Saturday, 12 January 2013

Stories Make Me Feel Better

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have noticed I've been quiet this week, and the few tweets I did were along the lines of "Stress! Too much to do, might break everything, end of the world. Argh". Well, I'm relieved to report that I didn't end up destroying myself or the online tools my department use with the changes I've been project managing*, so I'm feeling a lot more chipper than I was on Monday. To celebrate, I thought I'd write some flash fiction, and who better to provide inspiration than Chuck Wendig and his Flash Fiction challenge.

The challenge this week is to choose one option from his selection of "Sub-genre", Conflict" and "Must Feature". I used a random number generator and the gods of tale-telling have been super kind:

1. Weird West
5. Enemy at the Gates
6. Someone gone or going mad

It so happens this tied in with another story I've had lurking in my head for a while, and this is a prequel  or prologue of sorts to that. Hope you enjoy!

*I am not a project manager. Hence my slight meltdown when it came to crunch time.


Water was starting to get low. Jim Taylor knew that was going to be their biggest problem, assuming they survived another night. He licked his lips, but may as well have rubbed sand into them. The sun above scorched on without sympathy.

"You see anything?"

A shift to Jim's right, the slightest of movements from the other lookout, Tom Walker. He peered over the edge of the wooden barricade, lifting his head just enough to get his eye between the beams. They were both lying down on their fronts, rifles held loosely between their hands, barrels resting on the edge of the wall. Not enough to be seen from the ground, but enough to get a shot off quick if they needed. And they'd ‘needed’ a lot recently.

"No, nothin' new anyways. Those same five hired guns are stalking about the tents. But I can't see the rest of them."

Jim nodded, too tired to do much else. 

Five days. Five days they'd been held up in their own homes, their own town. Five days since a band of thieves and murderers had set up camp outside their walls after being turned back from the gate. That would have been bad enough, but they'd brought something else with them. Something far worse.

A sudden shout sounded from behind them, somewhere down the road, towards the town hall. Jim turned his head, wincing as it brought the late afternoon sun directly into his eyes. Holding a hand up to his brow he tried to see down the main street. Another shout, closer this time, and he thought he’d heard his name.

"Stay here Tom."

"No problem, boss."

Jim couldn't help the pained grin as he scooted backwards off their ledge. Tom Hutton, 14-years-old and all grown up. He'd been one of the few willing to man the gate. Jim wasn't going to say no; he needed all the help he could get, no matter where it came from. And as he landed on the dusty road below, he saw the other controversial help he'd accepted running towards him.

Mary McDonnel. She'd been the first to volunteer for service. He'd refused, obviously, but after that first night it was clear they couldn't afford to be picky. No matter what the Reverend said.

"Jim," Mary called, skidding to a halt and making the yellow dust fly around her britches, "you better come quick. The doc's gone crazy.”

They both jogged their way to the centre of town, just outside the hall, and Jim’ worst fears were right there in front of him.

Almost the entire town were clustered around the hall’s doors, where Doctor Edward Holloway was standing on a platform, holding his own damned sermon.

“The water is almost gone, the walls will only hold them for so long. We must welcome them, open our doors, our hearts, and ask for their forgiveness.”

A mutter rumbled over the crowd but to Jim’s discomfort more than a few were nodding and calling out their agreement. Time to put a stop to this.

He pushed past those at the back, and as people realised he was there they moved out of his way, until a clear path led to the man of the moment. 

“And here,” cried out Holloway, pointing at Jim standing below and before him, “here is the cause of our terrors. Here is the man that offered these kind messengers the insult that led to so much bloodshed.”

There wasn’t much reaction to that from the crowd, which might have meant things weren’t entirely doomed. But then again, not many were disagreeing either. Apart from one.

“You shut your mouth, Doc. The sheriff is the only one that’s kept us alive this long. I ain’t seen you up at the barricade, holding them off.” 

Mary waved her gun with her words, making the Doc flinch a little, but it didn’t take long for his bluster to return to his face. Before he could speak, Jim stepped up on the platform beside him.

“Doctor Holloway, I think you misunderstand what we’re dealing with here. These men came to our town to rob us, and kill us in the process. And their friends came for a whole other reason, as these last few nights have shown.”

“No, sheriff, it is you who doesn’t understand. Those beings are more than men, and can teach us much. But not when we insult their caretakers so, not when we resist their enlightenment.”

A worrying number of heads nodded in the crowd, and they seemed to move closer towards the platform and Mary standing below it.

“Doc, I’m sorry,” Jim leaned in and said his words as quietly as he could, “but I’m going to have to ask you to come with me. These good folk don’t need you filling their heads with nonsense, and sunset isn’t far away.”

Holloway moved far enough to look Jim full in the face. Then he smiled.

“Of course, sheriff. But you don’t need to worry about the sunset anymore. I’ve made sure we’ll get the salvation we need.”

As soon as the last word was uttered a loud explosion rocketed from up the road. The rush of hot air threw everyone to the ground, with only Mary managing to grab hold of a banister to the side of the platform to stop herself from falling. After a few seconds of deafening silence, Jim lifted his head from his arms and looked toward the rising smoke, rolling up into the sky like the finest silk.

Mary stared at the dark cloud, before meeting Jim’s eyes, with terror in her own.

“What have you done?” Jim whispered, his gut filling with ice.

Holloway continued to lie where he was, still smiling.

“Not I, sheriff. Another who saw the truth of my words and wants this to be the night of our absolution. He’s a brave man, that Tom.”


  1. If you're project managing and you're not stressed, you're probably not doing it right. :)

    Great story, consider yourself followed...

    1. Thanks Jim, and you're right - project management is all about the stress. I'm just hoping for slightly calmer weeks from this point on...

      Glad you liked the story (and loving the coincidence of you having the same name as the main character!)