Babylon Falls [Flash Fiction]
I wrote Babylon Falls as short story for the NYC Flash Fiction Challenge round 2 back in September. The prompt was to write a horror story set in a warehouse and including a kids lunch box in under a thousand words.
The premise I went with was something strange happened in Babylon in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. Ten years on some mysterious entity is getting its revenge on some of the US troops involved in thwarting it’s nefarious activities. The title is a twin clue, Babylon Falls directly referring to the capture of the site of the ancient city. It also refers to the location of the warehouse.
I wasn’t entirely happy with Babylon Falls at the time, which is why I didn’t post it sooner. I’ve had some feedback and this is a third draft that I’m a bit happier with. Not least I’ve been able to ignore the hard limit in word count. It’s pretty hard to write psychological horror in 1,000 words. I hope this one works for people, let me know what you think.
Lewiston, Illinois. July, 2014
“So where is this place then?”
“Wait and see.” Joe looked sideways and smiled at me.
“Eyes on the road, soldier.”
“Sure thing, ma’am.”
After a half hour drive we pulled up at a three storey building. The chain link fence round the lot had seen better days, only the padlock looked new. Amber barked as the car lurched through potholes as Joe parked it.
“Not quite the tenth anniversary I was expecting.”
Joe winced. “I’ve got something special for this evening, but this is our next chapter.”
I looked at the building. The windows were boarded up, the lower floor was decorated by the local youth’s spray cans. Apparently the Babylon Big Boys did it.
Joe produced a key. “It’s an old river warehouse, there’s space to get a truck in, and room for offices, production and storage. Our company could flourish here.”
“It’s definitely big.”
“Cheaper than anything else we’ve seen.”
“It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“We’re only five minutes off Route 9, and the River Spoon’s out back.”
“I suppose we ought to go take a look.”
Joe reached into the back-seat and grabbed a couple of large maglites. “You’ll need this, the power isn’t on yet.”
“You sure know how to treat a lady.” I took it with a smile before following Joe. Amber jumped out the car and took up her usual place on my left. I reached down and scratched her ears.
Joe opened the padlock and put it in his pocket. He swung the door open and a powerful stench hit us along with a wave of heat. Amber growled.
“…something died in there.” I finished Joe’s sentence.
“I was going to say that place we met.” Joe said.
Amber was still growling and backing off.
“Hey there girl, what’s up.” I felt in my pocket for Amber’s treats.
“She’s not happy about something.” Joe said.
I knelt by Amber and fed her a treat with one hand while reassuring her with the other. “She’s got a better nose than us, that stench is powerful.”
“I’ll open the big door to get some air in.” Joe left me outside with Amber.
“Come on girl, let’s go.” I moved towards the door, keeping my eyes on Amber. She wasn’t moving. I’d never seen her like this before, and we had a lot of history. I gave in. “Amber. Stay!” I turned on my maglite and followed Joe into the warehouse.
It felt about 20 degrees hotter inside than out. The smell was overpowering. There was definitely something dead in here. I shone the torch around. A local artist had decorated the inside, I caught glimpses of flowers, trees and geometric shapes along with colourful names on the walls. The floor had empty cans, food wrappers, cardboard boxes and other detritus scattered, mainly in the corners.
The squeal of metal made me jump. Joe laughed, his shadow cast by the maglite he’d put on the floor danced against letters on the roll-top door.
“It’s stuck.” Joe said.
“Do you want a hand?”
“Nah, let’s find out what’s making the smell and get rid of it.”
We looked around, sniffing it out. Most rubbish was in the corners, like someone swept it there. In the middle of the floor was a dark blue box. I tried a trick they’d taught me in the Army. I closed my eyes and slowly turned my head, paying attention to whether the smell got stronger as I turned.
“Joe. I think it’s that box in the middle of the floor.”
Joe was closer than me.
Amber barked twice rapidly. It was her ‘I’ve found something’ warning bark.
“Joe, don’t move!” I turned and ran out the door.
Amber was outside pointing at the roll-top. It was her classic pose, I’d seen it many times in training and on operations. She thought she’d found something interesting, but there was no way she’d found an IED in a warehouse in Illinois. I gave her a treat and told her she was a good girl before taking her back to the car.
Joe was in the middle of the floor he’d moved closer while I was outside. His maglite played on the floor round the box.
“Jen. Tell me what you think this looks like.” Joe moved his light onto the box as I approached.
“It’s a kid’s Captain America lunchbox”.
“Look familiar to you?”
It did. “If this is some kind of prank it isn’t funny.” I shone the torch at Joe’s face. He was pale and drawn and sweat beaded all over it. He’d never been this good at poker.
“It’s the one that kid had, in the warehouse near Al-Hillah.” Joe said. “It’s even got the same scratch through the star.”
“Babylon calling us, ten years on?”
I shone my torch and leaned in closer. “We can’t both be having flashbacks.” I said.
“I’ve always felt we’ve been living on borrowed time.” Joe said. “Look closer at the ground.”
I shone my torch around. “There’s something drawn on the floor.”
“While you were out I read it. I’m standing on the pressure plate.”
“Oh God! Are you sure?”
“Amber tried to save us again. Didn’t work.”
“We aren’t done yet.”
“I love you. I always have, from the moment you and Amber saved my squad from that IED.”
“Shame the kid didn’t stop too.”
I shone the torch at Joe’s feet, he was standing on a flat circular plate inside a geometric shape painted on the floor. There weren’t any wires.
I looked at my feet, they straddled a line coming from Joe’s circle.
I touched it—
When my heart started again I lay on the floor and examined the plate. I could see corrugations in the cardboard. The floor was concrete, there was no space for a pressure plate, or for buried explosives, except directly under the cardboard.
I got my cell phone out. “Joe, I’m calling for help.”