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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 2016—Round 1

Group: 34
Genre: Suspense
Location: A Parking Garage
Object: A Fortune Cookie

Needs Must

These aren’t my usual hunting grounds. Sloping, stained concrete and lurid yellow diagonals.  The scent of oil and exhaust. Of long-extinguished cigarettes and rain. It’s unfamiliar terrain, but needs must. Needs must. 

I tread carefully, though I’m no less surefooted here than among the manicured lawns and paving-stone paths of more familiar haunts. But this is a different world. A new world of booming echoes. Fickle, buzzing light and thick shadows that I’d welcome under other circumstances. 

If I’d chosen this—been drawn here of my own volition—my heart would pound. My blood would rise to the challenge. Unfamiliar sounds and flashes of movement. The delicious suspicion that I might be the hunted just this once.  

But I have so little time. Just these few, dark, in-between hours. 

I tread carefully. I trail my fingers along the wall. I listen, breathing in between my own steps as I wind upward. I strike out from the shadows once I hit the open roof. I weave between the few cars left in here-and-there spaces like rotting teeth. I walk the perimeter, confirming what I already know.

I have the measure of the place. These aren’t my usual hunting grounds, but they’re all much the same in the dark, in-between hours. Much the same for the likes of me, and the work is done. There’s little to do but listen. But wait for opportunity to flash her curious smile. 

I lean forward over the pock-marked wall. There’s hardly a kiss of rain now, though it hasn’t gone long or far enough to be a memory just yet. The leaves are green-black and glistening below. Scudding clouds scatter the light of the three-quarter moon over them. They dampen the sound of car tires on slick pavement.

I want it to happen here. High above the trees. In the open air. By moonlight. I want this precise setting. 

My spine straightens in surprise as the thought takes me. In disgust. There is no want for the likes of me. No desire or imagining. There’s only compulsion. 

Needs must. 

I leave the roof by the stairwell, quickly enough that my footfalls aren’t quite silent on the metal steps. It’s fine. I tell myself it’s fine, and it’s not quite a lie. Silence—utter silence—is no friend. 

I need them to know. I need them to suspect, at least. To wonder about the footsteps they might not have heard. To turn swiftly toward the flicker of motion that might have been a trick of the light. I need their shallow, hummingbird breath and the staccato of high heels ringing out ever more quickly on stained concrete. 

I need their fear. 

It arrives as suddenly as always. Opportunity, just as I reach the third floor. One step, then another and another and another. Soft curses and the frustrated jingle of keys. 

I ease the door open. The pneumatic arm sighs overhead, listless enough that she wonders. She stills and turn toward it. Toward where she might have seen me a heartbeat ago, but there’s only what she might have seen now. What she might have heard as the shadows take me in. 

She’s lost. That’s clear as she pivots around. The plastic bag in one hand spins tight around her fingers, revealing red characters, then hiding them against her thigh. Chinese. She likes Chinese. 

“Three.” She means to say it to herself, but the concrete is greedy. It snatches up the words and gives them back. “Was three yesterday?” 

She strikes out upward, head down. Holds her keys like wicked silver claws between the knuckles of her free hand.

She strikes out and I follow, excited by it. The promise of a drawn-out hunt. The possibility of the rooftop. I follow, too eager to take myself in hand. To remember there’s no want for the likes of me. 

I round the corner, surprised by how quickly she moves. How gracefully, even as her fear mounts. 

I feed it, that fear. 

I fall out of step with her. I let my own quickening footfalls echo in now-and-then counterpoint to hers. Let my metal watchband drag a glissando along an exposed pipe. 

I drive her on. 

She’s running now. The white bag spins madly. I’m close enough to see the dark hue of bloodless fingers as she rounds the corner into moonlight. 

She wheels around, too late. They're always too late. My fingers close around her wrist. They deliver a sickening twist. Her keys tumble. 

I have her. Opportunity in the palm of my hand when a hideous sound scrapes down my spine. When a dark shape sails out from the shadows and my vision goes white with pain. 

I fall back, face to face with the cat. It’s black. A skeletal, with one ragged ear, snatching opportunity from my grasp. I stare in disbelief as it hisses, then bounds off, the blood streaming down my cheek the only evidence of its existence. 

The woman screams once. She kicks out at me. A reflex as she goes to hands and knees for the keys, and then she’s gone. There’s no convenient, horror movie stumbling. No fumbling at the lock or shrill grind of a car not turning over.  There’s only the squeal of tires. The blur of her face through the window as she tears past, phone to her ear. 

I need to be gone. Compulsion denied licks through me like fire, but I need to be gone. 

I push to my feet. I try to, but something shatters beneath the heel of my hand. White cartons spilled around me. Chinese. I lift my palm from the pavement. Shards of the fortune cookie come away with it, leaving a pale strip of paper half exposed. 

I need to be gone, but the words catch my eye. They arrest my attention. I’m laughing. Howling to the three-quarter moon. 

There’s no such thing as an ordinary cat.