I entered a flash fiction contest last year, mostly to give myself a writing goal that I couldn’t escape and to practice taking feedback that would be brutal because it was exclusively from people in direct competition with me. It rocked! And one of the things I created was this weird little thriller that I kinda love and cannot find a home for because it’s unlike anything else I do… so I’m giving it one here.
The challenge was a thriller, set in an ice fishing shanty, and featuring a printed menu. In 1000 words or less.
It’s got some rude bits and is a smidge gory… so only those who curse like a sailor and have no problem with the sight of blood past this point please 😉
“I don’t see why I had to come to this polar bear’s ass crack and freeze my valuables off over some missing fish fanciers,” Sorensen said.
“Much as I love hearing about your valuables, can you not use the word crack,” I said, shifting in my seat and feeling rather than hearing the rasp of my overalls across the folding chair’s canvas. More layers than I’ve ever worn in my life, and still numb.
“What? The fearsome Agent Gable, uneasy?” He stamped his boot down hard, cleats crunching into the ice. Sounds like grinding teeth. “It’s twelve inches thick. No one’s going in.”
“The hell you know about twelve inches?” I said, reaching for the thermos beside my chair. My badge and gun for something more medicinal than coffee. I paused before drinking to tuck the plait that’d fallen over my shoulder back into my hood.
“Easy, Gable.” He chuckled, gesturing toward where the high neck of my cold weather gear hid my throat mic. “Wouldn’t want the division knowing you talk like that.” He jammed the handle of the fishing rod into the groove he’d cut for it in the ice, leaving the line trailing into the hole we’d drilled. He sat back, scrubbing gloved hands over a few days’ sandy stubble and shedding flecks of ice like a shaking sled dog. “How long ’til we can call quits on undercover and go to work?” he asked. I glanced up. The sun was breaking for the line of trees fringing the lake, setting fire to the rim of the sky.
“Thank God. I’m looking forward to feeling my butt again.”
“If you’re hoping I’ll trip into saying I’m looking forward to feeling your butt, it won’t work,” I said, drawing another chuckle.
“You wound me. Respectable man like myself, try such dirty tricks on a senior agent?” He looked at me then, a contradiction in his dilated pupils. I flipped him off, blowing a kiss on the gloved pad of my middle finger. Part chastisement, part promise for later. He laughed, mimed catching the kiss and pressing it to his crotch. I laughed too, forgetting my itching fear of the ice, then indicated my throat mic. He nodded, rolling his blue eyes.
“We both know those fishermen aren’t missing, Agent Sorensen. So enough grab-ass,” I said.
“No, Ma’am. Ri—” The scream cut him off.
We were on our feet, guns out and scanning the ice before the sound had faded to silence.
“Don’t know,” I said, cursing the dying light and the blinders of my hood. I pushed it back, shrugging off the gust of freezing air that cut across my neck. “Wait, there.”
“Snowmobile. No beams.” We ran for our own machines, not needing to confer before splitting up to trap the fleeing sled in a pincer movement. Sorensen sped off to my left, the dusky maw of encroaching night soon swallowing him. My headlights yawed over the ice as I gunned the engine and headed away from our shanty to the right. A sparse but blinding snow had begun, bouncing the halogen glare back at me in whirling firefly specks. The cold brought tears to my eyes. I felt them freeze as they fell. Steering one-handed, I pressed my palm over my ear and the earwig radio nested there.
“Sorensen!” I bellowed above the growl of my engine. “Anything?” The last slice of orange sun disappeared below the horizon.
“Gable… It’s a—” His words cut off as my earwig vented a burst of static. I pulled up, head ringing, and clamped my hand back over my ear.
“Say again.” Nothing. “Sorensen, repeat.” I leapt off my sled and turned a full circle, groping for my flashlight and combing the darkness with it’s pathetic beam. “Goddammit Sorensen.” My mind’s eye came alive. Play of shadows on his bare skin in the shanty lamplight, smudge of green in the iris of his left eye. I waited, turning, staring, listening to the wind brush loose snow off the ice.
“Olivia!” Not only in my ear. Carried on the wind. From the way I’d come. I sprinted for my snowmobile, wheeling it in a swerving one-eighty. Impossible. I flattened myself to the handlebars, pushing the sled as hard as it could go. Time had slipped past me in the dark. I’d come further than I’d known.
“I’m coming, Adam. Hold on.” I repeated it like a prayer, though any gods out here had long ago frozen to death.
When our shanty appeared in the spill of my headlights, I killed the engine, drew my gun and double checked the safety. Off.
“Adam?” I crept into the darkness, flinching at the crunch of ice under my boots.
“There’s no one here by that name,” came the answer. Not Adam’s Oklahoma purr. Something pinched, unmusical.
“Who are you?”
“They call me Nothing,” said the voice.
“Wherever I go… I leave nothing behind.” A cracked rattle came over the airwaves. Laughter. The shanty reared before me, a darker shadow in the dark. Fissures of jaundiced light leaked through the doorframe, showing me my way.
“If you leave nothing behind, who was there to give you a name?”
I pulled out my earpiece and crushed it underfoot, cutting off more of his laughter. The table was laid for one. Glass of claret. Cutlery framing a gold-trimmed plate. A sheet of creamy, high-vellum paper, printed in black.
Adam Sorensen Soup
Locally sourced terrine of seasonal FBI agent.
Assiette D’Olivia Gable
Weighing it down, and pierced through with a live bait fishhook, was a human eyeball. Blue iris. Smudge of green.
I raised my gun, ejected the magazine, checked it. Racked the slide, letting the chambered round skitter away. Dry fired twice. Working smooth. Returned the magazine and racked the slide again. One in the chamber. Re-checked the safety. Off. I left the shanty.
I had a dinner invitation to answer.