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May 23, 2017

Flash fiction challenge – X vs Z redux

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 8:12 pm

Flash fiction challenge as always courtesy of the great bearded sage, Chuck Wendig. I rolled the RNG and got Demons vs Fairies. I wanted to make it a kind of cold war spy games story with some banter, but it took about six seconds for it to turn sombre.

 

Youna made her way through the park, a spring in her step and a lightness in her chest. Living in the city, with all its iron and steel meant that she was always exhausted, always hurting. Being in the park gave her a respite, softened the pain to a dull ache.

Quintin was waiting for her on a bench by the pond, surrounded by hopeful ducks. He turned to look at her even though he couldn’t have heard her approach. He had one eye missing, covered by an eyepatch. Since he should have been able to heal any injury not instantly fatal, the missing eye had to be a punishment of some sort. Youna had never asked.

His gaze was steady but weary as if he was expecting a trap; she knew she looked at him the same way. But, while one of them would doubtlessly betray the other one someday, today, as the saying goes, was not that day.

 

Quintin scooted over to make room for Youna as she sat down next to him on the bench. She looked thin and pale and washed-out, having no Glamour to spare on her looks, except what was strictly needed to make her look human enough to blend in. None of the faes living in the city had that kind of power anymore, most of it was spent simply on keeping themselves upright and what little was left was needed elsewhere. The ones still in the Courts might have, but only because they never came to the real world anymore. Instead, they sent faes like Youna to fight a losing battle against demons like Quintin. In that way, he mused, they were very much like the demon princes, sitting on their thrones in Hell, making grand plans and leaving others to carry them out or to deal with the fallout when they went wrong.

You’re staring,” Youna interrupted his train of thoughts.

You look awful,” he said, bluntly.

Her face fell. “I actually felt good going into the park. No. Not good.” She shook her head. “But not quite as bad.”

How long have you been living here?”

Eighty years, I think. It all kind of blurs together.”

You shouldn’t stay for that long. It’s not good for you.”

She shrugged. An extremely eloquent gesture, which conveyed all she had to say on the subject, which could be boiled down to ‘I don’t get to decide’.

 

Quintin’s expression of concern made her uncomfortable much more than his remark about her looks. She looked down at her feet, dragging the toes of her sandals through the grass.

I understand,” he said.

In a way, he did. He was also just a grunt sent out to fight a battle on behalf of a master he had probably never even seen and certainly never met in any meaningful sense of the word. That was what had started their tentative friendship decades ago, the feeling they both had, that they were closer to the soldier standing in front of them, than to the distant generals.

And in a way, he didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, because his side was winning. At least it was winning against her side. The battle against the angels was locked in something of a standstill and there might come a day when he would understand perfectly what she felt. But today was not that day.

I just wish that I could do something to help you.”

Youna sat frozen for a moment, then turned her head sharply to look at him. “No!” she said. “No favours given or owed. No bargains.”

He nodded, didn’t try to argue. He knew what a bargain meant to a fae and why she would rather suffer than let something like that come between them.

She looked down at her feet again. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to snap.”

It’s alright. Should have thought that one through.” He looked thoughtful. “We should have been allies, you know. I don’t mean us two, but the faes and the demons. We have no real conflict of interest since we only want the souls of humans and you only want to toy with them while they are alive. And we could have used your help against the angels, instead of squandering our resources fighting you.”

We have too much in common,” replied Youna. “Like arrogance.”

Quintin nodded. “Pigheadedness.”

And we take ourselves way, way too seriously.”

 

The tense moment past, they sat in comfortable silence. When Quintin looked at Youna again, she had closed her eyes and was soaking in the sunlight. She looked as content as he had ever seen her, as she was ever likely to look. She also looked so ill. If she felt better in the park, he didn’t want to think about how she looked in the city. He thought about it anyway. The name ‘the fair folk’ seemed like a joke and a tasteless one at that.

She was wasting away. She needed to go back to the undying lands or at the very least into the woodlands and even then it might be too late. But the kings and queens of the different courts would never allow her to retreat from the lost battle.

Youna was dying. The thought made his chest tighten. He’d give her a couple more years and then she’d simply dissolve into mist and float away on the breeze. Unless she had been hunted down by some of the more zealous demons who took it upon themselves to pick off the few remaining faes. He toyed with the idea of sending one of them after her, end her suffering now, but he couldn’t be sure that the demon wouldn’t try to capture and interrogate her. No, if he wanted to give her a quick end, he would have to do it himself. He looked at her intently; she was half-dozing relaxed and unprepared right next to him. It would be easy. If he did it fast enough and precisely enough, she wouldn’t even know what he had done

But today was not that day.

Youna opened her eyes. “It’s too late for us,” she said. “But maybe not too late for you.”

I’m not following?”

It’s to the late for the fae. We’re all either in exile or we’ll be dead before long, one way or another.”

Quintin felt a stab of guilt as if she had somehow read his mind, but she continued without looking at him.

But you don’t have to make the same mistake with the angels. Don’t eradicate another race or let yourselves be eradicated. Make peace with them.”

This suggestion was so outrageous that for a moment Quintin just sat there, before finally answering. “That’s … impossible. We’ve been at war for thousands of years. Besides, I’m a lowly soldier, what can I even do?”

You have time on your side. And if someone centuries ago had told me to strive for peace, who knows where I would have ended up? Besides, I have something for you.”

She took his hand.

Quentin tried to pull it back, but the grip of her small, frail hand was suddenly as powerful of the iron that was poisoning her.

No gifts,” he whispered. “Not favours owed.” He looked into her eyes as she placed something in his palm, pleading with her to take it back.

Oh, but that’s the beauty of it. You can’t owe favours to a dead fae.” She smiled and then, as he watched, she melted away like a mirage, leaving only her clothes on the park bench next to him. For a moment he was too stunned to do anything, then he looked down. A ball of soft greenish light laid safely cupped in his hand. The last of her Glamour. There wasn’t a lot, but more than he would have guessed she had as a last reserve. Not a lot, but enough to make a difference if he spent it carefully. He knew that the sensible thing to do would be to ignore her wish and just use the Glamour to get ahead. It wasn’t like he couldn’t use the edge it would give him in the cutthroat world that was the demon hierarchy. And yet… And yet… He put the little ball of light in his pocket. He would have to decide how to use it, but he didn’t have to decide right now. Not today.

May 18, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Subgenre Smash-and-Grab

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 5:38 pm

A new round of Flash Fiction and we’re back to the Subgenre Smash-and-Grab as always courtesy of Chuck Wendig. I rolled and got Haunted House and Paranormal Romance.

