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No. 15 - Snow-Fox vs. Leukemia
A Short Story
You haven’t seen that side of me much here, but I used to write lots of short stories. In fact, my first two years of writing were spent almost exclusively in thrall to Madam Fiction. In my fledgling days, I expected that my, shall we say, writing career would follow a steadily upward trajectory, perhaps with a few short-lived dips here and there. With time, I imagined I’d improve more and more and that, eventually, my short stories would be worthy of the most prestigious literary magazines.
Suffice it to say that’s not what happened. After a year of grueling writer’s block (and other challenges) left me feeling like I’d forgotten everything I thought I knew about the craft, I found that, like a pair of favourite jeans which no longer fit the man who’s lost a lot of weight, fiction didn’t feel right to me anymore. So I stored that beloved pair of denims away for a rainy day and stepped into some slim new shorts. I switched to memoir.
That said, I believe that some of those early stories are among the best pieces of writing I’ve ever produced.
Today, I want to share a piece of flash fiction that was first published by Flash Fiction Magazine back in April 2021. It just might be the best of them.
(And pshh: if you like the story, feel free to press the button below or scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe for more!)
A great shadow wrestled the curtain open. He strained his eyes. No use. It was like trying to divine his reflection in water by candlelight. Through clenched teeth, Georgie whispered, “Who’s there?”
The pain had woken him. He’d been tossing and turning, probing the mattress for a better fit, which was when he first saw it. Now, the shadow was sitting in the chair by his bed. The boy’s fingers clutched the blanket. The chair shone like tinfoil in the moonlight, and Georgie noticed the milky white suit and the cape.
“Georgie Barnes… How do you do, kid?”
This could not be happening. The world’s best superhero—his favorite of favorites—had come to this hospital room to see him? Georgie looked him over. Was Snow-Fox really here? Or…he felt for the IV tube…perhaps a side effect of whatever was dripping in.
“Everything all right?”
“No. I can’t sleep.”
Snow-Fox looked down. The fingers in his lap were wild eels, alive and tremulous.
“I know what that’s like, bud. Is it the pain?”
Georgie had been trying to rise onto his elbows; he let himself go horizontal again.
“Yeah. It hurts pretty bad.”
“Describe it to me.”
“It hurts when I laugh. I’m always dizzy. And sometimes it’s like I have this earthquake inside me and I can feel every ripple ringing through my bones. It’s like that now.”
“Want me to help you up?”
Snow-Fox put one arm on Georgie’s shoulder and fumbled for the control panel with the other. The headrest whirred, ascending.
“Better.” Snow-Fox sat down again. “Okay, Georgie, look. I understand it hurts. I won’t pretend to know how much. However…I want you to know how proud I am of you. Leukemia is hard business.”
“I know what you might be thinking right now. All this…it’s not fair. And that’s justified. You’re a smart kid with your whole life ahead of you. God knows there are people out there who deserve this more than you. But life’s not fair, is it? You know my story, right?”
“Your origin story? Yeah. You lost your parents and…”
“That’s right. There’s me, a ten-year-old kid left alone. As you can imagine, I didn’t know what to do with myself—didn’t know anything. I stumbled blindly for the first few years. I was bad, I hung out with bad people. Then, one morning, I found the courage to stop.”
“That morning I felt…something—like a bolt of lightning striking into my heart. I lay in bed and remembered all the bad stuff I’d done and I didn’t like what I saw—the kind of person I was becoming. It was like I was watching a documentary of my life up until that point. I got scared. And then…well, I guess you know what happened next.
“Look, my point is, I know—in my heart of hearts—that you are here for a reason, Georgie. You might not know what that reason is yet, but I’m confident you’ll wake up one morning and you’ll know. Keep fighting. I’m here, talking to you, because I believe you can do that.”
His helmet shone white as wax, but Georgie couldn’t see much more.
“I’m cold. Can you close the window?”
Snow-Fox pushed himself up. Extended a gloved hand.
“Close it yourself.”
Georgie bit his lip and swung his legs over the side. Peered down. “I can’t.”
“Don’t think about it. Look at me. You can.”
His feet, on touching the floor, went numb. But Georgie wasn’t as cold anymore. With the window closed, he returned under his blanket.
“My mother used to make me say a little prayer before bed.”
“I didn’t know you slept at night. Foxes don’t. I learned that in biology last year.”
“You caught me there. Let’s keep it between us, though, okay? Don’t want my arch-enemies finding out I have one more weakness.”
“Want to pray with me awhile, Georgie?”
Georgie recalled a night many nights before, his father kneeling by the bed, whispering about love and hope.
“Yeah. I guess.”
Later, in the quiet dark of the room, Snow-Fox told Georgie another story. Five years ago, he said he’d lost his sidekick Primo in a battle which his body, and its scars, still bore witness to. He knew the pain of losing someone dear. Like a segment of your skin being ripped off, bone and muscle laid bare in the resulting cavity. And, in times such as these, Snow-Fox wanted to look up to the sky and scream.
Georgie reached for Snow-Fox’s hand and patted it. “Will you stay until I fall asleep…?”
Snow-Fox slid his hand into the boy’s feeble grip, the rubber on the inside of his glove warm on Georgie’s skin. “Not going anywhere, kid.”
Sleep, that battered search-and-rescue dog, was approaching. Easing into it, Georgie recalled his favorite episodes of The New Snow-Fox Adventures.
“Snow-Fox vs. Trickster John”. “Snow-Fox, Primo, and The Maw vs. The World”. “Snow-Fox vs. Cyber Snow-Fox”. Georgie smiled.
“Snow-Fox vs. Leukemia,” he thought.
“I love you.”
Will’s night vision goggles flickered green as he looked at his son’s frail form. He was a strong kid; Will knew as much. Still, his palms grew sweaty underneath the gloves.
“I love you too, kid.”
William Barnes wormed his hand out and rose. Drew the curtain back into place. The rhythm of the heart-rate monitor shadowed him to the door, quieter and quieter. His cape lay heavy on his back.
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