Gods Out Of Men – #FlashFiction

When the coffee runs out, she drinks tea instead. It’s bad, overly floral and cloying. She drinks it anyway, hips bumped up against the chipboard kitchen counters, sink at her back, eyes on the peeling desk on the other side of the cabin.

Uploading… 65%

The screen on the computer flickers for a second before steadying.

Uploading… 66%

She sips the tea, holds the liquid in her mouth and grimaces when she swallows.

Uploading… 66%

It will be another hour at least before the system is up and running. Until then she will have to be patient. The screen flickers again, blanks out temporarily.

She holds her breath.

Uploading… 67%

She keeps the breath in her lungs until they burn.

Uploading… 67%

She lets it out slowly, carefully, so not to break the internet connection’s concentration. The screen stays clear and she closes her eyes. It would be easier if she could leave the system to do its thing and come back when the download was complete. Outside was not an option though. Not even in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to run.

They’d still locked her in.

Besides the disgusting tea she’d found in the back of a cupboard, the ancient set up on the desk, and the towers stacks of her notes, the cabin itself was mostly bare. There was no bathroom, only a lime green mop bucket and a damp roll of toilet paper. She hadn’t decided if the lack of food was encouragement to work faster, or an oversight of her captors. Unfortunately, the wavering broadband connection dictated the timeframe, and fourteen hours in, her stomach was threatening to turn in on itself.

Uploading… 68%

 

She’d tried sleeping but there was no bed, no chairs, and a scritch, scritch of tiny feet scurrying beneath the floorboards.

Uploading… 69%

She’d checked for gaps in the floorboards, for holes in the walls. Logic told her that there was no way out, and no way in. Logic didn’t let her sleep though.

Uploading… 70%

Uploading… 71%

Uploading… 85%

 

She blinked at the screen, checked she wasn’t mistaken.

Uploading… 86%

 

Her next mouthful of tea was cold. It didn’t help the taste but at least explained the jump in progress. She’d lost time.

She dumped the mug on the floor.

Uploading… 86%

Her mentor called the coding demonic, but he’d been overly conservative in his approach to the future of technology. War was a race, and she just happened to be the one who worked out the winning hand. Every nation wanted control over the others, they might claim to work only for their own protection, but reality dictated that it was more than that. She could take control of every government system and hand over the keys to a single person. That was why they’d taken her.

Uploading… 87%

 

She picked up the closest pad, felt the grooves in the paper where she’d pressed to hard with her pen. Burning them would not keep them safe, copies had already been made, and killing herself had turned out to be trickier than anticipated. They were going to take this power from her no matter what she did.

Uploading… 88%

 

If she had more time, she could have written an antidote. Something to consume her programme before it could get its claws in anywhere important. Half the coding was already dancing behind her eyes, but there was no way to implement it. Interrupting the upload would not end well for her, she’d been shown an example of that already.

Uploading… 89%

 

They could have got someone else to implement her programme. She had been so helpful in leaving clear instructions on how to do so in her arrogance. She was the quickest option though, the most efficient.

It was her idea after all.

Uploading… 90%

 

She’d done the maths on the outcomes. Her best estimate left around ten percent of the human population alive three months from the current date. Dissenters would always find a way to fight back, even against impossible odds.

Uploading… 91%

 

How would they kill her? Her fingers curled and the notes under her hand crumpled. She wasn’t sure if she should hope for a quick death or not.

Uploading… 92%

 

The screen flickered and a bang beneath the desk announced something blowing up. The room went dark.

The locks on the door clunked open.

‘On your knees! Hands behind your head! DO NOT MOVE!’

She follows the orders. Laces her fingers into her hair.

‘Get the back up going so we can see in here.’

Footsteps move around the outside of the cabin, followed by a loud click, and the whirling groan of a generator grumbling into life.

Uploading… 92%

 

She flinches at the sudden brightness, the impossibility, it should have failed. She watches the pixels turn to static and then reform.

Uploading… 54%

 

Her stomach rumbled.

‘Here.’

A gun presses against the back of her skull. A slow trickle of sweat runs down her spine.

‘Food.’

A bag drops in front of her, the gun retreats, door closes. She waits. The lock turns.

