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Flash Fiction


Coming Home
by Lan Spicer


He drove too fast, and the left headlight kept cutting out, flashing on and off as he slammed through potholes. The rain was coming down hard, pouring down into the truck where the roof was torn away from the doorframe, from the last wreck he'd had. He'd taken off his shirt to clear the fog from the inside of the windshield. The rain pooled in the floorboards, draining out through the crescent of six circular holes he'd shot out with the .45 his father bought in a whorehouse in Saigon and smuggled back in the hollowed-out half of an Old Testament bible. His father had named it Elinore, with an e.

He drank the rest of the whiskey and threw the empty bottle out the window. Lightning struck behind him, and he was waiting for the sound of it when it struck again, almost on top of him, and he felt the sharp crump of it in his ears, and blinked, looked up just as the woman broke through the rows of corn and ran into the road. All he could think was why isn't she wearing shoes and jerked the wheel over, watching as her muddy legs scissored and the truck slipped past her, slamming into the drainage ditch next to the road. He banged his head on the steering wheel and thought he was unconscious, lying in some wet, dark place, until he realized his face was warm with rain and blood, a sharp, coppery taste in his mouth, and he knew the headlight had cut out again, and it was only a natural darkness he was sitting in.

He turned the ignition off and crawled out, took out the flashlight he kept under the truck seat. He could hear the engine ticking, popping. He was standing in a foot of water that hissed as it slipped past the tires of the truck. In the flat light from the flashlight the truck seemed entirely natural, embedded there in the ditch, the water sliding past as the rain covered it all. It seemed like the truck had been there, resting, until the rain came and carved it from the dark red clay. The right headlight was shattered but the front bumper and side panel were barely bent, and he knew he could back the truck out. He felt something against his leg and looked down to see a headless doll bobbing there in the water, nuzzling his leg until it slipped beneath the truck. He kicked the other headlight until it came back on. When he turned the ignition the radio came on, working for the first time in six months.

The twins' truck wasn't in the driveway when he pulled in, but the lights inside the house were on. He turned the truck off and got out and fell in the mud. He sat up and held his head in his hands. My name is Cadmus Elijah Forrest he said to himself. I was born on the fifth of June, 1972. I am merely drunk as hell and incapacitated in no other way, he said, twice.

He wiped the blood off his face and stood there, fiercely thirsty. He cupped his hands and drank rain from them, licking the moisture off his palms. The rain fell all around him, pounding against him until he felt deaf with the noise and feel of it. His fingers were rough and callused. They tasted like wood glue.

He walked inside, pulling on his shirt. "Hey," he shouted, and someone yelled from the kitchen. Gabe was standing in the kitchen doorway, covered in blood from his shoulders down. His lips looked red, like berries, within his dark, full beard. He had a can of beer in one hand and a hunting knife in the other. All he was wearing was a pair of green silk boxer shorts covered with silver toasters.

"You're bleeding," Gabe said.

"Pot kettle black."

Gabe grinned and turned back to the gutted deer that was lying on the heavy oak table in the center of the kitchen. Gabe drank off his beer and started in, cutting off the meat from the haunches. Cadmus leaned against the doorframe and watched him. He watched the way the dragon tattoo on Gabe's back flexed, almost writhing in the low light. He watched the way the deer's head moved, hanging off the edge of the table. It was like watching a dance he couldn't quite understand. He couldn't say who was leading.

"Why don't you do that outside?" he said.

"It's raining outside."

Cadmus walked over and started opening and closing the cabinets. "There's only beer," Gabe said. "Zeke poured out all the whiskey."

"Why'd he do that?"

"Ask him yourself."

"Where is he?"

"In church," Gabe said, grunting.

Cadmus took a beer from the refrigerator and opened it. He took a drink and closed his eyes. He took another. "Where'd you shoot it at?" he asked.

"Who said anything about shoot."

Cadmus drank and waited.

"We hit the son of a bitch in the truck out past Sylvia Creek. He fucked the truck up good. We had to walk all the way back in the goddamn rain."

"How'd you get the deer back?"

"He's not as heavy as he looks."

Cadmus opened his eyes and watched as the deer nodded its head. He looked down at the bloody footprints he'd left on the kitchen floor. The yellow flowers on the linoleum were faded and cracked. Gabe's bare feet left marks like whorled commas as he shifted his weight from side to side, struggling with the deer. The table groaned.

Cadmus turned, fitting his left boot into the last footprint he'd left. He crept backwards, carefully lining up the edge of his heel with each bloody mark before he eased his weight down. He held on to the wall to keep from falling.

