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January 31, 2021

Protected: The Case of the Missing Men

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 7:47 pm

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April 6, 2020

No Good Deed…

Filed under: NYC Midnight — Patsy @ 3:09 am

I made it to the second round of the NYC Midnight SS Contest.  My prompts were Fairytale, Food Poisoning, Mediator.  I had 3 days to write a 2000 word short story.  Wish me luck in getting to Round 3!

 

Once upon a time in the land of 122 Kingdoms, a bumbling Fairy Godmother tried to do a good deed, and as we all know…no good deed goes unpunished.

 

No Good Deed…

 

 

Magnolia Maplefrog fluttered her wings nervously as she took her seat before Judge Pembleton.  Appointed as the Sanctioned Mediator in Kingdom Affairs, the stern wizard looked none too pleased to see her again.  His bushy white eyebrows drew together like furry caterpillars as he paged through her file with flicks of his wand.  This latest screw-up just might get her wings clipped.  The union took these things quite seriously.

As an Official Fairy Godmother, it was her sworn duty to grant wishes to the deserving, and though she tried, she didn’t always get it just right.  Magnolia’s gaze strayed to the unconscious girl stretched out across the opposing table as “exhibit A.”

If only she’d paid better attention to her botany lessons, she wouldn’t be in this fix.

To think it had all started so well…

###

Magnolia slouched in the break room at headquarters with her chin propped in her palm.  She flicked her wand and set the broom and duster to work.  Cleaning up seemed to be her only task of late.  It had been ages since she’d had an assignment.  Word must have gotten around about the little accident with Princess Emmeline.  She’d only been a goose for a week…that wasn’t long in the grand scheme of things.

Magnolia gazed out the window with a sigh. At least the view was lovely.  At the center of the 122 Kingdoms, standing out like a beacon to all who needed them, OFGM Headquarters was built into the top of the tallest tree in the land.  Her coworkers buzzed around the structure like busy worker bees, but no one needed her…or more precisely…no one wanted her.

Pink skirts trailing, her good friend Harmony Brightmoon fluttered into the room with a huge smile on her face.

“You’ve been called out,” Harmony said, thrusting a scroll into Magnolia’s outstretched hands.

Magnolia eyed it dubiously.  “Someone asked for me?”

Harmony nodded.  “Princess Rowena of Kingdom 78 was personally invited to Prince Roland of Kingdom 23’s ball tonight…and she wants you to dress her!”

Zapping up gorgeous dresses was Magnolia’s specialty, and it was a task she rarely screwed up.  She could do this.

Harmony unrolled her own scroll. “I’m off to see a Prince in Kingdom 122, so don’t wait up for me.”  She made shooing motions.  “The chance to marry up is every Princess’s dream.  Don’t let Rowena down.”

“I won’t,” Magnolia promised…but she’d done just that…

  ###

Magnolia’s gaze returned to the reclining girl.  Except for her puckered mouth, Princess Rowena looked lovely with her hair in a spill of dark curls, and her pretty gown stretched over her shiny new shoes.  To be fair, the girl’s sour expression was likely due to the potion infused persimmon Magnolia had given her.

Seated next to their unconscious daughter, King Edmund glared at Magnolia in a decidedly unfriendly fashion, but his wife, Queen Elinor, seemed strangely content.

In the Land of 122 Kingdoms, Royalty was obsessed with numerical status.  When you languished way down in Kingdom 78, attending a ball hosted by Kingdom 23 was an opportunity not to be missed. It was well known Prince Roland was looking to settle down.  Rowena’s personal invitation to his ball meant she was on his shortlist of potential mates…or at least she had been.

Magnolia shook her head. She should never have given in to the girl’s requests for a beauty potion where it was so obviously not needed.

Why did peonies and valerian both have to be pink anyway…?

###

Magnolia admired her handiwork as Princess Rowena twirled in her sparkling new gown.  Of palest yellow, with a smattering of butterflies at the hem, it showed the girl’s dark hair and eyes to advantage.  Her beauty put even the flowers of the surrounding garden to shame.

“It’s lovely,” Rowena said.  “I can’t thank you enough.”

Magnolia returned her smile.  “It was my pleasure, dear.  Now get yourself off to the ball.”

The pleasant thing about dealing with Princesses was they came with their own transportation.  One didn’t have to go to the trouble of zapping large vegetables into carriages or turning mice into horses.  She gave a slight shudder.  That little task hadn’t ended well the last time she’d tried it.

Magnolia fluttered her wings, preparing for liftoff, but the Princess caught her hand.

“Wait!”

Stilling, Magnolia looked her over.  “Did I miss something, dear?”

Princess Rowena pressed a small slip of paper into Magnolia’s hands. “I need just one thing more to make my look perfect.”

“A beauty potion?” Magnolia asked in confusion.  “My child, you’re already one of the fairest in the land.  You’ve no need of such help.”

“Oh, please?” Rowena clasped her hands.  “It’s an old family recipe that just needs a bit of magic to make it work.  My Grandmother used it when she found her Prince.  It would mean ever so much to me.”

Magnolia hesitated.  She wasn’t supposed to give help where it wasn’t needed, but what harm could it do if it gave the child confidence?  It would be her good deed for the day.

“I’ve gathered all the ingredients for you,” Rowena said, gesturing to the garden bench.

Magnolia smiled. “Very well.”

It was short work to blend the potion.  A cup of well water from the ageless Earth, diced peonies for the fairness of the Fae, the yolk of a hummingbird egg for the essence of youth, and two spoons of wild honey to bind it.

Magnolia frowned. Honey was a curious binder for a beauty potion.  It was more often used when you wanted a spell to be sticky and hard to remove, but this wasn’t her recipe.

She shrugged and tapped her wand to the cup.  The concoction boiled, turning an angry shade of puce.

“Are you certain you want to drink this, dear?” she asked skeptically.

Rowena smiled.  “One doesn’t drink it.  It’s meant to be eaten on a bit of fruit.”

“Oh yes, I see,” Magnolia said, squinting at the paper.  “Sour fruit, it says.”

Magnolia reached up and plucked a persimmon off a nearby tree.  Not quite ripe. It would be sour indeed.  She dropped it into the cup and watched it change from orange-green to purple-brown.

She offered it dubiously to the Princess, who took it with a quivering hand and held it up to the fading sunlight. “Here’s to my future.”

Rowena took a single bite and promptly collapsed to the ground in a heap…

  ###

Judge Pembleton banged his gavel, and Magnolia jumped.

“Magnolia Maplefrog, you stand accused of negligent potion handling, food poisoning, and one count of assault upon a Royal Personage.  How do you plead?”

She raised her chin. “Not guilty, your honor.”

“Not guilty?” King Edmund shouted, gesturing down at his daughter.  “The evidence of your guilt is right here before you!  Because of you, my daughter missed the ball!”

Magnolia surged to her feet.  “It was your daughter who gave me the ingredients!  It isn’t my fault she gave me valerian instead of peonies!”

