Words To Write By

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.

 

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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.”

July 15, 2018

The Gentlemen Inventor

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 10:06 pm

Well, it’s NYC Flash Fiction time again.  This year I got Historical Fiction/A bike repair shop/A blank check.  Below is what I churned out of these prompts.  Historical Fiction at 1000 words in 48 hours is not easy!  Wish me luck!!

 

When the newest resident of Woking starts collecting miscellaneous bits and bobs, the town can’t help but wonder what he might be building.

 

The Gentlemen Inventor

Charlie gave me a nudge.  “Here he comes, Will.”

A dark-haired man with a bushy mustache strolled through the door of Evan’s Cycle shop.  He wore a good tweed suit and a felt hat and was of average build and height.  He didn’t look odd, or in any way interesting, but since he had moved to Woking a few months ago, no one could talk of anyone else.

“Good morning, Mr. Wells.”

He nodded to Charlie and me with a smile.  “Morning, gentlemen.”

“What can we do for you today, sir?” Charlie asked eagerly.

For the past month, Mr. Wells had been purchasing all sorts of odd things about town, including quantities of copper wire, nuts, bolts and other fasteners.   He’d even special ordered electric light bulbs all the way from America!  As there were no electric lamps in all Woking, that purchase had raised many a curious eyebrow.

Several weeks ago, the local blacksmith had delivered three very large metal pieces to Mr. Wells’ home – two circular hollow frames, and a thick, flat disk.

As if all that wasn’t odd enough, the mysterious packages of various sizes that arrived weekly at his door, had raised even more curiosity.  No one could figure out what he might be up to, and he certainly wasn’t telling.

Mr. Wells pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me.  “I came to pick up a few things, if you’d be so kind, William.”

I looked over his list: a bike saddle, pieces of framework, a large quantity of gears and a set of pedals.

“If there’s something wrong with your bicycle, I’d be glad to fix it for you, Mr. Wells,” I told him.  He and his wife Amy were often seen cycling around town on their tandem bike.

He shook his head. “No.  It’s in fine shape, William.”

“Are you building a bicycle of your own design, sir?” I asked, unable to contain my curiosity.

“Just doing a bit of research,” he said with a mysterious smile.

I gazed hopefully at him, but he didn’t elaborate, so I took the pencil from behind my ear and added up his purchases in my ledger.

“I have everything in stock.  Charlie will gather it up for you.”

With a nod, Charlie took the list and disappeared into the back room of the shop.

“Your total comes to £30, sir.”

Mr. Wells handed me a blank check from the Royal Society of London.

“Let’s just leave the account open for a few days until I’m certain I have everything I need.”

I closed my gaping mouth with a snap.  “You think of anything else you need, sir, and I’ll deliver it straight away.”

“Thank you, William.  You’re most kind.”

We loaded his purchases into the carriage, and he tipped his hat to us before he climbed into the driver’s seat.  “Good day, gentlemen.”

“Good day, sir.”

Charlie was bouncing on his toes with excitement as we watched him snap the reins and drive away.

“What do you think he’s building in that shed of his?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but if the Royal Society is paying his way it must be something important.”

The Royal Society of London didn’t give money to just anyone.  They funded some of the nation’s most brilliant scientists.

We spent the remainder of the day discussing what one might build with the odds and ends Mr. Wells had purchased.

“It has to be some kind of horseless carriage,” Charlie said tapping his fingers on the counter.  “It’s the only thing that makes sense.  The frame he ordered from the blacksmith is certainly large enough to sit in.”

“True, but I don’t think that’s what it is,” I said doubtfully.  “Even horseless carriages need wheels, and he hasn’t bought any.”

 

As days turned to weeks, we carried on with our fruitless speculation—even considering newfangled things such as flying machines and underwater boats—until the evening the mysterious lights came from the Wells property on Maybury Road.  The night sky lit with a kaleidoscope of colors and a sound like ripping fabric set dogs howling from one end of town to the other.

The next morning Woking was abuzz when Mr. Wells received finely dressed visitors from London. To everyone’s disappointment, after a lengthy visit, they took something large away with them in a tightly covered wagon.

“Now we’ll never know,” Charlie signed, as the wagon trundled down the street.

 

That very evening Mr. Wells strolled into the shop with a happy smile and a small, brown wrapped package.

“I thought you might like this, William,” he said, handing me the parcel.

“Thank you, Mr. Wells.”

Eagerly unwrapping the paper, I turned a small book over in my hands.  The cover bore a picture of a reclining sphinx.

“The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells.”  I looked at him in surprise.  “You wrote this, sir?”

He nodded.  “Right here in Woking. It’s about a gentleman inventor who builds a machine that can travel through time.”

My heart skipped a beat, as Charlie and I exchanged a wide-eyed glance.

“Are you done with your . . . research?” I asked, managing to keep my voice level with an effort.

“I’m starting a new project, actually,” Mr. Wells said with that same, mysterious smile.  “Do you happen to know where I can purchase chemistry supplies?  I find I’ve developed a sudden interest in optics.”

“Doctor Martin might be able to help you.”

Mr. Wells nodded.  “Brilliant.  Have a grand day, gentlemen.”  With a tip of his hat, he crossed out the door.

Charlie looked from the book to me and back again.

