Posts Tagged ‘Flash fiction’

The Violet Hour

Friday, September 24th, 2010

AFTER the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

–from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

Mary walked in the brittle grass on the side of the road, one hand resting on the bulge growing in her womb. She checked her watch; it was 8:15, and the sun had already driven the temperature from mild to uncomfortable. She needed water and food.

“For the baby,” she muttered to herself. “Have to keep going.”

If the homes around her were occupied, there was no sign. Empty windows observed her passing, some blown out and some still intact. Most driveways were empty, and the ones that contained cars, well. She didn’t want to know what might be inside those houses.

“Need to find a store.”

Her feet were tired, her back and head ached and her dizzy spells had gotten worse. The size of her stomach gave her a waddling gait, like a duck with its bulk in the front instead of the back. Not that she had seen any ducks in… weeks? months? Had it been so long?

There. In the distance, a big grocery store. The sight lifted her spirits and made the walk more bearable. Mary rubbed her belly and cooed at it.

“Soon, little Jesus. Soon we can eat.” She looked at her watch. It read 8:15.

As she neared the building, she saw the string of barbed wire around the barricade of cars that someone had erected in front of the broken glass storefront. A gang had taken this place. She stumbled and almost screamed in frustration. But maybe–no, surely they would have mercy on her.

A pair of what looked like men in makeshift metal armor raised their guns as she approached. Their skin was mottled with angry red patches, their hair mostly gone. She raised her hands to show she was unarmed.

“Please,” she said, unsure whether they could hear her. “Please, food. For my baby.”

One of them made a harsh choking sound that she realized was laughter. “No baby,” he said. “Can’t be.”

She turned sideways so he could see. “God’s baby,” she said. “Little Jesus, to save us.” Another wave of dizziness took her and she almost fell.

The men held a whispered conference. Finally, one of them ducked down and unlocked the doors to a car, beckoning her over. She had to crawl through the back seat of an old Corolla to get inside, and once she did the men touched her everywhere as if to be sure she was real.

There were only a handful of others in the store; some treated her with suspicion while the rest were kinder. They had each set up their own sleeping areas and helped her to do the same. The power had been out for so long that the place smelled musty and damp where it wasn’t smoky from the fires they lit at night. The aisles were littered with the detritus that had been left after the first wave of looting, and the second, and who knew how many more until the gang had settled in.

Still, there was enough food to fill her belly as it hadn’t been for some time, even if she almost threw it all up. She settled down in a nest of papers and tablecloths, warm and comfortable and safe.

They found her in the morning, a smile on her face and a hand on her stomach, stone dead. One man croaked that maybe they could save the baby, but when they opened her womb, all they found was a misshapen lump as big as two fists. Her watch read 8:15 and, for once, it was.

Broommates: Frying Pan

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Part 22 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.

* * * * *

Parker was the first to break the silence. “The spooky pooch is gone. Let’s go before it finds Grant and we get a visit from Mister Magical Nuke.”

“How do you know it’s gone?” Miranda asked. “It could be a bluff, like Anthony said.”

They stared into the darkness of the forest, unable to feel the wind that shook the branches of the trees. Clouds massed in the sky, threatening to hide the moon and make it even harder to see.

“Kitty, can you see anything?” Anthony asked. Kitty shook her head. “Beatrice?”

Beatrice cracked an eye open. “If it is here, I cannot see or sense it.”

“So we have two options,” Miranda said, ticking them off on her fingers. “One, we wait here until morning and hope it hasn’t gone to get Grant. Two, we hope it’s gone and make a run for the car.”

“I hate plans that rely on hope,” Parker muttered. “They always end badly.” The moon disappeared briefly, like a light flicked off and on.

“What’s your big idea, then?” Anthony asked. “Run out and get us all mauled to death?”

“Better than sitting here waiting to be killed!”

Miranda threw up her hands. “That’s it! I’m leaving even if you aren’t. I’m not standing here listening to you bicker all night.”

“Don’t be ridic–”

“And anyway,” she continued. “Are you really willing to risk going up against Grant on his own ground?” She pulled a metal rod out of her backpack, then knelt down and checked that the laces of her sneakers were tight. She looked up at Anthony, who frowned. “Why don’t you get your sword ready, just in case?”

