Short Fiction

DSC_0288Some of my short fiction:

Everyday poet

Last modified on 2014-06-05 03:18:56 GMT. 14 comments. Top.

When Emma was a poet, she wrote books even the least well-read listener enjoyed. She remains popular now only in academic circles and lives off her investments. She stays indoors, cloistered by agoraphobia, though she hungers for companionship. I hold the Huddleston chair at our University because I am her translator, the one person who can still walk inside and carry her words out again.

She’s moving from her house to an apartment across town, and we’ve been packing for weeks. Her psychiatrist thinks this means she’s finally coming out of isolation. But she and I know it’s merely a new phase of her particular funk. “I won’t be so alone,” she tells me one moment, and “Oh, God, they’ll be all around me,” the next. “New York was like that.”

And then she’s incanting, and I drop the boxes, the dusty tomes in need of stacking, and scramble for my recorder. She tells me, “Being lonely in New York was like falling slipstream, borne along by currents I could not fathom or reach, a passenger in humanity’s wake.”

I’ll take that to my graduate classes, let my students chew the words, grind them through twenty page essays. Only Emma and I will ever know she is speaking of now, not New York, of living pressed into her own books, crowded against the glass of a window she dares not break.

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Flori and the Snakes

Last modified on 2014-01-04 18:50:14 GMT. 9 comments. Top.

I’ve been travelling for the holidays, and between that and the Nutcracker, I was an all around shitty friend and blogger. To make up for it, here is a Flori snippet. Her novel is finished, has been finished, for some time, but I have no fucking clue what to do with her. She was done at 65,000 for a long time. Then she leapt up to an ungainly 107,000. At the moment, I have her under control again at 95,000, but something still isn’t quite right. In the meantime, I’m considering what might happen to her AFTER the novel, and here is one potential series of events.

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Flori and the Snakes

Flori slithered behind the ivy and climbed the back of the trellis, pleased it was both wrought iron and well anchored to the wall. At the top, she flattened herself against the roof. Here, she was exposed to anyone looking down, but there weren’t any dragons in sight. She crept along on all fours, following the magical red line that connected her to her great-grandfather. Of necessity, she used no magic of her own. To do so this close to the heart of the Yilan compound would have been to advertise her presence.

When the line stopped pulling her forward and started, instead, to tug her gently down, she had reached the other side of the roof and the inner compound proper. She smiled and climbed back out behind the ivy. She had only descended a story before she found the right window.

“I wouldn’t.” A sibilant voice interrupted Flori’s attempt to slide in through the top. She froze. “Look around you,” the voice went on. “Do you really think I cover my buildings with ivy so intruders can attack me at will? No, no.”  The plants around Flori began to sway and twist together, and she suddenly found herself looking at a large number of snakes.

None of the snakes were large, but all of them gave off the faintly noxious odor that Flori had learned to associate with venom and Lady Medusa, who led the Yilan, and some said the entire continent.

“Luster invited me,” Flori said through gritted teeth.

“He invited you to come in through the gate like everyone else.” The snakes shifted and wound themselves around Flori’s wrists and torso.

“So he I could meet with him and … you? No, thank you. I was hoping to speak with him alone.” Now, they bore her quite publicly inside the window she had planned to enter in secret. She squirmed, but her living bonds only tightened.

“Let her go.” As quickly as they had captured her, the snakes turned Flori free, depositing her in an ungainly heap at Lady Medusa’s feet. Where Flori was small in stature, Aurelia Medusa of the House of Yilan was large. The Lady towered over even grown men. Her white face and chalky hair stood out against golden clothing as she glowered down at her prisoner. The last time Flori had seen Aurelia, that hair had been bound up in a crown, and she knew better than to mistake it for human locks. Aurelia’s hair was made of as many snakes as the vines that had carried Flori into the chamber.

Flori dusted her pants as she rose, trying to rid herself of the snakes’ malodor. “I don’t appreciate being ordered to your court,” she snapped.

“The Lady did not ask for your opinion,” said a new voice. Flori darted a glance to the right and saw Luster Anguis, Lady Medusa’s First in Command, stretched along a canopied sofa, his copper brown hair coiled around his neck.

“And I did not ask to be dumped…”

“Be quiet,” Luster hissed. “The Lady and I have devoted a goodly portion of our morning to your one-person invasion. I will tell you that you have exploited our weaknesses and given us new areas to cover. We could not have followed someone who was not in my family. Nonetheless, we have wasted half a day on it when The Trade demands our attention.”

The lartë trade fueled the city of Hiria’s economy. The drug was an expensive way for wizards to transform into animals. Though Flori used it herself, she steered away from the snake lartë that Lady Medusa controlled and used instead the product as it was distilled from dragon’s blood. She needed to take far less of the dragon than the snake lartë to achieve the same goals.

“Then, please, waste no more of your time on me. I won’t hold you from the snakes.”

Luster chuckled. “Sit down, Flori,” he said.

“I prefer to stand.”

“I did not ask what you preferred.” Three chairs scooted out from a table in the center of the room, and Lady Medusa and Luster Anguis took two of them, leaving the third for their unwilling guest.

After a long silence, Flori joined them. “What do you want?”

“Your company, naturally.” There was a teapot in the middle of the table. Luster poured three cups.

Though he and Lady Medusa drank, Flori left hers alone. “You did not send me a formal invitation to have me over for tea.” She pushed the cup away.

“No,” he agreed. “I did not. I asked you here because I need your company on a rather long journey.”

“No. The last time I left Hiria…”

“He wasn’t asking you.” Lady Medusa’s hair sprang to life, and the angry snakes swiveled unblinking gazes towards Flori.

“Flori, look at her,” said Luster. Was Flori imagining it, or did his voice contain a note of appeal? “The Lady is greatly changed since you last saw her.”

“Yes?”  She wasn’t imagining it. Luster was entreating her to study those snakes. The last time Flori had laid eyes on Lady Medusa, those white snakes had all been golden. “Is she unfit for travel?”

“She is dying.”

“She is not.” Flori couldn’t understand why Luster’s statement produced a lurch of dismay in her own chest.

Look at her,” Luster commanded. Flori obeyed, forcing her eyes to meet those of the unblinking snakes. “You have seen her with golden hair. But her face used to be golden as well. When her first Sentient Snake died a quarter of a century ago, she entered a long dormancy. She lay with the rest of the snakes for nearly a year before she rose again, and her face never regained its color. She was more prepared for the second Sentient Snake to die last month. She had braced herself for its severance. She did not go dormant. But she has been losing her color bit by bit ever since.

“The Sentient Snakes are like the dragons, one of the old races, and there are few left. There is only one small colony remaining, and I must cross an ocean to reach it and appeal to at least one of them to come with us. The Lady cannot be spared from The Trade for so long, even to save her own life, but the Sentient Snakes will not tolerate many of the other races. So I need a companion who can finish the job if I am unable.

“Your mother is off with her gnomes, and frankly I doubt she would be anything but a hindrance. Your uncle cannot be spared from his own family. And your cousins are both too young. That leaves me with you. I need your company on a long trip to save The Lady’s life. Think of it as a lengthy family vacation.”

 

 

Blood ties

Last modified on 2014-06-05 03:38:33 GMT. 15 comments. Top.

Clarissa Drew pulled her dress tight over her rounding belly. “This fits too well,” she muttered.

Her husband went on shaving. “It’s driving me crazy.”

“My dress?”

“No. You know.”

“Owen, he’s not some Dickensian waif you can pluck up like Oliver Twist. He’s your nephew. He has parents.”

Horrible parents.”

His parents.”

“They aren’t fit! God only knows what the kid sees. Pot, sex, meth, whatever walks in that trailer door.” Owen drew an even line through the foam on his cheek and shook the razor in the sink.

“You don’t know that.”

“You mean I can’t prove it.”

“Same thing.”  Clarissa let go of the dress to rub his shoulders. “Honey, we’re helpless until they fuck up. And right now, we’ve got our own family to think about. What would we do with a newborn and a baby nearly a year old?”

“We’d figure it out.” Owen started a new razor trail, but blood bloomed behind his blade. He hissed at the sting.

“Stop it. You’re bleeding. That’s going to make me sick!” Clarissa looked at the floor.

He glanced at his reflection in the mirror and went on shaving. When he shook out the razor again, he also grabbed the styptic pencil to rub on the cut.

Finally, Clarissa said, “When everybody’s downstairs at your grandma’s, I could make like I was nauseous and needed to lie down. I could go through their luggage. See what I found.”

Owen cut himself again on the third pass, and this time, he didn’t stop the blood. “And do what, then? Assuming they were dumb enough to have it with them?”

“I guess we’d have to figure that out.” She looked up and met his eyes in the mirror.

“I guess we would.” He set the razor aside and gripped the bathroom counter with both hands. They watched each other that way until the blood dripped down his chin and into the sink, a growing flow, too deep to easily staunch.

