Flash (Free Fiction)

Flash

By A.J. Brown

The world ended in a flash.

Robbie and Sarah were making out at the drive in when it happened. Armageddon played on the movie screen they paid little attention to. For Robbie, his attention span turned solely to Sarah when she nipped his ear with her teeth. When he turned to her, she was smiling, and her upper teeth pinched at her bottom lip in a mischievous manner. He leaned in. One kiss lead to another and another …

One car over, Dale and Delaney Smith sat, not making out, not even talking. They stared at the screen, he actually enjoying the action, she wondering if there was ever love after twenty-six years of marriage. She glanced at Dale. His beard was rough and in need of a trim. Images from the screen reflected in his glasses. He didn’t seem to notice.

Her eyes caught sight of the couple next to them …

Robbie’s hand managed to make it onto one of Sarah’s breasts. It was heavenly and soft and something he had wanted to do since he first asked her out. Deep in the back of his mind, he saw her jaw drop open and her eyes widen. Then he saw her pull away, a hand went forward, and his head jerked away.

“What type of girl do you think I am?” Mind-Sarah asked.

That didn’t happen. In fact, Real-Sarah leaned in, pressing her breast into his hand. She let out a soft moan and slid a hand behind his head. She pushed her lips harder against his. He couldn’t believe it was finally happening. They were kissing and he was actually copping a feel and she let him.

Delaney couldn’t help what she saw. It brought back memories of when they were younger, maybe even the same age as the couple in the car next to them. She had pushed many of Dale’s advances away as teenagers, but now … now she would give anything for one look, one touch … one kiss that brought the magic to her lips and heart.

Robbie’s hand slid down to Sarah’s stomach. He pulled her top free of her skirt and touched bare skin—BARE SKIN!—for crying out loud.

From the corner of her eyes, Delaney saw the girl’s shirt come up. She wore a light blue bra with flower prints—something sexy the boys would like. She wondered if the panties matched, then thought of her own under garments: a cream-colored bra and light pink underwear, nothing she would consider sexy by any stretch of the imagination. Still, she wasn’t in bad shape. She still had good curves, only adding maybe twenty pounds to her frame since their dating days. Okay, twenty-five, but not more than that. 

And maybe that’s where things had gone wrong. The extra weight, the slight chubbiness in her fingers, the pooch in her stomach, the extra padding in her hips. Delaney’s heart sank and her shoulders sagged. She let out a deep sigh and tears tugged at her eyes. 

One car over, Sarah’s shirt hadn’t quite come off yet. It was pushed up over her breasts, but she hadn’t slid her arms out of it. Robbie didn’t try to force it off—that would ruin the moment and he didn’t want to do that. Not if he could help it. His right hand traced the middle of her back until it reached her bra. The fingers lingered there for a moment as Robbie wondered if it would be safe to try and unclasp it—something he had never done before with any girl. Instead, he slid his hand back down along her spine. 

Sarah’s breath hitched and she pulled her lips from his. 

Robbie opened his eyes to see her head thrown back. Then they came toward him. Instead of her lips finding his, they found his jaw, then his neck and then her teeth nipped skin there.

Delaney saw the young man’s hand on the back of the girl’s bra strap. His fingers then fell along her back. Her mouth dropped open for a moment. As much as she didn’t want to look at the young couple making out, she couldn’t help it. She bit the top of her lip with her bottom teeth. When the girl moved in on the boy’s neck, Delaney’s breath caught in her throat. 

She looked away from the scene that played out to Dale’s left. She couldn’t believe he didn’t notice the couple next to them, less than twenty feet away. On the screen, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck were talking, or were they arguing? She didn’t know. She didn’t care. 

When she looked back to the car next to them, the girl raised her arms and her shirt came off. She wanted that type of passion again, but didn’t think it would happen, not after Dale had tried so often and been rejected more than accepted by her.

Robbie pressed his hand to Sarah’s back. He wanted so bad to rip her clothes off and take her right there in the drive thru theater. He didn’t care if anyone saw them. He just wanted her more than he ever had before. 

She bit down on his neck again, this time a little harder. He didn’t flinch away from the pain. Instead, he leaned into it.

