2022 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 11

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Flash Fiction Challenge

Today I’m thinking about tension. What’s something that would add natural tension to your story—and your characters—without a ton of explanation needed?

For today’s prompt, let’s make things tense by writing about someone being somewhere they shouldn’t be.

Remember: As mentioned yesterday, these prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.

(Note: If you happen to run into any issues posting, please just send me an e-mail at mrichard@aimmedia.com with the subject line: Flash Fiction Challenge Commenting Issue.)

Here’s my attempt at writing about someone being somewhere they shouldn’t be:

The Hedge

“Chief, you’re going to want to see this.”

Johnson looked up from his desk. Aguilar was half inside the room, eyes wide and excited. He was young but a good kid—would probably make detective someday, if he kept at it, Johnson thought. He tapped his finger against his keyboard.

“What is it?”

“That girl they pulled from the Hedge this morning? She’s awake. And talking.”

Johnson leaned back in his chair. “They usually do, Aguilar.”

“No, I mean she’s talking sense!”

For a moment, Johnson did nothing. No one they pulled from the Hedge had ever been able to say anything besides utter nonsense. One of the force’s favorite ones was an elderly man who would say “The bushes say my feet smell” whenever you asked him a question. Golden Fields, the psychiatric hospital just down the road a ways, was full of people muttering to themselves, blank faced, as if they were looking at something no one else could see.

Could it be right? That this girl could actually tell them what she saw?

Johnson was on his feet and around the desk in an explosion of movement. “Let’s go.”

Donna met them at the hospital’s front desk. Johnson and Donna had gone to high school together, and they were on each other’s Christmas card lists. She’d left for a while, been a trauma nurse at the hospital in the city, so by the time she came back and worked her way to CNO, she’d become virtually unflappable. So the fact that her skin looked a little gray and her mouth was pinched closed made the hair on the back of Johnson’s neck stand up.

“Chief Johnson,” she said. “Glad you’re here.”

“You OK?” Johnson whispered.

Donna winced and looked down at the clipboard in her hand. “You’re just going to have to see it for yourself.”

Aguilar was all nervous energy, like the feeling of sticking your finger in the electrical outlet while your mom’s back was turned. Excited and a little scared. He grew up here, knew about the Hedge, the rules around it, the rumors about people who had wandered in and not come back or not come back the same. Seeing this side of it, the aftermath, was new.

Johnson also grew up here but had enough years on the force to know that it wasn’t all that exciting. It was mostly just sad and a little horrifying, especially when family members hand you their spouse’s or child’s or parent’s suicide note, and you’re tasked with patrolling the Hedge to see if they make it back out. But still, he couldn’t help that his heart was beating a little faster at the prospect that someone could tell him what was inside.

The Hedge had been here longer than the town. It was a labyrinth of sorts, made up of a plant that looked almost like Alpine currant—which was native to the area—but larger, thicker, and grew no berries. From town records, it had always looked like someone pruned it, kept it neat and square.

Facts about the Hedge:

  • It never grew taller or wilder than its current condition
  • It never turned brown or died
  • Ground animals avoided it; birds refused to fly over it
  • When attempting to use ladders or other machines to see over it, you’d get so dizzy that you couldn’t focus on what you were seeing
  • All technology sent into or over or underneath the Hedge died or disappeared or broke

“Lily Smith,” Donna said, bringing Johnson back to the present. “Age 23, female, no known history of mental or physical illness.”

“Grew up here?”

“Sort of—she’s Fanny Smith’s granddaughter.”

Ah, yes. The Smith’s girl had run away from home at 17, gotten mixed up in drugs from what the town gossip was. The granddaughter—Lily, apparently—had come to live with her grandparents when she was in middle school.

“Physical condition?” Johnson said.

Donna said nothing for a few steps. Then, “She seems fine.”

“Weird way to say it,” Aguilar muttered.

“Let it go,” Johnson said back. They’d see for themselves soon enough.

They stopped outside a private room. Detective Hak was there, hovering, her eyes serious. She was worrying an empty Styrofoam cup in her hands.

“Hak,” Johnson said, “what can you tell me.”

“Got a call around 7 a.m. from dispatch saying that they were on the phone with a young woman who claimed she’d just come out from the Hedge. We were told she was by the southeast entrance and was requesting to be picked up. Boyle and I headed over, and she was sitting just outside the entrance, still on the phone with 911. She hung up when she saw us and stood when we approached her. She refused to speak with us beyond saying when she went in and when she came out. We thought we should bring her here.”

“How was her phone still working?” Aguilar asked.

“She left it in a backpack outside the entrance; it was still there when she came back out.”

“What time did she go in?” Johnson asked.

“According to her, she went in at exactly 5:35 p.m. on Friday.”

Aguilar gaped at Hak. “She says she was in the Hedge for three days?”

“Keep your voice down,” Johnson said. “Hak, anything else you want to tell us?”

“Not anything of real importance.”

“Anything of not-real importance?”

Hak’s brow furrowed, and she looked away. After a moment, she said, “There’s something wrong with her voice. Made Boyle sick. He’s been puking since before we got here.”

Chills raced from Johnson’s scalp all the way down his back to his feet. Aguilar gave a little shiver.

“And her eyes…” Donna whispered.

Johnson squared his shoulders and took a breath. “Aguilar, stay by the door when we go in. I’ll do the talking.”

They knocked on the door softly before they entered. Lily looked small and young against the white backdrop of the hospital bed. She had shoulder-length blonde hair; her nails were painted a vicious orange. She had been looking out the window, but her head turned as the door clicked softly shut behind them.

“Hello, Noah,” she said.

Immediately, Johnson’s stomach clenched. It sounded like a person’s voice but also not. Maybe a lot of voices perfectly synced or a machine imitating speech. Aguilar’s shoe squeaked against the floor as he shifted his weight.

“Your grandma tell you my name?” Johnson asked. He took a few steps closer to the bed.

“I know everyone on this land,” Lily said.

Now that he was closer, Johnson saw what Donna meant. The girl’s eyes were black—not like in a movie where they make someone looked possessed, but in a raw way. For a moment, Johnson wondered if she still had eyes. But when she blinked, the movement was normal.

“I have a message for you,” Lily continued. “That’s why we’re here.”

“I’m listening,” Johnson said.

“The Old Ones are tired. They are ready for a rebirth. They want to end it all and start anew,” Lily said.

Johnson slowly took a seat in the chair next to the bed. Lily’s head turned to track the movement. “Who are the Old Ones?”

“That’s the wrong question,” Lily said, though it wasn’t really Lily, was it? It was the thing that used to be Lily. “The right question is, ‘How do we survive the rebirth?’”

Behind them, Aguilar began retching.

“And the answer?” Johnson asked, gaze still fixed on it’s eyes.

“A truce.” The thing lifted its hand in the air and began to trace an absent pattern. “When you moved near, we thought we might have to kill you. People are nothing but a nuisance, noisy, stinking. But you kept your distance. Fed us occasionally by wandering stupidly inside. And now you might help us survive.”

“And if we refuse?” Johnson asked.

It smiled. The inside of its mouth was the same kind of black as its eyes, like a bottomless pit, and its teeth were wet and sharp.

“Noah,” it said, tenderly. “You don’t really have a choice.”

Remixing the Classics: Writing New Flash Fiction From Old Stories

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