Flash fiction / Writing

Urban explorers

Image: Stanley Zimny

There were thick ropes of weeds twisting over the door. K tugged on them, but they were bound fast to the wall.

K should wait. But their mind loved problem-solving, and even while K waited on the abandoned street, they were thinking of how to wrench the vines away.

Just as they had decided to start trying, Y arrived. They gestured their greeting.

Y had been here before, so they had come prepared. A machete was tucked into a strap around their body, which they pulled out to start hacking. With every swipe of the blade, Y’s massive body, enlarged with effort, created a current which made the vines pulse. They contracted in response, shortening and thickening so the blade barely made a mark on their twisted trunks.

K gestured for Y to stop. Y deflated, and let go of the machete, which drifted slowly to the seafloor. K wriggled in amongst the hardened vines. Without the current Y had created, they began to loosen, and K slowly began to inflate. The vines were relaxed, and bent around K’s body loosely, back to their long, thin forms.

Carefully, so as not to spook them again, K reached up and curled three arms loosely around three of the vines closest to the doors. Then reached down, and wrapped another three around the bottom halves of the vines. Using their remaining two arms, K gestured for Y to pick up the machete and cut through the vines again in their thin, stretched out state.

Y inflated quickly, and raised the machete excitedly.

No, no, slower! K gestured, but it was too late. K felt the vines tighten and pull against their arms, trying to protect themselves as they felt the blow before it came. It took all of K’s strength to keep the vines from contracting as Y’s blade sliced through them like a mower through seagrass.

The vines fell limp through K’s arms. K deflated and wriggled around to investigate the door, poking their tips into the doorframe, and old lock, the glass window.

Go for the window, K told Y, and moved out of the way. Y picked up a large rock and slammed it into the exposed glass. There was a loud crack, but the glass didn’t fall away immediately. Y punched out one of the shards, but before they cut themselves, K intervened, pushing them out of the way and gently picking out the remaining pieces.

It was a small window, and Y was quite a bit bigger than K. K eased an arm through, then stopped to carefully pull out a shard which had remained in the frame. Then, one at a time, they pulled each arm through until their whole body was in the dark, cool interior.

The only ray of light came from the window, which was soon blocked as Y began to squeeze themselves through. It took Y much longer to squish each arm through the gap, so K began to explore in the dark, spreading their arms out in every direction.

K felt shelves against the wall, with heavy cylindrical objects stacked on them. There were some airtight plastic packets bobbing against the ceiling. K poked a hole in one and felt water rush into densely packed, dry plant matter. The taste of it was unfamiliar. K recoiled as another arm touched a slimy, furry lump. K reached out for it again. K squeezed it, and it compressed, but no bones cracked. It hadn’t been alive. But what was that? K could feel a small hard object in the middle.

Y had come through the window now, and so K held up the object to the light. It was a crude replica of what must have once been a land-borne creature. The eyes were huge. K ripped through the slimy fabric, and slipped an arm into the grey synthetic insides to pull out the hard object they had felt. It was a translucent plastic pocket of air. When K released it, it floated to the ceiling next to the bags of dried vegetation.

Something was glinting in the back. K propelled themselves towards it, and reached out their arms to touch it. It was too dark to see, but it felt like metal mesh, covered with the soft algae that coated everything. They snaked the tips of their arms through it and pulled, using their other arms to brace against the wall behind. The mesh came away with very little force.

K extended an arm to explore the cavity behind. It swept through until it touched something intricate and complex. K delicately ran its arm over it, feeling ridges and thin structures interlacing with each other. K tried to pick it up to bring it to the light, but it fell apart, breaking into lots of pieces.

There were more of these mesh-covered cavities, and many of them had these strange, delicate objects. K took some pieces to the light, but they were off-white and small and K couldn’t make sense of them.

Then Y pulled on one of K’s arms, and showed them something. It was the same colour as the fragments K had found, but much larger. Now K recognised it. It was a skull. They shuddered. It had deep sockets for eyes, and long fangs at the end of a snout inside a row of misshapen teeth.

Y was also affected. Even though it was unlikely they were going to be caught exploring the ruins, it was only fun so long as they could concentrate on the lives that were lived here, not the tragedy that had ended them.

The atmosphere had changed. Suddenly, it felt as if they were being watched. Without communicating, Y placed the skull carefully on the ground and squeezed back out of the window. K followed. Y shot off immediately into the blue, but K paused for a moment.

Something was visible through the vines on the outside of the ruin. A plaque, with the linear markings they often found in these ruins. K traced them with an arm, wondering whether it held any answers for the eerie crypt within.



Urban explorers is a piece of flash fiction written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2019, with the writing prompts: Sci-fi / A pet shop / A machete.

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