Flash fiction inspired by Eric Schaller’s art (above), which appeared in Secret Life Redux: The Select Fire Remix (yep, that’s right–the remixed, just like a music remix, trade paper edition of my Secret Life story collection, not to be confused with Secret Lives). I have a few copies lying around if you’re curious. $12 including postage for the US, $18 for international. Paypal to vanderworld at hotmail.com. This was a phase of collaboration with Eric that led to the Last Drink Bird Head anthology. Eric sent me an image called Last Drink Bird Head, I mentioned the phrase to Matt Cheney, he emailed me what became the first Last Drink story, and then I wrote my own for Secret Life Redux–I think that was the order–and the rest is history of a sort.
Water fallingâ€¦but it was me who was falling and had been for a while. From depths to greater depths. Iâ€™d missed the rope. Iâ€™d missed whatever indicator mightâ€™ve broken my fall. Am I talking literally? Probably not. Probably Iâ€™m not falling at all. Probably Iâ€™m just a creation of black-and-white shadows that receive from the water up rushing some kind of animating impulse. Is that me turning as I fall to stare at the reader?
Thereâ€™s nothing Iâ€™m not capable of now. But, really, it happened like this: I was on a case that took me to the edge of a remote cliff in Estonia or Sweden or Siberia or some country Iâ€™ve visited, of which there have been many. On that cliff a village clung against all realities of erosion and wind. And in that village there was a tavern called Select Fire.
At least, thatâ€™s the translation I was given. Iâ€™m sure it was wrong. I had to meet a man there who would tell me where my clientâ€™s kidnapped daughter had been taken. My gun was heavy under my overcoat. (It was the first thing to fall, and the fastest. I could see as I tumbled a premonition of my fate in the way the waves made it disappear so effortlessly.) This was in the middle of winter and I wouldâ€™ve been cold whatever I was wearing. But the tavern was warm, even if my reception was not. When people have been surviving in a place they shouldnâ€™t even be able to live for a number of years, thereâ€™s a part of them that turns cruel and brittle. It was that part that, in the thick lilt of light from the fireplace, became what I remember of their faces. Turning to watch me the way they might look out over the cliff and see a storm approaching. There was a smell of bacon fat and of sweat. There was no sound in that room at that moment. Rising from the back of the room in a welter of furs, bullet head a beacon, my contact: a huge man with a flourishing moustache but no beard. He had eyes like tiny black weasel turds. He had a name that only worked for our meeting: Ivan.
I knew as soon as I saw him that everything would go badly. And it did. He didnâ€™t know the location of the girl and as his friends converged to disarm me and bring me, struggling, out of the Select Fire and over to the edge of the cliff, I realized that my client had never wanted me to find his daughter. That somehow I had misunderstood some vital piece of information. Ivan tossed my gun over the cliff and I watched it fall with a kind of genuine disinterest that comes from knowing everything that will happen.
The first moment of the fall it almost felt like freedom, like escape, after having been held so tight by men so rapacious. Then there was the moment that should have been my memories exploding through me and past, but it never happened. Instead, I kept seeing every instant of my short stay in Select Fire, every detail of the dirty bar, every flicker of the fireplace, the way the twigs and logs popped, flared, crinkled.
I experienced again the scorn in the eyes of the barmaid, and savored it as truly as I would a loverâ€™s embrace. In just that moment, I knew Select Fire as well as I knew anything, ever. I cannot say that it was love, but it became something close to it.
Am I dead? I donâ€™t know. There are no bullets in me, but the waterâ€™s deep and Iâ€™m deeper than it, and still falling, even now.