This is my first real post and my first attempt at Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge over at Terrible Minds. From a list of twenty words pick ten and go. Here’s what I’ve got, using sparrow, mattress, fever, dinosaur, dove, scream, finger, insult, moth, and university.
The cream, formal-crisp letter from the Dean’s office sat on the shelf closest to my head, in company with my selection of favorite Nabokov novels. “I am writing to make you aware that the university has placed you on academic probation…” Even though it was folded into thirds, the note’s black font was etched into my sight like a wooden desk carved up with a ballpoint pen. It retained the shine of wet ink.
A more sensitive person might take insult at the letter, informing me of consequences I knew had to be brewing. After all, I hadn’t been to class in nine weeks – more than half the semester. The skeletal string bean of a dean – or did the plump, Irish-looking one write it? – couldn’t have known that I was curled up on my bed in the midst of an opiate overdose trying to erase from memory the very same time frame that I had been absent. A fever held me firm for six hours, too long, and I had long since stripped the mattress of any bedding, save for a thin jersey top-sheet to wrap up in when the chills came on.
My apartment bedroom was unpleasant in sight and smell. I hadn’t the energy to clean up the vomit on the carpet from where I’d missed the trashcan, and the grime of the city’s polluted air coated the walls and flat surfaces with a greasy dust. If I lie still long enough, I wondered, would it cover me too? The thought of a mechanic’s grease slowly growing over my still body, like a snake’s mutant, reverse skin shedding, sent me into a fit of dry heaving, worse than actually puking. The fierce gagging sapped me of oxygen, and when it subsided I closed my eyes and awoke in a dinosaur-wallpapered room.
Maybe it was natural to dream about my childhood bedroom, to want to return to a comfortable time and place, but the air felt off. There was an unseen wrongness about it, much like being alone on a normally busy street. I climbed to the top bunk and felt ten degrees hotter, natural since the ceiling fixture was two feet from my face. A small grey moth danced around the hundred-watt bulb. It settled on the ceiling, and I reached out to touch it. The way it sat under the light’s lip left it in shadow and painted it in a darker coat. It set off as my hand neared and landed on the inside of my outstretched index finger. It tickled as it walked. Then it burned, and the moth flew off while I clenched the wounded appendage in my left palm. Swelling was fast, and I wanted to cry, to scream, as the skin grew so tight I thought it might rupture and leave blood and ligament on the ceiling and bedding.
I woke up. Hour number nine had come and gone. The dreamed burn felt real enough. I reached for and scooped out the last four pills. Not long now. The sheet was soaked and felt icy as the chills set in. I kicked it off and went fetal instead. As I was born, so shall I die. I hope someone famous wrote that.
Another letter sat with the Dean’s. Also folded in thirds, it was considerably less formal, being handwritten on college-ruled notebook paper. I had ripped off the frill from the margins. It was a pet peeve.
“I’m sorry…wrong idea…It was a hard time in my life…Things are much better between me and him…You’re too self-destructive…not what I need…don’t love…always be…best friend.” Her handwriting was always so perfect, but what was unbearable was how her rounded letters exuded so much positive energy. Each word, each line, testified to her regained happiness, and convicted my sorry, wishful thinking.
The sleepy wave came again, and I was back in the wallpapered room, staring out the lone window. There was a breeze, the trees danced happily, and a dove fluttered around, looking like a miniature cloud against the Caribbean water-blue sky. It grew closer and larger, though slowly, as if the air was molasses-thick. I raised my hand as it neared the window, and suddenly it was moving at a faster than normal pace. The bird smashed through the pane of glass and shards large and small erupted in every direction. I opened my eyes to find a crumpled, bloody body surrounded by glass. Odd, though, was that it wasn’t a dove but a small sparrow, and its neck was twisted around and hung at an unnatural angle, even for a bird. I reached out to touch it – it was clearly dead, but I longed to run my fingers along its feathers. Black blood stained my skin, and it ran and dripped and spread until it looked like my hand was the victim. The viscous secretion pooled in my palm, and the room spun and spun and spun.
I woke up. The dreamed blood was real. Copper stung my tongue and its source stained the mattress and my right hand. It dribbled down my chin. My eyes itched, and it felt like a morning’s crust – dried tears – was stuck in the lashes and corners. But there was no discomfort or even annoyance. They simply were heavy. Hour eleven passed. My head, arms and legs; the air and room’s light; everything was heavier and dark. I could see the room wallpapered: a patch of college ruled paper, one of thicker, formal cream, and one of dinosaurs. Around the room it went and I followed its path until I felt I was spiraling a drain. So long. If only I could fold myself into thirds.