Fast & Short is a flash fiction collaboration between eight Literate Ape writers. Each was tasked with authoring one piece of flash fiction that would be combined to create a single short story. The writers’ flash fiction needed to serve two purposes: 1. Stand alone as a unique piece of flash fiction and 2. Serve as a vehicle for building a larger story and driving that story forward. Here is that developing story.
Authors: Part I—Dana Jerman; Part II—David Himmel; Part III—Kari Castor; Part IV—Paul Teodo & Tom Meyers; Part V—J.L. Thurston; Part VI—Joe Janes; Part VII—Elizabeth Harper; Part VIII—Brian Sweeney
SHE REMEMBERED IT WAS A FULL MOON right before she got in. As soon as they pulled out of the uptown apartment parking lot, all packed in and heading out to a dark graveyard in rural nowhere, she wanted out of the car. But she couldn’t say so. She was hanging out. This is what you did when you hung out and had idyll time. Suddenly, she wanted to be alone. She was hating herself for not turning around and walking back down the hill toward home. Her eyes grew big and dark. Her mouth pulled in with silence.
It would be way too easy to pick a fight with these jerks. Third year of college and these were her friends? She looked around the cramped vehicle. One of them was her boyfriend, the one behind the wheel with the stupid haircut. The others were coupled up — dumb, cute heads in the back just along for the ride. Didn’t they all have homework or something? She didn’t know these people. Who was she for keeping company with them?
The lights of town faded and the October moon took over smoothing silvery shadows across the rural landscape while she waited, spoiling.
THIS GRAVEYARD HAD A REPUTATION for being haunted. But what graveyard wasn’t? By the time they got there, she thought, this van would be haunted with the ghosts of what she’d rather have been doing. Playing old SEGA Genesis video games; binge watching Arrested Development; sleeping on the couch with a partially chewed bite of Tony’s frozen cheese pizza in her mouth. She caved to hanging out only after her boyfriend, Len, promised they’d spend all next weekend at home on the couch.
“Whose couch?” she asked.
“Eh,” he said. He responded this way to most of her questions. Len didn’t have an opinion on much, but he had one on this graveyard. “It’s gonna be fucking awesome! This one grave, a bride is buried there. She died on her wedding night. Fuckin’ ballroom chandelier fell on her head during the first dance. Can you believe that!? If you stand at her grave with your true love and recite that Love is Patient thing from Corinthians, she’ll appear. Still in her dress with shards of glass protruding from her face and everything.”
“Dunno. We’ll find out.”
He was cute when he got excited about things. But she knew they wouldn’t find out. Not if you needed to be there with your true love.
THE SEATBELT PRESSED UNCOMFORTABLY AGAINST HER NECK.
She liked Len okay, really. She just didn’t true love love him. They barely knew each other. They’d met on a Tuesday, gone home together on Wednesday, and by Friday decided to go all in on the whole “boyfriend/girlfriend” thing. She’d taken things slow with her last relationship, after all, and look how that turned out. She wished Len would stop letting his mom cut his hair and go to a real barber for fuck’s sake, but the sex was good and they got along smoothly enough.
But she’d forgotten about the full moon tonight, and Len didn’t know that it mattered because three and a half months with someone you like OK isn’t nearly enough time to spill your deepest, darkest secrets.
Gravel crunched like bone beneath the tires. The moon was out of sight, but she knew it was there, waiting, if she’d just tilt her head a little. She tried to collapse her mind in on itself like her therapist had taught. Narrow everything down to the mechanics of breathing: in, out, in, out…
A car door thunked open. The world flooded back into her awareness with the moonlight through the breach.
SHE IGNORED THE VOICE. “Len or Leonard, or do you prefer Lenny?”
He was confused, “Beg your pardon?”
“Beg your pardon? Who says that?”
“I say that when I need clarification.”
She hated people who needed clarification. “Do you need clarification often? Are you frequently confused?” He was lost and she didn’t care. She decided then to pursue his demise.
“I feel unsafe.”
“Unsafe?” She was unable to contain her sarcasm. “This was your idea. I wanted to stay home and chill.”
“Your aggressive questions. Your attitude. I can feel it.”
“See what I mean? You’re hostile.”
She decided he needed some clarification. She slapped him across the face. “That’s hostile, we could have stayed home.”
“You hit me!”
“You’re no longer confused. Now, do you prefer Len, Leonard, or Lenny?”
