[flash fiction]

The flashlight was out of batteries, so instead the boy filled a jar with fireflies. Outside at night they were easy to catch, their bodies afloat in the air, lighting up like tiny planes. He cupped his hands to capture them, and watched the insects beat through his skin with an orange glow. He then slid the flies into his jar, sealing it with a lid riddled with holes. As the jar began to fill, the bugs synced to a steady rhythm, shining for a moment, and resting twice as long.

When there was no more light to catch, the boy returned to his house and crept down into the cellar. The ceiling bulb in the cellar had burnt out and the boy’s father had not screwed in another one, but none of that mattered because the bugs did their job. The jar illuminated each step and the boy made his way to the cellar floor.

At the bottom, the boy placed his hand on the unfinished walls, feeling the dusty cement blocks and cobwebs. The smell of wood and dirt filled his nostrils, and he sneezed into the pit of his arm. After the sneeze, the boy heard faint scrapes, the footsteps of his small prey. The noises came from a corner and the boy inched closer, waiting until the jar gleamed to take each step.

He found the grey mouse in the corner, motionless except for tiny quivers of breath. It was no larger than a grown man’s thumb. The boy set the jar down without a sound. Now came the tricky part. He would only have a second of light. The boy bent down close to the ground and held his hands apart, ready to close in like he did with the fireflies. When the bugs burned, he came at the mouse from both angles. The mouse stutter stepped to the right, and then spun around, running to the left, just as the light faded. The mouse was quick, but the boy’s instincts prevailed. His left hand grasped the rodent’s underbelly, squeezing fur and clinging claw. As the mouse squirmed and wriggled free, the boy’s right hand swept across the darkness and put an end to the chase, clamping down hard.

Inside his palms, the mouse scratched and bit, but the boy was ready this time. He would not drop the mouse again, no matter the pain. He squeezed harder and waited for the light. The jar and the bugs responded with a flash, giving him enough time to rush to the cellar steps. From there, he stumbled his way to the top, wincing with each sting the mouse gave. Eventually, the mouse resigned and the boy felt hot liquid between his hands. His blood. Or the mouse’s urine. Or both. It didn’t matter. The boy caught a pet.

Out of the cellar, the boy raced to his room and kicked open an empty shoebox. He dropped the mouse inside and watched it scurry into the walls of the box, trying to climb out. The boy placed the lid onto the box, and then used a kitchen knife to carve holes into the top so the mouse could breathe. Afterward, he washed his hands and face before falling asleep.

In the morning, the boy awoke to the sun beaming from his blind-less window. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and rolled off his bed. When he opened the shoebox, he found the mouse stiff and dry on its back, its eyes glazed over and mouth agape. The boy knew it was dead, but he still stared until his father yelled about catching the school bus.

The boy put the lid back on and got himself dressed. He brushed his teeth and washed his hands again. While scrubbing away at the red teeth marks embedded in his skin, the boy remembered the jar in the basement. He sprinted down the cellar to the caught fireflies. He grabbed the jar and shook. The bugs buzzed around inside the glass container. They were alive.

He took them outside and unscrewed the jar. The boy watched each and every lightning bug fly away. They flew as a giant clump at first. Then one by one they separated, scattering into the sky. The bugs looked darker in the sun, and no matter how hard the boy squinted, he could no longer see their light.

Headshot_RobertAlexander_FlashFiction_CatcherRob Alexander is a former swimmer and swim coach from Columbus, Ohio. He currently teaches Composition and Creative Writing at the University of South Florida and is also a fiction and poetry editor at Saw Palm: Florida literature and art. His work has appeared in Columbus: Past Present and FuturePerceptions Magazine of the Arts, Pithead Chapel, White Stag, and was recently nominated for the 2015 AWP Intro Journals award for Fiction.