Hey, you gorgeous ones! So, as some of you probably know, this week I launched a Patreon campaign to help fund some of the short fiction I like to write, but generally don't get to for various reasons. One of the perks of becoming a Patreon Patron of your favorite Pajamazon is that you get to have some creative control. I'll write 1000 word stories (flash fic) twice per month and YOU--assuming you're a Patron--get to tell me what to write. Please check out the link, pledge if you can, and get in on the fun.
It's been a long time since I played with flash fiction, but I'm really excited for today.
For those who don't know, flash fic is a short story (1000 words or less) that is written on the fly. My personal rules: shave for word count if necessary, but otherwise, no editing. Write it. Post it. Leave it alone. Part of the art form, to me, is making it quick and in the moment. No fiddling or tweaking. Just raw story.
So here it is, the long-awaited return of Flash Friday here on the Pajamazon blog. Since the Patreon is still getting up and running, this week I decided to go with a favorite prompt mine... I went to Chuck Wendig's blog. Last week's challenge involved random titles chosen from the tables provided (see link). I rolled up a few options with the old 20 sider, posted five of them to the Patreon account, and this is the title that was selected for me. So let's see what happens....
Executioner's Junction by Jamie Wyman
Kade stalked into the saloon after another day's labor. His boots thunked and the wood slats of the floor creaked beneath his weight. The sounds were enough to raise the heads of a few nearby folks. If they recognized him, though, they didn't say so. Just went back to their libations.
Sally behind the bar gave him a half-smile, the only kind of smile to be found in this joint on most days. Kade nodded a greeting before lumbering across the room to take up a stool.
“Usual, Kade?” Sally asked.
“Just so, girl. Just so.”
She poured him a glass of bourbon—two fingers over three cubes of ice. The old saying that there ain't no ice in Hell? Sally made certain to prove that one wrong on a daily basis.
While the barmaid tended to her business, Kade let his eyes drift up to the mirror. It'd been broken in several places over the ages. A spiderweb of seams here. A rippling vortex of circular cracks that indicated a bottle or a skull smashing into the glass. But the thing had never shattered. Much like the patrons of this particular establishment, the mirror was scarred but refused to crumble.
Through the shards and warped images in the glass, Kade started to make out faces in the crowd behind him. Most of them were familiar. Jesse, a good man even if he did wear a star on his chest. The slim sheriff kept a table with the hangman from Essex. Bulky fellow still wore his hood. Never took it off, even among friends as he was.
The sharks were in again. At least that's how Kade thought of them. A tight throng of stocky men in matching gray suits kept to a booth at the rear of the bar. Bulges at their backs or sides indicated that they had their guns tucked away rather than on the table as on some nights. A tiny mercy. Kade hated it when those louts got liquored up and started firing off their mouths. Tonight they kept each other busy with quiet conversation.
Their voices were indistinguishable in the quiet din. Like mourners at a funeral, those who spoke kept to hushed tones lest they disturb those who needed quiet contemplation. And silent ones there were. They always ended up here. The men with skin dark as cinders and eyes like coffee. Scimitars at their sides gleamed with wicked promise. Or the Viking, his blond hair scraping the rafters and his axe dragging on the floor. Or the man who just referred to himself as Black Ops.
All of them came from different places, different eras and creeds. But each of them walked the same path by day and danced with the same demons at night. The sharks called it wet work. Men like Jesse and Essex called it justice. Black Ops called it money. No matter what name you put on the job, the end result was still the same.
“Oh God!” a threadbare voice shrieked over the noise.
Heads swiveled to the front of the room to see what all the fuss was about.
The kid standing in the doorway couldn't have been more than twenty if he was a day old. The camouflage fatigues fit him too loosely, like the boy hadn't been eating much of late. Black hair shaved to nearly nothing, a nose slightly too large for his thin face and a stare of abject horror. He gazed at his shivering hands like they didn't belong on his body. Like he had no control over the acts they committed.
Kade knew that look. Remembered seeing it in the mirror—his own and the one behind Sally—too many times to count.
The boy cried out again, this time without any words.
No one moved. Just watched. This was the cover charge to get into the saloon. Your tab would be paid up for all of time, but this terrible ritual would be the cost.
When he came to some of his senses, the boy realized a room full of motley folks watched him break and crack. His inky eyes darted from face to face, seeking redemption. That was the one spirit Sally didn't keep on hand.
“I didn't want to do it,” the boy called out. “I didn't want to! Oh God! Why did I do it?”
The shakes spread from his hands to his limbs. Soon his whole body quaked. Veins bulged at his temples and in his throat. Tears welled in his eyes. Then the sobs started. They didn't last long but turned into screams.
With a sigh, Kade took to his feet. He downed the rest of his bourbon. A couple dozen pairs of eyes watched as he tracked across the room and stood over the breaking newcomer.
“Sergeant Elijah Kade,” he said, bringing his hand up in a crisp salute.
The boy's Adam's apple bobbed. His eyes focused on the insignia on Kade's shoulder, then he snapped to attention. “Sir! Private First Class Wolfson, sir!”
“At ease. We don't bother with that here.” After a silence filled only with Wolfson's rapid breathing, Kade asked, “Was it your first?”
Wolfson nodded. Sick revulsion twisted in Kade's gut as he watched the raw torment twist the boy's face. “There were...civilians. Children.”
Wolfson straightened his spine, chin rising. “Terminated, sir.”
Kade nodded woefully, then put his hand on the kid's shoulder. “Come on, son. Let me get you a drink. It only gets harder from here.”