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July 27, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge – Inspired by InspiroBot

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We suspect a Code 1.22 violation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I … don’t know?”

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

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

“Go it.”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The answer? Yes or no?”

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

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May 23, 2017

Flash fiction challenge – X vs Z redux

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

You look awful,” he said, bluntly.

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

How long have you been living here?”

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

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

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

 

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

I understand,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quintin nodded. “Pigheadedness.”

And we take ourselves way, way too seriously.”

 

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

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

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

But today was not that day.

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

I’m not following?”

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

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

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

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

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

She took his hand.

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

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

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

May 18, 2017

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Subgenre Smash-and-Grab

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

”Sylvia,” he began.

”Don’t,” she said.

”I want you to forgive me.”

”I want you to leave.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The temperature was back to normal now.

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

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

August 30, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge – Behold the Idiomatic

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all looked at her, stunned.

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

A few hesitant nods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge – The SubGenre Blender Spins Again

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you want?”

“I need money and I need them now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I wouldn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He returned her smile. “The Thieving Magpie.”

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

“A manual.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 8, 2016

Flash Fiction Challenge -The Subgenre Tango

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

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

Challenge courtesy of the lovely and very bearded Chuck Wendig.


”Ma’am?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Because the killer is among us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“True.”

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

“You didn’t.”

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

“Cody.”

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

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

“A spy?” breathed Kirst.

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

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

The alien gave a grunt, which needed no translation.

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

Then Joger asked: “Did Cody kill himself?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

February 5, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: The SubGenre Blender

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 1:37 pm

The weeks Flash Fiction Challenge, courtesy of Chuck Wendig, is a mash-up of two genres and the random number generator gave me Conspiracy Thriller and Wild West. I chose to interpret Wild West as a more general settlers/frontier setting in an undefined placed since that gave me some creative freedom.


The silence was enough to give her goose bumps. There should have be voices and children playing and the noises of work being done; another frontier village being built and expanded, creaking and groaning with growing pains.

There was nothing but the blowing of the wind, the soft hiss of sand being displaced and their own footsteps.

Sheriff Jackie Trainor was going from door to door looking for … for what? Survivors? Bodies? A bleeding clue as to what had happened?

Carver’s Creek was not her jurisdiction, but since the village’s sheriff was one of the missing people and her village, Whitepond, was the closest, she had set out to investigate. With her, she had Whitepond’s doctor. She had figured it would be a good idea to bring a medical professional in case there were any bodies that needed to be examined, but right now it was looking like a waste. Still, it was nice to have someone to talk to, to say things out loud rather than mulling them over in her head.

“No bodies,” Trainor began, then silently congratulated herself on her ability to state the obvious. “No signs of them leaving voluntarily – everything’s still here – but no signs of violence and struggle either. It looks as if everyone got up and went to look at something interesting and then never returned.” She sighed and rubbed the back of her head. This made no sense.

The Borderlands, as the frontier area was known, was a dangerous place. There were wild beasts and freak weather and horrifying diseases and, of course, outlaws. In the five years since Trainor had been sent to Whitepond to be their first sheriff, she had seen all of that and more. But she had never come across anything, which could make a whole village just vanish into thin air.

“We’ll have to bring more people. Do a proper search of the area.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” asked the doctor. “We could lose more people that way.”

Trainor looked at her blankly. “We have to know what happened or it could happen to us, to Whitepond as well.”

“Or we could be stirring up trouble. Go looking for problems and you’re sure to find them.” Doctor Gaynesford’s mouth was a thin line, a stubborn expression on her face, but in her eyes was lurking something like fear.

Sheriff Trainor stopped and grabbed Gaynesford’s arm, forcing her to a halt as well. “Doctor Gaynesford,” she said, trying to make her voice stern, which was difficult because she was talking to a woman who was old enough to be her grandmother and had treated the bruises she had acquired in pursuit of duty more times than she could count. “Do you know what happened here?”

“No.” The answer came straight, without hesitation, but there was a flicker in the eyes.

