Another week of Friday Flash Fiction, and this week, in lieu of a starter sentence, moderator Cormac Brown has offered up four words to incorporate into our stories. These words are: Toil, Coil, Bubble, Rubble. Thanks to Cormac for his continual dedication to this site...it is greatly appreciated!
Now, I will apologise if this seems a little familiar or similar to someone else's writing...I can't help where my influences come from. Two points for picking the author and story I may (or may not have) read lately...
A Solution to National Debt
Laura and Richard found a spot by the side of the road – a great place to watch the runners as they came past, heading into Newtown and, eventually, the city centre. She unfolded the blanket that they kept in the back of the car and he grabbed the picnic basket, closed the passenger door with his hip and strolled across to where Laura had smoothed out the blanket and was arranging some cushions as if they were expecting royalty – not some sweaty teenage boys.
They got the call from the Marshall on the Friday evening, saying Davey had been selected and would need to be at the starting line in the city on Monday morning at nine sharp. Laura and Richard were both elated and worried at the same time – happy because his participation could help wipe the debt they owed City Corp, but worried that his lazy ass might not even make it to the first checkpoint, thereby forfeiting any chance of settling the account and repairing the rubble that was their financial lives.
An elderly gentleman approached Richard. He removed his Akubra and crouched down beside the edge of the footpath where Richard had begun to sort out the food and drink for lunch; crusty rolls with meat and salad, champagne for Laura (she just loves them bubbles) and a six-pack for himself.
“Hello, folks,” came the greeting from the twisted and toothless mouth of the visitor, “here for one of your own, or just here for the view?”
Television cameras appeared out of nowhere, capturing the moment and broadcasting them not just across the country, but around the world.
Laura looked up from the pillow arranging assignment she had set herself. Her eyes locked on those of the old man, as if telepathically sending a message of sod off. When she realised that it wasn’t working, she shrugged her shoulders and went back to her cushions. “Yes, our son is running this year. We had a pretty bad time of it last year; the business folded and I couldn’t find work anywhere the New Sector. That’s why Davey is running – we could really use the prize money.”
“Yeah, it sure was a crazy time; banks closing all over the place, people losin’ their homes – some folks lost more’n that. Wages went to hell – those who could keep the jobs – and the introduction of the New Coin and Note currency doesn’t seem to have helped any.” He wiped a bead of perspiration from his forehead and gazed up the length of the street. “They should be coming any time now. How do you think your kid is doing?”
Richard shook his head. “To be honest, I don’t know. Last I saw on the big screen, he had made it past Checkpoint Three – that’s three grand he has paid off with minimal work or toil – but I really don’t think he has it in him to run the full distance, let alone do it in front of the pack.”
The old man placed his hand on Richard’s shoulder. “He will want to keep going, won’t he? You and the missus didn’t come all the way down here to watch your lives disappear down the drain because your boy couldn’t pay off the debt, now did you?” Richard was about to reply, but he continued on. “How far does he have to get before the City grants you a reprieve?”
Laura stood up, cleared her throat and placed herself between her husband and the old man. “That is none of your concern, sir. We are well aware of the risks – and consequences – of this race. We don’t need to be sharing it with strangers.”
“Whoa, there, Missy, you get back on your blanket there and just let us men do the talking.” Laura was about to reply in her usual balls-to-the-wall fashion but a flash of silver, tucked into the man’s belt, quickly dissuaded her from any further conversation. A rifle shot in the distance added to the tense moment.
“You are a Marshall, aren’t you? My God – you are one of...them.” Richard could hear the fright in his voice, could feel the trembling in his hands and the fear coiling around his spine.
“I am, indeed, a Marshall, and don’t worry, the lady’s insolence won’t be taken into consideration – it is to be expected, I suppose.”
Richard paused again, weighing up his words. “Into consideration...what does that mean?”
The Marshall laughed, loud and hearty, and tucked his hands into the pockets of his neatly pressed slacks. “What it means, son, is that your boy has already – how shall I put this – retired from the rest of his life. He broke down four miles back. He didn’t even reach the Ten Percent Gate. I am sure you are aware of what that means for you both.”
Laura began sobbing immediately. Richard didn’t know whether it was from the death of his son (lazy bastard, couldn’t make five miles) or from the imminent punishment for Laura and himself.
“Yes, I am aware of what comes now.” He was resigned to the fact that this would happen – they had prepared for this eventuality. “Can you give us a few moments to say our goodbyes?”
“Well, of course. But just remember, seeing as though Davey didn’t make the Ten Percent Gate, the viewers have decided through an online poll that you both should perish for your debts. Don’t you just love modern technology?”
Laura and Richard clung to each other, whispering goodbyes choked with grief-filled sobs, touching each other’s faces, as if not to forget how they looked in those final few moments.
Richard heard the safety flicked off, and saw the shadow creep across him as the Marshall put the rifle to the back of his head. He heard nothing more.