After the absence of an “official” Flash Fiction Challenge last week (which left me to revisit an earlier Challenge on my own, just because) this week we’re back to normal. Our new Flash Fiction Challenge is to write 2,000 words using a list of items given to us at random by the @YouAreCarrying Twitter bot. Send a tweet of simply the word “inventory” to @YouAreCarrying and it will tweet back a list of items you are carrying as if you were a character in an old Infocomm text adventure game.
You remember these, right? “You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.” That sort of thing, so…
Adventuring we go! As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
I spun around as the sound of movement in the bushes behind me sent my pulse racing. There was nothing there, but just to be sure, I took my big stick and poked it into the shrubs again and again. Something loped off across the plaza on the other side, but I didn’t get a good look at it.
(Are you scared?)
I was tired, hot, thirsty, and hungry, a quadruple threat. I didn’t know where I was, how I got there, or how to get out. I just knew that I had to find Her, wherever She might be and whatever might be trying to keep us apart.
(Why do you seek Me?)
Walking around the end of the row of shrubs I could see a food court of some kind on the far side of the plaza to my left. Despite my hunger and thirst, I did not trust what I saw there. To my right the path wound up around the side of a hill and out of sight. Ahead of me, in the shade of a large tree, was a large billboard with a map.
(Where are you going?)
I approached the billboard. There was a red “You Are Here” icon, but it was jumping all around the map at random. From a faint, faded memory I recognized some of the building icons in one corner. Holding up the piece of paper I had found, I could see where the icons printed there matched, right down to the unfamiliar kanji written next to them. When the bouncing icon went into the matching corner of the billboard, a small icon also showed up on my paper, only to disappear when the billboard icon jumped to someplace not shown on my paper.
(Why are you here?)
Off in the distance to the right came another roar. There was a growing rumble, building to a crescendo of mechanical clanking and high-pitched screaming, quickly fading away. After it had gone I could briefly hear faint singing, beautiful and fulfilling, as if the sky itself was celebrating some joyous event. I had been hearing those sounds or something like them coming from different directions ever since I got here.
(When was that?)
I had been making turns to keep away from the roaring sounds, but that obviously wasn’t getting me anywhere. I turned to the right and started climbing the hill. I was quickly out of the shade and into the open sunlight. The air was still with only a tiny breeze, a bit sticky and humid, starting to get warm. The hill was bigger and steeper than it had appeared and soon I was breathing hard and sweating. I pulled the piece of ripped fabric from my back pocket and wiped my face.
(Why are you carrying a piece of a towel?)
As the hill rose I could finally see something of the area around me, for all the good it did. Everything outside of the immediate vicinity was blurred and indistinct, robbed of detail, reduced to mere shapes and colors. There were large, multi-colored structures stretching up into the sky in all directions. Glimpses of movement appeared and vanished on the structures, but no matter how I tried to watch them and follow their paths I couldn’t make any sense of them. My universe had been hidden from me behind warped and imperfect lenses. I thought I might have lost my glasses; when I tried to touch my face I couldn’t tell if I was wearing them or not.
(Are you sure you even wear glasses?)
The roaring and screaming sound came again, louder this time, from somewhere on the hill above me. Almost immediately it came again, slightly different, from down the hill behind me, and again, again different, from down the hill in front of me. I couldn’t hear any words in the screaming, just a chorus of shrill shrieks. With each pass of noise again came the accompanying wordless, voiceless songs of promise and hope.
(What do they know that you need to learn?)
At the point where my path reached its highest point on the hill I could see a crossroads. The road I was on ran straight ahead down to the trees on the other side, while a steep set of steps went down the hill to the right. Up the hill to the left was a steep, rocky footpath fading into weeds and scraggly scrub pines. Next to the intersection was a mailbox. When I got near, I saw something or someone run up and put something in it, before vanishing down the stairs leading down the hill to the right.
(Who or what is out there with you?)
I approached the mailbox and reached to open it. A feeling of impending doom came over me and I snatched my hand back. The source of the fear was unclear, but it got worse as I came closer to the mailbox. It was déjà vu, as if I had been here before and done this repeatedly in the past, even though I couldn’t remember any details. I took three quick steps back.
(What are you afraid of?)
After thinking about the problem, I pulled the nasty knife out of the sheath on my belt. Using pieces of my shoelaces I attached it to the end of the big stick, making a crude spear. Feeling more confident yet still cautious, I used the tip of the nasty knife to pull open the mailbox door. As soon as the door fell open I rammed the spear into the mailbox with all of my strength.
(Do you think you’re clever now?)
The knife stuck into something which began to writhe and struggle inside the mailbox. I held onto the big stick for dear life, leaning my weight into the attack. Soon the thrashing began to subside and a thick, yellow fluid ran out of the mailbox. Gradually the unseen grip on the knife was released, while a large cloud of purple smoke spewed out of the mailbox door and flew away on the slight breeze. There were indistinct and threatening forms in the smoke but I kept upwind and clear of them.
(What have you done now?)
Holding the makeshift spear at the ready, I peered cautiously into the mailbox. All that could be seen there was an envelope. The earlier dread had disappeared, replaced by anxious anticipation. After looking around to make sure I was still alone and safe, I reached in and took the envelope, opened it, and pulled out the single sheet of paper it held.
