Category Archives: Our Guest Writers’ Creations

The Daily Mood by Christy Nicholas

My musical writing prompts were:

1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Street of Dreams by Rainbow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQvu5Eo7rKI

2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Stitches by Shawn Mendez https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbfpW0pbvaU

3.) Country/Singer-Song Writer- Burning House by Cam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyGSe76rAJc

4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- Axel F from the original Beverly Hills Cop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4kWpi2HnPU

5.) Wild Card- Valley Girl by Moon Zappa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb21lsCQ3EM

I chose Axel F, as it represented an integral part of my formative years. It was the first purely musical popular song I remember loving. To this day, I will still get up and dance to it. It ushered in an era of hilarious cop movies with the immortal Eddie Murphy. It was a synopsis of the joy and fun of the 1980s, despite all the problems and tragedies that occurred during that time. It didn’t matter how bad things got, people were optimistic and happy for the future. That’s what the song meant for me, and what it still means for me. Optimism is a huge part of my personality. I am happy in the morning. I get up before the alarm goes off. I don’t need coffee for energy. Axel F epitomizes that feeling.

 

 

*****

The Daily Mood

 

Siobhan woke and glanced at her alarm. Was it time to get up yet? The red letters blinked 6:28am. Well, two minutes away. Why wait for the alarm to buzz and wake up her husband? She flipped out of the cocoon of blankets and turned the alarm off.

The shower was hot and the water pressure strong. Was there any better feeling on a cold morning? The kittens, just four months old, had started a game of hide and seek in the shower curtain. Cyril jumped up on the side of the tub and Lana pushed him, so he fell into the bathtub itself. He was startled by the water and scrambled back out while Siobhan laughed at the antics.

She dressed in relative darkness, so as not to wake her husband, Jerry. He had been suffering from bad pains with the change of the weather, and needed his rest. Otherwise he would be Grumpy McWhinypants today.

Once out of the darkened bedroom, she flipped on the kitchen lights. She took down some instant oatmeal and frowned at it. Her favorite as a child had been raisins and spice flavor, but they discontinued that. Now she used cinnamon and spice and added her own raisins. Nostalgia sometimes took adjustment.

She turned on her music stream and sat to check her email. Lana tried to sample her oatmeal, but decided it wasn’t good enough for her. Cyril, on the other hand, was quite happy to lick out the empty bowl for the bits of oatmeal and cream that clung to the sides.

Another email from an art show. Siobhan opened it with trepidation. She had just moved to the area, and applied to several fine art shows for the summer. She had no idea which were the good ones for her jewelry, but it was always a matter of trial and error. What might be good for one artist wouldn’t be good for the next. This was for one about an hours’ drive away, and therefore too far to stay overnight at home. She’d have to add the cost of a hotel for two nights to the booth fee, and pray she made profit.

Alas, it was a mixed success. She was on the waiting list. If she wanted a show that weekend, she’d have to try for another, smaller show. Most fine art shows took applications six months in advance or more, but some smaller shows, like Celtic festivals or Italian festivals, were only a month or two. Or she could hold out that someone would cancel and she’d get the call – perhaps only a day or two before the show.

Emails finished, she started her morning promotions. She ran an ad on Facebook for her jewelry, not expecting much, but at least hoping for some local exposure. The best part of a Facebook was that you could target geographical areas. The worst part was there was no way to know how well it worked.

She created a quick graphic with a 10% off coupon for anyone that printed it and brought it to a show. Maybe that would help. After she created the ad and set it up to run, she went back to her show lists.

There was a small Irish festival that weekend, and it was closer, just a half hour away. The booth fee was only $150, as well, rather than the $400 for the fine art show. It would be lower in sales, surely, but less risk. She sighed and signed up for it. Her first year in the area, better to be safe than sorry. When she had built up a local following, it would be easier to consider riskier ventures.

Her husband started to rumble about. She glanced at the clock, and saw it was almost 7:30am already. He needed to get up soon. He had a lunch shift today at the restaurant, and needed time to wake up in the morning.

It had been exciting, moving to a new place. The restaurant Jerry worked at had transferred him farther north than they’d ever lived, but the snow was beautiful, if annoying. It was a far cry from the sultry Florida they had spent most of their lives.

A song came on her stream and it flashed her back to her childhood. Axel F from Beverly Hills Cop. It made her want to get up and dance. Why not? She got up and flailed about like the girl with no rhythm or grace that she was. She didn’t care. It was fun and light and positive.

It was going to be a good day.

 

 

Don’t miss the Irish adventure, Legacy of Hunger!

Legacy of Hunger cover

About the author:

Christy Jackson Nicholas

Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, has her hands in many crafts, including digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she’s a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were. She loves to draw and to create things. She says it’s more of an obsession than a hobby. She likes looking up into the sky and seeing a beautiful sunset, or seeing a fragrant blossom or a dramatic seaside. She takes a picture or creates a piece of jewelry as her way of sharing this serenity, this joy, this beauty with others. Sometimes this sharing requires explanation – and thus she writes. Combine this love of beauty with a bit of financial sense and you get an art business. She does local art and craft shows, as well as sending her art to various science fiction conventions throughout the country and abroad.

Website

Blog

Facebook Author Page

Author page

Amazon Page

Twitter: @greendragon9

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Sowing the Seeds of our Destruction

Thanks for inviting me to post. My prose prompts were….

Amy:  Sunflowers on Steroids
Cameron: The clothing line’s success was built on their attention to the details- and the total transparency of their employees.

Erika: The Great Train Caper
Jen:  Describe some food and make me hungry, a scene will do.  Bonus points if you also write about eating food.
Manda: From the depths of his coma, he heard…

Wendy: Larry Porter and the Philanthropist’s Cone

I chose the first one, Amy’s sunflowers on steroids….

I chose this prompt because I love the sunflowers that are grown around here in Northern Spain and my wife and I decorated the chapel with them for our wedding, and the phrase straight away made me envision a cautionary tale about GMOs, with farmers competing and going too far, so the plant ends up taking over. I like to write stories like this – an extravagant supposition based in science and made as believable as possible. I have never worried about the healthfulness of GMOs, but as an ecologist, I don’t see the need for them and believe they do have negative effects on the environment – at most they merely speed up evolution like overuse of antibiotics.

The difficult part was deciding how to write the story ; I wasn’t sure what the context would be, but then I thought it would be a story recounted by a survivor, rather than a story happening in real time.

Hope you like it.

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Sunflowers on Steroids.

I always said them scientists would mess everything up, playing round with creation like they was God.

The environmental beatniks said it too, course, but they said all kind of whatnot, like the weather was changin’, that we didn’t listen much to them guys. Joel McCallum, though, he reads the scientific papers, and he said they reckoned the canola plants’d be the ones that did it, them being so common and close to weeds anyway. He said the genetically modified canola would mix with the field mustard plants and lead to a superweed that nothing could get rid of. The idea of sunflowers takin’ over like they was on steroids, well, we none of us predicted that.

What we never saw comin’, either, was losing our land to the federal government after trying so hard to keep independent from them assholes in DC.

We bought the land fair and square, set up our town ten years beforehand. We were self-sufficient by then, hundred per cent, and all set for the apocalypse should it decide to turn up. We didn’t think it would turn out this way.

It was the federal government’s fault, though, too. Always knew that would be true. They were the ones invited that crazy sonbitch to plant those damn sunflower plants out our way. Gave him permission to use federal land we used to graze cattle off not twenty miles from town. Well, we didn’t think no sunflowers’d stand the shallow soil there. No depth at all, after the dustbowl years took it clean away. Even the grass dried up when it didn’t rain in late spring. We didn’t think the plants would stand up in the wind, first time we went out there and they told us what it was they were growin’.

Joel tried to explain what they’d done to the sunflowers – struck in some genes from a creeper, a vine of some sort that was supposed to only change the roots from the deep tap roots sunflowers supposed to grow, into wide spreading roots that would keep the plants upright and get them enough water from what rains came there. They’d spread the seeds out farther than normal to compensate. Well, Joel didn’t know what way they’d messed up – whether they’d put in the wrong piece of string or if the gene did more jobs than just make roots of one sort or the other, but mess up they did. The plants grew up stringy and creeping. They stretched along the ground, covering the empty patches between plants till it was just a sea of green, with all trace of the rows they’d been planted in gone. The flowers were small, but each plant had four or five instead of one. We was amazed the first year. The scientists just took notes. They harvested some, but with the way the plants were all higgledy-piggledy, they missed half the seed heads.

Of course, we didn’t like to let such food go to waste. We was self-sufficient, but it’s a sin to waste such bounty as the Lord places before you. We planted some in our own plots – and we planned to keep planting it, till we realised it didn’t need no planting. The wind came through one night, the way it does, and the seeds flew everywhere on it. Next year, it was everywhere. It invaded the wheat fields, covered the town. It was kinda pretty at first. We used the oil for our trucks, couple of years. But we soon saw it was gettin’ serious when it covered the floor of the forests, started cloggin’ the creek, and broke half the corn plants before they got to cobbin’. It wrapped around everything – I mean everything – like vines, like morning glory, or that Japanese knotweed they’re always going on about, on steroids more than sunflowers on steroids, and they blocked out the light from every other plant, till there were was nothing else we could grow.

Well, we thought we could at least use the energy the oil gave to cut and burn it out, but we eventually had to ask the government for help. It was their problem, when all said and done.

They came, in helicopters, since the roads were practically overgrown by then. One fella told Joel they was comin’ anyhow, whether we asked them or not. Their scientists told them to shut down the whole operation – and more. They was goin’ to move us – would’ve paid us to up and move sticks someplace else. But what we asked for help, they just took us out, told us to gather up our valuables and make sure it was all clean of vegetative material, they called it.

We did as was asked – we weren’t no fools, wishing this upon everyone. Besides, we weren’t ready for the apocalypse of this description, of any description without our land, our shelters, our supplies.

When they took us up in the helicopters, we saw them start the firebombing straight away. That shit smelt like the end of the world. No wonder them Vietnamese hated us, using that shit on them. I asked the pilot how much they was going to burn. Five thousand square miles, he told me. Hell of a lot of Napalm man. Of course, we had some Napalm ourselves, just in case. When I saw the town explode, I thought, well, there’s an end to it. We might not survive the next apocalypse, but at least we helped the world avoid this one.

That’s what I thought. That’s what we all thought, true as the Lord is lookin’ down on me.

Thing about sunflowers, though, even these crazy ass ones, was the seeds were real tasty. The kids in town used to go round all day, biting on them and spitting out the shells. Well, how can you put the blame on the shoulders of a little kid, not eight year old, instead of the scientist that made them seeds? Little Mia La Tere meant to eat them, of course, and all would’ve been well. But when she saw the explosion from all that stuff we’d in storage, well, she jumped so high she near enough fell out of the chopper herself. Only natural the bag slipped out  her hand and the seeds scattered…

 

 

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full shot side cut

David O’Brien is a writer, ecologist and teacher from Dublin, Ireland, now living in Pamplona Spain. He has a degree in environmental biology and doctorate in zoology, specialising in deer biology and is still involved in deer management in his spare time.

As an avid wildlife enthusiast and ecologist, much of David’s non-academic writing, especially poetry, is inspired by wildlife and science. While some of his stories and novels are contemporary, others seek to describe the science behind the supernatural or the paranormal.

A long-time member of The World Wildlife Fund, David has pledged to donate 10% of his royalties on all his hitherto published books to that charity to aid with protecting endangered species and habitats.

https://www.facebook.com/DavidJMOBrien/

http://tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/OBrien_David/the-ecology-of-lonesomness.htm

David’s author page on Tirgearr Publishing- Check out his books!

http://tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/OBrien_David/index.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through The Rainbow

Really flattered to be asked to feature here again! Thanks, Erika. My prompts were:

1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Subdivisions by Rush

2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Roar by Katy Perry

3.) Country/Singer-Songwriter- The Dance by Garth Brooks

4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Judy Garland (Sometimes we forget just how flipping good she really was) from The Wizard of Oz

5.) Wild Card- Theme Song from Cheers- Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I chose ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. It’s a beautiful song and Judy’s voice is amazing, but funnily enough The Wizard Of Oz was never a favourite of mine – too cutesy. (I prefer the darker tone of Wicked.) It got me thinking: what if going over the rainbow wasn’t so nice? I wanted to portray the rainbow as something sinister. I’ve channelled a bit of Oz, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett in this fantasy piece. I actually had the characters already (from a story I wrote on Twitter to cheer up a friend who likes dragons). I gave them a rainbow to deal with, and the story sort of wrote itself. Its tone is quite light, but I’ve hinted that what’s on the other side of the rainbow isn’t…

**********

‘So,’ Arith grumbled as his tail swished out the last embers of the fire, ‘Can we go up the castle, or not?’

Ellie hid a smile behind her sleeve. ‘Yes. I promised, didn’t I? A witch doesn’t break her promises.’

Arith snorted, promptly starting another small blaze. ‘Oops!’ he said, and stamped on that to put it out.

‘I’m not sure a majestic dragon should be saying “Oops”, remarked Ellie. ‘Have you been playing with my little sister again?’

‘No,’ muttered Arith. He flexed his claws, to show what a majestic dragon he really was.

‘Come on, idiot,’ Ellie said affectionately. ‘We’re done with spell casting for today. Let’s go and make some mischief.’

The young witch climbed onto Arith’s back, her bare toes gripping the rough armour plating, fingers clasped round the spines on his neck. With another snort, this time of joy, the dragon took off. Their camp at the water’s edge shrunk to the size of a match head as Arith caught an updraft. Ellie looked down, her eyes squinting against the red-gold sparkle of the dragon’s scales.

The river became a silver snake winding below them, leading the way to the castle. The rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and Ellie unclipped her ponytail, letting her fair hair dry in the breeze.

