Flash Fiction #2: Moon

August 2018 BlogBattle

The needle slid out with a quick pull and press but blood bubbled over Riggan’s thumb anyway. He wasn’t the doctor. The younger boy on the cot gurgled at the spike of pain, doubling over, but his eyes remained closed tight so Riggan shook him, hard.

“Up! Won’t tell ya’gin.” 

There was a steel in his voice that hadn’t been there before, overlaying the shakiness of his first two attempts. The boy’s shoulders stiffened under Riggan’s dyed-black fingers, and a pair of flint grey irises squinted up for the first time at the growling silhouette, an initial query from numb lips snuffed short by a foreign arm under the shoulders and the sticky tug of sensors ripped from the base of a shorn scalp and freckled chest.

“A’right!”

Daryl flailed with guttural protestation, aware of neither the klaxon blaring overhead nor the stampede of feet beyond the door. Just the tipping motion of the coffin-like table he was being wrenched from, the tangle of clear cables that came free in the process and the cold squeeze of his scaly, wrinkled toes on the metal floor. The jelly in his knees was also a surprise, until the figure manhandling him thrust him onto a bench and the side of his head cracked against the white wall. Stars popped into his peripherals. Then the klaxon was all he could hear.

The whites of Riggan’s eyes were a new sight for the cadet, terrifying in their opaque intensity, but shockingly familiar enough to jolt the younger boy into recalling everything else. His arrival. The mine. The accident. The first name to come sluiced thick and slow through the gates of remembrance, over a tongue that felt like inflatable sandpaper.

“Jerr—”

“Ahead. Safe.” Riggan’s wide tanned face was a foot away, bright with sweat and twitching with urgency. Daryl could neither shy away from his superior’s raking gaze nor respond like he knew he was meant to. His body just wouldn’t—

“Right, long enough. Arm up here.”

The oily fingers came for him again, as well as the torn sleeve of Riggan’s grey flight suit, hoisting him back onto balloon legs and cardboard feet as the other hand yanked his own pale, stiff arm across a pair of thick shoulders. 

“Wait…” Daryl’s own eyes widened as they wobbled across his bare chest and legs, searching for a shred of modesty. Unfazed, Riggan began dragging him into the now-empty corridor.

“No time. Pants in the Roost.” 

The naked cadet had neither the will nor logic to argue with his saviour if the Roost was their intended destination. He stumbled on, eyes trained to the floor, hoping the pair wouldn’t run into anyone else. Even if it meant they were the last to arrive at the emergency exodus vessel. 

It was then that he realised Riggan was stumbling too. No, not stumbling. Skipping steps. Their feet weren’t falling where they placed them, lingering instead, drifting further. Daryl rifled through his memories for something to hold onto besides the Petty Officer’s lumbering frame, now that the gravity generators were failing too. How far to the Roost? Where were the nearest EVAC suits stashed? Why weren’t his legs functioning properly? 

Rounding a sharp corner off-kilter — although Daryl couldn’t tell if it was the two of them or the walls which were tilting — he clipped the knuckles of his left foot on an unexpected edge and bit back a howl. They felt pain just fine.

“Got you. Just survive.” Riggan was there for him, staggering in the other direction.

“The docs,” he muttered, stapling slips of memory to the growing ream of operational knowledge falling back into place. “Why didn’t they get me out?”

Riggan’s fingers fell slack for a second before tightening about Daryl’s ribcage as he swung the pair around the next corner with a pull on the nearest handrail. The younger boy waited several drawn-out seconds for the answer and was about to repeat the question when the Petty Officer cleared his throat and chanced a look in Daryl’s direction for the first time since leaving the medical room.

“Lot’s happened since you played hero. Two days.” Riggan seemed to swallow his next words, taking a moment to reframe his explanation. The sound of the klaxon dimmed as Daryl leaned closer, adrenaline propping him upright. The hand on his ribcage relaxed, perhaps noticing the shift in weight. “The mine, it— Look, now’s not the time. Here.”

