I had hunted up here before, but in the cloak of mist I had lost my bearings.
After a while, the quiet became unnerving. I quickened my pace, hoping to come across a familiar landmark or perhaps even a logging road.
I saw the looming shadow of a structure ahead and called out. No answer came, but I proceeded forward, hoping someone might be there to help me find my way. I stopped short when I saw the barn. I knew where I was now, yet it was impossible. That barn burned down thirty years ago.
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19 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Fog of Memory”
The clouds hug the ground. Covering it like an old shag carpet, heavier in spots and almost clear in others. The grayness of the day makes it impossible to judge the time.
I am unsure how long I have been walking but I am wet from the armpits down from my struggles through the tall, cold wet grass. Now a steady drizzle starts to fall feeding my misery and adding to my overall sense of despair.
Up ahead a clearing in the mist reveals an old abandoned barn. The building has the look of an old man kneeling before he lies down for the last time.
Still, maybe this will be a dry space, a place to dry off. A place to wring the water from my clothes, perhaps have a smoke, if any survived.
At the doorway, I hesitate before stepping into the gloom. Inside I hesitate again, waiting for my eyes to adjust.
Inside a wooden wagon stood on broken wheels. As I made my way slowly toward the wagon I realized all sound had stopped. A deep calmness engulfed me as I remove my boots and socks. Some twenty minutes later my clothes are somewhat dry, I have found a dry smoke and a match.
Life is good.
We all wish we could turn back the clock at one time or another in our lives. How far back do you go and what would you do different. Would it just be to last week when you walked away from a confrontation where you were at a loss for words; and the perfect retort came to you later. How about ten years before to do over a decision you now regret. There is always the longer spans of time – but that’s where it gets tricky – you don’t want to go back too far – after all you have children in your life – grown up for sure – you can’t possibly unwish them into life. So, you are still stuck with what is the perfect time. Well, you could wish yourself all the way back into infancy – but then you wouldn’t know what to change along the way. Besides what makes you think anything would turn out better – maybe that different road taken would have more misery and heartache. No, better to be thankful for where you are NOW and vow to make the rest of your life a happy and peaceful one.
It wasn’t until he came over the top of the hill when he spotted the perfect place to bury the body. An old barn, miles from the road, would be the end of a long journey. He pulled up to the back and got out of the truck. He stretched, arms to the sky, relieving his tired body. Walking to the back of the truck he heard the snapping of a twig thru the fog. He crouched near the back tire and pulled his gun from his waist band. He heard footsteps coming closer to the truck, but he wasn’t able to see what was walking toward him. His mind started to race. Could this person, or persons, have been watching me since I pulled off the road? The fog was so thick it would have been possible to do so without him knowing. He decided to confront the sound. He stood up, pointed his gun forward and shouted “you don’t want to mess with me!” that was when he saw his would be attacker. A small boy continued to walk toward the truck. He looked as though he had been living in the woods for years. The boy’s clothes were torn and bloodied. The boy pointed towards a small door that leaded into the barn. The man lowered his gun and placed it back into his waistband. “Is that a good place to leave my….bag?” he asked. “No” said the boy. “It’s where I’m going to bury you.”
I walked closer to get a better look. Indeed, that was the same barn.
Did I have a fever? Had I eaten a poisonous berry or taken a drink of contaminated water from the creek? Perhaps I’d fallen asleep, and this was a dream. Those were the only valid explanations for this vision. This barn had burned down to the ground.
I rubbed my eyes roughly with my fists. I blinked hard. But the barn was still there. This just can’t be.
I ventured closer, trepidatiously: still not understanding what I was seeing. I walked in through the open doors. The place was empty. Same dirt floor, same musty wood smell. If it was a dream or a hallucination, how could I be smelling it?
Just then, a strong breeze whistled through the gaps in the barn’s siding. The rotted curtains fluttered. A single sheet of paper was carried to my feet. I picked it up. It was badly yellowed and the edges were charred, but I could tell it was a page from a calendar – November 1984.
I couldn’t help but smile. That’s right, thirty years ago on this very day, I found my wife with her lover in this barn. I locked them in and burned it to the ground.
Suddenly, I smelled smoke. Flames crawled up the walls. The doors swung shut behind me. I didn’t care. I died inside the day I caught my brother doing my wife. And when I get to hell, I’ll kill them again.