 

Sylvia was wandering around the overgrown garden looking at the house from outside when a face peered at her from over the fence.

Unless the man was standing on something, he had to be huge; what her great-grandfather used to refer to as ”a big shit-house of a man”. He looked like an Uruk-hai and when he sent her a smile he probably thought was ingratiating, it made her clench her first in her pockets.

”The house is haunted,” he said in a low confidential tone. He must have mistaken her silence for disbelief because he continued: ”The last family who lived her, nice couple, two sweet children, they only lasted a month. And the look on their faces when they left, in the middle of the night. I’m telling you: that house is haunted.”

Sylvia finally replied. ”Aren’t we all?” Then she turned on her heel and walked back inside.

The real estate agent was standing there, an anxious frown on her face. No doubt she had seen the man talking to Sylvia and had worried about what he might be saying, but short of running outside and forcibly dragging Sylvia away, there had been no way of interrupting the conversation.

”I’ll take it,” said Sylvia. ”It’s cheap and it fits me just fine. You said all the furniture comes free?”

The real estate agents face lit up like a Christmas tree, with no hint of a guilty conscience. ”I’ll get the papers sorted out right away!”

 

There were cold spots in the house. Places here and there where it suddenly felt like you had walked into a freezer. There weren’t many and they weren’t big, but they kept moving around, making it impossible to avoid them completely.

Sylvia shivered whenever she walked into one, but other than that, she ignored them.

Somebody pushed copies of newspaper clippings under her door, probably the neighbor. They were about the gruesome murders that happened back in 1956 when a whole family of two adults and five children had been slaughtered in their beds with an axe. The murderer had never been caught, but during the investigation, it turned out that on the ground upon which the house stood, had previously been a small grove of trees and in 1919, a man had been hanged there. Cecil Alderson, she read, had been suspected of having murdered his brother with an axe, to avoid having to share the inheritance after their late parents and he had bribed the sheriff to acquit him, but the brother had apparently be a popular man, because soon after a mob of enraged townspeople dragged Mr. Alderson out of his house, put a noose aorund his neck and the rest, as they said, was history. Noone was ever convicted of that murder either.

Sylvia read it all carefully. ”If there’s a moral here, it would seem to be that the local police are really, really bad at their job,” she said out loud.

The rest of the articles were about the hauntings. Supposedly both the ghosts of Alderson and his victims, the Ainsley family, recided on the premesis, unwilling of unable to move on.

Then she crumbled up the papers and used them light the fireplace. The last family to live here had chopped lots of firewood, so she lit it almost every night.

The neighbor watched her, but she pretended not to see him as she did the dishes. He looked like he was trying to figure her out, how she could be unfazed by living for six weeks in a house, where the last residents had only lasted a month before fleeing with only the clothes on their backs.

She could have told him, that nothing in this house could scare her. They’re just ghosts, she thought, and my heart is a graveyard full of dead. She stopped in the middled of scrubbing a plate and made a face at the emoness. When she looked out again, the neighbor had gone.

There were a lot of noises. It had started as soft whisperes, then quiet sobbing and now every night there was a rucus of crying and children begging for their lives.

Sylvia talked to her manager and got her to switch her to the nightshift so she could sleep during the day, when the house was quiet.

”I told you,” she said, ”as she pulled the dark curtains shut and climbed into bed, ”I’m not scared of you and I’m not going anywhere.” She turned over on her side and muttered, already half asleep: ”There are worse things than you out there.”

The noises stopped after that. The cold spots went as well. Instead she started to feel something like hands touching her. Sometimes they just grazed her like invisible moths, but occasionally she felt them grab her, carefully, like she was made of glass. The hands seemed eager and curious.

Once she felt a hand being placed upon her arm and felt the thumb caress her skin. She smelt something like clean skin and a hint of soap. Sylvia closed her eyes and for a moment she could swear that someone was sitting right next to her, could even hear the faint sound of their breath. In her mind’s eye, she could see a young woman, hardly more than a girl, with curly hair and warm brown eyes.

Then the sensation fadede away and when she opened her eyes, of course there was nothing to see.

 

One morning, when she got home from work, Harrison was waiting for her in a car she didn’t recognize, parked across the street from her house, which was why she didn’t notice it untill it was too late.

Harrison got out of the car and approached her. She ignored him, even though she knew it was no use pretending like she hadn’t seen him. He, onthe other hand, didnøt try to call her name, knowing that she wouldn’t respond.

She didn’t run for the front door, knowing that he could move much faster than her. He caught up with her at the garden gate and walked next to her as she went up the path.

”Sylvia,” he began.

”Don’t,” she said.

”I want you to forgive me.”

”I want you to leave.”

”Sylvie, why are you doing this? Living like this?” Harrison made a gesture towards the ramshackled house, that also emcompassed the overgrown garden.

She wanted to say something, a sharpd, witty reply that would make him leave forever, but right at that moment she tripped over a broken flagstone and almost fell.

He made a grab for her, but she shook of his hands so violently that it almost made her lose her balance for real. She gave of any pretence at dignity. ”Leave me alone!” she yelled and stalked the few feet up the the house, limping on the twisted ankle.

Her hands shook as she got the door open. She walked in and tried to slam it in his face, but of course he easily caught it and pushed it open again, before walking in.

”Jesus, what a dump,” he said, disgusted, not even trying to be polite now.

”Get. Out.” She said it through clenched teeth.

”Or what? You’ll call the police? You and I both know that you’re not going …” He paused and shivered. ”Jesus, this place is freezing. How can it be freezing in the middle of the summer? Do you have damp in the walls or something?”

”Or something,” answered Sylvia. ”She suddenly felt relieived. No, more than that. Safe. Like she had come home.

She heard a whisper, but this time, it was not directed at her.

Harrison heard it to and she saw a look of horror slowly creep over his face. ”No,” he mumbled. ”Nononono.” His eyes swirlved to Sylvia. ”What is this?!” He sounded pleading.

”There are worse things than you in this house,” she said as an unseen toddler started to wail, the temperature dropped so low that they could see their owns breaths and a gust of wind ran through the whole house and made every open door slam shut and every closed door spring wide open. Including the front door. Harrison bolted out the door and ran to his car without looking back.

As he drove away with tires schreecing like cursed souls, she closed the door, but not before she had caught a glimpse of her neighbor, looking after the car. That man really needed a hobby, she thought.

The temperature was back to normal now.

”I figure that gust of wind took care of all the disting I haven’t been doing around this place,” she said and giggled. She didn’t know if Harrison was gone for good, but he was gone for now and if he came back, well, he would be made to leave again, somehow.

