Friday, April 15, 2011

Weird Flash Fiction: Tumbleweeds

Weird fiction is a fave with me. Definitions abound, the weird fiction I enjoy is more the late 19th century, early 20th century version, where eeriness prevails and there's a sense of unease and dread, often of a supernatural or brow furrowing, outright strange foundation. Atmosphere is key; mood and shadows dominate. Writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood specialized in there own variations of it; the appropriately titled magazine, Weird Tales, subsisted on it.  

But it goes beyond that. It’s when the line has been crossed and something so bizarre comes into play, that’s when it really makes my brain twitch like a happy spider scooting on a web towards a fresh kill. It's the place were the expected and the bizarre meet, as opposed to simply the bizarre, or bizarro fiction, which I also enjoy, though the foundation there often simply throws a lot of disparate elements into the mix and sets it on “huh?” The weird fiction I like sets it on a confused “Oh, my...” as it slowly backs away from whatever is revealed.

This flash fiction piece initially appeared in the Small Bites anthology from 2004 (I had three pieces included), a benefit for the late Charles Grant. The final sequence is a good example of this element. Guidelines limited contributors to 500 words; give it a spin when you have a couple minutes.  I actually tightened it a hair and would more if I was so inclined, but it's what it is and I've got other weird tales to write, so... Enjoy! 


The red mottled diaper rash had spread down Thomas’s thighs, inspiring cacophonous vocal complaints from the baby.

“Darrin, he needs his ointment and a change. What are we going to do?”

They both froze as the feverish wind continued to howl and lash, tumbleweeds bounding like stray beach balls across the strange, full-moon bathed luminescence of the desert. But the howling that most perturbed them had nothing to do with the wind. It seemed there was a pack of coyotes prowling the perimeter of the tiny ramshackle shack.

A pack of coyotes whose presence remained a mystery…

The car had broken down twenty yards from the shack. Lacking a cell phone connection, Darrin and Carrie, with Thomas in tow, had made a dash to the shack for the slim possibility it would have a phone or, at the very least, that it would provide a more comfortable shelter. They were wrong on both counts. There was no electricity in the abandoned shack, and the one glassless window permitted the wind’s turbulent trespass as it rustled dust and debris within the cramped confines. They even had to prop a wooden chair against the door to keep it shut.

Now, with the desperate, forlorn howl of the coyotes resonating all around them, any trek back to the car to retrieve the diaper bag, idiotically forgotten in their haste, seemed unlikely. And yet, as Darrin peered out the lone window, all he saw were loping tumbleweeds.

Thomas increased his volume, drowning out the coyotes’ chorus. Or had they retreated? Minutes passed in which only Thomas’s harried screech and the whining shriek of the wind battled unsuccessfully for dominance. Darrin’s squint-eyed perusal out the window still revealed no sign of coyotes. He had yet to see any, having only heard their agitated wails.

“I’m going to chance a run to the car.”

Carrie hugged the bawling baby. “Are you sure?”

“I think the coast is clear.”

Without hesitation, Darrin moved the chair and darted out. Carrie yelled, “Be safe,” and re-propped the chair against the doorknob, all the while feebly attempting to pacify Thomas.

Instantly, the coyotes commenced with a caterwauling racket, accentuated by Darrin’s anguished, stunned cries. Carrie gasped, clutching Thomas tighter. She heard meaty ripping sounds, distraught yelps from Darrin, and finally, silence. Even from Thomas.

It seemed the wind even paused, before brusquely shaking the shack some more…

There was a dull knocking at the door.


She glanced out the window—no coyotes—and swiftly, anxiously pushed aside the chair, prepared to drag Darrin inside with her free arm if necessary. The wind shoved the door open. She did not see him.


A tumbleweed struggled against her ankles. “Help me,” it pleaded, in Darrin’s voice.

“Oh…my…” she whispered, dumbfounded.

Looking out at the tumbleweed cluttered landscape, she noticed with shock and bewilderment that none of the tumbleweeds was tumbling to the wind’s relentless caress anymore.

They were slowly, steadily pacing towards the open door.



  1. Coolio!

    I've always enjoyed the weird stuff, too. Though not of exactly the same bent as what you described, if you haven't checked out China Mieville, you should. Particularly Perdido Street Station, and The Scar. He writes what is known as the "New Weird." And he's kinda wicked cool.

    And weird.

  2. I've yet to fully explore the "New Weird," but know I must, Steve. And, yes, Mieville comes highly recommended. Soon I will see about this other branch of Weird... ;-)