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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.

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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.

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