“Splitter” by S.C. Jensen: 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition

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Note: This is a re-post for the sake of making my short fiction pieces easier to find. You can find the original here.

It was wrong. All wrong. Ren spun the outer dial of her splitter, round and round and round and click!

“What are you playing with, child?” The passenger next to Ren smiled kindly down at her. He wasn’t supposed to see her. He never saw her. His voice, speaking to her, made her guts spin. She felt it the moment she slipped in beside him. Something was wrong in this lamina.

“Time.” Her voice came out like a tiny, broken thing. Ren liked to tell the truth, even when people didn’t understand her. But now she felt cold. Wrong answer.

“Oh?” The man studied her face for a moment, then dropped his eyes to the brassy disk in her hands. A glimmer of recognition flickered through the air toward her. The man’s hands trembled the way the hands on a pocket watch do when it needs to be wound, as if he wanted to reach out to her but was too tired.

He was going to die; everyone on the train was. Ren spun another dial on the splitter and checked the clock. Thirteen minutes, give or take. The train hurtled them toward their deaths. Round and round and round and click!

 “A mechanical calendar.” His voice was all wound up. Tense. The splitter’s little internal mechanisms delicately ticked away the seconds. He watched her too closely. “What a fascinating piece of machinery.”

Ren didn’t want to think about what would happen once she was gone. Twisting, shrieking metal and twisted, shrieking bodies. It made her want to smother the clockwork heart of the splitter. She tried not to think too much about death. All of those lives, all of those souls fractured and split and sloughing off across infinite layers of time. Each one, spread thinner and thinner and thinner until it seemed they should simply cease to exist.

“Yes.” Ren spun the final dial and felt the splitter’s clockwork heart kick again. Maybe it would still work. Maybe she could still do it. “I collect them.”

“That’s an unusual hobby for a young lady,” he said.

The man was an anomaly. His iterations fluttered randomly throughout time, disrupting patterns and weakening the thresholds between lamina. It was her job to follow. To stop him. He never knew she was coming. He never saw her.

Ren watched a raindrop cut a jagged path across her window, one of many stacked upon one another like striations in ice. She imagined the raindrop’s path stretching out across time, limitless. Just like the train hurtled over the tracks, speeding, inevitably, toward the end, every lamina of time infinite and identical. Death upon death upon death. Ten more minutes.

“I’m not that young.”

“No.” The word dropped on her like a bucket of ice water. He knew. He knew she knew. Ren slipped the splitter inside her jacket, where it ticked away next to the throbbing, twisting muscle in her chest.

It had to happen. Now.

“Now!” Inexplicably, she heard the word burst from his mouth as she thought it. A passenger three rows ahead stood and turned.

It was him. The man, again.

She froze, her body all coiled up like a spring. To her left another passenger stood. Him. Him. Him. Impossible! There should never be more than one of any iteration in a single lamina.

Everything was wrong.

Ren launched herself over the man beside her—the first iteration—and into the aisle. He lurched behind her, his fingers grasping at the child’s body she wore. A woman screamed and Ren bolted.

From the back of the train car, two more dupes came toward her. Ren did something she had never done before. She drew the tiny pistol from the holster hidden in the fabric of her childish, flowered skirt. And she fired. Another flower, a great red one, bloomed on the closest man’s chest. One down.

The second dupe grabbed another passenger and backed up slowly. Ren wanted to hesitate; she wished she did. But it didn’t matter. They were all going to die, one way or another. Ren shot the passenger, and then she shot the second dupe. Now everyone was screaming.

Ren’s head snapped back and a hand plunged inside her jacket. The man’s thick fingers wrapped in her hair, tearing at her scalp. She twisted in his grasp. Her body was too small to fight him, but if she could just—

“Get off her!” The spine of a book cracked on top of the man’s skull and he dropped Ren in surprise. The woman from the seat behind cracked him again. “Get off, you pervert!”

Ren scrabbled back and kicked upward, driving her hard-heeled shoe into the man’s knee. His face curled up and he snarled, lunging at her again. Another passenger joined the woman’s assault. The man collapsed under the weight of them but his eyes followed Ren. She pushed herself back down the aisle, eyes locked on the man’s, and reached inside her jacket for the splitter.

“Don’t do it!” The man screamed and contorted himself beneath the pile of bodies. “Don’t!”

Another dupe crawled over the seats, skirting the mob, panicked eyes fixed on her. She had to act quickly.

“All of these people!” The man was crying now. “You’re a monster.”

Ren ran her fingers around the dials, not moving them but imagining their infinite possibility. She let the weight of the splitter drag her deeper into herself.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and she flipped the switch.

Time stretched itself limitlessly. She could see each strata as its own unique layer. She felt them with her mind, corrugated ridges that tickled her brain like the tingle of static.

“No!” The man’s voice followed her, along with the final click of the splitter. She peeled herself out of the lamina, imagining she could feel the heat from the blast as the train ripped apart. Tears sprung up and stung her eyes.

Everything was right again.

*******************************************************************************

“Splitter” was my submission for Round One of the 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. My assignment was Genre: Action/Adventure, Location: a high-speed train, Object: a calendar. The following is the judges feedback I received on the story. I placed first in my group this round.

Judges Feedback:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1499}  Loved this story, and it had great suspense, characters, and action. The decision she has to make has real stakes, especially after a passenger assists her. That “everything was right again” has great irony attached to it.  {1749}  Though I was a bit confused by your story, you created good action in your story.  The theme was unique and very clever.  {1793}  The ending is solid. Rem’s inner-conflict is a good tool to keep the suspense going.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1499}  Not exactly sure why this time was so different, why the man had more power/visibility than he had before. That part confused me a bit. Where did he get these additional powers?  {1749}  I wasn’t certain what Ren’s purpose was on the train.  Was she simply there to make sure the train exploded?  Were the “bad guys” really good guys trying to stop the train from blowing up?  It was a bit confusing. Also, I would suggest using a more common term than “lamina,” since the last thing you want to have the reader have to do is either gloss over it and have to stop and look up its meaning.  {1793}  The story might be improved with a quick explanation by Rem of why she is actually on the train. She might want to catch the dupe, and it might be revealed that she is the only one intending to crash the train, and trying to thwart any would-be heroes. A quick description, even a false one, might help to deepen the sense of conflict.

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2 thoughts on ““Splitter” by S.C. Jensen: 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition

    1. Didn’t you see this one when I posted it originally? I think I had it up for critique in the WF Facebook group when I still hung out there. I’m glad you liked it!

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