Categories
Short Fiction Uncategorized Writing Challenges

Shaken By A Strong Wind

The dream had been plaguing me for days. I’d go to bed determined that this night would be different, that I’d break the cycle. But I couldn’t.

 

I should have paid more attention to what the dream was trying to tell me.

 

I’m in bed, and at first, I think I’m just waking up in the random way people do where we sigh and roll over and drift right back off. Then I realize that it’s cold.

 

My bedroom is never cold.

 

The heat must be broken. I reach over and shake my husband’s arm. “Joshua,” I whisper, not wanting to wake the girls sleeping next door. “The fire’s gone out again.”

Josh mumbles something unintelligible and throws an arm up over his face.

 

He’s been working so much. I decide I’ll just take care of it. I always get splinters when I fill the stove, but there are worse things.

 

I get up and slide on my robe. I tiptoe past the girls’ room and out into the living room to take care of the fire.

 

It’s too bright out there, but not because there are any lights on. The moon must be full, I think absently.

 

I nearly jump when I start to walk past the bay window and Rachel’s bell clear, but startlingly inflectionless, voice says, “Mamma, the stars went out.”

 

It takes a split second before I can breathe again. Then I answer. “Sweetie, you scared me half to death! What are you doing out of bed?”

 

Carolyn speaks then, sounding, as always, exactly like her twin. “The stars went out, and now they’re falling. We want to watch them burn it all up.”

 

Gooseflesh zings up and down my arms, my spine. I look out the window, past their identical white blonde heads stained lavender by the strange light pouring in the picture window.

And they’re right.

 

The stars are indeed falling from a sky that looks nothing like it could possibly belong to Earth.

 

The girls turn toward me then, and their light blue eyes are gone. All that’s left are puckering holes filled with the light from that alien sky.

 

It woke me up screaming every day for a week. Once I could breathe again, once I could stop sobbing in terror, I’d go make my coffee, regardless of the hour and be up for the day.

 

Why didn’t I seek comfort from Josh, or go check on my girls?

 

Because they don’t exist. And they never have.

 

I’ve never married, and I don’t intend to. I’ve certainly never had children. I can’t. And even if I could, I don’t think I’d want them.

 

Especially now.

 

Now that I know.

 

When the dream came to me again this morning, instead of getting up and making coffee, I lay in bed for a long time.

 

Thinking.

 

I finally got up a couple of hours later and dressed for a long hike. I even packed my backpack for one.

 

I walked straight through my silent living room, not looking left or right. I especially avoided looking at my bay window. It was no longer stacked with pillows as a reading nook. As the dream persisted, I started filling that shelf up with everything I could that would prevent anyone, including eyeless dream offspring, from sitting on it.

 

I walked out my front door, not bothering to lock it behind me. I knew with eerie certainty that locks stopped mattering sometime between the dark and the dawn.

 

I looked up and saw what I’d been both dreading and expecting.

 

The sky has gone purple.

 

The same purple as the eyes my twins didn’t have. My twins that don’t exist.

 

The stars aren’t falling yet. But I know they will.

 

I feel it.

 

Deep in my chest.

 

But I feel something else, too.

 

We might be able to stop it.

 

 

 

I’m sure as Hell going to try.

 

Categories
Arbitratus Short Fiction Fic-mas Short Fiction Uncategorized Writing Challenges

The Second Day of Fic-mas …

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Eat, Drink, and Be Miserable

 

Author’s Note: For readers of Always Darkest, in case you were wondering why Ben couldn’t spent Christmas Eve with Mal, this ought to clear things up. For those of you new to our universe, this is what happens when Hell throws a holiday office party.

“Ben! You made it!” the graceful hostess called with enthusiasm and more than a little surprise. She hadn’t seen him come in, and her two assistants had been taking bets on whether or not he’d show up. She eyed him up and down. “You’re looking … very … um …”

“Save it, Aife. I’m in no mood for games or pleasantries.” She thought he might be frowning or glaring at her, but at present it was difficult to tell. “Besides, we’re fighting.”

“Fighting? Over this? Come on, it’s not that bad.” She reached down, clapping him on his uncharacteristically meaty shoulder. “And it’s traditional!”

The eye roll was more obvious than his previous expression. “Yeah, that’s me. Mr. Tradition.”

He started shouldering his way through the crowd, toward the decorative seat on the raised platform at the center of the room. The sooner he sat down and got this started, the sooner he could change and get the hell out of here. He was glad going home no longer meant just the hundred feet or so to his old apartment above the bar. Soon this would be over and he could catch a cab across town to his new digs.

And shower.

For about a week.

Undeterred by his sour mood, Aife followed, trying to pull him out of whatever was behind his current funk. She knew he wouldn’t be happy about this, but she hadn’t expected his near total silence since she’d reminded him of the obligation.

To be fair he’d kind of bared his soul to her, at least as much as Ben ever did with anyone, and when all was said and done she’d said, essentially, ‘Thanks for trusting me with all this, but, by the way, I need you to do a thing you’re really going to hate in a few days’.

But it wasn’t like Ben to pull the silent treatment bit, even if he was furious. Something major had to be happening. Still, he had an obligation here tonight, no matter what else was going on with him. In fact, based on the little he’d revealed of what he’d been up to over the last year, and especially the last few months, keeping up appearances, keeping his cover intact, was especially important. She decided to subtly remind him of that in a way that would be safe if someone happened to get close enough to eavesdrop.

“You, of all demons, know how important it is, for those of us saddled with peripheral, less important Offices, to stick to the regulations,” she admonished. When he rolled his eyes at her a second time, she started quoting the rule book. “At the time of year when all earthly eyes are on the heavens, it is critical that Hell do its part to stay a presence literally and figuratively to advance our mission. The senior ranking noble or Agent will act as ceremonial host on the eve of …”

“I’m familiar with the regs,” he interrupted. “Why the hell do you think I’ve avoided being anywhere near an Office on Christmas since … always?” he groused. “How are demons even supposed to celebrate Christmas?” came out as more of a growl.

