Inspiration can be a fickle thing. The March flash fiction contest at SFF World was announced back on March 3rd, with the theme of “the package.” And for 22 days, absolutely nothing came to me. So, naturally, an idea finally struck me mere hours away from the deadline. And while I got a good chunk of it done last night, the ending eluded me, long enough the midnight came and went and I was unable to finish it in time for the contest. But I did finally manage an ending, and rather than let this remain unseen, I’m posting it here for all to see. A little knowledge of film lore will come in handy with this one.
“I don’t remember ordering anything,” Thomas said through the barely opened door.
“Look, you’re Thomas MacGuffin, right?” the shivering UPS driver said, clearly displeased at the amount of extra words this interaction had already entailed. “This is your address, right?” He pointed to the package, and Thomas could only nod yes to both questions. “Then just sign this so I can get back in my nice warm truck, okay?”
An icy breeze punctuated the driver’s words. Thomas signed to put both of them out of their misery.
He set the package down on the kitchen table and stared blankly at the “T. MacGuffin” written on it in bold black letters. His parents usually called whenever they sent him something. He wasn’t so absent-minded as to forget an Amazon order. He hadn’t entered any contests recently. And he was fairly certain the man dressed in black wearing the night vision goggles hadn’t been there when he’d answered the door.
“Stay calm,” the man said, which struck Thomas as an odd thing to say while pointing a small automatic pistol at someone. “I’m just here for formula.”
“Don’t play dumb.” He tilted his head towards the package.
“I assure you I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Thomas said, right as a shaft of light appeared next to him, eventually focusing into the shape of another man, this one dressed in a tight-fitting red shirt and black tights.
“Dimensional phase successful,” he spoke into a device on his wrist. “Objective sighted, Cutter out.”
The man in black swung his gun towards the newcomer. “Not so fast, that formula’s coming with me.”
“Formula?” the newcomer said. “That’s a tripolar molecular enervator, and it’s coming with Captain Jake Cutter.” He jabbed a thumb into his chest and offered a blinding smile.
“The sigil is going nowhere!” boomed a wizened voice. “It must be destroyed!”
Thomas turned to see an old man in grey robes striding down his hallway, leading a pair of bright-faced teenagers and a dwarf.
“Could someone please tell me what is happening?”
“I need that formula or else SMOLDER’s going to wipe out half of Europe,” the man in black said, shifting his gun rapidly back and forth to everyone in the room.
“We need to keep the enervator away from the Terraphon Hegemony,” Cutter said as he smoothed the front of his uniform, even though it was too tight to possibly wrinkle. “Captain Jake Cutter gave his word.”
“That sigil is the source of Acrimon’s power!” the old man said, clutching his staff tightly. “It can only be destroyed on the night of the High Moon on the Altar of Rensessella!”
“Which is on my kitchen table?” Thomas asked.
“Oh no,” the dwarf chimed in. “That bit’s in the second book.”
“A trilogy?” Cutter said, barely hiding his disgust.
“Planned as one, anyway,” one of the boys offered.
“Then you’re at least six hundred pages away from needing it. Captain Jake Cutter is in his season finale.”
“I’m in my third act!” the man in black shouted. “I’ve got both of you beat!”
Thomas rubbed his temples. “Look, you still haven’t told me what this thing is.”
The answers came almost on top of each other.
“Yes,” Thomas said, holding up a hand. “I know what you call it, but what is it? What does it do?”
The silence stretched out to an uncomfortable distance. “Seriously?” Thomas said. “All this fuss and all you’ve got to go on is a name?”
“Look, we need it to defeat Kernstein,” the man in black said.
“Well … we’d have it and he wouldn’t, I guess.”
Thomas turned to Cutter. “And you. What’ll happen if this — what was it — Terrapin –”
“Whatever, what happens if they get this enervator?”
Cutter gave him a steely eyed glare. “Then Captain Jake Cutter will have failed.”
Thomas sighed, then looked at the old man. “I suppose you’ve got the same story?”
“If we don’t destroy the sigil, Acrimon will most certainly rule unchallenged!”
“How do you know that?”
One of the boys perked up. “It says so in the prologue!” The other boy cuffed him aside the head.
“All right, so none of you really have any idea what this thing does, but you’ve all been chasing after it?”
They all nodded sheepishly.
Thomas laughed. “You’re a bunch of idiots, you know that?”
“I beg your pardon!” the old man fumed.
“Captain Jake Cutter is no man’s fool!”
“There’s just one of me, don’t see how I can be a bunch…”
“Don’t you get it? There’s no formula! There’s no enervator or sigil! You’ve been duped! And while you’ve been off gallivanting around looking for absolutely nothing, your enemies have been free to do whatever they want!”
“But … but that’s not how it works,” the dwarf muttered.
“There’s always a formula,” the man in black said. “It’s in all the manuals.”
“It has two adjectives!” Cutter growled. “TWO!”
“What better way to get you out of the picture than to send you off on a wild goose chase? I suspect when you all get back to wherever it is you came from, you’ll have already lost.” He paused. “Sorry.”
The old man’s shoulders slumped. “It appears the portents were mistaken.” He turned and gestured the dwarf and the two teens to follow him. They vanished into the bathroom.
“Heads are going to roll back at HQ.” The man in black slipped his gun back into his holster. He tugged on the cable attached to his back and ascended up through the skylight.
“Captain Jake Cutter ready to phase up. And incredibly disappointed.” Cutter disappeared in another shower of light.
Thomas let out a deep breath and sat down. He managed to last all of thirty-seven seconds before curiosity got the better of him and he opened the package.
Of course it was empty.