For this week’s Flash Fiction, I’m cheating. This is less a short story, and more a segment of metafiction lifted from the opening passages of this year’s contribution for National Novel Writing Month (30 days, 50,000 words, and one of the most entertainingly complicated plots in existence). Over the coming weeks, I’ll hopefully be posting a couple more extracts from the trenches of my ongoing campaign against laziness, procrastination, and writers block.
Nina wakes shortly before sunrise. The muffled tones of a heated argument between a woman and a man, as heard through a wall, gently permeating the onion padding of her subconscious. From the sound of it, the argument is in Russian; the exclamations are angular, guttural.
And as the layers peel away, leaving Nina being pulled up and into the light of the waking world, a flood of memories and impressions return. A gunshot in the darkness. A deep crimson seeping into the snow. The cold, uninterested stare of a Chinese official. And now what? A warehouse in the mountains; the sharp, metallic taste of blood; and – she opens her eyes – a man with a gun. Triggering some bestial fight-or-flight reflex buried deep in the far recesses of her skull, Nina winces, and dives into the shadows. Well, she tries to. Hands lashed to the pillar against which she was slumped, her movement is limited.
But at least she’s alive. Head throbbing, and with a clear majority of limbs long since fallen victim to a warm, dull pain, her mouth tastes of blood – sharp, metallic, and all-too-rapidly drying into a crust on her lips.
Not so much an exclamation, as a statement of fact. This from the man with the gun – a call to a colleague; an accomplice, or perhaps an employer. There are others in the building, the argument confirmed that much. But, for now, the request falls on silence, absorbed by the empty recesses of the warehouse. Nina wants to speak, to cry for help, or ask questions. Her throat is dry, and there is something in gunman’s expression which suggests that this would not be a good idea. So she waits. After several minutes, gunman gets up, walks over the door, and repeats his call. Then he returns to his seat. This time, there are footsteps, and Chiram – the Jewish pilot who delivered her to this god-forsaken backwater – comes to the door. Her stomach tenses. She wants him to flee, to run. To take his plane, and leave this place – and all that it entails – as a memory in the dust. But then she sees something in his eyes. Something that, taken with a slight crumpling round the corners of his mouth, hints at a hidden truth. She inhales – a deep, breath of the dry, warehouse air.
“Ah, Nina. I see you’re back. You had us worried for a while, there.”
There’s something different about his voice. Shorn of its soft edges and humour, it’s as if Chiram has been bought into focus. And Nina isn’t entirely sure that she likes what she sees. While Nina starts to piece together the situation, he tilts his head thoughtfully, looks at gunman, and continues.
“Not that it would have mattered in the grand scheme of things, of course.”
Nina’s throat is drier than she’d thought, and her question stumbles briefly, before collapsing into a coughing fit. But it doesn’t matter, because she already knows the answers. He’s betrayed her; delivering them both into the jaws of the very beast that she’d been hunting. But while she’d be swallowed whole, he’d bought himself immunity.
“You turned me over? “
Given form, the question sounds somehow … hollow; faintly ridiculous.
“Girl,” says Chiram, tilting his head, “I was never on your side. Face it, doll, you’re out of your depth.”
“I’m not Chiram,” – he stares down her desperate gaze, melting it to impotence – “Chiram is dead.”
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.