Uploading …54%

 

She rises slowly, brushes the grit from her knees.

Fifty-four percent, two hours at most. Then she would be making gods out of men.

She reaches for the bag.

No, she decided. She wouldn’t be making gods out of men. They would not be taking this power from her. She would make sure of that.

Heart Of The Dead #FlashFiction #SeptemberSpeculativeFictionPrompt

When the bodies washed ashore, the novices were there to pluck them from the mud.

It wasn’t pleasant work. It was a short trip from the edge of the city to the bend in the river. The unfortunates who made it, came out of the silt choked waters heavy and stinking, muscles still locked up by rigour mortise.

‘Another one!’ The cry went up from lower down the bank, further along than the bodies usually travelled.

Flexing her fingers to work some of the feeling back into them, Maradine followed the other novices to the cry and tried to avoid looking as if she was dawdling. She let herself breath when she saw the child, eyes huge and bug like, withered limbs half buried in the mud. It was small, small enough for two of the novices to manhandle inside the temple doors without need of her help. She didn’t try to work out how this one had found its way to them. The monks frowned on questions regarding the vessels.

‘Jamie, Galeth, you take this one,’ said the Thalt. He was the oldest of them and as such was able to avoid the task of ferrying the dead back and forth. He stood and watched until the two younger novices had hefted the child between them, Jamie with his hands under its knees, Galeth at the shoulders. They stumbled in the mud but kept their footing. Dropping one of the vessels always resulting in a beating.

The rest of them lingered as Thalt moved on, casting a careful eye over the banks. He was short for his age, not that any of them were entirely sure of their ages. If Maradine had to guess, she would say he was close to his fifteenth year, almost a man in most circles. Thalt certainly seemed to think so. He had taken to coercing female novices into shadowed corners and empty supply rooms. Told them that it was their duty to serve all those above them in the order.

Maradine had been spared his attentions, but only because of her markings. The ones that her village had said made her a witch.

The wind picked up and Maradine clutched her robes tighter. It was still early and the bodies had been few which meant she was still dry. Soon enough the noon bells would toll in the city and the gallows would begin their daily work of filling the river. By evening she would be as wet and rank as the dead they salvaged.

She glanced up at the temple behind them, its low, squat roof crouching at the foot of the mountains. By evening the dead boy would be sat at a bench with the rest of the novices, fresh robes still stiff with starch on his fragile, little body. She wondered how long it would take him to speak. She had been silent for almost a month before Thalt had beaten words from her throat. It had been the first and the last time he laid hands on her. The only time she had believed her village might have been right about her.

She shivered again and turned her gaze away from the temple.

Once she was old enough she would be sent out on assignment. Then should might have chance to run. Until then she was bound to the will of the monks, and the flow of the river.

She watched Thalt pause at the water’s edge and counted the seconds until he moved on.

Patience was all she needed. Patience and a heart of the dead.

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Flash Fiction written for the September Speculative Fiction Prompt. If you would like to join in then please follow the link and share your own speculative fiction pieces based on the image above. There are no word count limits, no form specifications, just a picture and your imagination.

NYC Flash Fiction Challenge 2018 – Stolen Silence

Last year I took part in the NYC Flash Fiction Challenge and came tenth (I think it was) in my group overall. Unfortunately this didn’t get me through to the second round, but for a first try I was pretty happy with that result and it was a valuable learning experience.

Today I signed up for the 2019 challenge and though I have another look at the second of my flash fiction submissions from last year. If I remember correctly, my group was given the genre of drama, our object was salami, and our setting was possibly circus but I could be making that up.

Since I was no longer focused on writing a piece of flash to fit with the prescribed prompts, I decided to focused solely on ensuring the piece stayed under 1,000 words without losing the original plot. Fair warning, it’s somewhat dark.


