By Harry Neil

It’s the screaming of the seabirds that calms my mind. I imagine that I’m running down a deserted beach, filling my lungs with the fresh, clean air and really exulting in getting my heart pounding. I’m told that there’s a line where the wet sand and the dry sand meet, and that that’s the best place to run. I don’t remember ever seeing a beach or hearing the seabirds scream, but I must have read about it somewhere, or something like that. I don’t know, and it’s not worth figuring out. Not now.

I don’t know because my first moment of true consciousness was waking up in that filthy back alley in Compton. I was standing over a butchered corpse and holding a machete. Everything was covered in hot, smelly blood: me, the corpse, the machete, even the broken pavement. I just stood there trying to make sense of it, because, well, I had no idea – no idea about anything.

But I didn’t stand there for long, because the world turned into sirens and riot police and snarling dogs. Suddenly I found myself knocked flat, lying arms spread on the dirty pavement among all the trash and garbage and rats, and staring up at a whole mob of angry policemen. They were shouting orders and questions I didn’t know the answers to. Who was I? Who was this man I’d butchered? Why had I done it? I just stared at them. I didn’t know, did I? I didn’t know anything, not anything at all. I was like a newborn. Maybe I looked like a grown man, but to me it was all brand new.

After all that, so much happened so fast that I can’t really remember everything. When you have a whole new world to take in and figure out, and not much time to do it in, well, you don’t pay too much attention to every little detail, do you?

Anyway, now I live in this jail cell, except for times when they take me out to some courtroom to talk about what they think happened to me and how I came to be in that alley, and who that dead man was and why I killed him. It’s all too confusing, and I still haven’t got it all figured out. And anyway, it’s all news to me. I wasn’t there, was I? Not when it happened – not until I woke up. So I just sit there mouth agape, probably looking like a man with bad adenoid problems – and how do I know about adenoids? They call me stupid and insane and PTSD and some other not-nice things. They say I’m faking it, whatever “it” is. They ask me questions I don’t understand, so I just stammer. Maybe I am stupid.

But I know I’m not faking anything. I really have no idea who I am or where I came from. It’s obvious that I had a life before I woke up. I mean I speak the language, and I know how to walk and brush my teeth, and I know I’d rather eat steak than chicken. I know there are places called New York, and London, and Sydney, and Calcutta. And I know about beaches and seabirds. All this had to happen before, didn’t it?

But I don’t spend time trying to figure that all out. It’s not important. Not now. Right now I’d rather just close my eyes and run down that wonderful beach and breathe the air and listen to those fantastic seabirds scream.  I don’t know how that screaming calms my mind, but it does. Maybe it just fills it up so there’s no room for thinking about anything else, about stuff I don’t want to think about. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter now, does it?

They’re taking me out of the cell again today. I’m going to a different chamber this time, and I won’t be coming back here. They tell me that I’ll soon be running down that beach forever, with nothing to listen to but the seabirds. They tell me that all this confusion will soon be over. They tell me that none of it will ever matter again.

They tell me to just breathe deep and listen to the seabirds.

Bio: Harry Neil is a gay California desert rat born in North Carolina’s Cape Fear Basin. His first collection of short fiction was recently published by Donella Press as Screaming and Other Tales. His short stories have been published in Carmina Magazine, in Pink Disco, and in the Revenge collection from Free Spirit. 

He has published “The Diamond” previously with The Yard: Crime Blog

His book “Screaming and Other Tales” can be purchased at Donella Press, or found in our Bookstore.

Read more Flash Fiction at The Yard: Crime Blog

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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