Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sweet Regret [Cocktail flash fiction challenge]

Clocking in at 1977 words, I have my submission for Chuck Wendig's drink with a story flash fiction challenge:

That includes both the story and the recipe for the drink, which is only separated from reality by local color and one ingredient. The recipe is found in the body of the story below.

Please enjoy--the story, drink, or both--"Sweet Regret"

            “Hey champ, how’s business?”
            I raised an eyebrow. A girl with a marksman rifle and a safari outfit sat at the bar and smiled at me. Her age and sanguine appearance suggested a field researcher from a graduate school off-planet, maybe even as far off as Earth’s solar system. Not unusual. Frontier worlds like Nephila attracted lots of geologists, biologists, and botanists, and the local wildlife swiftly turned visitors pro-gun. What really surprised me was that she didn’t try to flirt a free drink out of me. She was genuinely friendly.
            “Better than expected for a backwater planet,” I replied. “All thanks to the new Tartarus pit mine they opened. I’m not the only source of entertainment, but I’m the most convenient, and a pretty good value.”
            “I can see that.”
She looked over her shoulder. Tartarus Mining employees and their security contractors were laughing, swearing, spilling beer, and putting new holes in the wall left of the dartboard. They were rough, crude, and sometimes violent, but many tipped well, and the others were bad at math.
“So what’ll you have?” I said.
She scanned the bottles behind me, mouth slightly open like she was just restraining herself from licking her lips. Her eyes darted to me. They were blue, flecked with hazel, warmth, and something that put me on edge.
“Can you make a Sweet Regret?”
A lump formed in my throat. She had said it with enough innocence, without raising her voice, but a group of the security contractors shifted and stared at her, their conversation forgotten. She might as well have ordered an Irish Car Bomb in Dublin.
“Now, why would a…nice girl like you want such a harsh drink?”
“I like old bitter tasting things, they make me feel sophisticated.” That unnamed thing shimmered in her eyes again. “Besides, life is harsh.”
“Miss, you really shouldn’t—”
She placed fifty Apollo ore notes on the bar. “That’s not including the price of the drinks. Make yourself one too, you look like you need to relax.”
Without looking at the other patrons, I pocketed the money and set about making the drinks. The Tartarus employees wouldn’t begrudge me two of the damn things for this much money. If the girl wanted free cosmetic surgery by rifle butt, that was her business.
Two ounces Pandoran bourbon, one ounce Campari, two dashes klixen honey, fill the rest of the glass with Nephilian lotus nectar. The girl folded her arms on the bar and rested her chin on them, watching the liquor and mixers run over the ice, filling her glass. She kept staring into her glass as I made my own drink, contemplating the drink with a sad resigned smile usually reserved for professional alcoholics.
I finished pouring the second drink. Her eyes rolled up to meet mine.
“Drink with me.”
She sat up and raised her glass.
“To innocent souls,” she said. She stared me down until I moved to drink from my glass, then tipped her own.
The bourbon and campari were bitter, but conventional. Then came the klixen honey, diabetically sweet at the other end of the taste spectrum. The lotus nectar brought it all to a head, changing the drink from an odd local cocktail, to a wave of emotional force. In my mind, piano chords from the second half of ‘Layla’ played over images of every mistake I ever made, especially the willful ones. I had plenty of whiskey, a gun under the bar. After closing time, I could go upstairs, soak in the bath—