‘Did you cast your invisibility spell?’ Arith shouted above the whoosh of his wing beats.

‘Of course,’ Ellie replied primly. Dragons were invisible to those who didn’t have magic, but witches lived in the everyday world as well. They could be seen unless they spelled it otherwise. It wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air on the back of – nothing. In fact, it wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air full stop.

The dragons who guarded the castle – unseen by the general public, of course – were a stuck-up lot, proud of their duty and forever letting everyone know how important they were. Arith (and secretly, Ellie as well) liked to take them down a peg; challenging them to duels, reminding them that they weren’t free to roam where they wished, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Today, however, as they approached, all was not as it should be. At first, it appeared to be an ordinary rainbow, arching above the turrets and keep. Then, Ellie noticed that it was dropping in height, enveloping the highest towers – which shimmered, then vanished.

‘What the heck…’ began Arith, as he too saw this strange occurrence, just as Ellie shouted ‘Faster, Arith! The castle’ll be gone in a minute!’

Arith often described his witch as bossy, but this time he heard the genuine urgency in her tone, and beat his wings as fast as he could.  ‘What do you mean, gone?’ he yelled.

‘That’s a doorway to another world!’ Ellie was muttering incantations between her explanations. ‘A parasite world, come to steal from ours. We have to stop it!’

‘Oh great.’ muttered Arith. ‘What about the castle warlocks? Can’t they do anything?’

‘If they haven’t already, they’re probably trapped.’ Ellie was now rolling a ball of magical energy between her palms. ‘Besides, you were the one who called them a bunch of doddering old fools.’

Arith grinned, but then frowned. Much as the castle spellcasters and their snobbish dragons annoyed him, he didn’t like the thought of anything bad happening to them.

‘Get as close as you can, but don’t touch it!’ Ellie jumped to a crouch on Arith’s back.

The dragon realised she was about to throw her spell. ‘Don’t you fall off, either,’ he warned, banking smoothly.

The rainbow had now engulfed most of the castle. It had dropped so low, Arith realised, that he could get higher than it. He glided up until he was safely above the last arc of colour, then looked down.

There was no sign of the castle. A black-edged hole in the swirling colours revealed a confused impression of fields of wild flowers and – cabbages? There was a forest, and a strange red and yellow road.

Ellie yelled ‘Watch out!’ and hurled her spell.

The ball exploded with a bewildering roar of noise. Ellie dropped flat on Arith’s back, and he didn’t need to be told twice. He rolled away from the disintegrating colours and shot off as fast as possible. Looking back, he was just in time to see the rainbow twinkle out of existence and the castle take its place, seeming none the worse for wear for its ordeal.

‘Did we do it?’ he asked, as Ellie struggled to a sitting position. He circled so they were facing the right direction.

‘Yes, thank the Goddess.’ Ellie patted his neck. ‘Great flying, gorgeous.’

Arith snorted a small flame, but Ellie knew he was pleased.

‘I suppose we better go and see if everyone’s all right,’ he said, ‘Now that we’ve saved the day.’

They landed on the roof of the Great Hall, out of the way of the tourists milling below. The general public seemed unaware that anything momentous had happened, although a few were muttering about how dark it had got for a while.

‘I wonder what they’d have done if they stepped out of the castle into a different world?’ Arith mused. ‘It looked – weird…’

Ellie shuddered. ‘Don’t even ask. I know the non-magicals are annoying, but no-one deserves to live there.’

Arith resolved to ask Ellie more about parasite worlds. It sounded like she knew the one he had seen. His little witch was a mystery to him much of the time.

An elderly warlock was hurrying towards them, followed by others, streaming like ants from the door to the roof. Robes flapped around the skinnier ones, while the fatter gentlemen puffed and panted at the rear, not accustomed to so many stairs.

‘Ellie!’ The old man exclaimed. ‘Was that you? By the time we realised what was happening, we were stuck in the dungeons!’ No longer needed to house prisoners, the dungeons were the warlocks’ usual abode.

Arith growled. ‘Where were the dragons? They’re supposed to guard the castle. Where are they now?’

‘Look!’ Ellie pointed to the nearest tower. A stone dragon sat atop it, snarling, a front paw raised with claws unsheathed.

Everyone gasped.

‘Over there!’ another warlock exclaimed. ‘And there!’ All four of the castle dragons sat atop a tower, ready to defend their abode, and each one had been turned to stone.

‘We can undo it!’ The warlocks huddled together, discussing the best way to change the dragons back. Ellie looked on, amused.

Arith head-butted her. To her surprise, he looked as though he was about to cry.

‘Is that what would have happened to me if I touched the rainbow?’ he asked.

‘Maybe. Or maybe it was some magic sent ahead to neutralise the castle’s first line of defence.’ Ellie scowled. ‘I hate parasite worlds.’

‘They’ll be able to change them back, right?’

‘Oh yes. They may be a bunch of crazy old men, but they can unpetrify someone like that.’ Ellie snapped her fingers. ‘Why, Arith,’ she teased, ‘Don’t tell me you’d miss those stuck-up, snobbish…’

‘All right, all right!’ Arith glared at her, after sneakily wiping a paw over his eyes. ‘I’d have no-one to – annoy, that’s all.’

‘Come on,’ said Ellie. ‘I think we’d better come back another day.’ Sparks were beginning to fly from the warlocks’ fingertips. A few of them landed dangerously close to Arith’s tail.

‘When they set the castle on fire, we’ll come back and rescue them again,’ Arith agreed. ‘I always thought it would be one of those idiot reptiles who would do that.’ He crouched a little to make it easier for Ellie to climb onto his back once more.

‘Ellie!’ The warlock who had been first on the scene was hurrying towards them. His face, indeed his whole bald head, was rather pink. Arith paused.

‘Um…I just realised we didn’t say thank you. For dealing with the parasite world. So, thank you.’ The old man gave a beaming smile which Arith recognised at once.

Ellie beamed back.

‘You’re welcome, Grandpa.’

**********

If you enjoyed this little story, please visit me at my blog to read more of my fiction and other ramblings! You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

A Family Tradition

My Prompts:

  1. Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Mother by Cover-FamilyTradition-600x900Danzig
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgSn0SbQJQI
  2. Pop/Hip-Hop- Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPf0YbXqDm0&list=PL63F0730F06A9C799
  3. Country/Singer Song Writer- What Part Of No by Lorrie Morgan
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo30qsyafZI&index=5&list=PLS-YUZdHzkbVb386b_-IkY1rNJ9s-pWGD
  4. Instrumental/Soundtrack- The Hanging Tree by Jennifer Lawrence from The MockingJay Part I
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3hTW9e20d8
  5. Wild Card-Danny Boy- Irish Traditional
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fskWOhjnik

What I Chose and Why:

Something unexpected happened when I listened to my prompts.  I got into a really dark and twisted mood.

This Danzig hit came out during my high school years. I was an angry young man at the time and I listened to a lot of hard rock. Hearing that music again brought me right back into that dark, angsty mindset. I usually try to avoid wallowing in dark or creepy ideas, but this time I simply had to go with it.

Thanks to the BBBGals for inviting me to submit another piece to their blog and their patience with my schedule. This piece is very different from my previous submission, but with Danzig for inspiration, how could it possibly be the same?

The Story:

“Girls, wake up!  I took the tree down. I need you to sweep up the needles.”

Great-Aunt Cora whisked in and out of their room before Samantha knew what happened.  Sam rolled her head in the direction of the alarm clock, but her heavy eyelids refused to open.

Sheets rustled in the neighboring bed as her sister, Julie, sat up. “Aunt Cora took the tree down already? It’s only day after Christmas.”

Sam’s eyes rolled behind closed lids. She decided to go back to sleep and covered her head with her blanket.

From underneath the covers, she could hear Julie wiggling. She was reaching, moving stuff on the nightstand between them. Sam’s alarm clock fell to the floor and Julie dived after it.

“Six in the morning!” Julie said. “No wonder its so dark outside.”

At least she didn’t break it, Sam thought. “Aunt Cora’s going home tomorrow, Julie. Just one more day of her antics.” Then Julie will have her room back, I’ll have my room to myself, and my stuff will be safe again.

“Want to help her pack?” Julie suggested.

Sam would do it in a heartbeat, if it would make life normal again. But the problems started before Great-Aunt Cora came for the holidays. If anything, Cora’s eccentricities masked whatever was really going on with Mom.

Aunt Cora flitted back into the room. “Come on kids. I’ve got a big day planned for us and I need you to get moving. Please do it quietly. We’ll surprise your mom when she wakes up.” Then Aunt Cora was gone again.

“I want to be like that when I’m old,” Julie said.

“Who wants to be old?” Sam smirked. She reached for her headphones but her cell phone was missing.

“At least she asks nicely,” Julie said. “She’s not mean and bossy like Grandma is.”

“Was,” Sam corrected

“I’m glad Aunt Cora didn’t get Grandma’s meanness.”

Sam flipped the covers down off her head. “Aunt Cora’s like fifteen years older than Grandma was. If anything, Grandma should have learned to be nice from her.”

“Fifteen years! For you, that’d be like mom having a baby now,” Julie said. She got up and started her morning routine.

Sam squirmed in her bed. The way their Mom churned through boyfriends, she lived under constant fear of yet another half-sibling. Julie shouldn’t joke about such things. She’s old enough to know better.

Running her fingers through her choppy, tri-colored hair, Sam wondered how much longer she could keep it. Sam was too young for tattoos yet, but she had the hair, the clothes, and multiple piercings. It was her armor. With all the guys mom brought home, Sam wanted to look as off-limits as possible.

Grandma hated Sam’s new hairstyle — no surprise, Grandma hated everything. Now that Grandma was gone, the matter should have been settled.

But that’s not what happened at all. Mom totally freaked out at Grandma’s death and is now trying to be just like her. Change everything. Control everything. Mom is becoming the new Grandma.

Grandma 2.0, Sam thought. Grandma with a vengeance!

That’s where Sam’s trouble really began, and it was becoming a nightmare.

“You coming?” Julie was dressed in a hoodie and pajama pants.

Sam sighed, “Hold on. I’ll come down with you.”

The two sisters shuffled down the stairs to see what their great-aunt had planned.

Trying to talk to Aunt Cora was like trying to talk to a tennis ball during a match, your head was constantly moving to keep up with her.

“Good! You’re up. There’s the broom and dustpan.”

Sam looked at the trail of pine needles across the living room and out the door.

“Usually we keep the tree up at least through New Year’s,” Julie whined.

“No yoga class today?” Sam asked.

Cora paused for a brief moment, then brushed a thought away, “No time.”

Sam picked up a half-empty bottle of vodka. “Did you drink all this in the few days you’ve been here?”

Cora plucked the bottle out of Sam’s hand. “Don’t be silly! This is an old bottle I found in your house.” She placed it on the dining room table instead of the cabinet.

Julie swept the needles into a little pile.

Sam knelt down with the dustpan and whispered to her sister. “I bet Aunt Cora died years ago. We just don’t know it yet because she’s so well pickled.”

Julie laughed. “She sure is a nimble little prune.”

“And my hearing is good too,” Aunt Cora stage-whispered from the other room.

Julie blushed, but Sam just shrugged it off.

Sam noticed bags packed by the door and nudged Julie. “You packed already, Aunt Cora?”

Cora shushed them as she walked back to talk. “Yes, you should pack too. One bag each. Make sure to bring something of great sentimental value… in case you get homesick.” Then she went off doing things again. The house was already immaculate. No one would guess there was a big Christmas day feast last night.

“Mom didn’t say we were going anywhere,” Julie said.

“It’s a surprise,” Aunt Cora answered. “How would you like to spend New Year’s with me down in Florida?”

“Is it near Disney World?” Julie asked.

Aunt Cora shook her head. “Not really. But we could go there too.”

“Mom’s not coming?” Sam asked.

“No,” said Aunt Cora. “My surprise is to take you two so your mother has some time alone.  Vera’s death is hard on all of us. I lost a sister, you lost a grandmother, but your mother lost her mother. That’s hardest of all.”

Sam nodded. “She’s really not been herself since Grandma died.”

“How so?” Aunt Cora asked. “I’ve been living in Florida for so long, I’m afraid I don’t know any of you as much as I’d like.”

“She’s been aggressive,” Sam answered. “And bitter. She dumped her boyfriend. Usually she latches on until they dump her. She used to be so… mousey.”

“She snores like Grandma now,” Julie added. “She never snored before, then all the sudden, poof! She’s like a lawnmower.”

Aunt Cora had a pained expression on her face, but turned away to hide it. “Go pack girls. Do it quietly and don’t wake your mom.”

“We’re not leaving without saying goodbye. Are we?” Julie asked.

A voice called from the top of the stairs, “You two darlings aren’t going anywhere.”

Julie, and Sam turned to watch their mother, Katherine, descend the staircase. Her flowing sleeping gown and robes added to her imperious glare.

“The only one leaving is Cora,” Katherine said. “Nice of you to visit, but you wore out your welcome. Why don’t you come again in another twenty years.”

“I’m eighty years old!” Aunt Cora said. “Not sure I have another twenty years in me.”

Katherine guided her daughters away from their great aunt and said over her shoulder, “No, I suppose you don’t.”

Cora dashed around to confront Katherine. “I know what you are. I couldn’t stop you before, but I will now.”

A surprised laugh escaped Katherine’s mouth, but she quickly recomposed herself and looked down at her daughters, one on her right and one on her left. “I think Cora is showing signs of dementia, girls. It happens to people her age.” She looked straight at Cora and added with a raised eyebrow, “Maybe it’s time to think about putting you in a home?”

Aunt Cora reached into her back pocket and said, “I’m sorry you girls have to see this.” She pulled out an amulet and thrust it forward into Katherine’s face. “Vade spiritus mali! Vade daemonium! Exi de cognatione mea et non revertetur huc amplius.