He crossed his arms. “I can defend myself fine without it. And anyway, this is a bad idea.”

Beatrice had resigned herself to the situation and was limbering up. “You fear the sword,” she said. “Sensible.”

“What’s to be afraid of?” Miranda asked. He didn’t answer. “Whatever.” She picked up the candle at the center of the magic circle. “Everyone ready?”

“One sec.” Parker, who had been fumbling with his glowstick, finally managed to crack it open. Some of the goo dribbled on the ground; the rest, he poured into his cupped hands.

Miranda started to ask what he was doing, but felt the tingle of a spell being prepared and opted to keep her mouth shut instead. When he looked up at her and nodded, she held the white candle up and blew it out.

The magic circle sank into the ground and the night breeze finally hit them, chilling sweat that they hadn’t realized was soaking them until now. Seconds passed like minutes as they waited for an attack that didn’t come.

“Looks like he’s gone after all,” Miranda muttered.

“Hold up,” Parker said. Careful so as not to mar the line of salt marking the perimeter of the circle, he stepped out and tossed the glowing goop he held into the air. Instead of arcing like a liquid, it exploded out in a shower of glittering globules like luminescent snowflakes, settling on his head and shoulders so that he was visible against the darkness.

And then, so was the black dog.

It growled, low and deep like the engine of a massive truck, and tried to shake off the faint green light. “Now, that’s cheating,” it said, but Parker was already moving, and so was Miranda.

“Randy, no!” Kitty shrieked.

“Yes.” Miranda lit the candle and raised the circle again–with Parker stuck on the outside. He turned to face the dog, digging a hand into his pocket.

“You and me, cheeky bugger,” the dog huffed, tensing its hindquarters to leap.

Parker pulled a mirror out of his pocket and pointed it at the creature. “In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni!”

“Latin isn’t going to stop my teeth, you silly–what?”

Instead of one Parker, there were now seven standing in a line, each eying him smugly.

“Oh, very nice,” it said. “Can’t find the tree for the forest, hmm?” The dog started to pace and each version of Parker took a step back, then another. “Fee, fi, fo, fum…”

Anthony shouted, “Parker, you fool, he can smell the real you! Run!”

“You really are a spoilsport,” the dog said. “I was going to give him a head start.” Without another word, he jumped straight at the real Parker.

Kitty screamed. Miranda blew out the candle and raised her rod, firing off a ball of flame the size of a cantaloupe. Beatrice dug a foot into the ground, twisted it, and launched herself to intercept the dog, which swiped at Parker’s chest. Parker dodged but took a vicious gash to his left side and arm.

Miranda’s fireball barely singed the dog’s ghostly fur, and it barked, whether in laughter or in surprise she wasn’t sure. Anthony pulled in the cold left behind by Miranda’s spell and used his sweat to form a trio of vicious icicles, which he sent flying toward the creature. It managed to dodge, but for its efforts received a solid kick to the ribs from Beatrice.

Growling, it went incorporeal and misty, jumping through her like a shock of cold water only to solidify on the other side and slash open her back. Beatrice hissed in pain and went after it again, but now it was heading for Kitty, who knelt next to Parker. Miranda lobbed another fireball at it, her teeth chattering as all the heat went out of the air, but it was in its ghost form and the spell sailed through it.

Anthony got to them first. The veins in his arm blackened and in the blink of an eye, his sword appeared in his hand. The barghest leaped and Anthony swung.

The dog landed in a clumsy heap nearby, blue fire leaking from where Anthony cut it. “You can’t…” it whined, limping backward. Anthony advanced and in a flash of the same blue flame, it disappeared entirely.

“Back to the car, now!” Anthony shouted. They all obeyed without a word. Miranda watched the blackness writhe in Anthony’s arm as he grimaced and brought up the rear. Maybe she would wait to ask him about the sword after all.

