This week’s Flash Fiction challenge on TerribleMinds was a bit different. We were given five possible settings/scenarios, and had to choose one of them to write about. The options were:
- In the middle of a prison riot.
- Chinatown during a hurricane.
- In the Martian suburbs celebrating the Red Planet’s independence.
- In a haunted mountain pass.
- On the battlefield during a way between two races of mythological creatures.
I ruled out number 2 early on and then number 3, but it took me quite a while to settle on number 1. The story was also inspired by my husband musing about what type of prison you’d need for a non-super-powered super-villain. Please enjoy and leave your comments, thoughts and feedback below.
You Can Quit
Curtis took a long draw on his smoke and dropped the butt on the dirt. He ground it into the dirt with his heel then exhaled slowly. There was time for another, but he hesitated. Doris had been at him to quit again, telling him long, rambling stories about friends with mechanical voices and multi-coloured chemo drips until he was almost prepared to give up just so she’d stop.
A young woman, maybe twenty-five or thirty, rounded the corner. “Excuse me, do you know where I’d find Warden Cole? He’s not in his office.”
Curtis was glad he hadn’t lit another smoke. Even forty years on, he was haunted by Sister Mary Margaret’s reaction when she caught him smoking behind the bike shed. That’s why he hid around the corner when he needed a nicotine hit.
“You’re lookin’ at him, Ma’am,” Curtis said, tipping an imaginary hat.
“Good afternoon,” she said with a smile. “I’m Veronica. Am I interrupting?”
“No, Ma’am. Just admirin’ the view,” Curtis said, tilting his head toward the desert landscape behind her.
Veronica smiled and then fixed her gaze on his face. “I heard there was a riot going on out here.”
Curtis sighed. Word travelled fast. “Surely is,” he said. “You listen, you can hear it through the wall. Nothin’ too bad this time, it’s just gotta run its course. You here to visit someone?”
“It sounds like you’ve had some experience with riots,” Veronica said.
Curtis hitched his trousers up over his belly. “That I have, Ma’am.” He frowned. “Course, a riot used to be about somethin’. Food or treatment or somethin’. Now…” he shrugged. “Now it’s all just politics.”
The word was an ugly one, muttered in the same way he’d say pornography or prostitution. “It’s them Mutants,” he said. Another dirty word. “Stupid idea, puttin’ ‘em in the lock-up with common folk. But politics says we gotta do it. We gotta treat ‘em with ‘equal rights’ an’ all that.”
Veronica didn’t blink. “Is a Mutant responsible for the riot today?”
Curtis laughed like a wounded hyena. “Responsible? I s’pose. But if you ask me, it’s the Governor’s fault. He transferred the Empath here.”
“An Empath started the riot?”
Curtis frowned and glanced at his watch. “I should be getting back, Ma’am. I’ve got a reporter comin’ to film me any minute. Got a speech I gotta give him, courtesy of the Governor.”
“Does the speech say an Empath started the riot?”
“Hell no,” Curtis said with a laugh. Then he remembered his manners. “Pardon my language, Ma’am. But the Governor’s not gonna say that. Politics an’ all. I just gotta say one of my guards ‘acted inappropriate’.” He made the air quotations he wouldn’t be able to make during the interview.
Veronica kept her eyes fixed on him. “Did a guard act inappropriately?”
“Nah,” Curtis said. The noise from behind the walls had died down. Maybe the riot was over. “The Empath transferred in last night, drugged up to the eyeballs to keep him quiet, and freaked out when he woke up. Started projectin’ fear and anger and next thing you know, his cellmate’s headbuttin’ the door tryin’ to get away. A couple o’ guards go in to settle things and soon the Empath’s projectin’ that shit everywhere. Half the guards fled and the inmates started fightin’ each other to be the first out. I hadda lock the place down. Damn Empaths shouldn’t be around people, you ask me. But you put ‘em in solitary and you have the human rights folks actin’ like you’re the one doin’ somethin’ wrong.”
Curtis shook his head in disgust. “They got that fancy prison for Mutants down in Dallas. Every time a Mutant gets caught they gotta build a new cell. They got electrocuted walls so the Freaks can’t walk through ‘em, and rooms made o’ plastic and titanium and mercury and other crazy stuff. Costs taxpayers a fortune so they can’t do it for all of them. They gotta send the low level Mutants here. We get Empaths and Mind-Readers and Flyers and this one time we had a Freak who could hack computers with his brain.” He shook his head. “We’re just a prison. Ain’t got the facilities for Mutants.”
“So what’s the solution?”
The riot was definitely over. There was silence behind the wall. The only sound now was the muffled buzzing of his cell as it started vibrating in his pocket. He ignored it. “Simple. Put the Mutants on an island somewhere in the middle o’ nowhere. Let ‘em live out there, ‘stead of botherin’ good folk.”
“The Mutants convicted of crimes? Or innocent Mutants as well?”
“Innocent Mutants?” Curtis laughed his wounded-hyena laugh. “Ain’t no such thing. You give some Joe the power to walk through walls or read minds or make money outta nothin’, they’re gonna break the law. It’s just a matter of time.”
His phone was still vibrating and it was past time for the reporter to arrive. He gestured for Veronica to accompany him back to the office. “Who did you say you were you here to visit, Ma’am?”
Curtis rounded the corner. An empty news van was parked in front of the office. There was no movement from within the vehicle, but a TV mounted on the roof showed the back of a man’s head as he walked toward a familiar building.
“What—“ Curtis breathed. He spun around, expecting to see a camera pointed at him. But there was only Veronica. Veronica with her odd, unblinking eyes. “You’re—“
“The reporter,” Veronica interrupted. “Broadcasting live.”
Curtis slumped. “Fuck,” he said. His voice echoed from every TV screen in the prison, the city, and the state.
In a daze, he pulled out his cell. It vibrated angrily. The caller ID said ‘Governor’.
As Sister Mary Margaret said, “You make your choices, you take your lashes.”
He lit a cigarette and answered the phone. At least he’d be able to tell Doris he quit something today.