She grinned, hoping an attempt at humor would relax him a little. “Ironically, I think.”

He sighed. “Ironically?” He tugged at his coat awkwardly, unaccustomed to clothes not fitting exactly the way they were meant to.

Aife looked him over, letting her gaze linger like she was about to flirt. Then she cocked an amused eyebrow. “Yeah, definitely ironically.”

“Oh, screw you, Aife,” he snapped, then started laughing in spite of himself, though his amusement was short lived.

He was glad The Pit wasn’t one of those bars with mirrors everywhere. He didn’t need to be reminded what a ridiculous figure he cut in this crowd of demons and humans decked out in their finest, or at least their most festive. Since custom demanded that he appear in his demonic form, say nothing about the ubiquitous Santa suit, he wasn’t interested in the visual. This was a form he avoided at all costs; he hadn’t been forced into it in centuries. And the suit was about as awful as he expected. But it was kind of funny. Probably. From the outside.

He fidgeted in discomfort again and the pat Aife gave him this time was less amused and more genuinely consoling. She led him to the bar and gestured for Ciara to pour them a couple of their usual drinks. She knew the short, round, hairy appearance (forget the goat legs and cloven hooves that came with the package) didn’t exactly match up with how Ben saw himself. She really should have expected this reaction.

When he’d first come to her over a year ago, looking for a place to stay, they’d been sitting in his apartment flipping through channels one night and had come across the Disney version of Hercules. She’d made the offhand comment that he reminded her of a character in the film. He’d grinned and said he’d always thought he was decent enough in the looks department, but he’d never have given himself Greek god status. Aife had smiled wickedly and told him she meant Hercules’s friend, Philoctetes. Because of, you know, the whole goat-y thing. “He’s the spit of your demon form, lovey.” He’d glared for a while, then stomped off to bed, leaving her to let herself out.

She knew how miserable he had to be tonight with that bumpy, lumpy, short, asymmetrical body crammed into a cheap Santa suit. It wasn’t quite as bad as a rental, but very nearly. She’d never seen anyone fit into it properly and that was definitely true tonight. Ben pulled at some part of it self-consciously every time he moved. It was somehow both too big and too small all at once.

The arms had to be rolled up with fabric bunching awkwardly at the wrists. His demonically-shortened stature also meant, even rolled up, the pants trailed under his hooves so he kept treading on the cuffs and half tripping.

Despite its length, the breadth of the suit wasn’t proportional. Or adequate. The buttons strained across the considerable girth at his midsection in an over-taxed effort to contain him. She nearly laughed at the thought of them putting out someone’s eye if they let go. She’d never let him live it down.

Ben stretched the stiff fabric on the waist of his pants yet again, wishing he could breathe properly. He was trying to find real humor in this, but was just too damned uncomfortable. His sour tone belied the amused smirk he was trying on. “Honestly Aife, I look like Tim Burton got tapped for a reboot of The Grinch and decided to cast Danny Devito in the lead role.”

Given her memory of just a moment ago it took a herculean effort not to burst out laughing. Oh, that nearly did it. She snorted a little giggle, but clamped down on it. “You only look about half as ridiculous as you think you do. Besides, I thought I’d be the one wearing the costume this year. No one else has been around and you’re usually so good at avoiding this stuff.”

“If you’d reminded me sooner, I would have again,” he said, shooting her a dark look.

“Maybe I mentioned it back when you were still showing up for work here. Not my fault you’ve been off …” She stopped when his brow creased. She had promised not to mention school, or his other job, or the fact that he had apparently made friends with some humans. Not where anyone else might overhear it anyway. She’d have to get the rest of the story out of him at some point, but tonight was not the time for it. “And maybe this finally makes us square for Boston,” she said archly.

“Boston? Are you serious? This is about Boston?” he asked incredulously, gesturing at his horror-inducing appearance. “C’mon, Aife, that was literally centuries ago! And it was not my fault!”

“It was a little your fault,” she said with a smirk.

“How can you ..? I didn’t do …” he sputtered.

“You set the mince sniffers on me. You have to own that part at least.”

He sighed. “Okay, maybe … so that part could have been my fault, but …” His whole face became a frown. At least she thought it did; it was tough to tell with all those bulldog worthy wrinkles. “But we’re even?”

She tipped him a wink. “I said maybe.”

Ben rolled his eyes. He picked up the generous shot of her best scotch off the bar, downed it, then closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, setting the glass down with a thud. “Fine. Hand me the beard, would you?”

Mirth danced in her green eyes as she passed the finishing touch for the Santa suit to him. He fixed it over his ears, using her reactions, rather than the mirror over the bar, to decide if he had it arranged correctly. He could deal with this, so long as he didn’t have to look at it. Her nod told him it was on straight, but … what was that ..? Ugh.

“Aife … um … why does this smell like … I don’t know … bad?” he asked when he couldn’t come up with anything to compare the aroma to.

Aife’s eyes went round and innocent. “I can’t imagine,” she said sweetly. “It’s natural fiber. Wool, I think.”

“Okay, sure, but from what part of the sheep?”

She laughed. It was such a normal Ben thing to say. She took a step closer and sniffed. “Oh, oh honey, I’m … About that …”

“Aife,” he warned, an almost imperious note creeping into his voice. “What is it? What am I ..? Just … what?”

“You may have heard about … last year Stolas was the lucky noble in town.”

“And?”

“Well … he had quite a bit to drink, and got spectacularly ill …”

“How does a demon get sick from drinking unenchanted Earth booze?” he demanded.

“How should I know?” she returned indignantly. “Maybe giant demonic raven’s have fussy stomachs! Besides … I did wash it …” she assured him.

“In what? Musk ox urine and broken dreams?”

“Oh, it’s not that bad, Ben. Just a little musty.” She patted him again. “You’re just crabby.”