Stolen Silence

The circus crowds poured out in waves of warmth and laughter, ushered past the gates by stout men in dark jackets. Tucked inside the shadows beyond the spill of the gas lamps Emeline smoothed her skirts in an excuse to work some of the feeling back into her fingers. The fabric stung against her grazed palms, but she pressed more firmly, focusing her attention on the burn.
James weight shifted beside her and she titled her head a touch to watch him. He followed the movement of the crowd carefully, lips moving as he counted.
‘Near enough,’ he said and snatched her hand. Gravel burrowed deeper and Emeline swallowed her cry. Screaming never helped.
The wide road between the edge of the city and the docks was almost empty now, but she ducked her head anyway as they skirted past the few remaining dawdlers. James quickened his pace as small, squat man with a heavy chain wrapped around his fist ambled towards the gates. He drew them together and looped the chain through the bars. James hand came down on top of it.
‘Wait, we’re here to see Madam Hammerish. She’s expecting us.’ Sweat glittered across James’ top lip and there was a tremble in his hand.
‘No Madam Hammerish here,’ said the short man. ‘Show’s all done too, should have got here by seven to see it.’ He rattled the chain. ‘Let go laddie.’
‘We made an appointment,’ James begged. ‘We have the rest of her payment!’
The little man paused and glanced at Emeline.
‘The boss doesn’t like it,’ he said slowly. ‘Thinks she’s asking for trouble with what she does. But that hag has a way about her and I don’t need her cursing my balls for harmin’ her trade.’
The chains came loose with a clatter and the little man pulled one gate open enough so James could pull Emeline inside. When she caught his eye, he flinched.
‘Touch of the witch about her too,’ he muttered and closed the gate behind them. He threaded the chain through and clicked the padlock into place.
‘Here,’ he said and passed James the key. ‘Just lob it back over after you’re gone. Wouldn’t do to have it go missing and all.’
James took the key from him and pocketed it.
‘Don’t get lost. I ain’t coming to find you if yous do.’
Careful not to look at Emeline again he turned towards the tents.
Not waiting to see the man vanish from sight James pulled away and steered her towards the other end of the camp.
‘In here,’ he said, once they had reach the further row of tents. He let go of her wrist and pushed her through a narrow opening. The rug caught beneath her feet and she stumbled.
‘You’re late.’ The old woman scowled toothlessly at them, her nails digging into Emeline’s arms where she had caught the girl. Behind her was a tiny space, stained green by the fabrics draped across a hanging lamp. There was no bed, only a hammock slung between two posts, and a scattering of threadbare cushions across a stained carpet.
Emeline felt her stomach flip.
James came in behind Emeline and placed his hands on her shoulders. ‘Madame Hammerish. It was good of you to make time for us. We appreciate it.’
Madame Hammerish’s scowl stretched into a smirk as he brought his purse around Emeline and held it out.
‘Over there,’ she ordered, and pointed to the cushions on the floor. ‘Best to get these things over and done with. It shouldn’t take too long.’
James hands moved down to Emeline’s shoulders and urged her towards the spot.
‘Wait, no!’ The words sprung out before Emeline could stop them. ‘I don’t-’
He spun her and the slap threw sideways, upending the room around her. No, it was wasn’t the room she realised as her skull thudded against something solid.
James brought his boot to her stomach and kicked the thoughts from her head.
‘Behave,’ he warned.
Bile came up and Emeline choked.
‘Get up,’ he said. He watched her crawl to her knees and then directed her into place with the toe of his boot. The cushions smelt of mildew and Emeline shuddered as Madame Hammerish followed her to the ground, wizened hands grasping at the fabrics of her skirts.
It was cold in the tent and the skin on her thighs prickled.
‘Just lie down and when this is over your gentleman friend can take you home safe and sound,’ Madame Hammerish soothed.
James came to kneel above her head, hovering above her.
She wanted to say no, refuse the brush of the woman’s arm against her calf, the metal inching closer.
She fisted her fingers in the loose material around her bodice, the slight curve of her stomach firm and real beneath her palms.
‘This will be almost painless,’ promised the old woman.
Painless, thought Emeline, closing her eyes.
That was what James had told her when he still had the energy to pretend long enough to lure her into a room alone. It only hurt when it was someone you didn’t love. That was the lie he had spun for her.
‘Here we go,’ said Madame Hammerish and she nodded to James. His hand closed over Emeline’s mouth.
‘It’s for the best,’ he said. ‘Trust me.’
Madame Hammerish’s hand touched her thigh and then higher.
No, thought Emmeline.
It wasn’t and she’d didn’t.
This was wrong.
All of it.
‘For the best,’ James repeated.
Then the pain began.