Sam looked at her Mother, then her sister. “Is that supposed to mean something?”

“It’s Latin,” Katherine answered with a curled lip. “I think she’s trying to perform an exorcism.”

“It didn’t work at all?” Deflated, Aunt Cora looked at the amulet and tried to figure out what went wrong.

“Aunt Cora,” Julie said. “Why don’t we sit down and I’ll make you a cup of tea?”

Cora nodded and tucked her amulet away in her back pocket.  “Well, there’s always Plan B.”  She withdrew a derringer and shot Katherine twice in the chest at point blank range.

Katherine stumbled backwards and collapsed in the middle of the oriental rug in the living room.

The girls screamed.

“Get away!” Cora yelled. She waved her gun, kicked, and shoved the girls to separate them from their Mother. Cora wouldn’t let them within ten feet of her.

Sam ran to the phone to call the police. “Phone’s dead!”

“I cut the line,” said Aunt Cora. “Call them later, if you want. Watch this.”

Katherine desperately tried to keep the blood contained in her chest, but it gushed out everywhere. Her face was morbidly white. She reached out to Julie, who was kneeling at the edge of the carpet. “Baby! My Baby.”

“Mommy,” Julie sobbed.

“Don’t touch her!” Cora yelled to Julie as she ran around the carpet to keep them separated. “She’s not your mother. Not anymore.”

Sam grabbed a frying pan to hit her psychotic aunt with.

With the amulet in her hand again, Aunt Cora shoved it under the oriental carpet. “Liga antiquis malum. Protege parvulorum innocentum.

This time something did happen. Katherine lit up in a green glow that matched the massive jewel in the amulet. The glow encircled her.

Julie gasped.

Sam froze. She was looking at her mother, but a cloud of green light rose from the floor and illuminated a ghostly image of her grandmother; like a hologram projected around her mother tracking every movement she made.

Aunt Cora looked up and saw how close she had come to being hit with the frying pan. She lowered Sam’s arm from its striking position and eased the handle out of Sam’s grasp. “She’s not your mother anymore. Hasn’t been since your grandmother died. You know that. It switched hosts. Your mother died then.”

Another pulse of light, and the image of another woman lay there on the carpet.

“She’s not even my mother,” Cora added. “Or my grandmother.”

“Samantha,” Katherine said in a voice that sounded like a chorus of many. “Come to Mommy, there’s no time.”

Samantha didn’t move.

Katherine tried to crawl across the carpet to them, but couldn’t move outside the light.

“I drew a pentagram under the carpet,” Aunt Cora said. “She… it… is trapped inside.”

Another flash of light, another ghostly form superimposed itself over their mother’s body.

“No. No!” Katherine screamed. “I’m don’t want to die! Julie? Don’t you want to save your mommy? Come here! Take my hand. Take Mommy’s hand.”

Another flash of light, another face. The pace was accelerating.

“How many?” Cora demanded. “How many generations have you preyed upon?”

Katherine’s head snapped to Cora. “Who are you to challenge me? My descendants number in the millions you barren harpy. So what if I keep a single bloodline for myself? So what?”

“Which one will you choose then? Sam or Julie?” Cora asked.

“They’re mine to take,” Katherine snapped.

Aunt Cora put her derringer away. “What do you think girls?  One of you willing to sacrifice yourself so this thing can go on? It can’t stay in your mother’s body anymore. It’s got holes in it.”

The ghostly images were flashing by faster. Some wore fancy few Victorian gowns.

“They’re all women,” Sam said to Katherine. “You’ve been taking women for generations?”

Losing the strength to keep her head up, Katherine fell back onto the carpet, soaking her hair in a pool of blood. “My own fountain of youth,” she gasped.

“But,” Julie interrupted, “all these women are old.”

Katherine rolled her head to her daughter and stared out glassy-eyed. Ghostly images of past lives continued to flash across Katherine’s face.

Shivering, Julie crept forward and whispered, “Mommy, I don’t want you to die.”

“Julie! Stay back,” Sam cautioned.

Face slick with tears, Julie acted on pure instinct.

Sam lunged to stop her, even though that meant crossing into the pentagram.

Aunt Cora knocked Sam aside and landed on top of Katherine herself.

Reflexively Katherine grabbed Cora’s hands and mouthed some words, but no sound came forth.

There was one final, brilliant flash of light that blinded everyone.

Then it was over.

Katherine lay dead on a blood-soaked oriental rug. Great-Aunt Cora lay across her niece, filthy and gasping for air.

Sam ran around to embrace her sister who was in hysterics.

They both watched Aunt Cora slowly stand up and try to wipe the blood off her hands.

Sam eyed her guardedly. “You still you?” she asked.

Aunt Cora shook her head. “No.” She looked around distractedly, “I mean ‘Yes,’ I’m still me and not that… thing.” She nudged Katherine’s corpse with the tip of her shoe. “But I got a glimpse of who she was, what she did.”

Aunt Cora shuddered. “She could only follow her bloodline down. Not across, not up. That’s why she…” Aunt Cora started to tear up. “That’s why she took my baby sister instead of me. She always picks the daughter with the most daughters. All this time I’ve kept away. I was never in any danger. You were.”

Aunt Cora grabbed a bunch of tissues for her eyes, but saw how pointless it was with all the gore on her hands. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it in time for Katherine. I came as soon as I heard Vera was ill, but I was too late.”

No one knew what to say. They stood there for a long time watching Katherine’s corpse bleed out.

“So…” Sam said to break the eerie silence. “What do we do now?”

Aunt Cora pulled out her cell phone and dialed. “Hello Mr. Drake? Yes, it’s Cora Wexler… Yes… I’m calling to tell you I’ve decided on option C, so you can tear up the others… Yes ‘C’ as in Charlie… Yes I’m sure. And that’s backdated to our last meeting? Perfect. Thank you.”

“Who was that?” Sam asked.

For the first time ever, Aunt Cora sat down. She opened the bottle of vodka and took a hearty drink. “Mr. Drake is my lawyer. I’ve set up a trust for you both. It’s not much, but it will help until you can get Vera’s and Katherine’s assets through probate. Maybe some college.”

“You’re not dying anytime soon, are you?” Sam asked.

Aunt Cora snorted derisively. “I’m 80 years old and just murdered my own niece. I don’t have much of a future.”

Sam couldn’t think of anything to say.

Julie just stood there, staring a her mother’s lifeless body.

“You both have your futures now. No one will take it away from you. You’re free!” Aunt Cora took a big drink of Vodka and slowly reloaded her gun.

“What are you doing now?” Sam asked.

“I’m done.” Aunt Cora replied. “Take your sister to the neighbors’ house and call 911.  Make sure you stay there until the police arrive.”

“Come with us?” Sam asked.

“Can’t,” Aunt Cora answered. She traced her finger over the contours of the tiny gun. “You girls are innocent. I need to make sure there’s no question about that. Now go.”

Sam guided her traumatized little sister out of the house. Closing the door, Sam glanced one last time at her great-aunt.

Cora hoisted the bottle of vodka in a toast. “Merry Christmas!”

Mornie Utúlië

“May it be an evening star shines down on you. May it be when darkness falls, your heart will be true”—Enya

“We are dead stars looking back up at the sky….The stars will burn out someday, and the Universe will be dark…There will be myths about the days when the stars rained down.” –Michelle Thaller, astronomer (http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/370784/we-are-dead-stars/)

Prompts:

1.) Hard Rock/Heavy Metal- Make it Real by The Scorpions
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TIY0Z9Ioc

2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Until I See You Again by Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgKAFK5djSk

3.) Country/Singer-Songwriter- You’ll be Mine by The Pierces
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kzv6MsV68kQ

4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- May It Be by Enya from The Lord of The Rings
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8u4VLk0iTI

5.) Wild Card- Valley Girl by Moon Zappa
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb21lsCQ3EM

What I Chose and Why

I chose Enya’s song, May It Be, as the focus for the writing prompt because I immediately had a story pop into my head with the first line. And then, a little while later, I saw this video on Facebook that my friend Phylise Banner had posted from The Atlantic.

If I do anything else with this story, I will get a native Irish speaker to correct my Google Translate version (apologies in advance for any errors in the Irish).

This was fun, and I’m loving reading everyone else’s stories. I don’t write much fiction. Hope you like the story so far…Thanks, Erika!

And now to the story….

As the streak of white light faded from the twilight sky, Stel’s body began to glow from the inside. Particles of light drifted from his skin into the atmosphere, speeding up as they wafted higher. Spiraling faster and faster, the particles lifted from the shape of him, until there was only one tiny spark remaining where Stel’s body had lain.

Quickly, Mornie caught the last spark in a small glass vial, sealing it with a silver cap in the shape of the evening star and attached to a thin chain around her neck. Tucking the vial into her shirt, Mornie paused for a moment, placing her hand gently on the spot where Stel had lain only moments before.

“Téigh i síocháin, mo chara,” she said as she rose to her feet and pulled up the hood of her cloak, her breath frosting in the night air. “I will find you again–if not this lifetime, then the next.”

Slinging her bow and pack onto her back, she whistled for Pathfinder and turned her attention to the steep trail that wended its way into the dark velvet of the forest below. Behind her, a shadow separated itself from the bushes next to the trail and silently stalked Mornie.

Without turning to look, Mornie said, “Come along, Laddie. ‘Tis a long walk home and we need to be there before the dawn.” Yellow eyes gleamed back at her from the shadow, slowly blinking in catlike acknowledgement before turning their attention to the trail ahead.

Just inside the entrance to the forest, Mornie paused and looked back up the mountain they’d just come down. Briefly touching the trees on either side of the trail, she sang 3 times softly, “Cosain dúinn agus cheilt orainn as a lorg súile.” The trees creaked in the rising wind and the trail disappeared behind her, as briars grew across the path. “Go raibh maith agat, bandia.”

The trail ahead flattened out and straightened as she walked, only to disappear behind her. It was third watch when she reached her lair, a small cave hidden behind a hawthorn thicket. As she reached the edge of the thicket, Mornie’s moonstone ring began to glow, and the thicket parted just enough for her and Pathfinder to squeeze through. The cave walls began to glow softly and a fire started in the hearth.

Tossing her pack and bow into a corner, she sat on the bench by the entrance, wearily shrugged off her cloak, and pulled off her scuffed and travel-worn black leather boots, massaging her feet for a minute before sighing heavily and glancing at Pathfinder who was curled up half-asleep on the thick rug in front of the fire.

“Don’t get too comfortable yet. There’s work yet to be done.” Pathfinder just looked at her and yawned, pointedly stretching his long legs and enormous paws and relaxing deeper into the rug.

Sighing again, she stood and went to back of the cave where a pitcher stood on a high shelf next to a small spring that bubbled into a pool surrounded by carefully placed stones. After filling the pitcher from the spring, she placed it next to a small, oval-shaped, black granite table in the center of the room.

Then, she went to the battered cupboard next to the hearth. After unlatching the door, she rummaged around until she found her brazier, a small cauldron, a fist-sized piece of crusty metal, a clean rag, and a mortar and pestle. Opening a drawer, she muttered to herself as she selected several packets of herbs and added them to her growing stack. Satisfied that she had everything, she carried the accoutrements to table and set them down on the floor next to it.

Carved into the top of the table was large rune, a five-fold set of overlapping circles, one circle in each of the cardinal directions with a middle circle overlaying them in the middle. Around the edges of the table were a series of double and triple spirals alternating with a triangular symbol composed of three linked oval shapes. Carefully, Mornie polished the table top until it gleamed in the soft light and she could almost see her reflection. She placed the brazier and the small cauldron in the exact center of the rune. A small fire started in the brazier. Smiling, she turned back to her supplies.

Into the cauldron, she placed the metallic rock and poured water over it, half-filling the cauldron. She added a feather, a small piece of parchment with faded writing, a rowan branch, and a small clump of dark soil that she had taken from Stel’s final resting place. As the potion brewed, she prepared the other materials.

After placing the mortar and pestle onto the table, but outside the large rune, she poured a small amount of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme into the mortar, she gently ground the herbs into a powder with the pestle until the fragrance of the mixture infused the air. Chanting, “An Domhan, Aeir, Dóiteáin, Uisce, ar ais, ar ais, ar ais, ar ais”, she sprinkled the herbs evenly along the lines of the rune, following an ancient pattern of balance and renewal. As she chanted, the rune began to glow.

“Pathfinder, it is time.” Pathfinder stretched and slowly paced the room clockwise three times, ending at the cave entrance. He sat looking out of the cave, still and alert.

When he was in position, Mornie took the vial out of her shirt, unstoppered it, and shook the small, particle of light into the cauldron. The particle of light gravitated to the hunk of metallic rock. When they touched a water spout formed in the cauldron, hissing as it rose above the cauldron, steam coalescing into Stel’s craggy face. Frowning, Stel said, “What happened? Why are you all blurry? Why can’t I move—Oh…”

“I’m sorry, Stel, but there was no other way. We both took the oath and you know that balance must be maintained at all costs. When Aurelia stole Corvus from us, you had to go back. We don’t have much time.”

“I understand. I’m just disoriented from the transmutation. What must I do?”

Quickly, Mornie outlined the plan, finishing just as Pathfinder growled a warning. As swiftly as she dared, Mornie shut down the link, doused the fire, and recaptured the particle of light in the vial. Wiping the herbs off the table into the cooling cauldron, she hid her supplies at the back of the cave, and just as dawn broke, whisked a table cloth over the runes. Pathfinder quickly walked widdershins three times around the room, ending on the rug by the fire.

Just as Mornie warded the cave, shutting down the glow and banking the fire, she heard a shout from somewhere outside the cave. Quickly, she chanted her hiding song, “Níl aon rud a fheiceáil anseo, ach carraig agus sceach gheal.”