“You don’t think . . .”

“No,” I said.  “No one could build a time machine.  It’s impossible . . . isn’t it?”

But as we watched the enigmatic H.G. Wells stroll down the street and around the corner out of sight, I couldn’t help but wonder. . .

February 4, 2018

The Familiars Playgroup

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 7:38 pm

My round 1 entry in the 2018 NYC Midnight Short Story Contest.  My prompts were  Comedy / Playgroup / Naysayer.  I must say this one was difficult.  I am not a comedy writer by nature!  Wish me luck!

Synopsis: Tired of being pushed around by their worthless masters, four wizard’s familiars turn a game of hide-and-seek into a chance at freedom.

ninetailed fox

The Familiars Play Group

Balancing on his nine tails, Ming the Chinese fox juggled rat skulls to pass the time in the Keep’s moldy dungeon.

Lavender wings limp at his sides, Puk the Dragon lay on his back, languidly blowing smoke rings at the ceiling.  He turned his head and sent one sailing at Gloss the Phoenix. With an annoyed squawk, she flew to the top of a torture rack and preened her long, scarlet feathers.

Cleo the Sphinx watched their antics with an amused expression.  Tail wrapped tightly around her paws, and snowy wings tucked close to her sides, she sat in the corner Puk had scoured clean for her.  Filthy dungeons did not suit her fastidious nature.

Their masters called these weekly meetings the Familiar’s Playgroup, but it was really just an excuse for the wizards to escape their nagging spouses for a bit of wine and plotting – mostly about how to get rid of their nagging spouses.

Ming let the rat skulls drop with a clatter.  “Who besides me is tired of their lot in life?”

“With masters such as ours, who isn’t?” Gloss twittered.

“I do not wish to whine, but none can be worse than mine,” Cleo said, wrinkling her pretty nose.  “Imagine if you will, a singer most shrill.  Master Yrvis constantly warbles and hums, without any regard for my eardrums.”

“You think that’s bad?” Gloss fluttered her elegant wings. “Master Towix tells stupid jokes all day and pulls out my feathers if I don’t laugh! Can you imagine? I was practically bald for an entire life cycle!”

“I have it no better with Master Fizwit’s bratty children pulling my tails and riding around on my back day and night,” Ming said.  “It took me two hours yesterday just to get the gum out of my fur.”

“I got you all beat,” Puk snorted. “Master Iknoir keeps making me eat his discarded mistresses.”

“So?” Gloss twittered.  “Isn’t eating maidens what dragons do?”

“Maidens, yes.” Puk rubbed his scaley belly, “but bimbos give me indigestion.”

“So, what are we going to do about it?” Ming asked.

Do?” Gloss raised a talon to pluck at the talisman hung around her neck by a golden chain.  “So long as we are bound in servitude, we can do nothing.”

Ming looked down at his own collar.  The spell that bound familiar to wizard was very strong magic indeed, but there had to be a way to break it.

Cleo nodded solemnly.  “For life we are bound, our lives inter-wound.  In servitude we remain, until death spreads its stain.”

Puk rolled over onto his generous belly and propped his chin in his purple claws.  “Not necessarily.”

Ming’s ears pricked.  “What do you mean?”

The dragon shrugged. “A stronger wizard could break the bond and take us for their own.”

“Trade one master for another? What good will that do?” Gloss asked, fluttering down to sit atop the Dragon’s head.

Ming looked pointedly around at the room.  Heaps of moldy bones and fetid straw, torture racks and rusty chains, no food or water, and one red, squeaky ball.  As if any of them would deign to play with a common dog toy!  This was their masters idea of a play room.  No matter where they landed, it had to be better than this.

“I’ve heard life’s pretty cushy for familiars who serve light wizards,” Puk said.  “My pal Joey has a penthouse view, decent working hours and all the sheep he can eat.” He sighed.  “I could get used to that.”

Laughing, Gloss pecked him on top of the head.  “What wizard in his right mind would want a pastel marshmallow of a dragon like you?”

“Over a loud mouthed pigeon like yourself? I’m betting my odds are pretty solid.”

Gloss stuck her beak in the air and flew back to her torture rack in a huff.

“Let us not fight,” Cleo said. “Harsh words will do nothing to alleviate our plight.”

“Nothing is exactly what we can do,” Gloss said.

“You wanna bet, Pigeon?” Puk asked.  “Master Iknoir brought along a very powerful magic box.  I’m betting it could conjure up something to help us, maybe even a sorceress. He stashed it around here someplace.  I say we find it.”

Ming swished his tails. “Let’s make this a real playgroup.  Who’s up for hide-and-seek?”

“Count me in,” Puk said.  “Our masters are sauced by now, they won’t be coming to check on us anytime soon.”

“I too shall play,” Cleo said, “I would do anything to get away.”

“That leaves you, Gloss,” Ming said.

She looked down her beak at them.  “This fool’s errand is doomed to failure.  Why should I bother?”

“Fine,” Ming said with a wicked grin. “We’ll all stay here. Tell us a joke, Puk.”

“You know what my favorite mythical creature is?” Puk asked.

“Do tell,” Ming said.

“An honest politician!” The dragon rolled onto his back, laughing uproariously.

Gloss hunched her head and glared daggers at him.