Then she stopped. It was so sudden it startled Robbie. He started to speak. She put a finger to his lips, shook her head from side to side. Her arms went above her head, one hand taking the hem of her shirt and pulling it off. It landed on the dashboard. 

It’s really going to happen, he thought. 

Sarah scooted over and patted the center of the bench seat. For the first time since getting the old clunker of a hand me down from his parents, Robbie was happy there was no console in the center and that the seats weren’t buckets. He slid over and seconds later, she straddled him. 

Delaney saw the girl crawl on top of the guy. She saw the guy’s lips go to her neck—it was his turn to be a Hoover. 

“What are you looking at?” Dale asked, bringing her fully from the show. Heat filled her face and if she would have looked in the mirror she would have seen patches of red on her cheeks. 

“Ummm … you.”

He let out a small laugh. “Really? Me?”

“Yeah.”

It was now or never, she thought. If he looks at the car next to them, he’ll know she wasn’t looking at him. She put one hand on his shoulder, then the other one on his face. She leaned in to give him a kiss.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

In the car next to them …

Robbie worked the clasp on Sarah’s bra, but couldn’t quite unhook it.

“Let me help,” she said breathlessly.

I just want a kiss,” Delaney said.

“Okay.” He leaned to the side and gave her a quick peck.

She frowned, shook her head. “No. I want a real kiss.”

“That was a real kiss.”

“No. I want one like this,” she said and pulled him as close to her as she could get him. 

flash-275423_1920The bra fell away. Though Robbie couldn’t quite see them, he could almost feel how perfect Sarah’s breasts were. He kissed her again, pressing his lips hard to her. Her hands slid down to the front of his pants and the world began to rumble. 

It really is like fireworks going off, he thought as she unbuckled his belt.

Delaney planted her lips firmly on Dale’s and hoped he wouldn’t pull away. The ground rumbled beneath them, sending a shiver of excitement through her. It could have been an earthquake or maybe she just made the world shake with her boldness, with her determination.

Dale didn’t pull away, even as the asteroid in the movie hurdled toward Earth and Bruce Willis offered to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the world. His tongue went between her lips and the world shook harder. She pulled away, looked at him. His eyes seemed to shine, something she hadn’t seen in quite a while. 

She pulled him to her and kissed him hard.

Sarah fumbled with Robbie’s belt, their lips still locked. The car vibrated, the doors shook. 

The windows shattered as they kissed.

Robbie and Sarah took a deep breath just as the world lit up in an orange glow.

Delaney kissed Dale harder as heat filled the car. Neither of them blinked as the world vanished around them. 

As the world ended, Robbie and Delaney, one who always wanted the girl and the other who had wondered if love existed after a quarter century of marriage, both thought of fireworks. 

__________

This is one of those rare stories where there is mild sexual content, something I rarely ever use in my writing. However, this was not a piece about sex. It’s about the desire to be wanted by the one you love.

Robbie wanted Sarah. He’s the typical teenager who is somewhat horny and if he has a chance to make it with a young lady, then he would do his best to make it happen. Delaney, on the other hand, had been where Sarah was once upon a time. However, she had spurned many of Dale’s advances. Interesting enough, she regretted that, feeling as if she had pushed him away. Now, all she wanted was a little passion, to be noticed by her husband of over 26 years. 

I guess that’s the way love and sex can be. Sometimes, you just want to be noticed by the one you love. Other times you want to be touched and you want to feel that passion you once had. It also has the occasional fireworks that take your breath away and leaves you in awe and wanting more. 

I hope you enjoyed Flash. It was a fun and difficult story to write. If you have an extra minute, will you please share this post on your social media pages, like and comment. Let me know what you think of the stories I have posted so far. Thanks, y’all. Have a great day.

A.J.

 

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Flecks of Dead Skin on a Landscape of Red (Free Fiction)

The day was warm and we walked, hand in hand, Kyra on my right, marveling at the window displays as we passed them; her mom, Kate, on my left. The park was down the road from us and Kyra carried a bag of breadcrumbs for the pigeons and squirrels. Still young and excitable, my daughter pointed out various clothes and articles in the window displays and asked to go in some of the stores as we passed them. Her mom smiled and pulled her into a boutique. I stayed outside.  