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In Full Bloom

Last modified on 2013-10-31 14:05:14 GMT. 10 comments. Top.

pimlicoroses.jpgThe young fighter knelt before the sacred rosebush in the sanctuary. “Tomorrow, I rip it out of the ground, Adi.”

“Don’t be so sure, Maximus.” The old fighter creaked into a more comfortable position on his bench.

“These are your people. They will boo and cry out when I slice your flesh.” Maximus drew out the ‘boo’, as if he already heard that throng. “But make no mistake: tomorrow, I root my own flower.”

“Maybe defile it with the blood of a virgin or two,” Adi suggested.

“Or two. I like that. You’re a cocksure old mosquito, squeaking in my ear.”

“In seven decades, I have been defeated only once, and she was a merciful creature.”

“You let her win so you could double your kingdom.”

“Were she still living, Batari would cut you down for such remarks. As it is, I’ll have to do it for her.”

“In the morning, old man. Go away and let me speak to your bush.”

“I’m going,” said Adi. “But I have a few words of my own first.” He stood beside the kneeling Maximus and patted the younger man’s shoulder, at the place where his skin met his neck.

Maximus’s blood welled up under Adi’s fingers. “What did you do to me?” Maximus scrambled to cover the wound with his own hand.

“Listen to me,” Adi snarled. He spat on the ground at Maximus’s feet. “If I learned one thing from my wife in fifty years of marriage, it was this: never go unarmed into your enemy’s temple. When you write your last letter home tonight, tell your God-King to stop sending unworthy opponents to the Warriors of the Rose.”

Adi shoved lightly, and Maximus fell onto his side. “That’s poison!” Maximus’ shoulder spasmed.

Adi walked away. “Make peace with that rose. Tomorrow, your body nourishes its roots.”

“But…” now Maximus’s whole arm jerked and strained.

Adi did not turn around. “Boo,” he said, an unsympathetic crowd of one. “Booo.”

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Or Treat

Last modified on 2013-10-23 03:15:48 GMT. 33 comments. Top.

“Of all the rotten goddamned days to die.” Richard Larks stared around the room, waiting for his wife to come to bed. She wouldn’t, of course. She was somewhere between Tyler Memorial and Beckman’s by now. Richard was left with a room full of her things, every object a phantom of the woman herself.

He palmed her opal earrings as the doorbell rang “Mrs. Larks! Trick or Treat!” called a querulous voice.

“She doesn’t hear you,” Richard muttered.

He found a needle and an ink pen among Sophia’s things then went to the kitchen for ice. Wasn’t this how they did it in the old days? In the bathroom, he marked his lobes carefully. “This is stupid, Sophie,” he told the mirror. But he had promised. He bore the pain of the piercing in silence, though it took too many jabs. Then the doorbell rang again, and he cursed its noise instead of his own hurts.

It was hard to get the backs on the opals and harder still to look at himself wearing a pair of women’s earrings that were not, for all his efforts, even close to the same height. “OK,” he said. “I did it. Now what?”

Sophia manifested in the mirror. “Help me out,” she said.

Richard slammed his nose against the glass. “My God, it is you, Sophie.”

“Help me out,” his wife repeated, extending a hand.

Richard braced himself against the sink and punched through. Sophia broke free in a shattering of glass. It hardly mattered that both of them were bleeding from a dozen cuts. He held her tight as her warmth returned.

Downstairs, the doorbell rang again, and another needling voice, or perhaps the same one shouted, “I said ‘Trick or Treat’!”

“Oh!” Sophia broke away from Richard. “I know it’s been a long day, but we can’t let the children down.” She hurried down the hall, living but not yet fully corporeal, her feet trailing inches above the carpet as she walked.

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In addition to participating in the Trifecta prompts, I also periodically join up with the awesome folks over at Write on Edge. (Far, far too rarely these days.)  Today, Write on Edge released its second annual anthology of Precipice. There are poems, short stories, and memoir pieces from some of the authors I admire the most online, and I am honored to have not one but two pieces featured between Precipice’s covers. If you have a minute, please, visit the Write on Edge page for download or paper purchase links.

Letting Go

Last modified on 2013-10-10 17:57:55 GMT. 11 comments. Top.

Ray sat at the bar flirting with the girls in the lone booth and throwing back one zombie after another like shots. He had been dead seventy two hours. Sooner or later, someone would find his body and he would be forced to shuffle off his mortal habits. Until then, he was having lascivious fun calling, “Give me your number gorgeous. Your boyfriend won’t mind.”

He signaled the bartender, who asked “Another?” This man didn’t know Ray was dead any more than the misses in the corner.

“Relax. I’m taking a cab.” And that was true, he suddenly realized. Someone was clonking up the stairs in his house now. And it would be a black and yellow calling when that person entered the bathroom. “Make it quick.”

Ray hoped the money he was piling up wouldn’t evaporate with him but had an idea it might.

He wondered who was about to find him. His ex wife? Impossible. She moved to Vegas more than a year ago. The incessantly chatty next door neighbor, then? Or someone else? Something else.

A memory pierced him. When he couldn’t still his hand on the knife, he hadn’t been alone in that bathroom. A woman had joined him, an insubstantial someone wrapping her arms around his shoulders placing her hands over his on the hilt. He had looked up when they made the cut together, caught her eye for the briefest instant in the mirror, and felt, rather than saw her extraordinary beauty.

It was her then creaking down his hall, hungry for him now like he had been for her in their brief moment of contact.

Ray stood too fast, tipping the stool in his hurry as he slammed another twenty on the bar. There was a cab outside waiting, right now, but he had to hurry or he’d miss it. “Night ladies.” He tipped a finger towards the booth. “Barkeep,” he called over his shoulder, “never mind about that drink.”

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Fat Man In The Bathtub

Last modified on 2012-03-21 15:23:27 GMT. 36 comments. Top.

Jose who?James tried to sing part of “Dixie Chicken”, but he was too drunk to carry the tune, and in any case, the tidbit that slurred out of his mouth came from “Fat Man In the Bathtub”. Sherry slapped him. “You call this good clean fun?” she demanded as he reeled away from the blow. “You can barely stand up.”

James remembered another line and sang, “Juanita, my sweet torpedo…”

“Torpedo?” Sherry’s voice rose an octave. “Torpedo?” She collared James and forced him to sit down. “It’s chiquita” she hissed.

On James’ other side, a man said, “No, he’s right. Torpedo. Watch Lowell George’s mouth on Youtube sometime.”

“Thank you!” said James.

“Torpedo, huh?” said Sherry. “That’s pretty damned funny.”

“Well, think about it,” the man went on. “Billy wants to check her oil.”

“He wants her to be a car, not a boat,” Sherry argued.

James sang, “Built like a car,” under his breath, half to himself.

“Wrong song, “ said Sherry.

“Always the wrong song with you,” James muttered. His head sank into his arms, and Sherry went on talking with the man on his other side. After a couple of minutes, James lurched off the barstool. This time, Sherry didn’t drag him back.

He staggered outside where the fresh air cleared his head just enough to give him his balance. He remembered the words to “Fat Man in The Bathtub” and thought he and Billy had a lot in common just then. He wished for a hat and found a pizza box in the gutter. He clapped it on his head and started to run. It flew off at once, but he didn’t stop to get it. A rumbling yell built in his chest until he was bellowing down the sidewalk. “Throw me a line,” he sang.

But of course, no line was thrown, and he was well beyond the bounds of good clean fun.

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This is my entry for Trifecta, this week sponsored by the third definition of the  word “clean”. You really need to join this meme if you haven’t already. It’s one of the best on the web. Last week, I won third place for the Trifextra competition with “Lost“, and given the editors’ love of all things ‘three’, I couldn’t be more thrilled

For the record, and because I don’t want to hear about it in the comments, Sherry was right the first time. Chiquita. I’d guess Sherry’s new paramour sings Red Hot Love instead of “Radar Love”, too, just exactly like James, when Golden Earring’s signature tune comes on. The woman’s clearly got a problem with picking up musical duds in bars and should elevate herself to higher dating grounds at once. And if you can see Lowell George’s lips clearly through his beard when he gets to the second “Juanita, my sweet…” please, send me the clip.

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Edit. I don’t typically embed on my blog. However, I just assumed I was calling on a collective collective consciousness here. I thought most people knew Little Feat, “Dixie Chicken”, and “Fat Man in the Bathtub”. (I’m not posting T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong” – if you listen to the radio you’ve heard that.)  You can skip the videos, as I’m picking boring ones. Just listen to the songs. Little Feat will change the way you hear music. All music. Forever. Even if you hate them. (Which I do not.)

“Fat Man In The Bathtub” Yes. Lowell George is the really stoned liquid guy up front. Yes. He is nonetheless playing rhythm AND guitar, AND he is singing.