“I’ve got another one.  A buddy of mine ate a politician once, but he was hungry an hour later.”

“Why?” Ming asked.

“You know . . . cause they’re fulla hot air!”

Gloss tried to cover her ears with her wings.  “All right!  I’ll go! Just make him stop!”

“That’s more like it,” Ming said.

“This dismal den is plentiful in size,” Cleo said. “Where shall we search for our prize?”

“The towers,” Puk said, rolling to his feet.  “Master Iknoir has a thing for towers.”

“This should be fun,” Gloss grumbled, fluttering down to sit on Puk’s head.  “There must be a dozen towers in this place.”

“Then we’d best get started.” Ming gestured the dragon ahead of him.  “After you, friend.”

Puk squeezed out the dungeon door, and they all climbed back to the main floor where rusted suits of armor stood sentinel in the foyer. A dozen hallways branched out from the room in all directions.  They followed the closest hall to the end and then went up a twisting stair to the topmost tower room.  All they found for their efforts was a bedroom decked out in red velvet with mirrors on the ceiling.  There were a suspicious amount of chains, whips and odd leather things hanging about.

“Now this is a playroom,” Puk said with a toothy grin, and Gloss pecked him sharply on the head.

Down and out and up again, and the second tower room was filled with musical instruments that all started to play in a horrible cacophony as soon as they entered.  Yowling, Cleo pushed them all back out, and clawed the door shut.

“Music should not be torture,” she complained, “it should be soft and sweet and pure.”

Puk laughed.  “Ain’t nothin’ pure in this place, Doll Face.”

Down and out and up, they found a library with very cranky books that attacked them when they crossed inside the room.  Flapping their pages, they flew off the shelves and tried to pummel and bite. Puk batted them away with his tail until they escaped back into the hall.

The next tower contained a rainy swamp, and loads of croaking frogs.  A sign at the back of the room said: Find Your Prince! 12 Shillings a Kiss. Wet, winded and disgruntled, they carried on.

The door at the base of the fifth tower took them not to stairs, but inexplicably back into the hallway they’d just traversed.  They turned around and went back through the door, only to wind up back in the hallway again.

“I recognize my master’s handy work,” Puk said.  “This door has a backward charm on it.  You can’t get through unless you’re already on the other side.  He uses it to protect all of his most valuable things.”

“But we already tried it from the other side, and we still wound up here,” Gloss complained.

“You have to get to the other side without opening the door.  Then when you open it, where you want to go is behind you,” Puk explained.

“How does Iknoir do it?” Ming asked.

“He uses an apparition spell.”

Gloss left her perch on Puk’s head and landed in front of the door.  “So basically, we’re stuck. We wasted all this time following a fool, on a fool’s errand.  There’s no way around a magic door!”

Puk narrowed his golden eyes.  “There’s one way.”  He leaned down and spit a gout of flame at Gloss.  With a startled squawk, she crumbled before their eyes and Puk carefully blew the ashes under the door.

After a few moments the knob rattled and the door swung open to reveal a long twisting stair and a mangy scarlet bird.  Feathers sticking out wildly in all directions, Gloss glared up at them from the threshold.

“What up, Feather Duster?” Puk asked with a grin.

“I hate you, you stupid dragon!  Do you know how long it takes to get my feathers to lay down after a burning?  I’d just gotten them right, and now look at me!” she cried.

“But you did it,” Ming said, hiding his smile behind his paw.  “We’re through.”

“Wonderful,” Gloss said.  She fluttered over to sit on Cleo’s back and began preening herself.  “And what treasure will we find next?  Perhaps a sarcastic unicorn, or a hospital for one-eyed newts?”

“If he used this spell, it has to be something important,” Puk insisted.

“Talk has no use when action can deduce,” Cleo said.

Puk nodded. “Doll Face has a point. Up we go.”

At the first turning of the way, they found a thick braid of blonde hair that continued up the stairs and out of sight.

Cleo laid a paw upon it, and the braid twitched, rubbing against her fur.  “What foul deed have they wrought, for this maiden’s coil isn’t store-bought.”

“Relax,” Puk said. “This Keep used to belong to a chick named Rapunzel. She got tired of waitin’ around for a handsome price to rescue her, so she chopped off her hair, and moved to the city.  I hear she’s a personal trainer now.  She built up some serious muscles dragging this mane around.”

“Nice to know somebody escaped this place for a better life,” Ming said.

They continued up, following the braid which disappeared beneath a locked door at the top of the stairs.

Puk eyed Gloss with a nasty grin, and she clamped her talons into Cleo’s fur.

“Oh no you don’t.  I’ve burned once for this ridiculous adventure.  I’m not doing it again!”

“Leave it to me,” Ming said.  He extended a claw and placed it in the lock.  A few quick turns of his wrist, and the door sprang open.

The room beyond was piled with braided hair, and at first, that’s all Ming could see, but then a muffled rattle reached his sensitive ears.  Wrapped securely in the coiled braids, a large chest was trying to hop toward them.

“I do believe we’ve found our prize,” Ming said with a grin as they trooped inside.

“Now we just have free it before our Masters sober up,” Puk said.

The box started to thrash and hop.

“Take it easy.  We’re here to help,” Ming said, reaching out a paw to sooth it.  He realized too late it was trying to warn them.

