Flash Fiction

Quiet

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The unnatural quiet was my first clue that something was wrong.

I’d been standing outside in the middle of a hot and humid afternoon, gazing at the sky while cars raced up and down Knott Ave. like bullet trains. I’d had a rough day at work, and my silent contemplation of the clouds was a way for me to escape the endless demands of a high-stress job.

One cloud formation in particular had just captured my attention—an obelisk that seemed to rise from a city of smoke and ash—when an audible silence descended over the world. I looked down, and that’s when I saw that the street was empty, that the sidewalk was abandoned.

For a moment I felt disconnected, as if whatever cord that tethered me to the fabric of reality had been severed. I blinked, looked around, looked around again.

“That’s not right,” I said, not entirely sure who I was talking to.

It occurred to me that the entire day might have been a dream. A cliche, I know, but there are rare moments when the conscious and the subconscious meet in a celestial conjunction of the mind, usually seconds before waking, and during such extraordinary events, one’s first thought is always inevitably, “This must be a dream.”

That’s how I felt in that instant, like I might wake at any moment to ponder the tail end of an already forgotten dream before drifting off once more. But this new and silent world refused to yield and instead remained fixed before my eyes.

“This isn’t right.”

I shambled forward like a sleepwalker, too dazed and incredulous to feel anxious or afraid. I walked. On and on, I walked. And as the seconds merged into minutes and the minutes into hours, I only grew more steadfast in my belief that this all must be a dream, for with each step, the world changed.

The road narrowed, the asphalt giving way to gravel and dirt, and the buildings thinned as if I were emerging from a forest of concrete and iron instead of trees. The only constants were the brightness of the sky and the heat of the sun against my skin, seemingly untouched by the hours.

At one point, I pulled my cell phone from my pocket to check the time. That’s when the first real tendrils of fear began to squirm through my midsection. The device had powered itself off, though it’d been fully charged that morning and should have lasted the rest of the day, and when I pressed the power button to turn it back on, it was unresponsive.

I pressed the button once, twice, three times. I opened the back to confirm the battery was properly seated, then checked the position of the SIM card in its slot.

That’s when I heard the voices.

At first they were quiet, just thin, vaporous whispers riding the coattails of a breeze. But in the otherworldly silence that birthed them, my ears picked them out at once. I had no idea what they were saying, but I didn’t have to. Those malicious tones touched a primal region of my brain that had no use for language, and all at once, the nascent fear inside of me burst into bright orange flames.

I ran, following the increasingly narrow road as the world around me blurred. All the while, those voices called out, growing fiercer, louder, closer.

Soon, the world dissolved and the ground fell away beneath my feet, leaving only the silent endless dark of empty space. But I never stopped running. Those terrifying voices were coming,  and if I stopped to rest even for a moment, I was certain they’d catch up and fall upon me as one.

One voice, in particular, stood out from all the rest. This one was calm, collected, even sympathetic, and the more I listened, the more I understood its meaning.

You aren’t supposed to be here. Why have you come?

“I don’t know.”

Go back before my brethren consume you whole.

“I don’t know how.”

Follow my voice. I’ll lead you to safety.

And because there was nothing else I could do, I did.

The others jeered, uttering incomprehensible commands as they closed in for the kill. But that singular voice continued to speak over them like a high school coach intent on winning the homecoming game.

This way, it said, and I turned to follow it’s call through one invisible path after another.

Gradually, the world came back into focus. The sun and the sky were the first to emerge, followed by a dirt road that eventually became a street.

Hurry. I can’t hold them back much longer.

My lungs screamed for air, but I didn’t dare slow down. I could feel those malevolent beings gaining on me. I was almost home, I could feel it. I only had to go a little further.

Just before I crossed over, the air turned cold like a bitter Alaskan wind. I felt those hateful beings scratch at my back with appendages that might have been claws while the one who’d helped me shouted, GO!

Then a terrible pressure mounted in my ears. A high pitched whine nearly knocked me to my knees, and all the while I could feel those awful voices drilling into my head, trying to pull me back.

Finally I pushed through. There was an audible pop, and then the silence that had settled over the world burst like a pricked bubble. The street once more teemed with cars and the sidewalk with pedestrians. The sounds of a world in motion seemed deafening in the wake of so much quiet, and I whirled, disoriented, still expecting those evil creatures to break through and pull me be back.

That was eleven years ago, and I still can’t stand the sound of silence. I never leave the house without a pair of headphones in my ears, even though they’ve gotten me in trouble, both at work and at home. Nobody understands, and I don’t blame them. How could they? They haven’t heard the horrors that await them in that silent world.

Metallica and Iron Maiden are my go-to artists, and their strident cries follow me wherever I go, even into the nebulous depths of sleep. Only I know it’s not enough, that all I’m doing is delaying the inevitable. Sooner or later, we all descend into the silent dark, and when that day comes, all I can do is pray to God those voices won’t be waiting to finish what they started.

