It is Monday so I should have a flash fiction for you today, but I don’t. I actually love the image Theo Fenraven suggested for this week but it didn’t inspire a story in me.
It is quite possible my lack of inspiration is a direct result of the fact I’ve started writing a new book and I’m totally submerged in that story-line and those characters. The story, working title S/m, will be a new departure for me again. It is set in a world not quite our own and will end up a lot darker than my usual fare. I’m very excited about it, while also somewhat worried about whether or not I can pull it off. We’ll see.
I’ve decided to share the first 1000 words of this new story here today. Please bear in mind that it is more or less unchecked and completely unedited. I hope that won’t prevent you from enjoying it. Any feedback will be very welcome.
Please visit the Monday Flash Fics Group on Facebook to find out what others have been inspired to write based on the chosen picture.
Shit, it’s almost dark.
Markus picked up his pace, fully aware that if he didn’t make it home within the next fifteen minutes he’d be in trouble. The street was almost deserted. He was one of only a few stragglers rushing to make it back to their quarters before curfew started. He cursed. This was the third time in two weeks they’d kept him busy until it was near impossible to make it back on time. The bastards didn’t care whether he got arrested or not. For him ten others as far as they were concerned and he was in no position to argue or walk away from a job it had taken him long enough to find.
Ahead of him a large door opened and a group of night guards marched onto the street. Markus thanked the Gods that the quickest way home meant he needed to turn left, away from the platoon. As soon as he’d rounded the corner he set off at a run as fast as the bag he was carrying would allow. It was a risk. If the guards saw him running they’d assume he had something to hide. They’d take him down and lock him up before asking questions. Being caught out and about after dark was even more dangerous—punishable by death.
His lungs burned as he spotted the door to his residence, his mother standing on the threshold, a worried expression on her face. The first chime of six, signalling the start of the night-time curfew, sounded and Markus gathered the last of his reserves and picked up his speed despite the heaviness in his legs. He all but fell into his front room and pushed the door shut behind him just as the sixth chime sounded. He closed his eyes and collapsed with his back against the door. Somebody—he was too exhausted to look and see who—grabbed the bag from his hand as he tried to catch his breath.
“That was too close.” His mother’s voice held a combination of fear, relief and anger. “Don’t do this to me…to us. We’ve got enough to worry about without you adding to the burden.”
Resentment burned deep inside him. How dare she? Didn’t she know everything he did? Had she no idea how hard it was to keep going? To find what they needed to survive? The feeling receded again as he realised that she knew all of that only too well. It was exactly because she knew how precarious their situation was that she feared for his safety. As hard as their life was right now, it would become impossible if something were to happen to him. He was the only thing standing between his mother and six siblings living in relative safety, and death of starvation for all of them. Of course she worried.
“I’m sorry.” He opened his eyes and looked at her. “They didn’t give me a choice. It was either stay longer or leave without the food.”
“That’s just wrong.” Frustrated fury sounded in her voice, although she made sure not to raise it. “They know they’ve got you over a barrel and use it against you. What if you had been arrested? They would have lost you too.”
“Oh Ma,” Markus laughed but it wasn’t a happy sound. “People are lining up daily to take my place. You know that as well as I do.”
“It’s just wrong.” The frustration that was Markus’s constant companion was clearly audible in his mother’s voice. “Look at what you do for them, the hours you put in and for what? A bag of food that will barely see us through the week, a hovel to live in, and discarded clothes. They only give you what they’ve no use for themselves.”
“Stop it!” There was no anger is Markus’s voice, only resignation. It was hard enough to keep going without his mother stoking the fires of his discontent. Of course his mother could remember how it used to be. She’d been ten years old when the world changed. She’d told Markus and his siblings the stories about her life before technology allowed the mega-rich to take over the world. There were times he wished she hadn’t. What good did it do them to know that once upon a time most people had jobs which allowed them to pay for possessions, that slavery had been outlawed until forty-odd years ago? The knowledge that his grandparents had at least had an opportunity to better themselves didn’t make him feel better. It only filled him with a greater sense of his powerlessness.
Suddenly feeling exhausted Markus looked his mother in the eye and said what he seemed to say every week. “At least I have this opportunity, we’re lucky. We’ve been able to avoid the crime lords and slavery. Without this job we’d have nothing. If you hadn’t taught me how to read and write, I wouldn’t be able to bring home what we need to survive. I hate it as much as you do, but the alternative is worse. You know that.”
The anger evaporated from his mother’s face to be replaced by sadness. “We can’t avoid them any longer. Our time is up. This came today.” She handed him a letter with an official stamp.
Fear cramped Markus’ stomach. He’d known this moment would come and had tried to ignore the fact. Hoping he managed to keep his features smooth, he took the piece of paper from his mother and read the words.
This notice serves to inform you that it is time to do your duty as a loyal and obedient member of our blessed society. One member of your family, aged no younger than fourteen and no older than twenty-five years, is to report to our Recruitment and Training centre tomorrow morning at eight.
Failure to obey our instructions will result in incarceration for your entire family.