BLACKBIRD PIE • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

“…sounds like his feet ‘re in a cauldron of lye,” said Aunt Belle.

Twilight was coming on fast, daylilies closed up like sentinels going off-duty.

In the flickering shadows, Astreen could’ve been twelve, or twenty, or thirty-five. She put a handful of Modjeskas on the porch table.

“Celebration cake,” Aunt Belle said. “Liberation pie.”

I went to refill the kettle, bring a plate for the sweets.

Punk sticks, tips glowing like a firefly dance, smouldered in a bucket of sand to harry the mosquitoes. The cheer of it anguished my heart.

I wedged myself back against Aunt Belle’s shoulder on the swing settee. We should’ve been settled like every other year, ready to watch the Perseids streak across the sky and me allowed a glass of elderflower wine to greet them.

Soon as the hollering stopped Astreen went to get the car, eased it down the steep drive like it was a soft-pawed live thing. Her bag was here, packed.

She held me tight enough to feel my heart breaking. “It’ll be all right,” she said.

Aunt Belle curved a hand around Astreen’s cheek. “Go on now. Stay ahead of the rain.”

Drops were already pattering on the windshield. Astreen kissed Aunt Belle, got behind the wheel and pulled out. She’d keep the headlights off till she hit the highway. Then she’d just be anyone, going anywhere.


“…conflagration,” Sheriff Loughren said. “Downpour kept it from spreading.” He took the cup of coffee Aunt Belle brought him. “You didn’t hear anything?”

“You know how he gets. Smart to keep out of his business. Want some peach crumble to go with that?”

“Just one body, and the Citation’s missing.” I heard what he didn’t say, too — Why ain’t they the least bit bothered? Pernell’s burnt to a crisp along with everything else inside.  “When’d you last see Astreen?”

“Who?” Like he’d asked something of idle inconsequence that she hadn’t quite caught. Aunt Belle smiled, eyes widening a little so you saw the depth of them, pools of blue-green no man could help himself wanting to jump into.

“I’ll put up a fresh pot,” Aunt Belle said. “You tell your men to stop in and have some. Nobody beats my coffee.”

“I’ll do that, Belle,” Sheriff Loughren said, already forgetting he’d asked any questions, good family man fighting off the wave of randy thoughts a handsome full-breasted woman inspires.

Aunt Belle and me made sure that everyone forgot Astreen.


I’d been too smart for myself by half, hunched artistically over the creek like the White Rock Girl and glamouring my reflection in the water.

“You little freak.”

His giggle made me sick.

Too busy amusing myself to be watchful. Now I saw every filthy picture in his head. No way to get past him and run.

I  might’ve yelled something. When my head cleared Pernell’s eyes had gone bloodshot and he was moving like he didn’t know where to put his feet.

I wanted to leave him there to break his own neck but that wouldn’t have been right.

It was a mess getting him home, trying to stay out of reach while chivvying him along. We were both exhausted by the time he stumbled up the porch but he had enough left in him for a viper strike.

He was a big guy and I didn’t have the height or the angle to knee him. I twisted and kicked but it was like fighting a brick wall.

Made me so mad I let loose with everything else I had.


Aunt Belle shocked me by laughing.

She and Astreen had both been away at work and rushed home on instinct.

“I say make some lemonade out of it. You got a get-out-of-jail-free card here,” she told Astreen. “Use it while it’s fresh.” She glanced at the sky through the open door.  “Weather’ll be with you, too.”

She told me to help grab as much of Astreen’s stuff as we could. Astreen managed to sit Pernell down with a big spiked glass of whiskey and the idiot drank all of it.


How could she’ve loved a guy like that?

“…convinced herself he’d reach his potential someday. He most surely did that.”

With Astreen got away safe, Aunt Belle’d released her own anger and let it cool. She’d rubbed my bruises with arnica and brewed us a pot of ginger and lemon balm tea. I’d stopped shaking and the frozen knot in my stomach untied.

“Guess you’ve accelerated the pace of your education. I should’ve known you’d be an early bloomer.” She ruffled my hair. “Let’s get some sleep. We got some cleanup to do in the morning.”


“Why not just put a choke collar on me, dock my ears and tail?”

I was being a handful and mouthing off partly because I still felt so guilty. Pernell hadn’t known what we were till I’d been dumb enough to show him. I didn’t mind at all him being dead but I missed Astreen.

“Right now you’re no different than a garden hose with the spigot full open, bucking like a snake and wasting water. You see any point in that?”

I spent a few furious days doing really boring stuff like digging up dandelion roots and pulling weeds and dusting every damn thing in the house. Then I stopped glowering at the poor chickens and told Aunt Belle I was ready to start to learn.


“That’s some vintage car you’ve got yourself.”

“The Citation? My cousin’s. Now I can drive, she’s letting me keep it for as long as it holds up.”

We were in Morland’s, picking up milk. Mrs. Morland smiled at the other girl with me.

“She’s my cousin’s, too. Here for the summer.”

Mrs. Morland offered her a couple of Modjeskas. “Ever taste one of these? Be your favorites in no time. What’s your name, honey?”

She put out a shy hand, eyes widened a little, like mine.


Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine, as well as on EDF; her posts on the craft of writing — including reviews of stories selected “From the EDF Archives” — have appeared on Flash Fiction Chronicles.)

