Friday, February 22, 2013


Every “discussion” starts the same. With Lizey picking at her cuticles to the point that blood dots her fingernails. It begins with Lizey’s father not looking up from his phone, either pretending he’s absorbed in what’s on the screen or actually losing himself in what is displayed. Then there’s Lizey’s mother fidgeting in her chair, it burping under her, and her making a face every time it does so, pointing to it and mouthing, ‘It’s the chair.’

Her parents are on one side of the circular table, Lizey and Dr. Cooper are on the other.

Lizey is usually asked to speak first but she often has to be prodded. Told what to say because she doesn’t know what to say anymore.

It used to be easy. The insults and combative responses, the smart-alecky comments and sometimes a heartfelt apology rolled off her tongue and struck her parents dumb. Later on her parents added ignorance into the mix because it was easier to ignore her than to engage.

Lizey whispers something she’s been saying to herself. She’s recited it on the way to talk to them, before, after, every day, checking off the calendar for the two weeks that passed before she got to talk to them again.

“What was that, Lizey?” Dr. Cooper asks.

Lizey gulps in air and courage as she stares at the ceiling focusing on the cracks that aren’t judging her rather than the people across from her she knows will never forgive her.

“I said, now that I’m seventeen, I uh,” she digs her nail into her wrist scraping at the skin, making raised marks. “I realize the severity of my mistakes. And, uh” Lizey’s voice turns into a gurgle. She lowers her head to let the tears run down her face, not up. But when she glances at her parents they do not look back. They haven’t in months, not since she got her driver’s license. Not since she promised she’d stop with the ‘teenage antics’ as they called it. Not until she focused back on being their girl and not trying to be someone else who fell in with people that huffed and drank because they were bored, or so they said.

“I’m,” she trails off. Dr. Cooper reaches over and squeezes Lizey’s arm she thinks but he pulls it away so she doesn’t dig at herself anymore.

“You have to stop punishing yourself,” he often says and she wants to. She’d like to is what she’s said. She’d really, really like to.

Dr. Cooper keeps things moving. Lizey’s unsure if this is protocol or not with him. He pulls something from the file in his lap, thick with notations about Lizey's punishment, the accident, her past. Dr. Cooper lays it on the table for everyone to see. Lizey's parents and her lean forward, though Lizey’s mother has to poke her father to put his phone away.

They see the playground, the graininess of the photo, how yellow it is after the past several years being shielded behind plastic. In the photo is a smiling girl with a missing tooth and a huge sausage curl cascading down her back, and there’s Lizey right beside her. Her mother shrinks in her seat while her father places an arm around her, the first bit of feeling he’s shown her mother, well anyone, since.

Lizey keeps looking at her, at the little sister who went through a windshield because Lizey was going too fast. Had drank too much. At the sister who followed Lizey to the car when she said she’d go pick up a pizza rather than stay put. Lizey let Linette because she didn’t think anything bad would happen. What could? She’d only had a few beers, her boyfriend, or whom she thought was her boyfriend when in actuality he was many people’s boyfriend, had had a sip of cider, a dab of wine because her parents trusted her after all and when he left due to a random text, an urgent one he said--she’d learn was urgent only because the girl on the other end was more willing--that Lizey went to get pizza. That she claimed she needed air. And Linette followed. Linette begged to go. Linette was only four years younger and was often around. Linette just appeared because that’s what younger siblings did. They begged to be included and Linette pleaded with Lizey then. She said she didn’t want to be alone. In fact, she wasn’t supposed to be alone.  

Lizey had felt herself tilting a little to the side. But she shook her head, cleared away the blurriness seeping in around her eyes and told Linette to jump in. She wasn’t up for a fight. She was hungry and irritated and just wanted to get it over with. And that, along with a light so bright coming towards them, along with metal posts and eventually trees came to pass and Lizey woke up an only child.

She’d made her sister feel bad about liking the playground at her age. Made her feel like a child instead of an adolescent because Lizey didn’t want to be reminded that she liked those things too.

