Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction

The Game is about three teen-aged boys who find a way to teleport to an alien world, where they play a deadly game of "Chicken."

This story was published in Storyteller Magazine.  It didn't win any awards, but it sure was fun to write.

Otherworldly artwork by Fiverr.com artist Vladimir Cebu

The Game 


     One, by one, the great long toothed beasts emerged from the cave.  A hundred yards away, Billy stood and silently watched.  His fingers tightened around a small silver device carried in the palm of his hand.  In the crisp dawn, steam rose from the bodies of the beasts and their low rumblings filled the air.  Two large, red suns floated above the horizon, twin orbs in a cloudless sky.  Billy rubbed a sweaty palm against faded jeans, took a deep breath, and bellowed.

     “Hey, over here!  Come and get me!”

     One by one, the beasts turned and faced him.  The largest craned a long neck, bared yellow, foot long teeth and split the morning with an angry voice.  It stomped a tree trunk leg in Billy’s direction and the ground shook.  Billy brushed dark brown hair from his eyes, then cupped his hands around his mouth:

     “C’mon,” he yelled.  “Try and catch me!”

     The beasts lumbered toward him, gained momentum, the world trembled.

Billy turned and ran.  His sneakers flashed black and white in the shoulder-high grass.  His blue windbreaker streamed behind him.  He glanced over his shoulder.  The beasts thundered after him, closed the distance to fifty yards, a dozen steps, a heartbeat.

     Billy’s breath rasped in his throat, a stain spread under each arm.  The leading beast bore down upon him, roared.  Its breath was hot upon his neck and a smell of half-digested, rotting meat twisted his intestines.  Billy stumbled.  The beast opened its jaws, teeth flashed.  A finger found a button on the silver device.  Incisors tore – empty air.   

#

     Sunlight streamed into the small bedroom.  Dust motes danced through the clutter and flowed around the DVDs, video games, magazines, worn shirts and dirty socks that adorned every surface.  The air popped.  The dust motes scattered, re-formed, flowed around a three dimensional outline in the middle of the room.  The outline solidified, a foot materialized.  Its mate appeared.  Legs, body, heaving chest, air-sucking lips, widened eyes, dark brown hair.

     Billy.        

     Head swiveling wildly, he scrambled forward, slipped on a graphic novel.  A light of recognition appeared in his eyes.  He stilled.  Slowly, he raised a fist to eye level, uncurled it.  Silver technology glinted in the sunlight.

     “Awesome,” said Billy.  “Wait ‘til the guys see this!”

#

     A week later, dirty socks and DVDs pushed aside, three boys sat, legs folded, on the floor of Billy’s bedroom.  Each held a silver device in his hand.

     “Is it dangerous?” asked Norman.  He pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose with an index finger.  They promptly slid down.

     Billy narrowed his eyes, “It’s an alien world, of course, it’s dangerous.  It wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t.”

      “Cool,” said Jake.  “When can we go there?” 

     “Hold on,” said Norman.  “We don’t even know where ‘there’ is.”

Muscles in his arms bulging, Jake picked up a dirty sock, rolled it into a ball and fired it at Norman.  Norman rubbed the side of his face, said nothing.

     “Doesn’t matter where ‘there’ is,” answered Billy.  “What matters is my idea.”

     “Why do you get to call the shots?”  Jake asked.

     “Because I’ve been there – and because the teleporters are mine.  I found them in that little shop.”

     “Yeah?” said Jake, his lips curled slightly upward.  “What if I use this one right now?” 

     “Go ahead.”  Billy bowed toward Jake and flourished his hand,  “You’re tough.  You can face those beasts alone.” 

     Jake hesitated.  The smile fell from his face.

     Norman pushed his glasses back.  “What’s the matter, Jake?  Chicken?”

Jake raised a knuckle and punched Norman in the arm.  Billy grabbed Jake as he raised his other fist.

     “Norman’s right.”  Billy said. 

     Jake shook himself free.  “What do you mean?”  

    “Chicken – as in the game.”

    “Huh?”

    “Chicken.  I say we see who’s really brave and who isn’t.  We teleport to that planet, that dimension – whatever it is - and, the last one to teleport back is the winner.”

     Jake stood up, placed his hands on his hips.  “Shoot,” he said.  “Everybody knows I’m the strongest – beat up just about every kid around here.”

    Billy went toe-to-toe with Jake, looked up at him.  “Care to make it interesting?”

    “Like how?”  asked Jake

    “Your DVD collection – against everything I own,” said Billy.

     Jake scanned the room.  His eyes caressed Billy’s game systems.  “Done,” he said.  “What about you, Normie?  You in - or you chicken?”