Like rising snakes, coils of hair sprang to life and attacked. Ming’s paws were pulled out from beneath him, and he was rolled across the floor, the hair binding him like a sausage in its casing.

Shrieking, Gloss took to the air and tried to flee, but a tendril slammed the door shut, and another fanned into a net and brought her to the ground.

Puk opened his mouth to breathe flame, but a coil of hair quickly wrapped his mouth shut.

Even clever Cleo could not escape.  Soon they were all hopelessly tangled.

“I told you this was a mistake!” Gloss squawked, thrashing around beneath her hair net.  “But did you listen to me?  Nooo!  Now look at us!”

“Eh . . .” Puk said through his teeth.  “It could be worse.”

And then it was.  A peal of drunken laughter rang out behind them.

“Looky . . . hic . . . looky what Goldie caught!” Iknoir said.  “What . . . hic . . . what’re you doing outta the playroom?”

“Just a bit of exploring, Master,” Puk said between his teeth.

Swaying , Iknoir shook his finger.  “Oh no, no no.  If Goldie wrapped you up, you . . . hic . . . you was up to no good.”

With a mighty roar, Cleo shook the coil of hair from her mouth.

“Dead hair upon the floor, obey me now and evermore.  Release our bonds, entwine us not, and wrap your coils around that sot!”

The golden locks released Ming so fast he went spinning across the floor like a top.  When he came to a stop, the braids had whipped themselves around Iknoir and everyone else was free.

“Good one, Doll Face,” Puk said.

The Sphinx gave an elegant shrug.  “My kind have an affinity with the dead, for us, they are easily led.”

Ming turned his attention to the box.

He placed a paw atop the beautiful carved lid.  “Magic box, give us something to free us of our bonds.”

He opened the lid to find a pair of bolt cutters.

“That’s not what I meant,” Ming said, shaking his head.  He closed the lid again.  “We need something to help us get rid of our masters.”

He opened the lid to find a sword, a vial of poison, a noose and a crossbow.

“Not that way!” Ming said, shutting the lid.

“Oh, get out of the way!” Gloss fluttered over and landed on the chest.

“Magic box, we no longer wish to be wizards’ familiars.  Set us free.”

“No!”  Ming shouted, but his shout turned into a croak as the four of them morphed into frogs.  With Cleo’s power gone, the tangled locks of Rapunzel’s hair started to loosen. Iknoir was fighting himself free.  Ming quickly hopped up onto the box and tried to demand it to make them as they were before, but all that came out were croaks and ribbits.

Iknoir grabbed them up one-by-one and stuffed them into his pointy hat.

“Ha!” he said, glaring down at them.  “Thought you could get the best of . . . hic . . . best of me, did you?  I have the perfect place for you, you . . . hic . . . you traitorous beasts.”

Jostled and shaken in the dark hat, they were carried through the Keep and dumped out in the frog tower.

“Thought you had it bad before?” Iknoir cackled.  “See how you like life as frogs.” He slammed the door shut.

Ming, Puk and Cleo turned on Gloss, glaring at her with angry bulbous eyes.

“Ribbit,” she warbled nervously, and then turned and hopped frantically away.

Croaking, all of them leaped off in hot pursuit.

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.

 

March 27, 2017

Beneath the Dome

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories,Uncategorized — Patsy @ 3:19 pm

Made it to Round 2 in the NYC Midnight SS Contest.  I had 3 days to write a 2000 word short story with the following prompts: Thriller. Forest Ranger. Water Supply.  Here’s what I came up with.  Wish me luck!

Beneath the Dome

 

The domed forests of Casparteaka were a safe-haven for hundreds of species that had been hunted to the brink of extinction throughout the galaxy.  Casparteaka’s Forest Rangers were the last line of defense against those that would destroy beauty for profit…but what happens when the last line of defense is tainted by madness?

 

Beneath the Dome

 

Being a forest ranger was supposed to be a nice, relaxing occupation, and it had been . . . up until yesterday.

When people started getting sick, no one thought to attribute it to the water supply until it was far too late.  The purple rash and the pukes didn’t seem all that bad, until some of the affected became violent.

Lucky for me, I drink only vodka.  Unlucky for me, my boss Marcus went bat-shit crazy and killed everyone while I was out-dome doing repairs.  As a former soldier, I was no stranger to death, but what he’d done was pure slaughter.  Maybe I’d be just as hacked up as the others if I’d been at ground zero when he went off, but men often make the fatal mistake of underestimating me.

Marcus had set up camp in the living quarters on the south side of the dome, and thus far, I’d managed to keep him out of the arboretum and away from those we were sworn to protect.  Strangely, the tainted water hadn’t spread here, and I’d cut every connection between the two systems to make sure it stayed that way.

Rifle across my lap, I settled back on the high branch and watched the one functional airlock between our camps.  I’d disabled or destroyed all the others.  If Marcus wanted in, he could come in, so long as it was right into my cross-hairs.  I was wearing every weapon I owned—three pistols, six knives, a sword, and two poison dart emitters—I was ready for his crazy ass.

The com in my ear crackled to life.

“Where, oh where, has my little Morgan gone?  Where, oh where, can she be?”

I gritted my teeth.  He’d been singing for hours.

