The Machine (a story in 500 words or less)

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by Haley Whitehall’s May Flash Fiction Challenge and Billie Jo Wood’s Sabotage Sunday Flash Fiction Challenge.

The MachineThe Machine

“He never should have been there in the first place.” Sally dropped the duffel bag on the counter. It landed with a thunk.

“Mom, I–”

Hank put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Tyler. Go in the den for a bit.”

The boy sighed and trudged from the room.

Sally crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s twelve!”


“What were you thinking? I told you to call Debbie! He could’ve–”


“–been killed! What if the guards–”


“–had caught him? Damn it, Hank–”


She closed her mouth with a snap.

Hank walked around the counter and pulled his wife into his arms. “Babe, it’s okay. He’s–”


“He’s twelve. I know. He’s not a little kid anymore. He doesn’t need a babysitter.”

Sally pulled away but he held on. After a moment, she relaxed.

Hank kissed her on the cheek and released her. “We wouldn’t have gotten it if he hadn’t been there.”

“We would’ve figured it out.”

“No, we wouldn’t. He was the one who deciphered the sequence.” Hank laughed. “Who knew all that video game playing would pay off?”

Sally sighed, unzipped the duffel bag and looked inside. “Doesn’t look like much. Does it?”

Hank lifted out a small, gray cube. “Sure doesn’t.” He whistled softly, setting the object on the counter.

“I was starting to think we’d never get it.”

“But we did. Thanks to–”

“I know.” She looked over her shoulder at the doorway. “You can stop eavesdropping and come  in.”

Tyler burst into the room, grinning. “That it? Shoot! A soul catcher!”

Sally slung her arm around the boy’s shoulders. “The soul catcher. Only one of its kind in existence. So the monks say. Hope that’s true.”

Tyler leaned closer to the cube, listening to its faint humming. “And they really can’t make the thingy go without it?”

“Nope.” Hank nudged the cube with the tip of his finger. Its humming grew momentarily louder.

“What’s it do, anyway? The thingy? You guys are always whispering about it but I can never hear the good stuff.”

Sally hugged the boy a little tighter. “The machine opens a gateway between worlds.”

The boy frowned. “Which worlds?”

“Any of them. But it’s their world they want. That’s not a place you want to see, believe me.”

A long silence.

“But they can’t make the machine go without the soul catcher.”

Hank shook his head.

“Then they’re screwed!”


“Sorry, Mom.”

Sally laughed. “No, son. You’re right. They can’t activate the machine without this. The question is: what do we do with it?”

Hank took the cube and held it up to the light. “We go home.”


Photo Credit
Ant Nebula: Fast Winds from a Dying Star (NASA, Chandra, 2006) by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

24 thoughts on “The Machine (a story in 500 words or less)

  1. “The girl is back and you’re gonna be in trouble!
    Hey-nah-nee-nah, the girl is back!
    She’s writin’ up a storm, so get your “think cap” on in a double!
    Hey-nah-nee-nah, the girl is back!

    No matter what the prompt or challenge
    One simple thing I just gotta say
    Readin’ her responses
    Can really make your day!

    Just readin’ all her great work is really quite a treat!
    Hey-nah-nee-nah, the girl is back!
    I tell you, one and all, she’s really hard to beat!
    Hey-nah-nee-nah, the girl is back!


    So one and all just have a seat and get those fingers flyin’!
    Hey-nah-nee-nah, the girl is back!
    You just might get as good as her if you keep on tryin’
    Hey-nah-nee-nah, the girl is back!


    Not exact paraphrasing, I fear, but all true none-the-less!

    Great job once again, Sonia, your writing is always a joy to read!


  2. Here you are combining challenges again! I love this flash fiction story. I think it is my favorite so far. I was hooked and I didn’t want it to end. I think you need to continue it!

  3. This was so clever. I am also a screenwriter, so when I read, I visualize it in film. This would be a really interesting sci-fi film. Hollywood loves high impact.

  4. I love how you combined the two challenges into this fantastic reading on the edge of my seat sci-fi piece. I really do think a sequel is in order for this one! Loved it!!!

  5. In real life we talk over each other and finish one another’s sentences. It’s not so easy to pull off on paper (sheesh, do I sound old), but you really did a great job. Liked this, Sonia, yet truly loved the ending. Perfect. 🙂

  6. This was great reading and brilliance in terms of combining the two challenges! A fab-tas-tic read and I want to read more!!! It’s not often something grips me so quickly -I can’t praise you enough! Great, great great!

  7. Brillant. Loved it! Not quite sure who “they” are, but quite sure I don’t want to visit their home world!

  8. Thank you for all your wonderful comments! 😀

    I’m glad the dialogue came through well too. Last month’s challenge on dialogue writing really has inspired me to pay more attention to how much dialogue alone can move a story. Love writing challenges!

    Film has so much to teach us too. I’ve been studying why certain scenes work for me and others don’t. It’s been really inspiring for my writing too. Writers definitely need to read a lot and watch a lot of film (tv, movies, etc). Both the good and the bad can be educational.

    I’m working on a continuation. I might have to let it brew for a little while though because I have another flash fiction piece in the works and still have to nurture my MIP. 😀

  9. Wow, I love it! The picture is beautiful, too, by the way 🙂 I definitely want to know more about these characters – where is home? How will they get there? And why do they need a soul catcher to do it? Does it really catch souls? Oh my god, the questions are neverending! Awesome, fantastic story 😀

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