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June 18, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Dead Body

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — EileenAlphabet @ 12:44 pm

Challenge by the lovely and bearded Chuck Wendig. Prompt can be found here and consisted of ‘Include a dead body in the first paragraph’.

Alice sat up carefully, head spinning, ears ringing and looked at the body lying on the floor. It reminded her of the mangled body of a prey, placed there by a proud feline the size of a bull. Then she noticed scraps of clothing made from the same material as her own lab coat, tufts of hair a certain colour.

Oh god.


“Eric?” She reached out a hand, then snatched it back. She didn’t want to touch it and anyway, there was nothing she could do. The body looked like it had been turned inside out.

She dragged her eyes away from it and looked around. The laboratory looked like it had been set on fire and then put out using a tornado. The floor was covered with broken glass and smashed equipment and there was a smell of burned wires in the air.

She tried to think back; what was the last thing she remembered? She and Eric – she had to suppress a sob at the thought – had been working on the equation and running simulations on the computer.

The computer.

She got up slowly, shards raining off her. The pounding in her head grew stronger. She knew she ought to find a phone that still worked and call for help, then sit down and put her head between her knees. Instead she walked over to the main computer.

It was still smoking and the plastic casing had melted. It was possible that her employers would be able to salvage something from it, but she rather doubted it. And all backups were made at the end of each day on external harddrives, which were then placed in a bunker in an undisclosed location. This meant that all the work they had done today was irrevocably lost, along with any answers as to what had happened, since she had no idea.

She knew for certain that she hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. She had been grinding through all possible variations of the equations, patiently waiting for a result that might indicate that one of them were working.

She willed herself to look back at Eric. “What were you doing?” she asked the body, then shuddered and turned away.

Anyway, that line of reasoning made no sense. They had been running computer simulations for god’s sake; nothing which could have affected the real world, any more than losing a game of Minesweeper would have caused something to blow up.

Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of the door being unlocked and then a hiss of compressed air as it started to slide open.

Alice frowned. The compressed air was part of the emergency system, which meant that there was no power to the door. She looked up at the lamps in the ceiling and noticed for the first time the small red lamps which indicated that they were running on their own internal backup batteries. Whatever had happened had taken out the power in the whole building.

The door finally opened and Major Gutierrez stepped in and, after the briefest glance at Alice, looked around assessing the damage. Her gaze barely touched the body on the floor.

“What happened?” asked Alice. Major Gutierrez was head of operations not just for this laboratory, but for the whole building. She might not be a scientist, but of anyone had any answers, it would be her.

“I was going to ask you the same thing, Doctor Kaye. This place looks like Dresden in 1945. To say nothing of your late colleague.”

“I … nothing happened,” replied Alice, annoyed at her own defensive tone, but unable to check it. “We were running simulations. Just like last month and the month before. The highlight of the day was the coffee break, because the cafeteria had cinnamon rolls.” She sniffled and had to blink to keep back tears.

Major Gutierrez looked at her with a carefully neutral expression as if she was turning something over in her head, but wanted to keep her thoughts hidden. Finally she said: “You weren’t running simulations.”

Alice blinked. “Of course we did.”

“I suppose I should say that you weren’t just running simulations. In the basement level beneath your lab, we build a prototype of your machine. Every time you ran a simulation on the computer you actually tested it in reality as well.”

Alice felt dizzy again as she let the words and their implications sink in. “Are you,” she started in a whisper, that rose to a roar, “completely insane!? Do you know what the machine can do!?” She racked her brain for an expletive. “You … you stupid bastards!”

“We were pressed for time,” said the Major.

“Did Eric know?”

“Yes. He helped develop your initial blueprints to a working prototype.” They both glanced at the body. “Look, you can chew me up later. Right now, I need you outside.”

“What’s outside?”

“Better come see for yourself.”

Puzzled, Alice stepped carefully through the wreck of her work place and followed the Major outside into the corridor and up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, when they reached the foyer at the ground floor level, stood a young soldier, who snapped to attention, when he saw the Major, but who had such a haunted look in his eyes, that it made Alice’s heart race.

Then she looked across the foyer, which looked like it had been hit by an earthquake, through the huge windows to the outside and her heart seemed to stop altogether. She should have looked out on low barracks and a parking lot full of military vehicles. Instead there was nothing but empty land, rocky and windblown, with a few stubborn patches of grass and low shrubberies.

“Where …” It was the soldier who had come up behind them. He licked his dry lips and started again. “Where are we, ma’am?”

Alice just shook her head. “Eric,” she whispered. “Eric, you stupid bastard, what have you done?”

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