The Righteous one............................
Story courtesy of Chuck Wendig's fiendishly difficult Flash Fiction Challenge, here.: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/10/25/flash-fiction-challenge-the-subgenre-smash-and-grab/
I asked the OH for 2 numbers and he gave me 1 and 20. Great. Slasher horror/Artificial Intelligence. Funzies! Or so I said BEFORE I started to plan a story.
Yikes! Horror writing is just not in my repertoire (although, to be honest, I'm only 4 stories in to creating a repertoire, so make of that what you will).
I had trouble thinking of a storyline, and when I did, it didn't gel at all. It heaved and thrashed all the way and I'm not exactly sure what I've birthed into existence.... I guess it's not called a challenge for nothing, is it?!
Hopefully I ticked most of the slasher horror boxes - young adult victims; a mysterious killer; an attempt to right some (perceived) wrongs; inventive deaths (although not graphic ones. I'll have to work on that. Maybe *shudder*).
So here's my attempt at Slasher horror/Artificial Intelligence:
The Righteous One
Jules checked her bleary, red eyes in the mirror and yawned, jaw cracking painfully It wasn't fun getting ready for class after pulling an all-nighter, but being at Oxford was a serious business. She popped an energy pill, washed it down with a Red Bull, grabbed her laptop bag and left the flat.
"See you later, babe," she heard from down the hallway. Doug was leaving, of course; she could run her watch by him. As she held the lift, she wondered whose voice she'd heard.
"Morning," she said, grinning. "And whose dulcet tones did I just hear? Did someone get lucky?" Doug gave her an uncertain grin and sheepishly obliged her high-five (which was really a low-five for him), before properly looking at her.
"Geez, Jules! I know no-one looks good in a lift, but you look like death warmed up. At least I got my bags doing something fun. What's your excuse?"
"The life of an engineering nerd is full of excitement, as you know, Doug, but if I tell you I'll have to kill you."
"Sure, Jules," he said, flexing his bicep in her face. "I'd kick your arse, and don't you forget it."
"Mmm. I forgot that whole height/weight/power ratio thing," she said, as they walked into the bright summer morning. "I was just working on my project " she said, slipping her sunglasses on. "They hooked us up with the Computer Science nerds. It's been fun, but I've had to put the hours in."
Rather you than me, Jules," Doug said, looking down at her as they walked. "I'm doing fine just skating along."
"Sure. You'd rather spend your time on extracurricular activities, hey?"
He gave her an easy shrug and smiled ruefully. She shook her head, but smiled back, and he wondered if her casualness hid any concern about last night's hook-up. He hoped he hadn't stuffed up his potentially-in-the-future-maybe chance. He was still looking at her when her smile slid away and he followed her gaze across the road to the glass-fronted Engineering building.
"That's quite a crowd" he remarked, an epic understatement. The building was vomiting a multi-coloured rainbow of frantic, screaming students.
"What the...? Let's go see what's going on."
Doug really didn't want to see what was going on. He knew it couldn't be good. He tried to grab her sleeve, but caught only a wisp of material. Cursing, he caught up with her, and together they pushed up the steps, passing a girl at the top who was vigorously throwing up over the wall.
They couldn't get through the doors; there were too many people coming out, but they could see through the glass in the gaps through the crowds. Something -- no, someone was hanging from the banisters of the mezzanine. He’d been handcuffed to the banister. Blood had dripped and dried down his arms where the cuffs cut into his wrists. His torso was bare, and lumpy purple-blue ropes of outards spilled out over his jeans, dangling like a broken slinky spring.
He recognised him about the same time that Jules did.
"Oh God. Oh God," Jules muttered, low and fast, over and over. In the glass reflection he saw her eyes roll to the back of her head and he caught her as she slipped bonelessly to the floor. He picked her up, shouldered his way down the steps and through the crowd. He could hear -- finally!-- Police sirens, and then a loudspeaker, but at that moment she came to, legs and arms kicking and hitting out.
"Hey, hey! Stop it!" He put her, feet down, on the verge, where she crumpled, sobbing quietly.
Doug sat down, hugged her tight while she cried it out. He knew they’d gone out for a while. Jules had told him Ryan had ended it but they’d remained friends. The gym floor rumour was that she wouldn't put out, and that was why Ryan hadn't hung around, but he didn't know if Jules knew. He wasn't about to tell her.
Jules lifted her head from the wet patch on his shirt, sniffed, wiped her nose on her sleeve, and rummaged around for another Red Bull. She broke the tab and took a gulp. The first sip hurt her raw throat, but it was a welcome pain. Doug watched her silently.
