This blog post was created for Chuck Wendig’s FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: THE FOUR-PART STORY (PART ONE).
The basic idea is that this week everyone involved will start a story, and that those stories will be expanded upon by other writers in the following three weeks.
Should anyone choose to further extend this story, I’ll update my blog to include their additions and links to their content. Similarly, any author who further extends this story may feel free to repost my additions on their site and/or link back to it.
Edit 1: Alice E. Keyes decided to extend the story I started writing. My thanks go out to her for her time and effort! You can find her blog where she posted both parts of this story here. Also, I’ve updated this posting so that her addition appears under the heading Part Two. The only functional changes I made to her work before reposting it were some minor edits for consistent verb tense usage.
Edit 2: Both Matthew X. Gomez and Addy decided to pick up the story where Alice left off. I’m quite honored that so many people have decided to contribute to a story I started writing, and my thanks go out to them! You can find Matthew’s blog where he posted the first two parts of this story and his addition here, and you can find Addy’s blog with the first two parts of this story and his/her addition here. Also, I’ve updated this posting so that Matthew’s addition appears under the heading Part Three A. and Addy’s addition appears under heading Part Three Bee. The only functional changes I have made to either work are some minor edits for consistent third person perspective usage in Part Three Bee.
The cube weighed a ton. Ok, maybe not an actual ton; but it was heavy for something its size. Standing only three inches tall, it weighed as much as the Gott family’s three and a half foot long Maine Coon: eighteen pounds. Arduously, Sophia placed the intricate puzzle box onto her desk; and the cheap, particle board groaned in protest.
The young woman had first seen the puzzle box while browsing a crowd-sourced classified ad website. A poster had provided a picture of the cube, stated that he or she had hidden it, and said he or she was giving it away to the first person who could find it. However, that’s all the post contained; at least at first blush.
Sophia had always liked intellectual challenges, and she revelled in this one. Checking the page’s source code, she found the address to three websites. Each website contained a treasure trove of riddles, ciphers, and stenographs. Fast forward two weeks, and she had solved them all. After the final problem was solved, each site revealed a number each – numbers that she figured were latitude, longitude, and elevation.
She was right.
At the coordinates, she found an old cemetery. Among all the rows of grave markers, one stood out among all the rest: a statue of angel. It was not the modern image of a cute cherub or a classically beautiful angel; but it was awesome none-the-less.
The statue stood 7 feet tall and appeared to be carved from one solid block of white marble. While the angel had two arms, two legs, and head; its face was devoid of all features and six great wings spread out from its back. Carved into the base of the monument was not a name, but rather a quote:
‘Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.’
Given the complexity of prior challenges she had faced, this one was oddly easy. Digging at the base of the statue, she found no coffin or corpse. Instead, 7 feet down she uncovered the fascinating puzzle that she had set out to find. With a few light strokes, all the dirt fell away from the cube, as if it didn’t want to stick to the box.
The cube was a thing of beauty. It appeared to be made dozens of interconnected differently colored metal pieces. Well burnished, the box practically glowed in the dim light of the setting sun. Running her fingers over the smooth surface of the cube, it felt somehow simultaneously warm and cool to the touch.
Since arriving home, she had wasted no time in setting about solving the puzzle box. She ignored the calls from her family to come to dinner. Instead, she sat at her desk studying the complex, interconnected design. Turning the heavy cube around in her hands, surely a solution slowly appeared to her. Piece after piece shifted, slid, and eventually fell away.
The flashing light coming from her phone, coupled with its noisy vibration broke Sophia’s concentration. Looking over, she noticed an incoming call from what looked like an asari.
“What the fu…” she muttered to herself. Picking up her phone and examining closer, she saw the name of the caller: Charity, her girlfriend. Rejecting the call, she quickly typed and sent out a message, ‘Busy. Found my box. Working on getting inside.’
Before she could set down her phone, it started to vibrate again and the screen lit up. Sophia didn’t look to see what was on it. Instead, she just turned the phone off and set it back down on the desk.
