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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.


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.”


“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?” 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.


“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.

May 18, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Car Chase

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 11:07 am

As always, the challenge is courtesy of Chuck Wendig. This time the challenge was to write a short piece showcasing a car chase and I decided to put down an idea I’ve been kicking around for rather a long time now.
I had some problems with the challenge because a) English is my second language and b) I don’t have a driver’s licence and in fact I’ve never been behind the wheel of a car. I can picture the scene in my head, but I have difficulties putting it in words, because I don’t know what stuff is called, is what I’m getting at. With that small disclaimer, the piece is here.

“Lucy Green?”
Lucy turned around, still in the process of trying to hold her cup of coffee in one hand without spilling while using the other hand to put the change in her wallet.
“Yes?” she asked. A lock of hair had liberated itself from her ponytail and was tickling her cheek and she tried unsuccessfully to brush it away, using the back of the hand holding the wallet and the change.
“I need you to come with me.” The man talking to her was wearing some kind of uniform which she didn’t recognize. Possible he was a security guard from one of the shops.
“What’s this about?” asked Lucy and then wondered if maybe it would be easier if she transferred the coins to the hand holding the coffee and then tried to get them into the wallet.
“I said, come with me,” said the man and made a grab for her hand.
Her change fell to the ground and Lucy would have knelt to pick them up, if the stranger hadn’t held her wrist with an uncomfortably tight grip.
“Let go!” said Lucy. “I asked you what this is about. Who are you and what do you think you’re doing?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he drew a gun and pointed at her.
Lucy felt herself go very pale as all the blood drained from her face and rushed towards her feet as if it wanted to get as far away from the barrel as possible and she could hardly blame it. She felt faint for a split-second. Then she threw her coffee at the man’s face. Or maybe threw was the wrong word; a more apt description would have been to say that she smashed her cup into his face with her hand.
He howled like a wolf and she made a run for the door.
Bursting outside, she ran to cross the street and nearly got herself run over by a car that skidded to a halt in front of her, leaving streaks of burnt rubber on the asphalt.
A man jumped out, wearing dark clothes but not a uniform.
“Right on time, I see,” he said and opened the door to the backseat. “Get in.”
Lucy shook her head and started to back away. “No, I’m not going any…”
A shot ran out behind her and Lucy dived into the car, slamming the door behind her, while the man did the same in the front seat. The car jumped forward, engine roaring and seconds later they had turned a corner. Another shot ran out, but it already sounded far away.
For the first time Lucy noticed the driver, a woman, whose face she could only see in the rear view mirror. She looked from her to the man. “Who … who was that guy? And who are you?”
“Name’s Karl, that’s Alice, pleased to meet you.”
“That’s not what I meant. I …”
“Sorry, but that’s all the introductions we got time for right now. Incoming!”
They were at an intersection and a police car was coming toward them from their right. Lucy expected the car to slow down, but it didn’t, rather it sped up as if it intended to run into them. She grabbed the seat, digging her nails into and braced for impact, but the driver managed to brake and turn at the same time and the police car shot past them. Tires squealing, the police car spun around to follow them.
“Make the jump!” yelled Karl at Alice.
“Can’t,” she replied in a completely calm voice. “Those police vehicles,” she pronounced it as if it were two words ‘ve’ and ‘hicles’, “are sending out a block. Until we get out of range of the signal, we’re stuck here.”
There was a moment’s silence, and then Lucy heard herself say: “The next exit will take you out on the freeway.”
She didn’t think Alice had heard her, since she didn’t react, but just kept on heading straight. But either she had to take a moment to make up her mind or she was simply trying to trick their pursuer for at the last possible moment she turned right.
They swung out onto the freeway in a turn so sharp, that Lucy felt herself being pressed up against the car door. She was almost sure that the car ran on two wheels for a second before coming down with a small jolt. The vehicle screeched like a demented bird and she looked out the window and gave a small squeal herself. “We’re going the wrong way!” she heard herself moan in a voice she barely recognized as her own. “We’re going against traffic!”
The traffic was dividing in front of them like the water at the Red Seas as the drivers veered left and right to avoid a head on collision, but their car still had to swerve to avoid the ones that weren’t fast enough.
“Never mind that!” snapped Karl. “Are the police still after us?”
Lucy turned to look out the rear window. She could see a mess of cars neatly parted in the middle like a wake of metal. Some of the drivers had gotten out and were shaking their fists or making rude gestures. She could hear horns being honked, rather belatedly. Here inside it was just a distant noise, but outside it had to be ear-splitting.
And while she was looking she saw the car with the Police emblem on the hood swing into the freeway after them.
Lucy turned around. “They’re still on us! Gogogogo!”
Alice didn’t say anything, but simply accelerated the car and they shot forward. She started swerving more as fewer cars had time to get out of their way.
Karl swore, quietly but systematically, in every kind of English he knew. He started with a euphemism for intercourse which would have been familiar to Chaucer and then he started to work his way through the centuries, ending with an expression which referred to a practice that would become known in about five hundred years, when bionic implant made it possible.
Lucy looked out through the rear window again and had just turned back to inform the other two that it was no use, the police car was still gaining on them, when she caught sight of Alice’s face in the mirror. This time she didn’t just squeal, she managed to scream at the same time, the resulting sound giving the impression of a scalded pig.
“What now?!” Karl turned to look at her with a longsuffering expression.
“Alice,” Lucy managed to squeak. “Her eyes are closed. She’s not looking at the road.”
Karl sighed and looked harassed. “Keep it down. She’s concentrating so she needs to keep her eyes closed and that means you shut up as well.”
“Concentrating?” began Lucy, but then lowered her voice and continued in a hiss. “But she’s not even looking at the road, how can she be concentrating?”
“There are too many cars and we’re driving too fast for anyone to manoeuvre through safely, so she’s looking at the timelines instead. She finds the one in which we manage to get thought this without crashing and dying and follows the directions in that one.”
Lucy sat stunned for a moment. “She can do that?” she finally asked.
“Yes. If she’s allowed to concentrate. Now zip it.”
Alice sped up and Lucy felt herself being pressed back against the seat by the acceleration. Out of the side window she could see nothing but a blur as they rushed past. She closed her eyes tight. If Karl wanted to know if the police was still after them, he could damn well look himself.
She sat stiff as a board, feeling the swift movements of the car from left to right and back again for what felt like forever. She was convinced that every second could be her last and it was all she could do to not just scream or try to open the car door and throw herself out or possibly both.
So absorbed was she in her own misery that she actually jumped when Karl said: “We’re far enough from them now. We can make the jump.”
Jump, thought Lucy. What jump? Are we going over a canyon or something? We’re going to die. We’re still going to die. All these were thoughts that flew through her brain as she opened her eyes. She was just in time to see Karl, Alice and the inside of the car go transparent and then everything disappeared. When it reappeared she was still in the car with the other two, but everything around them had changed. It was now a barren landscape and even as the car slowed down Lucy could clearly feel the bump in the road, if it even was as road.
“Where are we?” she asked Karl.
“Safe,” he said, “for now.”

