Friday Flash: One Last Inkblot


I have only come here because I am following instructions and not the ones from my court appointed attorney. Well, maybe “instructions” is the wrong word. They are more like signs. You see, I am trying to save my soul.

How do I know there is such thing as a soul? I know because I can feel mine trying to scratch and claw its way free from the confines of my body, its prison. And I know it is a thing separate from my mind, because my mind is its tormenter. I wonder if this is what it is to be crazy?

The woman trying to find out if I’m crazy is Dr. Leeds. She has done the socially acceptable things to make me comfortable: body-temp water in a paper cup, skin-so-soft handshake, flat-lined voice as uniform as her teeth. As she pulls some cards from her desk, she is using her voice, but I am concentrating on those teeth. They are bringing me closer to clarity than her words can.

I lift my fingers to press my own teeth and then walk them around the mask of my skin. Pressing harder, I feel the bone, the skull, the eye sockets. Hm. This is all that will be left of me one day. A skull like those in the science books and museums which have been excavated and displayed for the purpose of teaching, of learning. Of learning that time marches on. That we exist in a blink of an eye.

I jump. She has cleared her throat loudly. This means she is unhappy, and I need to pay attention to her. I will try.

She pulls up a chair beside me. “Okay, Mr. Collins. I’m going to place a card in front of you, and I want you to tell me your first impression of it, all right?”

I want to touch her teeth. They are so close now. I grip my hands together and nod instead.

Her sun-freckled arm moves smoothly to place the card in front of me, and I feel my soul fling itself violently at its cage, its wings beating my ribs. My chair scrapes the wood flooring as I thrust myself back from the image on the card. I can feel the heat of her stare now which means I have done something wrong. I feel myself shrinking, sucked inward by the vortex of her disappointment.

“Why don’t you tell me what you see?”

I shake my head vigorously as I watch the black ink splotches unfold their wings, their beaks screaming, trying to rip free from the face of death placed between them. The black face of death grips them like a vice between his teeth. I know there is no escape.

“Okay, we’ll just move on then.” She takes the screaming birds away and places a second card in front of me.

Blood. Blood everywhere! I begin to shake and look away. My skin is becoming slick with fear. I stare at the starchy white curtains behind her desk. I try to make my mind a white space, too.

“Mr. Collins? Mr. Collins? Are you all right?”

I can smell her worry. It smells like lemons. It breezes through my mind, quieting it. My soul quivers in its cage, exhausted.

“Okay. Why don’t we just talk for a bit.” She returns to her place behind the desk and slips the cards back in a drawer.

I know what I have to do now. Those cards were given to me as a path to the last image I need to see. A path to the answer. The signs are always so clever. I feel my lips pulling away from my teeth in what I believe to be a smile. By the look on Dr. Leeds paling face, I am wrong.

The gun is heavier and cooler in my hand than it was in my jacket pocket. She screams as she pushes herself away from the desk, trying to put distance between her and death. It is the scream of the black birds. I pull the trigger. The loud bang silences the screams. The smell of burnt powder and flesh, the tang of blood replaces the smell of lemons.

I barely notice the late doctor’s secretary open the door and stumble back out of the room.

Dr. Leeds’ soul is free now. It has flown from the hole in her chest. I can’t help myself. I lean over her and run my finger under her lip. Her teeth are hard like bone and still damp. Then I see it. The last sign! I scoot backwards and stare at the blood splatter on the white curtains. She has sacrificed herself to give me one last image. Her blood is alive, running like veins along the fabric, spelling out words for me. Instructions, after all. Of course! I am in charge of my own destiny. Escape is possible. Thank you, Dr. Leeds.

       I hold the still warm gun barrel to my chest and free my own soul.



  1. #1 by oneill on September 25, 2009 - 10:10 am

    Might have started out slow at the beginning, but I really enjoy how your stories unfold, with a nice twist at the end. Great read!

  2. #2 by Marisa Birns on September 25, 2009 - 2:16 pm

    Powerful. Wonderful, unexpected twist at the end.

    Nicely done!

