Posts Tagged ‘Flash fic’

The Pen Is Mightier

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Calliope Cervantes walked into her quarry’s store, ducking just in time to avoid a cheap lobotomy from a razor-sharp boomerang. Miles Johnson ran an upscale boutique that sold fancy old-fashioned pens and paper, which only rich people could afford. She knew that boomerang, though, and it didn’t belong to a middle-aged pen-pusher.

“Where’s my man, four-arms?” she shouted, stepping over broken displays.

“I was here first, chocolate chip!”

Blake Taurus disappeared into a back room, along with the muffled screams of, presumably, Miles Johnson. Taurus was a freelance bounty hunter, unlike Calliope, who worked for the good old IRS. And she’d be damned if that hulking biomod junkie swiped her commission. Especially in those awful fake crocodile-skin boots he always wore.

She clicked her heels, rocket boosters powering up, and launched herself through the store. The back door was, as expected, wide open, and led to a narrow hallway that ran the length of the building. This time she had to dodge a pair of boomerangs, twice, the flashing magnetized steel zipping back to the man who had thrown them. Calliope was lucky he had his hands full, or it would have been four. With a grin, she zipped after him.

Taurus had almost made it out a side door when Calliope careened into him like a missile with breasts and kinky hair. He lost his grip on Johnson, but the poor man was thrown against a concrete wall so hard that he was in no condition to run off. Taurus, meanwhile, was only bruised. And angry.

“Back off, sheila,” he growled. “I’ll get prime credits for this fella from the Bankers, and I’m in no mood to dance with you first.”

“You always were a lousy dancer, weren’t you?” she retorted. Bankers, eh? Citizen Johnson certainly owed the wrong people money, on top of old Uncle Sam.

The big man pulled an extra pair of boomerangs off his belt, but she was too close for him to throw them, so he took a swipe at her face instead. She leaned away, then jumped back to avoid getting a close look at her own guts. He spun towards her, all four of his arms slashing and stabbing so fast, it was all she could do to stay out of their reach.

Calliope went for her tasegun, but Taurus sliced her hand open and she dropped it with a curse. He kicked it and it skittered off behind her, back toward the shop. That left her with a pair of SCIDs, which she couldn’t use in close quarters if she wanted to walk away with all her bits. And, of course, her boots.

She kicked one boomerang aside with a snap of her foot, hooking it backward to catch another of the blades and drive it into the wall. Sidestepping a downward swipe, she used a quick rocket burst to launch her knee hard at Taurus’ head. He ducked and she turned her momentum into a roll, coming down next to the still-unconscious Johnson.

“Finders, keepers,” she said, grabbing the man and hefting him over a shoulder. Firing up her boots, she shot them both backward toward the exit door.

With a roar, Taurus charged, and she had to drop her quarry to dive out of the way. Taurus crashed into the door, buying her just enough time to get Johnson with her good hand and use her rockets to slide them across the floor of the hallway, back toward the pen store. The ground was slick with her blood, and Taurus slipped and skidded as he raced after them.

Calliope dragged the lump of a man into the store and looked around. She could get out with Johnson, but she didn’t know how Taurus had gotten here, so he might be able to follow and overtake her if she ran. She had to bring him down, fast. All she had were pens, pens and more pens.

She eyed a display of platinum fountain pens, on satin pillows behind glass. The things people would pay for… Still, those points looked pretty sharp. A sign above them proudly proclaimed, “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword! Lifetime GUARANTEE!” Well, that was good enough for her. She smashed the glass with her elbow and grabbed a pair of them.

A boomerang flew past her ear, so close it nipped off a lock of hair. She somersaulted into a crouch, then jumped toward the back room where Taurus stood, two of his hands clenched into fists while the other two held boomerangs.

Before he could react, Calliope drove the pens through the tops of his fake crocodile-skin boots, so hard she felt them hit the wood floor underneath. He roared in pain, and she rolled sideways, then forward as he tried to stab down at her. As he turned, she kicked his knee out, and he collapsed to the floor with a cry.

Gasping for breath, Calliope rocketed up and over him, narrowly missing a pair of flailing arms. She stalked back to dear Miles Johnson, who was starting to come around, groaning softly to himself.

“‘Come on, my girl!” Taurus called. “We can, we can split the credits!”

“Oh yeah?” she said, slipping an antigrav belt on her quarry. “How much?”

“Four–I mean, uh, one million!”

