I apologise for the lack of an original story today. What with rewriting, editing and beta-reading, I just haven’t got my flash fiction brain in gear. Chuck Wendig gave us the challenge to start with a bang, literally, and I thought of one way to do it, based on a dream, but it involved working backwards, which wasn’t the point.
Eventually I thought of a couple of explosions that happen in my books, and decided to give you an excerpt from the Talent Seekers, instead. Humphrey is a mild-mannered soul, looking for a new home and some friends, but confused by his special talents and the big wide world he’s escaped into. Enjoy this moment where he starts to believe in himself. It’s just over 1000 words, and comes at the start of Chapter 13 of the book.
An Explosive Mixture
Flash, boom, crump, whoosh, screams, clatter, crying.
Humphrey was knocked off his feet as a huge blast of air whooshed out of the courtyard in all directions. The noise was shattering. He sprawled on the ground, just trying to hold onto it and maintain some sense of himself. It seemed like hundreds of other people had the same idea. For some reason a large number of people had pushed into the inner courtyard just as Humphrey had.
Behind them the outer courtyard was a sea of dust, debris, and disoriented people. Most were just lying on the ground. Some had limbs at odd angles, and others had only half their coat on. Bits of timber and splinters were embedded in bodies, market stalls, and stone walls.
The screaming had mostly stopped, but the moaning and crying continued. The gurgly noise coming from some people made Humphrey very upset. He sat up and looked back. His black coat had turned dirty grey. He shook himself and coughed, stirring up a cloud of fine dirt particles.
As the dust settled, he could see part of the outer courtyard, where the stage had been. There was nothing there. As far as he could remember, a few people had been standing on the stage, chatting – the announcer, two of the original poem prize-winners, a few others – when he ran to the gate. They were nowhere to be seen now. The fiddlesticks that had been on either side of the stage were gone, too. He wondered where the narrators were. The one from Castle Buckmore had been on the right side of the stage, a place of honour; the young apprentice chap had been on the left side. He could see Willoughby limping around the debris, checking on people, calling medical attendants over. Willoughby’s coat appeared to be hanging in great ragged tears, one on either side of his spine. Security guards were shepherding anyone who could walk – to the dining hall side, Humphrey thought, as his brain tried to take in the scene. He turned back to the inner courtyard and tried to make sense of things there instead.
There were only about forty people in the square. As they got over their initial shock, they stood up, brushed the dust off, checked on their neighbours, and helped anyone who was hurt. Humphrey stood up and helped a young female to her feet beside him. She was okay, it seemed. The young male on his other side was holding his wrist and flexing the joint. A person in the archway at the other side – the way to the library, Humphrey realised – started to speak to them, but broke into a coughing fit. It drew everyone’s attention, so the person beside him stepped forward to speak instead.
“You have all had a lucky escape. You seem to have received some warning or premonition of danger. We need to interview you about this. Do not be alarmed. We have need of talented people at White Horse Castle.
“Those of you who are visitors, please make your way to the Library through this door,” he continued, indicating the gateway in which he was standing. “Those of you from White Horse, please go to your mentor’s room for a debriefing. If you are from White Horse and do not have a mentor, please go to the Library. Medical attention will be available for those in need. Thank you.”
Humphrey joined those moving through the archway to the Library. He wondered what this was about, and whether it spelled danger for him. Who had given him the warning and made him run for the inner courtyard? Obviously many people had received the same message at the same instant, but why or how could they all have had it personalised to them? Maybe they didn’t, he thought. Maybe mine was a special message. Somehow he didn’t think he would be singled out for special treatment.
Entering the Library took his breath away just as it had when he had spent the day before yesterday in it. It took a great deal of willpower to pay attention to what was going on. He just wanted to read. He noticed some water and fruit being served at one corner of the Fiction section, so he went over there and joined a short line.
“What would you like?” a blonde-haired female asked.
“Um, water and grape, please,” he replied.
“Where are you from?” she asked, pouring him a cup of water from a jug.
“Fortune,” he said, fingering his sash. He discovered it had been torn to shreds during the blast and now resembled a dirty piece of string.
“Really?” she asked, as if she knew he was lying. He didn’t know what to say to that, so he took his cup and grapes and moved away.
He settled in a chair in the Biology section and watched people going for their refreshment. All were asked where they were from. Some were then approached by another person from White Horse and, after a brief conversation, either left the room or went to the back of the library. Others found places to sit and enjoy their fruit, just as Humphrey had. Humphrey thought it might be those who didn’t own up to their real castle, judging from their reactions to the female doling out refreshments. Most of them watched everyone else warily. Humphrey realised that anyone watching this group would know they had something to hide.
All the ‘real’ visitors had moved away now, and twelve people were left, sipping their drinks. A dark-coloured person with silver flecks in his hair came to the centre of the library where they had unintentionally gathered.
“Gentlemen, and lady,” he started, nodding at a young female who was perched on the edge of the armchair in which Humphrey sat. “You have all been identified as imposters. That is, you are not who you say you are. This is not a problem. If it weren’t for the unfortunate incident in the lower courtyard, we would not have known that you possess certain potentially useful powers. Like being able to hear a broadcast telepathic warning a split second before a bomb exploded.”
A couple of people muttered to each other, but most, like Humphrey, seemed to be alone.
“Do not be alarmed,” the speaker continued. “White Horse welcomes people with special talents.”
© J M Pett 2013