Her parents don’t say anything, they avoid her gaze, don’t acknowledge her pain. And why should they? She screwed up beyond what teenagers are allowed to do, what anyone is allowed.

“If it makes you feel any better. I wish it were me.” Lizey blinks away more tears. She dares to look and see that now, now her parents met her eyes.

“Don’t you say that. Don’t you ever say that,” her dad says. His voice is a low growl when he adds, “I’ve already lost one daughter. I refuse to lose two.”

Dr. Cooper nods. He’s careful with the picture. Picking it up on the sides so as not to smudge the smiling faces and slides it back in his folder.

“Seems like we’re making progress,” he says.

Story by Jenn Baker
Photo by Krystalyn Drown

Friday, February 15, 2013


Before you read our next flash fiction post by Amy, we wanted to let you know that our very own Krystalyn has a great new book out there in the world called LEGASEA

and is running a giveaway. Enter and you just might win her book plus a really adorable hand crafted seal ornament and a few other surprise things!!!

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AND now...onto the flash fiction. Here is the picture from this month and below it is Amy's story. Happy Friday people!


The picture was sun damaged--old and faded and worn along its edges. Isa found it stuck to the bottom of her bunk last winter when she'd crawled under it looking for one of her socks. She should've given it to the Keeper right away since she wasn't allowed to keep artifacts for herself, but something about the sunny yellow color of it stopped her. It had been such a cold, gray winter, especially after half of the children on the ward died from latest, nastiest flu that wouldn't respond to what little medicine the Keepers had stockpiled. The picture felt like a small piece of summer, a bit of paper hope that she could tuck into her pocket and touch whenever the days felt too hard or too long.

 A playground.

That's what  Houseman Spencer called it when she eventually summoned up the courage to show it to him. He'd studied it eagerly. He was the oldest adult on the ward, over seventy, bent and gravel voiced, but alert and full of memories about how the world was in the time before, back when every child was brought up in a home with parents and schools, not raised by Keepers until they were old enough to enlist in the war against the Travelers. It took very little prodding from her to get him to talk about it and afterwards he'd even let her keep it. Houseman Spencer wasn't much for rules or keeping the kids in the dark about what happened in the before.

"Moms used to take their kids to those playgrounds all the time. Weren't a need for barricades and safe zones. No, the world was a good place in those days." He shook his head then hocked a wad of mucus into the corner, scratched at his wiry beard and half smiled. "It's odd, but there were plenty of folks who'd a told you that the world was close to ending even then, knee deep in evil already, but looking was downright heavenly in comparison with what we got now. Shoot, I'd give the last of my teeth to have it back the way it was then." He grinned as if to prove his point and she tried not to shudder at how empty his mouth already was.

Isa listened carefully, memorizing all that he told her in his roundabout way, all the while gripping the picture as tightly as she could without crumpling its corners. What would it've been like to grow up then? Her parents wouldn't have been off fighting in the war...if they were still fighting at all. It had been a long while since she'd heard from them last. She'd spent a lot of time that night crying into her pillow and wishing for something she knew she'd never get.

Now almost an entire year later she'd memorized every line and curve of that picture. She leaned against the metal pole behind her and stared up at the plastic roof of the play structure, comparing it to the one from the photo. It was similar...if you didn't look too hard or too long at the strange, sickly gray growths that were slowly taking over the play structure, the ground, and the trees beyond it--part of the Traveler's atmosphere conversion process. Isa breathed in and then had to supress the urge to cough. So little oxygen. In another year or two the Traveler's work would be complete and she wouldn't be able to be outside without an oxygen tank and mask. She'd enlisted last month just after her sixteenth birthday just the way she was supposed to. Tonight was her first outing with the other recruits. She gripped her gun closer and peered out at the strange, yellow tinted night. The Travelers would pass by here soon if they kept to their nightly routine, herding a group of children from the very ward she'd left just a few short months ago.

