Saturday, September 26, 2009

3F#22: excerpt from tentatively titled "Whitelight"

The words to use in this week's Flash Fiction Friday were matrix, air conditioner, and steganographer. Somehow, having to use these words enabled me to pull together elements of a story I've been trying to figure out all summer. If I keep writing it, this will be just a small scene in a much larger story.

When the elevator doors opened to reveal the second basement, I could actually feel my eyes widen in shock. "These," said Ledger, "are the Matrixes."

The room was round and empty but for two narrow beds upon a low dais in the center. Each bed was occupied by a naked woman. The woman on the right was asleep. Her straight black hair looked like it had been combed across her pillow while she slept. Her skin, darker than mine, seemed to glow. The woman on the left was awake and lying on her side. She was pale, blond, and luminescent. She appeared to be the main source of light in the room.

Ledger touched my shoulder, encouraging me to step forward. As I entered the chamber, the blond smiled at me, then winced. A young man knelt behind her, applying a salve to her thighs and buttocks. I was led around the dais to see why. Across her flesh, deep scarlet welts, some wetly gleaming with salve or blood or both, were set close together. The striping was so dense that her skin was barely visible at the fullest part of her backside and at the very tops of her thighs. The skin I could see was starting to bloom into patches of deep violet bruises. The sight of it all was starting to make me nauseous. She winced again, her entire body going rigid, then shivering.

"It's cold," I said questioningly. It wasn't the most important question I had, but it was the one I could form into words. Everything else was, for now, incomprehensible.

"We keep the air conditioner set to fifty-eight degrees. It's not cold, just colder than your normal comfort level. When the Matrixes are," he paused to search for the right word, "active, a great amount of heat is generated. The cooler temperature helps keep them from premature release."

I knew my brow had furrowed when he nodded and told me it would make sense later.

We continued around the dais until we were standing in front of the blond again. I raised my hand in awkward greeting and tried to return her smile. She nodded as if she understood. I supposed she did. After all, she must have once stood in my place, wondering how she'd stumbled into this torture chamber of happy prisoners.

I turned away from her so that wouldn't hear what I was about to whisper. "Look, I'm no goody-two-shoes, but I'm no steganographer, either. I don't see the secret code in that woman's poor flesh that tells me how her suffering is beneficial to anyone but the sadist who did that to her."

She heard me anyway, which I realized when she and Ledger both laughed simultaneously. I turned back to her, feeling tears starting to form. Everything was suddenly so confusing. She reached out her hand and I stepped up onto the dais to take it. She squeezed. "Look at me," she said quietly. Her voice was steadier than I'd expected and, looking into her eyes, I realized she was at least a decade older than I'd originally thought. "No." She shook her head. "Not my face."

My own grip tightened as I craned my head to tentatively look over her hip. A pink the color of cotton candy lined the areas that were bleeding just minutes before. Her entire backside and much of her thighs were tinged yellow. I inhaled in surprise. It was the yellow that marks the last trace of a dark bruise. Even as I watched, her skin lightened until it matched the rest of her body. The pink stripes remained a few moments longer, then they too faded and were gone.

I looked back into her eyes. "Is it magic?" I asked, my amazement whelming up in my chest. It had become difficult to breathe.

"No, not magic," she answered, her smile now just a little bit proud. "It's me."


  1. Wow, Abby, this is so fascinating. I can see this is part of a fully imagined world, and I've been draw in, wanting to know about the narrator - what brought her here, what makes her tick - and the properties of this place. I love the opening paragraph, especially. I can imagine it as a book opening.

  2. Thank you, Casey! I've been playing with an idea I had earlier in the year about people who are "conductors of suffering" and I've only just started to figure out what that might mean in terms of a story. It's a little bit fantasy leaning, I guess, but I'm excited to work on it more and see where it ends up. I'm really happy you like it too! Thank you for continuing with your weekly 3F. If I hadn't had those random keywords to try to plug in, I might not have figured this out. :-)

  3. Wow - nice concept, and very well implemented too. I look forward to how you will fit this into a higher level - who is passing the messages this way and why. Really delightful. Thanks for sharing it.

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  5. I've just found this tab open in my Pile of Tabs, and am boggling that I never commented on it when you posted it. I loved it then and I love it now. I can't wait to read the rest.

    Hope you're doing okay, lovely. I miss your words. xx


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