It’s Thursday, the day I normally post my entry for Wonderful Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge — but I’m on the road, in Texas, thinking very non-fiction-writing thoughts and doing very non-fiction-writing-like things. So there’s no way I can write anything at the last minute, let alone post it, right? I’m way, way out of my normal routine and comfort zone, so I can just skate and bail this week, right? Y’all (I am in Texas) just want to see pictures of some weird Texas birds I saw today, right? Thanks!
Wait! What’s that? If I’ve got thousands of songs on my iPad I can easily get a random title to use in this week’s Challenge? If I can listen to the Kings game over the internet and harass friends on Facebook with my laptop, then I can write and post?
Stupid technology. Stupid, stupid, dumb technology! If you want me, I’ll be over here in the corner, sulking and writing. My random song is Sugarland’s “Down In Mississippi.” The resulting story is a little long, but it’s a lot shorter than it was before the first two editing passes. At 23:45, there won’t be a third editing pass.
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated. I hope you enjoy it.
DOWN IN MISSISSIPPI
There was a great roaring noise filling the universe as consciousness returned. There was pain and no doubt a whole boatload of it, but for whatever reason, it was off over there in his brain, waiting its turn to command his immediate attention. He was grateful, since the noise was really making it hard to focus right now.
The noise was like a spike driven right between his eyes, but after what could have been half a second or half a year, it modulated into some individual components. Over the top of everything was a whine, a howling, a high-pitched ringing. It was gradually diminishing and underneath it he could now hear a lower pitched body of sound that ebbed and flowed, swinging in magnitude between peaks and inaudibility. During one of the quieter moments, he started to make out sharp, staccato grunts and heavy breathing.
It was hard to care about what was causing it all although he knew he really should. Even though his thinking was fogged and fuzzy, he was sure bad shit was happening. All of that pain didn’t just come out of nowhere. It would be really easy to just leave the noise and the pain behind, slipping quietly back into the dark, quiet place he had come from.
Something hit him hard. The pain claimed its place on the top of the attention span manifest. It threatened to push him rudely right back over the edge, but he was stubborn and didn’t want to go there if it wasn’t his choice. He fought it. The pain got pushed back just far enough to get some focus.
Clues dropped into place. He realized there were people around him, fighting. He must be on the ground. Someone had just tripped over him, or been knocked down on top of him. There was little satisfaction in knowing that the “bad shit” assessment had been correct. The ground was a bad place to be.
He tried opening his eyes, but only one of them responded. The left eye was swollen shut, although he could see light coming in blurry flashes. But the right eye opened and the magnitude of the bad shit became clearer.
He pushed himself up onto an elbow. All the pain rushed to the back of his head. He reached back and felt blood. Despite that, it was a relief to be moving.
Through the ringing he recognized his name being shouted. “Tommy! Tommy, can you get up? We need a little help here! Tommy, you gotta get up!”
He was trying. The shouting came from behind him, where fighting sounds continued. What the hell was going on here?
It was dark, a handful of streetlights shedding some illumination. They were in a garbage filled alley with dark buildings all around. Another voice was shouting his name now. Above it all, the roar from the crowd of onlookers swelled as he got to his knees. He could just make out a few figures in the shadows, but there had to be more that he couldn’t see.
As he finally got to his feet, someone came rushing at him like a linebacker going after the quarterback. His body reacted before his addled brain could interfere. In one smooth motion Tommy stepped aside, grabbed the attacker’s head, and pulled it down to meet Tommy’s upcoming knee. The resulting thud and scream as the attacker’s nose broke was worth the explosion of pain the action created in Tommy’s head.
Bending over to steady himself, his hands on his knees, he heard someone yell, “Tommy! Get down!” Dropping to a knee, he felt the whoosh of something swinging through the space his head had just occupied. He stood back up and spun, coming face to face with the guy holding the baseball bat.
Tommy was inside the arc of the second swing as the attacker swatted agin. The backhand stroke had much less force. Tommy grabbed the bat and wrenched it away as he kneed the attacker in the groin. Now armed with the bat, Tommy left the second man howling on the ground with a broken arm.
Looking around with his one functioning eye, Tommy saw three of his friends fighting five strangers. There were six other guys on the ground, the two that Tommy had just put there and four others. The attackers looked like gang members, street thugs.
The bat he was holding was slippery. Tommy could see blood running down the handle, blood that might have come from the back of his head. That would explain a lot.
Adrenaline helped to push the pain away as Tommy moved toward his friends. Through the ringing in his ears he was finally hearing sirens approaching.
Coming up behind a clueless teenager who was trying to punch his friend, Tommy used the bat to smash the side of the kid’s knee. The kid went down screaming. It was now a four-on-four fight.
The alley lit up with flashing blue and red lights. Two police cars skidded to a stop behind him. The four thugs and the crowd rooting for them all started running the other way, only to be cut off with a pair of cars pulling up there as well.
“Everybody freeze! Biloxi police! Drop your weapons and put your hands in the air! Now!” The sound from the loudspeakers echoed off the alley walls. Spotlights from the four cars quickly lit up the alley.
Tommy dropped the bat and raised his hands. He saw that his friends had done the same.
More cars pulled up at both ends of the alley, along with a couple of ambulances. Tommy hoped someone would hurry so he could pass out again.
Out of the bright lights and confusion behind his friends, Tommy saw four very large MPs approaching, accompanied by a group of paramedics. Tommy recognized the MP who came over to him with his handcuffs out. The MP stopped when he saw all of the blood on Tommy’s head, neck, and back.
“If you promise to get me an aspirin out of one of those ambulances,” Tommy said, smiling, “I promise not to run away. Deal?”
“What the hell happened here, Gunny?” asked the surprised MP.
“Hell if I know. I must have slept through the opening act. It doesn’t matter to me if you take us back to Keesler or those guys take us to Biloxi, but I could really use that aspirin.”
With that, Tommy’s knees buckled and he went back to the dark, quiet place with no ringing ears and no blinding pain.