OK, I lied. This is an awesome video of “Dixie Chicken” and features Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Jesse Winchester. Lowell looks like he may be a bit less jacked up here.

 

 

Hair of the dog

Last modified on 2012-03-04 05:55:17 GMT. 27 comments. Top.

The phone rang at 4AM. “Jesus, Richard!” groaned Patricia, “How many have you had?” Richard’s silence suggested quite a lot.

“Please,” he said.

Grinding her teeth, she growled, “This time only and then no more. This time only.”

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This weekend, Trifextra is asking us to finish the story launched by the words “The phone rang at 4am”. Not counting those four, we have 33 words to tell the whole tale.

Studio Time

Last modified on 2012-02-29 05:13:34 GMT. 29 comments. Top.

Nick adjusted the mic. “Testing,” he said. The leader gave him a brief thumbs up. Two other session singers flanked him in the tiny recording cubicle, and they all patted their white headphones. Nick’s felt too tight around his skull, but he didn’t make adjustments.
The leader said, “OK, scratch vocals for ‘Life of Death’” then held up a hand to count down visually.

Nick sang “Death chanced upon me in the hall.”

The women on either side of him echoed “ha-a-ll”.

Just outside the cubicle, the leader kept unnecessary time with the same hand he had used for the countdown, and Nick sang, “But I refused to fall.” The headphones pinched.

The women sang, “fall”.

Nick watched the leader’s hand pumping the song’s rhythm, like drumming in the air. In the space between one empty tap and the next, Nick broke out into a sweat. He sang, “I said don’t call on me,” call on me, “I’m living can’t you see” oh can’t you see, “And living my life tall” So ta-all.

Perspiration flooded down Nick’s face. He tried to draw breath, but it caught in his chest, and instead of belting out the next lyric, he clawed at his throat. He tore off the wretched headphones and slammed himself against the cubicle.

“Nick what’s wrong?”

The session leader’s face loomed large outside the glass, and then it changed. Death had not passed Nick in the hall. It had come for him right here in the studio. It stepped through the leader and extended a single bony finger.

Unencumbered by the flesh mortals take for granted, it passed through the glass and straddled Nick. He clutched his soul, wanting the right song to dispel it, to cast it aside so he could go on breathing. But there were no more songs left. No more words. Death had come to call, and it left Nick voiceless.

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This week, the Trifecta editors assigned us the third definition of wretched. Typically, I let my writing stand on its own. If you have to ask me “huh?”, and I have to be all explanatory, then I haven’t done my job. Sometimes, I am deliberately unclear on certain points.

However. I think you can understand the story perfectly well from the words above, and a small primer will not hurt and may, indeed, enhance your reading.  If this becomes at any time a case of I-suffered-through-this-research-and-now-it’s-your-turn, then just stop reading.  As I say, if the piece doesn’t stand alone, I haven’t done my job.

In the recording industry (not so much with indie groups and labels), before a band lays down a track, the studio will often pay to have a scratch track made. This is sort of like pre-washing the dishes. It’s  a rough cut of the song, typically mostly vocals, to give the better known musicians something to listen to when they lay down the final parts. Scratch tracks are recorded by studio or session musicians, who are paid a flat union fee for their work. The session is guided by a session leader, typically someone who knows how to get the most out of three hours of studio time.

So. That’s who Nick and his colleagues are here. The research is actually something I did for my novel  Divorce: A Love Story, that came in handy here.

Curve of the tree

Last modified on 2012-03-12 03:06:37 GMT. 20 comments. Top.

When people asked about Johnna’s dark skin and hair and her grey-violet eyes, her mother Manda said,  “She was my surprise baby.” Those traits, especially the eyes, belonged to the Auric tribe, whose standing with the ruling council was never stable. So the askers usually pretended to think Johnna was descended from her stepfather, even though she looked nothing like him or her younger siblings on that side.

Her father, when Johnna saw him once a year, was more honest. “Pfft. Accident,” he said. “The caravan leader had a fetching daughter, and I had a terminal problem keeping up my drawers.”

Johnna grew up among her mother’s folk, nomadic  traders who settled into their mountain valley only in hard winter. Manda polished and mounted gems in cunning settings. She twisted necklaces , bracelets, and rings into life.  Johnna took the name Cooper from her stepfather. He soaked wood and banded it into casks. All winter long, his shop was alive with the sounds of hammering, and summers, he set up with the blacksmith in his travelling forge to keep working.

Johnna herself was apprenticed to the bowwright, and she had nimble fingers and patient hands. She chose feathers and wood  all summer long as they traveled.  Then, she sat with Darric in his wagon in summer and in his shop in the cold months, and he guided her hands as she smoothed the wood to a shine and notched it for stringing . “Every tree has a curve, no matter how slight,” Darric said. “Pay attention to that as you work; make the bow conform to that natural shape.”  She used the feathers to fletch arrows, where she also mounted the sharp little tips she whittled down from flint or obsidian.

Increasingly, Johnna’s next oldest sister minded their brothers so their parents could sell the family’s goods. Johnna often went with Darric now. They were watched closely, the sandy haired bachelor and his young apprentice. And they were careful, never alone long, because tongues wagged in their tribe. It wasn’t something they spoke of, but in the summer, if Darric went into the wagon for something, Johnna made a point to sit up front. Or if she needed something in back, he took the reins or tended to the horses in some other way, so that everyone could see they were not alone in the dark. Winters, they sat in his shop, perched on stools, the door open to outside, even though it was cold.

Johnna slighted her friends to hone the craft she loved. It wasn’t just making the bows and arrows, but testing them. Darric taught her how to hunt and shoot true, so she could know her own work’s quality. Then too, she earned a little money, because Darric put her pieces alongside his in every town, only telling which had been made by the prentice when pressed. She kept this cash secreted with her stepfather’s barrels. Her peers might overlook her darker skin and hair and her purple tinted eyes, but none of them had the skill to earn money from their prenticeships yet. They would say Darric favored her, perhaps even that he was courting her, if they knew he gave her money of her own.

She was just now fifteen, the age her mother had been at her own birth. Young by her people’s standards standards.  Still, one of her friends was already betrothed. Sari meant to marry outside the tribe. Her vocation ran more towards growing things, skills that made her ill suited for a nomadic life. She was engaged to a farmer near Derrydown, and if they still liked each other when they met again next summer, her parents would let the wedding go forward.   Johnna did not want a husband yet. She was friendly with a number of boys, and she supposed she would go with one of them when the time came.

Then came her father’s letter, sent with a straggler who had to stop and replace a wheel and barely crossed the passes before the mountain snows isolated the village for winter. “My wife died,” her father wrote. She had been heavy with their third when the caravan passed through Auricstead the previous fall, and Johnna could guess how she passed.

The letter went on, “I have a wet nurse for the babe, and I can manage for the winter. But come Spring, I must built up my hut again and add a new room to take a new wife in the fall. I would pay a good wage if you came and watched your sisters until late summer.”

Johnna’s mother laughed when she saw the note. “He was always so direct,” she said.

“He doesn’t make it sound very appealing,” Johnna said.

“He doesn’t at that,” Manda agreed.

“He says he doesn’t want the appearance of an affair,” Johnna told Manda, quoting the letter.  “It’s one thing to have loose drawers when you’re a young man, but a widower best be clear he isn’t buttering both sides of his bread.”

Johnna’s mother laughed again. “So direct,” she repeated. “But think about it,” she went on. “There are grandmothers he can hire among the Auric if that’s his reason. It’s a side way in for you he’s offering, if you want to take it.”

“And if I don’t?”

Johnna’s mother shrugged, smiled. “Then you don’t,” she said.

Later, sitting with Darric, both of them sanding bows, Johnna said, “My father wants me to sit with my sisters for two seasons.”

“Oh?” Johnna no more discussed her parentage with Darric than she did the reasons they must always leave the door open when someone wasn’t in the shop.

“His wife died,” she went on. “Mother says he’s giving me a chance to be an Auric.”

“And do you want that?” Darric set aside his bow and watched her.

Since he had set his work down, Johnna did the same, but that left her nothing to do with her suddenly anxious hands. “No,” she said, gripping the edges of the stool. “But I do want…” it was hard to put into words what she wanted.

“You want them to acknowledge you,” said Darric. “You want them to stop looking around you and pretending you are purely the Cooper’s daughter from the Arom tribe.”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I want.”

Darric picked up his work once more, allowing Johnna to do the same. He sanded awhile, smooth long strokes that Johnna tried to imitate on her own bow. After a time, Darric said, “You would rejoin us when the caravan came through in fall?”

“Of course. I hadn’t thought of actually going,” Johnna told him. “I don’t like to lose two seasons learning.”