"The fuck you doing?" Gabe asked.

"Creeping," Cadmus said, easing back out of the kitchen.

The living room was full of broken televisions and radios. Zeke was kneeling in the huge stone fireplace, facing out towards the room. His head was bent slightly. When he looked up, Cadmus could see the dark smears of ash he'd rubbed into his face.

"What's happening, Z?" Cadmus said, crouching down so that his weight rested on the back of his heels.

"I'm a sinner, Cadmus. I am awash in blood. I am a vehicle of destruction and tumult."

"That seems to be going around lately."

Zeke closed his eyes and opened them. In the darkness his eyes looked singed. It hurt Cadmus to watch him. He wanted to hold his face down in a pure, white pail of snow.

"Cadmus, the voices. It's like a choir, and they're singing for me."

"Z, you're hearing things again."

"Of course I'm hearing things."

"I mean they aren't real."

"I know they aren't real. I'm not fucking crazy."

Cadmus drank the rest of the beer and eased down, resting his back against the edge of the fireplace. The rain beat against the tin roof of the house like the flat of an enormous hand. He hadn't slept in almost three days. His legs, slung out before him, looked like they'd been attached at the hips with wood screws.

"Cadmus," Zeke said, "Cadmus."


"Can you really know something? I mean, can you ever absolutely know something?"

Cadmus was half asleep. His clothes were steaming. He watched as his hand moved up, palm down. He watched as his the back of his hand touched his chest, then his forehead. Something about the precise motion of the hand through the air was comforting.

She was beautiful, Cadmus thought. He couldn't see anything but the smooth line of her neck, awash in dark hair. She shifted, her body elongating until she was a spotted fawn, sitting upright in a chair. He could only watch as she changed back and forth, her head, her dark brown eyes widening and narrowing endlessly.

"It needs to be shown that no mistake was made," Zeke said.

"She was beautiful," Cadmus said.

"Cause and effect," Zeke said, "the fallacy of halves."

"She washed her hair in my feet."

"One does not infer how things are from one's own certainty."

"God save the queen."

"Wir merzen also die Satze aus, die uns nicht weiterbringen."

"God save the motherfucking queen," Cadmus whispered.


Someone was nudging him with their toe. Zeke and Gabe were grinning down at him. They were dressed in camouflage. Gabe had shaved off his beard.

"We need your truck," Gabe said.

Zeke took a drink from a fifth of Jim Beam.

The morning sunlight was bright. Cadmus tried to sit up and his back spasmed. He took the bottle from Zeke and drank and lay back flat on the floor.

"Why?" he asked.

"We're going hunting."

"What time is it?"

"A little after seven."

"Fuck," Cadmus said, drinking.

"Shake a leg," Gabe said, "it's a twelve hour drive to Miami."

Cadmus sat up slowly, carefully, and stared at him.

Zeke took the bottle back and drank.

"We just saw it on the news," Gabe said. "The hurricane, man. It leveled everything down there. There is some serious wild game in the Miami area right now. All those rich bastards keep exotic fucking game as pets, and they're all running loose. They showed a goddamn Cape Buffalo running down a highway."

"Cad, you should have seen it. It was a beautiful animal. Beautiful," Zeke said, smiling, placing his index finger alongside his nose, winking down at Cadmus.

"Running amok, that's exactly how they said it," Gabe said.

"Good lord," Cadmus said. He stood up and held his head. It felt like the crown of his head was rising steadily from his skull. He clamped a hand down on his head and stumbled off to the bathroom.

A bare bulb hung down from the water-streaked ceiling of the bathroom. The sink was full of black, curled hair. He found an orange prescription bottle of pills floating in the tank of the commode, wrapped in a plastic bag. There were twelve left in the bottle. He dry swallowed four and put the rest back. He washed his face and looked into the hubcap someone had tacked above the sink, over the faded wallpaper where a mirror had once hung. His face was barely recognizable, distorted, like some bastard moon, in the bent, metallic surface.

On the back of the door was the black and white group photograph of the CCC camp Zeke and Gabe's great-grandfather had worked in when he was fifteen, during the Great Depression. He was circled in red lipstick, with a thick arrow pointed at his shaved head.

Cadmus took the photograph down and held it. His hands were shaking. He stared down at the photograph until they stopped. Something about looking at it steadied him, as if the lines of blank, upturned faces were a reference point, a fixed star for navigation. He folded the photograph in half and slid it into the waistband of his jeans. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob. He turned, took it back out, carefully smoothing it, and placed it face up beside the sink.

