Chuck Wendig: Salvation, Chapter One

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge prompt is called To Behold The Divine.  The story is meant to be from the point of view of either a god, or someone who has to deal with a god.  I wrote about Arthur Edwards, a man who lives in a future where everyone who believed in God left Earth to go out into the rest of the solar system and left the nonbelievers behind.  Living on Earth, Arthur is an atheist but he had a dream about God and has decided to go out and preach the Gospel anyway.

I originally wrote this during NaNoWriMo in 2015.  It was going to be the first chapter in my NaNovel that year but I never took it any further, for a number of reasons.  I love the character and I hope to come back to him someday, either by continuing this idea, or in some other form.  Please to enjoy.


SALVATION, CHAPTER ONE

Arthur awoke.  He opened his eyes, the light shining into them through the open curtains.  He gasped as he remembered that the window was at the head of the bed, not the foot.  He awoke again, and opened his eyes.  It was dark.

He rolled over onto his chest.  He propped up on his elbows and looked out the window above him.  Yep.  Still dark.  The corners of his mouth turned up in a slight grin.  Now that, he thought, was a dream.  Hell of a dream.

He nudged Niecy, still sleeping beside him.  “Hey.”

She swatted feebly at him and mumbled random sleepy syllables.

He nudged her again.  “Hey.  Babe?”

One of her eyes opened just enough to show white in the moonlight.  More fuzzy mumblings.

“Wake up, Niecy, really.”

She groaned and sat up in bed.  She pushed the covers off and swung her legs over the side of the bed.  She stood and swayed uncertainly for a moment.  She straightened the nightshirt she was wearing and shuffled towards the door.  He started to talk, and she held up a hand.  Without turning to face him, she said, “If you are going to wake me up at—what time is it?”  When he didn’t speak, she gave a little “come on” gesture with her hand.

He grinned again.  Still propped on his elbows, he looked over at the screen.  “3:30,” he said.

She nodded.  “If you are going to wake me up at 3:30 a.m. in the morning, Arthur Edwards, you can damn well wait for me to pee before you tell me why.”  She walked out the door.

He watched her go, admiring the view.  Even now, after almost three years together, he loved to look at her.  He could hear her as she went about her business in the bathroom.  He rolled back over and sat up in the bed.  Before long she came back in.  He admired the view from this angle just as much as he had the other.

She saw him staring and wagged a finger at him.  “None of that,” she said.  “I know you didn’t get me up just so you could look at my boobs.”

“I might have,” he said, a pouty, defensive tone in his voice.

“Bull.  You’d let me sleep so you could get a better look.  You’ve done it before.  Tell me I’m wrong.”

He laughed.  “You know me so well.”

“It’s why you love me,” she said, and she climbed into bed and sat beside him.  “Now tell me why you really woke me up.”

He sighed.  “Do you believe in God?”

“God?  You mean…you mean God?  Like the Bible and angels and Jesus and all that?”  Arthur nodded.  “Of course not.  You don’t either.  No one does any more.  Everyone who believed in God left Earth a long time ago.”

“I had a dream about God,” Arthur said.  “There was music and light, and I think God was there.  There was so much more to it.  I’m not sure I can even describe it all.”

“You woke me up because you had a dream?”

“I can’t explain it, babe, I…” his voice trailed off.  “It felt so real.  Can I tell you about it?  Maybe that will help.”  She nodded.  He took a few second to collect his thoughts, then began.

“I was sitting on the porch watching a bird fly by overhead.  Suddenly the bird turned towards me and started getting bigger.  I thought it was falling out of the sky but then I realized it was a hoverbug and it was coming right down on top of me.