She felt more alive today, than she had for years. She closed her eyes and it felt like someone hugged her from behind, arms wrapped around her to keep her snug and safe. The air smelled of soap.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Three Haikus Tell One Story

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 5:20 pm

Challenge is as always given by the wonderful Chuck Wendig.
As can be seen from my contribution, just as truth is the first casualty of war, grammar is the first casualty of a haiku, but here goes:

Rising from the sea
A tentacular horror
Aeons old madness

Wants souls to devour
Mad cultists to worship it
But flees back beneath

People smiled and
took photos, called it awesome.
No-one was scared.

August 30, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge – Behold the Idiomatic

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , , — Eva Therese @ 11:19 am

Another Flash Fiction Challenge from the great bearded Chuck Wendig. This time based on a randomly generated idiom-mashup. I had to click a few times, before getting “Hindsight is a shepherd’s warning” which sounds almost reasonable, if you think about it, but not too hard.


Mary had an mental picture of the kind of signs they had at some workplaces, saying how many days it had been since the last accident, except than in her mind, it said “death” rather than “accident” and right now the number was being changed from 71 to 0.

She had learned to keep the girls safe, mostly, but it had been learning by trial and error. The kind of errors that had cost lives in the beginning. Water needs to be boiled, always. Some poisonous plants look an awful lot like eatable ones. We don’t have any kind of antibiotics so even relatively small wounds can get dangerously infected. The learning curve had been steep. It would have been easier if Sally had also been here, but when one of the girls had fallen into a river, Sally had jumped in to save her and they had both been swept away by the current, never to be seen again. At least not by Mary.

She blinked, realized that she had been distracted and looked down at the girl in front of her, Melanie, who was twisting and turning, face sweaty, teeth clenched like she was trying to hold in the moans, that escaped her once in a while. Mary thought of the time she’d had appendicitis. She had felt just like the girl looked. She needed to go a hospital. Might as well say she needed to go to the moon.

There were no hospitals, no nothing. They listened to the radio for news, but only about once a week to save on the batteries. There was nothing but white noise and once in a while a message on automated repeat about how citizens should barricade themselves in their homes and wait for the army to arrive. But Mary and the girls had no homes but their tents and no choice but to keep moving, picking up supplies along the way.

It had only been supposed to be a weekend, an extended picnic, really. A camp away from camp. Mary had never been meant to have the responsibility to keep them alive for month after month, but she had tried her best. That’s what she tried to tell herself, but when she closed her eyes at night she was haunted by the images of the dead girls’ faces.

Melanie shuddered and took a few deep, rasping breaths. Mary reached out and took her hand. It was clammy and limp. She squeezed it anyway.

How could she protect them from something like this? Until now they had been trying to simply survive until the world somehow returned to some semblance of normalcy. They had gone through one day after another, gathering food and firewood and scavenging a bit from abandoned cabins. The last chocolate bar had been more than two months ago and it had been divided into fourteen tiny pieces, but some of the girls still spoke of it with longing in their voices.

Mary knew they would be in trouble when winter started to set in, but she had told herself that they would cross that bridge when they came to it. Or rather, she had secretly hoped that this wouldn’t last until then.

Now winter seemed to loom in front of her, no longer a distant possibility but a deadly certainty.

She became aware of whispering voices from outside the tent, so she let go of Melanie’s hand, opened the flap and climbed outside on legs that were stiff from kneeling so long.

Two of the girls let go of each other’s hand with guilty expression, while two others held on to each other, their expressions defiant. When you thought about it, it made absolute sense that of course some of the girls would come together like that. Mary felt no anger or shock at the idea. She didn’t even remember why she would once have felt like that. She was just relieved that they were in no risk for unwanted pregnancies.

“How is Melanie?” asked Rose, a small, red-haired girl.

“Not good. I doubt if she’ll make it through the night.” There was no point in lying.

The words were met with mostly a somber silence, although a few of Melanie’s friends started to sob quietly.

“It’s a punishment,” said one of the other girls, Hester, quietly. “For being what we are. God is punishing us and everyone around …”

“Don’t talk like that.” Mary’s words came out harsher than she had intended. “You’re not being punished. No-one is punishing us. There’s … there’s no-one to punish us. No-one judging us.”

They all looked at her, stunned.

She continued. “But this also means that there’s no-one to save us. Until the world rights itself, it’s just us, trying to stay alive. Together.”

A few hesitant nods.

”Go to bed. I’ll keep watch over Melanie.” She turned and was climbing back into the tent, when she was suddenly aware of a shift in the wind. It had changed direction or maybe simply picked up. It brought with it a smell of frost.

She knelt down in the twilight of the tent and looked at Melanie, slipping away with each moment.

There is no-one, Mary thought. No-one who watches us, no-one to watch over us. There’s just us, doing whatever we can to survive.

Melanie might die in a few hours or she might live for a few days. She might even recover completely. But if frost was coming, they didn’t have a few days and they certainly didn’t have however long it would take for her to be back on her feet. They needed to get moving and find a shelter for the winter.

They are children, thought Mary. There’s no-one watching over them but me. There’s no-one but me doing whatever I have to, to make sure they survive.

She gently took the pillow from under Melanie’s head and placed it over her face. Whatever I have to, she thought.

August 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge – The SubGenre Blender Spins Again

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 1:20 pm

Challenge provided by Chuck Wendig. I rolled noir and heist/caper and came up with this, based on a loose idea I’ve had rattling around my head for a few years.


“Hi, Dozer, I’m … home …” The last word died on Vanessa’s lips as she walked into the living-room and saw the four men sitting there.

One of them had picked up Dozer and was scratching the cat behind the ears.

They had to have gotten in through a window. The door hadn’t been disturbed.

There was a brief silence as Vanessa looked them all over. Then she dumped her keys on a small table next to the door and folded her arms. “You could have called ahead, you know. And what made you think it was okay to help yourself to coffee?” She looked meaningfully from the cups on the coffee-table to a tall, dark and handsome man, who was leaning against the mantelpiece with the grace of a very large cat. In fact, he looked more like a predator than Dozer, who was currently looking silly with his legs at odd angles.

“You were late from walk in the park,” said the man, who had used the name Cornelius, when she had known him. “We got tired, needed something to pick us up.”

She raised an eyebrow. “So you’ve been stalking me for long enough to learn my schedule, but not long enough to know that on the first Tuesday of the month, I get a haircut.”

Cornelius shrugged, a movement which managed to covey both that he admitted to having made an error and promised that he would not forget this small tidbit, ever again.

