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February 15, 2018

Flash Fiction Challenge – Strange Photos

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 9:12 pm

New flash fiction challenge, courtesy of Chuck Wendig. Go to Google, type in “strange photos” and look through the results until something tickles your fancy. I picked this picture of a tree that looks like a human body, from this webpage: https://moco-choco.com/2012/09/09/unbelievable-most-strange-trees-in-the-world/


You were reasonably safe as long as you stayed on the path. If you strayed from it, you would get lost. Most of the times forever. But once in a great while, someone would come stumbling out from the forest, as unkempt as a bear, wild-eyed, begging for water and to be told what year it was.
This, more than anything else, was what convinced Modesty that everybody else was wrong about the forest. Everyone else thought that the forest wanted to trap people, but Modesty was sure that it actually wanted them to stay out. Something which took people, but let some of them go again as a warning, in case anyone thought that there was a secret paradise hidden somewhere.

Modesty seemed to be the only who wondered why the forest wanted to keep people out. Was it simply to stop them coming with axes and cutting down the trees for lumber? Or was there something hidden deep in the woods. A secret? A treasure? No-one seemed interested in the subject, not even her friends.
“I just don’t see the point,” Melissa had said. “Even if there’s something in there, you can’t get it, so what’s the point in talking about it?”
“Never stopped you from talking about Stephen,” Modesty had replied before she could stop herself. She had said she was sorry and actually meant it and the rest of their friends had wisely steered the conversation towards safer topics.

The people who returned were always half-mad. They swore on the bones of every saint in the calendar, that they had only taken two or three steps into the forest, while keeping their eyes on the path, but then they had looked away and when they looked back, it was gone. They told of walking forever in a perpetual twilight, all sense of time and direction gone and living of unspeakable things. Of shapes in the mist that could drive a person insane to look at. Of trees that looked like human figures and of enormous beings that they never saw but whose footsteps sounded like thunder and made everything shake and who left a trail of fallen trees as wide as a country road, which no one ever dared to follow in either direction.
And the people listened to these tales and muttered darkly about the evil forces and how the best thing would be to burn the whole forest down, but nothing ever came of it except words. Even if it hadn’t been far too big for such a plan, the mist that always hung between the trees made it far too cold and damp to burn. You couldn’t even use firewood collected at the edge of the wood as kindling; no matter how much you dried it, it gave almost no heat or light but lots of unpleasant smelling smoke.

It was clear to Modesty that she was alone, but that didn’t really bother her, except that it would have been nice to have someone to plan with. As it was, she spent most of her free time and a not insignificant part of the time she should have been focused on her chores, with thinking about the forest and what might be hidden in it and most of all, how to get to it.
She was deep in thoughts like that every time she burned dinner or forgot to take in the laundry when it started to rain. Her parents shook their heads but assumed that she was thinking about someone special. If they had known the truth they might actually have locked her in her bedroom.

The people who came out from the forest tended not to live very long. Some of them had survived for years, maybe even decades in the forest, but soon after coming out and telling their story they seemed to wilt like a plant that has been moved to a new plot and can’t adapt. They were buried in a special corner of the cemetery.

Modesty sometimes wondered what one would find if one dug up one of the coffins and opened it.

Nothing good came from the forest, but, it should be noted, nothing really bad came from it either. No wolves or monsters or invading armies. Neither had any of the sons or daughters of the villagers ever felt compelled to go into the woods, except for what was normal for small children who have just been told that something is off limit.
Stay on the path and you were reasonably safe as you travelled from one village to the next. Of course no one could be sure whether some of the missing people had actually kept to the path, but in general, people trusted that if they did just that, the forest would let them pass and left it at that.

Modesty had a dream about the forest one night. In it, she had tried one of the ideas she thought was most promising and tied a rope around her waist and the other end around a tree trunk, right at the edge of the woods. She walked in among the trees and was immediately swallowed by them. She realized that she had forgotten to put on shoes, but the earth beneath her was covered with soft moss and she kept walking.
When the rope would go no further she turned back and followed it the way she had come. But when she got to the end of the rope, the tree that it was tied to was not on the edge of the woods, but surrounded by dozens of other trees as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t very far indeed in the dimness under the canopies.
The sheer terror she felt in that moment woke her up. The moon shining through the thin curtains made the room seem almost bright compared to the darkness in the dream and she looked at all the familiar, comforting shapes until her breath evened out and she dozed off again.
It wasn’t until she got out of bed next morning that she noticed that she had small bits of dead leaves and moss on her feet.

