“I Couldn’t Stop Looking,” a flash fiction by Lisa Korzeniowski for Haunted Passages

I Couldn’t Stop Looking

I am standing in the backyard in front of the shed. My brother is at the kitchen window, moths circling his screened-in face.

“What do you see?” Seth says.

“Come see for yourself,” I say.

“No way. He told us not to go in there.”

“He left the door open,” I say, digging my toes in the grass. “It’s so bright in there, it hurts my eyes.”

Seth says, “Is it brighter than the full moon, Petunia? I’m finding something to eat and then I’m going to lay in the grass and look at the moon.”

I say, “Don’t call me Petunia. That’s not my name.”

He says, “What should I call you, Fishface?”

“I’ll kill you,” I say, my eyes adjusting to the light in the shed. “I see the lawn mower and the rake and the bucket and the watering can. I see cobwebs and trash bags tied up in the corner and crushed Pepsi cans on the floor. Bugs crushed in a little black pile. Smeared wings.”

Seth says, “I’m making a sandwich. Peanut butter and banana. Want one?”

“I smell something coming out of the shed,” I say, “something wet and dirty, something that’s gone bad.”

He says, “Like milk? Like the old hamburg he left on the shelf? What does wet even smell like?”

I say, “Damp. Like something dripping. Not dry.”

“You should get away from there,” Seth says and calls me Petunia again.

“I’m ten feet away,” I say, though I know I’m much closer to the door. Five feet? Three?

Close enough to see what I’m seeing by the light of the bare bulb hanging over the wooden work bench in the middle of the shed.

“He left the door wide-open,” I say. “I’m just looking.”

Seth says, “I’m getting my sandwich and I’m coming out to look at the moon. His car’s in the driveway, must mean he went out for one of his walks.”

I say, “Holy—” I say, “Whoa—” I say, “Seth, come here.”

He says, “The bread’s moldy, but I can cut around it.”

I see hair and a hand. A face and a dark pool near the face. A red spill, spreading. I see a woman’s long hair, twisted.

Seth says, “Did you know that a slice of bread can look like the moon if you cut it a certain way?”

I say, “Seth.”

“Sister Fishface,” he says, “your braid in the light looks like a rope I can climb up to the moon on.”

“Are you even listening?” I say.

Seth says, “Here he comes, whistling that stupid song. He’s crushing cans with his feet. Mr. Pepsi Cola.”

“Seth, I’m stuck. I can’t stop looking.”

Seth says, “Petunia, get in here. He’ll kill you.”

He comes up behind me in the grass, puts his hand on my shoulder.

“What did I tell you?” our father says.

I open my mouth, but only my breath comes out. I feel his eyes looking at what my eyes are seeing.

“What do you see?”

“A woman,” I say.

He says, “No, you don’t. You see nothing but tools and shadows.”

He says, “Who bought you this blue dress? Who pays for the roof over your head? Who buys the milk and the meat and the bread?”

I say, “You do.”

I say, “Thank you.”

I say, “But—”

He squeezes my shoulder. “But what?” he says.

“Chicken butt,” Seth says, slamming the screen door behind him.

“Your brother made you a sandwich,” my father says.

I tell him I’m not hungry.

They say, “Petunia,” as if they are only here to name me.

I say, “Seth,” but maybe I only say my brother’s name inside my head. He is sitting in the grass now, chewing.

I feel the weight of my father’s hand on my shoulder, even as he makes his way to the shed. He stands in the doorway looking back at me.

“What do you see?”

“I see you blocking the light,” I say.

He says, “Yes, and what else?”

“I see nothing,” I say. “I can’t see a thing anymore.”

Lisa Korzeniowski’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Bending Genres, Pidgeonholes, FANZINE, Neutral Spaces, FEED Lit Mag, Opium, and elsewhere. Her work was chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2020. Find her on Twitter @LKorzeniowski.

Image: paul_rj.artstation.com

Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.