Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. This is my first attempt at a Flash Fiction Challenge, and I started a bit late in the week. Scrambling to get this done was a bit rough, but I came in just above 900 words and I tried to do a subtle betrayal instead of an outright one, but I’m not sure if it was too subtle.. boo.
The light jingle of the shop’s bell drew Percy’s attention away from the ledger, one dark eyebrow twitching upwards in interest. He extracted himself from the worn wingback chair with some effort; one didn’t simply sit in that chair anymore, they sank into it hoping that when the time came they could leverage themselves out without injury.
“Excuse me,” came a soft female voice as he pushed his way through the curtains separating the front of the shop from the back, “I heard you could find things,” the way she emphasized the last two words caused him to hesitate before stepping up to the counter.
He stood in the silence a moment, taking in her nervous posture and the way she clutched at some sort of box held against her chest like it would disappear. “If you’ve heard then you should know that I’m not cheap and I don’t help for just any old lost thing,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
The woman’s hands clutched harder at the box before she forced herself, with no small amount of effort, to set it on the counter between them. As soon as she let go he noticed that it was a shoebox, small enough that it could’ve been from a pair of children’s shoes. With a shaky nod from the woman, he pulled the box to him and opened it to reveal a collection of photographs. The topmost photo showed a girl, probably around ten, holding up a comic book and grinning. Percy picked up the photos with one gloved hand and saw that each was of the same girl over the course of a couple years; he also, curiously, noticed the same comic book in every single photo.
“Am I looking for the girl or the book?” he inquired.
“Both,” she replied.
“Shouldn’t you be contacting the police? What, exactly, are you not telling me?” he said, watching her startle and clench her hands together to halt the trembling.
Her fear was almost palpable, despite her feeble attempts to hide it. Several times she opened her mouth to begin to explain before clamping it shut. Percy waited patiently as she gathered her resolve and raised her eyes to meet his.
“Emma is in the book.”
“I heard what you said. You have a missing child inside a cursed comic book; why in the name of all that is holy are you not at the police station right now?”
Percy let out a grumble as he moved his glasses aside to pinch the bridge of his nose. Going into a full rant wasn’t going to help the situation, even if he felt it was warranted.
“Up until now it’s been benign,” she all but whispered, tugging nervously at the bottom of one sleeve.
“Up until…” he sighed and removed the glove from his right hand, “I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this.”
He pressed a finger to one of the photos while bracing the other hand against the counter. The effect was almost instantaneous; pain seared through his mind and then he was in the moment the picture had been taken.
“Mama! Look. Look what daddy got for me,” Emma said, holding the comic book up next to her face.
“That’s wonderful, dear. Gimme a big smile and say CHEESE.”
The air suddenly felt tight against his skin and pressure started to build up at the base of his sternum.
“Oh f-” the pressure expanded and he was thrown backwards.
He vaguely registered his back slamming against the shop wall and the sound of his client’s scream. Burning pain engulfed his hand, pulsing up his arm to settle as an ache in his elbow. Through the pain, a single detail crystallized. The image of the comic book had, quite literally, shoved him out of the moment, which shouldn’t be possible… unless… Percy’s eyes snapped open and locked on the woman, forcing himself to ignore his slightly charred hand in his peripheral.
“How did your daughter’s father come by the book?”
“I, uh, I don’t know.”
“Are you sure? Lying to me only hurts your chances of getting your daughter back.”
Percy hefted himself off the ground while she shook her head and repeated her statement, tears in her eyes. On the counter, the photo he’d touched was black and curled at the edges and the counter beneath it was still smoldering.
“Lackner. And it’s Mrs.”
“Mrs. Lackner, I’m going to need you to tell me absolutely everything you know about that comic book. Everything. Even if you think it isn’t important, I need to know.”
“What? I don’t- it’s worse, isn’t it?”
He looked down at this hand then, examining the damage with an almost clinical eye; he most likely wouldn’t lose functionality, but recovery would be long and the effects would linger. Then he held the hand up to bring a level of reality to his next statement.
“It is so much worse than just some cursed item. Have you ever heard of an Artifact?”
Mrs. Lackner’s response was immediate. She collapsed to the floor, her legs no longer able to support her, and covered her mouth with a hand while she attempted to hold back the sobs fighting to break free. The complete and utter disbelief in her eyes was all the answer he needed. One thought surfaced as he watched the woman in front of him fall apart over the weight of the situation: he was so fucked.