She whistled softly to herself, pulling out her medkit to slap a patch on her hand. That was an awful high bounty for a pen seller. It wasn’t just money he owed the Bankers, then; he must have some special friends, the kind that asked really sharp, pointed questions that didn’t have any right answers. The IRS would be very interested to hear all about his pals, she was sure.

Calliope grinned at Taurus over her shoulder as the weightless Miles Johnson bobbed along behind her. “Blakey, you’re a terrible liar.” She ducked a boomerang, which lodged itself into the doorframe. “G’day, mate. Gimme a call when you get yourself a new pair of dancing shoes.”

Waking Beauty

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Rory’s eyes fluttered open and her first thought was, “I can’t breathe!”

She tried to sit up but succeeded only in hitting her forehead hard against what turned out, upon further examination, to be another forehead. She also realized that her breathing problem had been caused by someone’s mouth covering hers. Someone staggered backward, clutching his head and having the good grace to look embarrassed.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“I should think,” she replied. One hand fumbled under her pillow and came out with a dagger, which she promptly unsheathed. “Guards!” she shouted. “Help!”

“They’re probably just waking up,” he said. “Give them a minute.”

“Silence, knave.” It occurred to her that the guards really should have arrived immediately, and that even though she was brandishing a weapon, the intruder had his own sword at his side and had made no move to draw it. Had he already killed them? “Who do you think you are, anyway?”

He cleared his throat and gave an elegant bow. “Prince William Alexander Michael Eduardo Lysander de Montebello de Gros, at your service.”


“Erm, yes. An uncle by marriage.”

“Well, Eddie, since when do princes sneak into the bedchambers of princesses?” The man was covered in fresh wounds, she saw, scratches that could have come from fighting. “And did I mention, help!”

“If you’ll just let me explain–”

The doors flew open at last, and three guards rushed in, brandishing their halberds. The prince, if that’s what he really was, held up his hands and started to protest.

“Take him to the dungeons,” Rory said, and they complied without hesitation.

“But your highness,” he said, “I don’t–”

One of the guards cuffed him on the mouth, shutting him up while another dragged him out. The third bowed to the princess. “My apologies, highness. He shall be interrogated at once.”

Now her nursemaid rushed in, her face wrinkled with dismay. “My word, what a commotion! Where did you get that, that…” She gestured at the dagger, then waved dismissively. “Never mind. Your poor nerves! I’ll have a bath drawn at once.”

Rory yawned. Judging by the light streaming through the window, it was just about dawn. Or was it sunset? No, it must be dawn. “If it’s all the same to you, Nursey, I could do with a few more minutes of rest.”

Curiosity: a fairy tale in two parts

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Nestled between the butcher and the baker, across the street from the candlemaker, a shop stood as if hunched in on itself and trying to look inconspicuous. Sera had never seen it before, despite living in the same town and passing the same buildings for as long as she could remember. Glancing around, she noticed that unlike all the other shops, this one did not have a single customer wandering in or out. A small sign hanging from a metal arm simply read, “Charming Little Store.” This, she decided, warranted further investigation.

She marched straight up to the worn wooden door and pushed it open. A strand of bells jingled somewhere in the strangest room she had ever seen. Rows of shelves stretched from floor to ceiling, each stuffed with stacks of scrolls in varying colors and sizes–some brown and brittle, some creamy white, some a strange non-color that seemed to change when she watched it out of the corner of her eye, but stopped when she stared at it directly. Something in her quietly insisted that the space between the other shops was not big enough to accommodate all of this.

“Are you a customer?” inquired a raspy voice from about the height of her navel. Sera looked down and met the bright blue eyes of a man whose beard reached down to his waist. His hair was white and his skin was wrinkled and ruddy as a fallen apple, but he was only slightly taller than her youngest brother, who could still count his age on the fingers of one hand.

“Are you a dwarf?” she asked.

“No, I’m just very short.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’m a dwarf, don’t be daft. Are you here to buy something or not?”

“What are you selling? Just paper?”

The dwarf bristled. “Just paper? This—” He flung his arms open to indicate the army of shelves. “This is no mere paper, my potential purchaser of property. These… are magic spells.”

Sera folded her arms over her chest. “Oh, so you’re one of those dwarves. And what would you want in exchange? My firstborn child? Some straw spun into gold?”


“Because I can’t spin, you know,” Sera interrupted. “And I don’t intend to have children any time soon. I can’t charm forest creatures, and I certainly won’t clean your house while you’re away. I already work at a tavern, so I clean enough as it is.”

“Now hold on there,” the dwarf said. “It’s not all like that. You’re thinking the really big spells, the ones that turn poor girls into princesses. I sell… smaller spells.”

