Tower Seven – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest, Round 3 (11/2017)

I made it to the third round / semifinals of the 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest where I got to write my first thriller ever. Again, this is a genre I never would have attempted otherwise, but since my choices were 1) Attempt to write a thriller or 2) Surrender and quit the contest, I present to you my first ever thriller (1,000 words, 48 hours to complete). PS – The entry deadline for the 2018 contest is July 12.

GENRE: Thriller
LOCATION: Radio Tower (Luckily, or unluckily, I worked at a radio station for 13 years)
RANDOM OBJECT: Ice Skates

TOWER SEVEN

The supercell drove golfball-sized hail into the windshields and rooftops of Idaho Falls. The first in a parade of storms tore a bright red gash of destruction across the radar.

The bleating phone shook Chris Balak from bed.

“First responder communications are down. Half the town’s without power,” Chief Kent barked. “How fast can you get to Tower Seven?”

“On my way.”

The truck stunk of fourteen-year-old Henry’s unwashed hockey sweater. Blue socks festered inside his skates. In the postgame torrent, they’d left his gear to ferment behind the driver’s seat.

Red lanterns blinked on the hilltop east of Rigby: Third from the left, Tower Seven was a six-hundred-foot mast, crowned with a nest of antennae and microwave drums.

Chris fastened the hardhat beneath her chin and threaded the harness between her legs and over her shoulders, cinching it snug across her chest.

“Want some help, Chrissie? I’ll get it all nice and tight…”

Puffed up from daily gym sessions and God-knows-what else, Blake Galloway adjusted himself within his own harness.

“I’m good. Thanks.”

She tethered her orange tool bag to her belt: Wedged inside their triangular prison, it’d swing like a thirty-pound kettlebell beneath her — hopefully enough to keep Blake at bay.

“Weather Service says we’ve got four hours.”

“Ladies first.”

They crawled into the tower, a silver blade stabbing the darkening sky. Chris clipped both sides of her harness onto the safety rail and steeled her nerves for the two-hour climb. Here, her five-foot-four frame was an asset. Against him, maybe not.

“Take your time, Chrissie. I’ll relax and enjoy the view.”

The steeple of steel folded her inside its metallic elbows, offering scant shelter from the stiffening wind and stinging mist as they climbed.

“So how does a girl get a job like this?”

“Passed the physical. Same as you.”

Her lungs and quadriceps burned to distance herself from him, as the mast swayed into its stiff tango with the leading squall.

“Only thing Eddie did wrong was get hurt. Why’d you take his job, Chrissie?”

“Eddie got hooked on Vicodin. He got himself fired.”

Same as her deadbeat ex.

Summers with the Snake River Hotshots earned Chris enough to stay home with Henry during school, until Aaron passed out at the kitchen table with a needle in his arm.

Tower jockeys made the same money with better benefits. Maybe it wasn’t as dangerous as a fireline, but at least she got to sleep in her own bed.

A hard jerk cut into her waist, snatching her breath, pulling her boot from the rung, and banging her shin into the ladder. The tool bag spun wildly around Blake’s leering grin.

“Watch yourself, girl — wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”

She unclipped the carabiners from the ladder and shimmied outside the jungle gym. The spider web of county roads cut quilt-squares through the farmland quivering three hundred feet below.

“Sorry for slowing you down.”

As she clung to the girders, he slid his hand along the truss, brushing slowly across her body. Her sturdy Carhartt jacket could not protect her from him or the wind.

“C’mon, Chrissie. Gimme a chance.”

Thunder rumbled twelve Mississippis away, as the mist turned to intermittent rain: Blake moved swiftly without clipping in or looking back and disappeared through the grate seventy-five feet above.

Pulling herself atop the four-square-foot platform, Chris could see fifteen miles to the horizon where a charcoal cowlick of clouds massed. Lightning danced at the margins. The charged particles spewing from the antenna cluster buzzed in her mouth.

“Looks like we got a problem,” Blake said.

The pockmarked drum tilted off its mount. Working quickly and quietly, they wedged it back into alignment. Blake refastened the fittings, while Chris ran the diagnostics. As she bolted the hatch closed, he wrapped his paw around her slender forearm and tugged hard on her wrench.

Chris skittered backward, spinning the wrench down the cats-cradle of steel. The ping and clatter disappeared in the hissing wind. She never heard it hit bottom.

“Nothing to be scared of, Chrissie. I’ll go down first, so I can catch you when you fall.”

The calculus of descent banged through her head: If he hit the ground first, she couldn’t run. Damp and shivering, she swallowed the waves of nausea that followed the swell of wind.

“I’ll go ahead.”

She clipped onto the platform, her legs blindly searching for purchase below. He pressed his boot lightly on her fingertips.

“You can’t outrun me, girl.”

She ripped her hand from the glove, swinging down to the triangle truss. Biceps shaking, she spidered to the exoskeleton, exposed to the insistent wind and rain.

Blake slid down the ladder past her.

“Chrissie… Chrissie…”

Gusts body-checked her into the metal frame on the excruciating descent: Step. Step. Clip. Clip. Step. Step. Clip. Clip. The truck came into dizzying view beneath the gray curtain of rain.

Blake stopped and hung on the ladder like Fred Astaire: “Just singin’ in the rain.”

Clank!

She fell backward into nothingness: The safety cord tendril fluttered above her, the tool bag dragging her to the ground, the utility knife waving from his hand.

Jerk!

The second line caught, jack-knifing her rag-doll body and smashing her into the steel lattice. Two hundred feet in the air, he’d done her a favor, putting a good thirty feet between them. Ears ringing, hands raw and trembling, she unclipped her only tether and clawed back inside to slide down the rain-slicked ladder.

With fifteen feet left, she dove, tumbling into the cold mud, digging toward the truck.

He horse-collared her at the door, ripping her back. Chris clinched the steering wheel, reaching desperately for the screwdriver, the tire iron, the boot of the skate.

She swung backwards wildly: The runner sliced across his forehead.

“My name’s Chris, asshole!”

She spewed gravel as she sped away, leaving him rolling in the mud.

She filed a police report and took his job. Blake Galloway got himself fired.

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