Flash Fiction: Cock up

“Well, where is it?” said Comrade Whipp. The frustration and impatience he was trying and failing to mask seeped into his voice. “We were told this was a hall for venerating your ancestors, or some such feudal garbage. Where is the armor?”

We stood in a loose semi-circle outside the hall, shifting uneasily on our feet; none of us made eye contact. We all knew exactly where the armor was.

Comrade Whipp growled and spun on Granny Warmbread, who stood nearest.

“The People’s Republic does not approve of superstitious rituals or worship of feudal idols! The armor must be destroyed!” he roared. Granny Warmbread recoiled from his hot, rotten breath. She stared him down until he turned away.

“No,” she muttered under her breath. “You just want Sir Chanticleer’s four hundred year old armor to melt into bullets.” Comrade Whipp was too apoplectic to hear.

From inside the temple came the heart-rending sound of wood cracking and tearing and clattering to the flagstones. They were pulling down the hand-painted plinths and murals. Smoke rose up from the courtyard as they burned the ancestral records. It stung our noses and brought tears to our eyes.

Valory Chanticleer fidgeted in her mother’s gaunt grasp. Her father had fought for the People’s Army. Was this how they showed gratitude? By tearing apart his tomb? She looked up at her mother, but Mrs. Chanticleer kept her gaze resolutely forward.

“If you aren’t going to help us now, shoo!” Comrade Whipp shrieked, eyes rolling. “We will be inspecting your homes next! If we find even one shred of backwards, feudal, superstitious nonsense lying around you will be marched through the streets and all will know your shame!”

Startled by the manic edge in his voice, we dispersed. We had hidden our relics weeks ago, when we heard what was happening in Wyvern-on-lea. Their ancestral hall fared worse—it had been burnt to the ground.

Back home, Valory Chanticleer couldn’t stop herself. She raced up the ladder and stood in the attic, surrounded by rows of hanging hams. She looked up to the rafters, squinting through the darkness at the thatching. Knowing she oughtn’t, she swung herself up and stood on a beam. She pushed aside the thatching and there it was, the helmet of Sir Chanticleer, her ancestor, safely nestled in the straw. How lucky that they had been repairing the roof when the armor needed hiding! It would remain there, safely hidden until the madness was over. Valory did not know that the madness would ever end as she stood there, perched on the beam like a little bird. But she did know, deep in her heart, that the Great Chairman had to be wrong about labeling something with so much history and significance as “superstitious” and “feudal.” She still felt this way long after she forgot what the murals had looked like, and how the epic poems went.

Comrade Whipp and his cadres never thought to look up, and therefore never found the armor of Sir Chanticleer. But they took their vengeance out on just about everything else. Later, historians tried to pass the entire, decade-long disruption of traditional culture off as nothing more than a cock up.

 

Let me know what you think of this piece in the comments! Thanks for reading~

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Fiction: The Dog

He drank in the cool morning air floating about him. Rays of early sunlight tipped over the top of the houses. Just ahead, there was a crash and a yelp, followed by several menacing barks. Jacob crouched instinctively, and cautiously made his way towards the sounds.
In the narrow space between two houses, a large black dog with bristly hair snarled at a smaller dog with pointed ears, a black face, and a white chest. Its posture suggested it was protecting something behind it. Looking closer, Jacob saw that one of the smaller dog’s front paws was bleeding. There was a fierce look in its black eyes.

“Hey!” called Jacob, and the large black dog turned to face him. Its face was angled and mean, teeth stained and eyes mad. Jacob realised too late that when it straightened up, its head came nearly to his shoulder. He patted himself, searching for the knife he usually carried, but it wasn’t there. He caught sight of a heavy metal pole, about a meter from his hand. As soon as his eyes flicked to it, the large dog lunged.

Jacob dove, fingers wrapping around the pole just in time to take a powerful swing at the lunging dog. It connected with the dog’s flank, knocking it off balance–the dog squared itself to Jacob and snarled. Crap.

Just as Jacob was preparing to take another swing, the smaller dog took a flying leap and bit deeply into the black dog’s shoulder. It spun and the two animals were a blur of fur and teeth, a whirlwind of barks and snarls.

