Welcome to another flash fiction from Chuck Wendig at TerribleMinds. Couldn’t resist this week’s prompt: steal a Stephen King title. Write 1,000 words. This is 990.
I read every King book I could get my hands on as a kid. Our neighbor up the street — a writer — gave me a bunch when I was pretty young. I blew through them all in one summer. Carrie. The Shining. Firestarter. Cujo.
So I stole The Stand and made it, well, what follows. More or less the same characters I wrote about here. Please enjoy.
He felt cold, even though they were in the dark, black heart of the Amazon. Emerson lay face-up in the mud, somewhere miles north of Piquiá, west of Airao, hell and gone from the outposts of Manaus. He shivered a bit and, with effort, flipped over to his side.
Cold? That ain’t right, he thought and felt for the bullet hole.
Or the poison dart.
Good news. Bullet hole.
Right shoulder, a little low. He touched it gingerly with his left hand. Maurinelle is getting to be a better shot, he thought.
She was next to him, still, unmoving. He reached to her wrist, checked for a pulse. Strong. Gilley was alive, just out. It had, after all, been a hell of a drop from the path to the riverbank.
They had barely made it to the river to begin with.
“Hand it over, Emerson,” Maurinelle Toulouse Charbourd, the grave-robbing privateer said, pointing the little pistol right at him.
“See you in hell, Mauri.” And he stiff-armed Gilley over the edge, heard the gunshot, then jumped after her, head first.
Merde! he heard Maurinelle say, and then… nothing for who knows how long. The world went black.
“Gilley, come on, babe. We gotta go,” he said, and gently, urgently shook her. He sat up and looked down river. They’d landed at a slight inlet, a calm part of the massive, wide Amazon, the dark brown water pooling at their feet in slow eddys and whorls.
He turned his head back the other way.
The boat wasn’t there.
Then he looked up. Maurinelle was not standing at the edge of the ravine, as he thought he might be. But he would be on his way down. Maurinelle didn’t usually stop.
Aw, hell. What about the Sirioňo? Warriors from the native tribe had chased he and Gilley right into Maurinelle’s arms. He’d felt blow darts and spears brush past his head when they ran. The tips of the darts would be coated with slime from a poison toad.
Kill you in about two minutes, he’d told Gilley before they left. Lucky the Sirioňo have terrible aim.
This thing better be worth it, she had said, crossing her arms and furrowing her brow in that way he loved so much.
He hadn’t had time to answer.
The guys from the States wore their suits — suits in the goddam Amazon, he thought — and he figured maybe they were FBI, CIA. Who knew. Four of them. Big, serious. Sunglasses and scowls. Relentless.
They had tailed Emerson and Gilley from Dr. Carter’s in New York, down to D.C. After that, they had to duck under the cover of a Miami airport newsstand to avoid them. Bought a Post and a magazine. A quick outfit change at a tourist shop next door, then hustled to the other side of the terminal. Booked a charter down to Rio via Havana.
Emerson wanted to be more surprised when he heard the men in suits were in the hotel next to theirs. Thank God for talkative bellhops.
Emerson and Gilley snuck out of the hotel at one in the morning two nights early, hopped a flight in a gutted DC-3 to Brasilia. After that, it was a two-day drive to Belím, with a fitful overnight stop in Prača in the back of an old wood hut. In the morning they ate pao frances and drank coffee that made them wince. Then back on the hard dirt road before sunrise.
“Damn,” he said when he saw the suits making their way towards them down a red clay street of Belím, Jeep tire ruts filled with soupy water, chickens running away.
“Gotta go,” Emerson said, grabbing his river guide and first mate — and the clear bottle of half-full cachaca — off the bar. It was a struggle to get the men to the boat. Only after Gilley threw money and cold water in their faces did they find themselves quickly unmoored and sputtering up the ancient river on a faded blue cruiser.
Emerson and Gilley slept astern. When they woke in the morning, the guide, the first mate, and the bottle of cachaca were gone.
He gauged they were close enough, and ran the craft aground. It was three day’s walk to the temple.
They noticed the Sirioňo following them, at an unhealthy distance, after the first day.
“Feels like we’ve been running for a lifetime, Emerson,” Gilley said. He looked in her eyes and saw not fear, but exhaustion, which scared him more.
Maybe we have, he thought, as he raised himself up on his haunches, then stood.
Been running a long, long time. But what else was there to do? He hoisted the pack, which hurt to do, and checked the .44. Two shots left, and maybe there’d be a box of shells on the boat. But hell, he thought. Where’s the goddam boat? Swore we beached it right here.
He looked down as she moaned and rubbed her head.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure emerge from the jungle treeline: Maurinelle Toulouse Charbourd. The grave robber. The privateer. Gun up.
Choo-ka-chaw… Choo-ka-chaw… So many sounds in the Amazon, could have been one of those wild, exotic birds you usually only see in science book pictures. But that call he knew: the Sirioňo. Coming down from the ravine. Flank them at the other side of the inlet.
“Emerson!” Maurinelle yelled, still approaching. And as the name echoed into the jungle abyss, off the water of the mighty river, Emerson heard the ghuff-chuck-chuck of a boat. Their boat? Maybe, he figured. Probably. And he knew there would be four men in suits at the helm.
“Emerson?” Gilley spoke, standing. Her eyes were empty with exhaustion.
No more running, he thought, as touched the holster for the .44. No more running from anyone. Take a stand.
He and Gilley waited at the muddy bank by the river, ready as they’d ever be.
# # # #
Image courtesy here.
© 2018 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.