So I decided to participate in Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge, A Game of Aspects. I’ve never written flash before, and the choices appealed to me, so I thought I’d give it a go. It proved unexpectedly fun, and fulfilling too. The way it works is you choose, either deliberately or randomly (I was totally a nerd and rolled 3d10s), an aspect from each of three categories he provided. The categories were Subgenre, Setting, and Element to Include. Mine were:
The Hollow Earth
Weapons of Mass Destruction (though as it ended up, I also included Dragons)
After some cogitation, inspiration hit. If my story were to be a question on Sheldon and Amy’s game, Counterfactuals, it would be something like this.
Question: In a world where Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen discovered a tunnel a the South Pole leading to the Hollow Center of the earth which was filled with dragons, how would Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria have been assassinated?
“An Egg for Freedom”
Amundsen Tunnel, South Pole, January 1914
A faint set of sled-tracks marred the trackless snowy landscape. They terminated in a large area of bare, blackened rock. Here three figures in hooded parkas climbed out of a pair of dog-sleds. A terse command from one of the figures made them huddle down in their harnesses. Another figure set out bowls of food and water. The leader pulled a large sack, an electric torch, and several large coils of rope out of a sled. The other two hoisted a box-like construction attached to a metal carrying pole onto their shoulders.
The torch-bearer led them toward an enormous hole in the ground. Crude steps cut into the rock spiraled down into the stygian darkness. He attached his rope to a piton next to the first step, and the other two grabbed hold of it with their free hands. Together, they disappeared into the Earth, their light a mere speck of brilliance.
For a time, they traveled downwards in silence. The air grew warmer as they descended, and with it, their tempers.
The youngest whispered to his fellow box-bearer, “Curse you Gavrilo, slow down! Do you wish me to fall to my death in this hell-hole?”
“Quit your whining and climb faster, Ned. It is a long journey, and I want to be done with our task as quickly as possible!”
“You think I like this any more? How do we know these dragon-eggs will serve us? Or that they’re even here?”
Ahead, the leader paused. “Enough. You both chose this. Apis is counting on us.”
The two younger men hung their heads. The torch-bearer nodded in satisfaction and began walking again, leading them further into the bowels of the earth. After another hour or so of careful climbing down the stone steps, the darkness began to lift. A reddish-orange glow grew beneath their feet. Sweat rolled down their faces, dripping from unshaven chins. At last, the stair ended in a little wooden platform attached to the end of the tunnel. Below stretched an empty space alight with patches of red lava clinging to the walls. The sound of rustling wings and whispering scales filled the air. The men had a strange feeling of weightlessness, and stepped carefully to avoid falling off the platform.
The two carrying the box set it down gingerly while Danilo tied another rope about his own waist and attached it to the wall. He leaned over and peered around the rock walls nearest the opening.
Gavrilo swallowed nervously. “Do you see any of these egg-things, Dani?”
Danilo twisted and turned about, peering all around. “No, only a few large winged lizard-like creatures. They must be the dragons. Ugly bas—no wait, I think I see something. At the edge of the nearest lava-pool. Gavi, you and Ned hold my rope. Don’t let me fall too far. I’m going to see if I can reach one. Pull me back when I signal. And remember, be quiet. We don’t want to wake them.”
He slipped over the edge. Rather than falling the length of the rope as he’d expected, he merely drifted a few feet downwards. At first, he flailed helplessly in surprise, but recovered and guided himself along the wall toward a cluster of lumpy reddish-brown ovoids. He automatically reached out a bare hand toward one, snatching it back with a muttered oath. He sucked his burned fingers and contemplated the egg. Reaching into his sack, he produced a pair of metal black-smith tongs and gently detached an egg from the nest. He hissed in triumph even as his compatriots began reeling him back to the platform.
Ned snatched the lid off of the box and Danilo nestled the egg into a wire net inside. Gavrilo fiddled with some controls on the outside until they heard a faint ‘whoosh’ and the box began radiating heat.
“Quick, close it up Ned, before the damn thing explodes on us” Danilo whispered. He untied himself from the wall and reignited his torch. His companions closed the egg-carrier and positioned it on their shoulders again.
“Let’s get out of here, Dani. This place is creepy.” Gavrilo’s said.
Danilo nodded and led the way back up the long stair toward the surface. They must get their prize back to their leader, Apis, before it hatched or exploded.
Appel Quay, Sarajevo, July 1914
Gavrilo and Ned stood in the shadow of the bridge’s pylons. People lined the roadway on either side of them, all gazing expectantly in the direction from which the Archduke was scheduled to arrive. The two young men were dressed in their best suits, hair trimmed short and faces newly-shaved, save for neat mustachios. The box no longer dangled from a pole, but instead each grasped a thick wooden handle attached to a side. Behind them, Danilo carried a large metal bucket of water. The box hummed quietly as they waited, half hidden beside the bridge.
At last, a mixed chorus of cheers and jeers erupted from further along the street. The Archduke’s car approached.
Danilo gripped each companion’s shoulder in turn. “Are you ready?”
Ned gulped. “Will we be heroes?”
“They will sing our names throughout history as martyrs who struck the first blow for freedom.”
Gavrilo smiled at his friends. “We go together to the glory of God and our people.”
“Amen. May God have mercy on our souls.”
The car drew closer.
“NOW!” shouted Dani.
The three young men stepped forward into the street, blocking the Archduke’s progress. Danilo shouted, “The Black Hand has a gift for the foul oppressor!”
As he spoke, Gavrilo and Ned yanked the lid off of their box, and Danilo upended his bucket of water into it. A hiss filled the stunned silence of the street for a few eternal seconds. The city shattered around them and the air filled with fire and screams.
And the World descended into chaos, heralded by newsprint and bathed in blood.
Thank you for reading.