This story is inspired by the following image:
With a breathe of their own, the bright symbols beckoned me to solve their riddle. Four depictions, one with four pictures within. Then, the four letters. Lastly, four numbers, although missing the actual number four. My mind spun with varying combination pairs and algorithms, neurons firing.
I caught myself rubbing my hands, relishing the puzzle–yet how had I come alive dismantling such a vile thing?
The expensive suits stood waiting, gauging. The tall bony man picked his teeth with a curling fingernail, eyebrows raised, while the other’s eyes lustily raked me. As the balding letch smirked, Mr. Skeletal snapped his companion’s head back so quickly that none else but Grandfather and I would catch it.
But Grandfather was obviously distracted.
I added the detail to my internal clockwork: The tall man must share our rare DNA (but the letch–not so much). It explained why they had sought us out. Or just me–Grandfather’s chronograph had been unwinding, even if he wasn’t suspended from a hook in the air.
The sucker-punched man rose from crimson-splattered tiles I’d been trying to ignore. I focused inward. The green dials and gauges in my mind spun; I moved the squares like lightning strikes until they fell together so perfectly I wondered why I didn’t solve this riddle instantaneously.
In a blink I dangled from the domed ceiling, my long hair brushing grandfather’s face. I heard him inhale shakily as I typed in the code. I knew my coconut shampoo reminded him of charmed days, when he raised me with Mimi on that secluded beach.
Nostalgic, I felt a heart pin click. No–not now. I couldn’t allow myself to feel, time was too inconvenient to coddle grief.
The device registered the puzzle’s solution, shackles popping. I gently lifted grandfather off the hook protruding through his soft belly, slowly managing him down the crystalline walls.
Although I saw the test-administrators’ bloodied message scrawled on the glass, I didn’t mention it. In a nutshell: I’d passed; they’d kidnap me later. For now I relished grandfather’s broken-edged gears tearing at my skin as he reluctantly wound-down. I cradled him close and he breathed me in until he rested peacefully.
Written for the The Angry Hourglass–Flash Frenzy Round 48