During the summer of 2016 we’re bringing back our flash fiction prompt series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 3 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.
Round 3 Finalist: “Hitting the Jackpot” by Jack Somers
I took my son to the lake because I wanted to see him play where I had played when I was his age. I think what I really wanted was to see myself as a boy, to go back in time, to reenter the period when my only worries were losing sandcastles to the tide and getting dunked by the big kids who sometimes came to swim.
Watching my son pad across the pebbly bank toward the boats, it was easy to pretend I was watching myself in 1986. He looked just like me when I was five—protuberant tummy, splotchy cheeks, fleecy gingerbread-colored hair that curled in the heat. All that broke the illusion was the absence of another boy, a lean, long-limbed towhead. I had never been alone at the lake. Michael had always been there.
Michael and I met at the lake when we were four and quickly bonded over a shared love of He-Man and Nilla Wafers. Those first couple summers, we came to the lake with our mothers, but by the time we were seven, we were walking there by ourselves. We would swim all day, breaking only for lunch and dinner.
Michael’s favorite game was “jackpot.” We would swim out to a place where the bottom suddenly dropped from about six feet to some unknown, daunting depth. Once we reached the drop-off, we would take turns diving down. You hit the jackpot if you touched the bottom and came up with a handful of silt to prove it. Michael hit the jackpot almost every time he tried. I never did. I couldn’t take the pressure in my head, the iciness of the deep water, the fear that I would drown.
Michael was fearless. That’s why I loved him. He was the person I wished I could be—someone who believed completely in his ability to overcome any challenge. I last saw him when we were eleven, and even then, two weeks before he died, he was confident he was going to beat his disease.
As my son and I pedaled out into the lake, I wondered if Michael’s spirit was out here. I knew this is where he would choose to be. We came to the place where the drop-off was, and I peered into the murky water. I thought I might see Michael rise up toward me, but all I saw was my own haggard face.
Then a splash fragmented my reflection. I turned and saw that my son was gone. I dove in and started swimming down. I searched with my hands. The water grew darker and colder. I felt the old pressure again, like a balloon inflating behind my eyes. My body began to ache for oxygen. My ears began to throb. And just when I thought I couldn’t go any deeper, I found an arm. I pushed off the bottom with my feet and surfaced not with a handful of silt but with my sputtering, red-eyed boy.
Jack Somers’ work has appeared in Prick of the Spindle, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Atticus Review, and The Beorh Weekly. He lives in Cleveland with his wife, their two children, and an elderly but spry Welsh corgi named Rufus. You can find him on Twitter @jsomers530 or visit him at www.jacksomerswriter.com.