Short-Short Story: “The Liar”

I really dig short-short fiction. The stories are more like sketches than portraits; more like short art films than narrative movies. I used to write more of these, and it’s a great loosening-up exercise for me.

Here’s my latest bit of short-short storytelling. Enjoy

The Liar

    He started keeping the log in his youth, almost as soon as he began writing. What precocious urge motivated him is anyone’s guess. Like many — indeed, all of humanity — he had been caught in a lie. It was a simple lie. Feigning a tummy-ache, he had his mommy come and take him home from school. The next week, when his teacher asked him how he was feeling, he lost the details of the lie and replied, “The headache is gone!”

The grief this slip-up caused him was too much to bear. And so he began keeping a log of every lie he told.

Soon, the necessity of reviewing this log on a regular basis became apparent. What good would it do him to keep track of any lie if he was not able to recall a detail at a moment’s notice? If a teacher inquired about some fictional ailment he had claimed weeks prior, he couldn’t very well pull out his Big Chief tablet and track down the misplaced details.

In the beginning, the reviews were every few weeks or so. There weren’t too many lies to remember, you see. Besides, he was young, his memory sharp.

That changed in middle school. Discovering girls may have contributed to it, but regardless, the reviews became monthly. And then weekly, as he left the eighth grade.

He was able to hold it to weekly for the first year of high school, but late Sunday night cramming sessions soon took their toll, and he had to review his log at least twice a week. That exploded to three times a week, date coincident with junior prom. By graduation, he was reviewing the log every other day.

College, and a new town with new friends gave him a momentary break. He broke out a fresh log to keep track of new, more sophisticated lies. He chose a career, courted a fiance, and soon enough his review sessions were back in full force, occupying as much time as he could spare from studying and the obligatory social life that college years demand.

Upon graduation, and weeks away from marriage, he found himself hopelessly bound to his logs. Making time for his soon-to-be-betrothed was nigh impossible, and before long even that one spark of happiness was hopelessly snuffed out. Rather than mourning the loss of what might have been the love of his life, he breathed a little freely for once. Now his time would only be split between work and the diligent study of his lies.

He underestimated, however, the extent to which his chosen profession would multiply his growing library of log books. Soon, review of the books overtook the time he was able to devote to his career, and he felt close to the edge of ruin.

Then, a curious thing happened. He made the determination to merely give himself over to his lies. To make a profession of his lies. Splitting his time would no longer be necessary — he would spend every waking moment either telling or studying his lies. When business associates, fellow employees, or customers looked in on him, he appeared to be a man beyond studious, busily scribbling in logbooks or else studying them. It got so he could transcribe the lies as he told them. His mind became devoted to cataloging the contents of his logs. He was promoted over and again, and found wealth beyond measure.

He lived this life quite contentedly for many years. And then, whilst reorganizing his logs one fateful Autumn eve, he ran across that first Big Chief tablet. With the reverence of a Benedictine, he gingerly turned the first pages of his life’s lies. And he wept as he read.

He rummaged around the house. He knew he had a candle somewhere. Maybe in the bathroom, under the sink, next to the roach cakes and decades-old scouring powder.

Maybe in the kitchen, tucked behind forgotten cans of Sterno and discolored, mismatched plasticware.

Maybe in the garage, near the bucket of oil-soaked rags, beneath a shelf of dusty car repair books.

At last he found it, a single birthday candle keeping company with a hot pink paperclip and a broken pencil. He melted the bottom of the candle and stuck it to a playing card. The Ace of Diamonds. He struck up another match and watched the flame dance to life before setting it to the waxy wick.

“My innocence is dead,” he said aloud, “and so I light this candle.”

The fire started small, as fires often do. From the match, carelessly dropped in a waste paper basket, to the bills torn in half and deposited therein, the fire spread to the desk itself, and faster than he was to retrieve a blanket to smother the tiny flame, the fire spread to his logs.

Racing across yellowed pages, up the stacks, into their depth, penetrating through to the walls of his house, up the studs to the joists in the roof, until the entire structure burned brighter than a hundred lifetimes worth of birthday candles.

He stood outside, watching it burn. Watching the sparks that once were the pages of his logs take flight and flutter down into ash. He watched, still clutching the blanket that he intended to use against the nascent flames. He stood, aghast.

The sun rose over the smoldering embers. Firefighters, exhausted from a losing battle, packed their things away. He wore the blanket over his shoulders, but otherwise remained frozen in place, nodding incoherently as the Fire Chief said something about a “total loss.” A business card was pressed into his hand as another hand pressed reassuringly against his shoulder. And then, once again, he was alone.

“Total loss.” The words echoed like laughter. “Total loss.”

He was beaming. He was laughing. He was free.

Running down the streets of his town, looking into the same tired faces he had seen his entire life — childhood friends and school chums now grown; business associates, fellow employees, and customers; the resolute face of a woman who once he loved — he laughed as he exclaimed to each and every one, “I’m a liar!”

“I’m a liar,” he said, and no one believed him.

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