Sometimes I like to write flash fiction inspired by an image. It’s a fun change from getting lost in the sprawl of writing a novel, and I think it’s also a good writing exercise since it poses different challenges. Less continuity, more making every word count. Since the 2016 Reading Challenge is wrapped up now, I thought I might share some of my flash fiction on my blog occasionally instead. So, welcome to a new recurring feature!
Usually I try to keep the word count below 300, to force myself to choose my words carefully, but I have to admit I am not always successful. Sometimes the story gets away on me, and it would be a disservice to trim it that much. I have to admit that was the case with this one, which clocks in at over 600 words. Generally, though, these flash fiction stories will be quite short. They often aren’t historical either, which is kind of weird, given my obsession with history, but I suppose it makes sense considering I write flash fiction when I need a short break from my latest novel.
“Come outside with me.” Julia hovered in the doorway. She said it gently, but he knew she meant it. She’d lovingly bossed him around since they were kids.
“You just got here.” He scratched the scruff on his jaw, staring at the floor. “Let’s just sit.” His shoulders hunched into the back of the couch. “Watch a movie or something.”
“I don’t want to watch a movie, and neither do you. You sound bored even suggesting it.”
Everything is boring when you’re so sleep deprived that your eyes are made of lead and your mind is as woolly as cotton candy, he wanted to retort, but he bit his tongue. If he said anything, Julia would ask, and he didn’t want to talk about the nightmare. In remembrance, shadowy images skimmed through his mind, making him suck in a sharp breath. He tried to slow it like the therapist taught him, trying to calm the panic attack before it escalated. Impossible to forget the nightly dream of dead children circled around the bed, staring toward him. One held a bicycle wheel in his only hand, and a slimy dark stain ruined his torso. Another boy turned his head side to side, as if straining to locate him without sight, since his optic nerves cascaded down his cheeks, one remaining eyeball dangling. Sometimes the dream was even worse. There’d been more than two kids riding their bikes over that IED, reduced to blood and pulp and sand. Sometimes other violent memories slithered into the dream.
Bile burned his throat. He lurched up from the couch, bones aching. “Fine. We’ll go outside.”
“Wait here,” Julia instructed once they were on the deck, a useless command since he was already slumping listlessly against the railing. “I brought something for you.” She smiled. “It’s a surprise.”
He hoped it was beer, even though he wasn’t really supposed to drink right now.
“Stop picking your fingers,” she said as she approached, returning from her car.
He flinched. “I didn’t know I was.” Speckles of blood gleamed all along his cuticles, old scabs tearing free. How could he not feel that? Turning to her, he realized she carried a small black puppy. Not beer. He couldn’t tell if he felt disappointed.
Julia put the puppy down on the deck. Its chubby body squirmed with delight as it gamboled over toward his feet, sniffing at the hole in his sock.
“You know I just got certified to train service dogs,” said Julia. “I think you need this little guy.”
He didn’t need a damn dog. He could hardly take care of himself right now, couldn’t she see that? Christ, his sister was always meddling. “I don’t…” he started to say, but trailed off when the pup plunked itself down and stared up at him. Its dark eyes were luminous, somehow innocent and wise at the same time. Something sparked inside his chest.
“And if you don’t, he needs you,” Julia continued. “He’s a rescue. His mom was a stray, and someone shot her.” Her lip curled. “He needs a home.”
He bent to feel the midnight velvet of the puppy’s coat. The dog sniffed his scabby hands, then cocked his head in a motion that almost reminded him of a shrug, and licked his palm, climbing up onto his shoe. His heart thumped and he hardly heard Julia, though she kept talking about how she’d help him, that the pup mostly just needed socialization at this age before he could start PTSD service training.
He sank down to the deck, letting the pup wriggle excitedly into his lap. His fingers stung all at once, and a lump pressed on his throat. He didn’t fight it. Feeling something, the numbness receding, even for a moment, was worth the pain.