March 17, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: Random Cocktail Challenge

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , , — Eva Therese @ 10:53 am

This weeks Flash Fiction Challenge, as always courtesy of the lovely and bearded Chuck Wendig was to randomly generate a cocktail recipe, then use the name of the cocktail as the title of the story. Actually making the cocktail and drinking it while writing was optional, but I’m sure recommended; I skipped that party however. My cocktail/title was ‘Mojo’.

The bag is small and made by hand, without much skill, from leather. She keeps it open with one hand as she puts in a number of small objects. They’re what a small child might consider a treasure; a white feather, a sea shell, a coin and finally – the only thing she herself believes might be good for anything – a few dried springs of mint. They smell as fresh and sweet as a summer morning and the scent tugs at her heart before she closes the bag and wraps the leather string tightly around the opening, before tying a couple of knots.

It’s done. If the buyer should open the bag and look in it – she always tells them not too, but of course some of them do anyway – they’ll find a collection of objects that looks appropriately witch-like; they’ll find what they expect to find in a good-luck charm.

She gets up, clutching the bag in one hand, as she puts on her coat. It’s all nonsense of course. Good luck cannot be gained from feathers and coins and the mint is simply there, because she likes the smell. It’s amazing that anyone would think otherwise, but then again they probably don’t. They probably tell themselves that the bag is placebo, something to put them in a positive frame of mind, yaddayaddayadda. After all, you make your own luck, don’t you? They have no idea how right they are.

