Once more I’m delving into that realm of Flash Fiction, following a prompt from Chuck Wendig’s blog challenge called “The Crooked Tree”. So here it is:
Whiskey, Trees and Mist by Shoshana Kessock (1000 Words)
I come to the old tree on the same day every year to ask it for answers. This is the seventh year. I promise myself I will never come back and know I am lying. I know the routine by heart. It goes something like this:
I say goodbye to my mother and leave our annual get together as the sun goes down. She’s already into her third glass of wine. I’ve been taking drags from my favorite brand of whiskey for hours, on a nice slow burn. I walk the three quarters of a mile into the woods and know every root, every stump, by heart. I go barefoot the way that he did. I will clean the cuts on the soles of my feet later. The stream is cold around my toes.
The clearing is hazy as the sun sinks below the tree line. I stop at the edge of the woods to marvel at how goddamn beautiful something half dead and fallen can be. The entire area smells sunken, edged with animal piss and decaying flowers. It’s cloying and I take a swig from the bottle to keep it from getting up my nose.
I head over to the tree. The first year I came to the clearing, I treated the place like it was sacred. Now, I approach it the way one approaches the scene of a car accident: with wide eyes and a lot of pity for all those involved. The mist plays around my ankles as I skip over the harsher branches. The whiskey’s stronger than I thought and my balance is near gone.
The world spins and I put a hand out to keep from falling. I miss the trunk and reel, then land on my ass on the ground. The bottle, by some miracle, stays intact through my half-assed flail and I cradle it to my chest, eyes wide. I stare around the clearing and hold my breath in the silence. Nothing but the crickets great me in return and I smile, hesitantly, then wide. I raise the bottle to my lips.
“That was some ballerina bullshit right there.”
I choke on the whiskey. It burns up my nose and I cough so hard my eyes water. Laughter flits through the mist at me from the tree line.
“Shit, if I knew trying to kill you was that easy, I’d have done it this way sooner.”
He walks out of the haze and he’s exactly like I remember him. He’s wearing a black t-shirt and jeans with big shit-kicker boots. His long brown hair is pulled back into a ponytail and he’s got the same goatee and mustache as ever. The t-shirt reads “Will Bust Heads For Beer” and he’s got a thick silver watch on. His skin is pale as old milk and the shadows under his eyes make them stand out a startling blue. Some women would say that he’s biker sexy, but I can’t even consider that. I squeeze my eyes closed to push the image of him out of my head and try to clear out the cough.
When I can speak again, I wheeze, “Shouldn’t have scared me. I knew you’d be here.”
“Just like I knew you’d be here too, star angel,” he drawls. He sticks both hands in his pockets as he approaches and saunters, like a cowboy across a saloon. I know because I can’t help but peak out from under my eyelashes. He is all command and swagger and it’s annoying.
I frown. “Do you practice looking like that?”
He stops, uncertain. “Like what?”
“Like you just stepped out of a cleaned up version of Near Dark.” I hold up the bottle. “I’d offer you some, but I know it’s no joy. You won’t mind if I do, though.”
If possible, his frown deepens. “I will mind, if it’s all the damn same.” He closes the distance and stands over me. I can feel his eyes going over me, taking in the bare feet, the faded jeans that should have been tossed months ago, the wild hair. I see him count the tattoos on my arm. “You’ve got new ones.”
I nod. I don’t show him or tell him their stories. I just take another swig.
“You shouldn’t come back here,” he says. He hunkers down in front of me. “It’s not healthy.”
I snort. “Here’s to you telling me about healthy.” I raise the bottle. “Here’s to you telling me anything. Didn’t you just threaten to kill me?”
His jaw works. “I said if I wanted to kill you. Clean the stuff outta your ears and listen for once.” He doesn’t quite reach for the bottle as much as prod it down away from my mouth with one finger. “Why are you here, star angel?”
I don’t let the bottle lower. I glower over the rim at him. “Don’t call me that.”
“What should I call you?” he cuts back.
“Anything,” I growl, “but that.” Before he can answer, I look up at the tree and wave the bottle at it. “If you must know, I came here to ask the tree my questions.” The smile I give him is a nasty one. “Since you won’t answer any of them, maybe it will.”
He doesn’t answer me. His blue eyes go hard.
I know that he won’t. Seven years and he hasn’t told me a damn thing. But today, of all days, I would love to pretend. I raise the glass. “Happy father’s day, Daddy. Family traditions being what they are, this one sucks.”
My father stares at me, then lets out a deep breath. He sits down with his back against the tree beside me and reaches for the bottle. After a moment’s hesitation, I give it over.
“You can’t taste it,” I remind him.
He scowls at me and flashes a mouth full of shiny vampire fangs. “Yeah, but a man can sure remember.”
And that’s a Happy Father’s Day too! Just a little something for the holiday 🙂