  I’m afraid…”

Alice squeezed back the tears. No cure, of course. She was now a contagion. Quarantine would be her permanent home. And then her eyes slowly opened, warmth spreading up into her face as she recalled the large brown eyes of the man who was also quarantined indefinitely. He would forgive her eventually, wouldn’t he?

Her swollen tongue brightened from within a deformed smile.

Friday Flash: Life, Death & the Space In Between

(Pablo Picasso’s “Nude Woman in a Red Armchair”)

Lou is a girl. She paints angular ladies with red bee-stung lips, wild chocolate hair in the shape of Z’s  with cherry or lemon highlights. They dry on metal racks in the pantry and then they are carefully wrapped and stored in the coat closet.  They haunt her dream world, swaying their hips and laughing wildly. These things are Lou under the spell of starlight and anonymity.

In the sunlight Lou is pressed and varnished, placed at a sharp right angle in a square office.

Gene is a boy. A dreamer. He smokes peyote and gets visits from dead poets and painters. Only they are not dead.  Somehow their space-time overlaps his.  Sometimes he has to help someone off the refrigerator or out of the bath tub. Mostly Cummings and Picasso. Apparently when two dimensions of space-time merge, there is no accuracy involved.

In the sunlight Gene wears tight shoes and stares out of a sky rise window, pretending to crunch the buildings between his teeth like popcorn.

The space between Lou and Gene consists of a hallway and two doors. This space is breached when Gene collapses with an open, foamy mouth and a thump that pulls Lou from her dream world and then her warm bed.

Lou stares at Gene lying there like a chalk outline, seeing him for the first time. She pulls her oversized bathrobe closed and leans down, two strong fingers searching pale skin for a pulse.

Dead. Dead. Dead.

She wipes his mouth with a corner of her robe, touches his lips with a finger first and then her own lips. She presses softly against his flesh.

At another point in time, one that has obviously passed, this might have been pleasant.

She vaguely tries to remember if she’s supposed to blow or press first. Then she shrugs, stands and pushes on his door instead.

There are two men sitting there looking vaguely familiar and yet utterly alien in the paper-and-book-strewn apartment.

“He’s dead,” she informs them.

“I see,” they nod to each other.

“I’m alive, right?”

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”

“Huh,” she pokes at her cheek with her tongue. “E. E. Cummings, is it?”

“Yes.”

“Okay then.” She unleashes the knot on her robe and lets it slide to the floor. “Show me how to live forever.”

“Come, sit,” Picasso pats the red armchair beside him.

Friday Flash: The Woman Who Rusted

Mona’s brain began to rust first. She would sneeze and spray solid bits of orange into her hand. She began to forget things like where she left her car, if she fed the cat, the fact that she no longer had a cat and, on a rainy Tuesday, she forgot to slip on her pants before walking out to the mailbox.

One day she sneezed and her teeth popped out onto her lap. She screamed, but then did remember she had dentures and this would sometimes happen when she forgot to buy denture cream. She would also need to buy skin lotion, she thought, as she scratched at a patch of brown scales on her arm.

“You should move to Yuma,” her doctor told her. “Low humidity. Will help delay the oxidation.”

“Oxidation?”

“Yes, rusting.”

Mona scratched at her flaking, cracked lips. “But, how?”

He shrugged. “These things happen.”

Yuma was all limitless sky, blue and more blue. Mona wondered what she was supposed to do with all this limitlessness. It only made her feel more small and insignificant.

In a folding yard chair, she sat, rubbing lotion into her pits and cracks and waited. It took longer to fall apart under a Yuma sky, but she waited patiently.

Her bones became brittle. Her pitted heart groaned at the exertion of pumping and circulating. Her lungs stiffened. The scent of acid and iron swirled around her. She shooed away neighborhood kids as they tried to polish her, thinking they were desert squirrels. Her mind was the first to go.

The Yuma sky began to rust, too, right before it bruised and then was shot through with pinholes. Mona tried to touch the light shining through the pinholes. She couldn’t get her heavy hand to move.

A neighbor rested a washbowl in her lap, mumbling something about being useful to nature. Sparrows and mockingbirds soon came to dip their dusty beaks and feathers. Their beady eyes were curious but unafraid. She knew she had lost her humanity. She was now just a curiosity.

In the silence, only the sharp edge of forgetfulness remained.  She had forgotten to do something. But what?

Her last breath beneath the limitless blue was a soft sigh of relief.

Friday Flash: A Change of Heart

“Helen…”

It is only a whisper, but the room explodes into pandemonium. The word is a hurricane. It sweeps a nurse out the door, blows another out of the corner, clutching a chart and her chest.

