I already submitted a story for this week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. As I said in the other post, the challenge this week was to take one of ten reader-submitted first sentences and begin a story with it. I decided to post a bonus story, because one of the reader-submitted sentences chosen for the challenge was submitted by me!
I used the sentence myself a couple of years ago and decided to post the story I wrote back then. It was NaNoWrMo 2014. I decided at the last minute to participate, and on November 1st, I wrote what you are about to read. I never wrote another word, for a number of reasons, most of which boiled down to me being lazy.
This is, in theory, the opening chapter of my NaNoWriMo novel for 2014. I never fleshed it out any more than what appears here. This chapter was completely pantsed, and I never did any additional worldbuilding or plotting or anything. I may come back to it someday, because I kind of like the concept. It’s a high fantasy story set in a near-future cyberpunk world. I think there are definite possibilities. Check it out, and thanks for stopping by! I hope you like it.
Snowflakes, Chapter 1
The bald man grinned and capered madly in the alley. The air seemed to grow colder as he whirled and pranced and his breath steamed from his nostrils as he danced like a dervish beneath the glow of a streetlamp. Snow was falling, fat flakes showing in the light from above. They hissed as they struck the hot neon of the sign on the back wall of the bar. Marco looked around, struck dumb by the snow. It was August. He was wearing shorts. What the…?
The bald man turned around and stuck his rear end out in Marco’s direction. He reached back with both hands and drummed a tattoo on his cheeks as he shook his hips in time with a rhythm that didn’t come close to matching his drumming. He turned around, still grinning, and stuck out his tongue, blowing a vibrant raspberry that echoed in the alley then cut off abruptly as a pebble-filled beanbag bounced off of his forehead and fell to the ground at his feet. Shocked, he looked down and so missed seeing the second projectile, this one a fist sized stone, that hit him on top of the head. He slumped, unconscious, to the pavement, blood seeping from a cut in his bald scalp.
“God, El,” Marco said, “I didn’t think he was that bad a dancer.”
“Dancer my ass,” said El, pushing her ginger bangs back out of her eyes as she emerged from behind the bins she had been using as cover. “You were taking too long. He was drunk and you were playing with him and letting him act the fool. I want to get this over with. It’s cold. Get it, and let’s go.”
Marco nodded and moved carefully forward. He thought the guy was out cold, but it paid to be careful. He jerked a thumb back down the alley and El nodded, moving behind him and keeping an eye out for unwary intruders.
Marco brushed snow off the pavement and knelt beside the man. He felt for a pulse. Out, but alive, he thought, relieved. He put a hand inside the man’s jacket pocket. Empty. He checked the other pocket. Empty as well. Inside pocket? Didn’t have one. Worried now, he checked pants pockets, inside socks, anywhere he could think of. He didn’t want to strip the fellow naked in the alley in the snow, but he didn’t really have a choice.
El saw what he was doing and jogged over, her blue ponytail swinging. He looked up at her. “He doesn’t have it,” he said.
“What do you mean he doesn’t have it?”
“He’s naked, El. Unless he has it inserted somewhere, it’s not here.”
“He’s cute, but I’m not going to be checking for insertions.”
“You see what I’m saying, then,” said Marco. “Face it. He doesn’t have it.”
“Joaquin’s gonna be pissed.”
“Joaquin is always pissed. Look, take some pictures here, to show that we actually did try, and let’s get out of here. That weird snow has stopped, but it’s still kind of chilly.”
El nodded, and pulled out her cell phone. “This is not going to be on Instagram, okay?” Marco said, as she started taking pictures.
“Hashtag duh,” she muttered under her breath.
Marco dressed the bald guy again before they left. No reason to be disrespectful, after all.
“Who the hell is this guy?” asked Joaquin. He held El’s phone and was pointing at the picture on the screen.
“That’s the guy,” Marco said. “Maeready. We tried to get the artifact, but he didn’t have it on him. I even stripped him and searched.” He shifted his feet uncomfortably. “It wasn’t inserted anywhere.”
“This isn’t Maeready,” Joaquin said, shaking the phone. “This doesn’t even look like him. Maeready has a goatee and a blond mullet. This guy is bald and has three snowflakes tattooed under his right eye.”
“He has so got a mullet,” said Marco. “Look! It’s right there!” He pointed at the picture.
Joaquin’s jaw dropped and he squinted at Marco. “Do you even know what a mullet is?” he asked incredulously.
There was a sudden shout from across the room, interrupting them. “Wait! Wait! Dammit, Joaquin, what did you say? He has three what?” A tall, gangly man wearing an augmented reality visor looked over at them from the computer console they had set up in the far corner. His haptic gloves clattered as he flexed his fingers spasmodically.
