Fiction Fragment Friday
Before we get to this week’s story I have some updates to get through. This will be a long one so if you are only interested in the story feel free to scroll down past the red divider line.
Bite Sized Tales has officially launched with weekly Flash Fiction Audio stories. You can grab the podcast episodes from that link or you can find it on any major pod catcher including Apple, Google, Amazon, Audible, and Spotify. If you do not see it on your chosen platform please let me know. I would also appreciate any reviews or recommendations.
Next Toran Station now has it’s own category on the right side of the page. You can access all the parts of the story through it. That will keep the list of links to previous stories from becoming too long. I have come to realize that it is not longer flash fiction though it does still work as a Fiction Fragment. Toran Station is now officially a serial fiction.
Fiction Fragment Friday stories are one source of feeder stories for Bite Size Tales. With this in mind I don’t know if I want to continue using Toran Station as Fiction Fragment Fridays or start releasing them on a different day as a Serial Story Saturday(or Sunday). Fiction Fragment Fridays for me should be a way to explore writing ideas and push myself. Taking on a second story each week that is not something I’m submitting elsewhere for publication though might be too much at this point.
I have a lot of decisions to make about my fiction going forward and where I want to put my energy. I have RPG projects that are underway as well that also need energy and Fear the Con 2023 planning is underway. I need to ensure I find a balance to avoid the potential of burnout. 2020 was about proving to myself that I could complete NaNoWriMo. 2021 was about creating the consistent habit of writing weekly and ability to just sit down and write no matter what my mood. 2022 was about building a audience and continuing to develop new ways to get my fiction out there. Now it is 2023 and it is time to build on the framework this journey has created.
My entire focus was drawn to her face making everything else blur into the background. She had shiny long black hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. Her complexion was pale like she had never been planet side to get actual sun. It was a more common complexion these days, but as someone who lived on Earth I was not as familiar with it. It was her eyes that most caught my attention. They had a look of sheer terror in them. It was burned into my memory permanently as an expression I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
Her lips parted and she whispered every so softly, “Please no.” Smoke came out of her mouth, nose, and eyes. I tried to turn away, but my head wouldn’t move. I was locked in place watching her just inches away from me. The skin on her face started to melt away showing first the muscle and then the bone underneath. The smell of burnt flesh assaulted my nose making me gag. Her body fell onto mine pushing me to the ground. I looked up into her exposed skull where nothing remained but her eyes. They were untouched and filled with terror. Despite no longer having a tongue she hissed one final time as her hands wrapped around my throat robbing me of my breath. “You did this to me.”
I awoke still in my hospital bed. My throat burned in a way that told me I had been screaming again. The gagging sensation returned with a feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach. Only by sheer instinct did I lean over the edge of the bed before I vomited everything I had eaten for breakfast. Gasping for breath I finally lay back with my water filed eyes being assaulted by the light. Every time I tried to sleep the same dream would haunt me.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Nurse Kirby stood at the door inputting something into the data tablet he always carried around with him. His tone as always was lighthearted, but I could have done without it. After a moment an automated wet vac rolled into the room and started to clean up my vomit. They were certainly getting their money worth out of that thing from my stay.
As my breath finally slowed, I realized that he was waiting for an answer. I wanted to lash out and tell him that no I didn’t want to fucking talk about it. The assassin had tried to kill me, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about killing her instead. That my stupid mind just kept reliving the look in her eyes as she died and every time, I tried to sleep she was waiting for me. I had no idea if she had people out there grieving for her. A husband, kids, or even just friends? Instead of all that I just answered, “No.”
“You don’t have to talk to me about it but trust me you need to talk to someone. I’ve seen it before. The adrenaline wears off and the trauma starts to set in. You’re going to have to work through it the only question is if you do it now or after it has settled so deep into you that you don’t even recognize yourself anymore.”
“Well, who asked you?”
“No one. Just sharing some advice based on experience. Besides it’s my job to take care of you until you get released. I like to think that means more than just checking your vitals and bringing you ice water because your throat is raw from screaming.” For the first time I noticed that he was indeed holding a glass of ice water with a bendy straw in it. I thought about his words and hated to admit that he might be right.
“Have you ever watched someone die?”
“Working in medical on this station? More times than I care to think about.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that comment, but I pressed on. “Were you ever responsible for any of those deaths?”
He sighed as he handed me my water. “No, I can’t say that I was. That doesn’t stop me from blaming myself for some of them though. Guilt and self-doubt aren’t exactly rational.” I handed him the glass back and he sat it on my side table. “Let me ask you a question. If you hadn’t managed to get control of the gun what would have happened to you?”
“She would have killed me.”
“There is no hesitation there. You know that and don’t doubt it for a second?”
“Yes. Not the slightest doubt.”
“Well then it seems to me that she made the decisions that led to her death. You reacted and did what you needed to survive.”
I knew that he was right. I logically had been telling myself the same thing for the last two days. Something about hearing someone else say it though did make it feel a bit more real. My mind was not ready to let go just yet though. “Then why do I keep thinking I should have done something else?”
“Because you James Wetherford are a good man despite being an auditor.” I laughed at his joke, and it hurt more than I had expected. For someone who was being released that evening I still had quite a bit of pain. “I read your file and unless I missed something I think it’s safe to say this is the first time anything like this has ever happened to you.”
“You might be surprised how many death threats you get as an auditor, but no. Until now no one has actually tried to kill me.” I thought about his words for a moment. “How do you know I’m a good man?”
“Two reasons. First Janice told me you were. The first thing that woman does after she meets someone, she thinks could be a source is start the background checks. When I say I read your file I don’t mean this one.” He tapped on his data tablet. “I mean her file on you. Trust me it is much larger and has way more detailed information. In fact, I fixed a few typos in your medical file based on it. “
“You know Janice?” I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was.
“Everyone on the station knows Janice, but she is a special pain in the butt for me. I married her brother. Trust me if you think her file on you is long you should see the background checks, she does on the guys her brother dates.”
I winced in pain. “Please stop making me laugh.” I took a moment to catch my breath before responding. “You said there were two reasons. What is the second one?”
“You just went through an extremely traumatic event. Instead of obsessing about how you were almost killed you keep beating yourself up over the death of the woman who was trying to kill you. If that isn’t the sign of a good man, I don’t know what is.”
He left me alone in the room with my thoughts after that. I had to admit just talking about it had actually made me feel a bit better. I knew that I still had things to work through and made a mental note to see if there was a reputable counselor onboard. That was just a few lines down on my mental checklist after finding out what Janice Harrington has in her files about me. By the time I had reached twelve entries on that checklist I decided to reach for my data tablet and make it an actual list. There was time to deal with emotional trauma later. For now, I had work to do.