“But you know something, don’t you?” A thought struck her. “You’ve seen this before!”

“I’ve seen this before, yes.” Doctor Gaynesford walked over to a bench in front of a house and sat down heavily as if she suddenly felt her years.

The sheriff sat down next to her. “I’ve never heard about it. When was this?”

“It was a long time ago. I was a newly appointed doctor to a small village called Westerlake. Today it’s a proper city well inside the civilized part of the map, but back then it was right on the edge of the Borderlands.” She looked at Trainor, dark eyes twinkling. “I was quite like you back then, all bright-eyed and bushytailed and eager to do the duty.” For a moment she seemed lost in memories, then she continued.

“One day, the same thing happened as here. Everyone in the neighboring town vanished overnight. We searched high and low, but never found them, never found any trace of them. Finally we sent word to the metropolis, requesting assistance to solve the mystery and manpower to fight back against whatever could do such a thing.” She smiled sarcastically. “They sent manpower, but not the kind we had expected. The soldiers, who showed up, told us in no uncertain words to keep our mouths shut and forget about the whole thing.”

Trainor moved uncomfortably in her seat. “Are you saying that they were behind the disappearances?”

“No.” The words came out a bit hesitant. “At least I don’t think so. But they didn’t want the news to spread, since it would scare off potential settlers. So they stamped it out right at source. I still don’t know what happened to the village, but I know what they threatened would happen to Westerlake if we didn’t keep quiet and I believe they were serious.”

Trainor hesitated a moment before asking. “You can’t just stop there. What happened afterwards?”

“Nothing much. We all agreed to keep our mouths shut. I and a few other people left Westerlake to go to other frontier villages, where we only had to worry about hungry beasts and freezing winters, things you can prepare for and fight. Or maybe it was just that we could no longer bear to look each other in the eyes, knowing that we all knew, but had elected to pretend we didn’t.

Certainly nothing happened to Westerlake. The people who stayed prospered and now it’s a city with trade agreements and full privileges. Maybe the metropolis had a hand in it, as a reward for be reasonable; maybe it’s just that the kind of people who can keep a secret like that and move on like nothing happened, are more likely to prosper.” She sighed. “I don’t know. The older I get the less certain I become of everything. But now you know, why I don’t think it worth it to pursue this.”

The sheriff was quiet for a while after this story. “Do you think they know?” she asked. “Our leaders in the metropolis. Do they even know what it is they don’t want the rest of us to know about?”

Gaynesford sighed. “I’ve asked myself that many times. I think not. I believe – and I have no proof to offer, but this is something I have thought about through a long time – that the disappearances have happened even before my time and for whatever reason our leaders don’t believe we can guard against them.”

“And so they would rather bury the truth.” The sun was beating down mercilessly. Trainor ran a hand through her curls. “Well,” she said, grim and stubborn determination setting in. “We might not get any help from the metropolis, but since when is that any news? They don’t help when we are beseeched by bandits or when everybody comes down with thalevia and we manage anyway. Why should this be any different?

One thing is for sure.” She got up and gave Gaynesford a hand to help her stand. “I will not sit idly and hope for the best. I won’t let it happen, not in my village. Not on my watch.” She stood for a moment, then she deflated a little. “But even as the sheriff I can’t do it alone. Will you help me?”

Gaynesford smiled, then looked her straight in the eyes. “I will.”

January 28, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge – Must Contain Three Things

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: — Eva Therese @ 6:27 pm

Challenge courtesy of Chuck Wendig and can be found here. My three things were Betrayal, Survival and A Bomb.


Ariana scrambled on the floor trying to pick up the money, but her hands were shaking so badly, she mostly just scattered them even more. She muttered every single swearword she had ever heard and quite a few she had just made up herself.

She had misjudged the time and the bomb had exploded before she had expected. It had been shock as much as the shaking of the building which had caused her to stumble and fall down the fire escape. It had been a bloody miracle that she hadn’t broken her neck.