Letting out a deep breath, she turned back to the puzzle box. “Almost there.” she whispered to it. A few moves later, she placed her finger on the last piece and started to push on it.
Time seemed to grid to a halt. Sophia could feel the weight of the last block as she pushed it way from the core. For a moment, she caught a glimpse of something glowing a brilliant silvery-white. Then she felt an electric tingle start to flow up through her feet.
As it rose up through her body, she looked down. Nothing appeared to be wrong. The bottom most hairs on the back of her neck started to stand up. Looking up, she saw what looked like a little creeping rivers of blinding, silver-white light creeping down through the ceiling of her room. Twisting and turning, the streams of light began to work their way downward, towards Sophia.
Instinctively, Sophia pulled her legs up and kicked off her desk hard. Still watching in slow motion as she hurled herself across the room, she saw one of the trickles of light touch the puzzle box she had been working on moments ago. As she felt the glass of the window behind her break, all the other silver-white tendrils disappeared and the one touching the box started to glow.
A loud, cascading crackling sound ripped through the air and shards of wood exploded outward from her blackened room.
When the lightning struck, a figure could be seen in Sophia’s room for the briefest of moments. It was seemed about 7 feet tall, and vaguely man-shaped. Its skin appeared to be smooth alabaster inlayed with brass around the joints. Perhaps most striking was its head.
It had 7 eyes on its head that glowed gold in the dark. One lay square in the center of its otherwise featureless face. The other six were matched pairs running back towards the side of its head. It had no mouth, nose, or ears that could be seen.
Sophia closed her eyes and time resumed its normal flow. Thick, jagged branches ripped, tore, and poked at her as she felt herself crash violently into the thick bushes outside her home.
The seven eyed face floated in her mind and she had an inclining of seeing the eyes before. Using the chair’s wheels, she pushed herself out of the bushes and on the sidewalk that wraps around the back of her house to cement patio. The motion of pushing the chair along with her feet brought back childhood memories. She scooted to the patio and when she was in the middle, she kicked off with one foot and spun. Pushed and spun, pushed and spun; again and again until the world was a blur. She drew up her other foot and leaned into the spin to keep it going.
The memory of playground fun flooded her mind.
“Come on, Sophia,” said Tom. “You’re the best at pushing. You make it go the fastest.”
“I’m getting off is she spins it. It’s the spinny-thing-of-death when she does it,” said Susie.
“Okay,” said Sophia.
Susie jumped off, but two other boys jumped on when they saw Sophia spit in her hands and grasp the bar. Sophia pulled the bar towards her stomach and then back out and set her feet.
“Ready!” She ran in the worn circle path circle.
“Faster, Faster,” the boys yelled. Her speed increased with each turn. She ran around four times as she had counted each time she the tall pine tree pass in her vision. On the sixth turn, a figure stood before the pine tree. Seven eyes glowed.
She caught her right foot behind the heel of her left and stumbled. The figure stepped forward like a mom’s reaction knowing her kid was about to be injured and would need her. Sophia caught her fall and jumped on the roundabout. The pine tree spun into her view and the seven eyed figure was gone.
Sophia stopped the desk chair, her dad’s chair, from spinning and stared at the house. Her life had been a breeze up to 10 months ago when her dad died. Sophia grew up being good at academics, sports (especially running), and puzzles. She obtained what she desired with ease.
The only failure in her life was the end of the 8 year relationship with her highschool/college boyfriend. His reason for ending it was he couldn’t handle not being better than her in at least one thing. The disappointment from this healed quickly as he was still her friend. Nothing changed except the once a week sleepover at his apartment and the fact he was blissfully happy with a new petite girl friend who giggled.
She found the change a mere bump in her life. Another hiccup was when she broke her arm and the basketball team felt devastated she wouldn’t be playing for the big tournament in three weeks. But, to the doctors surprise, the bone healed rapidly and she was back to her normal active self after two weeks.
She missed her dad and the ache in her heart from his daily absence didn’t lessen though friends told her it would. Beth told her the best way to get over the loss would be to sell the house. The house she grew up in with her dad wouldn’t be put up for sale if she could help it.