Darric smiled. “You wouldn’t lose a thing if you kept working. And you would have time to gather a fair amount of wood in two seasons.” He didn’t have to tell her that some of the most expensive bows he sold were teak or that the time the Arom spent in the southern woodlands was too short for his liking. But the caravan had to hurry by then, to get back to the northern mountains before the heavy snows and ice came.

Johnna thought of the Auric forests, where Darric had traded some sixteen of his best bows last year for enough wood to make just five more. He expected to sell those for more than every other bow now in the shop, and Johnna was to craft one of them.

“You think they would let me take their wood?”

“I think if we finish three of those,”  he pointed to the unstarted wood standing in a corner of the shop, “and you take them with you, they will  buy them for a cost and be willing to open their forest to us both. They will see the value to themselves in what we sell.”

Johnna put down her work again, this time to cross to the corner where the teak waited. She ran her fingers lightly over her piece.  “That would be something,” she said. It wasn’t just that Auric teak was a strong hardwood. It was infused with Auric magic simply from growing where they lived, and sanded and fitted right, those bows shot truer than any in the world.  “That would be something,” Johnna repeated.

“Your father would teach you a little of their skill,” Darric went on. “Think about the weapons you could make. There hasn’t been a hunter mage since before my father’s time.”

Johnna looked up sharply. “But Darric,” she said, “I don’t fly! The Auric mages all fly.”

“Yes you do!” he countered. “Or you did anyway. When you were a babe in arms your mother and grandmother tied a little string to your ankle and towed you behind them like a kite.”

“How would I fly, Darric? I don’t have wings!”

“Well I don’t know where they went, but you used to. I wasn’t quite an apprentice myself, but I remember the arrows my father fletched with your feathers were said to never miss their mark.”

Johnna stared at Darric, her mouth slightly open, her hands dangling limp at her side. Then she reached behind herself and patted across her shoulder blades, as if she expected wings to have sprouted out of her shirt while they were talking. Forgetting her coat on its nail by the hearth, she turned and walked out of the shop.

In the street, she ran all the way home and burst in on Manda setting a piercing green emerald in a delicate lady’s ring. Normally, she would never have disturbed her mother at work, but now, she no more saw the ring than she did the wood left behind in Darric’s shop.

“Johnna, what happened, child?” Manda exclaimed.

“Darric says I used to fly!”

“Well yes, “ her mother said. “Your feathers stopped growing in when you started walking. But your father told me they would come back if you ever wanted them.”

“Well why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“You never seemed very interested in your father’s people.”

“I guess I wasn’t until now,” said Johnna.  She sat down on the hearth and watched Manda.

Manda went back to the gem. “You’ve met your baby sisters,” she said. “They could do with a bit of family right now, and you have a good hand with the littles.”

“I suppose so.” Johnna ran her hand across her shoulders again. Her whole back had started itching when Darric first told her she used to fly. “But I’m not Auric!” she burst out.

Now Manda laughed out loud. “Of course you are,” she said. “You’re as Auric as you are Arom, dear.”

“I mean I couldn’t stay with them. What if I got there and they tried to keep me?”

“Their trouble with the ruling council has always been they keep people out, not that they force them in.”

“And father says,” again the hand across her own shoulders, “that if I want to fly, my feathers will come back?”

“Yes. The flight isn’t something external.  It’s stored within your body. Find a way to work it out.”

Johnna thought her body was working those feathers out all on its own from just that brush of thought. She felt needles of pain all down her spine, and it was all she could do to keep from tearing her shirt off and running bare-chested into the winter air to cool the stinging.

It was that pain far more than her mother’s words that made her believe Darric. She would not lose ground in two seasons with the Auric. Instead, she would gather wood and knowledge. She would learn to train her bows with foresight, so a hunter might see, an instant before releasing the string, if the shot would fly true or if it should be held back, the arrow unwasted.

Now her back felt like live embers had sparked onto it from the fire behind her. She lurched to her feet and then she did struggle out of her shirt. It was growing too tight, and she thought the wings would shred it. Manda looked up again from the gem, then set it swiftly aside to help her daughter.  Johnna collapsed against her mother, who swayed, but held her upright as blood spilled down the girl’s sides and her back and shoulders erupted into a riot of brightly colored feathers.

After a few minutes, her mother asked “Are you all right?”

Johnna made a little sound then said, “Tender.”

“I should say.” Manda lowered Johnna to her knees. “I’m going to get a robe for you to put on backwards,  then I’ll take you down to the springs. We can stop at the apothecary for numbing powder.”

Johnna sank down to rest on her arms, which quaked. She felt top heavy and off kilter. She thought then that  she would go to the Auric, to care for her sisters and to learn what to do with herself. She would not stay more than the two seasons, and even that would be hard for someone so used to travel.

She held in her mind the fixed image of that teak wood sitting in Darric’s shop. She felt as though she held it already, smoothing, polishing, and notching the wood. This she would take, along with Darric’s two finished bows, to sell to her father’s tribe. But the next one she made, she meant to keep for herself, to learn to hunt in a whole new way.  She barely minded that she would miss Sari’s wedding.  She had larger things to do in her fifteenth summer, and in spite of her weakness and her pain, she found herself smiling when Manda came back into the room.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kim Nelson challenged me with “It is stored within your body. Find a way to work it out.” and I challenged Carrie with “Lazy dogs”

Dine In, Carry Out

Last modified on 2012-02-23 03:16:08 GMT. 15 comments. Top.

Algy jammed everything back onto the last tabletop after wiping it clean.

Edith said, “Easy now.”

“Rob sent me another letter,” Algy told her.

“Did he?”

“He wants me to send him my paycheck.”

“Ohh.” The sound was a cross between a groan and a sigh. Edith went to the cash drawer, counting the money twice over to be sure. Then she asked, “Did you write him back this time?”

Algy grunted.

“You did, didn’t you.”

Slowly Algy nodded.  “I said to ask me nicely.”

Edith counted out several stacks of bills, then went into the office for her deposit slips. Returning, she asked, “If he does, what then?”

“I’ll tell him it’s too late. That’s my college money.”

Edith smiled. “Good,” she said. She dropped the deposit in her purse and started for the door.

Algy didn’t follow her at once. “Do you really think Granddad will let me have this place when I’m older?”

Edith turned back. “What did that letter say?”

Algy drew a deep breath. “That you and Granddad would be throwing good money after bad to let the restaurant fall to a big headed fool like me.”

Edith shook her head and held a hand out to her grandson. “He’s the fool to say that.”

“That’s why I told him to ask nicely.” Algy joined his grandmother. He didn’t take her hand, but instead held the door. “It’s why I’m waiting for him to ask again to say no.”

“Good,” Edith repeated. She turned and locked the door .“He just wants to get your goat. He’s got a lot of nerve to ask, though.”

“It’s because he still thinks he’s my father,” Algy told her. “But he’s not anymore, is he?”

“No,” said Edith. “And he won’t ever be again.”

Algy opened the driver’s door for his grandmother before going around to his own side. “Then I don’t ever have to give him my money.”

“You don’t ever have to give him anything at all.”

“Good.”

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The fools over at  Trifecta have assigned us the third definition of fool. And I pity the fool who doesn’t rise to the challenge. {ahem. sometimes, the puns will out}

Lost

Last modified on 2012-02-29 03:15:06 GMT. 16 comments. Top.

The day after I wrote  the story where a five year old nearly drowns, I lost Sam for twenty minutes in the Tennessee Aquarium. Irony much? Intellectually, I knew there was no way he could get at the tanks. Everything was encased behind a wall of glass, and no child could sneak through those locked doors. But before security found him two floors above me, trying to escape and get to the car, I ran repeatedly past the same spot, each time looking up into two stories of light infused water, expecting to see my son’s green-coated body floating down.

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Sorry Lance, Carrie. My entry for the hundred word song is not nearly as chipper as “White Nights”.  I picked up on the  musical intensity and the surreal video with the water and diving at the end. And just to be clear, Sam was fine. He was adamant that because he had known he was safe, I should not have been concerned. Little. Shit.

Wolf’s bane

Last modified on 2012-02-21 00:23:25 GMT. 21 comments. Top.

“Wednesday Washday,” Mam always said.

She had sayings like that for every day of the week. The only other one I remember is “Monday morning do the darning”, probably because it rhymed. But she died when I was small. Everybody in town says Daddy should have given her at least a month in the ground before he started poking around in other women’s holes. But if he had waited, I wouldn’t have gotten Ona for my new mam, and we’d not have Ruby for our baby. Of course, she isn’t really a baby any longer. She’s got five summers on her, and she can do more every washday.

Ona’s husband died of the same sickness that took my mam, and they told me in the village that my Daddy and Ona got married before the stones were piled over the big cairn where they put the fever dead that summer. I was supposed to be mad at him for that. But they don’t understand that Ona brought me Ruby so tiny, who needed a Daddy as badly as I needed a mam. They don’t understand that every year for the five since that fever, when the magnolias are honeythick, Ona takes me to the cairn and we put blossoms on it together. I put one for my Mam, and since she could walk, Ruby puts one for her first Daddy, even though she really only knows my Daddy for hers. And then Ona sprinkles dust for both of them that their sacrifice should be enough.

