Flash Fiction: Phoenix Down

Flash fiction challenge: “Rise of the Phoenix:” Theme a story toward ‘phoenix.’

Celebrating my one-year of writing achievement with a story I loved writing.

Here goes…

—–

The two guards peered into Nix’s cell. Nix could not move to react to them, could not change his slumped posture except for his eyes.

“He ain’t looking good,” said the one on the right, a blocky man with a bulbous nose.

“You’re one to talk,” replied the rotund woman on the left.

Nix crossed his eyes to try and keep both of them in sight.

“Well, thanks for that,” the man — Johns was his name, Nix recalled. “We should get ready.”

“It’s not going to happen now, issit?”

“Get ready, Lena,” said Johns.

“Water,” Nix gasped. Yes, he recalled that he needed water. Survival instinct clicked back into place after a long sabbatical.

“Oy,” said Lena, slapping Johns on the back to get his attention. “It talks.”

“What’s that?” Johns turned around and settled the half dozen or so buckets he had collected onto the stone floor.

“It says it wants water,” Lena supplies. Nix summoned the energy to bob his head in a nod.

Johns leaned up against the bars. “Look, friend,” he said, though he said ‘friend’ in a way that left no room for doubt that he loathed Nix. “You may think you want water, but you don’t.”

Nix curled his upper lip to show teeth, rotten and cracked. Only it Johns were a fool would the guard take that gesture as a smile. Summoning nervous and desperate energy, Nix sat forward on his stone cot. “Please.”

“Why can’t we give it some water?” Lena asked.

“Oh, you can, if you care to be so cruel,” Johns replied. “But you’re new here, so you don’t know. This fella here, he wants to die.” Johns gathered several buckets, of various shapes and sizes, then stacked them together. “Help me with this.”

Nix listened as the pair of guards stepped down the hall from his solitary cell. The stone walls carried echoes of their voices, mixed with the creaking of the rusty old pump mechanism and the sloshing of water.

“I thought you said we weren’t giving it water,” Lena complained.

“Keep pumping,” Johns ordered. “We’re no. Not yet.”

“What did it do?” The awe in Lena’s voice mixed equally reverence and repulsion. “How long has it been here?”

“Water,” Nix added to the conversation, but the other two ignored him.

“Damn long time, lass,” said Johns. “Nix there killed a lot of people, then killed the wrong one. It’s a long story, from before you or I stomped onto this world.”

Lena hustled two buckets full of water to the front of the cell. Nix’s eyes tracked her motion. “Why’d you do it?” she asked, talking to Nix for the first time he recalled.

Nix opened and shut his mouth, waggling his dry tongue at her. Lena glanced down the hall, then shrugged and scooped a small amount of water into a ladle.

Pushing himself up against the bare, Nix positioned himself so Lena could give him some water.

It had been so long.

The water soothed Nix’s dry recesses, but then made them hurt all the more as it left.

As Nix coughed, Lena asked again. “Whys you kill all those people?”

Nix thought about it. It seemed to him that there had been instructions. Someone had told him to do it?

Finally, he shrugged and said, “I don’t remember.”

Lena splashed the water into Nix’s eyes. He hissed as the water seemed to boil off of his face. “Not giving him water might be a favor to us, too,” Lena spat.

Nix coughed again.

“Well, maybe you should listen,” Johns suggested as he brought more buckets over to the cell, sliding them along the stone with his feet. “It’s about time now.”

Nix continued to cough.

“What do we do?” Lena asked.

“Help me here,” Johns said.

The coughing brought blood up now.

Johns and Lena passed a large roll of fabric up against the cell and unrolled it, thick material covering the bars.

Nix heard Johns explaining on the other side, the voice muffled. “Asbestos blocks the worst of it. We’ve lost fair enough careless guards to it, but they figured this part out a while ago.”

As Nix heaved for breath, something blocked his airway.

He choked, trying to get his breath, trying to survive a few more seconds till help could arrive.

Trying to live.

As his vision faded, Nix felt at peace. He could not remember what got him here, or how long he had been imprisoned, but at least it was over.

Finally… over.

A light flared in the darkness of Nix’s mind, then in his vision.

The flames, from deep within his very soul, sparked, sensing the absence of vitality. They flared with rage and reached out to kindle his essence once again.

An explosion of flames licked out from Nix, bathing the cell in a cleansing fire that tore away all the pain he felt, restored his sight and his mind.

Nix heard a voice, soft in the background. “Just hold on!”

Hold on? It would do them no good to resist him. Nix was as powerful as he had ever been.

He opened his eyes and looked down at his muscular, firm body with hands still aflame, touched his smooth face, and ran a tongue over perfect teeth.

Yes, they would know the truth soon enough.

The asbestos sheet came away from the bars and Nix turned to face the two guards.

Johns and Lena promptly tossed bucketful after bucketful of water onto Nix and the few flammable items in his cell, snuffing them out in no time.

Drenched, Nix stood stock still, recalling his imprisonment, recalling he still could not escape.

Shaking, he set his young body down onto the cot and, slumping, rested his head on his hands.

“Good news, boyo,” Johns called. “You crosses the halfway mark. Only a hundred sixty-two life sentences remaining.”

Lena and Johns left, chatting as they went.

The tears steamed off of Nix’s face.

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