No Light By This Moon #FlashFiction #MarchSpeculativeFiction

The settee springs had burst through the cushion and what little stuffing there had been was gone. The remaining fabric sagged or clung to the rusted springs, much like the building around it, and the skeletons beyond it. Eddie gripped one of the springs near the base and tested it. He sneezed as the cloth attached crumbled to dust. The coil snapped free of its anchor, surprising him and opening a line of crimson across his other hand. He cursed and pressed the cut to his mouth. The taste made him gag, as if the pollution in the atmosphere had changed even his blood.

He tore a strip from his sleeve and used his teeth to tighten a knot in the bandage. It would have to do, much like everything else he had done for the past six days. Desperation was a great provider of inspiration he had discovered, but he didn’t hold much hope that it would see him through.

Asides from the settee there was no other furniture in the room he’d settled on to camp in. It was small and dark, the windows mostly blocked by the shifting sand dunes outside. Eddie had imagined deserts to be like the ones in ancient stories. Blisteringly hot, golden, and majestic. To his horror he had found grey towers of brittle dirt. The grains sharp enough to slice open the skin or worse if you were unlucky enough to be caught in a storm.

Instead of the sun’s endless scorch there was the endless moon. Silvery blue on the horizon, always watching from constant fixed position as if pinned there by magic, or perhaps by the gods themselves if Eddie believed the same things as Gavin.

There was no warmth in the light it gave. It was almost as cold as the ice planes, but the desert was so dry that nothing froze. If it had then there would be ice to melt into drinking water and he would not have to rely on the sludgy muck from the well he had discovered in the building’s cellar. He had tried boiling it but there was almost nothing to burn for a fire and what little fuel he had found smoked so badly that Eddie though he might suffocate. If he had persisted though he might not be in the position he was. His attempt had run through the small supply of burnable material he had, making a second attempt impossible once he had doused the flames. If he had not done that then he could have perhaps cauterized the wound on Gavin’s hip. He might have avoided trapping them inside this ruin as they waited for Gavin to die.

Eddie closed his eyes and tightened his hold on the spring. He wasn’t out of options yet.

Bundled in both his own clothes and the ones that Eddie could spare, Gavin was slumped against the wall where Eddie had propped him. His eyes were open, but their glassy sheen suggested that he wasn’t aware of the barren room around him, or Eddie standing nearby. He breathed in short, sharp hiccups. Each breath whistling through his ribcage.

The spring seemed to burn in Eddie’s hand, but he kept his grip. He should pray he thought. He had not prayed since he was a child and his mother ordered him to do so. He vaguely remembered how to, and he had seen Gavin at prayer enough to echo the ritual.

He crossed the room and let his knees hit the floor before Gavin’s shivering form. Eddie reached for his hands and pulled them from the cocoon of fabric, pressing the spring between them as he dropped his forehead to rest against Gavin’s.

‘Please,’ he started, stumbling over the words. His mother had begged in her prayers. She had begged for his father to come home, for the landlord to stay away, for the debt collectors to take her in payment instead of the food on the table.

Eddie reached for something else, but the words dried in his throat.

Save him, he wanted to scream. Please, please, save him.

Gavin’s hands twitched and a sob cracked out.

‘I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.’

Once the tears started, they would not stop. The ran hot and cooled almost immediately. Tracking salt down Eddie’s cheeks until it felt like his skin was breaking with every movement. He swallowed and tried to reign himself in, coughing until the lump in his throat eased enough for him to breathe past it.

Gavin’s eyes remained glassy, his chest rattling like a slip of paper caught in the wind.

Eddie lifted a hand to the back of his neck and eased him flat onto the floor, straightening his limbs so that Gavin looked almost like a corpse ready for burial. Eddie squashed that image before it could cripple him and lifted the hem of Gavin’s shirt. It resisted, the wool sticking to the scabbed wound oozing beneath.

An infection spelled death unless treated and without medicine Eddie had only one course of action. He held the sharp edge of the spring to Gavin’s hip.