Vanessa walked over to the man sitting with Dozer and took the cat from him. She carried it out into the kitchen, Cornelius following her, where she put it down and poured food into its bowl. She then put the kettle on to make tea and only then did she turn to look and him.

“What do you want?”

“I need money and I need them now.”

“Let me stop you right there. If you’re were planning to borrow from me, I only have enough available assets to pay my rent and day-to-day expenses. The rest are tied up in some very secure and very longterm investments to make sure that I can live modestly, but comfortably for the rest of my natural life.” More comfortably, than modestly in fact. Vanessa’s apartment was not large, but it was situated in one of the most expensive neighborhoods. And there wasn’t anything in it, from the largest piece of furniture to the smallest piece of cutlery, that wasn’t either antique or custom-made.

“How very sensible. But no. Actually, I’ve gotten my old gang together, along with a few fresh faces and we are planning hit the Dawbert Estate, get our hands on the collection of diamonds.”

There was a long silence. Dozer finished his food and walked out of the kitchen to see if he could get some more head scratches from the nice stranger. The silence dragged on, until it was broken by the sound of the water boiling.

Vanessa turned, took the kettle off and poured water over the tea-leaves. Then she whirled around and hurled the empty kettle at Cornelius. He ducked and it crashed into the wall behind him before clanging to the floor.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” asked Vanessa, her voice low and trembling, “You think all you have to do is walk in here and mention diamonds, the way you would wave a bottle of whiskey at an alcoholic and I’ll come running to be a part of your ridiculous scheme?”

“Look,” Cornelius held his hands out in front of him. “I’m not asking you to get involved. At all.”

“Oh, pull the other one, why don’t you? It got bells on it.”

“But I was just wondering, if you, being the greatest diamond thief who ever lived …”

“I’m retired,” Vanessa said flatly, but she had never had much stamina for conflict and the fight was already leaking out of her.

“That doesn’t make you any less great. And old habits die hard, I know that better than anyone. I was wondering, if maybe you had – out of purely academical interest, of course – maybe done some research on the Dawbert Estate? You know, taken a stroll around the perimeter and admired the security measures, looked up a few blueprints, maybe even taken a tour. And if so, if you would maybe be willing to share your findings with a few fellow diamond-acquiring-enthusiasts.”

Vanessa narrowed her eyes. “I thought you had some nerve a minute ago, but apparently I didn’t know the half of it. You’re asking me if I have done preliminary work on a heist on the Dawbert Estate and then you want to borrow it? Just like that?”

“Well, I would offer to pay you, if you seemed to insulted at the very thought of being a full member, I wasn’t sure you would take kinder to the idea of being a paid consultant.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Vanessa, please. These people who are after me, they’re not like the people we’re used to working with. They’re the kind of people who’ll kill and maim and torture and I know you’ll say that it’s my own fault for getting involved with people like that and you would be absolutely right, but done is done and … Vanessa, I don’t want to die, especially not the way they would kill me. I’m sorry I’m not as sensible as you. I truly am. I wish I could have saved enough money and made some sensible and legal investments and retired and lived a quiet life, but I didn’t and I may be an ass-hat because of that, but I don’t think I deserve to pay with my life.”

Deep in though, Vanessa poured herself a cup of tea.

Cornelius let her think in peace and discretely picked up the kettle, which had been slightly dented, but was otherwise no worse for its resent flight. He placed it back on the stove.

Vanessa reached a decision. “So if I give you what I have on your target, you’ll get out of my hair?”

“Yes, and speaking of that, may I say what a lovely job your hairdresser … “

“You may not.” Vanessa sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Okay, then.” She picked up her tea-cup and went back into the living room.

The rest of the men were all sitting there with the awkward looked worn by everyone ever forced to wait in someone else’s living-room. Dozer was back on the lap of the man from before. Vanessa gave the cat a look to let it know what she thought of its treacherous ways, but was firmly ignored.

She put her tea-cup on the mantelpiece. “Wait here,” she said and went into the bedroom, closing the door behind her. She was gone for about five minutes before returning with a small bunch of tightly rolled up papers.

Vanessa placed them on the coffee-table and started unrolling them. They were covered in very tiny writing with a few diagrams. She could see the eyes of one of the men next to her widen, when he realised that what he was looking at was all tiny handwriting with hand-drawn diagrams.

Cornelius reached for the papers, but Vanessa pulled them away from him.

“One condition,” she said. “You will do this on March the 21th or not at all. I’m will be at the opera that night and will thus have an airtight alibi, if anyone should think to connect the crime to me.”

“March the 21th?” Cornelius was silent for a moment whilst think, but then nodded. “It will be tight, but we can do it.”

She smiled. “They’re playing Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra.”

He returned her smile. “The Thieving Magpie.”

“I thought you would appreciate the coincidence.” She handed him the papers and he squinted at the tiny letters. “What is this anyway? Notes? Schematics?”

“A manual.”

“A … manual?” He looked up at her, puzzled.

“A manual for how to do it. How to steal the diamonds. It’s all there. Of course, I wrote it for one person with my particular skill-set; you’ll have to modify it to get it to work for your group. But it’s all there. All you need to do.”

Cornelius looked from her to the papers, then back at her. She could just about remember the last time she had seen him at a loss for words, but it had been a long time ago and she was savoring this new moment.

“I’m not sure what to say,” he admitted finally.

“According to our agreement, I believe the words you’re looking for are ‘Goodbye’, ‘Thank you for the coffee’ and ‘Won’t be seeing you around’. You may choose the order yourself.

“But … you did all this work,” he waved the papers at her vaguely, “and you’re telling me that you never intended to go though with it?”

“Cornelius, I don’t know how to make it any plainer. I’m done talking to you. Get out.”

“Okay. Sorry. Okay.” He stuffed the papers in the inside pocket of his jacket, then immediately patted it to be sure they were there. “Goodbye. And the rest of the stuff you said.”

The three other men also go to their feet, looking relived that it was over. Dozer was placed on the floor and the man tried discretely to brush the cat-hairs off his trousers, but merely managed to distribute them over a larger area.

Vanessa walked to the door, opened it and gave each man a curt nod as he passed. Cornelius was the last one and of course he paused in the door.

Vanessa rolled her eyes. “Don’t make me regret helping you, more than I already do.”

“I just can’t help wondering if the Dawbert Estate just so happened to be the only place that you have a complete plan for how to burgling. Or if you have made plans for every major diamond collection …”

His words were cut off, when Vanessa closed the door on him. She stood for a moment and listened to the sounds of his footsteps on the stairs. Then she walked back into the living room to her rapidly cooling tea.