Recruits were tucked into every corner of the playground, waiting just like her, most her age. She glanced at her photo one last time and tried to imagine all of them onto the playground in it, wished desperately that that kind of magic existed and that she was capable of it, but it wasn't and so they remained where they were, gripping their guns and watching the dark.

Isa leaned forward when the first twig snapped loudly, dry and brittle from years without rain. She could see movement now, the first of the Travelers and several kids walking woodenly beside it. She watched as one of the kids raised his head and looked over at the playground, his eyes wide and interested in spite of his fear. She knew what he was feeling. She'd felt it when she'd seen her picture--a sense of wonder that something had once existed in this world that was meant for pure fun and nothing else. Even if he didn't know exactly what he was looking at, he could feel this truth deep inside, just like she had even before Houseman Spencer confirmed it for her. But then the Traveler beside him pushed him forward roughly and his face fell, his eyes went blank. He looked in the opposite direction and Isa felt her insides twist.

She tucked her picture into the pocket of her jacket and rested her gun against the closest pole to steady it. She aimed it at the Traveler and waited for the squad leader to let off the first shot, signaling the start of the fight. The kids would have to duck and cover. They couldn't warn them to, they just had to hope that they would. She could see the long line of them now, all of them looking away from the playground and towards the Traveler's. She could tell that looking at the playground was too much for them, a reminder of all that was gone and might never be again.

When the first shot rang out across the playground and some of the Traveler's grabbed the children closest to them like shields, Isa tried not to let the kids terrified faces rattle her. They would save who they could. It wouldn't be all of them, though. She steadied her gun and pressed the trigger, willing the bullet to hit the Traveler she was aiming for and not the little boy in its arms. The gun slammed into her shoulder as it went off and she fell backwards into the wall. Down below it seemed like everyone was screaming, kids and Travelers alike. She didn't want to look, didn't want to see if she'd managed to shoot true. So she closed her eyes and pictured the playground in the photo, tried to imagine that all the screams were squeals of delight from kids sliding down slides or playing tag on the ground or swinging on the swings. She put a hand on her pocket and wished so hard that her head hurt. But when she opened her eyes there was only the blood and the screams and the shots. She pulled the picture from her pocket one last time. It caught on the pocket's flap and tore in two, one piece fluttering down between the platform's bars before she could catch it, landing beside one of the other recruits. Ben. He was lying on his back, his eyes fixed and staring, a wide hole carved out of his chest. While she'd been wishing for something that would never be again, he'd died trying to save what little life they'd managed to keep. That picture wasn't hope the way she'd thought. It was torment.

 She crumpled the other piece inside her fist and threw it down. Then she brought her gun up and fired.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Last Summer

by: Krystalyn

Grandma’s house smelled like cats and cooked tomatoes. Cats because of the three pie plates filled with cat food that lived on her porch, and tomatoes because Grandma liked to can them. The resulting glass jars were tucked in every closet and unused corner of her house. Some in the bathroom cabinet.

I hadn’t wanted to come this summer. It was the last one before I graduated high school, and I’d wanted to go with my two best friends to the theatre camp I’d discovered online. I had taped the flyer to my parents’ bedroom door two months before the deadline. They still forgot. Maybe on purpose.

Nothing ever changed. I wished to God it would.

As I stood with my suitcase on Grandma’s tea-sipping porch unwilling to go inside the house, someone called my name. I held back, letting my parents scoot past me.

“Yeah? Who’s that?” I squinted into the sun and saw a gangly boy standing in the middle of the road. Red, Georgia clay coated his sneakers and the hem of his jeans. His light brown hair formed a curtain over his eyes.

“I come for a visit and my best friend don't even recognize me. Geez, Grace.” The voice was deeper, but the crooked smile was the same. An old force, the strength of a summer storm, whirled inside my chest.

“Billy Duffy?”

