(A Delayed) Flash Fiction Friday – Impossible Choices

Chuck Wendig is back at it again with Flash Fiction prompts! This week, he’s offered up a series of AI Art generated doors. Pick one and tell a story about it. I was feeling particularly indecisive, so I chose all five! If you want to play along, the prompt is on his website. Write your thing, post to your own space, and link to his. Or just go over and read what’s on offer. You do you. I’m not your mom!

Below is my story, coming in just under the limit at 933 words. The unnamed main character has a choice to make, and they all suck. Which door would you step through if you were her?

Impossible Choices

A series of AI created doors

The hounds bayed in triumph when she stumbled into the clearing. There was nowhere to go from here, just a series of doors merging into the woods behind them. She looked over her shoulder, heart pounding with fear, with exertion, with the knowledge that whatever choice she made next would change her world forever.

Three weeks ago, she’d done the unthinkable. After coming to the attention of the suzerain, she’d rebuffed his advances. In public. There’d been a village festival, one of many celebrating a fine harvest and the generosity of the suzerain, and she’d worn her prettiest dress to catch the eye of Konrad, the smithy’s son. Unfortunately, the sweet young man who’d been her childhood friend wasn’t the only male who’d watched her dance.

When the suzerain approached her for a dance, she’d laughingly turned him down. He was lord of the region, she an herbalist’s apprentice. They had nothing in common. She hadn’t meant to insult or embarrass him, but he was a man used to getting anything he wanted. And that night, what he wanted was her. The soldiers came for her after the fires died down, puling her from her home and away from her weeping parents.

The following weeks were lessons in humility, pain, and degradation. The suzerain reminded her with every touch, every word, every unwanted abuse of her body that she’d brought this on herself. And when he was done with her, when her soul keened in misery and her breath caught at the sound of a certain step on the floor outside her cell, he released her into the woods for a hunt.

If she chose wisely, she’d be his forever. A pampered and beloved pet kept for his amusement. But if she chose poorly… well, there were worse fates than his bed. With freedom no longer an option, every choice was an impossible one.

Blood coated the first door, seeping over the edges to stain the grass. Handprints appeared and vanished between one heartbeat and the next as if someone within struggled against an unseen force in an effort to escape. Horror was a scent in the air, a pounding of her heart, and a scream pushing its way into her throat. She swallowed it down and took a step back. The hounds needed no encouragement, and they enjoyed terrorizing their prey.

The next door brought tears to her eyes and a weight to her soul. Sorrow blanketed the emptiness like a shroud. Within the darkness, funereal music accompanied mourning wails. Behind a disapproving mask, an infinite number of doorways sat recessed one within another into a desolate nothingness. It repelled as much as it enticed, a part of her longing for the cessation of pain and worry it offered.

Smoke swirled within the third doorway. She stepped closer, the sounds of the hunters fading into the background. She saw no fire, smelled nothing burning, but the smoke continued to curl into lazy shapes. This one resembled a striking man, that one a voluptuous woman, and a third a happy child. The longer she watched, the more she noticed the peculiarities in the smokey figures. The man’s body was distorted, his legs misshapen and bent wrong for human anatomy. The woman’s nails were far too long to be natural, and smoke dripped from the sharp tips like spectral blood. And the child… She turned away as bile burned her throat.

Thorny vines wrapped around the fourth door The tips pressed into the wood and scraped away the paint. When she approached, something hissed in warning. The flower, she realized. Their petals curled into snarling mouths, the stamen forming jagged fangs. They extended toward her as far as their vines would allow and snapped hungrily in her direction. One coughed a cloud of pollen in her direction, blisters formed everywhere it landed. Acid. It wasn’t just the thorns which ate away at the paint. Scrubbing the acidic pollen from her skin on the moist soil, she checked the last door.

Peace settled over her, warm and comforting. Plain in comparison to the others, its simple design and color soothed her senses rather than provoked extreme emotions. Etched on the stark white surface was the emblem of a massive tree with roots stretching toward the ground. The grass beneath the door stretched upward to brush the sturdy roots. It was welcoming, alluring. She’d taken three steps toward it before she realized she’d moved. That’s when she noticed the hush around her.

No birds sang near this door. The wind didn’t blow, the leaves didn’t rustle. There was a waiting in the air silent and ominous and somehow eager. Shaking her head, she took a step back then another. The sounds of the wood returned along with the braying of the hounds. She didn’t have long to choose, and the choice would be permanent.

What was it about that final door? A frown. A squint, and she saw what she’d missed before. The flicker of eyes watching her from the branches of the tree, through the vast root system. Crimson red and filled with malevolence. They were familiar, those eyes. She’d seen a pair just like them once before, in the face of the man who owned the hounds.

Another step away from the suzerain’s doorway. None of her choices were good, but some were worse than others. Heart in her throat, took a final look back at the woods which were once her home and stepped into the misty embrace of smoke and shadows. She’d made her choice.

She prayed the gods would be kind.