Blood-Stained Precipice

This is in response to Chuck Wendig’s challenge at http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/09/05/flash-fiction-challenge-the-first-half-of-a-story-only/ where you write the first half of a story and theoretically someone else will finish it. As it happens, I had been meaning to do his previous title challenge, so it’s a combo pack. 


Sam looked up, squinting against the sun. They did the executions at night, just as the sun painted the sky red. Only they could turn beauty into terror. Only they could take a sight enjoyed by billions, since the very dawn of time, and turn it into pure horror. The French had their guillotine. They had their blood-stained precipice.

There were exactly two ways to get to the top. The first involved an elevator and a long fall to the bottom. It was never taken willingly. Even the guards who dragged the victim – the condemned – to the top, even the guards went with hesitation. It was a punishment detail, the modern equivalent to cleaning out latrines. Except latrines didn’t scream and beg and weep on their way down. Their blood-slicked fingers didn’t cling desperately to the platform.

It smelled nauseating enough to be a latrine, if rumors were to be trusted. It was said in hushed voices that the bowels tended to let go as the condemned reached the top. Supposedly some of the guards had fallen prey to the same foul terror. They liked this rumor, encouraged it. Such whispers only added to their power, fed into the fear that stalked the people, day and night. Ceaseless, unrelenting.

The other way up was better and worse. Better because it was taken freely. Worse because death was just as likely.

It was oddly permitted to climb to the top of the precipice. Family members, journalists, curious onlookers – they all had the right to scale the beast, and an equal right to climb back down again. The condemned had no such hope to cling to. Of course, it was a slim hope. The structure was just too high. The color of desert cliffs, it towered over the courtyard. Red ochre, that’s what his mother would have called it. Others were put in mind of another substance.

The climb taught Sam how it had come by it’s moniker: the way up was nearly as bloody as the way down. The metal sliced into his hands, drawing blood from the first grasp. He hopped back down, dug in his backpack, and pulled out thick leather gloves. He’d been prepared for the possibility. He just hadn’t expected to need them so soon. He wrapped his hands in blindingly white bandages, then dragged the gloves on over them. They wouldn’t last, not the whole way. He had two sets of replacements in his bag. He wondered if he should have brought more. He wondered if he would have the courage to change gloves part way up.

Likely, it wouldn’t matter. The precipice was more than a thousand vertical feet. He’d never make it. But the greater the risk, the greater the reward. That’s what they always said. And with this particular reward on the horizon, Sam had no intention of surrendering to his fear. He reached up and gripped the metal.

Wincing at the pain, he began to climb.

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The Azure Fields

Beyond the cities, filled to bursting with high rises, needle points stabbing at the sky; beyond the states teaming with people crawling over and under and next to each other; beyond the countries where “rural” was a word fallen into obscurity, there lie the azure fields.

Forgotten are the endless systems circulating and recycling and recirculating the water. Water that has become a pallet, paint by numbers for the modern age. Grey water that’s used and used and used again. The churning mass of white water, as it’s cleaned and sifted and sorted and sent back out again, water in process. Clear water – water for washing, but not for drinking. Not for drinking unless you can’t afford the price tag for the green water, with it’s sharp green light that tells you it’s the purest of the pure. This water is safe to drink, it informs you, blinking its message for the world to see. This is the best water, the pristine water, water as it was meant to be.

But blue water, you only find that in the azure fields. Deep and clear and perfect , the fathomless pools bend light into a bright, striking blue, an embarrassment of riches in a world of scarcity. And there, settled into the blue, built on posts that dig into the water, there sit the mansions. Massive structures, with walls of glass and steel, they stand guard over the azure fields. They lay claim. Water enough to quench the thirst of a city, it belongs to a mere few.

And that was the problem, as far as Clay was concerned. He didn’t believe in ownership. They were each of them born into the world. They belonged to it and it belonged to them in equal measure. It was a sharing of space, a community of plants and animals and resources. It wasn’t meant to be set aside, held apart for the use of only a few.

It had taken him almost two years – almost two years of pretending to be one of the clawing masses, bowing and scraping and ma’aming and sirring – but now he was here, standing in the control room. The security on the outside was tight, the newest, flashiest technology. Inside, the tech was laughable. They must have started this abomination in the 21st century. Lucky he’d dated that girl for a while, the one with the fetish for retro-gaming. Otherwise he’d be lost.

He remembered what he knew of the old-style interfaces. Six tries and he had it. There was a release valve – a fucking release valve. They probably built it in case of a flood, worried the water would damage their homes.

It was so easy. He thought he would have to blow it up, have to destroy the whole thing, but he didn’t. All he had to do was click “release.” He didn’t hesitant.

The computer wanted to know if he was sure. Yes, of course he was sure. He’d been dreaming about this for years. It was his chance to finally make a difference in the world. To finally right the wrongs that were done every day. He clicked “yes,” and watched with overwhelming joy as the fields opened up and poured down on the world.

A laugh bubbled out of him. He didn’t bother to resist as security came to take him away. He knew he’d done the just thing, the honorable thing. He’d set the world right.

Below him, water crashed down onto an unsuspecting populace. The azure fields had been built above a serene landscape, so remote it boasted no residents at all. That had been the case until the population crisis of the early 22nd century, when governments had been forced to create cities to manage the over-crowding. Entire communities were shipped out, and one was settled right under the azure fields.

The residents quickly forgot the sky hadn’t always been that color, that texture. They forgot until it opened up on them, and thousands and thousands of gallons of water smashed down, hitting with force enough to demolish buildings. Crashing into the ground, it pushed out, swung back, rushed down streets and alleys, carrying with it any who’d survived the first onslaught.