They broke apart, and the black dog lunged for whatever it was that the smaller dog had been protecting. Not thinking, Jacob leapt between them, the pole coming down on the larger dog’s head with a dull crack. The black dog slumped, unconscious. Jacob turned to face the smaller dog, but it growled at him distrustfully.

Jacob backed away slowly, dropping the pole. He nudged the black dog with his foot, and looked to the fierce little fighter. It cocked its head and took a step. Behind it was a fresh duck carcass.

“Ah, protecting your dinner, boy?” Jacob coaxed. There’s more than enough meat on that duck for a stew, Jacob couldn’t help but thinking. But he didn’t have the heart to fight the little dog for it. He backed out of the alley.

He was turning the corner when he heard a rustle behind him. There was the little black-faced dog, limping along with its duck in its mouth. It perked up when it saw him looking and its tail twitched.

The shadow of a smile curled Jacob’s lips.

“C’mon, boy,” he whistled.

The dog’s tail waggled even more at this, and it limped along behind him all the way to his house.

Jacob stopped at the top of the porch stairs and held open the door. The little dog hesitated, its brow furrowing.

“In you go!” Jacob said with the wave of his hand. But the dog flinched and dropped its duck, skittering off into a scraggly bush.

Jacob pursed his lips. “All right, be that way.” He snatched up the duck and took it inside.

*

Jacob set aside some meat and offal for the dog, and once the stew was simmering over the camp stove, he ventured outside to find his little provider.

“Here, boy,” he whistled. “Dinner time!”

A small black face and two pointy black ears appeared in the hedge. The little dog limped out on its bloodied front paw, edging its way over to Jacob and the tantalising bowl of food.

As it tucked in, Jacob examined its wound. A few near-bites and suspicious growls later, the paw was wrapped up and the pup was allowing Jacob to scratch its ears.

“What’s your name, little hero?” Jacob asked it softly. It was so small and brave, and had that kind of face that looked like it was smiling at a secret. “Small and tough, and it looks like you’re wearing a uniform… you look like a Napoleon.”

Jacob paused. “Napoleon?” he tried.

The pup perked his ears. Jacob smiled.

“Napoleon it is, then.”

 

 

No animals were harmed in the making of this piece! Let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you for your continued support, dear readers!

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Flash Fiction: Life/Cycle

As I lie here, immobile, I look back on my life.

The best memories come first: sunshine, a hillside, flying fast, wind whipping through her hair. Her name was Melanie, and we met four years ago.

Melanie, Melanie… She had the most beautiful smile, the softest hands. When we went out, she liked to wear floral skirts that would flip and dance, showing off her well-toned legs. And the places we’d go! She’d always pick me up, and as we rolled out of the garage, she’d take a right or a left, down the tree-lined streets of the neighborhood… Sometimes we’d go to the park, or the bar street, but my favorite days were Sundays, when we’d go to the mountains.

The feeling of dirt in my treads, that fresh mountain air… Yes, I lived for those days. There’s a challenge in it. Sometimes I wasn’t sure we were going to make it to the top, but then Melanie would shift a gear, and we did! We’d stop for a picnic and I’d rest, admiring the view, while Melanie unpacked her sandwiches.

It wasn’t always perfect though. I’ll never forget that day I got a puncture and Melanie forgot the repair kit. She had to push me down the mountain, three hours to the nearest village. But the village repairman did a beautiful job. I never said anything to Melanie, but his patch lasted longer than any of hers.

I could have stayed with Melanie forever. But one day, she popped inside a corner shop for an ice cream—two minutes, in and out, she’d said—and left off the lock. Before I could blink a pair of grubby hands were wheeling me away, tearing down the street like it was nobody’s business. Just before we turned the corner I caught sight of Melanie’s shocked face as she stepped out of the shop, her gentle hands—oh, will I ever feel those hands on my grips again?—curved around an ice-cream.

Then came the dark days. The grubby hands belonged to a man known as Slim. He locked me up in a dank cellar, along with countless other kidnapped brothers and sisters. Some had been in there for years, never taken out, chains never oiled, tires never pumped. We called ourselves the Lost Wheels.