“Over there!” Alex yelled frantically, his voice parting the clouds around them.
“There, near all the trees. Covered in fog. ‘S got a triangular roof.”
“Oh, I see it, I see it!” Becca’s smile grew wide as the house came into view.
“Come on, let’s go. We don’t have much time til the zombies catch our scent again.” Alex slung his bag over his shoulder and limped as fast as he could to the shelter. They were the only living humans left in the virus-infected world, two friends brought closer by the prospect of dying.
“Alex, slow down! My foot is hurting.”
“Becca! Zombie at 8 o’clock!”
Becca turned around to see a zombie approaching from her right. She swung her kitchen knife in a high arc, cleanly slicing its head off, before disregarding the pain in her foot and running to where Alex was already standing in front of the door.
“You scared me there,” he said, relief evident in his voice.
“Thanks for the heads up,” Becca replied with an even sweeter smile. She looked into Alex’s eyes with such a sincere expression that it made his heart lurch. He kept her gaze for a few seconds before a wave of emotions overcame him, and he bent down to kiss her. He kissed her with the passion of someone who had finally accomplished a life long dream, and he tried to forget that it took the world ending to finally have her in his arms.
“Gracchus! Where are ya? C’mere boy, we’re goin’ home! Can’t find nothing out here like this!”
There was something unsettling about this fog. And Gracchus probably couldn’t hear him neither.
Where had that dog gone? They hadn’t seen or heard any animals out there all day. Nothin’ to chase. Nothin’ to run from. He must’ve—
He had heard something… almost like a whisper… as if something was calling his name…
But no. He couldn’t even hear the sounds of the leaves crackling beneath his feet. How in the—
And that’s when he saw it. The barn. It was a comforting sight. But then again, didn’t the old thing burn down when he was just a little boy. He didn’t realize they’d rebuilt it. And exactly like it was. Only…
Where was that light coming from? Where could it possibly—
And in that second unimaginable terror rushed through him. And he was back—
“Honey? Honey, are you alright?” came the woman’s sweet but worried voice.
“Yeah, I’m… I think I’m okay. Wha— Why?”
“You were screaming, baby.”
“I… I was?… Mama, what did we do yesterday?”
“Oh, it was your birthday, dear. You turned twelve—”
But those fifty years. They’d seemed so real. He’d lived his life…
“Mama? And what about the barn?”
“What about it, sweetie?” she asked as she glanced toward the corner of the open window.
There was a shriek.
And she was gone.
And he was left there alone, absently stroking Gracchus.
It must be the cold and rain that has my mind playing tricks on me. I keep walking, still not believing what I am seeing.
I walk inside and nothing has changed. It’s as if I’m that thirteen year old kid again. My friends and I are skipping school, anxious to try those cigarettes I lifted from my dads coat pocket. We tried those cigarettes alright; and when we thought we heard someone coming we dropped the one we had burning. We dropped it in that old, dry pile of hay; and ran. We ran. We ran, from nobody. There had been nobody there; nothing but our own paranoia.
Was this manefestation my conscience telling me that we didn’t really get away with burning that barn down all those years ago? Our paranoia about being caught made us run from something we weren’t supposed to be doing. We ran. We never owned up to our misdeed that day. Those friends are long gone now, and here I stand, in this place from my past. Here I stand, alone with my conscience.
The house stood in the middle of the glade, amidst the dense pine trees. If it wasn’t for a lonely lit lantern perched on the brick wall of the porch, which shone even more brightly in the dark night, Danny wouldn’t have noticed it. And if it wasn’t for the laughter from many that came from it when he had approached it, he wouldn’t even have kept walking toward it.
Why did they laugh so much? What were they doing so far deep into the forest, away from civilization?
Maybe they have come here for the same reasons Danny ran away from the city: because comfort was nowhere to be found, because mankind was like those trees, all together, all alone.
The laughter grew louder with every step, like the warmth of a fire intensifying as one went near its fiery core. The inhabitants, they must have been many, for Danny could hardly distinguish one’s voice among all the joyful conversation.
Danny didn’t dare knock on the door, he only wanted to see what it was like, so he circled the house and crouched near an open window. He could almost feel the heat pouring from below the windowsill and onto the cold air.
