Jason was up in the hills, back in the bush. He stopped for a smoke before heading back to town. The wind was coming from the East and the sky was rotating toward evening. He leaned against the seat of his quad and lit a Players Light. His stomach growled. He’d forgotten his lunch back in the truck: a ham sandwich on brown bread and a couple of granola bar things he’d found in the kitchen, left behind the last time he’d had the kids. He could’ve used some coffee, something warm; the evening air was damp and it turned his knuckles a cold stiff white. But his thermos was back in the truck too, next to the lunch on the passenger seat. The thought of drinking made his bladder ache, so he opened his fly and pissed onto the ground of the clearing, onto the sticky mud and fallen leaves.

His rifle was heavy across his back.  The strap of the slip dug into the muscle near his armpit. There hadn’t been much point in bringing it out with him. Dennis had cancelled that morning, said he thought he had the flu. There was no way in hell Jason could take a moose by himself; he’d be stuck out here with a tonne of meat, trying to drag it out alone.

Alright, he’d said to Dennis on the phone. I’ll go out and take a rip around anyhow. Maybe scout a new camp.

Yeah, Dennis said coughing into the receiver, I’ll be good to get out. Get your mind off of things with Kristie for a while. 

Jesus, he winced and tried to laugh. Everyone’s a fucking therapist lately. 

So he was out there keeping his mind off of things. The sky was darkening, a clean black-blue. The Aspens had turned a hot orange against the darker spruce. The sound of wind in the leaves sent a shiver through his skin. He’d felt this before. He was alone, but there was something else out there too.  Observing him, listening. Parallel and invisible.

Then a bird screamed and flew out toward him from the trees, jerking him out of his reverie. Jason shook his head. There was a sudden thought of Kristie, an image of her flashed in his mind’s eye. Just her face, maybe a picture they’d had up somewhere in the house. Maybe, he didn’t know. He couldn’t remember. Then it was gone. Then he thought about the money. What he owed her. And the kids. He squeezed his nose between his eyes with his cold fingers. 

Time to go home, he thought. Take a shower. Open a bottle of Jack Daniels and try to sleep.

Jason threw his cigarette onto the muddy ground and hopped on the quad. He turned the key to start the engine,  but it just hiccuped and spat. The fuck? He checked the fuel gauge. The gas tank was half-full. This had never happened before.  He tried again, twisting the keys in the ignition until the flesh of his fingers burned, but the engine didn’t respond. 

There was something moving through the leaves behind him. An avian screech made his stomach turn. That same fucking bird. He started to sweat. Jason shivered and twisted in the seat of the quad, trying to see behind him. Did he see a flash of fur? A dog? He squinted. He needed a flashlight. Christ, he shuddered. What if it’s a bear?

Hey, he yelled back into the clearing, trying to make as much noise as he could.

He heard the sound of something breathing. Coming closer. He tried the keys again. They slipped in his hands, useless to turn over the engine. Jason stood up on the footrest of the quad, trying to look as big as possible, and gripped the rifle with half-numb fingers. He turned back and pointed the rifle into the deepening darkness. He thought about shooting. He thought about Kristie. 

What? He screamed. Fucking what? But there was just silence. 

He stood alone, listening to his thumping heartbeat, for a long time. His own panting. 

It’s okay, he said out loud. Then he sat down, bowed over the rifle in his lap, and waited for the night to receive him.

 

9 Comments

  1. Bud Smith

    Lisa, I liked this a lot. The story feels like whatever fear the man has about his failures to the wife and children are manifested and coming for him at the end of the story to claim him and end him. I like that a lot. Sometimes when we are in the woods we hear sounds and imagine the things that are coming to kill us but in this story you’ve set it up plausibly that he could be killed by whatever would kill a moose, yes, a bear. I like that very much. I just read a novel where a man is ripped off a horse by a bear and carried off into the woods like the bear was carrying a baby (Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy). I had couple small suggestions for this piece, since it is a flash fiction and does all its work in such a narrow and succinct manner, I’ll give that old advice that I stand behind, which is get rid of flashbacks. Just have the story happen linearly scene to scene or if that isn’t doable or seems to take the heart out of the story, then you can summarize the information more having to do with the flashback–in this case I mean the phone call with the friend who isn’t coming and advises Jason that he will have to do it all alone and he should use the experience to just be a way to get his mind off his wife and kids who he has lost in some mysterious way but in my mind, it would have to be Jason’s fault, because guilt seems to linger so heavily over this piece, guilt and shame. I’m excited to see where you take this story …

    • Bud Smith

      mainly for some reason, when we have dialogue in flashback within a small piece of flash fiction, that is what undoes it for me (not always but generally). So, thinking about that, I wondered what would happen if instead of getting rid of the dialogue, if we moved it to the head of the story like this:

      Maintenance
      by Lisa Moore

      Dennis cancelled that morning, said he thought he had the flu. There was no way Jason could take a moose by himself; he’d be stuck out here with a tonne of meat, trying to drag it out alone.

      All right, Jason said over the phone. I’ll go out and take a rip around anyhow. Maybe scout a new camp. You’re not just trying to avoid me too, are you?

      Dennis coughed into the receiver. It’ll be good to get out. Get your mind off of things with Kristie for a while.

      Jesus, he winced and tried to laugh. Everyone’s a fucking therapist lately.

      He headed up into the hills, back in the bush. The wind was coming from the East and the sky was rotating toward evening. He leaned against the seat of his quad and lit a Players Light. His stomach growled. He’d forgotten his lunch back in the truck: a ham sandwich on brown bread and a couple of granola bar things he’d found in the kitchen, left behind the last time he’d had the kids. He could’ve used some coffee, something warm; the evening air was damp and it turned his knuckles a cold stiff white. But his thermos was back in the truck too, next to the lunch on the passenger seat. The thought of drinking made his bladder ache, so he opened his fly and pissed onto the ground of the clearing, onto the sticky mud and fallen leaves.

