"And So It Begins." Flash fiction stories of up to 500 words that begin with a first sentence we provide. The first sentence for issue one is "I had never seen a tree on fire before." (Honorable Mention)


By Judy GeBauer

“I had never seen a tree on fire before,” she said, but not looking at me. Looking into the gorge where they were starting to push back the mud that had taken a third of the dam, six months’ hard work, not nearly finished yet. Double shifts were down there dredging when the dam collapsed, killing Gen, killing who knew how many.

I waited for her to look back to me, dreaded it. I had a feeling I knew where this was going. She kept her eyes on the rescue teams swarming in the mud below like colonies of insects. Watching to see if they’d found any bodies yet.

“The tree?” I pushed.

“Tree?” She looked bewildered.

“You know. Burning.”

“Oh. That. It was Biblical.”

“It must have been impressive.”

“Moses and all that. Burning bushes.” That heart-stabbing green-eyed stare slanted toward the gorge, the awful loss.

“You were pretty young?”

“It was all set, is the thing. The tree was set on fire on purpose.”

“Not lightning then.”

“It was supposed to look like lightning. It was a trick. To make us think something natural...supernatural.”

“How can you know that?” I asked.

“Like this slide. The way Gen got himself moved to explosives.”

“You think he sabotaged the dam?”

“He’s not down there," she said. “I’ll bet the ranch.”

I didn’t want to hear any of this. How could she be so sure? What did she know about Gen that nobody else knew?

“How do you know that tree was deliberately set on fire?” I was angry now.

“My mother was easy to scare. It was a fine old tree, too. Maybe a hundred years old. The way trees get old. What a thing to do.”

“To make you leave?”

“My father was the sheriff. I told you what happened to him. He found out things. He tried to get indictments…” Her eyes had a bruised look. “There’s no such thing as accidents.” Her sigh rattled her bones and unsettled mine. She looked down at the workers, then across the gorge at the dense acres of trees that have seen too much of us and our restless improving of what’s already ideal. “Gen’s just bad. Don’t ask me why I know.”

I wanted to take her someplace safe where nobody knew us, where we could think it through. I wanted to believe Gen was dead in the slide with all those lives he must have taken. I knew she was right about him. About him being bad, about him being safe. Somewhere.