August 2, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Vacation

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 6:18 pm

Flash Fiction Challenge as always courtesy of Chuck Wendig and can be found here. I’ve just been on vacation, but have already forgotten what it feels like, so here’s a story about people working so that other people can a nice vacation.


Picture the Titanic, the largest ship on the waves in its time and one of the most famous of all times. Picture a private cabin, furnished with all the luxuries that money could buy in the beginning of the 20th century. Now picture two elegant young women in the cabin. It’s not theirs, but they know with absolute certainty, that the occupants will not be back for several hours and therefore they can use it to get ready.

”I just think it’s kinda weird, is all,” said Julia defensive. She straightened a sleeve that didn’t need straightening and brushed away a nonexistent speck of dust, before continuing. “Tourists visiting the site of the most famous maritime disaster ever. Partying with lot of people who’ll all die. It’s ghoulish, if you ask me.”

Liza frowned. “It doesn’t matter what period the tourists go back to. The people they meet will inevitable be dead when they go back to their own time.”

“Yeah, but at least most of them will have lived full lives. Here you meet a bunch of people who all had their lives cut short.”

“Actually a lot of the first class passengers survive. Most of the dead were among the third class passengers and nobody meets them on this tour,” Liza replied, sounding perhaps more pedantic than she intended. She sighed. “Look, you shouldn’t talk like that. The wrong person overhears it and suddenly someone might think that you’re planning to … you know,” she lowered her voice, even though they were alone, “change things.”

“I didn’t even want to be here,” answered Julia with a hint of a sulk. “I was perfectly happy showing people around England during the Napoleonic Wars. My specialty was Jane Austen, you know,” she added wistfully. “Then suddenly we get word that the ban on Titanic as a destination has been lifted, the tourists are clamoring to go there and everyone who knows enough about manners to take off their gloves when eating are relegated to tour guides there.”

Liza leaned against a wall. “I know how you feel. My area of expertise is the roaring twenties. I can’t wait for 2020 to roll around so we can finally start to take people on tours there. Until that happens, I just have to take whatever I can get. You think the Titanic is in bad taste, you should try doing a tour of Jack The Ripper’s Whitechapel; leading around tourists so they can gawk at dead prostitutes.”

“Do you think when we get to 2018, that they’ll start doing tours of World War One?” asked Julia.

“The council has already said that they won’t allow it,” replied Liza.

“Yeah, but they allow people to go to the Napoleonic War. Like, not just the time period, they actually go to the battlefields. And except for the technology and the numbers, there’s really no difference between one war and the other.”

“They won’t,” said Liza firmly. “Then they would have to legalize travel to World War Two when that time comes and no-one wants that.”

“I hope you’re right. It’s so frustrating, you know. We have this wonderful technology, this gift. We can go to any point in history, see any marvel that has ever existed and tourists want to see death and destruction.”

“This is why we can’t have nice things,” said Liza with an ironic smile. She wanted to add something more, but just then a message buzzed in her ear-piece, which was artfully disguised as an earring.

“One minute. Stand by,” said a voice.

“We’re ready,” said Julia and made another last-minute adjustment of something which didn’t need adjusting. She looked over at Liza, who was still leaning against the wall and reached a decision. Now, before courage failed her.

“Liza?” she said, and the other woman straightened up and looked at her. “You know …” She was talking faster now, the words spilling out of her. “I also think the twenties is a really interesting period and maybe you don’t have to wait until 2020 to go. I mean, if you send in an application to go there for research purposes.”

Liza looked thoughtful for a moment, but then she shook her head. “They only give those permits to real historians and I’m a tourist-guide.”

“Yeah, but my cousin is on the board. Maybe I can put in a word for you. Because I’d really like to go as well. With you. I’d like to go to with you.”

“With me?”

“If you want to, of course. You can go alone. Or with someone else. If there’s someone else you’d rather go with.” I’m babbling, she thought and managed to shut herself up. She looked at Liza with eyes that she hoped was less puppy-dog-like than she felt.

Liza smiled and opened her mouth, but never got around to speaking, because in that moment, there was a shimmering in the air in the middle of the cabin and the first tourists started coming through. “We’ll talk later,” she just said and then walked forward to great the first of the arrivals.

Julia felt her stomach flutter. The future, her personal future, suddenly seemed brighter.

February 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge -The Subgenre Tango

Filed under: flash fiction challenge, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Eva Therese @ 7:16 pm

It’s been forever since I last did one of these, but fortunately I am unable to withstand the lure of a random subgenre mash-up. I rolled a 9 and a 10 and got Whodunit?/Military Sci-fi. Yay! I don’t really know anything about the military, but sci-fi means that I can just make stuff up.

Challenge courtesy of the lovely and very bearded Chuck Wendig.


”Ma’am?”

Hale turned away from the transparent wall, where she had been staring out at the electric typhoon which, half a kilometre below, was tearing up the surface of Kepler-184, know by the settlers as Iuiturn.

“Is there a reason you have brought us here?” The speaker was a woman in her late forties who carried herself with an air of authority, even though she held no military rank.

“I have gathered you here, because I know who the killed General Tibbett and Cody.”

These words were greeted by a muttering from the three people gathered in the mess deck.

“I cannot claim much knowledge about legal procedures on Earth,” said Joger, a large grey and green alien, who spoke via voice synthesizer. “But should there not be an arrest made? A trial of some sort? Why are we here?”

“Because the killer is among us.”

As opposed to her last words, these were met with complete silence as everyone eyed each other nervously.

“Why don’t you arrest them, then?” asked Kirts, who had been Tibbett’s orderly before the general had been killed.

“All in good time,” said Hale. “You see, this was a very clever killer, who led me on a merry chase.” She narrowed her eyes. “Helped by everyone in here.”

This time there was the sound of outraged protestations, until Hale raised her hand and they fell into a disgruntled silence.

“Surely,” began Kirst, “you don’t mean everyone. I certainly …”

“Kirst,” interrupted Hale and pointed a finger at him. “You claimed to be oh-so-fond of the general, when in fact it was so strained between you, that she had been planning to fire you as her orderly. That meant that you would have to join the rank and file and maybe even get in a real battle.”

Kirst started stuttering, but no real words came out, as Hale continued. “Did you tell me any of this? No, I had to dig around in Tibbett’s waste paper basket, where I found the draft for Tibbett’s letter where she was writing to request a replacement. The typhoon stopped all outgoing communications and you managed to delete the message, she was going to send, but she always wrote a paper draft first. And if you hadn’t been such a poor orderly you would have known that.”

