NYC Flash Fiction: Tree Warriors

In the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, I was given the genre action/adventure, and since the vast majority of stories of this kind feature men, I opted for teenage girls. I had to use a helipad as a location and a fishing net as the object that had to appear in the story. Anyway, I came up with the following 1,000-word action story.

Tree Warriors

It’s early evening and 16-year-old Liza sees nothing from the look-out atop the hospital helipad, part of the only block left standing after the hospital was bombed. “Nothing will happen,” she tells herself, but deep down she wants something to happen to prove herself. Four girls, ranging in ages from 12 to 15, are standing on branches in the dense forest below, watching the entrance of the tunnel to their home, where seven younger girls are sleeping. Liza drags her hand through her black brush-cut pondering all her responsibilities. She became the new head of security after Luna, her predecessor, was killed by a sniper. The four eldest girls are out foraging for food and trading valuables at the night market.

Liza sees movement in the west field. “It might be nothing,” she says to herself. She reaches into the pocket of her hospital blanket cape and pulls out her night-vision goggles. Three men are coming. Long black points bob behind their shoulders—weapons. One man is carrying a bulky sack over his shoulder. Now’s her test. She reaches down and shakes a large leafy branch to warn the other four sentries of intruders.

She quickly rappels down the hospital wall to a thick branch and onto the network of tree branch walkways that the girls have built to see passersby below, usually government soldiers or religious fanatics, both equally as dangerous. Liza knows that the fate of girls is bleak in this holy war. The lucky ones are traded as child brides, while the less fortunate are trafficked.

Liza’s heart pounds as she moves through the trees to the other sentries, telling herself to follow instructions. The thick callouses on her feet help her to approach swiftly and silently. Within a few minutes she establishes eye-contact with the four sentries, their eyes wide with fear. Liza flashes three fingers to show them the number of intruders. She instructs them to pull out their blowguns and tranquilizing darts, made from clay, bits of glass and ground tranquilizers that were found amid the hospital rubble. One of the older girls had killed a man who had attacked her on her way home through the woods with just five quick tranquillizer darts. His silent death provided the group with some cash and a bowie knife, which Liza now carries on her belt.

According to instructions, passersby were not to be attacked unless they discovered the tunnel to their home. Liza waits, her heart in her throat, but ready. She hears the men’s footsteps approaching. She points to the direction they’re coming in. She motions to the other girls to step around so that when the men walk through, the girls will see their backs.

Liza brings her index finger to her lips, an order for silence and stillness. She freezes as the adrenaline pumps in her veins. The men’s voices are deep like a rumbling car. The one carrying the sack is the last one through. He calls to the others, “Hey, I need to rest,” placing the sack on the ground at the foot of the tree below Liza. A high-pitched cry comes from the sack. The man whacks it with his large hand. “Shut it or I’ll shoot you, bitch,” he says. The other two men plod back. A warm pungent smell of filth and perspiration permeates the cool night air.

One man steps close to the tunnel entrance and pulls out a camouflage branch covering the tunnel door. “Hey, what’s this?” he says leaning down. “Check this out,” he says to the others. He bends over and pulls branches out of the cast net used to keep them in place and conceal the tunnel door. “You’re right,” says the other kneeling down and pulling out branches. “Man, I think we’ve found a cache.”

Liza looks around at the sentries and puts three darts in her mouth and points to the man sitting below them, next to the sack. She aims for the back of his neck, and the other girls follow suit. He yelps in pain as he is bombarded with tranquilizer darts. By the time one of his buddies looks over, he is slumped over. “Hey, what’s up with him,” he says stepping over to see his unconscious friend. As he steps out, he hears a rustle in the trees above. He looks up and his eyes meet Liza’s. She blows another fast round of darts. The other girls fire as the man tries to shield his face with his bare arm. He collapses like a folding chair.

Liza spits before she leaps to the ground and hides behind a tree. She’s feeling slightly woozy from swallowing some of the tranquilizer. Bits of glass have cut the inside of her mouth. There’s a metallic taste of blood mixed with fear. She needs to kill the last man standing.

The third man steps away from the tunnel entrance to see what is going on. He looks up and sees the four sentries with their blowguns poised to fire. In a split second, he pulls his rifle into position and aims. Liza takes one, two, three steps, climbs the last man’s back and slits his throat with her bowie knife before he can shoot. He staggers and falls to the ground.

Two hours later when the eldest girls return with food and supplies, Liza is back at the helipad look-out, pacing and replaying the events of the evening over in her mind. The four exhausted sentries are still at their posts. Inside the tunnel, seven-year-old Aida, the little girl being carried in the sack, is curled up asleep with the others after she was reassured that the big, bad men were all dead. Their bodies were dragged to the dump along with the other recent dart fatality. But their belongings, two knives and three rifles, will keep all the girls safe for awhile.


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