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The Believer

Story by Curtis Smith (Read author interview) September 19, 2016

Art by Ashley Inguanta

The believer’s car barreled down the unpaved road. The believer with a black eye and bandaged head. A dropped beam at his construction site, two groggy days in ICU. An escape made despite the nurses’ protests, his IVs ripped, blood on his arms. He sped through summer’s golden light, the evening sun flickering between the rows of corn. The car lurched, the road’s stones and ruts. The windshield’s splattered flies. Behind him, a cloud of dust. Sirens in the distance, the things he’d said to the nurses, promises he’d vowed to keep. The road dipped, and the berm rose on either side, a gully’s shadows. He stopped before a padlocked gate. His first step from his car a stumble, his keys heaved, the silver’s sun-catching glint before disappearing into the corn. He scrambled over the gate. The sirens closed in.

He ran, his arms and legs churning, the complaints of his body lost beneath his panic. His hospital gown fluttered. The gravel poked his thin slippers. The day of his accident, the Shepherd had summoned his flock. The final seal broken, but the believer had missed the trumpets’ call. Pain and dizziness stole his grace, still the believer ran faster. The road a narrow valley. The berm’s corn giving way to goldenrod, and atop, the flit of butterflies and bees. The landscape’s swell filled his lungs, the heat and blue sky. The brown soil. This fertile land.

The road emptied into a clearing. A sweep of shin-high grass, and here waited the flock’s cars—Monica and Jeff and Ruby’s—all with unlocked doors. Keys in the ignition. Pink slips on the dash. Ripples in the grass, groundhogs and field mice and grasshoppers. He cried out, startled by a pair of flushed doves. The believer lost a slipper then kicked off the other. His gown slid from his shoulder, and in the next stride, he was naked. At the clearing’s center, a wide, earthen mound. The believer out of breath as he tugged on the door built into the mound. Atop the mound, the air vents’ coned hoods peeked above the breeze-jostled grass. The shelter built in the late 50s, a man long dead, his fear of a war destined to wipe out mankind. The believer pounded the door, his face held close to the metal. Cries to be let in.

The sirens’ wail filled the clearing. Next, the tromp of boots on gravel, the walkie-talkies’ static. The believer climbed atop the mound. The police at the road’s end, an emergence into the clearing. The believer knelt. The flock twenty feet below. A concrete chamber designed to save the farmer and his kin from a fiery holocaust; a space the Shepherd had picked as the vessel to usher his flock to life everlasting. The believer hung his head and grasped an air vent’s sun-warmed cone. A joke last year, the Shepherd speaking into the vent, his voice echoing inside. “I see you.”

The swiftest of the police reached the mound, others close behind. Tears on the believer’s face. His lips near the vent.

“I love you. Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me here all alone.”

About the Author

Curtis Smith’s stories and essays have appeared in over one hundred literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, and The Best Small Fictions.

Smith has published five collections of fiction, the first two with March Street Press and the last three with Press 53. He has published three novels, the last two with Casperian Books, and two essay collections (Sunnyoutside and Dock Street Press). His latest book, a personal take on Slaughterhouse-Five, was recently put out by Ig.

About the Artist

Ashley Inguanta is a writer, art photographer, installation artist, and holistic educator. Her work has most recently appeared in Atticus Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and the anthology The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest chapbook of poems, The Island, The Mountain, & The Nightblooming Field honors a human connection with the natural world.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Three

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From sentence-level craft concerns to questions of overall approach, this 90-minute webinar will explore strategies for adding shape, intensity, and depth to your flash creative nonfiction.

Steve Edwards is author of the memoir BREAKING INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY, the story of his seven months as caretaker of a 95-acre backcountry homestead along federally protected Wild and Scenic Rogue River in Oregon. His work has appeared in Orion MagazineThe Sun MagazineLiterary HubElectric LiteratureThe Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives outside Boston with his wife and son.