Finally, here is my final story I submitted to the NYC Midnight 2015 Flash Fiction Challenge. This was for Round #2 where the semi-finalists were re-sorted into new groups. There would only be one challenge for this round. For my group, the story had to be science fiction, take place predominately in a convention center, and include a pumpkin pie. While I enjoyed the story, I came up just short, earning an honorable mention in my group but placing just outside of the top 5. There’s always next year!
A New World
It was supposed to be a fresh start, an escape to a place free of the infected world they’d lived in for years, but after making it to the transport center, Jennifer and her little brother find themselves trapped with a dead portal and thousands of others fighting for survival.
It didn’t spread overnight. You didn’t just go to sleep one day and wake up the next with the world in ruins. It was a slow, almost casual burn. No one wanted to believe what was happening. No matter how bad it got, we always thought we would win.
Denial is a dangerous thing.
“Do you think they’ll have pumpkin pie?”
His tiny voice pulls me out of my thoughts. I look down at Marcus who stares up at me with hopeful eyes.
“What?” My voice cracks, my throat burning from dehydration.
“I said,” my little brother moans, drawing out the two words as long as he can in a single breath. “Do you think they’ll have pumpkin pie? I miss pie.”
“Sorry, kid. Guess I drifted away for a bit.” He smiles up at me, apology accepted.
“I don’t know,” I answer. “It’ll just have to be a surprise, won’t it?”
I reach my arms out and he folds himself into me.
“How much longer?” he whispers.
I glance around the cavernous space we’ve called home the past two weeks. It’s hard to imagine it once held conventions with big pharma and superhero cosplay, though probably not at the same time.
“I don’t know, kid.” I look to my left where the portal stands dark just a few feet away, as it has for days.
We weren’t told many details. When the government realized they couldn’t beat the infected, that we’d lost almost as soon as it had begun, they turned their efforts to more radical solutions. Word finally came three weeks ago. All we had to do was get to the convention center.
We were some of the last to arrive. As they’d herded us inside, Marcus and I heard the first screams of the infected coming for us. They shut the doors, locking us in. We weren’t worried. We had the portal. Well, until it shut off, that is.
I watch the men in charge as they hover over a computer just a few feet away. Marcus slips away from me and walks up to the small barrier surrounding them.
“Excuse me,” Marcus whispers. I don’t think they’ve heard and reach to pull him back when one of the men tilts his head toward us.
“Yes?” He turns to Marcus and bends down to his level.
“Do you know if there will be pumpkin pie?”
Before I can stop myself, I snort with laughter. The man looks over at me and I see a small smile playing on his lips.
“Sorry,” I say. “He’s obsessed with the idea that we may one day have pie again. We haven’t been told much about this new world. We couldn’t help but dream a little.”
The man gazes into my eyes before reaching out his hand.
“David,” he says.
“Jennifer,” I respond, taking his hand.
“You haven’t answered my question.”
Marcus glares at us, his fists balled and glued to his hips. I force the laughter down and look to David.
“This is all you, sir.”
A smile breaks across his face and it’s so pleasant that for a second I don’t hear the scream that tears through the room.
Marcus throws himself on me. David stands, but I know he can’t see anything. The room’s just too big. The screams grow, moving from one person to the next. I hear a gunshot, then two, and I feel Marcus throw his hands over his ears. David jumps onto a nearby table. I look up at him surveying the disaster and a look of utter shock crosses his face. When he sees me staring, he tries to recover, but it’s too late.
“They’re inside, aren’t they?” It’s not really a question and David knows it. He turns his back to me and grabs the two other men who look on in terror at the scene behind me. I hear David arguing with them, something about not caring where or when they’re sending us.
I lift Marcus away from me and lower him down onto the other side of the barrier before climbing over. I pick him back up and stare at the portal, praying for it to light up like it did when we first arrived. A hand falls on my shoulder and I turn to find David.
“It’s time,” he says. “It won’t take long for the infected to tear their way through the crowd. We’ll send as many as you through, but the second they get close, I’m shutting it down.”
“You mean it’s been working this whole time?”
“Not exactly,” David says. “We’re not sure why, but the other side shut us down. We’re not sending you to the original destination.”
“So where in the hell are you sending us?”
David pales at my question and I know I’m not going to like his answer.
“I don’t know,” he whispers. “But it’s the only way. You won’t make it here. None of us will.”
I hear the portal begin to power up behind me and know he’s right. I feel my head nod slightly, my mind apparently made up.
“Go,” David says. “It’s ready.”
I turn away quickly but not before seeing three infected barreling toward us behind David’s back. I clutch Marcus to me and run as fast as I can. The portal swallows us and all I see is black as we start to fall. I wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake, that maybe just having it end would have been better, but then I hear Marcus whimpering into my hair and realize that we’re back on solid ground.
Silence surrounds us and I’m terrified of what’s to come. We’re alone in a new world, all thanks to David. I squeeze Marcus and send up a silent thank you to the stranger who may have just saved us. We must keep going, if only for him.
I gather up all the strength I have left and open my eyes to gaze upon our new world.