Fast Fiction

We Weren’t — by Lucas Southworth

We moved to the city together in the very middle of summer. Where we lived, we could hear other people all the time, voices and footsteps and the clashing of metal and glass. That one night, a slight breeze bent through the window, the kind of stagnant heat you only get in cities in the summer. And the tangle of sirens. I sat on the bed, sweating, with no shirt and a book. The blinds were open and I felt watched. I always felt watched and you did too. We’d told each other this. We also told each other we loved the city, and reminded each other of it when one of us wasn’t sure. Our new city had a reputation for being a hard place, and it felt like people weren’t quite able to unfold there. A certain newspaper kept track of the murders, tallying them up week after week, describing each. You came from the bathroom and joined me on the bed. The ceiling fan was clicking again, its blades rotating like four lazy fishtails. The streetlights flickered outside. And that’s when we heard the first scream. We glanced at each other. It’s a raccoon, I said, in the alley. Or two cats fighting. It isn’t human that’s for sure. Another scream came and you just said, no. I got up to look out the window and saw leaves from the tree behind our building joining with leaves from the tree behind that. Everything binding together with the night. The third scream left no doubt. It carried with it a pitch of danger and pain. It’s a mile away, I said, miles maybe. Someone’s already calling it in, someone’s already rushing over to help. No, you said again. I turned out the light and we lay there, more screams piercing the darkness. I released a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. My skin tightened. Finally I rose with a creak from the bed. It didn’t matter what I wore, and you just watched me as I took too long to decide between the pile of dirty clothes in the basket and the pile of clean folded ones. What if the screams are coming from inside a house? I asked. What if they’re coming from the sidewalk or the street? You said nothing, and I stumbled from the bedroom and unlocked the apartment door, shivered down the hallway and the stairs. Outside, a few men stood together on their porches and stoops, and I pointed and we began to pursue the screams together. Sometimes one of us would split from the group and we thought he was gone before he reappeared later on a different block. The screams kept coming. Kept rising. One of the men began telling us about a driver in a different city that had run his car off a bridge. A samaritan had gone down after him. Eighty feet, the man said, the guy dove eighty feet into the water to save him. After that nobody told the others to go on without them, nobody turned back. It was after midnight and the humidity had begun to wane. The windows of the city were almost all dark, some as empty as they looked, some with people hiding behind them, probably watching us go past. The screams were closer now, louder. No, I said aloud. No, I kept saying under my breath, and I heard you behind them, your voice from the bed. The others looked to me and I looked back and we pushed forward and I wondered what I would have to tell you when I got home.
Lucas Southworth
Lucas Southworth’s stories have recently been published in Puerto Del Sol, TriQuarterly, Meridian, Willow Springs, and in the collection, Everyone Here Has a Gun (University of Massachusetts Press). He is a professor of fiction and screenwriting at Loyola University Maryland.