777

A flash-fiction piece for a tiny, last-minute contest. Entries were restricted to 777 words exactly, and had to be based on this prompt:

In accordance with the prophecy, everyone knew what to expect from the seventh son. What they failed to take into account was what the seventh daughter was capable of.

Predisposed to some classic genre tropes, which I usually try to resist, but I decided to give into that this time and put together a short scene. The basic premise of the knockout game comes from personal experience, as this was a real thing going around my school when I was younger. Lasted maybe a month at most, with the teachers eventually sitting us down and explaining the real risks involved in choking someone into unconsciousness. I’d like to think this was the dumbest thing we did, but kids will be kids.

Anyway, here it is.

It was Matthew, the fourth son, who created the knockout game after returning from his latest training session. He demonstrated the technique on Valerie, his twin, telling her to lie against his chest as on the floor. With an arm around her neck, he explained how to exert only enough pressure to cut the flow of blood to the head without also preventing breathing.

“Like this,” he said, bending his arm like a vise. For a moment, Valerie looked started. Her hands rose, then the lights went out and her limbs lost all tension. The others stood in a slack-jawed circle while Matthew scrambled to his feet.

“Is she dead?” asked Vanessa, the sixth daughter.

Nobody answered, though Matthew was only barely keeping a smile under control. They stood there over the limp body for just long enough that Mark, the sixth son, was ready to turn and bolt for the door. Nancy and Christopher, the fifths, with a subtle back and forth of slight nods and significant eye twitches, made ready to tackle him to the ground before he could get to the distress beacon. Then, with a shock convulsion sudden and strong enough that she might have just fallen out of the sky to land at their feet, Valerie opened her eyes.

The others waited, soundless and still as she’d been a moment before, for her report. Valerie looked from one sibling to another, stopping to focus on David, the fifth son. “You,” she said. Everyone turned to David, who took a step back.

“Me?” David’s voice caught as it rose.

“I saw,” said Valerie, raising a finger to point at David.

“What did you see?” Matthew had abandoned all pretensions of authority.

Valerie said, “I saw David picking his nose.”

David protested as best he could, but the truth came out under the pressure of Matthew’s knuckles rubbing against the top of his head. Valerie had seen something she couldn’t have. Before she’d even finished describing her out-of-body experience, the others were pairing off to have their turns at the knockout game.

Their siblings tittering with anticipation, John and Sara, the seventh son and daughter, sat facing each other. Sara studied her brother’s pale gaze, seeing in them something troubled and distant. She knew he was already prone to moodiness, but this was something more. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” she said.

He shook his head. “I’m not scared.” His eyes didn’t change.

Sara didn’t argue. “I’ll go first.” She leaned into him, raising her chin to expose her neck. She felt his warm arm around her throat, the hard knot of his flexing biceps. John looked down at her, his other hand pressing her into the red-tinged emptiness spreading in from the edge of her vision. Sara saw a movement in the darkness at the corner of her eye, but when she tried to turn, John held her still. More movement, and whispers boiling under the deafening sound of her rushing blood. Unable to look away, she focused on her brother’s eyes, now shining and present, the determined set of his jaw, the hard line of his thin, bloodless lips. The look of someone without pity or regret, of someone she shouldn’t recognize, but did.

And then she was alone, swimming in a black sea, trying not to look at the motion, the things, behind her, below her, above her. And the whispers became shouts. A name, a flashing cascade of emotions. Red terror, violet pain, fiery white rage. She forced herself to go faster, tried to outdistance the roiling maelstrom, but she had no breath in her burning lungs. Something caught her foot, then her leg, pulling her down. She tried to scream, and it filled her lungs.

They stood around Sara’s body. After everyone else had their turn, she lay stiff against John’s lap. Matthew declared she was still breathing, but she hadn’t moved otherwise in more than an hour.

“Is she safe?” Mark was poised again to run.

“She’ll be fine,” said Matthew without sounding confident. “Right, John? You did it like I showed you, right?”

John didn’t look up. “Yes.”

Then Sara’s lids fluttered, and was scrambling away from her brother, desperately rolling and crawling until she came up against a wall. John just sat there, watching her, while the others ran to help.

“What happened?” asked Mark.

“Are you hurt?” asked Valerie.

Sara shook her head, sucked in long, shuddering breaths.

“What did you see?” asked Matthew.

Unable to take her eyes off John, who had not moved from his sitting position in the centre of the room, Sara said, “Our end.”

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