The Box (Pexels in Pixabay).jpg

Earlier this year, I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest. The rules were simple. On Friday, just before midnight, the contest organizers would send a story prompt consisting of a genre, a location, and an item of some sort. My task was to write a story of no more than 1,000 words in that genre and use the location and item in some significant fashion.

And I had to submit the story within 48 hours.

The first round consisted of two stories — one in July and one in September. Everyone who entered got sorted into one of 125 groups consisting of roughly 30 authors. Judges read the stories then ranked them, most-liked to worst-liked. Top story got 15 points. Second story got 14, and so on until you got to the 15th place story, which got 1 point. Stories below that got nothing (essentially, 15 other stories tied for last place). Add up the totals from two stories and promote the top five authors to the next round.

I did not make the next round. Even though I didn’t win, I thought you might like to read the stories I wrote in that first round. I’ll also include how the story ranked in my group along with the judges’ comments — what they liked and what they didn’t like. Sounds good? Good.

The prompt for the first story was Horror / The wreckage of a plane crash / An X-ray machine. Let’s begin.

The Box

Desmond hid inside the box. Outside, the man who had been in seat 4B died screaming. He was the last besides Desmond, an Air Marshal named Wilheit whose gun had not saved him from the creature that flowed from the darkness and enwrapped him in death.

The screaming seemed to go on for minutes, though Desmond knew it couldn’t. The longest anyone had lasted once the creature had them was Ms. Carmody, seat 22A, an old lady whose three sons had all been professional football players. When the creature took her, she swung her cane at the tendrils that came from all directions and flung curses at it in a language Desmond only half-recognized. The thing burbled and raged. It flung her about, smashed her into trees and the broken pieces of airplane fuselage for five and a half minutes. Desmond timed it on his watch.

She was the third to die and no one else had lasted longer than two and a half-minutes. Not even Wilheit with his magnificent firearm. He was the twenty-third. Desmond had scratched a tally mark for every one the creature killed on the metal wall of the box that had once been an airport x-ray machine. He had to do it quietly, though…oh, so quietly. If the creature heard it would—

But no. It had not heard, not once. Desmond was safe inside his box. He had wondered, once, why there was an airport security x-ray machine on their flight, but the reason didn’t matter to him. It was shelter and safety if he kept quiet and unseen. Once though, he had ventured out, and would not make that mistake again. It was three days ago and he desperately needed water. The creature had been busy with the young accountant Norman…something or another. He was the sixteenth, and Desmond thought he would break Ms. Carmody’s record but he wasn’t looking at his watch. He was running, fast, toward two unopened bottles of clean, sweet water in a puddle near an overturned food cart. He had seen the bottles two days before, when the creature had taken…oh, what was her name? The lady in 10C. One minute and forty seconds. Blonde. Didn’t say much at all until she was almost fully entrapped and the creature started to crush and grind. She was the tenth. He shook his head. What was he thinking of? Right. The bottles. Norman Sixteen.

He was one of a group who had holed up in a section of the fuselage not far from Desmond’s box. They had come up with a plan. One of them would make a break for the bridge section near the beach — maybe the co-pilot? Warren? Warner? Whatever. He was number eighteen. Two and a half minutes exactly. Silver medalist in the Slaughtered by a Nightmare Horrorlympics. Desmond giggled then clapped a hand over his mouth. He listened quietly for any sound of slithering or that low giggling chitter it always made before the tendrils came from the shadows. Nothing. It hadn’t heard. So still. So quiet.

Desmond had seen the water bottles but couldn’t find the courage to slip out of the box and make the mad dash for them. He was thirsty and his thirst might have overcome his fear except the group made the decision for him. The kid — who couldn’t have been a day over 22 — burst from the curtain over the opening in the fuselage fragment and bolted for the nose section faster than Desmond had seen anyone run. He swerved around a chunk of engine and leaped a puddle of fuel and that’s when the the giggling and the hissing started. Perfect black tendrils whipped from right and left and, impossibly, from a shadow in the middle of the clearing that connected to nothing at all. They grabbed Norman’s arms and a leg and hoisted him high.

Desmond almost froze but this was his chance. He slid from the box, got to his feet, and sprinted to the bottles. He grabbed them and went to turn. He had to be quick before anyone saw him.

He wasn’t. Norman saw him. He shouted Desmond’s name, pleaded and screamed for help. Desmond froze in place as the creature stopped feeding and turned or oozed part of itself toward him. The part with a blood-red three-lobed eye. It saw him, oh dear Mary Mother of Jesus it saw him and it glared. He didn’t know how but it glared at him and it knew him. He moaned and his bladder let go and…

…and somehow he was back inside the box, crying, the bottles pressed against his chest. They lasted him almost five days, five horrible days of listening to sanity shatter and people panic and the creature feed and feed and feed and…

Something thumped on the box and Desmond squeaked in surprise. It was not the creature, but a human. Another person! “Sir! Can you walk?” Light bloomed and hands reached in to pull Desmond gently into the light. He looked up into the faces of two young men in crisp uniforms and then he looked around the clearing.

There was a metal box identical to the x-ray machine that had sheltered him, shiny and undamaged. Men sealed the edges with guns that looked like flamethrowers but…weren’t. Other men chanted in a language that sounded like Ms. Carmody’s curses. Something inside the box thumped and rattled but then went silent as a soldier threw a switch and it hummed to life. Desmond leaned against his box and drew strength from the soldiers on either side of him, but then he saw something that drained his strength completely. He dropped to his knees and began to shriek. On the side of the box — that would have been its top had it been sitting upright — was a perfectly-stenciled image of blood-red, three-lobed eye.

Score: 9th place (7 points)
(Note: The judges get numbers so you don’t know who, exactly, judged your story.)

{1702} I like this idea of this little old lady being the biggest badass out of everyone. “Silver medalist in the Slaughtered by a Nightmare Horrorlympics” I always appreciate a bit of levity with my horror. I like that this feels a bit Cthulhu-esque.
{1912} I was immediately engaged in this story; Desmond’s fear is tangible, and the tension rises at a rapid pace. The characters and creature are also portrayed clearly. The climax, in which the creature spots Desmond before he returns to his shelter, kept me further intrigued.
{1772} The story has a creative and frightening premise. The story uses strong description and active writing to really capture Desmond’s situation and engage the reader.

{1702} How and why did Desmond know everyone’s name? This might be a totally irrelevant detail, but I’m curious. It’s a relatively small quibble in the grand scheme of things. A perhaps larger question: Are/were there _two_ of these boxes? I feel like I’m led to believe that there are two of these boxes, which would mean two of those creatures. Desmond is hiding in “a box” that’s “identical to the x-ray machine that had sheltered” the creature. Was he hiding in the creature’s box? If so, what did the soldiers trap the creature in? Maybe the simple answer is they brought a second box. I feel like this IS a bit more of a bigger quibble because it means that the story could be ending on a rather ominous note, which I think might work quite well here!
{1912} The conclusion doesn’t reveal much more about the mysterious creature, other than that the soldiers have managed to contain it. It might be helpful to elaborate on the creature’s history and whether the soldiers have been hunting it for a long time. Does the stenciled image of the three-lobed eye indicate that the metal box was made specifically for the creature?
{1772} Desmond is mostly a passive protagonist, meaning that he is reacting instead of actively working towards his survival. This could make it harder to root for him as a reader. To make him more active, Desmond could actively try to get out or fight back. To keep him in a passive state, it might be beneficial to develop his character a little more – what was he like before this event? Was he passive in life or the opposite? Is he someone we should root for or not?

(Photo Credit: Pexels on Pixabay)