“I swear,” Kirst was sweating now. “I didn’t kill her. It’s true she was going to fire me and when I found her dead, I thought that maybe she hadn’t sent the message yet and so I deleted it. But I didn’t kill her!”

“Of course you didn’t,” said Hale. “You’re still fired, however. Have fun fighting the Vreosk.”

She turned to Joger. “And you’re here as a negotiator on behalf of your people. But very conveniently forgot to mention that you have a history with Tibbett. Back when she was Sergeant of the Riders she led Operation Zero Hour in which your home town of Moegawa was annihilated. I only found out because Tibbett regularly sent money to a foundation for veterans from the battle. And I only knew about that, because Tibbett mistrusted the computers enough to keep a written record of all transactions she made. Took a while to unravel it, but I found out in the end.”

“That was then. We must focus on the now, if we are ever to achieve peace.” Joger replied in his clipped speech. “I did not kill the general.”

“I know.” Hale turned to the last person, the woman who had first spoken. “And then there’s you, Justicar Franklin, who came to a remote military base on an inspection, right before getting caught by an electric typhoon. And at the same time as the general was here, no less. Very peculiar timing, if you ask me.”

Franklin smirked. “Surely, you’re not accusing me of being uncooperative. I’ve told you all about the general and my relationship with her; not that there was much to tell.”

“True.”

“And why would I have done that, if I had killed her.”

“You didn’t.”

“I’m confused,” said Kirst. “You said the killer was among us. But if none of us killed Tibbett, then who did?”

“Cody.”

“Cody?” repeated Kirst and Franklin at the same time as Joger said: “The cook?”

“The cook, yes. You see, Cody wasn’t his real name and he wasn’t even from Earth but born and raised on Plewua.”

“A spy?” breathed Kirst.

“Exactly. He killed the real Cody and took his identity. Then he got himself a job here, near the front, where he could send back whatever snatches of information he could pick up.

But then the general came to visit and she would be able to discover the truth. Because the general knew the real Cody’s brother, who also took part in Operation Zero Hour and died in the assault. She would want to meet the brother of her soldier, but there’s no way that Cody’s cover story would stand up to that kind of scrutiny. So he killed the general, hoping that the killing would be blamed on someone else, probably Joger.”

The alien gave a grunt, which needed no translation.

There was a moment’s silence as everyone digested the news.

Then Joger asked: “Did Cody kill himself?”

“No, he was killed by another person, for reasons that had nothing to do with him being a spy or the general’s murder. He was killed by the one person who had been completely forthcoming, because she knew that she would never be suspected for the murder of the general.” Hale turned towards Franklin. “She came to this desolate piece of rock and had herself stranded in a typhoon, wanting to get to another person entirely.”

Franklin was pale as a sheet and shaking all over. “When?” she asked breathlessly. “When did he kill Cody and take his place?”

“It’s difficult to be exact, but somewhere around standard year G7 or G8.”

With a groan, Franklin covered her face with her hands. “Then I killed the wrong man. The real Cody was already dead and I killed the wrong man.

I’ve waited so long for my revenge. And now I find out it’s all be for nothing.” She looked at Hale, her eyes wet. “You can’t possibly know what he did. So how did you find out it was me?”

“I knew it, when I found out Cody had been the killer. That’s when I started to suspect, that that the reason you had been so helpful was that you wanted the general’s killer found, so you could pin the murder of the cook on them as well. Everyone would assume that they had been killed because they saw who poisoned the food and leave it at that. But since the cook killed the general himself, there had to be another reason entirely for his murder.”

Franklin nodded gloomily. “It would have been very convenient.”

“I found out the truth about Cody, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to kill him, rather than just reveal his secret, which would lead to him being executed. Then it finally dawned on me: someone had a beef with the real Cody, but didn’t know that he had been replaced in the meantime.”

Franklin looked down. “A ‘beef’ you call it. He killed my friends from the orphanage, all of them. He was a guilty as if he had slit their throats himself and it would have been kinder if he had.” She swallowed. “I lived there for a time, after my parents died, until they could find my relatives. I made friends with the other children. I returned nine years later and found out, that not a month after I had left, there had been a outbreak of water swellings. The medicine had arrived too late and no-one had survived.

I always suspected the truth, but it took more than a decade before I could get access to the records and look into it. They covered it up, you see. Cody was supposed to deliver the medicine, but he stole it. His superiors didn’t want the truth to come out, didn’t want people in the colonies to lose faith in the military, but the truth is there in the records, if you know what to look for.”

Hale nodded. “The typhoon is moving on; we’ll back in touch with the rest of the world in a few hours time. Are you going to come quietly?”

Franklin sniffled and blinked a few times to keep back tears. “I will. I should be punished. I killed the wrong man, after all.”

“Yes, well,” said Hale as she waved one of the soldiers to come forward and handcuff Franklin. “All things considered, I suppose the court might look favourably on your case.”

June 29, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Random Song Title Jamboree

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 11:41 am

This weeks Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig was to take a random song and use the title as inspiration for a story. I hit random on my iTunes collection and got Dusty Springfield: Just a little lovin’. This is what I did with it.


The bell over the door rang as Laura was placing the small bottles with hangover-remedies on the counter for easy access. Saturdays always saw a lot of trade in those.

The man entering the shop had a nervous, haggard look with stubble and dark circles under the eyes. As he came closer, a whiff of bodily odour reached her, even through the smells of herbs and flowers, and told her that it had been a while since he had last showered. He was wearing a long, bulky winter coat, despite the mild weather.

“How can I help you?” Laura asked.

“I need … I need a love potion.” His voice was hoarse.

Laura nodded and turned to the shelf behind her, taking down a small bottle containing a purplish liquid. “Now this,” she began, what she liked to think of as her disclaimer speech, “will not make anyone fall head over heels in love with you, but it will make them positively minded towards you. What you do after …”

He interrupted her. “Not good enough. I need a real love potion, not some placebo.”

Laura’s smile disappeared. The effect of the potion was very real. Sure, she mixed in purple food colouring and rosemary for the scent, but that was simply what people expected. “There is no potion that can make a stranger fall head over heels in love with you,” she explained, a bit stiffly. “Anyone who has told you that is a charlatan.”

“Not a stranger. My girlfriend. My … ex-girlfriend. I want her back. I need her back. I can’t live without her.”

“Why did she break up with you?” asked Laura.

“I … I wasn’t a good boyfriend. I took her for granted.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll make it up to her. I’ll be the best boyfriend she could ever want. But she won’t believe that I’ve changed. I just need a chance. Please help me. Please!”

