Los Muertos by Tommy Dean

The car—a black shadow—not there a second before, weaved drunkenly toward the mailbox, before eclipsing the end of their driveway, veering toward the other side of the road. Silence trailed the bumper like a flare, while Ariana wrestled with her brother’s sticky hand, until he pinched the webbing between her thumb and first finger. He ran off toward the garage, cackling, oblivious to how close he had come to los muertos. She can’t even think of it in English, wanting to leave the possibility in the land of her ancestors, afraid it will come lurking, bony hands marking their family for some future tragedy.

Three years later, her brother gripped a tangle of fuses tied together, the red and yellow wax paper like a roll of bundled presents. Ariana had learned about potential energy at school, the way things sat silently, waiting for something to make them act. She loved to figure out how things work. Her Papa shook his head when she asked to help with repairing the car. Not for girls. Explosives were probably off-limits too. She stood on the rickety wooden porch attached with rusted nails to the side of the trailer, waiting for the fuse to light. Her brother laughed, the sound like a bark.

In high school, while Ariana waited tables at their Uncle’s diner until she turned eighteen, her brother found drugs. The brother astonished his cousins with his lack of fear. High, he’d race one of their cars up to ninety on the back country roads, hurtling over hills, daring the blinds curves to throw him out of the car like a cowboy riding a stubborn bull. He smashed stranger’s picture windows and toppled big screen TVs, running off with old ladies’ pill bottles, waiting Death’s touch in the scattered bbs of buckshot to his skinny back. But his punishment never came. They dared, and he escalated. Their chittering laughter, its own reward, far stronger than her scoldings. At night, cradling his head, while the high dissipated, leaving him shuddering with depression, she told him the story of his near death, her hands puppeting through the shadows. Miguel, You were saved. Your life, it should mean something, she’d say, rubbing the part in his hair, practicing for the doom of her own motherhood.

Tommy Dean is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in the Watershed Review, TINGE Magazine, Split Lip Magazine, Spartan, Hawaii Pacific Review, and New World Writing. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.

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