As mentioned in my previous post this past weekend the first round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition commenced. And it was 48-hours of craziness. Though the Twitter-verse wasn't as rowdy as usual. Perhaps because of the condensed time and the fact that there are only two more episodes of Breaking Bad left! Priorities. Anywho, for the first round my genre was Action/Adventure, my location was a Castle (which completely threw me as I never write about castles--you can thank Disney for that), and my object was a Bucket.
This was my first idea and it stuck. Don't love it but I think I hit all my bases. And of course it's after you hit the send/post button that you start seeing holes. Augh. Ah well. Thoughts/comments welcome.
I present Ascent:
You were always the favorite.
“That’s not true, Jeremy” Mia mumbles to herself, gulping air as she runs up the stairs. Her lungs feel like they’ll burst. Both her legs start to get that jelly feel as she ascends. In the darkness, each heel on a cobblestone step feels like a badge of honor.
Mia’s side brushes against the railing sending a flame from her right. The burn and stink of torched skin and hair are abundant. Jumping up another step she sucks in a scream, not wanting to hear her pain echo. On the upside, the fire provides the only light she’s seen since she initiated her climb.
The temptation to dose her leg with water from the bucket she carries is thwarted by the knowledge of how important it will become. She tries not to have too much water slosh out.
Mia stumbles, a stone gives way. “Pay attention!” she yells at herself. Her hair sticks to her neck and her bare shoulders; her tank top adheres to her skin. The whole castle, well the ruin it’s become, is a puzzle. A puzzle designed to screw her royal. Her father said it was an artifact remade to push present-day soldiers to the brink, to build the best of the best in lieu of older methods. Another stone crumbles and falls screeching before it hits the ground reminding Mia of how far she doesn’t want to fall.
“Yeah, Jeremy, I’m trying.”
When she said this to him Jeremy didn’t look so sure from his wheelchair. He was her older brother, tall, but no one could tell anymore since he was always seated. He’d made it so far too. Their father was highly opposed to the new methods of testing. But was confident his children would make it out, with a little wear & tear. Then Jeremy returned with broken limbs beyond repair, practically a pretzel. Others came back broken or not at all. The announcement that Mia would be next in line was when her father was found in his office. No note. No reasoning. Just legs dangling, his neck twisted by the cloth tied to a ceiling fan. Mia was glad she hadn’t seen him like that. It wasn’t the Miller way.
Her right leg tucks under her, another cobblestone loosens. Regaining her momentum Mia jerks to the side touching the brick railing, and that’s when something shiny enters her periphery.
Her mind is on Jeremy’s words when she hits the floor. Her chest jams against the stairs inciting a strangled cough. There’s wind against her back and the sound of clothing tearing. A chill hits her skin. Another sting turns into a burn. Craning her neck the pendulum swings back where it came from.
Her attention snaps to the bucket on the step below her, tilted and losing water every second she stares at it. She pushes herself forward avoiding gaps where she senses them.
The castle looked huge when she approached it. A crumbling structure decimated at the top by bombs with pillars and columns’ jagged edges shooting into the sky. She headed inside with no supplies. “You come into this world alone, you leave it alone,” was all she was told.
She wobbles. “Don’t touch anything but the bucket.”
Air gets harder to take in. Her body is an unwanted weight. And that damn bucket. Its rope handles dig into her palm. Water swishes around. She wants to take a drink, bathe in it, dab her wounds. But she can’t, she needs every bit she has.
Mia gulps tapping down the excitement when she feels the last step, the ground above it flattening under her. Her eyes have settled on the darkness. Her hearing and the cool air on her skin are so much more pervasive now.
They wanted me to fail. They’ll try the same for you.
“There’s always a way. I’ll make it. The Millers will be back on top.”
You’re way too hopeful. Just like Dad was.
“That’s a bad thing. Hope?”
Look where it got him.
The thinning of the air this high up. The sting on her back. The scorching throb on her calf. The overall ache of her legs causing her to tilt backwards almost losing her balance. The parch of her throat. All of it is designed for her to fail, like Jeremy said.
Even lifting the bucket makes her heave, like she’s been carrying a boulder instead of water. She readies it, slowly pouring with each step she takes. Each splash confirms there’s ground for her to continue going forward.
And then the splash stops. The droplets descend lower, revealing just what she thought: a gap in the path.
Her boots slip slightly from the wetness on the stones and she finds the edge.
Her legs are unreliable even bending she feels the tremble shake up through her spine.
A curse filters up through her throat along with a gurgle. She sucks back her fear, her anger, the mucus accumulating and spits. At first she hears nothing but the whistle of the wind up this high. And then there it is. Splat. Her saliva hitting the other end of the path.
She doesn’t know how many feet but if she could spit that far, she could jump it. She throws the bucket, hears it soar and bust on the other side.
Mia steps back, readies herself. Another breath, more burning. Running start and up she forces herself to think, to do. When she lands her knees crack against stone. Her face smacks a sharp edge and wetness lines her cheek.
Her arms automatically reach up to touch the barrier. The sear through the air alerts her too late. “Don’t touch the railing,” she reminds herself and in that same moment she’s met with ultimate darkness. The sharpness imbedding itself and the pain searing through her head is immediate.
Mia touches her eyes but is met with the feathery tip of darts. Once again, someone’s failed.