The entire community was wiped out in a single day. The water that destroyed it seeped into the ground. All water from the region was immediately marked with a bright red “contaminated” label. It could be used for grey, that was it. And nobody imported grey water.

They’d have to hold off on rebuilding until the testing came up negative. Once they got a few clear results back, they could set to work on rebuilding.

High above them, the residents of the azure fields continued on unhindered. They’d file property right claims on the water that had fallen and have it back by the time reconstruction commenced. Until then, they had plenty of green water to sustain them. It hadn’t been touched in the assault.

 

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Such Supervised Luck

Tommy wasn’t known for his short temper. He’d once run the numbers on a dockworker with a penchant for . . . well, lets just say the porpoise, the seaweed, and that really unfortunate tarp would all rather forget that particular day. PETA rally within sight and the sonofabitch walks away with a spring in his step. Fucking 26 with a plus 20 back and doubles for three. And he didn’t even have the foresight to play the goddamn lottery.

Then there was the nun. That poor nun. Just an innocent little six with a minus three, and a half chance at losing before she even started. The third time – the third time – she broke her leg while sleeping, that was almost enough to break Tommy right along with it. And when she tried to stop and smell the roses and ended up snorting up two separate bumblebees, well, at least that had been comical. Tragic that they stung her every time she sneezed, but Tommy couldn’t resist irony. Or coincidence. Or whatever the fuck it is when someone tries for sweet and simple and gets a big fat boot to the ass for their trouble.

Bad luck. That’s what that is.

But this was worse. Worse than the shitbags with loaded dice or the sweethearts without a die to roll. This was the slow, mad torture of a water faucet drip, drip, dripping in the background. This was the low hum of electronics that would never go away. This was a gum-smacking, pen-clicking, baby-crying, nails-on-a-chalkboard, Janis-laughing, spittle-flying, mosquito-bite sort of torment. If the mosquitos bit you over, and over, and over again.

Because it just. kept. happening.

 

Username: JacobSilver651@mymail.com

Password: 12inche$offun

The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect.

 

Good old Jacob was remarkably calm for having already reset his password six times. Each time he tried to log in and got, ‘The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect,’  he scrunched up his face, double-checked his password, and tried again.

At the moment, he was studying the powerball ticket, with it’s array of scribbled and crossed-out password scrawling haphazardly across the back of it. Five scratched out, one still standing. Lips pursed in concentration, he read it over, giving each character a serious look. He started again, this time forming each one with his mouth. One. Two. I. N. C. H. E. S – Damn. He frowned and began again. One. Two. I. N. C. H. E. Money sign. Dollar sign? He nodded to himself. Dollar sign. O. F. F. U. N. Twelve – the number 12 – inches (money sign) of fun.

He typed it in, each keystroke precise. Insecure, he erased it and typed it all again. Tommy, watching carefully, knew perfectly well the poor bastard had done it right both times.

He ran the numbers.

 

The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect.

 

“Motherfucker.” Jacob shoved away from the table, refusing to look at the offer to reset the password again. He paced the room, hands dragging at his hair.

He snatched up the powerball ticket and tore it up. “Fucking piece of shit password. Goddammit.” He threw the ticket away, while Tommy quietly sighed. If that wasn’t a winner, Tommy didn’t know his luck. And Tommy knew his luck. Tommy was a luck runner.

“Ok. Ok. One more time.” Jacob breathed out carefully. “One more time. None of this strong password bullshit.”

 

Enter new password: 1

Confirm new password: 1

Your password must be at least eight characters long.

 

“Fuck you. Eight characters long my ass. Dozen different long-ass passwords and none of those fucking worked.” He closed his eyes. “I just want to see if they’ve e-mailed.”

They hadn’t. Short odds hadn’t skewed for Jacob today. It was just the long odds. The billion-to-one odds. The minuscule chance of server-side error preventing Jacob from logging in. The comparatively better chance of winning the lottery.

“Fine. Fine. Eight characters.”

 

Enter new password: 12345678

Confirm new password: 12345678

Your password must contain a combination of letters and numbers.

 

“Godfuckingdammit. Ok. Ok.” Another calming breath. Jacob didn’t know it, but he was actually holding it together remarkably well. The odds of throwing his computer out the window at this point were about ten-to-one.

 

Enter new password: 1a2b3c4d

Confirm new password 1a2b3c4d

Passwords do not match

 

“Son of a fucking fucking piss-soaked apple cobblers whore dick of a mother.”

 

Tommy choked out a laugh. The poor, poor bastard.

 

Enter new password. 1234abcd

Confirm new password: 1234abcd

Your password has been changed. Log in here.

 

Username: JacobSilver651@mymail.com

Password: 1234abcd

The e-mail or password you entered is incorrect.

 

The laptop crashed into the wall. To add insult to injury, the battery popped out as it hit the floor. Crash. Snap.Thump, thump . . . thump.  It was like a prolonged death scene at the community theater. Jacob threw himself onto the couch, fingers digging into his face so hard they left marks.

Tommy watched the powerball guys come on the muted TV. Casually, he walked over and looked in the garbage. The pieces of the shredded lottery ticket had fallen into a half-filled 44-oz soda cup. They were unreadable. Useless.

He kicked the cord out of the wall as he strolled by the TV, hands in his pockets. Tommy didn’t need to see the numbers to know who’d won. And Jacob would be better off never knowing what might have been.

Fucking skewed odds, man.

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