Mornie and Pathfinder waited tensely in the safe dark of the cave as the dawn light crept nearer and so did the voices. It seemed like hours that the Seekers searched for her, but eventually, they moved off and the light receded.

Heaving a sigh of relief, Mornie stripped out of her filthy travel clothes, washed, and collapsed gratefully into her bed. As soon as she was asleep, Pathfinder crawled into the bed next to her, one giant paw resting protectively across her torso.

As exhausted as she was, Mornie slept fitfully, her dreams filled with images of Stel’s agony before his transmutation, whispers of the Seekers reaching her as they sought her out, trying to breach her defenses and get into her mind. They would kill her if they found her, blaming her as they did for the death of their King. In her dream, she shouted that he wasn’t dead, just changed and one day, he would return, but it was futile to argue with them. They couldn’t see that Light and Dark must remain in balance for the world to survive. For every loss of Dark, there must be an equal loss of Light, or the universe would die and all the stars would rain down from the heavens. Why couldn’t they see?

Bio

kit_0654-Edit-sm

By day, I’m a consultant in technical communication and localization. By night, I write poetry, play with my dogs, have adventures with my awesome husband Dave, and often play board games with my grown stepkids and their SOs.

Business website: www.comgenesis.com

Blog: www.pangaeapapers.com

Twitter: @kitcomgenesis

Lost Years

Thanks again for the opportunity to participate in one of these challenges. I really loved it, and I’m considering using the world that I developed for this story as a setting for a longer work if people like it. So, let me know what you think. 🙂

My prompts were:

  1. Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath
  2. Skinny Love by Birdy
  3. He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones
  4. Surfing with the Alien by Joe Satriani
  5. Fernando by Abba

George Jones grew up in the same part of Texas as me, so I had to use that song somehow. Skinny Love is a song I’d never heard, and Birdy’s rendition of it blew me away. As I listened to Heaven and Hell, I started thinking about how choices we don’t even realize we make affect our lives. I didn’t know which I would pick, but I couldn’t stop listening to Birdy’s cover. I started thinking about the greek archetype of the Siren. And then I thought about George’s song and wondered what if the “her” in that song was an addiction? And then the two came together: someone addicted to a Siren’s song. And everything else flowed from there.

I often craft a playlist to set the mood of a piece that I’m writing. So I added all three of these to a playlist and then threw in Song of the Caged Bird by Lindsey Stirling because it was just too perfect of a fit.


Lost Years

The rancid smell of burning flesh fills my nostrils even after I wake. Skull splitting screech-screams of the Faer rend my eardrums as they die on the singing steel of our blades. Visions of burning hamlets and bleeding children incinerate what little soul I have left. People no longer call me Faer Catcher the hero. I am now called Betrayer, Undoer, Evil Incarnate. But, I am just another captive in this prison without walls. My scars cannot be seen. The curse I bear remains outside the grasp of their minds. I fumble alongside my bedroll for the skin, unstop it, and pour the whiskey down my throat. If only the whiskey could help me unsee what I have seen, help me undo what I have done, help me unlove what I have loved.

I should have never went to her, but against my wife, my king, my generals, and my own judgment, I did. I went to her again and again in search of a way to regain the years I lost battling the Faer. I never imagined that search would land me in this hell. I drink again and remember how this all began with a similar dream on a similar night, years ago. Back then, I was Faer Catcher the fallen hero, the doer of deeds no man could stomach, but every man owed his life to. They all averted their eyes as I wasted years in the she-devil’s embrace. Like so many nights before it, it had begun with a dream of Pyrithian—it was always a dream of that damned battle.

 ###

Somehow, I was standing outside her cell, whiskey bottle in hand. I could not even recall how I had come here, but at least I had the presence of mind to smash the bottle before walking through the wall—it would not do to give her a weapon. They say you can never trust the Faer. She was sleeping in the moonlight, curled along a wide branch of the tree we had planted in the center of the cell beneath the high, barred skylight.

“Faer Catcher, your dreams rise again?” she said.

“Sing.”

“No.” She extended her arms over her head, stretching. The Faer weren’t human. I always admonished recruits to never forget that. But when you see them in the moonlight like this, you can’t tell. The curve of her small breasts, the narrow slenderness of her waist, the subtle swell of hips—it was hard to say she wasn’t. Her wings were hidden by shadow, folded against her back. From this distance, I couldn’t see the long canines of her teeth, and the serene glow of her eyes—an otherworldly, lustrous green—was muted by the bright moonlight. She could be human. Deliciously human.

I stepped toward the tree. “Sing.”

“Release me.”

“You know I cannot.”

She sighed. My tattered dreams fled before that exhalation of breath like chaff before the wind. “You put me here. You alone can enter. You can release me.”

I walked to the tree, laid my hand on the flesh of her leg. Lightning surged through my body. I spoke in Faer, weaving my intention with the words, implanting the images of my dream in her mind. “Dhovia, I can no more release you than I can forget these memories.”

Her back arched, the veins in her neck stood out as she ground her teeth together, and when she spoke, her lips pulled back to reveal the fangs, her eyes burning with a malevolent glower. “Damn you, Faer Catcher. You want me to help you forget your memories of butchering my people? One day, your deeds will find you. The Diamorandhi will come without us to stop them.”

“Dhovia, I know you love me.”

Her fingers curled into fists as she tried to resist. It was theater—no different than my whiskey, no different than the circuitous paths I took to this cell to ensure I wasn’t followed. I couldn’t admit to it any more than she could. Her voice was a poisoned whisper. “I doubt you know what that word means.”

“Then sing to me of it.”

She bared her teeth and screeched the words. Acrid smoke stung my eyes, screams of the dying wrenched my heart. I knew the futility of this war, of all war, and the hopelessness it left in its wake crept up my body like a thick mud. And I saw myself, scarred but younger, and my astonishment as she laid her hands on my shoulders. The scene shifted, and I was stumbling across my veranda, drunk. Schel, my wife, shouted at me through her tears that I was a disgrace for consorting with the Faer Queen. She slammed the door, pushing our young son inside. I heard what she’d said—the words had haunted me ever since: “He’s not worthy to be your father.”

I grimaced, regaining control of my mind. “This is not the song I want.”

“It is the only one you deserve, Faer Catcher.”

I put my hand behind her neck and pressed her mouth to mine—hard. I could feel her teeth cutting my lips, and with each drop of blood I knew years of my life would dwindle away, but I cared not. What was my existence anyway–meaningless circles between the bottle and this cell. Her breath caught as she tasted the blood on her tongue. Her hands were on my shoulders, her body atop mine, and the years fell away from me as we rolled together at the base of the tree. And afterward, wrapped in one another’s arms, she sang.

The song started with mere sound. Her voice was the icy crispness of a late autumn morn. The notes had the piercing quality of metal on crystal, but with the richness of fresh cream. Music reverberated in the room, and she sang over her echoes, letting them masquerade as a second singer. As she began to speak the Faer words, images exploded in my mind. I could feel each blade of grass fold beneath my bare feet like silk. Sweet morning dew of the still-young world was fresh on my tongue. We walked next to a burbling creek, hand in hand. All around us, a song of creation swirled: the melody of the creek blended with the joyful wind through the trees that commingled with trills of extinct birdsong. A newness, a freshness radiated from the world, and evil was a distant storm that would take a thousand generations to form.

We would soon come to the creek crossing, beyond which was an entirely different place, a land obscured by haze. Some unknown force compelled us to cross, but neither of us wished to part from here. We halted, holding close, sharing a feather’s kiss, relishing sunlight on our skin and reifying the bliss of creation. How could we leave? Too soon, we came to the crossing and took that ill-fated step into the stream. The melody eddied around us with a swirling sorrow. As our feet left the water on the opposite bank, the haze rushed upon us.

The cold stone cell enclosed us. The memory of bliss faded as the echoes of her melody diminished into a silence broken only by our shared sobs. Clouded daylight from high above illuminated our bodies. I was old once more. Her unblemished olive skin shone with a subtle greenish glow to match her eyes. Different though we were, the same salty tears hung on both our cheeks. Of all the times she had woven this particular song, I had never had the courage to ask, but this time, I did. “What is across that stream?”

She shook her head, crying harder, burying her face in my neck. I stroked her black hair, caressed the delicate folded wings along her back. “I love you, Dhovia.” Someone approached the doorway—I could feel it in my mind like staring eyes on my nape. “By the king of the gods. Someone comes.”

She stared at the rock wall where the doorway was. We could both see the dim outline of a boy on the other side. “A page,” she said. “Wearing the royal colors.”

I stood. The aches in my old bones had vanished thanks to her song. “I’ll see what they–“

Her fingers clutched at my breeches as I pulled them on. “I beg you, before you go release me. Don’t let me rot in here.”

Her voice held a note of true worry—rare for Dhovia. “What is it? What have you seen?” They say the Faer sometimes see the future.

Her tears refracted light from her eyes. “Please.”

“I’ll return, fear not.” I bent to kiss her.

She wrapped her arms and wings around her body and turned away.

 ###

I shook my head and stepped through the wall. The page jumped backwards, falling on his arse, muttering a curse. Seeing me, he scrambled to his feet and did a passable salute.

“Praetin Faer Catcher, sir. The King requests you.”

“Requests me?” Since Misen stole Schel and Julian from me we had not spoken save in the rare formal epistle. We haunted the castle like light and shadow, never occupying the same place. And that suited me fine.

“Yes sir.”

“In his parlor, I presume?”

“The throne room.”

“The throne room?” What did Misen intend? To parade me before his nobles, courtesans, and priests? That riotous filth would be spreading rumors ere I crossed the threshold, and he had to know that. Had he finally decided to rid himself of me? And then there was Dhovia’s begging—she knew what scheme padded through the shadows of human minds. I turned back to the wall, should I demand that she tell me?

“Praetin, sir. King Misen declared it an urgent matter.”

King of the gods, have mercy. “Let us be off.”

As we walked, the ache returned to my knees—the effects of Dhovia’s songs usually lasted much longer. “What day is it?”

“Second of Edmar.”

I stopped walking and blinked. “You jest.”

“No, Praetin. It is the second.”

It wasn’t the day that astonished me. It was the month. Each song cost me more time. What had just felt like an evening and a morning of ecstasy had been two months. The Faer are not like us. A season to them is hardly a blink. I had to be more careful. I realized I couldn’t recall the route to the throne room, a path I’d walked countless times before Misen had been crowned. I followed the page’s instinctive feet through the populated hallways of the keep. People turned their eyes from mine, some made the sign against evil. When we arrived at the throne room’s antechamber, the lively babble of conversation and song withered. A whisper rippled across the painted lips of the courtesans as I passed. At the far end, feverish priests worked incense around their altar of protection and ceased their chanting to scowl as I opened the ornate oak doors.

Inside, I entered a stark silence. I recognized the rheumy eyes of the men seated about the ancient war table with its raised map. Last time I had seen them so assembled, it was at the festive banquets we held before we understood the price we had paid for our victory over the Faer. We were all so much younger then, and it was less than two decades ago. They say the bite of the Faer bleeds the years from humans; we didn’t understand that then. We do now.

“Praetin on the field,” said the guard at my back. All of the generals creaked to their feet, leaning on chairs and canes to salute. All of them except Misen.

“How good of you to finally join us, Faer Catcher,” King Misen said.

“What is this?”

“We wanted to ask you the same.” The generals shifted uncomfortably, lowering themselves back to their chairs. I could see the tokens spread across the broad map, and it did not look good. “What do you know of the Diamorandhi?”

“The dark Faer-kind. Beyond mischievous, vicious. Much worse than what we had to deal with. The Faer have always claimed that they kept them at bay and warned that they would come without anyone to stand up to them. But—“

“Looks like it is happening,” growled General Renish.

“That’s not possible. There has never been any sign that the Diamorandhi were anything more than illusion. I know the rumors you are talking about—the Faer killings, and sent a garrison out to investigate last week—I mean—“ Damn Dhovia. What day was it again? I couldn’t remember, “a month ago.”

“That was two and a half months ago now, you damned bastard. Six villages have burned. Everyone slaughtered—no—devoured.”

I rubbed my eyes, damning Misen under my breath. “What has this to do with me?”

Misen stood and stabbed his finger at the tokens on the map. “What has it to do with you? You are the Faer Catcher! Unless that one you keep locked up has completely addled your wits, we need you to stop these damn Faer before they advance on the city!”

“And who’s going to do that? Look at us, we are old men.” I just wanted to rest in her songs. “It is not our place to man these garrisons and protect civilians. That is a young man’s job with years to lose, and we should send them out.” The generals averted their eyes from me.

“What do you think we did? Not being able to find you, we sent them into battle,” Misen’s voice was quiet, seething between clenched teeth while he leaned on the knuckles of his fists. “They all died. We don’t even know the first thing about the battle.”

“You are exaggerating. Where is Colonel Trenhak?”

“Dead.”

“And Yashin?”

“Dead.”

My eyes re-focused on the tokens that had been turned upside down on the table—signifying the forces and their last known positions. Seven battalions. My old mind could not do the math, but I could see how many faces that was, how many chins tilted into the sky as they marched the parade ground. I sunk into a chair, my rheumatic knees shaking. “By the king of the gods…”

“Can your songbird help us? Let’s bring her here, question her.”

Heat rose in my face. “You absolutely cannot bring her out of her cell—it is not safe!”

“Then we will go to her.”

“I will go.”

“You disappear into that cell for weeks at a time, Faer Catcher. Why do you think your wife left you?” One of the generals whistled at Misen’s remark.

I wanted to strangle the life out of him, but I was too old and too tired. I couldn’t get out of my seat. “You would do well to remember that you were not always King, Misen. Who carried you off the field at Pyrithian? If this is your gratitude, let the Diamorandhi overrun your arses.” I pushed to my feet.

“They will kill Schel and Julian too”.

