Excerpt for Dark Flash 2 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

DARK FLASH 2

Maria Haskins



Published by Maria Haskins at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Maria Haskins



Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smahshwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents

Foreword

The Weight of the Sea

Wolves & Girls

Lost

Magpies And Moonshine

Hungry Beasts

A Song For Hugo

Deathlight

Hidden

Buried

Angel's Heart

Links to episode story prompts

About the Author



Book-cover created by Maria Haskins using Canva.





Foreword

The ten stories included in this collection all appeared on The Word Count Podcast in 2017. This fabulous podcast is hosted by my friend and fellow author R.B. Wood, and you can keep up with new episodes, and listen to a wealth of old stories, on his website.

This year, each story prompt was a photograph. I’ve included links to these prompts at the end of the book to show the inspiration that kickstarted these tales.


If you want to read more of my fiction, check out my website, or pick up a copy of Dark Flash, featuring the stories I wrote for The Word Count Podcast in 2016.


Thank you for reading!





The Weight of the Sea

What does Death look like?

Abby used to ask me that. She’d sit there in her hospital bed, seven years old, with tubes snaking in and out of her, and ask me that.

I think about her as I’m standing on the road this January morning, the sky a shimmer of light over the snow and withered grass and rippling water of the estuary. I know the water is cold. I know that further out, once the tide moves in, it will be deep. I know that whatever ice there is will be treacherous, and I know that if you go in, you won’t come out again.

Turning around, I head back into town, walking the alleys and backstreets like I always do in the mornings.

I find Emilia first. She’s laying under a jumble of newspaper, cardboard, and ragged blankets outside the bank. You might almost think she’s sleeping, but there’s a shiver of breath to mar the clarity of the dawn air around her.

I’ve seen her before. I’ve seen her scrounging cans from the garbage bins, seen her try to warm herself with a cup of coffee or a cigarette, lined up at the soup kitchen.

I touch her cheek, gently, almost a caress, and feel her go still beneath my hand. Her dog is curled up at her feet, a grey tousle of fur beneath the blankets, and I touch him too, before he has a chance to stir.

There, that’s better.

Death is like this sometimes, Abby. Falling asleep, not waking.

Paul is on the next street corner, a liquid gleam in his pale eyes. The drugs he’s just injected are rushing through him, slithering and grasping at his heart and lungs, but he’s not quite gone yet.

He sees me, and he reaches for me. Foolish, beautiful boy. I hesitate. How old is he? Sixteen, barely.

“Come on, bitch.”

His voice is no more than a gasp, but it’s enough. I reach out, grasping hold of his fingers, gentle but firm, before I let go.

By the time I hear the ambulance, I’m already blocks away.

Soon he’ll be ash and dust, just like he wanted. That’s what he’d whisper to me every morning when I passed him on that corner with his hand out, reaching for me, begging, pleading for my touch.

I keep walking, still thinking of Abby. Abby used to love our weekend walks together when I wasn’t working. We’d sit down by the water and watch the sun come up sometimes.

What does Death look like, mom, when it takes you?

A reaper with a scythe, I thought, skull peeking out from beneath his hood. A hungry ghoul. A grasping wraith. But I couldn’t tell her that.

“Death looks like an angel or a bird,” I said instead. “And when she flies away, you fly with her.”

Abby liked that. She liked flying.

It was just another lie. Like: “you’ll get better”, or “we’ll go to Disneyland”.

It was the same when she asked about her dad. I’d tell her he was tall, dark and handsome. That he loved us. That he’d come see her one day.

He was seventeen when she was born, just like I was. So damn scared he couldn’t even look me in the eye. How could I tell her that he left? That he shipped out to a war and never came back?

When I stop walking, I’m at the hospital. That’s where I usually find myself in the end. I walk through the familiar doors, up the stairs, to Abby’s old room.

She died here on a Monday in January. A year ago, I guess. Or maybe more than that. I don’t keep track anymore.

Another mom, another child, are in the room. I can see them through the door. The boy has the same look Abby had, like he’s almost spent. The mom is sleeping, slumped over in her chair.