Sera was nothing if not curious to a fault, and this was the first really interesting thing to happen in her life—not counting the incident with the jellied pears when she was seven, because honestly, she had just been standing nearby. She wrinkled her nose at the dwarf, who reminded her strongly of the “magic” carpet salesman that her father had chased out of the tavern last summer.

“How small, exactly?” she asked.

“So small, most people don’t even notice them,” he replied. “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to walk on the ceiling?”

“Like a spider?”

“Just like that,” the dwarf answered.

“I don’t like spiders.”

The dwarf’s hand twitched. “Perhaps you’d like the eyesight of an eagle?”

Sera shook her head. “I’d go mad, looking at all the dirt on the floor.”

“The strength of a bear?”

“I’d be made to move barrels of beer all the time.”

The dwarf shifted nervously from foot to foot, then set off down the nearest aisle. He pulled down scrolls and scraps and even thick sheaths of paper, scanning them briefly before tossing them aside, occasionally calling out to her in a voice that cracked at the edges.

“What about the speed of a hare? Or darksight? Would you want to speak to animals?”

“Is that anything like talking to humans, or do they have more interesting things to say?” she asked, poking a small paper folded into the shape of a flower.

“Depends on the animal, but not usually,” he responded. “Birds are the worst, gossip like old ladies.” He disappeared, and Sera thought he had finally given up when a crash issued from a far-off corner, followed by a cloud of dust. She suppressed a sneeze as the dwarf waddled forward, holding a ponderous tome nearly half his size. With a dramatic thump, he dropped the book on a podium and produced a magnifying glass.

Sera peered over his shoulder at a mass of tiny, unintelligible squiggles that could have been writing. She could almost swear that the splotchy bits were moving whenever she looked at them directly.

“We’ll find you something,” the dwarf grumbled, moving the glass back and forth as if trying to follow a hysterical bug in an invisible maze.

She turned away from the dwarf and found herself nose to nose with an enormous white cat. It could have been two cats huddled together for warmth, or hiding under a blanket with only one head sticking out. A cat only got this big by devouring small dogs and digesting them slowly like a snake.

Slowly, gingerly, Sera stepped back while maintaining eye contact with the creature. It stretched out a paw and began to clean its claws, licking between them as if sharpening them with its tongue.

“Nice kitty,” she mumbled. The cat paused and its pupils widened.

“Pay him no mind, young lady,” the dwarf said. “He’s just looking for attention. Sweet as a baby, he is.”

“Babies aren’t sweet,” Sera replied. “They scream and cry a lot. And spit up on things. And he’s far too big to be a baby.”

The dwarf paused in his relentless reading to glare at her. “Aye, he’s older than the… he’s very old. Already gone through seven of his nine lives.”

“How’s that?”

“Curiosity killed the cat, don’t you know,” the dwarf smirked. “And he’s a very curious cat.”

Sera tried not to stare at the fluffy mound of menace. “But that’s doesn’t make sense… what’s so dangerous about curiosity?”

“It depends on the kind of curiosity, I suppose.” The dwarf stroked his beard, staring at the book. “There are some things that folks just don’t need to know.”

“Like what?” Sera demanded, her back stiffening.

“I wouldn’t know,” he replied. “No need.”

Sera whirled to face him, fists clenched. “See, that’s the problem. People just decide you don’t need to know something, so they won’t tell you. Or they think you know, so they get angry if you ask. Or they don’t know, but they don’t want you to know that they don’t know, so they pretend to know but you still don’t know because they won’t tell you, because they don’t really know themselves. And that’s not fair, you know?” she finished, whirling to face the dwarf, who sported a bemused yet satisfied expression.

“Have I got the perfect spell for you,” he said with a grin.

* * * * *

Part two

I Spy With My Third Eye

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Giselle watched the people stream past her in the mall as she sat on a plush armchair, legs crossed. Which one of them was a monster? Was it the bald man sitting at the cafe table in front of the churro maker? The giggling women with doughy middles walking into the clothing store? The teenager with his hands stuffed into his pockets, earphones distancing him from the world? She had played this game since she had learned how to control her ability, even if it made her government handlers edgy.

Randy’s voice whispered through the tiny receiver in her ear. “Stop screwing around and get your mojo on.”

“Spoilsport,” she murmured. She closed her eyes, then opened the third one that no one could see and looked at the crowd again.

