My favorite game to play when writing flash fiction is to turn the prompt I pick on it’s head, meeting the requirements in a way that clearly deviates from the expected. It’s a challenge I like to make to myself–how can I push the interpretation of the prompt as far as it will stretch and still get away with it.
This week’s 500 Club prompt was: “Write a story about a missed flight. What is the consequence of missing the flight? Focus on emotional content.”
“Did you send the raven?”
Hender looked up from his bowl, stew dribbling off his whiskered chin, and swallowed. “Shite.”
“Damn it to the four winds, Hender. You had one job. One job!”
Dawn was breaking from the east and on a distant rise Farvelle’s army was just visible. They had already broken camp and were marching. “I can send it now,” Hender offered, setting his bowl of stew to the side.
“Won’t do any good now.” Brenden pointed across the fields. “That’s Farvelle. He’ll be here by nightfall. He’s going to lay siege. We needed to get word to Edgewood to have a fighting chance.”
“We can send all the ravens now, Brenden. Might be there’s enough time.”
Brenden shook his head. “No. Farvelle’s archers are too good. Any raven we send east will be shot down. Our message won’t make it through and he’ll know we’re ill prepared. Hender, you just cost us the war.”
Hender looked to be on the verge of tears. Brenden was trying to decide if he wanted to push him over the edge of the castle wall or comfort him. He meant well, but he was stupid. At that moment, however, Sir Yandel emerged from the turret and ran toward the two young men.
Looking at Hender he said, “You sent the ravens to Edgewood, yes? For reinforcements?”
Before Hender could speak, before Brenden fully understood the implications of what he was saying, he interjected. “Beg your pardon, my liege. I neglected to give Hender the message. I was busy with the preparations to the northern gate all night–no ravens have been sent, but we can send them all now.”
Yandel turned white. “What?”
Hender stammered and began to speak but Brenden kicked his shin and spoke louder. “I failed to deliver the message, Sir.”
Gently, like honey poured over toast, understanding bloomed on Yandel’s face. He looked out, over the wall. The morning sky was red, streaked, it seemed, with the blood of ravens that never flew. He shook his head and the boys watched as a kaleidoscope of emotions played out on his face. It seemed that he had settled on rage when he grabbed Brenden by his tabard and pushed him toward the wall, but just as quickly his shoulders sagged and he sighed.
“You’ve killed us, boy,” he said. “All of us.”
He adjusted his breastplate and his fingertips tapped at the pommel of his sword until finally the man within emerged. He straightened his shoulders and looked across the fields. “Come, you bastard,” he said. “Come and we’ll see who the gods favor this day.”
Sir Yandel met Brenden’s eyes and said, “The northern gate looks good. Solid. You did well there, if not here.” Turning to go he said, “Get to the armory quick or the best gear will be spoken for. You, too, Hender.”
Hender opened his mouth to speak but Brenden held up a hand. “Don’t. You can thank me if we live.”
With that, the boys followed after Yandel, leaving the ravens in their cages.