The Dreamer in the Dark

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 15

Challenge #7*: Write a story that takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. It must include both situational irony and a tone shift, but these things must be kept separate. It must also include fifteen colours that are also things, and elements from at least four different mythologies, only two of which may be well known.

It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, lavender—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.

It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, mint—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.

It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, nutmeg—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.

It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, orange—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.

It took fifteen seconds for Gilgamesh to descend into the underworld. Thirty seconds to wrap the paquet congo—ebony, ochre, periwinkle—in the hopes that it would bring the loa to his aid. It will take him fifteen seconds to draw his sword, but his sword is missing.

***

Corn-teeth Hal and Big Myrtle stared at the gaping hollow in the ground, a low beacon of black in the ashen, Fimbulvetr snow. There had been surface structures here at one point, but their walls had been reduced to knee-high shin-stubbers by whatever had formed the crater that the pair had just spent the morning traversing. Only the entryway remained intact.

Hal spotted something emblazoned on the concrete, and used his glove to scrape away the snow: Medusa’s Gaze Tactical Facility. It was not written in paint. It was written in the ivory of paint long gone, the rest of the wall seared to a charcoal hue.

“They sure loved their high-falutin’ names,” said Myrtle, snapping on her gas mask.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,” recited Hal. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”

“What?” grunted Myrtle, through her mask.

“Never mind,” Hal sighed, taking out his own mask. “Let’s just get on with it.”

There was a faint, electrical snap from the pitch-black tunnel.

“Ahhh!” Hal leapt three feet in the air, his head almost reaching Myrtle’s shoulder height at the peak of his jump. “What was that?”

“I think it’s…” Myrtle cupped a hand to her ear, leaning anxiously towards the tunnel. “I think it’s…nothing! Get moving, shorty.”

Hal folded his arms. “Ladies first.”

“Alright, then.” Myrtle shoved him in.

There was a series of heavy footfalls as Hal struggled to remain upright, then a loud squelch as he failed.

“I really wish you hadn’t done that,” he said. “Somebody has been using this tunnel to do their business.”

“Sorry.” Sometimes it was funny when stuff lined up like that. This time it was just unfortunate. “Rabid albino megabears?”

“Rabid albino megabears.” Hal stood up and turned on his headlamp, which, like his gas mask, needed an extra length of strap to allow it to fit round his distended cranium. “Don’t worry,” he continued. “They must have moved on: their poop’s stone cold.”

Hal and Myrtle made their way down the passageway in silence. Here, in the grave-like silence below ground, the dead world was eerily preserved. The angles of the walls were sharp, the moulded texture in the floor well defined.

There was another snap. This time, Myrtle definitely heard it.

Hal jumped again. “Did you hear about what happened to Hairy Moss when he went into one of these places?” he asked, nervously. “They said there was an AI still active. An AI that thought the war was still on.” Hal stuck a finger under the top of his ill-fitting gas mask and wiped his brow. “They said it sliced him into little chunks, then burned the chunks to ash, then fed the ash to wolves. Then sliced up the wolves.”

“Did you hear about what happened to Wimpy Copper when he went back to Tech-lord Jet empty-handed?” asked Myrtle. “Apparently he tripped over in the food line and landed on his fork forty-seven times.”

Another snap. It was very close.

“Something’s coming,” said Myrtle.

“What? What is it!?!”

Myrtle froze in place, head raised just slightly. Then she sneezed violently all across the inside of her gas mask.

Hal spluttered in annoyance. “When you said ‘something’s coming,’ I didn’t think you meant the Great Green Arkleseizure!”

“What?” Myrtle sniffed.

“Never mind.”

They continued another several metres, and heard another snap.

“That’s happening at intervals of precisely one minute,” said Hal.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” He tapped a latex-gloved finger against his gigantic head. “I’m sure.”

At last, they came to the bottom of the shaft. It was…not the cache of prepocalypse tech that Myrtle had hoped for: just some flickering computer equipment, half burned-out, and a single ICBM leaning against the wall, presumably knocked from its mountings by the blast outside. A dim screen nearby read “E O T.”

A snap.

The screen refreshed to “E O U.”

“It’s the docking clamps.” Hal pointed them out. “Presumably it’s been trying to launch for almost a century now.”

“So what’s this?”

Hal sat down at the computer and rattled off some commands.

“The AI here has…mutated. A little like us.” He paused. “It doesn’t know it’s a machine. It doesn’t know it’s broken. It thinks it’s a hero of some kind, on a quest to the underworld. But…why?”

Gently, he swept the film of dust from its chassis, revealing one word: “GILGAMESH.”

“Aha!” cried Big Myrtle, reacting instantly. “That’ll be why.”

Corn-teeth Hal stared at her in surprise.

She pointed at a small, metallic sticker just below the name. “Windows Vista.”

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

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