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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
This little piece took first place in the Lillian Dean First Page Competition for Short Story Category in 2007 at the Central Coast Writer’s Conference. This competition judges literary works on the merits of its first 250 words only. I wrote the story originally for the SLO NightWriters Annual Short Story Contest, but decided it was eventually going to go longer than the 500-word limit. It never made the NIghtWriters contest, but I entered the first page of it in the Lillian Dean Competition and won first place! And only my third year at the conference. The story isn’t quite finished yet, but the beginning is truly a hoot. Enjoy!
Keening, high-pitched, the sound grows in intensity. Rudley’s wail catches Kamma’s attention. She walks onto the balcony and looks up, shielding her eyes with a cerise-gloved hand. He clings to the flagpole tip like a Popsicle to its stick, fair skin frying in white-hot incandescence. Given his bare-and-buck state, she’s grateful that solid shadow fattens his rebar limbs into a concealing barrier. Or perhaps she’s simply been lucky enough to stop at just the right angle.
“Rudley! Are you coming down from there?”
The hairy head rises, eyes screwed shut against piercing sun-glare.
“Not until Missa leaves.”
“She’s not, and you know it. You’re being ridiculous.”
“That’s my constitutional right.”
The disembodied reply rings in the dense, hot air, but Kamma doesn’t hear. Movement catches her eye; she swivels her head to watch an eagle ride the thermals around Rudley’s perch. Damn, but they’re high up now. With so many applicants, Domicile keeps shifting floors and adding units, boosting First-Comers closer to the stratosphere. Pretty soon, as Missa claims, they’ll need oxygen masks just to enjoy the view.
She glances over the railing and down, her fingers clutching the scardey-handle.
“You’re drawing a crowd,” she tells Rudley. “I can see cameras down there, and telescopes. Want a robe?”
Silence. She looks back up. Rudley’s eyes are still closed; white bird-juice drips off his nose. The eagle has landed.No comments