Here’s a Flash Fiction challenge courtesy of Chuck Wendig at his Terrible Minds blog. The Challenge is this: Take a Stephen King book title and write a short story based on that alone. So here it is!
“First time to the big city?”
Emilio shifted in his seat. The world flew past his window as the train sped along its well worn track toward Sappa, the biggest urban center in the region.
“You can tell?” he asked the stranger. The stranger chewed on a piece of straw and regarded the young man.
“You’re Auric, right? What brings you all the way out here?” the stranger asked.
“My Pa came this way years ago,” Emilio replied.
“Ha. A story I heard many a time,” the stranger said. “Man leaves home and family to strike it rich in the big city. Sappa, the center a the world! Ha ha.”
“It’s not exactly that way. He sent letters home all the time. He provided for us and when the time was right he was gonna move momma and I here with him.”
“Well, I don’t see yer momma here,” the stranger said, letting the sentence hang.
“The letters stopped coming months ago. We’re worried something happened to him. Momma can’t make the journey right now so…”
The stranger nodded thoughtfully, chewing the piece of straw.
“I don’t know what backwater little town you’re from, but based on your clothes I reckon it’s nothing like Sappa. Hell, nothing is. So here’s some friendly advice from a stranger. Don’t trust anybody.”
“Why not?” Emilio asked.
“Because Sappa is a lot of things. City of Gold. The Town that Wealth built. The Big Walnut. The Shining Land. A place of magic and wonder. But. It’s also a home to tricksters and conmen. Hopes and dreams are currency for the apex predators and the parasites alike that dwell in the shadows of those towering spires. They’ll dig their claws inta ya and suck you dry.” The stranger leaned in closer. “And,” he said in a low voice, “if you dig just below the surface… you’ll find all the bodies of every person that ever tried to make it here and didn’t. Ha!” The stranger shouted, which made Emilio jump out of his skin.
“Jeez! You’re… awfully poetic,” Emilio said, clutching his chest.
“Thank ya kindly.”
The train rolled into Tawny Station, hissing and steaming, fuel tanks sloshing with pure, unadulterated Sap.
“Now arriving at the city of dreams come true. Sappa, folks. Sappa,” the train conductor announced.
Emilio grabbed his shoulder bag and held it close as he worked his way through the crowd. Tawny Station was a magnificent sight. Opulent and Imperial, it was a wonder of architecture with massive chandeliers, exquisite marble statues and floors that seemed to be made of pure gold. Emilio couldn’t fathom how such a place could exist, let alone function as a simple transit hub. Then he exited the state of the art revolving doors and felt his knees buckle. Sappa. The streets were massive and bustling with street cars, carriages, spring powered bicycle carriers and ivory walkers. The buildings were enormous; behemoths of glass and concrete so tall that Emilio had to crane his neck just to see the tops of them. Sap powered lamps lit the city in a brilliant yellow light. The view from the train did this place no justice. This truly was the center of the world. People shoved past the dumbstruck youth until finally he came to his senses and went on his way.
The letters from Pa had mentioned a Ma Humble. Miss Humble was a renter or home leaser or something of the kind that Pa had paid for lodging, making her the first logical stop. Navigating the streets was a dizzying affair that threatened to overwhelm his senses at every turn, but somehow he managed to find the street he was looking for and then finally the apartment building where his father had lived all these years. A knock on the door revealed it to be unlocked, as it swung open from his rapping knuckles.
“Hello?” Emilio called. When there was no answer, he stepped inside and explored the area.
The place seemed to be abandoned. He tried several doors and found them all open and the apartments beyond empty. After a while he wondered if maybe he’d found the wrong building when the form of an old woman caught his eye. She was sitting on the stairs like it was the front stoop of a porch.
“Hello, young man. Are you looking for your father?” the woman asked.
“Uh, yes. I am. Are you Ma Humble?” Emilio asked. The woman chuckled.
“Your father spoke of you often. He was a very hard worker. Are you a hard worker too?” the old woman asked. The stranger’s words echoed in Emilio’s mind.
“How do you know who my Pa is?” Emilio asked, taking a step back. Again the woman chuckled.
“You have his eyes. And his neck.”
The old woman stood. Where before she had appeared to have a hunched and stubby form, now her long gangly limbs and sharp jagged grin revealed her true nature. She towered over Emilio, her eyes a pale yellow, black veins spread like spider webs all over her body. Emilio was frozen in panic.
“What… wha wha?” Emilio blubbered.
“I charge a fair rent,” the woman said in a shrill screech. “All I ask is your youth. Your lifeblood. Your Sap!” The woman lunged forward, pouncing on him and pinning him to the floor. She stabbed her long needle claws into Emilio’s shoulder. He screamed. “My look at all that delicious Sap! You are so full, my pretty.”
“Leave me alone!” Emilio yelled, struggling to pull her claws out of him. She grinned a wide grin, black teeth and yellow spittle inching closer to his face. “Help! Somebody help!” he shouted.
Her mouth opened wider than he thought was possible. Darkness enveloped him. Then a sound like thunder rang out. The woman creature jumped back. Half her face hung off her head. She shrieked and swiped at the shadows of the lobby. Another shot rang out, severing her arm. A third shot hit her square in the chest and she went down. A puddle of glowing yellow oozed from her wounds.
Emilio screamed from the shock, from the pain, from the fear. A man emerged from the shadows, chewing on a piece of straw, shotgun resting on his shoulder.
“You hurt bad?” the stranger asked.
“What is that thing? What is happening?” Emilio asked.
“Relax, son. It’s going to be okay.”
“How can you say that? Look at that thing!” Emilio shouted. The stranger laughed. “Why are you laughing?”
“My Shining wasn’t much different from yours. I was a bit of a mess too.”
“Your what?” Emilio asked.
“You’ve just had your awakening. What we call the Shining,” the stranger said.
“What are you talking about?” Emilio asked.
“The truth of this world. The revelation of the hidden. The Shining. There are things out there, like her, that prey on us. They feed, they manipulate, they cull. They see themselves as our masters. The world you know is a lie they tell us to placate us. But if you’re keen enough of mind or sense, you can see them. We are the Shining Ones. We are the answer to their evil. And now, so are you.” The stranger held out his hand. “Welcome to the brotherhood.”