- Tabitha Caplinger
The Relic is a piece I wrote a while back to try my hand at flash fiction and I kind of dig it. Enjoy!
Adelind was two episodes, three tacos, and a half of a cherry coke into her Friday night binge-fest when the lamps flickered. Had she been watching something more haunting, she might have thought it was a ghost trying to make contact. Not that she believed in ghosts.
As it was, she chalked it up to the thunderstorm brewing outside her townhouse.
She stuffed the last bite of chicken taco in her mouth, then set down her plate and picked up her sketchbook and her grandfather’s old, rusty fountain pen, content to do a little drawing while she relaxed the week away. A few drops of ink had barely hit the blank page when the front door burst open, wood from the trim splintering and flinging in all directions.
Adelind jumped up, dropping her book and pen on the floor, the latter rolling under the coffee table.
Lightning flashed behind a burly man in a worn and cracked leather jacket. “I’ve come for the relic.”
Adelind’s heart banged so hard against her chest, she thought it was trying to break through her ribcage. Her brain buzzed. She had mace in her purse, but it was across the room. Knives were in the kitchen, which was about twenty feet away, but she had no way of knowing if she was faster than her intruder. She was certainly smaller, probably weaker. Perhaps she was smarter.
“I think you’ve got the wrong address. Maybe you’ve got me confused with the history museum downtown.” She was definitely sassier.
The man sneered, then reached into his coat and pulled out a shiny blade--a machete.
Why would someone carry a machete around a bustling metropolis that was an entire continent away from any jungle?
“Give me the relic, and I’ll be on my way.” He stepped toward her, the wood floors creaking under his weight.
“I told you. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Adelind took a shaky step backward, only to be stopped by her sofa. “The only relics here are my grandmother’s old tea cups and a vintage coin collection.”
“I am certain the relic is here, and it is no coin collection,” the intruder growled and came three steps closer. “I can feel its power, and I won’t leave without it. Even if that means killing you, girl.”
Guard the relic, my dear girl. It is too powerful to be found in the wrong hands. It is our family legacy to keep it safe.
Her Oma’s deathbed proclamation, words choked out between final breaths, now shouted from somewhere in the back of her memory. She always thought they were nothing more than some hallucination. I mean, if you are going to task your granddaughter with guarding some sacred relic it might have been nice to tell her what the relic was. Adelind’s mother had thought the whole thing equally bizarre. She said Oma was probably confused, mixing reality with some story Opa had always told at bedtime; a tale of dragons and knights guarding a golden sword that could vanquish evil or destroy the world.
It was just a story. Dragons weren’t real, and neither were mystical objects.
“Look buddy…” Adelind held up her hands. “…I don’t know what you’re on, but there’s no relic here. No power. Just a girl who watches too much tv and likes to draw.”
Her heart thumped faster and faster, and her breath was catching up to its quickened rhythm. Sweat was clamming her palms, and warmth was surging under her skin. The room tilted and spun.
“The relic!! Now!!” The man lunged forward, slicing the air with his machete.
Adelind stepped onto the coffee table, trying to hop over it and make a break for the door.
He turned on his heel and swung again, his blade making contact with her arm.
She fell forward, her knees banging the hard floor. Her arm stung. She grabbed the wound, expecting blood, but it wasn’t wet. It was hard. Adelind withdrew her fingers. A scream stuck in the back of her throat. Her pale skin was now black and stony. Scales were forming and spreading down her arm; an organic chainmail, shiny like volcanic rock and smelling like a burnt-out match.
“The dragon is real,” the man murmured. In a blink, his supposed shock turned back to rage, and he attacked again.
Adelind held up her onyx arm to block his blow. Her fingers cracked, and her nails grew into long, sharp claws. “I’m the dragon?” Opa’s story was true. But can a person be a dragon and not know it? Was the golden sword real too?
Metal whistled through the air. His machete struck her shoulder, pain shot through her nerves.
Adelind winced. Her lungs burned, seething and searing. Smoke puffed from her nostrils. She screeched and flames shot from her mouth, tasting bitter and smelling like kerosene. They torched everything around her, including the man’s jacket.
He writhed and bellowed as the flames licked the skin of his face and scorched his hair.
The smoke detectors beeped loudly.
The invader made an escape through the door and out into the pouring rain before passing out.
An inferno roared and raged around Adelind, who was now completely covered in the obsidian scales numbing her to the fire that was consuming the regalia of her simple life.
Sirens blared in the distance.
Adelind grabbed the picture of her Oma and Opa from her bookshelf and the family photo album from the sofa table before they were destroyed. Her sketchbook was cinders and ash, but her grandfather’s pen was safe and sound. She retrieved it before running outside.
As the rain pelted against her flesh, the scales receded, leaving her pale skin as though nothing had happened. Not a cut or burn or scar. Just the faint smell of sulfur in her dripping hair. She tapped the pen against her lip and watched the flames and smoke rise into the night sky.