Fiction: Flash

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image courtesy of lynnsta (via Flickr Creative Commons)In the moment before the first shot was fired, Clarissa’s entire life passed before her. The present and past and future fused into an image compressed so tightly it seemed to catch fire. She saw herself run, her fists pummeling a pathway through the press of screaming humanity. Her shoulders bruised against the doorframe as she and three others burst through an opening built for one. She stumbled on a cracked step and nearly tumbled down the concrete flight. The sound of gunfire cracked the facade of the still morning, like a whip pursuing her beneath the boughs of a brilliant sweet gum.

She wept as she ran…ran until one high heel broke and her ankle twisted painfully; then, stripping off her shoes, she ran more. Ran beyond the power of strength. Ran, until at length the screaming of police sirens barricaded her from the madman, and she collapsed against the sun-warmed red brick of a parking garage.

Nylon snagged on the branches of a burning bush as she slid to the ground, releasing a rain of crimson that brushed her face and hid the ruined pantyhose, but she was safe. Safe to feel the throb in her ankle. Safe to contemplate what she hadn’t noticed before fleeing: the faces of those who were on the wrong side of the gunman. The ones who couldn’t get out.

There was Maddy, who had four little ones at home. Rick, the volunteer firefighter. Yun, whose parents had scrimped for years to send her to America to find a better life. Aaron, who spent his evenings teaching swim lessons to kids with special needs.

In the moment before the first shot was fired, Clarissa saw her entire life pass before her, past and present and future, and she knew if she could save only one person, that single moment would give her life more meaning than all the hours she’d spent in this grand old building combined.

As the press of people stampeded toward safety, Clarissa stepped forward and faced down the barrel of a gun. She could see her own heart poised there like a target he couldn’t miss. She thought of the empty loneliness of her life, the solitary movie nights, her lackadaisical relationship with what was left of her family. For a wistful moment, she wondered if her sister would weep, hearing the news.

In the moment before the first shot was fired, Clarissa’s entire life passed before her. The present and past and future rolled into an image compressed so tightly it seemed to catch fire and race toward her, riding a wave that crashed upon her with an unstoppable force: all that was, all that could have been, and all that now would never be.

*

When I saw the picture for this week’s prompt, my instantaneous impression was of a heart being targeted. At first I dismissed the idea, but then I heard a news story about people running away from a gunman, and it crystallized.

This story is a an experiment for me, structurally, so I’m wondering how it works. Is it clear that the first flash, in which she runs away, is not actually happening; she’s just seeing it in her mind? I’m afraid it might not be, and if that’s the case I’d love some feedback on how to make it clearer.

writing prompt

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19 thoughts on “Fiction: Flash

  1. This was so intense! You did a stellar job describing the scene as it unfolds in her mind, and then her last heartbreaking thoughts in the split second before the gun is fired.

    I think your story is clear. You tell us right away that Clarissa is seeing the events, and not doing them, and I also think the repetition of the phrase “In the moment before the first shot was fired…” reinforces that idea.

    This was good writing. I have a knot in my stomach the size of Texas-and I mean that as the highest compliment!

  2. It is VERY clear- you tell the reader that past and present are fused in an IMAGE and that she SEES herself running.

    Many popular fiction pieces need to be read a second time because they are ambiguous. NOT the case with your writing- which is getting even better!!!

  3. I really liked the piece and though I did understand in the end that she hadn’t run away or gone back into the building to help the others, it was the final line, all that was, all that could have been, and all that now would never be, that let me know that. For me it read like she had gone back in, as if she had sacrificed herself because she had deemed her life not as worth as the others that she talks about.

    I think for me if the first repetition of: In the moment before the first shot was fired, Clarissa saw her entire life pass before her, past and present and future, happened earlier it would have been clearer, especially since the details of her running were so clear and specific.

    As I said above, I really enjoyed it!

    • I went back and forth putting all those details in “ing”–must’ve switched them all out half a dozen times, trying to make up my mind. I may play with it some more.

  4. I actually didn’t catch that the running was in her head until she started thinking about saving one life. I (wrongly) assumed when she “saw” herself running that it was more like she was moving but seeing it like a movie, not just picturing it in her head. It’s probably my error.

    I like that she made the decision so quickly to save others.

    • 🙂 Thanks, Angela! I actually was kind of wanting that ambiguity–that she saw herself, as if she was standing outside herself watching things actually happening. I was just hoping that when we came back to the “before the first shot” line, readers would catch that what they’d just seen hadn’t actually happened, after all. So I guess I got it right! Now the question is, does it work?….

  5. Such a great last line – really tied everything in beautifully. I didn’t immediately realise that she wasn’t actually running away, that it was just a thought, but that didn’t take anything away from it when that did become clear when she was once again there, a moment before the shot was fire.

  6. inmandyland2

    This was hard to read. I wanted her to stay in safety but understand why she felt she needed to do what she did. But what a painful piece. The part about her sister especially.

  7. I’m not sure what happened the first comment, but just in case it didn’t get through, I appreciated the intensity and sacrifice in this, and while I didn’t catch the meaning at the beginning, it was completely clear by the end.

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