This week’s Chuck Challenge is another random one – drawing words from a variety of lists and putting them together for your story. I drew 2 characters, a setting and a problem. Not going to tell you which ones, but I think it’ll be pretty evident from the story. Oh, and this week, we get 2000 words instead of the usual 1000! So here goes…
Being trapped in the empty cafeteria of an abandoned army outpost in the middle of the Nevada desert with a hysterical wannabe celebrity, mascara dripping down her face making her look like something from a circus show on drugs, and a ghost named George was the last thing that Annie Headley would have thought she would be doing on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon.
“Some days they just can’t pay me enough,” she muttered under her breath as she picked her way across the dry, hard, rocky ground. She looked at her watch. They’d only been out here ten minutes and already her client was grating on her nerves.
Annie glanced over her shoulder and stopped. Her client was a good twenty feet behind, wobbling unsteadily on heels too high and thin for anyone to be walking in. The woman was wearing a figure hugging dress that showed off her long, tanned legs expertly, and even though the sun was shining high and hot overhead, her sunglasses were perched in her perfectly styled shimmering blond hair instead of actually over her eyes. Annie sighed. At least this wasn’t another lost dog mission, she thought to herself. And besides, the girl had paid her enough. Just. After all, she had enough jewels on her arms to pay for Annie’s rent for six months.
Sometimes Annie wished she was a fraud. And sometimes, in reality, she was. Sometimes it just didn’t happen. You couldn’t force these things, you know. But people were impatient. Impatient and upset, usually – a bad combination. So you had to give them something to go on, even if you didn’t actually have anything. “I’m getting too old for this,” she groaned as her client finally reached her.
“How much further?” The girl whined, wiping a hand dramatically across her forehead. Annie didn’t even know who the girl was. Apparently some actress, or what passed as celebrity these days. Some girl in a reality TV show or some nonsense. Someone with a ridiculous name like… “I don’t think it’s too much further, Kenzie.” Kenzie? Do these people name themselves, or what?”
Kenzie blew out a breath. “Okay, good. Because I have to get back for four, because I have a spray tan appointment, and then I need to get my nails done.” She thrust her hand out and held it in front of Annie’s face. “Just look at the state of my nails!” Annie looked. They seemed perfect to her. She’d never had as nice nails in her life. She sighed loudly and turned away, continuing to navigate the rubble. That’s what it was. They were actually reaching the outskirts of the abandoned military facility. Or what was left of it. A viewing tower looked down on them like a dead eye. The sun shone through the glass blindingly. They were heading towards a gap in the fence. Well, it was more than a gap, as most of the wall had crumbled, and spirals of barbed wire that once topped it lay on the ground like strange snakes all but useless.
Annie stopped again as she reached the guard tower, placing her hand on the warm concrete. She looked back, spying her old, beat up rusty red Honda in the distance. There was no one else around except her and Kenzie. And George, of course. Someone with a normal, sensible name.
Kenzie stopped her awkward wobbling like a strange bird and looked around as a hot breeze blew, bringing up mini tornadoes of desert dust. “We’re a long way from nowhere,” she said.
Annie sighed again and rolled her eyes. “Anywhere. You mean we’re a long way from anywhere. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Kenzie stared at her blankly with bright blue eyes that Annie wondered were real or if they were some sort of coloured contacts. “Yes?” Kenzie said, her voice going up at the end, unsure, turning it into a question. “That’s what I said.”
Annie suppressed a laugh and passed the barrier between the desert and the abandoned army based, stepping over a jumble of concrete and twisted metal.
“What happened here?” Kenzie said suddenly from just behind Annie. Annie jumped and muffled a small scream.
“Why is there nothing here?” the girl repeated, batting her eyelash extensions.
“Don’t you watch the news?” Annie asked, and then shook her head at herself. What a stupid question.
“No. Well, not unless I’m on it,” Kenzie said with a wide smile of dazzling perfect white teeth.
“That disaster that happened. Years ago. They, the government or military or someone, were doing nuclear tests, and something went wrong and…” she waved her arm out across her, gesturing to the base and the empty desert devoid of life beyond.
Kenzie stared blankly back at her.
Annie rolled her eyes again. “And this whole place was abandoned. It’s all a nuclear wasteland now. Lots of people died here.”
Kenzie’s eyes widened. “Including my Grandpa George?”
Annie ran a hand over her face. Today was definitely going to be a long day…
“No.” She tried to control her voice so that it didn’t sound like she was talking to a child. “You were the one that told me your grandpa George went missing from his Senior’s home a few weeks ago. Remember?”
“Oh. Yeah, right.” Kenzie nodded vigorously yet her hair still stayed perfectly in place.
“But you came to me for help because you thought he’d been murdered…?” Annie asked it as a question, to spark the girls memory.
“Yes!” Kenzie did a small excited hop, and amazingly didn’t trip. Was she born in those things, Annie wondered.
“And that’s why we’re here today. Because your Grandpa used to work here.”
Kenzie’s eyes widened in amazement again. “He did? How do you kn-”
“Because I’m a psychic.” Annie’s patience was wearing thin, not helped by the heat, that seemed to be rising. “Because the ghost of your grandpa George told me.”