“Hoo boy!” a voice said.
I snapped out of my reverie. The girl was rubbing her eyes, but they were dry when she pulled away her hands.
“It’s been a while. I forgot how much a trip anything with lotus is. I’m surprised they haven’t made the stuff illegal.” She drank deep from the glass, then set it down. Her cheeks flushed red.
“You must have some good stories if you can make one this well.”
I started to make some excuse, anything to change the topic, but a loud ‘clunk‘ came from the door. One of the Tartarus men had barred the door, setting into motion the exact chain of events I feared would happen. The mercenaries and miners stood, blocking every exit from the bar. The few non-corporation patrons had unsurprisingly drank and dashed. Their ad hoc leader, a big fucker with a scarred face, and a round mark on his hand that looked like the result of an acid coated railroad spike growled at my patron.
“Bug lover.”
The girl smirked, swirling her glass and watching the last of the drink flow around the ice. “Is that really the best you inbred apes can do? I guess so. Real insults take brains for them to sting.”
“There’ll be plenty of those to go around if you keep running your mouth.” He looked at me and held out his hand. “Barkeep, your keys.”
I began to stammer a reply, but the girl cut me off.
“Give him what he wants buddy, then sit down and finish your drink.”
I fished out my keys and tossed them to the big fucker, who locked the chains on the door. “Lock everything,” he said, handing them off to another merc. He looked back at the girl, still facing the bar.
“Now, you get one chance to explain whatever misunderstanding we’re having. Most people know you don’t talk about silk-shitters around—“
“The Rachnos?” she finished her drink.
“The what?”
She looked up at me and shook her glass. “Just bourbon this time.” I filled the glass and she continued: “I shouldn’t be surprised. Thousands of years from now, when man’s spread across the galaxy contracts and someone more advanced starts exterminating us, they won’t call us humans, they’ll just call us those squishy pink things.”
“How did so many damn hippies get to this planet?”
The girl laughed and spun on her stool to face them. “I came with you, good sir,” she said, jabbing a finger at him. “I helped you guys. We were told the native species needed to be kept at bay, and as an entomologist I was thrilled to travel the stars and blaze a trail in my field, even if it meant my pay came from inventing a better roach trap. For a while, I was happy to follow orders, happy to observe and dissect new things.
“But I started seeing clues I missed. I saw the most advanced social invertebrate in the history of human biological study, but it wasn’t just cooperation and pack hunting: They used guerilla tactics. You saw that too; why else would something with that much predatory cunning leave so many patrol members wounded, or kill inside our camps without feeding?”
The leader glowered at the girl, but the others looked unsettled. No matter which side you chose, there was no denying that the Rachnos had a gift for cultivating terror.
The girl drained half the bourbon in the glass. “After recruiting a linguist, and after much observation, I figured out how to convey that we just wanted to talk. We were taken to a hive deep in the jungle, and we saw…” Her voice grew hoarse. “They were primitive in many ways, but they had agriculture, architecture, culture—their medicine was far in advance of a race of their technological sophistication. The things we could have learned…”
“What a load of shit,” the big man said. He held up his hand, showing the round scar. “One of those bastards ruined my hand, no weapons, just bit me. What could we have learned from that?“