We always see the others, like the blacksmith’s big son Gavin, whose parents both died. His uncle came down from the mountains to run the forge until Gavin gets bigger. When we meet him at the rocks, we all stand together to lay our flowers, and Ona speaks his parents names when she throws the dust for my Mam and her Roddy, that their sacrifice should be enough for him as well. His uncle barely knew his brother that died, and it won’t do any good if his uncle lays a flower or throws the dust. The dead can only hear the invocations of those who have felt their loss. Ona and Daddy both say so. But Daddy can’t bear to go.

This year, it’s not the fever giving us trouble. It’s flooding and wolves. We can hear the river loud and close everyplace we go, and at night, the wolves are always howling. Ona says Daddy laid the spells strong by our house against the flood, and the wolves will keep to themselves. But the water sounds always like it is rushing towards us, looking to pull our little house loose and rend it apart. And the wolves sound like they’re right outside my window some nights, hungry and lonesome.

Ona says we may as well have high water as fever, may as well have wolves as water. She says the wolves haven’t got anywhere to go. When the river recedes, they’ll go home to the lowlands. But of course they can’t do that now with the river spilling all over the ground.

Last night, Mrs. Carmody came to the house with something wrapped up heavy in a cloth. She opened the cloth, and it was a man’s hand in there. Ona screamed, and all my body  but my stomach rose up into my head so I felt like I was floating. My stomach held me down to the ground like somebody poured it full of rocks from that cairn.

I knew it was a man’s hand by the hair on the fingers. Little Ruby didn’t understand what she was looking at, all purple and swollen, the skin jagged and muscle rotting at the stump. She just stared while I covered my mouth to hold back my food, and Ona shrieked, “Cover it up!”

Mrs. Carmondy rolled the cloth tight again, then said “My Derrick found that in one of those metal traps. Those wolves aren’t natural.”

Ona said, her voice still high, running along the edge of a scream, “Like it walked into the trap and had to chew off the paw to get loose, then the paw changed back to a hand after.”

“That’s what we reckon,” said Mrs. Carmody. “I’m sorry to put it to you that way, but you need to know, and I didn’t think you’d believe me without the proof.”

Ona reproved her, “And me a wizard’s wife! Of course I would.” Ona was crowding her apron into her mouth now, like maybe her stomach wanted to turn the same trick as mine.

Mrs. Carmody went on, “I brought you something.”

“Please, no more!” Ona’s voice was a little more controlled now, but it still shook some.

“Not that,” said Mrs. Carmody. “I had a silver idol from my own gran from the last time the wolves came around. I took it to Gavin’s uncle and melted it down. I’m taking the bullets around to my neighbours. I came here first because I knew you had those little girls to think of, and your man off trying to find a spell that will hold the levy at Knightsbridge.” Mrs. Carmody nodded to the gun stretched across the rack above the fireplace and held out a pouch. “You can shoot that?” she asked.

Ona let go of her apron. She took the pouch and nodded. “Yes, thank you,” she said.

Mrs. Carmody wouldn’t stay the night. No wolf would touch a witch, and she meant to finish taking the silver around by morning.

“She’s a good woman,” Ona said, when Mrs. Carmody had gone. “Cares a lot for us.”

I just nodded, still too nauseous to trust my mouth to spit out words and not my supper.

“Here.” Ona handed me the pouch. “Put these on the mantle and we’ll go to bed.” Neither she nor I had much taste for sleep after news like that. But what Ona really meant was that if I would keep Ruby quiet in the bedroom, Ona would try to scry Daddy in her little glass so he might be warned and tell them in Knightsbridge. She had enough of the witch in her, but that wasn’t something we told around. The village already had a witch, and we didn’t want them thinking Ona meant wrong by Mrs. Carmody.

When Ona came to bed, Ruby was long since asleep. Ona kissed Ruby’s face and pushed the hair away from my ear to whisper, “It is well with him. He says not to worry. He will come home.”

Then, she pulled Ruby and I in close to her, and I could finally rest. If Daddy was coming, that was good.

Today is Wednesday, and wolves or not, Wednesday is washday. I’m big enough. I can help. Ona and I both get down on our knees in the yard and scrub the dirt out over the washboard. Ruby tries to do her part, too. We work side by side and watch the river race itself. It comes to a bend near our house, so that it passes on three sides, and there is nowhere we can do wash without feeling it.

“What do we do if the wolves come, Ona?” I say.

“Are you still thinking of those bullets?” she asks me.

“Yes.”

Ona lets go of the shirt she’s scrubbing and takes my face in her wet hands. “Your Daddy and I will keep you safe. You and Ruby are our gems, more precious than silver even.”

I lean into her a little then but just as quickly pull away. “Where’s Ruby?”

Ona jumps up and whips around. “Ruby!” She calls.

My sister doesn’t answer, and in an instant, I see why. She walked away while Ona and I talked of wolves, her exploration taking her behind us and too close to the riverbank. Even as we watch, Ruby misses her footing and vanishes.

“Ruby!” Ona screams our baby’s name, and then she’s running. She looks around once at me. “Stay put,” she says. Then, still running, she pulls her shirt up, throws down her skirt and tears at her underthings.

She’s moving so fast, and I am crying so hard, that her body blurs as she strips. Every step is one too late, then she is at the riverbank where Ruby went down, leaning out, staring hard. She looks back at me one more time. “I see her,” she calls. “I can get her.”

Then Ona dives, and it seems at first that my tears have blurred her body again. But it’s not my eyes. Ona is changing, her body tightening as she flies out over the water, her arms and legs pulling up into haunches, her head becoming flat and long. Then she breaks the surface, and I can’t see her any longer.

I can’t bear to be still, so I run to the bank, clinging to the trees when I get too close myself. I can see  little Ruby clinging to a tree, an entire tree that has been ripped out into the current, it twisting so that she must flail to stay above water. And then I see the wolf’s snout. Ona is swimming hard to reach our baby.

“Hold tight,” I scream to Ruby, who cannot hear me at all.”Don’t be scared. It’s just Mam coming to save you. You have to let her take you.”

Ona will reach her. She must reach her. We cannot lose our baby. Running footsteps behind me, and when I look back, I see Gavin and his uncle, who could not have heard us screaming, who could not have come so fast from the village and their forge even if they heard. Beside me, they stop for a moment, just as Ona did, and I understand what will happen even before it begins. Gavin’s uncle gets down on all fours and leaps, and I find I cannot watch him change. “They’ll come out down there,” says Gavin, and he points to a place downriver where the bank smoothes out, becomes less steep. “Get the clothing. Hurry. Then get on me. Your father is coming.” And then he changes.

I run madly around the yard, collecting the things Ona, Gavin, and his uncle have removed. I cannot watch the wolves, but I know they will get to Ruby in time. I felt the certainty in Gavin’s voice. With the clothes piled in my arms, I scramble onto the huge wolf’s back. I cling to him with my knees, my fists knotted in his fur, the shirts, and pants, and drawers crushed between us.

And I think, “Does he know? Does Daddy know?” over and over as Gavin carries me to the place where Ona and the uncle will come out of the water. I think he does not know.

Then Gavin stops and rolls me off. He curls on his side, and within an instant, he’s a boy again, only a little older than I am, even if he is as tall as a grown man. He yips in pain, a sound that becomes his own voice shouting. “Help them if you’ve any magic, Birdie. Others are coming. They must not see.”

The wolves don’t need my help, and that is good. Because if I do have any magic, it has yet to show. The wolves have got Ruby between them, and I cannot tell them apart in the water, but they are swimming strongly against the current. They will reach us just where Gavin said.

“You mustn’t speak of this,” Gavin tells me. “It must be something kept between us. Or they will kill us all sure.”

But I knew that already. I know I have seen something I must never put into words. If I do, I’ll lose the only precious things to come into my life since the fever took my Mam.  And I know this, too. The water is wild, and it will take a body faster than a body can take breath. But the wolves, them I must trust. They came to protect us from the water. They are here for Ona’s sake, a protection like the dust she throws at the cairn, that no lives be lost that can be saved. That the sacrifices of those already dead should be enough.

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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, SAM challenged me with “magnolias, Wednesday, riverbank, wolf” and I challenged Supermaren with “Mornings suck at our house. Between the noise from the forge and the smell coming out of the dragon pens, we’re all grumpy and nauseous before we finish breaking our fast.”

The Story of The Three Little Pigs

Last modified on 2012-02-17 22:39:10 GMT. 39 comments. Top.

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Those crafty Trifecta editors are at it again, asking us for a retold story in 33 words. Here’s mine. NB: “w/” is one word unconnected with “expertise”. There’s a space.

