The Crickets Sing

Hey folks. It’s Free Flash Fiction Wednesday yet again, and this week its: YOURS TRULY! If you fell out of the rotation when the Covid Chronicles stopped, we’re glad you’re back. We’ve slowed down a bit, with the still-somewhat-quarantined-and-still-just-as-crazy authors doing one story per week. If you missed the first three, please check out Joe Courtemanche’s story, Mulroney’s Mariachis, from July 8; Jamie Greening’s, Jack and Robin Go Swimming, from July 15; and Kathy Kexel’s , The Guardians, from July 23.

No money expected. It’s all free for you and always will be. If you are so inclined, please visit our various websites to see what merch we DO have for sale. Regardless, we hope you enjoy our stories, and we hope to see you back next week. Until then, here’s …

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The Crickets Sing

A baby blue, 1974 Ford pickup truck drives past the parking lot at James Teague High school in Greenwoods, Ohio, blocks around once, then parks in the lot facing the ball fields and the disused tennis courts.  The Mill Creek flows just beyond the fields. Seven thirty on a late spring evening. Sunset in Southwestern Ohio. The crickets sing to the oncoming night with a red sun swelling just above the horizon, casting an amber hue on the present and long shadows into the steadily accumulating past.  

And old man lights a cigarette, reaches his wrinkled hand behind the steering wheel, and turns the truck off. He sits back and sighs.

A young, thin man with dirty blond hair and a large bruise on his forehead slumps in the seat next to him.

“Come on, now,” the old man says. “Time to get up. There’s work to do.”

The truck’s passenger stirs, unsure of his surroundings. His eyes register the dashboard, the windshield, and the fading yellow-orange dot of the sun beyond, then turns to see the old man in the driver’s seat, pointing a gun at him.

His eyes flash open. He struggles, but the too-tightened seat belt holds him back. Several passes of thick rope bind his hands to his legs in tight knots. Hogtied is what some in the rural parts of Southerwestern Ohio might have called it, but the passenger isn’t concerned about the taxonomy of binding techniques at the moment. It’s hard to be when you have a gun in your face. Anyway, his Boy Scout days have long since passed.

“Mmmm Mrrrmmmph!” the passenger mumbles, his mouth filled with gauze and covered in duct tape.  He coughs as the cigarette smoke fills the truck’s cabin.

“Don’t worry, son,” the old man says in a slow methodical cadence. “I’ll take off that tape off so we can speak, but I need to know you won’t scream.”

“You see, when people scream, I get nervous. And when I get nervous, my friend here,” the old man motions with the gun. “He gets scared. And when my friend gets scared, bad things happen.”

The passenger sits back, stops protesting. He is the perfect picture of calm; all except his eyes.

“Good,” The old man says. He takes off the tape, and they stare at each other in silence, their faces burnt orange from the sunset.

“You already know why you’re here,” the old man says. “I just need to hear you say it.”

The passenger stammers, frightened. “Sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I … I … I think there’s been some kind of mistake.”

“This was no mistake. “

 “I don’t even know you who are! If you want money, I’ll give it to you. Whatever you want, it’s yours! Just LET. ME. GO!”

“Shh Shh Shh Shh.” The old man presses the gun against the passenger’s temple. The young man calms down again.

Through the trucks windshield, we can see kids playing in the park next to the baseball fields. Spring in Ohio is slow in coming but, once it gets here, it hits will full force. Everyone comes out to enjoy the warmth after a long winter. Especially the kids.

“She was fifteen,” the old man begins, “but I knew her since she was born. Her momma had a tough pregnancy: pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes. All that. We were scared she wouldn’t make it, but she did. My daughters are all strong women, why should my granddaughter be any different?”

“She took this world by storm. When she was little, she was a firebolt with big, red hair and a wide, beautiful smile. She smiled with her whole face. Eyes lit up like the sun comin over the hills to light up the valley. Magnificent!”

“She had a certain way of looking at you. Unafraid. So full of LIFE. Like she was just waitin’ for the next adventure to knock on her door, take her by the hand, and show her something new.”

The old man pauses, lowers his head. “She was too trusting. She got that from me.”

“She went missing in August.”

The young man started to squirm, testing for weak spots in the rope, hoping the old man does not notice. He is unsuccessful in both endeavors.

“Stop it, son. There’s no way out for you. I’m too good.”

The old man continues.

“They found her body in the Mill Creek, just over there beyond the football field. See that little break in the trees, just past where all the kids are playing? Look over there.”

The passenger does not look. He stares at the old man. The old man stares back.