     Norman pushed up his glasses.  A bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face.  “I’m in - my graphic novels.”

     “Great,” said Billy,  “Tomorrow, before sunrise.  Be here with your collections.”

#

     The next morning, Billy sat on his haunches at the edge of a forest.  Jake stood beside him, hands in pockets.  Norman bent to one knee and inched closer to Billy.  Before them, a breeze stirred the tops of the tall grass that flowed to meet the distant horizon.

     “A sunrise,” said Jake.  “So what.”

     “Watch,” said Billy.

     A giant red orb floated above the edge of the land.  As it blazed higher, its twin rose and stained the clouds crimson.  The breeze stiffened and the grass bowed toward the celestial beings. 

     Norman cupped a hand to his ear.  His arm cast two long shadows upon the alien landscape.

     “What’s that?” he asked. 

     A low hum emanated from the tall grass, grew strong, rhythmic.

     “Watch,” said Billy.  He pointed to the center of the sea of grass.

     Gossamer wings spread, hundreds of six-foot iridescent butterflies floated from the grass and hovered above it.  The humming changed tone, simultaneously, hundreds of pairs of delicate, rainbow wings undulated, and the creatures rose on the breeze.  Hundreds of antennae vibrated, the tone deepened, and, as one, the butterflies ascended, banked steeply and glided toward the horizon.    

     “Always after the second sunrise,” said Billy.  His eyes shaded, he followed their shimmering flight.

     Jake spit on the ground.  “I didn’t come here to sight see,” he said.  “Where are the monsters?”

     Billy sighed, shifted his gaze from the sky to Jake. 

     “Let’s check the transporters before we go any further.  Don’t want any accidents.”  Billy examined each device, handed them back.

     Norman slipped his into a shirt pocket, next to a pen and pad of paper, and buttoned it securely in.

    Jake shoved his into a back pocket.  “Won’t be needing this for a while,” he said.

#

     The boys skirted the edge of the forest and the caves soon came into view.  Billy stopped when they were a hundred yards away. 

     “They know we’re here,” he said.

     As if on cue, the beasts emerged.  The largest trumpeted his displeasure.  Norman covered his ears and took several steps backward.  The beasts turned their heads, followed his movement, thundered forward. 

     “Oh my God,” said Norman. 

     “Let’s move,” said Billy.  He turned and fled into the tall blades.  Jake shadowed him stride for stride.  The grass rasped against his jacket, against Jake’s jeans, against….  

     Billy’s ears knew before his eyes.  He glanced back, slowed, stopped.

     Norman hadn’t moved.  He stood, trembling, while thousands of pounds of muscle, sinew and claw stalked, surrounded and converged.  His hand shook violently, found his pocket, fumbled.  His shirt button refused to open.

     Billy’s eyes filled his face, his voice filled the air, “Press it – through the shirt!”

     Teeth flashed, talons poised.

     “Now!”

     Norman’s hand obeyed.

     The talons glinted in the double-sunned day, slashed, struck. 

     Nothing.

     A massive, scaled head shrieked.  Green saliva dripped from gaping jaws.  Black, empty eyes shifted to Billy and Jake, armored bodies pivoted and stalked. 

     Jake slid close to Billy.  “One down, one to go,” he said.  He jammed his knee hard into Billy’s thigh.  Billy thumped onto his back.

     “Lose – or die,” said Jake and he disappeared into the grass.

     Billy writhed on the ground.  A coppery scent of alien earth touched his nostrils.  His arm slid toward his teleporter.  A stink of carnivorous beast assailed his nose.  His hand found the device.  A voice of terror clogged his ears.  His finger pressed a button.

#

     An hour later, Billy and Norman sat, cross-legged, on the floor of Billy’s bedroom.

     “Think Jake'll make it?” asked Norman.

     “He’s strong, but…”  Billy slowly shook his head.

     Norman unbuttoned his shirt pocket, slipped out his pen and flipped open the pad of paper.  Jake’s name was third on a list.  Norman drew a line through it. 

     “Good riddance,” he said and smiled.  “Hey, Billy,” he continued, “how many of those one-way teleporters do we have left?” 

     Billy got up, opened a drawer.  “Seven,” he answered.

     Norman pushed up his glasses, cleaned an ear with his pen.  “Butch,” he said.  “Butch should be next.  He’s been setting fires and beating up kids since fourth grade.”

     “Butch it is,” said Billy, nodding. 

     Billy lifted Jake’s DVD collection above his head and slowly tilted the box upside down.  The DVDs clattered onto the growing pile.      




If you liked this story, you can find more of them in my short story collection, The Sound of Midnight Fire, available on Amazon.com.