Thursday, January 19, 2017

In Space, They Actually Do Hear You Scream

This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is about fears.  I had a lot of fears as a child, and there are some I've never overcome.  I decided to combine them all in the following story. Please do enjoy.

In Space, They Actually Do Hear You Scream 

   "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the First Annual Ultra-Extreme Mars Mud Race!  I'm Terry, and this is Brad, and we'll be your hosts for this historic, one-of-a-kind event!
   "Today marks the first time an extreme obstacle course race will take place on Mars," Terry continued.  "It has taken many decades to perfect the technology."
   Brad chimed in.
   "And let's not forget the generous contributions of Martin Berkowitz, President and CEO of Ultra-Extreme Obstacle Race.  Berkowitz joined forces with NASA to bring his dream to life!"
   "Let's meet the super-elite athletes who are pioneers in this groundbreaking event!  First, we have Luke Jarrett from Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  He is a pedigree of amazing athletes and OCR competitors, going back four generations!  And here is Tracy Bemis, of Glasgow, Scotland, who spent her childhood competing in Tennis, Olympic Weight Lifting, and Cross-Country racing."
   "Next is Stone Parsotan of New South Wales, Australia.  He is quite the specimen.  This young man has won many Olympic gold medals in Track and Field, and is now ready for the Ultimate Challenge," Brad exclaimed.  "And, last but certainly not least, is Mira MacDonald of Cape Town, South Africa.  She grew up in several different countries, being the daughter of two military parents, and had many opportunities to participate in a variety of sports from different cultures and climates!
   "And here we are, at the much-anticipated starting line for this historic event!"
   The sound of gunshot launched the runners from their starting line in the underground caverns.
   "Race footage, provided by flying drones controlled by artificial intelligence, will show each runner as they make their way through the man-made and natural obstacles."
   So far, so good.  Martin couldn't be more thrilled.  He popped the cork from yet another champagne bottle, smiling up to his team as bubbles erupted from the opened bottle.  But this time, there were no oohs and ahhs.  Only wide eyes, dropped jaws.  Something was off.
   He turned around quickly to see what had spurred such an upset.  On screen, the horror unfolded before their eyes.
   The rear-view camera showed hundreds of spiders pursuing the runners.  They covered the walls of the cavern, traveling rapidly toward the trespassers that violated their territory.
   "Sam, I thought you said there were no lifeforms there," Martin called out.  Sam hurried to the front.
   "Yes," he answered.  "There were no signs of life at that level.  There couldn't have been ... unless ..."
   "Unless what?"
   "Unless the construction team drilled beyond that level.  I told them specifically not to, sir."
   The rest of the room fell silent as the department heads all gathered to discuss what was happening. The construction supervisor stepped forward as Sam glowered at him.
   "Chuck, did you drill further down?"
   "We needed more water for the obstacles!"
   "You needed more water, so you made unauthorized holes deeper into a planet that we are just beginning to study?"
   "Well, at least we know there's life in outer space.  Let's just hope they're more afraid of us than we are of them."
   They soon found out the answer to that.
   While the others sought out the next rest station, Tracy took advantage of her good fortune, and took off toward the next obstacle.
   She sprinted further out as the others lagged behind.  Stone had fallen and sprained his ankle, slowing him down considerably.  
   Mira and Luke helped him along, each offering a shoulder for support.  Suddenly, they heard a woman screaming.
   "Wait here," Luke said to the other two as he helped Stone lean against a wall.  He ran toward the sound, accompanied by a flying drone.
   "Heeellllpppp!  Help me!  Get away from me!  Noooo!"
   Tracy's shrill screams echoed throughout the cavern, beckoning for someone to rescue her.
   Martin and his crew watched as the drone camera flew slightly ahead of Luke, lighting the way and recording the surroundings.  Luke didn't notice the hundreds of tiny spiders that surrounded him.  When he finally arrived where Tracy was, he realized it was too late.
   Tracy's body draped lifelessly, a giant, bloody hole where her face was. Yet still, her voice kept asking for help, pleading for someone to rescue her.
   "Help me!  Please!"
   Luke then realized the source of the voice.  Two spider-like creatures, each roughly the size of a small dog, were looking up at him.  Their eyes studied him curiously.  
   "Help me!  Please!"
   Luke stared in shock as he asked them a question.
   "What ... are you?"
   The spiders looked at him curiously and repeated the phrase.
   "What ... are you?"  They uttered their deadly mockery, with no apparent understanding of what they were saying.