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Rate this story:
 average 3.3 stars • 28 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Michael Dirk Thalman

    Some great prose and structure, somewhat hard to follow with the volume of characters introduced, might have been even better at 1500 words.
    A predictability solid piece from a name I’ve seen countless times here 🙂

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Really glad you’re back commenting–and on one of my stories, DK…

      • Good to be back. I took a long break from fiction after Dirk Knight published his first novel. I went back to my journalism roots and have been writing a few satire columns for local rags and eventually wrote a novel under my real name, M.D. Thalmann, and now that’s my brand. I have a few other very mature Dirk Knight stories in me, but for the most part, this is it.
        Check out my website for all my satire columns. My new novels are all satire and Sci-fi.

        Mdthalmann dot com

        Looking forward to many more fun stories 🙂

  • A fitting kickoff to the season.

    I would have liked the fey aspects of the story be clearer. Hints are there, of course, as giving hints is a trademark of Sarah’s writing. But to a reader unaware of the supernatural aspects of some of the characters, the story line might not be clear.

    I was delighted with the effects of beginning paragraphs in mid sentence. There were enough to establish it as a writing style without becoming burdensome.

    Overall, this was a delight to read.


    • Joseph Kaufman

      I am actually one of the most obtuse readers around, so you can imagine how I struggle with some of Sarah’s works. *smile*

      This time, though, she gave what I perceived as a wonderfully subtle-yet-overt clue right close to the start with “White Rock Girl”. I looked that up and had (almost) no confusion the rest of the way through.

      You make a good point, though. Hints/reveals are surely one of the most difficult things to convey, with a very fine line between complete non-delivery of the clue and turning it into a anvil falling from a building by which the reader feels bludgeoned. “White Rock Girl” will still leave some readers in the dark, but if she had said, “my fairy wings in full view for all to see”, some readers would have been jarred by such a straightforward delivery of the fantasy element. Upside/downside — it’s a challenge!

      • I remembered the profile of the White Rock Girl, but not the wings 🙁

        • Joseph Kaufman

          You know, that’s a good point. When I first looked up “White Rock Girl” I thought the evil man had just caught her naked. I had to look more closely to see those little wings and realize magic was afoot…

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            The key is in the use of the verb form of a noun whose original meaning spells it all out…

          • S Conroy

            To glamour? Do I get the jackpot this time?

            From Dictionarydotcom:

            3. (noun)

            magic or enchantment; spell; witchery.

            earlier glammar, dissimilated variant of grammar in sense of occult learning.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Bingo. The MC is using some self-directed sarcasm re the White Rock Girl because she’s furious at herself for having been so careless as to practice magic openly.

          • There’s one heckofalot to learn about writing from this story.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            I’ll put that on the side of “too subtle”, at least for this reader. *smile*

    • Nice beard pal.

      • Thanks! Nice to see you still around!

  • Carl Steiger

    Blasted Disqus has let me down. But the story didn’t, even if I did have to look up “White Rock Girl.” A little magic was just what I needed this Tuesday morning.

  • S Conroy

    Beautiful writing as usual. With my werewolf-tinged glasses I was feeling pretty smug that I’d got All the clues this time, including the hollering and the ‘docking my ears and tail’ remark – until I read Jeff and Joseph Kaufmann’s comments on the White Rock Girl. As far as evocative writing goes, even without getting the WRG reference, this passage wowed me.

    I’d been too smart for myself by half, hunched artistically over the
    creek like the White Rock Girl and glamouring my reflection in the
    “You little freak.”
    His giggle made me sick.
    Too busy amusing myself to be watchful. Now I saw every filthy picture in his head.

  • You hooked me good with this line:

    “…eased it down the steep drive like it was a soft-pawed live thing.”

    Lots of carefully packed passages that held me through. It does seem a bit bursting at the seams for flash length, though. I’d love to read a longer version. 4 stars from me.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      It may be true, as Dolly Parton said in another context, that I keep packing 10 lbs. of flour in a 5-lb. sack…

  • conrad winn

    Sorry..I read this twice..I have no idea what u are talking about..

  • Chris Antenen

    I have to be with Conrad. I read this twice and don’t have a clue. The second time, I read slowly and backtracked. I think it’s just out of my realm. Sorry, Sarah. I didn’t feel wise enough to rate it. No, I don’t mean that. My wisdom goes and comes from different directions. Excellent prose, as usual.

  • This story reaches a level of creativeness I have experienced only on rare occasions. I do not mean to stroke you, Sarah, but to say this is true. The transparency (a little more than your usual) allowed me to sail. The second read was pure pleasure. Thank you.

    • This story reaches a level of creativeness I have experienced only on rare occasions. – yes. I am so pissed that I was not able to follow all the clues and thus the story.

      • When I read Sarah’s work it is like going into meditation and letting the breath (her words) pass through without reaction, only to let it be. Then I pinch myself and read it again.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          Michael–whatever karma brought me readers like you and some others, I thank it at regular 15-minute intervals…

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Yep, a intriguing story to kick-start year ten.

  • Teacher

    Took two reads but it was worth it. Great writing!

  • Michael Snyder

    Really nice writing here (and other SCA stories I’ve found). Admittedly though, I have a blind spot for fantasy, magic, and sci-fi so, as much as I enjoy the descriptions and turns-of-phrase I still don’t fully understand what’s going on in the story. Based on Sarah’s command of her craft, however, it’s safe to assume that any resulting story confusion is operator error. Just felt like the prose itself was worth a shout out.