‘I’m sorry,’ he repeated. ‘This is not what I thought we would find.’ His hand trembled and he fought to keep it steady.

Desperation breeds just that he thought. Desperation.

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This response uses the same characters my January response This Terrible Thing Called Hope. It seemed like a nice opportunity to revisit these two and the image was such a great juxtaposition to the first with the variation on setting, the single figure as opposed to the group, it just ended up leading me here.

Lost: One Bench #Throwback Thursday

English: Wooden bench at Marriott's Way, Norfolk

English: Wooden bench at Marriott’s Way, Norfolk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘How can you forget where you left it?’ Samantha demanded, shooting Michael a withering look before closing her eyes and counting to ten. In a moment she would let out a deep sighing breath and give Michael her best, why do you insist on embarrassing me stare before ordering another drink from the bar and forgetting the subject altogether.

1,2,3,4-

‘I mean really Michael!’

Michael blinked, confused as to where the last 6 seconds had gone and why she hadn’t ordered a large glass of red wine. She wasn’t following the natural order.

‘It’s a bench!’ Samantha spluttered. ‘You cannot misplace a bench! Especially not one of yours! They’re massive and made of wood. WOOD MICHAEL! WOOD!’

Everyone else in the pub had fallen silent now, the hum of conversation dying as all eyes turned to stare at the couple having the argument. Or rather, Samantha yelling at her bemused husband since Michael rarely said two words to anyone about anything.

‘I could understand a nail or two, perhaps even your level metre, but misplacing a bench is on a whole other level.’

Michael fixed his stare on what was left of his pint as Samantha continued to berate him for losing the garden bench he had made on commission, for Miss Appleway’s new patio. He really didn’t understand why she was so concerned; he would remember where it was and then collect it. Forgetting the rest of his pint he stood up from the table and headed for the door, leaving his wife purple faced and furious.

Hailing a cab he climbed in, sat down, and nodded when appropriate to the driver’s chatter. He didn’t notice the manila folder sticking out from beneath the front seats until he was almost home. Ignoring the driver’s comments on the weather Michael ducked down, and yanked the folder out.

There were three sheets of paper inside, all gibberish and slightly crumpled. There was nothing to say who they belonged to, or what they were about, just block text and narrow margins.

Rolling the folder up, Michael stuck it into his jacket pocket. I didn’t fit of course, but it stayed where he’d put it. In the morning he’d ask around the town and see if anyone had lost three sheets of nonsense.

‘Here we are mate!’ The driver said cheerfully, throwing a grin back over his shoulder as Michael clambered out of the taxi. ‘Nice looking place!’

Pulling out his wallet Michael paid him, watching him drive off before diving into his trouser pocket to search for keys. His house was one of row of terrace building, set back in tiny manicured gardens with box-hedges and gravel paths. What set his and Samantha’s apart from the rest was the array of strange wooden carving dotting the lawn and perching in the hedge.

‘Excuse me Sir?’ The voice came from an older gentleman stood beside the garden gate.

Michael acknowledged sadly that his house keys were not in his pocket and turned to face the man approaching him instead.

‘May I ask where you found that document?’ The man pointed at the folder sticking out of Michael’s pocket.

‘Taxi.’ Michael responded, gazing up at the front of his house and wondering how long it would be before Samantha got back. She’d probably be late home, thinking that it would punish him for abandoning her.

‘Did you read the content?’ The man asked, glancing at the folder in a way that would seem to suggest he was about dash in and snatch it.

Michael shrugged.

‘Utter nonsense.’ he told the man.

The man in the suit sighed. ‘I’ll take that as a yes then. I am terrible sorry for this, but you never can be too careful in these situations.’

Michael nodded, assuming that whatever the man had said required his agreement, he had been more occupied with the splintered window ledge on the second floor.

It would take Samantha another three months before she noticed it, and then another five before it was fixed.

~~~~~

Michael Remmet

Aged 29

Died 17th September 2012

Short-Suffered Husband

Has anyone seen his bench?


Written for the writing challenge on http://outwherethebusesdontrun.com/2012/09/14/prompt-this/

My prompt was “The absent-minded carpenter found the top secret document in the taxi to avoid the argument.”