Words and Whispers

I think good, engaging action can be tough to write. In spite of that, I’ve chosen the following prompt (from the 500 Club) for this week’s flash fiction: “Write an action scene with just enough dialogue to establish character. Whatever action you choose — car chase, fist fight, peeling a potato — use the physical world to solidify the blocking/movement of your character(s). Avoid making your piece read like a list, e.g., he did this and then this and then this…”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing exactly what this prompt says not to do when writing action–to make it a list. I’ve tried to avoid that in the piece below, and I still feel like it leans in that direction at times. Ah, well. That’s what I love about flash fiction. It’s like a writing workout, something to build those hard to develop muscles. And this set of muscles is one I’d like to strengthen.

words and whispers

Glass exploded inward into the cottage, showering Mack, Lisa and Gus in shards that caught the firelight and sent beams dancing along the walls and the floor.

“Hand the me the conduit,” Mack said calmly.

Lisa held out her hand, trembling, and offered Mack the small leather pouch. She began a question. “Are there–”

“No. I don’t think so. Gus, take up a defensive position. Lisa and I will finish the ritual.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

Mack motioned toward the circle of salt on the ground. Gus’ exit had broken the circle. Lisa was pricking one of her fingers to close it again when they heard Gus scream from the backroom. His cries were followed by a scuttling sound, like so many cockroaches in the walls. Lisa clasped a hand over her own mouth to stifle her scream and Mack snatched the knife out of her fingers.

“Close the damn circle,” he said.

The walls bulged in at that moment, drywall literally bending inward. The room crackled with static electricity until the first drop of Mack’s blood made contact with the salt circle. And just like that, there was peace. The noise stopped. The pressure eased. The world around them seemed like no more than images on an incredibly realistic TV set, the screen of which was wrapped around them on all sides.

They watched, speechless, as the walls were penetrated by scarabs and three bane magi entered from different sides, forming an unholy triangle.

Mack clenched the conduit in his palm. “The words, Lisa. Say the words.”

Lisa’s lip trembled, but Mack’s voice grounded her and she began the chant. Mack would have done it himself had he known Latin.

As she spoke, the magi raised their hands and began a chant of their own–a obstruction incantation. Mack recognized their posture, the cadence of the words and the dark gleam in their eyes. This was how it had been when they took down Lauren and Bernard. He had watched as their protective circle collapsed and their bodies twisted and broke under the magi’s dark magic.

He willed Lisa to chant faster.

As the magi’s chanting reached its climactic point, there was a sharp cracking sound. Mack feared it was his circle breaking, but a steady warmth emanated from the conduit and a rich power flowed through his fingers, filling his senses and easing his fears.

The world grew quiet, insides and outside the circle. All the chanting stopped. A hush settled over all, and there was a quiet whisper that seemed to come from the conduit in Mack’s hands, from the rubble that had been the walls, from the stars above and the fire in the hearth and the wind and the river and everywhere at once. It said simply, “No.”

The magi shook and the collapsed. All three of them.

Mack smiled at Lisa. “I guess it worked,” he said.

“Yeah,” Lisa said, seeing the magi unconscious around their circle. “I guess it did.”