So, last Friday, Chuck Wendig, (our blessed overlord cult leader penmonkey) gave us yet another flash fiction challenge. I admit, the past month I've taken off from the flash because life tends to happen. I really like this week's potential, though, so I'm getting in on it while there's still time. The challenge: Go to this link to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and pick any of the terms that start with the letter M. That selection is both title and concept for your story. You get 1500 words to craft a story around it. Go forth. So, here, kiddies, is my contribution. (as with all of my flash fic, this is hot off the press and unedited. Comments and criticism welcome.)
by Jamie Wyman
Whoever said, “All that glitters is not made of gold,” must have been talking about Samantha Crane. Tonight she’d taken special care in selecting the backless silver dress and matching chandelier earrings. Her eyelids were painted with sparkling make-up. From the Swarovski crystals in her golden hair to the tip of her Jimmy Choo shoes, the woman dazzled the eye. Samantha Crane wasn’t just a pop-star, she was celestial.
So, you can imagine Samantha’s surprise when she woke up to the smells of blood and shit.
Before she could open her eyes, Samantha rolled onto her stomach and wretched, adding a splash of vodka and sickly-sweet orange juice to the fecund odor. Bile tingled at the back of her throat. When she’d caught her breath, she pushed herself upright. Old newspaper shuffled like a bag of dead leaves as she shifted her weight. Samantha found that she was in a nest, meticulously crafted from shredded tabloids, oily rags and braids of human hair.
Panicked, she scrambled backward and wedged herself, knees to ample chest, into a cranny between the nest and a wall. Wet stone pressed cold and hard against her bare back and echoed the sounds of her shaking breath.
As her eyes adjusted, she took in her surroundings. Samantha’s strange bed was at the end of a long tunnel. The brick-and-mortar walls arched over a running stream of wastewater. Here in the sewer, oil and coolant leaked from Mercedes Benzes mixed with the piss of the homeless. Tributaries of this democracy trickled down the tunnel toward the pop star only to cascade through a grate at her feet. The dark, fetid water winked at her, reflecting an amber glow from upstream. It was brighter there. Shafts of light stabbed at her already throbbing head. Samantha, empty from her vomiting, swayed in her seat with a wave of dizziness. She squinted, trying to will the flickering world to be still for even a second.
Further down the pipe was a junction of many tunnels. In the center a fire burned. Shadows danced around it like the ghosts of ancient people, celebrating, willing the gods to take notice. Crackles or pops from the fire accented the drone of the flowing water. Sounds that should have been quiet and calming roared in the confines of the tunnel. Samantha’s own pulse pounding away in her ears added a new voice to the chorus.
Then, one shadow stood out as different from the rest. Darker, more distinct, a shape climbed the wall to form the outline of a scythe. The wicked curve split into two blades and something let out a shriek. Samantha’s hands flew to her ears, but she couldn’t shut out the hunger in that cry. Her blood ran cold as winter. Eyes clamped shut, the starlet rocked herself back and forth, whispering prayers to herself, to God and to her mother.
I’ll be a good little girl. Just let me wake up. I’ll go to church. I’ll give to charity. I’ll even go to rehab, just please let me wake up.
A rushing sound of feathers filled the air around her and hope sprang from a well deep inside her. Her eyes popped open to see the angel of her deliverance.
Obscuring the fire, she saw the silhouette of a tall man, wings stretched out to either side. His head bowed as if he were looking at something on the ground in front of him. The thing let out a shriek again, strained and desperate. The angel was fighting this creature. She was going to make it. She’d call her mother and ask to come visit.
Samantha, invigorated by the presence of a savior got to her feet and jumped into the ankle-deep stream. Barefoot, she splashed toward her dark angel without a thought for what had become of her expensive shoes.
Before she could come within arm’s reach of him, though, those wings jerked and he hopped gracelessly to the side. With a gasp, Samantha stopped dead in her tracks, terrified and enraptured by the sight before her.
Firelight glittered over the crescent of its slender beak and in the black orb that formed its nearest eye. A band of white at its belly and neck marred the mass of inky feathers, alight with the shifting colors of . Skinny, reptilian legs poked out of its abdomen. Both of its three-toed feet were tipped with razor talons.
With another hop, this time toward her, it cocked its head sharply in that strange way birds have of expressing curiosity. She’d seen birds do that before. Birds in cages or on the street. But those birds weren’t nearly six feet tall.
Samantha’s legs threatened to turn to jelly while her mind struggled to comprehend. A bird? A mutant? A man in a suit?
From its throat, the creature made a soft warble. The one eye she could see was transfixed on her and the silver spangles dangling from her ears. Again, it hopped closer to her. If she’d been bold enough, Samantha could have reached out to touch its silken wings.
For a moment of insane peace, the woman was just as hypnotized by the bird as it was by her. She let her eyes fall over its monochrome markings, the elegant lines of its shape.
The peace was broken as it leaned forward. Samantha’s high-pitched scream filled the small chamber. The startled bird spread its wings and hopped backward several paces. Its beak fell open, but it remained silent.
“Stay away!” The shrill cry echoed back to her in a sickening parody of the voice that made her famous.
From somewhere to her left came the sound of shattering glass. Both she and the impossible bird jumped and stared at the source. On the stone floor she could see glistening shards that might have been a decorative vase. Maybe a perfume bottle.
The bird hopped around the fire, its colors shifting with the shadows, and looked down at the broken bauble. It brought one eye up to her and Samantha was sure that was angry.
Suddenly, the thought sprang to her mind. The glass had fallen from somewhere. Maybe it was a way out. She looked up into the vaulted junction ceiling. Above her were endless flashes of light. A mirror ball, compact discs, mp3 players, sequined scarves, earrings without their mates, a single bejeweled flip-flop, rings, bracelets, watches, barrettes. Suspended from the darkness was a collection of glittering shit. Trash that had been flung out the car window, tossed aside at the bus stop or just lost along the way. She saw her shoes stuffed into a crack in the wall.
“Hey!” she yelled. “Those are mine!”
Flapping its huge wings, the thing threw back its head and let out a raspy, ululating call.
Her bowels turned to water and her knees gave way. Something in its wail triggered her instincts and Samantha suddenly understood that she was prey.
The bird came closer, that scythe-like beak poised at her throat. The chill of the water numbed her, or perhaps she had just resigned herself to the inevitable, but Samantha didn’t cry out for help again. She knew that no angel would rescue her.
From that center junction, her tortured screams flooded the tunnels as the beak stabbed into her. Dimly, as the life pulsed out of her, Samantha realized the bird had been careful not to stain the dress.
Such a pretty dress, she thought. A perfect addition to this collection.