The Last Mile

It’s been a rough week. I’m sick, coughing and hacking and generally feeling pretty shitty. But it’s Friday, and I owe you some fiction.

I haven’t missed a Friday fiction post in years, and I’m not about to break my streak now. However, I am taking a break from The Dark Calling this week. (Yes, another one.) I felt like doing something different. Below is a rewrite of the first flash fiction story I published here four and a half years ago. When I went back to reread it this morning, I saw obvious flaws. I thought it might be fun to touch it up, and it was.

As for The Dark Calling, I have a confession to make. I’m considering not publishing the rest of the tale here. I haven’t made a decision yet, but I don’t think the series has much of a following, so I doubt the change in plan would affect anyone but me. It’s close to done, and I will most certainly finish it. Hell, I plan to pursue publication with it–after some editing, of course. I’ll even keep writing it as I’ve been writing it, one piece of flash fiction at a time, but I may not post them. If you’ve been reading it and want to see the rest of it here, now is your time to speak up.

Okay, kiddos. I have some cough syrup to hunt down, and you have a story to read. Enjoy it. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.

UPDATE: Decision made. I’ll keep publishing the rest of The Dark Calling here.

the last mile

My mind reels. My stomach lurches, a sick, dizzy feeling overtaking me. I wretch, but my feet don’t stop.

None of it makes sense. I don’t know what’s going on or why this is happening to me. I only know what he told me to do. He told me to run.

“Git ta runnin’. Run into them woods and keep on a runnin’–’til I gitcha or you git away.”

I stared at him like a–oh, God–like a deer in the headlights. I couldn’t process it, even as simple as the instructions were. My legs felt like lead.

“Didja hear me, boy?” he bellowed.”Time’s a tickin’!”

He gave me that toothy grin again, and then he laughed. It was a hacking guffaw, his belly rolling under his too-tight shirt while his entire frame rocked back and forth. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. He was hugging his gun to his chest. The lens of his scope caught the sun, blinding me, and that was my wake-up call.

That’s when I started running.

It’s hard to say how much time has passed. More than minutes. Hours. How many? I can’t tell. The sun is still high in the sky, so it can’t be too late. I keep telling myself if I can just make it to sunset, I have a chance. Of course, that asshole probably has night vision goggles.

My back is soaked with sweat. My shirt clings to me. My temples ache. I can feel blisters on my feet. With each step I imagine them expanding until they grow so large and tender that they pop, their fluid gushing into my socks leaving me with raw skin and one more variety of pain.

From time to time, I hear his laugh. He’s playing with me. I know that much. Close enough to finish it, but having too much twisted fun.

I was just asking for directions. I didn’t see his gun until the barrel was trained on me. He used zip ties on my hands and then forced me into his truck. He talked about football and beer for the duration of the ride. Dirt roads. Gravel crunching under the tires. The stale smell of cigarette smoke wafting from the stained bench seat.

He turned me loose in the middle of God-knows-where, cutting the zip tie with a pocket knife before telling me to “git”.

I crest a ridge and see water. A creek. It’s low–nearly dry, but there’s a sliver of a stream weaving its way along the broken path. I make it to the creek, falling to my knees on the dry, caked soil. Just as I put my cupped hands to my mouth, I hear a sound. A twig breaking. I turn to my left and the bastard is there. Right there. Close enough to take me out with a careless hip shot, if he wants.

“Knew you’d come to the creek,” he says. He’s smiling. “Cain’t hardly tell it, but you was runnin’ downhill. Path of least resistance, they call it.”

I raise my hands, water falling to the ground in front of me. My lips are still dry.

“Please,” I say. “I don’t know what this is about, but I’m sure we can come to some kind of agreement. Whatever you want. Just, please, don’t do anything rash.”

“Rash?” he says. I think maybe he doesn’t know what the word means in this context, but then he continues. “I ain’t bein’ rash. Been plannin’ this for a while. You was just at the right place at the right time, mister. Now stand on up.”

I look down at the creek.

“Stand up,” he repeats.

I stand, hoping it will at least end quickly.

“You done better than I ‘spected,” he says. “Gave me a good chase. Let’s see how you do with a bad leg.”

I hear the shot before I feel it. My left leg explodes in pain just above the knee.

“Stay on your feet,” he tells me, and it’s everything I can do to comply. “Good. Now run.”

I consider telling him to fuck himself. Telling him he’s a stupid, backwoods, redneck piece of shit. That he can burn in hell. That I won’t be playing his game any more. What difference will it make? This is only going to end one way.

Then he says, “Keep goin’ the way you was headed. There’s a highway ’bout a mile on. You make it there, I’ll leave you be. I’ll even give you a head start.” He smiles kindly.

Fire in my leg, a vise on my temples, I run.