Geyserville, CA, 2019 — Longlisted in the Spring 2021 Reflex flash fiction competition

It’s never dark anymore.

The sky moans in rust. The air scratches. And I’m still awake in bed when Mom opens the door of my room, ‘We’re leaving.’

I get up, put on a thin, pale-blue nightgown, and crouch to pull out a plastic suitcase from under my bed. Swirling dust makes me cough.

We’ve practiced this before. Clothes. Toiletries. Chargers. Laptop. Phone. Headphones. School stuff. Done. Execution mode. Just like Mom.

The suitcase’s four wheels roll on the dread-pale planks.

I stop.

Did I forget something?

No.

heard something.

Sheep-shap.

Whistling?

Sheep-shap, sheep-sheep-shap.

Is it a… bird?

I can’t remember the last time I heard birds. There is only cracking, snapping, prickling heat.

Sheep-shap.

I release the suitcase’s handle and turn back. Orange mist everywhere. And… Sheep-shap.

I rush to my soot-powdered chest of drawers and kneel, yanking out the bottom drawer. Sheep-shap, sheep-shap gets louder.

Lost pairs of ankle socks, gold star stickers, friendship bracelets, pieces of yellow Lego fly out as I search for the bird inside.

‘Fuck’s sake.’ Mom’s behind me. ‘We’ve been through this.’

My hands scour the drawer, ‘Can’t you hear the bird?’

‘We have to leave. Now!

And I find it. A small, carved wooden bird, long tail and short beak glisten with brown varnish.

I smile at it. Grandma bought it for me at a DIY fair years ago, where she was selling baskets. I always wanted her to teach me to weave, but…

When I asked Mom if she could make baskets too, she said, ‘I make money.’

I cup the bird in my palms.

Mom grabs my arm. Hard. Her fright travels into me like electricity.

I jump up, holding the bird against my chest.

Sheep-shap, it says, snuggling up to my collarbone.

Mom pulls me away from the drawer and drops my arm on the pulled-out handle of the suitcase.

‘Let’s go.’ Her voice is even.

Before getting in the SUV, Mom and I stop at both sides of the open car doors and look back at the house.

Home.

The bird stirs in my palm.


Originally published on Reflex Fiction.

Picture: Brown bird by Toa Heftiba under CC0 1.0

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