A few months ago, I signed up to participate in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. Participants were assigned a genre, location and object and given 48 hours to submit a story of 1,000 words of fewer. My assignment was: sci-fi (genre), cemetery (location) and elephant tusk (object). I don’t consider myself a “traditional” sci-fi writer, so I was intimidated by my assignment. But I jumped in head first. Yesterday, I received the feedback from the judges, and it actually wasn’t so bad! Round 2 assignments were issued late last night, so I’m now marinating on my next flash fiction piece. In the meantime, I thought – for fun – I’d be a little vulnerable and share my round 1 entry. Hope you like it! (P.S. There are some autobiographical factoids in this piece.)
Afiya squeezed through the loose branches, careful not to rip her grey tunic. She didn’t fancy herself much of a seamstress, but she was able to craft a few of these tunics when she realized that society was headed the way of every dystopian movie she’d ever seen. That was back when fabric was easy to come by. Not so much anymore, so she had to take special care of the clothes she had left. She quickly glanced back, then hurried through the door to what was left of the mausoleum. Even though it hadn’t appeared that anyone had followed her, she ran to her hiding place, an empty crypt at the end of the row, away from the main entrance. Using the bottom crypt as a step, she hoisted herself up and crawled into her spot on the top row.
“Sorry, Mr. Griffin,” she said, out of habit, to the long-deceased occupant of the bottom crypt.
Once she’d gotten settled inside the spacious side-by-side crypt, she opened her backpack to examine her latest find. She’d walked the path in the cemetery enough times now to have become quite familiar with the landscape. This evening, on her way back, she’d seen the elephant tusk. It caught her attention because it was clearly out of place but also because it had not been there that morning. She’d grabbed it without inspecting it – snatched it up in one swift motion, without ever breaking her stride.
Upon closer inspection, she realized that the tusk was a hollowed-out container. The end was covered with fabric and tied with string. She opened it and shook out the contents. The only thing inside was a book chip. She’d grown up with e-readers and was excited when the book chip technology hit the market. She pressed the chip to her right temple and started reading the text that flashed before her eyes.
I’d never considered myself a sci-fi fan, despite my fascination with time travel stories. In fact, most of the stories I’d written as a kid/teenager had sci-fi/supernatural themes. There was the story where the pregnant girl and her boyfriend woke up in an alternate universe where men and women had switched roles. Then there was the story about the abused girl who had been “removed” from her current life and born into a different – happier – life. Perhaps my favorite was the time traveling story where I inadvertently invented the DVD (I called it the “Vid-Disk”) while society was still getting used to records replacing 8-track tapes. Even some of the books that had had the most impact on me were more supernatural or sci-fi than mainstream – like Robert McCammon’s “Boy’s Life,” Scott Corbett’s “Trick” book series and just about everything by Octavia E. Butler than I had set my eyes to. And I grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Barbarella and Buck Rogers. So . . .
I suppose, in some way, I’d always been “marked” by/for sci-fi. But none of that was any help to me that night. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. Like really should have seen it coming. I remember sitting on my balcony that morning, thinking about how unprepared I would be for disasters like an apartment fire, an intruder or a zombie apocalypse and the total fall of civilization as I knew it. If I had been truly tapped into the sci-fi realm, I would have seen that as a warning, maybe even a premonition. Now, that day is forever etched in my memory, July 23, 2016. That’s the day that I received a mysterious letter in an elephant tusk, similar to what you received – though not in book chip form, since those didn’t exist in 2016. I had two choices, I chose wrong, and the world as I knew it began to decline exactly one year later.
Afiya, you can prevent the total annihilation of humankind, but you must be willing to take a literal leap of faith. Exactly 4 1/2 hours from now, you must leap off of the highest point in the cemetery. At the exact moment that you jump, a wormhole will open up. It will transport you to a place where you will receive further instructions that will save the world.
You have two choices: assume this to be some sort of prank or heed the instructions I give you. Please make the right choice.
Afiya removed the chip and stared at it in her hand. This was the most nonsensical thing she’d ever experienced – and she was currently bearing witness to the fall of humanity. She had always been very logical and had the nickname “Spock” to prove it. But when she considered the fact that she was currently living in a crypt in an abandoned cemetery, she decided that things couldn’t get much worse.
Three hours and fifty-nine minutes later, Afiya stood on the roof of the mausoleum, the highest point in the cemetery. Stuffed in her backpack were all of the belongings she had left. It was a combination of things she’d been able to quickly pack when she’d evacuated her home months ago as well as things she’d collected since then. She looked up at the sky, not a star in sight. She closed her eyes, recalling the images of starry skies from her memory. She walked to the edge of the roof, took a deep breath and jumped.