He found a box of band-aids from under the sink and stripped off his t-shirt. He held the photograph over his heart, the faces pointed inward, against his skin, and attached a band-aid to the corners. He smoothed each of them down and put his shirt back on. He walked out the door and outside, into the hard sunlight.

Gabe and Zeke were sitting on the hood of his truck.

"We already stowed the rifles in the back," Gabe said. "You ready?"

Cadmus thumped his chest twice. Gabe laughed. Zeke took a long drink from the bottle.


Cadmus was sitting between them in the truck, the heater blowing on his face. Gabe was driving. When he asked, Zeke said they were somewhere in Georgia. They'd finished the first bottle of whiskey and lost the second one somewhere. Cadmus looked down and saw he was holding it in his left hand.

"Looky looky," he said, holding it up. Gabe took it from him and drank it in two swallows and threw the bottle out the window.

"Bye bye," Cadmus said.

Gabe shook his head. "You are fucked up," he said.

"Fractured," Cadmus said, "I am absolutely fractured."

Zeke was bobbing his head up and down in time to the bumping sound of the wheels striking the markers that divided the lanes of the highway. He had a thick textbook titled Introduction to Biological Anthropology open on his lap. There was a diagram of a half-man, half-ape scratching its woolly head on the page facing Cadmus.

"How you doing, Z?" Cadmus asked.

Zeke bobbed his head for a long time. "Copacetic," he said finally.

The truck whistled through the sunlight. Cadmus kept bumping his chin on his chest. Gabe drove with only one thumb hooked through the bottom of the steering wheel. He imagined them driving straight through, down into the Keys, further. Whales lining up, the truck bumping across the rough corrugation of their backs. Camping on sandbars, eating roast crab. The idea that what the sea giveth, the sea giveth. He laughed and tried to tell them. He tried to explain how the sun would feel, how they could collect the sweat from their skin to salt the crab.

"Hush," Zeke said, and gently brushed Cadmus' eyes closed with his fingertips.

His dreams were dark, and filled with voices. Zeke was talking to someone. Someone kept pushing him forward, so that his forehead bounced against the dashboard of the truck. He heard a bell chiming. Someone put their hand in his lap. He sat up and opened his eyes. Gabe was slumped over the wheel. The passenger door was open and he could just see Zeke's feet. He leaned over, far enough to see that Zeke was lying in the grass next to the truck, with his head on the book. The were parked underneath trees, next to a pond filled with ducks. He looked up as a woman wearing black spandex shorts and headphones jogged past.

"Hey," he said, "hey," shaking Gabe.

Gabe snapped up, turning the key in the ignition in the same motion.

"Where are we?" Cadmus asked, rubbing his face. Zeke got in and slammed the door.

"The promised land," he said.


"The land of eternal sunshine. Where evolution meets the sea."

"Florida?" Cadmus asked.

"Florida, baby, Florida."


They stopped at a truck stop ninety miles from Miami. Their waitress had dyed blond hair and a nametag that said Reejane. She stared down at them in the booth, holding their silverware in her hands.

"Oh boy," she said. Zeke grinned and took a handful of sugar packets from the table and put them in his pocket.

"You aren't going to be trouble, are you?" she asked.

"Indubitably," Zeke said.

"What, are you two identical twins or something?" she said.

"I used to have a beard," Gabe said.

Cadmus sat gripping the edge of the table tightly. "Ma'am," he said, "can I please get some grits?"

She slapped the silverware down.

Gabe and Zeke each ordered bacon and eggs. Cadmus asked for a plate of grits.

"Honey," she said, "you can't just get grits. Grits are a side order."

"Ma'am," he said, "I truly want only grits."

"Get the country ham," she said, "it's real good."

Cadmus reached beneath his shirt to touch the edge of the photograph. It was damp to the touch.

"Please," he said, looking up at her. She shook her head and left.

"You should have told her you're a direct blood relation to Nathan Bedford Forrest," Gabe said. "That has to be worth some grits."

"Look at what we've been reduced to," Zeke said, "the proud noble South, begging for grits."

"My kingdom for some grits," Cadmus said.

"No grits, no glory," Zeke said, putting another handful of sugar packets in his pocket.

The waitress brought their eggs and bacon and a plate of grits. They ate quickly, silently. Cadmus asked for another plate of grits when she returned. She snorted and left. He ate five plates of grits.

It was like he was regaining himself with each bite, his blood burning away impurities. Zeke and Gabe were watching him.

