Flash Fiction Friday #8
Just two more weeks left of my Microfiction Summer. (Made possible by the Kickstarter backers for my latest novel Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story.) This is my fave of the remaining stories: a little creepy, a little fantasy-gone-wrong, and a huge debate in my household over which color Luke’s lightsaber would be on a 1978 Star Wars lunchbox.
Prisoner of the Housing Development
Inspired by Alan Staiman, who suggested “cave, midnight, silver.”
I’d left my limited-edition Star Wars lunchbox behind at the dig site. Damn.
My mother gave me that lunchbox back in 1978, and I’d been using it ever since. It had Luke facing off with Vader on the front, lightsabers flashing red and green. The underlying silver aluminum showed through in places, but that didn’t detract from the message: young versus old, good versus evil. A bit simplistic, sure, but hey: it was a kids’ lunchbox.
And I’d left it at the dig site.
The moment I realized, I drove all the way back to hunt for it. I’d noticed the box was missing when I tried to pack the next day’s lunch, and the sandwich bread was still out on my kitchen counter at home.
In the scant midnight moonlight, I leapt into the pit we’d been digging. I’d worked on this crew three days so far, excavating for foundations in a new housing development high on a hill. Rich people stuff. So at least it was still all dirt to sift through, no concrete yet.
I started in the northeast corner where I’d eaten lunch in the afternoon, but the ground was smooth dust and a few plain paper coffee cups. I traced my steps from lunch time on. By the time I ended inside the bright orange Hitachi excavator—smelling of stale sweat and someone else’s moldy, abandoned meal—I had to admit it might be gone for good.
What would my life be like without the lunchbox? I trembled in the leather chair. Sure, it wasn’t mint anymore, but it was mine! The Hitachi’s lights turned on, and I peered out the windshield, hunting for a glint of aluminum.
Only… I hadn’t turned on the lights. And the excavator’s exterior lights were more white and less purplish.
My trembling grew stronger until the entire vehicle shook. Out in front, the digging claw swayed. In the back, a clipboard rattled. Ack! This was an earthquake. I added fresh sweat to the old stuff sticking to the seat. Was it safer inside or outside the excavator? I had vague memories of earthquake drills from back when I lived in California, but they hadn’t covered anything like this.
The shaking intensified, and a brick-sized projectile launched at my head from behind. I caught it and recoiled to keep my balance, but it was lighter than I thought it would be, and I toppled to the floor.
My lunchbox! I clutched it close and lay as flat as I could. How long were earthquakes supposed to last?
A raven cawed in the distance, as if it were telling me to get out of here. “Caw caw.” Well, I’d love to, Mr. Raven, but I’m a bit busy not falling over.
The Hitachi rocked from side to side like a tiny child had tipped it back and forth. And then the earth quieted. The excavator, lunchbox, and I were tilted up at an angle, on only the left track wheels. If I just inched backwards to the door in the air… or maybe if I slithered out from the underside…
Okay, no. I could lie here with my lunchbox and decide what to do next. I could wait for the other guys to show up in the morning. It was only five hours from first shift. Why hadn’t I waited?
With a loud scrape, the decision was out of my hands. The Hitachi groaned and tipped further to the left.
Skeletal fingers punched up through the metal armor floor right in front of my face. I scrambled back on instinct—what would you do, buddy?—and the excavator teetered. My blood pounded. My lunchbox knocked against my heart.
The fingers twined around my elbow and yanked. Down and down and down. I opened my mouth to scream, and sucked in dirt. The skin on my arms sliced open on sharp rocks. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. I could only pray for this to be over.
I thudded to a halt, body sprawled prone on an uneven floor, hunched protectively over Luke and Vader.
“You can open your eyes,” a grating voice told me. “Or keep them closed. It matters not.”
I looked at the speaker, backlit by an invisible flashlight’s purple glow. He was barely more than bones, flesh gnarled and sagging on the frame. His eye sockets were empty, and he didn’t have a nose. His skin was pearlescent white, like he’d been here in this underground cave for centuries.
“Millennia,” he corrected.
“There’s no escape for you now,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
He crunched closer to me, bones knocking against each other and the cave floor. “I’m afraid I’m hungry.”
And then I was someone else’s lunch. He ate me, piece by piece until he was whole again. Eyes and ears and nose. Substance on the bones.
Meal complete, he climbed up through the hole he’d made, past the Hitachi and out of the foundation pit, to walk through the world once more. My limited-edition Star Wars lunchbox swung merrily in his grip.
Click the links below to read the previous weeks’ stories.
And, of course, this whole Microfiction Summer is made possible by the Kickstarter campaign for Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story.