Flash Fiction: Abacus Music

The one eyed high priest of the Temple of Mammon plays the invisible music of money on an abacus made of the bones of miscarried messiahs.

The messiah was born in 1800. In 1812, she died of dehydration in the hold of a slave ship. Clack-clack, sing the bone beads.

Clackety-clack, the tapestry weaves itself on the iron loom of Gatling guns. The circling birds of prey from Wounded Knee come to roost, chickens only proverbially, on the barbed-wire of No-Man’s-Land.

Grey and flat glows the light in the Temple of Mammon. The high priest’s other eye does not see in the human spectrum; he wears a black eye patch over it, and his elderly face looks weary and kind in the colorless no-light of the grey temple. There are no columns, no arcades, no long prospects to make one feel the airy transcendence of the Presence. The Powers worshipped here know only the underworld grey, ancient ice or lead, plutonium that weighs more than either and respires poison for hundreds of millennia.

The one-eyed priest of the Temple of Mammon strums the invisible strings of Influence, and the iron looms punch the cards that tell the fate of those behind the barbed-wire in the Birch Forest. The messiah was born in Poland in 1937, and died before he could speak.

The messiah was born multiple times in the Northern Plains, on Pine Ridge and Rosebud and White Earth, and died of smallpox, of cholera, of cold and neglect. The messiah died in a house fire on the south side of Chicago, a fate more likely to overtake the children of the poor.

The messiah, malformed, died in her mother’s womb, ten miles downwind from the Nevada Test Site.

Ten miles downwind from Semipalatinsk.

On the outskirts of a village where they recycle toxic waste.

In sight of the bone-bleached rust ships on the islands of the dead sea of Aral.

The one-eyed priest closes his one eye and strokes the signals pulsing through the air, the numbers that slide through the electric dark, crossing borders as easily as the crows in their rivers overhead. The Methuselah of Crows, who’s dined on battlefields for seven thousand years, perches on the temple’s high tower and croaks its name in high metallic notes. Roadkill human or animal, accident industrial or military: the crows don’t care.

The messiah died age ten in crossfire from a gang fight in Los Angeles, age seven from police bullets in Cleveland, age sixteen missing and murdered on the highway of death up Canada way.

In Chicago.

In Minneapolis.

In Baltimore, slow sequelae of lead poisoning. In Flint, in the vast Navajo Nation, from water clean enough for the lesser folk.

The one-eyed high priest of the temple of Mammon blinks as the rush of departing souls brushes by his pale powdery face, twitches faintly as if a housefly stepped down and flew away again. Clack-clack go the bone beads, counting off the lost and the never-to-be.


Flash fiction in response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge. This week, we had a generous slate of prompts from a selection of inexplicable stock photos. I chose #6 from this generous array of w(h)ack. This entry strayed over the border into prose-poem or spoken word. Footnotes available on request. 10/16/2016 updated in light of current events.


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7 Responses to Flash Fiction: Abacus Music

  1. Sue says:

    very nice. Lately I’ve joined a site that writes 42 word stories to a prompt 😀 it’s addictive

  2. Mark Baron says:

    Excellent prose and powerful imagery, though I’ve come to expect no less from thee. The thought of countless messiahs, countless would be saviors cut down before uttering a word is a powerful one. The thought of their bones being used to tally souls by a one eyed priest of greed, chilling. Another amazing work. I’d love to see the footnotes.

  3. andreablythe says:

    That was wonderful.

  4. I think the next post needs to be the footnotes (with notes of course!). This fellow perfectionist-in-recovery still desires education…don’t want to miss any of the references, because I know they are well-researched– every one of them reflects dozens of books on your shelves. Revealing the research gives insight into what goes into your writing, which is a helluva lot.

  5. Alex says:

    Simply stunning.

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