Friday Flash: Flight from the Battlefield

angel

As my knife sinks into the apple, I hear my neighbor screaming. His pain vibrates the sheetrock between us. I lean against the counter with a sigh.

He has only been home two weeks and already his wife has dropped ten pounds, forgot to wash her hair, formed bruises under her eyes and hefted a landfill load of worry and sorrow onto her narrow shoulders.

They have a child; a blue-eyed waif of a little girl, who seems to be disappearing into the background of their lives, pushed aside by the ghosts he has brought home with him.

I saw her yesterday. Her eyes have grown round with shock. My heart shattered, splintering right there in the hallway, in front of her silence and her headless doll.

“Where is her head?” I asked.

“I didn’t want her to get headaches like daddy,” she whispered back.

A box came through the door, followed by two people with tight faces and wide eyes. Haunted, I thought. The ghosts were busy. Peeking in the box as they passed with unsmiling faces, I caught a glimpse of a paint ball gun on top of rope and kitchen knifes. A black stick with a trigger was clutched in the tall, crumpled man’s hand. His knuckles were white.

I send over an apple pie and a note to call me if they need anything. I feel helpless.

The knock comes at three in the morning. A frantic pound pound pound. A wild noise pushed from her throat, a scream forming words, “Call 911”. The pale, wide-eyed child in a dirty nightgown is pushed into my leg by her mother, Karen. “Please,” she chokes, then turning away, she barrels down the stairs.

I know what has happened, I just don’t know how. Tentatively, I step into their apartment with the child clinging to my arm. The place smells like Lysol and old grease. Moonlight is pouring through the open window along with a light mist of rain. A lone white curtain billows from a gust of wind. I see it as a thinly veiled flag of surrender.

Their worn leather couch is turned on its back, pillows stacked neatly in rows across it. Evidently, something the maddening ghosts built. The people carrying out the box didn’t realize they were leaving the most deadly arsenal behind. I shake my head and look down at their victim, stroking her pale face. She is staring at her doll.

“Where are her arms?” I ask, a bit shocked her doll is disappearing piece by piece.

“She doesn’t need arms anymore,” she whispers, dropping the broken doll to the wood floor.

     No, I think, as sirens scream below the open window. Wings. She needed wings.

Collapsing onto the floor, I pull her down into my arms and begin to sing quietly to her.

Her tears finally fall and I think about gravity. The ground’s pull must be infinitely stronger than human will. It is, after all, the place where we all end up.

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  1. #1 by PJ (doublelattemama) on September 11, 2009 - 3:25 am

    This is a powerful piece. The imagery – and clearly the message – is haunting. The doll is a wonderful tool and I love the flag of surrender. The paragraph about the arrival of the box was a bit confusing to me, but I got the meaning in the end. Very well done!

  2. #2 by Laura Eno on September 11, 2009 - 3:30 am

    You have such beautiful imagery to describe such horrific things. Wonderful and rending.

  3. #3 by Cascade Lily on September 11, 2009 - 3:31 am

    I must admit my heart rate did increase a bit reading this piece! But I too was confused by the box. Perhaps I read it too quickly wanting to find out what happens!

  4. #4 by bishopneo on September 11, 2009 - 3:53 am

    Love the story but I don’t get the box. But I loved the story 😉

  5. #5 by Marisa Birns on September 11, 2009 - 5:30 am

    Amazing imagery. Heartbreaking and lovely story.

  6. #6 by 2mara on September 11, 2009 - 5:35 am

    you have a lovely way with words. Tragic yet beautiful.
    ~2

  7. #7 by ganymeder on September 11, 2009 - 1:02 pm

    I loved the story. The imagery with the slowly dismembered doll was really moving and sad. I didn’t get the part about the box either. Sorry.

    But I think the peice was really well done. Very sad. Great work!

  8. #8 by Michael J. Solender on September 11, 2009 - 2:14 pm

    chilling, gripping and expertly crafted. really special, this.

  9. #9 by Chris Chartrand on September 11, 2009 - 2:30 pm

    This is such a great piece. You invoke so much emotion with the way you crafted this story. Great, great work.
    ~Chris

  10. #10 by soesposito on September 11, 2009 - 2:45 pm

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! You all seem confused about the box, so that’s obviously something I will have to go back and clarify, that helps. 🙂 The box is full of the things his relatives/friends are removing from the house. Things in which they feel are dangerous, so he doesn’t use them to commit suicide in his mental state.

  11. #11 by netta on September 11, 2009 - 4:59 pm

    I agree, the box reference was a little confusing, but honestly, the power of your writing made it not matter to me in the least.

    So many haunting images, from the curtain, to the doll, to the apple pie — excellent work. I am becoming quite a fan of your style. It’s unique and powerful, and says things that need to be said.

    Wonderful.

  12. #12 by soesposito on September 11, 2009 - 5:45 pm

    Thank you, Netta…your comment means alot to me.

  13. #13 by Mark Kerstetter on September 12, 2009 - 1:18 am

    Heartbreaking, strong images – “Lysol and old grease”. Terrible and tender.