“It kept getting bigger and bigger, then it landed in the yard.  Right out back there in the clearing.  It was a twelve-seater.  The hatch opened up and this guy got out.  He was dressed in white and was playing some crazy notes on a trumpet.  I never heard anything like it.  He was spinning around and bopping all over the place, then three girls got out.  They were dressed in white, too.  They were singing.  No words, just sort of ‘ooo-ooo-ooo’ in this really weird harmony.  It was almost like it kept wanting to crash and burn, but it didn’t.  It blended with the trumpet and made a really cool sound.

“Then another guy got out.  He was wearing a grey suit that was really ragged, almost like it was falling apart.  He looked right at me and spoke, but I couldn’t understand.  It was like I was hearing a bunch of people talk at the same time and they were all speaking different languages.

“I shrugged.  ‘I don’t know what you’re saying,’ I said to him, except I didn’t say it in English.  I was speaking some language I had never heard before and suddenly, I could understand the other guy.

“‘You diggin’ it now?’ he asked me.

“‘I don’t have a shovel,’ I said.  I couldn’t help myself.  (Niecy punched him on the arm.  “You are so stupid,” she said.)

“‘You are so stupid,’ the guy told me (“Smart guy,” said Niecy).  ‘But I gotta know:  are you ready to see what’s next?’  All this time, the trumpet is still wailing and the ooo-ooo-ooo  girls are still doing their thing.

“So I decided to just go with it.  ‘Yeah, dog,’ I said.  ‘Lay it on me.  Bring it right down to Earth.’

“‘That’s what I thought you’d say,’ he said.  He pointed at the guy with the trumpet and suddenly the guy hit a note so high I thought the horn was going to break from the strain.  Two more guys came out of the hoverbug.  It might have only been one guy, but I think it was two, kinda blurred together.  It was hard to tell, because as they came out, a light shined into my eyes and I could hardly see.

“I caught a glimpse of a bright yellow suit and maybe a beard, but I’m not sure.  I held my hands up in front of my face and closed my eyes but it didn’t help.  That light just punched right through and hit me right in the brain.  Sounded like the light was singing too.

“The trumpet hit a note, and suddenly it sounded like a whole band was playing, and the girls were singing and there was suddenly a whole chorus of them, not just three.  And over it all I heard this booming voice saying, ‘CAN YOU DIG IT?’   I didn’t dare make another shovel joke.  I just nodded the best I could.

“The girls were singing ‘Hit the Road, Jack’ and the trumpet—band, whatever—was playing this crazy, funky, horn line, and through the light I could sort of see someone dancing.  A spin, a drop into a split, then back up.  It was too much.  I shouted.  I couldn’t hear myself.  I screamed.  The horns just got louder.  Then I heard laughter.  Rich, vibrant laughter.  ‘YOU’LL DO,’ the booming voice said.

“And the light got even brighter, and I woke up.  I opened my eyes, and I was looking out the window, but it was down there”—he pointed at the foot of the bed—“and it was like the light punched me in the eye.  I suddenly realized that the window was in the wrong place and it woke me up for real.”

“What a crazy dream,” said Niecy.  “And you think it was about God?”

“How well do you know the old Christian stuff?” asked Arthur.

“Not real well,” she said.  “I never bothered to learn any of it.”

“I learned a little bit,” he said.  “Enough to think that the guy with the trumpet was Gabriel, and the guy in the grey suit was the Holy Spirit, and he taught me some other language.  They say he could do that for people.”

“Who were the singers?”

“Just some angels, I guess.  And the guy in the yellow suit and the booming voice at the end was God himself, or Jesus, or both of them together.  I guess.”  He shrugged, then sat quietly for a few seconds, his eyes narrowed in concentration.

“Arthur,” said Niecy.  “You’re making me very, very nervous.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I was just thinking.  I think I know what the dream means.  I think I know what it’s saying.  They kept talking about ‘can you dig it’ and all that.  I think that means I’m supposed to build something.”

“You’re not a builder,” said Niecy.”

“I’m not supposed to build a building or anything like that,” said Arthur.  “Something else.  Something real.”

“Realer than a building?”

He nodded.

“What’s realer than a building?”

