Flash fic challenge from the amazing Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com
This week he asks us to write a story that includes a reader submitted title AND reader submitted first and last sentences. I chose (from Chuck’s hand-picked top 10 submissions)
- How to Run While Falling
- Three days without sleep was the least of my worries.
- The smoke was blue and grey and smelled like a promise.
Three days without sleep was the least of my worries. I hit detonate and the air exploded.
Instantly deaf, I grappled along the floor, heaving for breathable air and climbing over fallen figures. My knees shred on teeth or weapons, none of which I could see, all jagged and misdirected. My hands felt heavy and wet with blood. Both mine and theirs. Panicked, I slung guns and packs ammunition as I crawled. My thought? This was a promise of what’s to come. Within minutes, the building walls collapsed and my body caved under shards of deconstruction. My head became a wrecking ball, forcing my way through the debris. I reached for a door. Too hot to touch. Then another. No. Again, fire. Finally a way out. Just one more shove. My entire body slammed against freedom. Something cracked inside my torso then the door gave way. Instinctively, I propelled myself into the open air.
Outside, a long stretch of pavement called below the absent sun. I slowed down to catch my breath. The ground shook as the building crumbled in my wake. When I turned, a surviving enemy stood amid the pall of smoke. He reached for me, un-armed as he melted into the ground. My eyes fixed on his until he no longer looked human. Then, I kept moving, without being moved, running as I fell from grace.
I jogged along the tree line, ducking in and out as headlights threatened to reveal my outline. The earth felt cold and wet underfoot where my boots were no longer whole. My baggage doubled my weight. A mile down, a drainage pipe peeked out from a ditch. I crawled inside to rest. The cold air bit at my fingers and toes keeping me away from eternal sleep. Though I desperately needed to catch myself, the specter of death hung in the night. Run now, sleep later. Panting, spitting a mixture of blood and salty water between ragged breaths, I pressed on.
Now off the main road, the pounded stones, a relief to my body, absorbed more impact than the concrete ever could. I needed to lighten my load. I stopped to shed a few pounds of arsenal and the going got easier. Into the zone. My steps fell in a rhythm, patterned after a horse’s canter. I imagined myself as that steed with blinders, committed to the finish line.
The path narrowed and became less a path, more a narrowing trail, winding into the middle of nowhere. The leafy canopy kept me in total blackness but I felt the landscape closing in. My legs transformed into scratching boards for thorny bushes and thicket. The trail narrowed again. I wailed into the night, begging for reprieve. The brier answered with sharp claws and its own brand of punishment. More blood.
I don’t know if I ran into it or if it ran into me it. We collided all the same in a streak of self-preservation. A small house, familiar. A bench for a bed. Surrounded by stained glass windows and gold embossed books, I closed my eyes.
A childhood memory, a dream. My mother kneeling at the pew. Her hand on my back, the other caressing Rosary beads. She tips her head and smiles that warm smile at me. My body aches under her arm as she wipes my brow and I sweat my peace. Now I want to ask her how I became this… this unrecognizable person, a monster running from other monsters. I want to tell her I am sorry. But I’m weak. My words, lost to exhaustion. Too soon, she becomes a muted vision, a wisp of air, a calming breeze, circling my head until I give in to the dark.
Alone with my thoughts, hidden in a long-forgotten house, buried under brush and treetop, I slept.
The sun arrived, as broken fractals through the cracked skylight above me. I stared up from the bench and blinked. My injuries caked over in a black crust with the exception of my left shoulder, still embedded with shrapnel. It dripped a foul mess of metal, puss and thorns. I grew restless as I thought. Was this surviving? Should I stay in the small dwelling for another evening? I found it comforting, the quiet, Mother Mary looking over me. Dusty wax echoed where fire once lived giving proof that souls once burned like mine. Maybe staying meant I’d be forgiven, wrapped in invisible robes of mercy? Would forgiveness protect me when I left?
Tapping on the floor robbed me from reflection. I clutched the gun still slung over my good shoulder. Damn it, they caught up to me. Two maybe three, they moved slowly down the aisle. I raised the barrel just over the pew. Nothing moved. I’d wait them out. Back into a resting position and careful not to make a sound. At least 15 minutes passed. Then, I turned the barrel and stretched my trunk around the corner of the bench. Eyes squinted, eager to shoot or be shot at.
This is how paranoia looks; a jumble of tormented triggers, bloodied hands and exhaustion, ready for hell’s fire while staring into the face of a mother and her fawn.
The deer froze, then bolted, white tails flying. And I tumbled onto the floor, laughing at myself, deliriously, a mad man’s laugh. I had worn my welcome. The peace I sought would not come from any house. With a wider view, I legged down the aisle, left open to me by cervine intervention. Thank you mother. Who else would have sent them? I lit a small fire at the entrance of the church and burned all evidence of my visit. The smoke was blue and grey and smelled like a promise.