Hunger by Brad Green

“Oh, it makes me so light,” she says. “I could near float up to God.” Her pant is rabbit fast into his shoulder, her fists small knobs of bone at his belly.

That small-eared doctor had cautioned calm, so her thin-walled and protein-starved heart would not rupture, but Wyatt can’t stop. Two years he’d been in lockup, that doctor draining his bank account with therapy sessions, and Lurline still wasn’t better. It looked like she hadn’t even tried.

Underneath him, Lurline feels like a handful of ten-penny nails. All elbows and flaring ribs. Looking at her makes Wyatt think of cleaning fish.

Two years gone, taking the wrap for her screw-up on that heist and she won’t even buy the damn groceries now. Won’t even glance at food. If prison had taught Wyatt anything, it was that people need to be forced into right decisions.

“Eat this,” Wyatt says, shoving the creamy end of a bitten Twinkie at Lurline’s face.

Her mouth clenches. She squirms under his bulk, legs twitching for purchase between his.

With his free hand Wyatt grabs Lurline’s jaw and pries her teeth apart, shoving his fingers into her mouth. A whimper curls from her throat. Wyatt jams the Twinkie in with his palm and slips his fingers free.

Lurline tries to spit the twinkie out.

“Chew.” Wyatt works her jaws with his hand. “Eat like a normal person for damn once.”

Lurline twists to bring her knee up into him, but her leg is pinned by his weight.

“You eat and it’ll go back the way it was before I went away,” Wyatt says. “That’s all I want.”

Wyatt kisses her Twinkie-swollen cheek, her forehead warm with struggle, her trembling, gelid eye as it closes while her jaw works against the forced chewing.

Lurline yields to his weight and swallows. Wyatt’s breath unsnarls and he plops on the couch next to her, waxen and spent, looking at the smeared cream on her wrinkling chin, the crumbs wobbling in throat folds. Her face wrenches sweat-slick and bone-jarred, her eyes now open, indistinct with water and a need the food won’t satisfy. Wyatt wraps his fingers over her scissoring knee and listens to breath fill her chest, hoping that her heart will hold its blood and not burst.

The Fire Behind by Brad Green

After two years in state prison, Tyson Lemmon had learned to keep his mouth shut. But this damn sheriff was about to make him lose his shit. Tyson watched Overton’s rheumy eyes in the rearview. It was Overton that sent him up and the day of his release, Tyson was surprised to find Overton there to give him a lift home. Some good luck for once. It’d make it easier to get the smug son of a bitch back for taking two years of his life.

But first, he had to keep quiet a few minutes longer.

“You know them Clang boys still have a beef with you over your wife?” Overton’s red cheeks jiggled as the car bounced over corrugations in the road.

Yeah, Tyson knew. Dexter Clang had sent him on that marijuana haul and must’ve tipped off the Sheriff. All because he’d taken Sadie away from the Clang’s video porn industry. Tyson didn’t understand how those Clang bastards used their own cousin that way.

Overton wiped sweat from the back of his neck. “Damn hot in this holler,” he said. “Never was nothing good come from here.” He glanced up into the rearview again. “Except maybe that daughter of yours. What’s her name? Sissy?”

Tyson felt his thighs tighten on the seat.

Overton’s eyes brightened. “Yeah, Sissy. Near five now, right?” A long, whistling breath fluttered his lips. “Near to budding. I hope them Clang boys hadn’t got a hold of her.”

The words were out before Tyson could stop. “I’ll kill anyone that touches her.”

Overton glanced back over the seat. “You will now?”

Tyson lurched forward as Overton stepped on the brake. The car crunched to a halt on the road.

“You keep talking like that, you might not even make it home, boy,” Overton said.

Tyson’s fist shook over his knee. In ten minutes, they’d cross Antelope Gulch and that’s where Tyson had wanted to make his move. That’s where he’d be able to escape from the fat ass Sheriff, hide in the caves, and pick his way back to Sadie and the kids without letting on where they were. But he had to go and open his big mouth. His breath came faster and harder from his throat.

“Simmer down.” Overton clicked his seatbelt loose and it hissed across his belly. He opened the door and Tyson smelled the sage grass and the blooming dogwood.

The sheriff pulled his rifle out and laid it on top of the car, then he lowered his huffing face into the rear window and spoke to Tyson through the glass. “Sadie called her cousins the other day. I guess she got lonely. I figure they’re just about to that hidey-hole you set up.” Overton’s fingers tapped the car roof. “I’ll unlock your door, hear? It’s near sixty yards to the treeline. I’ll spot you seven seconds.”

Overton reached down and thumbed a button. The door clicked and Tyson glanced at the sheriff’s belly pressing a sweaty oval against the window. He wouldn’t be able to get around the car before the rifle fired, but perhaps he could reach the treeline with that head start. Cursing, he swung open the door and ran.

One, Tyson counted, looking at the sky wide and free overhead.

Two. The dry, rain-starved grass whipped his fists as he pumped his arms.

Three. His entire life had been like this, damn it.

At four, Overton fired. A bolt of bright pain shattered through Tyson’s right shoulder and he fell into the waist-high sage, dirt tufting up into his face from his breath. The front of his shirt went sticky and warm, so Tyson knew the bullet had passed clean through. He pulled himself toward the treeline, but the grass shuffled and he heard another shot clip through and thump into the dirt a foot away.

“You dead now, boy?” Overton called.

Tyson heard the scrape of the rifle leaving the roof of the car.

“Let’s just make sure then,” Overton said.

A few breaths of silence and then Tyson heard a crackling. He smelled smoke. Flames danced through the dry grass. Overton laughed on the road. Tyson steeled himself. He waited as the flames leapt through the grass stalks, the sage shriveling into black sticks until he felt heat raise the hair on his skin. Then Tyson pushed up, stumbling toward the trees through the purling smoke. Overton fired twice, but missed and Tyson reached the cool shadow of the dogwoods, running as he always had from a fire that was just behind.