Chuck Wendig threw us another short fiction challenge. This time the prompt was an image.
Now I have to start by saying that I don’t think I have ever written a story based on an image. I don’t like comics, and I don’t care for illustrations when I read. I like my imagination to do the looking for me.
The challenge in this case was: How do I make a story about the things you can’t see?
Here is my solution.
Bobby lit another cigarette and lay in his bed, watching the smoke drift out the open window. The sheets were yellow, probably not originally. When they had checked into this room she had joked that they should have brought a black light. Bobby was glad now that they didn’t.
In fact, Bobby was pretty damn content to just sit there on the bed, smoking the last of his cancer sticks until the world ended. That seemed like a nice way to go.
He glanced toward the bathroom, the light flickering through the crack above the floor. A shadow moved along the crevice, blocking the light, then was gone.
How long was she going to be?
He looked back out the window. Storm clouds. Everyday, storm clouds.
It had sure seemed like a great idea when they checked in. You got a clear view of the city, a free drink from the tiny fridge and all the soft-core porn you could watch.
Bobby reached for the remote and turned on the TV. It sputtered static, bathed the room in blue light and then rolled the imaged over and over on the screen.
It was the same thing as before, the same monster movie scenario from 3am. Every few seconds the screen would roll, splitting the image in two, mashing it against the bottom then looping from the top.
“You about done in there?” he yelled.
“Hold your horses,” she said through the door.
“You hold your horses,” he said back lamely. He took another drag on the cigarette, staring at the luminous screen, matching the clouds outside.
Those clouds. No clouds should glow like that, unless it was mid-day. He looked at the clock, 10pm. Shit, had they spent the entire day in here, again?
Outside the clouds rolled over one another like juggernauts, but it wouldn’t rain. Oh, shit would fall from the sky, no doubt of that. He laughed to himself and smothered the spent cigarette on the tabletop.
“What’s so funny?” she asked from the bathroom.
“Nothing,” he said, reaching blindly for the pack. “Finish what you’re doing.”
“I just want… I just want to…” he heard a sob. “It’s supposed to be our honeymoon!”
He sighed and fumbled for the pack. Empty. Well fuck, he thought. He certainly wasn’t going to go out in this weather.
A laugh crawled up from his throat. Weather. How fucking rich is that? Two days in and it had gone from a global disaster to “weather.”
He crumpled the empty pack and threw it across the room. The TV image rolled again, voices trying to fight through the static. Amazing they even got reception at all, he thought.
“Just come out, Sweetie,” he said. “Nobody is going to judge.”
Well then you could stop obsessing at the mirror, he thought, but kept it to himself.
“Are the lights off?” she asked.
“The lights are off.”
“Are you lying?”
“Why would I lie?”
More silence and shuffling came from the bathroom.
“What about the TV?”
“Do you want it off?”
“Of course I want it off!”
Bobby reached for the remote again and killed the TV. It was the same shit anyway: a Lovecraftian nightmare of water and monsters. The meteorologists couldn’t explain it. The astronomers couldn’t explain it. Religions couldn’t explain it, but you bet your ass they tried.
It’s God’s punishment for our sins! It’s God’s punishment for socialism! It’s God’s punishment for the gays, for the war, for the taxing of the rich, for hurting the feelings of the Baby Jesus! It’s God’s punishment for neglecting the earth! Neglecting your spouse! Neglecting your church! It’s God’s punishment for Muslims! For Hindus! For Christianity! For Baptists! For Pagans!
Bobby was an atheist. Melinda was an atheist. It was actually the first thing they discovered they had in common. They had a whirlwind engagement and their parents had shit a brick when he delivered the news.
“And now, we’re going to Cuba for our honeymoon!” He said just to see the shock on his conservative parents’ faces.
So they flew to Havana, checked in, never turned on the TV set the entire first day (more carnal entertainment was in order.) When he realized that he was on his last cigarette, Melinda had hopped out of bed.
“You’ve worked hard enough, Tiger. I’ll get you a pack down the street.”
Neither of them had even noticed the clouds rolling in. Nobody had noticed. What’s to notice about some storm clouds in the middle of June? A fluke storm. And it wasn’t like they got a lot of American stations down here, and not like he understood the language of the stations they got.
Now Bobby stood in the silence of the room, staring out the window, wearing his boxers and scratching the uneven hair on his chest. The streets were invisible beneath the black water. Occasionally he could make out something massive beneath the surface. Nobody knew what it was, really. All they knew was that it was everywhere.
Bobby heard the bathroom door open and shut his eyes.
“Are they closed?” she said.
“They are,” he said, turning to face her.
He had promised after all. That was the vows, richer or poorer, sickness and health, human and– he cut the thought short as her footsteps drew closer. They squelched on the carpet like wet sneakers.
“I’m sorry,” she said nearby.
“It’s okay baby,” he said reaching out to the woman he had promised to love unconditionally. “You didn’t know.”
“We should have listened to the TV–”
“Shhhh,” he said as she melted into his arms.
Something wet, slithering and cold pressed against his back, hugging him closer. He felt her wet hair on his chest, that curious seaweed smell wafting up from her scalp. She had come back with the cigarettes. She had come back changed. He had changed with her.
In fact, Bobby expected he would change a whole lot more.