Without A Trace

Sudden Fiction by Susan Walsh

The house was boarded up. No one knew there was anything left inside. Webs had grown over its eyes. Spiders had laid eggs in its mouth.The woman in the bed watched the ceiling drop bit by bit. The spot of rot was growing.

When it rained, the water trickled then ran onto her face and bits of soggy plaster landed in her mouth.  She was mostly naked now. She could feel creatures skitter across her flesh at night. It was like her body had been wrung out and left to dry. There wasn’t much. She was in multiple organ failure, she knew. But why was the brain the last to go?

No way to call or answer a phone. No one to come. So she listened. The house dying around her. The drips, creaks, cracks, groans. The same noises came from her body. She would never have guessed dying was an audible process. She wanted the dying to happen more quietly. She wanted the dying to happen more quickly. Her lips were dry and cracked. Her body hollow and deserted.

The mice were growing bolder. There was no one to stop them. Winter was coming and they would take what they needed. Her hair, what she had of it, would keep them cozy. She felt the tearing of skin as they scalped her. She could not move her hands to stop them or wipe the blood. She gratefully licked drops of it from her lips.

The rats came at night. They took her toenails one by one. Then the tips of her toes. She waited for what they would take next. She couldn’t stop them. In the end, she told herself, it was a good thing. This body she no longer lived in would go on to feed and house something else.

No one should disappear without a trace.

© 2021 Susan Walsh


A piece of Sudden Fiction (under 750 words):



Opening for Bone Bayou Band


$25 dollars for center table tickets.

June 29


We leapt onto the stage. All of us were there except Walter, star of the band and lead bass guitarist. Other than that and the fact I felt like puking, the night was off to a great start.

“And now, from way over in Slidell: Let’s give it up for Walter!”

I’m always nervous before performances. A missing bass guitarist was just another thing. But the foot-stomping and applause was getting us pumped. I heard my wife over the crowd screaming like a crazy person.

We started jamming right off, creating a wall of sound to answer the crowd’s wall of sound. I’d give the “Hey, we’re Walter” spiel later. Right now, I wanted to keep the crowd. And give Walter time to show up.

Guys don’t generally worry about other guys, but I couldn’t think of anything short of death that would keep Walter from being up on this stage.

I went into a riff and was joined by our other bass guitar, Mike, splitting the difference between his parts and Walter’s. We played dueling guitars for awhile. The crowd was digging it. I no longer felt like barfing but was still obsessed with Walter.

We hadn’t named the band after him. We had named it after his name. It was a hilarious name, Walter. It’s the kind of word that plops itself down and sits like a rock in a field.

We’d been in the process of reinventing ourselves that night when Walter wandered into Tommy’s garage and asked to gig with us. Finger-picking, flapping, hopping tapping. Lead or rhythm. The dude could play.

Welcome to the band.

Hallahan’s was standing room only. Every table filled. The crowd clapping and cheering. Drinks were strong, the food borderline awful. Ancient waitresses on fast feet serving the most bizarre collection of people I’d seen in awhile. The place was something between a concert hall and dive bar, with great acoustics.

Walter would dig it. If he gets here and he better. We had a couple numbers that depended on his slap-bass.

“Hello Hallahan’s!” I had just started my “this place is a legend, we’re here to shake the walls, so what’s with our name?” speech…when the distinctive red and blue flashing lights pulled up, right outside, to near silence the crowd.

You could almost hear the collective “WTF?”

“Hey let’s see what’s happening,” I was suddenly emceeing a crime drama. “Maybe they’re here for a little rock and roll….”

Turns out my joke wasn’t far off.

Walter came hustling through the crowd and up onto stage with his Precision. The flashing red and blue lights drove off.

“Hey Walter. What’s up, man? You brought some friends?”

“Hello Hallahan’s,” Walter addressed the crowd. “And first, I’d like to say thanks. Y’all saved my bacon.”

They applauded again without knowing why.

“I guess I was going a little fast on my way here. And the Natchitoches’ PD pulled me over to talk about it. I told them I was gonna be late for a gig at Hallahans. And guess what? Instead of a ticket, I get a police escort the rest of the way.”

“No way!” Our drummer added punctuation.

“Way! Pays to have friends in the high places.”

“Or high friends in low places.”

The crowd erupted.

We broke into an impromptu cover of “I Can’t Drive 55.”

“Damn man. I thought you were dead,” I shouted to Walter between lyrics.

“Not yet. But I gotta slow down.”


© 2019 Susan Walsh

I Didn’t Know

A “list” poem, written a few years ago.


Green walls

not green-shoot new-life green,

rotting-flesh dying-toad green

Hospital green,


I sit, eyes darting

walls ceiling floor   bed

brain dying, husband lying

there, knowing

pain   is the last to go

names—mine, our daughter’s, his own—

and streets and who’s president and how old are you and what year is it

those leave first

and their leaving leaves me alone

in the green-walled trauma center at William Beaumont Hospital,

January 11, 2001

Where I sit and wait for—


Adam Kerr

comes in

I didn’t know I loved Adam Kerr


emergency room trauma doctor Adam Kerr

“He’s a very sick boy.”