God,” said Arthur.  “I’m supposed to build God back up.  I’m supposed to dig God out of the hole we put him in all those years ago and rebuild him.”

Niecy closed her eyes and shook her head.  She reached up and rubbed her forehead, then stuck a finger in her ear.  She wiggled it around as if cleaning her ear out.  “Do what, now?”

“I have to bring God back,” said Arthur.

“You don’t believe in God,” she said.

“So?”

“How can you bring back a god that you don’t believe in?”

“I don’t have to believe,” said Arthur.  “I just have to tell people about him.  They’ll hear it and some will believe it and eventually someone else can take over for me and I can come back home.”

Niecy stuck a finger into the other ear and wiggled it again.  “What do you mean, ‘come back home’?  Just where are you going?”

“How can I bring God back if I stay here, Niecy?”  His eyes were shining, now.  He was starting to feel it.  “We’re in a little house in the middle of nowhere.  Our net connection doesn’t even work half the time.  How can I talk to people from here?  I have to go out there.”  His hand swept toward the window.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.  “Do you think you’re suddenly going to be some great religious guy and get on a rocket to Titan or something?”  She crossed her arms and frowned.  “Arthur, I am not going to Titan, do you hear me?  There is methane in the atmosphere there.  I will not wear a filter.”

He laughed.  God, she was cute when she got indignant.  “No, Niecy, we are not going to Titan.  Why go to Titan?  They already know about God there.  I have to travel around here on Earth and tell people about him.  I don’t know, Niecy.”  He paused again.

“I still don’t know what you’re trying to tell me, Arthur.”

“I don’t either, but I really do think I have to go do something.”

“Because of the dream you had.”

“Yes.”

“The dream about a hoverbug.”

“Yes.”

“And a guy with a trumpet.”

“Yes.”

“And another guy in a grey suit.”

“Yes.”

“And ooo-ooo-ooo girls.”

“Yes.”

“And bright lights and God dancing.”

“Yes.”

“You’re tired, Arthur.  It’s almost 4 a.m. and I think you’re tired and you woke up out of a wild dream and you’re so caught up in it that you’ll believe anything.”

“I need to—”

She held up a hand.  “You need to go back to sleep.  I need to go back to sleep.  When we wake up, you might not even remember this dream.  Don’t change our lives just yet.  Sleep on it.  We’ll talk about it more tomorrow.”

“You’re right,” he said.  He leaned across the bed and gave her a hug.  “I shouldn’t have woke you up.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she said, and she gave him a gentle kiss.  “Just get some sleep.”

They lay down beside each other, and held each other’s hand as they always did in bed.  Niecy soon drifted back off to sleep.  Arthur never did.  He lay there thinking back over his dream, listening to the trumpet, the ooo-ooo-ooo girls, and the voice of God.

 

Chuck Wendig: Burn

This week’s Chuck Wendig challenge is Create Your Own Monster.  We had to come up with a monster and write about it for up to 1,500 words.  I remembered I had created a pretty cool monster last year in one of Chuck’s genre mash-ups.  So I decided to do a sequel to this story and see what had happened to my Southern Gothic/kaiju fire-breathing possum.  His name is Possumgeddon, and the story is called “Burn”.  Please to enjoy.


BURN

Possumgeddon had come out of the swamps of South Georgia in a swath of fire and destruction.  He had been born in a dark ritual that had gone horribly wrong.  Those that created him had paid the price for their mistakes.  He was nearly thirty feet tall and more than twice as long.  His eyes glowed orange, heralding the release of a sheet of flame and heat that spread out over nearly an acre at a time.

In the six weeks since he had been emerged he had rampaged across half of Georgia, laying waste to Waycross, Tifton, and Albany before turning south towards Florida.  Thomasville was in his sights as he stormed down Highway 19 and it was only a matter of time before he crossed the state line and moved into Tallahassee.  The football team at Florida State was good, but Clemson wasn’t nearly as strong an opponent as Possumgeddon would be.  The Tomahawk Chop isn’t going to do anybody any good against a thirty feet tall possum that breathes fire.