Danny had to be quick.
Many people sat around tables, drinking ale, and eating bread. They looked happy, happier than he was.
Someone turned, Danny crouched.
Danny tiptoed to the porch, took a deep breath, and knocked on the front door.
I shivered in the gusty, driving wind, but it was not the brutal elements that traced fingers of ice across my neck. Silenced, petrified, I no longer heard my own shallow breath. The pull of the past rushed over me, flooding my veins, and it was all I could do not to sink to my knees and curse my worthless existence.
I used to be a hunter.
The silence snapped with the call of a bird, flying low. Flap of wings and my senses returned; with it the echo of the mountain. I forced my eyes upon the barn, knowing where I needed to go. Eyeing the black crow that judged me from a spectre tree, I trudged through the crunching snow.
May lightning strike me, but I was not so lucky. Time froze. The crow squawked five times, as it had done many moons ago. A warning I did not heed. To pause would be to die and I’d experienced too much of death.
The barn door creaked ajar, tempting me into its dark heart. In I drifted, as so many times before; a journey to be repeated over and over until time itself stopped.
I was once a hunter, but now I am hunted.
The door slammed and once more I found myself in this hell of my own making, seeking he who lured me. Yet I sense he lives still, beyond this artifice, for I can never find him. And so I circle while the crow cries.
Squinting to see though the fog, I heard a fiddle. I know that sound! A fiddle and a mouth harp blowing, “Turkey in the Straw”, and keeping beat to a wash board drum. A flash of memory of a square dance so long ago, the one where I met my darling Becky. She died. must be 15 years ago now. I miss her so.
Picking up my step with wider sweeps through the wet fescue, I felt an anxious excitement. By golly, I hear the caller, and the scuffling of feet on barn wood floors, and laughter!
“Charlie! Hey buddy”, We’ve been waiting for you!”
“Hey Charlie! Charlie’s here!”
I froze at what I recognized as my two uncles Harry and Clarence, and my Aunt Melba, but they’ve been gone for years! With arms outreaching we all embraced, along with other family member some of which I’ve never met.
“Welcome home Charlie! Oh Charlie, Welcome! Come on the biggest surprise is waiting you.”
My entire family who have long ago passed, crowded closely and led me to the entrance of the barn. Rounding the corner my heart leaped as I saw her standing there in her yellow gingham dress and white bow holding back her beautiful red curls. My Becky, with out reached arms, and a gentle whisper, “I’ve been waiting for you my love. Your going to love it here. Come on Captain, we’ve got a square dance a waiting.”
by Sara Stark
Having grown up in the city, I had only ever seen pictures of the barn. But my mother had told me stories of how she played there when she was young. How in its cavernous rooms and loft, she and her cousins reenacted stories of swashbucklers and detectives. Of treasure hunters and monster-killers. How, one year, her father built tunnels through the stacked, bailed hay so they could pretend they were in an old castle with secret passages.
So how was it, considering I’d never been there, that in this dream it was so real? I’d never had a dream this real before. Yes, I’m known for my wild imagining, but I’d never been able to process smell and touch like this. Never smelled freshly mown hay or had mist dampen my face. Never felt the roughness of weathered wooden walls beneath my fingers. Not in a dream.
As I always imagined it, hay filled the loft. I couldn’t resist. I climbed the ladder, and as I did, I noticed a hole about halfway up the stacked bails. I scrambled up and into the tunnel. Even though I was no longer a kid, the shaft seemed to accommodate me with ease.
For what felt like a long time, I crawled on hands and knees, somehow unafraid of spiders and snakes. And when I emerged, my mother, my dead mother, and her dead father greeted me. Behind them stood past friends and family, smiling.
Welcome to Paradise, my mother said.
I shouldn’t be here. Not NOW. I was early by 30 years. Damnit! I reset the time trajectory on my suit. My finger was paused over the button that would catapult me into the future when my earlier self turned the corner of the barn. Holy crap, was I really that skinny?
I knew I should leave, but I was hidden by fog. I could spare a few moments for nostalgia. After all, I had all the time in the world…literally.
My earlier self crouched at the corner of the barn and pulled something from his pocket. A memory took me back as efficiently as my time suit. This was the day I accidentally burned the barn to the ground. I still woke to the screams of terrified goats trapped inside that barn—a nightmarish sound.