“Shut up, Marcus.”

“There she is!  I have a little surprise for you, honey blossom.”

“If you wanna surprise me, step outside and take a deep breath.  Maybe the methane will clear your head.”

“But I’m already outside,” he giggled.  “I made you a surprise out on the dome wall.  All you have to do is find it.”

“Make sense.  If you can.”

“I built you a bomb.  I know how much you like to watch things go boom!”  He descended into giggles.  “Boom!  Boom!  Boom!”

I sat bolt upright on my branch as cold horror wrenched my gut.  “You didn’t.”

“Tick tock, tick tock, it’ll go boom when the ticking stops.”

Was he crazy enough to vent the dome and kill us all?  I was pretty sure he was.  After one too many tours of duty, I’d signed onto the Rangers because I was tired of killing things and wanted to watch something grow.  Marcus was about to become the exception.

Casparteaka’s light gravity allowed the dome’s redwoods to grow to stunning heights, but I bounced down the branches like a monkey until I hit one of the suspended walkways.  I’d been keeping to the trees because Marcus still had access to the security cameras, but him knowing where I was, wouldn’t matter if he blew us up.  I had to get to Alpha Level and find that bomb. Fortunately I still had one ally – the dome’s A.I.

“L.U.C.I., do you have a read on Marcus yet?”

“Negative.  He is still masking his life signs.”

“Look for movement of any kind.  Finding him is priority one.”

“Acknowledged.”

I swiped at my eyes as a misty rain started to fall in earnest.  It quickly changed to a pelting downpour, making my footing on the slippery path more treacherous by the moment.

“Do you detect any explosive devices?” I asked.

“Negative.”

“He planted one out-dome.  Scan and report back.”

“Acknowledged.”

Heart racing—adrenaline surging—I felt like I was back on the front lines.  I skidded to a stop as a small, burning projectile embedded itself in the walkway a few feet in front of me.

Marcus’s laughter rained down on me from the path above.

Idiot.  He bated you—and you fell for it.     

I sprinted back the way I’d come, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it.  I tried to hold on as the bridge exploded behind me in a wash of heat, but the path crumbled beneath my feet and I plummeted to the ground two stories below.

           

I woke up on the grass with a splitting headache and throbbing wrists where my hands were bound behind my back.  The sound of the rushing waterfall on the ground level of the dome did nothing to alleviate the throbbing pulse behind my eyes.

“Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.” Marcus sang.

Somehow he’d gotten past my defenses, and like an idiot, I’d walked right into his trap.

He stood with his back to me, the clearing around him littered with cages and crates containing the precious plants and beings we were sworn to protect.

A small hutch on the ground next to my head buzzed with humming wings and high angry voices.  It was stuffed with dozens of Tzuan, a race of small winged beings who had started the early fairy legends of Earth.  The Tzuan had been captured and enslaved as pets for centuries despite their sentient nature.  They were people.  We were supposed to protect them, not cage them.

I was horrified to find Charlie, my precious Kazmiri Unicorn, on the ground, his legs hobbled by tangle cuffs.  He tossed his head and looked pleadingly at me with bright blue eyes.  His kind had been hunted to near extinction because their horn, when ground and consumed was said to give immortality.

What the hell did Marcus think he was doing?

I twisted my wrists, trying to loosen the tangle cuffs and free my hands long enough to get them around his throat– and then I felt it–he’d taken my blades, but he’d overlooked the dart emitter on my ankle. I wiggled to the left.  I wouldn’t need my hands if I could get my feet into the right position.

Marcus turned toward me with a smirk, his eyes surprisingly lucid, and his face clear of the purple rash that had marked those affected by the water.

“So, you’re awake.”

The puzzle pieces clicked painfully into place.  “So, you’re a lying bastard.”

He laughed.  “Always with the smart mouth.  I’d find it endearing if I didn’t hate you so much.”  He stepped close enough to deliver a sharp kick to my ribs.  I rolled with it; using the momentum to put my bound feet in the direction I wanted them.

“You almost spoiled my plans with your little commando act.”

“Why the charade?  Why didn’t you just kill us all outright?”

Marcus smirked.  “We’re enough alike that you just might appreciate this, Morgan. I pulsed clips of my tragic little play here in the dome, to Earth.  All the official records will show I went insane and blew myself up, taking all of you with me.  When the explosives go off, the dome and everything inside it will be vaporized.  No one will be able to tell what’s missing . . . or whom.  I can hold a private little auction and live like a king for the rest of my days, or maybe even until the end of days, after I grind up Charlie’s horn and drink it down.”

My gaze flicked to Charlie.  Over my dead body, I promised him silently. 

“You’re just going to piss away your oath and blow everything up?”

“You better believe it, honey blossom.”  He looked at his watch.  “The way I figure it.  You’ve got about twenty minutes to live.”

I glared up at him.  “When I’m though with you, not even Charlie’s horn is going to be able to save you.”

Laughing, he knelt by my feet.  “Big words, little-soldier-girl.  How you gonna carry them out trussed up like a Christmas goose?”

“Like this,” I said, pulling my knees up and firing a dart into his smug face.

He dropped dead at my feet; eyes frozen wide open in surprise.

“L.U.C.I., did you find that bomb?”

“Negative.”

