Here is a flash fiction story I wrote for a contest. The theme was “Duel” and something important had to be on the line. It had to be 1000 words or less.
Dust motes swirled in the yellow beam of Clarita’s flashlight. She stooped beneath a dangling mass of leaves and peered into the darkness. The tunnel was coarsely hewn into the hillside, and three irregular slabs of shale framed the entrance. Clarita scowled at the root ends and sporadic strands of web dangling from the tunnel’s roof. Recent scuff marks on the dirt floor delved deeper into the hill than her frail light could penetrate.
“You little shit,” she spat. “Taye! You in there?” Her call was swallowed by the dark. How far back does this thing go? she wondered as she knelt before the opening. The girl angled her flashlight all around the sides of the passage, but could see no structural reinforcement.
Stay out of the tunnels, her grandfather had warned. They’re old, maybe hundreds of years old, and kids die in them every year.
Were they once mines? Clarita had asked. Grandfather shook his head.
Why haven’t they all been closed up?
Just stay out.
“Taye, you know you’re not ‘sposed to go in there, so get your scrawny ass back here now!” She stared into the unresponsive shadows. Grandma leaves me to watch my cousin and this happens, she fumed. Haven’t seen the little jerk since I was here two years ago. He was a lot more fun when he was seven. She pulled her phone from her hoodie: Three bars, do I call for help and trigger an avalanche of BS, or crawl into this stupid hole… She slid the device into her rear pocket and wiggled belly first into the mouth of the tunnel. Taye’s voice squeaked in her mind, “Bet you’ll never find me! I got one of Grandpa’s old coins. If you can find me before they get back, you can have it!”
Clarita didn’t give a damn about that coin. It was a Mercury dime, a really old one, but so what? If Grandpa entrusted it with Taye, it must be worthless, she figured.
Dust stung her nose as she wormed down the narrow passage. Although she had room enough to kneel, Clarita found that staying low kept the tangled roots, and any creepy-crawlies in them, out of her long hair. Thirty feet on, the tunnel bent to the right and angled downward. Clarita stopped, uncomfortable with the steep slope.
“Screw this,” she muttered, and began to wiggle backwards. From the darkness ahead, she heard a giggle.
“Taye!” No response. “Taye?” Her phone rang. Clarita reached back and tugged it from her jeans: it was her cousin. “Where are you, you little monster?” she hacked.
“Just a little farther, moron” he taunted, then hung up. Clarita quickly redialed his number. She could hear his phone echo faintly ahead, but he didn’t answer. “Taye, this isn’t funny!” With her light in one hand, and phone in the other, Clarita began to move downwards.
Her flashlight was growing dim. The tunnel leveled out and Clarita found herself in a low junction of three passages. Her phone rang. She glanced at the time, then answered it.
“Grandma and grandpa are home now, it’s after four. You win, you little weasel! Now, I want to get out of here!”
“The passage on your left joins with another tunnel that you can take to the surface. The middle one I’d avoid. Nasty sudden drop. The tunnel on your right will take you to me. But only if you’re brave. Y’know, Clarita, like a man.”
The girl squinted in anger at her phone. “You sayin’ I’m afraid ‘cause I’m a girl? You’re dead, you little fucknoodle!” She pressed an app on her phone and it transformed into a compact, X-Stealth missile launcher.
“What? You can’t do that!”
“Have her push a button and turn her phone into a missile launcher!”
“Sure I can. It’s a work of fiction.”
“Tandem fiction, and there are rules as to what you can do.”
“No there aren’t.”
“Yeah, there are. We agreed to let Alexa create a story start, and that anything we write had to be drawn from that!”
“Well, I felt a compact X-Stealth missile launcher fit Clarita’s need nicely. I was going to give the story back to you before I blew Taye to pieces.”
“No way! And what the hell is ‘X-Stealth’ anyways? You gave her a friggin’ missile launcher. Nothing stealthy about that!”
“It’s my creation. Look, you’re the one who challenged me to a writing duel.”
“Good writing duel—as in, who could create the most compelling character, not as in ‘who’s character could blow the shit out of the other’s with some Power Ranger wet-dream missile launcher!’”
“Then it looks like I win.”
“You can’t think of anything better, so I win.”
“I barely got any development time! Seriously, I got like two sentences in after your expansive, overly descriptive tripe. Taye was setting Clarita up.”
“What, with some bullshit Taye dug a hole and put poisonous spikes in the bottom of it contrivance? You’re too late for that, bucko, Clarita has a missile launcher, an X-Stealth missile launcher.”
“Too late? Too late?” He lurched across the table and wrapped his huge hands around the other writer’s throat. “Maybe you’re too late, you self-aggrandizing hack!” he growled.
“Xlzythpso Xsvatic Xmostroqq!” [You can’t kill my avatar!]
“Zmnogctoc Zerphzliq Zagnogostra.” [My planet set the rules.]
“Xylrophriqqiq Xon Xrxxtrapaff Xhseyshaxx.l” [It’s against tradition.]
“Zfuqq Zatt.” [Screw that.]
“Ximeophiq Xkantaniqq Xaestromogott Xnaristiqqon.” [Tradition keeps the peace between our worlds.]
© Brad Skiff