“Police said someone caved her head in with one of the rocks from the creekbed. But, before that, they said she had been … violated. Many, many times.”

The old man lights another cigarette.

“They were unable to get DNA samples, and there was no evidence to go on. But, people tell stories. Rumors have a way of spreading, ‘specially in a little town like this. Those rumors led me to you. And now, here we are.”

“Mister,” the young man says, “you got the wrong man. I don’t know nothin’ about none of that. I haven’t touched any little girls. I got a wife and two kids of my own at home. I go to church. That ain’t me.”

“Hush now,” the old man says. “I been watching you for a while. Your wife left you two weeks ago. Took the kids, too. Probably a good thing the way you are. As for church? You ain’t been. Reverend Mordecai over at Westside Christian says he remembers you from high school, but he hasn’t seen you in years. He told me to let know you he’s praying for you. If I see you, that is.”

The old man takes a drag from his cigarette. “Looks like he didn’t pray enough.”

“So, what now?” the young man says. “Are you going to kill me?”

“No, son. This is your chance to confess.”

“Confess?”

“Sure. Confession is good for the soul! You and I already know it’s true. I just need to hear you say it. But I don’t have all day. So I’m going to count to five. If I get all the way to the end and I’m not satisfied with what you have to say, my friend here will take care of business for us.”

The young man struggles harder, but the ropes hold. “You’re crazy, man. I didn’t do nothin’.”

“I figured you’d say that, so I brought along some extra motivation. Look out there on the soccer field. See those kids playing?”

Two middle school girls soccer teams ran on the red sun drenched field, fighting tooth and nail to claim victor for their school. The Purple team scores a goal against the Red team. Half the crowd goes nuts.

“See number 12?” the old man said. “In the Red jersey?”

The young man squints.

“Look closer.”

The young man’s eyes grow wide and frantic. “That’s my daughter! What the hell? What did you do to my daughter?”

“Nothing, yet. But if I get to five, I’m going to shoot her first, to pay you back for taking my granddaughter. Then, it’s your turn.”

The old man levels the gun at the young man and waits patiently.

“You’re insane, you know that? I didn’t touch your granddaughter. I haven’t touched anyone. You can’t do this! I’m innocent! This is absolutely insane. I ain’t sayin’ nothin’. Nothin’.”

“Your choice … One.”

“What the…”

The young man starts screaming, pulling against his ropes so hard they draw blood from his wrists and left welts in his ankles and legs. “Help! This crazy old man wants to kill my daughter. He wants to kill me! Somebody Help!”

“They can’t hear you. No one can … Two.”

The young man bashes his head against the passenger side door and the window but nothing comes of it. The ropes are too tight. The window remains intact. The hog farmers of Ohio would be proud.

“I’m gonna kill you. You hear me? I’m gonna tear these ropes to shreds, then I’m gonna come over there and smash your head against the steering wheel till your skull caves in. I’m gonna laugh when I do it.”

“Interesting you put it like that,” the old man says. “My granddaughter died the same way. Did you laugh at her when you killed her? … Three.”

The young man hyperventilates, taking in deeps gasps of air in quick succession, but it isn’t enough.

“Aliright. Alright. Alright. I did it. You got me. Now, will you let her go?”

“Nice try, buttercup. I don’t want a fake aplogy. I want the real thing.” The old man looks at the kids playing on the field, smiles, and returns his gaze to the young man in the passenger seat.

“You’re running out of time fast,” The old man says, shifting to point his gun at the kids running on the field. Someone scores a goal. The crowd cheers.

“Four.”

The young man’s heaves turn into sobs. He wails.

The old man waits, patiently. He smiles at the young man in agony, then turns his attention to the soccer field, pointing the gun at the players.

“Five,” The old man says.

“Wait! Wait, please. I did it.”

“What was that?”

“I. DID. IT. Okay? I did it. I did it. I did it.” The young man composes himself. “I did it and I’m sorry. Is that good enough?”

“How? Did you choose her or was she random.”

“Random,” the young man says. “I drove past the school on the way home from work one day. I have this white van. No windows. A painting van. I keep shackles and a mattress in the back. I’ve been doing this a long time. I didn’t mean to kill her. I never killed none of them before. But this one was…”

“She was strong,” the old man says.

“She fought back. Jumped out of the van and ran. It was dark by then, and she didn’t know where she was going. She slipped down the embankment next to the creek, tripped over a rock, knocked herself out a little.”

“If she hadn’t slipped, she might have made it, right?”

“Right,” the young man says.