I was asleep when Abby died. I’d stayed awake so long, and then, as soon as I closed my eyes, she slipped away and left.

Afterwards, after I’d had her burned, I carried her urn with me down to the water. The tide was in. I walked farther and farther until I knew there was no way back. Until the cold, eternal weight of the sea and sky and winter and memory froze my limbs and paralyzed my heart and filled my lungs.

When I opened my eyes, I lay in the mud in the estuary. I knew I was dead, but even so, I got up and walked away before they zipped my body into a bag and hauled it into the ambulance.

Everyone I’ve touched since then, they all leave. I don’t know why or how, but I know they go wherever Abby went, wherever I can’t go: because part of me is still here in this room, is still under the water, was left behind in the dirty snow and mud.

What does Death look like?

Sometimes, Abby, it looks like me.

I’m inside the room now. The mom still sleeps, but the boy sees me. What do I look like to him? Hooded and cloaked? A drowned ghoul? A reaper or a wraith? I don’t know. No mirror can hold my image anymore.

The boy’s breathing is shallow, and the part of him that has almost let go quivers like a frightened hatchling in the amber glow coming through the curtains.

I could touch his hand right now. I could take him, like I’ve taken the others. Afterwards, the mother would wake, and he’d be gone.

Ash and dust.

We look at each other, but he doesn’t speak or reach out, and I don’t reach for him either. Not today.

As I pass through the door into the corridor again, I hear his small voice behind me:

“Mom. I think I saw an angel.”





Wolves & Girls

“The wolf always dies. The girl always lives.”

That’s what dad tells Gwen when he closes the book of fairy tales, right before the story ends. Then he tucks her into bed, and no matter how Gwen pleads, he never reads the ending. She knows it can’t be as easy as a dead wolf and a living girl. Nothing is ever that easy, especially not for wolves and girls.

There is only dad to read her stories and tuck her in. Gwen has no mom. Hasn’t had one for as long as she can remember.

“She left,” dad tells her. “She couldn’t live here anymore, so she went away.”

“Couldn’t she stay, for my sake?” Gwen asks, kicking the legs of the table, pouring syrup on her griddlecakes at breakfast.

Dad shrugs and says that sometimes it’s better to leave than to stay and become something you don’t want to be.

***

In the cedar chest in dad’s room, Gwen finds the only thing mom left behind: a red cloak, hooded, that smells of flowers and snow. She hugs it close, feeling the soft woolen weave against her skin, feeling the absence of the body that is not inside.

“Why would she leave without her cloak?” she asks.

“Too many bad memories left in the pockets,” dad answers without looking at Gwen, even though the cloak has no pockets.

***

Dad is a good dad. He can braid hair and mend socks and do laundry as well as any mom. He’s not always home at night, though. Sometimes he leaves Gwen alone with the door locked from outside, and the moon hanging clear and bright in the window. He leaves his clothes behind, too. They’re laid out on his bed, and in the morning, he wears them again.

“What’s so bad about wolves?” Gwen asks, poking at the boiled potatoes and mutton on her plate.

Dad is a good cook. A good hunter too, even though he doesn’t even own a rifle or a bow.

“Wolves always die. Better to be a girl, because the girl…”

“…always lives,” she finishes the sentence for him.

***

By the time Gwen is twelve, she knows what dad does when he leaves the house at night. She’s seen him go and come back, she’s seen the tracks change from feet and toes to paws and claws beneath the eaves of the forest.

“Is that why mom left?” she asks one morning when the moon has set.

“No.”

“Did you kill her?”

“No. She left because she had somewhere else to be.”

“What place would be more important than me and you?”

Dad doesn’t answer.

***

Before Gwen turns sixteen, she’s realized that maybe it’s not that dad doesn’t want to tell her the answer, but that he doesn’t know the answer.

By now, she’s well acquainted with restlessness and hunger, and some nights she’s the one who stays out late, and dad’s the one waiting for her to come home.

“Everything all right?” he’ll ask before she goes to bed.

“The girl always lives,” she’ll say.

One February night Gwen comes home with her clothes torn and a split lip. The same night, a boy in the village beyond the forest comes home bruised and blinded in one eye.


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