52 in 52 : Story #2 – Night Lights (Whistling in the Dark’verse)

‘Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.’ – Ray Bradbury

I’ve joined the madness over on the NaNoWriMo thread and going to try and write 52 short stories (or Flash Fiction) in 2017. I’m aiming for flash fiction of roughly five thousand words or less and I want to use this as a way to learn how to outline via MuseFic.

This post contains the Outline (MuseFic), Rough Draft, Editing (MuseFic), but no Final Draft.

If you want to read them as a daily post, check out the story on Wattpad! 🙂

Title: Night Lights
Universe: Whistling in the Dark’verse (Urban Dark Fantasy/Horror)
Final wordcount: 3,321

Outline

“For less than a week’s worth of work, that’s pretty good.” The Writer sat back and looked over the draft with a grin. “I think I might be able to pull off this 52 in 52 thing after all!” The nebulous story fog had retreated quite a bit and the area around the writing desk was slowly transforming into a copy of her living room.

“It still needs a lot of work,” the Muse pointed out. She’d retreated to her comfy chair and was engrossed in the middle of one of the thousands of werewolf stories that roamed Wattpad. “This site is almost as addictive as AO3… don’t suppose we can do one of the werewolf ‘verses next?”

The Writer ignored her. “Falling‘s solid though, it’s just going to be tweaking to include more background or clarify things that make sense in my head and not in the readers. Hopefully.” The Writer checked her Scribophile points stockpile. “Just need to write one more review and I can throw this thing into the review grinder to get some feedback.”

“And then start on the next one.”

“Yeah, about that…” The Writer had an evil grin that the Muse really didn’t like the look of.

“I’m not getting my werewolf story, am I.” She said with a sigh.

“So Chuck Wendig put up a new challenge over on terribleminds for an an ‘unusual apocalypse’ flash fiction–”

“No,” interrupted the Muse. “No, no, no, no.” She glared at her Writer. “I want to write a happy story, dammitall.”

“You can have a happy apocalypse!”

The was a pause.

And then another pause.

The Writer rolled her eyes. “I don’t see why you’re fighting this so hard, wouldn’t you like a challenge? Come on, we can use the Whistling in the Dark‘verse, it’ll be fun!”

“Fighting demons with flashlights is not fun.”

“Then you’re doing it wrong!” The Writer grinned. “Come on, remember the pack of demon hunters that Kat passed on her way out of the MegaTech building in When Good is Dumb?  We could totally write something happy about them. Or look, we have Imaginary Gate Team 5 showing up over in Chew Toys, and they are the epitome of finding a silver lining.”

The Muse wavered.

“We could have IGT5 find the other team and give them pointers! Come on, you know you wanna…” The Writer did her best attempt at puppy dog eyes.

“Ach, fine, fine.” The Muse sighed, won over by her favorite not-really-a-background-character fictives. “Although I still say you’re just encouraging them every time you use them outside of the Stargate Fanfics.”

“Not my fault they just show up,” the Writer shrugged. “Now we need a plot.”

“A happy plot.”

“So we have a group of plucky young-twenties demon hunters out prior to the start of the thousand years of darkness.” The Writer grabbed a new piece of paper and started doodling. “We’ll have… three of them, and they’re friends who always thought the zombie apocalypse sounded like a fun idea. Now that it’s sort of happening they are still thinking it’s fun, even though they know it’s serious.”

“So they’re clowning around a bit?” Said the Muse. “That’s a good way to get hurt.”

“Exactly!” The Writer doodles in a pack of shadow hounds lining up against the hunters. “So they get in over their heads, folks get hurt, and then IGT5 shows up and rescues them.”

“How is kids getting hurt a happy story?

“…Because everyone lives?”

The Muse gave her Writer a very long look. Of long-ness. And look-ing.

The Writer finally caved. “Look, just play along this time and I’ll give you a happy werewolf story for #3. You can even pick on of the universes where the wolves aren’t all angsty. Mostly.”