He opens his eyes suddenly, memories caught between fog and pain.  There is a beep and a click in the sterilized space, the suddenly silent space…and then his mind explodes. Click BOOM!

He clutches his heart, his bearded mouth a cave full of unearthly groans and escalating screams. He watches them  in slow motion: Helen’s eyes crinkle at the corners as a mother-smile ignites, brightens her face. Emma bathes in the love; cooing, waving chubby fingers, bubbling at the world.

Rage bubbles now, builds, escapes from the cave and threatens to burst his eardrums. Beyond the nurses hands with straps and needles, he sees them. He sees Helen’s throat open up with the first bullet, then her chest. Crimson flowers bloom and splatter his shirt.  Her hand reaches for Emma as she falls backwards; falling, falling. “Emma!” Emma’s soft head blooms as he lifts himself from the chair, his heart shattering because he knows he is one second too late.

His next bout of awareness comes two days later. Men in suits and grim, sleep deprived faces file in to stare at him.

Questions begin slowly, carefully as if the words are probing his wounds. Do you know where you are? Do you remember anything from Friday, October 1st? Do you know your name?

His answer is a blank stare. His mind is simply white noise.

“That’s enough for now, Gentlemen,” a sympathetic voice breaks in.

“What is my name, please?”

The raspy voice startles the nurse checking his fluid bag. She trips backwards and then stoically pushes her fists into her pockets. “You don’t remember your name?”

“No.”

Sighing, she glances back at the door. “It’s David. David Farah.” Her arms now cross. “Ring a bell?”

“No.” He runs a shaky hand over the sore flesh under a thin gown. “What happened to me?”

“What happened to you?” Her eyes round, then blink at the ceiling. Her mouth tightens. “You were shot. The bullet damaged your cardiac valve and your heart wall. We had to do emergency surgery. You have a new heart, Mr. Farah.” She bows her head and leaves.  The men in suits file back in.

Now their eyes burn fiercely. Shock has crumbled under the weight of anger and injustice.

“So, names, Mr. Farah. We want names.” One of the angry men moves to stand over him. He smells like cloves and fear. “We know you weren’t acting alone in this. Thirty seven people died in that restaurant, you son of a bitch. Thirty seven people that included a…baby.” This last word is spit into his eye. Venom. He doesn’t blink because he is focusing on steadying the images and feelings rushing at him. An old fire, from another lifetime is nudging its way to the front. It is hate and faith and fear all rolled up into a singular, seething wound that is wearing the mask of a human soul. His silence is taken as being uncooperative. The angry man slams a hand down on his stitched up chest. The pain feeds the fire.

“They should have let you die. I would have let you die! The only reason they didn’t was because of god damned politics and lawsuits. They should have given you a pig’s heart you piece of shit.” One of the other suits pulls him away. Takes him outside.

“You mentioned the name Helen.” The third man’s jaw twitches.

“My wife, isn’t she my wife? She’s dead, isn’t she? Oh…and Emma.”

His eyes narrow. He pinches his nose between his eyes then motions for the others to follow him out.  He comes back in alone, with a folder.

“Helen Brennan, along with her husband, Michael and their baby Emma were victims in the attack.” He folds his arms. “How were you acquainted? Was this a targeted attack on them?”

“I don’t understand,” he stutters. The line between lifetimes is blurring. The space that separates souls is disappearing. They stand facing each other as one. One body, two lifetimes. Grief swirls as a black storm within and around them.

Nurses, doctors and agents share the view, peering at the man signing his confession through the window, struggling with their own grief and confusion.

“Maybe we should tell him,” a nurse glances at an agent.

“Tell him what?”

“That he has Michael Brennan’s heart.”

“What good would that do?”

“Most people don’t know that the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Some people believe our soul is in our heart.”

David Farah turns to the window full of faces, lifts his hand in a thumbs-up salute and plunges the pen deep into his new heart.

Friday Flash: Root Baby

She was dangling at the end of carrot leaves clutched in Jane’s fist, a tiny dirt baby. On her knees in the garden, Jane stared at the doll-like face covered in dark soil; halfway expecting it to inhale and start crying, while knowing this would be impossible. However, when wet bubbles began to form on the bottom lip, it rattled Jane to the core and she almost dropped the creature.  She fell back in the damp soil, still keeping tight grip on those carrot leaves. Opening her eyes, she confirmed she hadn’t gone insane. The baby was there, still swinging in the air.

“Impossible.”  Jane lowered her into the basket, on top of the three or four carrots she had already plucked from the soil. Removing her gloves, she wiped the soil from its eyelids. They fluttered at her touch. Then she brushed the dirt from its neck and chest. Its skin was almost translucent, tinged yellow in the sunlight; thin fibers on its arms and legs glistened as it became animated, opening and closing tiny fists, kicking tiny toes. Jane brushed back the leaves from its forehead, in awe.