Ben decided to let it go. He was crabby. Downright pissy even. And it wasn’t Aife’s fault he couldn’t just leave town. He would have last week when she’d reminded him about this little shindig, but he’d promised Mal he’d be there for Christmas, promised he’d meet her dad and uncle. Shit. What was he thinking? Meeting a couple of angels after all this … He almost wished he could get sick-drunk tonight. “Yeah,” he sighed.

Ben finally hazarded a look in the mirror and finished adjusting his beard. He pulled the tasseled hat back on as far as it would go over his abnormally round head, and walked wordlessly past Aife to take his place on the raised dais so the formal part of the evening’s festivities could commence.

∞∞∞

The party was, as Ben expected, a vulgar and garrish affair, featuring a who’s who of Burlington’s damned, and their guests. The crowd was mostly made up of connected, and more importantly, contracted, souls, not to mention a handful of local-ish demons, mostly in human form, or wearing a human body. At least the Fallen hadn’t shown up. That was a small consolation, but as the smelly Santa suit started to itch in addition to being aromatic, Ben decided he’d count his blessings where he could find them.

“Ah, Lord Ronoven, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure before.”

He glanced up from where he’d been staring at the ice in the bottom of the glass Aife had kept full all evening. He found himself faced with a woman of early middle age, wearing too much make-up and a smart red dress. “Good evening, Margaret,” he greeted mildly.

“You know my name?” the woman asked with a startled laugh.

He dipped his chin in a nod that was as close to dignified as his demon guise allowed. “It’s my business to know. I trust your son is doing well under the new arrangement.”

“Oh yes, quite well, my Lord,” she gushed. The form of address and her tone made him twitch. He forced the cringe inward and continued to meet her eye as though he were really interested in her answer. “He’s just been made the youngest partner in the history of his firm … and more importantly, his name has been coming up a lot in certain political circles, just as promised.”

Another semi-regal nod. “Very good. I like to know the contracts made in my territory are being adequately kept up. How are you finding the party, Margaret?”

“Nice,” she hedged. “But confusing. I keep wondering how demons celebrate this sort of a holiday.”

“Ironically,” Ben returned with a smirk. She gave the appropriate polite laugh, but still looked out of sorts. “Although I suppose that’s not what you meant.”

“Well, no, actually … Why does Hell have a Christmas party?”

“This isn’t really a Christmas party, Margaret.”

She laughed again. “Could have fooled me.”

Warming to the opportunity, Ben sat forward a bit. “And apparently we did,” he observed. “You see, Margaret, the invitations may have said Christmas, but those who are more informed know it is that in name only.” He paused letting that sink in for a moment. “Here we honor the old holiday of Yule, after a fashion. The traditions we hold harken to a time before the Church co-opted it for their own purposes. We celebrate Earth’s longest night,” he said, laying on an ominous tone and forcing his expression to stay serious even as he wanted to crack up at the fear behind her eyes. “Of course, since we’re from Hell, we like to put our own spin on things.”

“W-what sort of spin?” she stammered.

“Oh, about what you’d expect. There’s the fire in the hearth there with logs stolen from groves some people still hold sacred. The fertility celebrations that will come later. I’m sure you’d enjoy those.” He winked mischievously, glad for the first time that that he looked as grotesque as he felt tonight. “And there’s the traditional pig roast that ought to get going sometime soon …”

“Oh, I do enjoy a good pig roast,” Margaret said, trying to get back into the spirit of the evening.

Ben raised his shaggy eyebrows. “Ever had long pig?”

He nearly broke out laughing as Margaret blanched paper white. She knew what that was. But she regained her composure and assumed a game faced expression. “I … um … no, but I suppose I might try …”

Good grief. She probably would too. Fortunately, this was Aife’s Office and the worst thing on the menu tonight was probably the weird Vienna sausages the local state congresswoman favored. “Yes, indeed,” Ben grinned. “Things should get very interesting around here come midnight.”

She cleared her throat and squared her shoulders, pretending he hadn’t absolutely given her the shivers. “Well, I do need to get going shortly anyway, so I suppose I’ll miss out. You were my last stop this evening. I just had to see for myself.”

“Pardon?” he asked with feigned polite interest.

“My friend Nancy said you’d know my name and about my arrangement, just like you knew me personally. And you did! What do you do, study up before these things?”

“I read minds,” he lied smoothly. “And not that it’s any of my business, but when good ole Nance dropped by a little bit ago, it became pressingly clear that the reason your young Dale has been visiting so frequently these last few months is she’s been playing Mrs. Robinson to his Benjamin Braddock. Enthusiastically.”

Margaret turned very red, and without another word, but with a very loud huff, she stormed off, probably to look for her “friend” Nancy. Judging by the crashing from one of the back rooms that followed a few minutes later, Ben guessed she’d found her.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Aife chidded, appearing at his elbow.

“I didn’t like her. Didn’t care much for Nancy either.” Ben put down his glass on the small side table Aife had provided for drinks and whatever little gifts the humans brought as tribute. He’d passed the latter on to other demons quickly, rather than having to touch or look at the items much. He fished a small button-shaped receiver out of his ear. “Was that everyone?”

She squinted around the room. “Just about. You might want to leave that in for a bit though.”

She raised her eyebrows at him as he dropped the earpiece into the glass and handed it to her.

“No need. It’s just about midnight. My ass is sore from kissing and there’s no obligation to stay for anything else once the hour chimes. I’m done.” He did manage a smile. “Nice work with the radio. Made me seem informed, like spooky informed. That’s always good for making an appropriately hellish impression. And making some of them squirm was more fun than I expected to have tonight.” He got up and unhooked the beard, dropping it into the chair, along with the hat, and tried unsuccessfully to yank the coat down. “I’m out of here.”

“You can’t go. You have to come out to the private party room. We’re just about to break out the baby oil and start the …”

“Nope.” He shook his head emphatically. “I don’t have to anything. Especially that.”

“You’ve been living like a monk for months now. What’s going on with you, Ben?” she asked critically. She knew he was working on that prophecy, knew he’d made human friends, but he’d been so out of character lately. “You used to live for the more Bacchanal aspects of these little get togethers.”