She steps out on the busy side street, the bag still in her hand. The wind is blowing and it’s cold to be without gloves but it works better this way. A woman brushes past her, just some woman. She doesn’t even catch her face, she’s just a blur of curly, dark brown hair rushing past and then she’s gone. But she touches her bare hand holding the bag and a bit of luck is snatched from the woman and caught in the bag.

She looks after the woman, but she is already gone in the crowd. This day and the next day will be a bit rougher than usual, but nothing more than that.

The witch continues down the pavement. She doesn’t touch people herself, she doesn’t have to. They brush her in passing and, like a pocket thief collecting wallets, she steals small amounts of good luck, a day here, a couple of days here, maybe a whole week. One man walks into her and tells her to look where she’s going, as if he wasn’t the one talking on his phone. She gets a lot from him, three whole weeks and then watches without any emotion as he fumbles with his phone, drops it and it shatters.

Now the small bag is full and she puts in her pocket. She stops in front of a window, pretends to look at the display, without even seeing what’s there, while she rubs her hands together and blows on them, in a vain attempt to get some warmth in them. Then she puts her hand in her other pocket and pulls out another small leather bag. It looks like the first one and contains much the same thing except that there’s a mouse skull rather than a feather and anise seeds instead of mint. She’s been putting off doing this for days – she dislikes this even more than gathering good luck – but the buyer is getting impatient and she’s paid in advance.

With a sigh she turns away from the window and starts moving through the crowd again. She keeps her gaze firmly at the ground. If she looks up, looks at the people around her, she’ll lose her nerve. She’ll start flinching away from some and move towards others and try to decide who deserves it, but she is no judge of that. So she just keeps her head down, the bag clutched tightly in her hand and someone brushes towards her and she draws bad luck from them.

The thing about luck, the difference between good and bad, is that good luck just is, like money or ice-cream. You can take it from someone and give it to someone else and then they’ll have good luck and the first person won’t. But bad luck, it’s like a disease. Spreading the infection does not make a sick person any less sick. And with bad luck it will make them worse.

She walks slowly, almost dragging her feet, causing people around her to grumble and outright curse at her. She looks at no one, she doesn’t want to see their faces, she doesn’t want to recognize them on the news ‘Walked in front of a truck’ or ‘Came home and surprised a burglar’ and know that she was the cause of their misfortune. She tries to be careful, limit the risk, taking just a few hours from each person, but people are bumping into her and when someone shoves her from behind, causing her to stumble and almost trip, she reacts without thinking and draws almost a whole week. She spins around wildly looking for the person. It was too much! She has to undo it! But she doesn’t know who it was and people are passing her by without looking at her.

The bag in her hand feels heavy even to her numb hand. It’s full or as close as makes no difference. It’s enough. She puts it away, then buries both of her hands in her pockets, trying to get them warm. She can feel the two small bags filled with the good and the bad luck. They feel the same. But after all, it’s not what kind of luck you get, but what you chose to do with it. She knows that better than most.


March 5, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Four Part Story Final Part

Filed under: flash fiction challenge, Uncategorized — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 6:54 pm

This week’s challenge from the bearded sage Chuck Wendig is last part of the collaboration where everyone took turns to write parts of a story. This is the final part of Time Warp, started by Lauren and continued by Simon and CJ. I’ve copied their parts in below with links to their respective parts of the internet.

Part 1
It was a day like any other. She had come down the stairs, her phone was ringing, and she stopped to answer it, realizing her pump had slipped halfway off. She put her hand against the building, and leaned in, pulling the pump over her heel. She caught herself looking at a bearded man, sitting in the park, reading a newspaper. Her eyes looked him up and down.

On a hunch, she crossed the road to the park, not even looking for taxi cabs, even though she knew they wouldn’t stop. She’d read just the other day about a kid who had been hit, holding hands with his father. She didn’t know why she was headed to the park. She should have turned right and walked the length of the street, on the way to Barnes Butler to drop off the package. But there was something vaguely familiar she saw in the man.

When she had crossed, she stopped and she stared at the back of his head, silently daring him to turn around. He was engrossed in the newspaper, and she thought maybe she should just turn and leave. Instead, she barreled forward as if driven by a motor and stood in front of him, like a tree, blocking his reading light. He shook the paper and tilted his eyes up towards her. His face twitched in instant recognition, but it was too late for him to go anywhere.

“I thought that was you,” she said.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“I work across the street.”

