Hey, it’s a writing challenge piece! This one is for Chuck Wendig’s current writing challenge, which basically asks writers to include and explain these things in the piece:
Yeah, this was a fun one, and I decided to just go with it. So enjoy! Feedback always appreciated.
My laptop pings with a “check this out!” email from an old college classmate. I think it will be something dumb, the kind of ridiculous forward that I’ve come to expect from Bodhan the Burnout.
I click the link, and it takes me to an article that screams Bodhan: “WTF Is This Weird Web-Tower Thing? We Asked Around. No One Knows.”
What looks like a tiny spun sugar fenced Maypole catches my eye. My hand shakes as I set down my mug of green tea. The hot liquid sloshes, and my cup spilleth over into first degree burns. Once the on-call medic finishes wrapping my hand, I clumsily access the network and search for data I already know will be there.
“Should’ve seen it coming, should’ve seen it coming,” I repeat to myself as I compile the reports. When I look up, the building is dark and deserted. Even the TerraTech guys vacated the BioLabs, and those guys always stay past midnight. The few times I’ve stayed late, I’ve caught them competition chugging Red Bulls, high-fiving each other in the break room and shouting “Progress, mofos!”
They are probably the only ones who could survive in the real world without this place as sanctuary.
I hit send and take a sip of my tea. It’s grown cold. I think about going to the microwave when a light flickers on in the distance. It’s in one of the BioLabs, and my pace quickens because I’m simultaneously hoping it’s #17 and dreading it’s #17. I should confirm it, even though I’m almost certain I know the answer already.
The door to BioLab #17 whooshes open, and a TerraTech team of three strides into the dim office.
“A-Team!” Alec calls out, his voice echoing. He starts pumping his fist, and then our eyes connect and he realizes that no, the office is not empty and yes, I am staring at him like the idiot he is.
“Sorry, dude. Didn’t know anyone else was here.” Their leader, Adolfo, smiles at me. “We just finished with the sirens – damn, that was a rush.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about, but nod like I do. If they think I’m important enough to know TerraTech team assignments and experiments, I won’t correct them.
“You’re here late, Dr. Baptist. Any particular reason?” Amaro’s brown eyes meet mine, a slight flush only I can see coloring his tan skin. His words are a clumsy echo from a staged fantasy.
Our conversation is cut short by the dim sound of my phone ringing. I sprint back. I can hear Amaro follow, his toxic green jumpsuit rustling with every hurried step. I reach the phone in time, panting when I answer.
“The hell is this data you sent me, Kid?” Call him whatever you like – the Boss, Generalissimo, the Big Bad – I report to him, and the condescending gruffness is my only cross to bear in an otherwise pleasant, stable environment.
Amaro shifts next to me.
Okay, one of my only crosses to bear.
“Sir, if you look at the -”
He cuts me off with string of profanities, something about it being the middle of the night where I am, getting down to one simple statement.
“The fairies are expanding.” I say. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Amaro’s jaw drop.
“What do you mean by that, John?” The Boss sounds less irritated and more scared now.
“Uh, as Dr. Ian Malcolm put it – ‘life finds a way.'” I chuckle. “We should’ve seen this coming, and once I saw the pictures I knew exactly what to look for, and it’s all in the data from the Peruvian fieldwork.”
There’s a long pause, and then the Boss barks at me to “get my ass in Peru pronto por favor” with a field team that will restore the natural order. When I hang up, Amaro’s eyes are eager and scared. I pull up the photos on my laptop and explain.
“We’ve always been able to explain away fairies with their fairy rings. Ironic, I know, but people started calling circular formations of mushrooms ‘fairy rings’ a long time ago. It offered a natural scientific rebuttal, which is that there’s a larger circular fungus underneath. It’s easier for folks to believe in a spore network than a subterranean fantasy metropolis.”
“It’s easier if people no longer believe in magic.” Amaro interrupts.
“Sure, it’s easier. Science won. Well, who knows, spirituality might win, but fairies don’t really fit into that realm these days.”
“So what are these structures?” Amaro leans into my laptop and his finger brushes the screen. There’s a little smudge and I already know I won’t clean it off. He looks back at me, and there’s a current between us. He feels it, I feel it – the Peruvian fairies probably feel it, too.
“We know the mushroom caps are smaller watchtower structures for them. Based on excavations of ancient cities – ”
“Ancient fairy cities?” Amaro smiles.
“You’re the one talking about magic.” I remind him, my finger pointing an accusation. This is becoming too playful, too familiar. I adjust my glasses, then remember it’s one of his turn-ons and I’m not sure if I did it on purpose or if I just forgot.
I’m almost certain it was on purpose, and I resume my role as academic hipster scientist.
“Based on excavations of ancient cities, we’ve had an opportunity to analyze the subterranean buildings. We’ve theorized that a very similar structure is used as the foundation.” I point to the picture, my finger touching the smudge Amaro left. “We think they start with a ceremony similar to May Day, and essentially weave a structure at each outpost for the new city.”
“Well, what’s so bad about them expanding?” Amaro leans over to look at the picture with me. “Little sprites, no one can get hurt. We know the worst that’s out there; we come up with new strategies with each round of tests in the BioLabs. Did you know sirens are tone-deaf in the dark?”
I straighten up, all professionalism in an instant.
“They’ve never started above the soil – not that we’ve found – and they’ve never spanned more than a few dozen feet. Some of these are in trees, and we’re talking miles here. We’re not talking a city, even a metropolis – this is an empire for them.” I run my fingers through my curly hair. “We don’t know their intentions. We can’t guarantee people won’t get hurt.”
I turn away, grabbing my leather messenger bag. His hand is clammy on my wrist. I don’t know if I want him to kiss me, but I’m not disappointed by what he says.
“I know El Jefe told you to take a team to Peru. I’m going to be on it. I think the two of us can figure out,” His voice trails off, “Figure out something.”
We go our separate ways for the night. When I see a fairy ring in the grass next to my parking spot, I smile.