Fiction Friday: The Last Boy in Aster

So this week’s fiction posting is, in fact, not of the flash variety. This is the piece I submitted to Round 1 of the NYCMidnight 2016 Short Story Challenge. This contest has been an extremely interesting experience – all participants are divided into heats of 30-35 writers. Each heat is assigned a random Genre, Event, and Character and they all have a set amount of time to writer short stories using their assigned elements. Heat 20 was given Suspense, Flood, A Teenager In Love as our elements. I’d like to think I did an okay job with this story, as I took 1st place in my heat and advanced to the 2nd round. I wrote half of it the night it was due, and got my submission in with 2 minutes to spare. It came in at 2300 words where the maximum was 3000, so I was happy with the length as well. I hope you enjoy.

There is an entry fee of $50 for the contest which made me skeptical at first. However, I just decided to go for it – the fee was my skin in the game and my motivation. It definitely worked for Round 1. I have already submitted my story for Round 2, but I am less confident in that one. The elements assigned for Heat 7 were Romance, A Last Will and Testament, and a One-Eyed Man. I only wrote about 830 words for that one, where the cap was 2000 – I wish I would have written another 400 words at least to flesh a few things out. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

The Last Boy In Aster

The lightning bugs were definitely an omen. Fin couldn’t help but stare across the field for a moment, even if he was behind schedule. There were too many infectious memories here, glowing like tiny poisonous kernels of warm hate. Each bio-luminescent blink was another glorious icepick stab to his chest. Fin thought it poetic justice that the last stage of his plan bring him through the place she used to call Fire Field.

Tonight the fire is extinguished, Kacee. Tonight these memories drown, Kacee. I’ll be your boy person in Aster, Kacee. These fields will be overwhelmed. I’ll drown them. Suffocate them. In doing so, I will erase the reason for my agony. Then I can stop hating you. I’m doing this so my fury washes away, leaving only the fire in my heart. You’ll see, Kacee.

Fin picked his way through gnarls of wild aster and long grass. His threadbare jeans clung as if countless warm hands were trying to pull him into the soft earth. He had the keys, which was unexpected. Dad left in a hurry to get out of town. His band was playing at The Shack clear over in Fenton. Fin remembered going there once. It really was a shack. Rusted corrugated panels were haphazardly nailed to a frame. They had a plastic fold-up table behind the wall where the booze sat with pyramids of plastic cups. Strings of white lights hung from tree branches and fence posts, and looked like…

Right. Lightning bugs. Fire Field. The gate. The crane. Kacee.

Fin was quick, picking his way through the field like a tomcat on the hunt. The damp smell of fish grew heavier the closer and began to coat the back of his throat. He was at the gate, the jumble of keys clamored as Fin nearly dropped them. The sound carried too far through the stillness, and silenced the chirping tree frogs. Heat rushed to his cheeks and the tips of his ears.

A sickly, tarnished yellow light ebbed from the faded plexiglass window of the guard post. It was a figurehead, they said. They said no one would mess with the dam. They were right. The post had stood for twenty years, one man keeping watch at any given time. There had been three attempted suicides at the dam since it was built. There had been three successful ones as well. Fin grew ill with the thought.

Hadn’t the last one been my fault? I was being such a naughty boy that morning. If I wouldn’t of asked her for the peaches and cream oatmeal. If I’d’ve just eaten the brown sugar kind instead.

Fin was walking towards the guard post or, as Dad called it, the UFO. It was a joke amongst the guards who punched their ticket there. His father explained to Fin shortly after he started, of how the police line got several calls once the dam was built. Numerous claims were made of UFOs hovering over the dam.

The people of Aster took a begrudgingly long time to get used to the dam. These days the promises of the electric company have all but faded. The free electric lasted for a year or so, then small maintenance fees started to appear on the residences’ monthly statements. Lyle Huntsman even tried to sue them, but after his first meeting with the suits of GBP Power, he rescinded and went to live with his ailing mother clear over in Fenton.

