They stayed in the house.
Columns of brick at intervals keeping it off the ground. They stayed in the house. Elijah didn’t need to see it to know it was there. They’d all heard the got-awmighty pop shatter the air, everything wrenching the dead night suddenly awake, adding heat to the humid. The truth of the word crack or crash, each noise sounded out in pieces wrapped around what had to be a tree.
So they kept indoors.
Didn’t have a phone anyhow, didn’t have electricity to run one, lights to shine on whatever they pulled out of what they all imagined to be fire as tall as the trees. Pressing their naked feet into whatever part of floor they’d been standing on, bony bottoms into whatever chair they’d been sitting, breath held, sweat quiet.
Then each one of them heard it against their neck, it seemed, hale or hail or hell but slow to rise, you could barely pick out the breathy “h” sound but you know it was there – the “a” pulling up to a pitch before drowning itself into the trough of a double “L” – so many syllables, such a long word, a man’s voice. Maybe a hundred yards down toward the rural route, different pieces of the sound picking its way through the pines.
Hay-yell? Course not. Hay-yell-p.
It set them all up straight, like they just remembered the windows. The kerosene lantern in the corner. Elijah felt his body tugging toward it because he remembered it was glowing, back behind them all, setting their scarecrow silhouettes into relief for anyone with eyes to see, outside, with words to tell. He felt the floor calling out to his belly, just to make himself small, give the relief of something solid to his wriggling gut. Cutting down the lantern wouldn’t do, whatever had been seen had been seen.
Elijah could feel his family’s eyes on him, so he was being pulled in half from both ways, and he hated them, both of them, the hurt out in the dark and the weak, hungry, haunted eyes of the children, of Bell. Sonofabitch he had work in the morning he had work he had to feed all of them and now some goddam fool –
Elijah found he’d stepped himself out the door. He flinched. At nothing.
“’Lijah. ‘Lijah,” Bell whispered his name like a cuss.
There wasn’t a fire down by the road.
Whatever was there was quietly mangled, not begging anymore, either dead or resigned to it, given up on the hope, and Bell winced as Elijah’s sharp knees hit the porch. His hollowed-out eyes set him running through the cool sand, the skeleton pines, and into the wreck, pulling the torn mystery around him like a shroud.
*Flash fiction is a genre in which a full story with characters and plot is told but generally under 1,000 words — length varies but extreme brevity is a defining characteristic.