Thursday, February 10, 2011

#FridayFlash - Leap of Faith

Serena stared at the man behind the steering wheel and wondered how it would go. Dogs like Jake Moselle deserved to die; yet, as much as she wanted to be the one who put him down, the queasy feeling in her gut raised doubts about whether she would. It wasn’t so much a fear of actually pulling the trigger. Thirty-seven prior terminations, all sanctioned by an agency with no official name, had already anesthetized that emotion.

It wasn’t a fear of explaining why she’d logged into the system, either, targeting a man that held no more value than a drop of water on a dead man’s tongue. She had settled the issue on trying to argue it. She wouldn’t. Besides, any explanation would only be dismissed. As far as the bureaucrats were concerned, Moselle was categorically a non-existent; even if he were important, the leap had violated direct orders against entering an agent’s own line.

Of course, this assumed she would actually be around to explain.

She inhaled deeply and looked down the street. For the moment, the sidewalk remained clear.

Thinking about it, standing on this corner on this day, breathing in the smoggy twentieth-century air, was nothing less than a miracle. In order to bypass system protocols and make the jump, her clearance authorization had to be forged, no small task in an age of digital signatures, hashing algorithms, and user-provided pass phrases. Thankfully, the ghost key program she had coded into the agency’s mainframe went undetected. Twenty-four hours later, she had what she needed.

Serena glanced at her watch and then walked up to the car. She rapped her knuckles against the glass. Moselle snapped his head around, his eyes locking on hers before working their way down. Serena clenched her jaw. How this creep had avoided suspicion seemed unbelievable. The beat-up Nova, all blue except for one green panel and a garbage bag covering a side window, was easy enough to spot. However, a quick survey of the neighborhood answered the question. Two rows of houses lined the street. Curtains covered the windows and double locks, in some cases triple, bound the doors. People saw only what they wanted to.

Moselle rolled down the window. “Yeah, what do you want?”

His body odor smelled like rotting potatoes. At the sound of his voice, the words slurred with booze, Serena felt an urge to do it now, take her chances. Control trumped emotion, though, and she tapped her wrist.

“You got the time?”

Moselle frowned. “I look like a clock to you?”

Down the street, a boy with spiked hair and military boots turned the corner and headed up the sidewalk. He would stop at the third house, the one with red brick and porch steps made of concrete.

“Take it easy,” she said to Moselle. “I just thought you might have a watch.” She reached into her jacket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “How ‘bout a light then?”

At the house, a teenage girl with black hair and matching black lips opened the door. Serena’s chest tightened up. She remembered her Goth years, but never saw it as so self-absorbed.

In the car, Moselle chuckled. “What is this, a come on? You lonely or something?”

Anger burned at her cheeks. “You got a light, or don’t you?”

“Yeah sure.” Moselle stabbed the dashboard lighter with a finger. “Don’t get your panties in a wad.”

Glancing back at the house, Serena spotted another girl in the doorway, this one younger, just a child. The older one said something and pointed down the street. The little girl protested, but it didn’t help. Watching it happen, Serena felt hollowed out. She couldn’t remember all that she had said to her younger sister, and it didn’t matter. Even now, the look on Heather’s face remained as a silent, tucked-away image that haunted Serena almost every day.

The boy--his name was Jason--reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of wadded-up bills. He tossed them on the ground, pulled the little girl out of the house, and then stepped inside. As the two of them laughed and closed the door, Serena felt tears pulling at her eyes. It had all been so stupid. So insanely…

She looked down at Moselle. His fingers hovered over the lighter, but his gaze had been directed through the windshield. She followed the line of sight across the street where her little sister shuffled along the sidewalk. When the lighter popped out, he snatched it from the console and without looking thrust it through the open window. Her pulse quickened. The look in those eyes, the way he licked his lips, what had happened so long ago wasn’t just an unfortunate circumstance, and trying to delay him, even for a moment, wouldn’t change a thing. He was a monster. He had locked in on a target and wouldn’t stop until satisfied.

“Yo,” Moselle said, finally looking at her. “You gonna light that thing or not? I gotta get a move on.”

In that moment, old memories carried her away. She saw black and white photos of an alley, a dumpster, and of a little girl, her body broken. She remembered the coroner’s tinny voice, hearing about the multiple assaults and the cause of death. She remembered the empty pill bottle she found a month later and how her cries went unanswered as she repeatedly shook her mother’s lifeless body. And in spite of the orders about crossing her own line, how the agency would kill her if the jump didn’t, Serena knew she would rather face the unknown than to spend another night staring into the hopeless gaze of the dead.

She dropped the unlit cigarette, reached inside her jacket, and un-holstered the weapon. The gun’s weight felt comfortable. Its deadly electronics whirred to life.

She smiled as confusion, and then panic, registered on Moselle’s face.

“You bet,” she said. “Let’s light it up.”


  1. This was one of those stories that earned multiple rejections, and it was clear to me from the comments that many of the editors who turned it down didn't quite understand it. The editors at The Nautilus Engine were able to track the story, though, and they published it last year. I hope you enjoy.

  2. I did enjoy it Stephen! Serena is a character that could go far I think. Maybe this incident has her high-tailing it from the agency and now that she's had a taste of vengeance...well you know. :)

    Hard to tell what those editors were thinking...or ever are.

  3. I enjoyed the leap. Retro-congratulations on getting it published last year. Going through the bruising process of rejections to find the right zine can be painful.

  4. I don't see why it wasn't understood, the story is very good, and rightly so, was eventually published.

    The time travel scenario has been used to good effect many times in books and films. The details and twists of time-leap stories can be confusing, especially if too much technical info is used, but I didn't find this story confusing at all.

    Congratulations on the publication Stephen, and by the way, Sci-fi is one of my favourite genres, thank you, I enjoyed the read.

  5. The opening really pulled me in and I liked the images you used, the odor of rotten potatoes stuck with me. Congratulations on the publication.

  6. Thank you for the comments, everyone.

    Harry: You're right. This is one of those characters and situations that could easily develop into something bigger. Who knows? Maybe later. :)

    John: This story proves the understanding we all share that some stories take a while to see the light of day. I earned six rejections before it was finally published. It's also a testament to the belief that a writer should never give up on a story that he believes in.

    Steve: Sci Fi is one of those genres I find challenging. First, I don't know enough about it. Second, I don't know enough about it. Well, you get the picture. I'm planning on reading more Sci Fi, though, starting with Neuromancer. If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear it.

    Aiden: Thanks for stopping by. You know, sometimes it's hard to find a good image, especially one that's not already overused. I'm glad this one worked for you.

  7. Hi again Stephen, I think with sci-fi there are absolutely no limits or boundaries, it seems that so long as the story has its own internal logic basically it's wherever your imagination can take you. It may become more difficult if a lot of technical jargon is needed, but google can help out there if necessary. :-)

  8. I loved this. Really strong writing, especially the imagery. The bit about the Nova was so well described. I'm sure I've seen that Nova before! Nice work.

  9. Thanks again for the advice, Steve. I appreciate it.

    G.P., I've seen plenty of Novas like that, too. Which is probably why I was able to detail it like I did.