  3. #3 by Michael J. Solender on September 25, 2009 - 2:41 pm

    i like the slower pace and move to acceleration – it is like his racing mind – very strong piece, letting us see his mind and the fractured piece.

    • #4 by soesposito on September 25, 2009 - 3:02 pm

      Thanks Michael, I actually thought about calling it “In the Mind of a Crazy Person” lol.

  4. #5 by Linda on September 25, 2009 - 2:50 pm

    Really good segue from the buildup to the action using the rohrshach blot. Great voice. Peace, Linda

  5. #6 by Laura Eno on September 25, 2009 - 2:52 pm

    I agree with Michael, the pace fits his mind – slowly at first, then racing towards his solution with the accelerator being the ink blots. Great!

  6. #7 by karen from mentor on September 25, 2009 - 4:13 pm

    I loved your use of him fixating on her teeth and feeling his own bones to link them together in his mind. Loved him wanting to touch her teeth. It really gave me the idea that he was holding himself together by the merest thread before the action even started.

    Great compelling flash.

    Karen :0)

    • #8 by soesposito on September 25, 2009 - 6:10 pm

      Yeah, that kindof creeped me out when he touched her teeth. He would have probably been a good dentist if he wasn’t bat-shit crazy. 😛

  7. #9 by David Masters on September 25, 2009 - 5:09 pm

    I liked how although there is a twist at the end, the whole story builds up to twist, so it seems like the natural turn of events.

    My favourite line was: “I can smell her worry. It smells like lemons.” because it is so crazy, like your protagonist, yet there is a certain sanity to it as well. I can imagine if worry had a smell, it would smell like lemons.

    • #10 by soesposito on September 25, 2009 - 6:11 pm

      Ah, David. You get me. That worries me 🙂 welcome to fridayflash.

  8. #11 by G. on September 25, 2009 - 8:13 pm

    “It is the scream of blackbirds.” I am not sure about anyone’s soul, but I do know your inner poet is trying to escape again. You should let her run free a bit. I really like that line.

    Otherwise, I am sort of rushed, but could not help (up until the end, when the “Mr. Leeds” was spoken twice) but have a mental image of Josephine on this one. Not that the two passages are similar, but… It just seemed like her for some reason. That is not a bad thing, though.

    Kudos on the write.


    • #12 by soesposito on September 26, 2009 - 4:32 pm

      Well, Josephine did kind of lose it in the end, too. My theme is crazy, it seems. Crazy or dead. As far as my inner poet, I don’t know of whom you speak. 😛

      • #13 by G. on September 29, 2009 - 6:12 am

        That’s the only thing hindering her, your being in denial, I mean, which, of course, fits nicely in the personality of someone that wants to write “crazy,” I guess. 😉 I still wish you would every great now and again, though.

        And come to think of it… Hmm… should we be worried that you seem to be good at “crazy or dead”?! Hmm… 😀

        I’m really pleased with this new place of yours, and what you’ve got going on here, plugging away like you. My question would be this: is there a market for the Flash/short-short stuff at all? I mean, could you be submitting these? If so, I hope you are on the ones that especially seem to go over well with a majority. Good way to get a feel for it, I should think, your page, I mean.

        (And thank you for the thoughts on the two at MS, I’m over to look a them better and post now).

  9. #14 by Leigh Barlow on September 25, 2009 - 8:26 pm

    I agree with the a couple of the other comments; the teeth bit was excellent, it really did feel like we were in his mind. The same goes for the scream of the birds.

    Excellent writing.

  10. #15 by Mark Kerstetter on September 25, 2009 - 10:50 pm

    Damn! So many fine details, such as fear as the smell of lemons. I agree with Karen, his attraction to the teeth give this piece a strange beauty. Really liked it.

  11. #16 by netta on September 25, 2009 - 10:59 pm

    Oh, I love me the crazy. This is excellent. I also liked the teeth bit and the line about the lemons. Even with the insane, there is a certain kind of logic and you captures that brilliantly here.

    My only nitpick is with the last line — I think it might read better if you substituted “to free my own soul” instead of “and free my own soul.”

    Great work!

    • #17 by soesposito on September 26, 2009 - 4:33 pm

      thanks, Netta. You’re right-the insane still have their own logic, don’t they. Hmmm, mulling over your last line suggestion.