The door squeaked viciously as Fin tried to slip inside. The sound of Orton’s snores vibrated in tune with the door. He was propped up in the frayed wicker chair, a pillow under his ass, his feet up on the desk. Fin rummaged through his Jansport and retrieved the black flask with an etched cameo of a pair of aces on the side. He unscrewed the cap.

“Ort!” Fin’s shout exploded in the silence of the night.

Orton’s legs stiffened, his arms lashed out in jittering attacks. His eyes bulged wild with fear and instinct. The wicker chair tipped back and sent the old man into a shambled heap. His frenetic motions stirred the stagnant air, swirling the scents of cigarettes and flatulence into Fin’s mouth.

As Orton scrambled up, Fin thought of Darrian in the Fire Field last fall. Earlier that night, Fin caught a glimpse of Kacee’s silhouette against the dim light of her bedroom. Fall was his favorite time of year because the gnarled oak tree in Kacee’s back yard lost its leaves early, which offered a significantly better view of her bedroom. She was changing, which caused a sudden change in Fin too. He felt in tune with her. He was caught off guard when she turned to the window and stared out. She was looking in his direction and, for a moment, Fin thought she had discovered him and his secret vantage.

Lances of yellowing light streaked across his backyard in three quick pulses. Fin jumped, knocking over his Mountain Dew and a box of Kleenex. Again the lights flashed, wild shadows sprawled through his yard and fractured across Kacee’s roof. When he realized what was happening, Kacee was already hanging by her fingertips from her window sill. She dropped down and landed on the stack of firewood. Several pieces clacked to the ground and she froze. Fin watched her chest, heaving several quivering breaths, before her shoulders loosened and she jumped down.

Fin loved to watch her run. She ran like a joyous fan encountering snow for the first time. Her grace was betrayed by a knotty, knuckled root of the big oak tree and she stumbled. Fin had lurched forward and felt silly for his reaction. Several strings of curses darted through the night’s air. She was such a good curser. She had a magical way of saying the f-word.

When Fin had caught up with Darrian’s car, it was abruptly pulled off the dirt road. They were near the dam, on the other side of Kacee’s favorite field. His bike skidded through the gravel and kicked up a weak cloud of dust. A lurching, constricting excitement settled in his throat. He was equal parts excited and terrified of what he would see in the back seat of the forest green Ford Taurus. Thoughts of stark tan lines vanished as Fin discovered the car to be empty.

There was a rustle and a choked cry over in Kacee’s Fire Field. As Fin stalked through the long grass, he could hear Kacee’s curses. They hadn’t been magical this time though. This time her words were desperate, like the pleading a child does at a parent’s funeral.

Focus Fin. Only a few things left to do. Kacee’s waiting for you.

A splatter of Ort’s spit struck Fin near his left nostril. Ort was purple now, his shouts growing more choked with every strained syllable.

“The hell were you thinking, Fin! Your dad’s going to hear about this you little shit. You could’ve given me a heart attack.”

Fin tossed the flask to Ort, who fumbled it a few times, but knew better than to let a single drop of the good stuff spill. He manager to wrangle it in with an awkward squeeze. His chest rose and fell in quick succession.  Ort looked at Fin and tossed back his head with a deep drink from the flask.

“Oh my, apple pie. This is the good stuff, son. Mind you it ain’t good for you yet. You wait till you get some more hair on your chest.”

“Dad tells me that his stuff will put hair on my chest, Ort.”

“Well, ain’t that the truth. Here boy, take a nip.”

Fin waved the flask away. He had a few handles of dad’s best drink on the boat already, and there was still so much to do. He walked out of the shack, into the ambient glow it cast. The lights pricked about in the darkness below and Fin knew this would be the last time anyone would witness the town of Aster. A stumbled thud from the post was quickly followed by the grinding clatter of the metal flask on cement. Fin craned his head back in the door and saw Ort sprawled on the floor, his face flat against the scuffed concrete floor. The next set of keys hung from a bent nail. A battered eight ball keychain ornament hung from the other end of the key.

Fin couldn’t believe how well the night was going. He was close to being back with Kacee, and the thought dried his mouth. He ran his tongue across the roof of his mouth, feeling the parched cracks grow sticky with what little moisture he could summon. His legs were itching something fierce on account of running through the aster and grass.