      His rifle was heavy across his back. The strap of the slip dug into the muscle near his armpit. There hadn’t been much point in bringing it out with him.

      So he was out there keeping his mind off of things. The sky was darkening, a clean black-blue. The Aspens had turned a hot orange against the darker spruce. The sound of wind in the leaves sent a shiver through his skin. He’d felt this before. He was alone, but there was something else out there too. Observing him, listening. Parallel and invisible.

      Then a bird screamed and flew out toward him from the trees, jerking him out of his reverie. Jason shook his head. There was a sudden thought of Kristie, an image of her flashed in his mind’s eye. Just her face, maybe a picture they’d had up somewhere in the house. Maybe, he didn’t know. He couldn’t remember. Then it was gone. Then he thought about the money. What he owed her. And the kids. He squeezed his nose between his eyes with his cold fingers.

      Time to go home, he thought. Take a shower. Open a bottle of Jack Daniels and try to sleep.

      Jason threw his cigarette onto the muddy ground and hopped on the quad. He turned the key to start the engine, but it just hiccuped and spat. The fuck? He checked the fuel gauge. The gas tank was half-full. This had never happened before. He tried again, twisting the keys in the ignition until the flesh of his fingers burned, but the engine didn’t respond.

      There was something moving through the leaves behind him. An avian screech made his stomach turn. That same fucking bird. He started to sweat. Jason shivered and twisted in the seat of the quad, trying to see behind him. Did he see a flash of fur? A dog? He squinted. He needed a flashlight. Christ, he shuddered. What if it’s a bear?
      Hey, he yelled back into the clearing, trying to make as much noise as he could.
      He heard the sound of something breathing. Coming closer. He tried the keys again. They slipped in his hands, useless to turn over the engine. Jason stood up on the footrest of the quad, trying to look as big as possible, and gripped the rifle with half-numb fingers. He turned back and pointed the rifle into the deepening darkness. He thought about shooting. He thought about Kristie.

      What? He screamed. Fucking what? But there was just silence.

      He stood alone, listening to his thumping heartbeat, for a long time. His own panting.

      It’s okay, he said out loud. Then he sat down, bowed over the rifle in his lap, and waited for the night to receive him.

  2. Janelle Greco

    Lisa, I love this. The first paragraph really grabbed me and I felt like I learned so much about Jason just in the little details that you’ve added, particularly the details about the granola bars. You’re great at showing us rather than telling. I also love where the story ends up–with Jason being haunted by nothing but himself. I agree with Bud that my mind wandered a bit during the flashbacks. I think keeping it in the moment would be a great possible revision for the story. Thank you so much for sharing; I really enjoyed this!

  3. K Chiucarello

    Lisa, the opening language is so beautiful. This particular line grabbed me ‘The wind was coming from the East and the sky was rotating toward evening.” Something about the movement of the sky is so visceral. I’m curious what it would look like if Kristie wasn’t this incredibly tangible character and she shifted into more metaphorical figures — the moose comes to mind here. What if even you stripped away Kristie’s name? What I was drawn to the most in this piece was the die-hard show of ‘masculinity’ how dumb that presentation is in times of turbulence or turmoil or confusion. What would this piece look like if you leaned more into that absurdity? I also love the contrast of Jason taking moments to observe the beauty and softness of the landscape. There’s a lot to play with here and I can’t wait to see how this piece grows!

  4. Samantha Mitchell

    Hi Lisa,
    You capture us with this scene of Jason confronting his demons in the woods. I feel like I’m with him, the details are so tangible to my senses. This piece is doing a lot of work on two levels – the current action of the scene itself (Jason out hunting and feeling closed in on by wild animals and the night) and the emotional weight his family situation adds to the hunt, the animals, the night bearing down.

    I agree with Bud, that if you intend to keep this as a flash piece, you can cut the flashbacks. You can cut Dennis too. All we need is Jason with his hand on a gun, his lunch left behind, and whatever animal is just out of sight. But, of course, this can always be expanded into a longer story where more of the background and characters can be fleshed out. Loved this piece. Thanks for sharing!

    • Samantha Mitchell

      Oh, and I forgot to mention that the title and the truck ignition not working is doing major work – whatever revisions you end up doing, keep those elements in!

  5. Kevin Sterne

    Love the gritty tone here. There’s a dirty, ripped jeans feel to this piece. A creepiness, an unease. I love all the sensory details and descriptions of the natural world. Birds, trees, the night—you know how to put us in a place and make it feel alive.

    I echo the suggestion of making the story linear. Cutting the flashback. I also wonder about thrusting us into the action earlier, cutting the set up at the beginning. You give us the who, what, where, but not the why and I think we need the why early on. Throw us into the piece.

    Really excited to see where this goes!

  6. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Hi Lisa, One of the difficulties of being late to critique is that most of what I’d say, has been said already. I don’t mind the flashbacks, but Bud’s advice here is instructive perhaps for all of us. I find the story compelling, a scary lost-in-the-woods story filled with ominous details, and not quite telling us that it has ended badly, but certainly giving us the impression. The character rings true, sadly, as does the consequences of failed technology that suddenly makes a mundane hunting trip turn deadly. Congratulations on this. I really can’t think of any suggestions not said.

  7. David O'Connor

    A great building of tension here, the back story masterfully slid in there and some nailbiting suspense, can’t wait to see where it goes! Thanks for sharing, well done!

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