Flash Fiction: If at first you don’t live, die, die again.

Another start of a story I lost interest in by chapter three.  My hard drive is filled with false starts.  As always, I welcome any feedback or notes to help me improve.  Let me know what you think in the comments

The lights in downtown Panama city twinkled and Jesse Patterson stood on his balcony, sipping a scotch, thinking about time.   The stopwatch on his phone had been running for over three weeks. He hadn’t lasted this long for ages.

He had been killed more times than he could remember. He had been stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, suffocated, all the big hits. His least favorite way to die was being mauled by wild animals. It took forever, and hurt the most. Drowning was okay, kind of peaceful. He’d been crushed by falling piano’s, twice. Twice! Easily, the most absurd way he had ever died was falling off a balcony at an Opera, if only because the splat of his body hitting the ground perfectly timed the musical crescendo of the third act.

He had never killed himself. Not even once, and he was proud of that. Sure, he took risks, and maybe some of those led, indirectly, to his death. Like the time he tried to steal from the mob. He figured he could use it as a source of income, but mob guys are tricky and temperamental. They do not care for people walking into their businesses in a ski mask and demanding “some, if not all” of their money.

The longest loop he had ever pulled off was two months, but that was lifetimes ago. Recently, the loops were getting shorter and shorter. It concerned him, but he didn’t know what to do about it.  It’s not like he had any control over the situation.

He usually averaged three weeks now, but here he was, at three and a half. The longest loop he’d pulled off in lifetimes. So maybe he was on to something here. And yeah, he’d help himself to a slice of that pie called “hope”.  A tiny one.

He drained the rest of the drink and propped his feet up on the railing. His head was fuzzy and warm and he supposed the drink was doing its job. He must feel optimistic, to even allow himself to get this vulnerable.

He had fallen into a light doze, when he was jarred awake by a rumble in the building and the sound of an explosion. He looked over his balcony to the streets below, where it was chaos. People screamed, covering their heads.  Directly below the hotel, fire vomited from the building, causing cars to careen into one another. Another explosion and another rumble rocked the hotel.

He sighed and rubbed his temples. Shit.

The building swayed beneath his feet and he wondered how he’d die. Would it be the collapse or the fire? He hoped the first one, dying in fire was the worst.   The area around the balcony was smooth with no obvious places to grip.  No chance of climbing down. The room was too high up.  Why the hell did he get a room on the tenth floor? So careless.

The sound of sirens filled the air, and outside his door he could hear people screaming. He had no doubt the elevators had stopped functioning.  When it was his time to die, everything planned against him.

The hallway was a chaotic mess and it was difficult to push his way through the sardines of people, but he struggled against the tide to the stairway near the back. He pulled the door open and thick, black smoke poured out, prompting more screaming and terror.

Immolation then.  Not building collapse.  He really hated burning to death.  He should update the “dislikes” section on his Facebook profile.

The stairway was uncomfortably hot.  A screaming, frantic mass of humanity surrounded him and he was knocked around by elbows and pushing. Wait, was he going to be trampled to death? That had happened to him, a few times. Assuming you got kicked in the head first, it wasn’t that bad.

“El fuego está en todas partes!” a voice came from behind him and he saw a man kneeling to pray.  The fire is everywhere.   “Jesus sálvame.  Por favor llévame a tu reino”. Jesus save me. Please take me to your kingdom.

Jesse didn’t know how the afterlife worked for other people, but in his experience praying never helped.  Still, he had no other ideas, so he knelt beside the terrified man and gathered his hands.

“No se desesperen.” Jesse said to the main. Do not despair. “Hay más en la vida de este y Dios te ama.” There is more to life than this one and God loves you.

The man squeezed his hands painfully and a look of wild hope flashed across his face. “Estoy asustado. No quiero morir.”  I am scared. I don’t want to die. “Por favor, puedes salvarme?” Please, can you save me.

“Hay más por venir después de esto. Bebe el humo. Terminará más pronto.” Jesse shook his head. There is more after this. Drink the smoke. It will end sooner.

The man frowned at him.  “Asshole.” he said in heavily accented English.  He pushed Jesse back and ran to the group trying to stuff themselves down the elevator shaft.

Apparently Jesse did not provide the response the man was looking for. Well, that’s God for you. He always answers, but overwhelmingly, the answer is “you’re on your own, coach.”

Jesse stayed where he was, letting the thick black smoke hug him. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with jagged, hot air and was seized by coughing.

He didn’t cover his mouth,  If it really was going to be fire, getting himself knocked out by the smoke was infinitely preferable to immolation. More entered his lungs and his head swam.  The hallway became indistinct and fuzzy. In moments, the din of the people faded to background noise as the toxic smoke, filled with carbon monoxide and various toxins from burning building materials, shut down his nervous system.

He fell over on his side, his eyes tired. A lethargy enveloped him and he could feel the air get hotter. He had moments left.

This wasn’t a bad run, he thought. Three weeks.

Moments later, fire burst into the hallway from the stairwell.

He died.


Some thoughts about this story

  • Stories about time loops and time travel are tough to pull off a full book about.  The problem with infinite tries at a problem is that it really dilutes the narrative tension.  I found it hard to keep going with this story.
  • Given my spanish is 100% sourced from google translate, I have no doubts I got it wrong.
  • As I also learned, if I ever start a book with the main character “Jesse”, I am forever distracted by “Jesse is a friend… yeah, always been a good friend of mine.”  See?  Now it’s in your head too.  Sorry!

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