The Iron Writer Challenge #4
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #4
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Fen wrinkled her nose in disgust. Her brother Darco had lied, giraffe meat was not tasty and coated her tongue with a bitter aftertaste each time she swallowed. This wasn’t the time to complain though, they’d had nothing but dried kumquats and nuts for days and the promise of meat, any kind of meat, had been welcomed by the people.
She looked around at the contented faces, wondering how they could continue to pretend that this cave, the only light a burning fire and nothing to sleep on but assorted leaves and twigs, could somehow be a new home. Fen, her brother, and the Arubi tribe, had been on the run for months trying to evade the men, who weren’t really men, that had come from the sky. They’d come with no warning or mercy, their aim to destroy everything.
When it had started, Fen had been in Africa with her family on safari. The clouds had been the first to change, slowly discarding their pristine white, for a darker, more ominous appearance. Their tour guide had assured them it was merely bad weather coming, but he’d been wrong. Just an hour later, the sky had seemingly opened up and from it, came these metal contraptions that none of them had ever seen.
Fen remembered her first foolish thought — silver, oversized microwaves, falling towards the ground at incredible speed. This thought had lasted mere half seconds and had given way to the screaming, blood and death that was all around her as they were hunted.
“The chief wants to see you,” Darco broke her reverie. She looked up at him, his dark eyes clouded with sadness, as they had been since losing their parents. Despite this, she liked looking at him; he’d always been the splitting image of their father. She nodded, standing and making her way further into the cave, to Chief Yudan’s quarters.
Fen bowed respectfully as she entered, a gesture that in the early days, she’d learnt was always expected. The chief, bedecked in bone jewellery that hung from his neck and wrists, motioned her to sit. His painted face told stories that Fen would never know and she stared, intrigued as always.
He pointed at a wooden bowl of more giraffe meat and Fen tried her best not to grimace. The tribe had taken her and Darco in when they didn’t have to, and had showed them great kindness since then. She had no intention of offending the Arubi’s leader over culinary dislikes. She made an action with her hands against her stomach, explaining without words, that she was already full. The chief nodded approvingly.
He pointed upwards now, then pulled his bone dagger from its sheath at his side. Fen jumped momentarily, but was calmed as he jabbed the air viciously with the weapon. Fen understood what he meant, but didn’t see how he was going to do it, unless of course there was an elevator to the sky.
Velvet Anderson hurried to arrange the little African carvings that dominated the breakfast table in the bright eat-in kitchen at the back of the suburban ranch she and her husband, Frank Anderson, had lived in for twenty-three years. The early morning sun cast long shadows from the palm plant and the grouping of three tall giraffe carvings Frank had purchased during a port call while he was in the Navy. She could hear the groan of the wood floor as he came down the hall.
“I hope you got my breakfast ready, dumbass,” he growled as he crossed the squeaky floor toward his seat at the table. The chair creaked when he sat. His eyes never left Velvet’s face until he looked down to his plate, already set and arranged.
“What the hell is this shit?” His eyes bulged.
“They’re kumquats, sweetheart. I think you’ll like ‘em.
“What kinda idiot are you? Kumquats? I’m not eatin’ this. I want bacon, you stupid cow! Now nuke me some in that there microwave before I shove that brainless head of yours into that ‘frigerator door! And close those damned blinds. Can’t you see that sun is blindin’ me? Do something right for change. Jesus H.”
Standing between the large palm and the grouping of giraffe carvings, her hands clasped in front of her apron, Velvet stared out the window for a moment to soak in the morning sunlight—it was bright, and seemed to clarify her thoughts. “CLOSE ‘EM,” she heard him bellow. In an instant, she made a decision that she thought could not be avoided any longer.
Velvet sat still on the ottomon in front of the living room fireplace, and cradled the phone receiver to her ear with both hands. One softly cupped the mouthpiece. As she counted the rings coming from the other end, she pressed her eyes closed and soaked in the warmth from growing fire.
Finally, a click, and a woman’s gravelly voice through the earpiece. “What the hell are you calling me at work for, Vel? I’m kinda busy here, ya know!” In the background, Velvet could hear the screeching of machinery. Her sister’s voice nearly blended with the noise coming through the phone.
“Dixie? Where are you?” Her eyes darted around the room.
“I’m in a got-damned freight elevator with about a hundert pieces’a Sears shit to unload. Now tell me whatcha want before I hang up.”
“I need your help, Dix. Can you come over? Now?”
“What? No. What the hell? I’m workin’, Vel. What’s so important?”
“You have to, Sis. You’re the only one. I can’t do this alone.”
“Velvet? What are you saying?”
“I need you, Dix. I killed him, and now I need you.”
The squeaks and growns of the freight elevator stopped, and her sister’s voice soon broke the resulting silence. “Well, okay. I’ll be right there. Just stay put.”
