I wrote Destiny for the 2005 SLO NightWriters Short Fiction Contest. Every story has to begin with the same opening line. That year’s opener was, “Keening, high-pitched, the sound grows in intensity…” The challenge was to build a tale that incorporated the opener into a seamless beginning, middle, end story in 500 words or less. With a “Wow” factor. In present tense, no less. I had never written short fiction before; in fact, I had just published my first suspense novel, weighing in at 487 nail-biting pages. So, I didn’t hold out much hope of crafting a successful short-short. Still, when I heard the opening line, a sequel to a story I’d written years ago popped into my head almost fully formed. To my surprise, the story was a finalist in the contest.
Keening, high-pitched, the sound grows in intensity, wakes J’npaire – again.
“Shut up, Drea!”
He glares at the stone shelves holding his Encasement Collection, twenty-three in all. The golden filigree ball holding Drea’s essence spirals in the deep niche. Once, that pleased J’npaire. During the glorious Encasement fight, he’d feared she might defeat him. He’d not known a woman’s will could be so strong. Would Drea’s body prove the same? The others had lived only six lightcycles. She’ll last eight, he had guessed, amused as her spirit fought on.
No pleasure left, now. Twenty-nine lightcycles and still Drea shreds his nerves with needlesharp wails.
J’npaire rises, stalks to the shelf. Takes Drea into alabaster-pale hands, holds her at eye level.
“Stop, Drea. This is your destiny. Be still!”
The ball twists out of his hand, onto the floor. J’npaire narrows his eyes. Immutable law; the fight ends when the body erases. Therefore, even after twenty-nine lightcycles, she still lives. He will have to erase her himself.
He powers up his air-raft, floats from the bluelit room, slips through the concealing drift filter. The colorless rocklight of Below has brightened to wakecycle, but these old tunnels are deserted. At Drea’s entombment niche he grabs his Excavator, erases just enough rock to crawl through. His face twists, senses rebelling at the odor hissing into the tunnel.
J’npaire crawls into the tomb, lights a torch. All is as he left it: Drea’s raft canted against the far wall, her meager possessions spread below like altar offerings; Drea motionless, one arm folded upon her breast, the other flung onto a halo of white hair. No longer beautiful, this Drea: pale face bloated, blackened; flesh slipping from delicate bones; oozing liquids forming a slick pool beneath her. Erased. Very much erased.
J’npaire’s heart pounds. Horror scritches his scalp. This cannot be. No one can fight for life where none remains. Shuddering, he steps back toward the entrance, lifts the excavator, points it at Drea.
Her head turns. Ruined eyes open, probe deep to touch his buried essence. Her keening wail crescendos, rides the necrotic air. J’npaire cringes, curls his arms over his head. The Excavator accidentally fires, sweeping the stone ceiling. Fissures widen; stone rumbles, breaks apart. J’npaire screams into the roar of avalanching rock, throws himself toward the back wall.
Silence resettles. Massive stone overseals the tomb. Wailing himself, J’npaire bloodies his fingers, struggling to shift immovable rock. The Excavator, his only escape, lies crushed beneath the boulders. Finally he sits, empty inside. Destiny: starvation, suffocation, erasure. His and Drea’s. She has defeated him. J’npaire turns his head, looks at her. Beneath closed eyes, a faint smile curves Drea’s melting lips.
In J’npaire’s sanctuary, the filigree ball spirals in ever decreasing circles. The keening wail winds down into a sigh. In deep silence, bluelight glimmers off lacy gold as, at long last, Drea lies inert.No comments