“Deal.” The Muse snapped up the offer, already formulating ideas. “But for now… So this story’s another one all in one scene?”

“Eh, I think so?” The Writer looked down at her doodling. “We have them going into a place where the demon are, all joking and laughing. Then they start the fight, something goes wrong with the plan, or their lack of plan, and then they get rescued. They don’t need to move for any of that to happen.”

“If they’re hunting demons they need to go someplace where it’s only partially in the shadows, not dark.” The Muse pointed out. “So they can control the open ground easier– but that just means their misstep should be that that wherever they are gets plunged into total darkness. Then have IGT5 either bring back the light or just come in with enough light to balance the fight.”

“We’ve already done a fight in a parking garage, so maybe some sort of abandoned house or warehouse?” The Writer frowned. “Wait, let’s back up and figure out what takes out the lights. That’ll narrow down where the are.”

“Things that take out lights: Power outages, collapsing somethings, equipment malfunctions, nightfall, something covering the windows, um…” The Muse counted down her fingers till she ran out of ideas. “It’s perpetually overcast at this point in the story, right? So maybe just a really bad thunderstorm rolling in?”

“The demons are pack hunters, but they aren’t intelligent, so it’s not like they could plan a complicated trap.” The Writer said. “And if they lived in an area where sudden thunderstorms were a thing, they would have planned for it. They might be young, but they’re not stupid, just careless.”

“So they are roughly as smart as dogs, right? They could play the whole ‘I’m hurt chase me’ game, or they could grab one of the kids and drag them away so the others followed.” The Muse eyed the various sketched locations. “Look, if we set it up as an alley hunt, then the dogs could drag or lead them into an empty retail building. There has to be a bunch of abandoned businesses at this point. I don’t see anyone playing indoor LazerTag or trying to watch movies with the lights on when the world’s about to end.”

“We also need a reason for them to be going there,” the Writer said. “Even if they are just having fun demon hunting, they have to be going for more than a lark– otherwise why would IGT5 be around to save them?”

“Maybe they heard a cry for help? Or just happened to stumble across a nest while they were walking home– one that ITG5 was going to clear out? So they were prepared for a few demons, but ended up with a full pack?” The Muse frowned. “Did you ever figure out the rules for the demons beyond ‘light hurts them’ and ‘they are just animals that can be killed’?”

“No, but maybe they’ve invented something new they want to test out,” the Writer eyed her band of trepid adventurers. “We know anything stronger than dim light will hurt them, so maybe they have some sort of flashbang?” She doodled out a proton pack. “Something that charges up and then releases all the energy at once, so you’ll have the ‘waiting to recharge’ cliche to play with.”

“At this point, we’re running two days behind.” The Muse said, “So let’s just roll with it and see where we get.”

The Writer blinked and checked the calendar. “We are behind! I was ahead there for a day or so… darnit.”

“Right, so swapping to rough draft in 3… 2… 1…”

*POOF!*

 

Rough Draft

“This is a horrible idea.” Rachel checked her battery pack for the fifth time since they’d left the van. It was still at 100% but she gave the hand crank another turn. Just in case. She was pretty sure this wasn’t what her mom had meant when she told Rachel an engineering degree would take her places she couldn’t imagine, but she was starting to wonder.

“This is a brilliant idea!” Objected Jules as he awkwardly dragged the newest version of his invention towards the abandoned movie theatre’s entrance. They weren’t in danger (yet) and he was positive this time the machine was going to work. Plus it was high noon, so even with the with the perpetual storm clouds overhead there was enough light to keep the demons at bay. If things went wrong they’d just come back outside, piece of cake.

“Can we just agree on brilliantly horrible?” Diego helped Jules get it up the last set of steps and they paused to rest outside the smashed glass doors. Diego wasn’t sure what to make of the new invention, but they only have a few months before the Thousand Years of Darkness fell for real and they needed as much R&D as they could get. Failing now was much better than failing later.

