“Big Nothing” by Andrew Lawler
Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuana, cocaine, speed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)
This week, Andrew Lawler gives us a glimpse of the universe.
This is me at fifteen, splayed out on Carly’s giant trampoline—stargazing, helpless, hopeful, smiling through a mouthful of stolen popcorn. Carly is seventeen, two ticks of the odometer and a hundred miles ahead, rambling on about the last time she did Big Red with David Oxford who works door at the theater, and drawing out the eightfold path to coolness with her bare arms against the blue-black of space. John McCrea croons a tinny lullaby to us from the distant garage boom box, and I feel myself sliding closer to her with every ripple of the trampoline’s thick woven surface, like we’re part of some science class gravity model.
The air is heavy and roughly acrid, like an indoor pool. It sits on us, Carly and Meredith, as still as dew. Friends; more than friends, maybe. I don’t know if the Red is hitting me yet. My stomach feels like boiling honey.
Carly trails off, recounting David’s last visit, and pauses. She flips up her long ponytail and lets it splash back softly against the canvas mat. “You know I used to lay out like this with my cousin Eric when we were kids,” she says. “In Lawrence Cove, middle of fucking nowhere. His parents had this rickety A-frame on the lake, and they would have us out every year to do lake stuff—mostly play cards on a pontoon boat and get bug bites and peek at each other changing. Eric and I used to sneak down to the dock at night and go swimming. The stars were intense out there, and the lake was always completely still, like a fucking Bob Ross painting, and we’d wade out in it and just float. It was terrifying. Like, Chuck-will’s-widows and the howl of some redneck’s car-engine boat echoing across the water. Plus God knows what slithering around your thighs in the dark. No idea what possessed us.”
Carly stops, tracing her finger between the quiet stars. I can picture the sparkling black ripples of lake water there, waltzing at her touch as if she owns the sky. Then something winks up north—the first meteor of the night. After an inch-long segment of light it fades back into nothing, but Carly grabs my wrist in excitement.
“Look!” she says. “It’s starting!”
I turn to face her. The mat beneath us undulates on an invisible current. Her shining black hair is tumbled and tucked beneath her like a headdress. Dark eyes still locked on the whirl of heavens above us, soft smile, elf-white cheeks: she is a picture of beauty beyond my understanding. Two or three minutes pass and I’ve only made it to her shoulder, tracing its contour again and again like a French curve. Another flare in the sky pulls me back, but this time it’s only birds. Fuzzy green contrails glow above us, and we bob up and down, floating in the inky black of the lake as tiny green birds flutter down to roost on our dock. They alight and stand there in rank, serried passerines the color of absinthe.
“Are you seeing this?” Carly asks me.
I nod, somewhere.
“Bloody brilliant,” she whispers.
“I think I’m blasted,” I whisper back, the words half-stuck in a sudden giggle.
Carly laughs like spoiled secrets. “None of this is happening,” she says. “It’s all a big nothing. Isn’t that weird?”
“Yeah, but it’s our big nothing,” I say.
I bounce over to her and bury my face in her hair. The green birds nod their approval and whistle us a summer fantasy.
ANDREW LAWLER lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he works as a programmer and occasional film and video game composer. He is currently developing a forthcoming novel and a short story collection, but “Big Nothing” is his first published work. It’s kind of a big deal. See more of Andrew’s writing on his website, A Shot in the Park.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected], and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry Stahl, Lydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).
Posted: Aug 7, 2014
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