This is yet another Chuck Wendig-inspired flash fiction. The theme this time was ‘that poor, poor protagonist’, and the idea was to torture your protagonist mercilessly. In the first draft of this story, the protagonist died at the end. It was a bit too much of a downer for my sensibilities. So I hope you enjoy this not-quote-so-merciless version.
James opened the front door, a bouquet of roses in his hand. “Suzy,” he called. “I’m home.”
There was no answer. ”Suzy? Are you okay? Remember we’ve got dinner reservations tonight. How are you feeling?”
His wife was seven months pregnant, and her mood was impossible to predict. Sometimes she was thrilled to see him, but often she was distant and cold. James blamed the pregnancy hormones and did his best to give her the space she needed.
James carefully lay the roses on a table near the front door and flicked through the day’s mail. He picked up the envelope addressed to him, his name hand-written in red ink, and peered up the stairs again. “Gangleri summoned me today,” he called. “He promoted me. I answer directly to him, now.”
Still no answer.
James whirled around, his heart pounding. He hadn’t closed the front door.
He was both relieved and angry to see his neighbour standing in the doorway. He was getting to be a regular visitor, and one James could do without. “Chet,” he said. “You scared me.”
Chet looked at him blankly. “Sorry. Nice flowers. Where’s Suzy?”
James frowned. “Upstairs,” he said. “Why?”
James sighed. “What do you want, Chet?”
“Nothin’,” Chet said.
James looked at the flowers and then the stairs, hoping Chet would get the message. When he didn’t, James said, “Well, it’s been great to—”
“What’s that?” Chet asked, gesturing to the envelope in James’s hand.
“I don’t know,” James said. “A letter?”
Chet kept staring, so James ripped open the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper inside.
I have your wife. Do not call the police. Meet me at the pier.
James didn’t hesitate. He grabbed his car keys and bolted out the door. Then something hit him across the back of the head, and all the stars of the Milky Way took up residence behind his eyelids.
Darkness. The smell of dirt and water and blood. Cold concrete. The back of his head felt like someone had attacked it with a hammer. He touched the area with his fingers. His hair was matted and sticky. Where the hell was he? What had happened?
The note. Suzy. He struggled to his feet.
A dim light flickered on overhead, revealing concrete walls and a dirty concrete floor. A figure stood at the edge of the darkness. “Going somewhere?”
James squinted. “Chet?”
Chet stepped into the light. “Surprised to see me?”
James shook his head and winced at the pain. “Not really. Where’s Suzy?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about her,” Chet said. “She’s waiting upstairs. I’ll take care of her after I finish with you.”
James threw himself forward, fist flying.
He didn’t make it.
Pain shot through his body. The muscles of his neck and back froze and then convulsed. His heart pounded hard enough to burst. He fell to the ground, his body writhing as waves of fire flowed through his veins. And then stopped. The pain faded. The muscles around his neck relaxed, and a scream burst from his throat.
“Shut up,” Chet said from above him. A booted foot connected with his ribs. Something cracked. He screamed again. He tried to curl into a ball, but his body wouldn’t obey.
“You stupid, arrogant fuck. You think I’m dumb enough to let you hit me?” Chet’s boot lashed out again, this time connecting with James’s shoulder. “Try it again, and I’ll amp up the power on this baby,” he said, holding up a small control box. “Then we can see what a real shock does to you.”
James choked back a sob. “Why are you doing this?”
Chet stepped back. “Remember when I wanted to borrow your mower, but you said it was busted? Yeah, you lied. You were just too fuckin’ fancy to loan me your stuff.” He shrugged. “So I borrowed your wife instead. That baby? It’s mine.”
“You’re lying,” James groaned. But Suzy was so distant. And Chet was always nearby.
Chet laughed. “You know I’m not.”
James let his head rest against the cold concrete and closed his eyes. “What do you want?”
“What I want,” Chet said, “is Suzy. Stupid bitch knows it’s my baby, but doesn’t want to leave you. Something about love.” He kicked James again, this time in the back.
Pain. Sweet, agonising pain. Nothing else existed for a few seconds. When it faded, Chet was crouched next to him, looking him in the eye. “Because I like you, I’ll give you a choice. You can leave her, or I can kill you.”
He shook his head in denial. And then he remembered… He twisted and slid his hand into the coin pocket of his trousers. If he could just find—
“Looking for this?” Chet asked. He held up a silver coin emblazoned with a black raven. “Whatever it is, it’s not gonna help you.” He dropped the token and held up the remote control. “Make your choice.”
The token fell to the ground and landed on its edge. Then it started to spin.
James stared at it. He focused on the image of the Raven, the symbol of Gangleri, the High One, the Alfather, Odin. He thought about the man, the God, who had gifted him the token. And then he summoned the berserkergang.
The fury of battle washed over him. Laughter rang in his head. He rose and advanced on his captor. No mercy.
Chet held the small, black box like a talisman, his fingers pushing desperately at the buttons. But in the throes of berserkergang, James was immune to the touch of flame — even flame delivered by electric shock.
Chet was sobbing when James grabbed him by the throat.
He was silent when James released him.
The fury drained away. James fell to the floor. He needed to find Suzy. He needed to know the truth. And he would. But first, the raven’s wings fluttered and darkness pulled him into its embrace.