The movie theatre had been one of the first businesses to close when Evil won the contest for an eon’s control of the world. With the barrier between the worlds thinning and demons able to sneak in through the shadows… Summer blockbusters didn’t stand a chance.

Thankfully the demons were roughly dog-sized and dog-shaped and dog-brained, so things weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been. Much like vampires, demons were damaged by bright lights, although it didn’t have to be sunlight, and physical weapons worked, just not as effectively. Team Evil had been very clear that Humanity wasn’t meant to be eradicated in the darkness, just humbled.

Which meant they had a fighting chance.

Rachel, Jules, and Diego had been friends since fourth grade and if there was one thing they’d grown up ready for, it was a zombie apocalypse. Sadly this wasn’t one, but a lot of that of childhood planning could still be put to good use and they were making the best of the situation.

Which is why they were out in the middle of a vast empty parking lot staring into the dark lobby of a movie theater where they used to spend most of their weekends.

“I’m not seeing any movement,” Jules squinted into the darkness, disappointed. “Do you want me to drop a lure?” The new weapon was meant for multiple targets and while they could still test it on singletons, he’d been hoping they’d find a small pack here. Three to five demons would be perfect. His hand hovered over the release on the lure.

“They’re probably in there, just use the lure on the flashbang,” Rachel already had her flashlight sword in hand, but the high-power light that ran down both sides of the short sword were off and she was double-checking her LED harness.

“It’s the ‘Mark 3’, not the ‘flashbang’.” Jules objected, the lure on it had a much small smaller draw radius and they were just guessing that the building had any demons in it at all. He was starting to wish they’d tried this over by the old bridge, the terrain was much worse, but they’d never had troubles finding demons there.

“If we use a louder one we might over-pull. This is just a test, remember?” Rachel finished the harness check and had moved on to her shield. Everything was connected to the backpack batteries with emergency disconnect cables so it wouldn’t break free in case the demons managed to grab hold.

“Yeah, save it for round two.” Diego grinned and Jules gave in with a sigh.

“Alright, light up.” Rachel flicked on her own LED harness and waited impatiently for the others to follow suit so she could double-check their lights. “Now we go in just long enough to get this rolling, that’s it. Go it?”

Diego and Jules nodded, with only a small eyeroll and they each picked up a side of the invention. Once they got it clear of the mess at the doors, the thing could (in theory) drive itself into position. It just wasn’t any good if it didn’t have a flat surface– which Diego was already working on fixing for the Mark 4.

There was something that might be movement at the edges of the lobby now, where the shadows were darkest. It was always hard to tell when the demons were there and when your eyes were just playing tricks on you. When in doubt, they always assumed ‘demons’.

Rachel flicked on her flashlight sword, picked up LED shield and thumbed it to ‘medium-low’ and led the way inside.

The trio moved slowly, the shattered safety glass and tangled ropes from the line dividers made for a hazardous shuffle. Diego was trying very hard to focus on where his feet were going and not the movement in the shadows. His hands were full with the Mark 3 and he had to trust in the LEDs and Rachel to keep the demons away.

Jules was busy rebuilding Mark 4’s all-terrain treads in his head as he deftly sidestepped the debris. He was still a little frustrated that his initial flying drone idea had failed, but if he just tweaked the build slightly he was sure the next version could handle this on its own. The only issue he really had was the capacitors took a long while to charge, but since the demons seemed disinclined to attack things that tasted like mint the machine itself should be fine during the downtime.

The trio got past the glass, put down the Mark 3 and retreated to the safety of just inside the doorway. With the light at their backs they only had to worry about attacks from the front and backing up a few feet would take them out of trouble. If Jules had built the thing with a longer control cord they could have been all the way outside, but there was more debris in the lobby than expected.

“Just a few minutes,” Jules fiddled with the controls, eyeing the tiny output display as the machine moved into position and then started the slow build to full discharge capacity. “I’ll start the lure up once we’re at peak.”

