Flash Fiction Friday!

Posted: June 3, 2016 in Fiction, Flash Fiction Friday

Happy Summer All! This month’s story was prompted by a randomly chosen title, so without further ado here’s “Back Country Expanse”:

Judd bites his lower lip as he looks around the corner at the end of the hallway. At the far end, where it intersects with the hall that ran perpendicular, he can see the walls, floor, and ceiling covered in some kind of black substance. It covers the concrete block walls and the lockers fixed to them, it covers the tile flooring, the fiberboard tiles of the drop-ceiling. The substance undulates and ripples,  sending an electric jolt of fear down Judd’s spine. Involuntary, he steps backward, pulling his face back from around the corner.

    His limbs spasm against the resistance of his twin bed, the ten year old suddenly very confused. He looks around wildly, feeling his heart pounding in his chest, taking in the sudden appearance of his bedroom. Even as his heartbeat slows back into regularity, Judd’s mind reels as he tries to understand what he just experienced: some oddly horrific moment in the hallway of the county’s K-12 school and then…home. The hallway had been so real, so vivid. The only explanation that he can think of was that it had been some sort of strange dream, a nightmare of some kind.

    But, that doesn’t sit right in his gut.

    Sitting up in bed, he looks around warily, half-expecting the hallway to replace the normal four walls. Half-expecting himself to be standing in his underwear and Ms. Evers, his teacher, to be telling him that he’s late for a big test. But, none of that happens. All there is is Judd’s small bedroom.

    He gets out of bed and makes his way down to the kitchen, padding lightly and barefoot across the hardwood floors and down the steps of his family’s old farmhouse. He eats breakfast in silence, his mother already off to work while his father and older brother are out in the fields, unable to shake the sense of unease that his strange awakening has stirred within him. Finished, he goes and gets dressed, slipping on a baseball cap and skeptically looking himself over in the mirror before hearing knocking on the front door.

    He sees his friend Mikey through the window set in the door as he descends the stairs down to the front hall, the other boy practically dancing with excitement as he waits on the front porch.

    “Judd!” Mikey practically yells as the door opens. “Get your shoes on! You gotta come find it with me!”

    “Find what?” Judd asks, confused by Mikey’s vague exhortation and animated nature. Usually the boy is sedate and lazy.

    Mikey rushes past Judd into the farmhouse, grabbing the other boy’s sneakers off the floor near coat rack and tossing them at him. “The meteorite!” Mikey replies. “It fell last night. You didn’t see it? It practically turned the sky violet!

    Judd blinks, robotically slipping his sneakers on before Mikey begins pushing him out the front door. He has a vague memory of seeing a light in the sky the night before, but nothing after that. “Where did it fall?” Judd asks as he follows Mikey down the farmhouse’s front steps, going to where his bike leans against the porch.

    “Somewhere over by the Beekman farm,” Mikey replies as they both mount their bikes before beginning to peddle down the driveway.

    Judd looks north toward where the Endless Mountains stretched out and reclined, their slopes and peaks covered in riotous verdant growth under the blazing summer sun. “That far…?” Judd responds, less than enthused by the prospect of riding so far on so hot a day.

     “It’s not that far!” If Judd wasn’t already been somewhat preoccupied in his thoughts, he might have noted how odd it was for Mikey to describe biking the several miles out to the Beekman farm as “not that far”. But as it was, he peddled in mostly silence as the other boy excitedly regurgitated every detail from the night before, along with his guess of where the stone from the stars might have landed.

     When they finally passed the Beekman property and continued along the barely maintained county road – little more than a wide lane of gravel – Judd felt himself grow dizzy and asked if they could walk their bikes for awhile.

     “Sure,” Mikey says to him, slowing into a skidding stop on the gravel and dismounting his own bike. “We’ll probably have to ditch the bikes soon anyway. I think it crashed somewhere in the woods.”

