Flash Fiction: A Celadon Escape

Thick sunlight permeated all corners the salvage yard, shimmering above the towers of shining metal and cracked rubber in waves. I sagged against one of the rickety piles. The twisted frame of an old car door dug into my spine as I hid from the noon sun. The bit of shade was worth the discomfort.

Not so far off, but barely audible over the grating hum of the machines through which the industrial offal was made useful again, Alan argued with the yard’s owner. It didn’t sound like the negotiation was going well for us, but it was hard to tell. Everything was hazy amidst the bloody tang of iron. The smell was baked into the dust at my feet and the air in my lungs.

The arguing stopped. Alan rounded the scrap tower, his steps clipped and full of a nervous energy I’d never seen before. I smiled at him vacantly, which only caused Alan’s nostrils to flare with worry. “I’m fine,” I muttered, abashment pulling more color into my face than the sun could.

Alan pulled me from my hiding spot to where the yard’s owner drove over a mud-splattered junker. Painted celadon-green beneath the dirt, the car didn’t look as if it could get us out of the lot, and certainly not the hundreds of miles we needed to put between us and this place.

He leaned me into the passenger’s seat, ignoring the narrowed-eyed suspicion of the man who’d sold us the car. Money exchanged hands and Alan swung himself into the driver’s seat. The engine started with a wheeze that shook the car, but it started. I breathed deeply when we passed under the barbed-wire gate, and more easily when the dappled shadows of the forest overtook the road.

A weird piece from a fun Wordle Prompt. Make sure to check out Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s other prompts as well.

Flash Fiction: A Dry Brand

She almost didn’t answer the call.  The singsong chime cut through the other audio playing from the speakers, interrupting both her game and the show playing in the background. While she found the small application easily enough, with its window vibrating eagerly on her screen, Sara hovered her mouse over the red hang up button.

It wasn’t that she disliked Bell. They were friends of the odd rare sort Bell allowed herself. Sara enjoyed Bell’s stark and off-putting honesty, often simply for the novelty of it.  But the other girl never called to say hi or propose anything normal, and Sara had a CS final project to procrastinate about and little time for Bell’s dry brand of shenanigans.

She pressed the green button instead.”Hey, Bell.”

“Hello,” Bell’s voice, without video, sounded buffeted from the computer speakers. Sara suspected Bell was hovering her chin too close to her phone. “I need a rifle.”

Sara rolled her eyes. Alone in her dorm room, no one saw. “Of course you do. Do I get to know what for?” There was a pause on the other end of the call.

“To shoot someone with,” Bell said.

Sara pursed her lips and exhaled through her nose. That had been a stupid question, not because it was inherently vapid to want know what someone was doing with high-power sniper rifle you illegally procured for them, but because Sara had expected a sensible and un-literal answer from Bell. “Sure. Send me what you want, I’ll see what I can do.”

Oversized Sweatshirts

Rich didn’t exist where she was from. You were either trash, wearing never washed hand-downs, or lucky enough to have someone buy you new scratchy clothes from the dollar store.  She didn’t lay eyes on a department store until she was eight, a year after the system combed through her trailer park, plucking up kids and sending them all over the state.

Designer anything only lived in the torn pages of magazines set in the corner of social workers’ offices, worn and peddled by the sleek women who pouted out from the glossy ads. It was a talent, she thought, to look so unhappy draped in breezy cloth that cost more than six months trailer rent.

Her clothes came and went, changing as she passed from home to home. At ten she wore never touched t-shirts from some forgotten choir, boxy, stiff, and donated by a church. At eleven, she developed a fondness for lace amidst thrift store racks and learned to ignore the smell of the elderly that clung to heavy thread. Twelve was spent in the ill-fitting jeans and oversized sweatshirts the group home managed to guilt out of the community.

With big eyes, dark hair, and spindly limbs from formative malnutrition, she looked like a doll. And in each foster family or group home, she was dressed like one, in the bits and pieces no one wanted for themselves.

It wasn’t until she was thirteen, that a new foster family handed her sixty dollars and dropped her off at the mall. She returned with a jean skirt, black boots that made her feet look bigger than they were, and a soft lavender sweater with a hood that wouldn’t fit over her hair. She laid them out over the bedspread that wasn’t hers either and reminded herself not to become attached.

As part of our ongoing Music Challenge series, Raw Ramble‘s challenged me to write something to or inspired by Hollis Brown’s cover of Oh Sweet Nuthin’.

Lock Hearts

Since childhood, Tristan could discern when he was dreaming. Despite an absent mind and an undisciplined imagination, he’d always been able to acutely determine reality from its watercolor echoes, even while walking a particularly convincing dreamscape.

For Tristan, the two states were hard to confuse. The waking world was ruled by sense and sensation. An apple that felt, looked, and tasted like an apple, was an apple. But in a dream, only belief mattered. An apple was only an apple if you believed it to be one. If you believed it to be a house, it was for the dream’s purposes, a house. Even if it still tasted like a piece of fruit.