Julian: that name rooted me to the stone. I could still see him as a baby, laughing in my arms. He now called me a disgrace. “How is he?”

“As if you care for any of us,” Misen said. “You would let us all be overrun.”

“How is he, you demon!”

“He is well. But he stands to lose his life just like the rest of us if we cannot stop the Diamorandhi.”

“I will ask her. But the Faer are tricky, not to be trusted. You should remember this.”

“This from the man who spends more weeks in her cell than in his own. I will go with you.”

“You will not you ungrateful—“

Misen’s hand moved to the singing blade he wore at his hip. “You do well to remember that I am still King. I will go with you.”

###

No whispers followed us as he and I left the throne room, walking side by side. Even the priests ceased their useless chanting. The only sound in the entire keep was our footfalls against the pavestones. I pulled him through the wall; it was clear his grasp of the Faer arts had faded.

“Dhovia, can we speak to you?” Misen said

She looked up from where she sat at the base of her tree, letting the sunlight bathe her wings. “King Misen, have you come to free me?” she addressed him, looking over my shoulder.

“The Diamorandhi have come,” I said, cutting off whatever Misen was about to say. “We need to know how to stop them.”

She smiled. Her beauty made my breath catch. She shifted into Faer-speak—images paraded through my mind as the words sang in my ears. “Of course they have.” Ghoulish beings with yellow eyes, and a terrible beauty like a well-crafted weapon haunted my mind. Unlike the Faer we had hunted, these had the colors of pale, burnished metal. Their unsettling eyes and longer teeth reminded me of the pictures of ghosts in story books.

“What is going on, what is she saying, Kidden?” I could feel the hint of fear in Misen’s voice; he was always fearful of the Faer. It had nearly been his undoing.

I was stunned to hear my name. No one had called me “Kidden” in years. Before I could translate the images and piece together the sounds into our crude language, Dhovia spoke. “They came because you called them.”

“We did no such thing!”

“Child,” Dhovia said. She stood and moved toward us flexing her wings with each deliberate step, like a lioness about to pounce. “While it is true that we extracted our tax upon your people, we did so because it sustained us. We fought the Diamorandhi on your behalf, keeping them in their place far over the Taraonawy mountains. But, now they have come. You disturbed the balance, and you will pay the price.”

“How can we stop them?”

She directed her softly glowing eyes at me. “At least one of you possesses the Faer Arts. Perhaps the blood of my brethren that you drank will help you, Faer Catcher.”

“How do you know—“

“I have listened to your lies for enough seasons. You say you love me. Love me when you watch your people burn. Love me when you watch your stone towers leveled. Love me when your wife and child have nothing to do with you. Love me when you die, mortal.” She spoke the last sentence in Faer, eyes narrowed, fangs bared, stabbing images through my soul. I resisted the images of death, rot, and decay and countered with moments of our shared tenderness. I sang of how I spared her when everyone demanded she be killed.

In a single wing beat, her body pressed me into the wall. Desire erupted from my soul to my skin; I yearned for her the way a lodestone leaps to metal. Her mouth was on mine in a ferocious kiss, her sharp canines cut into my lip with an ecstatic glimmer of pain. I ran my hands over her body, the soft shoulders, the swell of breast, the curve of hip, the bony protrusion of wings. Her love could roll back the years, erase the ache and agony. I leaned in, melting into her violent embrace. She slammed me into the wall, pinning my shoulders with her hands. She was more radiant than ever—her skin glowed like dappled sunlight through a spring forest canopy, her lithe muscles flexed with each breath. It was hard to stand. I needed to lie down, but she held me there.

“Stop this abomination!” Misen waved his hands, fretting. “The gods will punish you for this, Kidden!” Disgust played over his features. “Dhovia, why would they come now, after all these years?”

 He cowered when her gaze fell on him. “Because I called them.”

My heart exploded, filling my chest with a thousand shards of glass. “How could you? What of the balance? You know the tales, what they will do to the land—”

“It is you who disrupted the balance. I waited for you to understand, for you to see. With every passing year, you tilt the balance farther. You say you love me, but your kind do not understand love. You only understand taking. You take from me. You take my home. You take my children. You take my tribe. And so now, I take from you. Why do you forget time, Faer Catcher? Why have you forgotten your name? Why do you feel ever older, while I grow ever more vital with each encounter we have? I am going to outlive you, outlast you, and these seasons—“ she gestured to the cell—“ will be less than a moment in my lifetime. I will be released, and you will watch your city and your family burn. The Diamorandhi will have you, and their ways are not so pleasant as mine.” she drew her fingernail across my cheek, and I shivered with the cut it left in its wake.

“You cannot leave us to die. The Diamorandhi will kill you as well!” Misen screamed.

“The Diamorandhi are many things, but wise is not one of them. They will never capture me.” She lunged, grabbing Misen’s dagger. I caught her wrist, but I did not stop the strike. I thought her target was Misen. The singing steel smoked as it plunged into my chest, the magic instantly cauterizing the wound. Dhovia bared her canines as she followed my body to the floor. “If you want to live, open the wall.”

“Misen, get Schel and Julian onto a boat. Run to the other side of the world if you must. But…get…them…out.” He stood there, eyes moving between Dhovia and I, paralyzed in his fear. I whispered the words to open the cell. “Misen you oaf! Get wings on your feet and flee you gods-be-damned coward!”

Dhovia watched him run and placed her hand on my chest, withdrawing the knife. Healing fire swept through my body, wracking my chest in pain. I convulsed into coughing fits. When I could breathe, I stared into her eyes, surprised that I wanted her in spite of the betrayal still burning through me. I hated myself for loving her, for being such a fool. Tears pooled at the edges of my eyes. “King of the gods damn you, Dhovia.”

She sang a song of loss and betrayal that layered upon itself like an ocean tide. I resisted the images it spun, but eventually the waves of illusion drowned me. Schel screamed that I was a drunk and an abomination. Men I had served with—men who owed their lives to me—spat in my face. Flowers wilted in my hand. I kept trying to tell myself the Faer were the ones that knew nothing of love. But, I was the fool. Smothered by the echoes of the song, I curled my knees to my chest and let my tears pool on the stone floor.

###

Pain called me back. It surged through my feet as though they had been filled with molten metal. I opened my eyes, gasping for breath. A Diamorandhi stood over me. I had never seen one, but there was no denying what he was. His eyes were a glowering shade of merciless, stale gold; the long fangs jutted out of his lips. His hair was dyed in white streaks and braided into thick ropes of alternating white and black. I was tied to a plank, and all my bones ached. Two more Diamorandhi stood to either side of my legs, one healing them and the other cradling a blood splattered stone maul. Meeting my gaze, the maul-wielder raised his weapon and grinned. I shuddered.

“Where is Dhovia?” asked the Diamorandhi with the black and white hair.

“I don’t know. And if I did, I would tell you. You can have her.”

“Convenient denunciation.” He gestured to the maul-wielder. I screamed as he pulverized my bones with glee. I lost consciousness. I awoke to the hot, searing pain of the bones mending.

“We can do this as often as you like, Faer Catcher.”

“I don’t know where she is.”

“That’s not what I asked. I asked if you are ready to capture her again?”

“Capture her?”

“You did once. Why not again?”

“I’m old. I’m slow. I’ve already lost too many years to you damned devils.”

“We can remedy that.”

I could regain the years?

“As long as you walk our path, you will have the years you lost. But if you fail or betray us, this” he indicated the torturers, “is just the beginning. We will make this feel like lovemaking.” With his words, I could see Julian and Schel in a dungeon somewhere. Was he using my worries against me, or was the vision real? Did it matter?

“I’ll find her.”

“Good.” His face broke into the grin of a starving wolf. I shrunk against the plank. He turned to his healer. “Make him what he once was.”

There was not a shard of mirror glass left unbroken in the smoldering keep, but I needed it not. I could see the surprise and recognition in people’s eyes. It changed to revulsion when they realized that a garrison of Diamorandhi followed me. We passed the rotting corpses, the burning homes, and the wails of the survivors, as we began our hunt.

###

Dawn breaks along the eastern rim of the sky. The whiskey is empty. I don’t know what I will do when I capture Dhovia. No longer loved and unloved, no longer jailor and jailed, we are equals–both captives in a prison we created and cannot escape.

Fear of the Dark

OK, my turn 🙂

Here are the prompts I was given as inspiration for a story:

1.) Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden

2.) California by 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre

3.) Hurt covered by Johnny Cash

4.) A Time For Us (Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet)

5.) Poor Wayfaring Stranger 

Going into it, I didn’t expect to be inspired by any heavy metal or hip-hop. That was the music of my youth, high school rebellion/teen angst stuff. These days I’m much more mellow and melodical (yes, I know that’s not a real word, but it sounds right). Johnny’s version of Hurt is one of my favorite songs, but familiarity doesn’t breed inspiration. A Time for Us instantly brought up lots of emotions and vague images, and Poor Wayfaring Stranger did the same. But Fear of the Dark actually had a much more powerful effect.

It starts measured and controlled, before the power and rage come flying out. It instantly reminded me of one of my favorite characters, one who I created early on in my writing career and have visited on several occasions in multiple formats. He’s the unnamed man, and he has a lot of darkness in him. I felt the inspiration and ran with it. Enjoy.


 

112751_8841 Harnas knight armor full sizeFear of the Dark

The fire crackled and threw sparks high into the dark sky, followed in flight by raucous laughter and harsh voices. Tree branches swayed above like sorrowful dancers performing for an uninterested crowd. The men watched the flames, captivated by the flickering light, assured the world held nothing more dangerous than them. It had been a good day for bad men.

“That carriage twas the richest mark we hit in months.” The speaker tossed a bone into the blaze, wiping his mouth on a tattered sleeve. “Nobles have the best eatin’ and finest drink.” A wineskin passed from rough hand to rough hand.

“Those soldiers gave up right quick when they seen us pull up. Castle living makes ‘em soft.”

“Ya see tha welp piss hisself when I pwicked his cheek?”

“His ma was a right plumper.” An ugly man, with a scar across his cheek and halfway through his nose, threw another log onto the bonfire and snarled at those sprawled on the ground. “If we had the time, I woulda pricked her good.” His words held no humor but garnered several hearty cheers.

“I told yas,” a quick reply cut through the mirth, “that be bringing trouble we don’t need.” Firelight reflected orange off the armor of the man who stepped before the fire. Tall and broad-shouldered, steady in his gaze if not his walk, he casually rested a hand on his hilt. “Have your sport with the local dollops or farmers’ wives, but leave the ladies in coaches be. The lords got gold enough to lose some, but they be coming for our heads if’n we ruin their women.”

The men grumbled, but quietly. High in spirits and well supplied with drink, they had no desire to argue with their leader. He had brought them this bounty, after all, and he was an angry bugger when in his wine.

But a voice from the darkness arose in challenge. “You speak your own doom, brigand.”

“Eh?” The man’s hand gripped his hilt tight, and he craned his neck to see the speaker. “Who said that?”

A few of the less inebriated men sat up straighter, tension moving through the pack faster than the wineskin.

“Cole, you out there?” The leader called to his sentries. “Macon, you fall asleep again? You’s supposed to be keepin’ watch.”

The voice replied, drifting through the trees from a new position. “Your men are beyond earshot. They’ll not be answering any but the gods now.”

More men rose to their feet, backs to the fire and eyes straining to see into the shadows they created. Naked blades gleamed in the night.

“‘Tis a ghost!” Said a toothless drunk, quickly silenced by an elbow to his ribs.

“Don’t be no fool, Dillon,” his neighbor answered. “It be just a man playin’ with us.”

“Playing a dicey game,” the leader said loudly. “He may have got past our watch, but he didn’t get the drop on us. You hear that, stranger? You want to mess with Jarl and his boys then come into the light so we’s can see ya.”

“What if I am a ghost?” The answer echoed from everywhere and nowhere, heads pivoting to find the source. “What if I’m spirit more than man? Your fire would not reveal me.”

The shuffle of feet and creak of leather filled the silence, men turning to each other for reassurance. Jarl, a head taller than the rest, would have none of it. “Don’t be such gullible twits. I tells ya, it’s some dolt thinks he can scare us or rob us while we drunk. Lazy Bill, you and Dillon take a torch and see to Cole and Macon. The rest a yas get a brand each and clear the woods.”

“Yes, come to me.” The voice was fainter, farther away but no less powerful. No one moved.

Jarl pulled his sword. “Yas swiven maidens,” he yelled. “Get out there and cut the fool from arse to eyes!”

He slapped the back of the nearest man with the flat of his blade, and everyone jumped into action. A pair lit proper torches of pine tar from the fire and headed into the woods together. The rest either pulled out a smoldering log or grabbed a fresh stick and stuck it into the flames until it lit. One by one they spread amongst the trees.

The mysterious voice was mute, and the men filled the emptiness with bluster and curses. Jarl stayed by the fire, exhorting the laggards too drunk to get their wood to light. A grizzled old man dug a lantern out of the mess wagon, his hands shaking with the flint.

Moments passed. The darkness swallowed the roaming men, pinpricks of light appearing and disappearing behind trees. Silence returned. Then the clash of metal on metal, and a strangled scream of agony that ended too quickly.

“Bill, you out there?” Jarl asked. “Dillon?” No one answered.

Another scream, from the other side, followed by a laugh that rang like a bell.

“You’re making it too easy. I’ll save you for last, Jarl. You’ll hear them all die before I send you to hell.”

“You’ll not frighten me,” Jarl roared back. “Many have wished me to hell but none got their prayer answered.” He raised his sword defiantly. “All you men get back here. He be pickin’ you off piecemeal, you worthless louts. Come back to the fire and we’ll see how brave he be.”

The men were already streaming in, some at a trot and others walking warily, turning with every stride to cover their retreat. More clatter followed the last stragglers, the sound of heavy impacts and bodies hitting the ground. When they had regrouped, once again backs to the fire and circled in safety, their numbers were noticeably smaller.