   Luke wasn't going to stick around for an answer.  He backed away slowly, looking for a quick escape.  As he turned around, tiny spiders crawled up his legs.  He kicked and stomped, trying to fight them off.  This only made them angrier.  They started biting him, latching on with their fangs, boring into his skin.
   "Remove the live feed from this camera," Martin shouted as he and his crew watched in shock.  "Keep recording, we'll need this for our files, but don't let this get out!"
    The producers did as they were told, shaking and crying as they watched Luke being eaten alive.
   They sent a message through the drones to Mira and Stone.
   "Keep moving.  Follow us.  Don't lag behind."
   Stone and Mira followed the drones as they led them through the tunnels.  They hurried to complete the race.
   Finally, the two were within 600 feet of the end.  They picked up their speed, not noticing the ground starting to cave in beneath them.
   "Who authorized this," Martin demanded as he watched Stone and Mira struggle to keep from sliding down into the pit.
   No one in the control room answered.  Complete silence.  The engineers all looked at each other, confused.
   "No one, sir," a brave soul replied.  "We tested the grounds for safety."
   "Then how the hell did this happen?"
   Again, complete silence.
   Stone could barely keep his grip on the cliff.  He fought to keep from falling.  Mira, being much lighter, was able to climb back up.  She tried to pull Stone up, but he had nothing to hold on to.
   Finally, gravity took its toll, and he slid to the bottom of the abyss.  It was too dark to see.
   A drone followed him down, lighting the way as he finally found the bottom.
   "Can you climb back up?"
   No response.
   A sharp silence fell over the control room as the drone's beam revealed what Mira could not make out.
   Martin grabbed the nearest microphone.
   "Mira," he yelled through the drone's speaker.  A bizarre echo came from the darkness.
   "Mira, you have to get out of there.  Get to the finish, and we'll get you home as soon as possible.  Don't worry about Stone.  We've got him."
   That was all she needed to hear.  Mira backed up a few feet, then ran at full speed.  Being a long jump champion, she had no trouble leaping over the hole.
   The finish line was just a foot away.  She started toward it, when a terrifying spider the size of a large cat, leapt in front of her.  She gasped, backing away, trying to calculate the best way around it.  There was none.
   Without warning, it leapt on to her.  It bit her neck as she tried to fight it off.
   Screams erupted from the control room as they bore witness to the gruesome sight.  The crew watched Mira throw the spider off, only to lose her balance.  She stumbled over the cliff and fell.
   Her drone followed her down, capturing every horrified expression as she screamed in sheer panic.  She finally landed in mud, soft and deep enough to break her fall.
   "Don't worry about Stone.  We've got him."
   That phrase kept repeating, over and over.  She wondered if the drone was shorting out.
   Mira turned toward her teammate's drone to see if it would help her find him.  Stone's body was floating unconscious as the drone hovered overhead.
   Mira called his name.  No response.  She shook his body.  No response.  Finally, she started yelling.  Still, no response.
   Stone remained unresponsive.  She was about to resuscitate him.  Just as she was about to cover his mouth with her own, she felt something coming out of it.
   She pulled back to see a smaller version of the monstrous spider that bit her at the finish line.  She jumped back, screaming.
   Suddenly, she heard her own scream echoing back to her.  She looked around, panting with fear, when the cave started spinning.  She began sweating.  Drool spilled out from her gaping mouth.
   She became incapacitated.  The engineers turned the manual controls on to fly the drones around so they could see what was in that cave.  It didn't take long to unveil the ultimate horror.
   From the depths of the tunnels, it emerged.
   Fully erect, it stood over six feet tall on its eight legs, all ending with sharp claws.
   A pair of serrated fangs, the size of elephant tusks, opened to draw Mira's head toward its mouth.  Sedated from the venom administered in the bite she received, she was unable to fight, to scream, to think.
   A sharp burst of clarity finally hit her as she found her head inside its mouth.  In a final cry of desperation, she screamed for help.  A host of spiders mimicked her. The drones flew around, trying to distract the king spider, to no avail.
   Mira's cries were soon muffled as the drones' highly sensitive microphones picked up the sound of her head crunching from the weight of the spider's mandible.
   In the control room, engineers and safety experts were vomiting or passing out.  This was the greatest horror any of them had ever witnessed.
   Martin and his assistant, Stuart, looked at each other with equal parts shock and sadness.
   "You know what this means, right Stuart?"
   "Yes," the assistant replied.  "There goes our sponsorships."