It was with this knowledge that Tristan opened his eyes in bed and knew, despite the oldest trick a mind could play on a gullible dreamer, that he was still dreaming. His room was his room, his bed his bed, but in the weighty silence, Tristan knew someone was about to break in.

The lock clicked in a different way when it was opened with a key.  A solid thunk, metal on metal the way its maker intended.  This click was a scrape and a wrench, a knife’s blade deep in the lock.

Caught in the dream’s tide, Tristan’s pulse quickened, beating hard against his throat. The door opened and cloaked figures poured around him with a buffeting sound like the beating of many wings. Faces shadowed by pulled cowls, their dark-swathed hands fastened to his shoulders, his arms, his back. They dragged him from his bed.

Tristan’s shout died in a sudden vastness. The figures were gone, melted and consumed by the changing scene. Tristan looked up and felt his breath stolen by a temple’s looming walls, its arched ceilings, and spiraling peaks. Around him, where pews or benches should be, rows of altars jutted from the floor. Atop them, people sprawled unmoving and unbreathing.

Some he knew, his twin sister’s waves of chestnut hair fell over the stone top of her final resting place. Her husband, a row down, had finally been struck silent in death. Tristan’s best friend was laid out on another, a curved sword held at her breast in warrior’s repose.

Most were strangers. He wandered through them, noting a cop’s badge around a man’s neck, a travelers pack laid at another’s side, a hunting hound curled as dead as its master atop her feet.

Though Tristan knew he was dreaming, it did nothing to warm the ice in his veins. The people on the altars had little in common with each other, except the very apparent cause of their death. Each had been sliced from throat to bottom rib, their open chests gaping upwards into the vast air of the temple.

He did not have to look to know, because knowing is enough in a dream to make it so, that each was missing their heart. Tristan stumbled away, feeling the edges of the scene blur as he panicked and faltered. He felt the wrench of the knife in his bedroom lock, used like a key, he felt the wrench of a knife deep in his chest, and someone, somewhere trying to open something.

Tristan awoke screaming in a strange bed at the Lion Rock Medical Hospital. Machines blinked at him, the sterile yet sickly smell of plastic filled his nose, and the scratch of starched sheets annoyed his skin. The sensations, unaffected by his residual terror, remained. Tristan fell back against his pillow but did not close his eyes.

Robotics, Rage, Reprisal

The Monae High School engineering club didn’t know what to make of Simon at first. His first day in the workshop was filled with the scratch of sketch pencils and the occasional buzz of machine while the members cast silent glances behind their glasses. Simon ignored the quiet and sat down to begin his design.

Eventually the club relaxed and chatter returned. Even if the varsity soccer player didn’t add much to their discussions of anime, message boards, and obscure video games, Simon was always willing to look over a sketch or muscle open a broken saw. Hunched over the workbenches, the club could forget the separate lunch table Simon frequented during the day.

Simon’s projects joined the others, their portfolios expanding over the year in preparation for the summer fair. The mix of robotics, electrical circuits, and civil planning models, grew in the locked cage in the corner of the workshop. Colleges and companies paid attention to the fair’s competitions, a winning design could do wonders for a career. Frustrated outbursts became common place in the workshop as the members perfected their entries.

Simon alone was largely immune to the tension and the resulting tantrums played out in those weeks. His project was finished, and while solid and well-made, everyone knew Simon was entering it for solidarity’s sake. Now he spent his time helping others work through last minute bugs and malfunctions. Outside the club, he finally joined them on the weekend for the newest superhero movie and attempted a cameo role in their dungeons and dragons game.

A week before the fair, the club left the locked workshop on a Friday afternoon, gently ribbing Simon for getting stuck going to prom. While he was imprisoned in a tuxedo amidst an exhausting crowd of drunk peers, they would be enjoying themselves in the final session of the D&D campaign.

The weekend passed and Monday morning brought disaster. Everyone in the club received text messages. They arrived at the trashed workshop and stepped in with choked horror. Shattered bottles covered the floor with sticky glass, ripped design books littered the tables and the project locker had been pried open. Their projects were played with, broken, and discarded around the lab.

Simon didn’t swear or rush to his ruined work like the other distraught members. He walked to the white board to read the inebriation fueled messages. The scrawl accused promiscuity, crudely discussed people’s sexuality, boasted the superiority of their graduating class, and announced exactly who’d been here two nights before.

The members shuffled around Simon, picking up the remains of their shattered work. As they cleaned someone managed a joke, a few laughed, albeit hollowly. They gathered and put away their projects to be scavenged from later, the fair would come again next year for most. Eventually, someone left to find a teacher.

Among them, only Simon was new to the casual cruelty that had invaded their workshop, painful now but ever present in the world outside the diversions they built and cultivated for themselves. The rest of the club picked up the pieces while Simon could only stare at the whiteboard and the names there, the tips of his fingers digging into his palms.

