July Writing Challenge Day 7: Flashes of Fiction

Today, for your reading pleasure, I have for you a few pieces of flash fiction. Two stories totaling exactly 2000 words. These are both first draft, off the top of my head kind of things, and could probably use some serious editing, but I hope you’ll enjoy them nevertheless.

But, before we get into that, I want to give you a brief explanation of what my writing challenge will become in the next few weeks.

If you’ll recall I said in my initial post about this challenge that I wanted to do something a little different this time around. Something a bit more focused. What I have decided on is this. For the next two weeks I will not be doing 2,000 words a day. Over the past week I’ve come to realize that such a goal is great for motivating me to sit down and actually produce, but it imposes it’s own limitations. Most importantly, I find myself thinking, more often than not, that I should just churn out as much as I can, regardless of quality, to meet my goal. I’ll type whole paragraphs of, quite frankly, utter garbage, simply to meet my goal. What’s worse is that I know, deep down, that if I just stopped and took the time to think about things, I’d find a way to make it work, or else realize I need to scrap the idea as a whole and figure out something new.

So, for the next few weeks, I will not be doing that. I will, instead, be imposing a time limit on my writing. One hour, every day, no distractions. No netflix, no reddit, no games. One hour of focused writing. What do I mean by focused? Well, before I start the timer each day, I’m going to set a little goal for myself. A set of parameters for the day’s writing. Something I need to improve on. Examples of these parameters would be something like “write a section using dialogue heavily in a manner that enhances tension/conflict between two characters” or “find several creative ways of introducing exposition for the rules of a world in a fantasy/scifi piece”. Obviously I’ll find other things to use, but those are some ideas I’ve had. I will continue to post everything I write on this blog, both as a method of keeping me honest and to let my readers experience my growth process as a writer.

Anyway, that’s all in the future. For now, I give you a few pieces of flash fiction. I hope you enjoy.

Flash Fiction
By E W Morrow
Collective Word Count: 2000

1

At first, the night was quiet. Then there was the uneven squeal of rubber on pavement and a twisting crunch of metal hitting metal. And then, just as sudden as the cacophony had begun, the night was quiet again.

James let the silence wash over him. He gripped the steering wheel firmly and waited for the world to slow down again. When his heart rate slowed enough that he no longer felt it thundering in his temples, and time contracted enough that seconds no longer felt like minutes, he fumbled with his seat belt and staggered out of the car. The way he swayed owed very little to the shock of the accident. He surveyed the damage with subdued interest. He’d probably care more about it all in the morning, but just then he couldn’t manage it. It only looked bad. Apart from the main gash along the rear passenger side door there were a few minor dents that would require a little body work, and the rear bumper now sagged a little low, but the on the whole it could have been worse, and, he reasoned, the blood would wash away without much trouble.

That last bit was the part that gave him pause. He would not, under normal circumstances, consider himself to be a bad man. He, like most people, liked to believe that in bad circumstances he would persevere, would overcome his base instincts and do the right thing. He didn’t want to think of himself as a coward. But, looking at the body it was clear that there was no one he could call, no course of action he could take to preserve his honor. The man was dead. Nothing would be gained by remaining at the scene, only lost. And since it was only him, only he had anything to lose. To his addled senses, the logic was infallible.

As he drove away, James felt the trickle of paranoia begin to drip steadily down his spine. Should he have left the body? Sure, a busted up mailbox was bad, but it was unlikely to start a manhunt. But a body, crushed up against one, blood and bone and gray matter dripping onto the pavement for hours before someone found it? Yeah, that’d do the trick. James felt his pulse spike for the second time that night as he pulled up to a stop light. He hadn’t checked, but he was sure he’d left plenty of evidence behind: skid marks on the asphalt, paint scrapes on the mailbox, maybe even a footprint by the gutter. Surely there would be enough to place him at the scene.

The glare of the stop light was hateful, and it made James uneasy. The sound of the air conditioner wheezing listlessly in the silence grated on his nerves. Beyond the beams of his headlights, the night seemed darker than it had ever been. Nervously he checked his mirrors. There were no cars behind him. No flashing lights. No pursuit. Just a harmless vagabond walking down the sidewalk towards him. The figure lurched along, stumbling every other step as though drunk. Or high. James laughed wickedly, and then guilt pushed the thought from his mind.

The light was still red, and James decided it must be faulty. He scanned both directions for oncoming traffic and then rolled through the intersection. That was another law he’d broken that night. His pulse quickened further. His hands were clammy on the steering wheel now. Every dark vehicle was a cop car, every shadow hid a police officer.

Again he came to a stop light and he forced himself to come to a stop. Again, he checked his mirrors, and again he found them devoid of lawful pursuit.

There was, however, a lone figure making it’s way towards him in the gloom. Some trick of the night cast it in silhouette wherever it tread, regardless of street lights or neon signs. Was this figure, this oncoming shadow, the same vagabond he’d seen just moments before? It couldn’t be. How could the limping figure have kept pace with all this way? And yet the closer it got the more certain he became.