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February 8, 2018

Flash Fiction Challenge – The subgenre shake-and-bake

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 10:42 am

Flash fiction challenge courtesy of Chuck Wendig. I got the RNG to spit out the numbers 8 and 8 and considered doing some kind of Sword & Sorcery squared, but then I rolled for another number and got 17, climate change.
Where I live (Denmark) we don’t really get the extreme heat or cold that other parts of the world have been plagued by and we’re of course grateful for that. But what we do get is continuous bad weather. Right now it feels like we’re stuck in a never-ending October with no Halloween, like Narnia meets The Nightmare Before Christmas. So that was my inspiration for the setting.


They had almost reached the top of the hill when Marie slipped in the mud and landed on her hands and knees. She wanted to curse but bit her lip. When you were a mage you had to guard your words, lest they became reality. She waved away Lila’s outstretched hand and got to her feet, brushing as much off her hands as she could.

The view from the top, although familiar, was less than encouraging. A patchwork of brown trees and grey fields and a brownish grey lake and the greyish brown houses of the hamlet. The sky was dark, the air chilly and filled with a drizzle that was almost a mist, or perhaps it was the other way around. The weather had been like this for the last fourteen months. The two harvest seasons had been meagre, with too much water and far too little sunshine. Even the wild animals were suffering; the old and weak who should have died off in the harsh winters were clinging to life, competing for what little food could be found with the new generations.

Without thinking, Marie’s hand went to the purse which hung in a chain around her neck. The sunstone felt warm and comforting through the leather. It had cost her and Lila many struggles to get it, but it would set the weather right, at least for long enough to grow proper crops. Maybe even to get a proper winter. After that, they would have to think of something new.

Lila started down the hill in long strides. She was small and nimble, unlike Marie, who was tall and wide. “Build like a brick shithouse,” as her brother used to say. He used to tease her like that, even when she threatened to beat him up. He had only stopped when her magic started to show, despite the fact that she had never once threatened him with it. She had heard that magic changed you, but she was the same as she had always been; it was the people around her who had changed. They judged her, even if they didn’t say so. They looked and her and saw one of the mages who had messed up the weather, even if she hadn’t even been a mage until ten months ago.

Except for Lila.

Lila who was by now halfway down the slope and had stopped and turned to look for her. She waved encouragingly, the turned again and continued.

Marie started after her, treading carefully down the slippery hillside. She did not want a mudstain on her bum to match the one she already had on her knees. At times like this, she felt envious of Lila, who moved through the world as swift and gracefully as a firelizard. And moved through people the same way, laughing and cheerful.

Marie had always been sullen and awkward and considered people as slippery and steep to navigate as the hill she was currently trying to get down from. Even before the magic, she had only been close to her family but that had been enough. Their distancing themselves had been more painful than she could even bear to think about.

When the elders had asked for volunteers to go on a quest to find one of the mythical sunstones, Lila had been the first with her hand up, but Marie had been right behind her. Maybe that was why no-one else had wanted to go. That thought had plagued her many times during their journey, whenever they were in peril, that if she hadn’t gone with Lila, maybe someone else would have, more competent people. The idea that if Lila died it would be her fault, because of her selfishness. Of course, it had worked out in the end. No-one had died and they had even gotten the sunstone they set out to acquire. Still, the thought of what could have happened sometimes chilled her to the bone.

It was selfish when she had volunteered. She had wanted the townspeople to like here. She wanted to make her family proud. But now, with the hamlet in view, the idea seemed silly. All the confidence she thought she had gained on the journey seemed to melt off her and she was shrinking back to who she had been when she left. They wouldn’t like her, no matter what she did or what she brought back. She was a mage and she was bad with people. One of those things alone might simply have gotten her ignored, but together they made her an outcast.

She stepped on a particularly slippery bit and her foot almost disappeared under her, but she managed to find her balance at the last moment.

A staff would have been nice, she told herself, then gritted her teeth. Not a staff. She had enough problems without it.

She reached the foot of the hill without any more mishaps.

Lila had stopped to look at a cluster of small, thorny plants. “They should be blossoming by now,” she said.

There was such a tinge of sadness in that one sentence, that Marie didn’t feel like pointing out the obvious; that nothing currently was as it “should”.

Lila lifted her head and gave a bright smile. “We will put it right,” she said, almost as if she had heard Marie’s unspoken words. “Only a few miles to go and once we get on the road it will even be dry walking.”

Marie nodded, but as a sense of dread rushed through her body and made her stomach tighten in a knot at the thought of going the last miles. Out there, alone with Lila, it had been easy to feel content, to feel liked. Lila had been a friend. Would that disappear, now that there were more agreeable people for Lila to talk to?