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Procrastination Will Inherit the Earth

   This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is Behold The Idiomatic!  All I can say is, where has this website been all my (online) life?  This is amazing!  If your actions tell who you really are, then I'm the UNIVERSAL GRAND FUCKING CHAMPION OF PROCRASTINATION! *Raises a glass to toast no one in particular.*
   Anywho, here's my contribution to the world of creative literature:

Procrastination Will Inherit the Earth -- That Is, Whatever's Left of It

   Leslie hit the alarm clock for what must have been the fifteenth time that day.
   With one swift move, she pulled the covers over her head, blocking out the sinister sunshine that penetrated into her room, piercing her eyes with its mirthfully sadistic beams.  Just a few more blissful minutes of rest.
   "Fuhuhuck! I fucking heard you the first time," she whined, batting at the nagging alarm clock.  Whoever decided the general public needed to work between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. was a sick, twisted fuck.
   Leslie groaned as she rolled out of bed, her eyes rolling to the back of her head.  As she weaved back and forth under the shower head, last night's one too many cocktails exacting its revenge with agonizing pressure inside her head, she realized she still had a personal day she could use.
   Fuck it, she thought, I'm calling in.
   After she dried off, savoring the thought of crawling back into her warm, cozy bed and going back to sleep, a deep sense of satisfaction enveloped her like a cocoon.  Leslie was not leaving the house.  Not today.
   She picked up the phone with a barely controllable glee, and dialed the human resources extension. No one picked up.  This day could not possibly get better.
   "Hi, this is Leslie.  I'm taking a personal day today.  I'll be back tomorrow."
   And with that, she hung up and set her phone to silent.  So fucking easy.
   This was going to be a wonderful day.  No bullshit office politics.  No micromanaging middle management to hover over her cubicle.  No unconscionable assholes stealing her yogurt from the fridge.
   The bed called to her.  Its fluffy comforter, memory foam pillows, and lavender-scented sheets were so inviting.  She found her eye mask, hastily tossed to the floor in her drunken clumsiness from the night before, and slid it over her eyes as she wrapped herself up in her comfy surroundings.
   Four hours later, Leslie stretched and yawned. It was midmorning, and there were mimosas to be enjoyed.  She made herself a cocktail, logged on to World of Warcraft, and set about the business of battling monsters.
   Three hours and four mimosas later, she decided to get some food in her stomach.  She ordered some pizza, and went to the couch to binge watch a show on Netflix.
   When the doorbell rang, Leslie suddenly realized she was still in her boxy black-and-white polk-a-dot pajamas.  This was the first time since she graduated that she could remember being in her PJs all day, and it felt fucking fantastic.
   She went to the door with no shame for her disheveled appearance.  This must be what it's like to be a man, she thought to herself.  Zero fucks given. 
   If the delivery guy was surprised by her appearance, he did a good job of hiding it.  She double-checked the pizza for accuracy, and then tipped him ten dollars.
   "Are you off work today?" he asked.
   Leslie smiled.
   "Uh, yeah.  Is it that obvious?"
   "You're lucky you didn't have to go anywhere today," he explained.  "There was a huge meteor that leveled some buildings over at highways 17 and 86.  I had to take a different route to get to work."
   "Oh wow!  Did you see which buildings?  I work over by there!"
   "No, I'm sorry.  But it's all over the news."
   "OK.  I'll check it out.  Drive safe," Leslie said as she closed the door.
   She turned on the news, and, sure enough, her office high-rise building was reduced to a stump, belching out smoke and flames.  Eyes wide and mouth gaping, Leslie held a slice of pizza in suspension as a reporter described the scene.
   Oh, shit, she thought to herself as she watched the update.
   "... coming out of the building.  First responders are unable to confirm any survivors."
   After a minute of watching in stunned silence, cheese sliding off of the hot slice she still held in mid-air, Leslie came out of her spell and took a frantic bite of the comfort junk food.
   Chewing slowly as she listened to witness accounts, Leslie learned that no one had survived.  She felt terrible.  Not so much for the loss of life, because she felt nothing.
   One one hand, she knew she should be devastated at the loss of her coworkers.  But, really and truly, they were all just a bunch of condescending, passive-aggressive, gossiping bitches she couldn't stand.  She never received an invitation to hang out with them.  (But that never stopped them from discussing all the fun they were going to have on Sunday Funday, or making a big deal over their past adventures, right the fuck in front of her, as if to rub in the fact that she wasn't part of their clique.)
   She never cared for the bullshit.  She didn't kiss up to the lead bitch, and she may have, on one or more occasions, been a little less tactful than they cared for.  Apparently, in their minds, all of these social crimes warranted exiling her from their circle.  She tried not to let it bother her, but being in a new city with no prior connections there made her personal life a lot more solitary than she cared for.
   And now, they were all gone.  If her sense of duty and adult responsibility had overridden her overwhelming sense of dread in regards to that day, she would have died, too.  It was eery, realizing how making a decision most people would have frowned upon, was the very thing that saved her life.  As if the same instincts that tell farm animals when it's about to storm were warning her that morning that something terrible was coming.
   Maybe she should feel guilty.  That's what a good person would do at this moment, right?
   But all Leslie could feel was relieved.  The cognitive dissonance was more than she cared to deal with right now.  She was too drunk to think about anything.
   She opened up a bottle of Reisling, grabbed another slice, and switched the TV to Netflix to binge watch another great show.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Things that Go Bump in the Night, Should Be the Least of Your Worries

