Today’s Flash Fiction Friday is probably ok for today’s tweens, but given the challenge by Chuck Wendig to produce a mash up story of the genres ‘new weird’ and ‘superhero’, it’s not my normal story. I had to look up what new weird was. I hope this is a reasonable fit. I took as my starting point one of the people I wrote about earlier – see Johnson’s Return, if you like. This one’s just over 1000 words.
Johnson lay in the ditch by the entrance to the freight yard. There were three long lines of freight cars, already loaded; two had old-fashioned box-cars on them. He reckoned the only way out of here was to hitch a ride in one of them.
The haul unit swooped down and hovered over the rails. Its legs unfolded, and the flanges snicked into place on the rails. Freight still used the railroads to take the weight. Fancy flying robots were no match for steam, Johnson thought. But steam engines were long gone. It had been diesel engines, then short-lived nuclear motors most of his life.
He was in luck. The load drawing out now was one he could ride on. Now to judge when to jump on. Two hundred sleek trucks would pass till the box-car got to him; if he waited he would be leaping onto a forty mile an hour slicing machine. Jump on too soon, and he doubled his risk of sliding off the roof of the silicon smooth sealed stackers. He watched the trucks slide by and judged the speed with the skill of a pro. Leap for one, slam the suckers onto the sides. Slip round between two and shin up the space between them. Then slap the suckers on the roof and shimmy on your stomach down the length of the snake.
It was slow going but he made it. Flopped onto the roof of the box car, lay on the slightly sheltered surface. Caught his breath then chose his moment to swing himself over the ledge and into the black, empty space inside. Except it wasn’t empty. Not too full, just a box the size of an old-fashioned packing crate, sleek and white and humming quietly to itself. Just not so quietly that you couldn’t hear it above the rattle of the car and rush of air as it sped along.
Johnson wasn’t too fussed at spending his journey with a humming box. He settled down in the corner behind it, away from prying eyes. He slept.
The prying eyes were in the upper corner of the box-car. They felt at ease there, wedged securely with two arms on a beam either side, and two legs safely balanced on the cross bars of the sides. Another arm stretched out to catch a fly that had been knocked into the dark space when Johnson had swung in. It was a tasty snack. That arm went back to join the hand that was holding some cards, and helped it play patience. It played a lot of patience. It passed the time while waiting to see what the next sucker turned into.
When Alice had first climbed into the box-car with the humming box, she’d been escaping from two deadbeats that hadn’t had a woman in years. She wasn’t planning on letting them change that. She’d shinned up onto the beams to avoid the bastards. They’d sprawled on the floor but hadn’t the energy left to stand up. They’d slept a drunken sleep and the box had done its work. Come morning a slug and a rat were sliding around the box-car floor – the rat trying to keep hold of anything, since its front paw was burned off and the left back leg was crooked anyhow. It ate the slug when it found it. Alice had taken the best part of a day to work out that her new limbs were an asset, if she wanted it that way. She was surprised that she was so much more … human … than the slug and the rat, but maybe they were less than human when they’d encountered the box. She’d walked down the sides of the car at one of its interminable halts in the middle of nowhere, grabbed the rat by the tail, and slung it out into the desert. She still remembered the satisfying thwatch as the body collided with a friendly saguaro. She’d grown to hate those halts in the desert. Hot, dry and no chance of anything interesting happening.
As the night hummed on she thought about the interesting visitors she’d had. The west coast brought young people escaping from the interminable sun, still seeking adventure, as if surviving in the desolate canyons and ruined make-believe parks was not adventure enough. When they came in groups, they turned into flocks of butterflies, or families of ground squirrels, something empty-headed and kind of cute, at any rate. When you just got one or two, odd things happened. One girl seemed to be fine in the morning. When she’d gone to step out of the car a day later her legs just extended, without her body moving. When she got her feet on the ground, her body moved to join them, and she walked away looking normal.
East coasters, they had a tendency to turn into insects, usually of the biting variety. So much for any remnant of civilised society that they pretended to have. Alice used the opportunity to hunt and feed. She was amazed how few people noticed her. It wasn’t as if she was small. A five foot spider was something fairly remarkable. She just liked dark corners.
This new guy. He had joined in the Midwest, somewhere near the great ruins of MSP. She hadn’t got any strong impression of him when he’d swung in. Still athletic enough. She made herself a small wager that he’d look human in the morning. Well, as human-looking as she was.
She won her wager. Johnson stretched, got up and went over to the car door to watch the scenery. To Alice’s eyes his body, his clothing, seemed to shimmer, to take on the hue of the wood of the box-car – even a sort of grainy impression. Johnson hunkered down as the train slowed, then stuck out his tongue to catch a large fly some 10 yards away. Alice found this strangely attractive. A chameleon! There were surely a lot of opportunities in this demolished world for a spider and a chameleon.
As long as he didn’t eat spiders.
I hope you liked it – kinda! I wonder if Johnson and Alice have a future together? Don’t forget that I’ve got a Giveaway running on the website for Children’s Book Week. Only a few days left now – closes midnight 19th May.