Hey all! This is the second part of my flash fiction series. We’re doing another 3-story part today, and I hope you all enjoy!
In, out, in, out, in out in out in out in– she gasped, slamming the door shut behind her. Pressed her back to it. Slid to the floor. In, out, in, out. Fists clenched. Eyes shut. Tighter. Tighter. In. Out. In. Out. Slowing, slowly, slowly slowing. She opened her eyes again. Stared unseeing up at the ceiling. Pressed her fists to her ears. She could still hear the shouting. Downstairs. Far away. Not far enough. Never far enough. She thumped her head back. Thump. Thump. Hard and heavy. The wood of the door was solid. Cool, but slowly warming. The floor beneath her was carpeted, worn. She dug her fingers in. Wormed them through the fibres, caught the old threads beneath her nails. It was bristly in that way old carpets always were, and it smelled of faint traces of ancient cigarette smoke and the perfume she used to wear when she was in middle school. She remembered the way she’d drenched herself in it. Sprayed it in the air until she could barely breathe through the thick of it. Her parents had cleaned the room, since then. But it had never quite gone away, and it likely never quite would. It was wretched, in that way that memories of middle school tended to be, but also comforting, like the music that was popular when you were twelve, or the brand of cereal your parents bought every time they went to the store, or the soft background sounds of the night in your childhood home. She breathed again, inhaled the smells of smoke and perfume, in for a long long moment, and then back out again. The shouting had finally, finally quieted down, and the racing of her heart had slowed. Carefully, she stood up once more and opened the door.
Adrian ran. They couldn’t let themself stop. They had to keep moving. The forest raced past them. Branches whipped across their face. They could hear Kat and Ben running, too. Ben was screaming. The boulders were deafening. Adrian couldn’t stop running. They had to go. They had to leave. The river was up ahead. It was getting closer. They could make it. They could make it. They could–
Ben screamed again. There was a thump. It sounded different. It sounded smaller and lighter. Adrian shouldn’t look back. They didn’t have time to look back.
They looked back.
Ben was lying on the ground. His ankle was at a weird angle. The boulders were getting closer and closer. Kat had stopped, too. She was looking back.
Adrian let out a yell. They sprinted back. They and Kat grabbed Ben’s arms. He was heavy. Together, they managed it. The boulders were even closer. They had to run.
“Guys–” Ben gasped.
“Run,” Kat hissed.
And, together, they ran. The river was closer, now. Ben was heavy. He was too heavy. Adrian tripped, nearly fell. Kat yanked them both along. They kept going. They had to keep going. The river was even closer. Adrian stumbled forwards. They managed to pull Ben with them. The boulders were even louder. It was deafening. The river was closer. It was too close. Adrian stumbled again, tripping on a rock. They screamed as they fell. Together, still clutching Ben’s arm, they fell. The water slammed into them, rushing past. The current yanked them along. They shouted, breathed in, choked on water. Coughing, they swam, paddling frantically upwards. Up and up and up and up–
Their head broke the surface. They gasped. Sputtering frantically, they swam for shore. Beside them were Kat and Ben. They were alive. They were coughing, too. Both of them were drenched. Kat’s pack looked smaller. Ben’s ankle was swollen. But they were alive. They were alive.
They had made it.
Kat took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, watching Ben and Adrian’s retreating backs, the way the water glittered on Adrian’s hair and plastered Ben’s curls flat to his head, the slight flex of the bandages she had helped Adrian to wrap around Ben’s ankle, the way Ben limped along slowly under the weight of his pack until Adrian grumbled and took from him, the slight shake in Adrian’s hands as they did so, the way both of them looked… almost comfortable, despite… well, despite everything; as she did so, she couldn’t help but think of the visitor she’d gotten during her watch last night, the shadow that had slipped through the night and whispered to her, reminding her of her duties, her job, the very reason that she had been sent along by the Elders when Ben and Adrian ran from the family, the reason that she couldn’t let Ben reach the capital city, the reason that she knew she would, eventually, need to take whatever measures necessary to ensure that Ben and Adrian returned to the place they had hated, and Kat found herself feeling almost sick to her stomach at the thought; despite everything else she had done in her life, despite all of the pain she had caused and the lives she had taken, there was something about the thought of hurting these two that made her feel queasy, and it wasn’t until Ben and Adrian turned to look back at her, pausing in their never-ending trek onwards to wait for her to catch up to them, to ensure that she was all right, to see how she was faring on the journey and tease her for dawdling, that she realised– she liked these two, these two useless morons, these two wonderful, considerate people, and she knew, she knew, that no matter what the Elders said, she would not allow them to be hurt. No matter what.
“You’re insane. Insane. There’s no way this is a good idea.”
“Listen, Kara, just listen to me–”
“No! You’re gonna get us both killed, Jess. There is absolutely no way that there’s anything down in that ravine that’s worth the risk.”
“Please, Kara! I know it’s– okay, it’s a lot scarier in person than it looked online–”
“A lot scarier? Ha! A lot scarier, she says! I knocked a pebble off the ledge ten minutes ago and I think it’s still falling!”
“Okay, now you’re being ridiculous.”
“I– I’m the one being ridiculous? Me? What the hell are we even supposed to be looking for down there? The cure for fucking cancer? How–”
“No! It’s… you remember when we were kids, and Archie would tell us stories about the stone that could grant every person who found it a wish, if they knew how to ask?”
“Yeah, of course I– wait. Oh, Jess…”
“No! Jess, that’s– it’s a story! It’s a fairy tale for kids, Archie was a crazy old man who was just making things up to scare us all–”
“Sam told me that xe found it and that was how xe got the money to move out!”
“Sam told me–”
“No, no, I heard you, I just– really? Are you– is xe sure? It could have just been a coincidence…”
“Xe was sure that it wasn’t. Kara… this could be our chance. This could be our only chance. Do you want to get out of here, like we’ve been talking about? Find something better, together?”
“You know I do. So much. More than anything. But… if you’re wrong…”
“If I’m wrong, then we’ve wasted a couple of hours climbing through a very pretty looking ravine.”
“Pretty is definitely one way to describe it.”
“Come on. I brought rope, just in case, and hiking sticks. There’s a trail down, and Sam said that it was wide enough for two people all the way down. I mean, you don’t have to come with me, but I’m going down.”
“Oh, come on. That’s cheating. You know I’m not letting you go down there alone.”
“Then you’d better come with me.”
“Hey. Hey! Stop walking– hey! Stop walking away from me! We haven’t decided– oh, come on!”
“See? I told you it’s not so bad.”
“We’re about ten feet in, Jess.”
“C’mon, Kara. We’ve got this. I know nothing’s gonna hurt me while you’re here.”
“You can’t flirt your way out of this one.”
“I already did.”
“You stubborn– fine. Fine. Okay. I wanna get out of here before it gets dark.”
“Yes! I told you. You’re the best girlfriend ever.”
“Hm. You and Sam had better be right, or I’ll be so mad.”
“Aw, poor thing. Will a kiss make it better?”
“Well, then, I’ll give you one to celebrate when we find the stone.”
“Hey! Kara! Hey! Wait up!”