“Ha!” Jarl paced in front of his men, his words for his own benefit as much as theirs. “Let’s see ya come into the light. Face me. Jarl ain’t afraid of nothin’, man or spirit.”

But he drew back when a shadow stepped between two trees at the edge of the clearing, the shape of a man but no light reflected off any surface, save the blade held pointed down. Several men gasped and drew tighter.

“Keep lookin’ round,” Jarl ordered. “He might not be alone. But if he is, I’ll end him soon enough.”

Jarl took a step forward but waited for the stranger to come clear of the trees. When the shadow approached it revealed itself to be quite human, a man of ordinary size in simple traveler’s garb, a cowell over his head.

Jarl raised his sword but was stopped by a word.

“No!” The stranger kept his own weapon at his side, but the command in his tone made everyone freeze, all heat from the fire sucked out of the air.

“I said you would be last.” He pulled back his hood, revealing a plain face, nothing distinctive except dark eyes, filled not with firelight but with hatred. Hatred strong enough to quail the hardened thieves gathered round. “You will live in fear until then, knowing I’ll come for you when the rest have fallen. It won’t be long, but your last moments deserve to be haunted.”

Jarl hesitated. The man’s words dripped with confidence, and he had already killed several of Jarl’s best men. Jarl was no fool. Nor was he a coward, and he knew he only lead as long as the rest feared him. “You be learnin’ you don’t always get what ya want in this world.” With a swagger he closed the distance and swung a two-handed stroke at the open neck.

But the stranger’s sword was there to block, moving faster than Jarl could follow. Jarl didn’t wait but pressed the attack with blows that had brought larger men to their knees. The stranger danced and parried, flowing like the wind to avoid the sword or striking like a whip to counter. Jarl barely felt the first slice that opened a gash on his arm, and even when the man’s blade pierced his armor and plunged deep in his belly he kept fighting. But he weakened quickly. His swipes now wild and weak. The man sidestepped and let Jarl stumble past, a backhand blow sending him to the ground.

Jarl lay still, struggling to breathe and waiting for the final blow to fall.

“Wait your turn.” The voice once again came from darkness, this time the black inside Jarl’s head.

Their leader defeated, their courage broken, several men turned and ran into the night. Those who remained were united in purpose. The man with a scar waved his arms and they spread to encircle the stranger, their only hope in numbers.

It was a false hope. The stranger became a shadow once more, dancing in and out of their midst, untouched by light or blade. He cut them down one by one, and those who tried to flee made it only a few steps before a sword took them from behind. Some dropped their weapons and begged for mercy. They found none and were culled in turn. At the end it was silent again, except for Jarl’s ragged breath and the whimper of the old man, holding his lantern as if its glow would protect him.

Jarl turned his head, vision clearing, and saw the two men facing each other. Words were exchanged. The old man nodded and lowered the lantern, opened the screen, and blew out the wick. Light left his face. He set the lantern on the ground and knelt beside it. The blow came quick, severing his head from his body, both tumbling to the earth without a sound. Jarl closed his eyes.

“Wake.” The word was accompanied by slap on the cheek. Jarl hadn’t been asleep, merely hiding from his fate, but a firm hand clenched his jaw and shook his head. “You’re not dead yet.”

Jarl blinked, the stranger only inches from him. The hatred still in his eyes.

“Who are you?” Jarl asked.

“I’m one whose women you ruined. One who seeks revenge.”

“But we didn’t. We left those ladies unharmed.” Blood sputtered over his chin. “I even called off ol’ Scratch.”

The stranger shook his head. “Today. What about yesterday? And all the days before? And what about all those village girls, the ones who have no one to avenge them? How much pain and suffering have you caused over the years?”

He grabbed Jarl by the collar of his mail shirt and yanked him upright. He moved around behind to support Jarl, who had no strength of his own, and forced his head back and forth, scanning over the bodies lying still in the grass.

“These were your men, and now you’ve lost them. But your loss is nothing compared to mine. My wife raped and tortured by bandits, my little girl cut open and left on the roadside. I loved them more than my own soul, but you felt nothing for these men who followed you in life and now lead you in death. I can’t bring you the pain I’ve felt, the pain you deserve, so I’ll give you a clean death and let the gods treat you as they will.”

“We never killed no children.” Jarl roused, tried to spin free but was held in a grip tight as iron. “You gots the wrong guy. I didn’t do it.”

The voice whispered in his ear. “It doesn’t matter who held the blade. It doesn’t matter if you were there. You all did it, and you’re all going to pay.”

The stranger plunged a thin knife between the links of Jarl’s shirt, piercing his heart. He held it in as the dying man spasmed, pulling it loose only when all movement stopped. He let the body slump to the ground and cleaned the knife on the dewy grass. Hood over his head, he walked into the trees, shadow swallowing him once more.

Death hung in the clearing, only disturbed by the crackle of fire. Soon it would fade and the carrion eaters would come. The roads would be safe for a little while, and death would find a new pack to hunt.


 

BBB AvatarBlair B. Burke writes Fantasy and Science Fiction, for young adults and those a little older. More of Blair’s short stories and thoughts on writing can be found at A Writer’s Progression.

A Visit to Ireland in March Seemed Appropriate

Thank you to this group!  I very much enjoy being nudged out of my normal routine, and getting my creative writing juices flowing.  I love the idea of being inspired by music.

Here are the prompts that Erika gave me:

1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne

2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey

3.) Country/Singer-Song Writer- A Horse With No Name by America

4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- The Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie (1979)

5.) Wild Card- Sleeping Beauty Waltz Part 2/5 by Tchaikovsky

Diary of a Madman was new to me, so that was great.  America’s  A Horse With No Name is a song that I’ve heard thousands of times, and can’t help sing along with.  It conjured up plenty of images that were fighting for attention.  However, I chose The Rainbow Connection because I’d had a Leprechaun story floating around for awhile, and my son’s birthday is St. Patrick’s day.  So the following is dedicated to him.  I hope you enjoy it.

A visit to Ireland

A visit to Ireland

Bixby

With a tiny pop, Marilee appeared

This first moment was always the most dangerous. She might have popped in right in front of the nose of a human, or worse a cat on the prowl. In a split second she found a hiding place in the leaves, paused to catch her breath and scanned the area. Everything she saw was green, wet, and buzzing with life. A few small birds flitted above her, a wide trail of ants marched under the tree branch behind her, and two fat bunnies chewed contentedly on a patch of vegetation nearby. With a deep release of breath Marilee recognized that there was no danger. Lucky.

Focusing on her true purpose, she allowed herself to drift down closer to the base of the tree. She knew he was here somewhere. The queen wouldn’t have sent her astray. But where? These darned Leprechauns are so difficult! Marilee thought as she closely inspected the trunk and roots. She knew they liked to tuck themselves in and pretend to be just another root, or rock or both. Out of the corner of her eye she detected movement. She looked, and waited for it. There! She watched again, slowly getting closer, holding her breath.

From somewhere above came a single water drop every twenty seconds or so. When the drop hit the bark at the tree’s base, the spot gave the tiniest little twitch. As she got closer, her eyes and mind recognized the parts of a gnarled nose and brow ridge. Drop. Twitch.

Marilee quickly covered her mouth to suppress her giggle, then screamed as the eye receiving the water drop few open, and glared at her as if she were the source of the torture. Startled, Marilee flew backward and slammed hard into the trunk of the tree. With a grunt, all air was knocked out of her lungs and she fell with a tiny plop onto the ground near a root. On her way down, she didn’t fail to notice the satisfied look that came into the eye, and another little twitch below the hook nose that must be the mouth of this hidden little man.

By the time Marilee regained her breath and courage, the eye closed again. Now finding the man in his disguise was a little easier. She saw the other eye, wrinkled and shaded under his nose. Drip. Twitch. Grunt. She looked closer, and could tell that he was using his hat as a pillow of sorts, and that his coat was covered in living moss and grass. His knees were tucked up and disguised as a low dirt mound and long rock. She couldn’t find his feet. Drip. Twitch. Growl.

Emboldened, she crept a bit closer, still attempting to discern his full use of camouflage. This time when the eye popped open, she wasn’t so startled. “So, yer awake then? Our queen thought today might be right. I been sent to fetch ye’.”

Drip. The latest drip caught him with his eye open. With a growl, he slammed it shut. “Ye’ damned pixie! The least ye’ could do is get up there and move the torturous leaf! ‘Tis kill’n me one horrid drop after another!” His voice was rough from disuse, but clear and firm in its demand.

With another giggle Marilee did as he bid, zooming up to the leaf and tucking it behind a small twig. “Better?” she waited, but he didn’t answer. “Now don’ ye’ go back to sleep, Bixby! I tol’ ye’ the queen’s a callin’ ye’ home.”

“There be nothin’ worse than bein awakn’d from a long sleep by a dammed random drip in de eye. A steady drip…. I had that woeful experience abou’ twenty years past. At least then I knew when ‘twas comin’ and could brace meself. But this… ah, ye’ only know another is comin’, and ‘tis always a terrible shock. Worst. WORST way to wake up I tell ye’ true.”

“Gosh, Bixby, why didn’t ye’ just get out o’ the way?” She held her trim little belly, sore from laughing all through his sorry complaint. He glared at her again which only caused her to laugh harder.

“Bah, ye’ don’ know nothin’. I would’ve moved had I the power. When a Lep is in deep cover, ye’ transition slow like, so as not to let anything know yer whereabouts. First, the brain an’ the ears. If all sounds right, the heart and lungs get permission to start slow and steady; pumpin’ warmth out into the extremities. Next come me eyes, but I mostly keep ‘em closed and let me nose wake up a bit. Smellin’ danger is a good skill to develop. Ye’ should think on tha’.”

Marilee got serious for a moment, and took a minute sample of the air. “I don’ smell nothing.” She noticed his eyes still on her, so she tried again. This time she noticed a bit more. “I smell earth, and somethin’ musty. Probably yerself after yer long sleep. Do ye’ bathe?”

“Truly? That’s all yer pip of a nose can find?” She shrugged.   “How you Pixies survive is beyond me.” With blurring speed, his hand came out of hiding and with a flick of his finger he sent a small lizard flying.

The motion caused Marilee to topple over backward. She didn’t realize that she had been sitting on Bixby’s arm the whole time. She caught her fall and zoomed up into the leaves.

“Ye’ can come back now.” Bixby chuckled. “Ye’ll be no lizard’s breakfast today.”

Marilee watched Bixby from her hiding place. How embarrassing! There was no way she was going back down there, at least not until her burning cheeks calmed down.

Bixby stretched and pulled more and more of his hidden body into view. “So, as I was explainin’ to ye’. It’s important to train yer nose to find danger before ye’ reveal yerself. Once yer nose says tis clear, then the muscles start to come back, and yer bones demand to be straightened.” Bixby stood and stretched his compact body. With a deep groan he grew to his full height of about eighteen inches. Marilee heard his tiny bones snap back into alignment.

She watched as he dusted the dirt and moss from his reddish brown coat and pants with his soft hat, and then carefully reformed it and fit it to his head. “Have ye’ no feet?” she called down to him.

He looked up sharply at her, and then down at his legs, which ended with ankles still deep in camouflage. “Ye’ may think me a fool, young Pix, but I’m no goin’ to reveal me most prized possession until I know fer sure da area is clear of thieves. Fer all I know, ye’ aren’t here for the queen, but for yer own greedy purposes.”

“Ha! What would I do with some ol’ set o’ leprechaun feet! An’ the name be Marilee.”

“Ye’ are a dense one, Marilee. It’s no’ me feet that I’m hidin’. It’s me fine shoes!” With a jump, Bixby pulled his feet above ground and displayed a soft rich pair of gold buckled, leather shoes.

“Ohhh, weel, they are nice, but they’ll no’ fit me anyway.” Marilee looked down at her bare feet and wiggled her toes at Bixby.

“Do ye’ not own yer own shoes, Marilee? Or did ye’ dance them away at the last Ceili?” He did a little jig and smiled up at her. She wasn’t smiling back. “What’s the matter? I could make ye’ some fine slippers ye’ know.”

“Oh, ‘tis nothin’ . I have shoes. I don’ seem to be very good at dancin’ though. Not many be askin’ for a twirl. I’ve never worn out any slippers.” She tucked her chin and looked away from him.

“Bahhh! Fools! I’d dance with ye’. I’m no’ afraid o’ a little thing with wings.” Arms akimbo, Bixby called her down to him. “Let me have a closer look at ye’.”

“Na. Ye’ve seen me close.” She peaked at him over her shoulder.

“I’m not movin’ til ye’ get yerself down here. Ye’d better move, girl, or the queen’ll have yer head for not fetchin’ me back.” He crossed his arms over his stout chest and waited.

With a glare, Marilee lit from the branch and floated down in front of him. “Well?” They stared at each other, and she could feel the blood rushing up to her cheeks. Never in her life had she let anyone inspect her like this.

Bixby smiled, and let softness come into his eyes as he appreciated her fine form. Before her eyes, his skin lost the look of tree bark, and the moss in his short beard disappeared.   A deep blush filled his cheeks when he noticed how closely Marilee was inspecting him. “Well, yerself!” He coughed and looked away, suddenly interested in the tree bark, and moss before him. “Awww, young Marilee, ye’must fergive this haggard old Lep. I been alone longer than ye’ve been alive.” He could see that she was appeased. “So, why does the queen want me now, after all these years guardin’ our gold, and and makin’ o’ the best shoes she’s ever seen.” His eyes perked wide. “Is that it? Does the queen need new slippers?”

“Do ye’ really think the queen needs another pair o’ shoes? All I know is that I’m to fetch ye’, and that we’re to take the Rainbow Connection back. I’ve no’ enou’ dust to carry us both.” She hoped he didn’t catch her lies.