Her gaze fell to the floor. “We’ll never know, will we? Imagine my surprise during the only peace talk, when I learned that the Tartarus executives knew most of this. Just like when settlers swept across the Great Plains on Earth, the party line of ‘dig, dig, dig’, led to the corollary of ‘Exterminate the brutes’. Why broker and barter when you can steal?” Her eyes rolled up to lock with the leader’s. “You guys know the rest of the story, don’t you Hank?”
            The big fucker growled. “Who are you?”
            “You shouldn’t recognize me, I wasn’t on your radar when I worked for Tartarus, and I was far away when I gave you that gouge on your right cheek.”
            Hank looked at the rifle, then back to her. “Harcheck.”
            “You do know me.” She finished the bourbon, then stood and leaned against the bar. “I guess you’ve read my little file then. I’ve read yours too. It’s no accident you’ve lead every psychopathic incursion against sympathizers on Nephila. The apartment building in St. Louis. The university library in Nebraska. Boulder, Colorado. Coming to a border world with pesky natives was really your only viable career move, huh?”
            “Coward,” he said, ignoring Harcheck. ”Maybe if you hadn’t hid so far away, you could’ve stopped what I did to your friends. Both kinds. Buggers are a lot more fun, I’ve found. That one hive queen from the eastern ridge?”
Hank made a sound somewhere between a hiss, a screech, and a growl. Harcheck’s eyes narrowed.
“Good, I said that right! See, the bugs are a lot more fun because there are more parts. It’s more satisfying to burn someone’s eyes out when you have more than two to play with.”
The glass smashed straight into Hank’s face. Harcheck screamed and tackled Hank, driving her fists into his face and throat. Two of the mercenaries pulled her off him, while the biggest of the miners socked her in the gut. I moved to reach under the bar, when I heard a ‘click’ and a “Don’t”. I held my hands up and backed up until I was pressed against my shelves, my eyes fixed on the gun barrel.
So this is how I die: Torture porn, then a bullet in the head.
Everything moved in slow motion and my vision swam. The commotion over, the group gathered around a table. Two of them pinned Harcheck to it, while Hank struck her, once in the gut, once in the face. He drew a knife with a serrated six-inch blade.
“I’ll start with your tongue, Erin. Any last words to make our hearts bleed?”
“Not really,” she said. “I’d worry more about your stomachs.”
On cue, three of the men began to vomit a mixture of beer and half-digested meat, discolored by blood. I realized things weren’t processing in slow motion, they were actually moving slower, and I was suffering from more than shock.
Hank turned, gaping at one of them and Erin seized her moment. She yanked one wrist free, took the gun off the belt of the man holding her other wrist, and shot him in the face. She rolled off the table and fired three shots into Hank, two into the other man who had held her down. Everything else was cleanup, killing those that hadn’t already died.
I sprawled over the bar, my head feverish and my stomach cramped, watching as Erin approached Hank. She crouched over him. With a quick thrust, she pinned his good hand to the floor with his own knife. He croaked, unable to speak.
“Fun fact: The ‘Sweet Regret’ isn’t just a sympathizer’s drink. The human body metabolizes the ingredients into the only effective antidote for high doses of Rachnosi venom. You can tough through some envenomations without it, but when you do something like gas a bar with enough evaporated venom to kill two bull elephants, it’s not optional. Enjoy vomiting your esophageal lining.”
As Hank lay dying on the floor, Erin walked over and sat across from me. She reached to my right, and came back with the remnants of my drink. She tipped the glass to my lips.

