Flash Fiction . . .

Those who have seen worse sights (the massacres, the maiming and mutilation, the orgies of mass rape) sit silent, gazing into the fire. It flickers slyly like the dreams of the mad, chronicling goblins and monsters and sometimes, almost like images growing on a Polaroid photograph, the faces of those we held most dear. That perhaps is the worst vision of all.

 

We speak only of the aftermath. Never of the horrors of when it was going on.

 

We trusted our politicians, our leaders, our scientists. “It’s safe,” they told us, “perfectly safe.” Their promises, their exhortations, so many proud, eloquent words carried clear and strong on the waves of so many voices. All gone.

 

Our neighbors have closed their borders. Someone said last night that they censor their newscasts to protect their citizens from the shock of our destitution, the indignities of our suffering.

 

There are too many of us, they claim. They cannot possibly take us all in. They are sending their cast-off clothing and outgrown plastic toys. “You wouldn’t be happy here,” says the man, the woman, behind the desk of authority. “You wouldn’t like our difficult schools, our antiseptic hospital corridors, our crowded supermarkets. We are sending a shipment of tents.”

 

“Never mind,” we say, comforting each other as we comforted our children when they stubbed their little toes. “It is moving ruthlessly, it will come to them too. They too will soon have nowhere to go.” We say this with not a little maliciousness. It eases our despair to be a little cruel, if only in thought.

 

“Never mind,” we comfort ourselves and each other. “Never mind. It is moving in their direction. It need show no passport, no visa. It will cross their borders without being welcomed. Never mind, try to sleep now.”

Previously published in Soundzine.

At the Campfire

by Janice D. Soderling

 

In the city there is no one left. They have all gone away, fled, their backs bent under the load of what they cannot part with, feet pattering quickly, but not quick enough. There is no escape. We know that now.

 

Not even the scavenger dogs stayed in the deserted city. They slunk away when they had devoured all the bodies of the dead. No stray cats mewl in alleyways. The rats, sharp-eyed, sharp-toothed, sharp-witted, deserted their underground labyrinths, scurrying with anxious squeals, a moving carpet of gray-brown fur. They, perhaps, will survive.

 

There is no living thing in the city. Death gallops across the countryside on its great white ghost-horse, hooves clattering like castanets in the hands of the last dancer.

 

No one is expectant now but the grim leaders who want more, always more, and the undisciplined boy soldiers, once our neighbors, once our sons, bowed under the weight of their automatic guns.

 

None of us know when it will end or how it will end. Or if it will end. Winter is on the way. The first snow fell last night. It is melting already. Here on the mountainside the wind is raw and the shadows deep.

 

Where can we go? The sea is choked with oil slicks and some claim there are more warships there than fish. The air is heavy with something thick. The children find it difficult to breathe.

 

We gather around our campfire at night giving eyewitness reports. The child, someone says, had melted eyes, melted like two scoops of chocolate ice cream in the sun, no longer our friend. The birds, someone else says, lost their feathers, lost their song, their ability of flight. They ran plump and awkward over the seared grass, attempting to lift from the sticky ground. All of us nod in recognition; we understand the fierce desire to fly, to flee, and the futility of the wish.

 

A young girl who joined us last night speaks, tells her tale. She walked for days through a barren country. The yellow clay crumbled to dust-swirls even when she stepped carefully. The brittle reeds rustled, though there was no wind. She grew used to the stink, but the fear rose up new each morning. Sometimes she saw a bloated fish flopped up beside the path, but the rest she only suspected: furtive gray-furred forms with bald patches on their foreheads, brown-gray prowlers with sore-infested eyes, creatures with fins like children’s feet or was it the other way round. She ends her recital abruptly, mid-sentence.

Janice D. Soderling has published work in several hundred journals, most recently in New Verse News, The Red Door, Copenhagen Review, and La Libélula Vaga in Spanish translation by Alesia Ribalta Guzmán. Soderling’s own translations from Swedish appear in Modern Poetry in Translation.

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