Kenzie’s perfectly lipsticked mouth fell open. “You can talk to him?”
Annie regained her composure. At least people asked her these types of questions a lot. More sensible ones. “I don’t really talk to him, no. But I get flashes – visions of things. The people, the spirits, show me things. And I saw this place. What it used to look like years ago. And he also gave me the impression that this is where they put him.”
“The people who murdered him. I’m getting shown things that make me feel that it’s more than one person. I had visions of being robbed, and then beaten.”
Kenzie’s unnaturally tanned face paled.
Annie continued. “And what better place to dump a body than here?” She was actually surprised she’d never been out here before. Mind you, it was quite a few miles from the city limits. But this is what she was getting paid the big bucks for today. She put a reassuring hand on Kenzie’s shoulder. “Come on.”
Kenzie followed obediently, gingerly stepping over the pile of stone.
Annie pushed open a rusted door that was ajar and stepped into dusty dimness. She stood a moment, letting her eyes adjust from the harsh brightness outside into the sudden darkness. It was eerily silent. She’d been in places like this before – prisons, asylums, hospitals – and there was always some sort of life – mice, birds in the rafters, even a breeze, but there was nothing here. She fumbled around in her large purse and brought out her flashlight – a psychics best friend. She didn’t go anywhere without it. It was a staple of a psychic really, especially when you were…well, not on a ghost hunt, but on a hunt for the source of a ghost – a body. It’s what a lot of people used her, and other psychics, for nowadays. She got called a lot by the police when they were at their wits end on a case.
She flicked on the flashlight and was thankful the hallway was a lot easier to walk through than the rock strewn desert they had crossed to get here. Kenzie’s high heels clicked loud and hollow on the stone floor.
The place seemed strangely familiar to Annie, having been shown glimpses of it in her mind, thanks to George. “This way,” she said, more confidently than she felt. She knew Kenzie was close behind, the sound of her heels ringing loudly in the narrow hall.
“So my grandpa George is somewhere in here?” Kenzie whispered, her voice faltering. “I don’t like it here. I’m getting dust all over my shoes!”
Annie winced. She was getting visions flashing in her mind more and more quickly. It was confusing and gave her a headache, but she knew she was getting closer because George was becoming more insistent – flinging thoughts and memories and pictures at her as if he were shouting.
“We’re getting close.” Annie’s flashlight flickered. Great. Just what this day needs. She rummaged around in her purse. She usually kept spare batteries… “Dammit.”
“What’s wrong?” Kenzie sounded scared.
“I usually have batteries in my purse. Just in case, but I don’t have any-”
“Oh, is that all?” Kenzie pulled out her iPhone from an impossibly small bag, and with a couple taps, turned her phone into a flashlight, shining it at Annie. “There you go.”
Annie held a hand up over her eyes. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again. I need to get with the twenty-first century, she thought numbly as she shoved at a door with her shoulder. It stuck slightly and she leaned against it heavily and pushed. Eventually it swung in.
“Hey, what’s this?” Kenzie asked at Annie’s heels. Annie shrugged, not even bothering to look at her – the pull she felt from within this room was strong, and everything else faded out to the periphery – even Kenzie’s annoying mosquito-like whining. “Hey, it’s 3:30,” Kenzie’s voice snaked into Annie’s head as she moved further into the room. “Are we going to be much longer?”
There was a lot of tables, and chairs. It took Annie a moment, with her flashlight on the fritz, to realize it was a cafeteria. A layer of dust lay on the large circular tables. “He’s here. He’s somewere here.” Annie said slowly, rotating in a circle, scanning the room. It was cool, almost cold. Goosebumps rose on Annie’s arms and she wished she was wearing more than just a short-sleeved shirt. There was no windows to let in any heat or light from the hot summer day outside.
The intermittent light from her flashlight fell on a large silver fridge/freezer, and Annie moved in that direction. She had a feeling that was where George was. Of course, the fridge or freezer wouldn’t be working – the power had long since been shut off from here. The room was filled with the smell of old food, and something else unpleasant. Yes, Annie thought triumphantly. This is it, and then we can get out of he-.
Her thought was cut off by a loud heavy bang and clatter. Her heart leapt into her throat and she spun around. “What was that?”
In the glow of her iPhone Kenzie strode back to the double doors and pushed on them. They opened a sliver. “Oh, it’s just what I was asking about a few minutes ago.”
Annie almost sprinted across the room. “What are you talking about?”
“I was asking you why they were there.”
Annie shone her flashlight through the gap and saw a pile of pipes and iron girders and a large concrete tube that had shattered. She pushed on the doors, but they were stuck. They wouldn’t open more than the small fingers-length it was already. A girder lay diagonally, the end of it jamming into the corner of the wall and the door, stopping the door from opening.
“What are they?” Kenzie asked again.
Annie didn’t mean to sigh, but she couldn’t help it. “They’re our death sentence.”
– Okay, as you’ll have guessed, I rolled a 5 (Psychic) and 8 (Celebrity) for the Who, 1 (Nuclear Wasteland) for the Where and 4 (Trapped!) for the Uh-Oh.