I could end that horror. Right now. But if I was seen by my earlier self it would create a time paradox. Those were bad. Like, end everything in existence bad. I couldn’t risk it. All I had to do was push the button and go.
No, I had to try.
I picked up a rock and weighted it in my hand. Heavy enough to hurt, but not enough to damage. No sense in injuring myself.
The rock struck my head, causing the match to fall into the dry grass next to the barn. I saw flames as I hit my button. The barn would still burn. I hadn’t changed a thing.
I had been walking for quite a while. Somehow I got turned around and was lost. There had not been a path or logging road for miles. As I reached a hilltop I looked across the haze of the valley and saw and old barn. It took a couple of minutes, but I finally realized where I was. It was the old Jenkins’ community. When I was a young boy my granddaddy would bring me up here to hunt for deer, and occasionally we’d stop in to see some of the folks. But now, something didn’t make sense.
About thirty years ago, Jeremiah Jenkins came to town and told us that the entire community was packing up and moving back north. That’s when he told granddaddy that someone had knocked over a lantern and burned the barn down to the ground. He said nothing was left but ashes, yet here it stands.
As I drew near it started to get dark. I saw a figure through the mist. It moved to the tree line and back several times. When I was about a hundred yards away I saw smoke. I circled around to the back of the barn and peeked into a window. There was a fire under several large cylinders–moonshine stills, I guessed.
When I scanned to the left it all made sense. There they were; my granddaddy and Mr Jenkins. The two of them were rocking and smiling, all the while sampling some good ol’ mountain dew.
I couldn’t contain myself, I had to check out the barn that shouldn’t be. I slung my shotgun over my shoulder and walked along the dirt road. Dirt road! This was the ol’ 42 turnpike, had to be. They paved it about 10 years ago. My gram used to own this land.
We lost gram in the barn fire, sold the place soon after. Mom couldn’t bear the thought of coming out here without her mom.
I kinda remember the day it burned down. Talk about déjà vu, was a day just like this. I remember now I was playing just past the barn looking for trouble like I always did. Heck, I was all of five at the time.
Wait, that kid over there, just past the barn, it can’t be. Where the heck was I going? The kid took off like a shot. Something must have spooked him.
Poor kid, tripped over a gas can Gramps left out after filling the mower. Gramps had never been good at putting stuff away. Gram was always on his case for that. The old man flicked his cigarette butt to the ground as he passed by on the riding lawn mower.
The fire ate its way across the dirt and devoured the barn. I remember it now. I saw that strange man come down the road carrying the gun. I was afraid he was going to shoot my gram and momma. There was nothing I could do.
I stare at the old barn through the thick mist. My heart pounds. That barn burned down thirty years ago. Police thought a dropped lighter and moonshine turned that tinder-trap into a lethal blaze. But that wasn’t the cause. I grasp the doorframe; listen to the echoes of the past.
Popular kids like them didn’t ask girls like me to parties, but I was too desperate for companionship to see the warning signs. Besides, Brenton was cute. I sipped my soda while they swigged booze and studied how everyone stumbled through the barn. Drunk was ugly.
I didn’t realize just how ugly until after a bio break. Two sips into my drink and the walls started to spin. I sank to the ground, limbs heavy and numb. Brenton loomed over me, a strange grin on his face. Before I could get up two of his friends held me down and started to cut away my clothes. I screamed, told them to stop, let me go. They laughed. Nobody would hear me. No one was coming to my rescue. Brenton climbed on top of me.
I don’t remember anything else after that. My clothes vanished. I woke up in my bed, neatly washed and wearing my fleece jammies. Police found three bodies in the charred remains of the barn, toasted from the inside out.
There’s a good reason I stay away from people, hunt alone. Smoke rises from the doorframe. Flames shoot skyward, engulfing the structure. I’m unharmed. I never am.
It was the longest dream, it was the best dream, the one I almost came to believe, and then it faded to mist.
I quicken my pace, quiet hope unnerving me as I come across familiar landmarks. The shoulder of the slope and the trees are much as I remember, much as I witnessed. Can one dream a dream twice, witness again a dream made real? If we wake in a dream, do we remain there?
