The Burners, a short fiction piece

Whoo, I’m on a roll today.  Though I really should get back to my reading.

Anyway, this is another Daily Post prompt piece.  Definitely feeling this could be the start of a new book 🙂 I had fun with this one.  I think I like those fast-paced action-packed kinds of books.  Or… are they called thrillers? Action adventure?

Ergh, I really should read up on this.

Here’s the prompt if you want to give it a shot 😀 And thanks for reading my response 🙂

You’re sitting at a café when a stranger approaches you. This person asks what your name is, and, for some reason, you reply. The stranger nods, “I’ve been looking for you.” What happens next?

I wasn’t sitting in just a cafe, but the Starbucks on my college campus, waiting for my iced green tea frapuccino.  The room was half-lit, half shaded, the sun about to set for the day.

And as I’m checking my phone, trying to look occupied with my thoughts instead of waiting around and looking bored, the stranger comes up to me.

A tall, male stranger with a light southern accent in a business suit and a black briefcase in hand, his brown haircut short.

When he asks me what my name is, naturally, I don’t give him my entire name.  Just Julie.

But then he guesses my last name correctly.  And that’s when I start to eye him carefully.

“I’ve been looking for you,” he says.

I straighten in my chair.  I put my phone down on the table.

He lifts up his hand in defense, and sits in the chair across from me.  “Don’t worry.  I’m not going to hurt you.  But there are some people tonight that might, and that’s why I am here—to look after you.”

My heart thumps a little louder in my ears.

“I have a green tea frapuccino for Julie!”

I jump at the barrista’s nasal voice.  I spare no second glance at the man at the table, get my drink, and leave through the back door instead of the front.

Yet he manages to catch up with me, holding my phone out to me.  “Ms. Coulter, I understand you’re scared, but—”

I snatch it from him, picking up my pace.  The cold night air does nothing to ease the hot adrenaline from bubbling up inside me.  “Please get away from me.”

“They think they can end civilization by—”

“I said stop following me.  Now, please—”

“Ms. Coulter—”

He grabs my arm.  I wrench it away, and I’m sprinting across the cement bridge right now, trying to catch the next bus coming on the other side of the street.  I need to get home, I think.  Call the campus police.

When the clock strikes six, and the sun has set, it’s already started.

Yelling tarnishes the air down below.  Vigilantes with white clothes tied around their eyes thrust black bags over students heads, then rush off with them.  One of them, an English major like me that I know from class, gets a bag over her head.  Several of them start sprinting up the bridge.  I double back, but the horror escalates.  Another group, armed with knives, floods across campus.  The library in the west is now billowing with flames, and I’m on top of the bridge to see it all.

I rush down the bridge, screams welling up in my chest.  My hands grow cold, and it’s not from my frapuccino.  “Oh, God, oh, God…” My lungs gulp for air the moment I start running again. Past the parking lot, through the backside of the dining commons, past the housing communities.  I run so fast I ignore the traffic lights, which I learn later, were all out, anyway.  The vigilantes had that much power in the city.

Someone’s footsteps pound behind me.  Then arms take hold of me, throwing me against the crisscross fence, covering my lips with their hand, and holding a knife to my neck.

My green tea frapuccino splatters to the ground.  Like all the others, it’s a man with a white cloth tied around his eyes pressing against me, panting hard like me.  He towers over me in a plain shirt and jeans.  Yet one thing bugs me.

I look down at his shoes.  His shiny black shoes.  Where have I seen those before?

More footsteps pound behind me, and my lungs are burning.  More men (and women) with white sashes around their eyes rush past us.  Ten.  Twenty.  Forty.  I lose count.  Or rather, I stop counting.

What’s the point of counting if I’m going to get knifed by this guy?

When they’re all out of sight, the man places his knife between his teeth, undoing his sash as he’s still pressed against me to keep me from running away.

It’s the stranger from Starbucks.

He pockets his knife.  “Sorry ’bout that.  I had to make them think I was one of them.  Also, do you do any sports? Track and field? You ran that like it was nothing.”

My head is wobbling, dizzy from running and finding this man was right about people trying to kill people tonight.

“Whoa, whoa, you okay?”

“I want to go home,” I wheeze.

He shook his head, biting the inside of his lip.  “I know, but it won’t be safe.  They know how to get in without a card.  You need to come with me, where you’ll be safe.  ”

“Dude, I don’t even…” I held my head in my hands.  “I don’t even know your name.  How do you know mine? What is going on? Who are these people?!”

“Sshhh…” He holds my shoulders gently.  “You’re okay.  You’re going to be fine.  I’m Owen.  ‘Kay? O-W-E-N.  Owen.”

“Owen?”

“Yeah.  Now, come on.  We’ve got to get you out of here before any of the Burners are smart enough to come back.”

“The what?”

“The Burners.  Like book burners.”

“And they want to kill books?”

“Anybody that writes ’em, more like.”

“God, god, god…” My knees buckle.

He props me back up, an arm around my back.  “You’ll be fine.  I promise.  I’m not going to let anything happen to you.  But we need to go.”

“Okay, okay, fine.”  I throw up my hands and back off from the fence.  “Let’s just go.”

I nearly slip on my spilled frapuccino, I’m so flustered.  But Owen catches me.  And as I walked with him, realizing he has a flashlight on to see instead of relying on the streetlights that should be on right about now, it hits me.

I’m not going to have any frapuccinos, or any luxuries, for a while.

long while.

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