Flash Fiction: Murder Ballad

I like Flash Fiction a lot and haven’t written any recently. I also like Murder Ballads. Two great tastes…

———-

I couldn’t tell where the road ended and the driveway started. It was all ruts and weeds and mud leading up to the house. There was a car in front, peeling paint and dented on the bumpers and doors and even roof. Hers, I was sure of it. He was still out there, in his pickup, driving hard or slumped over the wheel with his brains splashed against the inside of the windshield, depending on whether he had stopped to think about what he had done or not.

 

The front door was still open. My deputy was standing on the porch, leaning over the rail, heaving. Breakfast was all over the meager, unkempt flower beds. Her sister, the one who had found her, was sitting on the steps, oblivious to me as she stared vacantly down the driveway and pulled on a Camel.

 

When I got out of the car, I put on my hat. Everyone thinks I do it to look cool. it does look cool, but that is not why I do it. A hat that big, you can hide your face — you fear, your disgust, your rage, your tears —  with just a nod of your head. I was going to need that hat.

 

She was in the living room. And the bedroom.  And the kitchen. A piece of her even ended up on the porch. He really lost it in there. The axe, a big old wood cutting axe like you would expect Paul Bunyan to use, was laying in the black-brown-red pool where most of her was. He dropped it, just let it fall out of his hands. I could tell by the long smear up the shaft from his bloody grip. The monster that had swung it was gone by the time he let it go, for sure.

 

I looked around a little, mostly for show. I knew the story. Good girl loves a bad boy so much it kills her. It happens a lot down here.

 

I tell my deputy to man up and fuck off and he does. I ask her sister a few meaningless, stupid questions, the kind that staties and feds like to see answered on reports. I wait for Ed to show up. He’s our coroner. Owns the diner, too. I give him a look that warns him what’s inside and he just shakes his head and pulls the bags out of the back of his van. I leave him to it and get back in the car.

 

The truck is down on route 75. That was my third guess. I was wrong about the brains on the windshield, though. At least, I was wrong about the “inside” part. He was drunk and high on something harder than grass and jumped out of the cab and pointed his squirrel killer at me so I did what he was asking for and laid him down. Maybe her sister would have gotten some pleasure out of him going to trial and frying, but I don’t think so. In any case, all it would do was make a long, ugly story out of a short, ugly one.

 

I’ll take tomorrow off, stay home, give Reb a kiss on the cheek and a squeeze on the tit, let her know I love her. It seems the best thing to do after a day like this one.

 

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The Empty Aisle

It seems a little ironic that I would inaugurate this science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction blog with a rather mundane piece. The following very short fiction is intended as an entry in NPR’s regular “Three Minute Fiction” contest and the deadline is the end of tomorrow. I wanted to do a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end and a protagonist worth caring about. Packing all that into 600 words is quite a challenge. You can tell me whether I succeeded.

———-

Every aisle seemed to be a shrine to Tommy. Aisle six, his favorite cereal. Aisle nine, his favorite cheap plastic toys. Aisle seven, where he had his first honest to goodness public temper tantrum.

Tom kept his head down as much as he could, to hide his welling eyes from his neighbors and to avoid their pity and morbid wonder. It had been like this for thirty seven days. People he did not know but recognized from the intersections in the lives of parents saw him and they knew him. Some turned away swiftly. Some stared. Most, though, regarded him briefly, smiled weakly and walked away.

As Tom reached up to pull cans of soup from the shelf, he saw Tommy dart between the aisles, waving some desired treat. He clenched his jaw. No. Not Tommy. Just another blond boy about the right height.

Tom finished shopping. He spared the girl at the checkout and used the self service lane.

The exit doors slid open and the warm, wet air of late May blasted Tom. His car was adrift in the sea of suburban vehicles. As he crossed the asphalt he saw a little blond head bob up and down between cars. It disappeared and reappeared an Tom’s gut knotted. He scanned the lot. No one else was close by, so he went toward where he had last seen the child.

It was a young boy. His lip trembled and his eyes were wide with fear. He had Tommy’s beautiful blond hair and wore the same brand of light up sneakers. Tom stared at the boy and the boy stared back. Finally, Tom asked,“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know where my mom is,” said the boy in the angelic soprano of a six year old.

Tom transferred his grocery bags to one hand and approached the boy. “I’ll help you,” he said and put out his free hand. He could see his fingers trembling and his heart raced. Hesitantly, the boy took Tom’s hand.

Tiny fingers slipped between Tom’s own and his thundering heart seemed to stop suddenly. For a brief and endless moment, he could smell the stench of burning plastic and bone and the black smoke blinded him again. But instead of screaming Tommy’s name from behind the line of police and firefighters, he was watching it with him, holding his hand while someone else’s son was consumed by fire.

“Come on,” Tom said as calmly as he could. He gave the boy’s hand a comforting squeeze and a steering tug.The boy followed in short, uncertain steps.

Tom stopped and set the grocery bags down. He fished his keys out and pushed the button on the keychain. Two aisles over, his car lights flashed. “This way,” he said and picked up the bags.

Tommy’s booster was still in the back seat. Tom opened the door. “Come on,” he urged. The boy stared at him, trembling. Tom knelt down and gently gripped the boy’s shoulders. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’m going to take you home.”

The boy smiled and elation filled Tom. Then a woman’s sudden voice shook him. She half scolded, half pleaded, “Jack!” A stern, masculine, “Sir?” followed quickly.

Tom stood and turned. Jack was already at his mother, hugging her legs. Next to the woman was a uniformed officer, his hand hovering near his sidearm. Tom began to stammer an explanation but stopped when he saw he pity and morbid wonder overcome them. The woman muttered something like a condolence. The officer grimaced and nodded.

After they were gone, Tom sat a long time in his car, sobbing.