She sat down next to him, and he folded up the paper and sat it on his knee. He gave her a sidelong look as she stared at the print on the paper and gingerly picked it up with her thumb and index finger. “You know if you’re going to sit here on a bench in Central Park in the middle of New York City, the least you could do is buy a newspaper dated for today. March 4, 1972, really Henry?”

“I take it there’s nothing in that manila envelope I need to be worried about. It doesn’t look thick enough to carry a gun.”

“What do they say these days?” she asked, raising her eyebrows at him. “Take a chill pill?”

“Yes, I think that’s correct. I’ll tell you the English language is not what it used to be.”

“You’re not my target this time.”

“Who is?”

“That’s privileged information, and you know it.”

“So how come you can’t kill me now, but in 2150 I’m your mortal enemy?”

She shrugged, clutching the package in her hand, and looking from side to side to make sure no one had followed her. He put his hand down on the bench, and he moved it over towards her skirt, but her reflexes were quick and she slapped it away. It pained her too, because she’d always found him attractive, even with a target on his head. But this wasn’t one of those spy movies where the two people fell in love and forgot all about the price on their head. She knew she’d have to target Henry next time they warped, and she didn’t want to risk unnecessary emotions becoming involved. She had never been here, to this time, and it was a surprise to see him. He looked innocent and younger than the last time she’d seen him. Of course then, his hands had been gripping the side of the building and she had been just about to peel them off one by one. She had imagined the scene as he dropped the fifty stories to the ground. She could even hear the splat his body would have made against the pavement, but in that exact moment in time she had warped.

The next assignment had not been a good one either, because it had occurred during the war, and it had taken much longer than she expected. Blue versus Gray, and she had been a housewife. She thought to herself that she should have never taken this job. She had no roots. Babies born and abandoned. But here she was, still at the hands of the powers to be. “I could help you,” he said.

“And why would you do that?”

“Because you didn’t kill me last time.”

Ha, she thought to herself. Only because there was a glitch in the machine. “I tried to.”

“Have you thought that maybe the orders have changed?”

She looked him in the eyes. She felt like she could trust him, but she didn’t know why. Her mind jumped to the moment in time where he was about to fall to his death. His eyes had looked sincere and warm, and in that moment she had felt a twinge of guilt. She never felt that way. It was always just business to her, never guilt.

“And why would they have changed?”

“Ophelia, we’re working for different people who have the same objective, aren’t we?”

She nodded, because she knew he was right. She looked down at her watch, the second hand spinning fast, and she felt the familiar wave come over her. No, not now, she thought. She couldn’t warp now. She grabbed the park bench, her grip tightened against the wood, as if she could save herself from traveling through space and time.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I think it’s coming. The warp.”

He shook his head. “That’s impossible. You haven’t done your job yet.”

“And how do you know what my job is?” she asked.

“That’s simple,” he said. “Our groups, they’ve—“

But the words were gone, in a swirling whirlwind, because in that moment her body was disassembling into millions of tiny particles, atoms, quarks, and it was traveling through a funnel towards another time period. ………

Part 2
Re-materialising was unpleasant. There’s no other way to put it.

Hundreds of hours of training. Thousands of real-time warps, some of them across vast distances and durations. Rational thought. Mental preparation. Will. None of it really did much to take the edge off the sensation of having your body smashed to its component parts and swapped with identical ones somewhere, and somewhen, else.
Though it was supposed to be instantaneous – at least to to the five pitifully dull human senses – operatives often spoke about an almost imperceptible moment as they came out of a warp, a moment that passed in a fraction of a heartbeat. A brief, excruciating instant where the consciousness was present, but the body was not. They called it the Void, and it was terrifying.

Ophelia came around screaming, certain she could feel every tiny layer of skin being drawn to her bones like filings to a magnet. Someone put a hand over mouth, another on her back and lowered her gently to the floor. Her memory kicked in, then her hearing. Someone was speaking, softly, reassuringly.

“Phe. Phe, I’m sorry, there’s so little time. It’s OK, Phe. It’s OK.” A hand on her forehead. “I had to pull you. I’m sorry. No time.” It was Isaac, the warp tech. His pale, boyish features were shot through with guilt or concern or both. Ophelia focused and let him guide her back to her feet, doing most of the work as his slight frame struggled to support hers. She calmed as recognition of her surroundings flooded over her. The two of them now stood in a debriefing chamber under the clinical glare of three perfectly spaced strips of LED’s. The chambers were designed to be identical, from the dimensions and the furniture down to the shade of high-gloss grey that covered the walls, ceilings and doors. There were hundreds of them scattered across six continents, hidden in office buildings and disused railway stations and specialist bunkers. She could’ve been anywhere in the world.

