A flash in the pan
Those of you who are familiar with this site may have noticed the addition of a Flashes page. I wrote most of the flash fiction stories it contains for a weekly contest on a writing site I belonged to, and they've been lying around gathering dust ever since – until now. I figure that someone somewhere might get some enjoyment out of them, so why not share? You never know, I might even write more when I get the chance (1000 words being about as much as I have time to achieve these days).
Anyway, in honour of the occasion, the rest of this blog post will be given over to a piece of flash fiction. This is one of the first I wrote, and it's still one of my favourites (for sheer daftness if nothing else). I hope you like it too.
A Battle of Words
If they caught her doing this, she’d be in trouble for sure.
Shasta looked both ways down the dingy backstreet, checking for cops and Litters. A flash of green from an open window set her heart stuttering in her chest, but she took a deep breath and willed away the panic. It wasn’t a Litter, just a curtain fluttering in the breeze.
She crossed the street, heading for an alley between two of the tall old buildings. The man she had come to meet was waiting at the far end. His small round face, crumpled like a used tissue, peered out from between his low cap and the upturned collar of his coat. She sidled closer.
“You got it?”
“Yep.” Briefly he lifted aside his coat to reveal the package tucked beneath his left arm. “But it’ll cost ya extra.”
“Don’t mess with me, Joe. I paid upfront, you know that.”
“Things change.” He shrugged. “D’ya want it, or shall I take it elsewhere?”
Sighing, Shasta extracted a folded banknote from her pocket. “All right. I suppose I don’t have any choice.”
She pressed the money into his palm. In response, he drew the cloth-wrapped bundle from his coat. As her fingertips brushed it, a shiver of excitement ran through her.
“You be careful,” Joe said, pulling his cap further over his eyes. “That thing’s dangerous.”
“Don’t worry.” Shasta smiled lovingly at the package, then stowed it in her backpack. “I know exactly what I’m going to do with this baby.”
Back in her two-roomed apartment, Shasta double-locked the door and pulled down the window blind before setting her purchase on the table. Noticing vaguely that her hands were shaking, she pulled aside the wrappings. A brilliant beam of light shot out from under the cloth, catching the motes of dust that hung in the air. She covered it up hastily, her heart doing a funny sort of dance. The Litters weren’t going to know what had hit them.
She fetched her Browner uniform from the wardrobe and laid it out on the table next to the package. Then she went to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. The half-nervous, half-thrilled feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that maybe, just maybe, she had the weapon that could lead her gang to victory.
Next morning, the Browners were on the move before the rim of the sun had crept over the horizon. Clutching her new weapon, Shasta marched with her comrades through the deserted streets. News of the forthcoming battle had spread, convincing the ordinary people of the town to remain indoors. No-one wanted to get caught in the middle of a gang fight.
The Litters were waiting in the town square, a faceless sea of green. They knew themselves as the LitFic gang, but no self-respecting Browner ever called them that. It was always Litters, spoken in disparaging tones. Shasta wasn’t sure why Browners and Litters hated each other so much – it was just something she’d grown up with, like revering the great man who’d given the Browners their name. Either you wore green or you wore brown: it was as simple as that.
There was a rustle and a strong whiff of ink as weapons were readied. Shasta scanned the Litter ranks, trying to assess their strength. She spotted two dictionaries and a thesaurus – the Browners needed to take those out quickly if they didn’t want to lose too many men. Her cousin Paolo fired up the random plot generator; she could sense the rumble of it through her feet.
“Prologue!” Paolo yelled, the signal for the Browners to advance.
“Chapter One!” one of the Litters screamed back, and the battle started.
The initial skirmishes were ferocious but unfocused, much like some of the writing. Story arcs flew in every direction; adverbs were wielded ruthlessly; both sides employed clichés like there was no tomorrow. Shasta ducked as magic realism and pathetic fallacy rained down on her head from the Litters’ catapult, then cheered as the Browners responded with two car chases and a gratuitous sex scene.
Her jubilation didn’t last long. The Litters parted ranks, and a short bespectacled man came striding between them with a wild look in his eyes. Shasta shivered. So the rumours were true: they had an editor. There were gasps of horror as he charged towards the Browners, his red pen slashing through whole sentences with abandon, his war cry of “Show, don’t tell!” ringing in their ears.
It was time to use her secret weapon. With fumbling hands Shasta pushed the wrappings aside, revealing the bright beauty of the two words that lay on the drab cloth.
Taking careful aim, she flung the words over the heads of the Browners in front of her, straight towards the Litter ranks. Yet even as she grinned in satisfaction, an equally glorious and glowing pair of words was hurled by one of the Litters. The retaliatory strike hung in the air for an instant, giving Shasta just long enough to take it in.
Then the two weapons collided above the town square, and the noise of the battle was drowned out by the resulting explosion.
As the smoke and ash began to settle, Shasta became aware of another sound: rotor blades whirring, getting louder and louder. She looked up to see police helicopters arriving, filling the air with their earsplitting noise. Searchlights snapped on, catching Litters and Browners alike in their glare.
“Leave this place and return to your homes.” The loudspoken message reached them through the cacophony. “We are about to take dispersive action.”
Punctuation bombs began falling on the square, detonating in showers of colons and semicolons. Rather than run the risk of an apostrophe in the eye, Shasta took to her heels. But even as she and her fellow gang members fled, she knew they’d be back … just as soon as they found the right words.
If you enjoyed this story then don't forget to check out the rest on the Flashes page!
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