I crossed the street to where an ice cream vendor jingled a small bell on his cart and yelled about his fresh, hand churned frosted delights.  

“What’ll yah have, mister?” he asked in as charming a tone as his rustic voice allowed him. He was short and squat and had a head full of scraggly brown hair. His face was chubby and he was clean shaven. I thought the smooth face didn’t fit the rest of his rough exterior.

An old, worn poster board beside the cart held a wide variety of ice creams. As I tried to narrow down my selection, he rang his bell and yelled for folks to give his treats a try. 

“Can I get three single scoops of chocolate in cups?” I asked.

“Yah want three scoops in one cup?”

“No, sir. I want three cups with one scoop in each of them.”

He said nothing but gave a quick nod. As he leaned into his cart with a metal ice cream scoop the day took on a dusk feel, though it was barely eleven in the morning. I looked up. An odd sky hung above us, its blues traded for grays; its white clouds shifted into a hue of yellow. If the clouds would have been green I might have reacted quicker believing a tornado would be on us soon. But they were yellow, and an odd shade, almost deep enough to be a mustard color. 

The ice cream man mumbled something. He held the scooper in one hand and a bowl in the other. On the ground by his foot lay a scoop of chocolate ice cream.  

“That’s not right,” he said. But he wasn’t looking at the ice cream on the ground at his feet. He looked up at the sky. His mouth hung open and scooping out ice cream seemed to be the last thing on his mind.

“It’s the end of the world,” one man yelled. I didn’t know if he meant the dropped ice cream or the yellowed clouds above me. When I looked at him, it became obvious. He was older than me by a good fifteen years. His hair gray on the sides and still somewhat dark on top. He had a spotty beard that was full at the sideburns and chin, but sparse along his jawline. His red shirt looked too tight and his shorts seemed too loose. He pointed to the sky with one shaking hand. 

I guess that’s when people panicked. They hurried inside stores, fearful of a storm that was certainly brewing, leaving many of us still outside; still craning our necks to the unusual heavens. It didn’t look like a coming storm at all.  

I looked to the boutique, but didn’t see Kate or Kyra. I didn’t think they knew what was going on outside. I started to go inside and find them; hurry them along. As I walked toward the boutique I looked up again.

Soft purple rays of sunlight filtered through tiny breaks in the clouds. They sparkled like glitter as they cut through the thickening air. The beams shot through as if spotlights were switched on one at a time. Still, I looked on.

city apocalypseI’m not sure when the screams began, but I knew why they had.  People began floating upwards within the rays of the sun. They struggled and screamed and begged for help but what could we do? In seconds they were gone, so many of them all at once, disappearing into the clouds, their cries muffled, then falling silent.  

Murmurs ran through those of us still watching, even as others ran for shelter. It was an eerie moment. I looked from the sky to the buildings then back to the sky. More folks were sucked into the purple rays only to vanish seconds later. The thought of running into a building didn’t strike me as the safest thing. Standing outside also didn’t appeal to me, but at least I could run if I stayed outside. I looked to the boutique. My ladies stood at the glass. Like everyone else they looked to the sky.

The temperature dropped a few degrees, growing cool as I watched on. The flesh on my arms swam with chill bumps. A slight wind picked up and the clouds moved closer to us. The hair on my head blew with the breeze.  Other people headed inside, their whispers of fear carried away on the wind, never to touch my ears.  

My breath came out in a fine mist of white.  

Electricity filled the air and the hairs on my head and arms stood on end. My teeth vibrated. Others seemed to have the same issue. Brilliant shoots of green lightning streaked through the clouds. A low rumble followed and within seconds, the world shook with each bolt, with each thunderclap. It may not have looked like a storm was brewing, but one had arrived. 

I ducked, my hands went over my head, and I ran for the boutique. I reached the door and stopped. It looked too crowded in there. I motioned for Kate to come outside using two fingers as if they were walking. I pointed away from the storm. Kate shook her head and pointed to the sky. Her eyes were big and worried.

