This is a follow-up of the Chuck Wendig challenge to write the 1st third of a story then leave it for another writer to finish. Last week no one picked up the final third of the story, Brandon Scott’s Plumbing Issues, so I’ll finish it off.
No one picked up my first third from three weeks ago so I’m doing part 2 of it after Plumbing Issues. I was going to try and finish it in 500 words but it just didn’t work. Next week, you’ll get the end of it.
I pick up the Plumbing Issues at the dividing line.
Title: Plumbing Issues (Part 1 by Brandon Scott at Coolerbs Reviews. http://coolerbs.com/2014/09/10/flash-fiction-challenge-the-first-half-of-a-story-only/)
Darkness, their home. A thousand bodies pressed up to each other, communicating through nothing but a torrent of clicks. A swarm; chirping and scuttling. Carapaces pressed up to each other, rubbing. The sound was deafening. The smell, even worse.
They ate, constantly. It was all they knew. A screaming fire in each stomach. Everything was food; rot, blood, skin. Everything. Every inch of the surface picked clean. Any other creature, anything that was not an ally, devoured. Cracked open and slurped up. A few brothers had died, they too were eaten.
Every feeler started to twitch at once. A new noise had appeared. Booming, alien. Something was talking, something massive. The ceaseless noise, ceased. All stood at attention, wanting to hear.
“Where is it?”
“I already told you on the phone”
“Well, could you tell me again, please?”
“The bathroom. It’s always the bathroom.”
“I said I’d fix it.”
“That was a year ago.”
“I will, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Okay?”
“No, I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“
“Just fix it.”
“Look honey, I got a bonus coming up. The vacation can wait, we can-“
“Not now. I don’t want to argue. I just wanna sleep. Could you just handle it, please?”
“Yeah, of course, good night.”
A thumbing noise, more akin to thunder than anything else, sounded across the entire hive. A single twitch of alarm turning into a wave of feelers. The pyramid of bodies began to crumble as individuals tried to move, to escape.
It descended into mayhem, bodies pressed against bodies. Towers made, purely by accident; collapsing just as quickly as they formed. The Queen attempted to calm them. Pheromones screaming for order.
They went unheard.
Their spiny legs found purchase, and raced on the sides. A burst a fresh air gave them a destination. Upwards. A barrier prevented them from passing, and they hungrily tore at it. The porcelain proving itself just another food source. Acid spat, melting it, mandibles scooping it into thousands of wailing mouths. Progress was slow, but they were persisting. More and more climbing up to attack the obstruction. When one grew too full, it would drop down. Its six legs, flailing in the air, being eventually righted by a shift of the mass.
This frantic pace continued for a while, the edge of the barrier weakening. Holes dug, but not yet wide enough to go through.
Then the noise sounded again, and all was still.
“No….no you know what, it’s that mother of her’s. Made one comment about the toilet being dirty….and what does she do? She wants me to replace the whole God-damn thing.”
A noise of metal against plastic, followed by compressed air let free. A large weight dropped down parallel to the entirety of the hive.
Something, large, hit against the surface of the barrier.
The obstruction disappeared and the swarm, now uninhibited, rose forth in-mass. Spilling across the floor; thousands of them. Rushing forward. Manic with hunger.
The random hair, skin cells, a dead spider, found by the leading edge of the swarm disappeared into desperate mandibles leaving nothing for the horde behind. They roiled in the small room until an exit was found. There, they found fibers, soft and giving more traction than the smooth floor of the first room. It was dark but that was what they loved. It was dry, not their favorite but all the fiber made it worthwhile.
Again, spiny legs found purchase on wood, on more fibers touching the floor and leading upward. The swarm followed each link upward, racing each other to eat what was in front of them. Antenna quivered as they tasted the air. Protein, and a lot of it was ahead. They raced, each hungry belly wanting to be the first to find the prize.
Clicking, chirping, scuttling, the swarm raced upward. It grew warmer as they ate their way along the fibers. The lead creatures of the swarm gave off their pheromones, FOOD! They bit into the soft, warm meat.