It was Magnolia’s fault that she hadn’t spotted the difference, but one diced pink flower looked much like another! What she had brewed was a sleeping curse, not a beauty tonic…she’d been right about the honey being out of place…if only she’d noticed the flowers too!

“Are you insinuating my daughter poisoned herself?” the King shouted.

“It was her recipe, not mine!” Magnolia shouted back.

Sputtering like a kettle on the boil, the King turned an alarming shade of scarlet.

“Order in the court!” Judge Pembleton banged his gavel, sending a blinding burst of light around the room, and they both fell silent.

He tapped the file on his desk with a long, bony finger.  “Magnolia, this isn’t the first time you’ve been accused of mishandling magic.  There’s the goose incident to consider, and that time you turned carriage mice into fire-breathing dragons.”

“But this wasn’t my fault!” Magnolia protested.

Queen Elinor stood and placed a calming hand on her husband’s shoulder.  “Your Honor, I have made arrangements, and if they come to fruition, we might consider generously dropping the charges.”

As if on cue, the doors at the back of the courtroom banged open.

Like he was posing for an official portrait, a tall handsome Prince stood with hands-on-hips in the doorframe.  A jeweled, five-point crown graced his dark hair, and his open, white shirt revealed far too much of his smooth, sculpted chest for propriety.

“Never fear, Prince Roland is here,” he said.

His scarlet cloak billowed out behind him, revealing sinfully tight black pants as he strode confidently forward.

Magnolia rolled her eyes.  She’d forgotten what a posturing peacock the Prince of Kingdom 23 was.

Queen Elinor smiled.  “As you can see, Prince Roland has kindly offered to wake dear Rowena with the favor of his kiss.  He was terribly upset when I told him what happened.”

Magnolia sucked in a sharp breath at the calculating look in the Queen’s eyes.  Had she been played for a fool?  Is this what Rowena and the Queen had planned all along?  Should a Prince wake a Princess with true love’s kiss, it was as good as a binding marriage contract.

“It will be my pleasure to wake this fair angel.”  He puffed out his chest.  “I assure you, no maiden has ever been left wanting by my kiss.”

Did the poor, dumb fool even realize he’d fallen right into their trap? Before she could say anything to prevent him, with a flourish of his cape, he leaned down and placed a chaste kiss upon Rowena’s lips. Rising confidently, he took the duplicitous girl’s hand and gazed down at her.  Long seconds ticked by as everyone held their breath, but Rowena remained asleep.

Roland smiled.  “Perhaps she requires a longer taste of my lips.”  He kissed her again…not quite as chastely…but still she didn’t wake.

Frowning, Roland raised the unconscious girl by the shoulders and applied a little tongue to his efforts.

The Queen looked disconcerted.  True-love’s kiss only worked if both parties were truly in love. Their little scheme had backfired in the worst possible way.  Magnolia could almost feel sorry for them if they hadn’t dragged her into this.

“Hey!  Get your face off her!” came an indignant shout from the back of the courtroom.

The assembly turned as one.  A Prince, from one of the lesser kingdoms by the humble circle of gold he wore in his fair hair, stood in the doorway with Harmony fluttering at his side.

Though nicely formed, his chest was modestly covered by a plain, white shirt, and his navy pants, though snug, revealed nothing untoward.  A rapier bounced at his hip as he strode forward and took Rowena from a startled Roland’s grasp.

With an expression of disgust, the Prince used his sleeve to wipe Roland’s spittle from her mouth before he pressed his own lips to hers.  Rowena gave a soft moan, and her arms came up around his neck as she kissed him back.

“What is the meaning of this?” shouted King Edmund.

Harmony fluttered forward.  “If it pleases the court,” she said, bowing to Judge Pembleton, and to the King and Queen.  “This is Prince Stefan, of Kingdom 122.  By right of true love’s kiss, he claims the Princess’s hand in marriage.”

Queen Elinor’s face went ashen, and she swooned into her husband’s arms.  He caught her, sitting hard in his chair.

“But…but…” the King sputtered, his hopes of an advantageous marriage going up in smoke as his daughter curled contentedly into Prince Stefan’s embrace.

Magnolia’s anger vanished.  Rowena had played them all, but she’d done so for love.  Her parents would never have approved of such a poor match.  Now they had no choice.

Judge Pembleton’s gaze lit on the young lovers, and something that might have been a smile touched his lips.  The old wizard was no fool.

With a wink at Magnolia, he banged his gavel.  “Case dismissed.”

November 11, 2019

Thrill of the Chase

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 3:23 am

It’s NYC Midnight Flash Fiction time again!  My round 2 story got me into round 3 and I had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story using the following prompts: Romance/a frozen pond/a croissant.  Wish me luck!

Thrill of the Chase

A gift from her eccentric Grandmother puts Elizabeth on thin ice…but it also lands her in the arms of a handsome stranger.

 

 

Rochester bounded after a squirrel, and Elizabeth nearly dropped her croissant. Stuffing the pastry into her mouth, she grabbed his leash with both hands and dug her heels into the snow-dusted path. His quarry fled up a nearby tree, and the dog sat with a disgusted sounding huff.

Swallowing the last of her breakfast, she patted his head. “Unless you learn to climb trees, you’re out of luck.”

Moody as his namesake, Rochester gave her a disgusted doggy glare.

The look was alarmingly reminiscent of the one she’d gotten from Gran when she’d stopped by for breakfast.

###

“When are you going to stop brooding over Leon?” Gran demanded.

It was a good question. She certainly didn’t owe the cheating creep any loyalty, but she wasn’t ready to trust again yet.

She sighed. “Brooding doesn’t have an off switch, Gran.”

“Maybe this will help.” Her Grandmother held out a long knitted scarf that scaled through the colors of the rainbow. It had fringy ends and was silky soft to the touch.  Elizabeth raised it to her nose and sniffed. The yarn was infused with Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood and Jasmine.

“What are you up to?” Gran was half Romani, and she had a booming online business selling amulets, talismans and other charmed objects.

Gran shrugged. “I’m not getting any younger. I want to see you settled and happy.” She pinched Elizabeth’s cheeks. “Just wear the scarf. True love awaits.”

“Gran,” Elizabeth said in exasperation.

Gran clutched her chest as if mortally wounded. “You would refuse a gift made with my own two hands?”

Elizabeth sighed. “No.”

Gran grinned. “Good. Now put it on and go walk that furry beast of yours.”

###

So…here she was…in the park. 

Rochester growled, and surged after another squirrel, jerking the leash from her grip.

“Rochester, stop!”

The dog bounded into the woods. Cursing, Elizabeth chased after him. A stray branch ripped the scarf from her throat as she plunged into the open on the other side of the trees. Her gaze found the fleeing dog. “Rochester!”

Too late, she realized she’d followed the dog onto an icy pond. Elizabeth tried to stop, but she only skidded further across the glassy surface. And then…she heard it crack.

She froze, barely daring to breathe as the ice spider-webbed beneath her boots. Her cursed, disobedient dog skated right off the other side of the frozen pond and continued running after his prey. She reached for her phone but came up empty. She must have left it at Gran’s.   Elizabeth tried to take a step back, and a cacophony of popping sounds greeted her.