While she waited for her sister, Velvet stared motionlessly at the broken and bloody pieces of the middle-sized giraffe carving as they burned. The set looks better with two, anyway, she thought.
Beep, beep, beep. Sally, still half asleep, fumbled around to shut off her alarm. At last, quiet. She’d get up pretty soon. Beep, beep. She slapped her hand on the off button and sat on the edge of the bed.
“All right! I heard you. I’m up.”
She showered and dressed, changed clothes at least three times before deciding on pants and a sweater that were casual enough for her interview at the zoo, but not so casual as to give the impression that she didn’t care if she got the job or not. She put a frozen breakfast sandwich in the microwave, pushed start, and poured some orange juice. After she finished eating, she checked the papers she was supposed to take with her.
“Let’s see,” she said talking to herself, “I’ve got my resume and letters of reference.” She looked one more time to make sure. “I guess I’m ready.”
She locked the door of her apartment and got on the elevator. Once on the ground floor, she rushed outside and hailed a taxi. She arrived at the zoo in plenty of time. In fact, she was an hour early so she stopped at a fruit stand and bought a bag of kumquats. A sign said Giraffes – straight ahead. Good. She liked giraffes. Their big, brown eyes and long eyelashes made them look so understanding.
A man wearing a uniform that looked official was busy refilling a feed dispenser. She asked if it was all right to stand there.
“Sure, help yourself. I’ve got to get these refilled before all the school kids get here. They love to feed the giraffes. Well, you have a nice day.” He nodded and went on his way.
Sally reached in the bag, pulled out a kumquat, and ate it. One of the giraffes looked at her. He took a few steps forward, his eyes focused on her. She got another kumquat and ate that one. The giraffe took a few more steps. After the third time, he was bending over the fence and his face was practically in the bag. She put a kumquat in the palm of her hand and let him eat it. As soon as he tasted it he spit it out, turned around, and walked away from her.
“Well, so much for that.” She tossed the bag in the trash and walked to her job interview.
The next day, she went back to the zoo and stopped to see the giraffes. “I just wanted you to know that I got a job here so you’ll be seeing me a lot.”
She had kumquats with her but they were in a bag stuffed in her jacket. The same giraffe from the previous day approached her again. His long neck lowered until his eyes were even with hers. He sniffed and nuzzled her pocket. She laughed. “You don’t like these, remember?” She patted him and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Sal nodded at the pleasantly dumpy, middle-aged woman he passed in the corridor to the break room. She never met his eyes; people in these cubicle farms never did, which is what made it perfect for drop offs. A quick scan of the room told him all was clear so he headed straight for the microwave and opened the door.
Sal picked the microwave up and saw a note taped with duct tape to the bottom.
Elevator. 2pm. Giraffe. 50 pizzas. PERSONAL DELIVERY
He gave himself time for two read-throughs then took out his lighter and burned it. Fifty, he thought to himself. Boss must want this real bad. The all caps and underline were pretty redundant after that. He stopped at the door of the room. Which elevator? Here? He looked at his watch. Fifteen shy of two. He rode each of the elevators in the building once, and was going to wait in the first one when a wiry, twitchy and tall man with orange-brown hair entered it. As soon as the doors shut the man spoke.
“I like anchovies on my pizza.”
“And kumquats for dessert,” Sal answered, his shoulders relaxing a bit in relief.
The man nodded, took out a tiny orange from his pocket and waved it a bit before putting it back in. He shook his head in disgust as he stopped the elevator. “You know, not for nothing, but I wish the Boss would think of somethin’ else. Kumquats ain’t dessert, they’re fruit. More like a side dish, ya know? And you know how hard it is to find a kumquat in the Midwest?”
Sal raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“I’m Giraffe,” the man continued.
“Real name’s Bryce, but who’s gonna take a guy named Bryce seriously when he comes collecting? So I started calling myself the Giraffe.”
“They take Giraffe seriously?”
Giraffe shrugged. “I’m known for my second story jewel heists. Seemed fitting.”
“Everyone calls me Sally. They take me seriously.”
“Sure, and why not? Two seconds later they’re dead, ain’t they?”
“What’s your orders?” Sal asked. His eyelid was twitching in irritation from the babbling.
“I get you in the Zoo, you steal the animal, and we both deliver the head to the Boss.”
“Yeah, like in The Godfather.”
“Except the horsehead was a warning. Why would the Boss threaten himself?”
“You ask a lot of questions, Sally. I’m in too much Dutch with the Boss to say nothin’. He says pick your nose and stand on one foot, and I’m diggin’ for gold. Know wha’m sayin’? This is my last chance.”
Sal stared at him. In Dutch with the boss, huh? He thought. “What animal?”
“He didn’t say. Said he’d tell you which one.”
Sal stared ahead at the blinking warning light. “How’d you piss him off?”
“Slept wit’ his daughter.”
Sal grunted, slapped the stop elevator button and patted Giraffe on the shoulder as the doors opened.