Story #2 in my Flash Fiction series I’m working on for the month of October, each one inspired by an image.
Alexa stumbled as another wave of nausea swept through her. She reached out and caught the cement support beam for the highway overpass above. The words from behind echoed in her mind, making the sensation to throw up pulse with each syllable. No longer could she understand the words being said for the blood pounding in her ears. But that did not matter. She knew what they said. What they always said.
She swallowed hard. Ignoring the smell of decaying sewage and stale urine, she forced herself upright. If she didn’t get moving, the men calling to her might decide her pausing was meant to entice them. Alexa forced one foot forward, then another. The dirt and gravel crunched under her black heels with each unsteady step.
That was how it had been since The Breaking. The Breaking of the Seals was what it was officially called, but most just referred to it as The Breaking. Some scientist somewhere doing something with space/time and quantum-something had found a weakness in one of the “walls of reality,” they’d said. Some thought it was a source of free energy, others a gateway to parallel universes. Alexa hadn’t cared. Science had never been her thing.
A few weeks after the initial announcement, everything changed. Alexa thought it was more like everything went to Hell, for her at least. Anything that mentally disgusted her nearly incapacitated her with a physical sickness. It didn’t matter if it was a political discussion or just catching someone in a lie, the result was the same, she would retch up her most recent meal into the nearest wastebin.
Other people had had strange things happen, too. A guy at work had grown antlers. A cute barista she’d been planning to hit on now had glowing eyes. She’d even seen a woman with giant, angelic wings that looked like a shimmering hologram.
But not her. Alexa was stuck with the ability to get sick when someone was an ass.
“C’mon, don’t go so soon!” one of the men cried.
“Yeah, baby!” another sung.
Then footsteps. Running.
No. Not again. Alexa’s eyes went wide and she started moving faster. She refused to glance over her shoulder to acknowledge them. As soon as she did… Maybe she kept moving and ignored them, they’d lose interest and go away.
But the footsteps kept coming. Three of them, at least.
Despite the fear redoubling her nausea, she kept moving.
“C’mon, don’t be such a tease. We only wanna have some fun.”
A burble of acid trickled up her throat and she spit it out.
“Just a little fun.”
What gives them the right? Anger tickled at the edges of her mind.
“I got some Molly that’s make it real fun!”
Her anger grew, vines creeping into the cracks of her fear.
“Yeah, we’ll all have fun.”
Don’t acknowledge them, don’t feed them. If I’d have ignored him, he’d have gone away. Barely aware of it, heat flushed her face and pinpricks danced down her arms.
“C’mon baby, I saw you lookin’ at me.”
Rage bloomed in her. Not a blood-red rage. No, her anger was a black, soul-crushing fury that made her want to destroy the world.
Pain stabbed into her arms, or rather, she thought it felt more like pain stabbing out of her arms. She glanced down and nearly tripped again at what she saw. Three massive thorns stuck out of her right arm, each more than two inches long. And her skin, her skin was grey and scaled.
No, not scaled. Like bark, like a tree.
Darkness clouded the edges of her vision, but staring straight ahead, she could suddenly see more clearly and farther than ever before.
“You know you wa—”
“NO!” Alex whipped around to face the men. Never. Again.
The three men, one of them old enough to be her father, skidded to a halt. With wide eyes, they gaped at her.
She took one step forward. “I never looked at you. I never said a word to you. You will not touch me again.”
The men stepped back and glanced at each other. Two of them raised their arms in surrender. “Look, we never touched you,” one of them said.
The rest of her arms seemed to become hard. From the corner of her eyes, she saw tiny branches sprout from her flesh just above the thorns. She held her hands up. Her arms were no longer skin and flesh. Now, they were thick branches of ancient hardwood, yet they bent and flexed as she moved.
Horror covered the men’s blanched faces.
Somehow, she knew what she had to do. She knelt down and touched the ground. Her wooden flesh spread across the top of the broken asphalt, burrowed into the cracks and dug beneath it.
Two of the men turned and ran, but they were not fast enough. Her gray vines and briars spread across the ground like a waterfall. When they reached the first man, still frozen in terror, he screamed. Giant thorns, just like the ones on her arms, speared into him. Three of the roots crawled up his side and darted into his open mouth. A second later his eyes bulged.His scream became a gurgle.
Alexa felt her roots drinking in his blood like water and she realized how thirsty she was. Not thirsty for water. Thirsty for their blood. Thirsty for revenge.
One of the other two men tripped. Her vines snaked up his legs, more thorns stabbing flesh. He reached out, his nails digging into the jagged ground, but his blood-curdling cry echoed off the concrete ceiling. The third only made it a few steps more before the briars and vines caught his foot and pulled him down.
Less than a minute later, the highway underpass was quiet again, and her thirst sated. For now.
The wooden flesh holding her to the ground cracked and her arms came free, human skin and flesh once again. The roots, vines and briars remained.
She would never let them do it to her again. Never the pain. Never the shame.
Like a tiny bud in her mind, a realization grew. She had nothing to be ashamed of. She had not committed a crime. She had not imposed herself on another person. She had not taken advantage of her power. She had only been the victim.
But she’d only been the victim because she hadn’t had the power to fight back. Now she did. And they would all pay.
Special thanks to Bliss for starting Nightmare Fuel.