Ahead, their escape route widened into a dead end — a curved hammerhead punctuated by two heavy EVAC doors, their emergency lockers all but emptied and only the faintest flickering of orange visible behind the right door’s small square porthole. Riggan fell upon the nearest seal controls, half-thumbing, half-mashing the button sequence that would cycle the locks to enter the squat, cylindrical decontamination chamber connecting the hammerhead to the Roost. Daryl hit the door shoulder first and felt the wind leave his lungs, but the pincer grip on his other arm shocked him more. Riggan’s controlled demeanour had vanished like smoke.

“Rig—” he tried.

“Nuhh…”

Daryl tumbled through the gap in the hissing bulkhead door before it had fully opened. He sprawled into the room, aware of a vague buzzing overhead and then a distant boom. Riggan had a foot and the last EVAC suit over the threshold when the shockwave caught up. The bulkhead bucked, breaking contact with the rotary airlock and causing the inner door to snap shut with a deafening gasp and a spray of crimson. Daryl was pulled hard into it, cheek smacking wet glass, ears popping.

The whites of Riggan’s eyes stared back, inches away, bulging unnaturally, and momentarily lit a ghastly purple from below before his body was consumed by the Roost’s engines blowing a pocket in the rising tsunami of grey dust and collapsing architecture. Burning hard for home and taking Daryl with it.

Escaping the silent demise of the moon as it shuddered, splintered, then broke in half.

 

Word Count: 995

Flash Fiction #1: The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly

The Challenge:

For many months, if not a good year or so, there is an author whose blog I have followed above all others.  Although, to be fair, I only ever followed 5 (max), at the height of my speculative blogging days. It was my only real connection to the premise of polishing up my skills through ongoing learning from those more knowledgeable than myself, because it was wisdom I could easily absorb as I worked on my own designs.

I can’t remember how I discovered Dan’s work, but since I stumbled across his blog, I have enjoyed both the common and uncommon sense inherent in his advice and discussions, and speculated many a time about basing my first foray into flash fiction on one of his challenges. It only seemed right. More so than one of those 100- to 200-word picture prompt affairs, certainly! I therefore chose to rule out anything with even a semblance of normality, leaving perhaps the most surreal candidate as the clearest debut: Cat Western. 

I’m under strict orders to keep it as Truly Gritty as possible, albeit within the realms of my own imagination and writing direction. Which means I’m coming at it sideways, like the great train robberies of old. Because the only way you survive on the frontier is by staying one step ahead of all the things naturally inclined to pick you off. Like roving bandits. Wolves. Cholera. Stray bullets. Evil duchesses. Cursed totems. And even cats. Introducing…

The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly

There was no way this was going to end well for him.

The ‘he’ in question didn’t care, of course. Clearly. But if he did, his act, however pointless, was worthy of the best and brightest stages this side of Carson City. Or so Jesse imagined, casting his judgement on the posturing buffoon below from his favoured vantage point on the mezzanine. Truth be told, he had never been far beyond the twin towns of Dustworth and Wrypeak in all his youth, let alone to the state capitol, and it was unlikely his situation was going to change any time soon. Not with the new laws, which this clown thinks he can overturn. Idiot. The very concept of complete institutional revolution was impossibly complex, incurring a shiver of incredulity from someone who had only come of age recently. It started with a quiver of the eyelashes, then the judder of a sharp chin, a roll of his taut shoulders and an undulation of muscles all the way to his tailbone. How can anyone be this naive?

Particularly a man who claimed to come from wealth and influence, now short on funds but not on rhetoric, touting the virtues of a plan that called for the patrons of this mediocre establishment to aid him in overthrowing their Great Oppressor. Jesse paced about, awaiting one of the inevitable outcomes playing out in the recesses of his dark eyes, made darker still by the shadows that tried to cling to his passing form. This fool’s misplaced hope was going to get him in trouble, sooner or later, here or in the dead of night, after word turned to deed, if not before.

“We don’t need to fear her. I can save us.” The stroke of a well-kept moustache drew many eyes to the would-be saviour’s lips, followed by a ripple of gunslinger fingers as he leant back in his chair. “I can save all of us.” Or the opposite. At least the barkeep seemed to have retained a level head, the only occupant of the packed room with the sense to keep one eye on the exits and the other on any thumbs that might be straying near the hammer of a revolver, not counting his own.

