Hey, everybody! Today I’m participating in Rachelle O-Neil‘s flash-fiction challenge. After two failed stories, I finally (yesterday) wrote a story that would work (I came up with the idea for it the day before yesterday). After grueling edits (okay, maybe not grueling), in which I edited out 206 of my precious words to come down to 1,000 words, I came up with what I have now. Critiques are welcomed. Enjoy!
This is the prompt I got for it:
Okay! Without further ado, I present my flash fiction.
Asma tightened the scarf around her lower face, sure it would disguise her as a wealthy religious woman.
Walking on foot effectively destroyed that image.
Squinting to see in the half-light, Asma lifted the parchment closer to her face.
Her surroundings were not on the map.
“Stay safe, Asma Fariq.”
She was doing a fine job of that.
Growling under her breath, Asma scanned the narrow street.
“You need a guide?”
It was a boy. Probably only six or seven, his shaggy blond hair nearly covered his grey eyes.
“Wh-why do you ask?”
“You look like you’re lost.” The boy shrugged, dropping from his perch on the dirty windowsill. “I know my way around the city.”
Asma slowly spoke. “Who are you? You’re not from around here.”
The boy gave a lopsided grin. “Why do you say that?”
He nodded. “Well, yeah.”
Asma crumpled the map in one fist. “So who are you?”
“Tell me who you are first.”
Asma narrowed her eyes. “Asma.”
“No second name?”
“No second name.”
The boy shrugged. “Okay. Then I’m Asad.”
Asma turned away. “A pleasure.”
“Wait!” Asad grabbed her arm. She jerked back.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Where do you need to go? I can get you there for a copper.”
Asma looked him over. It can’t hurt anything. I can’t possibly be any more lost than I am.
“I need to get to the execution yard at the palace.”
He looked at her wide-eyed. “Ma’am! You don’t want to go there! They’re having an execution today.”
Asma’s eyes narrowed. “I know where I want to go, Asad-ali.”
He chewed on the edge of his lip, looking at her skeptically, then turned. “Keep up.” He dashed down the street. Asma had to run to keep up.
Surprisingly, they made it there in a few minutes.
Great sandstone walls towered above, but the gate was open, people and carriages streaming in.
Asad looked at the crowd briefly, then turned to her, eyes grave and breath slightly quick. “You’re sure you want to go there, Asma-ali?”
Asma nodded, breathing through her nose to hide her exertion. “I’m sure.”
He sighed. “I know a way to get in faster.”
He led her around the wall for several minutes, then crouched, gripping a cloth-wrapped iron handle half-buried in sand. Bracing his feet against the wall, he pulled.
A section of sandstone slid from the wall, leaving an opening barely big enough for Asma to crawl through.
Asad glanced up at her. “Follow me.”
He disappeared into the opening.
Asma crouched, then crawled in after him, the hot sand stinging her hands.
She reached the end after a few feet of crawling, and adjusted her scarf as she stood in the dim light.
Asad leaned down, pulling on a thick rope. The sound of rock against rock was followed by total darkness.
Asad’s work-rough hand slid into hers. Though she pulled away, he did not let go. After a second, she allowed him to lead her through the inky blackness.
After a few minutes, Asad stopped. “Close your eyes.”
Bright daylight nearly blinded her.
When Asma’s eyes adjusted, she saw they stood by a doorway in the rock.
Asad pulled her through, then closed the wooden door.
They stood behind a shed of some kind.
As Asad lead her through the outer courtyard, Asma briefly wondered how often he snuck into the palace.
They soon reached the execution sight. The smell of death made Asma’s stomach churn, even through the scarf.
The crowd stood, gathered in a circle. Asma started to shove through, but stopped at cheers from the mob.
Asad hissed. For a second, Asma saw pointed teeth. “The monsters.”
Her words came as a whisper; it was a wonder that Asad heard. “Who is being executed today?”
Asad grimaced. “Just one man. A war prisoner from Andirkh.”
Asma’s stomach twisted into a knot. “The name?”
Asma felt the blood leave her face. She stumbled a few steps backward.
She turned around, her vision blurring, though her eyes were dry. She sank to her knees.
So she was too late.
“Death to Andirkh!” The crowd called.
Asma pulled in a shuddering breath. “No.” She whispered.
“Asma!” Her collar tightened, and she was yanked from the street, landing flat on her back. Her scarf fell from her face. A carriage rattled by.
Asad dropped to his knees beside her, hastily replacing the scarf over her scars. “I won’t tell.” He whispered, gripping her shoulders and heaving her into a sitting position. “We have to get out. I don’t think anyone saw, but…”
A murmur passed through the crowd. They froze in their departure.
“Death to the Andirkh!” Someone called, and several people stepped forward.
Asad snarled, shoving her toward the shed. “Get out, Asma-ali.”
He stood, facing the crowd. Asma stumbled toward the shed, her feet pounding in time with her heart.
She pulled the door open and fell into the passage, slamming the door behind her.
It was several moments before Asad slipped in. His pupils were narrowed to slits, but they returned to normal almost instantly; Asma doubted she had even seen them.
Asad shut the door. It was once again dark. He slipped his hands into hers. “It’ll get better, Asma-ali.”
Asma pressed her back against the wall.
Asad sat beside her, but said nothing. She was grateful.
He slipped his small hand into hers, nodding toward the sky. “Look.”
Asma looked at the dull grey skyline, silent.
And then, slowly but surely, the sun rose, sending gold and pink auras across the sky.
“There is pain, Asma-ali.” Asad said, softly. “But there is still hope.”
Asma kept her eyes on the sunrise.
“Don’t pay me.” He whispered, then pulled his hands from hers. The next moment, he was gone. Probably back to the streets where he came from.
Asma rose, watching the sunrise. “There is pain.” She whispered. “But there is hope.”