He had been pursued by both hunters and paparazzi.  The hunters, military and civilian alike, had been unable to bring him to a stop.  His skin repelled bullets, shells, even small rockets.  The paparazzi pursued him on foot or in cars as they were able, and from the air at all times.  His exploits featured on several live YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and Snapchat feeds.  He had more followers than the President, the Pope, and April the Giraffe combined.  It seemed destruction trumped childbirth.  @possumgeddon was the fastest growing account on Twitter and regaled the world with boasts and predictions of what he would do next.

He found himself in a pine wood.  He liked pine woods.  They burned much more readily than the cypress and oak back east.  He swung his tail, as big around as a railroad tie and twenty feet long, in an arc that swept several jagged pines off the ground like bowling pins.  His eyes glowed, his mouth opened, and flame sprayed.  Above him, three helicopters and an armada of drones recorded everything and sent images out into the world on his various accounts.

As long as they kept their distance, he tolerated their presence.  He knew they were there.  Every so often he would look up at them and roar.  He occasionally tried burning them down, but his flame was not as effective when the target was above him.  Yesterday he had tried again and the fire he breathed had rained back down onto him and had seemed to hurt him, or at least make him uncomfortable enough to wince.

That possible weakness had been noticed and soon Possumgeddon was accosted by a herd of tanks mounted with massive flame-throwers as their primary weapon.  They spewed flame of their own but he didn’t bat an eye.  Instead he had waded in among them and smashed them to pieces.  Apparently it was only his own flame that could hurt him.

He was a few miles north of Thomasville.  He had just emerged from the pine wood into a clearing, leaving the trees fired and burning behind him, when they surrounded him again.  There were tanks on the ground, and military drones in the air.  They harried him, the drones darting in and out, trying to draw breath from him, the tanks pounding away at his legs and flanks.  His reacting to one set of attackers prompted a redoubled effort from the other.

Finally, they got the response they wanted.  The drones were low enough that he was able to spray them and several of them caught fire.  They immediately turned and dove towards him, crashing into him.  The flames caught in his fur.  They smoldered, then a gust of wind blew them alight, and Possumgeddon began to burn, fired by his own breath.

He stopped, shocked, feeling pain like he had never felt before.  He bucked and kicked like a bronco and his tail whiplashed, sweeping tanks from around him in a widening arc.  Sparks and embers flew from him, and random discharges of flame went in all directions.  One of them caught a news chopper that had gotten too close and it exploded, the wash of flame being the last thing the pilot, the camera operator, and their viewers, saw.  Around the world, people tuned in, driving traffic to his feeds and views on his channels to all-time highs.

As he burned, another wave of drones flew in and deliberately crashed into him, plunging into the flames that were burning him then rolling across his body, drawing new streaks of torment all along his back and sides.

He stumbled through the clearing, roaring and burning, leaving trails of fire on the ground to mark his passage.  He crested a small hill, then lost his balance and fell, tumbling down the back side of the slope in a tangle of burning fur and paws and tail and noise.

There was a wide pond at the bottom of the hill.

His roll took him straight into the pond.  It was deep enough that as he rolled, he was completely submerged.  The water boiled and hissed and steam rose in sheets as the flames consuming Possumgeddon met the surface of the water.

The world held its breath.  The two remaining choppers and another fleet of drones hovered, cameras and microphones pointed at the pond.

Nothing happened.  Smoke continued to rise, drifting away in a gentle breeze.  Away to the north, the pine woods and grass in the clearing continued to burn.  After a few minutes, a few drones were directed down to the surface of the pond.  When there was no reaction from Possumgeddon, they collected a load of water, which they carried up and dumped on the fire on the other side of the hill.

Nothing stirred in the water.