Surfing

Last modified on 2012-02-16 15:52:30 GMT. 23 comments. Top.

I’m not talking ballet here. I’m trying to explain the hedony. I throw myself forward lusting into the Dionysian spontaneity. The arena is carnality alive, and all of us are hungry sybarites while the music plays. We blare, and trumpet, and thunder. I do not fall into their arms expecting asylum.  And yet, there is a safe core where the rhythm is deep enough to hold me if I dive in, so long as I keep time with my body while I ride to the shore. This is not sanctuary but an entry point. The dance begins in the air.

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Linking up here with Trifecta, this week brought to you by the word “safe”.

This is also my submission for Lance’s 100 word song response. This week’s song is The Black Crows’ Hotel Illness. My response is as much to the group as this specific tune. I heart The Black Crows.

Street Scene won first prize at Trifecta! Thanks to those who voted for me.

Street Scene

Last modified on 2012-02-11 14:49:08 GMT. 38 comments. Top.

“Well, that’s a first.” Caren added the last of the bound carpet strips to the furniture piled at the curb.

Todd grunted an answer, but she couldn’t hear him, because he was hunkered behind the sofa, while she stood in front of the recliners. They still needed to flip those up onto the couch in order to fit the whole mountain on the narrow grass stripe between sidewalk and street. These tenants left so much that hauling it and the carpet out took them well into the night.

“We ought to get a management company,” Caren went on. “My back isn’t up for this kind of lifting.”

Todd came around to join her. “Costs more than it’s worth,” he told her. And she thought he was right. Probably.

He stood behind her, and she leaned into him while he slid one hand under her shirt to rub the base of her spine. Above them, the moon waxed heavy and low, some optical illusion driving it down towards the earth.

Caren complained, “I ache.”

“Me too,” Todd agreed. But his voice suggested a different kind of ache entirely from the one caused by lifting too much without a proper dolly.

“You can’t be serious. Here?”

He didn’t answer her with words, but instead pulled their bodies together tight, front to back.

“Here then.”

They tumbled awkwardly over the couch arms and left their clothing on the sidewalk. The chairs in front of the couch and the late hour promised sufficient privacy as long as the tenants didn’t suddenly return wanting their possessions.

They wrapped themselves together, one into the other, coiled so it was hard to see where she ended and he began. They bore down on each other like the earth-driven moon. And that moon. Oh the moon. How it yearned to reach the ground.

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This week, the Trifextra prompt asked us to write a love scene 3 to 333 words long that neither turned Trifextra in to TrifeXXXtra nor used any of the following 33 words:

Cruel Summer

Last modified on 2012-02-07 17:06:02 GMT. 13 comments. Top.

Billy Squier crooned “In The Dark” on Trevor’s boom box. Trevor lay on the top bunk, while across the room, Paul pounded a joystick. “Be careful with that thing!” Trevor warned.

Paul said, “It’s gonna die soon anyway.”

He was right. When the boys opened the gaming console at Christmas, they gazed unbelieving at the box. The machine inside was used, but very real. Nonetheless, one of the joysticks had been broken within a month, its red button jammed down until it wouldn’t spring up anymore, and there wasn’t any money for repairs. The second stick was held together with duct tape. Both boys knew it wouldn’t be with them much longer. Still, they enjoyed it while they could, and Trevor hated to hear Paul abusing the thing. But Paul had always been the nervous one, and Trevor understood that need to expel energy.

For his own part, he reached above his head and turned up the radio. He wanted to get up and pee, but Miss Anna had been clear. Trevor’s job was to concentrate his wishes down to the yellow-haired dead man in the bottom bunk, and to not get up for any reason whatsoever until the trouble started. The body had to remember who had killed it, had to remember its own animosity towards its murderer. And it could get that from Trevor, who had watched his stepfather shoot it when it had still been a man. Trevor and Paul had been trapped in their shared bedroom with the blonde corpse for a whole night now, a night when neither of them slept.

“What’s that horrible smell?” asked Mom from the doorway.

Paul jumped to his feet, standing so his body blocked the bed.  Paul’s job was to keep Mom out of the room when she came home from work. “Where’d you come from?” Paul demanded. “Get outta here! And knock first.”

Trevor propped himself on one elbow and made a show of looking at their mother. In fact, even that motion was a little difficult right now. Those tendrils of concentration that he had been sending down were also wisps that held him in place and made moving a heavy burden.

“Can’t you ask how a lady’s night went at work?” Mom said, and then continued without waiting for an answer, “You aren’t hiding some other smells, are you?”

“Mom, we’re not smoking pot, now let me finish my game! I have to get to the Mothership before time runs out,” said Paul.

Mom stood silhouetted in the doorway, leaning on one raised arm. The backlight hid her features, hid the bruises, so that for a moment, her sons saw her as men must have once seen her, a wasp-waisted goddess crying out desire with her very figure.  Paul flinched away from the sight, but he stayed between her and the bed.

“I’m just telling you, if that smell isn’t gone by the time your Daddy wakes up…”

“Randy’s not our father,” Trevor snapped. “Not mine and not Paul’s.”

“Don’t you let him hear you say that,” Mom warned. Randy was asleep in his kitchen chair, sprawled backwards in front of an unfinished beer.

“Okay, fine, just let me finish my game,” Paul insisted.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you boys,” Mom said. “It’s absolutely putrid in that room.”  But she was retreating down the hall now, and Paul stepped forward to close the door behind her. They knew she was too tired to investigate.

“How are things coming down there?” Trevor asked, his voice sounding as heavy now as his body felt. When the subject wasn’t their stepfather, he didn’t have much energy for speaking.

Paul approached the bottom bunk and rustled the comforter. “Still dead,” he reported to Trevor. “I hope he hurries his yellow head up. Mom’s right about the smell, and if Randy wakes up and comes in here …”

“Is she? I guess my nose has kind of adjusted. I hardly notice anymore,” Trevor told his brother. “Anyway, it will work. Miss Anna said we had to give it a full twelve hours, and we’re at eleven and a half right now. And Randy’s going to be sleeping awhile yet. I got the pills in his drinks.”

Paul nodded, moving away from the bed. Then he picked up his joystick and resumed the task of navigating an alien home to its distant family. “I hope Mom doesn’t decide to want the TV back,” he said.

“That’s a stupid game if she does” said Trevor. “But she can’t come in, and right now, you shouldn’t go out.

Paul didn’t answer.

“In The Dark” faded out, and the DJ put on some girl band, The Bangles or Bananarama. Trevor groaned and reached behind his head to fiddle with the dial without looking.

Out in the living room, the same song Trevor had just turned down came on louder. Mom keeping herself awake long enough to get some breakfast. Or dinner. It was hard to say which meal was what  with a third shift job. Mom sang “She’s got it” while Trevor fumbled through stations on a slow-to-tune dial.

“I guess she doesn’t want the TV anyway,” said Paul.

Mom must have been dodging around Randy’s sleeping form, because a couple of times, she stopped singing, then apologized, “Oh! So sorry hon, just getting myself a little dinner, then I’m heading off to bed.” And Paul pounded a little harder on the joystick.

Then a bump, and Paul threw down the joystick and spun around. Trevor sat up too fast and smacked his head on the ceiling. AC/DC crackled on the boom box, “Back in Black”, and Trevor rubbed his skull. The logy feeling  let him go as those hundred thousand directed thoughts finally finished their journey through his mind and into the yellow-haired man’s body. “Get the blankets off it, Paul,” Trevor hissed, as he vaulted down the bunk ladder. The trouble was started.

Paul snatched the cover back, removed the comforter jerkily, then backed against the television. Trevor studied the former man and stood beside his brother.

The corpse’s eyes were as yellow as its hair now, and  they were glowing. It sat up a little unsteadily, then swiveled its head to look straight at Trevor. “In the kitchen, right?” the dead man rasped.

Trevor nodded, then swallowed hard and spoke. “Asleep at the table. Not Mom. Not even if she gets in the way.”

The corpse nodded, rising until it seemed to fill the small room with its rank smell. “Not Mom,” it repeated in that same growling voice. “But when she starts screaming, you be ready to grab her and run. It’s going to get ugly when I take that bastard back down with me.”

Then, the zombie kicked the door down like it was made of cardboard, while Trevor and Paul huddled together against the TV. “One bright chance,” Trevor said. “God almighty, one bright chance.”

And then the brothers held on to each other, waiting for their mother to scream.
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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Jay Andrew Allen challenged me with “Bananarama. ” and I challenged Grace O’Malley with “Deftly, he wove in and out of the cones, letting the wind rush across his body, holding himself coiled for the moment when he could pick up speed.”

This is also part two of the story I started here yesterday.

Shallow Grave

Last modified on 2012-02-07 05:47:55 GMT. 30 comments. Top.

