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The Thistle's Flower: Short, Short Fiction

Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

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There is a path into the hinterland that I do not want to follow. The entrance is nothing more than a footpath through thorny brambles that rip and tear at a man until he falls to the ground, a bloody hulk in a miserable waste. Who is it that says all must walk this path? Have they gone and returned to tell us such things? No! No one returns. So how do we know?

I do not want to walk this path. I have seen others step out, unwillingly, but they go, and I hear their screams and see them fall. Then they are gone. No one returns. How can this path be good when it metes out such pain?

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But my turn comes. The path is before me, and I have no choice. I must go and see for myself the horrors that lie beyond the hedge. I step forth. The clinging, scratching, cutting, and ripping begin, not only of my clothing but of my flesh, and then, in a matter of time, of my spirit. Let it end here and now. Stop the pain. But it does not end, and I am compelled against my will to go on.

I press on, to where I do not know. Dangers lurk in a dry land where thirst is a constant, unwelcome companion. Slithering, creeping, crawling, prowling creatures lie in wait to poison the body, and unrealized horrors eat holes in the soul.

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The grey sky lightens, only a little, and color seeps into the shadows. Further on, blue patches peek through the mottled canopy of black, purple and grey. A beam of light so real, so tangible it could be made of steel, penetrates the thick darkness. It lightens and warms my heart.

I am happy. I walk again among the living, free of the thorny brambles, free of the darkness. I live! I live! No one told me I would survive, that it was not all gloom and despair. I dance in the meadow among flowers, birds, and wild things that mean me no harm. I lie down in peace and sleep without fear.

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But on the morrow, the grey skies return. The gloom covers me. Was the joy only a dream? But from where would such a dream come? I wrestle with the mystery. The thoughtless answer is that there are good and bad stretches along the way. If that were true, I would spend half my time wishing I would die. But what if I am simply misreading reality?

I walk more purposefully today through both the flowery meadows and the thorny brambles for that pathway is of a single kind. Both joy and dread are tempered. I find peace in dark places when I stop fighting against the thorns. I move more slowly, tread more lightly, and watch for the berries in the brambles and the beauty of the thistle’s flower.

© 2020 Chris Mills

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