Dwindling Time

In light of discussing flash fiction in my last post, I thought I’d share the one piece of flash fiction I’ve written.  Oddly enough, I wrote it as a short story years ago and had no idea what flash fiction was when I first put pen to paper.  This is the sort of thing that I write when inspiration strikes me, like when I get internet chain letters.


Dwindling Time

by Len Berry

I’ve got fifteen minutes left to live, or at least that’s what the e-mail told me. Was that fifteen minutes starting with when I opened the message, or did it start when I finished reading the message? Either way, since it’s 1:13 in the morning now, by 1:30, I’m a goner.

“Mary Lively was found dead at her computer,” the message said. “She was still logged onto the Internet and signed into her e-mail account. She’d just read a message telling her that she had to forward this message to fifteen people or in fifteen minutes she would die.” Then there was a symbol of a snake eating its own tail, wreathed in fire.

Whatever. I deleted the thing as soon as I saw it. Plus, I’ve got a rabbit’s foot, a four-leafed clover, and a penny I found heads up all sitting on my dresser. I think I’ll be fine.

The odd thing is, it’s the middle of the night. I usually don’t check my e-mail in the middle of the night, but I felt I had to for some reason. I didn’t have anything else to do online. No downloading, no chat rooms, only e-mail.


It’s 1:16. I don’t feel like watching a movie or listening to music. I’m going to grab a book, lay down, and read for a little while. If Mary Lively or her pet snake feel like killing me, they’ll have to wait for me to finish the next chapter.

This is insane. Why am I even thinking about that stupid message? It’s gone now. Just some superstitious junk one of my friends sent me. I’m sure I’ll get it six more times this week, just to prove how superstitious people are. Except, in a few minutes, I’ll be dead.


Did I mention I hate snakes? I do. They’re hideous, unnatural things. What kind of animal in all creation is made with no legs? An evil one, that’s what. Worms are evil too. I had a dog die because it got worms—

Stop it! Why am I obsessing over this thing? I’ve got work I’ll have to do soon enough, so I need to sit back, relax, and rest. None of that includes obsessing over stupid chain letters.

I’ll just lean back, breathe, and start back with my book. I’ll be asleep in no time.

Except I can’t focus, so I can’t read, which means I can’t relax, which means I can’t sleep. I can’t do any of that because my heart is racing.

I look over at my alarm clock and see that it’s 1:21. I’ll wait five, maybe ten minutes. Then I’ll be satisfied that I’m not going to die.


There’s a rumble outside. I think it’s going to rain in a little while, probably before sunrise and well after I’ve either gotten killed by a stupid chain letter or Mary Lively’s gotten too scared and stayed at home.

The walls are creaking around me. Probably the neighbors trying to look at the coming storm. Or having sex. You never can tell with neighbors.

Before that all starts, I’ll check the time, see how much I’ve got left. And it’s 1:2—

Hell, the power just went out. This sucks. I can’t see a damn thing. But now, I’ve got my flashlight on and I can make out most things in the room. There’s my dresser and lucky charms. There’s my computer. There’s my bookshelf. There’s a freaky woman with no eyes and a snake around her neck.

As she makes a breathy hiss at me, I hurl the flashlight at her and I run across the room. Stupid. I shouldn’t have done that. She caught it and… she just turned it off.

So how’s it going to end? Is she going to choke me? Rip my eyes out and let her snake eat what’s left of my skull?

I feel her hand on my shoulder, pulling me to the floor. Her other hand just grabbed my throat, squeezing just enough to get my mouth to open. I don’t want to think about what she’s going to do next.

Which means I do the only logical thing—I fight back. I punch at her; a few hits connect. I feel something moving across my mouth, sliding in. Of course I bite down, I’m trying to fight back.

The freak woman does another hiss-gasp at me and lets go. I spit the bit of what I think is snake at her and dive forward. I grab her throat and throttle her head against the wall. I keep doing it, over and over. Only now that the lights are back on do I realize that when I grabbed her throat, I grabbed the snake around her throat as well.

I let go and the snake fell to the ground. The end of its tail was broken off and wedged in its mouth. The woman’s body, well, to say it’s dissolving is being kind. I scoop up the snake, because I’m pretty sure that’s what was important, and I take it over to the dresser. The snake gets dropped into the first drawer, right next to the hook, the lighter, the candle, the videotape. I can’t help myself, so I say out loud, “There goes another one.”


4 thoughts on “Dwindling Time

  1. Great story, Len. Though it gives me the shivers whenever a character gets something forced down their mouth, and it somehow more creepy reading it than seeing it. And if you want a critique: a little pacing, coupled by suspense, couldn’t hurt. It has a “The Tell-Tale Heart” potential. Never underestimate repetitiveness. All in all, I enjoyed it and the quick resolve.

    1. To be fair, I wrote this story about six or seven years ago. When I decide to work on it more, I’ll keep those notes in mind. Thanks for the feedback, Mike!

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