by Gania Barlow Read author interview September 22, 2014

That year, in the mountains, they killed things. Maybe it began with the snow that fell during the night, and then, like a slow breath, was gone. Everywhere they walked, they killed snow in the shape of their shoes. And death spread, until the ground was bare again. But cold.

Near the circle of trees, the dog found a small mouse. Held it in his teeth. When he dropped it they didnt know if it was dead—and then it ran. But the mother said that it still might not live—that sometimes things die of fear.

That year, a small, white lizard burned in their campfire. The girl saw it first, desperate, pacing a narrow path between the metal wall of the pit and the burning wood. All she would have to do was just reach in. Just reach into the fire pit and close her fingers around it. The lizard ran and stopped—panted—the triangle of its mouth opening and closing. Then it ran slower, the sides of its body pulsed like a heartbeat, stretched to breathe. And the girl was afraid to act, and was afraid to speak. And was afraid of what she was capable of being incapable of.

When the mother finally came to check on the fire, the girl showed her the lizard, blushing. But by then the only thing they could do for it was to push it into the flames.

After the fire their lanterns were cold and pale. Moths twitched against the glaring nets of light and lay down, brown-grey and curled like petals on an altar. The girl wondered: if she turned the lanterns off, would the moths fly all the way to the stars? Look, there: Orion is waiting to shoot them down as they come.

That year, in the mountains, the mud from the melted snow was everywhere. It stuck to shoes, and pants, and hands. With every motion it crept, higher and higher, up their bodies. Like the earth was trying, slowly, to bury them where they stood. Or like the mud itself wanted—desperately—to climb into the sky.

About the Author:

Gania Barlow's fiction has previously been published in Fourteen Hills and Agni, where it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She recently completed a PhD in medieval English literature at Columbia University and had scholarly work published in The Chaucer Review and Notes & Queries.

About the Artist:

Gay Degani is the content editor at Smokelong Quarterly. She has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014.  Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be located.