Flash Fiction: The Cruelest Sting

This week’s Flash Fiction challenge from Terribleminds was for random words. The die of destiny chose mint, scorpion, republic.


“Harry? Are you out here?”

He didn’t look up from his rows of mint. The plants were coming in nicely, and he was happy with their color. The tomatoes had yet to fully ripen; he was hoping that the weather would stay relatively cloudless so they had a chance to grow in a bit more. He heard the back door swing open, and knew that Bella was standing there, watching him.

“What’s wrong, Bella?”

“The children. Where are they?”

“I’m sorry, I had to send them off.”

Bella crossed her arms. “To where?”

He wiped his brow and stood. The garden had a high, white fence around it, designed to keep out both rodents and prying eyes. He was glad for it; he knew this day was inevitable.

“They’ll be safe, looked after, and want for nothing. That’s all you need to know.”

“Harold.”

“Let’s go inside and discuss this.”

“Harold, tell me where our children are.”

He looked down at the trowel in his gloved hands, then up at his wife of six years. “It’s not going to matter.”

Bella’s eyes widened. “Harry, what is going on? You haven’t been the same since you got that letter.”

“You mean this one?” He pulled the small, rigid card out of his pocket. It was decorated only with the embossed image of a scorpion. “Unfortunately, this changes everything.”

“What do you mean?”

“This was a letter I prayed I would never get. I was told… the Republic told me that I would not be needed, not under this new administration. They promised me things would be better. They… well, I guess they made a lot of promises, didn’t they?”

Bella blinked in the sunlight. “What are you talking about? Harry, you’re an accountant. And you still haven’t told me where our children are.”

“I lied to you, Bella. I don’t work for an independent accounting firm. Honestly, I’m not all that great with money. The only reason we’re doing as well as we are is that my stipend from the Republic is quite generous. It’s easy to balance the books when there’s plenty of coin to go around.”

Before she could say anything, he stepped close to her, looking into her eyes.

“The reason I got this card is because the Republic has need of one of its most dangerous servants. My code-name is Scorpion.”

“But… but, your parents…”

“Paid actors.”

“Your photoglyphs from university…”

“Faked.”

She stared at him. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because if I am to return to that life, I need to do it knowing the people I love are safe. Our children are safe. Now you must do the same.” He bent, digging his trowel into the dirt near the end of the row of mint. A few scoops revealed the tin box he’d placed there five years ago, after their anniversary. He stood slowly with the box in hand, brushed off some of the loose earth, and handed it to her.

“I had a friend help with this. New identity, plenty of coin, some rations and a means to defend yourself. Take it and go.”

Tears welled in her eyes. “You want to send me away? Just like that?”

“No, Bella, I don’t want to. I am being summoned by the Republic. I swore an oath to answer that call. This is duty, not choice.”

“You chose to marry me. You chose to father my children. You chose to build this life. And now, you will just walk away, saunter back into the presence of those idiotic politicians to, what, kill for them? Steal? Lie?”

“All that and more. It is an ugly life.”

Bella wiped her face with her free hand, then opened the box. After a moment, she reached inside and removed the pistol, taking aim at her husband.

“Bring back our children.”

“Bella, listen to me…”

No. Enough of your lies. You’re pathetic, Harry. I’ll admit, I almost bought the ruse. But I know you’re gentle. I know you’re kind. I know you’d never kill.”

“Bella. Do not do this.”

“You will take me to my children, and then you will pack your things. If you want to go off and leave us, fine, but leave us as a family.”

“I can’t do that. It’s too dangerous.”

“I’m the one with the weapon, Harold – I am the danger you have to deal with.”

“Bella. Please.”

“I’ll do it. I’ll shoot you.”

“I believe you.”

He didn’t give her time to think. He dropped the trowel and moved, hands reaching for the pistol. She’d never seen him move this fast, he wagered, and so disarming her would likely be easy. He’d done it dozens of times.

She struggled. He tried to keep from hurting her, even as his training told him a dozen ways to end the confrontation – a stiff chop to the throat, stab her neck or between her ribs – but none of them would let her walk away. He pushed the pistol and tried to free it from her grip.

The weapon discharged, and blood splattered on the mint.

It was very quiet for a long time after that.

“Harry?”

“Yes, Bella.”

“I’m cold. Is it winter?”

His hand was sticking to her body. “No, Bella. It’s summer. It’s sunny.”

She coughed. There was blood in it. “I couldn’t live without my children.”

“I’m sorry, Bella. I’m so very sorry. I never meant for this.”

“Why did you marry me, then?”

“Because I love you. I always will.”

She managed a smile. “I think you were trying to help us. Were you?”

“Of course.”

“Then… I’m sorry.”

“I know. I forgive you. Can… can you forgive me?”

“Oh, Harry.” A bloody hand, shaking, touched his cheek. “We’re such stupid, short-sighted people.”

“Yes.”

“Meant to be.”

“Obviously.”

Silence.

“Harry?”

“Yes, my love?”

“Is that your real name?”

“No.”

“Will you… will you tell me?”

He bent and whispered it to her. She smiled and, trembling, kissed him.

“It’s… nice to meet you.”

1 Comment

  1. The imaginary of this story is really beautiful. And, I like how you built up a lot of sympathy for characters in such a short time.

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