Laura gathered up as much sympathy for the man as she could muster, which admittedly wasn’t much. She knew people like that; treated their girlfriends or boyfriends like crap and then, when they finally got kicked out, they came crawling back, promising the sun and the moon. “I can’t help you,” she said. “Maybe your ex will come around on her own, but if not, she’s not the only woman on the planet.”

“She’s the only one for me! And I’m the one for her! I just need your help to make her realise it!”

Laura snapped. “I already said no! As did she, apparently, and you need to learn to take that for an answer. What you want is tantamount to mind control and even if I could help you, I wouldn’t. Now, good day, Sir.” She pointed at the door.

“I was afraid you might say that.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun. “Give me a love potion or I’ll kill you. And make it something real or I’ll be back and kill you.”

Laura looked up from the gun, looking the man straight in the face. “There isn’t a love potion, which can do what you want.” She lifted her hand to cut him off before he could say anything or threaten her again. “However, I can give you something else.”

She turned to the shelf and took down another small bottle, opaque with a dark liquid inside.

The man licked his lips. “What does it do?”

“It contains fear.”

“Fear? I don’t need that. I could make her fear me myself, if I thought it would do any good, but I can’t scare her into being with me.”

He said can’t, thought Laura, not won’t. “It won’t make her afraid of you, just the opposite. It will make her afraid of losing you.”

“Afraid … of losing me?” He stared at the bottle almost in awe. “But will that work?”

Laura shrugged. “Depends on how you define ‘work’. It won’t make her love you, not even like you. But she will be afraid of being without you. You won’t even have to change. You can do as you’ve always done and she might end up hating you with every fibre of her being, but she won’t dare to leave.”

“But she won’t love me?” whispered the man and Laura could see the struggle in him painted clearly in his expression.

She shrugged again. “What is love if not fear? Fear of hurting the other, but mostly fear of being hurt, fear of leaving and being left. When you get right down to it, love,” she emphasised the words, “is terror.”

“I …” The man tore his gaze from the bottle and looked at her. And he finally looked her straight in the eyes. He backed away.

“I don’t want … I’m sorry … I’ll …” He kept on walking backwards, tried to pocket the gun, but dropped it instead, made a half-hearted grasp for it, the changed his mind. He backed into the door, turned around and slammed it open, sending the bells into a frenzy of jangling and ran outside.

Laura waited about half a minute before going over, closing the door and locking it before hanging up the ‘Closed’ sign. The hung over people would have to just go without a remedy today. A little suffering was good for the soul.

On her way back to the counter she stooped and picked up the gun with two fingers and a look of distaste. She carried it into the back-room to where a shoebox was sitting on a shelf. She pulled out the box and opened it with one hand, put the gun down with the small assortment of other weapons, then closed it and put it back. Then she wiped her hands on her pants legs and started thinking about what she would do with the day. Maybe make some more potions for memory and concentration; after all, the exam period would start soon.

June 18, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Dead Body

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 12:44 pm

Challenge by the lovely and bearded Chuck Wendig. Prompt can be found here and consisted of ‘Include a dead body in the first paragraph’.


Alice sat up carefully, head spinning, ears ringing and looked at the body lying on the floor. It reminded her of the mangled body of a prey, placed there by a proud feline the size of a bull. Then she noticed scraps of clothing made from the same material as her own lab coat, tufts of hair a certain colour.

Oh god.

Ohgodohgodohgod.

“Eric?” She reached out a hand, then snatched it back. She didn’t want to touch it and anyway, there was nothing she could do. The body looked like it had been turned inside out.

She dragged her eyes away from it and looked around. The laboratory looked like it had been set on fire and then put out using a tornado. The floor was covered with broken glass and smashed equipment and there was a smell of burned wires in the air.

She tried to think back; what was the last thing she remembered? She and Eric – she had to suppress a sob at the thought – had been working on the equation and running simulations on the computer.

The computer.

She got up slowly, shards raining off her. The pounding in her head grew stronger. She knew she ought to find a phone that still worked and call for help, then sit down and put her head between her knees. Instead she walked over to the main computer.

It was still smoking and the plastic casing had melted. It was possible that her employers would be able to salvage something from it, but she rather doubted it. And all backups were made at the end of each day on external harddrives, which were then placed in a bunker in an undisclosed location. This meant that all the work they had done today was irrevocably lost, along with any answers as to what had happened, since she had no idea.

She knew for certain that she hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. She had been grinding through all possible variations of the equations, patiently waiting for a result that might indicate that one of them were working.

She willed herself to look back at Eric. “What were you doing?” she asked the body, then shuddered and turned away.

Anyway, that line of reasoning made no sense. They had been running computer simulations for god’s sake; nothing which could have affected the real world, any more than losing a game of Minesweeper would have caused something to blow up.

Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of the door being unlocked and then a hiss of compressed air as it started to slide open.

Alice frowned. The compressed air was part of the emergency system, which meant that there was no power to the door. She looked up at the lamps in the ceiling and noticed for the first time the small red lamps which indicated that they were running on their own internal backup batteries. Whatever had happened had taken out the power in the whole building.

The door finally opened and Major Gutierrez stepped in and, after the briefest glance at Alice, looked around assessing the damage. Her gaze barely touched the body on the floor.

“What happened?” asked Alice. Major Gutierrez was head of operations not just for this laboratory, but for the whole building. She might not be a scientist, but of anyone had any answers, it would be her.

“I was going to ask you the same thing, Doctor Kaye. This place looks like Dresden in 1945. To say nothing of your late colleague.”

“I … nothing happened,” replied Alice, annoyed at her own defensive tone, but unable to check it. “We were running simulations. Just like last month and the month before. The highlight of the day was the coffee break, because the cafeteria had cinnamon rolls.” She sniffled and had to blink to keep back tears.

Major Gutierrez looked at her with a carefully neutral expression as if she was turning something over in her head, but wanted to keep her thoughts hidden. Finally she said: “You weren’t running simulations.”

Alice blinked. “Of course we did.”

“I suppose I should say that you weren’t just running simulations. In the basement level beneath your lab, we build a prototype of your machine. Every time you ran a simulation on the computer you actually tested it in reality as well.”

Alice felt dizzy again as she let the words and their implications sink in. “Are you,” she started in a whisper, that rose to a roar, “completely insane!? Do you know what the machine can do!?” She racked her brain for an expletive. “You … you stupid bastards!”

“We were pressed for time,” said the Major.

“Did Eric know?”