“Keep looking, and mark the time.  We’ve got t-minus nineteen minutes before it blows.  It could be anywhere, inside or outside the dome.”

“Affirmative.”

I rolled over and looked into Charlie’s blue eyes.

“Free me, I’ll free you.”

He tossed his head.

I presented him with my bound hands.  He slid his sharp horn slide between the bindings and with a jerk of his head, I was free.   Once my ankles were loose, I retrieved my weapons and released everyone else.

A search of Marcus’ body produced no detonator.  The bomb must be on a timer.

The Tzuan buzzed excitedly around my head like a cluster of agitated hummingbirds.  I raised my hands to get their attention and they stopped and hovered.  “Search the walls of the dome.  If you find anything that doesn’t belong there, come and get me.”

The Tzuan dispersed in all directions at top speed, and I sorted through the debris in the clearing, looking for anything that would give me a clue.

“T-minus fifteen minutes,” L.U.C.I. reported.

Dropping to my knees, I lifted Marcus’s feet and examined the soles of his boots.  The treads were full of bright, orange berries.

“The kingberry grove,” I said, dropping his feet.  It was on the far side of the dome, near the oxygen generators.  It was a perfect place for an explosive.  If the generators went, the entire dome would go.

I ran, winding between the massive trunks of the trees as fast as I could on my throbbing left ankle.  I must have twisted it in the fall from the bridge, but I kept going as L.U.C.I. counted down the last minutes of my life, only stumbling to a stop when a white blur cut me off.

Charlie butted me with his head and dropped down on his front knees before me.  Gratefully, I grabbed a handful of his silky mane and pulled myself up and we continued the race toward the north wall.

“T-minus ten minutes,” L.U.C.I. reported.

“Faster, Charlie.”

He put on a burst of speed and I ducked low over his neck so a tree branch wouldn’t knock me off until we finally skidded to a stop among the bright orange berry bushes.  The grove went on for a hundred yards in both directions.

Sliding down from his back, I set off along the wall to the left.  Charlie turned and went right.

“T-minus five minutes,” L.U.C.I. said.

When I heard Charlie bellow, I dashed back the way I’d come.

Twenty yards back, I found him by the wall, next to Marcus’s gift.  The bomb was an ugly mass of colored wires, metal and tubes.  The timer on the front read thirty-five seconds.  Cursing, I pulled my knife and dropped to my knees.

“T-minus two minutes,” L.U.C.I. said.

“Negative.  We have thirty seconds,” I corrected.

“Twenty-nine,” L.U.C.I. said, “Twenty-eight. . .”

“Damnit, L.U.C.I., stop counting and tell me how to disarm this thing!”

“Insufficient data.  Would you like me to research explosive devices?”

“No!” I shouted.

“Affirmative.  “Ten . . . nine . . . eight. . .”

Calmly, Charlie leaned down and ripped out a blue wire with the tip of his horn.

“Three . . . two . . .” L.U.C.I. paused.  “Threat neutralized.”

Giddy with relief, I fell over backward, and Charlie snuffled me with his soft nose.

“I thought I was supposed to be protecting you,” I told him.  “Guess you showed me.”

He nodded his head, his blue eyes clearly laughing at me.

I pulled a small flask from my inside pocket and unscrewed the cap.  “I don’t suppose you like vodka?”

To my amazement, he took the flask in his mouth and threw his head back, gulping down the last of my Stolichnaya and dropping the empty flask on my chest.

I laughed.  “No more sugar cubes for you.  From now on, I’ll bring you White Russians.”

 

 

 

 

January 29, 2017

Something More

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 7:27 pm

My latest entry in the NYC SS Contest.  My prompts were: Drama, a grocery store bagger, the end of a friendship. Wish me luck!

robert-taylor-project

            When they were five, they made a pact to always be there for each other, but dreams and friendships die every day on Chicago’s South Side.

Something More

 

Jadyn quickly bagged the last of Mrs. Houston’s groceries and put them in her little rolling cart. He didn’t want her to miss the bus. The South Side of Chicago was no place for somebody’s grandma to be walking alone after dark.

Rain or shine, Mrs. Houston came in every Sunday after church to do her shopping, but she was later than usual tonight. The service at St. John’s must have run long, but if any place needed extra prayers, it was Bronzeville.

Behind the register, his Aunt Alaia caught his gaze and he nodded. When it came to special customers like Mrs. Houston, they added a few extra services.

“Can I walk you to the bus stop, Mrs. Houston?” Jadyn asked.

Mrs. Houston looked out the front window at the dark street, then back at him. “You don’t have to,” she said, but her eyes said something different.

He smiled. “It’d be my pleasure, ma’am.”

She reached up and patted his cheek. “Thank you, Jadyn. You’re a good boy.”

Good was something he worked hard at, but being good wasn’t easy in the projects where drugs, gangs and drive-bys were the norm. The day his father overdosed, Jadyn promised himself he was going to be something better than the norm.

He took charge of Mrs. Houston’s rolling cart and followed her out the door. The bus stop was two blocks down from the 47th Street Market, and Mrs. Houston took the arm he offered as they walked. The top of her flowered hat barely came up to his collarbone so he slouched a little and shuffled his feet to match her tiny steps as they went along.

