I listen as her breathing deepens, sleep taking its hold despite her 5 year-old arguments against being tired. Propping myself up on my elbow, my eyes trace her black eyelashes against her round expressionless cheeks. I push a strand of hair off her eyebrow as I look down at my daughter, using the barest of …
*** Below is an entry for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The assignment was sci-fi, a woodshop, and a generator. I had 48 hours to complete the story. This is an example of a story that did not feel nearly as strong as my other entry, yet this one scored in 4th place. Just goes to show, you never know what a reader will respond to, so write what is in you to write***
Synopsis: A woman gains a strange partner in her experiments to find a bridge to other universes.
“I can’t find your money,” Makenzie said, fidgeting against her anxiety.
“I don’t care if you can’t find it, or if it disappeared, or if you never had it to give me,” Trevor spoke in measured tones, keeping his patience, “the facts are I acquired something you needed.”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“And when I acquired it for you, it wasn’t in demand, so I gave you more than ample time to pay me back,” Trevor paused, looking in her eyes. She held his steel grey eyes for a moment before looking towards the house, wishing she was inside with the screen door between them. “Kenz, we go way back, so I’m going to – ”
Makenzie brought her eyes back to Trevor when his words halted, noticing his attention focused over her shoulder. He looked between the shed’s window and Makenzie, confusion furrowing his brow. Before she could turn around to see what caught his attention, he shook his head and focused on her again.
“You have until tonight, Kenz. Then I’m taking it back.”
Makenzie kneaded the dough against the cracked counter, venting frustration that had soared in the hours since Trevor left.
Pausing to puff hair from her eyes, Makenzie peered out the kitchen window toward her laboratory. Lab might be a generous word. Woodshop was more accurate, complete with planers, saws, and chisels hanging from the low rafters. Despite lacking the research resources she had pre-war, Makenzie did not complain. She was lucky to find a property with two buildings.
Most houses stood empty after the State sponsored interstellar emigration, which meant the few who remained on earth had a large selection to live in. The war, however, had destroyed most properties with multiple buildings. Anything that could store weapons was targeted and destroyed by drones so numerous they had covered the sun in black clouds.
Six months ago she found this property while following old post office service maps. The house was in decent condition, and the shed structure was solid and independent from the main house’s power so her large amount of electricity use would go unnoticed by the State’s monitoring system. Makenzie’s next step was to find a power source.
A portable generator was perfect. The small machine didn’t produce much power on its own but connecting the generator to the rusting metal in the shed allowed her to conduct enough electricity. Things were as perfect as they could be.
Makenzie stopped to pull up pants that threatened to slide down her shrinking hips. Skimming money from her food allotment to pay for black market fuel and pay Trevor for the generator was getting painful. Her brain was shrinking along with her body.
Her cognitive loss was proven by her misplacing the money. That kind of slip was unforgiveable and may end her experiments just when she was about to have a breakthrough.
Putting the dough aside and wiping her hands, Makenzie walked to her back door, pushing her forehead against the glass to seek the dual moons. The appearance of the second moon a month ago was evidence that her calculations were correct. She wasn’t cocky enough to think her shed-turned-portal was strong enough to pull through a moon, but the message was clear. The best time to build a bridge to another universe was now. She needed that generator to do it. Makenzie had to delay Trevor.
As if her thoughts had produced the man, Mackenzie watched Trevor slink from the road and across the yard. He glanced back at the house before pushing on the shed’s door, then kneeled and worked the lock with a lockpick. She watched and waited, holding her breath as he worked. Soon he was through the door and stepping into the pitch-black shed. The closing door released Makenzie from her spot. She picked up her flashlight and rifle before stepping through the door, leaping down the back steps two at a time.
Makenzie stopped at the door, listening for any movement inside before slipping into the shed. Silence greeted her. Turning on her flashlight, she moved the light around at chest level. Red glints of decomposing metal winked back, but she did not see Trevor.
Moving further into the shed, her foot hit something. The light moved down the wall and across the floor, first encountering a pool of reflecting liquid before hitting Trevor’s still body. Makenzie kneeled and felt Trevor’s neck, her hands becoming slick with his blood as she confirmed no pulse. She stood and turned away, pressing her forehead against the door. Makenzie took deep breaths to calm herself. Dead bodies were common after the war, but this was different.
With three more deep breaths, Makenzie reminded herself she was a scientist. Turning back around, she searched the body with the spot of light, seeking a theory to how he died. Red metal glinted on the floor, and Trevor’s neck showed deep cuts. Makenzie looked up at the rafters, several hooks swinging empty of their metal burden.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Makenzie saw a pair of shoes stepping from the deepest corner of the shed. She followed the shoes up a pair of shins, tracking up the torso, and shined the light into a face that made her gasp.
The other woman smiled and winked, held up a tin box, and then placed the box on the work bench. The box looked familiar, like a box from her childhood, but the details were wrong. She stepped around Trevor’s body as Makenzie stood up. Makenzie looked closely at the woman’s face, features that she knew well from a lifetime of seeing them reflected in mirrors. The woman wiggled her fingers, covered with Trevor’s blood, then turned and walked out the shed door. Halfway between the shed and the house, she disappeared.
Makenzie turned to the workbench and opened the tin box, finding more than enough money to continue her experiments.