Simon might have been unfamiliar with the cruelty inflicted on the workshop and his friends’ work, but he knew things they didn’t. They didn’t have older brothers that dragged them from bed for early runs, or soccer practice after sixth period, or boxing matches on weekends. They didn’t know where the school elite, the people who’s names marred their whiteboard, went to smoke at lunch.

Simon left the workshop the way he’d entered it a year ago, silent and immune to the worried glances thrown at him.

The resulting fight was all anyone talked about for a long time. The engineering club even experienced a brief flash of popularity that none were comfortable with. Expelled, Simon never was allowed to come back to the workshop, but he caught a movie with the club occasionally over that summer.

Flirting with Normalcy

The Ninth Circle Club opened at eight, but no one of any consequence arrived before eleven. Ashlyn Abel showed up at midnight.

The bouncer outside took the time to shine his penlight between her face and her ID, multiple times.  Unable to deny her or the fifty she’d tucked under the plastic card, he pressed the door open and the bass inside wafted over the line just long enough for Ashlyn to slip through into the dark interior. “Happy Birthday.” The bouncer said before the door snapped off the sounds of the street

Ashlyn descended down the twisting hallway, her heels coming down heavy against the slanted floor. The hallway ended, leaving her on the upper level of the club proper. Here, bottle service booths and the bar overlooked the pit below, where most of the clubs dancers pressed against each other in a sea of arms and shoulders.  She watched them for a song.

The bar was easy to find, lit with icy blue light and surrounded by club goers trying to catch the staffs’ eyes. Even with her heels, Ashlyn had to lean up on her toes to set her elbows on the high bar. She ordered something through the din, hoping the bartender could read lips.  While she waited, Ashlyn took the opportunity to soak up the noise and appreciate the solitude of the crowd.

Being here was, at best, foolish, and at worst, dangerous. Alone, without friends who were bodyguards, or siblings who acted as bodyguards, or just people her father hired to be plain old bodyguards, Ashlyn was vulnerable. But it was her twenty-first birthday, and she wanted that first legal drink normal teenagers and early college students fantasized about.

While others’ teen years were reduced to raiding parents’ cabinets and begging older siblings for cigarettes and plastic bottled vodka, Ashlyn had personally overseen her father’s shipments into and out of the city, watching over boxes and flats filled with every illicit substance a teenager could ever want. Long before her twenty-first birthday, she’d strolled through bordello, den, casino, and other houses of ill repute and no one had been stupid enough to look at her funny, much less ask her for an ID.

Now, mere minutes into that birthday, Ashlyn wanted the rite of passage, even if it was meaningless.  The bartender set her drink down and she placed a twenty on the bar, taking the symbolic glass of rum and coke with her to the railing. Below her, other, normal people enjoyed themselves. Ashlyn sipped her drink slowly, savoring the unremarkable taste.

 

Temper and Temperance

It was not peace Simon felt when he stepped into the temple. Something else settled deep in his gut when he ran his fingers over the carved walls. It was like picking up a childhood toy, ill-fitting in adult hands but comforting nonetheless.

His brother and their guide were back outside on the front steps discussing the best way to get in, he’d gone around the side and noticed the crack in the earth through the jungle’s undergrowth. Simon had called to them, but after a quick assessment of structural integrity had decided to duck in.

Simon felt that odd familiarity when his new hiking boots hit the mud. The rains last night had funneled water into the place, and he suspected they’d encounter flooding in the temple depths. But for now, the upper levels were traversable, allowing Simon to trace the walls around him.

The scenes etched into the stone were ancient and stretched nearly from floor to ceiling, and Simon could only guess what the writing beneath them said, but stepping slowly along the walls, he could begin to follow the story they told.

A solitary warrior figure moved from battle to battle, fighting under different banners. Simon paused before the crude representations of fallen enemies and the furious expression consistently twisting the warrior’s face. After each violent skirmish, the warrior faced a looming crowd with his victims piled behind him. In those, the warrior held his head in his hands. Chased out, the warrior found his next fight and promptly lost himself again.

“On the dangers of rage, and the power of restraint.”

Simon was not easily startled, but his pulse still skipped. Heat rose on the back of his neck when he turned to see Liam, their guide, standing at the opening to the outside. Pulled into the carved story, Simon had not heard the other man come in.

“Wait for us next time. These temples are dangerous.” Liam said before turning his back on Simon. He busied himself clearing the brush away from the opening so Simon’s brother could get their equipment in.

Simon bit down on his response and ignored the prickling of his temper. He’d never liked being told what to do or that he couldn’t handle something, and had taken similar orders badly before. Simon glanced at the carved walls and took a breath.

His temper in check, he went to help his brother pull their climbing gear in from the outside.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles with a song from one of my favorite artists, Janelle Monae. Per the music challenge, we are to write a post to or inspired by Janelle Monae’s Cold War.