He shrugged. Something told her, without even being able to see it, that he was blushing. “Yeah, well, not tonight.”

He didn’t hang around for her to say anything else, just made his way to her small office out back where he’d changed when he arrived. With his back to the door, he performed the spell to call back his human form. He wished there was a shower here, but also just wanted to get the Hell out of Dodge as fast as possible. He shucked off the Santa suit and picked up his boxers off the neatly folded pile of clothes he’d left on Aife’s desk.

He was focused on getting home as quickly as he could manage. So he didn’t hear the door open and softly close behind him. “You just have to tease me before you leave, don’t you?” Aife asked lightly, raising her eyebrow when he startled and half turned.

His ears were almost as red as the Santa suit as he finished pulling on his underwear and hastily grabbed his jeans. “Aife, please.”

She leaned against the desk, smirking. “Okay, but one of these days, you’re going to have to really tell me about her.”

“Who?” he asked absently, donning the grey thermal henley he’d practically been living in every time it was clean lately. Damn, he couldn’t seem to get used to the cold.

“The woman who’s making you want to miss an orgy. You love a good …”

“Good night,” he interrupted. He plastered on his fakest, most obsequious smile. “It’s been a terrible evening and fuck you for having me.”

“Ben, why don’t you stay for a bit and …”

“Aife … just … Okay?” She grinned at how flustered he seemed, but didn’t say anything else. He zipped his heavy hoodie, and pulled the hood up for good measure. She couldn’t see his face, but he sounded a little friendlier when he turned to the door and added, “Maybe I will tell you about her. When I’m speaking to you again.”

“Suit yourself,” she chuckled. Then she called out to him as he let himself out into the back alley. “We’re definitely even!”

“Even?” he called back, trying to remember what she was pissed off at him about. Tonight had been too stressful to keep much in his head for long.

“Yeah, for Boston. Asshole.”

Aife’s laughter followed him into the cold winter’s night.

“That was not my fault,” he mumbled under his breath.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Short Fiction Uncategorized Writing Challenges

The Mirror ~ J

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I’m at my desk, obsessively proofreading, like any other morning. I notice I’ve accidentally used ‘their’ instead of ‘they’re’. Hell and damn. I guess that’s what you get for writing half asleep. I reach for my mouse to eradicate this grammatical travesty, instead coffee sloshes on my hand.

“Huh.”

It’s a surprised sort of sound.

I’d lost track of my surroundings. I glance down, admonishing myself to be more careful, and my stomach drops. Everything on my desk is reversed.

Not just out of place. A mirror image of what I’d sat down to.

I’m breathing faster, feeling panicky nervous sweat between my shoulder blades. I want to act, but I’m momentarily frozen.

What do you even do in this situation?

Then I start to calm down. Obviously I call 911 because clearly I’m having a stroke. Or maybe the day job finally caused that nervous breakdown I’m always joking about, haha. I get up slowly. The cat perched on the back of my chair is white with pink eyes.

My breathing picks up again.

Not hyperventilating, but damned close.

Then I see her.

In the mirror hanging on the wall opposite my writing desk, there is another me, sitting in my chair with everything looking the way it should. She glances over her shoulder, and meets my eyes. For a moment blue meets blue, then hers flash dangerous red. Through the glass I can make out the sounds of my family coming downstairs.

She smiles.

I see her teeth.

Categories
Short Fiction Uncategorized Writing Challenges

The Fall of Terra By Jess & Keith Flaherty

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Eyes downcast, hands folded, she always acted like a piece of furniture unless summoned. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t busy. When Master Den mentioned Kapteyn-6 she took an almost motionless step forward, seeming only to fidget as she adjusted the recording devices hidden in her prosthetic arm. She wasn’t worried anyone would notice.

She was hard to look at. Her robotic eye and the laser-burn scars that necessitated both devices running from the middle of her half-shaved head down her body made people uncomfortable. Den thought her ability to perceive more than the visual spectrum and her enhanced strength and dexterity made her excellent security material.

What he didn’t know was every image and sound was constantly recorded and transmitted to the Order’s base on Satellite 9. She was meant only to observe and transmit, allowing the order to use the information to weaken the Council of Seven and their organization. Once they had what they needed, she had her own plans.

Augments were highly sought after on the black market. She’d been captured trying to blow one of Den’s pipelines when she was fourteen. Her impassive face almost cracked into a smile. She’d let them catch her. Den Mirahz had always been her target. She’d pay him back for what his greed had done to her parents, to their small town, to her own fragile nine-year-old body. He had been her focus since she’d recovered.

Months of torture told him only that she was bright, had useful, if unattractive augs, and had been brainwashed by those intergalactic pains in the ass, the Green Order. Den thought her worth retraining. She’d been difficult to mold, but when he broke her she became one of his most loyal possessions, or so it seemed. She had never broken, only become bored with his game, ready to play her real hand. Fifteen years later, she was finally where she’d hoped to be, at the Hunter’s Lodge, the almost mythical gathering place of the Council, where Den and the rest manipulated the Interplanetary Federal Alliance.

“Terra! Stoke the fire,” called out the shimmering blue Proximalian, probably the nearest thing her master had to a friend at the table.

She bowed and moved down the mahogany table toward the cavernous fireplace. She looked around at the mounted trophies taken by the members of this destructive club from all over the galaxy on and around the hearth and the room’s exposed beams. Den had an impressive collection of animal teeth here, many of which were obviously human. She was glad she’d never been here with him before or she might have blown him to kingdom come years ago, promises be damned.

She used her hidden scanner on the blueprints next to the enormous red-scaled Gleisien, known as the Capo, the merciless figurehead of this council, as she reached out to stir the fire before adding more fuel cubes. It appeared to be a supply ship, meant to aid the survey of Kapteyn, but the diagrams revealed compartments perfect for smuggling. The primary cargo would be slaves like her, minimal survival gear, and an insulated pod for an atmospheric seeding medium and something called tanantobacter z-terranomica. She hoped the Order was receiving and could use this, because she wasn’t sure how much longer she could conceal her clandestine tech in this place.