   This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is about Insomnia, something I've struggled with for decades.  This is very familiar ground for me.  So, without further ado, here's my contribution for the week (CW, 18+):

Things that Go Bump in the Night, Should Be the Least of Your Worries

   2:36 a.m.
   Alicia glared at the harsh light of the alarm clock, set to go off in exactly three hours and twenty-four minutes.
   "Fuuuuucccccckkkkkkk," she whispered with exasperation into the otherwise dark and empty room.  The barely audible curse floated up to the vaulted ceiling in a silent prayer of desperation, then slowly returned to sender.
   It grew larger as it came back down to her, ultimately enveloping her in a shroud of silent rage.
   Every moment that passed seemed like a cruel instrument of torment, each minute lingering for maximum agony, as if the gods themselves were gaining sadistic pleasure from the abject state of misery she suffered every night.
   Seething with frustration, she tossed and turned.
   Alicia had used every trick in the book to try to get some damned sleep.  And every single damned one failed her miserably.  
   Counting sheep? ... Nope.  She even tried advanced algorithms with the sheep, manipulating them to create ellipses and complex polygons.  The sheep were obedient to her every mathematical whim, but still proved to be ineffectual. 
   And while nighttime yoga may have been helpful for others, the only benefit she reaped was increased flexibility.  Which, in turn, gave her a few new configurations for tossing and turning her exhausted body at night.
   She tried bubble baths, nightcaps, hypnosis -- but nothing proved to be helpful.  Melatonin and Nyquil proved to be temporary fixes which ultimately created more frustration as their efficacy peaked, then quickly diminished.
   Finally, after begging for a solution, her primary physician reluctantly suggested a new medicine. 
   That night, her attempt at rest was a disappointment, just like every night for as long as she could remember. 
   Unable to fall asleep after taking her prescription sleep aid, Alicia found herself in a bizarre state of mind.
   She ended up in a heated debate with her cat, Mr. Fluffaluffagus. 
   "I fucking told you, Mr. F!  Schroedinger's Cat was both alive and dead!  ...  No, I don't know why he didn't choose a dog!  ...  Are you actually offended by that theory?"
   "Well, I just don't think it was a good analogy for ANYTHING," the cat snidely replied.  
   The debate escalated as the night went on, and became so intense that her neighbors came to the door, demanding to know who she was arguing with.  They were well aware that she lived alone, and that her love life was non-existent.  
   Alicia lied and said she was rehearsing for a play, and they threatened to call the police the next time it happened.  She closed the door, relieved that they finally left, and turned to see Mr. Fluffaluffagus glaring at her with smug satisfaction. 
   Damned cat, thinks he's so much better than me.
   Alicia sank down in her wing-back chair and buried her head in her hands, shortly before passing out.  
   The next morning, she couldn't remember how she got there, or why her cat seemed so resentful toward her.