“I’m OK,” she said, standing up. She swiped her eyes with her free hand. “I need to walk.”
"Where? It's not safe."
"The police are here. Nothing's going to happen. It's broad daylight! Please. I need to get away from here."
They walked to the park in silence, Jules occasionally sipping her drink. She seemed much calmer and he wondered where it came from. He felt jumpy, a tight coil of tension in his stomach. He looked constantly behind them but saw nothing.
"Want to talk?"
They meandered on, Doug double-checking behind, barely noticing the change from path to grass and sun to shade.
They ended up at the river edge, Jules staring blankly at the water.
Doug rested against a tree, feeling the cool rough bark on his arms. This early in the morning it wasn't very warm in the shade. He shivered, goosebumps appearing on his arms. He felt that lick of tension in the pit of his stomach again and wondered when they could leave.
“Are you OK?”
"Yeah. It was just a surprise. What happened to him, do you think? How could anyone get him up there?"
He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. Who could have done it? And how? And - shit – really, why? He wasn't a bad guy.” He peered round the tree. “They’ll catch him. They probably already have. I mean, the buildings must have CCTV all over them.”
Jules turned to him and said, “I wouldn't bet on it. I think they only have cameras on the outside.”
She stared at him a long moment. He stepped forward, hand outstretched, "Talk to me, Jules. You need to talk about it."
She said nothing, but pointed behind him. He turned and looked, seeing nothing but bark and leaves and dappled sunlight. But then, like a magic eye picture, he saw. A body, resting over a low, wide bough. A dead body.
She lay on the branch, head to one side, looking coquettishly down at them. He saw the huge, drawn mouth extending up to her temples, and knew they weren't pen lines. Bloody trails marched down the tree bough, and on the grass below a pool of darkness collected.
Sarah. She was Sarah. They both knew her. Sarah - a terrible gossip, but lively, funny, cute. Dead.
He gasped and fell to his knees. Jules touched his shoulder.
“Are you OK?”
"Mhhhnn." His vocal cords were willing, but his brain struggled.
He grasped for her hand, squeezing it hard.
"Ow!" said Jules, shaking him off. She opened her reddened first, revealing the small black box that he'd inadvertently squeezed.
"Jules?" he asked, still on his knees. "Please, let's get out of here. We're not safe."
"I am fine, Doug. I'm exactly where I want to be."
He shook his head. "No. Let's go."
She shook her head back at him. "You're not the cleverest, are you? You know, it's really not enough to come to Oxford and just skate along."
"I am safe, Doug, because I created something to keep me safe. I worked hard at it, night and day; apparently while you were off shagging slappers."
Doug wrinkled his forehead. What the hell was she talking about?
"I created something great. Something amazing. Something that can think for itself. Unlike you, Doug. Seems your dick does all your thinking for you."
"Let's go, Jules!" he begged. "You're not thinking clearly. Come on!"
"You want to know what's going on, Doug? I'll tell you."
"I'm safe from men who think women are whores if they don't give IT up, and whores if they do, and don't have the guts to tell you that's why you're dumped."
"I'm safe from false friends who smile at your face, but lie behind your back."
She grabbed his chin, holding it tightly, green eyes holding his. "I'm safe from false lovers, who tell sweet lies with their eyes, but don't have a faithful bone in their body."
Comprehension dawned. He shook her off and stood. Too late. A crash from the canopy and something hard and heavy landed on him, crushing him down.
"Help!" Doug struggled to move, but only his feet were his to command. He thrashed ineffectually, kicking up leaf mould from the floor.
"Calm down, Doug. You're not going anywhere," Jules said, ignoring his frantic attempts at freedom.
“This is my project, Doug. I’m very proud of ZX69 - the first successful collaboration between the Engineering and Computer Science departments. That’s the goal of science, isn't it? Creating something greater than the sum of its parts?”
Jules looked at ZX69 hunched over Doug, looking for all the world like a mechano spider. A hypodermic needle extended from one arm and a moment later Doug stopped thrashing. Peace returned to the clearing, for a moment, at least.
She sat, rummaged in her bag, grabbed the last can and popped the tab. She wasn't sure exactly what punishment it would exact, but it would be fitting, no doubt. She'd been surprised, and pleased, at the development of its own moral code and the ruthless and inventive punishments which resulted.
Jules didn't have to wait long. She smiled happily as Doug’s punishment was revealed -- ZX69 extended an arm with something that it had prepared earlier, something truly fitting for Doug's crime -- a sharp and shiny bone saw.