“Zac, what’s going on?” Ophelia asked, scanning Zac’s face for clues. “I haven’t made the drop. The target’s still out there somewhere – I didn’t finish the job.”

Now she’d a chance to look at him properly, she could see Zac was haggard. Tiredness dragged at his cheeks and brow, and his usually alert and inquisitive eyes were watery and ringed with black. His once-white shirt and coat were stained with old sweat.

“There’s not much time to explain, Phe,” said Zac, busying around her. “I’m setting you up to go back straight away.” He pulled the watch from her wrist and replaced it with another, identical one. “Things have changed. Bad changed.” He met Ophelia’s gaze and held it, and it took a moment for her to realise he was holding out a hand for the envelope. The one she’d been clasping all this time. She handed it over.

“What do you mean, changed?” Henry had hinted at that, too. What had he meant? Had he known she was going to be here, now?

“Zac, Henry was back there. I was talking to him when you pulled me.”

“Henry?” He handed her another envelope, indistinguishable from the first. “In NYC04? Henry, as in – ”

“Yeah, that Henry.”

“And you spoke with him?”

“Sure, he was sat on a bench in the middle of Central Park, reading a paper. I had to be sure it was him.”

Zac ceased his fussing and took a step back. His expression had been grim before; now, hopelessness was starting to show. He rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Damn, Phe. Things are worse than I thought. We need to get you back to where you were and pronto.”

“What the hell is going on?” said Ophelia, irritated now. “You’re sending me back to the exact same time and place? For what? What’s changed? I – ”

Ophelia’s breath caught. The room was shaking violently, the tortured screech of twisting metal drowning out her words. Zac stumbled, about to fall, and she pulled him quickly upright with a hand under his armpit.
The tremors stopped a few moments later. Ophelia thought she could hear muffled voices in the distance.
Zac swore under his breath. “Phe, I’m heading straight over to control. In a couple of minutes you’re going to warp back to NYC.” He walked to the door of the chamber and produced a key fob from his pocket, which he held up to a small panel mounted on the wall before throwing to her.

“Lock the door behind me. If you’re not in Central Park in five minutes from the point I leave you, get out of here and stay low. Left out of this door, straight on and up until you see daylight.”

“What am I supposed to do in New York?”

“Make the drop. Deliver the package – the one I just gave you. Same place. If you make it, your watch will bring you home.”

“What about my target? The briefing said letting him walk would be catastrophic.”

Another tremor rocked the room, throwing the door open. Zac shut it hurriedly, covering it with his back. His eyes were wide and fearful.

“Everything’s changed. There’s a new target. They know I’ve pulled you and they’re coming. They know you’re here. I have to get to control. Now.”

Ophelia crossed the room and put a hand to Zac’s cheek. His expression hardened, but she could see he was shaking. He looked exhausted. “What are you going to do?”

“Get you into warp. That’s all that matters. The only way to fix this is you.”

Zac turned and opened the door, taking great care to check both ways before stepping into the corridor outside. “Good luck, Phe. Get ready to lock the door.”

“Wait, Zac – who is the new target?”

Zac smiled. “Isn’t it obvious?”

He started off down the corridor. Ophelia watched him go, her hand resting on the doorknob.

Over his shoulder, Zac called: “You.” …….

Part 3
Rematerialising was bad. Twice in under fifteen minutes was testing the limits of Ophelia’s resolve. She threw up in the nearest garbage can and looked around. Central Park was fairly empty this morning, but a few joggers gave her dirty looks as they went by.

She tucked the package under her arm and scanned the benches. No sign of Henry. It didn’t make sense. If this was the same time and place, he should be here.

Ophelia took the path out of the park and headed for Barnes Butler. At the first light, she made the mistake of looking behind her.

They were almost blending in. But she was trained on the right clothing and accessories for almost every time and place in history. The hats were wrong. She made eye contact with the shorter man. He stopped, grabbing his companion and they spun away into the park.

She moved faster up 5th Avenue. They would be back. Ophelia tried to remember the paths in and out of Central Park. If she could get clear before they came out, she’d have a better chance of reaching the store in time to make her original drop.

