I’ve still been writing on my flash fiction challenge, just a bit slower than before. It’s been fun tackling these prompts, and this one in particular turned out pretty intense!
This is part of the 31 Days of Art Challenge [#31DaysOfArt2020]. Go check out the tag on Instagram to see all the amazing art being made!
For today I wrote a flash piece titled The Screamers. Check it out below!
Great metal beams hung over my head, laced through with ivy. The once dark grey steel looked like it was made of clay from the oxidation that turned it into a copper color. This was a very dangerous stretch. The building’s remains could collapse at any point, and even though it was a skeleton of what it once was, that skeleton weighed many tons.
I walked across the pockmarked wooden floors, my feet knew where to step from my thousands of trips outside. Those too could crumble, but I took the risk. I had to.
I reached the end of the building. There was a gaping hole before me where the front of the cathedral used to be. Now it’s open and exposed to the elements. The only sign that they made the front of bricks was the brick archway that used to attach to the rest of the building.
I paused, gathering myself. I listened to my breathing inside the mask and felt my hands shake.
The building was a relatively safe passageway through the infested forest. The flying nemesis didn’t fly well in the contained space there. The old metal beams got in the way. Outside would be a different story. The trees were their hunting ground, and unlike humans who were poisoned by the toxic fumes that permeated the land, they thrived on it.
I gripped the satchel in my hand, mended so many times over the years it was made of five different fabrics now. If I survived and made it back, the bounty could last us for weeks, maybe even months if we were smart. And with the onset of winter only weeks away, we had no room for error.
I flexed my hands, my feet, and my legs, building myself up for the run. Picturing the path I would take, I went through it all again. During the old times the space was a neatly managed garden. The gardeners could never have envisioned the future battleground it would become.
With a last deep breath, I ran. The Screamers took time to attack once they pinpointed prey. I heard stories of people never encountering them during an entire run. Others said they recognized faces and followed schedules. They were smart; I knew that, but they were still animals. I didn’t think it was wise to give them even more power.
Taking long strides, I reached the overgrown garden and cursed. Some animal had dug up many of the carrots already, possibly a family of rabbits. Regardless, I grabbed their leftovers, yanking the scrawny remains out of the ground and tossing them into the sack. Next came the onions. There were more of them, but they were picked over.
I started panicking. If I pushed my luck and tried to go for quantity instead of quality, I’d waste my time, increasing the odds of an attack and we would still starve come winter.
An image of my sister came to me, disappointed and afraid at my meager haul. She and I would both know the truth: if she was too malnourished come winter, either she or her unborn child would perish. I couldn’t let that happen.
I turned and ran farther into the woods, making a decision that could easily cost my life. Everyone back home forbade me going farther than the garden, but they weren’t the ones with a pregnant sister. They weren’t fast enough to be a gatherer either, only I was. And I would not return with a certain death certification just because I was scared.
I nearly cried when I saw the first apple tree, its branches so weighed down with fruit that it nearly tore its own trunk in half.
Working quickly, I grabbed two and three apples at a time and dropped them into my bag. Several of them were eaten on by wild animals, and many of them were infected. I moved to another tree and another, feeling good about myself. Then I spotted a fig tree.
It was enormous, with limbs that were wide and easily climbable. I felt tears in my eyes as I pulled off the figs from the lower branches, dropped them into my nearly full bag.
As I pulled another branch down to get another bundle, I spotted a Screamer. It was hanging from one of the upper limbs, its great black wings wrapped around its giant body. I froze on instinct. I had heart their wings flap on the wind and felt their claws on my back when I was younger. That one had nearly gotten me up to its young before I freed myself and ran for my life.
Hardly anyone had ever seen one and lived to tell about it. My mind went back to all the warnings of why this orchard was forbidden. The Screamers were everywhere here, and I understood why. If an adult felt comfortable roosting on this giant fig tree, then others probably did too.
I backed away slowly, dragging my satchel over my shoulder. As I looked up at the fig tree again, I saw what I had missed before: Screamers covered it. They were asleep in the middle of the day—all ten of them. Were they nocturnal? Did they have a hunting ground? My mind went in a million directions.
One of them unfurled its wings and yawned. The wings stretched at least twice its body length. Its red eyes locked onto me—eyes that I had nightmares about as a child so I could never sleep properly. It opened its mouth and hissed, revealing its tiny pointed teeth as sharp as a razor. Then it screamed.
I turned and ran as fast as I could. My head hurt at the sound. My blood went cold as more cries joined in, so it created a maddening cacophony of sound. A lone Screamer’s shrieks could cause disorientation, but all of their screams together had me stumbling to the ground. My ears hurt, and I thought I might wretch, but I remembered my sister’s face and clawed back up to my feet. It didn’t matter if my head felt detached from my neck like a balloon. I had practiced this. I didn’t have to see to know my way.
Sprinting, I let my feet lead. I couldn’t see well, but I could spot stray foliage to avoid. The Screamers shrieked again, and I fell into a patch of upturned dirt. It smelled like a carrot and I nearly wept. If I was at the carrots, then I was almost home, almost to safety.
The flapping of big leather wings made a shudder roll through me. I hurled myself up to my feet and ran so hard my lungs burned. The flapping drew closer. More wings joined in and they gave a stomach tossing scream in unison. I screamed back at them, the only response I had left in me.
The brick arch, it was the cathedral! If I could just make it in there, I would be safe. It would all be worth it. Sharp claws dug into my shoulder, but I wrenched free of them and lunged for the archway. I landed hard on the rotten wooden floor, then got to my feet and kept running.
Only when I stood beneath the corroded metal beams did I look back. What I saw shook me to the core.
They crawled into the cathedral on the tips of their wings and their legs. They had pink faces with wet snouts and stumpy ears. Their eyes glittered in the shade, a series of smaller eyes creating a whole. One jumped up on the beams overhead and followed from above.
I didn’t look back again until I reached the shelter. I didn’t want to see them any closer than I already had.
When I dropped the satchel at my sister’s feet, I couldn’t say a word. It felt like my mind was a scrambled mess. I couldn’t speak for weeks.
It was a month before the Screamers stopped stalking around the entrance. At least as far as I could tell. Nobody wanted to chance leaving again until spring, and fortunately we had food enough to last us even longer than that.
I hope you enjoyed The Screamers!
I’ve also got a YA Horror novel coming out at the end of this month called The Seeking that’s been called “a dystopian science fiction masterpiece”. I also have a pre-order giveaway going along with it!