Always they say “boy”

strange even in this strange

man, boy? bleeding brain, all the same

blood-thinner thinned blood bleeding

inside his head

too much to tell where it started

or what to do to make it stop

Vitamin K stat

thicken it fast

so fast

his St. Jude titanium heart valve

might stop

Adam Kerr does not lie

“He might not make it.

We will try.”

I didn’t know how much I loved people who don’t lie and who will try

long into the night they try


tests plasma vitamin K wait

Cardiologists neurosurgeons doctors of all persuasions

And nurses

gentle, let me stay

I sit in a straight-backed chair against

the toad-green wall

Marlene comes

hugs brings me a cheeseburger

“you have to eat!”

I didn’t know how much I loved Marlene

or cheeseburgers.


Shifts change, no more Adam Kerr

new doctors new nurses

freight elevator

up we go

Neurological Trauma Center, Critical Care Room 3.

vacuum-sealed doors

glass walls

here is where the hotshot nurses work

wires, tubes, vitamin K plasma beep stat wait

our very own hotshot nurse

goes about herself

blonde hair, sure voice, strong chin, furrowed brow

I don’t like when nurses furrow brows.

Every hour she points to me

“who is this?”

every hour he doesn’t know

“Move your hands” he does

“Move your feet” he does that too.

“these are good signs”

let me stay

I didn’t know how much I loved the blonde nurse who let me stay


I talk

because maybe he hears

about fishing, the river,

the time Sally

caught that trout

and when we thought she fell in the deep hole

and he jumped in

the river

in his shoes and clothes

I didn’t know how much I loved our life.


You will fish again

you will do everything again I promise I promise

I should have known they were wrong

the first hospital,

migraine what

should have insisted harder.

I was the ambulance

that brought him here

finally late


“two acute subdural hematomas”

says Dr. Ho

big gray-haired husky humble neurosurgeon

two big trapped blood globs

under leather

it’s like a sponge, the brain

(it can absorb a lifetime

and have a lifetime

wrung from it)

“his only chance for a normal life”

kind eyes, hands strong

“Always take your only chance”

my husband would say

but he can’t

so I say it for him

I didn’t know how much I loved having an only chance.


Blood is thicker than

It’s time to go 11 PM

empty hospital except for…

Dr. Ho

carries a plain wooden box

he made himself

it holds his saw his drill

tools of the trade

all in a day’s work

“you never know with brain surgery”

gurney rolls away

we stay

friends and family

somewhere knowing

saw whirrs dust flies

in Area D

big quiet emanates from every corner

taking words and laughter and carrying them away


1:00 AM, critical care post-op

glass door slides

my breath catches

Richard is

sitting up

gauze turban

bright eyes smiling

right at me

“Hello” he says

like he’s been to the store and back

not blind not paralyzed

“Hello” I answer.

I didn’t know how much I loved the word.



(C) 2015 Susan Walsh


Sudden fiction:

It never fails.

It’s a bright sunny day, you convince yourself everything is A-OK, and you get gobsmacked. I don’t know why that word popped into my head but it was the only one that worked.

I’d barely gotten to my room. That cold-eyed witch, Mallory Johnson, appeared: “Keri, come to my office.”

She walked off not looking to see if I followed. I almost didn’t.

I knew what was coming.

Afterward, I walked out of the building to the parking structure as I had twice a day for ten years.

My phone rang. It was Paul, calling to tell me he’d just been let go. Would I please get some stuff out of his office for him.

“There’s a slight problem with that.”

I filled him in.

I’d managed to get the stuff out of my office. My motto was: Be able to leave in 20 minutes or less. I was and I had.

“But I don’t think they’ll let me back in.”

“Oh my God, Keri. I’m so sorry.”

“Me too. And I’m sorry to hear about you.” Followed by a few expletives deleted.

Gobsmacked, I sat down on the little half wall outside the structure, sunlight bright in my eyes. The Gestapo hadn’t confiscated my laptop. No one had shown up to “escort me out.” So I kept it and left. I’d see what files I could rescue before they locked me out of it entirely.

The cerebral modern-human part of my brain knew I was severely screwed. The primitive lizard brain felt something more akin to WTF.

It had been a bad job well done. And now it was done.

I called Paul back again.

“Olde Chalet?”

When you’re gobsmacked and you don’t know what else to do, you go to Olde Chalet and have a drink.

“See you there.”



(C) Susan Walsh 2018

Observations on my drive home…

Parts of Pontiac are rebuilding,  one purple door and potted porch plant at a time. First one house. Then another. New stories are being written, and sometimes coats of paint say more than headlines. Positive change is as contagious as negative.

Totally Random Sueisms

LA is a fake world built on a fault.

Living in the moment and planning for the future are mutually exclusive.

Two wrongs never make a right. Except with eye make-up.

Sleep is overrated. Food is not.

Rules were not made to be broken. Otherwise we’d have no haiku.


Under the category of irrelevant facts…

Which are true about Sue’s life before advertising:

  • She handcrafted and painted rainbows and stars on leather products in Boulder, Colorado.
  • She worked on a lumber crew in the Rocky Mountains.
  • She got the wrong winner on her first assignment as a sports journalist.
  • All of the above.