As she passed the convenience store, someone grabbed her arm. She went for her gun, forgetting they didn’t exist in this time period so she hadn’t been allowed to bring it.

“Henry!” She snapped, recognising the beard before she fully saw his face. Her heart pounded a little less. “I thought you were those guys.”

“I know. They showed up just after you vanished. I saw them looking around and leaving when it was clear you warped. They must not have gone far.” He gestured towards the package. “I think they’re here to stop you leaving that.”

“Well, my assignment hasn’t changed.” She swallowed, uncomfortable about the idea of who her target was.

“No, I got that.” He looked outside of the shop and nodded. “Come on, it’s safe.” Ophelia hesitated to follow him. They were still on opposite sides. He rolled his eyes and pulled her by the hand. “Come on, I’m not trying to set you up.”

He walked close to her, keeping one hand against her back. It was almost protective and she hid a smile. On days like this it was easy to forget they were at war.

“Are you planning to escort me all the way there?” She joked. He nodded, tight-lipped.

“I told you, things have changed. They’re not going to like that you’re back.”

Ophelia scanned the glimpses of the park over the fence. “I can’t see anyone. Maybe they didn’t expect to get made and they’ve left.” She and Henry looked at each other. Ophelia laughed. “I know, I know. But a girl can dream of the easy life.”

They covered the three blocks to the store, moving at a fast pace. She preferred this. It was almost too fast to talk.

“There it is.”

“Stay with me.” He held her arm tighter. She tensed but she wasn’t sure if Henry was the one triggering her feeling of unease.

Ophelia had the familiar sense that something wasn’t right. Everything had happened so fast that she hadn’t had a chance to sit down and work out which piece of information didn’t fit.

“It’s right there.” She scanned the streets, but the light had changed and everyone was stopped. “I have to get this done.”

Ophelia pulled her arm away from Henry and ran out into the street. She was halfway across the road when he yelled to her. The words vanished behind the blare of horns.

She didn’t see the black town car accelerate through the red.

The driver’s side clipped her. Ophelia flew into the air, coming down hard on the car’s hood. Pain sparked through her hip and up her side. The car wasn’t slowing down. She rolled, sliding off the side of the hood and onto the pavement. She didn’t want to move. A taxi skidded to a halt beside her, and soon a stranger was helping Ophelia stand. She limped forward, her left knee turning purple as it swelled.

Ophelia looked around. Henry was gone. She didn’t know if that meant he had finished his assignment. If he’d been here to kill her, he hadn’t done a good job. Neither had the other two men and the idea they might have unfinished business pushed her to keep going.

She brushed aside offers of rides to the hospital and looked around for the manila envelope. Heart starting to race in panic, she dropped to her knees, ignoring the pain. It had slid under a parked car. She wriggled under on her stomach to pull it out and stood. She saw the town car turning onto the street. She was right; they’d circled to check she was dead.

“I have to go.” She pushed through the crowd of onlookers, the envelope clutched in her hand. Each step sent bolts of blackout pain up her spine and into her head. No one could say she wasn’t dedicated to her job.

She entered the store and approached the counter. “Hi, I have a package to drop off for someone?”

A sales associate took it, looking at the name. “Oh yes, my manager. She’s just in the back. I’ll leave it here for her.” She did a great job pretending Ophelia wasn’t covered in scratches with ripped clothing.

Ophelia nodded her thanks. A wave overtook her. Combined with her injuries, it was enough to make her swoon and grab the counter for support. She glanced at her watch. The warp was coming.

“Oh, Ms. Dell. This is for you.” A shadow loomed over the counter and the sales associate handed the envelope to someone beside Ophelia.

Ophelia looked up. Her eyes widened. The room started to blur. This didn’t make sense but suddenly she knew what was wrong. As the whirlwind overtook her, she scrambled to undo the clasp on her watch. She couldn’t go back.

Part 4
She managed to get the strap loosened and threw the watch on the desk. It disappeared before it made contact with the wood, leaving her temporarily stranded.

The sales assistance’s eyes went wide and she opened her mouth, but the woman called Ms. Dell silenced her with a glance and sent her into the back room with a wave, before turning her attention to Ophelia.

Except that she was Ophelia. Ophelia herself felt severely underwhelmed at this discovery. It wasn’t just that her training had prepared her in case this ever happened, but everything had been turned upside down in the last hour or so and this revelation seemed almost mundane.

