Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 4
Challenge #2: “The Blue Pill.” Write a 600-word piece, which must incorporate dreams or dreamlike imagery. Also, it should have elements of stream of consciousness writing included somewhere within.
Lord Harlington pushes between phosphorescent strands of growth stretching for the lightless sky. A shame that the world has furnished him with no game greater than the elephant—but there are hunting grounds beyond the world, and lands darker than darkest Africa.
Cold, stagnant water in knee-high boots. The warning click of the Ferniot counter. Shut it off. What threat is ALICE exposure after Malaria in Nairobi? After fever in the Congo? His quarry is near: a few dark tendrils waving above the glowing multitude. He readies his weapon: a shotgun over a large-calibre rifle.
In the overgrowth, progress is unnaturally slow. Everything is silent, calm. Bright shoots curl around Harlington’s coat, drag across the fabric, then retreat as he passes. Despite the cold, he remembers India, the trail through the wilderness, the guide who vanished into the grass and was never seen again. He presses on, wading through the stalks until they thin out into a kind of clearing.
The creature is vast. A buoyant, gas-filled thing that has descended to drink. Harlington traces the sights across its form, looking for some vital place to put the shot. Waving fronds. Flapping membranes. Exposed ribs of cartilage.
The beast is dead.
So why does it move?
Behind the carcass, a wide head rises, threads of fresh sinew dangling from its maw. There are no eyes, but Harlington can feel its attention upon him.
A flash of powder.
A leaping form.
A crater in the corpse.
Somewhere in the glowing fronds, the creature stalks. It is a dense, lithe thing, with a smile that stretches across most of its head. It is not a mouth like the other animals of the Alterworld—it has no barbed tendrils or rasping tongue—it is a solid jaw thick with teeth. Harlington steps out of the overgrowth, presses his back to the whale-size carcass in the clearing: the only place to make his stand.
Lord Harlington thumbs the lever on his weapon, selecting the shotgun. The wall of glowing tendrils is close, constantly shifting of its own accord. He remembers the tiger, remembers the guide, but thinks mostly of this creature’s smile and the space above his mantle. He scans the overgrowth, waiting to test fang and claw with powder and steel.
The carcass shifts beneath a great weight.
A cold breath blows across his scalp.
Harlington does not look up. He grasps the ripcord at his shoulder and gives a sharp tug. There is a lurching flash—an unpleasant electric sensation—as the apparatus on his back heaves him back to the real world, back to his Malpas estate.
It is like waking from a dream: the nightmare cannot follow.
Harlington notes the place—three quarters of the way between the ice house and the pond—that he emerges. This is one more advantage of the Alterworld over the Savannah: the land it occupies is his own.
The sun is low. Harlington looks forward to picking up the trail of his new quarry in the morning, with the benefit of a good breakfast and a good night’s rest. The sun is low as he makes his way up the gentle slope to his grand house. By the time he steps inside, it is almost setting.
Harlington peels off his boots, leaving them for the servants. Socks wet against the tiles, he strides to the trophy room, unloads the remaining shell from his gun, and places the weapon in the cabinet.
An unpleasant electric sensation.
Something is in the room.
Not a trophy.
It is quickly followed by the cat.