This week’s Flash Friday Challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog consisted of choosing one out of ten options from three different columns–theme/conflict, element, and genre–and creatine a thousand word story based off what you chose. Instead of going the familiar route, and handpicking my options, I gathered up three d20s and rolled for my supper, using 11 to equal 1, 13 to equal 3, etc.
I ended up with the genre of weird, the element of gladiators, and the theme/conflict of love triangle.
First of all, I’ve read very little weird fiction. I haven’t written any. Never even thought about it. So I’m a total n00b to this area of fiction. And yet, it is called a challenge for a reason. I certainly felt challenged. So I sat down, ready to write my weird gladiator love story. After four false starts, this little gem came out. I don’t know if it counts as weird. But it has a gladiator, of sorts. And a love triangle…again, of sorts.
If you’ve participated in the Flash Fiction Challenge, let me know. I’d love to take a gander!
*Content Warning* There is blood. Not an insignificant amount. If that bothers you, turn back now while there is still hope.
Of Flesh and Love
Calla is bleeding from her eyes again. I want her to stop, but the tears keep coming, so I move to clean her. A piece of spider silk, dripping with water blessed by the High Priest. Her blood smears, clinging to her skin like ink. I scrub and soon she is pure again.
Only then does she speak, asking me for a kiss.
Our toungues meet, and I taste the flesh of her last lover. A boy, younger than she should have taken. Seventeen, eighteen…a whole life of pain to look forward to. I pretend I understand, but I don’t. I fight for her, am willing to die for her. I always return to her. Why does she need more than me?
I don’t ask her this. I never have, though the question burns inside me. She is the High Priest’s daughter, and answers to no one but him. Perhaps if I summoned my courage, forced the words from my mouth, she would—inspired by her love for me, or mine for her—give me a reason.
Or she might ask her father to send me away. I cannot risk that.
I leave her in her chamber, surrounded by roses that bloom around her bed of thorns, and make my way through the cave to the High Priest’s altar room. It is time for the battle.
I strike at the beast, tear an eye from a socket and toss it away. The beast reels, it’s skeletal arms flailing, mouth open. Three rows of needle teeth catch the flickering candlelight. My thigh throbs, where most of those teeth punctured me at the beginning of our fight, before I realized the creature’s strength.
While it is distracted, I duck beneath its defenses and drive my hand past its arm, into its cheast. My knuckles crack through the sternum; my fingers clutch its heart. Slick strings of gore fall from its chest as I wrench the organ, still beating, free. The High Priest nods his approval, and…I tear my eyes from his face, not wanting to see the curve of his lips. Not wanting to question what it means.
A page collects my offering as I kneel, breath caught in my throat. The boy’s feet are burned and blistered. He does not limp, however. The High Priest has spells and herbs and powerful powdery drugs to keep the pain at bay.
I take some of those drugs now, and drag myself out of the altar, ears ringing with the cheers of the priests.
Those men gather, when she does not, and open their howling mouths to let loose the fetid odor of their dying breaths, hoping I might one day succumb to the horrors the High Priest summons for me. That I might one day be replaced.
As long as Calla is alive, I will not fail.
The medic is a hollow boned wraith, with a wide face caught between a smile and a grimace. He tends to my wounds with a needle of bone and thread made from the sinews of the beasts I conquered. In the few months since I arrived, pulled out of the darkness I once knew, he has told me stories of warriors who ate the brains or blood, tongues or hearts, of those they’ve killed.
The High Priest takes the organs, leaving me tissue and drugs.
Afterward, I make my way back to Calla’s chamber. No candles light the way, but my memory serves as guide.
Each footfall, each turn, is instinct. When I arrive at her door, a thick slab of obsidian, a sound issues from within.
I almost turn to leave. She is with company, either her father or one of her doomed lovers, I do not know. I have no place here when she is otherwise engaged. And yet…
I lean my ear against the door, straining. I hear a whimper. I hear a scream. I hear the sound of flesh torn asunder.
After tracing a symbol of passage over the stone, I enter, knowing she will be in a foul mood from another lost chance at true love, and not caring. I can comfort her, where her delicate human companions have failed. Will always fail.
I stop on the threshold, halfway between her world and the rest of my life. At first, I don’t understand what I am seeing. There is blood—there is always blood—but this is darker and undulating. The room is covered in it, from the tangled comforter to the barren vines hanging from the ceiling. As I watch, the blood draws in, gathering itself on the far side of the bed, out of my sight.
A shadow moves in the corner, near the entrance of the High Priest. Not Calla. Not human, either.
I scream across the room, oblivious to the stitches tearing open across my chest. I land on the thing, one of the High Priest’s beasts, all rough black fur and glowing blue eyes and claws the size of my hands. I open my jaws wide so that I might swallow it whole.
A cold hand on my shoulder stops me. I turn, slowly. Calla stands beside me, smiling.
I have never seen her smile. Her teeth are crooked, blackened by years of feasting, and she is beautiful. My hold on the beast weakens.
“Fighter.” She puts her hand on the beast, who rumbles in response. I begin to stumble away, but Calla still holds me. She squeezes. “Lover.”
The High Priest does not call me to battle the following day. Calla’s new champion goes in my place. When he leaves, she calls forth a woman from the mortal plain, with a soft stomach and golden hair. We share her, and when we are through I have no need to ask her why I, alone, was not enough. The woman’s sweet flavor on my tongue is all the answer I need.