No, what bothered her was the fact that this Ophelia seemed to be neither form her future and certainly not her past, but seemed to be the exact same age as her. Her hair and make-up was different and she had a rounder face, a fuller body, but it still spoke volumes about Ophelia’s own beat-up condition that the sales assistant hadn’t noticed the resemblance. Hell, she even had a few of the grey hairs that Ophelia had discovered only last month. The woman, Ms. Dell, was her, but as she had never been.

There’s a new target. You.’ Zac’s word echoed. She reached for her gun, a second before remembering that she didn’t have it. She scanned the room, but saw nothing she could turn into a weapon and in her battered up condition she could not expect to come out on top in a fight.

Ms. Dell smiled as if guessing Ophelia’s every thought.

What …” Ophelia’s mouth had gone dry and she had to lick her lips before continuing. “What the hell is going on?”

I’m trying to stop time travel. For good,” said Ms. Dell. She looked at the envelope in her hand. “And this is the last piece I need.”

Wait, what? Why would you do something like that?”

When I was just a few years older than you are, I realized the truth about what they were doing and what it was doing to the world. So I went back in time to talk to my younger self and got her to infiltrate the agency.”

No,” Ophelia said, more firmly than she felt. “I’ve never talked to an older version of myself. And I would never betray …”

Oh, but you have. And you did. But the story doesn’t end there. Their move was to send someone forward in time to kill the older version before she could talk to the younger. They could just have killed the younger Ophelia, but this would not only lose them a valuable player, but also cause several events to collapse in on themselves, irrevocably.”

So it never happened.”

Ms. Dell smiled sadly. “The original Ophelia, if we may call her that, had predicted this move and made plans with the younger to circumvent the effect. And the agency made their counter moves and so it continued; a game of chess, played in four dimensions. At some point the time line couldn’t handle all this going back and forth and it split. Now there’s one version of Ophelia, where she’s a mole and one where she’s a loyal agent.”

Ophelia’s head had started spinning and not only because she had just banged it on a speeding car. “Two alternate time lines in one universe. I’ve heard about it, but it’s only possible in theory and only with subatomic particles. To do it with anything bigger than that would require …”

A paradox generator.” Ms. Dell waved the envelope. “This contain the calculations I’ll need to build it.”

You haven’t built it yet? How do you even know it will work?”

Well, I’m here, aren’t I?”

That … makes absolutely no sense.”

Ms. Dell merely shrugged in an infuriatingly nonchalant way.

But they sent me here with the papers. If what you’re saying is true, why would the agency just hand them over?”

I told you that the younger Ophelia infiltrated the agency and one of the persons she managed to turn was Zac. Half the time he’s loyal to them, but the other half he is our man. He told me that the papers would be delivered to Dell and he made sure to pull you out and put you back in at the same time and location, except that I had taken Ms. Dells place.”

Ophelia shook her head, trying to clear it, but that only made the pain worse. “He said something was happening. Everything was shaking.”

Ms. Dell nodded. “The agency are trying to preserve time traveling while at the same time I’m trying to destroy it and the pressure is making the time stream unravel at the centre. That’s why they wanted Dell to build them a paradox machine to get the upper hand.” She was going to say something more, but never got the chance. A shot rang out and blood blossomed like a rose on the pristine white shit. Ms. Dell looked down with a grim expression before toppling over onto the desk.

Ophelia turned and saw Henry standing there, gun drawn.

You shot me!” she exclaimed.

He frowned. “Not you. A version of you. A bad copy.”

Ophelia looked at the body and didn’t feel so certain. A tremor went through the earth, making everything shake. Now that Ms. Dell had been shot she would no longer be making the paradox machine and everything had once again been thrown to the wind.

She wasn’t even armed.”

She was a threat to everything. So much so, that your group and mine decided to work together to take her out. We knew she would try to contact you sooner or later, but we weren’t sure if she would pick up the formula herself. But it worked out. Now, just hand me that envelope.”

Ophelia picked it up, but her fingers tightened around it protectively.

I know what you’re thinking but you have no gun, no watch, this is the end of the line. Don’t make me shoot you as well.” Henry looked at her pleadingly, but now she could see how fake it was and she didn’t understand how she could ever have thought him sincere.

