This post contains the first of my pieces for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. 48 hours to write a 1000 word piece in response to three prompts. The first round involves 2 pieces, with an aggregate score used to determine who goes through to the next round. This was my second piece which came 8th, with a score of 8/15.
Ghost Story, an Ambulance, a Walkie-Talkie
Waking in pain and in an unfamiliar location, Jordan struggles to recall how he got there and figure out how to contact his beloved Lilah before it’s too late.
A torrent of pain shot up Jordan’s leg and he woke, screaming. He struggled to open his eyes through the dried crust that held his lids shut, but could just make out the narrow white walls that enclosed him. He fought back a wave of claustrophobia as the sound of an engine pounded its way into his consciousness. Pain flared behind his eyes.
From somewhere close came the rattling noise of metal on metal. He was constantly being jostled by rough movements. He was alone.
“Lilah? Lilah! Where’s Lilah?” He called out. He tried to sit up and search for his fiancee, but thick leather straps across his chest and arms held him in place.
“Why am I tied down? Let me up!” Jordan demanded, panic rising in his voice. He arched his back but the straps held him firmly in place. The effort sent more pain shooting up his leg, overpowering him as he collapsed back into the gurney.
“Everything’s going to be okay.” A voice spoke from somewhere above his head. ”You’ve been in an accident, but you’re safe now. Everything is going to be okay.” It was strangely monotone. Calm, but flat.
Jordan surmised that he was in some kind of ambulance. He strained against the straps, trying to look at his own body and see the source of the pain.
“Please try to stay still.” The monotone grew louder. “The restraints are necessary to keep you safe. This journey can be a rough one and it’s essential that you are secure.”
Jordan lay back and struggled through the fog of pain to remember. The canyon. Lilah. Their climbing trip. Hands fumbling with the wrapper of a protein bar. Clips failing. Rope sliding through his hands, burning his palms. Rocks rushing towards his face.
“I fell.” Jordan felt a sob choking him.
“You fell.” The voice confirmed. “Luckily I was nearby at the time, or you might have suffered a lot more. But I’ve got you now. Everything is going to be okay.”
Jordan opened his eyes to look more closely at his surroundings.
The curved roof was almost within arm’s reach above his head. The space much smaller than any ambulance he had ever seen. The orange light of sunset crept around the edges of the window coverings.
Drawn by the metallic clatter to his left, Jordan turned his head to see an array of surgical instruments jostling and jumping in their mountings. Two of the scalpels had blood glistening on the blades. Beside the tray, a plastic waste bag hanging on the wall was filled with something wet and dark. Bright red blood painted the thin plastic at the opening of the bag.
The sight of it shocked Jordan’s mind out of the fog.
“Where am I?”
“You’re safe. I received notice of an accident on my radio and I was able to get to you before the emergency services. This old girl can get into any tight spot, unlike your modern vehicles. Though it can be a bit more bumpy along the way.” The voice almost hinted at an emotion; something like pride.
Jordan, however, barely heard a word after ‘radio’.
“You have a two-way? Please, you’ve got to let me contact my fiancee. Lilah’s alone in the canyon!” Jordan’s voice wavered as he imagined her looking for him in the gathering darkness. Between the plunging temperatures and big cats, being alone in the canyon overnight could be treacherous.
“That’s not permitted, I’m afraid. But don’t worry, Lilah will be fine. Everything is going to be okay.” The voice emotionless once again.
“Oh, come on! Don’t give me that protocol crap.” Jordan’s mind further sharpened by frustration. “What about my radio? It might still be in range. Where’s my kit?”
Jordan tried to look around for his pack, only able to move his head. Canvas bags hung from the walls. From one sack, white-and-grey feathers poked out of the closed flap. An old-fashioned balance scale was bolted to a small bench, its bowls swinging freely with the motion of the vehicle. One of the plates was smeared with fresh blood.
“I didn’t collect your equipment.” The voice sounded strained, resigned. “You won’t be able to make much use of it, anyway, once I’ve finished with you.”
Jordan froze. He turned his head once more to look at the blood-stained scalpels and wet redness beside him.
“What do you mean?” He asked, quietly.
A long pause. “It won’t be possible for you to talk to anyone once you’re safely among the dead.”
Jordan’s eyes widened. “Are you going to kill me?” He asked, fear threatening to strangle his voice. “I’m… I’m getting married at the end of the year.”
“In a sense,” said the voice, “I already have. Though ultimately it was the fall that ended your life. My responsibility is solely to ensure that you arrive safely at your next destination.”
The meaning of the words hit Jordan like a bolt. “So I’m already dead?” He wept.
The voice softened. “Technically, you’re dying. Your body is still lying broken among the rocks. Once it has ceased to breathe, the vestigial pain you feel now will vanish. As I said, everything is going to be okay.”
“So then I’m not completely dead?” Jordan sniffed, loudly.
A thought struck him. “If I’m not dead, doesn’t that mean I could technically still use your radio?” Tears flowed freely as he begged. “Please?”
From the front of the vehicle there was a tense silence.
As the last rays of sunlight disappear over the canyon wall, a young woman, her face ravaged by grief, climbs into a tent which hangs precariously from pegs drilled into the rock face. She curls into a ball and wails into her wadded blanket.
Beside her, the small, black walkie-talkie gently crackles and the sound of a thrumming engine eeks out of its small speaker. As she looks up, confused, a familiar voice breaks through the noise.
“Hello? Can you hear me? Lilah?”