Prompt: A slice of life in a Minecraft-like world.
She had a scrape on each knee. Why were boys so cruel? She poked at the scratches and hissed through the pain. She could see little red crystals in them, not the result of her drying blood. She had been pushed into the hole she’d spent all morning digging. It was a perfect square, wide as a hot tub, and just deep enough to scrape you if you fell in.
She lived in in a small town, just off the outer angles of the city Blida. The town was called Rangshed and it was known for its pliable agreeable ground. It certainly didn’t feel that way to Lilly while she dug into it on the raised hill of her backyard. She’d been told that there was a time when the ground used to be made of much smaller pieces. Her parents told her, with a straight face no less, that the ground used to be like powder, and one scoop of a shovel could move thousands of pieces of it.
Her hole was made up of just sixteen blocks of Earth separated from the outer layer of grass. She had them neatly stacked off to the side so she could put them back when she was done. At least Hector hadn’t kicked them over. Her square-tipped shovel teetered on the brink of the hole, eventually falling in and sliding down to the deepest point. She fiddled with the handle.
She was running out of time. Each brick of Earth had proven stubborn. The world didn’t want her to get to the Redclay underneath. Its impulses were understandable; everybody in town valued Redclay over everything else. It was the raw substrate, the basic creative unit of their world. You could make anything out of it if you were creative enough: houses, vehicles, computers, and, if the stories were to be believed, living breathing monsters.
Lilly sniffled. Hector was just jealous. He was afraid she would win the competition that evening. It had gone on since long before she was born, long before the modifications the Overseer had given their world, the ones that turned powdered ground into friendly bricks. Every year the children, on the brink of getting their first jobs, first cars, or first dates, would compete in a sculpting contest. This year’s judges were the most respected people in Rangshed: the baker, the torch maker, and the fletcher.
If she was going to impress them she needed plenty of Redclay to sculpt with. Its crystalline red appearance made for truly radiant works of art. She’d practiced with regular dirt bricks and grass bricks for months. Now that they had special permission to mine a little Redclay for the competition, she was gathering her supply.
Hector thought a couple scraped knees would stop her? Not a chance. She pulled herself up and began extracting the Redclay bricks. How many did she need? She had the idea, but she had assumed that was the hard part. The Redclay was stubborn, heavy, and stiff. It didn’t want to be molded. It wanted to stay still. She had to convince it to be created.
One by one she extracted them from the hole and piled them into her wheel barrow. They were stacked high, certainly high enough to make a horse. The ones she’d made in practice looked good enough to make Hector nervous. There was no way whatever he crafted would be better than her steed. It would be a majestic creature with a full mane, two bricks thick.
Lilly glanced at her watch. The sun square would descend soon. The judging would occur on its last rays of light, as its red and purple beams bounced perfectly through the crystalline Redclay. Everyone’s sculptures would come to life in that light, but only one could be chosen. The winner’s family would get to move to the outer border, right along the raised lip of the city Blida. There were opportunities there. The world was a little more complex, the bricks a little smaller. It meant they would grow in the Overseer’s eyes.
She only had forty minutes left to sculpt by the time she made it to the town square. Her dress had angular stains on it from Hector’s push. She would have to push them out of sight by confidence alone. Lilly found her plot and dumped her supply of Redclay out on the ground. She found her parents behind the ropes, with all the other adults. They smiled, but it was a nervous smile. They didn’t have faith in her, and she knew it. Other kids were making vastly complex things. They not only stacked the Redclay, but programmed different functions into it as well.
Lilly didn’t have any talent in that field. The crystals didn’t sparkle when she touched them, the way they did when Hector touched them. She couldn’t program, but she could instill life. She just had to position everything exactly right.
Lilly started with the hooves. She pushed the blocks back and forth until the spacing was perfect. Her steed would have its forelimbs raised into the air, waving them freely and rebelliously. Only thirty minutes now, and she hadn’t even made it to the knees. What beautiful knees they were going to be though. She poked a brick to move it the subtlest amount, to give it the lively twitch of an actual muscle.
Flashes everywhere behind her. All the other parents took pictures of the works-in-progress. She knew hers weren’t. As she got older they took fewer and fewer pictures, like they tried to push her away and make her a memory prematurely. She was just a dim girl who couldn’t feel the light within the Overseer’s gifts, and so she could never bring them anything.
Fifteen minutes now. The haunches and shoulders were done. She couldn’t reach the neck, and she’d forgotten her stepladder! The wheelbarrow would have to do. She tucked the Redclay under one arm, staining her clothes further, and crawled on top of it. Its rickety old wheel wobbled back and forth, but she had to finish. She could fall. She could fall all the way below the crystals and into the nasty powdered dirt of old… but she would finish her horse. All would see the brilliant creature romping through the sunset.
Her hands shook. The nose bricks were in place, but she’d leaned too far forward. The wheel barrow toppled onto its side, and she was forced to hang from her creation’s neck. It all began to destabilize. She could feel the seams growing between her clutching fingers. Her future was collapsing and she couldn’t hold it together.
Lilly reached down to her skinned knee with one hand. Her whole body ached from the diggind and sculpting, but her horse just needed a little more commitment, a little more of her. She picked at her scabs, and pulled a tiny blood-flecked cube, barely a grain, of Redclay out of her scratch. She pressed it into the opening seam on the back of the horse’s neck. The shaking stopped. It was solid. She felt a breath on her hair and one ear.
She dismounted and stood proudly in front of it, just as the timer sounded and the bells rang. The judges walked amongst the entries, but their opinion didn’t even matter anymore. She knew what the Redclay really needed. It wasn’t a guiding hand. It wasn’t programs. It was life itself. She’d put a drop of blood, a piece of her soul, into her creation, into the ground itself, and she was rewarded.
Hector’s sculpture, a walking complimenting computer, was fine. Perhaps he would win. His programs were simple and practical. Lilly didn’t care. The last of the light struck, and her creation’s hooves hit the ground. It didn’t imitate life; it simply was alive. Lilly looked at her parents’ dropped jaws. Perhaps this was embarrassing. Most work at the contest was utilitarian, and here was their daughter’s blocky breathing crystal beast presented like the family crest.
Her mind was made up before the horse nuzzled her shoulder. She jumped on the overturned wheel barrow once more and vaulted onto the horse’s back. Despite its rough corners, its mane felt perfect in her hands. She knew she could take it anywhere, and it would be as tireless as her own spirit. They could vault over the ridge and gallop through the streets of Blida with out without permission.
“His name is Hackett!’ she declared to the judges. Hackett whinnied and pushed through them. “I saw him in the ground and I brought him out. I gave him what you all lack. None of you can see into the seams like we can. Farewell!”
Lilly rode away on Hackett the crystalline. She leaned forward, feeling his breath pump inside a body that should never be able to hold it. Her fingers danced across his seams as the bricks expanded and contracted. For every new part of the world, there was a new creature she could build. Her world and her family were out there, waiting for her efforts. The world was proud of her, and she felt it in its warm blanketing light.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Sylkeus during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!