White Rabbit

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 20

Challenge #9: Write a story featuring every sense but sight. It must have a palindromic word count and not use any adverbs ending in “-ly.”

“Bugger. There go the lights.”

“Spare lantern?”

There were a few seconds of vigorous clicking while Harper tried the switch.

“Dead.”

“Oh well. Absolute last resort I suppose…”

I fished about in my pocket for the lighter. What I found instead was most disconcerting.

“Harper?”

“Yeah?”

“Harper, there’s a hole in my pocket.”

The silent dark of the Alterworld was polluted by a string of graphic obscenities.

“You know,” I said, “if you weren’t bumming fags off me all the time perhaps you’d have thought to bring a light yourself.”

“Look, this has been an absolute shambles from the get-go. Let’s jump back: we’ll pick up some fresh bulbs and be back here in an hour.”

“The Captain’s not going to be happy about it.”

“What else are we gonna do? It’s so dark I can’t see my own eyelids!”

“Alright, fine.” I groped about for the handle of the apparatus. “Take us back.”

I felt the machine judder as Harper pulled the cord. Then it made a proper lurch as he tried again, harder.

Nothing happened.

Nothing, that was, except another barrage of profanity from Harper. We were stuck there.

“Okay,” I said. “How long before anyone knows we’re stranded?”

“Four hours? Maybe five.”

This time it was my turn for some colourful language. “What do we do?”

“Get out the persuader. Or did you lose that too?”

I raised my middle finger at him—not that it did any good—then slipped off the safety.

“Is there any more to this plan of yours, or are we just going to stay put and hope I don’t have to use this?”

“We stay put, but not here.”

I heard him step around the apparatus towards me, the silt sucking at his boots. A peculiar smell rose from the ground: a cross between rotten shellfish and industrial solvent.

“Alright.” His hand found my shoulder, and he lifted my arm to direct it. “The facility is just over there.”

“No.” I shrugged him off. “The last thing we should do is wander off. We stay right here. We wait for Team Two to come and find us.”

“And what if something else finds us first?” It was impossible to see what was around us, but the way the words didn’t echo at all made the place feel very exposed indeed. “We walk forty paces, and if we don’t find it we stop. If worst comes to worst, we wait it out a few yards from where we are now.”

I had to admit the prospect of waiting without shelter didn’t appeal. “Fine. Forty paces and no more.”

Harper counted steps under his breath. At “fourteen,” I stepped on something alive.

It screamed as it writhed free of my boot, and on instinct I squeezed the trigger. I directed the gun at where I imagined the thing had fled, but even if by some miracle I hit it there was no way to know.

Harper groaned.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know. I taste blood.”

“What happened?”

In answer, Harper slapped his hand against something hard. Something that sounded like concrete.

“Is that…”

“We found it. I found it.” He groaned again. “My face…”

Let’s just hurry up and find the entrance. We don’t know what might come to investigate the sound of those shots.”

We followed the wall all the way to the right and then, knowing that we should have arrived at least on the correct side of the building, a little farther to the left. Harper, walking in front, found the door first.

“Is it locked?” I asked.

He sighed. “It’s not even closed.”

That was a bad sign. We’d both been hoping the crew here had just forgotten to check in.

“Do you still want to go in?”

As if to answer my question, there was a low bellow from far behind us. It, in turn, was answered by another. We stepped inside and closed the door.

There was something peculiar about the place. Something that made the hair prickle all across my scalp. I kept one hand pressed against the wall as I moved forwards, and almost straight away stepped on something else. This time, it was thin shards of glass. They were scattered all along the hall.

“Seems the bulbs are out here too.”

“We’ve got to find something,” put in Harper. “A lantern. A torch. Some candles, even: that gun’ll be a lot more use if we can see where we’re pointing it.”

In the hallway ahead, something skittered across a wall.

“What was that?” I snapped.

“Don’t worry about it, just move.” Harper gave me a gentle shove. “I’m taking the first doorway on the left. You watch the hall. If anything else tries to get in, stop it. If anything’s already in, sweep the room once I’m out.”

Harper ransacked the place, making far more noise than I’d have liked. A dozen tiny feet hammered through a duct to stop right overhead.

“Anything?”

“Just an office. Got some paper if we can find a light.”

We pressed on to the next door on the left, missing who knows what on the right.

This time there was more noise even than before. Harper overturned a saucepan, which suggested he must be close to finding matches, but also drew a swarm of activity from the hallway. I felt the cold, damp air stir against my face.

Something was moving.

Something was close.

“Harper!” I hissed, backing inside the room. “Quiet!”

I heard paper crinkling. “Almost there!”

I knelt, keeping the weapon trained on the doorway. Whatever was out there could be at the end of the hallway or just beyond the frame. There was no way of knowing.

Then there was a crack from the glass on the floor. I fired.

“What was that?” asked Harper.

I stretched out a trembling hand and found a silt-covered leather boot: standard issue.

“It was Team Two.”

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.

You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.

Support it here!

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