She stared at the house which now had a smashed window and a burned out electrical system from the surge of power that shot through the puzzle.
“Okay,” she said out loud. “Time to stop daydreaming about seven eyed monsters and asses the damage.”
She walked through the broken window half thinking the monster would be waiting to explain everything to her. To tell her, the puzzle was a way to find intelligent humans to recruit for their secret spy organization.
The logical part of her thought was how could I let my ego get in the way of seeing a prank- an ultimate internet troll gotcha-an elaborate puzzle game-set up to bomb the lucky solvers dwelling. I wonder if my phone survived was another thought to crossed her mind while eyes scanned the wreckage and took in the incomprehensible sight before her.
“Damn,” she said as she kneeled before the seven puzzle pieces floating around a glowing gold orb. Gently, with one finger, she touched and pushed the closest puzzle piece. It bounced in space but found its same hovering spot.
With a small hesitation of a child taking an un-asked for cookie, she touched the orb.
Images of her as childhood danced around the floating puzzle pieces. One was of her pushing the roundabout. Another of her breaking her arm and a seven eyed figure in the back ground. In fact, all the images showed where she had seen, for a brief second, a tall figure in the background of her life. Once she comprehended the link between the images, they disappeared.
She touched the orb again and the color changed to blue and a faint sound of bass notes started to make a repeating pattern.
Her phone buzzed. She scanned the ground. When she spotted it, a name flashed but she couldn’t read it.
The bass hum from the orb grew louder. She grabbed her phone, tapped accept, and said, “Hello?”
“Sophia? Are you okay?” It was her girlfriend’s voice on the other end.
“Are you okay?” Charity asked. “I know you’re obsessed about this box, but you promised to come out tonight. Don’t you remember? I’m worried about you.”
Sophia could hear the tight edge of concern in Charity’s voice, and tried to remember the promise she had made. She stared down at the orb, the metal orbiting around it. What was it’s purpose?
“What was that about a orb?” Charity asked.
“Uhh… nothing.” Sophia couldn’t remember having spoken aloud. “Where are we supposed to meet again?”
Charity rattled off the name of a bar and the cross streets. “Promise you won’t blow this off like last time, okay?”
“I’ll be there. Just… I might be running late.”
“Sophia.” Charity used the same tone of voice Sophia’s mother used when she was profoundly disappointed. It gave her chills hearing it.
“I’ll be there, I’ll be there. I need to, uh, take a shower first. Okay?”
Charity’s laugh tinkled like champagne glasses on the other end. “Don’t be too long, okay? I need my girl on her game tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sophia tossed the phone down and studied the orb. She reached out, touched it again. A higher note than the bass joined the first, producing harmony, only know the orb was yellow. The metal pieces spun faster now, expanded a bit further. She could still push them out of the way, but there was greater resistance now, and they moved back into position faster. Another memory, of being out with friends. Stumbling out into a street and nearly getting hit by a taxi. A figure in the distance, watching. A figure with seven eyes. Someone, Chris, grabbed her arm and pulled her out of harm’s way. Chris with his sweet smile and bedroom eyes, who couldn’t stand always coming in second. But he’d saved her life that night, hadn’t he?
She fumbled for her found, started to dial his number. Chris would understand. He’d always been there for her, even when he’d pushed her away. Even when he found someone knew. Chris standing somber at her father’s funeral. Chris, introducing the new girlfriend. Chris holding her as she cried.
Her fingers fumbled on the touchscreen, and she dialed a number she didn’t recognize.
It picked up after one ring.
“You begin to comprehend.” Sophia didn’t recognize the voice on the other end. Flat and alien, it crackled through the air like St. Elmo’s Fire. She sniffed the air and smelled ozone. Am I going mad?
“You perservered. You found the box. Prepare for the next stage.”
Sophia flung the phone away, grabbed a blanket, and threw it over the orb and the spinning metal. The pieces twirled around the fabric, drawing it tight around.