Fin made his way down the service stairs and jogged towards the lake’s edge, his Jansport jostling sporadically. It would have been harder to see if there hadn’t been a near-full moon. The silhouette of the crane was an inky, withered finger sprouting from the ground. It bent at two knuckles, and the bucket hovered over the water. It had been parked for near a week along the river as GBP was forced to dredge the silt at the dam’s base. The whole compartment shook as Fin turned the engine over. A rattled, growling burst from behind him, and a thick cloud of smoke swirled into the night’s darkness, consuming it.

If Fin thought the shake of the cabin was violent when he first pulled lever to turn the crane, he was terrified at the lurch it gave when the bucket struck the dam wall. He would have been tossed through the enclosure had he not strapped in tightly to the shoulder harness. His head still managed to slam against the plexiglass window however. The grinding, screech of the metal bucket colliding with the dam wall sent electric shivers under his skin. Goose flesh prickled everywhere as his excitement rose.

This is it, Kacee. This will start our alone time together. No more boys like Darrian. I won’t have to protect you from them anymore. Aster will plunge into oblivion, washing his body away along with the rest. Perhaps they will claim another suicide. We know better though, Kacee. I know you know, Kacee. That’s why I know you love me. You’ve kept my secret all this time. You won’t have to be afraid of loving me any more. No one will hurt you again, Kacee.

Another rattling shake of the crane’s cab snapped Fin back to the moment at hand. His strikes were beginning to work. Large cracks were appearing on this side of the dam. Large chunks splattered into the water, sending urgent ripples away.

It took quite a bit longer than Fin had planned for, but eventually the crack grew into a rift. The sounds of groaning rebar and clattering cement were loud enough to be heard over the massive diesel engine. His face hurt from smiling. The engine sputtered silent and Fin slid out from the cab. The night air was filled with a cacophony of destruction. He could hear the spray of the liberated water bursting forth from the other side. It was simply a matter of time, so Fin left, not wanting to delay the whole reason for tonight’s actions any longer.

He darted through Fire Field again, sending blinking orbs of warning to the sky. The fireflies scattered and Fin felt a small tug of regret – they were simply trying to find love amongst the darkness and the stars. He could relate completely.

As Fin returned to the parking lot that sat as an overlook to Aster, an ease settled over him. Only his car was there. It rested in darkness, a black contour against the darkness and stars. A dull pounding came from the trunk and Fin rushed over to the back of the car.

“Easy, Kacee. No need to worry. You’re safe now. I just needed to make sure you wouldn’t run back home is all. You’ll see why in a moment.”

Fin reached in through the open driver’s window and tugged at the trunk release on the floor. It popped open, and the muffled struggles surged into full-fledged sounds. He raced back to the trunk, a smile tightening his face. Kacee had managed to get her bound legs out of the trunk, and was flopping like a fish in an effort to get her torso over the edge. Fin grabbed her legs and, for a moment, his thoughts raced elsewhere.

“Kacee, please stop struggling. Please. I am going to untie you now. You’ll see, Kacee. You’ll understand in a minute.”

He tried to gingerly help her out of the trunk, but she alternated between thrashing around violently and going rigid whenever Fin touched her. When she was out of the trunk, Fin stooped to cut away the ropes which were digging harsh red rings around her ankles. As the snapped away, Kacee’s foot came up and caught Fin directly in the nose. Tears and blood exploded, darkening Fin’s world for a moment.

He wiped his eyes clear and spit a mouthful of blood. Kacee had been running, but at that moment, she slid to a dead stop. She was running in the direction of the dam, but was struck dumb at the sight. Water surged through a massive breach in the wall and more sections were giving way. Kacee dropped to her knees.

“Easy Kacee. You’ll scrape your knees.”

Fin rushed over to her, pulling her up next to him.

“You see, Kacee. The boys. Your dad. They’ll never be a problem again. The whole thing is going to give in a moment. After that, it’ll just be you and me, the last boy in Aster.”

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