Flash Fiction: Hidden Valleys

Two sons and their dying father. A MOOC assignment.


The last time Arnie had been here was for his cousin’s wedding: the sprawling ranch house had been filled with laughing guests, half-drunk relatives, tables groaning with food, and pulsing music so loud he had had to shout in Maria’s ear for her to come dance with him.

Now Luis’s tapping foot echoed hollowly against the portrait-adorned walls and faded weakly into the high ceiling. His leg always shook when he was nervous, Arnie knew. Or upset. He noticed that Luis refused to look at the figure in the bed, instead staring blankly across the room, leg twitching like a jackhammer.

It was irritating.

Arnie didn’t feel like starting a row in front of their father, unconscious or not, so he stood and walked over to the bed, carefully slipping in between the stands of medical equipment.

“He looks old,” he said, purposely making his voice louder than the hushed tone the doctor had used.

Luis glanced at him and then quickly away. “He is old.”


His brother didn’t say anything, and Arnie examined their father’s face in silence. The oxygen mask obscured most of the man’s features, and his eyes were closed and his hair messy and unwashed. It didn’t look like his father at all. Something had already gone, regardless of what the steadily beeping machines said. Arnie turned away, nearly tripping on an IV tube.

Moving past Luis’s blank gaze, he wandered over to the long dresser against the wall, which was covered with flowers, cards, candy, and other meaningful mementos. The most elaborate were from his father’s clients – always desperate to make the mob boss happy, even on his deathbed. Arnie took a Reese’s cup from an open bag, and sat back down on one of the creaking chairs next to his brother, who had finally stopped trembling.

“D-do you think we’ll see him… that he’ll be in…” Luis began, his leg shakes apparently having moved to his throat. “Y’know, God and…heaven…”

Arnie observed for the first time that Luis was clutching a tiny Bible in a white-knuckled fist, and suppressed a sigh by eating the Reese’s.

He really didn’t see how it mattered now (surely it was too late to ascertain the condition of their father’s soul), but he said reassuringly, “I’m sure he will be. Right up there with Mom.”

At first, Luis didn’t seem much comforted by this, but then he looked at their father’s still form and gave a tiny smile.

It was then that the steady beeps from one of the machines turned into a long whine.


I was gonna label this as a “drabble”, as that word is very pleasing to the tongue and ear, but apparently, drabbles are only 100 words – and inspired by Monty Python, no less! That made me quite happy, even though I had figure out what a piece of writing longer than 100 words is called (flash fiction).

This was done for a MOOC assignment, in which we had to think of at least two places that feature “a real resonance” (such as different times in our lives), and to recall the people and their way of speaking; how their speech connected to the place itself. Then we had to write a short scene (~400 words) in which those two settings and sets of characters combine to create a new sense of setting, with elements of both.

I admit that I sort of fudged this, or at least, took a few creative liberties. My settings were a hospital, recalled from when my great-grandmother died, and my great-uncle’s ranch in Bakersfield, where we used to go every year on Memorial Day as a mini-family reunion. Perhaps because these are indeed very personal memories, I only took the ranch house and the death of a family member as elements to combine.

Arnie and Luis (where the names came from, I’ve no idea) are entirely fictional, as is their dying father. I love mafia stories, both fact and not, and once I had the idea that a rich man was on his deathbed with his only sons by his side, that he was a mob boss followed this thinking and into creating this scene. I’m actually quite proud of it (which is rare for me), as I feel that I managed to make the setting and Arnie and Luis’s personalities  clear and three-dimensional even in such a limited space.

In reality, it was my mother and I who witnessed my great-grandmother’s last moments, and though my mother was indeed concerned with the condition of her grandmother’s soul like Luis (though not so childishly), I wasn’t nearly as aloof as Arnie.  And also, their father’s ranch house sounds way fancier.

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