Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the tag “Flash Fiction”

Flash Fiction Challenge: “I was Within and Without”

Today I’m participating in Rachelle O’Neil’s Flash Fiction Challenge again. I received a very interesting prompt from Evan White: “I was Within and Without”, a quote from the 1920s novel The Great Gatsby. These words had to be found in my story at some point.

There’s a story behind this story, one of intense procrastination (and time-consuming biology), six or seven hours of working on a story one day, and two stories written from this prompt.

My first story (one with a much grander feel than the one you’re about to read), I wrote over the course of a few days, but mostly I finished it earlier this morning (because, procrastination and biology). When I finished it, it ended up at 2,363 words; 1,363 words longer than the 1,000 word limit for the Flash Fiction Challenge. For several hours, I worked to edit out those 1,363 words. With around 300 more to go, I let my sister (who had read the lengthy original version) read it again. She (indirectly) told me that the original was better.

For the sake of the story… I dropped it. If it was already worse off, I didn’t want to edit out another 300 words. I reverted that story back to the original word count and set it aside. My faithful readers, you may be able to read that story some other time.

By this time, it was around six o’ clock in the evening, three hours past the suggested deadline to post the Flash Fiction pieces. I grasped for new story ideas, came up with something, and because the day was lengthy already, made cookies (readers, cookies are always helpful) before returning and writing this new story that you are about to read.

After editing out a few words on this new Flash Fiction story, I finally have it ready to post here, with apologies to Rachelle for being late, thanks to my sister Faith, for reading my original and letting me know it was better before, and thanks to Katie Grace, for reading over the second story for me to let me know whether or not it was absolutely horrible.

Now that you know the story behind this story, I do hope you enjoy it.

I was Within And Without

  Gusts of wind rushed through the trees, the blasts of air broken only by branches flung by the wind. I ducked around trees, straightening my leather jerkin. He should have known better than to go out today. Everyone spoke of rainstorms or hurricanes, and in the cliff-strewn forests, safe ground didn’t exist. If he wasn’t somewhere dodging flying trees, he probably lay at the bottom of a ravine somewhere.

But then, that’s why I’m here.

I brushed my hair behind my back and cupped my hands around my mouth. “Matthias!”

The rain hit.

I stumbled under the force of it, the wind catching me and blowing me a few steps forward before smacking me into a tree. Water streamed down my face, blurring my vision. Keeping a hold on the tree, I blinked rapidly, scanning the area. “Matthias!

The wind snatched away my voice. I cast a glare upward in irritation. Child, where are you?

“He-elp!”

The voice, worn thin by the force of the wind, barely reached my ears. “Matthias!”

“Help!”

Ducking low and watching for branches, I sprinted toward the voice. I had to duck once under a branch that nearly snagged my hair, and the rain obscured my vision every few seconds.

When I made it to the edge of the cliff, I nearly fell off.

I scrambled back from the edge, breath catching in my throat and my brain snapping sarcastic comments. Moving more carefully, I knelt and peered over the edge.

The rain lashed at the sandstone over a thirty foot drop, tree roots protruding from the surface. Clinging to one of them, battered, rain-sodden, and gripping the strap of a blue backpack, hung Matthias.

My first glimpse of him as a boy showed him as an average twelve-year-old.

“Matthias!” I shouted.

He looked up. “Help!

“Drop the backpack!”

He shook his head, eyes wide and frightened.

I sighed, swept my dripping hair off of my face again, and scanned the surface of the sandstone. “All right,” I said. “Hold on—I’m coming!”

I slid over the edge, carefully placing my feet on roots and ledges in the sandstone. The wind smashed me against the rough wall, stealing my breath, and I dripped almost as much as the sky. Slowly, I made my way downwards, toward Matthias.  As I neared him, I could see the facial features I knew so well; younger, his hair a few shades lighter, but still him. He shivered, clutching the root with all his might.

“Keep holding on,” I said. “I’m coming.”

The wind thrust me against the sandstone and I smacked my chin against the rock. Warmth spurted out, accompanied by sharp pain. I shook water from my eyes and glanced downward.

Matthias still clung to the root.