Sometimes a handful of us would get wheeled out into daylight, propped along a fence. Strangers would slink up, Slim would quote them a price, they’d haggle, and then one of us would be taken away. I dreaded one choosing me, for none of those shady people looked half as kind as Melanie.

But I didn’t need to worry. A few weeks after Slim tore me from my home, he was busted. Now I lie here in this heap of junk, waiting, waiting…

Above me something moves. Metallic bodies around me stir, and are lifted into the sky. I too soar upward, slam into the magnet, joints grinding on impact. The giant machine lurches and I don’t like the look of the pit below. It looks like pain, scraped and littered with tiny body parts. We fall, twisted and broken, all sharp angles… waiting, waiting, and then—

 

This was in response to a Bookworm Writing Group prompt: the main character must die in the course of the piece. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Flash Fiction: Just Like That Bluebird

“Once there was a girl–”

“Oh, Grandma, why does this story have to be about a girl?”

“Hush now. Plenty of girls have had to listen to tales of boy-heroes. You would do well to sit still and listen for once. You might learn something.”

“Once there was a girl, and she was neither a princess nor a warrior, but a dancer. She was born in a small village where dancing was only done at festivals. When she danced in the rain, or twirled her way to school, she was chastised and told–Stop that!”

“Sorry, Grandma. I’ll sit still.”

“She was chastised and told that dancing was only for festivals and that she was being highly inappropriate. But this did not seem right to the girl, so she continued dancing, even when there was no music. She grew up, as we all do, but she never stopped dancing. She believed that dancing had the power to change the world. If you asked her why, she would have been unable to tell you. She would have just smiled and continued her mysterious dance.”

“What did she look like, Grandma?”

Grandma scowls, but then her wrinkled face softens. “She was beautiful, but not in ways that people have come to expect. When she smiled, others smiled with her. Her eyes were clear, like a deep pool of water or a summer sky. But it was her dancing that won people’s hearts. It was hypnotic, magical. Eventually, she was encouraged to leave home and seek her fortune in the big city. Everywhere she danced, she gathered followers.

“By the time she got to the capital, she was living like a queen. But she rose too far, too fast. It was not fame that she wanted: it was to change people’s hardened, weary hearts. The folk in the capital treated her like a pretty little bird on display in its little golden cage.”

“Was she really kept in a cage?”

Grandma nods solemnly. “Yes, she was, but it was not a cage like you or I might imagine. It was made from opinion and mirrors, and it was not a cage one could easily escape. But she found a way. She reinvented herself year after year, became something new and impossible. Soon, no cage could be built that could hold her. She was free.”

There is a pause.

“It must have been really difficult. For her. To do that,” the child says carefully, but in his heart all he can think about is how much he’d rather be off dancing than listening to Grandma’s story.

 

 

Like it? Let me know in the comments. This was written as a tribute to David Bowie.

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Fiction: Curse of the Rose

The briars had been there since I could remember. They made a wall so thick and thorny that not even my dragon–the best climber I knew–could find a way through. That did not stop us from trying.

“If I have to stitch these clothes up one more time, Dez, I will feed you to the wolves!” Mother said when she had had enough.

“You could take a pack of wolves, Mell,” I whispered to my dragon when Mother was not looking, but Mell just gazed up at me with big, round eyes, deep and clear as a cavern pool. She is only a baby dragon, after all. I did not push it.

It took us a while, but eventually we begged, borrowed, and stole enough leather bits to cobble together a suit of armor. A cuirasse that was too small for Ifron’s chest, greaves and gloves swiped from the Academy armoury–they would never miss them–and when Char sniffed out what we were doing, he made us some sturdy trousers, and promised not to tell Mother. We would storm Sleeper’s Castle yet, my dragon and I.

My brothers tell me there is a princess inside, behind the tangled vines. They say she was cursed by one of the fey. They say the whole castle was trapped by the spell, the king, the queen, their servants and soldiers. They say she is beautiful, or was, before she slept. But they know nothing, for the last living soul to gaze upon the princess died years and years ago, before I was born.

“Are you ready, Mell?” I said as I stroked her snout. Her iridescent scales rippled and changed as she burbled in pleasure.

The wall of briars towered above us. The sun hung high; the air was clear as birdsong. It was a cool day for summer. I was sixteen.