A noise greater than any they had ever heard vibrated their timpani. They stopped, trying to recover from the noise. They heard a click and light filled the room, brighter than any they had ever been exposed to. They cowered. Again, a high pitched shriek, made the swarm retreat a foot or two, confusion reigned in the swarm. Hunger gnawed, but fear held them back. The fibers they were on moved, hard carapaces flew through the air as the shrieking grew in volume. The protein moved, brothers were trampled and eaten.
The queen, left behind, couldn’t help them. Her pheromones were too far away to help calm and organize. As the shrieking drifted away, the creatures returned to eating the fibers, tiny treats of mites and dead skin cells leading the swarm on. Booming noise gave them pause. They stopped to listen.
“You have to come right now! My whole bedroom is infested.”
“There are millions! Millions and millions! You have to come right now. My wife is going to have a stroke. You have to come.”
The noise stopped, the swarm ate. A hissing noise came from one wall where a crack allowed some of the brothers to leave the room. As more and more tried to go in that direction, more and more of their dead bodies filled the crack. They tasted bad but food was food. Soon those who ate the dead were dead also.
Again, the booming noise filled the air.
“What’s taking so long? They’re trying to get out of the bedroom. I’m out of bug killer. Hurry up!”
“Yes, that’s the address.”
The swarm barely paused now at the noise. The room was hot and dry. The food was dry. The swarm fed but the environment was hostile. They began to miss the wet, dark place they came from. Some of the brothers stood still, the lack of the queen’s direction rendering them useless.
A thundering sounded from where dead brothers were piled in heaps. Cool air flushed into the room. The swarm paused. A humongous, bright yellow giant moved into the room as a mist drifted down from the end of an appendage. The mist was cooling, soothing even, after the hot dry air of their current location. The moisture felt good.
Not good were the hundreds of brother killed as the creature moved among them. They were crushed at each step the giant took. Many brothers tried to swarm the monster but the yellow skin of it was too slick for their claws to gain purchase. Many more slipped to their doom under the mammoth feet.
Vibrations filled the air.
“Oh my God, look at them. Where did they come from?”
The yellow giant rumbled. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Soon the bellies of the swarm began to ache. Images in their eyes, quavered, shimmered and confused the mass of insects. They began to move randomly, crashing into each other in piles the formed and dissolved in moments, only to reform in new spots immediately thereafter.
Brothers began to stop in their tracks, antenna quivering. They couldn’t make sense of the sights or sounds or smells of their own swarm. Movement, which had earlier seemed like a living, shifting carpet, stilled. The giant crunched across the room to the source.
“Spray it again!” was heard from outside the killing field.
“You ain’t gonna believe this,” the yellow giant yelled. “The whole toilet has fallen into your subfloor. There’s a nest down there.”
The man choked on the fear and the stench of the dead. “My wife is gonna kill me. She asked me to fix the damn toilet a year ago. I kept puttin’ it off.”
The yellow figure sprayed into the hole the toilet fell into. “I’m gonna need back-up.” He came back to the door where the owner stood. He pulled off the cover over his head. “I gotta call the Department of Health. This is an invasion.”
The owner slumped against the hall wall. “My wife is gonna kill me.”
Mystery at the Fair (Part One included so you don’t have to go to another link.) Part 2 begins at the line.
Mystery at the Fair
Sweat rolled down the side of Jean Hays’ face, her short graying brown hair stuck to her forehead. The sun beat down out of a cornflower blue sky while end of the monsoon season thunderheads built up into towering blinding white and ominous portents of future rain. Rain every year for the fair, she thought as she trudged to the storage container where the plastic tubs of left over ribbons, banners and other fair paraphernalia resided the rest of the year. She wiped her face and hoped the units were unlocked. The Fair Board President, Arris Van Horn wasn’t answering his phone. He should have them open by now.
