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Your Paper Bag

By Thomas Elson

PROMPT — I will not rest until ...

Even in your condition you know a few things:

One: You are never getting out.

Two: You cannot remember why you’re here.

Three: You always walk with your left shoulder against the wall.

Four: Whenever you hear the screams, your protector yells at you.

Five: You were told to put all your belongings in a paper bag and wait by the door.

You stand with your left shoulder pressed against the reinforced wall near the heavy steel door. In your right hand is the paper bag neatly folded at the top.

“Why? Why?”

You’ve heard that scream and those words for weeks, but never once have you seen who cries out.

You walk over to the round table where the short, fat man wearing a dew rag sits—the man who helps you wherever you hear those screams. But, today, he won’t look at you. His eyes intent on something on the table. You tap his shoulder. He doesn’t move. You walk to his other side vaguely aware your right foot is dragging. Still no response. Back by the door with your left shoulder to the wall, you look down. You are unable to release the clench of your fist.

“Why? Why?”

You see light through the door. A warmth, then strong hands on your shoulders guide you outside. The sun’s too bright.

Now, back in the darkness with your left shoulder against a cinder block wall near vertical bars you know a few more things:

One: Your paper bag is gone.

Two: You still hear the screams.


Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.


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