“Oh shit,” she whispered. “What now?”

“Stand still,” a voice advised from behind her.

Elizabeth slowly turned her head. A tall, dark-haired man in jogging clothes stood at the edge of the pond, her scarf in his hand.

“I am so not moving.” She let out a little yelp as the ice groaned and new fracture lines raced toward the center of the pond.

“What’s your name?” he asked, his tone perfectly calm.

“E-Elizabeth,” she stammered.

“I’m Nick.” He gave her a stunning smile. “Now that introductions are over, let’s get you off the ice.”

She nodded. “I’d like that very much.”

He crouched by the edge of the pond. “Very slowly, kneel down and crawl toward me.”

“Are you crazy?” she squeaked.

“Do you want to stay out there forever?” he asked, reasonably.

“No, but I don’t want to drown either!”

“Here. Take the end of this scarf. If you fall through I promise I’ll pull you out.”

He bunched up her colorful scarf and cast it toward her like a streamer. When Elizabeth caught the end a delicious tingle shot up her arm. Nick must have felt it too because he looked down at his hand in surprise.

“Just so you know, my Gran enchanted this scarf this morning, and you’ll be forever cursed if you let me drown.”

He laughed, blue eyes sparkling. “Then I guess I better save you.”

Taking a deep shuddering breath, Elizabeth slowly bent her knees. The ice pinged and popped around her like a rubber band choir.

“Slow and easy,” Nick encouraged.

Elizabeth made it to her hands and knees and sighed in relief…then cold water started seeping up through the cracks all around her.

“Nick!” she gasped.

He jerked her across the crumbling ice and caught her in his arms. They started sliding back toward the water, and Nick heaved them away from the edge, tumbling them over backward into a snowbank. Shivering and giddy with relief, she collapsed on top of him.

When she raised her head, Nick was grinning at her. “So your grandma’s a witch, huh?”

“Something like that,” she said breathlessly. He was close enough to kiss, and Elizabeth was sorely tempted to do just that. She’d never put much stock in the whole magic thing, but looking down at the handsome man Gran’s gift had just delivered, she might have to reevaluate her beliefs.

“Good thing I saved you then,” he said, leaning toward her. “I’d make a terrible frog.”

Elizabeth’s breath went out in a whoosh as sixty pounds of dog smashed down on top of her.

“Rochester!”

Laughing, Nick pushed the dog off and helped her to her feet.

Elizabeth caught the trailing leash. “There you are, you naughty boy.”

Nick patted the dog’s head. “I begin to understand your near ice-bath.”

She shrugged. “He has a minor squirrel obsession.”

Nick’s fingers brushed her cheek as he draped Gran’s scarf around her neck.

“Don’t be too hard on him. It’s a guy thing. We see something we want, and we chase after it, hoping it just might let us catch it.”

He gazed into her eyes, and Elizabeth’s heart did a little flip-flop.

“Have coffee with me? I know a dog-friendly place.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “Should I run?”

Nick laughed. “Only if you intend to let me catch you.”

She grinned up at him. “That could be arranged.”

 

September 15, 2019

Chasing Tail

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 7:09 pm

My latest entry in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest.  The prompts I received were: Comedy/Farmhouse/Notebook.  I have 48 hours to turn them into a 1000 word story.  Wish me luck!

 

Good fences make good neighbors, but even the best fence can’t stop an amorous bull.

 

Chasing Tail

 

Abby sat in the breakfast nook and sipped her coffee.  It was her favorite spot to watch the morning glories on the barn open their purple faces to the rising sun.  Her grandfather planted the flowers for her grandmother before he went off to war over 50 years ago.  Nanna and Papa lived a long, happy life here…you could feel that in every board of the house. When they passed, they’d left the farm to her. Big city girl that she was, everyone told her she’d never be able to handle it, but she’d proven them all wrong.  In addition to milk and egg income, she’d taken her experience as a wedding planner and turned one barn into a country-themed wedding venue.

Abby touched her notebook with its neat lines of mostly black entries. Profits were up.  They’d be up even higher if Bobby Bowers could control his stupid bull.  It had broken through the fence three times in as many weeks to get to her cows, and due to some archaic “neighboring fence law,” she had to pay half the cost to fix it each time his bull smashed it down. She couldn’t decide who was more obnoxious…the handsome cowboy, or his randy bull.

She closed the notebook with a sigh and crossed to the sink.  The farmhands would be along soon to get the girls into the barn for milking.  They needed to get the chores done before the Riley Wedding Party arrived this afternoon. Morning Glory Barn was already set up for the ceremony and reception.

Abby froze at the sound of a familiar bellow through the open kitchen window.

She slammed her mug down on the counter.  “Not again!” Abby bolted out the door and ran toward the pasture to find Bobby’s bull chasing her cows around the field.  She was sorely tempted to go for Grandfather’s twelve-gauge and solve the problem once and for all.

The ping of gravel on tires brought her around the front of the house where Bobby’s truck pulled to a stop in the driveway.

Billy, her resident watch-goat, wandered toward the red pickup with considered interest, and Bobby eyed him warily as he stepped down from the truck.  The last time Bobby darkened her door, Billy had dented the shiny new truck with some friendly head-butts.

Abby strongly considered denting Bobby as she marched toward him—though his muscular 6’2” against her petite frame didn’t put the odds in her favor.

She glared up at him. “This has to stop.”

Whipping off his cowboy hat, Bobby raised his hands in surrender.  “I can’t help it if ole’ Randy finds your girls irresistible, can I?”

“You could put him in a different pasture!”

“I did! He smashed his way through five fences this morning. The boy has powerful urges.  When he sees something he wants, he goes for it.” He grinned.  “I’d do the same if I didn’t think it’d get me shot.”  His blue eyes twinkled with delicious unspoken promises of what that might involve.

She licked her lips.  The more time she spent around the cocky cowboy, the weaker her resistance to his charms grew.

A hard impact to her behind sent her stumbling forward into Bobby’s arms.  Dropping his hat, he caught her against him and spun her out of the way as Billy came at her again with a lowered head.

“That goat of yours just bangs into all kinda pretty things I like,” Bobby drawled, looking down into her eyes as he pressed her against his chest.

Her stinging retort died unspoken as he leaned toward her, clearly meaning to fulfill one of those unspoken promises.  She raised her chin in anticipation of his kiss.

The crash of snapping boards and bellowing bovine jerked them apart.  Several cows barreled around the side of the house with Randy in hot pursuit.

With a startled curse, Bobby grabbed her around the waist and lifted her into the back of his truck. He jumped in after her as the stampede rushed past the pickup…right toward Morning Glory Barn.

“No!” Abby cried.

The cattle plowed through the neatly placed white chairs, tipping tables and trampling flower arrangements.  Candelabras flew as Randy trapped one of his quarry inside the barn.  With a triumphant snort, he mounted her in the center of the dance floor and got busy.

Abby turned a lethal glare on Bobby and blue eyes wide, he took a step back.

