Category Archives: Flash fiction

What would happen

When he woke in the morning it was with him. The fear was a dull one, at once vague and specific. It persisted while he dressed and ate breakfast and, later, as he sat for hours at the office.

He had not taken the phone call. His colleague, unsuspecting, had spoken to the caller and written down the message. That was four days ago, and since then scarcely 20 minutes had passed without his thinking of when it would happen. For the first two days he had repeatedly checked before leaving a building, or noted the cars that stopped outside his apartment block, until it struck him that these were useless activities.

His role in this was to wait. There was nothing else to do. Of course nothing might happen, but that nothing cast the something into cold, sharp relief.

“Any plans for the holidays?” asked the barman, as the man waited to meet the person who had set all this in motion.

“No, nothing,” he replied. He watched the door, and waited.

—–

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Purification

Detail from 'Three Sunflowers', Vincent Van Gogh

Detail from ‘Three Sunflowers’, Vincent Van Gogh

He stood alone in the park, at the centre of an exposed, open space. Midsummer, beneath a noon sun. Willing it to happen.

Navy personnel in the Pacific told how the blast light from tests would show up the bones in their hands. The wind speed registers at 1,000kph, almost the speed of sound. A one megaton airburst kills every thing within three kilometres and everyone within a mile of the hypocentre is completely, cleanly destroyed.

Every clear morning he took part in the act. He travelled to the place by train, at speeds of 100kph, reaching the park between 11.30 and 11.33am, the discrepancy a failing of scheduling or growing weakness in his body movement.

Rain or cloud meant it was aborted – the undertaking required pure, vacant air.

Today a man shouted in the distance and, on the edge of his senses, he heard the alarm call of an ambulance.

He recalled that the doctor seemed disinterested at their final meeting. “It’s caused by an infectious agent. Some call it Koch’s bacillus.”

At that stage he had become used to the operator leaving the room, the click and blast of the X-ray machine, the no-feeling of ionising radiation striking.

Within a mile of the centre you would feel nothing, purification would come before the flash. Each thing clear and cleaned, circumstance and chance subjected to perfect science – the neutron strikes and the nucleus splits. 

Everything within three kilometres. He stood, waiting.

_____

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The high-bouncing gold-hatted Gatsby?

The veranda of a villa on the island of Capri, October 1924. A man and woman sit side-on to one another, each holding a glass.

‘Another gin?’

‘I am quite drunk. Yes. How about Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires? It contains both.’

‘No. It requires a title for the ages. No ash-heaps.’

‘On The Road to West Egg?’

‘The road that passes by the ash-heaps? You’re fixated on dust.’

‘I am fixated on the title. It must be good, rather than fair or bad.’

‘I’m sick. I’m in pain. We are supposed to be celebrating. Decide. Please’.

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (gin not pictured). Pic: Kenneth Melvin Wright (Minnesota Historical Society)

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (gin not pictured).
Pic: Kenneth Melvin Wright (Minnesota Historical Society)

‘The High-Bouncing Lover.’

‘This isn’t one of your short stories. It must be magnificent, memorable. Yesterday it was gold hats. Today it’s bouncing.’

‘Something magnificent then. Under the Red, White and Blue. Remember the flag of light-bulbs in Harbor Hill last year?’

‘I’d forgotten. It must be something memorable. Extravagant. Tremendous.’

‘I had a line about the night when the lights fail at his mansion. His career as Trimalchio ends, I wrote. There’s a title: Trimalchio.’

‘You are drunk.’

‘Too obscure, perhaps. Trimalchio in West Egg?’

‘You can place him where you want. No one will be able to pronounce it. It must be something great.’

[Silence]

‘Another gin?’

‘I am quite drunk. Yes.’

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