Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This story appeared in the November 15, 2013 issue of ShortList Magazine. The challenge was to write a story that was exactly 300 words long.

When I was a boy, I attended a school that stood by a cemetery. Mine was the last desk, the one closest to the graveyard. I spent years with my back to the darkness of it. I can remember how, as autumn descended, and winter gathered its strength, I would feel the wind blow through the window frame and think that the chill of it was like the breath of the dead upon my neck.

One day in the bleakness of a January afternoon, when the light was already fading as the clock struck four, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a man staring back at me. Nobody else noticed him, only I. His skin was the grey of old ash long from the fire, and his eyes were as black as the ink in my well. His gums had receded from his teeth, giving him a lean, hungry aspect. His face was a mask of longing.

I was not frightened. It seems strange to say that, but it is the truth. I knew that he was dead, and the dead have no hold over us beyond whatever we ourselves surrender to them. His fingers touched the glass but left no trace, and then he was gone.

Years passed, but I never forgot him. I fell in love, and married. I became a father. I buried my parents. I grew old, and the face of the man at the school window became more familiar to me, and it seemed that I glimpsed him in every glass. Finally, I slept. I slept, and I did not awaken.

There is a school that stands by a cemetery. In winter, under cover of fading light, I walk to its windows and put my fingers to the glass.

And sometimes, the boy looks.


Mich said...

That was brilliant. :D

David Weinberg said...

John, Huge fan!! I have everything that is available that you have written, and never seem to be disapointed. I have three questions. Do you have any intentions on visiting Baltimore, Md in the near(or distant) future for a signing? Also, have you ever considered doing a period mystery, for example something set in the 1930's or 1940's with a noir feel to it? It seems that would fit in perfectly with your style. Finally, I saw that you have an interview with Michael Connelly. Do you two have any intention of collaborating on a novel? Charlie Parker meets Harry Bosch? Too Cheesy? Sorry, one more question. Do you foresee us getting a Charlie Parker movie or TV series anytime? Thank you for your time. You can write me back at

Melanie said...

I read the Book of Lost Things as an adult after the death of my fiance. It is one of my favorite books of all time. I'm now on my fifth reading. Thanks.

Brian Oldham said...

I have been reading books by people who suggest they have a knowledge of angels. You have that knowledge. This is an important focus and I am moved by your message in Fallen Angels. You obviously enjoy your writing and the only conflict for me is how a fellow with such an innocent face is so familiar with the base side of life. Thank you for the work and pushing into this important realm. Make us think.