This week at Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge, we’re back to one of my favorite games, the group sequential writing project. We’ve done these a couple of times (starting here and here) and I’ve enjoyed them a great deal.
The concept is simple – this week we all write the beginning of a story. Next week, we’ll all look through everyone else’s Act One posts, pick one we like, and write the Act Two for it, advancing the story, but not finishing it. Then Act Three, followed by Act Four where we’re now working with roughly 3,000 words from three other writers and finding a way to wrap it up.
This time around we’re allowed to make each act a bit longer than before, up to 1,000 words. I got this scene in my head full blown as I was having an orange at lunch and I really like how it turned out. I’m looking forward to seeing what someone else can do with it next week!
BEACH ROAD (Act One)
She peeled the orange slowly, cautiously. Her eyes were moving constantly, wary, nervous, darting between the fruit and her surroundings.
She had found the orange in the bottom of a rank and disgusting refrigerator. Everything else in there had long ago gone bad, rotting long before the door had been left ajar by some previous looter. At least one person had cleaned all of the canned goods out of the kitchen, leaving nothing but broken glass and debris.
Somehow the small fruit had been overlooked, and despite the fungal paradise above it, it seemed to be more or less edible. Four months ago she wouldn’t have touched it on a dare, but today it was a feast.
Eating carefully to make sure not a drop of juice was spilled, she watched the sand dunes for any sign of unusual movement. A few gulls wheeled and drifted on the breeze, some of them diving into the surf for fish, but all of them too leery to let her get anywhere near.
The sudden loss of scraps and garbage as a food source had decimated the gull and pigeon populations. Being trusting, fat, and slow had not helped. But the survivors were no longer any of those things. That made them much harder to catch.
Just like her.
Shouldering her pack, she started south along the beachfront road, keeping her head on a swivel. Ahead, behind, to her left. Occasionally she would glance to the right, checking the beach and surf. She had never known an attack to come from the sea. But there was always a first time.
Travelling along the coast had its benefits and its hazards. It did let her focus on just three directions, but it also could leave her trapped against the sea. So far it had worked. Opportunities to experiment with strategies were limited. The price of failure was extreme.
After the road rose for a mile, climbing a hundred feet above the beach, she reached the top of a small bluff. Ahead, the road sloped down into a large saltwater marsh. A long causeway took the highway straight across to the hills on the far side.
She got down on the ground to avoid being silhouetted against the sky. A precious pair of binoculars let her slowly survey the whole marsh. There was no sign of anything moving other than the sea birds scattered across the mud, weeds, and tide pools. It must be near low tide now, with only a winding channel coming from inland betraying where the fresh water was meeting the salt.
On the far side, the opposite bluff looked much like the one she was on now. She couldn’t see where the road went once it topped the rise there, but in the distance she could see the coast curving away to the west. She was pretty sure San Diego would be out there somewhere, but in the afternoon haze she couldn’t see any signs to show her where.
Turning her attention back to the bridge, she looked it up and down for any signs of trouble. There were a dozen or more cars scattered along its length, some parked, some crashed, but their arrangement never blocked the bridge completely. It didn’t appear there were any other problems with the route.
At least, no problems other than the fact she would be exposed to anyone else watching the area, and easily trapped out in the open with precious few options once she was crossing. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…
Packing everything back up and making sure it was secure, she balanced the pack carefully in case she had to start running while wearing it. She also got herself mentally prepared to abandon it if it came to that. She checked to make sure her knives were ready, then set off down the hill.
There was enough low brush to give her some cover away from the road and the slope wasn’t severe, so she stayed off the road. While the grassy brush didn’t give her a tremendous amount of cover, it also didn’t give much cover to anything else.
Reaching the bottom of the hill she found a small stream, a branch off from the main river snaking through the weeds to the sea. She took a moment to drink and fill her water bottles. The extra weight would be a problem if she had to run, but the extra water might save her life if it stayed dry on the other side.
Crouching in the brush at the side of the first causeway segment, she paused one last time to check for any signs of danger. She couldn’t see anything moving other than the birds, including the largest flock of blue herons she had ever seen. At least they were doing better than the gulls and pigeons.
Listening and hearing nothing but the sound of the surf a quarter-mile away and her own nervous breathing, she prepared to make her move. Keep moving, keep steady, don’t run and waste energy until you had to. Stay alert and keep track of anything that might serve as cover if needed. Be quick, but don’t hurry.
Just as she started to move, a distant sound caught her attention. Puzzled, she stopped for a few seconds before scrambling back to her previous position in the bushes. Straining to hear over the soft sounds of the wind and distant surf, the metallic sound drifted and faded before coming back from somewhere far ahead of her. It started to slowly grow louder.
Pulling out the binoculars again, she scanned the road and the far hillsides for the source of the unfamiliar sound, but found nothing. Suddenly a glint in the air caught her attention and she shifted her binoculars to the spot. With a gasp she recognized the sound and was torn between being elated and terrified.
The helicopter was flying just a few hundred feet above the road, coming straight for where she was hiding.