After an hour of waiting, the county fire department responded.  Their efforts, combined with the drones continuing to take water from the pond, got the burning woodlands under control.  The land was scarred, but it was whole.  Thomasville breathed a sigh of relief and Tallahassee prepared for the Miami game on Saturday night like nothing had happened.

Still, nothing stirred in the water.

Eventually, after several days of no activity, the last of the drones turned their cameras off and left the little pond.  One by one the Possumgeddon Facebook pages and Snapchat feeds were discontinued, the YouTube channels shut down, and @possumgeddon became a spoof account showing purported Loch Ness Monster videos and trading Bigfoot and Chupacabra theories.

Three months later, in the dead of night, unseen by any human or machine, there was an orange glow from the bottom of the pond.  A rush of bubbles rose to the surface and burst in a cloudy curtain of steam.  Slowly, Possumgeddon emerged from the pond.  His fur was almost completely gone, but was growing back at different rates in a crazy patchwork on his heavily scarred back.  His breath was coming in ragged spurts.  His eyes narrowed then glowed again, his tail twitching fitfully.

He began to grow.

 

The First Line: The King Ed-Rock

Besides the Chuck Wendig prompts I do each week I also try to complete the prompt from The First Line each quarter.  The First Line is a journal that publishes four times a year and, each quarter, provides a prompt in the form of a sentence that is to be used as the first line in your story.  There are no restrictions on genre or form, but every story in each issue opens with the same first line.

I have been making sporadic submissions to TFL for several years now and have never succeeded in being published.  This is my submission for the current issue, which I sent in back in February.  Submissions for the next issue are due on May 1.  I don’t consider this to be among my best work, but it was fun.  I wasn’t surprised when it wasn’t picked up, but I’m happy to share it here.  I hope you all like it.  Please to enjoy “The King Ed-Rock”.


THE KING ED-ROCK

Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available that would pay the rent.  Two weeks ago he had worn a reflective vest and a hard hat and held a stop sign for a road construction crew.  Today, though, he was doing what he liked best, what he was good at, what he did as often as he could.  He was standing on the curb outside Pink’s Pawn spinning a large, neon green cardboard arrow in circles while wearing headphones and dancing and rapping along at the top of his lungs to the Beastie Boys.

He put on a good show.  Mr. Pink had given him the arrow.  One side said “SALE TODAY!” in garish orange letters that caught the attention of drivers whizzing by on Redmond Avenue.  The other side said GUNS!  AMMO!  GOLD! in the same orange tint.  Mr. Pink said he’d tried to write GOLD in gold lettering but it didn’t look as good against the green on the arrow, so it was all orange instead.

Eddie didn’t really care what color the letters were, or the arrow for that matter.  He just knew he was getting paid $100 to stand on the curb and listen to Licensed to Ill and Paul’s Boutique and all the rest for 8 hours.  Hard to beat that.  Plus, as he always did, Mr. Pink told Eddie that if he got enough people to come in, he’d bring him back a sandwich when he went down the street to Vini’s Deli for lunch.

Hell yeah, thought Eddie.  Nothing like a hot meatball sub with melted provolone and shredded mozza and some banana peppers on the side in one of those little plastic cups.  That’s what I’m talking about.  He put all his heart into it, pumping his arms in time to the music, moving the arrow up, down, and around his body.  He knew all the moves.  All the stores around here knew him and knew he was the best.

He had an arrow of his own at home that he had bought off Amazon for $69.99 that he practiced with.  He’d paid an extra $5 to have his name printed on both sides of the arrow so he could practice keeping the text facing the right way up.  He took pride in what he did.

He had even taken extra care when turning that stop sign a couple of weeks back.  His mother had always told him, “No sense doing the job if you’re not going to do it right.”  He’d been attentive when he held that stop sign, never letting the traffic back up too far before changing the direction of the flow.  He’d even waved at the little kids and dogs in the cars as they went by.

He loved little kids and dogs.

