Spoils

by Ravi Mangla

At night my father takes us to the battlegrounds. It’s late fall, unreasonably warm. He’s sick but won’t give us the odds. There’s a small clearing at the edge of the woods he’s been meaning to survey. We take turns with the detector, guiding it in long, slow arcs—the way we’ve been taught. The moon hangs low in the sky, saber-thin. My brother, still in his pajamas, complains about the broken zipper on his flak vest. It doesn’t take long to get a reading. My father sinks his shovel into the ground. We watch him work, turning over the broken earth. At last he reaches his hand into the opening, fishes out a canteen: round like a tin of tuna. Should be worth something, he says, rubbing out the grime with his thumb. He hands the canteen to my brother. Let’s keep looking, he says, retrieving the detector. We cover only a few more yards before a flashlight appears over the ridge. Hide it, my father says to my brother. My brother shoves the canteen down the back of his pants. The flashlight reaches the clearing, corrals all three of us in its golden cone. My brother’s legs are shaking. The beam narrows, focuses on my father. He stares hard into the light, refusing to blink.

Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His short short stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, American Short Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and Gigantic. He keeps a blog at ravimangla.com.

What are the ‘spoils’ of writing compressed fiction?–and what, if anything, spoils a piece for you as a reader of such fiction?

    Well, there’s definitely a satisfaction that comes with economizing. I like knowing that every word is in the right place, and that each sentences serves a clear and distinct purpose. Many things spoil a flash: weak hook, wasteful language, heavy exposition, stray dialogue, the lack of a narrative arc, etc. It’s a minefield. Compressed fiction is less forgiving than other forms of prose.

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