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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by John Pegg

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I stagger down the middle of a hot, sticky road with nothing but glassy mirages lining the horizon. The soles of my shoes slip against the greasy pavement. I'm fat, clinically obese, trying to make my way to a gas station, or anything to find food and water. The crash left my vehicle in utter disarray.

Arizona. Cactus to the left. Sand to the right. Nothing in between.

The sun scorches my scalp with its fiery rays through locks of curly hair. I'm starving. I've never been a person to skip meals, seconds, thirds, dessert, or ignore any of those late-night cravings.

Why isn't anyone traveling this road? It's been two days and not one car. My feet drag with each heavy step. I carry a black bag containing more than just simple business documents. The contents of this bag is life. Life sounds succulent right about now. I grip the bag a little tighter.

I stop and turn, thinking I heard something but it was only the dust whipping through miles and miles of sandy terrain. It feels like I'm swallowing needles down this parched throat of mine. I desperately need water.

The road twists into three long, odd angles. I'm losing it. Losing it fast.

Before I started hoofing it, I ransacked everything from my vehicle: a half-empty can of warm soda and a handful of mints. The soda didn't last long, maybe an hour. I hope I don't have to use the mints. I grunt and squeeze the bag even tighter.

Large black birds circle high above. I check my cellphone. The dim green screen reads 'NO SERVICE'. The battery's almost dead. I wonder if I'll outlive the phone. I never expected to die like this. Heart disease, stroke, falling off a roof, those make sense. This doesn't.

I smell something like rotten, coppery chicken. I take a break from walking and drop the bag to the pavement. I reach inside my pocket and roll the mints between my fingers.

Last night, when I slept in the ditch on the side of the road, my hand fell upon a bird. It was already dead. For how long, I don't have a clue. I reluctantly stuffed it inside my bag. At the time, I didn't know why I took the half-decayed bird; survival instincts I suppose.

But now I know the answer to that question as my gaze falls upon the bag. The sun beats against the black velvet, cooking my Thanksgiving bird on the inside. I shake the mints in my pocket and stare down the road ahead.

It's day three and the heat and hunger drive me beyond reason as I slam the bag against the concrete. Upon opening the bag, a stench rises so thick it feels as if I've eaten a block of moldy cheese. A bloated, maggot-infested crow gazes at me with cloudy, milky eyes. I dry burp and cough, pulling a piece of ragged meat from a broken wing. I hear the tiny bones and sinew snap. A maggot is flung and lands on my cheek. If it wasn't for the juicy fly larva, I'd never be able to choke it down.

While chewing, I hear a rumbling noise. Could it be a car? Or is it the grisly meat popping inside my mouth? Then I see it, a semi-truck in the smeary distance. I wipe my mouth, cough and toss the bag and what's left of the bird into the ditch. I look up to heaven and offer gratitudes as I pop all the mints from my pocket into my mouth. I kept these mints, not for sustenance, but for insurance, if help ever did arrive.

The red semi trimmed in blinding chrome pulls over to the side of road and hits the air brakes, shooting a plume of dust out from underneath the 53' trailer. I pat my red clothing down preparing to greet the truck driver.

The solid clack of cowboy boots that only the heels of cowboys can make ring like a chorus of angels as the driver walks in my direction. The world is as if it's in slow motion. The Saguaro cacti that once resembled morbid torture devices, now look as if they are raising their hands in praise. The birds that were circling me have disappeared. I'm saved and break a smile with cracked lips.


"Yes, Juan. My sleigh broke... a couple days ago... and I need help. The Reindeer perished in the crash. Do you have any water?"

"In... in the truck." The driver stood there as if his boots were melted to the pavement.

"Please, Juan, I need water," I croak, my throat feeling lined with barbs.

"How do you know my name?"

"Juan, please, hurry. I don't have much time." I fall to the pavement, a kneecap snaps from the burden of my weight. The bright lights of the chrome gleaming off the truck dance and fade. They are black now, dying within the sound of clacking cowboy boots.


I feel the light shakes from Juan as if I'm being slowly waken from a deep sleep that I can't escape from.


My pulse is but a trickle. My eyes are open but I can only hear the sounds of rushing water and the intermittent smatterings of voices. It's Juan making phone calls.

Whhhhooooossshhh... "So how much do ya think," ...Sshhhhhheeehhhh... "I could get" ...Whhheeeerrrr... "for Santa's clothes," ...Whhhhoooosshhh... "on eBay?"

I should have known, year after year, Juan's name was always on the naughty list. As I fall deeper and deeper into sleep, I feel tugging and twisting - my coat, pants and boots being ripped from my body.

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