Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds has a new flash fiction challenge up. You can read about it here. Without re-hasing his whole post, the basic gist is to ping a Twitter account called @YouAreCarrying with the word “inventory”. @YouAreCarrying will then ping you back with a list of items “you are carrying”. (Get it?) The challenge by Wendig is to using everyone of those items in a flash fiction piece of 2000 words or less.
I couldn’t resist this one.
Here’s my list:
@scottclyerly a bike, a battered lantern, a sheet of paper, a bottle of cheap scotch, a key, a shovel, a large key, a magic boat.
— YOU ARE CARRYING: (@YouAreCarrying) July 12, 2014
And here’s the fiction.
He pedaled faster. The old Schwinn creaked under the strain. The tires wobbled with each rock in the road. On the handlebars, the old battered lamp rattled, throwing out a weak light. In his haste to escape, he’d dropped his flashlight. He’d grabbed the lantern from the hook in the shed where he’d stolen the bike. He’d hoped it would replace the flashlight, but it threw only a foot’s worth of light. Not enough to help avoid rocks.
His heart was pounding in his ears. He thought it might pop. That, he thought cynically, that would solve his problems. He gasped for breath. His legs burned as if his veins pumped gasoline. But he didn’t stop pedaling. Couldn’t stop. If he stopped they might catch him. If they caught him, they’d kill him.
When he reached the turn-off, he squeezed the handbrakes. The bike slowed and he allowed his feet off the pedals and onto the ground. It was a mistake. His legs threatened full rebellion. They might never pedal again. That which would be bad. But he had to stop to make sure it was the right turn-off. If not, he’d be lost in the backroads of the bayou forever. Or at least until he died.
He pulled his backpack off and dug into it. He rummaged until he pulled out the scrap of paper, folded and tattered. Torn from the Ringmaster’s Book, he opened it. In the weak light of the lantern he read the clues, looked again at the hand drawn map. He thought is was right, yes, but he had to be sure. He reached into the bag and drew out a object wrapped in a scarf. As he brought it close to the map, the object in the scarf began to glow. So did the map. Icons on the map that had been hidden were now visible, glowing in the dark of the bayou night. Yes, this was the turn.
His legs were rubbery. He needed a slug to re-energize. He took the bottle of crappy scotch from the bag. He took a swallow of the brown liquid. It burned his belly like his blood burned his legs. But it helped. He took another. It gave him a sense of hope, of purpose. It reminded him of the girl, her beautiful naked body, and her bed where he’d left her a few hours earlier. One more slug and he was done. Paper, scarf, and bottle back in the bag, bag slung on his back, he willed his legs into motion. His muscles screamed as he started pedaling down the dirt road.
He pedaled another thirty minutes before stopping. He knew he needed to bury the key before his final escape. This dirt road was only one of many ways in, but he couldn’t make the full trip. He’d need to come back and use the key to unlock the door in the world. Once open, he could step through. But not tonight. That is what they’d expect, and he knew they’d be waiting for him on the other side. No, he couldn’t make that journey tonight.
The plan was to trick them. Make them think he was going somewhere else, escaping with the key, to enter through the door in the world somewhere else. But in fact, he wouldn’t have the key. He’d leave it here, buried, to be retrieved later.
He looked around. The trees had grown close in this part of the road, the underbrush to each side thick and difficult. This seemed as good a place as any. The smell of water had grown stronger. He’d be at the edge soon. If he buried it at the edge, they could find it. He couldn’t let that happen. Even though he knew the key would be useless without the Book, without the page he’d torn from the Book, he didn’t want to risk them having any of the pieces.
He climbed off the bike. He listened for the sounds of pursuit but everything behind him was quiet. The sounds of frogs and crickets and the buzz of mosquitoes were all he heard. No engines, no voices shouting in anger to each other trying to get a fix in his location.
He took the backpack off and placed it in the ground, unzipped it, and started pulling items out. He took the box the girl had given him. “It’s made of ironwood,” she’d said. “It will mostly mask the key’s power from those seeking it.” He took the object wrapped in the scarf. She had given him the scarf, once beautifully colored but now faded by sun and sweat and stained brown by what he hoped wasn’t blood. “Wrap the key in this first, cover it completely, then lock it in the box and bury it. That will fully mask the key’s power.”