    As Judd sets his foot on the ground to dismount he suddenly finds himself standing in the street outside of the old Hollywood Cinema movie theater that sits in the heart of Nelson, their hometown. Not far from him a car sits lifeless on the sidewalk, smashed into the brick wall of a storefront, both front doors left hanging open. Confused, Judd looks away and flinches instinctively as he hears a strange bestial cry from a few streets over. It is then that he sees the smoke rising from beyond the nearby rooftops and sees the gory upper-half of a human corpse lying on the asphalt further up the street.

    “Judd!”

    Mikey is in front of him, shaking his shoulder with one hand, looking confused at him.

    “I–”

    “You okay?” Mikey asks, removing his hand from Judd’s shoulder. “You were standing there for like…I dunno, a minute or so? Just staring into space.”

    “It was weird…” Judd begins to say, but Mikey turns away and grabs the handles of his bike where it lies on the gravel lane, righting it. Judd shakes his head slightly, trying to clear it.

    “Well, if you’re not having a stroke or something, then come on!” Mikey says, continuing on down the county road.

    They continue down the road in a silence that’s more uneasy than it was before. Even through the haze of his existential confusion, Judd can see that Mikey seems almost possessed by the idea of finding this fallen star, this stone from the heavens. And Judd himself can’t find the backbone to stop and turn around, simply following his friend deeper into the Northern Pennsylvanian wilds. After leaving their bikes in some shrubs by the side of the road — though it’s unlikely they’d be stolen, neither boy wants to run the risk of such a thing happening — they clamber off through the trees, where birds and insects sing among the leaves and branches like choirs of strange angels watching the pair from On High. As they walk among the still sentinels of the forest, Mikey talks about how he thinks it would be so cool if there were some kind of aliens inside the rock.

    “H-how do you know where it is?” Judd asks after they’ve been hiking for nearly fifteen minutes. “I mean: it could be anywhere around here. We could be going in the opposite direction of where it hit.”

    “I saw it from my window,” Mikey responds, raising his voice to be heard and not even bothering to look over his shoulder at his friend as he presses on through the underbrush. “I also…I–I–I just know. It’s like there’s a cord tied to my chest that thrums harder and faster the closer we get.”

    “But, what if you’re wr–” Judd begins to say, but stops as he finds himself standing once more in the hallway of the school. He’s in mid-step as he moves backward away from the corner of the wall, pausing as he orients himself. He doesn’t have much time as he hears another raspy, bestial noise echo down the empty hall from behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he sees a strange form the size of a horse with skittering, chitinous legs and fleshy tendrils that brush the floors, walls, and ceiling moving down the hall toward him. Judd screams in uncomprehending terror at the sight and vaults around the corner, launching himself down the hall as every fiber of his being seems to contribute adrenaline for his flight response.

    He hears a gurgling, raptor-like cry from behind him before the clacking of chitin on tile increases to a quick drumming. Judd sprints toward the intersection and angles himself to leap across the morass of blackness toward the left branch of the hall. He feels his feet lift from the ground as he hurtles himself through the open space, his eyes on the unmarked tile beyond and hoping against hope that whatever it is chasing him won’t be able to cross this strange, colored patch. He feels something brush his head and shoulders as soars across the blackened space, and hears another terrified scream tear loose from his throat–

    And he feels himself tripping and falling forward onto the loamy earth, the scream being strangely choked off in a throat that had not been preparing to utter such a sound. Not just confused now, but still terrified – his heart hammering rapidly in his chest, his pulse a pounding rhythm in his ears – Judd pushes himself up off of the ground, skittering around on his bare knees to make sure that some unearthly monstrosity isn’t about to sink its claws or teeth or mandibles into him.

    There’s nothing there aside from serene, quietly singing nature.

    “Judd? You okay?” Mikey’s voice comes from behind him and Judd whirls around, scraping his knees up even more on the earth.

    “I…I…I…” Judd stammers incoherently, now truthfully scared that he’s losing his sanity.

    “Come on!” Mikey says impatiently. “There trees thin out real fast up ahead it looks like. I think the meteorite’s just ahead!”