There is a tense quiet in the truck. The old man closes his eyes, picturing that scene, seeing his granddaughter jumping away and running to safety. The young man wonders what would have been – prison, perhaps; a life much different from what he planned. But a life, definitely, and the opportunity for something beyond.

Dreams of neverwhere. Wisps of forgotten memory carried away into the darkening spring air.

“But … I caught up to her. She screamed again, so I grabbed a rock and … and I finished her.” The young man lowers his head. “Is that enough?”

The game has ended. The players and their parents laugh, show each other pictures on their cell phones, tell stories. Then, get in their cars and slowly make their way out of the to the next thing. The sun slips over the horizon and night begins to unfurl across the Mill Creek, the back fields of James Teague High School, and the parking lot where a baby blue, 1974 Ford Pickup truck sits motionless.

“Thank you,” The young man says.

“You’re welcome,” the old man says.

A shot rings out into the night. Three seconds later, another shot. Darkness overtakes the creek, the field, the truck, and the school. The truck does not move.

Outside, the crickets begin to sing.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Join us again next week for a new release from the Free Fiction Wednesday Club, where one of our award-winning authors will sneak into your brain and extract the things that move you, scare you, excite you, and make you feel love. While you wait, please chek out some of the other authors in our tribe. Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

The Guardians – by Kathy Kexel

It’s Free Fiction Wednesday again. This week, Kathy Kexel brings a story about love. But not necessarily how you might expect it.

Check out The Guardians.

Thanks for sticking with us, folks! Please also consider visiting some of the other Free Flash Fiction authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

Mulroney’s Mariachis – A Free Short Story by Joseph Courtemanche

The Free Flash Fiction starts up again – this time at one story per week – with Joe Courtemanche’s excellent story about a man haunted by mistakes in the past. And a Mariachi band.

How many of us can say their past mistakes include Mariachi music and copious amounts of alcohol? I think a lot of us can. A lot of us.

Click on the Mariachi Band to read Mulroney’s Mariachis.

Thanks for sticking with us, folks! If you’re interested in checking out the old COVID CHRONICLES, go here. Please also consider visiting some of the other Free Flash Fiction authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

This stories, however, will always be free. Because we love you.

Trouble Lifting

I don’t remember the last time I was able to lift SK1 above my.head. The moment passed, as all last moments do, unnoticed and unmarked. All I know is I tried today and, for the first time, I couldn’t do it.

He’s ten years old now. Eleven is not too far off. The moments he permits me to do such things are few and far between. Plus, he’s built kinda like me: a small tank, a refrigerator with legs. Whether its him growing up or me growing older, it makes sense.

But that doesn’t stop me from being a little sad about it.

We’ve taken to hitting baseballs in the side yard once work and school are done for the day. He’s a lefty. He learned to twist his hips and hold in his hands without me having to tell him, and he whips the ball to all sides of the field like he’s been doing it forever. No longballs. Just a line drive that will take your face off if you don’t move your head fast enough. Just like his dad. My mind tells me he looks like Ted Williams when he swings, but I’m biased. I don’t really know.

I try to tell him how happy it makes me to see him enjoying something. It doesn’t have to be baseball. It could be some other sport or no other sport, so long as he loves something for the sole reason that it brings him joy.

Much like me lifting him up, though, he doesn’t want to hear that from me. He’s got a teenager’s sullenness: a desire to be left alone. Which I guess makes sense. He hasn’t seen his friends in four momths, and the action around our house with all five SKs is intense. He gets lost in the mix, sometimes. He is rarely the squeaky wheel.

I tell him anyway. There are other ways to lift him up when your arms can’t do it anymore. I hope the words stick. I hope he remembers them as he continues to grow; especially if the dark times that sometimes visit me also visit him. I hope he KNOWS the same way he knows how to hit: naturally, without effort, something that’s always been there.

I hope.

The End of The Party

Folks, the end is here. The Covid Chronicles Free Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza is now finished. Which is a good thing, because I TOTALLY regret making it a thing for me to type “Explode-A-Ganza” each time I post one of these things. That got REAL old REAL fast.

It’s been a fun ride. We were originally supposed to do two weeks of flash fiction stories. That turned into THIRTEEN weeks and nearly 100 short stories from all the authors. We had a blast doing it, and we hope you did, too.

If you missed a story, just come back to any of our sites and float through the archives. They’ll be here for a long while, assuming we don’t have a cataclysmic technological breakdown. Which, given what’s happened this year, may actually happen. So watch out.