Others took to the indoors, leaving only a handful of us to continue without the safety of the modern world’s structures.  

From the yellowed clouds fell what looked like red snow. I put a hand out as it dropped all around me, getting on my clothes and skin and hair; sticking to the ground and soon to cover the world in red. The flakes splatter on my palm. It was rain, not snow. I looked around. Others were doing the same thing, holding their hands out and looking at the red drops of rain. As I stared on, the rain grew harder, soaking us. Red ran down the faces of those of us unlucky enough to still be outside. 

Mixed with the red are other colors, mostly tans and brown. These looked more like snowflakes and I pluck one of the larger pieces off my shirt. I held it in my open palm and stared at it until the wind picked it up and carried it off. Seconds later another one landed on me, then flitted away, fluttering in the increasing breeze.  

“This is—” I started.

“Skin!” Someone else finished. The woman held a piece a few inches wide. She dropped it to the ground as if a bug had crawled up her arm. She shook and jittered, then ran for one of the many stores nearby. But she couldn’t get inside—they were all too crowded, much like the boutique Kate and Kyra were in.

The few remaining sky watchers did the same, bolting toward buildings, their screams of the sky raining blood and snowing skin barely audible over the rumble of thunder and the howl of the wind.  

My hair whipped about my face and I stumbled forward, barely able to hold my ground against the onslaught of the growing windstorm. I peeled a piece of skin off my face, stared at it, then let it go. The growing blizzard of blood and skin picked up. The ground was covered in red. The skin dust blanketed the tops of cars and buildings and benches that lined the street.  

I wondered if this was some type of celestial joke, the world being washed in blood and skin. Then I realized the one man was right. It was the end of the world and we were all going to face it.

Fear seized my heart and my soul screamed for me to run. Panic welled up in me and my muscles twitched with adrenaline. As the world fell before me I knew there was no chance to escape the wrath of Mother Nature or Father Time or a Deity in the heavens we have angered by standing pat and not fleeing the situation. I headed for the boutique, my heart thumping, my skin freezing and the remains of those lifted to the sky earlier falling down around me, on me. 

I tapped on the glass. Kate s stared at me, her eyes full of fear. She mouthed something and motioned for me to get inside. I shook my head and point up the road. I yelled that the store is too packed for me and for us to run.  

The buildings in the distance began to crumble as the clouds turned from yellow to purple and beyond that, black. They shook on their foundations. One after another, they fell to the ground, taking with them those who sought shelter, who thought sanctity was within the walls that we had built. People, many of which appeared to be dead, rose into the sky, pulled along by the beams still poking through the clouds.  

The storm grew heavier. People ran from the coming rage and collapsing buildings. Beyond them the world was dying as electricity danced along the wires. Water and sewage shot from hydrants and manholes and into the air and soaking the world with sludge that mixed with the blood and skin of the dead.  

Those who saw buildings collapse ran from the structures they had hid in. Some of them were sucked into the light, their screams echoed in the beams, their eyes wide, and their hands and legs flailing weightlessly, until they disappeared into the clouds and the blizzard became increasingly violent. I stumbled backward with a strong gust of wind. The blood was at my ankles and rising. The frigid air enveloped me and my once white plumes of breath were tinted pink.

Flakes of thick skin pelted down like ice from the sky. Bits of bone splash in the blood and on the hard surfaces of cars.

“Kate! Kyra, come on!” They were trapped in the mass of terrified people. I grabbed the door and yanked on it. Someone yelled for me to close it, but it wouldn’t shut. The wind pulled it from its hinges and it smashed against the wall of the next store. Glass shattered and the aluminum frame bent and snapped off. They became like spears and the wind tossed them about and cut through several people as they ran, splitting them in half.

Not far from me were the beams of light from a sun I will never see again. Somehow the rays penetrated the clouds. A luminous shaft of light struck down in front of me. To my left the buildings shuttered before collapsing and the people who managed to escape were rising into the air.  

To my right people pushed their way out of the boutique. The window cracked, then shattered. Several people fell through the hole and lay dead or dying on the ground as others trampled them. I saw my girls running. Kyra dropped her bag of crumbled bread.