He waved at them here, too, if he wasn’t in the middle of a routine when they came by.  He knew of at least one customer who told Mr. Pink that she had stopped and come in because the nice man with the sign had waved at her little doggie.  Mr. Pink had told him so.  So he kept doing it.  It worked, after all.  Anything for a hot meatball sub from Vini’s.

Every now and then a car came by full of hyped-up high school kids.  He didn’t like high school kids as much as he did little kids.  High school kids would yell at him, trying to distract him, making fun of him, hoping he would drop his arrow.  He especially hated it when it was jocks in the car.  He hated it even more when they had their girls with them.  They always felt like they had to impress their girls, see, and that usually meant they were going to throw something at him.

The only time he had ever dropped his arrow was when a car full of jocks stopped at the red light while he was working for Travis Tax Service over on Jenkins and 6th.  He’d been in the middle of “Shake Your Rump” and had just started spinning the arrow counterclockwise.  The jock in the back seat had shouted at him.  Nothing specific, just a loud “AAAAAHHHHH” to try and break his concentration.  Typical jock bullshit.  When that didn’t work, the one in the front seat had thrown an entire cup of soda at him.  It was a large cup from Burger King.  Eddie thought it had Sprite in it.  It had hit the arrow and exploded, drenching him and knocking the arrow out of his hands.  It had even knocked one of his earbuds loose.

The light had turned green and the jocks pulled off, roaring and shouting.  He thought one of them had a thrown a middle finger at him as they drove away.  The car behind them had pulled into the parking lot and the guy got out and gave Eddie a towel to dry off with.  “Are you okay?” he had asked.  A nice guy.

Eddie had shrugged as he dried his hands.  Then he had picked up the arrow and dried it off as well.  “Just regular jock bullshit,” he had said.  “Thanks for the towel.”

Since then, he’d changed where he stood.  He always made sure to be away from any red lights and far enough from the road so that no one could reach him.  He hated that.  He loved being right next to the road and feeling the wind as the cars went by.  The rushing air made it more challenging to hold onto the arrow.

Being that close to the road made him an easy target though, and he hadn’t liked the way being hit with a cup of Sprite had felt.  There had been a girl in the back seat next to the jock who had yelled at him, and he thought he had seen an apology on her face as they drove off.  Maybe not, though.  It was hard to say.  His eyes had been full of Sprite at the time, after all.

He kept going, all morning.  Spinning.  Dancing.  Rapping.  Ill Communication.  Check Your Head.  His favorite part of any Beastie Boys song was when one of the Beasties mentioned Adam Horovitz by the name of “the King Ad-Rock.”  Whenever that happened, Eddie would change the words as he rapped along, substituting his own Beastie name, “The King Ed-Rock.”

As he always did, he stopped performing when “Pass the Mic” came on and stood there with his head bowed and his arrow down by his side, respectfully lowered.  That was his favorite MCA track and after MCA had died it just didn’t seem proper to do tricks to it any more.  As the last beat faded, he tapped his heart with his right fist, kissed his first two fingertips, and held them up to the sky, pointing at MCA in heaven.  “Rest in peace, Adam Yauch,” he whispered.  “Rest in peace, MCA!”  And of course, “Gratitude” was the next song, which had always struck him as being just so right and appropriate.  He went into it with all the gratitude he could muster for the music and all the inspiration he had taken from it over the years.

He didn’t know how many people Mr. Pink wanted him into bring to the shop, but he always gave it everything he had and he always got his meatball sub for lunch as a reward for his hard work.  It was the reason he liked working for Mr. Pink more than anyone else on that side of town.  The man knew how to take care of the people he was paying.

Eddie sat in the grass beside the road, eating his sandwich, sipping from a bottle of water, head bobbing and watching the traffic go by on Redmond.  He felt bad when cars went by while he was sitting and eating because they couldn’t see him do his thing.  He always propped the arrow up by the sign so they could see it as they drive by, but it wasn’t the same.  He hurried to finish his lunch, then went inside and threw his trash away.