"Boys," he said, sitting straighter, "I believe I'm getting my second wind."


The man was about to close up the tattoo shop for the night when he say them coming in through the door. No one had been in for over an hour, and he'd been watching television, nearly asleep.

Cadmus kicked the door open and strode in. His face was streaked with blood. Gabe and Zeke were right behind him.

"Whoa," the man said, "whoa." He stepped back from the counter, his hands up.

"Look at him," Cadmus said. He smiled and put his hands flat on the counter. There was a silver bell next to his left hand. He rang it twice.

"What do you want?" the man asked.

"This is a tattoo parlor, right?" Cadmus asked.


"Well then."

The man began to relax, dropping his hand.

"I can't do anything when you're drunk."

Cadmus turned to Zeke. "This man claims I'm drunk," he said.

"Indeed," Zeke said. “I heard it myself.”

Gabe shook his head sadly.

"I can't," the man said.

"You're going to make this difficult, aren't you?" Gabe said.

The man shook his head. "Look, I..."

"What's your name?" Gabe asked.


"Jerry, the next ten words you say need to be “I’d absolutely love to give your friend a tattoo."

The only sound was the rain falling outside.

"That's nine words," Jerry said finally, "unless you're counting the contraction as two."

Gabe took the pistol out of his jacket and stepped around the counter. He pressed it against Jerry's temple. It looked blunt and dark, in contrast to Jerry’s thinning white hair.

"Cadmus," he said, "tell the man what you want."


Cadmus sat down in the chair Jerry led him to. Things were moving quickly, as the film was being played slightly too fast. His vision seemed extraordinarily precise. Jerry moved him forward, positioned him, bent over slightly, so that he could work on his back.

"Take off your shirt," Jerry said, and Cadmus did. The photograph slid from his chest and landed face-up on the floor. Cadmus bent back over, locking his elbows against his knees. He could see the photograph between his feet.

"A savannah," Zeke said, "with an oryx grazing beside a stream."

"A what?" Jerry said. Cadmus felt the coolness on his back, as Jerry wiped his back down with alcohol.

"An oryx. It's an African antelope."

"I got no idea what that looks like," Jerry said. “Like a deer?”

Gabe handed the pistol to Zeke and walked out the front door. He staggered back in, the oryx draped across his shoulder, its horns dragging against the floor. He slung it on the counter, where it rested for a moment before sliding off with a heavy thud.

"They god," Jerry said, licking his lips again and again.

"Our boy Cadmus dropped him at over three hundred yards. Drilled him right through the heart," Gabe said, walking back and taking the pistol from Zeke. Cadmus smiled and nodded. The needle started humming behind him.

"Let's do it," Jerry said, and started in.

Cadmus kept losing himself, staring down at the photograph, surprised by the pain each time the needle touched his back. "Hold him," Jerry said, and Gabe and Zeke stood on each side, each clamping down on a shoulder. Cadmus strained against them and tried to think of nothing.

Time passed, but he'd lost his watch somewhere. He tried counting to one hundred but kept losing track.

"That's very nice, Jerry," Zeke said.


"Maybe add a few more oryx."

Cadmus' head was filled with a warm, red light. He closed his eyes and smiled. Jerry would stop every so often to wipe his back. It felt good, the coldness, on his back. He didn’t realize he was asleep, until he woke.

"You're doing fine, Cadmus," Zeke said, patting him on the shoulder.

"Trees," Gabe said, "it needs trees."

The needle sounded like a voice to Cadmus. A woman's voice, distorted, but with a subtle undertone, a hint of something more. It was calling his name, again and again.

"Put an ape in that tree," Zeke said. His back burned. He could feel the blood running down his back.

"That's art," Gabe said, "that's a real piece of work."

"It's beautiful," Cadmus said, staring at his feet.

"It's all of us," Zeke said, "it's where we came from."

"Just look at that," Jerry said. He turned off the needle. It was very quiet.

"Tell me what looking at that makes you feel," Zeke said.

"Who?" Jerry said.


Zeke picked up the pistol, placed it gently against Jerry's ear.

"Say the words," he said. Jerry stared down at Cadmus' back. He cleared his throat.

He started to speak and stopped. "It feels like being in church," he said slowly.

Cadmus spoke as Zeke cocked the gun. "He knows that's wrong, Zeke," Cadmus said. "He's just scared. He'll tell you."

"Tell him, Jerry," Gabe said.

"Tell me," Zeke said.

"It feels like coming home," Jerry whispered.

Cadmus smiled.