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  • Endless Joke
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    Here's that writers' manual you were reaching and scrambling for. You know the one: filled with juicy writing tidbits and dripping with pop cultural snark and smartassery. Ew. Not an attractive look. But effective. And by the end, you'll either want to kiss me or kill me. With extreme prejudice. Go on. You know you want to.

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  • Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
    Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
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Friday
Jul122019

Off Limits

You’re with me now. We’re walking into some place brutal. Hard. Ice-cold. One of the places known simply as Off Limits.

“Are we meant to be here, Mama?” you ask.

“No. No one is meant to be here. Ever. But it’s okay.”

You flinch when a sound reaches us in the hollow air of the tunnel. A sound of something monstrous. Something not meant to be. A roar and a shriek and a lament. I flinch too, but I’m your momma and I can’t show my fear.

“Mama, what was that?”

“It was something we have to get past.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Neither do I, dear heart. But we have to. Be brave.”

I already miss the pugilistic night of the surface world, gusts like dancing feet, tense quick jabs of rain and sleet; despite the lightning combos to our body, the sudden startling scimitar of the hook, this place is so much worse.

I want so badly to say this, but I only think it: You are a warm jewel, a pulsing light. Your copious life makes mine a blip. You are a white hare glistening in an arctic winter. You stand still, quivering, brimful of the moment yet unmindful of the rest. You are a bird, mellifluous as a single sunrise in spring. You are full-throated, raw, momentous, awake to all your possibilities. You are an artist on stage and I the audience, each a battery charging the other. How do I tell you what you mean to me? How do I not scare you away? How do I pretend it’s okay?

“Mama, is that a man?”

I start and squint yet cannot see what she sees, though I sense some immensity moving peripherally, like a shadow disengaging from its host, like a dark uncoupled ghost.

“I don’t know, my sweet.”

Our crime was knowing, is all. About the way things work. Protocols set in motion by our breach. We are so small. Which might yet be our hope. Hope. The most vicious of four-letter words. 

I feel her hand squeeze mine harder, and a flurry of mechanical sounds echo ahead and behind, steampunk corvids and clanking maestros preparing for some dark discordant machine song.

The voice when it comes is close yet far, flat yet loud. Intimate and appalling, snaking through the marrow of my bones. 

“Your first mistake was to leave. Your second and worse mistake was to take her with you. Your third, and by far your worst, was to tell of what you know.” A voice that sounds like something flayed, a whisper-shriek like steel quills raked over mortal wounds, an unviable thing aborted by another universe yet thrust into this.

My fear near throttles me, but I manage to say, “Let us past.” My voice with subatomic spin passing through nothing, a neutrino sigh in the spume beneath everything. 

He is pestilence. The deadly sludge in a reactor. Something oily and massive clogging a sewer. I can smell his awful smile. He doesn’t even need to speak. The impasse between us spans eons.

My girl’s hand squeezes tighter, and I can feel the tremors of her terror. This gives me the strength I need.

“You have the power to destroy us; that is obvious. Still, you will allow us passage. You will show ‘mercy’”—hoping he doesn’t hear the quotes around that word—“because if you don’t, the circuits woven into my veins will transmit topside what unfolds here, and everyone will know you as the monster of our nightmares you claim not to be. So prove it. Let us go.”

If silence can be personified, his is a great bubble of malevolence, an inbreath of all that is loathsome, a quietly calculating horror, the moment prior to carnage, far from sane yet bright as the suppurating heart of an infection. Time uncouples from space. We are unmoored, adrift in a warp of unnameable matter. 

After the alpha of then and the omega of when, he speaks.

“Pass.” 

Good call, but you will never make things right, I think, as we head for the unknown, hands still clasped, my tiny fawn’s galloping heart echoing in the pulse of our wrists.

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