Guard Duty (Flash Fiction)

Bob did his best to shuffle about in the small cell block, but anywhere he went, no matter the corner he tried to hide in, no matter how many chairs he sat in to turn his back, he felt those eyes upon him, always on him. He turned, and it was true. His strange prisoner, the one that had the constable in such an uproar, was staring right at him. As soon as their eyes met, the man spoke.

“You have to let me out of here.”

Bob shook his head. “Look, right? Constable says you got to stay in here. Now stop your squawkin’, right? There ain’t nuffin I can do.”

The man’s face remained a disturbing calm, the kind of calm that goes beyond a poker face or even one of a man who knows he has power over the other that will soon be realized. The look said only one thing. I speak the truth.

“An’ stop starin’ at me!” Bob shouted. His voice echoed off the cold stones of the prison. He tugged at the thick leather belt holding his trousers and the cell keys clanged with the sound of dull iron.

“My name is Captain Harker of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I’m from the year 2047 and I’ve accidentally traveled to your time on a mission to—”

“I said shut it!” roared Bob. He meant for the roar to sound fierce and intimidating, but instead it sounded rich with fear and uncertainty. He pointed his dull halberd at the prisoner. “Yer a witch or a devil or sumfin! I know it. I saw you fall from the sky with my own eyes!”

Captain Harker laced his fingers around the prisoner bars and continued in his calm manner. “My craft crash landed after traveling through a large magnetic distortion that created a spatial—”

Bob thrust his old weapon at the cell and a metallic ringing filled the small room.

“You’re going to die if you keep me here,” said the man. “Please listen to me. This entire town is at risk. The reactor on that ship is edging toward super-criticality. You must let me return to it.”

Bob let the large halberd fall to the floor, and he clutched at his head with dirty hands. His fingers churned at his face and scalp as though trying to work the stress free from his mind. “I can’t let you out. Constable said. I can’t let you out.”

“I’m from the future. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. You know it’s true. I can barely believe it myself, but here I am. Look at my face. Look at what I’m wearing!”

Bob didn’t want to, but he couldn’t resist. His face turned as if on its own, and that painful ache in the bottom of his heart that told him what was right versus what was wrong stung him again. The man was as clean-shaven as a king, and he wore a white suit that looked as fluffy as a cloud. Small emblems and flags decorated the suit, and strange lights of orange and green and blue flickered from a small white box on his chest.

“Please,” said the man. “I’m begging you. I cannot harm you. I’m only a man, just like you. But I have to get back to that ship. I must run a proper shutdown of its reactor core. This entire village will die otherwise. I swear upon my life I will surrender to you immediately once the task is done. Please!”

Despite the cold draft tearing through the barred windows, beads of sweat bloomed on Bob’s forehead. He clutched the keys in his hands as though he were trying to strangling them. His dirty face quivered, and his eyes welled with tears.

“Please!” shouted the man.

Bob turned and thrust a key into the door and undid the lock in a flash. “Go!” he yelled, waving the strange man on. “Go and tell no one of what I did!” The man clutched his shoulder and gave Bob a look that made him feel as though he were finally part of something bigger. Then he slipped out the back door of the small prison and disappeared into the night.

Later, back on his ship…

“How the hell did you get out of that village, Harker?” asked Brian.

Harker shook his head with regret. “I convinced the poor guard that the whole village would explode if he kept me in that prison.” He punched a few buttons on the panel in front of him while contemplating his evening. “I honestly feel a little badly for lying to the guy, ya know? He was just trying to do what was right.”

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