No, she thought, you don’t know what I’m thinking. But the other Ophelia had. And the other way around. She knew that the other woman would have seen this coming, would have had a contingency plan. And her eyes fell on the watch around her wrist, where the hands were turning faster and faster. She made a dive for it. Henry fired, but too late and missed her and she grabbed the watch and tore at it so hard that the strap broke and then the warp came. I can do it, she thought, even as her body was torn apart at a molecular level. I can invent the paradox machine. After all, I’m here, am I not?

February 26, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Four-Part Story Part Three

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 12:33 pm

This is third part of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Four Part Story. This week I’ve written third part of Bart Luther, Freelance Exorcist. First part by Josh Loomis here. Second part by Pavowski here. You should go read those first. I’ll wait here.

I knocked on the door. Ed retreated back towards the stairs like he was expecting something to blow up, but the door simply swung open without a sound.

The room was a mess, even worse than downstairs; books, clothes and other belongings strewn everywhere. But except for that, it was as typical of a teenage girl’s room, as to almost look like a set piece. Posters of the latest boyband on the walls, although half of them were torn to shreds; a vanity decorated with string lights, the mirror cracked.

Samantha herself was sitting on the bed, on the quilted bed cover with the rose motif which looked handmade under the filth. She had her hands folded in her lap and was looking at us, unblinking. Her breathing was loud and erratic, but other than that she was sitting perfectly still. A grimy, blue sundress, one strap slipped from the shoulder, a mix of girlish innocence and womanly allure.

At a casual glance she might have looked like any other girl, except she looked pale and her skin was glistening, dark curls clinging to her forehead. I remembered asking Father O’Donnell, if it was possible she was just running a fever. But there was something in her eyes. Literally, something in her eyes. Her pupils were enlarged, not just to catch the rather dim light, but as if something or someone inside her head wanted a better view and had thrown the shutters wide open.

Dry, cracked lips contorted into a smile, as if to tell me that she knew that I knew and it didn’t worry her at all.

“Hello, Samantha,” I said. “Are you alright?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” Her voice was perfectly light and charming.

I took a step into the room. The smell of sulphur made my noise itch. I had to fight the urge to scratch it.

“You seem a bit pale. Unwell.”

“Do I?” An innocent tone laced with mock surprise.

I took another step into the room, allowing Nora to enter behind me.

“So you father wanted us to check up on you.”

“Did he now?” Her face was expressionless as a mask, but there was a hint of disapproval in her voice. From outside on the stairs, I heard a small gasp.

I took another step towards her.

“Tell me, priest, is that a bible in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

“I’m not a priest.”

A frown, the first hint of real emotion, I had seen on the girl’s face and it was gone in an instance. “I see the past, the present, the future. If I say that you are a priest, then that is what you are and what you yourself think is of no consequence.”

I started to run through the catalogue of demons in my head. Quite a few would have the knowledge that this demon claimed to possess and all of them were prideful fuckers, but it did still narrow it down.

“At least you’re right about the bible,” I said and took it out.

She didn’t even flinch. “I’m not some squatter, whom you can just kick out. I took a lease on this place.” It ran Samantha’s hands up and down her body, a sensual motion.

I frowned. If what the demon said was true – and I had never come across one who was able to lie about these things – the possession of the girl wasn’t just pure bad luck, but rather something had drawn it in, given it a foot in the door to the household so to speak. But surely the girl’s father would have …

Beside me, I heard Nora ask: “Her mother? She had an affair, something like that?”

Yes, of course. I let out a quiet breath. She hadn’t left because she couldn’t deal; it had been guilt. She had known, at least on a subconscious level, that she was to blame.

The demon gave a loud screech of mirth, making us all jump, and clapped her hands in an exaggerated motion. “Very good. Very, very good, priest’s daughter. And now you see why you don’t scare me. You have no power here.”

I bit my lip. She was right; I didn’t have any advantage over her. Unless … I went through my mental list again. Knowledge of the past and future, connections to Lust, both narrowed it down, but there was still too many. I sent up a wordless but heartfelt prayer before making what I would like to think of as an educated guess.

“Are you sure about that, Vual?”

The demon’s lips formed a pout, the very image of teenage sulkiness. “That’s Duke Vual to you.” It narrowed its eyes as if in a belated attempt to hide its true nature. “Much good it will do you.”

I gripped my bible tighter, the leather worn soft and warm from my touch; it almost felt like living skin. I held it in front of me. “Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde, in nomine …” I began. Then everything happened at once.

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