This week, Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge is To Behold the Divine: Gods and Goddesses. With today being the Spring Equinox, I thought I’d write about… well, let’s see if you can guess. Enjoy!
“Spring’s Flourish, Autumn’s Chill”
“Go to hell!”
Those were the only words I heard as Devin Tomlinson’s fist connected with my jaw. My ears rang as I reeled backwards, falling into a splayed mess in the school hallway.
“What the fuck, Devin?” I spat blood with every word.
“You stay away from her,” he barked at me, tossing his arm toward the only girl I had ever loved– I’d only been obsessed with her since third grade.
Eight years is a long time when you’re seventeen.
I wiped my mouth on my hoodie sleeve, the red blending with gray and leaving me covered in big black splotches. “I haven’t said anything to her!”
“Tripp saw you eyeing her in Science. You fucking know your place.”
“Didn’t know looking over at someone was illegal,” I growled.
“Come on, Seph,” Devin said coolly, wrapping his arm around the girl of my dreams. She glanced over her shoulder, and her eyes said, “I’m sorry.”
I wasn’t one of the cool kids. I was in the book clubs. I ran the school’s only gaming group, The Underground. I made good grades. I didn’t fit in with the Utopia of Football and Being an Idiot.
Both of which Devin excelled at. He may as well have been their damned king. After all, they freaking worshiped him like a god.
“Shit. You okay, Des?”
I looked up to find Franklin, my best friend, staring down at me, with a stack of books in one hand, and a pack of tissues in the other. He pushed those towards me.
“Yeah man. I dunno what his problem is. What a psychopath.”
“He’s got all the qualifications,” Franklin said with a scientific nod. “Come on man, I’ll help you get to class before we’re late.”
* * *
Our last class of the day was a snooze fest. We had a substitute teacher, who did jack squat but sit at the desk and play Candy Crush so loud we could hear her every move.
I was relieved when the bell rang.
I wandered the halls, knowing I’d be walking home as usual. I needed to clear my head, and there was one place that always helped.
I pushed through the double doors at the end of the building. The big, open area outside was designated to the Future Farmers of America, and it was incredible to look at; plants hung everywhere, while fruits and vegetables grew in neat rows throughout. A worn dirt path weaved through it all. Even though I wasn’t part of their tribe, I was really proud of their work.
Our FFA kids had greener thumbs than me for sure.
A small wooden bench sat at the center of the area, where strawberries crawled along vines in big bursts of color. I made a beeline for it, ready for a little tranquility.
And that’s when I saw her.
Seph was on her knees, turning dirt over with a trowel, right next to the strawberries. Her movements were frantic, and I could hear her sobbing.
“Hey… hey Seph, are you okay?”
I watched for the inevitable sucker punch. It had to be a trick.
“No, Des, I’m not okay. Fucking Devin and his jock cronies. Always getting into bullshit and letting me clean up their mess. I can’t get caught with this–”
I glanced at the ground where she dug. A little packet of white pills lay half-covered in the dirt and mulch.
“Dude… what is that?”
Seph looked at me with bloodshot eyes, makeup running down her face like a Rorscach inkblot. Like the world might crack open and swallow her up. “They’re… they’re steroids. Mixed with… God, I can’t even believe this shit.”
I stepped closer, leaning towards her. “What? You can tell me.”
“They’re for the other team,” she said plainly, her voice trying not to rattle in her throat.
It took me a second to understand. “What the– are you serious?! Seph, you need to get away from him. From all of them. I could help you.”
“I don’t know how!” Her voice burst out, all sobs and wails and desperation.
I studied the scene. Her floral tank top was covered in dirt, her khaki shorts stained brown. Stray bits of grass and vine stuck out from her silver flip flops. Dirt even made its way into her golden-brown hair. She was beautiful, no matter what.
“Look. Tomorrow’s the big game, yeah?”
She nodded, tears falling into the strawberries.
“I’ll take care of this, okay? You just come to The Underground when the game starts.”
She looked terrified, her eyes searching for something that definitely wasn’t floating in the air. “The Underground… the game club?”
“Yeah. We meet in the Art Building basement… if you didn’t know. It’s the only place big enough.”
She nodded again, her eyes locking with mine. “Okay. I– yeah. Okay. I’ll do it.”
I helped her stand, resisting the need to help her clean off. I dared to put one hand on her cheek, wiping the black runs from her eye. So much pain wrestled behind her eyes.
Seph kissed me on the cheek before running back towards the building.
I’d vow to never wash that cheek again, but who was I kidding? Besides, I had things to do. Bending back down, I swatted some of the earth aside, studying the white capsules resting in dirtied plastic.
* * *
The locker room was quiet. I didn’t know my way around, but I didn’t have much choice. His locker had to be around here somewhere.
I couldn’t believe what I was about to do. But I had to. I had to save her.
I searched through the names and numbers. The hell kind of order were these things in? It didn’t make sense. I had gone through half the damn lockers before finding it.
#23 – D. Tomlinson
No lock. How presumptuous of him. Knowing these assholes, I was surprised he hadn’t been robbed blind.
I slid the latch up, and the door slowly creaked open.
Dozens of pictures covered the inside. And every single one of them was Devin himself.
I gagged on his self-worship.
I picked up each item as gingerly as possible. I knew I’d find them– I just hoped it would be sooner rather than later.
It was almost time for some Friday night lights.
* * *
The roar of the crowd outside was deafening. Stomps and claps comprised an off-beat version of “We Will Rock You,” and I knew the game was about to start. I waited, impatiently anticipating.
Franklin was there, and so were several other regulars to the club. While the school basked in the glory of football, we set up for tabletop games and LAN parties. Everyone brought a snack, extension cords, paper, strategy guides and player’s handbooks– everything we needed for a fun night that would drown out the mayhem above.
But I wasn’t focused on that. Surely, she would come. I had done so much for her to make this night happen. No one would ever guess the truth. After all, Devin was a dangerous kid playing a dangerous game.
A knock at the door at the top of the stairs. Franklin bounded the stairs two by two, eventually opening the door.
“Hail and well met, Lady Per-Seph-Oh-Nee,” he said with a flourished bow. “Fantasy joke, you know, mythology– or maybe you don’t?”
Seph crept inside, locking the door behind her before hurrying down the stairs. I waited, posed by the snack table. My hero’s moment, as Joseph Campbell would say.
Thanks for that thought, Franklin.
Our eyes met, mine full of trembling love and hers full of more fear than hope. After all these years, she was here, in The Underground of all places, with me.
“Seph,” I said with a smile and a gulp, and held up a few juicy red orbs. “Pomegranate?”
Rarely do I write Young Adult flash fiction, but this is the story that ran into my head repeatedly until I wrote it down. I’ve always had a fascination with the abduction of Persephone, and its relation to our seasons. Also, I wanted to write Hades as maybe not a total asshole, but just misunderstood, as he often is.
Well, what do you guys think? Feel free to share your work for this challenge with me, too!