Flash Fiction: The Weight of a Smile (370 words)

“Pick it up!” the captain shouted, not for any real reason, but just to be calling commands. “Move it!”

The two lines of men and women kept running without any change. They held to their straight lines, feet striking the packed dirt road in perfect time with the person beside them. They moved quickly, smoothly, eyes straight ahead. If the ground lay in anything other than a smooth, downhill line, it didn’t matter. They ran as if they would run forever, as if breath were unnecessary, as if their bones were made of something as light as steel.

“Move it!” the captain shouted again. “Pick up your feet!”

Drystan glanced at her, then at Kelanie running beside him. He raised his eyebrows, just a little.

Kelanie rolled her eyes, quick, without losing her calm expression.

Smiling to himself, Drystan faced forward again.

“Pick up your feet!” the captain shouted.

It only took Drystan half a moment to decide to do something stupid. He stepped to the left on his next stride, moving cleanly out of line, and slowed. The line continued past him while he bent over double and reached down to his toes.

“Drystan!” the captain shouted. “Are you hurt?”

“No, ma’am,” Drystan called back.

She signaled for the others to come to a controlled halt, and they did on the instant, straightening, shoulders square, heads all turned to look at him over their left shoulders.

“Then what are you doing?” the captain asked.

Hand under the ball of his foot, Drystan lifted it off the ground. Then he paused, and looked up at the captain, as concerned as he knew how to appear. “I’m supposed to pick up both of them, ma’am?”

She took a full breath to understand, then she glared at him.

The others started to snicker, and Drystan caught Kelanie smiling before she faced forward to hide it.

“Get back into line, Drystan,” the captain ordered. “Or I’ll give you something to pick up.”

Drystan hesitated, considering whether he should continue the joke. He glanced at Kelanie. Two stupid things would be worth it for two of those smiles.

Looking down at his other foot, he took a deep breath. “I’m afraid I might fall over if I pick them both up, ma’am.”

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