I approached this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck with a healthy dose of self-doubt. I tend to be a bit long-winded when I write, and the limitation of 1000 words spread out into 10 chapters felt tailor-made to put the screws to my brain. I pondered on it, meditated on it, kicked around about four or five different story ideas before finally arriving at one I liked and then mutating it into something horrifying.
Honestly, I don’t know if my short stories are trending dark because I’m writing comedy or if I wanted to write comedy because I’ve got these dark stories bubbling up. One way or another, this one’s probably the darkest yet, and I don’t really know what to make of it except to let you know that this is all artifice and is probably the product of too many crime procedurals and alien movies.
I wasn’t sure about the first person viewpoint, but I didn’t know how else to write it.
In fact I’m not sure about the story as a whole. I just don’t know if it works. But this blog is not about what works, it’s about THE WORK. So here’s the latest. Like all my short stories thus far, it’s edited only a little bit (mostly to get down to the word limit). If you’re out there, let me know what you think.
Coming in at 1000 words on the nose:
The First Wave
Things aren’t supposed to happen like this.
I’m a scout, not a soldier, but the link has been silent so long that they must think I’m dead or lost.
It’s been almost eleven months since I was last contacted. The feeling is unmistakable. A tingling at the back of the neck, a rush of blood to the head, and then a ringing in the ears that means a transmission is coming. The body becomes a lightning rod for sensation, and underneath the sensory rush that follows, the messages can be heard.
So when my skin tingles while I’m waiting in line at the Starbucks to sample my two hundred thirty – third flavor/texture combination, I know in an instant that I’m not forgotten, that today may be the day it begins.
But something’s wrong. The waitress notices me. Looks at me for half a second too long, the way you look at a misspelled sign. You know what it’s supposed to say, what it should look like, but it’s wrong, and you pause to process it. She smiles to cover it – very cagey – but I know what she saw.
Maybe she doesn’t know, though, so I ask for her phone number and she gives it to me, scribbling it artlessly on my coffee sleeve. I return her empty smile and beat it out of there, cursing myself. She distracted me, and I missed the transmission. I can only hope they’ll send it again.
Back home I scan all the frequencies and search my residence for signs of contact, but come up empty. The receptors are as blank as they’ve been for months, their green glowing grids blipping ceaselessly. Maybe the shiver was a false alarm.
But if that’s so, what did she see?
A tap at the window wakes me up. I fly to the sill and throw it open, and the freezing air smashes me in the face. No signs of life on the ledge or on the street below. I don’t look up; never up. If I look up and they’re there, then it’s over. If I look and there’s nothing, it only reminds me I’m alone.
I’m so tired from loneliness. Tomorrow I’ll call that waitress, even though I’ll probably have to kill her.
Somebody was here last night. Whoever it was took something or… moved something or… I don’t know what it is, but there’s a wrongness here, pressing outward against the walls, an over-inflated balloon ready to burst. I tear the apartment to pieces looking for what’s lost but it’s gone, stolen, maybe destroyed.
I remember that I have to call that waitress. She can’t see my place like this – it looks like a lunatic lives here. I methodically put everything back exactly the way it was before I lost it. I even put the dirty dishes back on the table. It only takes me three hours.
We met for sandwiches. I asked why she didn’t want to meet for coffee like normal humans do and she looked at me like I was stupid. I’m not stupid; just because you serve coffee doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a coffee. I think she thought I was joking because she laughed, her pretty cheeks stretching back the corners of her mouth.
When she left me, the transmission came through clear as day. The time is not right. She cannot interfere. I tried to question them, but as ever, my words spiraled out into the ether, and no further directions were forthcoming. I was, as always, on my own.
It’s unsettling how little people look out for their own safety. Lock the front doors, lock the windows, and call it a night. But my waitress doesn’t lock her balcony door, and she only lives on the 7th floor. A quick shin up the fire escape, a shimmy along the ledge to her window, and I’m with her. Granted, most people wouldn’t risk their necks on this three-inch concrete outcrop, but thoughts of my own mortality were taken from me long ago.
It smells of her, and it smells of coffee, and I’m overcome by sadness and doubt. In a few moments, she’ll be gone; all that she is and was and ever might be will be erased. For a long moment I pause at her bedroom door, my hand slick on the handle, the blade humming in my pocket.
The act sickens me. I’m on her before she’s even awake, the silver sings across her throat, and my hands clamp down on her windpipe as the life sprays out. In seconds, she’s gone, but I stay there, holding her, hyperventilating.
The parasites ooze out of my ears and flow down my arms in a grey-green river, mingling with the blood and rushing in through the smile in her neck. The horrible sucking sound of their ingress turns my stomach until I hear it, the transmission again, whispering under the tumult in my brain.
And I understand. I’m not scouting for the first wave. I am the first wave. It begins with me.
Giddy with hope and purpose, I convey her body delicately out onto the balcony, where she will find the moonlight that she needs. I stay with her until the sun is almost up, then I leave. She’ll need some time.
The next day, she is back at work. I order number two hundred thirty-four, and she smiles at me knowingly. They are hard at work in her. I smile back and drink my coffee thoughtfully. The sweetness is almost too much to bear.
I step outside and feel the sun on my shoulders. I look up, for the first time in a lifetime. They’re not up there. But I’m not alone anymore.
A woman, engrossed in her phone conversation, bumps me, dropping her armload of papers. I help her pick them up, but when I hand them back to her, she looks at me for a little too long. I feel my neck start to tingle.