Replete, we exited the house through the garage and continued across the driveway, the asphalt cracks packed with caterpillar-like birch catkins. From our hilltop vantage point on Ellis Avenue, we could just view Main Street and catch the faint rush of passing cars below. An imposing grass cliff topped with stately gravestone pillars rose behind Main Street. As we descended each swell of the hill, my grandfather pointed out the houses, “That’s where Hardy Hubbard lives. Here is Virginia, she gave you that handkerchief once.” I nodded resolutely, not wanting to disappoint him that I did not have the slightest memory of these figures.
At last, we turned into the gravel driveway of the abandoned repair shop and gas station. Rows of silhouetted orange-amber glass bottles guarded the windows of the shop. They always glowed eerily, whether sunny or cloudy, convincing me there was some light within, undoubtedly ghostly, that gave them their inextinguishable power. Passing the bottles and turning the corner, we emerged into the yard of buses, most of them traditional and yellow, some of them pug-nosed, some of them dolichocephalic, all of them retired for unknown and uncounted years. The buses were surrounded by rivulets of gravel as rain wash flowed around their wheels and grass grew underneath them. I climbed the stairs through the open front doors, sat in the driver's seats, grasped the towering, immobile steering wheels, squinted in the cracked rearview mirrors, jumped over the rows of seats, clicked the seat belts, opened and closed the doors that were not rusted in place. I darted about, at once the admonishing bus driver, the criminal backseat sitter, the impatient stop waiter.
But in the end, I always felt melancholy about the buses. I needed to see all of them so none would feel unvisited, none would yearn for the cudgeling from a child’s foot. As I grasped my grandfather’s hand and we headed back towards the street, I looked up at him and knew with a deep longing that one day too the grass would grow around him, his glasses would become cracked, and his limbs stuck in one orientation. Now, I imagine the bygone buses in their heyday, flowing with oil and roaring diesel, and I still walk with my grandfather. I still hear the reassuring timbre of his voice, watch the corners of his lips draw up in joy, and feel his solid presence full of movement that seemed like it would always be there.
It starts as a trickle. Just a small flow of water like the kind that runs along the curbside toward the drain after a ten-minute afternoon rain shower. The liquid puddles toward your feet and you step forward to avoid getting wet. But the water follows. You take two steps. Still, the water comes. Now you begin to walk at a brisk pace. Better to get ahead of it a bit. But when you turn, there it is lapping at the edge of your shadow.
The trickle becomes a steady stream. Your footsteps quicken, but the flow matches you. Perhaps, you think, if I slow down a bit the water will too. So you try. The water doesn’t slow down. Instead, it pours into your shoes and seeps into the bottoms of your pants. Each step becomes heavier than the next. As your limbs turn to stone, you break into a jog.
Now the stream forms a rapid river. Wild broncos rise up from the depths and charge forward in a terrible stampede of whitecaps. The force of their advance crashes in your ears and echoes through the ever-deepening canyon the water carves. You run.
Now the river ascends and folds its serpentine lengths together to amass into a wave. The wave looms, darkening the sky above so you forget there ever was a sun. You run as fast as you can. Ever on the water comes. Ever blacker it grows.
At times, your steps falter. The water rushes forward as you slip back and the edges of the wave break off like ragged shark’s teeth to ricochet off your heels. Still, you run.
On you go because there is no more reality where standing still exists. Your legs cramp and your lungs burn. But body be damned. You are sprinting, avoiding collisions by milliseconds and millimeters.
The wave is all you see. Its crest surges and folds to cave in around you. Your back is hammered in the tsunami’s torrent and you’re sucked into the liquid’s wicked embrace. Water fills your mouth as your screams are suffocated.
And all the while, the onlookers only ever comment, “Marvelous, how fast she goes.”
She wanted to see the exact moment day turned to night. Standing in the field, she forced her eyes to the sun, waiting for the distant green hills to swallow it up in the coming dark.
She tried to capture the moment before but one time she had fallen asleep and another she had been distracted by a wandering daydream. She wouldn’t miss it again. Fireflies blinked in the tall barley and some tried to land on her face but she shooed them away like boys who asked to play during recess. Nothing would make her look away this time.
No that ain’t what happens, her brother had said.
Well what then? Daddy said it goes down and turns into the moon.
Well that’s cus Daddy don’t know what happens either.
Then tell me! Please! You have to tell me or else –
Alright, alright. Jesus, don’t scream or my ears’ll go out. It’s different for everybody, and most don’t ever get to see for themselves cus most don’t believe it. But it happens, and I swear it cus I saw it myself.
She shivered as a cold gust came across the barley and over her legs and arms and ears, tightening her skin until it became bumpy. But she still stared ahead, tugging at her sunflower dress, stretching it as if it would offer some warmth.
As it got closer to night, the sun sank faster into the face of the earth. She wouldn’t take her eyes off it. She promised herself. Tears ran down her cheeks but she did not cry. Only half left. Something buzzed at her ankle but she didn’t kick for fear of blinking. She wouldn’t miss it again. She promised.
It changes you. It doesn’t disappear down behind the ground. It goes somewhere else though. Goes into whoever can bear to see it. All the fire, all the light. Goes right inside you til you turn into something else.