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Brave New World

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This post was originally published through Patreon on November 14, 2018.

The world shifts, and my chest, starved of oxygen, begins to heave. The environment around me transforms into a jumbled mass of foreign geometries where nothing is familiar except for the certainty that this has happened before, and that it will happen again.

My throat constricts, and soon I feel as if I’ve plunged into the ocean. I gasp, shudder, reel, while dark spots blossom in my field of vision.

An infinity passes in which I teeter on the edge of oblivion. Then I feel a pull.

My chest expands like a balloon.

Air, sweet air.

Coughing, shaking, I open my eyes.

With fractured vision, I behold the world deconstructed. Like a painting by Picasso, the Earth’s straight edges have warped like plastic on a stove.

I try to move, but the same disease that’s infected the world has infected me, leaving my arms and legs misshapen. I try to stand, and my body lurches and spins, twisting through unseen dimensions.

“None of this makes sense,” I say to myself, and a voice rises up before me in reply.

“Nothing in life does.”

“What do I do now that the world is different?”

“Adapt and learn. That’s all you can do. That’s all any of us can do.”

The voice is right. So I find my balance on a pair of slanted legs, and after a bleary, drunken gaze at the alien landscape that surrounds me, I set off to explore this brave new world.

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Life as a Star

Irina Alexandrovna/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on November 7, 2018.

In. Scoop. Dump.

Jeanette speared the snow with her shovel, shuttling wet, sparkling ice dust from the driveway to the lawn. Her fingers had gone numb in spite of her gloves, and she could feel the oppressive cold gathering around her, climbing down her throat so that it was difficult to breathe, binding her muscles and joints so that it was difficult to move.

Until her relocation to Nebraska last year, she’d had no idea what a snowy winter was like. It had only been a theoretical complication, an idle worry on par with wondering how she might survive if she were to open her eyes one day and find herself in the middle of the Sahara Desert or the Alpine Mountains. Now she had first hand experience, and it was so much worse than she’d imagined.

The flat end of her shovel finally scraped concrete, but when she pulled this last scoop free, more snow came sliding in around the edges. Jeanette might as well have been shoveling a mountain.

“I need a break.”

She took a moment to behold the winter wasteland of her front yard, then propped her shovel against the wall and went inside.

The heater was on, and the sudden blast of hot air felt like walking straight from the freezer into the oven. She peeled layers of clothing off her old, decrepit body, stripped down to a t-shirt and shorts, then sat at the kitchen table, where a warm pot of coffee waited to greet her.

She poured herself a cup. Not a fan of its bitter flavor, she was nevertheless beholden to its warm and restorative qualities. She took three long sips and gazed through the window in silence.

The view outside was dreary and gray, and Jeanette could feel the first wispy tendrils of her depression beginning to crest the horizon. She had to keep busy, had to keep moving. But out here, in the subzero temperatures and beneath the sun-starved skies, that was so, so difficult to do.

There was, of course, something she could do about it… No, that wasn’t an option. Once, perhaps, long ago. But no longer.

Did she regret her choice? Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when the dark and the cold were at their most potent, she would feel tempted to despair. Then she would think of the life she’d shared with her late husband and three beautiful children and know it had not been in vain.

But oh, how much she’d given up to build her family. For one whose native habitat were the blazing vistas of a distant star, the snowy winters of Nebraska were an endless torture, and only the magic imparted to her by her mother as a wedding gift and the love she’d shared with her Earthly family had sustained her.

Now, in her old age, she lived alone, and though there was still something of the star inside her, that remnant was dim and dwindled further every day.

What would happen to her when that remnant died? Would she die along with it, and if so, would her soul return to the star of her birth?

Jeanette longed for such a reunion. But for now, at least, she had no choice but to embrace the life she’d chosen in its entirety. What else was there to do with a human life, after all, but accept the bad along with the good?

Still, as Jeanette sat there in the gloomy half-light of the kitchen, the endless gray outside pressing in around her, she began to sense a mounting energy, growing inside her like a blossoming flower.

Could it be? She hadn’t felt this for so long. The heat inside seemed to radiate from her skin. All at once, her heart leaped from her chest to soar among the stars once more.

She was now the old Jeanette, shooting through space and time, drawn toward the searing light of Earth’s sun. The part of her that was still made of star stuff resonated with its life-giving energy, and she could feel her soul begin to sing, to vibrate in sync to a low, unearthly rumble.

Echoes of a million cosmic secrets rippled through her, and the light inside that she’d believed all but extinguished roared to life like a wildfire.

When Jeanette next opened her eyes, she was a new woman. She glanced at the world outside the window, where blinding rays of sunlight now pierced the clouds like spears, and took a deep, meditative breath.

The star within was reborn, and Jeanette was ready to live again.

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