“Yes. He helped develop your initial blueprints to a working prototype.” They both glanced at the body. “Look, you can chew me up later. Right now, I need you outside.”

“What’s outside?”

“Better come see for yourself.”

Puzzled, Alice stepped carefully through the wreck of her work place and followed the Major outside into the corridor and up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, when they reached the foyer at the ground floor level, stood a young soldier, who snapped to attention, when he saw the Major, but who had such a haunted look in his eyes, that it made Alice’s heart race.

Then she looked across the foyer, which looked like it had been hit by an earthquake, through the huge windows to the outside and her heart seemed to stop altogether. She should have looked out on low barracks and a parking lot full of military vehicles. Instead there was nothing but empty land, rocky and windblown, with a few stubborn patches of grass and low shrubberies.

“Where …” It was the soldier who had come up behind them. He licked his dry lips and started again. “Where are we, ma’am?”

Alice just shook her head. “Eric,” she whispered. “Eric, you stupid bastard, what have you done?”

June 12, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Random Title Jamboree

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 9:26 am

New Flash Fiction Challenge, courtesy of Chuck Wendig. I rolled a 15 and a 15 because random number generators are lazy and got Back Country Junction.


The road ran between two villages and when you followed it past the last of the houses and out onto the moor or into the small forest – depending on which direction you were coming from – it narrowed to nothing more than a track.

Both villages were small, but both also boasted a smithy, a holy man and a doctor. Thus, neither place had anything the other wanted and the only people who went from one to the other, except the odd traveling salesman, were young people who had met each other at one of the fairs and wanted to get further acquainted. The villages were close enough that in the summertime, if you started early in the morning, you could walk from one to another, do your business and get back before sundown, but later in the year, it often happened that one of the aforementioned young people stayed too late and had to stay the night so as not to get caught out in the dark.

There were no robbers on the moor, no dangerous beast in the forest. But there was the junction. In the middle of nowhere, the track was crossed by another. People had tried following this other track in both directions and they said that on either side it went on for some miles and then faded and disappeared. But sometimes, people tried to follow the track and were never seen or heard from again.

People said that it was the preferred route of the fair folk visiting their neighbors, which just happened to intersect with the road between the two villages and very pragmatically they also said that as long as no-body used the road or in other ways bothered the fair folk, they would leave the villagers alone. So no-one used the intersecting track and no-one went from one village to the next at night and they were safe and in the end, they started to forget why they too these precautions and the cross road and the fair folk became nothing more that a tale to tell in the long winter evenings.

Maria carefully lifted Lily’s hand away from her waist and crawled out from under the blanket. Then she carefully tucked the blanket around her little sister, making sure to cover all of her feet. Lily was a light sleeper and if she got cold, she would wake and when she didn’t find Maria there, she would started to cry and wake the rest of their sisters and this wouldn’t do.

Maria slipped on her shoes, while her eyes darted around the room, looking for any sign of movement, but the four other bodies that could be seen in the pale light were all sleeping quietly. One of them, Ella, stirred when she opened the window, but only to turn around and hug her pillow. Maria took one last look and then, before she could change her mind, she tied the end of the rope to the bedpost and climbed out the window.

The Larsson family had seven daughters and in a village where not much happened, it had been the source of and endless stream of mild jibes about how you could set your calender after Eleanor Larsson’s yearly delivery. As they got older the talk had gotten to be more about how sweet and lovely the eldest of the girls, Ida, was. Last year the talk had turned to the young man she had met and fallen in love with, and after a short but hectic courtship they had married and seven months later she had given birth to a healthy boy. But just a month ago Ida’s husband had disappeared, leaving her heartbroken. She had moved back in with her parents, but the gossip was all about how she stayed in the attic with her son and refused to see anyone, just cried her eyes out.

Some of the very old people muttered, that the man had been taken by the fair folk, but vast majority of the village took the cynical view that young Matthew had been more suited as a lover than as a husband and father; that the best Ida could do was to forget about him and find a new kinder man, who would take care of her and the boy. After all she was still sweet and lovely and the fact that she had been able to give birth to a healthy child was not at all a bad thing.

Then rumors started spreading – no-one knew who had first started them, but suddenly they were everywhere – that maybe it was not Matthew who had realized that he was unfit as a husband, but Ida and that she had taken matters into her own hands. Somehow the talk reached even Ida and her family thought that her staying hidden had as much to do with being unable to face the slander as it had with her grief over Matthew.

All lies; Maria knew that. Matthew might be immature and inept in many ways, but he was as fiercely devoted to his wife and child as she was to him. Still, while Matthew was a sweet young man, Maria would never have been out on the moor in the dark for his sake. She was doing this solely for Ida. The loss of Matthew and the lies of the village was killing her, if not literally, then her at least her spirit. And Maria loved her sister far too much to stand by and do nothing.

She found her way carefully in the dark. There was a full moon, which was why she had chosen this night to do this, but she still had to look at the track in front of her to be sure she didn’t lose her way. She walked for hours while the moon rose in the sky and then started to sink again, just as she reached the junction.

Maria looked down, first one road, then the other, trying to decide which one to take, since they both looked the same. Then the wind, which had until then been a soft breeze, rose to a gust which pushed her in the back. And since that was as good a suggestion as any other, Maria went down that way.

In the beginning she was as alone as she had been until now, but not for long. Soon she saw light light shining from behind her and had to resist the urge to turn around. Then figures started to walk past her, wearing lanterns glowing with floating golden lights that did not seem to have any source. They were human looking but all very tall and inhumanly thin. They were beautiful but in the way an orchid was beautiful. There was no warmth in the way they looked.

There were many, apparently they were on their way to a large gathering. None of them looked at Maria as they passed her, but no-one tried to stop her either.

She didn’t know how and when it had happened, but she suddenly realized she was not at the moor. The path in front of her was leading through lush green grass, each leaf bejeweled with dewdrops sparkling in the moonlight.

In front of her was wall about the height of her waist with an opening in it, which the track lead through and one of the fail folk standing guard. Unlike the rest he fixed her with his gaze as she came closer and held up a hand to signal her to stop.

“What are you doing here, human?” he asked, sounding bored. “You are not welcome at our feast.”

“I believe you have my brother-in-law Matthew,” she replied, the hesitated before continuing. “I am here to negotiate his release.”

The fair one looked at her, head cocked to one side. “Very well,” he said, finally. “After all, we could use some extra entertainment tonight. You may enter.”

Maria walked through the opening in the stone wall, heart beating so fast and hard that it felt like it was trying to break open her ribcage from inside and escape. Then she got a look at hear surroundings and forgot everything.

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