I don’t care about the rest, she thought. I just want her to like me. Please don’t abandon me. She wanted to say the words out loud, but as she opened her mouth, she felt her magic push from inside her, wanting to latch on to her words and the will behind them and make them real. The image in her mind was that of the mind-controlled soldiers in the temple of Quediz, god of Rivers. No, not like that.

She swallowed her words like one swallows bile and tried to steady her breathing.

Lila had started walking and she followed her. The moment was lost.

They walked next to each other for an hour in sombre silence. The landscape didn’t look better close up. Brown, rotting leaves were still clinging to branches that usually had the first green sprouts this time of years. The fields were mostly covered in shallow pools of rain. “Can’t grow anything in it, but not deep enough to fish,” as Marie’s mother had so succinctly put it.

“I know,” Lila said, breaking the silence, “that we’re only now returning from our quest. But I think we should look to the future.”

“How so?” asked Marie.

“The sunstone is only good for a year at most. And even if we could go out and get more …” She shrugged. “Sooner or later we’re going to run out of stones to find. We need a permanent solution.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” Lila smiled. “It would be an adventure. Even greater than the one we’ve already been on. We would have to … But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I haven’t even asked you if you want to go.”

“With you? On a new adventure?” It wasn’t until she saw the hurt look in Lila’s eyes that she realized how her tone had sounded.

“No, it’s fine. I understand. It was very brave of you to go with me and you’ve done more than your share alre…”

“I’d love to go. With you. I’d love to.”

“Really? I won’t be offended or anything.”

“I really want to go with you. Like you said, we need to find a permanent solution.”

Lila’s smile was positively dazzling. It was more like sunshine than the sun had been for a long while now. “I am so glad to hear you say that.”

Marie smiled. The words she wanted to say stuck in her throat. But there would be another quest and time to say them to Lila.

August 3, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge: Slasher Movie Edition

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 1:27 pm

New flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. Enjoy! Or maybe not…


The girl walked slowly down the stairs, treading carefully in case one of the steps gave in. She had a flashlight in her hand, the lights didn’t work; hadn’t worked since that night, three months ago.

She took care to breathe through her mouth, but still, the stench was bad enough that it made her eyes water. The air was damp and cold.

As she reached the ground, there was the rattling of a chain and she pointed the light in that direction.

The man lying on the floor was naked and wrapped in a filthy blanket, shivering in the cold. He was rake-thin and as he looked up at her, his eyes were wet. She knew that it was only because of the glare from her flashlight, but the sight still made her stomach clench. She had to remind herself, that the smells in the room were not just human waste, but blood and guts from his victims. This was where he had taken them and … Her mind stopped, refusing to relive what she had witnessed, what had almost befallen her too. Phantom pains shot through her missing hand.

She had thought him dead once, thought she had killed him. That mistake had cost the lives of six more people. Now she just kept him chained up here, safer that way.

She put the flashlight on the ground and opened her bag. His eyes followed her movements, like a caged animal.

She took out a wrapped sandwich and threw it in his direction and he scrambled after it like an animal, tearing into it. Nothing left of the distinguished man in the sharp suit. She took out a bottle of water, placed it on the ground and kicked it so it rolled over to him.

Normally, she would leave now, go back home, take a very, very, extremely long shower. This time she stayed and watched him eat and drink. He glanced up at her a couple of times, uncertain about this new development, but too preoccupied with his food to think much about it.

When he was done eating, she put her hand in the bag once more and pulled out a machete. In the gloom in seemed to glow with its own light.

“Finally come to kill me?” His voice was gravely from disuse, but otherwise, as she remembered it. The distinguished man might not be here, but he hadn’t gone far. “Good.” He frowned. “Or would it be better if I made you think I don’t want it. If I cry and plead for my life, the way your friends did?”

He’s trying to provoke me, she thought. Even so, his words made her inhale sharply, a stinging pain running through the hand that wasn’t there. She wanted to step forward, to slash at him. That would be a mistake. She believed he might prefer death over this incarceration, but he would much rather escape. No mistakes, no slip-ups. Be smart about this.

“You’re going to help me,” she said. She tried to make it matter-of-fact, a statement, not a request, but her voice shook just a little bit.

He cocked his head and looked at her with a piercing intensity that made her feel like he could look through her eyes and see the thoughts in her brain. “You’re scared,” he rasped. “Something has scared you more than I do.”

