KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Flash Fiction: 982 words

To Still Her Completely

by Kelli Fitzpatrick

The cattails circle a clay-muck swamp that forms in a corner of the bean field, filling with runoff each spring. Even now, in late autumn, the swamp looks fresh and out of place, a patch of weeds grown chest-high against our open acreage. A haven of life holding on.

“Kara, what’s the hold-up?” Uncle Marty elbows me with a stiff Carhartt sleeve and points to the axe in my hand. Our breath is hanging fog in pale November sun. I haven’t been out here on a weekday morning since Grandma brought me dandelion picking in the dew. The light is different than I remember—more transparent.

“I know it’s a hard day,” Marty says. “Thought you might like to keep busy. You said you were up for it.”

“I am.” I blink and swing the axe to send the hunk of oak hurtling off the stump in shards. Marty sets another section before me with a seasoned-wood plink. I swing again. There’s a rhythm—I know it when I hit it—that makes the cutting sing. But today it’s dead.

Behind us, Aunt Josie jabs at the crackling fire pit with a rust-streaked shovel. “I’m thinking Thursday for the funeral service, Mart.” She pokes a log and it falls to papery ember. Snow hasn’t broken yet this season, so she’s not wearing her jacket, just a sheepskin scarf over checkered flannel. “Give people time to plan.”

Marty pauses to massage the strip of leathery skin between his collar and cap. There’s no hope of regaining the rhythm now. “I suppose that’ll work,” he says. He tosses some small pieces onto the sled to haul to the woodstove later. “Tabitha’s brother should be up by then with the kids. Minister said she’s free whenever. She was your grandma, Kara, what do you think?”

“Thursday’s fine.” I run a dusty cuff over my brow and rest the axe head against the earth. It sinks itself into the frost-bloated dirt. Why plan anything at all? Grandma Tabby hated fuss, and after eight months of doctors and pain, why not hold the service right now in the crunchy fall grass, with an altar of oak, on the edge of everything she cared about? This was her sanctuary.

At a distance, the cattails nod strangely in the stillness. I feel a twinge in my shoulders of knowing a thing before it comes.

“Tab was something special,” Marty says. He knees the ground, arms brimming with wood, and stacks the triangle pieces between two young birches. “This farm wouldn’t exist without her. It was her crazy dream that built it.” I’m not sure who he’s talking to—the air, maybe. The land. We all know the story, the risks she took, the sacrifices she cut to let us stand here and know what’s ours. The shards nestle their shapes into the space, holding each other up.

Something ash-colored moves along the inside of the swamp, bending stalks, blending with the grey-brown of the brush. I squint at the spot, lifting the axe to dangle on its shaft like a pendulum keeping weighted time. I open my mouth to say what I see and a thick sheet of saliva peels back over my tongue; there are no words close enough for me to reach.

But there are eyes. Black. Dilated. Wild. Shuddering shoulder blades. A foam-flecked jowl. Coyotes are not supposed to walk alone in daylight. They are creatures of the night.

This one staggers desperately into the sun.

“Why don’t we go inside for a bit, Kara?” Josie crushes the remains of the fire in a cloud of sparks. I recognize the coyote—she’s been nesting on the property for years. She limps fearlessly toward Josie’s back.

Marty stands with a groan, brushing splinters from his Levi’s. I point. He’s not looking. No one’s looking

“After we get warmed up—” Josie catches sight of my face, then turns to see the rabid soul staring into hers.

For a moment, no one moves, save for the trembling shake of sickness in the coyote’s limbs, a high spitty whine like cicadas leaching from her throat. I wonder, in the half-second of calm, if this is all she wanted, just to stand in the sun, and sing.

Then she lunges at Josie, who swings the shovel, smashing the wasted animal’s shoulder with a crack and knocking her writhing onto the stump. Josie’s heel slips on a patch of moss and she falls, dropping the shovel. Marty tries to club the animal over the head with a block of wood, but her jaws snap fiercely, flinging slobber and keeping him away.

There’s a knot in my throat that may never leave, but I step up behind the suffering thing, tighten my grip, and swing down hard.

The blade glances off bone and digs in near the eyes. I swing again to still her completely.

Marty, gasping relief, helps my aunt to her feet. “Damn lucky she didn’t bite any of us. Poor critter. No cure for rabies.” He looks at me—I can feel his gaze—but I’m drawn to the life draining out, red streams running off the splayed skull to cool in the dirt. Did she realize what was happening as the disease tightened? Did she know there was only ever one end?

I swallow, then rest the axe against the stump and pick up the shovel. “Uncle Marty,” I say. “The sled?”

He sees what I’m about but shakes his head. “Ground’s too hard to dig, Kara.”

“Not there. Not yet.” I point the tip of the spade at the cattails that still suck on soft wet soil. Their heads look bent. Bowed, maybe—a velvet ring of reverence. Marty trades a glance with Josie, then nods.

From high above, in the tepid warmth of a climbing sun, the snow finally starts to fall.


Kelli Fitzpatrick
Issue 11, Spring 2019

is an author, teacher, and community activist based in mid-Michigan. Her Star Trek short story “The Sunwalkers” is published in Strange New Worlds 2016 (Simon and Schuster). Her flash fiction appears in Flash Fiction Online and is forthcoming in Still Life journal. In 2016, she placed fourth in the international NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, and she has multiple critical essays in print from Sequart and ATB Publishing. She advises a creative writing group for teen students, enjoys volunteering for local nonprofit organizations, and avidly promotes public education and the arts.

Find the author on Twitter [at] KelliFitzWrites, and visit her website at:

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