Elemental by Alex Ruby

Flash Fiction

This is a true-crime, CNF, micro-series story based on the real-life murder of Shaun Ouillette that occurred in 1986. If you’re interested, here is a link to an article about this tragic story: https://www.freedommag.org/english/vol36i1/page03.htm

I. Mother Earth

A lock of his matted hair clings to the lid of a mason jar where she used to store his fallen

buttons. Coffee drips as she twists the metal cap releasing Shaun’s scent––cinnamon and soil.

She rations each note for fear it will escape, disappear down the stairs and trail out the door likehe did that day, into the bones of winter.

They picked him because they thought no one would miss him. Right after Christmas

dinner, his first friend promised they’d build a fort among snow-shredded elms, two forests deep, where echoes scream in silence. But instead of boards and twine, he brought a baseball bat.

She’ll never know why her boy’s coat and gloves went missing. Did he get excited digging? Overheat moving rocks for the foundation? Or were they taken? So he’d freeze.

She still sets his place for breakfast, burnt eggs and scraped toast, and bakes trays of

cookies that she leaves by an open window, praying the sweetness sails with the wind signaling his way home.

Like a wildfire, grief lashes, devours her meal. She chews, but only tastes the dirt that

unfroze beneath him months later, swallows melted mud, and wipes his ashen crumbs from her mouth. She closes the jar. The smell chokes her anyway.

II. Incandescence

I wanted to be Fire, pure combustion, scorching the neighbor’s trash, sheds, cars, souls.

The one that requires brittle tinder to quench its fury––like the type that eats in silence, alone, cries after science class, yearns for his old friends and doesn’t make new ones––the kind that other students call “strange;” the one who would be least missed. 

I’ve got bottle rockets. I know the perfect place. Shaun couldn’t believe his luck, tripped

over his shoelaces, crisp eagerness rushing deeper into the woods chasing my promises of

sparklers, snowball fights, and forts. He didn’t mind the cold, even before I ignited the fireworks.

His head titled back, mouth open, in awe of sparks in the evening sky. 

Snap, crackle, pop.

I should have left the bat in the snow, wiped it clean, hurled it in the lake. They’ll call it a

“curiosity killing,” that I wanted to know what it felt like, planned it for months. It’s true, I

needed the thrill, to breathe. But it would take time to find him and Fire dies without air.

Before layers of sleet erased him, I brought others to revel in the opus I’d created at the foot of dead oaks.

Then we went for pizza.

They couldn’t stop seeing Shaun in his nightmares. So, they told, and the red stain on the

butt of the bat handle, the trophy beside my bed, is how they muted my flare. It wasn’t me. It was the abuse, the Devil, the Ritalin. I’d tried to warn them––left a note for the teacher about my urges. They upped my dosage. Not my fault.

For thirty years, I’ve lingered in penance, the purgatory of a cold cell, but don’t they

understand? I can never be sorry for my nature.

III. aqua pura

heaven tastes like fresh pearls of snow, the voices of a hundred searchers call your name,

the crunch of leaves, wet boots breaching icy puddles, look behind the rock, under the pile of oak branches and dead fronds, the weight of frozen water drives your head deeper into frigid drifts, they think you ran away, slipped through the ice, broke from the teasing, they won’t know for months that you fell for his promises, the last thing you saw, a flare of his red hair, fire in the sky, you begged him to help, your arm reached to block his blows, but he hit you again, pounded you forever into the dirt and ether, then brought his friends to bathe in the remainder, listen now, the breeze soothes, their voices are a patter of drizzle on a shimmering lake, you are Water, flowing home.

Alex Ruby is a former lawyer currently working on a thriller and a cozy mystery novel and hoping to complete her MFA in June 2023. She’s published a story about a rancid book club in Daily Drunk Magazine and a cat fiction piece in the upcoming charity anthology Like Sunshine After Rain. She’s a pet rescue mom who digs cruising DC on her e-bike and new roller skates and reading stories from the slush pile at Flash Fiction Magazine and Uncharted Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @AlexRWriter.