Monday, September 12, 2016

Vignettes by Me, on Themes Picked Randomly: Day 12

Theme 385: Opportunity

“You’re early,” a man’s voiced barked through the crackling intercom at the gate to Oneida Reserve, a community enclosed by a ten-foot curtain wall and ensconced in deep forest. The gate appeared to be a standing iron plate that moved on rails.

“Sorry. I’ve never been here before. It’s my first day,” Ruby Jīhuì shouted at the intercom from the window of her dilapidated Mazda 616. She resumed furiously tapping at a device in her palm. She tossed the device into the passenger seat with a huff when she realized she had entered a dead zone.

“Wait by the visitors center until nightfall. Someone will find you,” the voice barked. A piercing buzz followed, and an automated mechanism released the gate’s lock with a heavy crack. The metal on metal of the gate’s lip against the railing screeched as the gate opened. Ruby’s foot released the brake, and she rolled past the gate. The gate screeched close again and cracked its lock in place as soon as her car was inside.

Inside Ruby saw, not the gleaming office park and dormitory buildings depicted on Oneida’s website, but instead something like one of the abandoned mill towns she had once toured with her parents as a child. Worker cottages and boarding houses skirted a main street with empty storefronts running up the community’s center. In the distance, an old tannery building glowered over all the other structures, its smoke stack cutting into the fading dusk. As Ruby drove forward along the unpopulated main street and looked at the weeds growing up between rotting boards and the broken and boarded up windows, ice filled her stomach. 

Ruby saw that she had been seriously misled by the online interview she had done with a sanguine, bespectacled project manager for the JumprCabL coding position she was to take. The manager had noted that this would be a great opportunity to master new skills and had congratulated her on joining their team. Clearly that would not be happening here.

Unable to find anything resembling a visitors center, Ruby parked outside the only establishment with intact windows, the Blind Huntsman Tavern. The strange wording of her instructions, “until nightfall,” echoed in Ruby’s mind, and she grew impatient waiting in her car. She got out, walked up to the tavern door, knocked, and tried the wrought iron handle. It fell apart in her hand and clattered against the sagging floorboards, leaving the tavern door to swing open.

A smell of death overwhelmed Ruby as she peeked inside, such that she had to hold her hand over her nose and mouth to keep from gagging. The dining area was filled with bluebottle flies that coated the tables and slowly looped through the mephitic air. 

Ruby looked to the bar and gasped. On the wall mirror were scratched in huge block letters, apparently by human fingernails, the words “THEY COME AT NIGHT.” As the last rays of daylight left the tops of the curtain walls, Ruby heard a chorus of howls boom across Oneida Reserve.   

Explanatory Postscript: When I say “picked randomly,” I mean picked from a Master List that I’ve compiled of 999 themes intended to serve as creative writing prompts (from the following sources: 501 Writing Prompts; 25 Creative Writing Prompts; Examples of Themes; List of Themes; 365 Creative Writing Prompts; 100 Themes Challenge Writing Prompts; List of Journal Ideas; and Top 10 Types of Story Themes). To pick a theme at random, I roll three ten-sided dice (the first for the hundreds place digit, the second for the tens, and the third for the singles) and find the theme under the number I have rolled. If I hit a theme I have already written on, I roll again. If I ever roll 000, I make up a theme. The Master List is a secret, so don’t ask for it.

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