But if you’d prefer to have everything collected into one convenient source for all your Covid Chronicling needs, give us a few months. We’re compiling all the stories into a book, which we plan to sell at some point in the Fall. Should be an audio version as well, for those who like listening to stuff.

I’ll try to keep up with regular posting here, and might even post some stories now and again. Who knows?

For now … please visit Mr Joseph Courtemanche’s site for the last Free Flash Fiction short story, What About The Window? Just click on the window and go on in.

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Freedom’s just another word for “nothing left to lose” and nothing is all that we charged you for the Free Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza. We hope you had fun.

Light and Darkness – a Free Short Story by Derek Elkins

“The darkness is growing.”

“That is why we carry the light into the darkness.  So the darkness can recede.”

In a world full of wounded people with just a few drops of dream left, Derek Elkins provides a light in the darkness. Click on the light below to read his final Covid Story: Light and Darkness.

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Let your love light shine.

The Last Sermon of Daniel Ramone

“Reverend Daniel Ramone had a simple plan. He would open up the Church as he usually did on Sunday morning. He would set up the camera to stream live. He would preach that Sunday sermon, as best as he knew how. Then, he would go home and kill himself.”

If you’ve wondered whether we should pick up where we left off, or start over new, check out Rob Cely’s excellent story by clicking on the empty church below

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Sometimes a fresh start is all we need.

New Translation

Amara Jiskani first heard the voice of God as she stocked shelves in the bread aisle in the late shift at WalMart.

“Amara,” God said to her. “I need to ask something of you.”

At first, Amara thought her friend Jibreel, who also worked the late shift, was joking with her. Jibreel liked to play jokes. Sometimes, at school, he’d do impressions of popular cartoon characters. His impressions always made Amara laugh.

But it wasn’t Jibreel. It was God. God in the bread aisle.

“Am I crazy?” Amara asked?

“No,” God said. “You’re not crazy.”

“Are you sure? My best friend, Sara’s uncle Ted started hearing voices one time and HE got put into a hospital. He’s still there.”

“You’re not crazy,” God said again.

“What do you want?”

“I need you to share my scripture with the people. A modern translation from the dusty, old texts. I need you to create the most beautiful, modern Bible for the world to see.”

“Um,” Amara said. “I’m sixteen years old.”

“I know,” God said.

“I’m stocking bread at WalMart,” Amara said.

“I know,” God said.

“I’m also getting a D in English.”

“Yep.”

“Isn’t there someone else?” Amara asked. “Someone more qualified?”

“There are lots of other people,” God said. “But I chose you.”

Amara thought for a moment.

“Are you sure I’m not going crazy?”

“Almost completely,” God said. Amara paused for a moment, and God spoke again.

“I was joking,” God said. “I am completely sure you are not going crazy.”

That night, Amara went home, and looked at the ancient books in her father’s library. The same ones she had looked at since she was a kid. She loved the leather bindings, the way the pages smelled, and way the letters all looked funny. Like tiny cartoon characters dancing across the page. She had no idea what the letters meant.

Amara frowned.

“I will never accomplish this,” she said. “I think you chose the wrong person, God.”

Amara Jiskani waited patiently for God to speak. But God said nothing.

*** *** *** ***

Ten years later, Amara and her husband Jibreel welcomed a baby boy into their family. Aaron, they called they called him. Aaron laughed and giggled more than any baby they had ever known. That made Amara and Jibreel laugh, too. The family was full of joy and laughter.

One night, after Aaron went to sleep, Jibreel stood in front of Amara. His face was sad.

“We cannot afford your schooling and the baby,” he said. “The margins at the store are thin and sales are down.” Amara and Jibreel owned a small grocery store downtown. Jibreel worked there day and night. Amara was with him as well, when she wasn’t studying comparative religions and ancient languages in school.

Amara kept a stack of Bible translations on the top shelf in her room. Pages and pages of written and rewritten manuscripts. Whenever Jibreel asked about it, she said it was “my special project from God.”

Jibreel did not understand, but what Jibreel understood about women was that somethings you will never understand. He did not press the issue.

“I need you with me,” Jibreel said.

They tried for a while to make it work. Amara cut her course load in half, took on more shifts at the store so they didn’t have to pay anyone. That helped. But raising kids is hard. Sleepless nights and never-ending days pile on top of each other. Eventually, Amara decided to focus on her family and the store.

“I will get back to school once the baby is older,” she told God. “I promise.” The pages on her shelf began to collect dust.

Amara waited a long time for God to speak, but God was silent.

