Hey, it’s Friday and that means it’s Flash Fiction day! Today’s flash fiction is based off of Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Setting. I random rolled my setting (I got a 20, in case you want spoilers by following that link), and this is what resulted. I hope you enjoy!
“Dammit, this place sucks,” she says, leaning on the window and looking out at a wasteland of industrial complexes and poisoned dirt.
I walk over to her side of the car, an ancient pickup that’s seen much better days. The map crackles as I flick it open. “Well, then help me figure out where we are. Because I don’t think this road is even on this map.”
“It’s a highway.”
“And the map the gas station sold us is from 1962.” A corner of the map falls off and collapses into yellow dust as soon as it hits the ground.
She leans over, tracing along the roads with her finger, hoop earrings catching the light as they dangle in front of my face. “Yeah, I’ve got nothing.”
I look around, and see that there’s some sort of factory fairly close to the road. “Let’s go ask over there,” I say, pointing at the crumbing concrete building fading in the midday sun. “Maybe they’ll know.”
“If there’s even anyone here,” she mutters as she starts walking. “Friggin’ hellhole.”
I sigh to myself, stuff the map in my back pocket, and jog to catch up. This road trip isn’t going as expected. Hell, it was just supposed to be me and Darla, roadtripping across the US one last time before the quarantines hit. We were almost at New York, too.
I catch up to her and give her a quick squeeze around the shoulder as we walk through a rusted-out gate, hanging half-open and creaking in the afternoon breeze. She gives me a wan smile back. We’d even thought about “missing our flight” back and staying in the Big Apple, but given the nature of big cities during times of crisis, we’d both decided that our little college town was probably the better bet. Isolated, miles of beautiful fields, good people. Plus, the rent was way cheaper and we still needed to finish our senior year.
I reach out and try the door. It’s unlocked, and unlike the rest of this hunk of junk works smoothly, the whispered non-sound of oiled hinges reaching my ears as I open the door for her and we step inside.
Gods, the smell. Darla crinkles her nose, too. It smells like formaldehyde and mint ice cream. I couldn’t even think of what could cause something like this.
“Oh good. This place even literally stinks,” she says. There’s a small map on the wall, faded behind a piece of plexiglass. “It says the office is up on the second floor, via that catwalks.”
I look up. “The catwalks” are a rickety looking set of metal walkways suspended 20 feet above the floor on this cavernous production room. I don’t even see anyone around. Just big metal vats and assembly lines and god knows what else, all completely silent.
“Um, maybe we should head out and try somewhere else,” I say. This place is getting too much like a horror movie for my tastes.
“We’ll be fine. And maybe this place will have a map from 1972. Way better.” She walks towards the ladder up to the walkway.
“Are you sure about this?” There’s a cold chill in my stomach.
She turns to me, an impish grin on her face. “Are you scared?”
I look up at the ceiling, trying not to blush. “Uh—no?”
“Bull and shit. I’m telling everyone about this as soon as we get home. Now come on,” she comes over to me and gives my hand a squeeze, “we’ll look out for each other. It’ll be fine.”
I squeeze her hand back, and she hops up onto the ladder and heads on up. I get on after her, taking small comfort in enjoying the view from below. I always liked how those jeans fit her.
The walkway sways as we move across it, but we make it to the office without incident. It’s locked, but the door window’s broken. I reach in and unlock the door. The office is filled with panels of all description, buttons and switches that I couldn’t guess what they do. Darla starts digging through some bins up on the wall while I examine the panels.
“No map,” she says, coming up behind me. “Not a lot of paper, either. Weird office.”
“It’s probably old,” I mumble, only half paying attention. There’s a button on the panel, and it’s lit up red, an island of light in a sea of dull plastic. “What do you suppose this button does?”
She leans over, pressing against me from behind as she puts her face next to mine. “Want to find out?”
I look at her, grin, and together we jam our thumbs into the big red button.
A klaxon goes off, a thousand dying violins trapped in a beehive, and there’s a huge mechanical whir outside. We run over to the door and out onto the catwalk just in time to see the entire factory floor slide away into underground alcoves. Beneath us there’s vats of something glowing and green, strange creatures flitting around them, adjusting dials and mixing substances. There’s some humans in suits, too, tapping clipboards with impatient pens. One of them looks up at us, and his eyebrows shoot up.
“You! Stop!” He yells from a hundred feet below. He’s running up a stairwell towards one of the catwalk ladders. “You’re, uh, on non-OSHA compliant equipment!”
I give Darla a look and we both book it, making it to our down ladder before the guy’s halfway up. We dash out the door, pile into the car, and peel out as a strange tentacled thing gallops across the yard at us.
A dozen miles away we finally relax, look at each other, and start laughing. I lean over and kiss Darla as we drive, and as she collapses back into the seat in a fit of relieved laughter, I hear her gasp:
“Gods, I hate New Jersey.”