Last week I told you guys about how I’d joined NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. This past weekend was round 1. We had 48 hours to come up with a thousand words or less for our group assignment. I was placed into group 31, and our prompt was: action/adventure, a sewer, a canteen.
It took me a little bit of thinking to come up with an idea, but once I had it I whipped my story up pretty quickly and I’m pretty happy with it! I had planned to just give you a bit of a breakdown of the round 1, but what I found out recently is that it’s actually okay to share your story elsewhere while you’re waiting for the results. So, lucky you! You get to read my first round entry, “Pool of Diamonds”!
The dogs were gaining. Laura could hear the snapping of their jaws and the growls in their throats. They were highly motivated tonight. The guards must be starving them again, she thought.
She could feel her lungs beginning to burn and knew that she wouldn’t be able to run for much longer. The dogs would tear her to shreds without a second thought, she knew, so when she finally spotted the broken manhole cover it was like a shining beacon had appeared in the darkest of nights.
She skidded to a stop in the middle of the road and dug her fingers into the hole where a chunk of steel had long ago broken away from the round plate. On the first pull her back gave an angry twinge that nearly knocked her over. On the second she felt the jagged steel slicing into the soft flesh of her fingers. On the third, with a mass of fur and claws and teeth flying down the short road toward her, she managed to wrench the cover free and shoved it aside. Her head dipped below the street line just as a set of slobbering jaws snapped at the tips of her hair.
“Ha! Not this time, mutts!” she shouted and raised a taunting finger to the hounds. In that moment of cockiness her blood-slick fingers slipped from the ladder. She hit the sewage below with a loud slap that vibrated up and down her spine. By the time she was able to scramble to her feet she was soaked head to toe and could scarcely stop herself retching from the fumes of waste and decay. The barks of the angry hounds sounded very suddenly like mocking laughter. “Yeah, okay, I deserved that,” she grumbled and spat in disgust.
She almost turned and took off again immediately, but a subconscious twitch had her reaching for her too-light belt, and when she felt that her package was missing her heart went cold. “No,” she hissed at herself as she splashed furiously through the sewage. “No, no, no! It’s got to be here somewhere!” If I’ve lost it, it’s all over!
Suddenly, graciously, her fingers brushed the metal canister and her heart jumped to life once again. With shaking hands she brushed the sewage off the plain tin canteen, assured herself that the cap was screwed on tightly, and carefully reattached it to her belt.
“You get the others! I’ll head down after her!”
Laura chastised herself; she’d stymied the dogs but let the guards catch up to her. With her package secure she pulled herself up out of the sewage and began to put as much distance between herself and the guards as quickly as she could. She turned up the first tunnel on the left, then the second on the right, weaving with confidence through the sewers that she’d spent so long studying. She knew the way like the back of her hand, and now that the dogs were aboveground and she was below, she was certain she could escape the guards.
Three tunnels down, four more to the right, down a long slope and around a sharp curve, and Caleb was exactly where they’d planned. He was filthy from head to toe and blood was seeping through his right pant leg, but his eyes lit up when he saw her. He took no notice at all of the state Laura was in, but swept her immediately into a passionate kiss that made her swoon.
“I kept them distracted as long as I could,” he swore, as though she would ever have believed anything less of him. His gaze flicked to the canteen on her hip and she could tell he was dying of anticipation. “Did you get them?” he asked.
Laura pulled the canteen from her hip and flashed the toothy grin that had caused Caleb to fall in love with her. With a flourish she popped the cap and let him gaze inside. From within the ordinary metal canister the sparkle of hundreds of diamonds gleamed. “Did you even doubt me for a second?” she teased.
He smiled – a true, genuine smile – just before a shot rang through the tunnels and a flower of blood began to blossom from his heart. Laura had half a second to scream before Caleb dropped to the ground to reveal the armed guard in the tunnel behind him. She didn’t think – couldn’t think. Her hand dropped to the knife at her hip and suddenly it was sailing through the air. The guard cried out and flinched as the blade opened his cheek, and before he could recover Laura was upon him, a second knife snatched up from her boot. Without care for the consequences, and with an agonizing scream on her lips, she brought the knife up under his chin, past his jaw, and into his brain. His body twitched for only a moment, and then dropped, lifeless, in a pool of blood.
Caleb was lying in a pool of diamonds. He was breathing, but his eyes were unfocused. Laura dropped to her knees and placed her shaking hands on his face. “No,” she whispered. “Not just when we can finally get out… Please don’t leave me!” Hot, wet, treacherous tears streamed down her cheeks. “Please… We were finally going to run away together!”
She was weeping so miserably that she almost didn’t see his hand move to touch hers. With blood on his lips he gently kissed her fingers and motioned her close. She leaned her head to his so that her tears became his. “I’ll never leave you,” he whispered in her ear with his last breath.
And as Laura held him tight and cried out her heartache, the last light went out of Caleb’s eyes and the diamonds surrounding them seemed to lose all their shine.