by Sean Lovelace
A couple takes a dog for a walk along a rain-swollen Potomac river. The man throws a stick into the water, and the woman, unaware, lobs a tennis ball. The dog leaps from the bank, swims to the stick, to the ball, to the stick, a desperate orbit, and all the while the current tugging him downstream and around a corner. The man shouts several things, his words snatched away by the wind. The woman falls to her knees. On the way home they either stop by Starbucks, run out of gas, or explode.
Alabama Highway 59. An overweight Eagle Scout pulls over to help change a woman's tire. The humidity is such that the young man feels submerged in a boiling pot. The word lobster comes to mind. As his sweaty hands struggle with a lug nut, he is swiped by a semi and killed.
Swarming honeybees are subdued by smoke. They are then trained to sniff out plastic explosives. Instead they spend their time creating geometrically accurate octagons. For this, the bees are heralded as evidence of intelligent design, or caught in Mason jars, suffocated, and fed to laboratory mice in West Virginia--or both.
A teenage girl catches an amazingly large fish. She pauses, allowing herself to gaze in wonder. It has a row of bent hooks and five broken leaders in its mouth. It has a history. The girl isn't really a girl. She only plays one online. She is actually a grown man who works in a chemical company that combines corn husks with hydrochloric acid to create a polymer used in cruise missiles. He bashes the head of the fish on the gunwale and tosses it thrashing into an Igloo cooler.
Denny goes to an art gallery in downtown Cincinnati, mostly to impress an extremely cute hipster girl. He notes all of the photos are of crows. Crows on electrical wires. Crows perched on a scarecrow's arm. Crows feeding, eating French fries, gum, a ruptured bag of Cheetos. When did all the crows start feeding in parking lots? The girl meets a friend at the gallery, another girl, and leaves in a cab. Denny walks to a nearby rooftop bar and drinks so many beers he feels his legs floating. Soaring higher...And so he flies.
A ferret twists free from the arms of his owner and runs directly into a passing train.
Sandy works at this bait shop in Upper Michigan. A senior citizen pulls out a filet knife and demands a Styrofoam minnow bucket, for free. He carves the air with his bony fingers. Sandy selects a large revolver from behind the register (one of many secreted throughout the store), and says: "Old man. We all could use a better understanding of our situations." Then she shoots him in the forehead.
Note: Originally published 2007 in Flashquake.
Interesting question on origins. Three tips I'd say for writers and readers or whatnot:
- The entire text is in segmented form. This is a liberating structure. You can add, subtract, move about, play. The reader will allow most anything, will enter all the wonderful white space, the voids. Segmented form is a powerful thing. I like it as a writer and reader.
- The opening scene is an image I witnessed while out running one morning along the Tennessee River. A couple, unaware of each other, BOTH threw an item--one tennis ball, one stick--for a dog to retrieve. What was the dog to do? So, lesson for writer: capture images, be aware, absorb. Also, one image can begin a text. (Many writers start stories with a single image; I do sometimes, too.)
- Lastly, always include a ferret, if possible. In earlier drafts of this flash fiction, a dog ran into the train. Is a ferret better? Um, yes.
Sean Lovelace lives in Indiana, where he directs the creative writing program at Ball State University. His latest collection is about Velveeta and published by Bateau Press. He has won several national literary awards, including the Crazyhorse Prize for Fiction. He likes to eat nachos and to run, far.
FF.Net Editor Commentary (Randall Brown)
Imagine endings without the ferret. it isn't the same thing. Not even close.