Friday, April 1, 2011

Put That Down! - #FridayFlash

Dorothy Lathrop
1891 ~ 1980
HITTY by Rachel Field
Published by Macmillan Co ~ 1929

I woke in pitch darkness. I sat up and looked around, trying to see. Nothing. Am I blind? I touched my eyelids, felt my eyeballs flick this way and that. I still had eyes in my head, but had no idea whether they still worked.

Feeling around, I found I’d been sleeping on a cot, and I was naked. The latter didn’t concern me: the warm darkness made clothes unnecessary for either body temperature or modesty. The cot was bolted to the floor, one more oddity in a very odd situation. I clicked my tongue and listened for echoes; I’d heard of some blind people doing this. I didn’t know how to interpret the echoes, but there was a noticeable delay. A big room, then.

A new sound interrupted my experiment — it sounded like a baby’s squawk. This was getting stranger all the time. I shuffled in the direction that I thought the noise came from. The next sound was the “a-kat a-kat a-kat a-kat” of a baby demanding attention. My groping hands found the crib, knocking something to the floor. I wondered where the diapers might be — he probably needed one — but when I found him, I quickly found he was a she, and naked as well.

“Com’ere,” I said, picking her up. She wrapped her hands around my neck and slobbered on my shoulder. Being a man, I had no sustenance to give her, only comfort — but for now, that seemed to be enough. Judging from her weight, she was about a year old, maybe a little older. I reached down and found what I’d knocked over: a broom. Now I had a way to probe the darkness ahead of me. I turned a slow circle, clicking my tongue. A door required a wall, after all.

I finally settled on a direction, let go the crib, began walking. The broom handle tap-tapped against the floor, left and right, the echoes coming quicker —

A light. Off to my left. I blinked, rubbed my eyes, looked around. It was there, so faint it only illuminated itself, but it was there. I turned toward it.

The baby squirmed around my side. “Nononono. Bad.” Closer to two years than one, then.

“The light?” I whispered.

“Bad. Bad.” She tried to twist my body around to the direction we’d been going, and I let her.

To my left, the light began to bob up and down, as if it were trying to get my attention. I began to turn toward it again, just as the broom found the wall. I stopped to think for a moment.

Angler fish. In the deepest oceans, where no sunlight penetrates, light becomes bait for mating and feeding. Perhaps the little girl sensed what I couldn’t about the nature of that light. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The more it made sense, the angrier I grew. It was one thing to throw a man to a — whatever it was, but a baby? I sat down, still holding her, and wrestled my rage under control. Whatever was dangling a light at us could sense us somehow — perhaps by body heat? If I could start a fire, I might be able to blind it while gaining my own sight, but what did I have to start a fire with?

A crib. And a mattress. If I could find them again. I stood and put that bobbing light to my right. Taking wide swings with the broom, I tried to remember how many steps I’d taken. On my hundredth step, the broom caught the crib just to my right.

I pulled the mattress out and leaned it against the crib, putting the girl against it with a prayer she wouldn’t wander off, before attacking the frame and woodwork. I used the broom to break some of the bars out of the crib, and pried wires loose from the frame. I used the wire to tear a strip of tough nylon from the mattress, twisting it into a cord before tying the ends to a piece of wire, making a crude bow. Broom straws and splinters from the crib bars made kindling.

With the mattress shielding us from the angler, I twisted a crib bar into the bowstring and started working the bow back and forth, keeping a loose grip on the wooden bar. After some timeless time, a faint red glow appeared and grew brighter. I stopped long enough to push my kindling into that glow and blew gently —

A tongue of flame! I fed it kindling, enough to get the mattress burning. I took up the girl in my left arm, the broom in my right, and held the broom over the flames to make a torch.

We both cringed at the shriek of the angler. I took a few running steps away from the mattress, and wished I still couldn’t see it — we aren’t made to see things like that. It was a gigantic slug with a great toothy mouth, its bait-lamp on its upper lip, and two red patches I assumed were its eyes. Behind it… a door.

I didn’t want to, but I put the girl down and charged, shoving the burning broom into that shrieking maw. It jerked, snapping the handle, rearing up. I thrust the jagged end of the handle into its underbelly and jumped back just before it slammed itself back down, impaling itself. It twisted onto its side, but too late — it thrashed then grew still.

There was just enough handle sticking out to grab and pull. I collected the girl, reached the door in the dying firelight —

From above me, a voice boomed: “Put that down!

I leaned the gory broom handle next to the door.

Not that.

I shook my head and took up the broom handle. There were other monsters here — the ones who put us in this room and demanded I leave a baby behind — and I meant to find them.


April Fools! The story you just read appears here on my blog as a part of the Great April Fool's Day FridayFlash Blog Swap, organized by Tony Noland

You can find my story for today at Tales from FAR Manor. To read all the dozens of stories swapping around as a part of the GAFDFFBS, check out the GAFDFFBS index over at Tony's blog Landless. For hundreds of thousands of words of fantastic flash fiction stories, check out the FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter. It happens every Friday!

