Excerpts from “The Years,” a collection of interrelated flash fictions
by Michael Prihoda
The Year of Problems
Our parents have problems.
Our parents have problems.
Gobs of various colors have burned themselves into my retinas. So that red blinks white and white blinks black. I stood so long and stared the way children stare at light bulbs. Bespeckled everything I saw for hours afterward. Jackson Pollock, an egoist with an unnatural ability to paint feeling. The way colors feel. Like taking a beautiful natural rainbow, unraveling, mangling, cutting it into bits and throwing it into a blender. It’s the art that we are sure we had created in some fit of rage in kindergarten. When all you needed was a grey crayon for your elephant.
Angry at the injustice of it all, you scribbled frantically in every other color, especially red. Maybe you even went over to the other tables and scribbled on the other classmates drawings, no one could stop you. Or when you were painting the walls around the ceiling and the phone rang; a startled splatter of paint that made it beyond the masking tape barrier, you stared at it for a split second, you contemplated signing just under it: “Jackson Pollock was here” and the date but instead go out to buy a gallon of ceiling white. Continue reading
Maya turned her key in the lock and stumbled through the door, tripping over a heavy object – backpack maybe? – that someone had placed in front of it. “Shit,” she hissed involuntarily.
“Is that you?” she heard a voice say from the bedroom.
“Sorry I woke you,” she whispered, trying to make herself sound as if she weren’t both drunk and high, which she was.
“Thanks a lot! You know I need to be up early for work! I’ll never get back to sleep,” said Jim, her husband.
“Sorry! Sorry. Can you keep it down –“
“I might as well read,” said Jim, turning on the light.
“Jim , are you crazy? It’s – it’s three in the morning!” Maya looked at her watch, surprised. She was starting to get a headache. Why had she let Shauna talk her into smoking a joint at 12:30am?
“I know what time it is. I assumed from your late arrival that you didn’t,” said Jim icily, picking up his copy of The Economist and flipping through it.
“I told you, we were celebrating Missy’s promotion. Besides, I wouldn’t have woke you up if I didn’t trip on whatever it is someone left by the front door.”
“Your kids’ backpacks!” snapped Jim. “Remember your kids? Peter and Connie? Remember them? Somebody’s gotta take care of them while you go off celebrating Missy’s big promotion.” He turned his back to her and started to read. “I’m going to be useless at work tomorrow thanks to you and your little corporate friends.”
“Sorry,” mumbled Maya. She couldn’t resist throwing in, “I think you’ll be able to rally for the hour. You can always come home and crash.”
“At least I’m helping people” Jim retorted. “How many lives has Stars of the Startups saved this month?” Stars of the Startups was the magazine where Maya served as Editor-In-Chief.
Just four that I care about, thought Maya. Yours. Mine. Peter’s. Connie’s.
“Exactly”, said Peter. “None, that’s how many.”
Maya’s alarm went off at six. Ignoring the throbbing of her head, she went into the kids’ bedroom – an office, really – to wake them up.
“Mama, I don’t feel good,” whined Connie. Maya put her hand to Connie’s forehead – it was warm.
“Crap,” she said.
“I don’t feel good either!” said Peter, who was seven years old to his sister’s five.
“You’re fine,” said Maya after briefly touching Peter’s forehead. What the heck was the school’s policy on fevers? It was bad to send a kid to school with a fever, wasn’t it?
“Go back to sleep, Connie.” Maya pushed the hair back on Connie’s forehead.
“Will you stay home with me, Mama?” murmured Connie.
“Mama’s taking me to school! Right, Mama? You’re taking me to school, right?” Peter jumped up and down on the bed.
“Let me talk to Daddy,” said Maya. She went into the tiny birth canal of a kitchen and took some eggs out of the fridge. “Jim?”
“What time is it?” Jim demanded from the bedroom.
“A little past six. Connie’s sick. Can you stay with her and I’ll take Peter to school?”
“Maya, you know I can’t miss work.” Jim rolled over onto his back. “You’re going to have to call in late.”
“Jim, I have a deadline.”
“Call in late. Aren’t you supposed to be the boss over there?” Jim got out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, he came out, adjusting the strap of his crossing guard uniform. Maya put a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of Peter, and tried, as she did every morning, to pretend that her husband, with his PhD in Semantics, was gainfully employed in an occupation worthy of his potential. Potential has a shelf life. Maya had read that in a Margaret Atwood novel once. It rankled her still.
Michele Markarian’s plays have been produced across the United States and UK. Michele’s short stories have appeared in anthologies by WisingUp Press, Mom’s Literary Magazine, yesteryearfiction.com, The Journal of Microliterature, and the anthology inherplace.org. Her plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing, Heuer Publishing, Oxford University Press USA and Smith & Kraus. She has an anthology of plays, working title “The Unborn Children of America and Other Family Procedures” that will be published by Fomite Press this spring. Michele is a member of the Dramatists Guild.
I clambered back into bed, feeling more awake than before, and the blue-white light of my clock radio cast a glow over the walls and a portion of my bed. I groaned and turned onto my side, facing the window. My shadow, discernible only as several lumps above the mattress, was projected on the sheer blinds that kept others from peering in.
I tried to bore myself to sleep with the monotony of my shadow, calmly rising and falling, my breathing nearly synced with the ocean waves from my sound machine. I heard the clock chime the half hour.
And then my shadow wasn’t mine anymore.