Eight years ago, we’d eaten ice cream and lit sparklers on the Fourth of July. Seven years ago, we’d caught fireflies in the moonlight. His eyes held their light long after we’d set them free. Six years ago, he’d kissed me on my grandma’s porch right in front of a clutter of cats. We’d made a vow to marry each other if we didn’t find someone by college.

Then, he’d fallen off the face of the Earth. Or moved to Virginia where his dad opened a furniture store. Same difference.

“It’s Will now.” He brushed his hair aside. He still kept a spark of light tucked in the corner of each eye.

I left my suitcase on the porch and walked toward him. I smiled. “Billy.”

The sparks grew brighter.


Each morning, I rolled off the couch and stumbled over to the TV, taking care not to step on the small patch of floor the termites had claimed as their home. I sat in front of the box fan by the window, watching ancient sitcoms and eating my bowl of grits until Billy knocked on the door.

And each morning, Grandma stuffed two jars of tomatoes in my hand and said, “Give these to him. His nana isn’t doing too well, bless her heart, and his daddy is going crazy being away from that store of his. Mind me now.”

I didn’t know what Billy did with all those tomato jars. Probably kept them in corners.


Our favorite place to escape was the playground at the bottom of the hill. No one ever came there in the middle of summer. Sweat made your legs stick to the slides.

Billy didn’t fit in the playhouse anymore, so we sat on the wooden bridge between the swings and the monkey bars, sipping sweet tea from his thermos and watching the way our hands fit together.

After dark, we lay on the grass. I pointed out the constellations, giving them funny names like Buttercup the Bull because I loved his laugh. I also loved how the sleeves of his soft, faded t-shirts brushed against my bare arms every time he moved.

“My dad wants to sell the store,” he said one night. “Move here. For Nana.”

Anticipation and need worked its way around my body, speeding up my heart and twisting my stomach. “Yeah?”

“And…I was thinking of applying to Georgia University. You’re still going there, right?” But a different question hid in the creases on his forehead. One that was six years old.

I ran my fingertips across his cheek, touching my favorite freckles. A smile shivered onto his face, and I answered his unspoken words. “Ask me next summer.”

His eyes sparkled like a thousand fireflies. Their brilliance swallowed me whole.


On the Fourth of July, we sat with our families on the bank of the river. Everyone oohed and ahhed as the National Anthem played over the static-y radio, and the sky exploded. He pulled a box of sparklers and a white plastic lighter from a paper bag. We wrote our names in the air. He tacked “Duffy” onto the end of my name.

My heart pounded louder than the fireworks.

Nothing ever changed. I was glad it didn’t.


Billy’s Nana died the next day. I didn’t see him until the day of the funeral. That morning, I sat in my grandma’s house in front of the box fan staring at the blank TV. Grandma came in with four jars of canned tomatoes.

“Gracie Mae, you take these over to the Duffy’s. They’ll need something to serve all them guests this afternoon, and Billy’s daddy never learned how to cook. Mind me now.”


I stood at Billy’s front door, the heavy jars clacking together in my arms. He put the jars on a table just inside and led me to the porch swing. Billy opened his mouth, took in a breath, and then pinched his lips together. He did that seven times. I gripped the edges of the swing so hard, white paint flaked off into my hands.

Finally, his words poured out like a waterfall. “My dad and I are leaving for Virginia tomorrow. He said we’ve been gone from the store too long. He said there ain’t no reason to stay here.”

“What about next summer? College?” But those weren’t the questions I wanted to ask.

His shoulders, his face, his hands. They answered all of my questions. Even the silent ones. “I’ll be working full time in the store after graduation. Dad wants me to take over in a few years.”

“Oh.” It hurt to breathe.

A faint spark wiggled its way into the corner of his eyes. “There’s a school there. Old Dominion. Maybe you can…” He swallowed. The spark winked out.

We shared the last kiss in the world. It tasted like tears.

My family had gone to Georgia State for generations. He knew my parents would expect the same from me.

Because nothing ever changed.

I wished to God it would.


Photo by: Krystalyn