I entered a flash fiction contest a few months ago. The contest gives you the genre, a location for the story to take place in, and an item that must appear in the story, after which you have 48 hours to write your entry of no more than 1000 words. I got historical fiction in a book store with a flood light.
This is my entry.
This is my first time meeting the gruff old man I’m interviewing. He walks into my hotel room without knocking, with little fanfare and no introduction. He drops rigidly into a chair opposite a camera, fold his arms over his chest and acknowledges me with the curt nod. He immediately reminds me of what you would get if Clint Eastwood played R. Lee Ermey in a movie, or vise versa.
“So, how does this work?”
“Well, I’m going to try to keep my mouth shut and let you tell your story. I will try to save any questions I have until you are finished. Just be yourself. You don’t have to stare into the camera or anything, try to relax. If you need to take a break, or if you get uncomfortable just stand up and step outside. We can always edit the video later, but I prefer to not stop the camera once it has started. Is that all acceptable to you?”
“Sounds fine to me. I’m not gonna tell you how to do your job.”
“Cameras are rolling, you can start whenever you are ready.”
“My mother worked at a bookstore next to the commissary called ‘The Library’.”
“Was it a bookstore or library?”
“What happened to keeping your mouth shut? It was a bookstore. The sailors called it the library because if they didn’t damage the books they could return them for full price. That rarely happened though.
I went to work with my mother so I wouldn’t be home alone on my birthday. It was common to see kids at work with their parents back then, even more so on a military base. I had my own chair next to the register, right under a lamp that mother brought in so I didn’t hurt my eyes reading. The shop only had one window, and the overhead lighting wasn’t great so it was always kinda dark. Mother said sunlight was bad for the books, I thought it was because it was an old building.
I was just starting “My Friend Flicka” when we heard the planes. It was one long thunderous rumble getting steadily louder and closer. The sky dimmed as the rumble grew. Mother went to the door, when she looked out she paled. It was right then that explosions rattled the walls. People started screaming. The streets were immediately flooded with, then devoid of, people as everyone ran to their homes.
That’s what they were told to do you know. Just go home. Everyone watched from windows. Machine gun fire tearing up streets in front of their homes. They weren’t allowed to evacuate while the bombs were dropping, so they just waited.
Mother made me get under the counter. She shoved the lamp, and a stack of comic books into my hands and told me to hide. Then she started pacing. I didn’t really know what was happening. She wouldn’t let me near the door or window, she said we’re being attacked, but I wasn’t scared. My father was Senior Chief on the Arizona, he would beat them. What did I know, I was only just turning 9.
I started to worry after I had read 3 comic books and the explosions were still happening. Just as I was picking up another comic… It was…I need a minute.”
His face started to crack, then he immediately steeled his resolve to finish the story. My heart turned to mush right then. I looked away out of respect, and so he didn’t see me tear up. This is a man who told his story with all of the feeling of a technician saying you needed an oil change, not because he didn’t hurt, but because he hurt so deeply that this is the most he can muster without breaking down completely.
After a couple of minutes he started again. “You can read about people watching the PX get hit, but that doesn’t accurately depict it. A Japanese plane was shot down, and crashed into the PX. ‘The Library’ was attached to the PX.
I was lifted by the original impact then thrown back down. The sound was, still is, indescribable. There was screaming. Non-stop screaming, which turned out to be me. I was trapped behind the counter. The wall fell in but the counter held. The front of the counter had splintered enough that I could see through. It took a few minutes for the dust to settle before I could see anything. I could hear my mother saying my name, almost whispering it.
After a few minutes I heard the high pitched whine of the floodlight kicking on, then I saw her. I could only see her shoulders and head. The front door was blocked by something and the power was out, so the only light was from the whiny battery powered floodlight over the front door that shined directly on her.
She kept whispering my name. I told her I was ok, but she didn’t hear. I watched her for hours. She only laid there and whispered, occasionally turning her head looking for me. I could hear people trying to get in. The explosions stopped a while ago. Then I saw the blood, slowly forming a halo around her head. She couldn’t hear me. I kept screaming at her to be ok. I told her I was ok. She had to get up. They were looking for us, they were coming. The next time she tried to whisper she coughed blood. Her eyes closed. I watched her drift away.
I was trapped in the rubble for almost 24 hours before they got me out. I was all cried out by then. I didn’t have any tears left when they told me that the U.S.S Arizona was sunk and almost everyone aboard died. I never got to cry for my father. I have never cried since.”
Then, just like that, he stood said thank you turned and left with even less fanfare than he arrived.