Something moved on the edge of my vision, and I sucked in a breath. A tree limb careened through the air. I followed it with my eyes, rapidly glancing between it and the expected place of impact.

Matthias.

“Matthias, let go!”

A fall would be better than an assisted one!

Matthias looked up at me, eyes wide. The tree limb jerked in the wind, and I thought for a moment it would miss him.

It jerked back, crashing into the side of his head. His grip on the root released, and he fell.

Cursing under my breath, I scrambled down the sandstone, slipping more often than not and grasping roots to slow my fall. I hit the ground hard, stumbled, and dashed to Matthias.

Red streaked from both sides of his head, where the tree limb hit and where it smashed his face against the rock. I lifted him as best I could, grunting and grabbing his backpack as an afterthought. Surely there was a cave or sheltered area somewhere around here.

It would be just my luck if there wasn’t.

I was Within and Without. Sheltered Within a world by a depression in the ground ringed by sandstone, I fought Without for breath, life, and, if convenient, no lasting brain damage. The darkness fluctuated, sometimes deepening, but he breathed through the night.

Matthias stirred as dawn lit up the eastern sky. I lay on my back a few feet away, sore in a way both physical and far from it. But he lived; I lived. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Matthias groaned, but as his eyes opened he quieted, gaze darting around. Suppressing a groan of my own, I rose to my feet.

Matthias stared at me for a moment before finally saying, “Thank you.” The fact that he remembered was impressive on its own; the fact that he politely thanked me added to it. “Who are you?”

I smiled, bending over and offering him a hand. “I’m Hope.”

He took it, and I helped him to his feet.

“Matthias,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head.

“I know.”

He glanced at me, uncertainty flickering through his eyes.

“Your books are in the bag. I think they might be ruined.”  He looked wide-eyed toward his backpack, and I laughed under my breath. “If you go straight east, you’ll be home in an hour.”

“…Thanks,” he said.

I smiled. His mannerisms, though younger and more uncertain, were as familiar to me as breathing. I took a deep breath and reached into my jerkin, withdrawing a small blue orb. “Here.”

He took it, turning it over in his hands before looking back at me.

I stared into his equally blue eyes, solemn enough that he gave me his full attention. “You’re going to save the world someday, Matthias Wendell. Don’t forget it. Learn how to use that. When you’re done with it, give it to a little girl named Nadine.”

With an irritated push at my damp hair, I turned and started toward the opening in the rock.

“Hope,” Matthias called, and I turned back. He paused. “Nadine means hope.”

I smiled and nodded. “You’re right.” With another nod and a wave, I turned and jogged off into the forest.

 

Flash Fiction Challenge: One Chance

Today I’m participating in Rachelle O’Neil‘s Flash Fiction Challenge. In this challenge, participants are paired to receive a prompt from a participant, and give a prompt to another. I gave a prompt to Leined, and received this dialogue prompt from (my sister) Caiti Marie.

  “One chance. You know that, right? You have one chance.”

Since I have a certain love for secret agent stories, I decided to write about that. My flash fiction ended up at exactly 1000 words, by Word’s counter. I’d love to hear what you think of it!

One Chance

Photo Source (In the public domain)

Edit: WordPress seems to have eaten my formatting… :/ I’m sorry about that. It should be fixed now.


One Chance

Athelas Hale

Dusk covered the landscape of Western Europe. The last rays of a dying sun cast light upon Henry’s face, illuminating his fingers as he stirred sugar cubes into two cups of tea.

Odd little things. Hardy big enough to take two drinks from, he mused, but kept his commentary silent. Anderson, though he didn’t look like an overly sentimental man, was imperative to the operation. It would be best to avoid antagonizing him—or his country’s teacups.

They only had one chance.

“Of course, you have the codes,” Anderson murmured, voice deep even when quiet.

Henry smiled. “Of course.”

The sun slipped behind the horizon. Henry struck a match and lit two candles in one fluid motion. “You have your authorization?”

Anderson face remained still; no smirk, no frown, no expression. Those types always made Henry edgy.

“Are Americans so idiotic as to think I would come without them?”

Henry extinguished the match and pushed a teacup across the table to Anderson. No comment.

    Anderson glanced at Henry before politely reaching for the tea, and drank nothing. Henry waited.

