Flash Fiction: Rules for Shortcuts (443 words)

Caves were Jennika’s thing. She navigated them quickly, like any other terrain, except that the shadows and uneven stone made her look more like a knife-dancer than usual. Kynbessne, on the other hand felt the heavy ceiling like weight across her shoulders and wished the torches would push the dark a little farther back.

They ran along together for a quarter hour before Jennika came a stop. The cave widened and split into three uneven paths. A little further, Kynbessne could see the path farthest to the right, split into another two.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, coming up beside Jennika. She meant it as a whisper, but cave seemed to disagree, broadcasting it between the walls.

“Nothin’,” Jennika said. Her voice was low as well, bouncing around and the syllables splitting apart in the echoes.

“Of course something is the matter,” Kynbessne said. “You’re standing still. If I were a more paranoid person, I would start looking around the corners for other signs of the world’s ending.”

Jennika cracked a smile, looked at her out of the corner of her eye.

“You don’t know which way to go, do you?” Kynbessne asked.

“Not exactly,” Jennika said. She cocked her head to one side, eyes flicking from one path to another. “It might be that way.” She pointed toward the center tunnel.

“It might be,” Kynbessne repeated in disbelief. She waved her torch toward the right side. “Or it might be that way.”

That way?” Jennika shook her head. “Oh no. That way is cold, dark, hungry death. The floor drops out right under your feet.” She mimed the fall, one hand falling straight down from the other. “Don’t think anyone could climb their way back out.”

“Oh,” Kynbessne said.

Jennika pointed toward the left most tunnel. “That way is warmer, torn apart by sharp teeth death.” She gestured with both hands, one toward the center, and one toward the left side of the right tunnel. “One of these is wet and keel-hauled by a mountain death. I think it’s that one.” She raised her right hand a little higher.

“Oh,” Kynbessne said again. “You’ve been here before, yeah?”

Jennika nodded.

“What possessed you?” Kynbessne demanded.

Jennika burst out laughing. “Four dog search party and something red-hot-stolen on my back. Needed to go somewhere hard to follow.” She started toward the center tunnel.

“I’m glad you survived,” Kynbessne said. “But I have a new rule for us: shortcuts suggested on friendly walking trips are not to have more than one frightening death opportunity!”

“You’d better write that down,” Jennika told her with a grin. “I’m never gonna be able to remember it.”

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