“I told you to finish your drink.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


     I have a last name now--or at least my pen name does. Due to the informal nature of my writing, I had never had any inclination to add one, but after Tim Whitcher continued my story as part of a flash fiction contest, it seems like two letters is not nearly enough to sign my work.

--Al Stone

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cliffhanger challenge: the setup

Clocking in at 1000 words even I give you my entry. Seeing as we're supposed to collaborate, it doesn't seem right to title it.

EDIT: Retroactive titling! The piece below you is: "Midnight Inquiry."


            Julia leaned against the railing, basking in the light and heat radiating from the propane lamp standing in the roof patio’s corner. Like every other college-town ‘it-bar’ Altus drew from every social stratum: rich, poor, urban, rural, Greek, GEED. What passed for cosmopolitan in a southern college-town, combined with the noise, made Altus a good place to meet discretely if you could talk over the din.
Almost 9:30, Julia thought. She frowned. Sam said this guy would be freakishly punctual. She reached into her pocket for a cigarette.
“Any to share?”
Julia looked to her right to see an average boy about her age. He wasn’t unattractive, but aside from the faux-hawk he styled his hair into everything about him was utterly forgettable. The way he carried himself, Julia got the impression he preferred things that way.
Julia handed him a cigarette. He lit hers, then his, took a draw. He looked her up and down and smirked, pleased.
“The street’s pretty tonight, eh?” He turned to look over the railing and Julia followed suit, sliding closer.
“You have my fee?”
Julia handed him her clutch. The boy opened it, looked inside, then put it inside his jacket.
“It’s funny,” he said. “A girl like you usually buys pot, adderall; coke or molly once in a while. Not this stuff.”
“You get all sorts of surprises when your assumptions about people are based on how they fit their jeans.”
He grinned, blowing smoke out his nose, forming a temporary mustache. “True, but certain substances attract certain types. From what you requested, you’re not partying, you’re after answers.”
Julia flinched, but played it off as a shiver in the cold. She took a drag and exhaled.
The boy’s smile faded.
“I’m giving you what you asked for, make no mistake. But seriously reconsider how badly you want to enter Eden. There’s a reason I’m selling you ingredients, not the final product.
“Sam said you had a sober partner, and that you were both chemists, otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to supply this particular assortment. But this goes beyond science and into something far more ambiguous…and disturbing. People sometimes come back wrong from acid. People sometimes come back right from a pilgrimage to Eden.”
Julia’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not stupid.”
“This isn’t a stupid person’s mistake.”
A pair of hands in the crowd behind them hooked a full-sized purse onto Julia’s free hand. She looked in that direction and saw nothing. She looked back towards the boy, but he was gone.
“You two know what you’re doing?” John asked. He eyed them from the door, more wary of his friends than being discovered.
“Just watch the hallway,” said Julia.
“It’s Saturday night, and Katie says no one’s come to this floor of the Aerospace lab since…everything.”