“I don’t know if you need to,” said Rachel as the shadows started to converge on the device. The demons were smart enough to figure out the electromagnetic signals weren’t coming from anything living, but they were always curious. The lure was made to echo specific recording of cattle under stress, but with the way the lobby was growing darker by the second they might already have more than they could handle.

“How many things can this take out again?” Diego was significantly more concerned than Jules with the number of shadows within shadows that were roaming the lobby. He wanted to have faith in the Mark 3, but technology was… technology. There was a reason he was a programmer and not an engineer. Code was much less likely to kill you when it went wrong.

“Mmm, enough?” Jules looked up from the display and blinked. “Oh, wow.” He could hardly see the Mark 3 now as the demons began to circle the device. The mint concentrate was thankfully still working and the shadowy dogs were doing little more than an occasional sniff and sneeze. “Maybe not that many.”

“Do we have a Plan B?” Diego gave his backpack battery another hand crank and upped the brightness of his own sword.

“We always have a Plan B,” Rachel said drly. “Which is right behind us, remember? We can always leave it and come back once they get bored.”

“I want to test it first!” Jules had moved as far back as he could while still keeping the cord on the ground so the demons wouldn’t trip over it. “Just give me a few more minutes, it’s almost there.”

“Why does everything we do always sound like a bad idea?” Diego sighed, but settled in to wait.

“Someone has to save the world, may as well be us.” Rachel grinned and swung her sword towards one of the demons as it pulled away from the machine to give them a look. “Stay over there dogbreath.”

The demon flinched as the flashlight’s beam rolled over it but they were too far away to really harm the dog. It yowled in annoyance, sounding like someone had run a metal cheesegrater over rebar. A few of the other demons looked over, but they’d fed recently so the machine was much more interesting than the demon hunters.

A few minutes later the controller chimed a happy ‘ready to go’ and everything  lit up green.

“Right, so looking away would be good.” Jules put on his protective visor and Rachel and Diego turned around so they were facing at angles out into the parking lot, turned just far enough that the directional flash from the Mark 3 wouldn’t blind them. They two thumbed their shields to full brightness and held them out to the side to help protect Jules from flank attacks that he wouldn’t be able to see through the visor.

“Here goes nothing!” Jules hit the button with a grin and let out a happy whoop when the Mark 3 performed as expected, releasing a sudden sharp blast of light in a cone in front of the machine, followed by a round of buckshot. The intense light seared the demons allowing the buckshot to impact instead of bouncing off as it would normally do.

The cloud of shadow demons shattered as the individuals fled with the sound of a wrecker clawing its way through a scrapyard. A few dogs thrashed around the machine, too injured to escape.

“I knew it would work! I knew–” Jules’s celebration was cut short as one of the wounded dogs wrapped itself into the control cord and panicked— bolting into the darkness and yanking Jules into the lobby. It took him only a second to let go of the controller, but by then he’d been dragged halfway to the Mark 3. He’d lost his visor and the battery backpack gave an unhappy beep, but the LED harness stayed just bright enough to keep the demons at bay.

At least for now.

“Shit, shit, shit.” Rachel had already cranked her lights to max and was headed into the lobby only a heartbeat after Jules, but the wounded demons that remained were focused on flight and not fight. If she could just reach him, they should be able to make it back out before his battery pack gave out.

Diego stayed where he was, frozen in place, until Rachel yelled for backup as she reached Jules.

But by that point the demons who had fled earlier had returned, swarming into the lobby and cutting the pair off from the doors. They were still swinging wide around the glow of the shields but as Jules’s harness dimmed they pulled in closer.

Rachel cursed and did her best to put herself and her light between Jules and the demons. The Mark 3 was on its side and useless now, even if they had been able to reach it they’d have no way to tap into it’s batteries. If she split power with him, it would drastically cut their remaining time, but she couldn’t think of another way.

