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– Fiction by Sarah Blanchard –

Winner of the Dreamers Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest.

Three of Jake’s buddies flew directly from Afghanistan into intensive rehab for amputees. Jake got dropped off back home with a medal, a large bottle of anti-depressants, and a referral to a therapist.

Not knowing what else to do, his kid sister SueEllen proposed a walk up on the ridge, over by the creek or around the used-to-be soybean fields out behind their double-wide, thinking that would ease his mind. But the fields were gone to weeds and briars, and surveyors had strung pink tape like party flags on sweetgums by the creek. SueEllen had to remind Jake that it wasn’t granddaddy’s land anymore, and the developer was just waiting on subdivision approval. Jake said he didn’t want to see any of that.

A fishing trip might be good, though. They could go to the flooded quarry, where they used to trawl for bream and those ugly, oily catfish their momma used to dredge with cornmeal and spice rub. They were pretty good, fried up with okra and tomatoes.

SueEllen arranged to take a day off from the diner and asked Cousin Marvin about borrowing his rowboat and two fishing poles. She found hooks, bobbers, and sinkers in the old tool shed, and gave Jake the pole with the working reel.

“And worms. I got us these night-crawlers,” she said as they hauled the dinged-up aluminum rowboat out of Marvin’s pickup at the quarry. She showed her brother the Duke’s mayonnaise jar filled with dirt. “Bobby Lee had them at the store, two dollar a dozen.”

Jake pushed the boat off the rock-strewn shore and rowed them to the middle of the quarry lake, the oars slapping hard on the black water. When he went to thread a worm onto his hook, his fingers trembled too hard so he sat in silence while SueEllen baited her own hook and hung a pole over the stern.

“I think it’d be better,” she said, “if it was springtime. Summer’s too hot, we’ve had this drought for weeks. Sorry you had to come home to this.”

He didn’t answer. There was no breeze and no sound, no bird calls or even insects over the water. The air was hot and still. Harsh sunlight glinted off the surface of the gouged-out lake. They’d rowed out too deep for catfish, and nothing else was biting.

After an hour in the sun, the soil in the mayonnaise jar was drying out. SueEllen didn’t see any point to keeping the worms, so she moved to empty the jar over the gunwale, figuring at least they could feed the fish they weren’t catching, maybe make them fatter for next time.

“No,” Jake said. “Let’s take them home. Put them where the garden used to be. You dump them here, they’ll just drown.”

SueEllen frowned into the tilted-sideways Duke’s jar. “They’re just worms.”

He stared at the water. “Nothing is ‘just’ anything.”


“It’s the sound. And then the sound stops. When there’s no sound, it’s worse. First there’s screaming, then silence.”

“They’re just worms,” she said again, confused. “Worms don’t make sounds. Might as well give the fish a treat.”

“That’s the worst,” he said again. “When something that’s dying doesn’t make a sound.”

He took the jar from her, splashed a handful of lake water onto the parched soil, and cradled it in his lap as she picked up the oars and rowed back to shore.

About the Author – Sarah Blanchard
Sarah Blanchard

Sarah Blanchard earned a BA in English Literature from the University of Connecticut and an MBA from Nichols College. She spent three decades in corporate communications and taught at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. Her fiction has appeared in Sixfold and Red Fox Review. She won the 1993 short fiction award from the National League of American Pen Women, Simi Branch. Poems have appeared in Calyx, Welter, Sixfold, and The Planetary Report. Her non-fiction pieces have appeared in several publications including Yankee Magazine, Equus, HI Luxury and Malama Lio. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

**This story by Sarah Blanchard tied for first place in the 2019 Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest with “Some Days Are Yellow” by Rebecca Haas.

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