That sounds made up.
Remember when you said giraffes sounded made up until you saw one at the zoo?
That was different . . .
More than halfway gone, it looked more like a chunk of ember spit from their fireplace and burning into the hillside. Or maybe a clot of blood landed on the earth from some invisible giant, the air above it shivering or steaming, she couldn’t tell which.
Her mind slipped for only a moment as her body reminded her where she was – outside in the cold. Limbs shaking and lungs fluttering in the harsh wind. It blew on her eyes too, but it couldn’t cool them while she kept focus on the sun. Her eyelids wavered, but she locked them in place wide and open. She lied to herself that if she closed her eyes it would be the same as dying.
With only moments left in the day, she saw that even though the sun shrank in size, it grew in other ways. Redder and deeper and hotter and stronger. And brighter. Or did the hills and the trees and the field and everything else just grow darker at the edge of her view? Maybe the sun just stole the light from everything else in its last passing breath.
The sun finally went and released all its light and she stared into it until there was none left.
No light on the barley or from the fireflies above it. No light on her sunflower dress. No light in the sky from the moon or anything else. No light on her hand as she waved it in front of her face. No light in the morning or the next one after.
She always remembered the last time she saw the sun. And though it had disappeared, she knew it wasn’t really gone. Not down behind the hills or swallowed up by the night. It went somewhere else. She knew it went inside her, burning.
Zain Syed is a copy editor and aspiring writer who focuses on themes relating to love, nature, and death. His poems have appeared in Canto Magazine and The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, and he's currently working on writing fiction. He lives with his fiancée and two cats in Nashville, TN. You can read some of his unpublished work at zainsyed.net.
People mill around, wait for the start of the show.
Two guys stand in the row above me, discuss gazpacho in near-orgasmic terms. One has an upside-down cross hung from the ring in his nose, his jacket a paean to Satan, his demeanor the easy comfort of one who rules many with benign power.
His friend is a small, mousy sort, with horn-rimmed glasses. A smattering of acne peppers his face. He will grow up, go to college, get a job, forget this concert. The shirt he wears will be thrown away or given to the Salvation Army.
Outside, the concession stand has run out of hot dogs. A man bites into his own hand, chews. A jet of blood stains his mustache. He smiles, picks up the mustard.
A bevy of plastic sirens roves over the arena, call would-be sailors in tuneless voices. The pair of glasses behind me roves over blackclad breasts as a trio of them walk down the stairs, through the arch to the concessions.
The mustachioed gourmet regurgitates maggots from his dead flesh—no, just sauerkraut. Perhaps he should have used ketchup instead. He goes back to his seat.
Some in the first row begin to wonder if the band has yet entered the arena.
You stand there in front of the reptile cages at Petco, your hands at your side, accepting the do not tap the glass stickers as law. You watch them with academic interest, not with want like your older sisters, although you tell me you wouldn’t mind a snake if Fishstix, our cat, wouldn’t try to eat it. Some grow large enough to eat babies, you continue matter-of-factly, pushing your glasses up your nose, but I remind you that your little sister is seven and too large to be eaten by a snake. A woman tosses an odd look our way, but I ignore her.
You used to live inside a glass cage like the snakes do, air controlled perfectly, but they called it an isolette. You lived the first two months of your life inside this glass cage, small enough to fit entirely in my two hands pressed together like a bowl. I was allowed one hour a day to hold you, but only if you tolerated it. I still dream of the beeps and shrieks from those machines that kept you alive. You were my third child, and yet changing your diapers terrified me. I used to wonder if you even knew I was your mother, as my milk was given to you via feeding tubes and nurses tended to you more than I did. A recorder played our voices inside your cage, your dad and I reading stories while your older sisters shrieked and giggled in the background, but I feared you wouldn’t know us--wouldn’t know me.
Your sisters weren’t old enough to come inside the NICU, so they pressed their faces to the hallway windows and looked into the vivarium of many babies inside many cages and tried to figure out which one was their sister. When you were big enough, a nurse would take you out and hold you as close to the window as the wires connected to you allowed and your sisters marveled at you, how tiny and weird you were, careful to never tap the glass.
Now you grab my hand, strong and slightly clammy, and pull me towards your next curiosity.
I wish the machete stayed buried in the monster. I wish the monster stayed buried in the lake. I wish I could rewind the movie and let the girl recover: her prom night, her friends, her clothes, her bucketful of optimism in those first fifteen minutes. Sometimes, after the credits, a hand ejects from the grave and latches on. The girl kicks and kicks and kicks. The audience may argue it’s a dream sequence. It isn’t. She will use therapy and capsules and razors to remove the unsightly feature, but the insistent fingers remain. She will learn to wear wide leg pants to hide her new anklet. Her friends will call it a statement. In the winter, she will tuck the dead appendage into the plush mouth of an Ugg boot. With its rampant short shorts and flip flops, she will resent summer. She will try frolicking on the beach with her dead, purple pet flailing, and the boys will laugh and laugh and laugh. Sometimes the hand seizes the happy ending, and the girl struggles until the screen goes black.
FLASH GLASS: A MONTHLY PUBLICATION OF FLASH FICTION, PROSE POETRY, & MICRO ESSAYS