Den gave her a hard look so she hurried back into position. “We’ll launch the bacterium, followed by the atmospheric seeding.”

The Capo asked, “Won’t that make the news cycle?”

“We’ll say a part broke off. That’ll explain the crash when Icarus falls out of orbit,” sniffed the furry Breeneen, Zalna, who Terra thought might be female. It certainly had enough breasts.

“What of the slaves?” asked the lizard-like Bavnial.

Den gave his sharks smile, “We’ll say they were crew. Anyone who matters wants a breeding colony as much as we do. The slaving ban is nominal and bound to end within a cycle or two. We need a decent supply chain.”

There were murmurs of agreement.

“Besides, we need labor for extraction. Robots aren’t equipped for the terrain or the extreme cold of the ice age on K-6.”

Zalna nodded, “It’ll save wear and tear on more worthwhile equipment for analyzing the minerals.”

Terra gritted her teeth as she transmitted this snippet. Populations were nothing more than another resource for The Seven to exploit for their friends. She took a careful breath, determined to slow her heartbeat. She was more nervous about being here than she’d expected. She’d never had to deal with the trappings of so many powerful people. She was starting to get strange glances from a number of other security personnel. A Kelparian guard slithered out of the shadows near the head of the table.

“Councilmembers, I’ve intercepted a transmission.”

“Yes?” the Capo snapped.

“The blueprints as well as your conversation have been broadcast to an outpost on Satellite 9.”

“From where?” the Gleisien shouted.

“Behind Master Mirahz, Capo.”

Den was on his feet, glaring. He’d been so sure she was his. His sense of betrayal hissed out, “You’ll wish you were in Hell long before I send you there.”

That voice always menaced slaves into cowering compliance. Now she gave him a cool, satisfied smile. She’d waited for this for over a decade, and she’d served the Order as promised today, finally delivered the evidence of collusion needed to loosen the Council’s grip. Terra held out her hand to display the dim red pulse of the micro-fusion explosive she designed and buried in her artificial flesh.

“Why don’t we go together?”

With a snap of her fingers, they did.

The fire took days to extinguish and the smoke created months of stunning sunsets. That was the end of Terra. But it was also the beginning of the end of the Council’s influence. The Terra she truly loved, her shining blue Earth, and other planets like it, now had a fighting chance.

One Terra fell, so the other could rise.

~ End ~

Categories
Arbitratus Short Fiction Short Fiction Uncategorized Writing Challenges

Detour

Another fun little writing prompt that got thrown out there in a group I’m part of and unsurprisingly I immediately thought of our own Ben Brody. – ~ J

A character of your choice walks in a city familiar to them. It is the dead of night. They witness a brutal mugging, featuring a nasty beating of the young couple they robbed. Your character manages to chase the criminal down into an alleyway. There are no witnesses and whatever tools your character uses for battle they have with them. How do they deal with the actions of the criminal? Play out the scene as you know they would.

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Ben’s heart slowed back down to normal as his preternaturally strong eyes took in the criminal huddled against the dumpster in the almost perfect darkness of the alleyway.
“Son of a bitch,” he grumbled more to himself than the sweaty, pale, maybe-teenager shaking and clutching the rather ostentatious purse he’d gotten off the woman up the street.

“This was a bad idea, kid,” he said sounding weary.

At first the kid said nothing, just panted and tried to straighten, but he caught his breath a little with the movement. Apparently one or both of the victims had gotten their licks in, Ben thought.

Finally the kid bit out, “Only kind I seem to have …” he trailed off for a minute. Then he lifted his head to meet Ben’s eyes when he heard him crunch over some broken glass stepping forward. “This belongs to a friend of mine though.”

“Looked like it belonged to the lady you wrestled it away from, buddy.”

Ben took another step.

“Technically I guess,” the boy, who Ben was now sure couldn’t have been more than fifteen said with a bitter laugh. “It’s my friend’s sister and her dirtbag boyfriend. He did some things … Bad things … And Steph had to leave home.”

There was pain in that voice, in that story.

“Did the sister know?” Ben asked, trying to get the lay of the land.

The boy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. She knows he’s a piece of shit, but he has money, so she stays with him, let’s Steph’s parents think the worst. And we … she’s gotta eat, man.”

“Sister’s on the way the the hospital,” Ben said, his voice was a little stern but mostly just informative, wondering what the kid would do with the information.

“I’m sorry, alright. But only so sorry if you know what I mean. I can’t give this back. You saw what I did to them. I got no problem doing the same to you.”

Ben let the kid see his smirk. “I’m more than you bargained for, trust me. You can’t just go around hurting people for revenge, or worse for money. Nothing good will come of it. I know what I’m talking about.”

Another defeated shrug preceded the kid pulling the bag closer to himself. “I didn’t mean to have to hurt anyone, just get Steph some of her parents’ money for food.”

Ben noticed the boy’s ragged breathing then, but just said, “Doesn’t matter what you meant, kid. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

He gave a short bitter laugh.

He let his amber eyes glow just a little, just enough to let the kid see he knew from whereof he spoke.

The boy jumped back in fear and gasped, toppling over as he bumped into the dumpster.
The kid immediately started struggling to his feet, but stumbled. Ben’s first impulse was to take the bag back since the kid was in no shape to fight, regardless of his story, and just call that good enough.

Then he saw the way the kid was clutching his side, saw blood trickle between his fingers.

“Hey,” he said, stepping forward. “What the hell happened to you?”

“He cut me, the bastard cut me before I could even ask for money. That’s how the fight started. I wasn’t gonna just steal it.”

“He had a knife?” Ben asked, feeling a tingle of real anger.

“He always has a knife. That’s how he hurt Steph.”

Ben pulled back on his power, allowing himself to look entirely human again. “C’mon, kid. Lemme help you. You need a hospital.”

“The cops …”

“Didn’t ID you. Let’s get your friend that money and get you patched up.”

Ben slipped an arm under the boy’s shoulders.

