I’m cowboying up and taking on this week’s Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge. Using a random number chooser, I chose three words from three columns: subgenre, element to include, and theme/motif/conflict. My lot was Sword & Sorcery, Climate Change and Addiction. I haven’t read much Sword and Sorcery and honestly I’m not fond of the genre. I’m sure S&S writers can write compellingly about orcs, elves, bearded sorcerers and quests for magical bric-a-brac, but I prefer laser guns to wands and computer programs to spells.
However, I accepted my destiny and wrote this little piece that is close to my heart. I’ve wrestled with the demon named Addiction and watched many who have beaten it (or at least contained it), and buried a few who succumbed to it. It’s best likened to a demon since it’s like another malevolent personality that coaxes you into kill yourself, one hit or one drink at a time. It trades a moment of escape for an hour of your life. What’s inspiring is when someone confronts the demon, contains it, and then you see the life that has been saved. A great person has returned to the the living, his or her light shining brighter than before.
Yet, the demon is only jailed, not dead. It pleads for release and uses every device to break free, run amok and snuff out the light. It’s truly a daily fight, but after a time, it’s voice grows dimmer.
However it’s not you or me it wants to devour, its the essence of life itself. Enjoy and comment.
Chime hunched her shoulders against the oncoming chill as she walked down the alleyway leading to the Lefty’s den. She found a familiar door, looked around in case Elemental Guards were about, and rapped on it twice.
The door opened a crack. “I’ve come to burn,” Chime said to the guard that peered through the crack. The stern face slipped away and a grizzled, stubbly bearded man appeared. He looked her up and down. “Third time this week, eh?” The door opened wide. “Buh’s balls, come in. You’re letting the cold in,” the old man snarled.
Chime whisked inside and the guard lumbered into her path and thrust out his fat hand. Chime reached into her jacket pocket and then pressed an octo into his hand. The guard groaned in appeasement and stood aside. The scent of opium, sulfur, piss and sweat milled among the shadowed figures that lay on mildewing bedding around the dim chamber that was lit by paper lanterns. In its better day, this had been a bakery that Chime recalled made fresh salt bread and cinnamon tarts. Her father used to bring her warm tarts on payday, when Alchemy was an esteemed art, when Promise was a civilization to be admired, not pitied.
The door slammed shut, the sudden warmth shoved the chill aside. It made her body urge for the Burning to come.
“Follow,” the old man said. Chime followed him through a path through prostate, near conscious bodies suckling on opium pipes. They entered a less filthy chamber that was once the bakery’s cooling room. A middle-aged man bedecked in a fine velvet cassock and thick leather pants languished on a threadbare chair. His mouth was agape in ecstasy, but his hand twitched as if in pain. Thin red and orange wisps of flames streamed from his body.
The old man closed the door behind them and turned. “Thanks to last week’s Elemental Guard lab raid, I’m afraid the price has gone up – twenty angles.”
Chime gasped at the price. The price had doubled and twenty angles were half of her weekly salary. She had pinched an angle or a octo from surprise sweeps of unlicensed alchemy shops and handmaiden mills. She would have to report fewer seizures on the next sweep.
She fished into her jacket pocket and pulled out the last of her coinage. She opened her fist to see, to her disappointment, only twelve angles, four octos and a bunch of ten and twenty rounds.
“Not nearly enough. Twenty angles. No bargaining.”
The only things of value were her Elemental Inspector badge, which was hidden under her shirt, and her woven lead and willow cloth vest. The vest suppressed malicious spells and had saved her life many times. She had the option to reveal herself as an Elemental Guard and extort Flame Orbs in exchange for raid tip offs, but the guard could easily slip his dagger into her throat. Sexual favors wouldn’t do since the guard was a eunuch and the old man only desired opium and coin.
“You’re wasting my time,” the old man growled and the guard advanced a step and grabbed the dagger’s hilt.
“Wait,” she begged. “I have a spellproof vest. It should be worth something.”
The old man considered the offer. “Okay, that might be worth it. Buh knows mine is all wore out. All the angles you got and the vest.”
She turned her back and slipped off her jacket. She pulled her shirt over her head, and began unlacing the gray-brown vest. Her badge hung on a lanyard, which she was careful not to reveal. She peeled off the vest and the air hit her naked back like so many needles. With her free hand she put on her shirt and handed the vest to the old man.
He snatched it from her and inspected it. “This is guard quality. Not bad.” He tossed it on a vacant chair. “Sit.”
She backed into a greasy chair while the old man reached into a pouch tied to his belt. He pulled out a marble sized flame orb. Torrents of red and orange sloshed inside it – a piece of the Sun’s energy. Chime shuddered with anticipation.
The old man approached her, spoke a spell in guttural Rokish and cracked the orb in his fist. He blew the orbs contents into her face and she breathed deeply. The World fell from under her and everything in her vision was traced with an orange glow which intensified to a white halo. Her pulse quickened as a burning pain flowed through her. When the pain rose to its apex, it gave away to an ecstasy beyond comprehension. The Flame consumed her, vaporizing all hope, fear, want, and memories good and bad. For an instant, she became the Flame, an essence of life, and the World died a little.
The Flame’s effects withdrew and want, hope, fear and the dingy chamber intruded into her ecstasy. The old man presented her with chilled white wine and she drank greedily. She rested a few more minutes and then rose from the chair and made her way for the door.
Outside, the air was a touch colder. She looked toward the Sun hidden behind a bank of gray clouds. Night had fallen or morning was rising, but as of recent, it was hard to tell if it was dawn or dusk.
She glanced down the alleyway and walked toward its opening as guilt panged at her conscience. With every hit, the World died. The Flame Orbs were created by the darkest magic imaginable, the kind that stole, not borrowed, nature’s benign energy. The Flame Orbs were made from shards of the Sun’s energy, and with each hit, the World inched toward darkness.
What horrified Chime was her dying wish when the inevitable came – to get one last hit before the Sun turned black.