Flash fiction short story

The steady drum that signals a coming battle makes her ears perk up, that bassy sound of clipped instructions as the strategy is revealed, followed by the sing and brush of arrows, clanging metal on metal and a harder voice, now shouting monosyllabic words; anger, frustration and sometimes panic.

She rises and checks her watch, drawing the curtains to shield herself from Mrs. Hitch and the rest of the squad of curtain-twitchers, and from the glare of beasts waiting in the dark.

A roar sounds from up the stairs, hard to tell if in pain or not. She creeps toward it, inside the darkened room through the door left ajar, a ghostly blue glow just visible through the gap.

The chief sits at the far end of the room, taking command and barking orders at the screen through headphones a couple of inches thick.  He doesn’t notice her standing in the doorway; he never does. She’s a ghost, but not dead enough to avoid the smell that lingers inside: ripe, overheating machinery mixed with sweaty palms and the faint undertones of caffeine-filled energy drinks like battery acid.

Disturbing the scene would be counterproductive. All she’d get would be a quick side glance and an angry one-liner thrown like a knife in her direction. Often, her presence would be announced down the line and she’d half-hear some kind of crude comment, not meant for her ears. She knew her character role: she was the human-faced, bird-bodied Nag, and she didn’t like it.

Backing out of the room, she returns downstairs.

She takes her time getting ready, slowly peeling off one outfit, one shell and replacing it with another; this one tougher, thick grey denim and coarse fiber. This one has skulls on.

She grins at her reflection, baring her teeth and pulling her hair back, coiling it round and round until it becomes a thick snake ready to strike. A flick of eyeliner serves as warpaint.

Padding slowly into the bedroom, she feels beneath the bed until her fingers meet something hard, faintly cold; the forbidden chest. The lid is easy enough to dislodge, not like last time.

The long, thick blade gleams with a glossy sheen and she has to avert her eyes so as not to be dazzled by the rubies embedded along the hilt. The ceremonial sword; it has been a while since she’d last used it. Boxed too long, the both of them.

It feels good to have it by her side once again, fwacking against her leg in its sheath with each long stride: turgid, heavy and companionable.

She slowly climbs the stairs once again, silent as deepest night.

The voice inside had changed, now panicked, orders flying everywhere and the sound of metal on metal joined the arrowheads flitting through the air at speed. She puts a hand on the hilt of her sword and pulled, her bicep straining with its weight. The surface of the blade shows her teeth in a grotesque distortion of a smile.

She treads slowly, softly eyeing the soft flesh of his neck, uncovered and vulnerable.

Like a breath of air, she sweeps closer, ruffling his hair and planting a gentle kiss on his bare, pink neck.

He shifts slightly but doesn’t take his eyes away from the screen. In a little while, he’ll pause as if he’d heard someone call his name, but by then, she’ll be gone.

Shutting the front door behind her, she strides out into the dark street, the cold air running deep inside her lungs, the sword solid against her leg.

Her eyes dart deep into the shadows, nodding briefly at the others out here tonight. She then joins them in the half-dark, ready and willing to battle the hordes of demons that roam these streets at night.