A response to the 1000 Word Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Contain Three Things.
A talisman. An assassin. A bomb.
He stares sometimes. As much as it annoys her, she never tries to hide the neat, parallel scars across her forearm.
“Find the talisman, go back in time, stop the world from ending. Find the talisman, go back in time, be the hero you were meant to be…”
He also has a tendency to repeat the same three things over and over in the tone of a motivational speaker. If she were less skilled or more impulsive, she might have kicked him out of the car and left him for dead around the time he found an old mixtape of early 2000s party hits and belted out a few on the drive so far.
“How do you know it’ll work?” She seems skeptical, never takes her eyes off the road.
“My mentor told me. Those were his last words.”
“You trust everything you’re told?”
“I trusted you when you said you wouldn’t kill me, didn’t I?”
She actually said she has no desire to kill without getting paid. Since the world went to shit, survival is her only priority. Nuclear warfare sure put a damper on the business of organized crime.
“I’m tired, Wal.”
That’s what she calls him, not because it’s his name. They met in a looted Walgreens. She needed caffeine and he needed saving.
“Pull over,” he says. “I can drive.”
That’s not what she means, but she doesn’t bother correcting him and keeps driving.
Wal talks excessively. He also says the prettiest things late at night.
As he drags a marker against his arm, retouching the drawings there—a sketch of the talisman and another of a beach house—he paints beautiful pictures of a perfect alternate timeline with his words. His description of utopia proves to be a fine distraction from the screams and gunshots outside. She isn’t afraid because she knows she can survive in this new world. He isn’t afraid because he’s so sure he can fix it.
“When we go back, you have to find me, Greens,” Wal says.
“To go back we’d actually have to find this thing.”
He laughs. “Someone’s cynical.”
“I’m not cynical. I’ve merely accepted that war, nuclear or otherwise, is both insidious and inevitable. Everything ends eventually, including the world. I’ve adapted, made peace with my past and now all I want to find is a beach and beer.”
“So when the final bomb drops, you can watch the sky catch fire over those gorgeous waves of oil?” His ink-smudged fingers curl into an angry fist. “Then why are you helping me?”
“I want it to be over. I told you. I’m tired.”
“I think you like me.” He smiles. It’s the kind of smile that makes her want to believe in his nonsense. “I think you secretly like me reminding you to wear your seatbelt and my incredible vocal style. I think you even consider us friends.”
“Assassins don’t have friends.”
“I know one who does.”
When she looks away she swears she can hear him smile.
They spend months searching for something she’s convinced is a figment of his imagination, a coping mechanism of sorts. Instead of dealing with the trauma and accepting that the world they once knew is gone, he keeps his mind occupied with a make-believe mission. If that’s true, what does it say about her for sticking around?
Then one day they find the beach house. It matches the drawing on Wal’s forearm to a tee. He’s so excited and relieved he hugs her and that’s the first time they’ve ever touched.
Wal sprints into the beach house. Inside is a maze of boxes piled high to the ceiling and covered in a thick layer of dust. Wal wastes no time and tears through the boxes full of broken clocks as Greens scans the room for potential threats, flexing her fingers on the glock strapped to her hip. The first place she checks is the mini-fridge.
“Beer!” Greens grabs a bottle of beer and expertly pries off the cap with her teeth. “On the contrary, the world does not end with a whimper or a bang, but a bottle of Miller Lite.” She takes a swig. “Warm, terrible, but it’ll do.”
“I found it! Holy shit, it’s here! It’s real!”
Wal treats the bronze talisman in his ink-stained hands like a religious artifact while Greens pokes at it unceremoniously. The talisman jumps and they both back away as the room begins to shake. Lights flicker and a vortex manifests, whirling anything that isn’t nailed down above their heads.
Wal pulls Greens closer with a trembling hand, looking equal parts thrilled and terrified. “Find me! When we go back, find me! We’ll fix it together!”
“I’m tired, Wal! I’m so fucking tired. I need to sleep.”
The one time he isn’t staring at her scars is when the jagged reminders start to fade from her arm one by one.
“I know!” he shouts over a boom of thunder. “You will, I promise! We just—”
Wal crashes to his knees. Blood bubbles on his lips. Greens aims her glock at the talisman and fires. It explodes and the tiny pieces scatters around the room. The lights fade and the wind stops. All her scars are where they should be. Greens holsters her gun and sees Wal bleeding profusely, staining his hands red.
“I earned my scars, Wal. I killed a lot of bad people. There’s no winning, you know. At least this way there’s sleep.” She kisses his cheek as his eyes flutter shut indefinitely. “Sorry we couldn’t be friends. On another timeline maybe.”
She barely makes it out the door before collapsing on the darkened sand. Greens pulls a knife from her boot and draws a new slash across her arm. It lines up perfectly with her other scars.
When the final bomb drops, the sky lights up, a brilliant chemical haze of swirling smoke and fire. She doesn’t run, doesn’t hide, simply curls up in the cold sand and finally sleeps.