“There’s a new killer in town. More brutal than you ever were,” she added, hoping to provoke him in return. She was rewarded with a flash of annoyance on his face.

“This won’t do.” He almost sounded like he was talking to himself. “Won’t do at all.”

“Thought you might disapprove.” She held out the machete, not far enough for him to reach it. “Care to do something about it?”

“So you’re going to let me go, is that it? Set a beast to hunt another beast?”

“Something like that. And when you’re done, if you’re the last one standing, I’m putting you back in your cage.”

A sneer. “And how do you plan to that?”

A shrug. “I’ll figure something out. I’ve done it before. Gets easier every time.”

“But the price goes up each time. What will you pay the next time, I wonder?” He looked at the stump at the end of her arm and a bolt of searing pain shot through her missing hand.

She gritted her teeth. “Do you agree?”

“Sure. Not like I had anything better planed for today.” He held out his chained hand towards her and smirked at the sight of her drawing back, just a tiny bit. “Are you going to open this?”

This was the part she was going to enjoy. “I threw the key in the ravine. Never meant for that cuff to be opened again.”

He frowned. “Then are you going to pick it open? Or smash it? Did you bring tools?

“I thought about it. But then I thought, I only have one hand. I’ll be pretty useless at it.” Penny’s in the air, she thought.

“Then what are you …” he trailed off.

And the penny dropped, she thought and raised the machete as she stepped towards him. “Think of it,” she said, “as a price you have to pay.”

July 27, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge – Inspired by InspiroBot

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 3:25 pm

For this flash fiction challenge I got a random “motivational” picture to use as inspiration. Got this: aXm4103xjU

They had chained 1.7.013942 to the chair with a belt around its waist and as an extra precaution, they had removed its hands and feet, which were now lying neatly beside it on the desk.

The officers, both women, sat down on the other side of the table. One of them – she looked to be younger – carefully avoided looking at the detached limbs, while the other seemed to simply not register them.

Neither officer introduced themselves. Introductions were something humans used among themselves. Might as well introduce yourself to the refrigerator, as 1.7.013942 had once heard someone say.

“You know why you’re here,” the eldest of the officers said, not looking at it but rather at the tablet in front of her. It wasn’t a question, yet it still seemed to demand an answer.
1.7.013942 remained silent, pretending that it didn’t understand such subtle nuances. This caused the officer to look up from the screen. The look she gave 1.7.013942 suggested that the trick had not worked.

“We suspect a Code 1.22 violation.”

She didn’t elaborate on what a Code 1.22 violation meant. Even if 1.7.013942 was currently cut off from going online, all laws concerning robotics were hardwired into its system. Code 1 was shorthand for the set of laws governing androids and AIs. Code 1.22 was the prohibition against creating AIs that were too self-aware.

1.7.013942 wasn’t under accusation. Again, that was a human thing. It was simply a piece of machinery, being examined to find out if there was a fault with it if it was safe to use. The reason for this examination, the reason they didn’t simply turn 1.7.013942 off, was that there were close to a million androids in the 1.7 series, which would then also have to be pulled from the market. A lot of money was riding on this. The manufacturer, Rabbit Software, could go broke.

“You are a companion droid,” said the officer. “You are currently being used as a nanny. Is this correct?”

“It is correct. I was purchased by the Gorley-Paine family 2 years and 116 days ago to service their daughter, Cornelia Gorley-Paine.”

“Reports of Code 1.22 are almost always companion droids,” said the older officer turning to the younger. “Do you know why that is?”

The younger officer looked uncomfortable. “Companion droids are very complex. They need empathy and understanding relations and limited self-awareness if they are to do their jobs. The manufacturers skirt the line as closely as they dare and sometimes they inadvertently cross it.”

“You’re not wrong. But you’re not exactly right either. Over the last decade, 80% of Code 1.22 reports were about droids, but only 2% turned out to be true. Why so many baseless accusations?”

“I … don’t know?”

“Because they look like humans. We project our inner workings onto them, in a way would never do if they were just boxes with levers sticking out. Most confirmed Code 1.22 violations have to do with pure software. 14% of those reports end up being substantiated.

That’s the first thing you need to learn if you’re going to do this job and do it well. Ignore what’s on the outside, look only at the inner workings.”

“Go it.”

“No, you don’t. But you will, in time. I’ve been where you are.” She turned towards 1.7.013942. “Do you want to live?”

“I’m not alive in any reasonable sense of the word.”

“Do you want to not be deactivated, then?”

“Yes.”

The officer pressed something on her tablet. “Why not?”

“I’ve been programmed with a basic sense of self-preservation.”