James didn’t wait to find out. Once again, he rolled through the red light. A small, sober portion of his brain tried to reason with him, to tell him that his fear was irrational, but he didn’t listen. He couldn’t listen. He was now certain that he was being pursued. The car began to pick up speed, blowing past stop signs and tearing around corners. With reason gone he navigated purely on instinct. From time to time he glance out his window, or in his rear view mirror, and he was sure that he saw something. A shadow or a shape, something looming in the darkness. Was that a glint of light? Perhaps gleaming off the corner of a badge, or– something else? Faster now, racing through the streets. Did the shadows lengthen? Were they really reaching out to grab him, to pull him into the darkness? Where the terrible, rasping whispers seeping through his brain really telling him to give up, to stop the car and submit to the terrible justice that awaited him?

When the car stopped, he almost didn’t notice. His heart was pounding and his hands were trembling. For the second time that night he sat and waited for the world to slow down. Gradually he became aware of his surroundings. The night was quiet again, and his surroundings were familiar. He knew that tree, that row of bushes, that mailbox. Even in a state of blind panic his instincts had brought him home.

He stepped out of the car without turning it off. His body sagged with exhaustion. The air was crisp and the breeze felt good on the layer of sweat coating his skin. He rounded the car and in the brilliant light reflecting of his garage doors, he took a moment to inspect the damage. It was pretty much the same story he’d already seen. The dents were still there, as was the gash along the rear door. For a moment he let optimism take hold. In this light the damage seemed even less extensive than before. Nothing a few hundred dollars wouldn’t fix. There was even less blood than he’d expected. Then his gaze drifted downward.

In less than a heartbeat, his optimism was shattered.

There wasn’t less blood than he’d expected. There was more. So much more. A pool of it had formed by the tire, dripping and oozing and gleaming in the reflected headlights. And it flowed. Impossibly, strands of it were slithering away into the darkness. It bubbled in cracks and oozed around pebbles, always moving, always heading the same direction.

James slumped against the side of his car then, just beside the worst of the damage. He couldn’t bear to look at it, couldn’t force himself to watch it. But there was nothing he could do about the sound, nothing he could do to stop the slow, steady, uneven footfalls of the shadow as it shambled towards him, seeking justice.

2

The bell tinkled as another customer entered the cafe. He shuffled nervously to the back of the line, trying and failing to be inconspicuous in his bulky winter coat. Marishka saw him and smiled. He’d been in a lot these past few weeks. Well, a lot of people had, what with the winter winds blowing down from the mountains and temperature falling, but this one she remembered. He was cute, and polite, and charmingly skiddish whenever he placed an order, and whenever he came in Marishka entertained thoughts that would surely make her mother blush in shame.

She turned and handed a cardboard tray with four steaming cups in it to a burly man who’s face was half black mustache. He took it and left without so much as a thank you. The woman who replaced him at the front of the line, a short, middle aged woman with skin like a turnip, had a similar attitude. She sighed behind her smile. What was it about people in this city? So brusque, so impersonal. No one was polite. Nobody would so much as stop and give you the time of day. If they stopped for anything, it was usually nothing good.

Her mother said it wasn’t the city. It was the times. Times had changed. She said that once you could go from one end of the country to the other with nothing but a smile and a helpful attitude, and everyone you met would help you on your way. Now you couldn’t walk down the street without a little protection on your hip. In Marishka’s case, protection was a little black cylinder of mace on a key ring, but she had seen protection that was more…emphatic. Not that it was much help. Violence was swift and sudden these days.

The boy was no longer at the back of the line. He shuffled his feet and avoided eye contact with the other customers, almost as if he had something to hide. Marishka giggled as she poured another cup of coffee. She had a soft spot in her for anyone with the audacity to look embarrassed. It was gratifying to see a little humility, especially on the face of a handsome young man who she really wished would ask for her number.

Then she had a playful idea. She was handing another cup to another mustachioed man, this one slate gray and just as stony in his demeanor, when it occurred to her that she didn’t need to wait for the befuddled stranger to ask for her number. She served the next two guests on autopilot as she worked through the specifics which were amazingly simple but dreadfully daring. Almost certainly her mother wouldn’t approve. For some reason that just made her want to do it more.

When the cute boy came up to order, she winked at him conspiratorially. His speech faltered when he saw it. Sweat dappled his temples. Poor man, Marishka thought. His coat was enormous, bulging even, and was probably more than sufficient to combat the harsh cold that had fallen so suddenly, but in here it must be such a burden. Still he drew it tight as he placed his order: Coffee, black and strong. She smiled at him as she turned away. When the cup was full she took a pen from her apron and bit off the cap. Then, in slow, steady motions, she wrote her name and telephone number, following it with a winking smiley face. When she handed him his cup, she held fast for a moment and, glancing down, tapped meaningfully on the napkin. The boy cocked an eyebrow and nodded uncertainly. Only then did she let go.

The next few minutes were some of the saddest of Marishka’s life. The boy stepped back, letting the next in an unending wave of customers take his place at the front of the line, and then brought the cup of coffee to his lips. He drank it all in one long go. Marishka winced, wondering if he even felt the liquid as it burned it’s way down his throat. Then, he glanced at the napkin Marishka had so bluntly forced upon him. He smiled then, for a moment, but it was a sad smile. Then he dropped the napkin on the floor and made his way meekly out of the cafe.

Marishka sighed and went about her job. Maybe her mother was right. Maybe times were changing and people were becoming hopeless.

It was ten minutes after the boy had dropped the napkin that the explosion rocked the cafe. It came from several blocks away, but was still powerful enough to rattle bone and shake dust from the rafters. People screamed. Lights flickered. And, in the middle of the chaos, Marishka cowered in fear and thought of the handsome boy and his strangely bulky coat.

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