Then, in a flurry of fear she crawled, plucking out row after row of carrots, imagining other root babies entombed in fertilized soil. But, thankfully, this was the only one. When Jane peeked back into the basket, the eyes were open. It was staring at her quietly with eyes the color of the sun.

“Marge? Hi, this is Jane. Listen, I have a problem.”

“Okay.”

Jane sat at the kitchen table, the root baby still in the basket of carrots, staring quietly back at her. The smell of damp soil permeated the air.

“You know how I was telling you this spring I couldn’t afford Pureorganics seeds?”

“Oh no, Jane, you didn’t buy that genetically modified crap did you?”

“Well…yes. I figured, well how bad could it be, really. Right?”

“So,” Marge sighed, “how bad is it?”

“It’s…it’s alive,” Jane whispered. “And staring at me. I don’t know what to do with her.”

There was a long silence.

“Do you need a recipe?”

“What!” Jane sat up in her chair. “No! I can’t…can’t eat her. She looks human!”

“So, what are you going to do? Raise her and send her off to college? Jane, listen, you grew her in your garden, for food. You plucked her out of the dirt, she…it, is obviously not human. So, what’s the problem?”

Jane was feeling frantic. “What’s the problem? She has eyes, tiny clear eyelashes, toes…”

“So do cows, so what?”

Jane had no answer.

“Look, you know Evan Rogers at Knoll Hill Market? If you really can’t eat it, he’ll buy it from you. Sylvia was telling me her brother got some bad GM seeds, ended up with some kind of fish turnips. They smelled awful, but Evan bought ‘em. He specializes in exotic meats.”

Jane felt bile rising in her throat. “I have to go.” She barely made it to the bathroom.

When she returned, the rootbaby had lost her glow, her skin was graying. Was she dying?

Jane frantically offered her milk, the last of her pureed potatoes, water. She refused everything silently.

“What do you eat?”

She turned to the internet for answers. The few hits she got only gave cooking advice, not feeding advice.

Jane rushed her back out into the sunlight. Maybe her energy system was more plant like, she seemed to come alive when exposed to the sun before. In the sunlight, she could see tiny flakes and fissures on the rootbaby’s skin. So dry. She unwound the hose and trickled cool water across her belly and legs.

Her tiny mouth twitched. Was that a smile? The sunlight faded from her eyes and they closed. The animation left her.

Jane turned off the water, the rootbaby now bathed in her tears.

Jane knew she was supposed to call a disposal unit, but she also knew what they would do, the dissection, the tests. That would be worse than being eaten.

She scooped up the tiny body in her palm and held it gently to her chest as she walked back to the garden.

(photo credit: Jonathan Boeke)

Friday Flash: Breaking the Mold

When she was small, we created people out of cookie dough, Jell-O, stories, clay and mud. There were molds of almost every shape available: holiday gingerbread men, scarecrows, ghosts, Barbie. There was no mold for a little girl or a perfect mother. Those things have to be specially crafted, shaped by hand, cooked on low heat so there is no searing or melting involved.

She grows taller, breaks the mold. Becomes a sailor. The horizon is closer than you think, but you can’t convince a sailor because they know the world is round, life is a circle. They know the ride is sun-soaked, full of sea-winds whipping through the insignificant parts of the journey.  I will be back around some day, she says. I stay close, dipping my toes in the sea. Water is an excellent conductor, of energy and also of ideas. The idea that insignificance is a mirage, for instance. A silvery fish slips beneath my foot, a caress. It is enough. Drifting used to be enough for her, now she is steering.  An island where the waves lap at white sand glints close by. Another mirage? Only she can know. I am on a different shore.

Funny thing about little girls and perfect mothers. They are one in the same and yet neither. They are their own mirage, ideas of our own making. Ghosts shaped by matter. Shaped by each other’s dreams, shaped by bird songs, molds of words, ideas, wars and passion long gone, the whisper of fate. Shaped by hope that, like the potential flower curled up in the tiny seed, bursts forth to create and destroy its own container.

It’s a Sunday morning when the meaning of life occurs to her.  She is gray and lumpy from all the kneading, the twisting, the falls during her journey through space-time.  Eyes open wide, pupils dilate, laughter percolates, gains speed and force and rips the reigns from her bone thin fingers. The freedom startles her. She hears the white-crested-laughing-thrush in her own cry. She no longer cares why the caged bird sings. Or the free bird. She no longer cares why waves crest and foam, why the sun’s light is gentler from the moon, why the unpredictable nature of life is the only foundation worthy of a little girl or a perfect mother. It just is.  It just does.  And it is beautiful.

(photo credit: Marius Fiskum)