“Pick your glass,” Miss Anna said. “There’s three, all alike.”

“Oh, no ma’am. We trust you,” Trevor said quickly.

Miss Anna laughed. No music in her voice, but no needles, either. “No you don’t” she said. “Nor would I in your shoes. Pick. But don’t drink. Not yet.”

“Did you really hex Mark for what he did to those cats?” asked Paul.

Miss Anna didn’t laugh this time. Just shook her head.

“But you could have,” Paul continued. It wasn’t a question.

Miss Anna nodded.

The choice in beverages suddenly seemed very important indeed. Trevor closed his eyes and picked blind, then Paul did the same. Then, Miss Anna said, “Now, which one of you saw it?”

And Trevor said, “Me,” without hesitation. They weren’t talking cats now.

“Shut up!” said Paul.

“It’s all right,” said Miss Anna. “I won’t call the police. We all know that stepfather of yours would have your mother dead before they’d finished digging up the grave, and he’d do it if she was at work and if work was a hundred miles away.”

Miss Anna had just repeated exactly what Randy said to Paul and Trevor’s mother after she and he came back to the trailer from burying the yellow haired man. Paul sucked in a breath and looked at Trevor. Miss Anna lived too far away to have overheard.

“Me,” Trevor repeated. “I saw. Do you need me to tell you?”

“No.” The old woman shook her head. “Now’s when we drink, by the way.” They did, and Miss Anna continued, “I saw it, too, but I don’t have any personal enmity in the matter. This must be done by someone who saw the thing, and who carries it with anger, and maybe a little bit of hatred in his heart. Is that you Trevor? Go deep now, before you answer me.”

Finally, Trevor said, “Yes’m.” Just the one word, but it satisfied the woman.

“Good,” she said. “Then we’ve something to discuss.”

___________________________________________________

Part two of this story is now up here.

We’re going deep this week over at Trifecta, where we’ve been tasked with using the third definition of ‘deep’ from the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in a story of between 33 and 333 words.

So dry

Last modified on 2012-02-04 04:49:15 GMT. 32 comments. Top.

Salty waves beneath. Parched sky above. My love, I will die on this ocean.

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This weekend, those crazy crazy editors at Trifecta want us to write a story in three sentences. Those are mine. Up there.

Fiction: Or Else

Last modified on 2012-02-02 20:19:12 GMT. 20 comments. Top.

Ogee Smith wasn’t trans; he just came back a girl. It happens all the time. Man in one life, woman in the next, somewhere in between in a third. Sometimes, the cosmic gears get all fuckowack and a body comes back wrong and spends a lifetime adjusting. But not Ogee. Ogee came back a girl, but he really hadn’t made the change yet.

And finding a shrink who understood? Ogee’s parents visited thirteen. When Ogee said, “I need to understand gender expectations because I used to be a boy,” the psychiatrists and psychologists started spouting codes.

So when she was eight, Ogee’s parents took her to a regression therapist. “The problem,” the regressionist said before putting Ogee under, “isn’t gender expectations. It’s that you don’t know who you were, so you can’t know who you are becoming.”

Ogee sat obediently still while the woman lit candles and began the hypnotic induction. But then, long after the child had been placed into what the regressionist called ‘the suggestible state’, Ogee suddenly giggled looked right through the woman. She said, “I’m not the one who’s most confused here. You are.” Then, Ogee turned to her parents and explained, “I am an image of an image of an image of myself, as we all are. This is her first life, poor thing. She’s doing this for others because she thinks she has something of her own back there to find. But there’s nothing really. Don’t worry dear,” Ogee hopped up and patted the therapist’s arm. “After a couple of go-rounds you’ll get a sense, as long as you leave yourself open.”

The little girl turned and walked out. “I think we’d better work this out ourselves,” she said to her parents. If I can remember how I shifted last time, I’m sure things will all start falling into place. Can we stop someplace with a toilet? I’ve got to piss like a racehorse before we get out of town.”

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This week at Trifecta:

Fiction: Criminal Intent

Last modified on 2012-02-02 05:55:39 GMT. 16 comments. Top.

If Sheena, not Benjamin, but if Benjamin, then possibly also Rob.

Archer Bancock ran the scenarios through his head again like it was one of those logic problems he completed to pass the L-SAT. He even had a chart drawn up, but too many things cancelled each other out. He thought he might have found the one O in all those columns of X’s, but he wanted to be sure, so he got out a fresh sheet of paper and started writing.

Certainties:

1) Visa confirms, duplicate card delivered to office while we were in Caymans.

2) Since we got back, card has been used to make several $50 purchases around town.

The fact that Sheena had her own card and had drawn the withdrawals to Archer’s attention didn’t make her innocent. Archer had long since realized that one of the dangers of using your wife for your secretary was that she grew entirely too familiar.

Sheena thought herself entitled to confidential case information, treated his clients like close personal friends, and spent Archer’s money like water. It wouldn’t be at all beyond her to order another card, use it on the sly, then report the theft to baffle him, knowing he wouldn’t cancel the card until he sniffed her out. But she was with him in the Caymans when the card arrived, and Archer arrived at the office before she did upon their return. Thus, he leaned more towards the affable janitor, Benjamin or the IT dope, Rob.

Archer checked his watch. He had twenty minutes before he needed to leave for lunch with his son, Winston. This was the first year Win’s class break failed to coincide with the family trip. This meal would be the first time father and son both had time to see each other in over a month. Still, there was more than enough time to work through this whole conundrum once again.

Benjamin cleaned the office twice while the Bancocks vacationed, each time picking up and straightening the mail that had fallen into a pile inside the door. He had opportunity. And he certainly had a motive. He had been housekeeper to the family that owned the building before it became Bancock Law. But the family moved out of town, and Archer had no need for daily cleaning. Now, a cleaning service employed Benjamin. He said he worked the same hours for half the pay, and this was only one of the buildings on his route.

Another watch check. Still ten minutes before Archer had to leave to be in the campus dining hall by noon. Winston seemed to think Archer ought to take him for a grander reunion, but Archer refused the expense. He told his son, “I used to love eating in this very cafeteria when I was in college.” He was looking forward to the buffet line.

Finally, there was Rob. Archer wished it were practical to hire someone to operate his computers, someone who didn’t try to pad his own pockets with unnecessary expenses. Instead he outsourced, and Rob was simply the least of the evils the service inflicted upon him. This winter, Archer finally gave into Sheena’s whining and Rob’s persistence and allowed a systems upgrade while he was gone. So Rob had a building key for those two critical vacation weeks, as well.

And that brought him back to his chart. If Sheena, not Benjamin, but if Benjamin, possibly also Rob. The chart didn’t answer his questions at all. Nonetheless, Archer thought he knew where his money was going, and he left for lunch whistling softly.

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This week’s Story Dam prompt asked:

Write a piece in which your character catches that dramatic break in the case and is on the verge of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. Help us solve a classic “who-dunnit” but don’t tell us who it is! Let’s see if we can guess for ourselves in your comments!

So. Who, dear readers, stole the card, and more importantly, why?

Dead Flowers

Last modified on 2012-01-31 05:33:04 GMT. 20 comments. Top.

Dead Flowers

“I should have done the flowers.” Donovan Harcourt stared around the restaurant. At every turn, the vases fairly glowered at him. Bright yellow Gerbera daisies had been paired with orange zinnias and chrysanthemums to clash with the blue tablecloths. Bicolor roses festooned the bridal arch in shades of fuchsia and  burgundy, and his daughter’s bouquet poofed outward with oversized hybrid lilies.

“It’s pretty bad,” Gwen whispered in agreement with her father.

They stood at the back, waiting for the music to change so they could walk down between the tables to the place where the groom waited in an appalling magenta corsage.

“Tell me you didn’t order these,” Donovan pleaded.

“Keep your voice down,” Gwen hissed. “No, of course I didn’t. You were with me when we met the florist. I don’t know what went wrong…yes I do.” Gwen shook herself out. “These are for the wrong wedding. But they were setup before we got here, and it’s a little late to tell Ken’s Mom she should have refused the delivery now.”

“But …that,” Donovan pointed at Gwen’s rounded nosegay. It belonged with a tall bride in a casual wedding. Giving a fat bouquet to his short, plump daughter detracted from her elegance.  Her train was some four feet long, and he would have matched that dress with an arm drape filled with roses and gladiolas. He would have spoken his love in calla lilies, delphiniums, and orchids. These oranges, yellows, and reds were suited to a fall, not a winter affair. They were ruining Gwen’s new dress and making him think of all the wrong things.

“Daddy don’t,” Gwen said. “The flowers are fine.”

But they weren’t. Long after the vows had been spoken, long after the restaurant staff had carried in the long head table to replace the wedding arch and carried it out again to make room for dancing, Donovan was sitting alone, twisting chrysanthemums and thinking of his wife.

