“Leashed” is a flash fiction piece inspired by a prompt that asked me to write about a character exploring a structure he had never seen before. I chose a set of monkey bars, and this was the result.
The steel bars glinted in the dying sunlight, gleaming dully like winter’s first frost. The structure formed a rectangle with the ground, two vertical ladders topped with a longer horizontal one, the cylindrical rungs spaced about two feet apart. I stood on my tiptoes and ran a hand along the ceiling ladder, letting my fingers skip from cold rung to rung. Footsteps crunched behind me, and I whirled around, jerking my hands away from the welded metal and shoving them deep in my pockets. I exhaled at seeing the swinging brown ponytail and ratty navy sweatshirt. I turned my back to the girl, laying a heavy hand on the top rung of the closest ladder, but the muscles in my back and shoulders remained tense. “What do you want, Kalia.”
She snorted. “Whatcha doin’ out here, tough guy?”
The muscle in my neck pulsed. “Can’t you leave me alone for more than ten minutes?” The frustration of my body bled into my words, stretching them like taught tendons. I climbed up the ladder and hung from the first bar set high above the frozen earth, swinging my legs for momentum. Gripping the next bar, I stared back at Kalia and raised my eyebrows, daring her to tell me to get down, that I didn’t belong.
“Stop that. I’m not going to challenge your freedom, stupid.” My spine tingled at her mocking tone, tossing my own words from the previous trial back at me. “Your little acts of rebellion are only going to send one message—I’m Mister Idiot. I mean, what kid’s never seen a set of monkey bars before.”
“I can do whatever the heck I want to.” I leaped for the next bar with both hands, enjoying the slumping jerk as I caught it. I could feel the power awakening in my body. Oh, to fight again. Oh, for the smooth leather pommel of my sword Scintath in my hands.
“If the elders hear you talking like that, you’ll land back in jail before you can say jackrabbit.”
Hooking my heel over the side, I swung myself on top of the bars into a sitting position. I let my legs hang over the side and kicked my feet back and forth, feeling gravity tug at my heavy combat boots.
I stared at Kalia, taking in her skinny frame, her hands cocked on her hips, her disapproving brown eyes. I had seen, much less talked to, very few girls in my life, but somehow I was sure that this one was a rarity among womankind. The assassin’s life didn’t lend itself to meeting girls, especially not ones that lived ten seconds past the moment you saw them. Usually, they only had time to say “oh.” Did I want to live that life? Did I really want the elders to just kick me out of their city of Saroth to wander on my way, leaving a trail of blood behind? Was there more to life than death?
I shook my head to clear it. Those kinds of thoughts would get me killed. “Death is the only goal of life” was the assassin’s motto. Hold true to that, and I would stay alive. That was all that mattered.
I jumped off the—monkey bars? Was that it?—and stalked out of the clearing, entering the forest surrounding it. Kalia’s tennis shoes crunched through the leaves in my wake.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
I smiled slightly at her sass. “Are all girls this cute when they’re mad?”
“What? Arggh.” There was a dull thump of shoe hitting the earth, probably obliterating some poor insect in the process.
“Hey, I was just asking.”
The footsteps halted suddenly, and I stopped too.
“Kath… be careful.” It came like a leaf floating on the wind, so quiet I wasn’t sure if she had spoken at all. Overcome with a sudden urgency, I turned, her name on my tongue… and she was gone. My shoulders slumped. I turned back to the lonely path before me, kicking at dying bits of crimson, burnt orange, and brittle brown. The bare black branches of the trees stretched like interlocking fingers across the colorless sky, locking me in, an eternal cage.