Sophia stumbled from her house. She’d remembered to throw a coat on against the chill in the air, and she’d hailed a cab. Her phone lay where she left it, the hole still blown through her window. Giddy, she wondered if someone would break into her house and take the orb. Then it would no longer be her problem.
Hailing a cab, she gave directions, her eyes fixed out the window. The pattern of oncoming vehicles made it look like seven eyes stared back at her, approached her, threatened to consume her.
“Sophia, you made it!”
Sophia didn’t remember leaving the cab, but then she was in the bar, Charity wrapping her in a hug before pulling her into a booth.
“Girlfriend, you don’t look well at all. If you were sick you should have said so. I would have understood.”
Sophia waved her off. “No, it’s good. I needed to get out. The house was suffocating me.”
Charity’s eyebrows climber up into her hairline. “Maybe thinking about selling it?”
“No.” Sophia shook her head. “I needed a break as all.”
“And the mystery box?”
“Giving it a night off. It’s not like it’s going anywhere, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t know, you’ve seemed pretty obsessed with it lately. I’m surprised you didn’t decide to stand me up.” Charity winked at her.
Sophia smiled, but realized she probably only managed to look tired. “I maybe realize locking myself up in work and the house isn’t exactly healthy. The box is, was a diversion. I’ll figure it out tomorrow, I’m sure.”
Charity snorted. “I hadn’t thought you’d met the puzzle that would take you more than a couple of hours to solve.”
“This one is different. I thought once I’d found it, getting it open would be easy.” Sophia shrugged.
“What do you think is inside? Oh, wait a minute, let me order drinks. No, I’m paying. Well, for this round anyway.”
Charity slipped from the booth and into the crowd. The noise of the bar assaulted Sophia, and she pulled deeper into the booth, gathering her arms around her. “This was a mistake.”
She felt something buzz against her leg. Reaching down, she pulled out her phone. Wait. She’d left her phone at home. With the orb. And what was left of the box. Hadn’t she?
A text message blinked at her.
Sophia didn’t recognize the number, and tried to thumb it off. As her finger hovered over the button, another message blinked at her.
WHY ARE YOU SO AFRAID?
“Ooh, got an admirer?” Charity asked, returning to the booth with two drinks in martini glasses balanced in her hands. Inside the crystal, liquid the color of blood oranges swirled in the kaleidoscope light. “Let me see.”
Before Sophia had a chance to pull her phone away, Charity had snatched it out of her hand. “Oh.” She pouted. “Chris is drunk texting you again? Are you sure the two of you don’t need more space.”
Sophia snatched her phone back, maybe a little faster than she attended.
IF YOU WANT ANSWERS, YOU MUST FIRST ASK THE QUESTIONS.
“I-I’ll be right back.” Grabbing her coat, she stumbled into the night air. Across the street, a figure wrapped in a coat waited. It stood outside of the halo of light cast by the street lamp, but seven eyes glowed under the wide brimmed hat it wore.
“Hello?” Sophia asked hesitantly, remembering that she had turned her phone off.
On the phone there was no voice, just a quiet static. She was about to hang up when-
“*beep* 23, 4, 12, 12 *beep* 4, 15, 14, 5*beep*” the voice was her own, all from different ages. She remembered saying some of them. Her father asking how old she was when it was her birthday. Times she agreed to see her friends. Telling her mum she would be home in 5. Whoever this call is from has been watching her. Were they watching now?
When Sophia turned around she got her answer. The man or woman, she couldn’t tell, was standing in the corner. It was the seven eyed face. Now she was able to get a good look at it. Its white stone skin was that, stone, it looked like armour but it was as much part of the creature as it was of it. But the armour wasn’t right. Inside it swirled like milky water and in it she could see black ink, float through its body and on its back were its wings.
The lightning didn’t show Sophia this. Two wings on its back spread out. But it was wrong. The wings were broken, burnt to a skeletal frame, and blackened with nightmarish corruption.
Its shoulder was cracked like glass and the black ink seemed to spread throughout its body through it.
All of its eyes were trained on her. Then it pointed at where a mouth should be and then to the phone.
