Last month I signed up to participate in NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challgenge. I like flash fiction. I like the idea of being handed a genre, a setting, and an object and being given half a minute (or, you know, 48 hours) to write a story. My group for August waas given Action/Adventure, a train yard, and a peach.
Remember how I said I liked the idea of being handed a genre? Yeah, that was until I got Action/Adventure. I’ve never written anything action-y or adventure-y. Never. Ever. I hear that genre, and I think of … well, what I used for the title of this post: car chases and explosions. Generally not my subject matter. So I freaked out for a day. Then I forced myself to get to work. And when I say I feaked out for a day, what I really mean is that I feaked out until one o’clock Sunday afternoon. Leaving myself 10 hours and 59 minutes to get my act together and get something written and submitted.
In the end, I came up with the story below. Kinda sorta Action/Adventure. Posting it now is totally cheating — I didn’t, after all, write it today — but I’ve had a LONG week of worrying and caretaking and I’m too tired for newness. Month-old-ness is much more my speed. Would love to hear what you think!
Rikki, tired of running, collapses into the gravel and rolls under a freight car, breathing hard, eyes painfully straining to take in every movement in the thin horizontal plane of her field of vision. The train yard is quiet, which feels unnatural. Her brown skin glistens with sweat even in the dim light under the train, and her stomach cramps. It’s nearly noon – an hour has passed since her father called, told her he was being arrested, to grab what she could and get to the depot.
She’d thrown tools and a sweater into a pack. In his lab, she’d smashed everything, set viruses in his computer and burned all but one of his samples. That last one she had taken. If she survived, she would carry the heart of his work with her.
On her way out, she let herself be distracted by the amethyst crystal bowl filled with perfectly ripe peaches – her father’s favorite. They glowed in invitation, and she wrapped one in a tea towel, carefully added it to her bag. Impractical. She wouldn’t see her father again, knows the Magistrate’s men will waste no time, eager to torture out whatever information they can.
She rolls onto her stomach and begins to crawl under the train cars, still headed south. The underground camp of the opposition leader, her father’s friend, has a tunnel entrance at the far end of the depot. She sees a flash of light at the edge of her sight to the left and worries that she has been seen, is being tracked. She is still breathing hard from her run, and prays she has the strength for a sprint.
Her father had insisted she train as a runner, long and short distances. He had developed her workouts, saying she would need them. She had found him unsympathetic as a trainer, had chafed under his strict rules and grueling routines. Today, she silently thanks him for driving her, for a lifetime of practice.
She wonders how much longer she has before the vial in her stomach metabolizes and floods her system with serum. It’s the last of her father’s samples. She knows the serum will kill her or get her killed, knows her best hope is the tunnels, turning herself over to the opposition, letting them make use of her – force peace with the bludgeon she is about to become.
She pauses, certain now that someone is tracking her movement. She strains her ears, desperate for a telltale sound or movement, praying someone has come up from the tunnels to watch for her. If the magistrate’s men have found her, she will have little recourse by the time they bring her in for questions and violence, little recourse but to use the tool her father gave her. His last sample. His last gift.
“You can just freeze like an ice sculpture, girl.”
She starts at the raspy voice above her and turns, twists her head to look up, registers the outline of a man. He is speaking down through the grate in the floor of the train car. He’s in uniform, smiling at her, his gun pointed at her face.
“Nowhere for you to go now, is there? But you were a tricky one. What you want to come all the way out here for?”
Rikki takes a deep breath, turns full on her back, aware that she is crushing her father’s peach, that he is really gone. “You should be careful with that gun, sir,” she says quietly.
The man laughs. “You planning to hurt me?” he asks. “I don’t see a weapon on you.”
“I am the weapon,” she says. “Didn’t they tell you? That’s why you’re looking for me.”
It’s a lie, but she can see it’s had a good effect on the soldier: frozen him, made his eyes go owl-round and wide. It was a lie when she said it, but then she feels the vial expand, blossom in her belly and send the serum flowing through her, sparking chemical changes through her blood stream and nervous system, weaponizing her in an instant.
She watches the soldier, knows she’s his. There is no way to escape, nothing to do but wait to see what he will do, and he’s still thinking. Now that she has adjusted her eyes to see him through the grate, she can see that he is very young but that his eyes are tired, red-rimmed. How long has he gone without sleep? Why did he think he was tracking her if he didn’t know about the serum?
He should shoot her. Dead, they can use her body to arm themselves. She’s counting on him not knowing that. Alive she can detonate herself, obliterate everything they know, draw the world into a tight, hot knot of fire and ash. Alive, she is power, that threat over everyone’s head. Her father wanted her to give his friend that power, thought it would somehow save them all.
She keeps her eyes locked on the soldier’s, waiting. Wonders how it is that the clever people – the ones like her father who dream up big plans for saving worlds – never take this into account, never remember that it will be everyone else, anyone else, who will make the final decision. She crosses her arms slowly, ready to release if she hears his weapon cock.