The barn materializes from the mist. Hope stumbles. I stop short, dreading to advance. I had dreamed that barn burning thirty years ago, heard screams upon waking. Such is the curse of a Dream-witness, to witness one’s life as through a window framed by gauze curtains.
Past the barn, over the hill’s shallow crest, down the slope–a house, a woman and a child, the longest dream, the best dream.
I walk down the slope, toward the barn, toward that memory, stumble blind with remembered sight.
There is no quiet quite like that dreamt. The echoes of such silence! Mist plays its sleight of hand; gauze curtains stir. The image wavers like cold fire, disappears in the grey ashes of the fog.
I am the dreamer and the dream, become all that is possible, and nothing. This is my magic. Witness and pity my despair.
Strolling along hillsides I’d strode along as a child, many years have passed since memories had nestled in my heart of Pop and I scouting for that one perfect buck.
The smoldering fog enveloped me this particular afternoon cloaking familiar landmarks, and I, feeling wistfully full of memories of Pop, felt nervous being alone here without him. Every twig snap or flutter of wing added edge to my nerves, yet I felt compelled to continue to the place where the old barn stood. It’s shelter reached back generations to the homestead his great grandfather built. Pop would often share his childhood memories here with joyful emotion. I’d always felt safe, warmed from the inside out.
Our forays always led past the barn… until the night it burned to the ground. All that remained of Pop was gone. That night, his barn, with him, was forever burned into my heart, as was the realization that I was the only one left.
Emerging through the damp undergrowth at the edge of the forest, I could see what looked like a sharp roof peak.
“That’s strange”, I thought, now completely spooked. Coming closer it became clearer.
“What? How’d the…?” There stood the barn floating in misty clouds above memories of long extinguished ashes. And Pop standing alongside. “Am I seeing things?”
“Yes”, Pop winked and grinned. “But you’re seeing them through the eyes of your heart. I’ve always been there… here,” he pointed to the ground, “waiting for you”.
Deja Vu. Again. Bill Murry’s got nothin’ on me.
The old red barn stares at me through the fog. Two window-eyes twinkle with the glow of hurricane lamps. Only now I know who holds them. They held those same lamps the last time, and the time before.
This time I won’t walk blindly in. In my last attempt, I noticed a shotgun laying in the grass by the water trough.
I drop to my knees, the damp clay coating my jeans like a soiled diaper. I crawl like an infant toward the weapon and squat behind the trough. I reach around it, my hand easily finding the cold steel barrel and tugging it into my clutches like chameleon plucking a dragonfly.
Now I am armed. Those machete-wielding creatures from hell are in for a surprise. Before, they lured me in with their homey little lamps, promising warmth and shelter. Even when I was ready for them the second time, they got the drop on me by using a trip wire at the door. But this time I’m armed. I’ll blow those prehistoric bastards back to the black hole they crawled out of.
I leap up and run to the barn door, my pump-action shotgun leading the way. I blast everything in sight. Shoot first, ask questions later.
From the loft, a fiery creature leaps down on me, straw burning all around as he falls on the hay. We go up in flames.
“Well, you’ve done it again,” the dog nearly growled.
The pointy-eared man replied, “You cannot expect me to execute proper maneuvers with you slobbering all over my instrument panel.”
“Not my fault. You shouldn’t have had that photograph of a hamburger on the display.”
“That wasn’t a hamburger. That was a Sheldonian spacecraft.” The man looked at his computer tablet. “If you behave, I can get us back to present day.”
The dog’s shiny black nose started twitching. “Do you smell that?”
The man sniffed the air. “I do not smell anything. Please do not interrupt my calculations.” He looked back down at his screen.
The fluffy white dog trotted off into the barn.
A moment later, a series of loud crashes emanated from inside. “I thought you were going to behave,” the man called out, disinterested.
The dog scampered back to his companion’s side.
The man stopped poking at his tablet. His nostrils flared. “I do smell something now.” His eyebrows rose when he saw the dog was no longer white or fluffy. “What have you done now?”
“Why is it always my fault? Is it not possible that some cow manure fell on me?”
“Possible, but highly improbable. We are not returning to the starship until you wash that off.”
“Great. You mess up our calculations, but I’m the one who ends up getting punished. I see how this works.”
“Would you rather I put you in the detox bin in the sick bay?”
The dog’s brown eyes shifted. “Do they have dog biscuits in there?”
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