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A Burst of Birds



A bit of flash fiction to start your day! Somber. Sorry. I didn't know where this character was going when I started tagging along. But enjoy, and let me know what you think.

It was a burst of birds. A swarm of them, exploding upward, circling, diving, rising, all in unison. I had never seen anything like it. Not really. The odd cluster of birds fluttering up into the sky in a Walmart parking lot didn't really compare.

This was in an open field, on a road leading away from home. It was like seeing a dirt devil or a twister, but it was alive. And it was loud. And it was perfect.

The road was perfect, too. Long and quiet and lined by trees and fields and small homes with beat up pickup trucks and disused tractors sitting out front. It was my third day on this road. My feet hurt. My legs were stiff. My back was sore. I felt oily and dirty and grungy. I hadn't showered in three days. 

First gas station, that was my promise to myself. The first gas station I see, I'm going in. I'm monkey-bathing it. I'm getting myself as clean as you can get in a gas station bathroom. 

And maybe some food. I still had a back of Ritz crackers and about a third of a jar of peanut butter. They were at the top of the pack, where I figured they had the least chance of getting crushed but were also the first thing I saw when I unzipped the top of the backpack. Which meant they were tempting. Which meant they were eaten.

I've never been all that good at self control. Which was one of the reasons I was here, watching a perfect storm of birds burst into the air and circle around in a huge arc, and land back in the field again as if nothing had happened. No self control. No filter. I say too much.

She didn't deserve it. My mom. She didn't deserve that. And then she was gone.

I was just tired. Not like now, with my sore feet and aching back. I didn't know what tired was, three days ago. A few nights without sleep? A couple of mornings of panic, making calls, waiting for ambulances? 

It was the vomit that did me in. She'd thrown up again, into the small waste basket by her bed. And I had to clean it out, again. I took it outside, turned on the hose, squeezed the handle on the nozzle, and a jet of water took the vomit away. But some of it bounced, and sprayed upward, and some of the vomit hit me in the face, near my mouth. And suddenly I was hosing off my own face, and cursing, and mad and sick to my stomach, and so mad.

I used one of the dish towels in the kitchen to dry my face, and I threw it in the sink, which had soapy water in it, and that made me mad too. Why was I the only one doing anything around here? Why was I the one doing dishes with no dishwasher, and cleaning up vomit, and taking care of her? Where was dad? Where was my sister? Where was everybody?

And then I went to mom, and I told her she had to get better or just give up already. Just like that. "Get better or give up already!" I said it under my breath. I whispered it as I put the waste basket down beside the bed. It was never meant to be heard.

"I'm sorry," she said. 

She was looking at me.

"I'm sorry," and it was quiet.

And she was gone.

And so was I. 

Three days. A burst of birds. A tornado of birds. And the first gas station I find, I'm going to get cleaned up. Somewhere along this road there's a place. I don't know where it is, exactly, but it's where I'll stop. Somewhere else, where I'm not the me who says too much. 

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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at


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