I know what you’re thinking: “Historical flash fiction? Really?”
If we were in a room together, I would just smile, twinkle my eyes at you and say, “Trust me.”
But let me back up. This piece of flash fiction comes from a recent assignment in one of my MFA classes. The idea was to use a bit of research to write a fictional piece. We were given a four or five different pieces of fact on smugglers in the 18th-19th century. I chose just the one below to create my short, short story. Though I have to be honest, this version is edited. Specifically, I gave it an ending since I couldn’t quite get there in the 300 words I had for the assignment (though to be doubly honest, I still don’t like how I left it). I also cleaned up a little bit here and there, though I tried to leave as much the same as possible to keep the flash fiction feel.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy my little foray back to Earth. It doesn’t happen often.
This is the prompt I used:
An excerpt from Smuggling in Kent & Sussex 1700–1840 by Mary Waugh:
“During the 1740s the Hawkhurst men under Arthur Gray carried out a whole series of acts of violence. They are known to have sat drinking in the Mermaid Inn at Rye, with their weapons on the table before them, but it was when twenty of them visited the Red Lion nearby that they deliberately frightened the local people by firing in the air. James Marshall, a young bystander who showed unwise curiosity in their affairs, was taken away and never heard of again.” (p. 74)
March to the Red Lion
Arthur Gray eyed his men around the tables at the Mermaid Inn. Stomachs full, pockets bulging and heads full of liquor, they jeered at each other while fingering their weapons laid on the table. That’s enough merry making, Gray thought. Experience told him those nervous fingers were signs of rash acts to come, and it’d be better to point them in the direction of someone else rather than each other.
“Well, men? Let’s head over to the Red Lion where the drink is stronger, the women prettier…and more friendly!” He raised and lowered his eyebrows.
The raucous replies nearly knocked him out of his chair. He smiled broadly as he holstered his weapon and the others followed suit. He threw a coin, not nearly enough to cover their debt, toward the innkeeper. The elderly man bowed his head and slid the coin off the counter.
Gray led his party of twenty down the cobbled road, the cool night air doing little to drain their energy. He smirked, looking forward to the mischief they’d do as they approached the Red Lion when a young man ran into him. He’d appeared out of nowhere from the shadows. Annoyed, Gray grabbed the shoulders of the man and shook him.
“Do you know who I am, boy?” Gray recognized his face. He was James Marshall, a gangly boy not more than sixteen, who had a reputation for being a bit too curious. Gray stopped shaking him when he saw his captive’s face: Pale, wide eyed, and lips trembling. “What is wrong with you?” An icy sensation spread up his arms and down his spine. The hairs on his arm and neck stood straight.
“Let me go, please! It’s coming.” Marshall looked nervously behind him, up at the sky. He pulled on Gray’s arms. “Please!”
Gray’s anger increased. He abhorred weak men. “It’s me you should fear, boy!”
A white light blinded him. His men gasped behind him. Letting go of the squirming boy, he held his arms up to block the light.
Marshal ran, screaming. The light shifted, following him as he fled. He screamed, his feet lifting off the ground.
Arthur followed the light back to its source: a huge silver orb hovering not more than a hundred feet above his head. He grabbed his gun and fired. His men joined in, sending dozens of volleys toward the object. None of them so much as tinged it.
The light winked out. The object zipped away into the night sky. Marshall was gone. Gray’s jaw dropped, disbelieving his eyes. His men starred up, as if the dark sky had sucked their very souls. He glanced at the Red Lion. Heads appeared in the windows and peeked out doorways. He fired his gun into the air again and the gawkers disappeared behind curtains and closed doors.
His men were startled from their stupor. “Don’t stand around like a bunch of idiots! Back to the Hawkhurst den!” He waved his weapon, urging them on. As they rallied back towards their smuggling hideout, he glanced back up toward the sky. A spike of fear struck his heart. No man had ever had, or ever could, stir such an emotion and no soul would ever know the power the night held over him from that day.
For gun aficionados, I realize they didn’t have multishot pistols in 1740, so consider this alternative historical science fiction where that capability was invented about a hundred years earlier. There. Isn’t fiction fun?