Like watching a plant grow with time-lapse photography, something bulbous, followed by two long appendages, extruded themselves from near my hip.
A head. Arms.
I looked over my shoulder, but there was nothing behind me to cast such a shadow. The light burnt my eyes, and I turned back towards my window, which had clearly become a canvas for my imagination.
As I squinted so my vision could adjust, the shadow became humanoid. The arms, not so gangly now, grew more refined. It stretched, tilting to face the ceiling. The creature conjured something, then pulled it up to its face. When I saw its long fingers fiddling at the back of its head, a single word floated into my mind.
Then gloves. Pulled on quickly, efficiently.
I swallowed. Sleep was out of the question.
The humanoid being that was behind me…yet, not…whose shadow was projected upon my window shade, continued busying itself with things unseen. Then it turned, so I might see the silhouette of its back.
If I had attempted to move before, fear and revulsion now paralyzed me.
What I could not see in profile, I now made out clearly. Below the creature’s shoulders, formed by the two primary arms, protruded two more pairs of limbs. They stuck out only slightly from the torso, with a few too many joints, and hung limply at the sides, inferior with apparent disuse. Around the head, two angular extrusions jutted out from where its temples would be. Suddenly it turned back, its head bowed close over my shadow, clutching something in its hand.
Another mask. Delicate shadows of several tubes streamed from it, and the silhouette that held it leaned over, closer to the shadow of my head on the pillow.
The sound machine breathed for me now. Slow. Steady. Rhythmic. Calm.
It fastened the mask around my head.
After what felt like minutes, but may have been seconds, the giddy chirp of a bird trilled in my ears, and I reopened my eyes.
The world outside my window was beginning to glow gently with the dawn. More birds joined the first one’s song. I looked at the shade.
The outline of the humanoid shadow was barely discernible in the strengthening light, but before it disappeared completely, I saw it held something long and thin in one of its six hands.
Andi Dobek (‘Andrea’ to her parents and strangers) rarely leaves the confines of her own head, finding the company there much more agreeable and easier to sway than those of the ‘real’ world. Long before she could walk, she began her writing career as soon as she could grip a pen, and hasn’t stopped mutilating innocent paper since. She holds a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois, and another in Web Design and Development. Currently she is slaving over a novel conceived over ten years ago, and her greatest dream is that it will one day see the light.
Andi lives in the Midwest and works at a credit union to fund her next endeavor: an MFA in Screenwriting through Lindenwood University. If you’re socially inclined, you can follow her on Twitter (@andreadobek) and Instagram (@The_Cicatrix).
Another Small Death
Assured his references would be fine, two week’s notice was given, severance check guaranteed. That would give him one month total to get a life.
Freakyfour years gone just like that. Exiting in long strides through swinging doors, Gary walked to the elevator. This whole building, all twenty six floors, would be there when he was gone. His work was unimportant, in a few weeks nobody would remember him.
His hands hung in a gesture of hopelessness. His tongue covered with thick crust leaving a bad taste in his mouth. He sat down more numb than anything else. Shuffling his options like broken glass through his mind…if only one thought could come out straight, one sliver of truth. But truth could be hard to handle, like shards of glass, slashing your face. The bleary sky was streaked by blood red rays from a setting sun. Night approached deep and dark.
The Side of the Road
I drove by without stopping as you stumbled down the side of the road because the rust-colored stains on your yellow dress alarmed me, and the way your head cracked at an angle didn’t compute, and the tormented scream on your face chilled my spine. I ignored the cries that wrenched at my car, pretending I didn’t hear you plead for help, or salvation, or revenge. I nudged the gas pedal harder when I glanced into the rear-view mirror and discovered you’d vanished, like you’d never existed. I raced faster when the temperature in the car plunged and the door locks clicked into place. And I refused to look at the passenger seat because I didn’t want to see you there or admit to the rawboned hand along my arm and the musty breath on my neck.
Why I Had To Bite You
I didn’t rip the head from the corpse,
tuck it into a bowling bag, and drop
it in your swimming pool. That was Igor.
He escaped his bell tower, got into the cider,
and was up to no good. Nor did I hang
the body-less hand from your car door
and hide in the woods to watch you scream.
That wasn’t me. My alibi swears I’m clean.
Most likely Poe or Norman Bates. I hear
they’re into that kind of thing. The face
in the mirror? The one dripping blood
from her eye-sockets? Not yours truly.
Don’t blame Bloody Mary either.
She’s in Tijuana, last I heard.
I suspect the gremlin in the basement
or maybe Tonto—I spotted a black dress in his closet.
Yes, I’ll admit, those puncture wounds on your neck
are my fault. Dracula’s converted to pacifism
and what’s Halloween without vampires?
Don’t thank me, really. The wounds will heal
and you were a night person anyway.
Call it my civic duty—
although I have to admit you tasted pretty good
even though I prefer iced tea.
Mureall’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Suddenly Lost in Words, Lunch Ticket, Crack the Spine, Stone Crowns Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, >kill author, Short, Fast & Deadly, Bacopa Literary Review, The Citron Review, StereoOpticon, and WhidbeyAIR. Mureall is an MFA graduate from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and a former editor of Soundings Review.
We’re pleased to announce our first finalist for our President’s/Valentine’s Day contest, in which Jacob Shelton envisions what would happen if James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur hit it off.
Our contest’s winner will be announced next Friday.