One of three runners-up in our Flash Hybrid Noir Contest. We’ll be publishing one a day for the rest of this week, leading up to the winning story on Friday.

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You can squeeze hard and still not get blood from it. But this stone was wet with something red. Heat in the sauna would dry it fast. She was not long gone. I found her in the makeshift bar beside the only window. Looking out, drawing deep on a Gauloise. ‘Smoking Kills’ read the pack. Her brand.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” she intoned, turning a cheek the way that always breaks my thinking. She knows. The light and lilting chin knows, that whispered poems in my ear, for what, a year? But that was half a lifetime ago. No one looks better at thirty-eight than nineteen. But she could pull this off near dusk by an old-fashioned lamp. The kind with a dragon shade.

Leaning in, “You’re crazy to be sane.”

“You and me both, Drat.”

“This crummy city. Tell me lies.”

“The last twenty seconds of ‘Birdman’ . . .”

“But Emma Watson’s eyes . . .”

And that was it. Over, the fantasy of sex and oblivion, that blissful un-bracing, put off for many moons. In record time. How many times would I track her down to the same bar stool, and lose the trail at the start of repartee?

“It’s a willful failing that you have, Drat darling– this malaise of triangulation. Always you must see what-was before what-is and bring a girl to light.”

“She just popped in, and I channeled.”

“Channel this.”

It was more than a finger, glinting off a headlamp beam northbound through the glass. Cold steel. A barrel.

My strategy, to stall: “They say the brain still functions a couple of minutes after the shades are pulled. A schedule one narcotic, DMT, floods in from the pineal gland. Where Descartes said the soul was. Or is. The doors are wide open. Paradox is resolved. Emerson said every wall is a door. Not Boozer: Ralph Waldo. It’s an inside job, looking out. Screw Timothy Leary. And Husserl. They say Derrida was a name-dropper. They say many things, the Frustrating Spirits. Yeats did not live for nothing. Sartre, however, did.”

“They tell me you will choose to join the dead white men.”

And that was all she wrote.

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James Sumner likes living near a great library. In Charlottesville, Berkeley, and Storrs, for the most part. In recent years, he has taken his holiday in Berlin.

 Photo by Claude Truong-Ngoc (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACigarettes_de_troupe_Vente_restreinte_02.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.