  14. #14 by Simone on September 12, 2009 - 4:00 am

    Shannon,

    The story is consuming. The opening was excellent. Just fabulous. I so enjoyed it.

  15. #15 by dan powell on September 12, 2009 - 6:43 am

    Awesome use of p.o.v. to slowly unfold your story. Despite the subject matter this is beautiful in places and the closing is heart-breaking. A very tender look at a very dark subject. Your last line is just perfect.

  16. #16 by Anton Gully on September 12, 2009 - 9:02 am

    Holy cow that was a powerful piece. Grabbed me from the start, gave me a thorough shaking and didn’t let go til the end. Just amazing.

  17. #17 by CJ on September 12, 2009 - 12:31 pm

    Man, that poor little girl and the wife. You pegged the whole helpless but caring observer thing so nicely, and wrapped it up compassionately by taking care of the girl. Kudos, well done!

  18. #18 by Leigh Barlow on September 12, 2009 - 1:15 pm

    Agree with everyone else: great images, excellent perspective and the reason for the stuff in the box got lost on me. Also bit of an echo (repeated word) in paragraph nine (‘pushed’).

    You made a good choice in using the neighbour’s perspective and their feeling of helplessness is portrayed very well.

  19. #19 by Kylie on September 12, 2009 - 2:19 pm

    Wow, this is a very strong piece and I agree about the use of the doll and the pov, those used perfectly. Very well done!

  20. #20 by KjM on September 12, 2009 - 6:35 pm

    ” My heart shattered, splintering right there in the hallway…”

    Lovely writing. The pain vibrates through this entire piece and the conclusion, “she needed wings”, encapsulates everything your narrator feels about the neighbor’s child.

    A very powerful pice of flash. Well done.

  21. #21 by Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey on September 12, 2009 - 6:51 pm

    Haunting and brilliant. That little girl is heartbreaking. I didn’t understand the box with the strange things inside. I reread five or six times, but it still didn’t come clear to me. But mentally, I cut that paragraph out and the overall effect is the same — an emotional hammer blow to my head. That poor, poor girl. I love how you took her down by tears and gravity at the end. Lovely piece.

    Jeff Posey

  22. #22 by Cliff on September 12, 2009 - 6:57 pm

    Excellent story. The imagery was outstanding. I’ll be reading more of your work.

  23. #23 by Carrie Cleaver on September 12, 2009 - 7:40 pm

    I’m afraid I can only echo what has already been said. You’re either there with this or your Muse sees. Thank you for being such a gift to the rest of us.

  24. #24 by Alan on September 13, 2009 - 2:22 am

    Excellent work – this is very powerful.

    “A lone white curtain billows from a gust of wind. I see it as a thinly veiled flag of surrender.”

    That line is brilliant.

  25. #25 by J. M. Strother on September 13, 2009 - 1:47 pm

    Wow. This is brilliant. To tell a tragedy in so few words, and so completely. The writing is wonderful.

    I got the box. I felt this line explained it well:
    “The people carrying out the box didn’t realize they were leaving the most deadly arsenal behind.”

    The most deadly part of the arsenal was his own tortured mind.

    This piece will stay with me a long time.
    ~jon

  26. #26 by soesposito on September 13, 2009 - 2:05 pm

    Oh, good, Jon…it’s nice to see someone connected with the idea. I don’t like to spoon feed the reader, but I think I might have to add something to clarify my intention with the box.

    Thanks everyone for your comments, I am overwhelmed by your responses!

  27. #27 by Anticrombie on September 13, 2009 - 9:08 pm

    The most brilliant thing I didn’t want to read today.

  28. #28 by soesposito on September 14, 2009 - 1:33 am

    Anticombie: *Big goofy smile*

  29. #29 by G. on September 15, 2009 - 1:20 am

    Powerfully saddening, Shannon. I’ve enjoyed delving into these with you–you seem to have a penchant for the form–but none have had quite the impact this one did. Tragedy well conveyed (and, while I got the box reference before reading the comments, I think it would not hurt to strengthen it, either). Kudos.

  30. #30 by Stephen on September 15, 2009 - 10:36 am

    “Wings. She needed wings.”

    What a powerful statement. It brilliantly conveys the MC’s emotions for the little girl.

    A well told tale. Thank you for sharing it.

  31. #31 by Eric J. Krause on September 15, 2009 - 7:06 pm

    An excellent story! Very haunting.

  32. #32 by Kaite on September 18, 2009 - 2:25 am

    this was really lovely. Totally captivating, and although I, too, did not get the box reference, for some reason that didn’t bother me. As others have said, the overall tone of the piece carried it so completely, that one was likely to just skip past the parts one didn’t completely understand….much as we do in life, yes? So it worked. You have a really lovely voice, and it shows in this piece! Thanks!

    -K

  33. #33 by oneill on September 18, 2009 - 10:58 am

    This and pirated twinkies are my favorites. Such great writing and original ideas always makes for an interesting read.

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