“Don’t kill him…or me!”  He waved in the direction of the barn. “I promise I’ll help you clean it up! And any calves are yours to keep. Women love babies…right?”

From the ruined wedding venue, lustful snorting filled the air.  She could laugh, or she could cry.  Abby burst out laughing.  When she caught sight of Bobby’s confused expression, she laughed even harder, doubling over with tears running down her face as the cattle orgy continued.

He took her shoulders and pulled her upright.  “I can’t believe you’re laughing.  I thought you were going to kill us both.”

She poked a finger into his chest.  “I still might, if you don’t get that bull out of my barn. We only have six hours to fix this catastrophe.”

They looked to the barn as Randy dropped from his first target with a satisfied grunt and sniffed at the twitching tail of the next.

Bobby grinned as he helped her down from the truck.  “Can we at least let him finish?”

Abby opened her mouth to protest, and Bobby pulled her close, his eyes dancing with mischief.

“You gotta see it from his perspective. When a fellow finally gets what he’s been chasing in his arms, he doesn’t want to let it go.”

He closed the gap and Abby’s indignation quickly melted under the heated kiss. She stood on her toes and wrapped her arms around his neck.

Maybe having a bull in her pasture wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

 

 

July 15, 2019

Night Therapy

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 1:34 am

My latest entry in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest.  This is round one in the contest and I had 48 hours to write a story with the following prompts: Suspense/A Rehab Center/A blackboard.

I must say, suspense in 1000 words is NOT easy.  Wish me luck!

Night Therapy

All is not what it seems at Green Ivy Rehabilitation Center.  Uncertain how she even got there, can Anna escape before she vanishes like the rest?

 

 

Anna froze, the knife she’d stolen at dinner ready in her hand, but the footfalls outside her door faded into silence.  Balanced precariously on the footboard of the bed, she resumed her attack on the screws of the ceiling vent.

Something was very wrong at Green Ivy Rehabilitation Center.  One, Anna didn’t need rehab. She didn’t put processed food into her body, let alone drugs—she was a vegan for cripes sake!   Two, she couldn’t recall how she’d even gotten here.  She certainly hadn’t checked herself in as they’d claimed.  Three, several girls had gone missing since she’d arrived and the staff acted as if they didn’t even remember them.

Anna was done trying to reason with these people.  She’d been here three long weeks with no communication with the outside world.  Her Mother had to be worried sick.  She was getting the hell out of here…tonight.

This place made her feel like her head was in a bucket—like one of her senses had been cut off—which left her feeling nauseated and really pissed off.  She rubbed at her chaffed wrist.  The ID bracelet they’d given her was made of metal and polished black stone, and nothing short of a hacksaw was getting it off her wrist.

The last screw fell away and tucking the knife in the waistband of her pajamas, Anna wrenched the vent free and dropped it on the bed.

Hurried footfalls sounded in the hall outside her door.

They were coming!    

With a desperate leap, Anna hoisted herself into the duct, but before she could pull her legs inside, a hand closed around her ankle and jerked her back.  She struck her chin on the opening and landed in a dazed heap on the floor.

Dr. Hamilton and two orderlies stood looking down at her.

“Going somewhere?” Dr. Hamilton asked with a supercilious smirk.  Anna had wanted to slap that expression off the woman’s face from the moment they met.

“Apparently not,” she said, rubbing her chin.

Dr. Hamilton nodded at the orderlies.  “Take her.  I think it’s time for a little night therapy.”

They each grabbed an arm and pulled Anna upright.  Heart pounding, she struggled between the two hulking men as they dragged her into the hall.  “I don’t want any of your therapy! I don’t even belong here!”

“Oh, but you do.”  Dr. Hamilton gave a petulant laugh. “I almost feel guilty when they don’t understand what they are…almost.”

“What are you talking about?”

She fingered the amethyst pendant around her throat.  “You’ll see soon enough, child.”

They took Anna to a room in the basement, and when she saw the “treatment” chair, she threw her weight backward, twisting and kicking, but it did no good.  The doctor’s goons strapped her down anyway, binding her arms and legs to the metal frame.

After the orderlies had gone, Dr. Hamilton uncovered a medical tray beside the chair and selected a long thick needle and a piece of white chalk.

“What are you going to do to me?”  Anna asked, her voice quavering despite her best efforts.

The doctor smiled.  “I’m going to make us sisters under the skin.”

She pricked Anna’s finger with the needle and rubbed it along the length of the chalk, and then did the same with her own finger, leaving behind twin lines of crimson.

Dr. Hamilton turned to a blackboard at the back of the room and started writing lines of…runes?

Anna tried to calm her breathing.  She still had the knife.  She just had to get to it.  She thrust her hips to the right, raising her butt out of the seat until she could reach the knife in her waistband.  She pulled it free and started sawing at the strap holding her right hand to the chair.

“Have you ever caused something to happen just by thinking about it?” the doctor asked as she continued to write.

“No,” Anna said, trying to watch her and the strap at the same time.

“Oh, I bet you have and just didn’t realize it,” the doctor said.  “You see, my dear.  You’re a witch.”

Anna tried to decide if she was serious and came to the sad conclusion she was.  “If I was a witch, you’d burst into flames about now,” Anna told her, sawing faster and harder as the strap started to give.

Dr. Hamilton laughed.  “Not with that bracelet on your wrist.  It nulls your powers.”

Anna pulled, and the strap gave all but a single thread.  She held the strap down with her thumb and concealed the knife beneath her arm as the doctor turned to face her.

She pointed to her amethyst pendant.  “I’m stealing your magic and putting it in here, where it will keep me young and beautiful for another few centuries.”  She gave a predatory smile.  “You’ll die in the process, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

The doctor advanced on her, holding the pendant out before her.  Anna’s eyes grew wide.  The purple stone glowed, swirling with the stolen power of how many murdered witches?  Dr. Hamilton was chanting, her voice low and guttural as she walked a counter-clockwise circle around Anna.

Anna screamed as pain seared her chest.  Magic was ripped from her in waves of light that funneled from her body and into the doctor’s necklace.  As Dr. Hamilton came around the chair, Anna jerked her wrist free and made a desperate grab for the pendant, ripping it from the doctor’s neck.

Power surged through Anna’s veins, disintegrating the magic-dampening bracelet, and filling her with light and heat.

Dr. Hamilton shrieked, her clawed hands reaching in vain for the gem.  Between one blink and the next, time caught up with her, and she crumbled to dust at Anna’s feet.

Anna flung the necklace away, but the feeling of power remained.  Centuries of stolen magic now resided within her. The only question was…what would she do with it?  Fortunately, she had a lifetime to figure it out.

November 12, 2018

Judgement Day

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 9:48 pm

Made it to Round Three in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest.  Had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story with the following prompts: Action Adventure/the middle of the ocean/a gavel.  Wish me luck!

 

The horsemen are drawing nearer

on the leather steeds, they ride

they’ve come to take your life

on through the dead of night

with the four horsemen ride

or choose your fate and die.”

