Posts Tagged ‘#Fridayflash’

Dollars and Sense

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

He was only a child when his parents were gunned down by a mugger in a dark alley. What they had been doing there he couldn’t remember, but it was no doubt important. The boy became heir to a vast empire of successful companies that he was too young to understand; this ensured him the best education at the world’s top schools, the kinds of places that didn’t have girls in them to distract from learning. He grew up in a world of fencing and philosophy, geometry and gymnastics, chemistry and cricket.

But deep inside, he could not be content. Out on the streets of the city where his parents had died lurked a cadre of criminals that the police were powerless to impede. If he was ever to be truly happy, he needed to slake his thirst for vengeance.

And so he did the only thing a brilliant, athletic, wealthy, determined man would do: invested in a host of high-tech gadgets and a secret lair, then paid a team of Special Forces operative to be masked vigilantes. No sense putting himself in danger unnecessarily.

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.”

“Eduardo?”

“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?”

“Well…”

“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

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.