“Run!” It’s all I could say as the beams of light raced for them. I tried to catch up to them, but they were lifted in the air. I heard Kyra’s screams. Kate looked down, her hands outstretched and her eyes begging me to help them.  

“Kate!” I yell as they rose higher and higher into the sky. “Kyra!”  

Then …

They were gone. 

I dropped to my knees and the sting of icy tears burned my eyes. I cried out and yelled at the top of my lungs. My heart cracked, then broke in half. I shivered as I sat there in a puddle made of dead people. More flecks of skin and hail made of bone pelted down on me. I caught a piece of light-colored skin stared at it, wondering if it belonged to my little Kyra.  

Moments earlier, I wanted to run, to escape the catastrophe before me though I knew it was probably futile. But without my girls I can’t bring myself to flee. Instead, I stand and face the ray moving toward me.  

The light is brilliant. It will engulf me with its soft purple aura and I will leave the ground. Weightlessness will probably fill me. The world cracks and crumbles around me. There is darkness behind the storm and there is nothing from where it came. A cosmic void awaits what’s left of the world.  

I look to the intense clouds. The lightning streaks and thunder shakes the world. The ray is on top of me. I close my eyes and hope for a quick death.

__________

This is one of those stories where I had a title pop into my head and the story followed after. The original version was significantly shorter and poorly written and not thought out that well. This version, though quick with a horrific ending, I wanted to leave open ended. In my head (and yours too after reading this, if you got to this point) I could see the narrator surviving with the end of the world fizzling out before it actually sucked him up and spat him out in the form of blood, skin and fragmented bone particles. The torment in such a scenario would be horrific in and of itself.

I hope you enjoyed Flecks of Dead Skin on a Landscape of Red. If you did, do you mind sharing this post on your social media or telling your friends to come on over to Type AJ Negative and read a few of my stories? I appreciate it more than you will know.

A.J.

 

When We Were Kids (Free Fiction)

When We Were Kids

By A.J. Brown

“Remember when we were young and we used to walk on the stones in the stream?”

Brandon had asked that question as they walked along the very stream he spoke of. They were no longer kids and walking outside at any time during the day was more dangerous than ever before. Colby found that thought ironic, considering the state of the world before. 

“Yeah, I remember,” he said. “And when we got tired of walking on the stones, we tried to catch crawdads.”

Brandon laughed at that. It was a sound Colby hadn’t heard in a long while. He had heard screams and yells and crying from people as they died, ran, or ran then died or suffered from that thing called mourning when someone—or everyone—they loved was dead. But laughter was something that sounded foreign in these days. Colby looked at his longtime friend and couldn’t help but smile. 

“What?” Brandon asked.

“You laughed. I haven’t heard laughter since …”

“Since Micah died,” Brandon finished.

“Yeah.”

They were silent for a few minutes as they walked the stream, coming up on the wide section a short footbridge spanned across. On the other side of the bridge was a path that led through a length of trees that opened up into a park where no kids played anymore. Micah died at least a month earlier, but Colby could have never told you exactly when—time wasn’t measured in days and nights anymore, but in minute by minute. He closed his eyes, shook off the thought his friend’s death. 

Brandon stopped. Colby looked back at his friend, at the deeply tanned skin, the hair much longer than it had been when this all started and in need of washing (like the rest of his body), his clothes covered in dirt, blood and who knew what else. He looked, as Colby thought everyone who was still alive probably looked, like the homeless of before. “What’s wrong, Brandon?”

“I wish we were kids again.” He stared at the water, at the stones they had walked across in another life. 

“Yeah. Me too.”

“Life was so much easier back then.”

“Everyone was still alive back then.”

“Yeah, that too.”

More silence followed, then ended when Brandon started for the water.

“What are you doing, man?”

“We can’t be kids again,” Brandon said. His green eyes seem to shine as he looked back at Colby. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to have a little fun. Heaven knows we could use some.”

STREAMWith that said, he dropped his pack to the ground, his baseball bat landing beside it. He stepped from dry land onto one of the stones. It wobbled under his foot and Brandon shifted his weight to remain upright. His arms went out, his hands extended, making him look like a stationary airplane. His other foot went onto a flat stone that barely stuck out of the water. Brandon looked back at Colby with a smile that could have belonged to a six-year-old. “You coming?”