“Plug into the secondary,” she didn’t take her eyes off the demons, but she shifted slightly so he could get ahold of the coiled line. It only took a few seconds for him to fumble out of the connection to his own backpack and into her hers, but the demons were waiting and one managed to snag his boot in the second the lights were out.

As soon as the lights came back on the demon let go with a rattling hiss, spitting out foam as it reacted to the mint oil that coated the leather. But the damage was already done and Jules wasn’t going to be walking, much less running out of there on his own.

“Okay, we can do this.” Rachel fended off the demons as they tried to figure out how to get Jules back on his feet– foot, without pulling her down. “Diego, can you get the car over here? Maybe the headlights will work?”

“No,” Jules shook his head, carefully shifting into a crouch. “He’d have to drive it into the lobby for it to be bright enough.”

“I can rewire the spotlight,” Diego offered. He’d made a few pushes into the lobby, but the whirling mass of demons kept maneuvering him back. “It’ll burn out the battery, but if we can get outside we can call for a jump.”

No one else could think of a better idea, so Diego reluctantly turned to leave– only to come face to face with another group of demon hunters.

Much older, much better armed, demon hunters.

“Hey kids, need a hand?” A tiny chirpy blonde woman hefted something that looked suspiciously like a minigun and had to be at least twice as heavy as she was. “Cavalry’s here!” WIth a grin she unloaded in the direction of Rachel and Jules, who ducked and cursed, but the gun shot pulses of light instead of bullets.

Diego just stared.

“Technically that was my gun, so don’t feel bad.” groused the larger of the men and patted Diego on the shoulder as he watched her mow a path through the demons. “She does this to everyone.”

Once the path started to clear the two smaller men started to wade in with their own set of light swords. The blue-tinted swords looked similar to theirs, but Rachel was pretty sure this group had mounted actual lasers, the way the demons bolted away from them. That or the demons had given up in the face of the rather effective trash-talking the new team was doing.

“I am never giving this back!” The blonde woman shouted as she use the minigun as a demon leaf blower. “Back to Hell you demon scum!”

“Technically they aren’t actually demons and it’s Matt’s gun,” one of her sidekicks pointed out mildly.

“Come on McCravey, let the nice crazy lady have her toys.” The other one said, as he broke through the last of the demons and moved over to Jules. “My name’s Ant and I’m a field medic, but I’d rather be a parking lot medic– you okay if we move you?”

Jules nodded. Rachel was trying to figure out what to say other than ‘I want a minigun too!’ or ‘Who the hell are you people?’ and blinked as he handed over his sword.

“Here, mines a little… stronger. You can keep them off our flanks while we move back?”

Rachel nodded, clipping her own sword onto her backpack and taking his. They carefully unplugged Jules from the secondary cable and for a moment she panicked when he went dark. But between the new teams firepower and their own harness lights, the demons weren’t coming anywhere close.

The foursome carefully moved back out of the lobby and then several lengths into the parking lot before they started to power down and Ant broke out the first aid kit.

As they were doing that a panel van pulled up alongside them and an older woman hopped out. “So is there a nest?”

“Oh hells yes,” the blonde woman said, in the process of reluctantly giving Matt back his gun. “We’ve got at least fifty–“

“Fifty?” Interrupted Rachel, “We thought there’d be a dozen, maybe.” She trailed off as she realized just how close to dying they’d actually come.

“What are you using for scanners?” McCravey asked soothingly, “Maybe you just didn’t set the fields–“

“We don’t have scanners,” said Diego. “There was nothing out here for them to eat, why would there be so many?” He was staring down at his foot as Ant deftly bandaged him.”

There was a long pause.

“You’re all idiots.” Said Matt fondly. “But you’re our kind of idiots, so don’t feel so bad.”

“It was a nice flash-bang,” added McCravey as he started swapping out batteries on their gear so his team could go back in and finish the hunt.

“The Mark 3,” objected Jules weakly. “But it’s gone now.”

