Saturday, July 16, 2005

I'LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU - flash fiction

This is a short (999 word) story about love thwarted, then triumphant. I wrote it for submission to the flash fiction contest at Whispering Spirits,
Any thoughts, either on the story's worthiness or its woefulness, would be appreciated.

Bayou Bill


I’ll Always Love You
by Bill Fullerton

After it was all over, after the last hymn was sung at the church, the last prayer spoken at the grave side, the last condolence given, Mark Cahill came home, hung up the suit he’d need for Willie’s funeral the next day, lay down, and fell into a fitful sleep with the same dream.

Flames and smoke boiled from the windows in the back half of the old, cross-shaped, wooden church. Framed against the stormy, night sky, the fire so dominated their minds no one noticed the parking lot was empty. All they knew was Willie’s family might be inside.

The car skidded, slowed, then came to a jarring halt, its left front tire wedged in a drainage ditch swollen with rainwater. As Willie struggled with the passenger door, Amy Marshall looked over at Mark, her fingertips touching the face of the life-long friend who had, just minutes earlier, become so much more. “I’ll always love you,” she said, pushing away a lock of his wet hair.

“And I’ll always love you.”

As their lips met, the door swung open and Willie started clambering out. Amy turned to watch, breaking the kiss. When she looked back, her expression had changed. “Come on,” she said, scooting away from him toward the open passenger door, “we’ve got to make sure everyone’s okay.”

Mark opened his door, stepped out into the dark, rainy night, and stumbled into the same ditch that imprisoned his car. The fall cost him a sprained ankle, one shoe, and time.

He struggled out of the ditch and hobbled around the back of the car. The rear of the church was in flames, but the sanctuary appeared untouched. In the illumination from a long flash of lightening, he saw Willie trying to open its double front door.

As he limped across the gravel parking lot, his old friend triumphed, and then hurried inside. Moments later, Amy reached the open doors, and paused to look back. When she noticed Mark limping, she started to come for him, but hesitated and glanced inside the church. Fear for Willie’s parents overcame her concern for Mark’s limp. She motioned for him to hurry, and dashed into the sanctuary.

Later, was it a moment, a second, a lifetime, he’d never know, the old wooden building seemed to groan in mortal agony. Unseen, the fire had spread into the cluttered attic. Flames started shooting out of holes which blossomed on the roof. Weakened by this new assault, it began collapsing around the now useless main support columns.

The building shuddered. The walls began falling in after the roof. The once proud building was becoming a giant bonfire. Mark heard Amy scream, maybe his name. But her voice was lost in a wave of noise, heat, and flying embers as the roof and walls disappeared into the flames.

The blast of scorched air knocked him down. At first he just lay on the wet gravel unable, unwilling, to comprehend what was happening to the church, to his friends, to the woman he loved, to his world.

From somewhere came a desperate, animal-like cry. “No. No. No!” He was up, racing towards the flames.

It was dark outside when he woke to the sound of his voice. “No. No. No!”

He dressed and went out the back door. His old Ford was waiting in the moonlight, as if it knew he’d be coming and where they’d be going. It was a short drive. He parked and walked over to the old cemetery’s newest grave—the one covered with fresh flowers.

At the grave, he stood and stared, trying to make sense out of what had happened. But his mind wouldn’t function.

With mechanical motions, he moved the flowers aside until raw, newly-turned, red clay earth came into view, then he knelt and put a hand on the grave. But that wasn’t enough. He lay down, rested his head on the mound and let the cool soil absorb his tears.

And then Amy was there beside him. They kissed and touched and talked about what might have been and what once had been. The time when they were kids and went fishing with Willie and caught all those little fish. The high school game when she missed that crucial free throw and cried for days. The time, back in the spring, when they first kissed. This summer at the lake when he knew he’d always love her. Last weekend when she screamed, “Yes!” jumped into his arms, and agreed that from then on, whether anyone else knew or approved, in every way that counted, they were married. And their last kiss, when Amy said she’d always love him. Those were their times.

A pale light defined the tops of pine trees on the east side of the cemetery. Mark was alone. Though stiff and damp with dew, he felt rested and at peace. He must have slept. But there’d been no nightmares, just Amy. A blanket covered him; the same old Navajo they used as kids when camping out at her grandmother’s farm.

With an effort, he forced his body into motion. Once on his knees, he folded the blanket, then placed his palm back on the earth above Amy. “I’m glad you didn’t have to spend the night alone. And, well, I guess, now we can say we spent at least one night together as an old married couple. I know, another one of my bad jokes, but it’s early.”

He closed his eyes. This time his mind produced a mental image of Amy: tall, slender, and impossibly beautiful. She was in his arms, smiling into his face. “That’s us; already an old married couple.”

Mark leaned over, kissed Amy's grave, then whispered, “There’s supposed to be a time and place for everything. I don’t know about that, but it feels like my time to leave. But till we meet again, never forget, we are an old married couple--and that I’ll always love you.”


Blogger Beebster said...

Man. That's powerful, Bill. What fabulous writing!

I think it's a terrific ending -- not the moonlight and roses we'd like to have, but the reality of too many young love stories. Car wrecks, accidents, etc -- all have nipped love in the bud, leaving such heartache and memories that only fade, never disappear.

I love it!- BBJ

2:57 PM  
Blogger Beebster said...

And now you've been named a semi-finalist in the William Faulkner writing competition for this novel-in-progress. Bill, CONGRATULATIONS! - bbj

10:38 PM  
Anonymous gillie said...

Bill, it's unique and therefore surprising. I like it!

3:40 PM  

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