It is with great excitement that I announce our second winner in the photo prompt flash fiction contest! Congratulations to Loren Eaton for his outstanding story, “Not One Stone Upon Another.”
I will confess, Loren writes a lot of things I don’t understand on the first read. But true to his style and my experience with it, this story snaps into place at the very end in a way that gives you chills and a kind of sudden epiphany that sends you right back to the first sentence to read it all over again, knowing what you know now.
Along with Rob Boone, Loren will receive a gift from Danforth Pewter and my eternal gratitude for sharing his gift with the world on this blog.
Clear your head, take a deep breath, and get ready for how the world ends. I give you Loren Eaton.
“Not One Stone Upon Another”| by Loren Eaton
The vista would’ve made Bosch cringe.
To the south, the smoke of Charleston ascended in a pillar up to heaven. To the north, the horizon writhed with borealis light. Cindered earth stretched west and east in an unbroken plain, the hills thrown down and the valleys thrust up, a zaffre-tinted hue coloring the blasted soil. But here—right here—a 21-acre plot in Sissonville sat untouched by the devastation, its grass green, a loop of road paved with unbroken black, a red-sided barn still standing.
Inside, a trio sat. They didn’t know Bosch from Beethoven or Bart Simpson. Two were deep in animated conversation, and the third was eating.
At least until a fourth joined them.
At the sound of the barn doors creaking open, Lula turned. “I believe we have been discovered.” She tried on a smile.
Tec raised an eyebrow, but continued chewing.
“No, not discovered, we’ve been busted,” Mat laughed.
The fourth figure Had No Name. You could tell by the way The Thing moved. The way light bent around It as though It dimpled the fabric of reality. The way the ribbon of grass upon which it had trod had gone gray.
“See?” Lula said. “That’s exactly what I was arguing. Linguistics is full of subtleties and contradictions. For instance, take—”
this is not the task with which you have been charged.
Had you been there, perhaps you could’ve described the voice. Had you been there, you might’ve said that it tore with the force of cyclonic winds or was as weighty as hadopelagic depths. Had you been there, though, you wouldn’t have been able to. Had you been there, you’d have focused on not going immediately and irrevocably insane.
Tec took another bite. Juices ran down his chin.
“Boss, come on, cut us a little slack.” Matt waved a hand expansively.
“There. Take that word,” Lula said. “‘Boss’ originally designated a protuberance some 700 heliocentric perambulations ago in the sub-continental archipelago of …” She trailed off, brow furrowing. “Rain. Clarified-suet comestibles. Barley and peat and ethane monoxide—”
the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. i personally attended to its reappropriation. An anthracite corona tinged with cobalt bloomed around The Thing That Had No Name. Had you been there, you might’ve described It as seeming irritated and just the tiniest bit self-satisfied.
Tec rolled his eyes and spat a bit of gristle into the dust.
“Yes, England,” Lula continued. “But a few hundred solar circumnavigations later, in this particular supraaquatic land mass it acquired the meaning of … well, what you are.”
it is called the constitutional republic of the United States of America, with which you three were charged and thoroughly briefed. A tendril of smoke began to rise from a nearby bale of straw.
Lula glared. “I know we were. But no one ever explained that ‘boss’ could denote a hump and a—” Here a tangle of syllables rolled off her tongue, and had you been there, you would’ve found that your mouth couldn’t have replicated it. “—and, in that southernmost penal protectorate, a farmer.”
Stamping out the fire, Matt raised a warning eyebrow. “Cool story, brah, but what’s a farmer have to do with the price of tea in, uh, Comoros, no, that’s not right—”
A wind colder than any Arctic blast lashed the barn, whipping up dust motes that writhed in the light striping through board walls. Had you been there, you might said it sounded like a breath huffed out in annoyance. China. but Mathelyous is correct. you have yet to explain your failure to follow the edict ratified by a supermajority of the Harmonious Synarchy, its will be ever praised.
“Its will be ever praised,” the three echoed.
i await your clarification.
Outside, a street sign made a pained squealing, vexed by the vestiges of the wind.
Finally, Lula bowed her head, raised her palms, a gesture of supplication. “Understand, we proceeded according the plan—”
“The most right and true plan, don’t you know,” Matt added.
“We began at the three intercardinal cartographic zones and worked our way here—”
“But then it, like, went all pear shaped.”
“We spoke to one another about what we had seen.”
“For shizzle, boss, like art, civic works, commerce, communications, education.”
i fail to see the relevance.
Tec burped. Then he said, “Culture. Beauty. Creativity. Accomplishments.”
The Thing sighed. No rushing wind, no splitting earth, no kindled flame. Had you been there, you would’ve called it a sigh, plain and simple. they had those things in abundance and yet hardly seemed to acknowledge them.
Tec nodded. Then he held out what he was eating. “Drumstick. Tasty. Want some?”
no. a drumstick comes from the gallus gallus domesticus. which only has four toes.
Tec squinted at the end of the drumstick, lips moving as he counted. When he reached five, he said, “Oh.”
“I told you so,” Lula said.
“Totally grody,” Matt said.
“Shame to waste it,” Tec said.
a shame to waste all of it, The Thing With No Name said. Then It hastily added, but we fulfill whatsoever the Harmonious Synarchy decrees.
“And what has been decreed?” Lula asked.
a trans-galactic conveyance repository.
“You mean, like, an interstellar parking lot?” Matt asked.
yes, a parking lot.
At that, the trio made its way out of the barn. They didn’t look remotely human now. Tec clutched a fan of ribs as if for future consumption. But by the time they reached the road, he seemed to have thought better of it and tossed it aside. The cage of bone struck the sign and snagged on it for a moment. Had you been there, you might’ve described it as some macabre Christmas ornament. Then they fell. And the sign did too. And then the barn. And as the sky turned black as sackcloth, you would’ve been glad you were not there.
Perhaps it was a mercy that no one was.