Kingdoms — flash fiction by Christopher Woods
They had lived in the dark, in its midst, some fifteen years. Ever since the children left, fleeing the house of perfection. And, the house of boredom.
He considered all this, driving through the night to their mountain cabin. Oncoming headlights, though there were very few, illuminated the snow on either side of the road. The darkness that followed each passing car triggered his thoughts back to the curving black road.
The road doubled back, then surged ahead, always elusive. It was treacherous going, as if there might be something, maybe even evil, along that road that night, as if something might, at any second, hiss and spit at them.
She sat beside but away from him. Giddy in the dark, she hummed along with the big band music on the radio and rubbed her thighs. These years she was spent, the same as he. And they both knew it all too well.
Already, on this late night road, they were quite beyond the boredom that had seeped inside the doors of their marriage. Then, above the sound of the music and the heater, she spoke. Best slow down, she said. He turned up the radio and scanned channels, looking for something she would not like. Best slow down, she repeated, louder than before.
Instead, he pressed his foot on the accelerator, hard. In his mind, he was going to rise above their shell of a family. To him, they would rise up from that twisting, viperlike road. They would glide through the dark sky where stars crisscrossed the blackness. He imagined himself going beyond all this. He didn’t know for how long, or even when he would return. He had bourbon singing in his blood.
She sighed, forgetting the song she had been humming. Looking away from him, she saw her sad reflection in the window. She imagined a snake was in their cabin. It was a snake that waited patiently in the night. She hoped that it was a very poisonous one, and that it was coiled on his side of the bed. Waiting.
He too was dreaming of a snake. His snake, also patient, had lived in the world long enough to know that waiting counted for much, maybe for everything. His snake was along this very road, this very night. It was coiled on the side of the road where he planned to push her out.
And though they both knew this was the dead of winter and snakes would be hibernating, it didn’t matter. For them, snakes would come out this night. These snakes could be commanded.
These snakes were a necessity.
It happened quickly, both of them silent and lost in thought. In an instant he passed out and his hands loosened from the steering wheel. Panicked, she looked out the window and once again came face to face with her reflection. Her eyes were frozen. When at last she broke her gaze and tried to take the wheel herself, it was too late.
The car seemed to fly, as he had wanted it to do. But it flew to the side, into the air, finally falling hundreds of feet to the snowbound trees below.
Beneath the roots of those trees, snakes huddled in balls, sleeping, awaiting the thaw. They dreamed of possibilities. Of warm beds in mountain cabins, where the people, for one reason or another, had gone away.
And, in their dreams, the people never returned. The sleeping snakes knew how waiting could count for much. How, if they waited long enough, even kingdoms could change hands.
Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, THE DREAM PATCH, a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. His work has appeared in THE SOUTHERN REVIEW, NEW ENGLAND REVIEW, NEW ORLEANS REVIEW, COLUMBIA and GLIMMER TRAIN, among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery -http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/