Of course, that meant he wasn’t looking for the knife.

But within seconds, it was all anyone could see, protruding from the man’s perfect chest, slim and red and blossoming blood. A full inch of slick steel above, and another six still buried to the hilt within a slowly collapsing cavity.

The crash of his chair brought Sola to Jesse’s side. Sudden, like a wraith, yet graceful as a dancer, she slipped through the space between spaces, wrapping slender arms about her waist to draw her exotic robe close enough to mask the flames. Her warmth surrounded him, intimately protective.

“She’s here,” she whispered.

You’re here, Jesse returned, as evenly as he could muster. Must be serious.

“Could be,” Sola mused, her tone losing none of its immediacy, but rather gaining a note of intrigue. “If it’s her doing.”

Jesse surveyed the murder scene with equal fascination. Black boots clicked on the dusty floorboards where none had before as the dark figure circled the final convulsions of the man who might have saved the world. Or might not. And who definitely would not. Though a wide-brimmed hat obscured the pair’s view of the killer’s face, the man’s hairy, calloused knuckles gave his gender away as he wiped the blade and returned it to one of three sheaths on his hip. Then he squatted to examine the deceased.

“Peering into the empty mirrors of his eyes, perhaps, to see the life extinguished?”

Jesse shelved Sola’s morbid thought. Is that something you would do? As reassuring as her presence could be, he was still new to the whole fire…elemental…companion spirit…thing. Sure, the mind reading helped but God. Damn it.

First magic had ruined his life. Then it had become his life. And now it was more certain than life itself. While the Duchess ruled, all bets were off.

He flexed his claws in anxiety, a new reflex for him, but one which audibly scored the grainy banister on which he stood, poised and alert. And one which also drew a jerky reaction from the killer. Or maybe it hadn’t. Maybe he’d imagined it.

“You didn’t,” Sola was quick to point out, softly, her consonants heavy, like bullets dipped in honey. He cowered visibly and dropped to the floor, hoping to hide his fine feline features behind the thick wooden bars. He drew the line at running away, at least until he knew how significant the danger actually was. So jumpy these days. What’s wrong with me?

“You’re a-”

Rhetorical question, Sola! Not now. Not while the man had removed his hat to spy more effectively into the darkness of the mezzanine, searching for movement between the saloon’s secluded, upper rooms. Not while the killer’s craggy facial hair and haunting yellow eyes reminded him so strongly of a-

“He’s a-”

Yes.

Well that isn’t good, she echoed in his mind, finally drawing her lips into a bouquet of secrecy. Yet though she never spoke, she didn’t stop either. Unless we’re talking Egyptian pantheons, in which case, you’d trump him any day. 

Jesus! He’s looking at us! Jesse flattened his belly to the carpet, front paws pressed so firmly into the short pile that their pink skin nearly turned the same colour as his mitts.

Actually, he’s looking at me. All of me. She pressed herself further into the banister, fiery red curls cascading over a shoulder and catching on the hem of her robe, drawing those hungry yet calculating yellow eyes to what swelled beneath. Dulling their bite. And now he’s watching me rise, with my devastating glimmer of a smile, too exquisite for his ilk, and walk out of his life forever. Come along, master.

Jesse sheathed his claws but remained where he was, unsure of this plan.

Before he changes his mind.

That got him moving, pattering after his companion with no uncertain amount of urgency. The pair slipped into the boudoir at the end of the hall, drawn by the window that was already open, and onto which Jesse leapt, ignoring the tangle of bodies in the bed behind him. The small, bronze lamp totem adorning his collar glimmered, but the glossy sheen of his coat, mottled black and brown, caught the moonlight in full, as well as the seeping chill of the desert air. Sola’s warmth was receding, the gentle caress of her hand on his back trailing down the fur of his neck to where it would disappear completely. Forcing him to bury the fear, irrational as it was. He was still more man than mouse.

Which, he guessed, he really did eat for breakfast now.

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