“You were chasing me. Why are you helping me … whatever you are … and ..?”

“Just call me Ben. What I am is a demon, and why I’m helping is because I know what it’s like to be driven down the wrong road, kid.”

~ End ~

More about Ben Brody can be found here.

Categories
Short Fiction Uncategorized Writing Challenges

Search and Rescue

Author’s note: Prompt in a writing challenge I’m doing – “Imagine that you are unable to leave the room that you’re in for the next 7 days. Chronicle each of the seven days using only 50 words each.”

That sounded boring, so I went fictional. ~ J

abandoned-abandoned-building-architecture-930436

Day One

Don’t know what happened. Maybe an earthquake or a bomb. I remember a loud noise and then jolting, slipping. If anyone else is still alive here I can’t hear them. It was late; people were starting to head home so maybe they all made it. My head hurts and I…

Day Two

This is the second day since whatever happened. I think. I might have passed out when I tried to write things down last time, pretty sure. I remembered people screaming at first. I found the vending machine. The glass was broken. The water fountain is only dripping. I’m so thirsty.

Day Three

Remembered the LED on keychain. Found water cooler. Not full, but better than drips. Head still hurts. Found baby wipes in Marci’s desk. Happy to wipe off blood. Remembered the daycare is down a floor. Sick. Can’t get into bathroom. Emptied a file cabinet for… Think maybe I hear scratching.

Day Four

There’re digging sounds over my head. Building must have collapsed. That was the slipping I felt. At least someone’s trying to find me. I’m so glad I found water. There’s not a lot of real food in the machine, but it’ll probably keep me alive. I hear the scratching again.

Day Five

The digging sounds are closer. If I hold my breath I can almost hear rescue workers shouting to each other between my heartbeats. The water is getting low, so I’m glad they’re getting closer … Something happened. I think it’s the same day. Part of this room collapsed. Vending machine was there.

Day Six

I still have water. Put trashcan under water fountain to collect drips. Working so far. I’ll be okay if I run out of the other. So hungry. They sound closer. I hope. Help coming soon. LED looks dimmer. Don’t want to waste it looking for food unless I get desperate.

Day Seven

Digging has stopped. LED died last night. Found something squishy in a desk. I ate it anyway. Didn’t throw up. Water cooler empty, but trashcan full. Scratching sounds started again. Louder. If I listen I can hear the others.

They’re looking for me.

But I don’t think they are alive.

Categories
Short Fiction Uncategorized

On the fourth day of Fic-mas, we look to the new year, and find something not quite new to fear …

Out With The Old

“Mikey, I said no more cookies,” Mary Davies called out to her son, who was in the kitchen, ostensibly to get the wine glasses for the table.

“Um … Sorry!” drifted back through the swinging door.

“Were those sleigh bells I heard in there,” her husband Clark asked with a smile, as her finished setting out the silverware.

His wife grinned. “I may have hot glued some to the inside of the cookie jar lid. You know, for enhanced security purposes.”

He chuckled. “That is positively diabolical and makes me glad that I’m on your side,” Clark said, leaning in for a kiss.

“Ew, get a room you guys,” Mikey groaned as he came back from his assigned task, bereft of cookies. He began setting the glasses around the table. “Also, very funny, Mom. Like haha. I didn’t know you worked for the cookie CIA or something.”

She smirked, her eyes glittering with mischievous good humor. “I’m more the private security type, but my methods are, nonetheless, highly effective.”

Mikey rolled his eyes, and leaned against the table, his last pointless task for the evening completed. “Why are we doing this whole thing?”

“It’s all you this round, babe,” Mary said as she headed into the kitchen. “Maybe he’ll get it if you explain it to him.”

She tossed a reproving look at her son and exchanged a sympathetic glance with her husband. The tween years had been rough, and now Mickey was going from an only child, an only child who would be thirteen come May 4th, to a big brother. As signs of the impending arrival of the youngest member of the Davies clan compounded, Mikey got exponentially surlier with his parents.

His father took a deep breath and tried again. “It’s Christmas Eve, son. And when I became a deacon of the church, well, I agreed to observe their traditions.”

Mickey tried unsuccessfully to conceal a roll of his eyes. His father went on smoothly, pretending he hadn’t noticed.

“One of those traditions is hosting an elder of the flock, who for whatever reason is alone this time of year. Mr. Morrow hasn’t been here for very long and has no one to share the holiday with … So, I offered for him to come here.”

This time Mikey rolled his eyes openly. “Lame.”

His father puffed a frustrated breath through his nose. “You know what, Michael? I’m done with your attitude. When our guest arrives, you will be polite, cordial, friendly, and not the sullen spoiled brat you keep showing your mother and I lately! Do I make myself clear?” he asked.

Michael thought one thing was very clear. He’d pushed a little too much today. Better to just suck it up, get this dinner over with, and head up to his room. He could turn the light off, pretend he was sleeping, and just go online. “Yes, sir,” he said, only sounding about half as sullen as he felt.

A chime sounded from the living room. “There’s the doorbell, now,” Clark said. “Why don’t you go let our guest in, Michael?”

He gave his son a hard look. His father was sticking to his full name, a good indication that he better play nice or the Wi-Fi password would get changed.

Mickey opened the door, and took an instinctive step toward the man on the welcome mat, almost reaching out a hand to steady the old fellow’s elbow, hardly recognizing him from church, where they’d met last week.

“Are you okay, Mr. Morrow?” Mikey asked, skipping over the normal ‘good evening’.

Before him stood, or more accurately stooped over a cane, what could best be described as a memory of a man. Wispy and frayed around the edges. A wheezy laugh escaped Mr. Morrow on a zephyr’s breath.

“That bad, huh, kid?” he asked with amusement.

With surprising agility and grace, the old man slipped around Michael and into the house.

“C … c …. Can I take your coat?” Mickey squeaked, caught entirely by surprise.

“Why, thank you, young man,” Mr. Morrow croaked.

