Flash Fiction: Slight by Nat Holtzmann

Photo from Jindrich Heisler: Surrealism Under Pressure, 1938-1953.

I rent a room in an old man’s house. In his language, my name is Nah!-talie, embedded with that sound reserved for discovery. He plays guitar across the wall. I clap in the quiet intervals.


One day in September I wait for the man in the kitchen.

“I have no more money,” I tell him.

It’s money I will owe him if I stay a moment longer.


“I have some friends,” he says. “Their house burned down, you can stay on their farm. Make yourself useful.”

I start to ask something but he has already started playing his guitar.


On the phone with one of the friends, I make my request. Or is it an offering? Of my presence.

I can’t make out many words on the other end of the line. But the voice sounds the way I imagine a father’s love feels.


During the long train ride there, I can’t focus on the string between my fingers because while I was waiting for the train to embark I witnessed something chilling.


I could see a small farm out the window on the opposite side of the car. The gray splintering wood of the barn matched the dusty ground of an adjoining enclosure, in the middle of which stood a lone black horse and a tall wooden post.


The horse appeared agitated, swinging its head as if against the pull of non-existent reins.

It ran at the post headfirst.

Its neck buckled in the collision, the collision I couldn’t hear. Then my train pulled out of the station. The whole scene disappeared.


Just then a moth caught my eye, the slight sound of its wings batting against my window as metal lurched beneath us.


The moment I looked, it took flight, like it had been expecting my attention. It circled my head a few times before landing in its former spot on the window.


I smashed it with my sleeve. The carcass twitched as it fell to the ground, leaving a splatter of dust where I would have expected guts.

A teenager selling loose cigarettes slinked past me down the aisle.


The train stops are unmarked. This exacerbates my unease. It is not a route that expects newcomers.

I disembark once enough time has passed. To my surprise, it is the correct stop.

“Natalie?” a familiar voice calls.


It belongs to a man. He casts a wide shadow.

“Natalie, yes,” I respond, taking the happenstance of arriving at the correct stop as an auspicious sign. The man leads me to a large white van. I remain optimistic.


It’s not long before we are descending a dirt path, before we pass a scorched house with no roof and no windows.

On foot, we enter a narrower structure across the road. A woman with puffy eyes waits for us. It is fully night.


The dwelling is small, and made smaller by stacks of furniture, picture frames, and boxes against the walls.

“So I’ll just change into my pajamas, then?” I say shyly.

“Pajamas!” they cry in a fit of laughter. “How funny that you wear pajamas!”


The woman leads me to the room where I will sleep. She doesn’t turn on the light but waits until I reach the bed to close the door behind me.

I pull back the covers, climb in, and—horrified—feel a warm body graze my shoulder.


I’m not sure if the scream makes it out of my mouth. No one rouses.

Admittedly, I would not have recognized the word for bed-mate had they mentioned one.


The body pulls its limbs toward the opposite edge of the mattress.

I spend the night sitting up against the bedframe, fixated on the rabbit plush toy seated on its own small shelf in the corner—white, absorbing what little light filters into the room.


When I wake the body is gone. I discover that the bed is quite big.

“There was someone in my bed last night,” I tell the man as soon as I find him in the kitchen.

“Oh her, of course. It’s her room.”

“Well she’s gone now,” I say, trying to make myself useful.


He laughs and tosses me an orange that I catch reflexively, like we’ve been practicing the exchange for years.

“To work,” he says.

We leave for the fields.


Every night when I climb into bed the body is already dead asleep.

I memorize shapes in the ceiling texture.


Some days in the field I binge on plants as I rip them out of the ground, craving meat.


Winter does not arrive all at once.


The bed gets colder in the mornings, without the body.


The same day I decide to leave the farm I pinch a nerve in my neck. For weeks I exist with my head cocked, like an animal permanently alert.

I sense the black horse lodged there, in my neck, pulling taut the tendons and steering me ever toward open field.

Nat Holtzmann is a writer and book designer based in Chicago. @nat_holtzmann, nwholtzmann.com

2 responses to “Flash Fiction: Slight by Nat Holtzmann

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