The three of them had set up shop in the radiation room, four floors below ground, where three of their friends had done the same two months ago.
“You don’t want to find out what happened?” Julia said, measuring the things the dealer sold them in the amounts Katie specified.
“I just think there are other avenues to explore that don’t involve pseudo-science and potential brain damage.”
“Oh ye of little faith,” Katie murmured, swirling something around a beaker. “The extract should be ready. 10 grams Julia.”
Julia poured the requested amount into a test tube, handed it off, then stood and stretched.
“Other avenues,” Julia said, walking around their circular work area. She gave a dry laugh. “You mean after the police gave up. After two private investigators gave up, and the third laughed us away before we could ask. Other avenues, for the three kids who vanished into thin air. No struggle, no foul play, not a single possession missing.”
“Doctor Snider—“ John began.
“Will not tell us anything! Just because the police couldn’t implicate him doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what happened. Why else would he take his sabbatical four months early? It would draw too much attention.”
John looked away. “He has to be guilty. What else could it be?”
Julia folded her arms. “I don’t know John, but this is our best shot. Snider was the head of Theoretical Physics, and Kyle, Ian, and Karla were working with him on fringe theories, so a little ‘pseudo-science’ comes with the territory. Besides, that one night we all saw—“
Now John snapped. “You saw something, I was drunk. You must have been drunk too.”
Julia bit her thumb. John had been drunk walking through an alley downtown, but Katie had seen the same thing in a lab on the top floor of the chemistry building…and Julia had seen it walking into her apartment bedroom.
It looked like Ian, but where he had been thin, the thing had been gaunt. It had been partially translucent, glowing with white light along its skin like it had stepped off a television screen. Julia had frozen as the thing that wasn’t Ian turned towards her, snarled, and let out a horrendous screech. John had fled, almost getting hit by a car; Katie had screamed, drawing the attention of night guards who found her sobbing in a closet two floors down; but Julia had remained frozen as it charged her, feeling a strange tingle as it passed through her, ghostlike. When she turned it had vanished.
“Done,” Katie said.
She stepped back. A soft mat and a pillow lay in the center of three concentric rings, one of copper wires, one of salt and one of yellow oil. Julia stepped inside and laid on the mat.
“How many hallucinogens are we dealing with again?” she asked.
“If you lost count, I don’t think you want a reminder,” said Katie. She flicked a syringe. “Last chance to chicken out.”
“Better stick me then.”
Julia closed her eyes, and relaxed. She felt a prick on her arm, followed by pressure. She counted until five minutes had passed, focusing on slow, deep breaths.
Then she opened her eyes.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Somethingpunk: Boozepunk

     As part of one of the Terribleminds flash fiction challenges, I originally wanted to do Beerpunk, but that closed off a few possibilities. Instead, I give you a Boozepunk tale entitled: "The Craft Rebellion."

     Final word count ended up being 1053, so that disqualifies me, but I hope you enjoy the read.