“And we’ll bring it back out with us,” the blonde said firmly.

Amy,” said the older woman, but the blonde ignored her. She sighed. “Alright, but don’t risk yourselves over it.”

“Come on Trish, when have we ever resisted doing something stupid in the name of science?” Ant grinned as finished up Jules’s foot. “You’ll need to get to an actual hospital once we’ve got your ‘bot, but that will keep for a few hours. Once the local wears off it’s gonna hurt like hell though. Try not to get chomped next time you test it maybe?”

Jules winced, “The Mark 4 is driving itself.”

“Attaboy,” Matt patted Jules’s shoulder as he got ready to head back in. “Alright guys, this time for real.” He hefted the minigun. “Gimme some intel McGeek.”

McCravey rolled his eyes, but brought up the scanner and started giving them the layout of the nest.

Left to the sidelines, Rachel, Jules and Diego just sat back and watched as the foursome headed back inside.

“So you really went in there without scanners?” Trish asked.

“I didn’t know you could scan for them,” Jules admitted. “We’re mostly doing weapons research, other than the lures.”

“You’ve got a lure?” Trish looked impressed.

“We scared some cows,” Rachel offered, trying not to worry about the group that had just gone inside.

“Hey, don’t worry.” Trish said, “They’ll be fine. We know what we’re doing.”

“But how.” Objected Diego. “How did you come up with that scanner, or figure out blue lights works better, or know that these things even have nests? It’s only been a few weeks, how–“

Trish just looked at him calmly and he stumbled to a stop.

“You aren’t stupid or you wouldn’t be in there testing weapons, no matter what Matt says. So think about it for a minute and you’ll figure it out.” She leaned back against the side of the van and waited.

“Because someone told you.” He finally finished and Trish grinned.

“But the only people who know how demons work would be Team Evil?” Rachel frowned. “Right?”

“Right. At least until about three weeks ago when they released their data. We’ve done a lot since then,” she nodded at the building. “This is really just a practice run, we haven’t tried purging a nest that was build on our side of the veil before.”

There was a semi-comfortable pause.

“Can we get a copy?” Jules asked.

Trish sighed. “It’s a horrible idea, but I don’t think there’s any hope of stopping McCravey from giving it to you, so that’s a safe bet. Just let us know next time you want to test something.”

“In a heartbeat,” Rachel agreed. She could already see the gears turning in Jules’s head as he started to think up even wilder weaponry.

They waited for the others to return and eventually they did, the Mark 3 (or what was left of it) in tow. Apparently the data had been good and they had been able to confirm that the nest material remained when exposed to bright light, unlike nests that were build on the other side that vanished with the shadows.

After exchanging contact information and demon data the two groups parted ways.

And that is the story of the time not-Imaginary Gate Team 5 met the random bystanders from When Good is Dumb.

The End

 

Editing (or not)

“You can’t end a story like that!” The Muse glared at the last two lines of the rough draft.

“No, but I can end a really horrible rough draft like that.” The Writer leaned back in her chair with a groan. “This was supposed to be done last week.” She complained. “I hate this story with all the hatreds I have in me for stories.”

There was a pause.

“So we’re not editing this one?” The Muse finally asked when the Writer still hadn’t moved.

“Later. Maybe.” The Writer scooped all of the story notes off her writing desk and shoved them into a hanging file folder in one of the drawers. Which were apparently much larger on the inside. “I need a lot of distance from this one if I’m ever going to make it work. There’s just not enough story there– you know?”

The Muse shrugged. “Fair enough, they can’t all be winners.”

“I’m not saying I completely give up…” The Writer hedged.

“Well if we don’t come back to it before 2017 ends, then I’m giving up for you.” The Muse made a note in her calendar. “At least we’re not too far into the timeline for the next story. We’ve got four days to pull this off… so Happy Werewolves go!”

The Writer sighed and pulled out a fresh sheet of paper.

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

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