Sunday, September 16, 2012

Roundhouse, 750 words

I enrolled myself in an introductory fiction writing class this semester, and our first project is to write a "flash fiction" story (under 1,000 words) to workshop in the class.

This is the first concept that came to mind, so I went with it.

"Roundhouse" is a flash fiction story about a high school drop-out struggling to break life-changing news to his beloved little brother: he's skipping town and has to leave him behind.

I'd love any and all feedback; critique is much appreciated! Enjoy!


ROUNDHOUSE


The roundhouse has been abandoned for fifty years. Remnants of old, broken steam engines litter the floor of the dome-shaped building: wheels, smashed headlights, pistons, smokeboxes. Jumbled balloon letter graffiti on the walls are the only noticeable changes since the last time I've been here. Since the last time either of us have been here.

My little brother trails in behind me, loitering just outside the door as long as he can before finally taking the plunge inside. He shoves his hands in the pockets of an oversized sweatshirt that used to be mine and stares at the far wall across from us. A mound of broken green and brown glass extends along where the floor and wall meet.

I nudge Abby with my elbow, interrupting his trance.

"What's going on, Noel?" he says, glancing sidelong at me. Maybe he already knows. The kid's always been the smarter brother, thank God.

I don't respond and Abby doesn't nag me for an answer.

I kick a rusted tin can lying at my feet. It crashes into a smoke stack nearby, the metallic clang of the collision echoing all around us. A raven fusses at us from a rafter, fanning her wings and jerking her head back and forth atop a nest made of dead grass. When the noise subsides I hear her hatchlings chirruping.

I walk toward the center of the roundhouse and hoist myself up onto the circular turntable, a raised platform with a single railroad track spanning the center. I sit down on the piece of track. "I dropped out," I finally say.

Abby is staring at the glass on the floor again. He looks down, scuffing the tip of his sneaker on the floor. "I know."

"Yeah? Well, so much for the grand reveal."

"No—I mean, I didn't know. But I kinda figured, eventually." He shrugs. "You know, we haven't been here since the day dad left."

That day, Abby and I had filled our coats with all his empty beer bottles piled on the back porch and weedy lawn. We ran here without a second thought and threw them—one after the other—against the far wall until neither of us could breathe. We fell asleep on the turntable, exhausted. When we woke up the next morning we looked at each other and, without words, walked back to the house together. Mom didn't even know we were gone.
I still don't know why we came here that night. Maybe because we knew we could get away with it.

Abby starts to walk toward me. "You're leaving, aren't you?" he says.

Shit. He really is too smart. "Hey, that's not what I—"

"But you are, right?" His voice trembles.

I look away. "Mom's gonna kick me out anyway."

"Bullshit!"

"Abby, what do you want me to do? I can't stay here!"

When I look up again, Abby is right in front of me. His eyes are glassy and his fists are clenched. Without warning, he lunges at me. Swinging his arm, he punches me square in the jaw. Hard.  He hits me again in the same spot. I fall back onto the turntable in shock and, before I know it, Abby is on top of me, landing sharp blows on my face. I let him. But he doesn't let up and his hits get harder and harder. I try to throw him off me but his knees have my shoulders pinned.

Somewhere above us, the raven is screeching.

Abby loses steam quickly, as if just now realizing what he's done. He sits up and I shove him off me and onto the turntable.

"What the fuck, Abby!" I shout, touching my jaw.

He backs away from me. "God dammit!" he says to himself, his voice cracking. He curls into himself and clutches at his blond hair.

He doesn't speak for a long time. Neither of us moves. My head starts to throb and my jaw is already swelling. Blood drips from my nose and bottom lip. Finally, Abby mumbles, "I know you can't stay here, Noel. I know."

I wrap my arms around him and hold him as he chokes back sobs.

"I'm sorry," I say.

Later, we fall asleep in the roundhouse.

I wake up before the sunrise. Abby is still asleep. I lean down to kiss him on the forehead but stop myself. Not now. Shrugging off my coat, I drape it over him as gently as I can so I don't wake him. Without a word, I leave.