Back when we started our Writing (and Art!) group, we decided to do a writing exercise where we all entered (or at least wrote for) the NPR Three-Minute Fiction challenge (Here’s the link to the one from… 2012). 2012! I not realize that our group has been around that long.
Anywhoodle, I wrote a smattering of entries for this, and the other day I was digging through my writing drawer and unearthed a couple that I’m rather fond of. Enjoy!
The prompt: “She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.”
Story the First
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. First, though, she needed a door.
She kept watch over her shoulder as she sought the slender wire that would trail from door to spine. Careful not to disturb the book and alert her minders of what she was about to do, she slipped the wire into its fastening.
A small spark burned her fingers and the gray, blank wall resolved into the glass door she sought. It opened with a touch and she was through, lingering only long enough to hear the alarms as she stepped into the story. They couldn’t follow her here, not while she was inside of her favorite book where the grass felt warm like shredded paper, and she filled in details to make the world her own.
The flowers jostled for her attention, and while at first she imagined it the wind, her darker worries brought forth the creature. In a smooth pirouette with the blade now in her hands, she slashed the beast down the side to rain crimson on parchment leaves. This, then, was why the garden book was her favorite. It gave her the tools she needed to defeat the darkness.
Panting, she watched the beast regather for the second of three attacks. The bulk of its body was formless shadow, too many legs and not enough, and only the face held its shape between one glance and the next.
Seven dark reptilian eyes.
Many rows of many teeth.
The railing of angry orderlies came through the door, but they knew better than to interrupt. Breaking her concentration, her connection, would leave her here as they pulled her body through. Perhaps that was what the beast was, former wards and patients.
She met the second lunge with a shriek and her blade bit deep, as of its own accord, following the memories of her hands and the words on the page.
The last was always the worst and when it came at her, claws extended – claws from nowhere made of nothing – she only just avoided its slash. It preyed upon her anxiety, her fear of returning to the sterile world beyond the door. She fought her own thoughts. The creature grew in strength, winning as it never had before, as she feared to go back.
She could die here fighting, or die there staring at blank walls and blank faces. The creature read her reluctance and ate her right arm.
That was not part of the story, and it was only a story so there was no pain, but it reminded her that this was a temporary place, no matter how often she longed to visit. The beast fed on what she brought to the book, and every battle fell along different lines.
Her sword sliced its head off, vorpal or near to it, and she sat up as the fog of the creature burned away. She would return to the hospital this once, her courage restored, and when she could no longer take the prognosis and the plastered smiles, she would return for another round. Maybe then she would stay.
Comforted, she stood. White light shone through the door and, after a step, she paused to feel the stump where her arm ended. Familiar. The story was growing to reflect her reality, and while even a day ago she might have cried, now the thought made her smile.
She left the sword bleeding shadow on the paper grass.
Story the Second
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. As she stood, however, her first officer entered at a stumble, and dragged the door panel shut behind him. Panting, he held it closed with his full body weight, shoulders against the metal.
“Hounds after you, Nathanial?” She settled back into her chair, projecting calm she did not feel. The entire civilian council was waiting for her and while she could justify hiding for a few stolen moments to review procedure, she could hardly delay for anything less than a hull breach. A disciplinary hearing wasn’t something she should shirk.
“Captain.” Unfocused, he tried to catch his breath. “Captain.”
No salute. Her eyebrows rose as Nathanial’s attention focused on the door behind him. The man was scrupulously polite at the most inconvenient of times, and his lack of usual courtesies had her on feet before she took her next breath. “What’s wrong?”
“Na-Nancy.” He never called her by her first name while in uniform. “First Contact.”
She didn’t remember crossing the room, but his hand grasped hers as she lifted it activate the sensor. “Out of my way, Nate.”
“It’s not what we hoped.” He still wasn’t breathing right, every word a struggle. “This sector’s-”
“Hostiles.” Not a question. She stepped back and looked him up and down, only now seeing the smear of blood on panel behind him. “Nate.” Her admonition shifted quickly to concern as he fell forward, “You shouldn’t have come here.” She caught him before he hit the ground and reached up to key in the emergency lock-down.
“All business, Captain.” He told her as she tipped him forward to see the damage. Something sharp had caught him under the ribs in front and sliced around his torso to leave a gouge near his spine. “Ask.”
She stared hard at his face, pressing a flap of his uniform into his wound to stanch the bleeding. “Don’t do something foolish. Every life aboard this ship. Including yours.”
“Ask.” He repeated.
She tightened her jaw. “Stubborn. This isn’t the time,” she said before she started to ask.“Civilians?”
“Level six scow dock.”
She glanced up at the silent intercom system. “Computers?”
Their question and answer, call and response, continued long enough for the plan to form and his color to worsen. Seconds only, but she felt time burning to ash the longer she waited. At least the perfunctory debriefing gave her the moments to find her med kit and the excuse to tend him before her duty required her.
She asked one last question as she slapped an injection patch onto his skin. “If I leave you, will you promise not to die?”
“No promises, Captain.”
“Don’t you dare.” She dropped a kiss onto to the top of his head and then helped him roll to a less painful position. The patch was already working, if the ugly colors creeping across his exposed muscle were any indication. “If you’re not here when I get back…” She left the threat unfinished as she collected her weapons and shields. Hefting the shortsword, she looked back at where Nathaniel had slipped into drug-induced unconsciousness.
Enough of this. Jamming the button on her collar with the butt of her sword, her vacuum helmet deployed. It would do well enough in combat, especially against something that used blades, claws, or both.
“Is it too much to ask for a First Contact to go smoothly?” As the visor slipped across her vision, she stalked out the door and into chaos.