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Friday Flasher: “Gentlefolk”

This one earned runner-up over at Angry Hourglass (round 42 of Flash Frenzy). It’s based on a fabulous photo by David Shakes, whose stories rival his photography in evocative awesomeness.

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Gentlefolk

The contrails of our exodus lace the maroon evening in pink, while the current crinkles against the hull of my skiff. I exhale into my flute a song I’ve forgotten the words for.

“Uncle, aren’t you coming?” my nephew asked my last time ashore.

“He’s staying with his sister,” his mother said, steering him back to evacuation preparations. I wonder what story she used to explain the rest of it.

Her name was Nisi, four years younger my junior. We were children the last time a summer drought peeled away enough water to expose the cluster of four stone pillars the cartographers called the Gentlefolk.

The abnormally low tide also exposed new algae sites. Pools teeming with the only native crop we could stomach, we were ecstatic. Nisi and I worked with Grandpa, holding open sacks for him to slop in armloads of slime and ferrying them over to Grandma at the drying lattices.

Under a sky salted with carnelian stars, Nisi and I tumbled down the slippery dunes. Our giggles meshed with the hiss of surf.

An inhuman shriek blasted the night. Nisi and I flattened ourselves on the slope. The horizon simmered salmon pink silhouetting four stones—no, three, and a hunched figure. The glimpse I caught of his face turned my blood to silt.

“He’s sick,” Nisi declared, crawling forward.

“Nisi, no!” I cried, but she had her canteen out, holding it before her in solemn offering.

The figure reached out, then lunged at her, his bulk swallowing her in shadow. Her voice cut out mid-scream.

Sand dragged at my legs. I lurched toward the ridge. I clawed at the stony arms entrapping her, even wrested her free. It wasn’t enough.

Nor were the picks and hammers.

When the tide turned, it swallowed five monoliths.

The current blanches into eddies over the submerged stone columns. But I’m not waiting for the tide to expose her, hoping she’ll come back and still be my sister. Nope. I saw his face coming out and hers going in. The nauseatingly unfathomable shift of it.

Fluted notes sink into the sea, offering what little comfort I can during her fifty-year-long scream.

Fluted notes sink into the sea, offering what little comfort I can during her fifty-year-long scream.

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