Discover more from a body of words
Taking The Plunge
In a dying world, a starving man takes the plunge.
“The Great Substack Prompt Celebration” is hosted by the Fictionistas.
May’s Flashy Fiction Prompt
Your enemies have backed you against the edge of a cliff. Far below you is a treacherous torrent of water. What happens next?
Enjoy the latest addition to my body of words as it leaps onto the page and then into the air.
Taking The Plunge
Cato’s been running for hours. His bare feet hurt. Most of his toes have strangely fused together. His weakened body craves the sugar he’s carrying. And now he’s cornered himself up here on this mountain his internal compass has directed him to find.
His will to survive is strong. If Cato can make it to water, he knows he has a better chance of losing his pursuers. They are better fed than him, and they wear uniforms and boots.
He hears the familiar roar before he sees the edge of the cliff, a worthy destination for a final confrontation.
If sound had a smell, the roar of the water far below would stink like the rotting carcass of a dead whale beached up on the sand during the Tide Wars. It’s that specific stench Cato yearns for.
He was there with the others, ax in hand, his belly empty for far too long. The whale anchored them to that beach for months. Hunger twists a man. Hell, starvation twists everyone into knots of badness - tight knots that a good meal and a good night’s sleep might slightly unravel.
“Why’d you steal from us?” asks the leader, a large man wearing the cleanest uniform. He holds a hunter’s knife in his hand. It’s sharp.
“I’ve stolen food before,” confesses the runner. Cato’s legs feel like jelly. “But it’s the first time I’ve had to steal from a child.”
“My son needed that food more than you, you greedy piece of filth!” He tosses the knife from hand to hand and looks angry enough to use it to gut the runner where he stands.
“Uh. I know I took what wasn’t mine.” The knot in his stomach is twisting him up real bad. “Ah, but I had a good reason to take what that fat child wanted to eat.”
“And now you’re gonna pay for your transgressions, you filthy scum!” The men step nearer to their leader. They are probably waiting for a signal to attack.
The runner inches closer to the edge of the cliff. The water calls to Cato. He fumbles with the rope belt holding up his torn canvas pants. He thinks back to the stench of the dead whale and his stomach growls at the memory. They ate that animal raw in their greed and their need. He remembers gnawing on its bones and its skin when the meat and the blubber were long gone. Cato was the last to leave the remains, taking a serrated shark tooth with him to mark his own skin with symbols and lines he saw in his fevered visions.
Not many whales are left. Land animals will soon be extinct.
He doesn’t care about any of that. “I was looking out for number one. There is no number two. I’m all there is now. I mean there was a number two, my woman - and a number three - my little boy. But I couldn’t scavenge enough food for them and the Hunger took them from me.” He remembers gifting their bodies to the sea all those years ago. Cato wept and he prayed with his feet and his hands in the ocean until his skin felt like it was going to melt off his body. The tide took them in the end.
“Pathetic!” The leader shakes his head. He laughs. His men laugh with him. It is not a pleasant sound.
The runner says the words he was taught to say when he’s done a bad thing and been caught doing it. “I’m sorry. I apologize for my thieving ways. I beg for your mercy.”
“Replace what was stolen from my family.”
“It’s only one old bar of chocolate. I need it to complete my hunt for ingredients. I cannot give back what my heart demands.”
“Very well, then we will take a limb or two as payment for your theft. Hand and foot, or arm and leg, thief?” The leader licks his lips. The men behind him keep their hungry eyes on the runner. They look plump, but strong, and carry smaller knives.
The man shudders at the thought of losing such an important part of himself. There are no hospitals or doctors or medicine. If Cato gets injured he will die over many days, and in much pain.
He’d heard of people who capture and eat other people. He shudders at the thought of being eaten piece by piece by one of his own while they kept him alive and fresh in captivity. The knots in his stomach will never be tied that way. Cato thinks, “The time is right.”
“Okay. I surrender to my fate. Take what you want of me.” Cato removes his rope belt and sheds his clothes in one swift movement. The men gasp in shock and awe. The intricate web of white scars illustrating his rough brown skin ripple like the currents of a dark sea. The runner holds up a small conch shell and the old chocolate bar. A triangular tooth hangs around his neck.
The leader snarls when he sees the chocolate melting in the thief’s warm hands. “I will gut you like a fish!”
“I offer my life up to the gods of the waters below!” says Cato. He blows on the conch shell before shoving both shell and chocolate into his mouth. Cato swallows both.
And then the runner jumps with all the remaining strength he has left, embracing the hug of gravity for the last time: webs of skin sprout between his fingers; air whooshes out of his lungs; and gills form on his neck. His scars transform to scales.
“If smell has a sound,” Cato thinks, “the salt I smell has the comforting sound of home, a woman’s voice singing, a newborn child’s cry for life, the start of something poetic, a profound evolution, a return.”
And then he’s gone from the edge. The roar of applause from the water below is all that remains, and it is loud.
Once upon reaching THE END of my story, please:
HEART my story—it makes my own heart pulse with joy. 💟
COMMENT on my story—every word you add is fuel for my creative fire. 🔥
SHARE my story. 🎁
SUBSCRIBE to a body of words—if you want more. 📝
Thanks for reading.