After briefly pushing his hand into his pocket, Anderson lay several papers on the table.

A breeze from the open window rustled the papers. Henry lay a hand over the pages to steady them, glancing through them with a disinterested face that belied the nerves that fluttered in his stomach.

The open window felt like more than a breach of security, but in an abandoned hotel near a humid river in summer, the building simply became too stuffy to put up with—especially when meeting an agent you hoped to keep on good terms.

Hoped. Henry silently scoffed at the casual word. Desperately needed came closer to the truth.

This mission would be his most important—the agency’s most important. He couldn’t risk failure. Other agents patrolled the building, and no electronics would work within a mile, but there were a million and one things a person could do without electricity.

   Example, fire a gun.

After glancing through the documents, Henry looked up. “Verbal identification.”

Anderson rattled it off flawlessly. Though Henry didn’t smile, he mentally praised the work of the Linguistics. Nothing quite like a barely pronounceable sound for a password—no amount of torture or leak would have enough coaching to reproduce that.

Navajo code talkers all over again. They needed the security just as much.

A case in his pocket, apparently a metal mint box, used a fingerprint to unlock as Henry opened it. Sliding the papers out, he handed them over to Anderson.

For the first time, Henry’s contact smiled, and Henry allowed himself a small relieved breath, though he didn’t relax. It had gone well so far, but this was too important to slip up half way through.

“And the other part?”

Henry rose, both teas untouched, and nodded toward the door. “This way.”

Dust crowded the halls, mold gathering where the dinghy carpet met stained walls. Anderson wordlessly followed as Henry walked through three halls and two staircases. They stepped into the lobby at the bottom.

Broken glass doors opened outside, and long-dead elevators stood to the right.

Henry scanned the room, then glanced to Anderson. “This way.”

“Pardon me,” a French accent said from the direction of the elevator.

Mouth going dry, Henry half-turned. His right hand moved automatically toward his gun. This couldn’t go wrong—not when they were so close.

This building was supposed to be secured.

“No, no,” the man standing before the elevator said. “Don’t trouble yourselves for your weapons, please.”

Clad in black to blend in with the night, with red hair poking out from under the hat, the young man held himself with confidence—down to the cocked automatic in his left hand.

While Anderson swore, Henry smiled. His every instinct focused on the mission, leaving emotions behind. “Hello again, Percy. Or is it Benedict this time?”

How he had gotten past the other agents, Henry didn’t know—he hoped they were all right.

“Neither, this time.” He inclined his head slightly toward Anderson. “But I would like the codes, if you please.”

While the gun seemed relaxed in his hand, Henry knew he could shoot both before either managed to draw.

“Oh, well. Frenchie wants the codes, Anderson.”

“Drop them on the floor, please,” Frenchie politely requested.

Again swearing under his breath, Anderson tossed them.

Gun still trained on Henry and Anderson, Frenchie bent and picked up the papers. “Pleasure,” said he, and walked backwards to the window. Neatly, he slid through the open glass.

Henry was calling for back-up and running toward the window before they heard him hit the ground. Sliding out his gun, he strained his eyes to see.

Clearly, once again, they had a leak. What a joy to work with Intelligence.

It took Drake three seconds to reach the river and launch into the boat.

“Got both,” he told Frederick, dropping the French accent. Automatically, he reverted to his Irish brogue as Frederick powered up the gasoline engine. Their first priority now was speed.

They roared out of there.

By the time they were five miles away, Drake had every code memorized, the papers in ashes on the boat floor, the object in his pocket.

Within minutes, Fred pulled the boat into the harbor and, as they scanned the skies for choppers, both dashed toward the waiting car.

Ten minutes of a lightless car drive later, Fred was dropping him off at a waiting vehicle.

“One chance. You know that, right? You’ve got one chance.”

Drake pushed the door open. “I know.”

Fred almost smiled. “Blow the operation open.”

Drake smiled and temporarily reverted back to his French accent. “As an agent,” he said, “it’s in the pride.”

Stepping out of the car, he paused, dropping the accent. “As a human, I’m not considering the consequences for failure.”

He closed the door as silently as possible, and Fred pulled away. Running the codes through his mind, Drake smiled grimly.

One chance.

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