The Straggler by Marc Alexander Valle

People will tell you things.

All you have to do is do something and they’ll have an opinion. Sometimes all you have to do is exist in order to hear the word ‘should’, and other times two or more people will tell you to do the opposite thing and you’ll end up without a clue.

My favorite is when they say, “Do this and that and that and this, but don’t listen to me. Just do you.”

Just do you. I heard that the other day in a soda commercial and it almost made me stop buying the soda. Almost.

People need people. It’s how we learn to walk and sometimes it’s how we learn to die. I listened to other people so much at one point that I jammed all the channels to my gut, and I did nothing with myself except eat, sleep, and breath.

People need people. What a beautiful concept and debilitating nightmare.

We are abandoned creatures on the side of the Road of Answers and a darkening forest resides on both sides. We walk on all four legs, waiting to hitch a ride, but paws have no thumbs.

The passing cars keep moving, and it keeps getting dark and cold and the woods are making noises that I’ve never heard before. I see another creature ahead, but it’s too far. I see another creature behind, waddling like it’s wounded. I see a firelight on my right through the brush and trees, and I hear something making a grunt and a growl in the distant woods to my left. I’ll wait up for the straggler behind. He or she seems nice. We’ll ask to join the fire together. It’s always better to get rejected in larger numbers. You never know what someone will tell you.

Delicacy: A Flash Fiction (Feedback Please!)

Delicacy

by Marc Alexander Valle

The boy looked down at the worm, squirming on the backwoods trail. A ray of light illuminated its pinkish hue and a warm breeze hit his face.

“Eat it,” she said. “I’ll kiss you.”

“No,” he said.

“Then no,” she said.

But he had wanted to kiss her all summer, floating in the deep in the pool, bumping her hand at the movie theater as he reached for soda, lying on the grassy field with the late morning sun warming him enough to feel bliss.

He looked back down. Then kept squirming and picking up dirt.

“It tastes like nothing,” she said. “Go ‘head.”

He thought of candy then reached down and picked it up.

He could feel its life force as it wiggled and expanded on his palm. Candy would be pointless, he thought, “It’s too fleshy.” Then he imagined roast chicken instead.

“I’ve done it,” she said, “You won’t get sick.”

He popped it in his mouth and could feel it slither then contract, the dirt turning to grim on his tongue. He swallowed it and closed his eye. It slide down his throat quickly and he could feel it move. And like everything else he ate, the feeling disappeared just before reaching the stomach.

He opened his eyes and looked to her.

“Yuck,” she said.

He stepped forward and closed his eyes again.

His lips touched hers.

But he felt nothing in return. He held the kiss and waited for her to reciprocate. But he felt nothing in return. He stepped forward and moved his face closer to her. But he felt nothing in return. He could feel nothing but the dead lips, hear nothing but the cicadas and crickets chirping. Just the dead lips and live bugs and the hope of something in return.

She pulled away and jabbed his stomach.

“Gross,” she said, “I’m not kissing bugs.”

As he held onto his gut crunched over he could see her walk away down the path and out of sight. The pain spread across his abdomen and he wasn’t sure if he needed to go to the bathroom.

He could hear the bird chirping and an animal moving in the brush. He had to go home now. If he was late for dinner one more time, he’d be grounded for two days.

Rays of light disappeared as a cloud rolled in. A cooler breeze hit his face. He wondered what boy he’d get to tell first.

Lancelot and Arthur at the Corner Bodega: A Flash Fiction

Lancelot and Arthur at the Corner Bodega

by Marc Alexander Valle

 “If you step on the line,” Terry said, “it’s a laser, and it’ll cut your legs off.”

“Yeah?” Eddie said.

“So we gotta jump them.”

“Are we fighting evil knights?”

“No, just lasers.”

“Okay.”

They never used lasers before, but Eddie had seen them in a movie, and he thought they were the most dangerous weapon. He liked the idea. So the boys walked over one sidewalk line to the next.

Terry’s movement was fluid. He’d step over the line, then he’d have to hop the next one or two. Eddie took his time, hopping over one, then stepping forward a bit until he’d hop the next line.

Last week, they dodged arrows, and Eddie got shot in the knee, so Terry claimed.

“The most painful place in the world to get shot in,” Terry said. “We’re out of commission. The queen is dead.” Eddie decided to practice his jumps every summer day since that event. He felt that he was prepared this time.