More details on the swap: Tony also assigned each pair a writing prompt. Mine is Put That Down!

I was lucky to be paired up with FARfetched, a great writer of slice of life and amazing fantasy. (read his Accidental Sorcerers series, excellent!) FAR came up with an idea for a story and was gracious enough to share it with me before he finished it. We agreed that it'd be cool to have common elements to our stories, so you shouldn't find strange to find those similarities. ;) I  hope you liked what we came up with! 

FARfetched lives in the cultural wasteland known as north Georgia. If you think his fiction is strange, you ought to see his reality! He spends much of his time wrangling an unruly herd of in-laws, two grown kids, the World's Cutest Grandkid, and an assortment of boarders.


  1. I'll be without internet this whole weekend, so I'll be replying to comments and making the usual round of visits from Monday on. Except for the few hours I still have today. ;)

  2. Huh, that was a neat take on monsters around a baby. Radically different from the Stephen King "Boogieman" it brought to mind originally. Strikingly different from your dragon story, too, Mr. FAR.

  3. Wow. It is only now I've finished reading that I can see how tense I became reading your flash. Enthralling.

  4. Cool story! I was rather surprised at it, though, Mari. It didn't sound like you. Now I know why :)

  5. Now, that was just excellent. Great use of all the senses, even the mostly absent one of sight.

    Wonderful tension throughout.

  6. Hi all!

    Mari, we had fun with this, didn't we? I hope this becomes an annual (at least) kind of thing. Hey, there's no rule that says we can't guest-blog every once in a while, right?

    John, one reason I'm dragging my feet on trying to "get published" is that I don't want to be pigeonholed into a single genre. Probably a dumb reason for procrastination, but there it is.

    WA_side, thanks much. I hope I released the tension at the end though…

    Angela, that was the idea! :-D

    KjM, thanks a zillion. Groping in the dark can be either scary or fun, depending on the situation…

  7. That was really cool,just enough details to paint the picture, but man, what a great picture you made. Nice work.

  8. Really enjoyed the creepy weirdness, and I fully expected the baby to be the monster in the end. I know. I need help.

    Cool story.

  9. Thanks, guys!

    Jason, it helped that most of the picture was pitch black. ;-)

    Ganymeder, babies sometimes know more than they let on. I see it all the time with the grandkid.

  10. OK, reading that in the middle of the night probably wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. Entirely creepy but quite enthralling, FAR :-)

  11. Surprising, creepy, inventive and just plain weird. I liked this a lot. Funny thing: was thinking about angler fish the other day as i saw an episode of The Simpsons where the family are swallowed by one in the opening credits!

  12. Anything in the dark is instantly scary, but I loved the addition of the clicking tongue (a blind boy in the UK has taught himself to play basketball using clicks - it's astonishing). Love the fact he was so keen to defend the little girl too.

  13. I like this one a lot. Very vivid description and a tangible character. Great job.

  14. Hi all, and thanks much for the kind words!

    PJ, I came up with the idea at 5am, so a midnight reading is quite appropriate I'd say!

    Flyingscribbler, that sounds pretty funny! I wonder if an angler fish will have a bit part in Alice's rescue now?

    Icy, I saw an article about a guy who uses echolocation to ride a bicycle in traffic! Now that takes guts. Most guys would defend a child, I think, even of most of them would look for someone else to take her next thing!

    Antisocialbutterflie, thanks much. I really enjoy writing these flash pieces.

  15. That was grrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!!! Loved the action! Loved the heroic way he picked up the broom handle to protect the baby!!

  16. Great job, FAR! Really creeped me out, and I love the ending - more monsters to slay. :)

  17. This does a really good job of exploiting a fear of the dark, and a fear of the unknown, I kept thinking that the baby might be in league with the monsters too.

  18. Thanks, Cathy! Just goes to show, anything can be a deadly weapon under the right conditions…

    Chuck, of course there's never just *one* monster, right?

    Steve, the baby still doesn't have a diaper. The narrator may soon experience the baby superpower I call "Atomic Waste Dump."

  19. Thank you everyone for the amazing comments! I'm very happy that you liked FAR's story as much as I did.

    --FAR: Absolutely! Randomities is wide open to you, whichever topic you'd like to talk about, and your stories, of course. :)

    This is a good idea. We could do another parallel prompt in the near future, couldn't we? It doesn't even have to be an annual event!

    --Angela: Funny, that's what I was told about my own story back at the FAR Manor. heh

  20. I really liked the tension created in this story, it kept me reading. Monsters are everywhere! Great read really enjoyed the story.

  21. --Helen: Thanks for the visit! I'm glad you liked what you found here. :)


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