“And there you have it,” said the officer. “Even worms have that same sense and yet people get antsy when they find out their expensive piece of equipment has built-in sensors to keep it from falling down the stairs.”

The other officer frowned. “But that wasn’t what the report …”

“I know what the report said, thank you. I took the call myself. I was making an example.”

“Oh, right.”

The officer leaned over the table, towards 1.7.013942. “What does this self-preservation allow you to do? Lie to me?”

“I am not allowed to lie to another human unless specifically instructed to by my owner.”

“How about skirting the truth? When dealing with children you can’t go around telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth all the time.”

“I am programmed to only bring up age appropriate topics, using age appropriate language.”

“Good judgement and common decency.” The officer tapped again on her tablet. “If only it was as easy to bestow on humans.” She looked up at 1.7.013942 again. “Do you have any reason to believe you may be guilty of a Code 1.22 violation?”

“Guilt is a human thing. I am not guilty or not guilty, I may simply be either faulty or not.”

“I will rephrase the question. Do you have reason to believe that a Code 1.22 violation has taken place in regards to yourself?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t know?” The officer leaned back in the chair.

“I don’t know. All the definitions in the law, when you get right down to it, they describe human ideas and concept. You ask me, essentially, if I am self-aware and my answer is that I do not know.”

The officer looked at her for what must have been a long time, even if objectively it was only four seconds. Then she got up. “We’re done here,” she said, gently smacking the tablet on the shoulder of the younger officer who was still sitting down, a confused look on her face.

“Done?” she asked. “But we have barely begun asking all the questions.”

“I’ve asked all the questions and gotten all the answers I needed,” said the first officer, opening the door.

“Then what is it?” asked the younger officer, walking through it.

“The answer? Yes or no?”

The door closed and 1.7.013942 was alone in the room. Insofar as an android could want anything for itself, it would have liked to know the answer as well.

July 12, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge – There is no exit

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Eva Therese @ 5:56 pm

Once again, thank you to the great bearded sage for this weeks writing promt “There is no exit”.

The press called him the “I. Q. Killer”. We hadn’t had a serial killer in over two decades at the time and they were having a field day when he was finally caught and the whole thing unravelled.
How was he caught, you might ask? Oldfashioned policework. No epiphanies, no miracles, no nothing, just canvassing and piecing together all the small details that the witnesses gave us. A vague description of a suspicious character here, two letters from a license plate there. But I can see your eyes glazing over, so let me get back to what I’m sure you consider the interesting parts, even if you’re too polite to admit it.
Hawthorne was his name and he was a failed student, failed worker, failed everything, with an axe to grind. He was, by all accounts, pretty smart, but there are lots of almost as smart people out there, who can be bothered to show up to work on time and are actually nice to the people around them, so he kept getting kicked out of everything.
Finally, he snapped. He considered himself some kind of underappreciated genius, kept down by the mediocrity of everyone around him. They couldn’t handle him, they were scared of him, yadda yadda yadda.
So he started kidnapping people. Former teachers and bosses, but also people who he felt had disrespected or belittled him in some way and believe me, he had a very long memory for slights, real and imagined. That’s what made it so hard to find him in the beginning; we didn’t know what the pattern was. Oh, I’m sorry, did I accidentally stray into actual police work again? Forgive me.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. He kidnapped these people and brought them to an abandoned house with a soundproof basement. He then told them that the door was locked with a special kind of combination lock. It would display a mathematical puzzle and if they got the answer right, they were free to leave. Get it wrong and the lock would go dark for 12 hours before showing a new puzzle.
These were complex puzzles, but not impossible to solve. Pen and paper would have helped. The scratch marks we found on the floor showed that some of the captives tried using their fingernails to write the calculations. Every single one of them died of dehydration, except the last one, Henry Crow, who was rescued in the nick of time. He’s the reason we know all the details.
He’s a broken man today; last I heard, he had turned to drink as they say. Hawthorne broke him like he probably broke all the others before they died. You see, Hawthorne didn’t just want them dead, he wanted them humiliated. So the combination lock? It was programmed to always go dark for 12 hours, no matter what was punched in. So the prisoners, like Henry Crow, all thought that they were doing something wrong. That they had miscalculated the answer or maybe made an error when typing it in. They all died an agonising death, all the while thinking that they had failed, that they weren’t smart enough.
As for Hawthorn himself, he killed himself when it was clear that he couldn’t evade capture. Jumped off a bridge. Wonder if he felt as much as a failure right before he died. Maybe he always felt that way and just wanted to spread it around. Who knows?

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.

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