So here’s the deal. Lein Shory and Lamar Henderson over at Pulp Engine decided to host a flash fiction challenge, but they didn’t want any run of the mill challenge, they got Chicago-based surrealist artist Brett Hess to offer up one of his great paintings as the impetus of the muse. The painting was “One More Secret Drifts Away and All Hope Here Has Gone Astray.”
So here I was looking at this and was thinking about how here’s death in the balloon. And I thought the only way we can get away from all the misery down below is by dying. And of course, through it all there are always people watching, observing deaths, miseries, etc. This story is what I ultimately came up with. Oh, and by the way, you may want a drink close by while you’re reading — just sayin’
Sympathy Flies Away
“You like picture books, don’t ya?” he sneered looking at me out of the corner of his eye.
His name was Jeremy. He was a real prick. He giggled like a baby farting, all surprise and stink. As always, I stood there and stared at him. I imagined me saying something witty. I imagined them bloody at my feet. I peered down and kicked some dry leaves with myKeds.
“Were you born retarded or did your parents just raise you that way?”
I felt the pin-pricks of heat on my ears, and my hands started to sweat. I shoved them in my pockets.
“No,” I croaked. Man, I’m a dumbass.
Soon enough he was bored and got into his Camaro which was the color of a bad rash. As I walked home I thought of a million things to say. They were burning lights shooting from my neurons to my tongue. I was throwing a Lenny Bruce one-two. Next time, I promised myself. Next time.
At the apartment complex I hooked up with Johanna. I wasn’t supposed to hang out with him, but there were a lot of things I wasn’t “supposed” to do. His dad lived a couple of doors down from us. He grew pot on the back porch and had piles of porn mags stacked up all over the place. Johanna and I had enjoyed spying the bodies, tracing the forms with our fingers, laughing at the bowling balls some women shoved under their skin. When we saw a magazine that had images of dogs, globs of peanut butter on fingers, and “how to” articles to go with them, we stopped flipping the pages.
Johanna and I booked it to the woods behind the complex with empty pillowcases in our paws. A lone Weeping Willow tree stood in front of the trail leading in, and we always stopped at it coming back out. We scurried up to the creek and hunted frogs. We kicked leaves and rustled out garter snakes. They all ended up sharing the blackness inside our pillowcases.
Our games were simple enough. We count them and razz each other about who caught the most, caught the biggest. We made our frogs race. Then we got bored and tore branches from the tree. Slashing at each other, our eyes wild and gleaming, we smack one another, the stick biting, leaving red welts and sometimes drawing blood.
When we tied a frog’s hind leg to a hanging branch, its throat jumped. It blinked at the ground which must have seemed a million miles away.
Smacking the frog, we followed the green pendulum as it rose and fell and rose again, over and over till it rested perfectly vertical to the ground. We both got up real close and inspected the red streak of blood seeping from the near perfect incision. Johanna regarded me and I him. I noticed the layers of brown in Johanna’s eyes for the first time. Then he stood and gave it another whack.
At first the frog would thrash by its hind leg, try and twist its weight so it could fall to the ground it observed so far away. For some reason when it stopped moving, I couldn’t look at the hanging blob anymore.
After a moment Johanna reached into his case and pulled out a decent sized snake. He clasped it by the tail and looked at me with a gleam in his eye. The snake flailed and twisted in Jahonna’s pinched fingers. It looked like a worm moving towards the hook. Johanna bent at the knees, flung his arm behind him, and studied the sky for a moment before his great heave that catapulted the scaled thing into the air. It spun head over tail over head until it reached its crescendo and gravity called it back home. I imagined the wonderful blurred world it saw way up there, so far above our heads.
It landed with a thud. It lay there for what seemed minutes. Its tongue jutted out and retreated. It looked toward the woods. The stupid thing didn’t have a chance. When the front end of the snake slithered while its back side lay stock still Johanna had to step on it. I didn’t have the heart.
I let the rest of the creatures go, but one frog sat there, regarding us as if it could regard such things as us. Johanna reached down and it did not jump away. When we set it down upon a small bench, it did not move. It was quite amazing when Johanna produced his old pocket knife and told me to hold its head still. I did so not really thinking about what he was going to do. I gripped the frog’s head between my thumb and forefinger and took in its simple eyes and it took in mine.
We sat that way while Johanna cut the skin from the tops of its legs and around its neck. It stayed that way as Johanna rolled the skin off his body. It stayed that way and Johanna held up the thin covering into the sunlight.
The frog’s muscles and veins were something to behold. I never saw something so tender, so vulnerable. When we set it in the grass and it tried to crawl away, the blades pressing against it raw stomach, touching its sides, I did the only thing I could do: look away.
We walked back to Johanna’s apartment and I watched him open the door. He turned back in the threshold and gave a salute. I watched him disappear into the darkness.