Given the unexpected positive reception from my July piece for the WEP contest, I realized the “Long Shadows” theme would fit a follow-up piece of flash fiction. If you did not read my previous entry it can be found here. I continued to employ and explore the narrow line that separates man from monster in this sequel piece. Compounding on that principal, by challenging the necessity of violence when it comes to the greater good. While I had to shorten some aspects of the narrative to get within the 1,000 word limit, I feel that it still gives the reader some degree of closure. I humbly present, A Royal Request.
Five years have passed since my imposed exile began, following the vanquishing of the real monster that was terrorizing England’s streets. With reluctance, I come home, at the behest of a cryptic letter sent by her majesty. Trying to avoid any unwarranted attention, I walked upon familiar roads. The streetlights cast about elongated, distorted shadows of the few people I passed, who stood in the alley by the necessity to survive. Occasionally, I saw twisted, glistening phantoms of those who had fallen victim to the predator I became, to eliminate an even worse monster. I made a hastened decision to seek the shelter of a nearby tavern, somewhat annoyed that one of the queen’s many emissaries had yet to greet me.
Navigating my way through the crowd of mumbling drunks, and tired workers, seeking a once familiar balcony. I became somewhat dumbstruck when I discovered a stranger resided in my preferred seat. It would be a trivial task to eliminate this unknown personage, but it would likely summon about unwanted attention.
Taking the seat to the stranger’s left, I remarked, “I fear you have procured my chair, stranger. A most unwise decision that I would suggest you alter in haste for even my gentlemanly demeanor has limits.”
This unnamed person commented, “Then I would suggest you keep your blades under control. For killing me would be an erroneous decision,” his voice possessed an air of familiarity to its tone. “After all, you would not be amongst the living if not for my actions.”
I inquired, “Cheif Constable Redding?”
The man responded, “I did carry that particular title years ago, but how the times have changed since those bygone days. About six months ago, a monstrously brutal slaughter shattered the calm that controlled the streets. Twenty-four people had their lives torn asunder that night in a manner that defies any rational explanation. There have been almost a hundred additional horrific deaths since that particular evening. The queen is extending to you a unique opportunity to serve your native land. If you can help eliminate the source of these gruesome deaths, you will be allowed to return home permanently fully pardoned.”
I remarked, “That does explain the cryptic text of her majesty’s letter. Fear is a potent motivator for everyone, regardless of class or birth. However, the quantities of victims hint at a good-sized nest lurking underneath England’s roads. In the process of revitalizing England into a modern country, someone could have accidentally broken the slumber of these unknown monsters. If I could get access to the cadavers, and examine them privately, determining the culprit is possible.”
Constable Redding commented, “That shouldn’t be a problem, since you will have access to any resources necessary to exterminate the source of these deaths. Your examination of the corpses should be performed with haste, for the shadows of the evening are growing short,” standing up from his chair and walking away. My choice forcibly made to follow the lawman’s lead.
After examining multiple cadavers, and the accompanying information the police had previously gathered, I was reluctant to disclose what may responsible for the heinous acts. If my educated guess was accurate, my actions only dealt with one of the abominations that awakened prematurely five years ago. Which meant I now felt a metaphorical hangman’s noose of guilt coiled upon my neck. The truth of my failure must remain hidden from the world, for I have become wary of traveling the globe.
It took six weeks of precisely made underground explosions to eliminate the smaller nests that resided in the outlying areas of England. A tactical decision that forced any surviving monsters to flee to the large hive underneath the streets of Whitechapel. There rest an inherent cost for those acts, but the consensus was that the greater good outweighed the few lost. Despite the increased quantity of monsters in the localized area, men of the empire had ensured that retreat for the creatures was an impossibility.
With only a singular point of access remaining, we descended into the bowels of Whitechapel. The shadows were protruding from the multiple lanterns we carried, twisting our shadows into menacing inhuman shapes. Yet, it seemed the divines smiled upon us, allowing each member of this party to maintain their composure. Each one of us tense, but filled with a faithful certainty that our actions tonight were necessary.
It didn’t take long for us to find the massive underground nest. Somehow the creatures had excavated a cavernous area underneath the city without attracting notice from the people above. The terrifying creatures were circling their encampment, protecting something beyond the lantern’s flame. Based on the remains discovered in the vacant nest, I inferred the abominations were likely protecting the unusual eggs they bore to reproduce. The natural, vile, aroma of the sewers masking our presence. If we could remain hidden, this plan may merit success. Spreading out, in teams of four, we began to deposit explosives on the ground above the hive. Trying to maintain our collective anonymity unless our shadowed-hand was detected, to ensure we departed the tunnels with our lives intact.
Our good luck remained strong until we recollected as a group. With the explosives in place, the retreat could begin. All of us aware that we had fifteen minutes to depart the tunnels before the timers reached zero. , Unleashing a torrent of stone, metal, and fire upon the unknown lethal predator that posed a considerable danger to the citizenry of England.
The underground explosion forced the streets to tremble underfoot, releasing billowing smoke erupted from every nearby tunnel cover. With firearms at the ready, we watched the sewer entrances waiting to eliminate any fleeing stranglers.
Following several ridiculously prolonged moments of uneasy tense silence, I began to suspect the plan merited success. The bomb was successful in decimating the creatures and their eggs, meaning I could finally return home unburdened by the weight of my past.
Word Count: 992 Critique level: Full