                                                                                    Metallica

 

Judgement Day

Michael plowed through the freezing, chest-high water that flooded Galileo’s Hab 1.  Dr. MacReynolds was blasting Metallica’s “Four Horsemen” over the intercom; the beat of drums and squealing guitars thrummed through the water, setting Michael’s nerves further on edge.

If only he could get his hands on the crazy bastard.

His com crackled to life.  “Almost there?” Lilly asked.  They had to be careful what they said in case MacReynolds found their frequency.

“Negative.”

She took a sharp breath. “You ok?”

“I’m fine.  Just taking a little detour.”

Her nervousness was justified.  Out of a crew of eight, he and Lilly were the only two Dr. MacReynolds hadn’t killed yet.

Kyle had been first.  He liked to drink in his off hours, so when they found him floating in the dive pool, it was logical to think he’d slipped and hit his head.  Endless weeks spent 83 fathoms down made people clumsy.  A suit malfunction . . . a fall down the stairs . . . food poisoning . . . one-by-one, the others died, but it wasn’t until they found J.P. hanging in his room, and saw the tiny gavel on the floor at his feet, that Michael put it all together.  He and Lilly searched the other bodies that night and found gavels hung around their necks on scarlet cords.

Mac always whittled the chopsticks he used for dinner into little gifts for them . . . apparently; he’d been saving a few.

Mac had fired off all the escape pods and scuttled the mini-sub. He’d even destroyed the surface communications relay.  Their only way out was the main ascent craft in the control room, but to get to it, they had to get MacReynolds out.

The pounding music cut out, leaving Michael’s ears ringing with the sudden blissful silence.

“Thank God,” he said.  “Maybe he’s done trying to make us deaf.”

He expected her to laugh, but all he got was silence.

“Lilly?”

“You don’t like my music?” Mac asked, in a pouty tone.

Michael froze, numbed by a cold far more intense than the freezing water.

“What did you do to Lilly?”

He laughed.  “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Michael forced his body through the water faster.  “You’re sick, Mac.  Can’t you see that?  You’ve been down here too damn long.”

“We’re all sick,” the doctor whispered.  “Humanity is blight.  Everything is dying and it’s our fault.  The fish outside my window told me so.”

Michael clenched his freezing hands.  The man really was crackers.  How had his pressure sickness gotten to this point without any of them noticing?

Because he was the damned doctor.  He’d hidden it with drugs and cleverness.     

“We’ve no business drilling down here and spilling our black poison into their home.”  Mac giggled as he turned the music back on.  “Welcome to Judgement Day!”

Michael dived under the freezing water and swam as fast as he could to the emergency hatch at the other end.  He came up dizzy and winded, but there was no time to rest.  Lungs burning, he climbed up the ladder and twisted the hatch open, thrusting it up out of his way.  A tiny gavel on a scarlet cord fell down, dangling before his eyes.

Mac stood above him, a childish grin on his face and a spear gun in his hands.

“Goodbye, Mikey.”

Michael let go of the ladder and plunged back into the water as the spear slashed through the air where his head had been moments before.

He surfaced with a gasp but ducked back under when he heard boots on the rungs above. Mac’s legs appeared through the hatch.  Michael pushed off from the floor and yanked him off the ladder, pulling him down into the water.

They were evenly matched in size, but Michael had the advantage of being extremely pissed.  He delivered several hard blows to the doctor’s head that took the fight out of him, but the doctor was still smiling.

Michael winced as pressure built in his ears, and his chest felt suddenly heavy.

An alarm blared, drowning out the obnoxious music, and the emergency lights in the corridor flashed red.  The metal surrounding them started to groan and squeal.

Michael shook him.  “You crazy bastard!  What did you do?”

MacReynolds laughed.  “You’re too late.  The horsemen are here.”

He must have lowered the pressure inside the station.  If he had, they were about to fold up like a tin can under somebody’s boot.

“Where’s Lilly?’ Michael demanded.

Grinning, Mac zipped his fingers across his mouth.  “I’ll never tell.”

“Then stay here and rot.” Michael delivered one last punch, knocking MacReynolds backward into the water.

Chest aching, Michael pulled himself up the ladder, climbing until he reached Hab 3.  Lilly was to wait for him in the lab.  Maybe that’s where Mac had found her.  Maybe she was still there.

The scream of tortured metal followed him as he ran, the floor shuddering beneath his feet—the walls moving in and out as if they were breathing.

He slapped the door release to the lab, and Lilly tumbled out into his arms, holding her bleeding head.

He pulled her down the hall and into the stairwell.  Seams popped, raining seawater upon them as they raced up the steps. They burst into the control room.  Every panel was a wall of flashing red lights.

Michael ignored them.  There was no time.  He twisted open the hatch on the ascension chamber and pushed Lilly through.  When he went to follow, she screamed and he spun in time to avoid the knife aimed at his back.

Lilly’s foot flew past his head and connected with Mac’s chin, knocking him backward.  Michael locked the hatch.  Mac was still pounding on it when she palmed the emergency release.  The ascension chamber blasted free and started its slow rise to the surface.

Michael held her as the Galileo imploded beneath them, and MacReynolds’ horsemen carried him off to hell.

 

September 19, 2018

Blood and Circuses

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 2:03 am

It’s Flash Fiction Time Again at NYC Midnight.  Round two my prompts were: Spy/Blood Bank/Modem, and I had 1000 words to make it into a story. Wish me luck!

 

Ivan must work with his ex on the assignment of a lifetime, but he soon discovers his little Kitten has grown teeth.

 

Blood and Circuses

Ivan hugged the shadows as he crept around the back of the building.  Elena was supposed to take care of the security cameras from inside the blood bank, but Ivan had never liked leaving his fate in the hands of a woman . . . especially an ex-lover.

He crossed around an ugly pipework statue of a man with an old modem for eyes and vacuum-tube hair. Americans and their “art.”  His lip curled derisively.  Rublev would roll in his grave at such a desecration. 

He stopped by the back entrance and waited for Elena to appear at the glass doors.

They hadn’t parted on good terms ten years ago, and he had no wish to see her again.  He’d been thrilled to be rid of her when she’d been assigned undercover work in the United States.  He would have passed on this assignment, but the SVR wasn’t known for freedom of choice.  Elena was already on the inside, and he had what she needed to finish the job, so here they were.  Ivan touched the vial in his pocket with gloved fingers.  By this time tomorrow, the American President would be dead, and he would be welcomed home a hero.

The Thallium derivative poison he carried had been refined since its use on the traitor Skripal and his daughter.  The American zadrotas would never be able to trace it now.  Ivan smiled.  Oh, they would know who was responsible, but without proof, they could do nothing about it.

He started backward as Elena’s heart-shaped face appeared in the doorway like a specter from the past.  Her full lips were compressed into an unhappy line, and her piercing blue eyes bore into him like twin lasers. She was still beautiful, even when she scowled.

He sighed.  This was not going to be pleasant.

She unlocked the door and he slipped inside.

“It is here?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Like I said in my report.  He’s been storing up his own blood for months in anticipation of the surgery.”

