Writing Catalog

Max Halberstam

Grade: 11

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Jim Garrett


Flash Fiction


Every summer Father drives me thousands of miles to Camp Utmost, an inter-denominational Christian camp on the far end of Montana that I dread. Every summer Father puts on the same David Baldacci CD and asks for complete silence. Outside the Cherokee, I watch Midwestern clouds roll in standstill. They jam the sky like fat brains. Father's eyes are sharp. He stares out across the road and cuts it with his eyes. I do not interrupt Father when he listens to David Baldacci, and I piss into an empty thermos on the floor.

And as always, camp is awful. We get up at five for the morning devotional, and the predawn light turns our bodies into shades. The Prayer Leader plays guitar, singing Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens, and we listen to an obese seminary student tell us about sanctification. And we eat shitty food and swim in a cold lake, and every year the boys steal Liza's swimsuit top, and they beg forgiveness at the evening's Communal Penitential Rites.

And as always, the counselors make us play Sinners and Saved at 12:00am in the cold, wet night. The counselors are Saved, and they throw things at us, and we run through the trees. One smelly counselor tackles me in the mud and sends me to the Reconciliation Room, where I am asked to name obscure bible passages for the price of freedom. But I miss a verse from Leviticus and lose my meal card. I earn it back for singing all four verses of Onward Christian Soldiers.

And every time father picks me up I am bruised and tired and enlightened. Everything seems sharper, and the trees and clouds have special definition. Father brings with him a Happy Meal and several cans of Chef Boyardee. He takes Highway 200 in silence always.

This time, he heads North on a narrow road to Blackfeet territory. He says the road is like family. He used to drive up and down Montana selling college textbooks. His circuit ran from Montana State to Blackfeet Community College.

Father stops at a low dwelling and gets out. A small girl with black hair to her knees opens the door and lets us in. Father pats the girl's head before heading into the house and the bedroom, leaving me alone with the girl. After a moment of silence, the girl walks off into the house. She returns and sits down on the floor and shows me her drawings. She says her name is Koko, and she is seven. Her nana lives in the woods with bears and mountain cats, and she owns a hot tub. Sarah is mean to her sometimes at school, and Koko's older sister says the next time she does it, she will beat her. Aunt Pules lives on a farm with reindeer, and the reindeer had babies and the mom left the baby.

Father returns with a woman who is Koko's mother. She has freckles and long black hair. We climb into the Cherokee and don't look back.