Free Flash – Where They Belong

Something a little different for you today. Below is a piece of flash fiction called “Where They Belong.” I sold it to DarkFuse Magazine a few years ago, and since the rights to the story have returned to me and it’s no longer available to read online, I thought I’d post it here. I’ll add it to my list of free-to-read stores on the blog too

Anyway, I’ve always liked this one. I hope you do too.


Where They Belong

by Aeryn Rudel

Daddy always says to put things where they belong. Toys have to go back in the chest. Milk has to go back in the fridge. Dead people have to go in the ground.

The gun is heavy, and I have to carry it with both hands. I had to figure out how to work it, how to make the round part pop out so I could put in the bullets. Before all the bad things happened, Daddy said I was too little to shoot. He said it would knock me down. I hope I am big enough now.

I carry the gun into the family room where Mommy is lying in front of the TV. I don’t want to look at her because I might cry again. I can’t cry. I need to be a big boy so I can help Daddy. There is blood all over the carpet, and there are pieces of Mommy missing, the pieces Daddy ate. I walk past her into the kitchen without looking.

Anna is on the floor in the kitchen. She was so little that she couldn’t even run when Daddy grabbed her. It doesn’t bother me to look at her, though. I’m sad, but I didn’t love Anna the same way I loved Mommy.

The basement door is next to the fridge, and it is open a little. I can hear Daddy in the basement. It sounds like he is moving things, heavy things, throwing them. I push open the door and look down the stairs. I don’t like the dark, and I switch on the light. I have to stand on my tippy toes to do it. I’m scared Daddy might come up the stairs when the light goes on, but he doesn’t. He is still moving around down there, making loud noises. It sounds like he is crying or breathing hard.

I walk down the stairs. I try to be very quiet because I don’t want Daddy to hear me yet. At the bottom, Daddy is trying to grab Sylvester, our cat, but he is way back under the water heater and Daddy can’t reach him.

“Daddy,” I yell.

Daddy turns around. He looks sick. His skin is gray, and his eyes are yellow. There is blood on his face and on his shirt. I know that blood is not his, and it makes my stomach hurt. He opens his mouth and yells or growls, like a monster. He doesn’t say any words. I don’t think he can say words anymore. I move up the stairs backwards.

“Come on, Daddy. Come out of the basement. Come be with Mommy.”

Daddy follows me up the stairs and into the kitchen. I back up against the counter and hold out the gun with both hands. I aim it at Daddy. He walks toward me. His mouth is open and black stuff runs out of it. He reaches for me.

I pull the trigger. The gun jumps in my hand and makes the loudest sound I have ever heard. The bullet hits Daddy in the head and makes a big hole. Blood and yellow stuff, like oatmeal, splashes the wall behind him, and he stops walking. He stands there looking at me, but I don’t think he sees me anymore. Then he falls down and stops moving.

I think it’s okay to cry now.

#

It was easy to pick up Anna, but Mommy and Daddy were too heavy to move. I tried, but I couldn’t get them outside. I got blood on my new shirt. It was one of my shirts for second grade. Mommy would be so mad if she knew, even though there’s probably no school anymore.

I found the shovel in the garage. Digging was hard, and it took me a long time to make a hole in the backyard because I had to dig through the grass. I put Anna in the hole, and then I felt bad she had to be in there by herself. I got Mommy’s purse and Daddy’s watch and the picture we took at Disneyland with all of us in it. I put them in the hole with Anna. Then I put the dirt in. I tried not to put it on Anna’s face at first, but I had to, and it made me feel a little better when I couldn’t see her anymore.

When I finished, I went into the front yard. I can see the city, and there is a lot of smoke. Yesterday, or maybe it was the day before, I heard sirens, but now I don’t hear anything but the wind. I wonder if other people will come to get me. I wonder if there are any other people.

I go back into the backyard and lie down on top of the dirt where the hole was. I whisper, “Goodbye, Mommy. Goodbye, Daddy. Goodbye, Anna.”

Daddy, Mommy, and Anna are where they belong now. I hope they go to heaven. I hope I go there too. I hope it is soon.

END

Originally published by DarkFuse Magazine, June 2016


Like a lot of my published flash fiction, this one started life as a one-hour flash fiction writing exercise. I think I got the story mostly right in that single hour, but it did take me a while to get the voice where I wanted it. It’s always challenging to write from a child’s POV (for me anyway), but I got some excellent advice from critique partners who actually have children. This story also holds the distinction of being one of my few one-and-done submissions. It was accepted and published by the first market I sent it to. That doesn’t happen a lot. 🙂

One Hour Flash – Road to Ruin

Time for another installment of one-hour flash. For those new to these posts, these are 1,000-word stories I jammed out in an hour for a writing exercise. I go on to publish a lot of these, but the the ones that aren’t quite up to snuff for publication make excellent blog fodder.

Today’s story is a little horror tale called “Road to Ruin.”


Road to Ruin

“You ever been down this way?” Howard asked and tapped the battered metal sign with his war hammer. It hung from a sagging chain link fence and read “Road Closed.” Beyond, crumbling asphalt peeked through the overgrown weeds and stretched into the distance.

