KIERAN SHEA’s fiction has appeared in dozens of venues including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Dogmatika, Word Riot, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir well as in some beefy-looking anthologies most of which will make you question the tether of his shiny, red balloon. To his self-deprecating astonishment he's also been nominated for the Story South’s Million Writers Award twice without sending the judges so much as a thank you note. He co-edited the satiric transgressive fiction collection D*CKED: DARK FICTION INSPIRED BY DICK CHENEY and his debut novel KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY is out now from Titan Books. Kieran divides his time between 38°58′22.6″N- 76°30′4.17″W and 39.2775° N, 74.5750° W.


Flash Fiction Challenge: Irreparable Alchemy

Just before the opening ceremonies in Vancouver a couple of weeks back, writer Daniel O'Shea (and for the last time--no relation) set up a flash fiction smackdown. Parameters were simple: crime fiction...800 words...set in a church. Over two dozen signed up. Like most trying the writing game I've mixed feelings regarding flash fiction, y'know cramming a complete concept into a clown car. But I appreciate any creative effort done well. I've taken part in a few of these flash fiction jam sessions and to be truthful I'm going to back off on them for a while... here's why (thank you again for clarifying, Mr. Bagley). If I ever do step into the fray again I want a shot at setting the parameters. Color me a dictating wacko but a shorter time frame would make it more exciting. Plus no stepping over the count line. Come to think of it...I still think flash crime fiction featuring Jeff Spicoli can be done. I'd be down for that. Maybe. I don't know. Anyhoo....



“Here? You tell me here? I cannot believe this.”


“Don’t touch me! Don’t you dare touch me, Craig, or I will scratch your eyes out and scream rape, I swear to God. I bet you know what rape is in Spanish too don't you, Craig? What is it, Mister Fluent? Tell me. Tell me so I can scream it so loud the whole town will hear.”

Craig released his hands from Tracy's shoulders. He hoped she’d be less dramatic, but her reaction was expected. As Tracy stomped away Craig noted a tourist entering the church. Craig studied the man, checked his watch, and looked up at the ceiling.

It was plain ceiling for such a famous landmark. Milky blue paint with gold trim, cracked and chipped. He supposed the soft breezes wafting in from the surrounding jungle made the plainness more aesthetically pleasing. Pillowy scents. Snapdragons and orchids, every so often a sinister undercurrent of diesel fumes and scorched rot. Like blazing arrows tropical birds crisscrossed the ceiling from heavy, open-shuttered windows. The Pacific sparkled almost a mile away.

“Better now than later.”

Tracy glowered so Craig turned. His shirt was damp with sweat. It was a black guayabera-style cotton that Tracy bought him two days earlier at a street market. After their market stroll and a swim in the surf they'd showered together in their suite. Craig from behind, Tracy’s hands planted on the shower's dark jade struggles for pause, pleasure, and purchase.

He faced the altar. “I’m sorry, I guess I thought--”

“You thought what?! That it’d make things easier for me? You bastard. You could’ve saved me the trip.”

“Tracy, please...”

“No, no, no...wait. Let me get this straight. Last night? After dinner? What was all that about, huh? Those slowed down moves of yours. Was that your idea of pity? This whole week? That was what this whole week was about wasn’t it? Pity on me?!”


“Don't shh me.”

“That’s not what I thought at all.”

Tracy crumpled in a pew. She used a sheer pink wrap to dab at her eyes, the one she brought with her specifically to cinch around her waist at the hotel pool. The straw beach tote beside her flopped over. Tracy tried propping it up next to her hip but the bag wouldn’t cooperate. After several moments of frustration she let the bag be, open on its side like a gutted fish.

Craig swept his fingertips along the altar railing. A dark varnished mahogany as well as the kneeler. No pads like back in the states. Hard people, Craig thought, but so it is when you waste centuries on your knees.

“Our flight is in a little over two hours.”

“Craig, shut up. I know when our goddamn flight is.”

He paused. “It’s my job, Tracy.”

“Your job, your job, your job. You sound like a parrot, you know that? Screw your stupid job.”

“You've no idea what I do.”

“You said you were at State.”

“Technically I am.”

“So what is it, huh? You some clandestine super spy or something? All top secret meetings with Obama and Dick? Some duplicitous double "O" assassin?”


“Tell me then!”

Craig assessed the tourist again and his slow advancement past a mini bleacher of flickering votives. Appeared harmless but you never knew. It's the little things really. The tells. Too much indifference or too little, shadows favored over sun. The tourist ignored Tracy’s histrionics and that was suspicious, but then a second man appeared and the play was clear. The second man's unzipped backpack was slung a little too low.

“I can't,” Craig said.

“I hate you!”

Fine. With luck Tracy would bolt right now, charge away, change her flight. There was no time to condense his life's irreparable alchemy. Men were there to cut them down.

USMC. UVA. CIA. ONI. State. Five languages. Hong Kong. Kabul. Cairo. Belgrade. Melbourne. Caracas. Seventeen targets—shot, slit, burned, poisoned, drowned, stabbed, detonated...that cheesy dwarf poached in a vat of chlorine in Panama. Keep the plates spinning, spinning, spinning. Compromised alliances. Denied or destroyed assets. Cheery ignorance and gung-ho patriotism permanently deglazed but, hey, frequent-flier miles out the wazoo.

Irreparable alchemy.

A third man appeared and Craig's eyes flicked to the sacristy three strides to his left. Potential cover and escape. He felt bad for Tracy, but moving, he did not look back.


“I'm not Craig.”

Tracy was puzzled for a moment before her confusion jolted black.

# # #