   The rest of the day was beyond surreal.  Reality and fantasy seemed to blur together, with no real delineation between the two.  
   She figured it was just an adjustment period for the medicine.
   That night, things became even stranger.
   Colors seemed more vivid, eliciting a sense of elation as she explored the depths of a particularly enchanting rabbit hole.  She laughed uncontrollably as she traipsed through the wonderful land.
   Nothing in this fantastical world made sense, but she had resigned to the fact that nothing actually needed to make sense any more.  Everything that her life was before -- the string of devastating losses, the agonizing isolation that followed -- fell away as she went further and further down this hole.
   All that mattered now was the journey, and the adventures she would have along the way.
   After all the tension, being so tightly wound that even her closest friends couldn't stand to be near her, Alicia had found a moment of self-awareness and realization.
   Deep inside, she had become like a cage that imprisoned the tiniest and cutest of animals.  No one around her could see through to what was inside; all they knew was the cold, metal frame on the outside.
   Before tonight, she didn't know how to show the world who she really was.  She didn't know how to free all the lovable, furry creatures that dwelled within.
   But now, she knew what to do.
   In the surreal land, she climbed to the top of the highest mountain to reveal to the world what she had hidden inside for so long.
   Alicia found the key to the cage, and as she slowly turned it, the adorable creatures were squealing and dancing with anticipation for the freedom they had never known.  The more she turned the key, the more excited they became.
   She never knew how many fluffy animals had been bound up inside, not until she gathered the courage to free them!  And out they came: the bunnies, the hedgehogs, the sugar gliders, the baby otters, and the potbelly pigs, all so excited to finally be free, to share their unbearable cuteness with the world!
   And with their emancipation, Alicia felt so light, so happy for their freedom, so happy that everyone would see her for who she was on the inside!  She finally shared everything that had been locked up for so long!  And it felt so good!  She spread her arms and bared her chest, surrendering to the freedom and laughing as she slowly drifted away.
   Hours later, a popular after-hours nightclub was shut down.  Yellow tape with the words, "POLICE LINE. DO NOT CROSS," wrapped around the building.
   As he pieced together the final parts of the puzzle, the policeman shook his head.  He had finished writing down the account of the bizarre incident's final witness.  
   A young woman, roughly in her mid-20s, had entered the club that night, acting very strange.  
   This was a place where bizarre behavior -- even a disheveled woman laughing maniacally for forty-five minutes straight as she wondered around aimlessly -- went without notice as the club's patrons, too drunk and too stoned to care, would laugh it off and continue dancing.  
   It wasn't until she climbed into an empty dancer's cage and, in a state of pure bliss and ecstasy, gutted herself in front of the entire room of screaming witnesses, that it occurred to anyone that something was actually wrong.