Jadyn’s gaze flicked left and right,  monitoring the street for signs of trouble by force of habit. The Mickey Cobras and the Gangster Disciples were in the middle of a turf war that had everyone on edge, and when the shooting started, they didn’t care who was in the crossfire; all they cared about was more turf to push their rock and snow.

“Heard you had some trouble down on Federal Street last night,” Mrs. Houston said.

Jadyn shrugged. “Don’t know a night when there isn’t trouble, Ma’am. Not when you live in The Hole.”

A little girl “disappeared” from the 15th floor hallway of his building last night.  Everyone knew the Cobras did it, but nobody was talking. She was only two-years old. Since the gangs had taken over the Robert Taylor Projects, no one was safe. And getting help was a joke when the paramedics – and even the cops – were afraid to come into your hood.

Mrs. Houston looked up at him and shook her head. “It’s gettin’ so decent folk are afraid to walk down the street. Wasn’t like that in my day,” she said, clucking her tongue in disapproval.

“How was it in your day, Ma’am?” Jadyn asked as they navigated around an overturned garbage can.

She smiled up at him, light coming into her eyes. “Oh, Honey! It was the roaring 20’s!  We had us some bathtub gin and sweet, sweet jazz – Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and King Oliver – now that was music. Not like this stuff you kids listen to today.” She wrinkled her nose. “Like that boy who goes gyrating around in one glove and those shiny jackets, whooping and hollering and grabbing his unmentionables?”

Jadyn grinned. “You ragging on Michael Jackson? Come on! MJ’s cool, Mrs. Houston.”

She shook her head. “Cool? You don’t know cool till you’ve seen Louis Armstrong blowing his horn.”

“I don’t know about that, Mrs. Houston, but I bet you were cool back in the day,” he said, “I can see you tearing up the dance floor in your short dress, swinging your pearls around.”

She laughed. “We danced and we had fun, but we always went to church on Sunday. We was decent folk who helped each other. People around here have forgotten what it’s like to be decent.”

Jadyn nodded. “Someday, I’m going to get my mom and my little sisters outta here.”

“Did you get that scholarship you applied for?” Mrs. Houston asked as they walked the last few steps to the bus.

Jadyn grinned down at her. “I did. I start at U.I.C. in the fall.”

Joy lit her wrinkled face. “I knew you could do it! You’re gonna be a doctor!”

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed as he carried her little cart up the steps and saw her safely seated behind the driver.

“You have a good evening now, Mrs. Houston.”

She grabbed his hand and pressed something into his palm. Jadyn opened his fingers and found a neatly folded five dollar bill. “I can’t take this, Ma’am,” he said, trying to hand it back to her.

She kept her hands firmly in her lap. “You can and you will. You’re gonna be a doctor, and doctors need lots of books and such. It ain’t much, but there’ll be more next month, and every month after that.”

Jadyn shook his head. “But, Mrs. Houston . . .”

She raised her chin and looked up at him with determined brown eyes. “That scholarship won’t pay for everything. I want to be able to say I helped make a doctor. You wouldn’t deprive an old woman of her last wish would you?”

He held up a hand in surrender. “No Ma’am.”

She nodded up at him. “Good. I’ll see you next week.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Houston,” he said.

Grinning, she waved him off the bus.

Jadyn shook his head as he watched it pull away. She didn’t have two spare pennies to rub together. He’d have to find some way to get the money back to her.

“Yo, Jadyn!”

Dmitry waved and came across the street toward him. Wearing all black, he was almost invisible on the dimly lit street, except for his shiny new green hat. Dmitry had been his best friend since they were five, running around the projects with their shopping cart collecting bottles to turn in for cash at the market.

With Jadyn working more hours to save for school, they hadn’t had as much time to hang out the last few weeks and would have even less time when he started classes. Jadyn was nervous about mixing in with the Richies in the college crowd. He was going to miss having Dmitry at his back.

“You on old lady duty again?” Dmitry asked with a grin.

Jadyn shrugged. “It’s not so bad. Mrs. Houston is cool. I like her.”

Dmitry shook his head. “You turning into a legit dexter.”

“Better a dexter than a hoser,” Jadyn said. “Sup with all the black? You going to a funeral I don’t know about?”

“Maybe yours if you keep talkin’ smack, dickweed,” Dmitry said, punching him playfully on the shoulder.

Jadyn caught his wrist when he pulled back.

“When did you get inked?” he asked.

“It’s nothing,” Dmitry said, trying to pull away. Jadyn held on, and angled his arm into the streetlight.

A crowned cobra with the letters M, C, N beneath it now marked his friend’s forearm.  The green hat – the black clothes – it was all starting to make sense.

He looked up at Dmitry with a mixture of anger and fear.  “You didn’t.”

Dmitry jerked his wrist free.  “So what if I did?”

Jadyn grabbed his arm again and pulled him into the mouth of a nearby alley.  “We’ve been running from the gangs our entire life and you up and join the Cobras? Why?”

“Maybe I’m tired of runnin,’” Dmitry said. “Maybe I’m tired of scratchin’ for every bit of food and sleeping three to a bed. Maybe I’m tired of living in the damned Hole.”

Jadyn pointed to the tattoo. “You think this is going to get you out? You a fool. All this did is get you in deeper.”