“Loud obnoxious men should not develop weak hearts, da?” he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

Elena looked up into his eyes, her own filled with contempt.  “Most men are loud and obnoxious, but at least this one does not beat his women.”

Ivan shrugged.  “It was good for you, my little Kotenok.”

Her eyes flashed. “Don’t call me Kitten.”

He laughed.  “See?  I made you tough.”

She took a step closer to him.  “You made me hate you.”

The force of her anger pushed him back an involuntary step. “All the more reason to get this over with,” he grumbled.

“Gladly,” she said.

Elena stomped off, and he followed her behind the reception counter and down a long hallway to a metal door.  Once inside, they found row after row of refrigeration units with shelves of blood laid out by date and type.

Ivan had never seen so much blood in one place. It was like they were prepping for war.

“Do you have it?” Elena asked.

“Of course.” Happy to be rid of it, he reached into his pocket and handed her the vial.

“So much death in such a small bottle.”  Elena held it up to the light in her gloved hand, but her gaze quickly returned to the refrigeration units.  “Must we taint all the AB Negative?”

He shrugged.  “Orders are orders.  They may decide to use other blood for the operation.”

She shook her head.  “So much senseless death, it doesn’t seem right.”

“Living here has made you soft,” he sneered.

She gave him a frigid glare. “Nothing about me is soft, Ivan.  You saw to that.”

“Then get started. My flight leaves in two hours.”

Elena crossed to a refrigeration unit in the far corner and punched a code into a keypad on the front.  She opened the glass door and slid out a tray of red filled bags, four in all.

Ivan walked over to join her.  “This is his blood?”

She nodded.

“Start here and maybe I will help you do the rest.”

Maybe not.  Ivan wanted nothing to do with that poison once it was out of its vial.

Elena stepped to the wall and pulled rubber gloves from the box, putting them on over the top of her leather ones.  Smart.  If even one speck of the poison in the vial touched her skin, she would die.

She loaded a syringe, turned, and before he could react, plunged it into his chest.

Ivan stared stupidly at the needle for a long moment before his gaze found hers.

She smiled.  “Sorry, Kotenok.  Mother Russia was outbid long ago, but don’t worry, I’ll make sure she gets all the credit.”

He wanted to wrap his hands around her throat, but his arms would not obey.  His body felt bloated and leaden.  A wave of searing pain tore through him and he dropped convulsing to the tile floor.

 

*                                  *                                  *

 

Elena knelt down beside him and watched the light drain from his eyes with a giddy joy she hadn’t felt since she was a child on Christmas morning.

Then she stood, and carefully injected 1cc of poison into each of the President’s blood bags.  No amount of money would make her touch the others.  Elena considered herself many things, but a mass murderer was not one of them.

She disposed of the used needles in the Sharps box and jammed the remaining poison into Ivan’s pocket where it was sure to be discovered when his body resurfaced in the Potomac.

Elena pulled out her burner phone and dialed.

“Is it done?”

“Yes, Senator.  Just as you instructed.”  She prodded Ivan’s corpse with her toe.  “I just need to take out the trash.”

December 18, 2017

Requiem

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 2:24 pm

My Final Round story for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest.

My first three stories put me in the final round where we had 48 hours to write a 1,000-word or less story with the following prompts:

Open Genre/An Office Holiday Party/A UAV

This round is for the money.  Wish me luck!!

UPDATE: This story landed me in the top 20 out of over 2500 writers in the contest.

 

Requiem

 

Michael and Elizabeth want a child, but in a world where privileges are a matter of points, what you want isn’t always what you get.

 

 

Michael glared with barely concealed malice at the tiny drones hovering above their heads. The soft whirr of their engines was a constant strain on his already stretched nerves.

Elizabeth ignored them, her hands wrapped protectively around her belly. With a sigh, she uncoiled them and opened the door.  Balancing an arm-load of perfectly wrapped packages, Michael followed his wife into the party.

Their emotions were running high.  So much was riding on tonight.  He shook his head. It wasn’t right for a machine to decide if you deserved a child.

They lived by a system of ratings.  From birth, every moment of their lives was watched and graded by the Drone Observation System.  Over the past three months, they had done everything they could to raise their Job, Charity and Domestic ratings, but still it wasn’t enough.  Their CTS (Combined Total Score) had to be insanely high to earn a parenting permit. Try as they might, he and Elizabeth hadn’t yet reached that level.

Tonight could be their saving grace. His boss was handing out promotions for Christmas, and if he got the one he’d been working so hard for, their rating might finally be high enough for a child.

His coworkers were dressed in their best—all shining examples of domestic bliss gathered around the gleaming Christmas tree–their joy and their smiles as fake as the tree itself.

The room was a hive of buzzing drones, observing and rating their assigned subjects with a merciless eye. Michael longed to smash them all.

He rubbed irritably at the compliance button embedded in his right temple. His drone was neuro-linked to him at birth through the device. The penalty for trying to unlink it was a swift and painful death by neuroelectric shock.

He unloaded his packages beneath the tree and Elizabeth brushed the wrinkles from his tuxedo jacket.

He caught her hands. “Elizabeth.”

She shook her head. “Don’t.”

“I’ve done everything I can,” he whispered.

She looked up into his eyes, her own filling with tears. “I know.”

He pulled her to him and kissed her. They clung to each other behind the shelter of the tree, but they were never truly alone – the DOS was always watching.

Hands at her waist, she pulled away and hurried to the ladies room.

They had been so careful, but accidents happen, and they had already been forced to pay the ultimate price once.

She returned a few moments later with her makeup refreshed and her fear hidden behind a smile.

They dined, danced, and feigned happiness, just like everyone else around them. The Domestic rating on their wrist monitors inched its way up as the system approved their charade.

When Michael’s boss took the stage, Elizabeth’s fingers found his and squeezed tightly. Her grip grew tighter as the names of Michael’s colleagues were called out and they stepped forward to receive congratulations on their promotions. Finally, he turned with a smile and held his hand out to Michael.

With a sound that was nearly a sob, Elizabeth released his hands and Michael mounted the stage to accept the congratulations of his peers, but his gaze was only for his wrist monitor. Their CTS rating scrolled up, awarding them money and luxury food items.  It gave them a bigger house . . . but it stopped just short of allowing them a child.

Elizabeth collapsed sobbing to the floor, her hands protecting her stomach.

Something inside Michael snapped. She could not endure another termination. Neither could he.  He took off the monitor and threw it across the room.

“This isn’t right,” he shouted. “The DOS was supposed to be an experiment, not a life sentence! We’ve let it turn us into spineless obedient puppets. We don’t need saving anymore, we need freedom! I want to make love to my wife without some machine grading my performance. I want . . .” his voice broke. . . “I want my child to live in a world where people are free to be, and do, and say whatever the hell they want!”

The crowd gasped as he picked up the microphone stand and raised it at the drone hovering over his head.
“No!”

Elizabeth lunged at him, her drone nudging his out of the way.  Unable to curb his swing, Michael smashed it to the ground.

