Copyright © 2004 by
Sean Michael Ragan
Here's another "flash" fiction, topping off at 777 words. I submitted it once at flashquake, and was told, "No. This story has some intense moments and strong images, but the style makes it very hard to follow. The action would be much more effective if supported by some context," by one editor, and "Maybe. Some fabluous intense writing with gripping imagery. Ultimately though, the density of the piece kept me from staying with it, was not readable enough." by the other. I'll restrain my natural instinct to defend my work against these criticisms, and let you decide for yourselves.
Excuse me sir, the chinaman said, and it was alright because she was used to being mistaken for a man by now, but still her hand went up to her scalp and raked across the stubble there, and she was thinking about the face in the hotel bathroom mirror that morning and the bony Jews at Buchenwald and wondering why, why didn't they fight back? Her eyes fell to the pavement which was a mistake because it swelled beneath her and she stumbled, turning the corner, and would have fallen but for the signpost she grabbed, anchoring herself, looking in vain for the horizon in a jungle of vertical glass and stone. The breath roared in her ears and they were looking at her, everyone was looking at her, getting up from their desks and their cancer-mongering and their baby-killing and looking out the window to see who was breathing so goddamn loud out there, louder even than the wind that whipped down Avenue of the Americas and turned her breath to steam even though she was sweating under her parka, her armpits slimy and cold where the patch had worked loose and fallen, lost in the folds of her grimy sweatshirt, which was fine because she had taken too much already. She needed to think. This was her third time around the block. Her watch said 9:53 AM. She pushed off from the signpost and steered down the sidewalk toward the mouth of the alley and just then her baby kicked hard, hard enough to make her wince even through the morphine, and she had a vision of it metastasizing in her sunken belly, a pale misshapen eyeless thing with knives where its hands and feet should be and a mouth stuffed with bloody gauze. Nine months, Dr. Mengele-Mangler-Mangle-Her had said, and only now she got the joke, wished she could call him up at his villa in South America and apologize for not laughing sooner. They would have to speak in code, of course, and maybe the servants would not understand her because they only spoke Spanish, and German. But then the alley yawned beside her and the limousine was already idling there, rear door open with the driver beside, waiting, and there were three of them, suits, coming out through the loading dock, and even from here the one in the middle she knew the gleaming hair and conkerjaw from her battered clippings, but it was too far to go, and too fast. She lurched ahead anyway, her hand closing around the grip in her pocket and her finger finding the trigger and in her head her little song began to play to the tune of an old skip-rope rhyme, singing five for him and one for me, five for him and one for me, but she wasn't going to make it and she should have planned better and there was too much morphine and she mustn't run, couldn't run, but what did it matter because they heard her breathing and saw the lopsided bulge on the wrong part of her belly and saw that she was shaking and sweating all over and they knew, they knew, and now one of them was breaking off, moving to intercept, and he was holding up a palm at her and his sunglasses were mirrors and she didn't want to see and it was now or never it was now now now now NOW the gun came up and jerked BANG motherfucker BANG goddamn you they were screaming BANG. She looked again and they were bundled around pushing him toward the car and she couldn't get a clear shot but she was waiting, aiming, waiting when BOOM somebody else was shooting and there was warmth trickling on her neck and BOOM the driver fired again and her baby kicked and the pavement bucked and this time she did fall, spinning, firing reflexively, losing track of the shots as she heard a bullet whiz and tumble like OK corral, and the men were screaming get-in-the-car-get-in-the-car and she heard doors slam and tires squeal and then she was lying there alone, on the concrete, breathing. The air was cold and delicious. She could smell...everything: hot dogs cooking on oiled rollers, automobile exhaust, flavored pipe tobacco, gunpowder. There was wet on her belly. The people in the street were shouting now, and running, and in the distance a banshee was wailing for her, coming closer, and she raised the gun and held it to her temple and pulled the trigger and it clicked, empty, and up above the sky was smiling laughing singing full of blue.