Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flash Fiction contest winning entry - Absorbed by Nicole Krueger

Congratulations once again to Nicole for winning my Attack of the REAL blob flash fiction contest. Here's her winning story.

by Nicole Krueger

Tina squats on an overturned bucket, head between her legs, trying to breathe without vomiting. The bobbing of the charter fishing boat makes her stomach heave, but she’s determined to hold on to her breakfast. Damned if she’s going to be Absorbed with the reek of puke still in her mouth.

At the front of the boat, a man in brown druidic robes intones to the dozen or so people around him: “…the One, the Collective. Once we are integrated into the Akashic stream, once we return to the primordial mud from whence we crawled, we shall know and see all that is, has been and ever will be…”

Tina—no, not Tina, she reminds herself; here, she is Sage Willowdusk, a name she chose carefully but cannot seem to apply to herself internally, feeling absurdly self-conscious whenever she uses it out loud—Sage tries to listen to his words, his words of significance, the last words she will ever hear, but the buzzing in her ears and the motor of the charter boat make his voice sound like a radio broadcast on a fuzzy AM station. This is her chance to prepare herself, to bring her energy into harmony, and all she can manage is to not stain her Jack Purcells.

The robed speaker, Panther Blackthorn, raises his arms and bows his head, leading the passengers in meditation. He’s a short, square man, with tightly trimmed brown hair, quarter-size spectacles, and a beard that tangles down to his chest. Sage met him at a drumming circle back when she was still Tina, back when she would bite down on her pillow every night with wet tears on her face, back when she was searching for something to make the evenings shorter and less devastating. He was kind and looked into her eyes as though he saw a specialness in her, and when the circle ended he wordlessly handed her a business card. It took an entire week to muster the courage to call.

Discovering these people… it had been her something.

Then a dark, globby mass was spotted in the Arctic, its miles and miles of hairy goo mystifying the scientists who rushed out with their test kits. Panther had been the only one to recognize it for what it was. He knew right away, just like he always knew things, like he knew Sage was having doubts that night he'd taken her aside after group and spoken to her gently about her tendency to give up.

One by one the passengers emerge from their trance and begin milling about, their eyes silently connecting and sliding away. From this point on, they will approach their destiny without speaking; Panther calls speech a trapping of the physical world that obscures more than it expresses. A freckled girl with curly red hair and unshaven legs lays a hand on Sage's shoulder, her eyes radiating love and excitement. Willowmoon has always been particularly nice to her, and Sage thinks if only they'd had more time, they might have developed a real friendship. She's tried to express this once, but Willow merely gave her a painfully earnest look.

"Ohhh, but once we're Absorbed, we'll be one with each other, and everyone else. It'll be better than friendship."

Sage nodded then.

"Oh yes. Of course. So much better."

Now she musters a weak smile for the woman she would have liked to share a movie and a bottle of wine with. She stands, and her legs quail, but she remains on her feet and even manages a few steps. The people around her, people with whom she's spent countless evenings, seem like strangers in this Alaskan dusk. A woman with long blond braids clasps white-knuckled hands over her abdomen, her face blank. A skinny man, with a beaked nose and shiny pink skin, wears a faint smile. A black-haired girl with a lip ring and a furrowed brow stares at her boots, refusing to meet anyone's eye. They are alone, all of them, wandering the deck like ghosts, as if they have already checked out.

The fishing boat chugs to a stop and its motor cuts out, leaving behind the silence of lapping water. Sage lines up with the others to stare over the side. And there it is, just below the surface: a giant clot that roils and oozes with the waves, stretching out as far as she can see.

The sight makes her shiver, makes the back of her neck crawl.

It's the energy of it, the life force. We are in a place of power.

It is time. They strip out of their clothes, not bothering to fold anything. Each member has a bucket, overturned near the edge of the boat. They mount these now, Panther in the center, and clasp hands. Sage barely has time to think, This is happening, to draw one last breath, and they're going over, they're falling, they're plunging into the frigid water, right into the center of that black mass.

Then everything is churning, and she tries not to struggle, but she can sense them now, their panic and terror. She thrashes uncontrollably. Her head breaks the surface, and she feels the ooze surrounding her, pressing against her skin. The sacred primordial mud gropes at her with the insistence of a seventeen-year-old boy.

When the thing begins digesting her legs, she can no longer hold it in. Tina spews up her breakfast into the icy Arctic. And after the sea regains its calm, the waves settling back into their placid rhythm, it continues to float there, undisturbed, while the sunset paints the water red.

Nicole Krueger is a book publicist, freelance writer and former newspaper reporter. She writes fiction, poetry and a book blog in her spare time. Her compulsion to write is constantly at war with her desire to bury her nose in a book.

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