There is no sky, only pricks of light making shapes like crabs and hunters. Dad points me out, says, don’t let the name fool you, Sorrow, it’s not you who’s dying. I don’t see what Dad sees when he looks at me, why he’s named everything after sadness. Mom says it wasn’t always like this, that one time we had names like every other child. Right now the lights don’t make any sense; I can’t see what’s up there. My brother is asleep in the tent. It glows blood red from a flashlight covered in cellophane. Night eyes, Dad calls it, cupping his hand over his brow—for what? It’s not like we’re missing anything out here.
The One Where Grief Destroys the World
My brother sits on top of a washing machine in a laundromat in the middle of nowhere. He’s so small he sways with the machine. Or maybe he’s moving his body like that, I can’t tell. He’s been saying the sun is a hole in the sky where all the bad things come out, like me. I crawled out of that hole and made my evil known.
You’re the wicked boy, I say.
He tips his head skywards.
When’s Dad coming back? he asks.
Dad’s left us here while he goes to a cowboy themed bar across the street. We can see the neon lights of the name on the pavement outside. Earlier, Dad had been teaching me to drive, what that stick in the car is for. When I burnt out the clutch, he said, maybe we should let Grief try.
The laundromat smells like mildew and feels like a bathroom after you’ve taken a shower. My brother has no shoes and his feet are still covered in white sand from the desert. His eyes are black dots absorbing all the light of the world. When I close mine, I pretend nothing exists.
Marching Towards Heaven
My brother asks Dad where he goes when he’s not with us. Somewhere like Heaven, he says, but I know it’s just the VA hospital again. All those lines and paperwork keeping him away from home. Do you know what being admitted is? Mom once asked and explained his other world. Right now, my brother sits on Dad’s lap, driving the car. If he had his way I know he’d drive us into a tree or a ditch just to see what happens. Marching towards Heaven, he’d call it, or something like that. He’d come out without a scratch, but I’d have broken bones or cancer.
Let’s stop here, Dad says, pulling off the road. It’s all woods and darkness and my stomach hurts from refusing to crap in the desert like everyone else.
Night eyes? my brother asks, finding his flashlight, shining the blood red in my face.
We walk away from the road. I think this is how all horror movies start, but then I think how no one ever dies that way.
Is he evil? my brother asks Dad.
Dad thinks for a moment, looking up at something artificial in the sky. He’s the closest thing to God you’ll know.
My brother nods and shines the flashlight at the sky. It reaches the top of a tree where nothing happens.
I look at the sky, think how there is no Heaven, only the places you go when you need to be alone.
Nicholas Cook lives in Dallas, TX. His fiction has appeared in Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, Unbroken Journal, Bath Flash Fiction Award, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2018. Find him at nicholascook.com.
Artwork by: Timothy Gerken
Timothy Gerken is an associate professor of Humanities at a small state school in Central New York. As a teacher, writer, and photographer Timothy’s work calls attention to the presiding metaphors we follow–often blindly–and to the structural conventions they encourage.