The fall had knocked the suitcase open and spilled the cash all over the ground and now she had to pick it all up. Mr. Slate would have every inch of the place searched and if his men found even one note, he would know that they money had not been lost in the explosion and that someone had made it out. It would put him on her track.

She turned back towards the suitcase, a handful of crumpled papers in each hand, and dropped them all when she saw the woman standing next to it. She jumped up and moved backwards without taking her eyes off the newcomer, but only for a few steps, before she backed into the stairs and fell backwards. She managed herself into a sitting position. After her first panicked reaction running seemed just silly.

They looked at each other.

Cecilia walked over and sat down on the stair next to her. There was a faint whiff of smoke clinging to her.

Ariana pulled back from her. “How did you get out?”

That’s it?” Cecilia cocked her head; a few dark strands of hair made a run for it and got as far as her cheek before they were caught and once again hooked behind her ear. “You’re not going to lie? Say that it was an accident that you set off the bomb and that the door slammed and you couldn’t get it open?”

Ariana reached down and picked up one of the bills, started fidgeting with it “You’re much too smart to believe that.”

I am.” Cecilia sighed.” Although when you look at where I am right now …” Her voice trailed off.

How did you get out?” Ariana asked again.

Cecilia looked at her as if she had for a moment forgotten she was there. “That’s what you want to know? Not ‘what do you want?’ or ‘what happens next?’

Of course I want to know that as well. I just can’t figure out how you got out. Not even now when I know it’s possible. You were always the smart one.”

I’ll trade you an answer for an answer. First, you tell me why you did it.”

Does it matter?” Ariana fidgeted some more with the paper, started to fold it into a small plane.

Indulge me.”

Very well.” Ariana sighed and tried to gather her thoughts. Her reasons, which had seemed to important and clear when she closed the door on Cecilia now seemed rather vague and stupid. “It was a dream. A fantasy. Slate would hunt us down, no matter where we went, and kill us. Not to get the money back, but just to make an example of us. But I thought, if one of us was found dead in an explosion, maybe he would think that it was just one person acting alone and that the money had been destroyed and leave it at that.” She looked at Cecilia, willing her to understand.

Cecilia looked distant, not really angry, but certainly without any trace of sympathy. “You should have talked to me. Told me all this. We could have found a way.”

I …” Ariana shook her head. “I wanted to. But I couldn’t see what good it would do. I didn’t want to die and I couldn’t see any other way. You were always smarter than me.” Tears were running down her cheeks now.

In some ways.”

So,” Ariana sniffed noisily and dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve, “you promised to tell me. How did you survive the bomb?”

Oh, that,” said Cecilia. “I didn’t.” She looked straight at Ariana. “And neither did you.”

What? I don’t understand?”

I wasn’t there, but if I was to take a guess, I’d say that you fell down the stair, broke your neck.” She looked up and Ariana followed her gaze to where a figure she hadn’t noticed before lay like a crumpled heap of old clothes in the middle of the stairs.

I’ll be moving on, but I wanted to tell you first,” said Cecilia.

Moving on? But where are you going? And what happens to me?”

You’ll figure it out. You always were smarter than you gave yourself credit for.”

And as Ariana stared at her, she started to glow like embers and then turn black and start to dissolve into flecks of ashes which then melted away into nothing, leaving an empty place on the bottom step of the stairs and a faint whiff of smoke.

 

May 31, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge – Mirror Murders

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , , — Eva Therese @ 10:12 am

This weeks Flash Fiction Challenge as always courtesy of Chuck Wendig. Randomness delivered unto me the title ‘Mirror Murders’, which was actually rather easy to work with, since I find mirrors creepy, especially when it’s after dark and I’m home alone. It also ties in nicely with an idea I have been kicking around with for a long time.

——————————————————————————————-

”Professor Crane?”

The woman sitting on the bench turned her head towards them. In the sharp spring sunlight, her eyes were little more than slits and yet Detective Walker felt her studying them, cataloguing them and filing her findings away for future reference. “Yes?”

“I’m Detective Walker and this is Detective Schuler.”