She wiped the sweat from her face and lightly touched the metal handles of the shipping container. The front of the unit had been in the sun all day but while it was hot to the touch, she could grab the lever and pull it up. Must be ninety degrees out here. She swung the door open with relief that she wouldn’t have to trudge all over the fairgrounds looking for Arris and stepped inside. It was dark just a few feet inside the metal box and at least a hundred and twenty degrees. Sweat began dripping in earnest. Smells like mice in here, hope they haven’t gotten into the tubs, she thought.
Winding her way past safety cones, stacked tables, buckets of rope, steel cable and broken metal chairs, she stepped over a pile of rebar to reach her stack of tubs. One, two, three, four, she counted, where’s the fifth tub? The heat was giving her a headache. Maybe it’s farther to the back. A pile of cardboard boxes labeled, Mud Run, blocked her way. The storage container held material for several events that occurred on the fairgrounds during the year. Jean moved the three boxes behind her and stepped over a pile of rusting chain. Wish I’d brought a flashlight, she thought. It’s dark back here.
Squinting, she saw the medium blue tub four feet away on top of another stack of bins. There you are. She wiped her face again and held her breath. The smell of dead things was over whelming. I hope nothing crawled into my bin. The ribbons will be ruined. She picked her way past boxes, rusting metal things she couldn’t identify and a broken ladder. She pulled the tilted bin toward her and the pile of bins it was on fell over. Her bin slid to the floor, taking part of her thumbnail with it. “Owww,” she cried as she jerked her hand away. In front of her, the two doors of a metal cabinet creaked open and a desiccated human body fell out on top of her bin. She shrieked and scrambled outside.
She stared, panting, at the open door of the container then dialed 911. “This is Jean Hays. I’m the VP of Exhibits for the fair. I just found a dead body in the storage container on the fairgrounds.”
Standing inside the yellow crime scene tape, Jean watched what looked like complete chaos as an EMT bandaged her thumb.
“That should do it,” he said as he smoothed the tape. “You should get a tetanus shot, too. The Emergency Care place over on the corner of the Highway and Longview Street can take care of you. If you go to the hospital emergency room it’ll cost more.”
“Thanks.” Jean examined her thumb. “I’ll do that.” She nodded toward the crowd of milling police and coroner and EMT’s. “Crime scenes always look like this?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. There hasn’t been a murder in town since I started working, eleven years ago.”
They were interrupted by a uniformed officer. “Who said it was a murder?”
“It looked like a murder to me.” Jean nodded her thanks to the EMT who left. The officer’s tone annoyed her. She held out her right hand. “I’m Jean Hayes.”
He shook her hand, after a look of suspicion. “I’m Chief of Police Nick White. You found the body?”
“Scared the crap out of me. Fell out of the double door cabinet. Stuff was piled in front of it that held the doors closed. If it was a suicide, how’d stuff get piled in front of the door?” She jerked her chin at the small crowd gathering outside the tape. “The press is here.”
Chief White turned to see a photographer taking pictures with a long lens. “That’s Scott Duley, works for the town newspaper. The editor will be calling me soon for the story.” He turned back to her. “Did you recognize the body?”
“No.” Jean was hot and wanted a drink of water. A whole bottle of icy cold water sounded really good, what with the sun beating down on her head. “It was too dark in there and I was busy getting out. I’ve only lived here a year, anyway. Most people are still strangers.”
His left eyebrow cocked up. “You’re on the Fair Board.”
Jean shrugged. “Not hard. They needed volunteers and I’m a good organizer.”
Nick eyed her then said, “The body had ID, Ida Grange.” He studied her reaction.
She shook her head. “Sorry, Chief, It doesn’t ring a bell.”
“She and Arris Van Horn were an item last year.” He adjusted his equipment belt.
It was Jean’s turn to raise an eyebrow. Why would he share that information? she thought. “You think Arris did this? A poor place to hide a body since he’s in charge of the container.”
The Chief sniffed. “Maybe.” He looked around and waved an officer over. “Take Ms. Hays statement and let her get back to her business.”
“What about my bins?”
He looked directly at the officer. “Check the bins and if they’re clean, let her have them.” He never looked at her, just turned and walked back over to the gurney where the body lay covered.
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