SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Gania Barlow (Read author interview) September 23, 2014

art by Gay Degani

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 has a PhD in medieval English literature from Columbia University and had scholarly work published in The Chaucer Review and Notes & Queries.

About the Artist

Gay Degani has been nominated here and there for Pushcart consideration, Best Small Fictions, and a few various and sundry honors including the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). Her micro “Abbreviated Glossary” appears in the anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fictionedited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. She occasionally blogs at Words in Placeand is currently working on another novel of suspense.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Five

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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.