Some Flash Fiction: In Response to a Pick a Setting, Write a Story Challenge

Finally doing another terribleminds.com flash fiction challenge. This one required us to use one of a selection of settings again. I won’t tell you which I chose until the end. I’m calling this one:

Tick Tock

Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

The clicks and clacks echoed through the all too familiar pass and it sounded to Captain Davis like they still had the full regiment with them, instead of less than half. The sound would bolster his spirit in any place but this.

As the soldiers picked their way along the rough path Captain Davis wrestled with Colonel Coleman’s confidence like a hound would a piece of rawhide. How could the man seem so sure of himself? They were retreating at best and routed at worst. And this pass! Davis had done everything he could to turn the Colonel away from it, yet it was Davis’ own successful retreat through the pass three months ago that drove the Colonel to it. The irony chaffed at Davis and he couldn’t stop picking the scab it left.

Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

“Colonel, I want to suggest a final time, before we get too far into the pass…”

“Captain Davis. Your baffling objections have already been noted,” the Colonel said. “This pass presents our best chance of escaping the Reds. You yourself fled this way and if I recall I pinned a medal on you for your tactics in that engagement.”

“Yes sir, but I did lose that battle.”

“You were outnumbered 3 to 1 and still managed to save the life of every man in your company. If I can save every man I have left, I’ll consider myself blessed to be your commanding officer.”

“All the men were saved, sir, but I lost every tick-tock. They were men too, once.”

“Criminals most of them. Or sick. Or volunteers. Is that what’s got you so edgy? Your tick-tocks did their duty. They died to protect the men of your company. As ours will die to protect the regiment, if need be. They are machines Davis, damned useful ones, but just machines.”

Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

“Yes sir.”

The soldiers, men and tick-tocks alike, shambled on and Captain Davis knew they had long since passed the point where turning back was an option. An hour on in the journey through the pass the clockwork soldiers began to wind down, and the men grew weary.

“Colonel, if we do get set upon by the Reds when we’re exhausted we’ll have no chance, even if we use the location to it’s fullest advantage,” Captain Davis said.

“Indeed Captain,” said the Colonel. “We’ll stop here. Have a maintenance check run on the tick-tocks and arrange an advanced guard and rest rotation for the men while the tick-tocks are off-line.”

Tick. Tock. Tick Tock.

Captain Davis set the Colonel’s orders in motion and met many a grateful smile from the men when he told them they’d get a break. The engineering core was somewhat less enthusiastic knowing they had a full company of tick-tocks to inspect before they got any kip time, but it was better than marching in the rugged pass. Davis stayed with the engineers and watched the men of gears and wheels, that always struck him as both beautiful and horrifying, wind down.

Tick.

Tock.

Tick Tock.

As each machine man slowed down the sound of their precision clockwork became weaker and weaker. Few things put the soldiers on edge quite like the silence left behind when there were no more working tick-tocks around. The sound of clockwork bolstered a company’s soul. When it was gone fear and panic could easily fill the empty space left behind. Captain Davis braced himself for that lack of sound that was about to descend upon them as the last bit of clockwork stopped.

Tick… Tock…

He saluted the chief engineer and was going to start checking on the men when he heard it.

Tick Tock.

The echo went on. Not a gear moved or a joint creaked in the entire company of clockwork soldiers arrayed in perfect formation before him, but the echo went on.

Tick Tock.

“Chief, are there any tick-tocks still among the men?” Captain Davis asked.

Tick Tock.

“No sir. All accounted for. Either destroyed in battle or here in formation,” the chief said.

Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

The two officers looked at each other. Neither had to ask the question. It was in the other’s eyes. If that’s not an echo…

Tick.

Fifty translucent clockwork soldiers appeared from all around the resting men, and well inside the advance guard lines.

Tock.

Their gears didn’t move, their beautiful, horrifying metal bodies were bent, broken, marred, and maimed, but still they came.

Tick Tock.

And as they moved in to defend the pass against any who might try to cross, their reassuring cadence came with them, and merged perfectly, as usual, with their enemies’ screams.

Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

Tick Tock.

***

There you go. The setting I chose was: “haunted mountain pass”. If you’ve made it to the end I would love to hear your honest thoughts or feelings about the story. Good or Bad, it’s all ok with me. Also, perhaps you’d be interested in checking out some of my other (mostly flash) fiction? You can find the master list of what’s available on this site here.

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4 thoughts on “Some Flash Fiction: In Response to a Pick a Setting, Write a Story Challenge

    • Thanks for coming by Jon. Hope you’ll come by more often. I popped over to read your story – I like it, and yes they’re very different. That’s one of the great things about these challenges – we get to see so many different results from the same small starting set of rules.

      HEY EVERYONE ELSE: If you want to read Jon’s take on the setting you need only click his name to find his site. (Warning -> story involves domestic abuse)

  1. That’s an excellent conceit; your ‘tick tock’ device.
    It’s like a spine extending throughout the whole tale and from which all the narrative and emotional detail grows: the idea of time passing and being present to the protagonists; the introduction of mechanical soldiers (and we know about Tik Tok in Oz and scarcely need any description to fill in their shapes and movement); and later the experience of time slowing while the humans rest and think they are safe and then it serves as a reminder that, despite their mood, time is passing and hence the reader is aware of some kind of urgency that accompanies that time and hence it builds tension; right up to the point when it should be silent and wham! the noise carries on through into the bloody denouement. It’s also a good pace changer and marks changes in viewpoint and characters’ moods.

    Most flash fictions (or most of mine, anyway) aim for a ‘shock ending’ – is it the form or the authorship that tends to make it so, I wonder? – and getting there in an interesting way is half the trick in this genre.
    The thing that I most enjoy (after praise and recognition, of course) about doing my own and then reading other folks’ flash fiction is the way that other writers’ works instruct me, teacher-like, that I ‘must try harder.’ I’d say you’ve got that down pat with ‘Tick Tock’. My congratulations and envy, sir.

    • Thank you very much for the praise! I’ll admit, I’m all puffed up from the flattery. Also, it’s always nice when someone who has been here before shows up again. I’ll have to remember to add your blog to my Google Reader. You know, I wasn’t consciously thinking of Tic Tok from the Oz stories while I wrote this, but I’m sure it was influencing me without me even knowing it. I’ve read some of them and the movie Return To Oz has always had a strong nostalgic memory for me – I’ve never forgotten it, or how it scared me when I first saw it.

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