Flash Fiction: Impressions

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I should have noticed the first time I watched the man from down the street.

He walked his three girls to school. They looked slightly disheveled, but in the charming way that families with several young children possess. It’s a wonder they make it out of the house. I didn’t heed the forlorn dull grayness of his eyes, just above his thick beard, and below a dark stocking cap.

I suppose it happened as any new encounter with a stranger. I observed them while trying to appear to be paying no attention at all, but I’d catch glimpses from the corner of my eye, and a story about their life unfolded in my mind.

Small things at first, such as how this burly man must be a caring dad to walk his girls to and from school every day. I wondered why his wife didn’t join them. Then I considered he might be a single dad. It explained their rumpled state. I could barely keep track of one small child.

I pondered how he was able to walk his children to and from school. Perhaps he was unemployed. Maybe he worked from home like I do.

We trudged to and from school, day after day, passing one another coming or going. Occasionally, I mumbled a hello and he offered a half-smile.

But the look in his eyes remained. The kind of look that makes you think someone’s reluctantly accepted their lot in life and is merely going through the motions.

One morning, while my son and I walked to school, we saw the man and his three girls. Their hands were tucked into their pockets, protecting them against the cold as they walked on the opposite side of the street toward the school. My son and I listened to the crunch of fresh snow beneath our boots. On my return home, I examined the layers of shoeprints collecting on the sidewalk.

After turning onto the next street, I found myself on the side of the road where minutes before I had watched the man walk toward the school with his girls. Only a few prints appeared on the sidewalk. My pace slowed before coming to a complete stop. Before me, only a single set of men’s shoeprints going to and from the school disturbed the snow.

A month passed with the man walking to and from the school without his girls. I couldn’t bring myself to consider why I had seen them so clearly before, and now they were gone. But I now thought I understood the look in the man’s eyes. Perhaps I should have said something, expressed my sorrow over his grief.

Another cold day gripped the neighborhood when I next encountered him. I nodded at him as he returned home while we headed in the opposite direction toward the school. He didn’t acknowledge me and I wondered if he realized I knew about the loss of his girls.

After dropping off my son, I began the walk home, and when I came to the same turn and strip of sidewalk, the fresh powder dusting the path was devoid of footprints. I glanced up the road, and watched the man disappear behind a bend, the snow beneath his feet undisturbed.


  1. // Reply

    Whew. Mandie, this got me right in the heart this morning. Your timing within this story is perfection.

  2. // Reply

    I love the ambiguity of this. Maybe the girls died. Maybe they were taken away from him. It feels like it could go either way. 🙂

    1. // Reply

      Thank you, Amy. I enjoy the partnership that’s created between the reader and writer when interpreting a story.

  3. // Reply

    I love this, Mandie! I love it! I love that we as readers can come to our own conclusion. Maybe the girls died. Maybe he killed them. Great write!

    1. // Reply

      Awww, thank you, EM. I really enjoy hearing what conclusions people pondered or came to while reading this story.

      1. // Reply

        You’re most welcome, Mandie! Me too! I love reading what other people think.

  4. // Reply

    Ohhh, I love stories left open to interpretation. A part of me feels he lost the girls, but how?

  5. // Reply

    As an observer of people, I really appreciate the POV you projected here. It’s a very intriguing situation and the reader is presented the freedom to draw their own conclusions. Personally, I viewed them as ghostly apparitions. Extremely well done, Mandie.

  6. // Reply

    This is a story to remember, the pace was perfect, and that layer of mystery. The grey look in his eyes and how you started to imagine thing until the truth came out as being something entirely different… I almost started to imagine that your own footprints had dissipated too

    1. // Reply

      🙂 Thank you, Björn. This story has that air of mystery. I’m thrilled to hear that the pacing worked well in this story.

  7. // Reply

    I loved this, Mandie…I think some of the best stories work because the writer knows how to leave out just enough to allow the reader to fill in the blanks and make their own interpretations. I find it difficult to do that in the short space allowed for flash fiction, but you’ve done a great job here.

    1. // Reply

      Thank you so much, Scarlett. I’m so glad it worked in this story. I need to take what I’ve learned about using words wisely in flash fiction and apply that to the novel I’m editing. It’s easy to waste words in a novel, and hard to trim them as effectively in such a large project, but hopefully I can do it.

      1. // Reply

        I’ve just started work on what will hopefully be my first novel, and I seem to have the opposite problem…I can’t stop writing in ‘concise mode’. I’ve got to learn to ramble on a bit more so I can develop the characters.

  8. // Reply

    Wow Mandie, this was amazing and caught me by surprise. Being a fan of ghost stories, my interpretation of this is a tale of many ghosts, and I loved how you played this one out, filling us with empathy for this family who may be having it harder than most just surviving, then comes your quiet punch line which brings an even deeper sense of empathy. Excellent piece!

    1. // Reply

      Thank you, Paul. The whole piece is kind of quiet and subtle, and that’s something my writing group commented on as well when they read it. I love horror stories, but this one isn’t overtly horrifying. It just creeps in. At least that’s the intent.

  9. // Reply

    I was picturing a ghostly sort of scenario — like in Sixth Sense. Maybe the girls had been ghosts all along. You saw them for a while; then you didn’t. I wonder if it was somehow the dad’s fault that they died, so he continued “walking them to school” even though they were no longer actually attending.

    Then I wonder why you were able to see them. Also why they stopped being visible at some point … as if he was at last able to let them go on.

    I love stories like this, in which so many truths are possible.

    1. // Reply

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. I’m enjoying hearing the thought process everyone went through as they read the story. I am so tempted to respond with what I was thinking when I wrote it, but I’m afraid it will somehow ruin someone else’s experience or skew how a new reader interprets it in the future, and I don’t want to do that. But I will say that there are some interpretations within these comments that are so spot on with what I envisioned, but I’m comfortable with and even excited by the different paths that other people thought about.

  10. // Reply

    I don’t know why I have not read this before now, it is superb.
    And may I comment that people’s interpretations of Ghost stories are almost certain to differ, not least due to their personal view of, or belief in, the supernatural.

    1. // Reply

      I’m glad that you found the story and read it. 🙂 And you are absolutely right. I didn’t anticipate that there’d be so many different ways to see the story, but the interpretations people came up with were interesting, and I was delighted to hear that people enjoyed it regardless of their interpretation.

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