Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
“What!!! That’s too fast!” Malibu wailed in disbelief. His eyes danced out of his skull before they returned to his pile of leftovers. “Ah, fuck me! I forgot the flamethrower!” And that was coming from a guy who didn’t cuss much.
“Hurry!” I pushed, trying to will a generous window of time into existence, trying to push past the fact that that was impossible. Time: one of a surprisingly vast amount of variables beyond our control--truly an untold amount of variables.
The remaining portal pulsated to an unwavering beat, a slow throb of about every other second. A mechanical impulse told me to drop the weapons and streak to the exit. I could feel my legs twitch, rabid dogs bucking in attempt to wrest free from their cages in the pound. “Wait a second! Do we absolutely have to have the Flamer?" I shook the sack. “We already have plenty!”
“That was what we discussed: how we might need some literal fire!” He made sounds under duress, trying to hammer out a course of action. “Think.” he moaned, clutching his head between his palms. Then a light burst forth inside his face, and in an a-ha moment he cried, “Remember?” He continued staring at me with a vigorous expression. “Plans? Think!”
Of course. The last defense. How could I forget what he had said when I first talked with him today? Don’t indulge the status quo by letting it tiptoe past the citadel, spirit away the ability to reason, and subject you to take ill-advised action. Don’t become weary with seasons of inactivity. Train your eyes not to cease spotting incoming thieves until the watch time is up.
Okay, so I put my own metaphorical twist on his words.
“Well, where is it then?” I ordered, scanning the clutter but not alighting on any spouter of flame.
He screamed back, “In some unopened box!” Then he started to stumble through the pile of guns strewn before him, filing away for the alphabetized letter F. He checked the lowest shelf first, Fittingly. “A’s B’s C’s…” he trailed off looking quite a ways down the row. Okay, they were semi-alphabetized: they had groups of close letters together. The bad thing was every bunch of three or four letters, successive in the alphabet, could still be distanced completely on the other side of the building from each other.
I flicked a nervous glance back at the final Spinal. “Is this method the best time-saver?”
Gutterson sped across the aisle and sounded off, “Emm-enn-O!” in a furor. Without even looking in my direction he snarled, “Get busy from the top!”
His neck was already tilted up at the middle deck, veins bulging at the skin. I had been standing there, unaware in my state of panic, as useless as an inflatable dart-board. I joined the party, however tardy, and zoomed in on the upper deck. My head panned from right to left. Drifting in front of my eyes was I, and next they hit H, then they lurched to the far end--an end that seemed a bridge to the horizon. But when my vision finally crossed that bridge, I became glued onto the G region. The cogs came together and an imaginary clock rose to a pronounced tick-tock (in my mind). Long ago I had learned to recite the alphabet backwards. I knew I was in F’s neck of the woods without further searching.
I felt a pop near my upper nose. Weird. My eyes started watering. It was as if my airways had opened--wider than they had ever known. Have I been gathering restricted breaths all my life? Time was suddenly a bit drowsy in comparison to my newfound color. It may have been due to an increase in the quantity of incoming oxygen to the brain. It sure felt like the pistons had been introduced to some state-of-the-art oil. They were pumping with unpolluted agility. Where I was blank just sheer breaths prior, I know had a gimmick up my sleeve.
“Hold your ground, Gut!” I authorized. “You’re in a convenient spot.” And I bowled the sack towards him along the ground. Then I split.
I ran like the finish line was less than a hundred metres away and second place was breathing down my neck. Those stairs didn’t look inviting and they were definitely not the finish line.
“What have you got in mind?” I heard over the artificial wind that my sprint produced.
I was approaching the solitary doorway home. I noticed that the crescent was waning, like a true moon. There was a slurping sound and it wobbled back and forth, a sheet of glass in a strong earthquake. It was falling apart. The lunar cycle that normally played out over two weeks, was drawing to a close in two minutes. Our chances were eclipsing with each stride I took. But I was hedging my bets that M stood for miracle. I huffed, “The M’s are right in front of you. Scrounge up anything magnet-related!”
My feet made powder of the jumbo stairway. There was something like two-hundred large steps. I was running bleachers for much more than conditioning. From below I heard boxes being ripped from their place of rest, overturned to the floor. My colleague was spilling their guts and sifting through their innards, and brooding while he tore away, “I still don’t understand. Where are you going wi-”
“It’ll work. As long as you find the right piece of junk.” I promised. “Trust me.”
It would have to work. If we didn’t try, it was over anyway, and we’d be trapped here, delivering our posse a death sentence. The idea was that a magnetic wave or field might attract some sort of reception and extend the portal’s life, if not reverse its will to die. I would be content if we could just slow the ebb, stay its execution, salvage any scrap of time. A heavy-duty piece of charged metal might be just the right prescription--or my hunch might fall short despite my adamant leap of faith, if you could call it faith.
Gutterson wasn’t having any luck. “MZP’s, The Mintegrader...This is a needle in a haystack!”
“Needle in a haystack does NOT begin with M! Keep at it!” I encouraged. “There’s bound to be something helpful.”
I was almost to the first turn along the concrete ridge that went around the room’s perimeter. There were a couple of catwalks running parallel to the racks. If F was where I believed it to be, then I’d need to board the nearest one after taking the corner.
“Hey, this could be what we’re looking for! It has Mag in the name at least.” reported Malibu. “This box only has one name on the label. Have you ever heard of something called a...” he struggled to sound out the name, “Magneliohasetrop?”
“Good-good. Just check it out already.” I snapped, aggravated from my gallop, besides being on edge. “I don’t need a syllable count.”
My feet were clanging against the bottom of the cramped metal passage. The whole contraption felt flimsy. There’s a reason walk is part of the name. You may also want to be catlike: fleet of foot, blessed to always land on them, or even have nine lives. Maybe I was skittish, but the railing felt like it was careening far more than I would consider safe, unable to handle my bulk at such a pace.
I was so high-strung that when Malibu said, “From handling this box, I’d say it’s one solid piece.” at first I thought it was the sound of buckling metal.
I grated my teeth and responded, “That’s great, but keep it to yourself if it isn’t a solid piece of intel.”
Crap. Being a middleman, FL was going to be hard to spot. I checked to see how much longer we had to pack up camp and ditch this hole in the wall. From here I couldn’t tell how much shrinkage it had undergone, but it was still there.
I had to shift down from full blast as I closed in on the area. However, I didn’t let my mind follow suit; he had to keep on truckin’. Suddenly I realized that J,K, and M,N surrounded L. Since hardly anything started Fj, Fk, Fm, or Fn, it should stick out like a sore thumb. Favorably highlighted by two vowels, it should look something like FiFLFo. Ha, nice ring to it, Fiffullfoe.
“Let’s see, Fiercion….Finklepods...Flotus Deconduit…” Whoops, I passed it. What kind of impractical names to give these gizmos. And each one probably had a whole file to itself in some classified drawer at the back of a pitch black room down in the recesses of a basement.
Aha! Flamethrower! I leaned out to welcome its storage box with a hug. And as I rested against it for a few recovery breaths, I peered through a four-inch gap divorcing the catwalk and the rack. I noticed the twenty-some story drop straight down. Gently as one would coddle a baby, I hoisted the box and placed it at my feet. Then clawed its cover away, raking through styrofoam packing to feel around at the bottom. My skin grazed something cold and in such perfect condition that it was almost wet--and I resurrected a single flamethrower from a snowy grave.