Shane scanned Lupara’s from the bar, sipping a Luna Sapphire, the pain fading as the alcohol counteracted the tumor emissions. Aside from the near-absence of patrons, the pub seemed the same, save for the smudged glassware—that would have mortified the girls—and a  gutted bank of taps, formerly hidden behind a sliding wood panel. “Now What?“ he thought.
“You look like you know fine beer, good sir!”
Shane turned. A man in a suit sat to his left, about Shane’s age, early thirties His head was shaved.
Shane gave him a puzzled, but friendly smile. “I’m no expert. Just consuming my evening ration.”
“Sir, you lie.” The man’s voice had a subtle, but hard southern accent. “No one comes to a place like this out of obligation and drinks the most expensive Guild beer unless they value brewing. You’re a Crafter.” He grinned. “Isn’t that right Shane?”
Shane clenched his pint glass. “What do you want?”
“Same as you. I’m looking for Brewmaster Shaw.”
“I looked. I couldn’t find anything.”
The bartender watched them from the corner of her eye as she washed a pint glass, her mouth tight. The suit arched his eyebrows.
“You’d give up that easily on—? Okay, I understand. Let’s try this.” He snapped his fingers at the bartender. “Sazerac; no bitters and extra bourbon.”
The bartender frowned. “Sir, we’re under new ownership. Our selection is Guild approved.”
The man put $200 on the bar. “And I’m sure you complied and turned in all prohibited spirits.” He placed another seventy-five in her palm. “Especially the fancy brews that would appeal to my friend here.”
Shane ordered. The waitress went to the back, brought their drinks, and disappeared. The man sipped his cocktail while Shane took a long pull on his new pint, focusing on the bitter floral and pine taste and the smooth thickness of the beer.
The man sighed contentedly, then appraised Shane’s beer.
“Double IPA. Your taste is superb.”
“ABC or not, the same goes to you. Talk.”
The suit turned back to his Sazerac. “It’s a sad world when a man can’t just enjoy his drink.”
“I didn’t realize you wanted a drinking buddy.”
“You misunderstand. I’m talking about before The Guild took power, before the Tremens Gas was released, before people didn’t literally need a drink every morning and night. I miss drinking things that weren’t state-mandated piss. That’s why I want to find your friend.”
“Why don’t you do it? And why Jessica? She was small-volume.”
The suit swirled the ice in his glass. “Ms. Shaw was small-volume, but she was working on something far more ambitious than quality beer, something that scared The Brewers Guild. My associates and I have great interest in anything that scares them. As for you, I need someone unknown that has solid brewing knowledge and won’t give up easy. Plus, you have a personal stake in this. Two, if I’m not mistaken.”
Shane almost choked on his beer. “Katherine’s okay?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘okay’, but she is alive. The Guild thinks she has information. But if you help us find Brewmaster Shaw, we’ll have enough leverage to sway The Guild to almost anything.”
Shane took a long swallow of beer. “What do you need me to do?”
The suit passed Shane a thumb drive. “The two people on here can help find where your friend is hiding and bring her plans to completion: The Agronomist, and The Populist. Find them, talk to them, and you’ll find her.”
Shane pocketed the drive. “Then what?”
Before the suit replied a man shouted; “FREEZE!”
They turned to find seven ABC agents blocking the door. Each of them stood with a glass of carbonated gold liquid in one hand, a shot glass of wine-colored liquor poised to drop into the larger glass in the other.
“I don’t know how you jammed our bugs, but we’re going to need you to come with us for a chat.”
The suit narrowed his eyes. “I hate Jaegerbombers.” He turned to Shane. “You need some liquid courage?”
“Got some of my own,” Shane said.
Like gunslingers, Shane and The Suit drew flasks from their pockets, opened and gulped in one fluid motion. Shane tasted citrus, and more pine than there were trees in the North. He assumed a fighting stance just as the Jaegerbombers tossed their glassware to the floor. They roared as their muscles inflated like life rafts and they charged the duo; three to Shane and four to The Suit.
Shane felt slow and ponderous as he moved, but he also felt strong. The first agent to close the gap was reckless, running straight into the punch that Shane threw, destroying most of his face. The others were less cavalier, but still aggressive. They struck fast and furious across Shane’s body, but he simply walked backwards, absorbing each blow. During his retreat, he saw The Suit fighting two agents over two of their collapsed partners. His cocktail wasn’t as quick, but it matched theirs for raw strength, and his simple yet refined technique surpassed their haphazard strikes.
Shane bumped into a wall. Exactly where he wanted them. He tensed his body, guarding his face, and let the Jaegerbombers pound away at his arms and upper body. One of them unleashed a flurry of punches on his torso, only realizing his broken fingers twenty punches in. He stopped, screaming in pain, and went down like a sack of flour when Shane backhanded his temple.
The final Jaegerbomber ran. Shane lumbered after him, but the high-gravity’s effects were making him sluggish. As they re-entered the main room, he ran past his fallen comrades and The Suit, collapsing halfway out the door. The Suit studied him.
“That’s why I don’t drink energy cocktails. I’d like to die from heart failure after thirty-five.”
Shane vomited a little, then stood back up. “So what now?”
“Now, we go our separate ways.  Everything you need is on the drive. You don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
What do I call you?”
The Suit smiled and straightened his lapels. “You can call me Arthur. And once you’ve got the whole gang together, we’re going to change the world.”
He turned and walked out into the night. Shane purged the rest of the adrenaline and excess beer, then followed suit.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: Down The TV Tropes Rabbit Hole