The regular people blurred, enfolded in hazy clouds of color that minor psychics saw as auras. Here and there a person was more clear, focused, and Giselle knew it meant they had what Hollywood called the “It Factor” and what she called “being extra real.” If she could look down at herself, she would see a bright silver glow; unfortunately, so could the creature she was trying to find.

Giselle picked it out of the crowd and smirked. It was pretending to be a mother with a toddler, and the adorable tyke was eliciting a more than reasonable amount of head-patting. She wondered what those poor people would think if they knew they were having small amounts of their life forces siphoned away by a bulbous green appendage.

“Two o’clock, adult female holding little kid’s hand, red shirt and black pants,” she whispered.

“You sure?” Randy asked.

“No, I’m just screwing with you.”

Her sarcasm did not go undetected. While she watched the creature, out of the corners of her eyes she could see the agents closing in around it.

Unfortunately, that was when it noticed her. Its warring instinctual responses were almost palpable: fight or flight? Giselle hoped it would run, because then it would just be a track and bag. If not…

The creature roared and charged her. To the other patrons, it would look like a mom screaming and dragging her also screaming child forward. To Giselle, it was an eight-foot-tall mass of muscle bearing down on her with a mouth full of needle teeth.

She nearly fell out of the chair trying to get up. That’s what she got for picking a soft one. Hoping that Randy’s boys could keep an eye on the critter without her help, she took off in the opposite direction.

The sounds of pursuit followed. People protested behind Giselle as the creature shoved them aside with more strength than any slim lady and toddler should possess. She didn’t bother glancing over her shoulder, just ran as fast as she could while dodging the fuzzy rainbows of cloud-people drifting about.

Even worse, now she could see tiny dark forms massing around her, attracted to her bright aura. They were like the pilot fish of the spirit world, and as far as they were concerned, she was a big blob of chum in the water. If she kept her third eye open much longer, she’d be shark bait.

Ahead, she saw a big department store, which would have some swell places to hide. Unfortunately, it would also have exits through which the creature could escape. She had to do something.

“Come on, Randy,” she muttered, and plunged into the store. She made a beeline for a lady with a fake smile and a bottle in her hand.

“Would you like to try–”

“Yes!” Giselle snatched the bottle and raced for the big perfume counter. Her nose was assaulted by a mix of floral odors and spicier aromas with hints of rose and licorice and a dozen other conflicting scents. Ignoring the protests of the staff, she vaulted the glass display case and ducked down, hoping the creature would be gone when she stood up.

Instead, the glass next to her shattered, and she crawled in the opposite direction, stifling a scream. The display in front of her exploded. Through the empty space she saw giant teeth, then a huge lidless eye.

“Made you look,” she said, and sprayed the perfume at it. The creature roared in pain, trying to wipe the burning liquid out of its eye. Giselle backed away, glass crunching under her feet, and wished she had worn sneakers instead of flip-flops.

The creature flinched as if stung and groaned. Giselle saw the tranquilizer dart sticking out of its… shoulder, for lack of a better term, and sighed in relief. The dark bits around her were getting bigger, but she could finally close her third eye. The sharks would have to find her another day.

Now all she could see was a puzzled woman holding a puzzled child’s hand, both of them slowly sinking to the ground. Some people around them looked concerned but none interfered, especially when a kindly looking older man in a white coat helped the woman to her feet and guided her away. The women at the perfume counter were dazed, but Randy’s agents were already feeding them a cover story that probably involved a psych ward.

Giselle was picking glass out of her feet when Randy arrived. “Wish you wouldn’t run like that,” he said.

“Wish you’d give me a taser or something so I wouldn’t have to improvise,” she retorted, tossing him the bottle of perfume.

He laughed. “How about I buy you a drink to take the edge off?”

“One drink? I’ll tell you what: you buy, and I’ll let you know when the edge is gone. I hope you brought the company card.”

* * * * *
Like Giselle? Check out her other stories:

You Get What You Pay For

The Doors of Perception

Broommates: Fire

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Part 23 of the serial Broommates. Start from the beginning or read the previous episode or click the “Broommates” link at the top of the page to see the full list.

* * * * *

The barghest appeared in the back of Grant’s attic, behind the man himself, and collapsed to the ground. “Look alive, John,” it growled. “Intruders in the cemetery.”

Grant stood in front of an altar covered with a rich purple cloth and piled high with food and liquor. He wore a loose-fitting black suit and was crafting an elaborate symbol on the floor, like a cross flanked by coffins.

“That would be why I employ you as a guard,” Grant said. He did not pause or take his eyes off the mixture of cornmeal and ash falling through his fingers.

The creature whined. “I am… injured.”


