Here’s another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig!
The challenge this week is The Cooperative Cliffhanger, Part One. Basically you have to write a 1000-word piece with a cliffhanger at the end. But the twist is that somebody else (hopefully) will pick up your piece and write a second part. Sounds like fun right?
Hope you like it!
*UPDATE* There is a part two! Written by the lovely margitsage, you can read Fragile, Part Two by clicking here, or by clicking the link she gives in the comments below. Thank you, margitsage, for finishing off Fragile so beautifully. *round of applause*
• • •
Ka-plunk. Ka-plunk. Ka-plunk.
I can hear my heartbeats: loud, clear, strong—and faltering.
I’m scared out of my mind and I know that what I want to do most in the world is take little Maggie’s hand and run, far away from this shuddering place. But I can’t do that. Something here bids us stay, and I can feel in the way that Maggie’s hand slips from mine that she will not follow me.
“Maggie, get back here!”
Clutching her favorite, over-handled teddy bear she stops and turns apologetically. But her eyes—they’re still sparkling, which makes me nervous. “I’m sorry.”
Her voice is so small… I think achingly. Too small to question this pretty place. The glittering rainbow of colors might catch her eye, but it doesn’t catch mine.
Levi chuckles beside me. “You scared, Faye?” I want to punch him in the gut. This isn’t funny. This is so far from funny.
A sickly glow throbs along the walls. The massive, unearthly gems twinkle in a barbaric rhythm. And with each wave I feel very, very wrong. It’s as though the walls, the gems, the pulses are plunging their crystalline claws into my heart, tearing it wide open.
“Don’t be an idiot,” I say coolly. “If we lose her, I’m blaming it all on you.”
He waves his hand dismissively. “We’re not going to lose her.”
The throbbing continues. I do not like how vulnerable I feel, trapped inside this mosaic cave that looks more like mutant butterfly flesh than solid rock. But I will not let Levi know this, because then the teasing would never stop. And I don’t let Maggie know either, because I don’t like how unafraid she is. How at ease she is. That in her eyes is a glimmer of wonder in place of fear. A wonder that’s almost possessive.
Strong. Savage. Unearthly.
A shiver drips down my spine like ice water as I feel it again—that raw, spring-fed pulse that feels too close, too alive, too invasive. I can hear soft whisperings in my ears that I’m not sure are real. The pulsing, the voices, they continue on and on as if driven by some invisible heartbeat, warm and bleeding. I want to vomit.
Maggie hears them too. I can tell because she’s looking up at the ceiling of this nightmare of a cave, as if she’s expecting them to say something to her.
Ka-plunk. Ka-plunk. Ka-plunk.
All of a sudden Maggie breaks into a run.
I can hear Levi’s shouts mixing with mine as we sprint after her. At least he’s stopped treating this like a joke. Panel after panel of stained glass sweeps by us as we chase her through the tunnels, and everything becomes one, giant, neon blur. Every time my feet hit the ground I can feel the shockwaves flowing from the impact, echoing throughout the confined space. The pulse is so heavy, it’s roaring in my ears.
Ka-plunk ka-plunk ka-plunk—
To think that just this morning we were sitting in the kitchen eating yesterday’s leftover casserole and Levi’s burnt attempt at eggs. Just this morning I was tying a new ribbon around that old teddy bear’s neck to cover the broken seam. Just this morning there were no such things as Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit holes or magical Narnian wardrobes.
And now that I think about it, there still aren’t. Narnia was never this frightening.
Levi reaches her before I do. He’s holding her by her shoulders when I arrive. “You can’t just run off like that,” he scolds lightly.
“What were you thinking?” I shout. She’s still clutching that deformed teddy bear of hers. I’m screaming at her and she looks about to cry, but I don’t care. “What if something had happened to you? Didn’t think about that, did you?”
“I’m sorry… But it asked me for help. I just wanted to help it. I really didn’t mean to… I…” Her bottom lip is trembling like a baby’s.
“You didn’t mean to?” I start.
“Faye, lay off,” Levi warns.
“No, I’m not going to lay off. Am I the only one that’s concerned about our safety here?”
Levi and I argue back and forth. He tells me that it was no big deal. I tell him how irresponsible he is. He says I’m acting like a brat. I tell him that he’s a lazy, good-for-nothing pain that I can’t shake.
I’m down to my last straw. “Shut up, Levi!”
He doesn’t respond, and I’m thinking that I’ve finally won the argument when I see his face. He’s not looking at me. He’s looking at Maggie.
She’s started walking forward again. Slowly this time, her teddy bear barely dangling from her hand. And that’s when I notice it.
We’ve reached the end of the cave, the back wall a plain deterrent in front of us. Now that I’m once again aware of my surroundings, I realize the pulsing is so forceful here that I feel disoriented and dizzy. The whispers are incoherent shouts.
And against that moldy, gemstone-mosaic wall there’s a giant tumor of a growth bulging right out of the earth. I can’t tell what it is—it looks like glass and insect wing and spider silk and bubble soap all at the same time. And I know without a doubt that this is where the pulsing is coming from.
The thing beats—ka-plunk, ka-plunk, ka-plunk—like an iridescent human heart, struggling to move. I begin to panic as it squirms.
Maggie’s hand hovers just over it, her favorite teddy bear forgotten on the ground like a piece of trash.
We try to reach her again. We call for her to stop. But she can’t hear us at all, and I can barely hear my own ragged voice. I know I will be too late by the time I yank her back.
She touches that grimy, silvery throbbing creature and it glows, beating so fast it becomes one, thunderous hum.