OK, so I’m a little late with this week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge. It’s okay, I guess. It’s still on time. Been a crazy week. I wasn’t sure how this one was going to turn out, but I like what I came up with. The theme is They Fight Crime (Amongst Other Things). The instruction is to go here and get a character prompt then turn it into a story. In theory, the characters in your prompt will be fighting crime in your story. Mine turned out to be an origin story for a pair of crimefighters. We had 1,000 words to play with, I spent 999.
My prompt was as follows:
“He’s a time-tossed sweet-toothed messiah on the edge. She’s a disco-crazy cigar-chomping hooker with her own daytime radio talk show. They fight crime!”
Please to enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.
TAKING THE CUP
Tess inhaled, sucking on her cigar, taking the carcinogenic smoke deep into her lungs then expelled it into the ever-expanding haze in the studio air. She enjoyed doing that. It seemed to irritate her guests and that was good for the show. She liked having them off-balance.
She looked across the table at today’s guest, past the microphones positioned to record their every sound, and waited. He wasn’t speaking, so she prompted him. “Are you just some wacked out dude from Tulsa like Fox News says? Or are you really the son of God?”
J.C. sat there compulsively stuffing peanut M&M’s one by one into his mouth until the entire pack was gone. He looked like he was about to vomit. Tess was starting to think he had spaced completely when he swallowed the last one and finally spoke, his voice soft, nearly inaudible. “Thou sayest.”
She waited to see if there was more. When there wasn’t she shrugged and gave a signal to her producer. His voice came to her through the wireless earpiece—“Commerical!”—then her theme song, “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer, fired up. She clamped the cigar between her teeth, jumped to her feet, and began dancing, gyrating around the room.
J.C. watched her, seeming to be getting more and more agitated. “Oh for God’s sake,” he muttered, then his voice suddenly rose to a shout. “Sit down!” She stopped moving and gaped at him. His eyes were wide, wild. “And put out that freaking cigar!”
He stood, walked over to her, and snatched the cigar out of her mouth. He threw it to the floor and stomped it flat. “Do you know what these things do to your lungs? 2,000 years ago we didn’t know anything about them, but things have changed. Why would you do this to yourself?” She spluttered. He scoffed and reached out, laying his palm on her forehead.
Tess felt a warmth gush out from her forehead through her body, all the way to the tips of her fingers and toes. It was almost sexual—no, it was beyond anything she’d ever felt. She moaned softly, then gasped. None of her nighttime customers had ever made her feel like that, much less a guest on her daytime show. J.C. laughed at her, but it wasn’t an amused laugh.
“Your lungs are whole now,” he said. His voice was calmer. A muscle below his left eye began to twitch. He paused then turned toward the door and said, “Come with me.”
Her producer’s voice came over the earpiece telling her they’d be live in 30 seconds. “What do you mean, ‘come with me’? We have a show to do.”
J.C. turned back and shook his head. He was trembling. His eye was still twitching, and it was getting worse. She could hardly look at him. He held out a hand to her, palm up. “I have to go. Come with me. Please.”
She looked at her producer behind his window. He was holding up five fingers. Then four. Three. She took her earpiece out and laid it on the desk. She followed J.C. out the door just as Donna Summer began to play again, her voice distant and tinny through the discarded earpiece.
“You made the right choice,” said J.C. as they emerged into the noontime sun. “More than 850 years ago a Benedictine nun named Florentina von Thenwick made a similar choice and look where she ended up.”
“I don’t know who that is.” He shrugged. “I just want to know who you are. You never answered my question. You can’t be Jesus Christ if you were talking to nuns 850 years ago. I know enough Bible to know that. What about the Second Coming and the Rapture and Revelation and all that?”
“That’s already happened,” he said, shuddering. “The thousand years are almost over and no one knows it but me. I’ve been here almost the entire time and no one has even noticed.” He chuckled bleakly and held up the empty candy wrapper he had been holding all this time. “And to make it worse I’m out of M&M’s.” He closed his eyes and emitted a wail of despair.
“Calm down,” said Tess. “I’ll buy you some M&M’s if you’ll just stop howling.”
“Look around you, Tess,” J.C. said. “The shootings, the corruption, the pain. There’s such an epidemic of sorrow. Sometimes it feels like it’s beyond even my ability to bring peace to this world.”
“I thought you were the Messiah, though. Isn’t that supposed to be your jam?”
“Of course it is!” he shouted, then cringed. “I’m sorry. Sometimes it’s too much, though. I don’t think I can handle it.”
Her eyes softened. “Take this cup away from me,” she murmured.
“Yes,” he said. “Andrew Lloyd Webber. Hell of a song.”
“I was thinking more about Luke,” said Tess.
“Either way, it’s the same now as it was then; it’s still too much.” He covered his face and his shoulders began to shake.
Looking around, Tess saw something that made her eyes narrow and she got an idea. She reached out and shook J.C. until he looked up. “I know how you can help,” she said. She pointed across the street, where a pair of teenaged girls were following an elderly man down the sidewalk. “You know how that’s going to end up?”
He nodded, eyes red, tears streaking his cheeks.
“Maybe you can’t heal the whole world. Take it one person at a time, then. Help him, then go on from there.” When he didn’t respond, she said, “You aren’t ready to be a messiah yet, but maybe you can settle for being a superhero.”
He thought about it, watching the girls as they began to make their move. He threw his candy wrapper in a trash can and began to cross the street, then turned back to Tess, determination in his eyes. He held out a hand to her, palm up.
“Come with me.”