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.”


“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.


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.

Something Might Happen

Dad said not to bring my glove. “We’re all the way up in the red seats,” he said.“No one’s gonna hit it up there.” Then, as if to emphasize the point, “No way. Not. At. All.”

But I brought it anyway.

It was an early April morning in 1988. The late ’80s were good years – after Pete Rose had broken the record but before the mess of banishment – when the Reds seemed to always finish second to the Dodgers, Giants, or Astros, no matter how hard they tried.

Dad and I rode a city bus down Winton Road from the northern suburbs, through St. Bernard, through Corryville, past UC, and straight through Over the Rhine like a Barry Larkin line drive, ending up on Fountain Square an hour ahead of the Findlay Market parade. It was Opening Day, the holiest of baseball holidays, and we reveled in our annual pilgrimage.

I held the glove under my left arm. Dad eyed me sideways. “You never know,” I said. “Something might happen.”

Dad got a coffee, I opened a bag of peanuts, and we sat on the steps overlooking Fifth Street. The crowds started to gather. “Tell me the Johnny Bench story again,” I said, and he launched into an elaborate tale of the time, when he was in middle school, he and a friend got a ride home from Crosley Field with the new Rookie catcher, Johnny Bench.

“He rolled up to us in a big convertible and said, “You boys need a lift? Of course we said yes, and he drove us all the way home.”

“What did you talk about?”

“Nothing. We was both too scared to say anything, so we sat in silence the whole way.”

The parade started. Marching bands, decorated Cadillacs carrying politicians, and elaborate floats with local celebrities carrying signs for hometown staples like Goldstar Chili and JTM hamburgers went by in quick succession. When the last float passed, the crowd flowed in behind, following the parade like a jubilant, New Orleans wake, down to Riverfront Stadium for the start of a brand new season.

We made it to our seats high up in the red seats about as far away from the field as you could get.

“You think the Reds have a chance this year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad said. “Soto’s washed up, Bo Diaz is a rusted out, chain-link fence behind the plate, and I’m still not sure about Larkin over Stillwell at short.”

I soured a little. He noticed.

“Then again, that Tom Browning is pretty good, Eric Davis can hit the cover off the ball, and with Franco closing, you never know…”

“Something might happen,” we said together, and laughed. It was always easy to laugh when it was him and me.

The game was a tough one. Mario Soto gave up an early lead to the Cardinals. He was, indeed, washed up, which didn’t bode well for the season. The Reds were down 4-1 in the sixth, but battled back to a tie in the seventh and took it to extra innings.

“More baseball for the exact same price!” Dad used to say.

The game was fun, but I wanted a ball. I stood for most of the afternoon with my glove on my hand, ready. Dad just shook his head like he knew something I didn’t.

For a while, it seemed like that might be the case but, in the 11th, Tracey Jones tagged a foul shot off of a Cardinal reliever, and I watched as the ball soared up to our section.

“Go for it!”

I ran down the steps to the front row, reaching my glove as far out over the railing as I could, hoping for a miracle. The ball danced around the webbing at the tip of my glove, then bounced away, falling to the blue seats below. I returned to my seat, dejected.

“That’s alright,” Dad said. “You’ll get the next one.”

But the next one didn’t come. Not then, anyway. Kal Daniels knocked in a run in the the twelfth, “And this one belongs to the Reds!” everyone shouted, mimicking Marty Brennaman’s signature phrase. The Reds won 5-4 and, right then, everyone in the stands truly believed that day’s success would carry us all the way to the World Series.

Opening Day does that to you, somehow. It makes believers out of all of us.

I fell asleep on the bus afterward. Dad carried me from the bus stop to our house, my glove secured safely in his left arm, the same way he carried his glove when he was young. It was a good day.

It was a good year, too. Chris Sabo got his start, and it wasn’t long before all the kids in my school wanted their own pair of Spuds McKenzie goggles. Danny Jackson won 23 games and would have won a Cy Young, too, if not for Orel Hershiser. Tom Browning threw a perfect game and Ron Robinson came within one strike of the same feat, too.

The Reds hosted the All Star Game, with Barry Larkin – who really WAS better than Kurt Stillwell it turned out – on the team, proving himself more than capable of carrying Concepcion’s mantle.

Dad and I went to a lot of games that year and in the years to follow. But nothing beats Opening Day. No matter how bad the Reds are, no matter how bleak the prospects, on Opening Day anything is possible. On Opening Day, the slate is clean and the entire season stretches out in front of you like a dream.

Another Opening Day is right around the corner. The Redlegs could tank, sure, but you never know. Magic could strike at any time. It happens. All it takes is the willingness to believe, just for a day. So grab your glove, keep your eyes open, and wait for something to happen.

Because on Opening Day, something always does.

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.

A Briny Story – Free Fiction from Jamie Greening

It’s fun to watch a Master at Work. And it’s fun to watch a Master mix good-hearted story telling with complicated time travel. And lakes. Don’t forget the salty lakes.

For this week’s Free Fiction Wednesday story, check out Jamie Greening’s “A Briny Story” by clicking on the lake below or going here.

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.

This stories, however, will always be free. Because we love you. No, we’re serious. No, really.

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.