Flash Fiction

On My Shoulders

The angel sat on my left shoulder. The devil sat on my right. Both whispered and cooed and prodded and cajoled. Voices like harps and kettle drums appealed to my finer and baser instincts. Calls to action and pleas to turn aside. Would I take the easy path or the turbulent stream? Two roads diverged in my kitchen before I’d even had my first cup of coffee. Or herbal tea.

I couldn’t take the constant bickering between the two of them or the demands and suggestions they were making of me.

Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I tilted my head to the left until I was eye to eye with the angel. She stood barely four inches tall and appeared just as anyone would expect her to, as if she’d stepped out of some religious painting, a living piece of bondieuserie.

I asked her, “Isn’t that my sinister side?”

The devil on my right cursed out loud.

The angel shrank back and grew quiet. First, her face turned red with embarrassment. Then it turned red with fire. Flames erupted from her feet and scorched two tiny holes in my dress shirt. Her burning talons pierced my skin.

Instead of flames, the other devil erupted in laughter. It was not so much a sinister laugh as diabolical. He chortled, and chastised the fake angel.

I swatted the two spirits from my shoulders and swept their voices from my head.

In the quiet moment that followed, I realized the next big decision was one I must make myself. I wouldn’t listen to any other counsel because I knew I couldn’t trust anyone’s counsel but my own.

And, yet, doubts filled the void that the silence had left. I looked to both of my empty shoulders and wondered if shutting out all voices was what these two demons had wanted all along.

Christopher J. Burke is a writer, webcomic creator and math teacher from Brooklyn. His first story, “Don’t Kill the Messenger”, was published in Steve Jackson Games’ Autoduel Quarterly. He went on to coauthor GURPS Autoduel, 2nd edition and has appeared in Mad Magazine. A collection of his stories, In A Flash 2020, was published by eSpec Books. His most recent stories, “Portrait of a Lady Vampire” and “Bringer of Doom”, appeared in Daily Science Fiction and in the anthology Devilish & Divine. He’s currently working on another collection of short fiction. @mrburkemath, mrburkemath.net