    Flashing Judd a roguish grin, Mikey turns and hurries off ahead. Fear grips Judd’s insides as an irrational gnosis overtakes him. Whatever he’s experiencing, it has to do with the meteorite. He doesn’t know how it could or how he knows it, but he’s certain of it in his bones.

    He pushes himself to his feet and sprints through the trees after Mikey, catching up with the other boy only after the abruptly fall away, giving rise to bare earth overturned violently by the percussive penetration of something from far above. Judd comes up behind Mikey, who is standing a dozen yards from the lip of the crater that has replaced about a two-thousand square feet of forest overnight, and places his hand on the other boy’s shoulder, urgently wanting to restrain him.

    But then his hand is resting on an old and weathered metal railing. He’s standing at the foot of the steps leading up to Nelson’s small library, looking at the doors with their cracked and shattered glass, an eerie, fractured reflection of himself staring back. In multitudinous half-images staring back at him, Judd can see that he’s dirty and bloody and has small cuts on him. His clothes are torn here and there.

    Without thinking, he slowly ascends the half-dozen stairs and gingerly opens the door to the library enough for him to slip in. Feeling his throat suddenly dry from anxiety, expecting unholy horrors to burst from the shadows with every step he takes deeper into the building, Judd presses forward. It isn’t long before he hears a low moaning coming from one of the side rooms, the sound of someone wounded.

    The sound of someone slowly and inexorably dying.

    Cautiously, Judd crosses the opened space, picking his way across the overturned shelves and half-destroyed, antiquated card catalogues. He slips into the side room, what used to be a computer lab before the current troubles, and navigates the mostly darkened room toward the source of the pained moaning.

    His insides feel frozen when he finds Mikey on the floor, half-curled up under a table. He’s missing his right foot, a belt cinched painfully around the stump, and one of his eyes is gone among a thousand other more minor injuries.

    “Jesus, Mikey,” Judd whispers, unable to raise his voice to a higher volume. “W-what happened?!”

     The other boy’s face lolls toward Judd, half-delirious from pain and blood-loss. “I’m so sorry,” Mikey croaks out. “I shouldn’t have…I shouldn’t have…”

    “Shouldn’t have what?” Judd urgently responds.

    “It all came true,” Mikey mumbles, his voice getting weaker with every word, every syllable. “It made it all come true…”

    And then Judd is standing back at the crater, his hand on Mikey’s shoulder.

   He almost recoils from the suddenness of the contact, but somehow instinctively keeps ahold of his friend. Yanking hard, Judd spins Mikey around to face him, his own eyes wide in terror as he stares at the other boy.

    “Don’t, Mikey!” Judd chokes out, before speaking again, this time his voice stronger. “Don’t! Something horrible will happen!”

    Mikey looks at him like he’s gone crazy, which isn’t totally untrue. “What the heck’s your problem, Judd?” he asks sharply, yanking his shoulder out from under Judd’s hand. “I’m gonna go down and touch it to see if it’s still warm. If you’re going to be a pussy about it, stay here.”

    Mikey turns and crosses the overturned earth to the lip of the crater, quickly disappearing as he slides with control down the inner slope. Numbly and against his better judgment, with his own primal fears screaming at him to turn and run until his muscles or his heart gives out, Judd steps forward enough to peer over the lip of the crater to see in. About ten feet down the slope levels out some and at the center of the crater sits something that resembles a geode the size of one of their bikes, its gem-like surface covered in hard, brown rock. But where the rock has fallen away, multifaceted bits of black gemstone stare back at him, the summer sun reflecting queerly off of them and casting a strange bluish halo into the air around the meteorite. Judd feels his mouth go dry, his muscles seizing up in paralyzing panic, as he watches his friend cross the dirt toward the starstone.

    And as the boy reaches out to touch one of the angled, black surfaces with a strangely covetous and excited expression on his face, Judd squeezes his eyes shut, afraid to watch what happens next.

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