Thursday, May 16, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge - Post-apocalyptic Southern Gothic

(decided to give the flash fiction contest at Terribleminds a shot. Here's my randomized category entry)
“Get your ass back in there.”
A whip cracked, and the misshapen creature cringed, jumping away from the bars. Claudius smirked as the three creatures sharing the troublemaker’s cage cringed at the sound. They’d felt his whip before, and odds were they’d be feeling it again before the month was out.
The disease had horribly disfigured them, but you could still see vestiges of what they had once been. Doctors. Lawyers. Crackers. He stepped forward to empty the slop bucket into the trough along the front of the cage. It was ironic how the same gene sequence that had killed so many of his ancestors had saved his life.
The creatures rushed forward, digging their hands into the trough and elbowing each other out of the way. Even though they were out all night fighting off the kudzu, they still had plenty of energy. Claudius turned from their cages to gaze at the smoke dissipating over the horizon - the remains of last night’s hunt.
Claudius shook his head ruefully as he headed back to the manor house. and shut the door behind him. He moved into the living room and flopped into his favorite armchair. He grabbed a hand bell off the table next to him and gave it a firm shake. After a few seconds one of the serving girls stood timidly before him, hands clasped in front of her ratty jumper. She kept her misshapen eyes downcast while waiting for instructions.
Claudius smiled. He got such pleasure from seeing these people put in their place. “Get me a glass of water, girl.”
The girl mumbled something unintelligible and stepped off towards the kitchen. Claudius leaned back and closed his eyes, feeling his muscles relax as he pondered his lucky lot in life. He’d done well since the events. Just had to know how to deal with situations like this, how to have a firm hand and show authority...
His reverie was interrupted by a loud crash. Cursing, Claudius burst to his feet and dashed to the kitchen, stopping short at what he saw. Every piece of glassware he owned was shattered.The serving girl stood in the middle, her amoeboid eyes open as wide as they would go. Claudius turned dark with fury. He stepped forward and smacked the girl hard. She went sprawling across the floor, landing in a field of broken glass, and suddenly her screams were no longer silent.
“Shut the hell up, you dumb bitch!” Claudius roared as he approached the girl. She tried to get away, but with the floor covered in glass she only managed to do more damage to her lacerated hands and feet. Claudius crunched across the floor in his boots and began to level kicks at the mutant girl’s side. The girl curled into a fetal position under the constant blows.
“You stupid moron! What the hell did you do?” He looked over towards the cabinet, seeing the splintered shelving in a heap on the countertop. “And you broke my dang cabinet too!”
The girl was trying to babble an explanation, but her deformed tongue couldn’t gain control over her howls of pain. Claudius wound up for another kick, when the girl started shouting.
“Buh... Bugs! Bugs eat! Hurt w... wood!”
“Bugs?!” Claudius shouted. “Ain’t no damn bug that eats wood.” He reached down and grabbed the girl by her hair, dragging her back across the glass as he headed for the door. The girl screamed and clawed at his hands, but she couldn’t make any impression on Claudius as he kicked open the door to the yard. “I give ya a home, food, shelter, and you all just keep taking advantage of me.” He pulled her forcibly down the steps and into the yard, heading for the cages.
He stopped in front of the cages and lifted the girl up by her head. The commotion had roused his captive laborers. They crowded around the cage, seeing but not at first comprehending the scene.”This here girl done broke my possessions, and ruined my cabinets. Your rations gonna be cut in half until you’ve paid her debt.”
Two of the creatures lunged forward, grabbing the bars of their cage. One of them - a woman, or something that used to be a woman - began howling. Claudius gave her a grim look. “Now you listen here. It’s time that I laid down the law here. And this little girl is gonna pay for her crimes.”
The woman began to scream as Claudius grasped the mutant girl more firmly. With a quick motion of his arms and a sickening crunch, the little girl’s howls ceased abruptly. The woman was still screaming, falling to her knees with throat-rending sounds of terror and pain. The other mutant - the man man - simply stared at Claudius.
Claudius looked back, seeing those unblinking eyes, and smirked. “Now y’all let that be a lesson. Keep up in your duties, or you end up like this girl here.” He gave the body at his feet a kick for good measure before turning around and heading back into the manor house, slamming the door behind him.
That evening, he came back out into the yard. The girl’s body was long gone - picked over by feral animals, nothing but scraps of her clothing left to mark her passing. Claudius moved to the cages and unlocked them, one by one, giving the same instructions he gave every night. “Now I know y’all can’t think no more, so I’ll go over it one more time. That sun is gonna set, and them plants is gonna start growin’. You need to keep those plants away from the house. Away from the house, understand? I ain’t gonna end up like old man Brown down the way. And I better not see one damn....”
Claudius didn’t feel the blow that knocked him out, but he felt its after-effects when he came to. One of the mutants - the man from before - held a rock, glistening wetly on one side with a red substance - blood, he guessed. Claudius shook his head, and began shouting. “What the hell’s going on here?!” He tried to move his hands, but found them bound fast behind him.
The mutant approached him. He stopped about three feet away from Claudius, and looked him dead in the eye. After a moment the man turned away, and as if given a signal the crowd of mutants dispersed with him.
“Hey! Get back here!” Claudius shouted after them. “You can’t live without me - you’ll be plant food by midnight!” His cries began to grow more desperate as the light continued to fade. “Come on, untie me! You can’t leave me like this!” He heard rustling in the leaves off to his left, and finally panicked. “This is cruel! Come back here! Let me go!”
Dusk gave way to evening, and as night fell the rustling increased. At first there were shouts and screams, but before long those had ceased as the voracious plants covered the ground like a blanket.

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