Tasting bile in his throat, he stood frozen in horror, his heart slamming in his chest as he waited for his wife to fall dead at his feet.

Elizabeth raised a hand to her temple, her expression one of wonder.  With a fierce smile, she took the stand from his nerveless grip and crushed his drone against the stage floor.

The subtle vibration in his head died as the connection to his drone was severed.

Some kind of loophole in the system to prevent accidental death—or even murder—by destruction of another’s drone?  But how long would it last before the system found them again . . . and what would it do to them when it did?

He grabbed Elizabeth’s hand, and ran with her through the shocked guests and out into the night. Instinctively, they headed into the woods behind the office. They ran through the trees until they couldn’t run anymore and collapsed beside one another on the mossy ground.

Elizabeth’s green eyes were bright and alive, her face filled with euphoria at her first taste of freedom. She rolled over and kissed him, her hands pulling at his jacket.  They discarded their clothing like the false skin it was—a wretched symbol of a hated life—and made love for the first time with no one watching.

He held her tightly beneath the stars in their private little grove as the sound of buzzing drones circled closer and closer.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“And I love you,” he whispered back.

The drones broke through the trees and they faced them without fear.

Death, after all, was its own kind of freedom.

 

July 17, 2017

Pandora

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 4:22 pm

My latest entry in the NYC Midnight Flash Contest.

We had two days to write a 1,000 word or less story using the following prompts: Horror/an inflatable raft/a company picnic.

Horror is way out of my comfort zone!  Wish me luck!

UPDATE: This story netted me 9 points and I’m off to the next round!

 

When their boss suggested a company picnic at his mountain chalet, they all accepted eagerly . . . but someone has planned far more than just fun and games.

 

       Pandora

            Like the witch’s gingerbread house, lights glowed in every window of the chalet, beckoning her with a false promise of safety and warmth.  Elizabeth turned her back on the house and crept through the dark forest toward the helicopter landing pad, pausing every step to listen for movement.  She clutched a flashlight in her hand, not daring to turn it on lest it reveal her location.

It had all started so innocently – a company picnic at the boss’s chalet in the mountains.  The only way in and out was by helicopter, with no phone service and no internet, Jeff had billed it as a getaway from civilization. He promised them a nature retreat with swimming and hiking and all the food they could eat – a chance to rest and recharge after months of hard work on the Medicor Project. They were just weeks away from a cure for cancer.

Among the chalet’s amenities was a fully stocked bar, and she’d needed a drink after enduring a boring tour of Jeff’s sword collection.  But all things considered, their first day was everything he’d promised.  They played games and swam in the heated pool and stuffed themselves on lobster and steak.

When Tom and Lucy disappeared after dessert, Elizabeth hadn’t thought much of it – the whole lab knew they were shagging each other on the side.  But they never came back.

When the others started to vanish one by one, Elizabeth knew she had to hide. Was one of her coworkers a killer? And if so, which of them was it? And why?

A twig cracked and she froze, fighting the panic that threatened to send her screaming blindly into the night.  Her only chance was to get the emergency raft from the helicopter and go down the river for help.

Elizabeth took another step, and a chorus of breaking branches sounded behind her. She bolted out of the trees, running for the garage next to the helicopter pad.  She managed to get inside and shut the door behind her before she slipped in a wet patch and fell to her hands and knees on the concrete floor.  Her fingers tangled in long, soft strands that her sense of touch recognized, but her mind refused to identify.

She fumbled the flashlight on and Lucy’s severed head stared up at her with blank eyes.  Slipping and sliding, Elizabeth screamed and tried to skitter away, but the head rolled doggedly after her.

Gagging, she buried her face in her sleeve and managed not to throw up.

Lucy’s body was laid out next to four others in a pool of blood that stretched across the floor as far as Elizabeth could see.

The overhead lights snapped on and she spun to find Jeff standing in the open door, a longsword from his collection held loosely in one hand.  Her methodically neat boss was covered in blood and dirt, his face bruised and scratched, his clothes torn.

“I’ve been looking for you, Elizabeth,” he said, his tone an eerie calm that conflicted wildly with his appearance.

“Why?”  She kept her voice calm with an effort.  “Why would you do this?”

“The project must die,” he said.

“You want to stop the cure for cancer?”

“That’s not what we created,” he said, his voice cracking.  “We created a virus that can be subverted to target ethnic groups.  Can you imagine what it could do in the wrong hands?  Entire races of people wiped out because of us?” He shook his head.  “I won’t be the one to open Pandora’s Box.”

“You’re wrong,” she said.  “I don’t believe you.”

He laughed and gestured at the bodies with the point of his sword. “They didn’t believe me either.  I’ve destroyed all the records. Medicor dies with us.”

Her gaze roved frantically around the room in search of some means of escape.

Jeff sighed.  “I’m tired, Elizabeth.  Don’t make me chase you too.”

He stepped toward her, and God forgive her, Elizabeth picked up Lucy’s head and threw it at him as hard as she could.  It was enough.  It bounced off his chest, pitching him off balance.  He slipped on the bloody floor and went down.  Elizabeth scrambled past him, pulling a rack of tools over on him as she went out the door.

She bolted for the helicopter and clambered inside.  Pulling the rubber raft from its niche on the back wall, Elizabeth tumbled back out the door and ran for the woods.

Branches slapped at her face and caught in her hair, but she didn’t slow.  She could hear him crashing through the trees behind her.

When she reached the cliff overlooking the river, she didn’t stop.  Clutching the raft to her chest, she jumped, plunging fifteen feet into the frigid water below.

Elizabeth pulled the cord and the raft inflated, pulling her back to the surface with it.

Gasping, she clambered over the side and felt frantically around for the small oars inside craft.  Her fingers closed over the handle just as someone grabbed her by the ponytail.

Elizabeth threw herself backward, smacking Jeff in the face with the back of her head as he tried to pull himself into the raft. He let go with a yelp, but lunged for her again. She swung the oar like a cricket bat, catching him in the side of the head and he fell backward, sinking out of sight. Panting, the oar still held poised and ready, Elizabeth watched the dark water for any signs of movement.  After a few agonizing minutes, she collapsed onto her back in the raft.

It would take her months to recreate the serum, but she could do it.  Cure or weapon, she was going to be rich.

Pain tore through Elizabeth’s back and out her chest as the point of Jeff’s sword punched through her body from below, straight into the open air.

As her vision dimmed, his head appeared at the side of the raft.

“It dies,” he said, “with us.”

 

 

May 8, 2017

The Little Bird

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 2:12 am

My latest entry in the NYC Midnight SS Contest.  I made it to the final 80 writers and had 24 hours to write a 1500 word story with the following prompts: Open Genre, Undertaker, Sunrise.  Wish me luck!

Update: This story landed me in the top 20 out of over 3,000 writers in the contest.

 

As an undertaker, Amanda tried very hard not to bring her work home with her, but it often had other ideas. Though she could lay the bodies of the dead to rest, their spirits weren’t always so willing to sleep.