If Mickey had thought the man appeared frail while wearing his coat, without it, their ancient dinner companion seemed like he might just blow away. He looked about as substantial as a paper snowflake.

A shiver rippled up and down Mickey’s back as Mr. Morrow’s eyes pierced him. Mikey thought a smirk might have passed over the old man’s face, but he was so wrinkled and dusty looking it was hard to tell. Mickey shivered again, this one shaking his whole body a little.

“Never seen a walking cadaver before, have you, boy. Hehehe,” he chuckled, then the strange hollow laugh turned into a body-wracking cough. His ribs were visible through his threadbare dress shirt. Mikey offered an arm to help steady his guest, feeling a strange mix of pity and revulsion when Mr. Morrow gratefully accepted.

“Mr. Morrow, are you alright?” Clark asked, coming into the foyer, having been alerted to the difficulty by the noise.

Wiping his mouth with a faded handkerchief, he showed his hosts a toothless grin. “Well, I thought I was, but I guess I’m in the minority. No matter. I’ve caught my breath now. I would like a seat though.”

“This way, sir,” Mikey said, leading his guest into the dining room and helping him into a chair as quickly as the old man’s labored movements would allow. Mikey had a strong, inexplicable urge to no longer be touching him.

“There’s a good lad,” Mr. Morrow said with genuine admiration, though for what, Mickey couldn’t know. The man patted his hand and made momentary eye contact, his expression grateful.

Mikey suppressed a shudder when those blue eyes met his brown ones. There was something off about the man’s gaze. His eyes just weren’t right. It was like they didn’t fit his face, like they didn’t get that they were old, or something.

Mary came into the room and offered, “Dinner isn’t quite ready, Mr. Morrow. If you’d like we could move into the other room to wait where the furniture is a little more comfortable.

He looked at her with something like understanding. “No, thank you kindly, all the same though. But you look like getting up and down from these low chairs is about as much fun for you as it is for me.”

He nodded at her very obvious baby bump. She smiled at his thoughtfulness. That had been almost exactly what she’d been thinking.

Mr. Morrow suggested, “Why don’t we stay right here? I’d prefer it, if it’s all the same to you. I like sitting around a nice table. It’s more personal, intimate. You can talk and really look people in the eye.”

When he said the words, he gave Michael another look and a nod. The boy tried not to fidget, but he felt himself squirm under Mr. Morrow’s scrutiny.

Mr. Morrow smiled his strange old wrinkly smile with nothing of it to sparkle but shiny pink gums and offered, “How about a story to pass the time? I know some good ones.”

“Sounds like fun,” Clark answered for the group.

The evening passed pleasantly. Mr. Morrow did know some truly wonderful stories. Mary was an excellent cook, and Clark a terrific baker, but dinner a dessert played a definite second fiddle to Mr. Morrow’s tales. Both the real historical accounts and what sounded like outrageous swashbuckling fiction enthralled the family.

It was like Mr. Morrow had been born with many lifetimes worth of firsthand knowledge, and that he was somehow passing it off into this room, into this gathering we nothing more than the gift of shared time and a few words.

Mr. Morrow was just concluding a harrowing tale of near death and shocking bravery from the French and Indian War, when he paused to look at the clock as it began to chime softly.

“Well, look at the time. Merry Christmas, one and all.”

Mikey let out a soft sigh of relief. That meant Mr. Morrow would be leaving soon, no doubt. And good stories or not, the guy just gave him the creeps something awful.

“Don’t look so disappointed, son,” he father said. “I’m sure we’ll do this again.”

Good old Clark, Mikey thought. Missing the general mood as usual.

“No,” the old man said, with an almost sad shake of his head, his silver hair looking too much like spider webs in the sun for Mikey’s liking. “Most likely not,” he continued. “I’ve much to do and prepare between now the new year.”

“Maybe after the holidays, then?” Clark asked. “I mean, really, Mr. Morrow, I truly enjoyed this evening.”

“As did I, Clark; as did I.”

The old man paused and looked around the table, eyes grazing Mikey again, asking him something, it seemed. The boy had an inexplicable urge to either be sick or to shout at his father to put the old man out on the mat, now. To not say what he was going to say next. But his silent scream didn’t stop his father’s words.

“Well, I invite you to join our family, any time.”

Mikey actual had to swallow to keep his dinner from coming right back up onto the table at the little flash in Mr. Morrow’s eyes just then. Then the old man spoke again, and the boy felt strangely faint.

“Thank you kindly, Clark. In that case … I do believe we’ll be seeing each other again. Very soon.”

“I … um … I’m not feeling very well,” Mikey blurted. “May I please be excused?”

He looked everywhere but at Mr. Morrow as his mother rose and came over to where he was sitting, laying her bare wrist against his forehead. “I don’t think you have a fever … But this is awfully late for you. Why don’t you go get some rest?”

“Thanks, Mom!” he practically yelled.

Then he said quick perfunctory good nights all around and disappeared upstairs, climbing into his bed and pulling the covers over his head, and dozing into strange dark dreams before the adults had even pushed away from the table.

After an after-dinner drink, in no particular hurry for the evening to be over, the Davies showed Mr. Morrow to the foyer.

“Thank you for coming,” Mary said as she opened the door while Clark helped the old man with his coat.

Mr. Morrow stopped at the door, turning to face Mary. “You, dear lady, are a wonderful host.” She was going to thank him for the kind remark, but he reached out and put his gnarled, blue-tinged hand against her swollen belly.

A cold chill raced through her body, that her sleeping son, who was now moaning softly with a terrible dream above their heads, would have recognized.

Mr. Morrow spoke softly, gazing into her face with an unwavering assurance. “A New Years’ baby, I should think. Much like our meeting …” He paused, and the Davies both thought he might have just lost the thread of his thought. But then he looked at them both very seriously. “Both a blessing, and a curse.” That hung in the air for a moment. “Good night.”

Mary and Clark both found themselves oddly unsettled. Mr. Morrow turned to them as he reached the end of the walk. “I’m sorry. I really am just so, so sorry.”