It was not easy, but we were well-practiced. We climbed higher than ever before, and that day, we reached the top. The briars covered the castle like a dome, blocking out nearly all light. And yet, we found a way through, and stood upon the topmost rampart.

Ruins. Below us, rubble and beams were strewn about, heaped like cow dung and choked with brambles. Needles of sunlight pierced the darkness. If the princess lay somewhere in this wasteland, it was in permanent sleep.

Scrambling down the broken stones was easy enough. Mell even stretched out her wings and glided a ways, though her landing was less than graceful. We poked around the rubble and vines. Everything was covered in them, tightly constricting whatever lay beneath. Once I thought I saw an ivory thigh bone protruding from a knot of briars.

We explored deeper and deeper, and soon the bramble-covered bones were unmistakable. Mell sniffed at the dome of a skull buried deep in vegetation, leaping to my shoulder when the vine seemed to twitch.

There it was. In a shadowy corner, a heavy iron door was angled into what would have been a lower level of the castle. Ornate swirls of briars and roses adorned it, and it extended almost twice my height.

“This is it, Mell…” I breathed. She was inside, I knew it. The Princess of Rohr, asleep… or dead.

I took hold of one of the thick rings welded to the door, and pulled. It wouldn’t budge an inch. Thwarted just like that? Of course not!

“Mell!” I cried. “Torch it!”

Little Mell coughed and a hint of smoke curled from her lips.

“Come on, Mell,” I pleaded.

I was not expecting the hot blast of flame she breathed, warming the hinges. I tugged again, and the heavy door creaked open. A blast of rose- and must-scented air hit our noses. It was dark inside; the shards of sunlight did not reach this place.

I swallowed. I was brave, but there was something sinister about the crypt. The air seeping out made me feel drowsy. I swallowed again, then took one bold step into the darkness.

“Mell, a little light?”

A short burst of flame illuminated a surprisingly small chamber, and two glinting eyes.

I sprang backwards so violently that I landed on my behind, sliding and scrambling to find my feet. As I shakily stood, a figure, gown pale pink like a rose, swayed out of the crypt on fragile feet and into the dim light.

“Tell them I did not mean it,” she said, voice wavering. “I did not know what would happen. I did not know I would kill them.”

“Kill whom?” I asked, fear growing in my belly. Mell nudged my hand–we needed to leave.

“Please help me get out of here,” the princess continued. “It has been so long, and I am so hungry!” A shard of sunlight pierced through the briars and landed on her face. She smiled, her teeth sharp and green like thorns.

“Come closer, won’t you?” she beckoned with a graceful arm. Her frail body was hardly able to stand. “I have been so lonely.”

The faint scent of roses tickled my nose. My eyelids drooped. Mell bit my hand and I came to my senses.

“No!” I cried. Panic rose in my breast. We needed to trap her within the crypt once more. But could I approach her without losing my life? I knew nothing of her powers. I looked to Mell.

She braced her four tiny feet on the ground, and let loose the largest blast of flame I had ever seen her produce. The princess shielded herself with her arms and took small, quick steps backwards. Before she could retaliate, I swept forward and gave her a mighty shove into the crypt. The door was so heavy! The last thing I saw before it slammed shut were her dark fangs and wild, pink glare. A shriek of despair and frustration echoed on the other side of the thick metal.

Now you see why we trapped her there, said Mell in my head. It was the first time she had spoken to me. The people have forgotten, but you must remember.

And so I began my watch.

 

 

This one’s a little longer than my usual. Tell me what you think in the comments!

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Flash Fiction: Underworld

This story can now be seen in Spittoon Literary Magazine Issue 1, published in Beijing. Shout-out to the guys at Spittoon!

Mama had always told him mermaids were real. She had grown up on a tiny island somewhere in the Mediterranean–nowhere you’ve ever heard of. Her voice would lull him to sleep each night, soft, lilting syllables weaving tales of magic and myth. The mermaids were just one story out of many. He hadn’t listened very closely back then.

The mermaid swam past him again, the scales on her tail glinting in the murky water. At this depth, the sunlight was weak, the world pale green like frosted glass. She was catching fish with her bare hands. The small ones she would pop into her mouth, while the larger ones she would place into a satchel woven from rope–after snapping their necks. She paid little attention to him floating there.