“Detectives? Really? For a moment there, I thought you were two of my students. I really must be getting old.”

Walker took a closer look at the woman. She was not unattractive, but dressed plainly and used no makeup. Her hair was blond with grey streaks that she had done nothing to cover up. It couldn’t have been easy, being a pretty, young, blond teacher in a place like this and she looked like she had been doing her best to hide it. Walker thought she could relate; as a Latino woman she was used to being judged by appearance.

“We wanted to talk to you, about the Mirror Murders ten years ago,” said Schuler and sat down next to Crane.

She didn’t look surprised, but she got an expression of distaste. “I would imagine that the police still has these places called archives. There you can find the testimony I gave a decade ago.”

“We have read it,” said Walker, sitting down next to Schuler so as not to close the woman in. “But we want to hear it from you in person.”

“I have nothing to add.”

“Professor, please …” began Schuler.

“Don’t,” snapped Crane. “If you know enough about that case to come see me, you also know that the only thing that came out of my testimony was that I was deemed crazy and had to spend six months in a psychiatric hospital, while my life fell apart around me. I lost my job, my fiancée.” She stopped herself. “Crazy or not, I have no other recollection of what happened that night, than what I said in my statement. I have nothing to add. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She got up to leave.

“The murders have started again,” said Walker. This wasn’t exactly how she and Schuler had planned to deliver the news, but at least it made an impression.

Crane sat down again. “Are you absolutely sure?”

“Everything fits. How it seems to be a different killer for each victim, but with the same M.O. The scene of the crimes, locked from the inside. The victims found dead near a large mirror. Even details the were never released to the public.”

“Like how the killer in each case seems to be the same height and build as the victim?”

“Yeah,” said Schuler. “How did you know that?”

“I thought you said you’ve read my statement?”

“Professor Crane,” said Walker, “you are the only one who survived an attack back then. If this is the same killer or group of killers, they could be coming for you again.”

“Oh no. They’ve had their chance. If the same person still wants me dead, he or she will have to look for another way.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because I killed my assailant back then.” She gave an impatient sigh. “Are you sure you’ve read my statement?”

“Do you have any idea, who could have wanted you dead?” asked Schuler.

“No, but that’s your job to figure out.” She got up again. “It could be the same person behind these new murders or it could be someone new, who has discovered the same method. Find what connects the victims and you’ll find who wants them dead. Simple as that.”

“Be that as it may,” said Walker, also getting up, “we would still like a statement from you.”

Crane looked at Walker for a rather long time; cold, grey eyes, that seemed to pierce her brain and read the thoughts written on the back of her skull. Walker wondered what it was like having her as a teacher and had a sudden, vivid mental image of a lecture hall full of students all frozen in their seats, too terrified to do anything but pay attention.

Finally Crane said: “Very well, if you insist. Let’s go to my office.”

About half an hour later, Walker got up from her chair. “Thank you for your time,” she said, while thinking exactly the opposite. Crane had really been serious when she had said that she didn’t have anything to add. In fact she had hardly changed a word, compared to the statement she had made ten years ago.

It still didn’t make any sense and there were no useful details. In essence, Crane had been attacked by her own reflection coming out of the mirror, but had managed to fend off and kill her attacker, who had then melted away to nothing. Walker had to ask herself, whether the attack had actually really taken place or if Crane had just imagined it, incorporating the details of the Mirror Murders, that had been known to the public.

Crane went with them out into the hallway. “I hope you find whoever is responsible for this,” she said. “But please, do not worry about me.” She stood as if she wanted to see them on their way, to make sure they really were going. Walker gave a curt nod, Schuler muttered something polite and the two detectives walked down the hallway past the ladies’ room.

“I’ll just be a minute,” said Walker and opened the door. The room had one of those huge mirrors that covered the whole wall above the sinks. Walker could see herself in it, naturally, and she could see Schuler and there was also part of the hallway and even the door to Crane’s office. And just as the restroom door closed behind Walker, she saw the door to Crane’s office open and close as if somebody had gone in. Somebody who had not been reflected in the mirror.

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