I’ve been reminiscing a bit this week. About where and when my head over heels love for writing fiction really begun. Granted when I was a child I had a diary and worked as a science journalist for a number of years, but my real foray into the fiction world only really started just over three years ago.
In 2010 I decided to put ideas onto paper with the hope they would come to something readable at the end. The first story I got accepted for publication was a quirky one that just seemed to wriggle onto the page. I clearly remember reading that ‘yes we want it’ e-mail from wordlegs and jumping around the place, the smile etched on for a number of days afterwards. It was my first acceptance and I was hooked. Three years later I’m still here, writing different things, experimenting, trying to find my way and as determined as ever to keep on going. So in that vein, here is that first published story about a deadly race with only one possible winner…
Alan, Carl and John are positioned at the starting line. The three have been friends for as long as they can remember. Now they face the ultimate test. The difficult terrain and dangerous obstacles mean that the chance of success is slim. Despite the high risk a mass of bodies pour out and around the ticker tape. Anticipation pulses through the crowd and determination masks the face of each competitor. This is what they have all been waiting for. In fact it is what they were born to do.
The trinity have agreed that friendship will not get in the way. The race is wide open and each plan to play to their strengths. The largest and oldest, Alan is broad and strong, a formidable opponent. Tall and muscular, Carl is built like an Olympic athlete both in agility and stamina. The smallest of the group, John is lean but speedy making him difficult to overtake.
The tension is palpable as starting time approaches. Each contender casts their line of vision from left to right, sizing up the myriad of opponents.
“Welcome to the race of your lives gentleman.”
A melodic voice booms from deep within the cavern ahead. Consonants and vowels rebound off the thick walls. “As you know, only one of you can win. Rules do not exist, and it can be ugly and brutal. The only piece of advice I can give you is to use every advantage available.” The voice pauses for effect. “The majority of you will not make it. Get ready and good luck.”
The stark pep talk seems to unnerve the crowd, and disgruntlement spreads like a virus. Not to be distracted, the three friends use the opportunity to weave through the throng and position themselves in the front row.
From beneath a rumble sounds. In unison they turn to each other and incline their heads in a nod. It is a gesture filled with so much; camaraderie, hope and resolve.
A series of tickling waves make the ground quake. The floor becomes unsteady and starts to shake violently. Mayhem ensues as half of the rows are catapulted forward into the darkness and the others are pelted backwards. Amidst the confusion a gun shot roars.
The fortuitous three use the forward inertia and race into the darkness. The light is dim leaving them to rely on a combination of instinct and luck to steer them. The air is damp, pungent and sweet. Carl takes the lead, ducking and diving to avoid the strong and erratic currents. In front of him an opponent fails to swerve in time, and is hit straight on by an errant ripple. He is pummelled to the ground and goes rigid. Carl flinches, but keeps moving to retain the steady pace he has mastered. From behind he catches sight of Alan low to the ground like a hovercraft on steroids.
With care, Carl manoeuvres around a sharp corner. Light floods the tunnel making an exit visible. Intuition tells him to stop and he floats uncertainly peering into the neck of the opening. Attached to every surface of the void are thousands of gelatinous sacs in the shape of torpedoes. Unwilling to be the first through he moves aside and lets those behind him pass to see what will happen.
A large swarm approaches led by John. He notices the stationary Carl and braces himself. By flattening and extending his wiry torso John soars through the air like a dart. The brave tactic pays off as he avoids the falling missiles and disappears out of sight. Thousands of contestants follow and are shot down one by one. Their desperate screams and burning flesh fill the air.
The massacre over and walls bare, Carl creeps into the awaiting ravine. A misjudged move sends him crashing into the wall. Expecting the worst he shrinks and curls his body inwards. To his surprise he is flung backwards through the air. Using the discovery he angles his body and bounces upwards at lightning speed. Within minutes he catches up to John and the pair climb aggressively.
The incline becomes steeper and muscles start to ache. Out of nowhere Alan appears and forges ahead. His slow and steady pace has helped him through, and the extra muscle he possesses is perfect for this leg of the race. The exhausted duo follow closely behind.
Up ahead the opening widens and a small crowd is gathered in front of two spiral tubes. One leads to the right, the other the left. Only a handful have made it to this point, and deep discussions are taking place. But time is ticking by. A quick decision steers John into the left passage, and surreptitiously the other two follow.
It soon becomes clear why nobody else is going through. The entrance is littered with desiccated and shrunken bodies. Undeterred, they pass over the fallen corpses. Wet heat slaps their faces and breathing becomes difficult. To share the burden they move in a triangular shape with Alan leading. Purple feathered tentacles line both sides of the tunnel, which waft menacingly as they pass. Lethargic and distracted they veer off course. In an instant a furry frond reaches out and grabs Alan. He gasps and splutters in the tightening coil as the pair look on helplessly. Convulsions rack his heavy frame and he croaks “keep going” before disappearing into the furling appendage. Moisture gathers in John and Carl’s eyes as they mourn their lost comrade.
Like conjoined twins they slowly negotiate the downward path, making sure to stay in the centre to avoid their friend’s fate. Both are flailing and unsure how much longer they can last. Beneath them something is glowing. Invigorated they rush forwards. A gasp escapes John as they look upon their prize; a large shimmering sphere surrounded by a golden halo. The sight is mesmerising. A low hum causes the surroundings to vibrate. As they move closer it becomes obvious they are not alone. A dozen rivals are charging into the sphere’s thick outer layer trying to break through. Fuelled by urgency and desire, the two circle to seek out a weak spot. Locked onto a target, they harness the last of their energy and fling themselves at the glowing stratum.
John struggles to gain momentum as the journey has taken its toll. Despite a burning ache, Carl refuses to give in. With one final surge a crack appears. Spurred on, Carl head butts the weakened surface and it shatters. Exalted he squirms through the narrow opening and makes his way inside. Immediately the sphere shudders and forms a cocoon. Wisps of red, orange and purple dance around him, each hue taking turns to stroke his tired body.
Through the tinted haze John is visible. Carl turns towards him curling his mouth into a consolatory half-smile. Graceful in defeat, John grins back and turns away to live out his final hours. The air around Carl becomes dense and turbulent. Seized by a sudden paralyzing force, he is sucked into the incandescent swirling centre and goes limp as his skin tingles and contracts. Fingers of light grab and tear at his suspended body. Piece by piece he disintegrates as his precious DNA is absorbed into the egg’s greedy core. Carl’s life as a sperm is now over and with great pride he succumbs to his reproductive fate.