(Do you really want to know what it says?)
On the paper, in printed block letters, was a cryptic message. “TO STAY SAFE, GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM. TO BE STRONG, GO DOWN THE STEPS TO THE RIGHT. TO BE LOVED, CONTINUE ON AHEAD. DO NOT GO UPHILL TO THE LEFT FOR YOU DO NOT YET DESERVE THAT PATH.” As I read it, the words faded and the paper turned to dust, following the purple smoke onto the rising winds.
(Can you choose wisely?)
I wanted to be angry, to scream into the sky and vent all of my frustrations, to throw a huge temper tantrum. I didn’t know if I was playing a game and I didn’t know what the rules might be, but this was completely unfair. I wanted to be safe, loved, and strong altogether. It was cruel to make me choose one over the others. There had to be a way to get it all and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I found it.
(Who told you that life was fair and why did you believe them?)
I peered down the three paths to see if I could get any further clues about what they held. The afternoon grew warmer and more uncomfortable as my vision remained blurred and indistinct. The thunder, screaming, and singing continued periodically around me, but brought no insight or additional knowledge. Trapped by my uncertainty and indecision, I found myself unable to move.
(Why can’t you have faith in yourself?)
Staring once again at the three roads and contemplating the choices of strength, love, and safety, I finally resolved to pick one at random and move onward. As I started to chant, “Eenee, meeny, miney, moe,” I desperately wished for an alternative to the three paths before me. That’s when I stopped chanting and turned to look at the rocky path leading up the hill. I knew with certainty She was up there somewhere.
(You’re not about to do something foolish, are you?)
At first, anger drove me on. The accusation of being unworthy stung my pride. The assumption of my failure filled me with a desire to confront my adversary and prove them wrong. I began to walk up the hill, the path quickly turning to nothing more than a rabbit trail. Thorns and tumbleweeds closed in from both sides and at times I was forced to hack a path through them with the nasty knife or push them back with the big stick. Progress was slow and sometimes painful. At one point I looked back to see how far I had come from the crossroads, but it had vanished into the warped and distorted distance.
(Why did your ego lead you to turn your back on strength, love, and safety?)
As I climbed, the periodic sounds gradually grew louder and more distinct. The roaring and clanking became more mechanical and less like distant thunder. The shrill screaming started to differentiate into distinct voices, intermixed with laughter. The music that followed kept me moving when the anger and rage began to fade, replacing them with passion.
(Why do you believe you’re worthy when you were told you weren’t?)
Near the crest of the hill the sounds began to be accompanied by visions. Looking up high into the sky above, some of the gigantic colored structures could be seen stretching upward toward the clouds. With each roar and scream I could now see something large moving past at high velocity, sometimes briefly blotting out the sun. The source of the singing was now getting closer, apparently near the ground just ahead.
(Will you accept the consequences of what you’re doing?)
I broke out of the brush into a large open field at the top of the hill. A white house stood at the center. On the porch sat a Woman in a rocking chair. She was neither old nor young, plain nor beautiful, but while She was relaxed and rocking back and forth, an incredible feeling of strength radiated from Her. I walked toward her and then stopped at the bottom of the steps leading up to the porch.
(Now that you have found Me, what do you wish of Me?)
“I am asking You for Your help,” I said. “I do not know where I am or how to go home. You are the singer, but I do not understand Your song. Please tell me who You are.”
(Would you believe Me if I told you I’m a muse, your muse?)
“I don’t know if I can believe or not. Trust and faith are hard for me. But I need Your help. I can’t do it by myself.”
(Why do you think you’re alone? Why do you talk only of your needs? What of Mine?)
“I don’t know what I have that I can give to You. I don’t know what it is You might want or need.”
(Do you value the black pearl necklace you are wearing?)
I fingered the necklace, counting the pearls on the string as if it were a rosary. “Do You want it? I will give it to You if You wish.”
(Do you know what it will cost you? Do you know the pearls are your spirit, your passion, your energy, your life, your soul? Do you still wish to give it to Me?)
Without hesitation, I took off the black pearl necklace. I took one step up onto the porch and placed it on Her lap.
(Very well, I will help you. The dark sounds of the world, the rumblings and the thunder, they will make you aware of the dangers in the world and you will know fear. The shrieks of happiness and laughter will give you the hope and joy to carry on despite the fears. My songs will be there when you listen and have faith, not to give you wisdom, but to let you see the wisdom you already have.)
I nodded and took a deep breath, feeling refreshed and good for the first time in recent memory. I looked at the Muse and saw the strength, love, and safety in Her gaze and Her belief and faith in me. “How do I go home?”
(Use the shiny key in your pocket. It will unlock any door, if you allow it.)
“But I don’t know where the door is.”
(It’s wherever you allow it to be and make it exist. You’re the writer and the creator. Write. Create.)
Behind Her I now noticed the front door, boarded up. I walked over to it and pulled off the two slats crossed like an “X” on the frame. Reaching into my pocket I found the shiny key and inserted it into the lock.
Turning the key, the door swung open into infinity.