      After clicking the random button at TVTropes until I got one suitable for prose, I finally got "Boxed Crook". So here's my story; "Equal and Opposite." (Full disclosure, the final word count is over the limit at 1,069.)

            Megan’s breath echoed in her ears as she breathed through the respirator. With delicate movements she attached the wide device to the boards above her head, careful not to disturb the container’s volatile contents. Once it was secured, she inched back through the narrow space between her ceiling and the floor above, climbed down a ladder to her floor as quietly as possible, and sat on the floor, leaning against a wall. She sighed, relieved.
She took off her safety goggles, a balaclava, the respirator and some gloves, shaking her blond hair free. She placed them in a tub with the rest of her clothes, then took a shower to rinse off the dust, using a pen to prod a washcloth under her ankle monitor. She grimaced when she washed her cheek, the bruise that lay there still fresh. Before they roughed her up, Megan’s cute round face helped convey the image of a wholesome Midwestern girl, the sort of girl who would fix your car and bake you a prize-winning dessert for the road.
Not the sort of girl who used her chemistry degree to assassinate people with homemade bombs.
Megan dried off and dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and running shoes. She picked up a detonator and sat in a chair in the other room, watching the hole she cut into the ceiling through the doorway.
Three had jumped her and made the offer: kill a defector for them, and they’d forgive her murder of twenty-two leaders of the Acacia crime family. Plus, she’d be hired for the defector’s old job.
She’d smirked, nonchalant, and asked, “What job is that?”
“The Acacia family’s assassin on retainer,” Lucas replied.
Megan’s poker face shattered. She’d begged, saying she’d do anything else, kill anyone but him. But when her alternative was taking a trip to the wharf with some padlocks and boat chain, she chose the hit.
Trying to assassinate Arkin Stone was safer than certain death, but not by much.
After she’d accepted, they gave her a phone, the ankle monitor, ten thousand dollars for expenses, information on Arkin, and two weeks. After wasting a day and a half trying to get the monitor off, she collapsed on her apartment floor sobbing. No trick she had would remove the monitor without crippling her or alerting them. She could run, but not far.
After falling asleep under a table, she woke up the next morning and almost returned to hysterics. Instead, she took a deep breath and stood. She opened Arkin’s file and had a plan by sunset.
Arkin was too cautious for car bombs. He’d be especially vigilant of tails so soon after killing more Acacias than Megan had, he prepared all his own food, and seduction, in addition to its other unpleasant aspects, was so transparent it was drawn out suicide. But after looking at Arkin’s address, she found her one remotely plausible option.
After the Acacias persuaded the apartment’s owner to lend Megan the key, she spent a week logging Arkin’s comings and goings until she knew safe times to work. Even then, she sawed slowly, making as little noise as possible in case he had security with audio recording. Procuring bomb ingredients was much easier, smuggling them in grocery bags, hidden in boxes of cereal. Assembly and design were child’s play. All that remained was the wait.
A door creaked open upstairs and Megan shot up, alert. She stalked through her own apartment as she followed the footsteps above her, caressing the detonator’s button with her thumb. After some time, she paused in the bedroom’s doorway, waiting for him to get on his bed. For what seemed like ages, he moved to one part of the room for a bit, then moved on, never once touching the bed. “Come on,” Megan murmured, clenching the doorframe with her free hand.
“Come on and?” a voice asked, as something metal pressed into the back of Megan’s head.
Her heart stopped. Arkin pushed her into the room with his free hand, took the detonator away, then duct taped her to a chair. She looked at him and asked, “How?”
“You really think I wouldn’t keep tabs on all my neighbors? You did admirably well, but I have this wonderful toy that scans cell calls. I could have killed you anytime, but it wouldn’t have sent the…proper message to my old employers.” He looked up at the hole in the ceiling, then smiled at her before climbing the ladder. Megan said nothing and hung her head.
“I thought you were a pro, dear,” Arkin’s voice called down, as he unscrewed the brackets holding the bomb in place, his calves and feet hanging out the hole. “No pressure plates, no hidden wires, nothing to defuse. I guess when I let my friend upstairs in, we’ll be gentler than usual. It’s the least we can do.” He palmed the bomb’s bottom to keep it from falling before he unscrewed the last bracket.
“Now, would you prefer a beating first or—“
There was a hiss as the oils from his skin reacted with the bomb’s coating and dissolved a hole in the metal. Several liters of liquid came through the palm-sized hole and drenched Arkin. He tried to scream as the acid melted his face, but some had fallen into his open mouth and melted a hole in his throat. As air rushed through the hole the only sound he made was a thin sucking noise, growing fainter as the hole widened. His legs thrashed, twitched, then stopped.
Some time later, Lucas Acacia and his cohorts knocked out Arkin’s friend as he tried to break down Megan’s door. They stormed into the apartment to find the bizarre scene in her bedroom. Lucas was the one who finally broke the dumbfounded silence.
Megan shrugged. “He was too crafty to kill with a bomb. I had to get creative.”
“You planned this,” he deadpanned.
“Not exactly, but Arkin is—was—the kind of guy that required an unpredictable Plan B, and if the bomb didn’t kill him, I needed a hell of a Hail Mary.” Megan narrowed her eyes at them nervously, suddenly remembering she was taped to a chair.
“You are going to honor your part of the deal, right?”
“Of course Ms. Vanzetti,” Lucas said, waving his hand. He stared at the hole. “We’ll discuss the details in the car.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: The Wheel, Part Two