“Three snowflakes,” said Joaquin, “tattooed on his face under his right eye. Zoom in.” He held up the phone so the man could see it. The man reached out with his gloved fingers and spread them, making reality expand within his visor.
“Aw shit, Marco,” he said. “Shitshitshit. Shit! You stupid son of a…” He trailed off and swatted the air in front of himself, swiping reality back into its proper place. He put his head in his hands.
“What is it?” asked El.
“Tech, what’s going on?” Joaquin asked, his voice tight, worried.
Tech looked up. His forehead wrinkled as his eyebrows rose inside his visor. He shook his head and ran his hands through his spiky hair. “I told you to send me to do this, Joaquin. Never send a ranger and a thief to do a wizard’s job. I should have been the one to hit Maeready and you know it”
“You’re too noticeable with the visor, Tech,” said Joaquin. It was an old disagreement between them. “You know how I feel about this sort of thing. Even with holograms to hide your gear, you stick out. I needed stealth and supposedly these two are stealthy.”
“Stealthy, yes,” said Tech, “but you also needed to send someone with intelligence.” He shook his head and laughed bitterly. “Instead, you settled for these two.”
“So tell me what’s going on,” said Joaquin. “Who is this guy? Why do you care about his tattoo?”
“I’ll show you.” Tech wiggled his fingers as he typed on a virtual keyboard only he could see. A holographic projector came to life in the corner, and displayed El’s picture of the unconscious man on the air between Tech and the rest of the group.
“This is the poor unfortunate soul you baited, koshed, stripped, searched, and left laying in an alley,” said Tech.
“I dressed him again before we left,” muttered Marco.
“It’s good that you did,” said Tech as his fingers continued to dance. “Maybe we can use that to show that you didn’t really mean him any harm.” Joaquin began to ask a question. “Shh!” hissed Tech, waving him to silence with one hand. “Wait for it.” He typed and gestured for a few more seconds, then grunted in satisfaction. “Ah, here it is.”
The projected image changed. El’s picture shrank, moving into the upper left corner of the display and another picture, this one a detailed shot of three snowflakes that looked like the bald man’s tattoo, appeared and dominated the image. Tech’s fingers danced some more, and the second picture shrank and moved to bottom right. In the middle, appeared six words. Two in English, two in Russian, two more in English.
“Oh, shit.” It might have been any of the others who said it. In reality, it was all three, speaking in unison.
“You understand our problem?” asked Tech.
“I understand it,” said Marco quietly.
“The Snezhinki are crazy,” said El.
“Yes, they are,” said Tech. “I’m one of the most powerful wizards I know, and those guys make me look like a first-year apprentice, and they are the very embodiment of crazy.”
“Tri Snezhiki,” said Joaquin. “Damn, Marco, you’d think the three snowflakes tattooed on the man’s face might have been a giveaway as to who he was!”
“I was looking at his mullet,” said Marco. “You didn’t say anything about Maeready having tattoos so I wasn’t worried about it.”
El spoke up. “Besides, you didn’t know what they meant, either, until Tech said something.”
Joaquin conceded the point. “I don’t speak whatever language that is,” he said, pointing at the display, “but I’ve always heard of Tri Snezhinki. We all have, I’m sure. But I never knew it meant anything. I thought it was just some crazy name they came up with! I didn’t know about the tattoos, either.”
“Well, the tattoo is not real widely known as a symbol of the Snezhinki,” said Tech, “but if you know what their name means, it makes sense.” Seeing their confusion, he walked over and pointed at the non-English characters. “It’s Russian. It’s a name that represents where they come from and what they believe in.” He pointed at the bald man’s picture. “If that guy knows who you are, and knows where to find you, it will be getting very cold here, very soon.” He looked at Joaquin. “We should go.”
“But the artifact–” began Marco.
“Forget the artifact,” said Tech. “We won’t have another chance to look for Maeready tonight if the bloody Snezhinki are looking for us.”
Joaquin nodded. “You’re right.” He pointed at El and Marco. “You two screwed up. I don’t know how. I don’t know how you could possibly think that guy was Maeready. Somehow, though, you did, and if we don’t get out of sight fast, we could be done for.”
“We may be able to make another search for the artifact soon,” said Tech, as he took his gloves and visor off and began to pack his gear. “We’ll see what the Snezhinki do. Maybe they’ll stay frosty and we’ll be able to resurface in a day or two.”
“Let’s hope,” said El.
“You better hope,” said Joaquin. “I’ll be pissed if we lose this commission because you two don’t know what the hell a mullet is.”