LEN BEGAN TO CRY. Sara sighed an exasperated growl that came out more growl than sigh. The sound caused Len’s eyes to grow large. As large as full moons.
With his stupid haircut and his two full moon eyes, his face was ridiculous. She could kill him. Really kill him.
“Jesus, what’s wrong with Sara?” one of the other jerks gasped.
“Len, dude, what’s going on?”
He was looking to them for help now, pleading with his stupid face. Sara hated it when people ignored her. She snatched out to grab Len. To get his attention. She got it, alright, by squeezing his throat with her long fingers.
“Len, Leonard, or Lenny?” Her voice was not her own.
“Get off him!”
“Sara, what the hell?”
Many hands were upon her. Len’s hands were slapping and grasping at her fingers and wrists. The others were fighting to pull her away from him.
They pulled her right out of the car, right onto the ground.
She was laughing. This was becoming a fun night, after all. This sure beats Netflix.
There, surrounded by gravestones, with the moon hanging heavy and close, Sara forgot everything her therapist ever said.
HOPE SAT QUIETLY. She noticed she had done that thing again. Where she disappears in plain sight. Her mind wondering how she got there. There was a champagne glass in her hand.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Marriott-Toledo Ballroom. Clear the dance floor! It is time for the bride and groom to have their first dance as Mr. and Mrs. Phillip C. Love,” belted out Ned, the band leader.
Everyone clapped politely. Phil and Hope took to the dance floor and slow danced to what they said was their favorite song, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James. Hope liked the song, but had no idea what it was about. Phil hated to dance and felt this was the only song he could bear to rhythmically sway to. They didn’t speak. To an outside eye, it might have looked like two people in love nervously looking at each other during their first of a lifetime of dances. In truth, they had nothing to talk about. Everything in Hope’s mind sounded dumb. “Did you like the wedding? How’s your champagne? Did you try the babaganoush? Isn’t it weird we have babaganoush?”
The song ended. Phil stepped back from his newly minted bride and bowed slightly.The cover band kicked into Huey Lewis and the News’s “The Heart of Rock and Roll” when there was suddenly a loud wrenching sound from above. Hope looked up and the last thing she saw was the glass chandelier rapidly heading towards her face.
I’M GLAD THAT CHANDELIER FELL ON ME. Ironically, for someone named Hope, I sure didn't have any—hope, that is. I had a cynical vision of my future with hubby Phillip.
What's a girl to do when she hates work, most people, and everything except shopping and watching Netflix? Con some dupe into marrying her. At least I was attractive. I had that much going for me, which came with some advantages. But there were disadvantages, too. Unwanted attention combined with commonplace sexism. Admired and dissed at the same time. Annoying. With a ring on my finger, maybe most oglers would leave me alone, but then I'd be stuck with this one snoozefest of a dude for the rest of my life. And he wasn't that smart either. I would have to monitor his career prospects and financial transactions, so I would know when to divorce him and relieve him of his cash and assets before it all went south.
Death by chandelier saved me from a life of misery. It was a quick death. I didn’t have to bother coming up with my own suicide plan. Now I terrorize couples when I’m summoned from the grave. True love, pffft.
LEN AWOKE HANGING UPSIDE DOWN FROM THE CEILING IN SOME TYPE OF SMALL, DARK, BROKEN DOWN SHACK. An old hag was below him chewing off his fingernails. He tried to scream but realized that his tongue had been ripped from his mouth. The hag began to tear narrow strips of his flesh off of his back one by one. She suckled the blood and sweat from them before tying them around her fingers. When his back was nothing more than fleshless exposed musculature, the hag spit out the fingernails and used them to slice Len’s eyelids until they were shreds. The hag laughed and danced nude around the shack and then brought out a goat. The goat was put underneath Len and the hag began clawing at her own cheeks tearing out chunks of flesh. As the pieces of flesh fell to the ground the goat ate them. The hag looked up to Len, and he saw through the shreds of meat that were once his eyelids, that she no longer had any flesh covering her chattering teeth and lashing tongue. The goat then took the form of a man and twisted the hag’s head off. The hag laughed throughout the ordeal until her throat tore from her body. The goat stood in front of the upside down Len and looked deep into his eyes and said, “You shouldn’t have come here.”
Len was found the next day, alive, lying in the graveyard beside his friends. They had all been turned inside out flopping and twitching on the ground unable to fully breathe or stand.
Sara was never seen again.