Flash Fiction: Brake Lights

This is a piece of flash fiction (668 words) I’m entering in a competition this week. Only just learned of the contest, so looking for last-minute constructive criticism and feedback!

Please pop some thoughts in the comments or else email me your symphony of strike-throughs and snide underlining directly.

Suds hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday. But he was running just fine on adrenaline, cheap speed, and the thought that he had been chosen.

They’d planned this one for a while. A big operation. Simple concept, but difficult execution. Needed a special kind of man, they’d said that, and they’d hand-picked Suds. He was young, smart, strong, and fearless. The perfect guy to teach that old fuck Lime what happens when you hire scabs in this town.

But, as the factory came into sight, Suds worried over a thought. They’d taken him through every detail of timing, speed, the angle of approach. Exactly how to turn and brake to make the truck start rolling.

So detailed, they had been, about everything — except how Suds got clear of the vehicle.

Just climb out, nothing to it! Kid, what you need to worry about is that pothole on your approach to the factory, that could fuck this whole thing up.

Suds increased the speed of the truck. No time to think about that now. If he stopped the truck and ran he’d be dead within a block anyway. Three-in-the-morning out by the tracks, by the factories. They’d move on him with full immunity.

Besides, the hot night air was blowing in off the sea; the smell of it made him feel strong. And he wanted those scabs to suffer. Suds looked at his face in the side mirror. Youthful beauty cracked with scars. Blue eyes bright with purpose above the bend of his twicebroken nose.

He pulled the wheel hard, felt the trailer of sawdust behind him lurch to the side. Let it lurch. Then slammed the brakes with all he had and felt the whole thing tip. It fell perfect, top of the truck careening towards the factory.

Suds was thrown against the side of the cab as it fell. The road tore at him through the open window, almost caught and pulled him under. He wrenched himself up and started climbing, bleeding, for the other window. He felt strong.

. . .

Inside Lime’s Car Factory no-one on the midnight shift flinched at the sound of screeching tyres. But the thunk-hiss of the truck brakes caught their attention. There were no traffic lights around here, no intersections hardly, and never much traffic in the day let alone now. Faces looked up, heavy features sculpted deeper by the orange sparklight from the welders, the rivet gun and grinders.

The brakes had barely sounded when Terry started yelling.

Later, he would say he thought it over, worked it out. But what really happened was synaptic sheet lightning. A half-formed thought, a jigsaw click of memory, then action. It took less than a second, but slowed down it was something like this:

Terry heard the truck. Then he heard the brakes. Red light on brick. He thought it was odd. No traffic lights, no traffic. I wonder is it that same sawdust truck? The one I saw last night on smoke break? Sawdust truck. It had driven past quickly. Had the word ‘Sawdust’ written on it in big letters. He had never in his life seen a sawdust truck. Probably some crooked union front. Sawdust.

“Tools down! Stop work! Tools down right fucking now!”

Something in Terry’s voice made the whole room obey instinctively. Emergency stop buttons were slammed, tools went down. Terry watched as sparks from the last grinder to stop died in the air. There was a terrible scream from outside and the sound of grinding metal, then the building shook. Fine, powdery sawdust billowed through the windows in fast motion, flooding the room like umber fog. No one spoke.

Finally the foreman called to Terry from his perch above the factory floor.

“What the fuck happened? Why were you yelling?”

He coughed, spat. “Terry, it’s sawdust!”

The look on the foreman’s face changed from confusion to horrified realisation. He came in close, his face in near enough for warmth, whispered.

“Fuck. We would have popped like dynamite.”

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