Gwen left a group of semi-drunken bridesmaids dancing the electric slide and joined her father. “Daddy,” she said. She took the chrysanthemums out of his hand, and suddenly they were both crying. “I just wanted you to be able to enjoy the wedding. I didn’t want you to have to think about details today,” she said.

He said, “Clara would have flayed that other florist alive for these.”

“Yes,” Gwen agreed. “And then she’d have been in a huff for the whole rest of the night. Mother held onto everything for hours. Everyone knows we wanted it different. Ken’s mother feels terrible for accepting the delivery. There’s nothing we can do to change it now.”

She wasn’t just speaking of these flowers. She was speaking, they were both thinking, of seven years ago, in the attic. Donovan took Gwen to a ballgame, and when they got home, there was a note on the table, “Don’t let Gwen find me.”

But he had failed in this, his wife’s last request, because he panicked and fled up the stairs with Gwen following fast behind him. Without consulting or so much as looking at each other, they had both known where Clara would go, what she would do. Father and daughter threw back the attic door together and found Clara’s blood spattered on the windows, her new pink dress stained irrevocably red, a bouquet of last year’s dead chrysanthemums dried brown and fallen at her feet.

How Donovan hated the chrysanthemums after that. Gwen didn’t seem to mind them, so he let her handle those orders these days, and he made a point to ornament the shop in other ways in the months when they would have been most common. He used zinnias and profusions of dahlias to mask this hatred of the most common fall bloom. Yet here they were halfway through December, interrupting the blue tables with orange. He would have used clusters of pink roses and blue nigella to complement the wedding’s theme.

Gwen repeated, “It can’t be changed, and I can’t let it spoil everything for me.”

Donovan smiled a little, “You’re right, of course,” he said.

Gwen used his pocket handkerchief to dab her smeared make-up and returned to her guests. As she walked away, the lights caught her hair, and Donovan realized she had tucked the chrysanthemums behind her ear while they were talking. She had not chosen the flowers, but she loved them. She had detached the four foot train, so now the dress bobbed along at her ankles as she kicked up her right leg to join the electric slide at a pivot. There she was, his daughter, married, laughing, and suddenly Donovan wanted nothing more than to dance with her dancing with all her friends. He got up and made his way along in her wake, the sight of her sliding and stepping rendering the flowers inconsequential.

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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kat challenged me with “Write a story about fatherhood with a florist as the main character and a new dress as the key object. Set your story in a restaurant. ” and I challenged ChrisWhiteWrites with “Write a story based on this sentence (which doesn’t have to appear itself in the final version): Now that he was an old man of thirteen, Stephen dressed like his father used to dress, drank coffee in the morning and spoke strongly to his sisters if they acted up.”

Look the Lie

Last modified on 2012-01-24 16:18:35 GMT. 30 comments. Top.

Look the lie

Every night, I watch Joe when I’m supposed to be doing the crossword. He manages the money. He knows. He checks our bank accounts  and does the math. He knows I’m rarely home during the day, and we both know what it means for our future.

Yesterday, he looked up from the computer and said, “Tell me about him, Christie.”

He wasn’t accusing; he wasn’t demanding.  His voice was tinged with sorrow, as if discussing a death.

“Well, you know. He’s young,” I began. I knew the conversation was coming when I took three hundred dollars out of the ATM machine day before yesterday. I braced myself, rehearsed my lines. But I expected Joe to be furious. I thought I could match him anger for anger and lash back saying see what you’ve driven me to? The sorrow though, dried my voice in my throat.

“Is he good in bed?”

“He’s alright. Not as good as you. Just, you know, different.”

“Different,” Joe said. And I thought he might ask Different how? But he didn’t say anything else, just went back to the computer, back to the accounts. Later, he drew me into his arms and said, “I’m glad he isn’t as good as me,” which made it that much worse.

Of course, there is no other man, and Joe knows that. He knew it last night when he asked, and he knew it when I lied. Maybe he thought he could leave me, as long as there was somebody else. Maybe I thought it, too.

At the tables, they call me Mrs. Stone, scoot in my chair, offer me drinks. At the end of the day, they bring my car from the garage. I tip well. I’m not their highest roller, but when I’m there, it’s like the world narrows down to the money and me, to the slots or the chips on the table. My heart throbs and my breath comes fast and heavy. I can feel my own flesh more closely, pressing down in my seat or stool and at the same time floating away with the numbers. I’ll blow my wad for the pleasure of losing it, then come back and do it again, sometimes the same afternoon. It’s nothing at all like making love, and that much at least is true. It isn’t as good as Joe, just different.

Now, I’m watching him at the computer again, knowing that he is watching me as well. He whistles low; I’ve withdrawn some nine hundred dollars from my savings, and not from ATMs, either. There’s a limit to how much one of those will give me. But if I walk up to the counter with the passbook and my ID, the teller would close out the account if I asked.

I want Joe to confront me; I want it out in the open, not tied up in lies and anticipation. But he doesn’t say anything at all. He just goes on with the computer, and I go on with my crossword, as if the biggest lie of our marriage isn’t sitting beside me in my open purse.

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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Steffani challenged me with “Write about the biggest lie you’ve ever told. (Can be fiction or non-fiction)” and I challenged Tara Roberts with “You have less than two dollars and no access to more money. Begging is illegal and the police are vigilant. How do you get food?”

Holy Cats! Waterlogged won first prize at Trifecta!  

Fiction: Waterlogged

Last modified on 2012-01-20 03:28:26 GMT. 47 comments. Top.

Sharon waited in her car until the last possible second, then hugged her jacket tightly and stepped into the deluge. Water sluiced over her hood, cascaded past her shoulders and rolled down her unprotected lower body. Within moments, she was soaked below the hips.

The wind jerked her first one way, then another. Every step forward was a fight, and the slick pavement made her movements pinched. Halfway to the courthouse stairs, she met a pair of wingtips exiting a dark car. Without looking at each other, Sharon and the man fell in step.

He brought up his umbrella, but a blast from behind snapped the bumbershoot’s fabric outward, breaking it cleanly in less time than it had taken the man to raise it.  He threw down its remains.

“Hold on to me,” said Sharon. She was unsure whether she meant to support him or the other way around. It didn’t matter. They hooked arms against the storm, and in so doing gained the stability to run. Pulling each other, they reached the stairs and then the door. The man handed Sharon his briefcase. As she took it, she realized this was Richard, whom she would divorce within the hour. How little he resembled himself as he braced one hand on the wall and pulled with the other against the monsoon.

A sliver of light as the old wood yielded, and Sharon jammed in her foot to force the door outward. Then, as with the umbrella, the wind changed, walloping Richard back. Sharon grabbed his arm again to keep him from falling.

He seized her, and for a moment they teetered on the threshold. Then he gained his balance and propelled them both inside, where the fickle wind slammed the door behind them. They staggered forward together, still connected in that instant, as they moved out of the world where water held sway and into another dominion entirely.

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This week’s word over at Trifecta:

Dare to Share at The Lightning Bug

The Lightning Bug.

And Write on Edge

Weep won third prize in the Trifecta writing challenge! 

Fiction: Weep

Last modified on 2012-01-13 23:20:00 GMT. 28 comments. Top.

Weep

No clouds at all. The soft waves masked a riptide, and there were no swimmers. Even the morning’s shell seekers had retreated from the midday heat,  and white sand ran into green ocean ran into blue sky in uninterrupted succession.

On the balcony, James sipped his iced tea. The ceiling fan whipped in circles without stirring the air down by the table.  “I haven’t seen it this tranquil in a long time.”

Melinda nodded, but she didn’t speak. She watched the condensation weep down the side of her glass.

“There will be others,” James said.

Again, she nodded without saying anything, still watching the droplets zigzag down to eventually collect in a puddle  around the base. In the distance, a white speck pierced the horizon, grew into the shape of a fishing boat, then drifted out of view, heading in the direction of the docks.

Melinda picked up her glass, but not to drink. She wiped the water off the table and put the tea back down untouched. She looked at the place where the ship had vanished, but nothing else emerged from the cove.

James looked there too, for a little while, but then returned his eyes to the tea. He used one finger to stir the ice around, and the clinking cubes cut into the balcony’s silence. He stopped stirring.

“I suppose everything ends, doesn’t it?” he said.

“I suppose so,” Melinda answered, and at last she took a drink from her glass.

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This is the first time I’ve put fiction on my blog, and I’m linking up with the folks over at Trifecta who use the rule of 3. Stories must be between 33 and 333 words and must be based on Merriam Webster’s third definition of a chosen word. Sound pretty obscure? That’s just exactly why I like it.

Anyway, when commenting on my fiction, please know that I welcome constructive criticism. I’ve got a thick skin. I like the chance to resolve things that aren’t working.

 

 

 


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Short Fiction — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Literary Love: A winner « Word Crushes: Lovin' the Story

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