We had two sets of prompts for this story, the ones we normally get from Orion’s Writer’s Kickstart group (If you want time, The end of the bridge, Jinxed) and the ones from the writing group she started in her apartment building (Historian, Identifiable face in the clouds). While we don’t usually have this abundance of prompts, the combination dovetailed into a story quite nicely.
We also employed the stricture of making the story exactly 500 words. Many of our stories fall pretty close to that, though few come in exactly at 500 words. These days, it seems hard to get them under a thousand! Editing short stories to 500 words proved to be an excellent way to learn to edit your own writing and to learn to see what is and isn’t necessary for a good short story. It also teaches you to cheat on the total! For example, you can use contractions to take the word count down.
We set this story in Peru because Kyros has always had a love for the Incan culture and knows a bit of their history. That country provided lots of chasms, bridges, and mist-shrouded valleys to play with.
LIFE LIKE THE MOVIES
“C’mon, Carlton. I just need a couple of weeks off. My sources say that last earthquake in Peru uncovered new Inca ruins. If I leave right away, I can be the first person on site. Think of the prestige Stockwell College gets if I discovered something new.”
Dean Carlton Whitmore looked down his long aquiline nose at me. “Wash, finals are in three weeks. There’s no way you could get there, find anything interesting, and get back here before that. I’d have to find someone to sub for you for the rest of the term. Do you know how expensive that would be?”
I tossed my hands in the air and paced the room. “But it’s the chance of a lifetime. The alumni would be thrilled. Donations to the department would go through the roof, I just know it.”
The dean stroked his goatee for a moment, then nodded grudgingly. “I see your point.” Drumming the fingers on his desk, he continued, “However, without having something to show for it, I don’t know that they’d give us very much. However, if you came back with a trinket or something, I’m sure I could triple or quadruple our donations.” The man fixed me with a level stare. “If you want the time off, you’re going to have to deliver.”
“You want me to bring something back? I’m a historian, not some modern-day Indiana Jones.”
Shit! They’re gonna catch me! There wasn’t anyone at the dig site so how did they find out I took their damned statue? What am I, jinxed or something? It’s just a little gold-plated idol. I could have gotten it anywhere.
The Inca natives closed in.
“¡Deténgase! Stop, thief!”
Casting around in desperation, I noticed a stone causeway partly obscured by mist.
That’s it! I can disappear into the fog. They’ll never find me once I get to the other side.
Making a run for it, I’d barely gone fifty feet when I realized I’d hit the end of the bridge. The damned thing didn’t go all the way across the chasm. Turning, I searched frantically for someplace to hide. I could see the shapes of the natives through the mist closing in on me. Fear filled my veins with ice.
I’m going to die.
From behind me, a familiar voice called, “Washington Smith.”
Turning, I confronted what I could only be Indiana Jones in the clouds.
What the hell?
“I can help you, Wash. Trust me, you can reach the other side.” The voice screamed, “Trust me!”
“But I’ll fall to my death!” I yelled back at the cloud Indy.
“JUMP!” the apparition thundered.
Taking a running start, I lept.
My dying screams echoed off the canyon walls.
Slowly the face of Indiana Jones transformed into that of a weathered Incan priest. It spoke to the gathered natives.
“He couldn’t be allowed to steal our artifact.” The spirit chuckled. “I may be long dead, but even I know that Indiana Jones wasn’t a real person.”