* * * * *

Part 23: Fire


Friday, September 17th, 2010

Amanda and Eydis walked down the hall of the Aletheia Building on the way to their next class. They’d been roommates since freshman year and even though they had different majors, they tried to take at least one elective together every semester. They watched in amusement as new students scrambled to find their classrooms without looking lost. One boy in particular caught Amanda’s eye.

“Check out that fresh meat,” she said. “Rawr.”

Eydis followed her friend’s gaze and stifled a grin. “He’s a little buff for you, isn’t he?”

“Please. He’s got tall, dark and handsome on lockdown and you think I’m going to complain about his muscles?”

“You do usually prefer them thin and brooding…”

Ligossa popped up out of nowhere, as she often did, her wings brushing against Amanda’s arm. “I hear he’s a transfer,” she said. “Scholarship boy. From community college.” Her tone put that on the same level as someone with a horrible, disfiguring disease.

“Smart, too, eh?” Eydis patted her friend on the back. “Guess you’d better pick the wedding venue.”

Amanda rolled her eyes.  “What’s his name, Oss?”

“I think someone said it was Joe.” She ruffled her feathers and sneered. “Have fun slumming it, Mandy.”

“Don’t worry, I will.” She hated snobs who cared more about genealogy than ability. Squeezing Eydis’ arm, she sauntered off toward the boy and flashed him a smile that nearly made him stagger.

“Need help finding your class?” she asked, tucking a strand of curly auburn hair behind her ear. “I’m Amanda.”

“Kojo,” he said with a polite bow. “My friends call me Joe. I believe I have found the room, but I thank you for the kind offer.”

Amanda looked up at the number over the door. “Oh, you’re taking Basic Shapeshifting? So am I! What’s your major?”

She sensed his blush even though his coffee-black skin barely showed it. “Finance. I would have preferred to take something else but my parents are rather old-fashioned.”

“Don’t worry, it will be fun.” Batting her eyelashes, she leaned closer. “You’d be surprised how invigorating it can be to… fully experience different forms.”

Eydis arrived then and Amanda introduced her. “Eydis is majoring in hydrology with a minor in luck. She’s taking the class, too.”

As tall as Joe was, Eydis could almost look him right in his big brown eyes. She decided after a handful of seconds that she liked what she saw and held out an arm for him to grasp.

“Come on, we don’t want to be late.” Amanda tucked her arm into Joe’s and steered him toward the door.

“And what are you majoring in?” Joe asked.

Joe smelled absolutely divine, like a mix of coffee, lemon and cayenne pepper. “I’m still undeclared,” she lied. For some reason, these young sweet things always tensed up when they found out she was studying to be a love goddess. And did she ever love to study.

Broommates: Black Dog

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Part 21 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.

* * * * *

Kitty, who was outside, heard the howl most clearly and knew it for what it was.

“Black dog,” she whispered. She couldn’t move for fear of the creature. If it had her scent, running was pointless anyway.

Inside, everyone else was nearly frozen, but for another reason. The air had solidified like molasses in a freezer, hard and just as cold, black as pitch. Miranda could feel it trying to force its way into her mouth; she gritted her teeth against the sensation. Here was Grant’s trap, then, but what was it? Solid fog wouldn’t be so dark, and neither would a temporal stasis, which tended to cause red or blue trails. What it really felt like, when she thought about it, was ghosts. A whole swarm of them, all piled together like a rugby team made of mist. Unfortunately, she couldn’t move her mouth to attempt a banishing.

Behind her, something screamed, something decidedly not human and very much in pain. This scream was joined by others, until the cacophony nearly split Miranda’s head. Within seconds, she could move freely, and the dim light of her glow stick once again pushed back the darkness. She turned to see Anthony swinging a sword at Parker, who was covered in a layer of what looked like filmy black smoke. Beatrice was already free and rushing outside to stand beside Kitty.

“When we get out of here,” Miranda told Anthony, “you are spilling the beans about that sword if I have to–”

“Later!” he shouted.

Miranda exited the crypt to find Beatrice and Kitty both staring at the trees barely a hundred feet away. Another howl pierced the air, closer than the last.

“Just what we needed,” she muttered. “Is that a barghest?” Kitty nodded mutely. “Let’s get the boys and raise a circle. We can wait it out until dawn.”