 

The Little Bird

Safe beneath her umbrella, Amanda wiggled her pale toes in the sand and looked out over the beach of Waikiki.  A mix of native Hawaiians and the typical tourist crowd frolicked in the water and cooked themselves in the evening sun, inviting melanoma and eventually a place on her embalming table.  But the living weren’t what held her attention.

Lost souls in military uniforms were the most prevalent–wandering down the beach amongst the revelers, unseen and unlamented–but that was to be expected so close to Pearl Harbor.  Their fading spirits searched for a way to finish tasks that could no longer be completed, in a war that had ended long before Amanda was even born.  Violent death left unfinished business, and much as she wanted to, she hadn’t figured out a way to help these lost soldiers find peace.  Besides–Amanda looked to the brown-eyed child sitting patiently beside her–the soldiers weren’t the reason she was here.

She had gotten used to embalming adults as their spirits engaged her in conversation.  In this narcissistic age, most of them felt only the need to badger her about making them look perfect before they could move on.

Not so with the children.

The children that stuck around were frightened and confused and often followed her home until she could guide them into the light, but Iolana had nestled herself securely into Amanda’s heart as well as her home.

Iolana’s dark highlight kissed hair, set off the lei of yellow plumeria she wore around her neck.  Her little white dress had a handmade grass skirt overtop and she wore no shoes, only an anklet of white flowers to finish off her burial outfit.  Amanda had used makeup and the lei to conceal the bruises around Iolana’s small throat, but fortunately, the child’s pure spirit retained no marks of the violence that had taken her life.  Her name meant soaring bird, but this little bird would never soar so long as her killer walked free.

Iolana’s body had been found at sunrise next to a partially dug hole on Waikiki Beach by a group of horrified tourists. A month had passed and the police tape had all been removed, but Amanda now sat behind and to the left of that terrible spot. She had observed this vigil every night since Iolana had come to her, and she would continue it until the child’s killer was caught.  He had been interrupted before he could bury Iolana, but was she his first?  How many other little girls had he already buried, and how many more would he kill if Amanda couldn’t stop him?

“Do you see him, Little Bird?” Amanda asked softly.

Iolana’s gaze searched the beach.  She shook her head.

Amanda smiled.  “That’s okay.  Keep looking.”

Iolana was only six.  She couldn’t remember where the killer had taken her when he’d snatched her from her bed, but her body had ended up here, and criminals often returned to their dumping grounds. This was the only place she knew to look.

Amanda’s stomach rumbled and she pulled a peanut butter and pickle sandwich from her bag as the sun slowly descended into the sea.  She and Iolana sat and watched as the Hawaiian night-life shifted into high gear with couples holding hands and splashing in the surf, and children searching the retreating tide for sea shells.  The music and the smell of roasting pork drifted their way from a luau put on by one of the larger hotels as Amanda took another grudging bite of her sandwich.

Iolana stood suddenly, her expression fearful.  She moved close against Amanda, her spirit cool against the warmth of Amanda’s living flesh.

“What is it?” Amanda asked softly.

Her dark eyes wide, the child pointed down the beach.  Amanda gasped.

A solitary man walked among the happy couples and children, but he wasn’t alone.  In his wake, tethered and trapped like butterflies in a spider’s web trailed the spirits of a dozen little girls.

So there were more, buried and hidden and tethered to their killer.  They looked back at Amanda, their hollow eyes warming with hope as they tried to walk toward her, but they were stopped by the spidery tethers around their throats.

Amanda tore her gaze from them with an effort and focused it on the beast that held their spirits captive.  He was tall and thin, his blonde hair and beard neatly trimmed.  Carrying his shoes, he wore slacks and a polo shirt and looked like any other businessman out for a stroll after work.  Amanda pulled out her phone and filmed him as he passed through a section of well-lit beach, zooming in on his face.  As she lowered the phone, his gaze briefly locked with hers.  She casually turned and filmed the other side of the beach.  He passed by them, but lingered for a long moment on the spot where Iolana’s body was discovered before he moved on.  The children reached plaintive hands toward her as they were dragged away in the wake of their oblivious killer.

Throwing everything into her bag, Amanda stood.  If he went back to his car and she could get a license plate, she would have a way to identify him.

Iolana still cowered behind her. Amanda turned to the frightened child.  “He can’t hurt you anymore, Iolana.” She smiled.  “In fact, he’s the one that should be afraid of you.”  Amanda pointed down the beach.  “He couldn’t capture you as he did them.  You have more power than you know, Little Bird, but you can stay here if you wish.”

Straightening her spine, Iolana shook her head.

Amanda smiled.  “Then let’s go get him.”

Amanda set a casual pace down the beach, weaving in between both the living and the dead as she kept the man in sight.  The lost soldiers took more notice of her and Iolana tonight, often meeting her gaze and stepping out of her path, but she hadn’t time to dwell on the phenomenon if she wanted to keep her quarry in sight.

He was headed toward a much more secluded section of the beach with groves of palms in pools of shadow and very few people.

The back of her neck tingled, but Amanda kept after him as he led her further and further from the lights and music of the hotels. She couldn’t let him get away.  Not after what he’d done.

He disappeared from sight between a stand of palms.  She hesitated, her heart pounding. Was he leading her into a trap? Why hadn’t she thought to bring a knife?

There were parking lots on the other side of the trees. If he left before she could see his plate, he might never return. She plunged into the trees and a hand closed around her throat.

“Why are you following me?” he demanded, pulling her back against his body.

Amanda stomped the heel of her sandal down on his bare foot and dropped all her weight, twisting out of his grasp.  As she turned to run he grabbed her hair and jerked her off her feet, throwing her to the sand.  Dropping on top of her, he clamped one hand over her mouth and closed the other around her throat.

“Big mistake, little girl,” he said, his fingers starting to tighten.

“No!”

His eyes grew wide as Iolana stepped up beside them, glowing like a miniature Pele.  Her dark eyes filled with power as the beach behind her filled with spectral soldiers, all focused and intent.  Iolana pointed and they converged on the killer, dragging him off Amanda.  Iolana stepped toward the water and the spirits followed, dragging the monster kicking and screaming into the surf.  Amanda felt absolutely no remorse as she watched him vanish beneath the waves.

The children’s tethers broken, they gathered around Amanda, laughing and twirling in the moonlight.

With their help, Amanda spent the next few hours marking their hidden graves along the beach with driftwood.  The girls would finally be laid properly to rest, their families no longer left to wonder at their fate.

Exhausted, she flopped down on the sand and watched the sky lighten over the ocean.

“We go now, Amanda?” Iolana asked.

A small girl, her blonde ponytails bobbing in the breeze crawled closer to Amanda.  “Where do we go?”

“Where all angels go,” she told them. “Into the light.”

Iolana leaned close to her.  “But I want to stay with you,” she said.

Amanda shook her head.  “Just like we talked about, they need you to show them the way, Little Bird.”

Iolana nodded gravely and then reached for the little blonde’s hand.  One by one, the other children joined in.

Amanda watched with a smile as thirteen bright spirits ascended into the dawn.

 

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