Songs of Dust

Another flash fiction challenge from your friend Chuck Wendig (hey, he’s everybody’s friend… sort of…), this challenge encouraged us to pick own of three sentences and incorporate them into a story. Dumb that I am, I picked all three.

—–

“The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”

Griff stirs back to awareness at those words, spoken by the the decrepit matron who dragged him from the cage.

“Only one thing keeping this place together,” the matron said, turning her grizzled gaze upon him. She’s gone now, but her rasping voice resounds in Griff’s ears. But that was all he could remember of her words.

He ducks his head beneath the storm clouds gathering in the open sky, like everyone else passing through this sorry excuse for a town.

Far as Griff knows, the town has no name. No Man’s Land, they call it, for lack of a better term.

Every time Griff dares lift his gaze, he meets eyes with another daring soul, and both wince and look away from the other. It’s when Griff notices anything that the music bores into his skull.

The people slurp down the street, some this way, some that, trying to ignore the violins.

A hundred, like she said. They all play on their own, each a musical automaton, inerrant, indestructible, songs fed to them from the central hub. Different songs, too. Griff hears three tunes all at once as he passes in front of a store.

The notes, the rhythms, clash, and a localized earthquake grabs at Griff’s ankles, threatening to pull him into the sink hole that forms.

Griff escapes, barely. The storekeeper who comes out to summon a rare customer does not.

The matron told Griff where to go, who to see. He remembers that now.

Dexter Maltrose, board chairman of the Intraplanetary Council for Peace. He made the damn violins, convincing the ICP, and both sides in a tenuous cease fire, that the violins would encourage peace in No Man’s Land.

“No such luck, Dex,” Griff growls. A woman walking the other way widens her eyes, pulls a child closer. She can tell that Griff does not belong with the normals. That Griff does belong in No Man’s Land.

As Griff watches the woman, the violins creep in once again, disrupting thought. He can’t help himself; he stares up at one violin in defiance. Perched on a radio tower, its bow see-saws across strings, played by apparently invisible hands.

Griff could throw a rock at it. Or shoot it with a gun. Or drop a freight truck on top. Won’t matter. The damn shields, right now a faint shimmer around each violin, are the most stable thing in No Man’s Land.

The ground rumbles again and Griff stumbles. Dirt slips away and Griff jumps for it, jumps anywhere but here.

Not far enough.

The sinkhole forms and starts dragging him down. Griff gets his hands on the edge of a porch. The wood threatens to splinter, but holds tight enough as the world falls away beneath him.

He may not be strong enough, though. Griff’s grip slips.

A hand shoots down and grabs Griff’s. The burly man heaves back, pulling Griff against the splintering wood.

The porch cracks, the front board breaking to give way to Griff, but the bigger man pulls him up anyway.

As Griff sucks in breath, he stares at his savior’s arm. Tattooed. Every bit covered with ink. Something about that…

The man drag’s Griff to his feet. Stares at the middle of Griff’s forehead, at the small tattoo there.

“Thanks,” Griff says. The man, a foot taller than Griff, meets his eyes and nods.

Griff stares at the arm again. The tattoo must have been fully planned before starting it. Everything flows together, starts and stops just where it should.

“Beautiful ink,” Griff notes, and the man bows.

“It is balance,” the man explains.

Looking into the balance, Griff remembers what else the matron said.

“A poetic pattern retains inertia.”

Then she gave him the drive, hanging around his neck now.

“Central hub?”

The man points back, through the house, but Griff watches the backyard crumble. With a silent gesture, the big man heaves Griff into the roof of his house.

If Griff survives, if the big man survives, there will be time for thanks.

Now, Griff runs across rooftops. The central hub boasts the biggest radio tower, devoid of violins. Instead, it was a hundred similarly shielded antenna dishes.

The roof below Griff starts to buckle and he leaps to the next one, a story higher. While the bar behind disappears into the earth, Griff climbs a motel. It’s high enough for him to reach the bottom rung of the tower.

Climbing up the tower, Griff sees him. Dexter Maltrose, the one who brought them all to this. He stands at the top, arms flying, composing his destructive masterpiece.

“Stop,” Griff growls, shocking Dexter enough that the man almost drops off the platform. Griff climbs faster.

The violin inventor stares at the man climbing to reach him, sees the tattoo on his forehead. Decision time.

Dexter grabs a device out of the toolbox nearby, clips it onto the stabilizing cable. “You can’t stop it,” Dexter informs Griff. “This has all played out!”

With that, Dexter slips down the line, toward the disappearing ground. Griff watches long enough to see that the earth fails to swallow him, then plugs the disk into the console, like the matron said.

After a moment, the music changes.

All the violins play the same song, a soothing melody to calm the rough land.

It would stay still long enough for people to escape. That’s all Griff cared to do before. But now he knows he can stop it from happening again.

Grabbing another clip from the toolbox, Griff attaches to the cable. A dust storm swallows the town below, obscuring his quarry.

With a resolute grunt, Griff jumps off the tower.

The criminal disappears after the inventor.

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