It’s Better to Burn Out, Then to Fade Away

I jumped in on another flash fiction thing being hosted by Dan O’Shea, because last time was so fun. You can check out all the entries where Dan has them compiled on his website right HERE. The theme this time around was that the story had to be 1000 words (give or take) “set wherever good folk hit their knees.” That is, in a place of worship. What follows is my offering. Hope you dig it.

It’s Better to Burn Out, Than to Fade Away

It was in some church in Montana where I helped my buddy Sherman pull the bandages off the wound in his belly and waited for him to bleed out. We’d been on the run for fifteen or sixteen hours, I guess, and he was done. I think he knew he was dead the minute that biker stuck him. A hospital could have saved him, but to Sherm that wasn’t an option. He’d been on the wrong side of the law enough times before that this incident would probably land him some serious time. Time he wasn’t gonna do.

I shouldn’t have even been there. Sherm had called me about some deal he had going down, and asked if I’d back him up. He wasn’t a guy to look to anyone for help, so if he was asking I knew he was into something serious. So I joined him at a truck stop to make an exchange with three heavies from some wannabe outlaw MC. Things got ugly in a hurry, Sherm got stabbed, and I shot at least two of those fuckers. We hauled ass out of there with Sherm gushing blood all over the front seat. We hit a Walgreens on the way outta town for bandages and shit and I did a pretty good job on his wound. Still, we both knew it wasn’t gonna end well without some kind of miracle.

He told me to head for Canada. His mom was Canadian; he always called it the “Motherland” even though he’d never been there. That’s a long fuckin’ way to go, but we had a wad of money and reliable wheels, so that’s where I headed.

*****

We saw the sign for the church coming up. I didn’t even know Sherm was awake, so I was kinda startled when he shifted in his seat and said, “Turn here, man, let’s check this shit out.” His voice was raw, like he’d been shouting or something.

It was well after midnight but the sky was clear and the moon was damn near full, so it was pretty light out really. I killed the headlights soon as we turned onto the road that would take us up to the church, just so no one would see us pull in and come investigate. The building wasn’t that big, just this brick thing with a fence around it and some outbuildings.

First thing I noticed when I stopped the car and got out was how fucking cold it was outside. I jogged up the sidewalk to the church, found an open side door, then helped Sherman inside. I had one of those big Mag-Lites and shined it around. I have to say it was pretty damn breathtaking – there were big murals painted on the walls and ceiling, like something outta Europe. It was also creepy, seen by flashlight. Like some kind of post-apocalyptic shit. Even Sherm thought it was cool; I could see it in his face, which was so pale it practically glowed in the dark.

*****

“Hey man, it’s kinda funny we’re in a church, isn’t it?” Sherm said. We were sitting there in the cold on those hardass benches, and moonlight was slanting in from the windows in big beams, like something out of a fancy photography magazine.

“Yeah, I don’t think we ever been in one before,” I said.

“You know any good Catholic jokes?”

“I think maybe a couple. I don’t know if this is a Catholic church, though.”

“Doesn’t matter, they’re all the same.” I felt him shift around, trying to get comfortable. “Tell me one of ‘em.”

I had to think a minute. Then I said, “This chick goes into the confessional, and says, ‘Forgive me, Father, I have sinned.’ Preacher says, ‘Yes, my child, what have you done?’ Chick says, ‘Last night I was parked with my boyfriend and I . . . I masturbated him to orgasm.’ Preacher nods his head and says, ‘Well, that is quite sinful. For penance I want you to recite 50 Hail Marys while washing your hands in the holy water.’”

I pause to take a swig on my beer and Sherm says, “That it?”

“No. Chick’s washing her hands and her friend comes in. ‘What are you doing?’ the friend asks. Chick says, ‘Oh, I jerked Bobby off last night and now I have to wash my hands in holy water.’ Friend frowns and says, ‘Well, don’t get it too dirty, ‘cuz I’ll probably have to gargle with it.’”

Sherman starts to laugh, and I know it must have hurt like a bastard because he was groaning and cussing the whole time he was laughing. “That’s a good one,” he says between moans and curses. “You were probably the friend in the joke, you homo,” he says.

“Fuck you, Sherman.”

Sherm was quiet again for a while. I wondered what he was thinking about – what would I think about if I was him, you know? Then he said, “You remember when we were kids, and we went to see that movie Highlander?”

“I remember. It’s the one with those dudes cutting each other’s heads off. I got it on DVD. It’s a classic.”

He coughed and groaned some more. “You remember that part when they’re in that bigass church and that evil dude is making the pussy-lickin’ faces to those nuns?”

“Yeah, the fuckin’ Kurgan, man.” I couldn’t help but smile. We spent our teen years wanting to be the Kurgan.

“I keep thinkin’ about that,” Sherm says. “I keep thinkin’ about when he gets up to leave, and his voice is all rough and he’s got that big scar on his neck where Sean Connery about cut his head off, and he says, ‘I have something to say! It’s better to burn out, than to fade away!’ I always remembered that line.”

I nod my head, though Sherman probably isn’t even looking. I’m afraid to talk because now I feel like I’m gonna cry.

“What about you – you rather burn out, or just fade away?”

Takes me a couple seconds to compose myself. “No contest, man. Burn out. Burn out bright and take as many motherfuckers with me as I can.”

*****

I woke up, I don’t know, a couple hours later. It was getting light outside. I got up off the pew I’d been sleeping on and checked Sherman. His face was blue and his skin was cold and kind of rubbery. His eyes were half open. I pulled the sleeping bag up over his face and tucked it in around him.

Then I left.

*****

19 thoughts on “It’s Better to Burn Out, Then to Fade Away”

  1. >Deeper than the number of words would indicate. A very real story. I thought at first the joke was going to be over the top, but it dovetailed nicely into the story adding an extra something, maybe punch is the word to the overall story. Well done guy.

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