     Welcome to my blog! The following is my third story--and first submission--for Chuck Wendig's weekly flash fiction challenge. Click the URL for full details:

     Although you are supposed to do this with an RNG, I only rolled for two of the aspects because the subgenre (Teenage Noir) was irresistible to me. I'm a big fan of Brick and Veronica Mars.

     Anyway, the story by the numbers:

          SUBGENRE: 8, Teenage Noir

          CONFLICT: 6, Heist Gone Wrong

          MUST FEATURE: 4, A bottle of rare whiskey

          WORD COUNT (Sans title): 998

     Without further ado, I give you:

Tessa Collier In the Drink

Normally when someone my age steals booze, it involves pouring water in the vodka bottles in Dad’s liquor cabinet or a five-finger discount on a thirty-rack of Natty at Wal-Mart. It normally doesn’t involve a $50,000 bottle of whiskey or the school’s resident thug trying to fence it to collectors. But since my life consists of one long Veronica Mars impression, minus the murdered friend, nothing is normal for me.
Like Jackson, the guy I was stealing from, most of my family wound up in jail for various crimes, and like Jackson I continue to exhibit the troublesome impulses that led them there. The difference is that Jackson doesn’t try to change anything, whereas I try to channel my urges into white-hat criminal activities. At least that’s what I told myself as I picked a lock in four seconds.
I slipped through the window into Jackson’s basement bedroom and started looking for the bottle Adrian sent me after.
Adrian Martin. A sniveling, whiny rich kid that makes Joffery Lannister look like an Eagle Scout. Adrian threw a party for damn near everyone in school while his parents were gone, like most teenagers. But in his arrogance and entitlement, he decided to sample some of his Dad’s best stuff with a small group of friends. The next morning he replaced what they had taken in the classic refill manner, only to discover the one he hadn’t dared open, the collection’s crown jewel, was gone; stolen while they were sleeping it off. He called me immediately, knowing my reputation and offered me the second-largest amount of money I had ever been offered for a job.
I couldn’t pass that up. I contacted my usual sources and everything they said pointed here.
Bass pounded from upstairs. Jackson’s party kept him occupied while I searched his room. Twenty minutes later, I sat in Jackson’s chair, feet on his desk and lit a cigarette. Where the hell did you hide it? I mused to myself, taking a drag. I sifted through the magazines and books on his desk. An issue of Whiskey Advocate, an issue of Wine Spectator, a guide to craft beers, a history of wine, three books about whiskey. You’re full of surprises aren’t you? I thought, smiling. I shuffled through a stack of High Times and junk mail until I found it.
I initially tossed it aside, but something nagged at me. I took a second look: it was a print out from an online sewing tutorial.
“You might be full of surprises, but surely not that many,” I murmured. My eyes scanned the room. He wouldn’t use a coat; the weight, if not the bulge, would give it away. A big enough person would feel it sitting on the couch.
My eyes landed on Jackson’s bed. It had a new mattress, the foot-thick memory foam kind.
I walked over, removed the topsheet and examined the edge all the way around. On the side facing the wall there was a small stitch job, recent, but not eye-catching unless you were looking for it.
I reached in my pocket. Marilyn was full of it: a carbon-steel Gerber and a good whetstone are a girl’s best friends.
I opened the knife, cut the stitching and felt inside. From a hollowed-out section of the mattress I pulled out an old green bottle with a crumbling wax seal logo on the side. Just like Adrian had described: an old bottle of Glenfiddich, worth 50 grand; more depending on the batch.
A door slammed closed. My cigarette dropped from my mouth when I looked up. Jackson, all six-nine, 280 pounds of him, was there.
“We can probably skip the part where I say ‘This isn’t where I parked my car’, right?” I said.
“Why do you have my whiskey Tessa?” Jackson asked.
“Same reason as you. Cash.”
“Not everything’s about money, midget.”
I remembered the desk. I understood. “You were never going to sell this.”
“I don’t have the contacts to get what it’s really worth. I figure I’ll enjoy it instead of letting it collect dust in a rich dude’s house.”
“It’ll take you awhile to ditch the evidence if you’re going to savor it.”
“Yeah about that.” Jackson started approaching. “You’re gonna have to shack up in the closet for a few days. Don’t worry though. I’ve got a bucket for you.”
“Let’s hope you have a mop too.”
I tossed the bottle in a high arc. Jackson shouted and dove backwards, grasping for it. He landed on the ground, making a catch that would have made Jerry Rice proud. As he sat up, I ran forward and kicked him square in the nose.
I snatched the bottle, grabbed the windowsill and crawled through it just fast enough to feel Jackson’s fingers scrape the soles of my sneakers. Unable to fit through after me, he just yelled “GET HER!”
There were a few people outside now, but they were spread out enough for me to slalom around them before they knew what was happening. I ran like hell, vaulting over fences and zigzagging through backyards towards the town creek, flowing fast with summer rain.
I reached a two-lane bridge, shouts echoing behind me as they chased me. My lungs and calves screaming in agony, I made one last sprint, vaulted the guard wall and penciled into cold water. I floated to a bridge a few miles downstream then crawled ashore and curled up, exhausted, in a culvert under the bridge to rest a few minutes, hugging the bottle close.
I passed out immediately. The next morning, I dug a waterproof flip phone out of my pocket.
“Tessa! Are you okay? You disappeared last night!”
“Fine. Can you or Wade pick me up at the Montgomery Avenue Bridge?”
“Sure, I’ll be by in fifteen minutes. Tessa, what happened?”
“The worst night of my life involving alcohol.”
“You don’t sound hungover.”
I looked at the bottle, tempted.
“Not yet. And Chandler, bring a towel.”