Here's the shtick: I write a story, a scene at a time. Then I write a pair of second scenes, taking the story in two different directions--a story fork. The reward total after three days determines which fork survives.
Fork 4A got tagged by a passing whale (thanks, @blocktrades), and crushed 4Z, so we will never get to see what was in the strongbox behind the bar. Breaks my heart, but that's how the game is played.
Before you read this episode, you really should get up to speed on the whole thing.
Pain slashed across Abbett’s bicep like a blade, burning like fire. Chunks of door stung his cheek, dug from the frame and flung backward by the bullet. Vernon screamed and the gun clattered to the floor.
Abbett clutched at his arm and hissed. His fingers came away smeared in crimson.
Vernon writhed on the ground at the mouth of the hallway, screaming Abbett’s name and pawing at the knife handle sticking from his thigh.
The door sagged open.
The bullet had gone through the latch on the door and the whole panel creaked away from the frame a half inch. The smell, never absent, increased dramatically. Now it was joined by a hum, as of a piece of heavy machinery. Abbett reached out his good arm and pulled the door open a foot and a half.
“Abbett, you bastard!” Vernon shrieked. “I’ll kill you!”
He probably would, too, if Abbett gave him a chance. The gun lay on the floor, but in a minute Vernon would stop whinging about the knife and remember that he had seven more rounds in the magazine. Abbett got to his feet, sliding his back up the wall, and stepped into the room.
He shoved the door closed, but it wouldn’t stay. To his right sat a large metal barrel, rusting down the side. Abbett got a grip on the top and tugged. Liquid sloshed in the bottom, but it was nearly empty, light, and Abbett got it in front of the door without too much trouble. It wouldn’t hold Vernon long, unless his leg was stuck worse than it looked.
Abbett turned to the room. Deep shadow lay over everything, lit only by the slanting of the afternoon sun through windows grimed nearly black. Motes of dust floated by like flotsam. In the center of the floor sat a huge machine, humming as if waiting for someone to wake it up. Around it lay stacks of paper on pallets. Against the far wall another machine was draped in sheets of the same paper; this batch was printed on. A lever stuck out from the side, the metal gleaming from wear. Underneath that machine another pallet was stacked with cut paper, also printed, and in this form unmistakable.
Vernon crashed against the door and the barrel wobbled. The top fell off, and Abbett knew the smell now—barrels of printers ink. The kind you would use to print money.
“Abbett! You son of a—“ Vernon said, and the door crashed again. One more hit and he’d be in.
Abbett had seen enough anyway. Time to go.
Dim though it was, a clearly visible path led through the dust and debris toward the far corner of the room. He thought he could make out a crack of light there, a cellar door, possibly, that would have stairs behind it leading up. He braced the barrel through one more of Vernon’s body slams—the door was about done, now—and jogged over that direction.
He rounded a tall stack of barrels when the door behind him gave way and a spluttering Vernon screamed anew as he fell through it. Abbett got to the exit, all right, but just as he put out his hand to pull it open, it boomed inward on its own and a huge man stood there with a look on his face that reminded Abbett of a cow. One of the stupider ones.
But big, confused cows were often especially dangerous. “Hey. You. What you doin’ here?” he rumbled, like a minor avalanche.
Abbett pointed back the way he’d come. “There’s a man in here!” he said, putting panic into his voice. “He had a knife. He stuck Vernon and he’s coming for me!”
The man’s brow set like a concrete foundation and his shoulders bunched, straining the fabric of his suit coat. He cracked his knuckles, and, without remembering he had no idea who Abbett was or why he should believe a thing he said, set off into the room, where Vernon’s incoherent shrieking shook dust from the ceiling.
Abbett was a long way from spry, not at his age, but he took the stairs two at a time and hoped his rustbucket car hadn’t had its battery stolen.
Voting commences now. You can vote for this story and for Fork 5Z, if you like them both, but only one will survive. Move that slider to weight the story you can't live without. Deadline is Monday, midnight GMT, when the larger payout lives on and the smaller withers and dies.
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