General Flash Fiction posted October 27, 2015


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A contest entry about fear

Mirada de Terror

by RodG


You'll never convince me fear is a state of mind.

Fallujah.  Not a day spent on patrol in that city we weren't afraid.  We feared everyone:  snipers whose shots were never heard, armed insurgents who bushwhacked us in the narrow streets, but mostly women who walked toward us smiling.

Late afternoon.  Lots of shadows.  Too many.  Saw only that quick jagged smile, her arm move, and a live grenade rolling a second before it exploded.  In that fleck of time I knew real fear as only a doomed man can.
*          *          *

"What happened?" the shrink asks again.  I've seen him six times.  "How did you survive?"

"Don't know.  Woke up two days later in an Army hospital in Germany."

"Minus--" He points at my wheelchair.

I nod.

"Yet that nightmare--?"

"Same one . . . vivid every night."

"Describe--"

"I've told you before.  I can't!  Got this image in my head, blown way up, but I--I lack the words.  No way to make you see that burst of light, hear the sound that pummeled my ears."

"What about the more recent nightmares?  Your--"

"Daughter.  I--I see her face."

"And?"

I can only shrug.

For a long time he stares at me.  Not dispassionately.  With wonder, an uncomprehending awe.

This session ends the same as the others.  I know he feels profoundly impotent, having failed again to "reach" me,  I leave, sorry I could not share what else I know.  Maria's terror.  I know exactly how she felt the very moment that plane blew apart.
*          *          *

"Why can't you come with us, Daddy?  I'm never scared with you."

"The doctors here in Amsterdam want me to stay a little longer, Maria.  But Mommy will be with you all the way to Manila.  You'll be fine."

We were on the tarmac near the Malaysian Airlines plane she would soon be boarding.  A flight assistant wheeled me that far so I could wave goodbye.  As Maria climbed the stairs, she looked back.  Her tears did not mask her fear.

Maria, four, was born in Germany a year before the grenade.  Though we traveled extensively because of my numerous operations, she'd never flown before.  Her mother Inez (now my ex-wife) was taking her "home" to the Philippines.

I'd come back from the war broken in too many ways to be a father and husband.  Perhaps because of her innocence, Maria had been far more patient and understanding than her mother.  Hers was an unconditional love that now stirs up a heartache far more painful than anything I experienced from that grenade or the subsequent operations.

Six hours after she left, I was in the common room of the military hospice where I'd resided since my last operation.  A news bulletin interrupted a Danish melodrama I'd been dozing through.

. . . Flight MH17 . . . exploded while flying over Ukrainian airspace . . . crashed into the countryside . . . all passengers and crew are presumed to have perished . . .

Howling, I leaped forward so violently I upturned my wheelchair and tumbled to the floor.  Staff rushed to my aid, but I'd damaged myself considerably.  More surgery.  As I recuperated, I could do little more than finger a TV remote or my laptop.

At first the media coverage was relentless.  Often graphic pictures of the carnage appeared on You-Tube.  Then came the rumors the plane had been shot down by a missile.

I read countless first-person accounts by the victims' family members, describing what they remembered most.  One reporter discovered me.

"What can you tell me about your wife and child?" he asked by my bedside.

"My daughter was terrified."

"During the flight?  How do--?"

"Before.  The last thing I saw was fear in her eyes as she boarded the plane."

"Do you think she knew what . . . uh . . . would--?"

"A premonition?"

He nodded, his pen wavering above his tablet.

I stared awhile at the ceiling tiles before answering.

"Yes."

A smile wriggled across his lips as that pen scratched paper.  "Can you elaborate?"

I shook my head.

His smile vanished, and so did he moments later.

I could have elaborated, but selfishly chose not to.

For days following my most recent operation, a feeling flooded through me.  More accurately, a sensation, as if Maria and I were now conjoined.  When I could sleep, she would appear in a new dream, staring at me with a stricken face through a window of the plane.

"Daddy, something fast and white is flying at us.  So . . . close!  Ow!  My ears--"

Somewhere outside the plane, I'm watching a close-up of la mirada de terror:  Maria's small hands and nose pressed against the window, her contorted mouth open, and dark, terrified eyes scanning the heavens for mine.

Every night for months now the same horrendous dream.

And always . . . we scream together.


Flash Fiction Writing Contest contest entry


painting is courtesy of Google images.

mirada de terror: loosely translated from Spanish as "look of terror." I chose this phrase because it more graphically conveys in that language than English what I am trying to say. Also, Maria is half-Filipina, and in her homeland, the Philippines, Spanish is spoken in some remote spots more often than English.

Recently, a short article confirmed that Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down by a missile fired by Ukrainian rebels.

Word count: 793 Apple Pages
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