He walked off into the chilly dark, leaving them speechless.

Read the rest in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas – Holiday Tales With a Twist Vol. I

Baby new year

*****

Categories
Excerpts Short Fiction Uncategorized

The Velvet Dark

Here’s the opening to a little trifle I started a while ago. No sparkles, I promise. Just a little darkness, easy to dispel. ~ J

Prelude

The dark pressed in around her from all sides. It felt as though the darkness was, itself, a physical thing, enveloping her like a blanket. And truly, it may as well have been. Her back pressed firmly against the pillow-like softness beneath her, and she could only move a few inches to either side. She could not even move enough to shift her position and lessen the prickly sensation in her limbs that she knew would, after a time, become pain, and then numbness. In front of her, she could just raise her hands to touch the satin lining of the lid to the box that held her here in the blackness. They felt sticky, yet dry, and she couldn’t imagine why that would be. When she awoke, it had come slowly, through a haze. She could not remember where she had been or what she had been doing. Her first coherent thought was that maybe she’d had too much to drink at the club. That was so easy to do, to just drink and lose yourself in the sensations of the place. It would not have been the first time that Nightingales had made her forget herself and take things a little too far. More than once in the last few months her roommate had helped her make it back to her room to sleep it off.  “Keep this up, Vicki, and I’ll start to think you’re really one of us,” Mere had said. She tried to roll over to get out of bed, but found that she could not even get all the way onto her side. She tried moving the other way, thinking dimly that she, in a fitful sleep, had tangled herself in her blankets. This time she felt her shoulder contact something very firm, but soft. Undeterred, she attempted stubbornly to sit up and quickly smacked her forehead on the same firm, soft surface that held her shoulder back. As she became more truly awake, she began to feel the closeness around her. It felt as though she was enshrouded in an endless smooth blanket. Her heart began to beat faster. Thump, thump, thump; a quick staccato beat in her ears. She began to struggle against her newly discovered bonds, thrashing first one way and then another. The atmosphere in her prison grew hot and close and she realized finally that she was in a very tight space. Conceivably, she could be wasting a limited supply of air. Her exertions and the accompanying surge of adrenaline had awakened her fully.

Now, regaining her wits, she tried to assess her situation. The blackness was total, as if the sun ceased to exist, or more truly, as if she were in a world that had no sun. The thought felt utterly melodramatic, but at the same time completely true. She tried to slowly move her hands and felt the firm silken softness on all sides. Her arms and hands ached inexplicably. She knew she was lying on her back because her weight rested there, rather than on her feet.  Her senses told her that she was in a box of some sort, comfortably lined with cushions and soft folds of fabric. Her pulse began to race again. Her predicament, this box, no, if she were honest, this coffin, meant that only one person could be responsible for it. And she began to remember why this was so. She tried to push against the lid with her hands, to force it open, but found that she did not have enough room to gain advantage against it. Then, she tried to bend her legs to kick at it, but neither could she get purchase with her feet. She was becoming as much frustrated as afraid. She knew that it had always been about keeping this on her terms. Despite her rising panic, she realized that if it were a simple matter of pushing against this lid to regain the light, he never would have left her here. No, he would have been sure to see that her captivity was total, and that only he could free her. He would want to return for her at his leisure. She felt a cool breeze disturb her hair. Air was making its way into her little cell somehow. Apparently he intended for her to be alive when he returned. Of course he did. The moment was still hers. She still had options open to her.

Remembering how she had caused the aching in her hands, she ran her fingers down the silken lid. She laughed, just a bit at first, and then with increasing hysteria. It had all seemed like such an amusing game when they met. The way he dressed, the way he played his part at Nightingales, the way he’d used her name, and her nickname for him. It seemed like they had known each other forever, on the first night they’d ever met. It seemed, in fact, that he knew her and her intentions better than she did herself. As such, she never would have expected him to intervene in her life in this way. He had brought her here for a reason, left her in this softly luxurious tomb. In a way, how he had left her here was too perfect. Left her; locked away in this soft lush place, waiting for The Velvet Dark.

 

Categories
Short Fiction Writing Challenges

July 8, 2016 ~ JF

“Imagine that you are unable to leave the room that you’re in for the next 7 days. Chronicle each of the seven days using only 50 words each.”

Day One

Don’t know what happened. Maybe an earthquake or a bomb. I remember a loud noise and then jolting, slipping. If anyone else is still alive here I can’t hear them. It was late; people were starting to head home so maybe they all made it. My head hurts and I…

Day Two

This is the second day since whatever happened. I think. I might have passed out when I tried to write things down last time, pretty sure. I remembered people screaming at first. I found the vending machine. The glass was broken. The water fountain is only dripping. I’m so thirsty.

Day Three

Remembered the LED on keychain. Found water cooler. Not full, but better than drips. Head still hurts. Found baby wipes in Marci’s desk. Happy to wipe off blood. Remembered the daycare is down a floor. Sick. Can’t get into bathroom. Emptied a file cabinet for… Think maybe I hear scratching.

Day Four

There’re digging sounds over my head. Building must have collapsed. That was the slipping I felt. At least someone’s trying to find me. I’m so glad I found water. There’s not a lot of real food in the machine, but it’ll probably keep me alive. I hear the scratching again.

Day Five

The digging sounds are closer. If I hold my breath I can almost hear rescue workers shouting to each other between my heartbeats. The water is getting low, so I’m glad they’re getting closer…Something happened. I think it’s the same day. Part of this room collapsed. Vending machine was there.

Day Six

I still have water. Put trashcan under water fountain to collect drips. Working so far. I’ll be okay if I run out of the other. So hungry. They sound closer. I hope. Help coming soon. LED looks dimmer. Don’t want to waste it looking for food unless I get desperate.

Day Seven

Digging has stopped. LED died last night. Found something squishy in a desk. I ate it anyway. Didn’t throw up. Water cooler empty, but trashcan full. Scratching sounds started again. Louder. If I listen I can hear the others. They’re looking for me. But I don’t think they are alive.