‘Amelia!’ he roared. ‘Come on out here, now!’
She’d seen him coming, but not in time. No chance to get Baby out of her crib, bundled up and ready to run. She’d hesitated too long, and now he was outside her house, stalking back and forth like an angry bear. She couldn’t see his gun, but she knew it was there, not far from his hungry hands.
‘Amelia! I’m not gon’ wait much longer!’
Her breaths quickened, and thoughts began to pile up as her panic grew. How’d he even found them? She’d done so much to cover her tracks. Hadn’t she? Laid a trail to suggest she’d gone to Kansas City… Left clues she’d married, even. She must’ve made a mistake, somewhere along the line.
She could smell that old liquor stench. The moist heat of his breath, smothering her. The pressure in her chest almost grew too much.
Then, her burning eyes fell on her father’s old shotgun, lying in the corner.
‘I know you’re in there, woman! You and that brat both!’ He spat, sudden as a slap. ‘I’m comin’ in, Amelia. See if I don’t!’
Daddy’s gun was unloaded, she knew. She couldn’t reach the bullets, on top of the tallboy, without being seen through the window. Baby stirred, moaning in her sleep.
Fast and quick, Amelia slid towards the gun, cold and heavy in her hands. Two short breaths, and she pulled open the door. Stepping out, she levelled the empty weapon at his heart.
The Good Girl
I’m a good girl. I always do what I’m told.
I have to try to be a better girl, though, because Mama’s still sad. I knew today was going to be bad because she was in bed when I left for school, and she didn’t answer me when I called out ‘goodbye!’
When I got home, she was drinking out of her special bottle again, the one I’m not allowed to go anywhere near. Her eyes were all funny, and it made me quiet inside when I saw her.
‘Get lost!’ she told me. ‘Go, on! Get lost!’ She called me a horrible name, too, but I know she didn’t mean that part, so I didn’t cry.
But she meant the other part. About getting lost.
I turned all the wrong ways when I went out through our gate. That way I knew I’d get lost as quick as I could, and Mama would be happy again.
I passed a lady with pictures all over her arms and lots of red lipstick on. Mama’s got a name for ladies like her, and it isn’t nice. So when she asked me if I was all right, I just put my head down and kept going, really quick.
Then I got to this huge park. There’s a river in it, and everything. I like the sound my feet make as I walk across the bridge. I sound like a horse or an elephant, and it’s funny.
My tummy growls, like a lion.
There’s a nice man up ahead. He has a suit on, and he has shiny shoes, and a shiny smile.
‘Hey! Hi, little treasure,’ he says. ‘You look starved! Lucky I’ve got some chocolate, eh? Come on over here for me.’
I’m a good girl. I always do what I’m told.
Most nights, I’d dream about the cloud. Hard not to – I mean, it hung on the horizon, day and night, fair weather or foul, like the frown of heaven. Those mornings when I woke up feeling like I’d eaten my pillow, I could be pretty sure it’d been in my head all through the night, trickling in through my ears, through my pores. Settling inside me with every breath.
When I was a kid I used to think the cloud was like a thick black blanket over the Old World, keeping everyone beneath it warm and safe. I’d say this to Ma as she tucked me in at night, and sometimes she’d give me a tight little smile, and sometimes not.
Nobody lives in the Old World now. How could they? No air to breathe, no light to see. It’s just us, over here. Far enough away to be safe, Ma said; close enough to be scared, is what she meant.
Some days it boiled, the cloud, like it was stirring to move. Others, it just sat there, placid, looking well fed and sleek. Sometimes it rolled like the sea, stirred by an unfelt wind.
‘What is it, Ma?’ I used to ask, staring out our tightly sealed windows, across the miles of barren land that separated us from it. ‘What’s it made of?’
‘Hush, now,’ she’d say, dragging me away with her poker fingers. ‘Don’t ask questions.’
There’d been lots of theories down through the years. ‘The will o’ God,’ some said; ‘the work of Ol’ Nick,’ said more. ‘The gover’ment,’ muttered others, ignoring the shushing noises from all around.
I woke one morning with my mind full up. Houses emerging from murky, inky darkness; people inside like husks, sucked dry. The cloud retreating, drawing up its roots and pulling free. A roaring noise, an angry howling. Rocks and twigs and bones flying, whirling. Blackened skin, sunken eyes, yellowed teeth exposed in a final, pointless battle against an enemy that couldn’t be fought.
I blinked the dream away and ran to find Ma, to tell her the cloud was coming, but she already knew.
Yes, all right. I admit it. These three stories are ones I originally wrote for Flash Friday, and all of them are at least a year old. However, I’m hoping this means that some of you won’t have come across them before, and that if you have come across them already, it’ll be so far in the past you won’t remember it. I’m tired today, and I tried to create something new.
I really did.
But it wasn’t happening.
So, then I thought: what about all those stories you’ve written which, like mayflies, flare and sparkle for one single day, and which are then never seen again? Some of those stories are reasonably readable. Some even pretty good. What about them?
And here we are. Three of my own personal favourites from the fifty or more stories I’ve so far written for Flash Friday, and ones which haven’t (to the best of my recollection) appeared on the blog before. I hope you enjoy them, if it’s your first acquaintance with them; I hope you enjoy renewing the acquaintance, if it’s not. Happy mid-week, and I hope you’re not in a slump, as I seem to be!
(P.S. Of course, as always, feedback on these pieces of flash fiction is welcome, and gratefully appreciated).