The 2014 Freaky Flash Award for Third Place goes to “Madness is in the Eye of the Beholder” by David M. Hoenig.
“Madness is in the Eye of the Beholder”
Flash Fiction by David M. Hoenig
(975 words, 5 bonus words)
I watched the intravenous drip slow, medicated drops into the arm, which was secured to the bed rail, and thought about the doctor’s question.
“I was ten when everything turned bad,” I said slowly. “I remember because I’d had a birthday party the Sunday before the big storm hit that year, and mom had said I was sick because one of the kids had had ‘the snuffles’, and her mother had been an idiot to bring her.”
“Twelve years ago?”
“Tell me about it,” the lady doctor said.
“It’d been great until this mean kid named Todd – we called him ‘Toad’ – threw a banana cream pie into the face of my best friend, Heloise. The resulting tears of us kids, together with the screams of various parents, effectively ended the happy transition into my eleventh year.”
“And then what?”
“Well, I already had the snuffles when Heloise was murdered two days later by a local loser named Tom Shade, a real freak-a-zoid. I only learned later that she’d been raped, too. My father and a number of other men were deputized to help the Sheriff catch him, and they did: Shade was killed during the manhunt.”
“Can you talk about what you remember?” she asked, sitting back in her chair.
“I had a bad fever when we went to Heloise’s funeral, but she’d been my best friend so we went. I don’t remember much. I woke up later that night to the sounds of thunder and wind. I’d sweated through my rather archaic nightgown, so I went to my window for fresh air. In the sporadic lightning outside, I could clearly see the shadow of the tree line, which backed onto the meadow behind our house.
“And then, for one bright instant, I saw two silhouetted figures walking across the back of our property carrying something between them. I was a little spooked, but our land was private, and I was sure I could follow them without being seen. I went downstairs and out the front door quietly.”
“Do you remember why you did something so dangerous?” the doctor asked.
I closed my eyes. “Not really.”
“Okay, please go on.”
“The sweat dried on me as I crossed the meadow to the trees at a run,” I continued. “I stopped to listen and heard indistinct voices ahead in the dark. I followed grunts and clunking noises, and murmured voices in between. Finally, I saw them when I reached the far side of the wood, where it bordered the town cemetery.
“One was thin and bald, the other stocky, with a full beard. Both had shovels and were digging, tossing dirt past a lumpy bundle on the ground. ‘We gotta dig faster, we wanna bury this ghoulish filth afore we’re soaked,’ the thin one said. ‘You’re the one agreed we’d do it tonight!’ the other complained as they both worked.”
The doctor shifted in her chair.
I open my eyes and met her gaze. “‘Well, the Sheriff offered four hunnert dollars for tonight, so tonight it is!’ the thin one said, annoyed. Then the fat one complained, ‘Hell, the rain’s here!’ And then the other yelled, ‘Well, let’s just get it deep enough, he’ll keep where he is until morning.’”
“Okay,” the doctor said. “You realize you’re breathing faster now?”
“Slow down, deep and easy,” she said. “You’re safe here, right?”
I nodded as I breathed and watched the IV drip.
“If you’re ready?” she prompted after a while.
“I heard a voice from behind me say, ‘They’re digging in the wrong place’. And then a cold hand grabbed my shoulder so hard it prevented me from turning. I drew breath to scream, but the voice hissed, ‘Silence!’ as it ground its fingers into me. I fell to my knees and saw bare feet against the dark earth, underneath rough-edged burlap. ‘Where should they be digging?’ I asked in a horrified whisper. I was yanked to my feet and dragged, first between trees, then across graves. Time passed while the rain came down in earnest. I was shivering again when I was jerked to a stop. ‘Here,’ the voice said.” I paused.
The doctor stared at me.
I licked my lips. “So I looked,” I said. “The ground was bare where he pointed, but it was next to a freshly mounded grave. A sudden flash of lightning showed me the stone at its head:
“Heloise Marie Stamper
She Walked With God, And She Was Not, For God Took Her
“And then the grip was suddenly gone from my shoulder, and I ran blindly as the rain hissed, thunder roared, and the wind howled.I screamed with it as I ran.”
The doctor exhaled audibly. “Then?”
“I woke in the woods the next morning. I was a mess, but I heard voices nearby, so I stood up and moved toward them. I saw a few people standing around an open grave – the two diggers to one side, while closer to the hole were Father Jessup and Tom’s mother, all in black, like Heloise’s mother had worn. He said some words, then Mrs. Shade cried out loud as the two diggers picked up the bundle to lower it into the ground.” I shuddered: “But the wet bag tore open when they lifted,” I finished in a whisper.
I shut my eyes tightly as she leaned closer.
“And I saw Shade’s dirty, pale feet and the rough-edged hem of the burlap they’d wrapped him in!” I shrieked as loudly as I could, and then kept right on screaming.
I heard the doctor’s chair scrape the floor as she ran for the door and locked it behind her.
My insanity defense appeared to be shaping up nicely, I thought, and fought a smile. I stopped shrieking and lay quietly, watching my intravenous languidly drip.
David M. Hoenig is a practicing physician, who also has aspirations of becoming a fiction writer as his ‘second career’. His comfort zone is science fiction and fantasy, but he loves characters whose psychology is complex and believable. He has finished his first novel, a space opera fantasy, and is currently seeking representation for it, while also working on an unrelated second novel, an investigative horror of an earlier era.