Red Guillotine

Chuck Wendig, writing-advice-face-kicker extraordinaire, issues a weekly flash fiction challenge over at his blog, terribleminds. I have been meaning to participate, and then it occurred to me that I should perhaps solve this problem by actually writing.

Go figure.

Word of advice: this week’s theme is “Over the Top Pulp Insanity,” which happens to translate to “somewhat violent” in my case. Therefore, if anyone comes expecting exactly the same thing as my last flash fiction entry, Wisp, then… read with care, dear reader.

Red Guillotine

The buzzer flashes on the challenger’s HUD. She charges forward, dust flying from her boots.

It lands in the center of the arena, sending swaths of rusty clouds over dozens of competitors. She uses the cover to dart toward the nearest as the undefeated robotic defender activates, head hunched to her torso.

With an audible pop, her plasma torch activates. She grips it with care.

Steel shrieks, rasps across steel, as its eight arms flail above the metallic body. The Medusaic mass of razor sharp tentacles tenses, stops in mid-air. As competitors clamor toward the electronic beast, a chime pings on each of their HUDs.

The arms lash out.

With its first sweeping pass, several running bodies collapse forward, while their heads float in lazy, synchronized arcs. The arms whip around again, and more competitors fall.

The challenger does not have time to notice.

Her target still stands. Through the visor shield, his face betrays he is in shock, paralyzed.

She collapses into his back, keeping low, charges him toward the monster. The man stumbles but is too dazed to resist.

Another falls, separated from her head, nearby. She adjusts course to avoid tripping over any of her.

Twenty meters and she will be upon it.


A tentacle slithers overhead, decapitating her cover.

She tries to ease the man’s body down, but has too much momentum. She crashes to the floor of the canyon gripped tight as his pressure suit gasps.

Ignoring the fizzling of seeping blood, she grabs his torch, then scrabbles to collect the victim’s head.

Before touching it, she takes a breath, then punches a button on her environment suit.

Her breath fogs as she crams the spare torch deep into the skull, burning a path then turning it down to a slow smolder.

Lungs heavy, she lifts the impaled head, waving it like a banner, and walks forward.

A few meters away, a prostrate competitor sees her. The challenger nods as his look of horror turns to understanding. He crosses himself, then retreats to a corpse.

An arm retracts to the beast, then whips toward her. Her breath catches as it whispers past her, seeking another in her general direction. A coughing fit seizes her.

Tentacles flick about, chasing victims with better reflexes than those caught in the initial wave, and though they come close, the steel defender does not target her.

She continues her slow approach, swinging her seething head in a lazy eight pattern.

Through ice crystals forming on her eyelids, she sees another has caught on to her plan: an older woman, the weight of years bulging her suit to capacity. Her wrinkled face set in grim determination, held low, the elder holds two gruesome memorials on torches and waves them like an air traffic controller.

The challenger speeds, nearing the body, her breath drawing short, clenching her chest. The base of arms gathered along the side of the body is the most dangerous; without care, the rotation of the base could dismember her in less than a second.

The tentacles zip around, whirling into a blender of singing blades. She keeps low and approaches, but no opening is presented for more than a moment.

The words Final Five flash across her HUD to a power chord. Only five humans of more than sixty still stand against this abomination.

The blade arms unite in attack against an opponent on the opposite side of the arena.

She takes the opening, sprinting toward the beast, but it spins again. She slides to her knees, narrowly dodging the razors that would mangle her.

She stares at the blades, unable to sit up without being killed.

The cold grips her head, pain streaks her skin.

She tried.

Shuddering, sighing, she lays back her head.

She sees the old woman.

A fierce grimace set on her face, the woman draws her head-torches down behind her back and straightens.

Looking up through the arms, the challenger sees a small satellite dish stop rotating for a mere moment, pointed at the old woman, then spin again. The arms tense to strike at her.

She looks back. The old woman has bowed her head and presented the torches again.

The arms begin their spin cycle, and the woman again hides her torches.

The challenger tenses, preparing to leap from beneath the base.

The arms fly to the old woman and pause just in front of her torches once again. Finally, the woman yells soundlessly, tosses her torches in the air, and gives the machine a clear target.

The challenger takes the intertentacular opportunity.

Earthborn muscles propel her easily against the gravity. She swoops up and over the stationary arm bases and lands, teeth chattering, on the robot’s domed surface.

A tentacle diverts to swat her. She tosses her spare torch. It chases the head.

A short slide over to the dish, and she shoves her plasma torch into it. Electronics sputter, and the machine’s reaction is instantaneous.

Its arms flutter and shake. The rasping, shearing sound increases, as the tentacles dance wildly.

She leaps for the control panel in its center, where this cruel game can be resolved, but a bladed appendage slices by her arm, cuts her suit, tears away the torch.

The suit seals after losing pressure, but still leaks. With the torch gone, she looks for an alternative.

There is none.

…until the praying man gets her attention, pulls back in a quarterback stance, and launches his head-torch toward her.

The lashing arms carve through him as she catches the grisly package and rips out the plasma torch.

She cranks it to blazing hot and lands on the control circuits, slamming the torch down.

It licks into the machine’s circuitry. The bladed arms straighten and spin in ridiculous parody of a helicopter, then fall flat.

She shudders once more, and is content to know, as the chill encases her skull, that she is a champion for the Blood Red planet’s people.

Her eyes close.

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