Somebody wants something from you. This is the first time in sixteen years you have a choice whether to give it to them or not. They ask and you get to decide. Such power tastes as golden as maple syrup soaking through a stack of flapjacks, filling you up from the bones of your toes to the crown of your head.

          It started at Belstar Pond. You’d gone early in the morning to skate, not expecting to run into anybody. That was the idea. No one to observe your ungainly body crashing about on the ice, aiming to defy gravity. You craved that weightlessness, that relief from the seams of your coat stretching to their limits over mounds of flesh. But as you chop-clopped back to shore, puffing and sweaty, there stood The Gala Girls–all five of them–sleek as cats in their jackets and taut jeans, hands on jutting hips.

          Their jeers hit you like darts.

          Cassie, the shortest girl, wore a lollipop-red parka. She was the one who scooped up your boots and knapsack from the side of the snowbank, and with a whoop, scampered off into the woods. The others did not follow, but drifted lazily toward a grouping of birch trees, laughing with one another.

          And so there you were, trudging alone as fast as you could manage up County V for home, skate laces knotted over one shoulder, mittens tugged onto your stockinged feet to keep them warm. The hill was interminably long, fists burrowed into pockets, tears knifing your cheeks in the biting wind. It reminded you of the fall you were eight, and stepbrothers suggested you stay in Mr. Thaker’s garage and “watch” their stash of Halloween candy while they finished trick or treating. You felt honored they asked. You couldn’t keep up with them anyway. You hunkered down in the warm, lighted space emptying packets of Sweet Tarts into both palms, chewing Milk Duds, sucking Tootsie Pops, the wrappers scrunched and lying around you. But when the older boys returned, you learned they had bets on “how much the porker ate.” There were shoves and snickers and yelling. Coins changed hands. When they left the garage, they left you to make your way home alone through the darkened streets.

          And that day in fifth grade when Dad was to pick you up from school but he asked you to find him a block away instead. He didn’t want to drive the pick-up loop like the other parents because he didn’t want them to see he was yours. Somehow you understood this. You had to go looking for him–first one way, then the other–his orange Camaro idling impatiently around the corner.

          The wind now sharper; you dried your face with a sleeve, then veered off onto Ponty Lane, the last leg of the shortcut home. A dusty old sedan sat next to a snowbank. As you got closer, a curdling cry erupted from a nearby thicket. Two figures at the trunk of a bigger tree were struggling raggedly against one another, their clothing askew. You halted.

          “Help me!” bleats a female voice. “Please–please help me!”

          The man overshadowing her spots you. Cursing, his arms twist hers, pinning them with fresh wrath as he focuses on her again.

          You see a red parka lying in your path. On the snow.

          You step over it, your feet numb. You glance at the easy-to-remember license plate above the back bumper: AJT-1123. Hurry onward. The cries become sobs; the sobs, whimpers; the whimpers fading.

            You are the only one who knows, in the days and weeks that follow, why no one ever sees or hears from Cassandra Kean again


Shoshauna Shy



Author of five collections of poetry, Shoshauna Shy's flash fiction and flash nonfiction has recently appeared in the public arena courtesy of  Five Minutes, Free Flash Fiction, and Blink-Ink, as well as in Ariel Chart in November 2020. She was one of the seven finalists for the 2021 Fish Flash Fiction Prize, and earned a Notable Story distinction in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s 2022 contest, was long and shortlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award anthologies in 2022 and 2023, and and shortlisted for the Flash Fiction Contest 2023 Awards conducted by South Shore Review.

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