From Vestal Review: A good flash, replete with a cohesive plot, rich language and enticing imagery, is perhaps the hardest type of fiction to write. A good flash is so condensed that it borderlines poetry. A good flash engages your mind not only for the short duration of its read, but for a long time after.
The Indian woman sits, cross-legged, in the burning tan sand, a wooden barrel confined within the space between her legs. She does not move, does not appear to be breathing. She stares at him, skin burnt and dry. Simply stares. The plumes of flame that spire from the barrel separate her face from his, making her facial expressions indecipherable and barely visible. Her thin lips do not move, but he hears her. She asks if he wants water. Tongue swollen and mouth parched, he tries to reply, but it is futile. She understands, though he has not spoken. She raises her hand in warning. For what reason? He does not know. Ah! The thirst! It is driving him mad.
"Water," he manages to speak. Spittle forms at the corners of his mouth. His broken-down jeep is far; he has come a long way and if he doesn't drink now, he will surely die of dehydration, very painfully.
Her face remains passive, but there is a hint of decisiveness in her expression. She nods.
"Before you drink, boy, be warned: for each gulp of water you take, you lose one year off your life." She reaches into the burlap bag beside her and takes out a faded, brown canteen. He snatches it from her frail hands greedily and begins to wrestle with the cap. Finally! It gives. Water spills over his hands and onto his pants. He brings the canteen to his burnt lips and proceeds to drink without counting the gulps. How wonderful it feels running down his dry throat!
He swallows the water...swallows...swallows...swallows. She observes him without action or notice; his skin turns to dust—to sand— until he is no more than a puddle against a sea of sand. A smile passes briefly over her face, then fades. She had warned him...
She leans over and kisses the sand where he once sat, then gets up, brushing sand grains from her lap, then faces the Sun. Steps once toward it, now twice.
Her figure, garbed in brown with ceremonial sashes, trailed by long, salt-and-pepper-colored hair, begins to fade. Now she is translucent...and now she is gone, as though she had never existed.
Copyright © 2000
To Really Hear It
He's driving in the Sierra Nevada with his wife and their small daughters and the kids are fighting and he can't take much more of it. He's tired of everything, really, but then he forgets about the rote of fighting children and harried wife and underpaid work and his occasional excuses for laughter. He escapes from his messy, loud days, but not because of any wonderful thing he didn't expect to happen—but by the opposite. Tragedy and dread have brought him here, though he hasn't gone anywhere since the accident occurred. It hasn't happened all that long ago. In fact, he's still in the loud, hot crashing of it, and only now seeing how things will end up.
The car has gone through the guardrail and they're falling. They have no choice now, but to roll and bounce and shred. He's a high school physics teacher, and so he understands these things. Microseconds turn to years and the violence doesn't reach him because he's protected by the car's seatbelt and safety cage, but he can see it's not going well for his wife and their small daughters. He tries to will the damage upon himself, but all he can do is watch as the forces of nature tear his family apart. He's horrified by the cruelty of the equations he'd written on chalkboards. All thoughts of bodily needs and monetary expenditures and his longing for peace and quiet are gone. He wants to go back to the time of squalling children and short-tempered wife. He wants to revel in the sounds of anger and concern, and if that isn't possible, he wants the accident to continue for all eternity so that at least they can be together. The car is still shredding itself against the stony precipice and his loves are gone now, he can feel it, and he's never heard such quiet in all his life.
The tumbling continues and he knows he's alone and that the violence won't come for him unbidden, and so between impacts he opens the car door and unbuckles his seatbelt and the jaws of nature clamp down on him and pull him out into the maelstrom. He tastes rock and dust and the steely gush of blood, and then suddenly he's back in the car, driving the winding mountain road, the sky going yellow and silhouetting the pines and the guardrails and the rocky ridgelines, so that everything seems to be tall and two-dimensional and lovely. He wipes the tears from his cheeks and sits up straight and drives carefully. His young daughters are fighting over the last bag of potato chips and his wife is shouting at them to behave themselves, to please, please, please at least try to pretend they are civilized human beings, and there are tears and wails and accusations and all the usual racket of life, and he's the happiest man who ever lived, to hear it.
A Civilized Affair
So civilized, he'd said, how she understands the claims of family, dinner parties, holidays. She's smart as well as beautiful. His wife, well, she'd never understand. Different generation.
Last night he'd insisted on buying champagne for her coming birthday. "Jenny, damn, I wish I could spend it with you."
"No problem. I'll find a party," she'd said, laughing.
His hand had stroked her knee, squeezed. His eyes were warm with admiration and sated lust.
In the cab she pulls at the curls of the barrister's wig she holds. He'd left it at the oyster bar in a Harrods bag. It is the civilized thing to do, to return it.
Jenny pauses when she sees the house: an enormous Georgian with four cars parked outside.
But the wine still zings through her system and though the maid frowns, Jenny can hear laughter. She walks with long strides, her black cape swinging, his wig atop her head, into the dining room. Ten people glow in the chandelier light. He sees her and his patrician face pales.
"Birthday surprise!" she calls. The words slur. "For me."
She lifts the wig, then spins it. It settles on the table like a severed head. There is only squirming silence.
"Don't all sing at once."
A woman, grey hair in a chignon, classic black dress, rises, smiling. "Jenny!" she says. "Come, dear, let me take your pretty cape."
Her elbow is held; she is ushered out. In the hallway they regard each other, wife and mistress.
"How?" Jenny asks. " How did you know my name?"
Jack Fisher has been published in over 70 markets including most recently: Dark Regions, Transversions, Space & Time, The Fractal, and more. He edits the horror/dark fantasy magazine, Flesh and Blood and the ezine, Skin and Bones.
Terry DeHart lives in California with his wife and two daughters. He works as a technical writer at NASA/Ames Research Center and helps his father-in-law produce a fine cabernet. Two of his stories were published in bananafish in 1998, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Mary McCluskey, a British journalist now living in California, is the author of Match (with Bryan Breed: John Clare Books, UK) and Bel-Air (Pinnacle). Her short fiction has appeared or will appear in Zoetrope All Story Extra, Exquisite Corpse and Linnaean Street (Summer 2000).
All three of these stories were published in The Vestal Review - an online magazine devoted to flash or short-short fiction.