Sam Delaune is a midwife of stories, pulling them kicking and screaming from the muse’s womb. He has been a regular contributor to The Flash Lit Collective and Alameda Shorts for several years, hosted Local Voices in 2018-2019, and hosts the Tuesday night Write Along. When he is not writing or serving other writers, Sam teaches English in Oakland as if he were a surgical assistant – handing students the tools they need to do the job and staying out of their way. He has one complete novel waiting for revisions and another novel in the works, both at the intersections of sci-fi and the paranormal. Catch up with him and his short pieces at Literature in Small Doses.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #3:
The Empty Church
The old Jesuit was from Barcelona. He had drunk the blood of the Holy Savior from a chalice in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, but now he drank a dark and noxious fluid from a rough-hewn wooden cup, surrounded by vast trees that reached heavenward through the jungle canopy.
He could taste the devil in the brew that the Shipibo curandera had given him, but he knew that the Holy Spirit would deliver him from any evil. Such a demonstration of God’s power could wrest the old shaman’s soul from Satan’s grasp, so he tossed the remaining tincture down his throat.
“What do you seek?” the shaman had asked him before presenting him with the dark sacrament.
“I seek to shine God’s light upon wicked ways. I seek to cast twisted delusions back into the fires of Hell from whence they came.”
The curandera had nodded and chanted some syllables in an ancient tongue before presenting the priest, clad in red vestments and a broad-brimmed hat, with the elixir that would enable him to attend to the lessons of the teacher plant.
About forty-five minutes later, Padre Esteban felt a roiling in his belly. Before he realized it, he was already in the process of vomiting. As fast as a rabbit, the curandera had placed a wooden bucket in a position to catch what he disgorged and had removed his hat so that it would not fall in. He pressed a damp cloth against the priest’s forehead and began chanting again.
The Jesuit’s body was wracked again and again by his stomach muscles, pumping out its contents like bellows pumping air in a steady rhythm. It was the same rhythm as the song the curandera was chanting. When the song slowed down, his muscles relaxed and when it sped up, they tightened, until his stomach was completely empty. This didn’t take long since it was lent. Suddenly he became caught up in the words of the song.
It was about a girl who fell in love with the river. It called to her every day and she would lay on a branch above its current and watch its curves and undulations while listening to its voice. One day, during the rainy season, it rose up and kissed her. She became one with the river and it carried her away. He felt himself plunge into the river with her, the water gently caressing his skin as he tried to penetrate its murky depths with his gaze. The water drained away and he found himself at the foot of a tree with an old woman dressed entirely in green.
“You do not fool me, demon. I call upon the creator of the universe to set fire to wicked delusions!”
His eyes watered as smoke billowed from the belfry of the wooden church that he had forced the natives to build. He could see that the church was empty. He could see.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #2:
The sagging roof had been fixed. The place had been repainted, and a garage with an apartment above it had replaced the old tin carport, but her grandmother’s old place was still clearly recognizable. It was the tree that had given it away. An ancient oak that had fused with another to become like a gigantic wooden guard dog, towering over the property.
Her grandfather had hung a swing from its sturdy branches when she was a little girl. It leaned back towards the National Forest that bordered the rear of the property as if yearning for its relatives on the other side of the fence. She climbed the stairs and knocked on the thick wooden frame of the screen door.
“Who’s there?” A rich female voice called from the rear of the house.
“My name is Linda. Linda Nielsen. My grandma used to own this house.”
Linda heard footsteps echoing on the suspended wooden floor like an approaching drum until a small silhouette was framed by the screen door. It cracked open on its latch and she found herself being scrutinized by a pair of chestnut-brown eyes.
“Are you sure you’re not a reporter?” she asked as much with her arched eyebrow as her voice. Just then, a saffron-colored butterfly landed on Linda’s shoulder, flapped its wings four times and flew away. “You’ve received a vote of confidence. I suppose you ought to come in.” She opened the door and led Linda into a glass-walled sunroom that had been installed on the back of the house.
“Thank you for letting me in,” Linda began. “I spent countless hours here as a little girl and I immediately recognized the tree. There’s not another like it in the world.”
The woman nodded, her feet tucked under her on a rattan chair.
“Recognized it from where?” the arched eyebrow asked her again.
“The picture from the back of your last CD.”
“So, you know who I am?”
“Yes. I’m a tremendous fan. Who hasn’t heard of Nyad? The platinum-selling pop star who vanished into thin air. When I realized where you were, I had to come.”
“Have you told anyone?”
“No, of course not. You obviously didn’t want to be found. And the answer is ‘yes,’ by the way.”
“The answer to what?”
“Yes, I am a reporter, but that’s not why I’m here. I think I get it.”
“Well, as I listened to your music, I noticed how you veered away from the guitar and synths that marked your first albums and started using flutes and woodwinds and then, on your last one, all of the sampled sounds from nature. I recognized the sound of the musicians – the chorus of trees, the choirs of crickets and birds. I wasn’t hearing the songs so much as remembering them from my childhood.”
Nyad nodded and smiled ruefully. “The critics savaged me. My label dropped me. They didn’t get it. I’m glad someone does. Come on, let’s go out back and listen to some music.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #1:
Trips Festival – January 22, 1966
When I came to the Longshoreman’s Hall on Friday night, the crowd seemed a little different. There was a bus parked outside that was painted all sorts of crazy rainbow colors. I bought a ticket, then a smiling man handed me a glass of fruit punch and told me to down it, go into the hall and enjoy the show.
When I got inside, there was this weird tower-like structure in the middle of the room. Some guy with a clipboard demanded to see my ticket, then ran to the back door to yell at somebody in a spacesuit who was letting bikers in the back door. Some people got up on stage and started playing. The songs weren’t like the salsa music that I had grown up on, but something about the groove just made my feet want to dance, so I did. That’s when I saw her.
Long hair was swept back out of her face revealing beautiful eyes made up in rainbow colors swept up into her lashes and eyebrows so they looked like the feathers of a tropical bird. Her dress swept the same colors up in feather-like structures on her shoulders. The way she moved made the whole whirling, dancing scene seem as if it were designed as nothing more than a colorful background to showcase her beauty. She smiled at me and said something, but I couldn’t hear it over the loud music.
She gazed at the far corner of the room as if she was looking at someone, but there was nobody there, just like my mom’s cat used to do. I followed her and saw something strange happen to the wall. It got thin, like a pair of threadbare pants, and you could see through it. She was talking to a figure on the other side who appeared like a silhouette because of the bright light behind him. But it was dark outside! She turned and saw me and the wall returned to normal.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Just a doorway.”
“Who are you?”
“Where at? San Francisco State? City College?”
She shook her head. “You wouldn’t have heard of it yet.”
“What are you studying?”
“My grandfather says that history is a bunch of lies told by whoever is in power to keep them in power.”
She smiled and my heart melted. “That’s why I don’t just read about history. I study it directly.”
“What do you have? A time machine?”
“Everybody does,” she said, tapping her temple with her forefinger. “It’s just that most people don’t know how to use it. Or at least they didn’t. The door cracks open tonight. That’s what I came to study. A direct line can be drawn from tonight’s events to the state of anachronic consciousness that has allowed me to appear here tonight.”
“What’s your name?”
“Just call me great-granddaughter.”
When I saw her, two lifetimes later in my grandson’s arms, I recognized her immediately.