Grant’s stomping grounds were not an ideal spot for a circle of protection, but luckily there was bare earth surrounding the tomb for several feet in all directions. Miranda wondered if things simply couldn’t survive there with the press of ghosts sucking all the life out of the place. She fished in her bag for a jar of salt to make the circle, taking care that it be large enough to accommodate them all comfortably, or at least allow people to alternate sitting and standing.

Anthony and Parker stumbled outside, Parker especially looking pale and haggard. With a heave, he proceeded to experience his dinner for the second time. Anthony’s sword was gone.

“In here, quick, so I can cleanse it!” Miranda shouted. They obeyed. With everyone inside, she closed the gap in the salt, lit a white candle and banished everything but them from the now-glowing ring.

Kitty shuddered and buried her face in Parker’s shoulder. “Shh, we’re safe,” he said. “Couldn’t get in here with a tank.”

“Can’t get out, either,” Anthony muttered. Miranda pinched him. Beatrice had already sat down in a full lotus position and was meditating.

At the edge of the forest, a pair of glowing red eyes appeared. The outline of an enormous dog became visible as a blackness even darker than the shadowed trees around it. The creature padded forward, moving straight for them but in no hurry, as if it knew they were not going anywhere. It stopped a few yards away and sniffed the air. This close, it was as tall as Anthony, short-haired and stocky as a Rottweiler.

“Does a doggie wanna biscuit?” Parker crooned. Kitty gasped.

“Come, now, there’s no call to be cheeky,” the dog said in a thick English accent. “If we’re to keep each other company until I find a way through your shielding, we might at least be civilized about it.”

Parker rolled his eyes. “Huh. Talking dog. Figures.”

It cocked its head to the side, one ear flopping over. “I could look like something else, if you’d prefer.” It flickered from a bunny to a cat to a flaming, headless man and back to a dog.

“Cat was good,” Parker muttered.

The dog politely ignored him, pacing slowly around them as it spoke. “So what brings you chaps and ladies out here? If you were looking for Grant, I daresay you were disappointed.”

“Are you his lap dog, then?” Anthony asked.

“His would be quite a lap, if that were so.”

“Guard dog?” Parker asked. “Can you do tricks? Sit, roll over, maybe play dead–”

The creature leaped at the circle, fangs bared. It hit an invisible barrier and slid to the ground, pawing at thin air. Miranda hissed in pain and the others recoiled instinctively.

“That’s it,” Parker said. “Let’s just send Beatrice out to teach him real manners.”

“Needless risk,” Beatrice said, eyes still closed. She pursed her lips. “Wiser to wait for dawn.”

If a dog could smile, this one was doing so, tongue lolling out the side of its mouth.

“What about your sword, Anthony?” Miranda asked.

“Haven’t faced a good swordsman in years,” the creature said. “The touch of cold iron does tickle one so.”

“Yes, cut him up with your sword,” Parker said hotly. “Like butter. Melty, soft butter.”

“Shut up,” Anthony said. “Beatrice is right, we wait.”

Parker ignored him. “You hear the ghosts inside screaming? That was him. Slice and dice.”

The dog sat back on its haunches. “Is that so?” It sniffed the air. “Yes, they’re quite gone from this realm. Rare for a mere human weapon to do more than repel a spirit.”

“Parker!” Anthony shouted. “I said put a lid on it.” Parker almost retorted but thought better of it and glared instead.

“Spoilsport.” The creature stood and began to pace again. “He had all but told me the sword’s name, and then I would have had rich intelligence for my master. Still, I suppose Grant is clever enough to puzzle it out for himself.” It yawned again, and stretched, pawing idly at the circle as it did. “I shall tell him immediately, as well as inform him of your presence.”

Miranda grabbed Anthony’s arm. “We can’t let him get away. We’ll be sitting ducks!”

“It’s a bluff,” Anthony retorted. “He’ll just go invisible and wait for us to try to escape.”

The dog was already retreating, but paused to look back over its shoulder. “Perhaps. And then again, perhaps not.” It vanished into the trees as silently as it had appeared.