  12. #18 by Chris Lynch on September 25, 2009 - 11:25 pm

    So lovely turns of phrase in this

  13. #19 by Chris Chartrand on September 25, 2009 - 11:48 pm

    There are so many elements to love about this piece. I like how he sees the white curtains and uses them to create a white space in his mind that he then paints with her blood. Very cool piece.

  14. #20 by judy b. on September 25, 2009 - 11:48 pm

    Unlike your protagonist, you have a firm grip on this narrative. The rest of us watch helplessly as he sends his vehicle careening inevitably into a ditch.

  15. #21 by Anticrombie on September 26, 2009 - 1:18 am

    Interesting use of the gun as your delivery vehicle. If you didn’t have the stunting of length for the FridayFlash, would you still of used a gun for dispatching his passions?

    I also enjoyed the pace of the story, and wonder if the end game felt too quick because of my own morbid facination with the unfolding situation.

    “Go sell crazy somewhere else… We’re all stocked up here.”

    • #22 by soesposito on September 26, 2009 - 4:35 pm

      Yes, I would have still used a gun, because I needed the blood splatter on the curtains to give him his last ink blot. Of course, a hatchet would have worked too…but no, couldn’t have hid that in his pocket. 😛

  16. #23 by Rosa Say on September 26, 2009 - 7:30 am

    Exceptional job Shannon, once again. I too was drawn to the whole teeth thing and then the white starchy curtains, and the smell of lemons seemed to make so much sense within all the insanity somehow – an acidic freshness cutting through the weight of everything else.

    • #24 by soesposito on September 26, 2009 - 5:56 pm

      Thanks, Rosa- yes…lemon is good for grimy floors and weighty prose.

  17. #25 by Cascade Lily on September 26, 2009 - 10:28 am

    Excellent Friday flash. I liked the fascination with the teeth riff too. Also your internal monologue.

    Only nitpick is, if your protag killed himself, how is he telling the story?

    Very tight and great metaphors abound. An enjoyable read!

    • #26 by soesposito on September 26, 2009 - 4:37 pm

      Thanks, Lily- present tense is how he’s telling it. Of course, if all time is one infinite moment, as I believe it is, then past tense would have worked to. But, that’s another story. mwhaaaaahaha. (sorry, too much coffee this morning)

  18. #27 by Carrie Cleaver on September 26, 2009 - 4:54 pm

    This was good. I always like those terrible ones. The ones that don’t have the happily ever after endings. Your sentences are nice and tight. I like the focus on the teeth. A nice slice, and you’re one hell of a surgeon. Thank you.

    • #28 by soesposito on September 26, 2009 - 5:55 pm

      Wow, thanks Carrie. Surgeon? All kinds of new creepy things slinking through my mind now…

  19. #29 by Kylie on September 26, 2009 - 5:58 pm

    I liked when he started tracing his skull with his finger tips, if only because it’s something that’s I’ll do as well, haha. I think you have used the first person POV excellently by staying inside his crazy head so much.

  20. #30 by Eric J. Krause on September 27, 2009 - 5:10 pm

    That was sure creepy and disturbing. Just how flash fiction should be! Excellent job!

  21. #31 by mazzz_in_Leeds on September 28, 2009 - 4:01 pm

    Very good!
    His detachment from sanity is apparent in his inability to concetrate on what Dr Leeds is saying – it rings very true.

    I too loved the teeth fascination!

    (Asd an aside, I should point out that mazzz_in_Leeds is no relation to the late doctor)

  22. #32 by Tony Noland on September 28, 2009 - 5:29 pm

    Great narrative – the focus on the teeth as visible bones was a nice touch.

  23. #33 by trev on September 29, 2009 - 7:33 pm

    Snappy read!

    Having your character fixated on something like teeth serves double duty: 1) Clearly indicates why he is in counseling, and 2) Makes the reader feel vulnerable because we have teeth, and could have been on the other end of that barrel.

    • #34 by soesposito on September 29, 2009 - 7:44 pm

      ooo, good point, Trev! I didn’t even think about the personal vulnerability thing.

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