This is the story I submitted for challenge #2 of the NYC Midnight Flash fiction Challenge. I had: Genre: action/adventure, location: a volcano, object: a birds nest. I enjoyed writing this one but still had about 5 edits before i was ready to submit it.. then after submitting it I realized I had one word in the wrong aspect… see if you can find it 🙂
Synopsis: When an ambitious wildlife photographer attempts to exploit a rare bird to further her own career, she does not realize what kind of feathers she is ruffling.
Justine stood on the rim of the volcano looking down at the crust below. A thin column of steam spiraled lazily upwards into the humid air. It had been a hot climb but once she had finished photographing the nesting site of the Polynesian megapodes, she could not resist climbing further to see the volcano’s crater. She had taken this assignment knowing that Late Island in the South Pacific was uninhabited and had an active volcano on it, but the birds that nested here were critically endangered. Being one of the few people on earth who had managed to photograph a megapode’s nesting site would bring her quite a bit of fame in the wildlife photographer’s realm. She needed to boost her career to the next level. She put her camera bag and knapsack down on a rock beside her, took out a bottle of water and turned once more to look at the amazing vista.
The push from behind caught her completely off guard. Suddenly Justine was falling into the cavernous mouth of the volcano.
Arms flailing wildly, she managed to grab a ledge of rock jutting from the wall, pivoting and slamming her belly-first onto the rock face. Before relief could register, her fingers tore loose from the ledge and sent her sliding alarmingly towards the sulfurous depths below.
Frantically, Justine grabbed another small rock outcropping which slowed and then stopped her slide. Her forearms, stomach and knees were screaming from abrasions. Sweat dripped down her arms as she clung to the rock, her toes searching for even the smallest purchase. She could not tell if the roaring in her ears was from the magma below or the blood screaming through her veins. The hot air whipping up towards the lip of the volcano had her long chestnut hair snaking about her head and sand and grit were making her green eyes water. Suddenly her camera bag careened off the stone above her, followed by her knapsack and her camera – the Nikon striking a boulder and exploding into a glittering blossom of glass and plastic, then plummeting past her face so closely she had to turn away.
What the hell was going on? Her heart was racing, terror climbing up her spine. Who had pushed her? She had not seen another person since she arrived on the island. She looked up. The rim was only a few feet above her head. She steeled herself for the climb back up refusing to look down. With a determined grunt, Justine heaved herself up. Who was waiting for her at the top?
Reaching blindly, her toes found another bulge in the rock face and again she pushed with all her might. Throwing herself forward she managed to reach the top and get her elbow up onto the loose dirt and rubble. She paused, muscles straining. Then once more she pulled and suddenly she was over the edge. Using everything she had, she propelled herself forward, just enough to get her feet onto the land as well. She rested for a moment, panting, with her cheek against the rocky ground. When she opened her eyes it took her only a second to register the foot speeding towards her face. Instinctively she rolled to her side and scrambled up onto her feet. Staggering slightly she turned quickly to face her adversary.
She had a flash of recognition before her attacker was on her. He grabbed her in a mockery of a hug and dragging her towards the edge again. With an oath, Justine smashed her forehead into his nose and when the steel band of her attacker’s embrace momentarily loosened, she levered herself away and started to run.
Blindly she jumped over rocks and stumbled through the scree, zigging and zagging down the side of the volcano. When she reached the forest’s edge she raced in, ignoring the branches scratching her face and whipping her arms. Soon she could hear the pounding feet and the angry panting breath of her adversary right behind her. In a split second decision, she jumped over a large rock, grabbed onto the trunk of a tree and swung herself around it. Feet first she slammed into her pursuer’s side, pitching him over some rocks and onto the path beside them. Justine regained her feet and then threw herself at him, pinning him underneath her.
Sprawled on the ground, both of them panting and sweating, Justine grabbed a fistful of blonde hair and twisted his head back viciously. She was shocked when she recognized Brian, another wildlife photographer. ‘No assignment is worth this!’ she screamed, giving his head a shake. ‘I’m tired of you always being in my way!’ He sneered and tried to pull his head from her grip. Without warning he started to buck, wriggling from side to side in an attempt to throw her off. She strengthened her grip and used her dead weight to make it harder for him. He stilled but then she realized that she still felt movement. A low rumble sounded from behind and above them. The earth shook again. The volcano! In the split second her attention was diverted he managed to over balance her and threw her to the side. He regarded her for a moment then looked behind him towards the volcano’s rim. Justine Launched herself at him, bowling him over and slamming his head onto the rocky ground. With a grunt he went limp, his eyes fluttered closed, movement stilled. She sat on her haunches surveying him dispassionately.
A low grinding noise signaled another small quake and Justine noticed that the plume of steam she could see through the tree tops was getting larger. Backing away from Brian’s prone form, she jumped up and started down towards the base of the volcano. As she jogged past the birds nest, she patted the pocket that held the data card from her camera. Smiling, she reconsidered her words to Brian: maybe this story was worth it.