Flash Fiction: The Torch

by Mitchell Dyer

Samantha didn’t say anything before she lit the last flare. Only 57 hours in the frozen desert, barely a full day on Picon, and her patience reached its limit. A sparkling red ribbon trailed behind as she tore off into the endless night. Everyone in the huddle was uneasy, but only Arne made a move.

At nearly seven-and-a-half feet tall, he was a giant compared to the rest. His stringy legs seemed unable to support his top half, but they carried him well. He reached Samantha in a few hard strides and tore her to the ground. The sizzling cylinder bounced across the coarse surface of a long-forgotten planet before vanishing over a lip. Its gushing snarl faded and flickered into the silence below.

Arne peeled Samantha’s small, thick body from the ground. He smelled her unclean stink, heard her heavy panting, and tasted the sandy scum layered above the frosted earth. Neither, however, could see anything but the black. Direction didn’t exist. Arne called out to the huddle.

“Where is everyone?”

“I’m sorry,” Samantha said, “I should have, I mean, I didn’t realize–I thought I saw rescue.”

“Shut the fuck up, we need to find the group or we are going to die.”

He turned slowly, waiting for a response that didn’t come. Much as it would please him to hurl her into the depths, Arne kept the woman close. Frozen air twisted their bones.

Samantha tried to push forward. Arne’s grip tightened.

“Don’t fucking move,” he said, “or you’ll send us over that edge, too.”

Samantha started to slump, her head now resting at the top of Arne’s stomach. She begged.

Left. Right. Left. Right. Left…

They shouted together, taking small, aimless steps, knowing the group wouldn’t answer.

Right. Left. Right. Left…

When Adam, perhaps by some kind of miracle, had returned with the missing Gloria, both Samantha and Arne responded to his cries with quiet. That couple’s inability to find the the comfort and warmth of the blanketed huddle meant two fewer useful resources, but more freezing food for everyone else.

Right. Left…

Arne’s gut told him the group was already gone, having quietly scuttled off the moment he gave in to instinct. Realistically, he was more likely to encounter other hopeless marauders, probably dead from the social splintering already infecting those who abandoned him. Maybe he’d trip over Adam.

Right.

No more walking.

“We won’t make it,” Arne said.

“I know,” Samantha said, stopping. “Why did you come for me?”

“I don’t know. We didn’t need to lose another body.”

The sun was too small to reach the farthest planet from it, yet Picon was the only other inhabitable rock in the system. It became a dumping ground. Its moon, the lone source of limited light, wasn’t due to show for another few days. So there they stood, tired, alone, waiting and lost.

Arne grew too weak to hold his companion, but his arms wouldn’t let her go. Maybe his hands had frozen together across her stomach. When the strangers slumped to their knees, they collapsed toward each other.

Somebody sighed.

“At least we didn’t walk off the edge of the world,” Samantha said.

Arne didn’t know if the woman was still breathing beneath his uncontrollable shaking. He fought to fend off the encroaching end for what felt like days. The moon is late, Arne thought. He closed his eyes and gave into the emptiness just as the dark erupted in flames.

Samantha, still wrapped beneath him, coddled a flare still half-tucked in her open coat. The bursting beacon burned hot, but the overwhelming numbness nullified the heat.  Neither of the stranded could smell the stinging scent, nor consume the chalky taste flowing from the flaming maw. And as the raging sound of a the signal crept away, the blinding white of the world died with it.

__________

Round 2 of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction for me. This time based on the Terrible Minds challenge, The Torch. I have issues with what I wrote here, particularly in terms of syntax and structure, but I am diving deep into this fiction stuff with a weird attitude. I’m just doing it, instead of dwelling on what I’m doing wrong. Hindsight is a great editor. As is Ryan Taljonick, who helped me improve this short story — my first one over 100 words, even! That’s progress.

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