“*beep* 4, 15 *beep* 21 *beep* 21, 14, 4, 5, 18, 19, 20, 1, 14, 4 *beep* 13, 5 *beep*”
Another riddle. Mouth must mean speak, communicate; numbers… numbers… language… “Ah”
Sophia went to the remains of a drawer and found paper and a pen. Then using the alphabet and the numbers she translated with a beep being the end of a word.
-Do u understand me-
It read. She looked up at the creature and nodded.
“*beep*21 *beep* 8, 1, 22, 5 *beep* 23, 5, 12, 12 *beep*”
-U have done well-
“Thank you” She said weakly staring at this strange being. Questions built up. Who are you, where are you from, what do you want?
“What are you?” She asked.
“*beep*12, 15, 19, 20 *beep*”
“Do you need me to help you?”
“*beep* 14, 15 *beep*”
“Then why are you here?” She was beginning to get concerned. Is her life and planet in danger?
“*beep* 20, 15 *beep* 23, 1, 18, 18 *beep* 21 *beep*”
-To warn U-
“*beep* 21 *beep* 18 *beep* 14, 15, 20 *beep* 1, 12, 15, 14, 5 *beep*” as her voice said this, the creature’s eyes widened in terror, giving away its darkest secret.
With the last beep goose bumps crawled along her skin. She didn’t need to write this down. Unfortunately she could understand it easily now.
“Why are you telling me this!?” She shouted. Her eyes were stinging as she realized the importance of those words.
“*beep* 21 *beep* 6, 15, 21, 14, 4 *beep* 13, 5 *beep*”
-U found me-
“*beep* 21 *beep* 18 *beep* 18, 5, 1, 4, 25 *beep*”
-U R Ready-
“Ready for what?!”
It remained silent
“Are we in danger?”
“*beep* 25, 5, 19 *beep*”
Sophia took a breath and braced herself for what’s to come.
“What is it? What did it do to you?”
The eyes stayed still for a moment. Then they all dropped to the floor, grief filled them.
Like a shot it perked up and stared into her.
Scenes filled her head. A golden city, angels flew high and a golden glass tower stretching beyond the skies.
Sophia stood in this city. She looked around and found that it was the happiest place ever. Music played, angels danced and flew, sweet smells filled the air and the sun warmed my face.
Then the darkness came.
It was a familiar horrible cold darkness.
She looked towards the sun, but instead she saw it coming. The black smock, it formed into a skull and descended towards the city. A roar like a fog horn screamed through air and into her very soul.
As it screamed balls of smoke and flame launched from its mouth came crashing down like missiles. Its black smock consumed the world and she went with it.
Sophia came around breathing as if she had stayed under water for too long. It was cold, sweat drenched her clothes and her angel wept.
Black tears filled with soot and ash fell to the floor.
She gathered myself and looked at this creature.
“What must I do?”
Her phone beeped followed by more numbers.
As I tend do a lot of world building for even the shortest of stories, I have written up a separate blog post (here) that details a bit of the larger world with in which I envision this story taking place. If you are extending this story and wondering about some of what I was envisioning, that blog post may be helpful.
However, please do not feel bound any ideas or concepts I proposed. I’m curious to see where someone might take this story. If the background doesn’t work for you, or you are just not interest in it, please ignore it or rework it as you see fit. In fact, please feel free to alter any or all of the content of this story so far if you feel it would help you create a better work!
Edit: My work consists of Part One of this story and my world building – and you may feel free to do whatever you want to either if you want to continue or branch the story. However, if you have an interest in changing any of the other authors’ work, please check with them.
The image used in this blog post is of the metal puzzle box/sculpture Conundrum III and the photograph is used without permission. I believe image’s use falls under fair use. If it’s yours, and you feel its use is inappropriate; please contact me and let me know.
Additional information about Conundrum III and other puzzle boxes/sculptures made by the same artist can be found at Maxton’s Art Gallery. While his works tend to be limited in edition, and way out of my price range; they are the sorts of beautiful, intellectually stimulating works of art that I wish could fill my home.