Though he knew it was dangerous—anything other than paying attention to one’s surroundings was these days—but Brandon was right. They needed some fun, needed something to make them feel less like the world was ending and more like they had a reason to continue living. 

Colby went to the edge of the stream, dropped his pack and the crowbar he kept in hand. The water was murky and brown and not like it was when they were kids, when you could see the bottom of the stream, the sediment, the rocks, water plants, minnows, and yes, crawdads. The water was cloudy. Though he could see the stones and the mud on them, he didn’t like that he couldn’t see much more than that. Still, he stepped on one of the rocks, pushed on it for good measure to make sure it was sturdy, then put all his weight onto it. He found another stone, this one with a touch of green moss growing along the edges that stuck out of the water. Then he was stepping from that one to another one, his arms out very much like Brandon’s.

For a few minutes, Colby and Brandon, friends since the first grade, and possibly the last two people alive in their world, were kids again. They laughed. Their feet slipped from time to time, getting submerged in the water before they could get back on the stones. For a few minutes the world was right. 

Colby turned around when he heard the startled ‘whoa,’ from Brandon. He saw his friend’s arms pinwheeling, his eyes wide, as he tipped backward, his left foot slipping out from under him. He landed in the stream with a loud crash, water splashing up and coming back down. Then Brandon laughed. 

“DId you see that?” Brandon asked, still laughing. 

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, man. Nothing like being a kid ag—“

Brandon’s laughter came to a sudden stop. His mouth opened but he didn’t scream. From out of the water came his arm. 

Colby saw the blood before he heard Brandon finally scream. His forearm was missing a chunk of flesh and blood gushed from the wound. Behind Brandon came the corpse that had been hidden by the murky water. It’s bloated head lulled on it’s shoulders. The rest of its upper torso was waterlogged and the same shade of brown as the muddy stream water. It made no noises—the dead’s vocal chords died right along with their bodies. But it bit down on Brandon’s shoulder, sinking its sharp teeth through the wet shirt and pulling it’s head back, ripping cloth and flesh away. 

“No, no, no, no!” Colby yelled and forgot all about trying to stay on the stones. He ran and splashed his way to dry ground, scrambled up the embankment to where Brandon’s pack was. He picked up the aluminum baseball bat with the dented barrel and ran back to the stream. He waded in as Brandon tried to shove the corpse away, but shock and the sudden loss of a lot of blood made him sluggish and unable to pull free. 

A second corpse appeared from the woods. It wore a long sleeve work shirt and what Colby thought was a green pair of pants and heavy workbooks that didn’t seem to fit it’s withered feet. It didn’t so much as walk as it dragged it’s feet across the ground. Somehow, it didn’t fall. 

“No,” Colby whispered to himself as he waded through the water, the bat raised above his head. He brought the barrel down on the muddy corpse. Its head split open with a sickening pop. It fell back into the water, but didn’t sink right away. Colby turned to Mr. Work Clothes, knowing if he stopped to pull Brandon from the stream, he was as good as dead as well. 

Colby met the corpse near the edge of the water. He swung the bat at its knees and Mr. Work Clothes fell onto it’s side. The bat went above Colby’s head again and came down with all the force he could muster. The skull ruptured with a similar gross crack. One eyeball shot from its socket and landed in the water with a plop. Colby swung the bat down several times, screaming as he did so.

The bat slid from his hands when he turned back to the stream to see Brandon floating in the water, his face to the sky, eyes open and blank. Tears filled his eyes and the strength left him. Colby’s legs gave way and he stumbled a few feet before he crumpled to the ground, landing on the soft grass of the embankment. 

Colby cried for several minutes, his last friend in the world now dead and soon to be one of the walking corpses that had killed everyone else. 

Then, as if a sudden realization swept over him, Colby rolled onto his knees. He grabbed the bat and stood. “I can’t let him change.” His voice was hoarse from crying and his eyes were blurry and the lids puffy from tears. He looked at the bat and shook his head. 

