Some of you may know that, most Fridays, I take part in a flash fiction competition over on Flash! Friday; I’m not sure whether the stories I write there have actually been read by anyone but me, and my lovely fellow competitors. So, because it’s Friday, I thought I’d share some of my work in a blog post.
All of these stories are my own original work, and they first appeared on the Flash! Friday blog; the ones I’ve selected are some of my own favourites. The image that accompanies each story is the ‘prompt image’ supplied by the Flash! Friday crew, out of which the story was born.
I hope you enjoy them!
By the time word of the Demonstration reached the Workshop, the Inspectors were already on their way. There was so little time, and so much to be done, and everyone knew what that meant.
‘Grigor must be recalled.’ It began as a whisper, from throats both flesh and iron.
‘The Collective has need,’ went the grey recitation, up and down the corridors of the Workshop, reflecting off the dull metal surfaces, absorbing into the grease. The words of the summons soaked into the threads of every bolt, and flowed like ichor through the pipes. ‘We are the Collective. Bring us Grigor.’ Every hiss of steam called for him, the hero-Worker.
Eventually, the call reached the Infirmary.
‘They ask for you,’ murmured the nurse at Grigor’s bedside. A machine hummed, removing the oil and filth from his body, making him fit to work once more. The nurse kept an eye on its readings, observed its pressure as though it was an Engine. Grigor’s eyes remained closed. He’d known, of course, that he was needed. He’d known from the first.
‘Will you go?’ The question was gentle, but Grigor said nothing. The nurse’s fingers flicked, adjusted, monitored, maintained; she saw the increase in his pulse, and realised she had been answered.
Without a word, she unhooked him from the equipment, and left him alone.
He returned to the Workers’ Mess carried shoulder-high, the Engines hooting and hissing their approval, and the Foremen allowed themselves a smile. Nobody mentioned the Breakdown, and nobody could find the words to ask him how he felt. Grigor was silent, and they were glad.
The following day, the Inspectors arrived.
They were welcomed with banners and the clanging of wrenches on pipes; they were applauded as they strode toward the Engines.
‘Productivity,’ said the Inspectors, ignoring the tumult. They were focused. ‘Commodity. Output.’
The Foremen gazed upon their inscrutable faces as Grigor stepped out of the crowd.
‘You are the Collective?’ they asked him. Grigor made no answer besides to pick up his wrench and settle his grip on its worn-smooth handle.
As he bent to his task, he remembered the pain, and the dark exhaustion. He remembered how it had felt to break and fail. He closed his eyes and took the strain.
The bolt was loosed before anyone could stop him.
Nobody stood a chance when the explosion came.
‘Amelia!’ he roared. ‘Come on out here, now!’
She’d seen him coming, but not in time. No chance to get Baby out of her crib, bundled up and ready to run. She’d hesitated too long, and now he was outside her house, stalking back and forth like an angry bear. She couldn’t see his gun, but she knew it was there, not far from his hungry hands.
‘Amelia! I’m not gon’ wait much longer!’
Her breaths quickened, and thoughts began to pile up as her panic grew. How’d he even found them? She’d done so much to cover her tracks. Hadn’t she? Laid a trail to suggest she’d gone to Kansas City… Left clues she’d married, even. She must’ve made a mistake, somewhere along the line.
She could smell that old liquor stench. The moist heat of his breath, smothering her. The pressure in her chest almost grew too much.
Then, her burning eyes fell on her father’s old shotgun, lying in the corner.
‘I know you’re in there, woman! You and that brat both!’ He spat, sudden as a slap. ‘I’m comin’ in, Amelia. See if I don’t!’
Daddy’s gun was unloaded, she knew. She couldn’t reach the bullets, on top of the tallboy, without being seen through the window. Baby stirred, moaning in her sleep.
Fast and quick, Amelia slid towards the gun, cold and heavy in her hands. Two short breaths, and she pulled open the door. Stepping out, she levelled the empty weapon at his heart.
Most nights, I’d dream about the cloud. Hard not to – I mean, it hung on the horizon, day and night, fair weather or foul, like the frown of heaven. Those mornings when I woke up feeling like I’d eaten my pillow, I could be pretty sure it’d been in my head all through the night, trickling in through my ears, through my pores. Settling inside me with every breath.
When I was a kid I used to think it was like a thick black blanket over the Old World, keeping everyone beneath it warm and safe. I’d say this to Ma as she tucked me in at night, and sometimes she’d give me a tight little smile, and sometimes not.
Nobody lives in the Old World now. How could they? No air to breathe, no light to see. It’s just us, over here. Far enough away to be safe, Ma said; close enough to be scared, is what she meant.
Some days it boiled, the cloud, like it was stirring to move. Others, it just sat there, placid, looking well fed and sleek. Sometimes it rolled like the sea, stirred by an unfelt wind.
‘What is it, Ma?’ I used to ask, staring out our tightly sealed windows, across the miles of barren land that separated us from it. ‘What’s it made of?’
‘Hush, now,’ she’d say, dragging me away with her poker fingers. ‘Don’t ask questions.’
There’d been lots of theories down through the years. ‘The will o’ God,’ some said; ‘the work of Ol’ Nick,’ said more. ‘The gover’ment,’ muttered others, ignoring the shushing noises from all around.
I woke one morning with my mind full up. Houses emerging from murky, inky darkness; people inside like husks, sucked dry. The cloud retreating, drawing up its roots and pulling free. A roaring noise, an angry howling. Rocks and twigs and bones flying, whirling. Blackened skin, sunken eyes, yellowed teeth gritted in a final, pointless battle against an enemy that couldn’t be fought.
I blinked the dream away and ran to find Ma, to tell her the cloud was coming, but she already knew.