Since he didn’t have anything better to do, he studied her. Silver scales, which covered most of her body, mottled green-grey skin on her hands, face, and belly. She had breasts and a human face, although her mouth was full of jagged fangs and her eyes were an eerie combination of yellow and black. They flicked back and forth as she sought her prey. Hair grew out of the top of her head, a tangled mass of seaweed-green and black. She looked nothing like the fair-skinned beauties depicted in fairytales, but there was an elegance to her all the same. She swam powerfully through the water, her tail propelling her with swift, sure movements.

Finally, her satchel full, she turned her attention to him. First, she swam a few circles around his upright form. His eyes followed her when they could. Then, she swam down to inspect the block of concrete which encased his feet. She picked at the rope which bound his hands, the gag stuffed in his mouth. But she didn’t remove them. Her eyes opened wide in shock when she gazed into his face and made eye contact. That’s right, honey, I’m still alive… He was pretty good at holding his breath. Mama had made him practice in the pool growing up, as if the Fates had told her that he’d end up like this.

The mermaid regarded him gravely. He knew he couldn’t hold his breath forever. He would have to let the water fill his lungs, and this knowledge filled him with a dull rage. She knew it too, but her face betrayed no emotion. After a moment she broke her gaze, and with a pump of her tail, was gone.

The rage inside him built. Help me, god dammit! Get me out of here! I don’t want to die! He was reaching his limit. The mermaid was nowhere to be seen. The corners of his eyes stung. I don’t want to die! But he couldn’t hold his breath anymore. The water burned as it filled him, and he writhed in pain. But just as the pale green realm was fading to black, he felt something tugging at his numb, bound hands. Cutting away the rope? He felt her take his hand in hers and hold it. The last thing he saw was the sadness in her yellow eyes.

 

 

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Flash Fiction: Earth to Earth

Interplanetary Alliance Historical Record 6778

Excerpt from a Common Tongue log kept by the Queen of Ktkkh

When the ones from the stars arrived, we made a bad first impression. In our defence, we had never seen creatures with so much meat on the outside before, so naturally we hunted them. Our six legs are fast and strong, but they are good runners and often outlasted us on their two meaty ones. We confess that their flesh is delicious, however we would certainly never mention that to any of their faces.

Their physiology is very strange. Each of the four limbs ends in five digits, with opposable thumbs on the upper limbs. Hair comes out of the tops of their heads, and from a few other places, although this varies from body to body. Shading of flesh varies as well, and their eyes are a bit disgusting. We find them fascinating.

When we eventually got around to communicating with them, we discovered that they are intelligent and complex creatures, and we brought them before us, so we could see them with our clearest eyes.

They entered our hall and bowed to us. We found their lack of synchrony in movement incredibly disconcerting, but were pleased to see that our peoples shared certain gestures. Their strange small eyes grew round with surprise when they saw us, seated on our throne, surrounded by our drones. We make an impressive sight. We had never met another sentient race before their arrival, and were surprised to discover that while they were speaking to us–we could clearly discern their chemical and electrical signals–they did not understand us. Later we discovered that their sensory organs–olfactory, auditory, etc.–were inferior to ours and unable to discern the signals we use to command and receive information. This lead to many miscommunications at the start. These creatures called humans like to deceive themselves.

We had to find other ways of communicating with them, so we learned some of their language. Our teachers tell us we do rather well with Common Tongue, but we don’t wish to brag. We think we still have a bit of an accent.

“Why do you move so strangely?” we asked our teachers one day.

“How do you mean?” one teacher-mouth replied.

“You move as if your mind is not one,” we said firmly.

The teacher-mouth stared. After a long while, they replied:

“Our minds are not one.”

*

In that moment while our mind grappled with this concept, our drones apparently ceased all movement. The humans working with them at the time reported this back to us, their accounts scattered and piecemeal. We pity them. How slowly humans must have developed, unable to instantly access the experiences and memories contained in each body.

And yet, they reached our planet before we reached them.

Our ships are ready now, and we are preparing to return with the humans to Earth on a diplomatic tour. It feels so strange for us to say that in Common, as “Earth” is what we call our world in our own tongue.

 

 

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