He came back out, picked up his arrow and waited for the next track to begin.  Hello Nasty.  “Three MCs and One DJ.”  That’s a good one, he thought, and he started the arrow whirling around his head in figure-eights as Mix Master Mike went to work on the turntables.

Four more hours to go.

Four more days until he could pay the rent for the month.

Chuck Wendig: The Letter

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is called Right vs. Wrong.  We have been tasked to write up to 1,000 words on one of two themes contrasting right vs. wrong.  I chose the first one, “Doing a good thing sometimes means being evil” and wrote exactly 1,000 words.   I tried to go back to my fantasy roots in this story.  It ended up more in the Guy Gavriel Kay flavor of fantasy than anything else.  Please to enjoy.

THE LETTER

I sit at my desk.  The letter, already burning my soul, lies unfolded on the scratched wooden surface.  My eyes are closed, my head cradled in my hands.  I don’t need to read the letter again; its contents are etched into every fiber of my being.

They arrived last night.  Castaways, refugees, call them what you will.  They are the sad remnant of a once proud city, fleeing war, starvation, and disease.  They scattered in all directions as their homes burned to the ground.  These few have made their way to our city and rest unsteadily upon the sward between the city walls and the forest.  Their fists pound weakly upon our gates, the echoes of their cries growing fainter as the rigors of their ordeal catch up to them.

I sent Brother Mikel and Sister Susurrah out into their camp, a team of nurses and healers with them, and a squad of soldiers to guard them from any depredation.  There was none, of course.  These folk are weary and weak after a long journey.  They are hungry and sick and so, so tired.  They have no strength left to visit any sort of mischief upon us.

The good Brother and Sister met with their leaders and spoke to them, gently drawing them out of their stupor, gleaning as best they could the disjointed story of the events that had led them to our city.  Satisfied with what they learned, they made their way into the camp itself, speaking to the people, examining them, measuring their condition, both physical and emotional.

Brother Mikel’s report lies before me now, underneath the letter.  Sister Sussurah’s addendum is no less damning.  These people are weary.  They are starving.

Their city was besieged for months as they sat behind thick stone walls and waited.  They thought themselves safe from attack.  And they were safe, against a physical attack.  Then the food began to run short, tempers began to flare, and they suddenly found that, against a biological attack, they had little defense.

Their enemies used catapults to fling diseased corpses over their walls into their streets.   They had not realized the bodies were diseased, of course, and by the time they grasped the truth, a Spads plague was sweeping the city.  Half their population died in less than a week.  They had no choice but to open their gates and flee into the teeth of the waiting armies of their attackers.

Hundreds more died trying to get outside the walls, laid low by arrow and sword.  Those that managed to escape gathered in the hills west of their city and watched it burn.  Then they turned their backs and began searching for a new home.  Some went north, some further west.  Some even built rafts and boats and set out east upon the Great Sea.  Others came south.  Those eventually arrived here, crying out at our gates.

They are upon our doorstep, and they have brought the Spads plague with them.

There are none among them that are actively sick, says Brother Mikel’s report, but there are many that show symptoms of early onset.  They were all exposed to Spads prior to their flight, and they doubtless carry the plague inside them.  Even if they do not sicken, they are capable of infecting others.  It is only a matter of time.

I struggle over what to do.  Spads can destroy a city quicker than any enemy.  The fall of these peoples’ city is all the proof I need of that.

What do I do?

I have a duty to my city.  We have nearly five thousand living here.  We are safe enough within our walls.  I am not arrogant enough to think us invincible, but we have food, shelter, soldiers to protect us, and our god to watch over us.  As did they.  So far we have escaped the plague.  Do I dare risk bringing it inside our walls to succor these few?

I dare not.

What, then, do I do?