He unwrapped the scarf slowly. With each layer of fabric removed, he felt the power of the object grow. When the last fold fell away, there was the key, large and ornate and beautiful. It stretched across his palm, out past his fingers. His hand tingled as he held it, almost like the key was humming with current. He stared at it, felt like it was pulling him in, like he could sit there by the side of the dirt road and hold the key forever. His mind flipped through the last few weeks like a movie reel. The shows, the Ringmaster with his waxed handlebar mustache and gleaming smile, the Strongman swinging the sledgehammer, the Bearded Lady and her sly smile, Gypsy the Fortune Teller and her crystal ball, her trance, her prophecies, the girl, her love, and all of the darkness, the body, the blood–
He took a huge breath and found he was panting. The key had nearly sucked him in. How long had he been sitting here? The sky was less dark. Morning was coming.
Panicking, he wrapped the large key back in the cloth. He took a smaller key from his pocket and unlocked the ironwood box. He placed the wrapped key inside, closed the lid, locked the box, and put the key in his pocket. From the bag he took a short hand shovel. He listened to the woods around him. Still no sounds of pursuit. But being lost in the visions of the key he had lost at least an hour. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
He walked a ways off the dirt road, into the woods. He found a hollow at the base of a large tree. He dug in the soft earth until he had a hole two feet deep. Before he placed the box in the ground, he opened the box again with the small key. He took the torn page from his pocket and held it to the scarf in the box. He heard a hissing noise and smelled the smell of burning paper. He quickly shoved the paper back in his pocket and closed and locked the box. He placed the box in the hole and then replaced the dirt. When he’d filled the hole, he brushed leaf litter from the ground over the place where the key was buried. He stood and looked at it. It looked pretty good to him. It would have to do.
He returned to the bike. He put everything back in the backpack. He was almost done. He took out the torn page from his pocket and unfolded it. It had been changed, with the key’s location burnt into the map, but he couldn’t see it. He wouldn’t be able to see it with magic. Which was fine by him.
His legs were so sore he wasn’t sure he could pedal anymore. He thought about leaving the bike and trying to walk, but his legs didn’t like that idea either. He took the bottle of Scotch and took another swallow. Then heard the engine.
Coming down the dirt road was a vehicle. It was probably a truck. The pitted potholed road would be too rough for cars. It had to be them.
His legs suddenly decided to work. He slung the bag and jump on the bike and started to pedal. He pedaled as if his life depended on it, which he knew it did. He could smell the brackish smell of the bayou as it grew closer. Behind him the engine gained.
When he reached the water’s edge he knew he had only seconds left. He grabbed the lantern as he jumped from the bike, letting it clatter to the ground as he ran. He swung the backpack from his back and placed the lantern on the ground at the bayou’s edge. He dug into the bag looking for his escape. He couldn’t find it. The engine drew nearer, and now he could start to hear voices calling. It was the big truck. It would drive over anything.
He was near hysteria when his hands finally touched on it. He grasped it gently and pulled it from the bag, his breath short. The light from the truck’s headlights was visible, coming around the bend in the road.
He opened his hand. In it was the boat. Miniature in size, a perfect replica of a larger skiff. “Take this,” Gypsy had said. “When you get to the water, place this in the water. It will save you.” He’d looked at her like she was crazy and had asked how it would save him. “It’s magic,” she’d whispered. He wasn’t sure he believed her then, but now it was his only hope. He placed it in the water.
“There he is,” he heard someone shout. The truck stopped. He heard boots as they hit the ground and started to run. He looked over his shoulder. Silhouetted in the truck’s headlights were people running towards him.
He looked back at the water, only to see a life sized version of the tiny boat floating there. “It’s magic,” Gypsy had said. She had been right.
Without thinking he leapt from the bank of the bayou, landing in the boat. As soon as he was aboard, the boat started to move on it’s own away from the bank. By the time the men reached the place where he’d leapt, the boat was nearly lost to them in the gloomy watery mist of daybreak.
The Ringmaster stepped to the edge of the bank and watched the boat drift further away. He watched until it disappeared, then stroked one side of his handlebar mustache, soothing his rage.