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

A few years later, Amara and Jibreel had started to make headway. Aaron was in first grade. The economy had turned around. Things were looking up.

Amara would sometimes pull her manuscript off the top shelf and look at the words. Some of them made sense. Most did not. But she could imagine. Once the translation was finished, she would design the pages in ornate calligraphy on thick, artisanal pages, leather-bound with many great illustrations.

Beautiful, just as God had asked.

Amara dreamed of returning to school, of finishing the great work God had asked of her. She shred her hopes with God and waited patiently for him to speak. But God did not speak.

Then, a pandemic came. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world got sick. People in Amara’s community, her church, some of her friends.

Amara said to her husband, Jibreel, “Let’s take some of the food and medicine from the store to give to the people in the community who need it.” Jibreel was worried, but Amara said God would see them through.

So they did. They took ripe tomatoes, thick loaves of bread, bountiful fruits, and all the medicine they could carry to people all over their community. No one they knew went hungry.

Word got out. People came to their store, begging for help and Amara helped them. Everyone. Always.

When the sickness passed, Amara and Jibreel’s store was empty, as was their bank account.

Amara called out to God. “See? Do you see?! We’re broke now. I will have to work twice as hard to raise our son and pay the bills. Is THIS what you wanted?”

“I was not the right person for this,” Amara said to God.

Amara waited patiently for God to speak, but God was silent.

*** *** *** ***

Several years later, Amara and Jibreel’s son Aaron had gone off to college. He studied Biology. He wanted to be a doctor. He paid his own way by working shifts at the store and doing stand-up comedy at clubs around the city.

“I have been laughing my whole life,” he told his parents. “Might as well make everyone else laugh, too!”

Amara and JIbreel were very proud.

One night, while driving home from a comedy club, Aaron missed a stop sign. Red and blue lights. One cop car turned into three, turned into five. They pulled him out of the car, shouted strong words at him. Aaron was afraid. He laughed nervously.

That was enough. The gunshots rang out. Aaron was dead before he hit the ground.

Amara locked herself in her room and cried out to God in guttural wails. She wept until there were no tears left. Amara tore her manuscript to shreds. She did not wait for God to respond. She did not WANT God to respond.

The dashcam footage made it online. That spark ignited a flame that swept across the city, the country, and most of the world, burning cities, destroying communities, taking many lives.

Weeks later, when Amara and Jibreel returned to their store, it was a hollowed out, burnt shell. Which is just how Amara felt.

The police who killed Aaron were arrested and stood trial. Amara attended each. She wanted to see them face to face. She wanted them to hurt the way she hurt.

Many officers tried to justify their actions. “He went for a gun!” they said. “We feared for our lives!” they said. All lies.

One officer did not. He stood before the court and cameras with his head down. “We were wrong,” he said. “I was wrong. I am so sorry. I beg your firgiveneness.”

Amara stood in the courtroom. She remembered holding her son when he was a baby. She remembered his smile, his laughter. She remembered basketball games, and late night study sessions. She remembered the dreams she had for him, and how quickly and violently those dreams were taken away.

Amara wanted to bring the world down on this man. She wanted, she needed vengeance. But a small voice she had not heard in a long time held her back. Amara closed her eyes, lowered her head, and took a deep breath.

“You are forgiven,” she said.

*** *** *** ***

Many years later, Amara sat up in her bed. Her wrinkled hands wrote the finishing lines on the yellowed and cracking manuscript she had worked on for so long. It’s pages were stained with a lifetime of memories. It was not the kind of thing you would buy in a store.

“Is that for me?” God asked as he sat on the bed next to her.

“You know it is,” Amara said. “But I am ashamed.”

“Why are you ashamed?” God asked.

“You gave me my whole life to write a modern translation to share with the world, and this is all I could do.”

God took the manuscript, thumbed through some of the pages. He laughed in some parts. He cried in others.

“You have done a fine job, Amara. This is a good manuscript.”

God leaned in close and took her hand.

“But your first three translations – your family, your community, and your heart – those are some of the best I have ever seen. Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Amara smiled. Then she closed her eyes, and fell asleep.

Kathy Kexel Gets Biblical

It’s the last and final week of the Covid Chronicles Fre Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza, folks, and Kathy Kexel kicks it off with a great story about a storm and a prophesy. Click on the tree to check out “Summer Storm”

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett .

As it is in Heaven Part 2 – Paul Bennett

Dr Paul Bennett closes out Week 12 of the Covid Chronicles Free Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza with part 2 of his Story, AS it is in Heaven. Click on the baby car seat to read it.

Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Things are looking up!