“Oh, well, if tis no’ fer me shoes, ‘tis another reason then?” He glanced again at her to find the strangest look come over Marilee’s face. She screamed, disappeared, and for a confused Bixby, the recognition of danger came seconds too late.

In seeming slow motion his body recognized the absence of bird song. He turned and saw the backs of the fleeting rabbits before everything went black. His feet were yanked from beneath him and he tumbled not knowing up from down. Slowly his eyes made out the light coming in through rough seams, and he stopped struggling. He was caught, and caught good.

First time in one hundred and thirty-two years he allowed himself to be distracted. With a sigh, he realized there’d be hell to pay. The bag shook, and he heard a muffled voice. “I’ve been waiting fer a long time, and finally I’ve got what I been lookin’ for. You!” Bixby closed his eyes and wished that he’d stayed asleep today.

Marilee watched a huge thin man sweep Bixby into a dark sack, shake it a few times, and with a satisfied smirk walk away into the woods. From a safe distance, she followed them. Unbidden tears trailed down her cheeks as she realized that it was because of her that he had put down his guard and been captured.

**********************************************

            “Open ye’ eyes! You can’t fool me, Little Man! I know yer in there plottin’ how to escape. Let me tell ye’ now I been thinkin’ on this, and I won’ let ye’ escape or fool me into lettin ye’ go. I’ll have my three wishes this day!” With a nasty cackle, the tall man exposed his brown teeth, and rancid whisky breath. He reached in and grabbed Bixby by the leg and drew him roughly out of the bag.

“Oh aye, sir! Don’ mind me. Twas a peaceful trip, rockin’ along in that warm, dark bag. Felt like I was in me mother’s arms and fell right to sleep.” Bixby yawned, stretched, then made like he’d forgotten his manners. “Excuse me, sir. Oh, wise and tricky human. As that is what you surely must be, since you were able to catch me today.” He snapped to attention, and with a fancy flourish removed his cap and bowed before his captor. “How may I be o’ service to ye’, sirrrr?”

“Now tha’s better, showin’ the proper respect. But don’ go gettin’ tricky. I know not to take me eyes off ye’, and I know no’ to let ye’ distract me from my wishes. So… I know exactly what I want, and ye’ will listen silently to me three wishes, grant me dose wishes, and only then ye’ll be free. Do I make meself understood?”

With a twitch to his mouth, and a twinkle in his eye, Bixby silently bowed, then straightened, ready to do his bidding. “Right. Now as I was sayin, I don’ wanna hear a peep out o’ you. Here are me wishes: Me first wish is to never have to chop wood again. You will magically provide me with a full log pile so every time I need to refuel me fire, I will see that me log pile is no’ diminished for me whole life!” The man glared at Bixby, and Bixby nodded and smiled back. “Me second wish is to have a magical horse that nev’r needs t’ be fed, stall nev’r needs t’ be mucked, and his strength must no diminish!” Feeling quite pleased with himself, and with Bixby who remained perfectly silent so far, the tall man continued. “Finally, I wish that ye’, Mr. Leprechaun, provide me with a pot of solid gold that will nev’r be emptied. I will have that pot remain full, no matter how much I take out!”

The tall man proudly puffed out his chest. He hadn’t taken his eyes off Bixby, but the wildness of anticipation was making it difficult. “Well? Do it then!”

“As you wish, sir, and have a fine and wonderful life enjoying the amazin’ and wonderful benefits of yer wise and well thought out wishes.” With that Bixby jumped up twirled, snapped his fingers three times, and turned his back on the man and began to walk away.

Startled and expectant, the man turned to view the granting of his three wishes. He saw it all in an instant. The wood pile, the horse, and the pot of gold were all there. Falling to his knees the man wailed into his hands. “Nooooo!”

Marilee saw all this and zoomed in to float next to his shoulder. “Are ye’ alright, Bixby? I’m so sorry I made you get caught!”

“Naaa! Me little pixie, that was quite diverting. What a fool!” Bixby allowed himself to laugh, but didn’t turn around to view the scene behind him. “Bixby, why is he so unhappy? Did you not give him what he wished for?”

“Well, he wished fer a magical wood pile that provides him a lifetime supply.   ‘Tis probably not all stacked as yet, but that may take some time.” Marilee looked over her shoulder, and noticed that behind the cabin was a growing pile of chopped wood. In fact what a few moments ago looked like a well stocked bunch of logs was beginning to look like a growing lumber yard, that gave no signs of stopping. It had already taken over the garden and was expanding out into the woods.

She giggled and turned back to Bixby. “Oh, I see. But what abou’ the horse? Could he no’ use it t’ haul the wood an’ sell it?”

“Geez, Marilee, have I no’ taught ye’ a thing? Use yer nose, girl!” She gave a good sniff, and instantly regretted it. A horrible stench filled her nose and she felt like she would retch. “Oh, aye. That was a good wish don’ ye’ think? The only horse that never needs feed’n or muck’n is a dead one! An de only strength dat won’ be diminished would be the smell of its rottin’ flesh! Ewww!” Bixby clutched his belly, laughing heartily and began to walk faster away from the scene still unfolding behind them.

“That was a disgusting trick, Bixby, but that ugly man deserved it. Maybe he will figure a way to solve his problems with his pot o’ gold.” Marilee looked over at Bixby who had fallen down now and was rolling in gales of laughter on the ground. “Bixby! You old trickster! What did you do now?”

Catching his breath, “A pot…o’ gold…solid!” Laughing and choking, eyes watering, Bixby couldn’t continue. Confused but starting to laugh herself, Marilee tried to make sense of his words. “Never empty!…Ever!” Bixby rolled over onto his stomach and laughed into the soft grass.

“What is it, Bixby!” Marilee demanded. “I don’ understand. Isn’t that exactly what he wanted?”

She waited some moments for his shoulders to stop shaking as he gained control over his mirth, rolled over, and looked up at her floating above his chest. “He got what he wished for young Marilee. A pot o’ solid gold that can nev’r be emptied! Get it?”

Slowly understanding washed over her. “Ohhh, so he can no get the gold out o’ the pot? Is that yer trick Bixby?”

“Aye, and that pot is abou’ that size of a Pixie’s purse!” He collapsed again into laughter, proud of his tricks on the stupid human. “He made it so easy!”

“Come along, Bixby. ‘Tis time to catch yer rainbow back to the queen.” She tugged on his coat sleeve.

“Is it possible, Marilee, that she sent ye’ because she has plans fer us?” He looked at her. A solemn, worried look crossed his brow.

“Oh aye, she has her plans.” Marilee blushed, but continued to hold his sleeve. “Well, the Rainbow Connection is very special, young Marilee. Only a select few can use it.” He smiled as he realized that he wasn’t the only one who had quickly fallen in love. “Who?” “Lovers, Dreamers, and now We.” He took her gently into his hand as a rainbow appeared next to them. He smiled into her eyes, and walked them into the light.

Last in Line, One Last Time

Thanks to Erika for asking me along for another round of prompts! This time everything was based on music, with the following to select from:

1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- The Last in Line by Ronnie James Dio
2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Angel in Blue Jeans by Train
3.) Country/Singer Song Writer- I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack
4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- The Lonely Shepherd from Kill Bill Vol. 1
5.) Wild Card- The Original Theme from Sesame Street TV Series

I was very tempted by the wild card, but in the end it was ‘The Last in Line’ by Dio that really got to me. Probably because I have an unhealthy obsession with what happens to us after we die, but this story popped into my head and wouldn’t let go until it was written.

Just a warning, things to get a bit dark in the middle (and if you don’t like bombings, please be careful reading) but as always I try and get to the light at that end of the tunnel.


LAST IN LINE, ONE LAST TIME

They say time has no meaning to the dead. This is a lie. Time doesn’t vanish when you cross that line between living and not. It simply becomes less meaningful. There are no clocks to glance at. No ticking beating at your ears. Most of the dead simply ignore the passage of time.

I, however, did not.

I sat on a bench overlooking a sunken plaza. It was either sunset or sunrise, the light dim enough to be either, the air neither hot nor cold. A long line snaked through the plaza. It’s beginning disappeared through a set of double doors at the far end leaving the back end exposed.

The line moved constantly, people arriving singly, in pairs, sometimes even in larger groups, but never seeming to actually make the line longer by their presence. An old man appeared, followed by a woman wearing a pantsuit and one shoe. Over the man’s head bright letters flared declaring his name as John Schmidt and the cause of death ‘heart attack’. The woman’s name was Coleen Chen. She’d been hit by a train.

Both flinched when a smiling man with a clipboard appeared besides them. I couldn’t hear what Aiden told them from my seat, but I saw the man tense while the woman burst into a brief bout of tears that dried before I could do more than blow one bubble of my Very Cherry Bubble Yum.

The gum smacked against my teeth as I sucked it in. Aiden handed Coleen a slip of blue paper and John a slip of red. I fingered my own slip. It was as black as the bench I sat on, nothing to mark it except for the creases my fingers had worried in it over time.

It had said something once. I’d refused to read it. I wasn’t going through that line. Not yet.

From the way John’s face went as red as his slip I knew Aiden had gotten to the part about what the colors meant.

Red for the bad. The ones who’d died with something ugly on their conscious.

Blue for the good. The ones who’d died without doing anything too sinful if not having done anything particularly good.

No one’s slip was meant to be black. I blew another bubble and watched Coleen’s shoulders relax. Guess that made me special. I watched a few more appear. A boy who’d died of cancer. A girl who’d slit her wrists. Four victims of the same car accident. All got blue slips.

Bored, I stood and made my way down the stairs along the outside of the stone wall surrounding the sunken plaza. The stairs lost shape, lost their mindless sameness the further I went, until I had to go down backwards, hands gripping the steps above while my feet groped for the steps below.

No one besides me came this way. Not even Aiden. The sun didn’t brighten, the grey and blue of the sky never changed even though I was well past a count of 5,000 Mississippi by the time I reached the bottom.

Dusting my hands off I looked at the craggy wasteland stretched out in front of me. Aiden said I was insane to come down here. That I would never find who I was looking for.

The bugger could piss off.

I couldn’t exactly die trying. Not now. So why not continue the search?

The way I saw it, he had to be out here somewhere. There had to be a door back to him. I couldn’t find him that day, but I sure as hell would find him now. Hunching my shoulders, I put the earbuds back into my ears, the sounds of Easy Rider making my head bob as I started my trek.

This was my 75th journey down here. Each had ended with me back on that bench, watching Aiden, an unopened pack of Very Cherry Bubble Yum in my pocket and “I’m Gonna Walk 5,000 Miles” blasting from the iPod.

No matter how I tried, the memories of how I’d ended back up there stayed locked up tight, the only sign I’d been anywhere the extra creases in my black slip and the dust on my boots.

I kept plugging at it though. I had no desire to learn whether I’d died good or bad. All I wanted was OUT.

“One Mississippi,” I breathed as I walked. “Two Mississippi.”

Faulty memory of the end of each journey aside, I could say with absolute certainty that I’d been down here ten years, six months, five days, seven hours, and fifteen minutes. Counting kept me sane. Kept the fire burning in my gut.

By 4,000 Mississippi I had reached a giant lake. Various journeys said there was nothing in the lake but water, nothing to the east but forest, and nothing to the west but an endless plain of grass. No birds soared, no fish swam, no crickets creaked. The one sound was the music in my ears and swish of my jeans against the waving stems of grass I trampled.

Pulling my boots off I dove in. The water parted before me, feet and hands sliding as smoothly as tail and fins, propelling me forward. Barely a count of 500 Mississippi passed before I was at the northern most edge of the lake. Here countless pairs of boots (all my black, knee high Maddens) sat in messy lines.

To anyone else they’d have been a sign of futility. To me they were a sign that something in this godforsaken place changed. Even if it did it’s best to convince me otherwise. The sand around the lake faded into shale, then concrete. My breath began to quicken. This was new. I couldn’t remember encountering anything manmade before.

Pulling the last piece of gum clear I used a rock to anchor the packet right on the edge of the concrete lip. There was no other sign I’d been here yet. No human element but me and the concrete lane leading down a gradually steepening hill.

“One Mississippi.”

Count again established I walked. The concrete was warm under my bare feet, a strange contradiction to the temperature-less water and air. I stuck to the center where in the alive world a white or yellow line would break the expanse.

I had no expectation of anything, so the rumble took a long time to process. A nervous feeling, like the quiver against violin strings drawn by new violinists during their first warm up with the Metropolitan Orchestra, started in my belly and traveled upward.

I slowed and pulled an earbud free. Music muted, the rumble became more intense, a counter vibration up my legs to the nervous fluttering in my abdomen. Slowly, emerging around a curve I hadn’t noticed before, came a flame red Mustang. Headlights powered through the gloom and I stopped.

“No fucking way,” I whispered, then yelled it. “No fucking way!”

Nerves turned to joy, a swift BOOM BOOM POW in my heart. I ran, pelting towards the driver side door as the car’s throaty roar cut off and the door began creaking open.

“Jack!” I tripped, nothing catching at my toes. Palms slapped the hood as I tilted forward. I reveled in the pure HEAT pouring through dead skin and rebounded, using the hood to slide around the side.

The door slammed and there he was. Jack Parson. His smile lit up the sky. His figure huge and imposing in a world of gray.

“Hello, darling,” he said and caught me in his crushing embrace. Smells—whiskey and horses and Jack—slid themselves up my nose and I gasped drawing them deeper into my lungs.

Tears rose and I flung them away from me, fingers buried in the softness of his sweatshirt. “I found you. I found you. I found you.” Counts of Mississippi forgotten I repeated those words over and over until with a laugh, Jack tipped me back.

“How do you know I didn’t find you?” he asked.

That made me smile. “Because you’ve always been terrible at finding things. Don’t see why being dead would change that.”

