When it comes to flash fiction, I tend to treat it as a single glimpse into a story world. I love trying to fit as much depth into a quick read. I try to introduce a couple characters, establish a world-building rule or two, and then round off the story, but leave you wanting more. I wrote this piece from a scene I had in my head. A slaver, a muddy road, and a young girl, scared and unable to fight free. That is, until…
“I can’t believe it’s still raining!” Ulric whined as he tossed another bag of supplies onto the horse. “You’d think the gods would give a workin’ man a dry day o’ travel e’ry now and then.” Ulric grabbed the last bag and threw it over his shoulder. He looked at the woman who stood by his horse, her hands were bound with leather to the saddle. A dark metal collar was clamped around her neck. He hiccuped and gave her a mocking bow.
“Is my blabberin’ botherin’ you, Mi Lady? Or would you prefer your last days lived out in silence?” He drew out that last part to make to make his jibe cut deeper. She knew where he’d take her. Her kind never lasted long in the wilds. The broad-shouldered man yanked on the tether, causing the small woman to fall to the mud. Dark mud sloshed across her blue dress. Laughing, Ulric spat at the fallen girl. “Get up, witch; it’s time to move.”
The girl stood to her feet, her pale eyes held a look of defeat. She scratched at some mud on her cheek and took her place behind the horse and they started off down the road.
“You know, My Lady,” Ulric went on. “When we reach the ‘high and mighty Emperor’s city, he’s gonna pay a fine ransom for you. I’ll be living the good life for a few years. But you, bah! He’ll probably display you in a cage in his court for a few weeks. Butcha’ never know. Maybe you’ll go sooner than that. There’s talk about what else he does with his slaves,” he chuckled as he went on. “He hates you witches. Blames your magics for all the problems in the world. It’s’tha god’s fortune that I had that collar. Creatures like you can’t be left untamed. With that thing, you’re nothin’” Ulric took out a bottle from his overcoat and took a heavy drink. “Jus’ like the rest of us.”
He looked back at the woman, her eyes stared at the road. Her once-fine dress was torn and muddy. She looked much different than the morning he had found her. He had been lucky to get a collar on her. He had found her passed out drunk, lying in the center of a burned out village. The only thing pointing her out as anything but a normal survivor, was that she was the only thing in the village not coated in ash. Her ivory skin and regal blue dress were un-singed. Her still form had been a stark contrast of beauty among the destroyed village. He laughed to himself and thought that must be why witches don’t drink: nightmares can easily become reality.
“So,” he said between his drinks from the bottle. “You like your drink, eh?” He offered her the bottle. “Were you having a good time, or drowning out yer’ sorrows? Not much more sorrowful than being dragged off to yer’ death.” The girl kept her eyes down, giving no notice of his drunken chatter.
“Something must ‘ave driven you to ale that night. If you thought yer troubles was bad then, ha! Wait ’till we reach the city.” He stopped walking, and shoved the bottle in her face. “Look at me, witch!”
Ulric gripped her chin, and raised her eyes to meet his. “C’mon, take some. Or are you scared you might have another bad dream?” He moved his hand to her shoulder and drunkenly slipped in the mud. Falling to the ground, he pulled his prisoner with him. When the ground caught up with them, the light rain began to increase intensity.
Ulric stumbled to his hands and knees, retched, and put a hand to his throbbing head. When the road stopped spinning, he looked around for the girl. She had regained her feet, and stood directly in front of him. The shoulder of her mud-covered dress had torn completely off.
“You want to know about my nightmares?” she whispered to him. Something was wrong. Ulric looked up at her. She glared right back.
“Your filth kidnap innocent girls, girls with magnificent gifts. You take them and sell them to the highest bidder! They’re tortured and raped and tossed aside, all in the name of protecting the land!” She wasn’t hunched over now. She stood tall like a fine lady he’d seen in the city once. The rain picked up and she shouted to be heard over the wind. Her voice boomed. “You want to talk about nightmares? How can a man do these things sleep not drown in nightmares of his own?”
“Hey now, witch” Ulric said as he clamored to his feet. He took a step closer, and unsheathed the knife in his belt. “Be a good girl and don’t open that flapping mouth anymore. Drunk or not I’ll make sure you never….” His words trailed off as he saw a dark chunk of metal in the mud between them. He looked back to his prisoner. She glared back, a hard fury in her eyes. The collar was gone from her throat.
“You want to know about my nightmares?” She asked coldly. “Let’s see how long you can last against them.” The wind was now deafening. It drowned out all noise, except for the un-natural screams of Ulric’s dying pain.