* * * * *

Part 22: Frying Pan

Broommates: Grant’s Tomb

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Part 20 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.

* * * * *

As bleak as it had been during the day, at night the old cemetery was washed out under the light of the gibbous moon. All color had been leached away to leave mottled grays and whites, shadows pooling in corners and shifting as the moon moved through the sky. The newer graves were closer to the church and the road, as respectful distance succumbed to space constraints over time.

No shovel was needed; Grant was laid to rest in a family tomb barely within sight of the church, near a copse of trees at the far end of the grounds. After some argument about whether someone should go alone, or in a pair, and no Miranda most certainly would not stay behind thank you very much, it ended up that all five of them skulked about in dark clothes, hoping that no one was looking.

“Are you sure I can’t–” Parker began.

“No!” Miranda whispered. “No illusions. No magic. Grant’s probably laid alarms or traps for that. We can only hope he didn’t expect a more mundane approach.”

“Or that he hasn’t booby-trapped anything because he doesn’t want to draw attention.” Anthony tapped Kitty on the shoulder, and she squeaked. “Sorry,” he said. “See anything yet?”

She shook her head. “Just ghosts. They’re staying pretty far from the tomb, and from the trees.”

“Come on, then.”

The tomb itself was a stone mausoleum, with a single entry door flanked by Grecian columns. Slits carved in the stone on the front walls looked like windows, and the roof was pitched with a simple decorative border beneath. Bare trees reached bony branches toward the sky at regular intervals, but whether they were dead or dormant wasn’t apparent.

Miranda reached into her backpack and produced a packet of glow sticks, which she cracked one by one and distributed. Without a word, they stepped inside.

The first room was a kind of foyer, bare white marble starkly contrasted by a black obelisk in the center, figures carved into the slightly reflective stone. Anthony approached it, running the dim green light he carried over its surface.

“This isn’t any language I know,” he said. “Wish we’d brought Booker.”

“Not enough room in the car,” Miranda murmured, examining the carvings herself. “Looks like Enochian.”

“Do you speak it?”

“I don’t think anyone does.” She leaned closer, peering at the letters that were almost a cross between Greek and Cyrillic. “I had to learn to read it in school but that was years ago. Haven’t seen it since.”

Parker eyed her curiously. “Where did you go to school, anyway? Enochian wasn’t in our course catalogue.”

“Sherwood School for Girls,” Miranda answered primly. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Never heard of it.”

“I have,” Anthony said. Miranda frowned at him and he shrugged. “My mom went there.”

Before Miranda could ask, Beatrice held up her light. “Look.” She pointed at a door in the back of the room. Marble like the rest of the walls, but with the barest hint of an outline, and an elaborate iron lock.

“Allow me,” Parker said, producing a set of lock picks from the inside of his jacket.

“No magic, remember!”

He rolled his eyes. “I was doing this before I ever knew how to set a spell, princess prep school. Keep your pleated skirt on.” Within minutes, there was a muffled click and the door swung inward.

Inside was another simple room with a raised dais in the center. This one, however, had writing on the walls that on closer examination proved to be names.

“Bodies or ashes, I wonder?” Anthony whispered. The green light from their glow sticks cast eerie shadows even as it gave their skins a sick pallor.

Miranda searched the names for Grant’s, glancing up to see Kitty standing frozen in the doorway. “Kitty, what is it? What do you see? Is it his family?”

Kitty squeezed her eyes shut. “How could they?” she whispered. “Oh god, it’s disgusting.”

“We’ll be out in a second,” Anthony said soothingly. “We just need to find Grant. Can you see him? Is he here?”

“None of us know what he looks like, genius,” Parker muttered.

“They’re laughing again,” Kitty said. “He’s not here, not here, still not here after all these years… no, not us, too! It’s coming for us.”

The shadows seemed to close in around them, feeble light dimming even further.

“What’s coming?” Miranda asked.

“We have to get out!” Kitty backed away and the others, after exchanging a quick glance, followed her lead. The darkness had grown almost palpable, and now it thickened around them so that every step was more difficult than the last.

Outside, a mournful howl pierced the air.

* * * * *

Part 21: Black Dog