KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Flash Fiction: 582 words

Flag-Draped Coffin

by Bruce Holland Rogers

As for the question of free will, consider the left pedal of Tom Willingate’s bicycle when Willingate was fifteen years old.

The bike was a Huffy ten-speed, a hand-me-down from Willingate’s uncle. The thing was murder to pedal up to the top of the Seventh Street hill. The frame was heavy, and Willingate was light. Even with the bike in its lowest gear, the boy often ground to a stop. Putting all of his weight on one pedal wasn’t enough to get the bike moving uphill again. He had to walk the bike the rest of the way.

The weight that made the bicycle a boulder to roll uphill transformed the Huffy into a rocket coming down. Willingate would pedal to get started, but soon he couldn’t pedal fast enough. He tucked his head close to the handlebars, felt his hair streaming.

Seventh leveled out around Austin Street. Air resistance bled off some speed. At the intersection of Seventh and Eureka, Willingate was still going fast enough that he’d have to brake before he leaned into the turn onto his own street. Always, he remembered to hold the right pedal down so the left was up and away from the asphalt. Always, until that time when he forgot.

He knew his mistake at once. He was thinking simultaneously, That was stupid! and Here we go! as the bike pitched him over the handlebars. He felt almost as if he were flying. He felt exactly how he was holding his body, fingers to toes. The road was coming. He put his hands out. He thought, This is going to happen. He saw his hands strike the asphalt. He felt one shock and another travel through his shoulders, down his spine. He saw the asphalt up close. Old asphalt, with much of the black pitch worn away. Sharp pebbles.

Then he was limping home. He stopped now to look at the left pedal. The cap over the bolt had been crushed. The rectangular tread was now a parallelogram.

He didn’t know his face was bleeding until his mother saw him. He looked down at his shirt. A big stain of blood, yes. Blood dripping from his chin, too. Not a big deal. He knew he was all right. If he seemed a little dazed, it was only because reality had been so real during his moment in the air.

At the kitchen table, Mr. Burland from across the street shone a light into Willingate’s eyes, asked him what he’d had for breakfast, asked him how many fingers he saw, asked if he felt like throwing up. Meanwhile, Willingate’s mother was dabbing at his face with a warm towel, then picking gravel out of his palms. That hurt. She snipped at the shreds of skin, and Willingate watched, noticing the difference between this ordinary moment and the ecstasy of flight.

That was the beginning of fast cars, of never avoiding a fight, of putting on muscle, of looking for ways to fall or to see something dangerous coming fast. He had many reasons for enlisting and signing up for Ranger School, but his moment in the air would have been reason enough. The Army trained all recklessness out of him, but also gave him the moments that he craved. He couldn’t imagine any other life.

Some nights in Afghanistan, where he’d never seen so many stars, he’d wonder about that left pedal, about accidents, about free will, and about the will of God.

Bruce Holland Rogers
Issue 2, Winter 2015

lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches writing in the MFA Program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (Whidbey Writers Workshop), a low-residency program which is unaffiliated with any college or university. It is the first, and thus far the only, program in the United States to be offered by an independent organization of writers.

Rogers also sells subscriptions to his stories * by e-mail at:

[* Note: Annual subscriptions (36 stories) are also available as premiums for readers who wish to support KYSO Flash.]

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Renaissance, a fine example (in 232 words) of the “Fibonacci prose sonnet,” a variation of the Italian sonnet structure as adapted by Rogers for flash fiction, in Flash Fiction Online (August 2010)

Counting and Multiplying: The Birth and Evolution of the Three-Six-Nine, more fun with another challenging fixed form; from the writing series, Technically Speaking, at Flash Fiction Online (December 2008)

Tea Party Rules: The Story Contract, a discussion of the implicit contract between writer and reader; from the writing series, Technically Speaking, at Flash Fiction Online (May 2011)

Numerous links to other writings may also be found on Author’s Page at Flash Fiction Online.

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