There are more than two hundred people outside our walls.  Men, women, children, young, elderly, hungry, tired, and each of them able to wipe out my entire city by themselves, by eating our food, or drinking our water, or simply brushing against one of us in the street.

I have to turn them away.  But how can I?

Suppose I send them away, and they continue south to the next city and infect them instead.  Perhaps it would be seen as an attack by our city against our neighbors using these people as a weapon the same way their own city was targeted.  We have always been peaceful neighbors.  I cannot do anything that might be perceived as an attack.

I cannot let these poor people in and risk killing my own people.  I cannot send them away and risk destroying my neighbors.

What, then, do I do?

The way is clear to me, but it is hard.  Our priests preach compassion and love for the sick and the weak.  It is hard to act against that instinct.  Does doing so make me an evil man?  I fear that it does, but I hope that I will be forgiven, just this once.  I must see to my own people first.

I open my eyes and lift my head from my hands.  The letter on my desk is from the leader of the travelers.  I read it one last time, my eyesight blurring as I read the last, wavering, “please….”

I take up my pen, drafting an order to my generals sending all of our archers to the wall above the gates.  I fold the order and seal it, red wax dripping onto the paper like blood before I press it flat with my signet.  I call for a courier and send it out before I can reconsider.  I bow my head and pray, asking for mercy on my soul.

I am not evil, but I dare not be good.

Have mercy.

please….

Chuck Wendig: Corgi Noir

This week’s Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge is a Random Photo Exercise.  He posted a link to a Flickr photo randomizer and we had to pick one and use it as inspiration.  I had a good idea, I think, but I’m not sure it came out the way I wanted it to.  Gonna post it anyway, though.  Please to enjoy.


CORGI NOIR

https://www.flickr.com/photos/trustypics/33117598356/

Corgi Noir [9/52] [Film Noir]
from Trustypics

I sat in the black chair, nose drooping down onto my paws as I got more and more drowsy.  There had been more than water in my bowl.  It had been a long day and I was waiting for a dame to walk through the door and jump-start my life.  I was waiting for a dame named Lady Luck.

As it turns out she was late.  I had to sit for quite a while.  I refilled the bowl a couple of times and had a pretty good buzz going.  Okay, more than a buzz.  By the time the door opened, I was almost asleep.  The crash of the door slamming woke me.

My head came up and the hat fell off my head as I realized that she had arrived.  It wasn’t Lady Luck, but it was a lady.

Her coat was glossy and brown.  Her ears were perky and her brown eyes were pools of deepest night’s light.  Her legs went all the way down to her paws and the rhinestones on her collar caught the light and scattered it into bits.

“Hiya, dollface,” I said.  She sniffed, putting her nose up, and gave me a cold shoulder.  Me!  In my own office!

I hopped down off the chair and made my way over to the cabinet.  I nosed the door open and reached up, knocking down a box of Milk Bones.  They were Small size, not the Minis.  I’m no cheap Jake.  I know how to treat a lady.

She started sniffing around, picking out the red ones.  They were my favorites, but I didn’t say anything.  I pushed my bowl over to her and refilled it.  A lady needs to be able to wash down her snack.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

She finished picking out the red Milk Bones and slurped down everything in the bowl.  She looked back at me and twitched her tail.  Her tongue lolled out and she grinned.  “You’ve done enough already,” she said.  She looked back down at the other treats.  “Those were good.”  She walked past me.  I felt her tail stroke its way down my side.

I turned around in time to see her disappear back out the door.  It swung shut behind her.  Was I supposed to follow?  I didn’t know.  It figures.  Of all the red Milk Bones in all the cabinets in all the world, she comes and eats mine.

I had no idea what to do next.  So I did the only thing I could.  I ate a couple of the tan Milk Bones that were left then got my hat back on my head and climbed back into the chair.  Before long I was getting drowsy and my nose began to drift downward again.

I was still waiting for a dame.  I was still waiting for Lady Luck.  I could wait a little longer.