I’d like to share another flash fiction entry inspired by JD Mader and the writing cabal at his blog, Unemployed Imagination, where he generously opens up his comment stream on Fridays for 2-Minutes-Go. (And, if you’d prefer, here’s the audio version of the story.)
She knew where he’d be waiting. On the left bank of the creek, just over the wooden footbridge, a small hollow flanked by two old, bent trees. She checked behind her. No one had followed. Her shoulders tightened, nearly bracing the straps of her heavy backpack of their own accord, and her breath was labored, rough as adrenaline spiked through her, as it chattered down her arms and curled her small hands into fists. Again she saw the storm building in her mother’s eyes, felt the crack of the palm across her cheek. Another note from school. Another reminder that she wasn’t like her brother, would never be like her brother, that pious freak, yes ma’am, no ma’am. She could not sit still in a succession of dull as death classrooms and listen to her droning teachers tell her things she’d learned on her own years ago.
But her father understood.
He would take her away from this.
Her sneakers squished in the damp grass, the patches of mud, as she dodged and wove the familiar ground, the same rocks, the same tree roots. The creek ran high with the recent rains; she heard it before she saw it, and she followed the sound toward the old bridge. Here, she worried. The rushing water could cover anyone’s approach. The social workers. The police. But so far, nothing but grass and pale-pink sunset clouds and trees whipped by the wind. She knew where he’d be waiting. But something ahead didn’t look right. The bridge lay splintered, half in and half out of the swollen creek. No way to cross. No way to get to where he waited. With her new chance, her new name, her new life. Something flashed ahead—a whisper of movement or maybe the wind. A light clicked on. Clicked off.
She chanced the question. “How do I get across?”
“Wait there,” he said. “I’ll come to you.”
He appeared from behind a tree like a vision. Like a holy mother vision from one of her brother’s Bibles. Even in the dimming sun she could see his smile. The promise in it. The promise of far, far away, which felt like the only safety she could imagine. Hands out for balance, he stepped foot by foot down the bank. She gasped as his left leg crumpled, as he slid to the water.
“Dad!” She skittered toward him, barely catching herself in time to avoid his fate. Then, breath held, she stared. Legs weren’t supposed to bend like that. Blood ribboned out into the water. When she followed it back to the tree branch sticking out of his arm, she nearly vomited.
“Go.” His voice was a weak rasp wheezing from his throat. A faint, rhythmic whine broke through the rush of the water. Sirens. “Shit. Your mother must have—left pocket. Take my keys.”
To reach him she’d have to swim for it. And after that— “I don’t know how to drive!”
He drew in a shallow, shuddery breath. “Time to learn.”