“Nope,” Raphael said. He was familiar with Paradise, officially known as Plague Sector Eight, but he’d only been hunting it a few years. The abandoned, walled city was five-hundred square miles of decaying houses and buildings, weed-choked roads, and hiding places for shamblers. “But we’re close to our quota, so it might be worth a look.”

They’d bagged two shamblers in a nearby shopping mall, but they needed one more to complete their contract. Then they could book it to the west gate, get out, and get paid. Three shamblers meant nine thousand bucks. That would keep them out of the plague sectors for a good month.

Howard nodded. “Pistols or close combat weapons?” He’d been a licensed headhunter only a three weeks, but the former beat cop had a hunter’s instincts, and his size and strength were definite assets when it came to busting shambler skulls.

“Close combat.” Raphael took his flanged mace from his belt. The medieval weapon presented an odd juxtaposition against his modern body armor and other equipment, but the ancient hand weapons were best suited for the work.

They stepped over the barricade and moved down the road, passing the rusted hulks of cars, and the skeletal remains of small houses, their roofs sunken, empty doors and windows promising darkness and death. They didn’t speak as they walked in the fading sunlight. Howard would occasionally point at one of the ruined houses, and Raphael would shake his head. Bigger was the unspoken reply. Houses were death traps, and most headhunters avoided them. Larger buildings, with room to move and swing a weapon were safer.

They walked another mile and a building appeared at the end of the road, a squat cinder-block rectangle more like a fortress than any civilian structure.

“What is that?” Howard asked, keeping his voice low.

“Looks like a barracks.” Raphael was a former Army Ranger, and he knew a military building when he saw one.

“Paradise have any military presence before the outbreak,” Howard asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“What’s your call?”

Raphael studied the building. If it was a barracks, there would be plenty of room inside and not many places for shamblers to hide. The door to the building was a metal slab; mostly rust beneath peeling green paint. It looked sturdy, and they might have to force it open, which meant noise and potentially waking the dead within.

Raphael looked up at the sky and grimaced. They had maybe an hour of sunlight, enough time to make a quick kill. He didn’t want to spend the night in the plague sector.

“Let’s go,” Raphael said, making his decision. “I’ll take point.”

Howard nodded and they advanced. They reached the door, and it was held shut by a rusting padlock. Raphael considered his options, then turned to Howard. “See if you can break this thing. One blow.”

At 6’10” and 270 pounds, Howard was a mountainous human being and absurdly strong. He hefted his footman’s war hammer, a four-foot length of ash topped with a spiked head, and brought the weapon whistling down on the padlock. It shattered with a hollow clang and fell to the ground in two pieces.

Raphael pushed the door open, revealing darkness and an appalling animal stench. He recoiled and an unearthly howl rose from the inside of the barracks. His blood went cold. The sound had not come from an animal, and it sure as fuck wasn’t a sound any human could make.

“Shamblers don’t make noise,” Howard said, voicing what Raphael was thinking.

“Run,” Raphael managed to say just before the barracks door burst open and a dark shape came hurtling from the blackness.

Raphael threw himself to the ground and whatever it was passed overhead. He heard the meat and metal sound of Howard’s hammer making contact and then screaming.

Raphael rolled over and pulled his Sig P226, forgetting the mace. This was no time for stealth. Something lithe and bestial crouched on top of Howard. It had knocked him to the ground and raked at his belly like an animal. Howard screamed and tried to push the thing away.

Raphael rose to his feet and brought his pistol up. He pulled the trigger twice, and the gun’s discharge was shockingly loud. The bullets tore into the creature’s body but had little effect other than to draw its attention. Its head snapped around, a head that had maybe once been human, and sulfurous yellow eyes locked on Raphael.

He took a bead on the thing’s head, and then another gunshot sounded, this one deeper and more commanding. A geyser of blood jetted from the top of the creature’s head, and it rolled limply off Howard. The former police officer had managed to get to his Ruger Super Redhawk and there wasn’t much living or dead that could survive a .44 slug at point-blank.

Raphael hurried over to Howard who tried to get up. Loops of intestine hung from the man’s savaged belly, and Raphael pushed him back down. “Don’t; stay put.”

“Raph,” Howard said, blood running down his chin. “I’m fucked.”

Another piercing howl rose from the interior of the barracks, and Raphael shook his head and held his pistol up for Howard to see.

Howard nodded. “Do it. I don’t want to come back.”

Raphael took his friend’s hand, put the barrel of his Sig against Howard’s temple, and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, Howard jerked, then lay still.

A shape appeared in the barracks doorway.

Raphael ran.


So I kind of cheated with this one. Not that I took more than an hour to write it or that it didn’t fit the prompt. It’s just this story is based on a larger idea I’ve had for a while. I’d even outlined a novel on the basic concept and written the first couple of chapters before I back-burnered it for another project (the novel I’m working on now). These characters aren’t in the outline and the location is different, but it’s the same basic setting. Anyway, this is a vignette rather than a full story, but it might be worth fleshing out into something more substantial. (I know; I always say that, but I mean it this time!)

Want to read more of my one-hour scribbles? Check out these posts.