“I think… yes.”

Grant finished the symbol in silence, then wiped his hands on a clean white cloth. He glanced over his shoulder at the blue flames leaking out of the black dog.

“You’re lucky,” he said. “I was about to parlay with someone who can help you.”

On the floor nearby sat a djembe, which he carried over to the symbol on the ground. He lit four candles on the altar, then tucked the drum between his legs, crouched down slightly and began to play. At first, the beat was simple enough, almost like a waltz. But soon the pace quickened, more like the hoofbeats of a horse in gallop, a man’s heart full of the fear of impending mortality. All the while, Grant chanted in a language as old as man, his hands a blur, the candle flames brightening until their flames were blue as ghostly blood.

When it seemed that the beat couldn’t be sustained any longer, the symbol erupted in the same blue fire and a tall man appeared. His black suit was more tailored than Grant’s, with tails and a silky white shirt underneath a purple vest. A top hat covered his long white hair, and his left eye was hidden behind the smoky lens of the glasses he wore. The right lens, however, was missing, revealing an empty eye socket. This wasn’t surprising given that the rest of his face was a bare skull.

“Baron Samedi,” Grant said, bowing over the drum.

“John Grant.” The baron’s voice was deep and rich, with a hint of humor. “Are you already upon the seventh incarnation of your soul?”

“Not yet.” Grant gestured at the altar. “Please, have yourself some piman. I’ve got a deal for you.”

“Ah, bon, straight to business.” The skeletal figure slipped bony fingers around a bottle filled with hot peppers and drank the rum inside like it was water.

The barghest whined and Grant rolled his eyes. “First, what would you ask for healing that lazy mutt behind me? I’m right fed up with his tomfoolery but it’d be a shame to have to find a new one.”

The baron rubbed his chin. “That is quite a wound. I have not seen its like since… ah, but knowledge is like a pretty girl: you must court it with gifts before you take it to bed.”

“How much?” Grant asked.

“Five of your fattest ghosts,” Samedi replied. “One will be consumed in the process, the other four are for me to… enjoy.”

Grant looked back at the barghest and frowned. “Damn veterinarians always charge an arm and a leg. Fine, deal.”

The baron grabbed a fat cigar and lit it on one of the candles. “Now that I have something to look forward to, what is the real reason you summoned me here?”

Grant smiled. “I propose to help you corner your market, so to speak. Here’s my plan…”

* * * * *

The five weary travelers made it back to the house in record time, mainly because Miranda drove like a demon while Parker maintained a misdirection illusion on the car so people would ignore it while getting out of the way. Nobody said a word.

Booker waited for them on the doorstep, frowning and fidgeting. “How d-did it go?” he asked. Miranda just shook her head. They all trudged inside and Booker followed. He gasped when he saw the bandages on Beatrice’s back.

“Are you… is that… should I…”

“I’ll have a cup of tea and a salve for this mess,” Parker said, gesturing at his arm and side. Booker stared at him blankly for a moment before rushing off. “Oh, and a sandwich. Peanut butter. No crusts.”

“You do think with your stomach,” Miranda said. She sank into the couch and massaged her right calf.

“Among other bits, rarely his brain,” Anthony muttered. He paced back and forth in the living room until his temper overflowed. “We could have just waited!” he shouted.

“It could have gone for Grant,” Miranda said. “We weren’t to know.”

“And if Grant had come, we could have fended him off, too!”

“Or we could have been hit by lightning. Or a meteor. We don’t know what he can do.” Her own temper rose to the occasion and she found herself on her feet, arms akimbo. “Give it a rest, will you? It’s done.”

“You just wanted to see the sword again,” he said, jabbing a finger at her. “Any excuse, eh? Even if it almost got us killed?”

“You aren’t half full of yourself, are you? Well, let me tell you something–”

“Oh!” Booker interjected, nearly dropping the armful of creams he carried. “I nearly forgot. In the b-basement. You need to s-s-see.”

Anthony made it downstairs first by virtue of his longer legs. He froze above the foot of the stairs and Miranda had to lean over him to look.

Hovering in the air in front of the door to the lands Below was a word, scrawled in foot-high letters of blue-white flame: TOMORROW.

“Is that–” Miranda started to ask.

“Not from Below,” Anthony interjected. “It must be Grant. Where are you going?”

Miranda was already halfway out the door. “Upstairs. If Grant’s planning something for tomorrow, I’m going to prepare him a nice welcome party.” She shot him a look that would have melted sand into glass. “You can sit here and wait since you’re so fond of it.”