This is a 1000 word exercise in participation with Flash Fiction Friday on the blog Terrible Minds. If you would like to play, there is a new challenge every Friday (unless Chuck Wendig has another book dropping or a tea time barbie princess garden party with his Macro Monday bug friends)
My random photo inspiration can be found here. Respecting Shreya’s (the photographer) licensing I have posted a mere facsimile. Check out the original for the inspiration, the picture below for the stand in. The avatar. Ergo, I give to you: Chicken Feather (again written in The Wendig Third Person Present Indicative™).
I suppose you could say that this is another part of my last piece of flash fiction which you can read here. As this is in the works, it may actually contain spoilers, now that I think about it. So on the off chance that I finish this as a completed novel, perhaps you shouldn’t read this and instead check out Doug Daniel’s excellent Dragon piece. Or Experience a whole new genre, HoMance, by the Urban Spaceman.
The tension in his shoulder blades had built to the point of erupting as Captain Brenner lifts his tired, aging frame to its full six foot height.
Raising a damp handkerchief to blot at the rivulets that fall from his forehead, he groans, “A game? Is that what you are telling me all this is about? It’s too damn hot for a game!”
Brenner slams his open palm onto a stack of case files a good eight inches off the desk. Silence itself is even stunned by the sudden outburst of this otherwise uncomfortably balanced man. The short bangs of his red coif stand, angled toward the corner of the ceiling, looking not unlike a sundial. The room smells like warm, sweaty cotton blended cop.
Detectives Pascal and Pontieaux close their eyes, stifling laughter.
Brenner lifts his hand slightly, fingers perching atop the stack and like children trying to sneak away from the hand of their angry father, one by one the case files slide from the pile to the desk and on to the floor.
It had been a while, maybe over a year, since Pascal had been summoned to the Captain’s office. Normally, Brenner, a people’s leader, has the conversations he needs to have in the hallways, bathrooms and cubicles that act as interrogation rooms, temporary containment and workspace.
Pascal tries to remember how the office had looked the last time he saw it: how the desk had been arranged, how many pens were in the coffee mug by the framed Ex-Mrs. Brenner. Anything to keep from…Brenner makes a stunted move to capture some of the files, but his attempt causes them to scatter all the more into the air. It looks not unlike a magician shuffling their deck into the audience.
Pontieaux stifles a laugh but it comes up through his nose.
They laugh until Pascal buckles over, wheezing.
Pontieaux wipes his mouth with his tie until he thinks the better of it and lowers his face into the roll of his sleeve.
“Sir, I’m sorry. Just letting out a little tension,” Pascal coughs.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I don’t…” Pontieaux says.
Brenner stares at the two for a moment. He lifts his hands, palms forward and in act of resignation. Walking around toward the back of his desk, he opens a middle drawer. The Captain abruptly sits down in his dark leather wingback. The springs screams as he leans back with a bottle in his hands.
“What the hell. If we are letting off steam, this can’t hurt.” Brenner continues to pull out plastic cups.
“Grab the door,” he said as he counts out three cups. “They’re not the best cups, but it’s not the best whiskey. But, cops don’t live long enough for anything other than black label.”
“Actually, Captain, I’ve never had anything that good. Above my pay grade,” Pascal admits.
“This was a Christmas gift from the Mayor’s office. Your tax dollars at work,” the Captain nods.
“In that case, I’d like my money back. Make mine a double,” Pascal kids.
The Captain pours as he asks, “So tell me what the heck you mean when you say that this is all a game.”
Pontieaux starts, “Sir, there’s this thing where people play a game both online and in real life. They surrender their phone numbers, emails, house keys, put it all in a P.O. Box.” He sips at his drink, “Oh my dang, this is good! Can I have a double, too?”
As Brenner tops him off, Pascal continues, “From what we know right now, which is damn near to nothing, all of this, the killings, was part of this game. We don’t know who runs it, how they operate. What we do know is that these people sign over their lives in a way and receive clues: texts, emails, things under their pillows, heads in the freezer, nah, I’m just kidding. About the heads. They don’t get those. Well, we haven’t found any heads yet.”
“What Detective Pascal is saying, Sir, is that it looks like there’s the victims and the players themselves and the game master,” Pontieaux continues.
“Or masters,” Pascal interjects.
Brenner rifles around the top of his desk, sifting through the top layer of detritus, “What’s with the feather in the evidence bag?”
Pascal tips his cup indicating that he is still thirsty, “When we went back to the Carr place, we found that, propped up in a window. It matches what we heard in that dark web mp3. The feather…it’s a game piece. An actual game piece, like the boot or the car in monopoly. The feather was moved around an actual board while somewhere, the avatar, the real life game piece – Rana Carr, went about her life. In the game on the board, the feather was eliminated.”
“So in real life, Carr was eliminated, too,” Pontieaux finishes.
“The game is real?” Brenner asks.
“It’s real enough to have dead bodies, Captain,” Pascal answers.
“Sir, it’s online. There are instructions, clues, videos that appear and then just disappear twenty minutes later. But also, it’s real. There’s someone interacting, intervening. The players are trying to win, but I don’t think they know what happens when you lose.”
Brenner raises the bottle toward the Detectives. Both men shake their heads, though they want more. The Captain perches his lips, nods slightly and refreshes his cup.
“What now?” he asks.
Pascal drains his cup, “Now, I try to walk out those doors without dislocating my shoulder on the jam. We learn a hell of a lot more about this game that we can’t see or play. Find us a killer and stop this…whatever this is from ever happening again. Sir.”
“Pascal. See that you do. There’s no next case if you don’t. That’s from the top.”
Pascal pauses and looks to Pontieaux, then to the Captain, “Thanks for the drink.”
Pontieaux opens the door and follows his partner out into the hall.