Another Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. Rules: open with a dead body, 1000 words.
Challenge accepted, Mr. Wendig.
I had to work at keeping this small; I may have cut so much that it doesn’t make sense. The initial concept was a lot creepier,and will no doubt find it’s way into another story at some point.
“There.” The Constable Wizard pointed. “Just where dispatch said; the alley between Malkin and Dobrie streets.”
Ogilvie saw a body sprawled halfway out of the alley. A pool of blood spread from beneath it and across the cobble stones. He hurried forward. “Are we certain he is dead?”
The constable grabbed his arm, held him tightly. “By the Elements, man! Don’t touch him!” He took a small sphere from a coat pocket, touched it lightly with his wand. “This will tell us if he’s still alive, without leaving a signature.” The sphere glowed a faint rose, and floated over to the body sprawled on the cobbles. It slowly descended until it was resting on the back of the prone figure’s skull. As it made contact it turned black, and burst. “There,” the constable said. “He’s dead right enough. If you’d touched him you would have been part of the Contract.”
Ogilvie swallowed hard. “I thought the Contract was limited to a victim’s killer.”
Constable Adams shook his head. “There are several clauses to the Contract. But once the victim is dead he’s just meat. And so is anybody that touches him.”
“I’m not sure I understand”
Adams sighed. “I’ll try to explain as we go.” He looked back at the body lying in the narrow alley. “We can’t scribe a circle here. We’re going to have to move the body.” He looked at Ogilvie, “They’ll be here with a Mover in a few minutes.”
“If we want to find whoever killed our man we have to inscribe a circle around him. Where he’s fallen, there’s no room for a circle. So we have to move him. Since you and I can’t touch him, nor can any other law-abiding citizen, we’ll use a prisoner to do it.”
“Usually somebody who’s done violent crime. Sometimes, though, we just have to take whoever’s in a cell.” He pointed toward a closed wagon coming up the street toward then. “Here’s our Mover.”
The two men watched as the wagon drew up to where they stood. Two policemen climbed down from the seat, and headed to the back of the wagon. One of them pointed a pistol at the closed door. The other took a large key from his belt and put it in the lock. The key turned, the door opened and a man stood framed in the doorway, squinting into the twilight.
The man with the key exchanged it for a pistol, which he trained on the prisoner. “He wants to be a Runner, Constable Wizard Adams.” Adams sighed. Slowly the prisoner climbed down from the wagon. The officers motioned him toward Adams and his companion.
“Follow me, Mover,” said Adams.
“Who’s he?” The prisoner pointed to Ogilvie.
“That is none of your concern, Mover.” Adams and the others stopped a few feet from the body. “Here is your task.” Ogilvie made a strangled noise as the Mover grabbed the dead man’s hands and pulled him out of the alley and into the center of the street. Once in the center of the street he rolled the corpse onto its back and straightened his arms and legs. He looked at Adams. “Anything else, Constable Wizard?”
“Can you see his wounds, Mover? Can you tell how he died?”
“Stabbed in the throat, looks like.”
“Thank you, Mover. Now, please empty his pockets and bring the contents to me.” Barkley did as he was directed, and placed the contents in a bag Adams held open. “Thank you, Mover.” Barkley grunted. Adams looked at him. “Ned,” Adams said, in a different tone, “three days is a long time. You could stay here. It would be quick.”
The Mover laughed harshly. “Not going to tell me it’s painless though, are you? No,” he shook his head, “I’m running. I’ve got scores to settle in the Maze.”
Adams nodded. “I was afraid of that. Very well, Mover. You are released from your duties. You are now a Runner.” For a few seconds there was no movement, then the man turned, and pelted ram. He turned a corner and he was gone. Adams looked through the bag until he found a wallet, with the owner’s name in it.
“What did he mean, scores to settle?” Ogilvie asked.
Adams sighed. He reached into a pocket and took out a bag of colored sand, which he used to trace a circle around the body. “Ned Barkley is an enforcer for one of the crime bosses in the Maze. He’s planning on finding some of his rivals and picking a fight. His killer will have to face the Contract.” Adams finished the circle quickly and set about the outer inscription. He turned to the officers, “You should head back now,” he said. “No point in upsetting the horses.”
Adams watched the wagon leave, then turned back to the circle. He took his wand, pointed it at the sand at his feet and uttered a few harsh syllables. The circle blazed. Ogilvie watched in horror as a twisted shape appeared inside the wall of flame. Slowly the fires died down until they were only a few inches high. Inside the circle the demon crouched.
“This man was James Strewby. Find his killer. Bring me his name.” Adams said. “Will you honor the Contract?”
Ogilvie screamed as the demon replied in a voice like bones breaking, “I honor the Contract.” The demon lifted the body of James Strewby, and bit off the head. “Good meat. And good hunting.” The flames flared suddenly, and when they died back, the demon was gone.
Ogilvie cringed as Adams turned back to him. “We have almost no murder. Most of the deaths now are accidental, in the course of another crime. And since there’s no telling who might be chosen as a Mover, other crimes are decreasing as well.”
“You’ve sold your souls!”
Constable Wizard Adams shook his head. “Not at all. Demons don’t want our souls. They only want fresh meat.”