Colby didn’t cross the stream by hopping from stone to stone. He went to the bridge, crossed over the water and went to his pack. In the front pouch was the .22 and it was fully loaded. He dropped the bat, took the gun from the pack and took the slow and somehow very long walk (though it was only fifteen or so yards from where he stood to where Brandon floated) to the edge of the stream. 

He didn’t want to step back into the water. As he had feared, they didn’t pay attention to their surroundings and one of them ended up dead, and soon to be undead if Colby didn’t hurry. 

No other corpses came out of the water when Brandon fell in or when I splashed around.

The thought should have been reassuring, but it did little to calm his nerves or set his mind at ease as he stood on the embankment, staring. 

If you don’t hurry, he’s going to change and then you’ll really have issues, won’t you?

Issues was a nice way to put it. The freshly dead were faster, stronger and more limber than the stiffs that teetered on falling with each step they took. They were harder to put down—their skulls seemed harder, at least. No knife will do for the fresh ones. 

“Okay. I’m going.”

Colby stepped into the water, his nerves on edge, his head moving from side to side as he searched the water for anything that might move. At one point, his foot struck a submerged stick, dislodging it. It floated to the surface and Colby screamed, fired two shots at where he thought a head should be. When he saw it was a stick, he laughed nervously as his heart beat rapidly. 

“Get it together,” he said and waded through the stream. He reached into the water, grabbed the back of Brandon’s shirt and started back for dry ground. Once there, he started to slide his hands beneath Brandon’s armpits, then stopped. “All he would have to do is turn his head and then you’re as good as dead.”

Colby looked at the gun in his right hand, then down at his friend. He put the barrel to Brandon’s temple. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he said, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The bang sounded like an old party favor they would get as kids—a simple cork-like pop that seemed to echo in a world where noise had become almost obsolete. It was followed by the sound of something striking the water; the bullet, he thought. Brain and skull, as well.

Colby tucked the gun in the back of his belt and grabbed Brandon beneath the armpits. He pulled him to dry ground, then sat beside him.

“Hey, Brandon,” he said. “Do you remember when we dug that grave for Micah?” He nodded, knowing that Brandon didn’t remember. As a matter of fact, he didn’t remember anything at all, and he never would again. “Yeah, well, I’m going to dig another one, so, you know, don’t go anywhere. Okay?” Absentmindedly, he patted Brandon’s leg.

The crowbar was all he had to dig with. He used the claw end to loosen the ground and pulled clumps of dirt out by hand. After what felt like hours, though it had been not even forty minutes, he had a shallow grave dug out right next to the stream, a place of their childhood, one that, at least Colby hoped, Brandon had found some joy and fun at before death claimed him. He pulled his friend’s body to the hole, careful to step into it and drag him along before setting him down gently. 

Covering the hole was easier and took far less time to finish. Colby covered his friend’s body from feet up, ending with his head. He stood, took the baseball bat and drove the barrel into the dirt near where Brandon’s chest was. 

“Rest in peace, my friend. I’ll never forget you.”

Colby took one last look at the grave before grabbing both his and Brandon’s packs and his crowbar and walking away from the stream toward the town they had avoided by following the water. As day gave way to night, Colby sought out refuge in the back of a car that would have been considered old in the before. The owner was long gone, but a blanket had been left behind. Colby covered up and used the two packs as pillows. 

Colby closed his eyes, but before falling asleep he said, “Hey, Brandon, remember when we were teens and we took our girls to the old drive in movies in Monetta? Yeah, me too.”

AJB

__________

In the little town of Cayce, South Carolina, where I grew up is a small park near the police department. There is a stream that runs along the outside of it, a growth of trees separating the stream from the actual park. That is where this story takes place.

When I was a kid, me and a couple of buddies would go down to Guignard Park (not the same park, but yes, still in Cayce) and wade in the water or climb along the rocks and try to keep from falling in. It is here where we would go crawdad hunting. Me and my buddy, Clark, once caught 38 crawdad’s in there and one of them was huge and mean.

For this story, I combined the two parks–the location from one, and the catching crawdads from the other, to create the scene and events of this story. And, if you are wondering, yes, Brandon was based on my buddy, Clark.

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