I knew the words were the wrong thing to say when his always relaxed posture stiffened, the hands around my arms tightening. “What?” he asked.

Doesn’t he know? I knew. Even before Aiden told me.

“We’re dead.” I kept breathing in the scent of him; each hit a piece of home.

“Bullshit.”

The word fell between us and I pulled away. Foreboding turned the oxygen to carbon dioxide before it could even reach my lungs. This felt familiar. Terribly familiar.

I stared into those dark eyes that I had always known better than my own and suddenly we weren’t standing on an empty highway, the Mustang besides us, but in the center of a busy city street.

A boom split the air and a building disintegrated, glass like terrible snowflakes caught in a blizzard howling down upon us. People screamed and ran, the smell of burning flesh and scorching metal realer than anything. A piece of glass bigger than my arm speared a girl through the back and she fell. I didn’t move. Couldn’t have. I watched the red seep from her, watched it stain the asphalt.

I’d seen this before. Been here before.

When I’d died.

That was me, lying there. My blood staining the ground. I’d landed on my stomach, earbuds knocked free, hands feebly attempting to roll myself over, eyes wide and frightened even as they dimmed.

“What is this?” I whispered. “Jack, what is this?”

I turned, but he was no longer besides me; the street empty of anything but panic and destruction.

“Jack!” I whirled in a circle doing my best to ignore the panic rising in the back of my own throat like sludge. Ignoring the movements of my old body ceasing. What had I even been doing down here that day? I didn’t work downtown. I never even left the suburbs if I could help it.

But I’d come. I’d been walking across this street for a reason.

Bundling the panic into a ball, I started to walk, then run. Jack. I’d come here because of Jack.

The ‘why’ of his being here remained stubbornly out of my reach as I hurried. Another building exploded. People veered every which way. Their mouths opened, but my ears were deadened to their screams, the only sound I could hear a giant roar. A piece of falling building crushed a car and I stopped. Just stopped.

I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t. Why were they making me see this? “I died good,” I whispered. “I died good!” I tore the slip out of my pocket, scrubbing at the black. It was blue. I knew it had been.

The black came off like soot now, coating my fingers. I stilled. Stared. Because the slip wasn’t blue. It wasn’t red. It was some strange mix of both. The colors seeped into one another without ever becoming purple; red lines and blue lines intermingling and tangling until it was hard to make out any color at all.

It didn’t make any sense. Pushing down a scream I shoved it back into my pocket. Somewhere a child sobbed, a man wailed, an alarm railed against the destruction.

Jack will fix this, I thought. He’ll know what’s happening.

The sound disappeared, everything stilling as those words rattled there way through my head. “Jack,” I spoke slow, testing the words, “will know what’s happening.”

A pause, the rest coming to me like the dawning of a blood-red sun.

“Because he caused this.”

The street disappeared. I stood in a grungy apartment. Our grungy apartment. He stood at the sink, speaking to someone on the phone. “It’s all set, man,” he said softly. “We just have to pull the trigger and those bastards pay. Pay big.”

Numbness spread through me as the words did. Turning, knowing what I would see, I saw myself sprawled on the couch, body stiff even though my eyes were closed in a mockery of sleep.

I’d heard him that day. Heard every word even though he’d been convinced I’d been sleeping. But instead of going to the police I’d followed him. Using the bus because we only had one car. Arriving at the address I’d seen scrawled in his messy handwriting along with a sheave of other notes, plans, pictures, shoved in the bottom of his desk drawer, seconds before it had blown sky-high. He hadn’t even attempted to hide them from me. They’d been there all that time if I’d only looked.

But I hadn’t. Not until it was too late.

“Oh, Jack,” I whispered. “Why did you do this?”

He didn’t answer; just kept talking, voice growing angrier and darker. “They destroyed us,” he said to the person on the other end. “They fucking deserve to die a bloody, bloody mess.”

A laugh left him and I watched my body twitch on the sofa, remembered the chills that laugh sent through me. I didn’t feel them now. Now rage grew, pulsing through my veins. I fingered the edges of the card in my pocket. There had to be a reason I was back here. Was seeing this.

I needed to make a decision. A better one. I walked over to my body, sinking onto the coffee table, making sure my knees didn’t brush my body’s arm.

“Don’t follow him,” I told my body. “Just call the fucking police.”

The sound of the phone slamming down made us both jerk. Footsteps thumped the floorboards and Jack appeared. He crouched down, brushed the hair from my body’s forehead with a gentleness that was at total odds to the explosive anger of the telephone Jack.

“Darling?” he whispered. “I’ve gotta go out.”

My body blinked her eyes, playing down the confused horror as sleepiness. “Go?” My body’s voice cracked. “Go where?”

Jack’s lips pulled into a smile. The bastard, I thought.

“I’ve got something to do. I should be home early though. I was thinking we could go to the lake that you like. Pack a picnic?” He nibbled at my body’s neck, not noticing the revulsion in my eyes.

“Sure,” my body squeaked, eyes darkening. “Sounds wonderful.”

It sounded horrible.

I watched Jack kiss my body, sure I’d have thrown up if I’d been physically capable. But I hadn’t so much as swallowed a piece of gum in over ten years. We both watched Jack leave and I watched, silent, as my body lurched upright and went straight to the second bedroom/closet we used as our office.

I’d known exactly where to find his notes. Known exactly where they’d be.

The knowledge sickened me.

“Call the police,” I instructed from the doorway as my body sank in a heap besides the desk. Tears ran down her face, but there was no pity left in me. “Call them right now, you stupid, stupid, bitch!”

Instead, I watched her pull on the black Madden boots, the denim jacket, iPod in one pocket, Very Cherry Bubble Yum in the other, folded bills and I.D. in the back pocket of my jeans.

“People are going to die,” I told her. “And it will be all your fault.”

Despair closed over me, cold and heavy. It couldn’t end like this. It couldn’t. I couldn’t die with this on me. I knew that as well as I knew that the card in my pocket wouldn’t allow me down either path. I couldn’t follow the reds or the blues.

Aiden’s voice came to me then, his sharp little face so clear it felt like he was in the room with me. “You can wait to be last in line,” he said. “Or you can find a way to make peace with where you are. It’s up to you.” He’d said that to me every time I’d gotten frustrated and bored and approached him. He’d never looked at me, always intent on the red and blue slips he passed out, eyes on every new person to enter the line.

Now his words took on extra meaning. I could wait. Or I could act. I’d been trying to act this entire time, but in the wrong direction. I stared at my back, watching my hands flip my hair out of the way.

And for the first time, I reached for my body. My arms slid around my back, my face burrowing into my hair. I drug the scent of me into my lungs (rose from my shampoo, Cheeto dust from lunch) and sank into my body. For a moment everything doubled: two views of the door from slightly different angles, the sensation of arms both on mine and wrapped within mine. And then I dragged in the first real breath I’d taken since I died. I smelled the mold, the slightly rotten smell of old food and dirty laundry and never cleaned carpets.

I staggered back from the door, heart stuttering in my chest, lungs and limbs shaking. The phone. I wobbled, unsteady, into the kitchen and grabbed the landline. It had been installed decades again, the plastic worn and sweaty. I mashed three buttons. Listened as a voice answered. Took another breath…

…and changed everything.

Domestic Threats

Kimberly here, of http://www.kimberlyemerson.com. I can’t get enough of short stories lately, so when Erika asked me to participate in This One Time…at Writers Group’s new challenge, of course I said yes. I got the following five pieces of music for inspiration:

1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Breaking the Law by Judas Priest

2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- The Heart Wants What it Wants by Selena Gomez

3.) Country/Singer Songwriter- Oh Very Young by Cat Stevens

4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- Pirates of the Caribbean (1)- The Curse of the Black Pearl

5.) Wild Card- The Happy Birthday Song (traditional)

I listened to all of them (sans videos, just as requested). First, I discovered that Happy Birthday sounds a little creepy heard out of context. Don’t know why. Beyond that, I toyed with a story based on the Selena Gomez song, but finally ended up drawn to the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. A pirate story! I decided the swashbuckler in my head was too literal, and thought to myself, who are the modern day pirates? Hmm…instead of the high seas, most of them sit behind a computer somewhere…

IMG_0404

DOMESTIC THREATS

Phillip Rainier banged his cup down on the desk, splashing drops of black coffee on the keyboard.

His administrative assistant poked her head around the partially open door. “Mr. Rainier? Is there a problem?”

“Get me the head of IT. Now.”

Less than a minute later, Tomas Garcia walked into his office. Rainier didn’t look up. “Shut the door.” As soon as he heard the door close, he wheeled his chair back from the desk so Garcia could see his computer screen. “Read this.”

The IT guru stood over his shoulder, keeping a very respectful distance away, which was wise. Rainier  would have loved an excuse to smash something. They both read the 48-point font.

THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING. A PUBLIC STATEMENT THAT YOU WON’T LAY OFF ANYONE ELSE THIS YEAR, OR YOUR NEW CHEMOTHERAPY FORMULA GOES ON WIKIPEDIA.

P.S. YOUR LATEST BONUS GOES UP TOO.

Rainier rounded on his employee. “Who the hell is sending these? Why haven’t you found them?”

Garcia twitched beneath his white collared shirt. “I don’t know, Mr. Rainier. I’ve had my whole team on it, and we’ve got nothing. They come in on your email, from your email. There’s no trail from other servers.”

“Do you think it’s Anonymous?”

Rainier’s employee shook his head. “Anonymous wouldn’t have made the threat this private. Their ultimatum would have made the rounds on Twitter by now. Are you sure no one else has access to your email account?”

“I’ve changed the password three times in the last week. The last one was fifteen characters including numbers, capitals, an asterisk and two dollar signs.”

Garcia raised his eyebrows. “You have that written down somewhere?”

Rainier tapped his shirt pocket. “I keep it with me all day. It goes in my desk drawer at night. My wife is sick of finding ink marks on my shirt pockets, but I can’t remember them all anymore.”

“And you’re sure your house is secure?”

“I run a multi-billion dollar company, Garcia! I have better security than the President!” It wasn’t an exaggeration. Rainier paid the security bill every month before he paid his health insurance. When he considered threats to his health, heart attacks were a distant second to long range rifles.

Garcia sighed. “Perhaps we’re overstating the threat here, Mr. Rainier. We have patents on our formulas. Even if the formula went public, no reputable company would be able to use it.”

“Not this one.” Rainier tapped his fingers on the oak desk. “I talked to Legal yesterday morning. It won’t be final till next week, at the earliest.” The conversation had ruined his breakfast. Screaming at the phone and pounding on the table had produced no result save spilling orange juice on his daughter Miranda, who’d had to run upstairs and change into something less citrusy.

“Perhaps we need security on the formula.”

Rainier rose to his feet and smacked both hands on the desk. “Where do you think I’ve been keeping it? In a fake rock on my porch?” He walked away to resist the urge to punch Garcia. “It’s under the tightest possible security right now. I have a backup of the formula at home, just in case there’s a huge computer disaster, but that’s the only place it exists outside the lab. The entire lab staff knows it’s worth more than their lives to leak it.”

Garcia looked about a half second from making a run for it. “Well, at least you don’t have to worry about the bonus thing. That’s stated in the company financial reports, isn’t it?”

The stare Phillip Rainier gave his employee caused the man to take two steps back. “Not everything is listed in the financials, Garcia. Not that anything illegal is going on, of course.” That I’ll admit to you, anyway. “There are just things the public doesn’t need to know.”

Garcia coughed. “Of course, sir.” He scooted closer to the door. “I don’t know what else we can do.”

“We were planning a round of layoffs next week. We can’t afford not to.”

“But if we release this new chemo drug, we should make money off it, right?”

“If the research holds up like we think it will, and it causes significantly less nausea than the usual stuff, yes. But I can’t guarantee that right now.”

Garcia’s wrung his hands so fast they looked like a blur in front of his stomach. “Um, Mr. Rainier? Maybe you should call their bluff. You said the formula is secure. Just don’t react to the email.”

It was Rainier’s turn to cough.

Garcia’s eyes bugged out. “They sent proof they have it?”

“An early version of the formula. Not perfect, but close enough.”

Silence reigned for the next two minutes. At last, Garcia swallowed audibly. “I think you might have to give them what they want, sir.”

“What? How do I explain that to the shareholders, Garcia? Sorry, decreased dividends for you folks. They’ll sell before they hit the door.”

“Maybe senior management could give up bonuses this year.”

“Garcia, you’re – “ Rainier almost said he was fired, and then stopped himself. For all he knew, Garcia could be the one sending the emails. He had access to everything. Fire Garcia, and the formula would probably be on Wikipedia by lunchtime. He cleared his throat. “You’re probably right. I’ll find a way. Get back to work.”

Garcia didn’t need to be told twice.

Feeling like an idiot, Rainier called the head of Public Relations. “I want a statement out to the media this morning, out to all major media outlets. No new layoffs for Rainier Industries this year. Yes, I know what that means! Just do it!

A buzz on her phone told Miranda Rainier that CNN had a headline with her father’s company in it. “No New Layoffs for Rainier,” it announced.

She texted the link to her best friend’s phone and added the message, Relax. Your mom’s job is safe.

A text came back immediately. OMG! I have to call mom. All good till next year.

She’ll be fine next year too. Don’t worry.

If her father started keeping all his important stuff in a bank vault instead of his top drawer, she might have a problem, but Miranda didn’t think that would ever happen. Dad didn’t trust strangers.

Me-at-Court-of-Two-SistersKimberly Emerson is currently working on one novel, seeking representation for another, and considering a twelve step group for her short story habit. Okay, that’s not true, she’s entering short story contests, but when you think about it, that’s kind of the same thing. Her cat Zoe wishes Kimberly great literary success, because humans make much better cat servants when they work at home. Make her cat happy and subscribe to her blog, http://www.kimberlyemerson.com.