HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

Smoke Signals

Karen Jones is from Glasgow. Her stories have appeared in numerous magazines, e-zines and print anthologies, including Ten Years of HISSAC. She is addicted to short story competitions and has been successful in Mslexia, Flash 500, Spilling Ink, Candis, Writers Bureau, The New Writer, Writersí Forum, Ad Hoc Fiction and Words with Jam.
Her short story collection, The Upside-Down Jesus and other stories, is available from Amazon.


Iím not supposed to climb up here. Iíve been told before. Iíve been told about balance, about making rash decisions, about not listening. Iíve been told lots of times about not listening. Thereís a lesson there. Of course, there are lessons everywhere.
Lifeís lessons. Those are the ones I canít learn. I can learn maths and French and how to drive and all those things that have logic and rules. Life does have rules, they tell me. But the rules are obscure, I respond, and everyone seems to be living by different rules Ė itís too confusing. Just live by our rules, they say, the ones we give you. And I smile and promise I will, but I know thereís no point because their rules only work in here and Iím not always in here. Sometimes Iím out there and today Iím up here, studying the chimneys.
I spend my life looking up. I bang into things and people, but itís worth it to see the beautiful chimneys; those funnels, those conduits for clearing away the bad, for sending up smoke signals, for painting the sky with wisps and puffs.
Iíve never ventured out this far onto the roof before. This chimney looked better from far away, but I wanted to run my hands over the roughcast. Iíve always wondered if it would be hot to touch. I had to know.
The roof tiles are slipping under my feet and I can feel myself being dragged down. I know the guttering wonít be able to stop me and I know it couldnít take my weight even if I did decide to try to grab on to it as I slide, face down, points of shoes scuffing, hands scrabbling for grip.
And so I will fall. The ground will rush towards me as I rush towards it and thereís nothing anyone can do about that. Itíll be chaos. No rules. Just me, fast air, hard ground, bones breaking, hot blood pouring, feet running, heads bowing, tears falling.
If she had just followed the rules, theyíll say. If she had listened, just this once, about this important thing, sheíd still be here.
But now I know chimneys donít feel hot on the outside, so Iím okay about the falling and surely dying. I have my answer. Iím always content when I have answers.
As I finally go over the edge of the roof and flip onto my back, I wonder if that was a working chimney I examined. Didnít the janitor tell me one day? Which ones are working, which not?
Iím falling, dying and it turns out I donít know the true answer to my question after all. As the last few feet of fall dash on, I realise I could just have asked someone. Probably wouldnít have listened to the answer though. No matter. At least Iím falling with my back to the ground, still looking up, still looking for smoke signals Iíll never understand.