Terry pulled ahead.

“Wait up,” Eddie said.

“Come on,” Terry said.

“Wait up.”

Terry stopped.

Eddie continued to hop and step just a bit faster, but not too fast.

“Eddie, come on. There’s gators.”

“What?”

“Alligators behind you.”

“Alligators?!”

Eddie hopped and stepped faster. He’d seen alligators on television, and he feared what they called “the death roll”. Concrete block by concrete block, he began to find a flow and a groove. He could sense the gap between the gators and himself widening behind him. He caught up to Terry. “Where are we going?” he said.

“Around the corner,” Terry said. “To the store.”

“For what?”

“I want a 5-Nougats.”

“I can’t do this that far.”

“You want a Swill Stick?”

“Yeah.”

And they continued, hopping and stepping. Eddie fell behind. Terry stopped and waited, then started again. They continued around the corner and approached Stephanie and the jump rope girls. He knew Stephanie from class and liked her and thought she’d be impressed with his new jumping skills. He once gave her a valentine with a knight drawn on it. His caption read, “I’ll save you, princess.” Eddie jumped as far as he could and nearly touched dog poop. He checked to see if Stephanie saw, but she continued to count the girl’s jumps.

Eddie continued. Neither boy stepped on a line.

Eddie caught up to Terry. Terry looked ahead. He could see the sign for the corner store up the block.

“Alright,” Terry said. “No more lasers.”

“No?”

“No. See that house? That’s a sniper’s nest. It’s got Nazis in it.”

“What are Nazis?”

“You remember Uncle Jimmy?”

“Yeah.”

“He used to kill them. Now they want to kill us. So we can step on the lines now cause they don’t need lasers anymore, but we gotta run. Real fast. On three.”

“But you said lasers.”

“Yeah, but Nazis now.”

“What about the alligators?”

“No, just Nazis. So here we go. Three..two…one.”

But Eddie stood still, looking at the sidewalk.

“I said let’s go,” Terry said, looking back.

Eddie shook his head.

“Come on. They’ll blow your head open.”

Eddie shook his head again.

“You want to get blown up?”

Eddie shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s just for now,” Terry said, touching Eddie’s arm.

“I thought you said lasers.”

“Yeah but for now.”

“Yeah but lasers.”

This wasn’t the first time Terry changed the rules. But it was the first time Eddie insisted on following the previous instructions.

“I’ll get you a soda,” Terry said.

Eddie put his head down.

“And a mystery bag of candy.”

Eddie looked up.

“Or a bag of gummies.”

Eddie’s eyes opened wide, “Okay.”

They ran. They ducked. Terry yelled commentary on the sniper’s fire. Eddie lagged just a little behind. But not too far.

They made it to the store.

“Alright, just a regular size bag of gummies,” Terry said.

Eddie nodded.

“And a small soda.”

Eddie nodded.

“And don’t tell mom about the soda. Finish it before you get there.”

Eddie nodded again. Terry turned to the steps of the store.

“I win,” Eddie said.

“What?” Terry said.

“You got no legs!”

“What?”

An ice cream truck turned corner down the street. Eddie could see Stephanie and the jump rope girls stop, then run toward their row home. The sidewalk was clear now, and Eddie estimated that there must be one-thousand lines and cracks on the ground. This was the most he’d ever jumped. Sweat began to bead on his forehead. He turned to Terry whose eye brows were crunched down, waiting for a reply.

“Nothing.”

Human Anagram: A Poem by Marc Alexander Valle

Human Anagram

by Marc Alexander Valle

Nice, quiet, smart.

People have told me this all my life. I don’t know how I feel about those words anymore. I used to hate them, but I think I’m making peace with the fact that I’ll never really get to shake them off.

Nice, quiet, smart. A combination that makes me a rare bird in this world.

Why do we hate being different when we’re younger?

Why do we need so much of the three A’s–acceptance, approval, admiration?

Why does it take so long to get to yourself when you have to live with yourself every day anyway?

The rare bird has few avian friends, but people love him and put him on stamps.

Now I just tried to make a metaphor where birds represent people, but I couldn’t figure what actual people represent in that particular metaphor. I cringed at every possibility, thinking of what readers would think of my writing. So I guess I’m not that rare a bird that embraces its uniqueness yet. I don’t know if we ever really get there in mid-life.

But wouldn’t that be cool to be on a stamp?