Dmitry glared defiantly at him. “Not all of us got your brains, Jadyn. Ain’t nobody handing me no scholarship! Do you see any jobs up in here?” he asked, gesturing around the litter strewn alley. “Maybe this is the only choice I got.”

“What? You’re not as smart as me, so all you can be is a pusher? We used to hide from these punks on the way home from school, and now you’re gonna be one?” Jadyn poked a finger at Dmitry. “You gonna start selling the same shit that killed my dad to little kids on the street?”

Dmitry looked down, unwilling, or unable to meet his gaze.

“How could you do that to me?”

Dmitry kept his gaze on the toes of his Nikes.

“We made a pact that we’d never join,” Jadyn said. “We took a blood oath that we’d always have each other’s back. You just gonna ignore that?”

Dmitry laughed. “We were five. You say all kinds of stupid shit when you’re five.”

“It wasn’t stupid.” Jadyn shot back. “It was one of the smartest things we ever did, and you went and fucked it up.”

Dmitry glowered at him. “It’s not like I killed nobody.”

“Not yet,” Jadyn shot back.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean. The Cobras killed that little girl on 15 because her Daddy narced their meet-and-greet out to the cops.”

Dmitry shifted from foot to foot. “You don’t know that.”

“Everybody knows it!” Jadyn shouted. He took a step closer to Dmitry. “Whose kid are they going to ask you to kill?”

“Shut up, man!” Dmitry shouted, giving him a hard shove that knocked him backward into the alley wall.

Lunging forward, Jadyn shoved back, and Dmitry doubled over with a gasp of pain.

“They already jumped you in, didn’t they?” Jadyn demanded. He’d seen people die from being jumped in. When every gang member got to take his best shot at you, sometimes people wound up bleeding out from the inside.

Holding his ribs, Dmitry straightened and glared at him.

“How bad are you hurt?”

“I’ll live,” he shot back.

“Yeah? For how long? How many of our friends are already in the ground?”

“What do you care, man? You gonna’ be outta here!” Dmitry shoved past him and started down the street.

Jadyn went after him and caught his arm again, pulling him to a stop beneath a broken street light.

“You can bounce too. You can go live with your Grandma in Florida. She asked you to come live with her last year.”

“And do what? Hang out with the old people and the alligators?” Dmitry shook his head.  “No thanks. That ain’t for me. At least here I got protection. Won’t nobody mess with me now.”

Jadyn wanted to shake him. He wanted to knock some sense into him, but it was more like someone had knocked all the sense out. “I can’t listen to this anymore. I don’t even know you, man.”

“Yeah? Well maybe you never did.” Dmitry shot back.

“So what? This is it? We’re calling it quits?”

Dmitry thrust out his chin. “Maybe. I got plenty of new friends now.”

“Yeah, I can see how much your new friends care about you,” he shot back, poking Dmitry in the ribs. He winced and jerked away.

The sound of squealing tires caused them both to turn as a jacked-up Impala swerved around the corner in their direction. The car was black with blue flames painted on the hood and Dmitry tensed beside him. Those were Disciples colors. Dmitry was wearing green and black which clearly marked him as a Cobra and just as clearly made him a target.

The muzzle of a gun appeared in the window.

“Get down!” Jadyn screamed, pushing Dmitry hard to the ground.

The pops of the gunshots were loud in his ears and chips of concrete and brick sprayed up into his face. Something hot lanced through his shoulder and another through his abdomen, burning a trail through his body. As he came down on top of Dmitry, a third shot hit him in the back and all the pain from the other two bullets disappeared. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Jadyn knew this was bad, but all he could think about was the fact he wasn’t going to have the chance to give Mrs. Houston back her five dollars.

The tires squealed off, and Dmitry moved beneath him, gasping.

“Jadyn, get off me, man.” And when he didn’t move or respond, Dmitry’s voice took on a higher pitch. “J? Jadyn!”

Dmitry wiggled out and then rolled him over. His eyes grew wide at the sight of bloodstains spreading across Jadyn’s white shirt.

“Oh God, Jadyn! Help! Somebody help me!” He pressed his hands to the wound in Jadyn’s belly, but Jadyn couldn’t feel it. He couldn’t feel anything at all.

“Jadyn, what do I do? What do I do?” Dmitry asked, tears streaming down his face.

Jadyn looked up at him. “Go . . . to Florida,” he said. “Promise . . . me.”

Dmitry bowed his head.

“Promise . . . me,” Jadyn insisted as darkness closed in around the edges of his vision. “Be . . . something more.”

Dmitry broke down into sobs. “I promise. I won’t fuck it up this time.”

Jadyn managed a final nod as the world slipped away behind a curtain of black.

July 26, 2016

Judge Not

Filed under: NYC Midnight,Short Stories — Patsy @ 9:55 pm

My latest entry in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge.  We had 48 hours to write a 1,000 word story using the following prompts.  Wish me luck!

Prompts were: Location: Photo Studio. Genre: Horror. Object: Onion.

Synopsis: Judge not lest ye be judged, his Mother always said. Too bad Jack had never been one to listen to motherly advice.

creepy cameras

Judge Not

Drip . . . Drip . . . Drip.

The familiar sound of the tap dripping in the darkroom seemed loud and hostile in the silent studio.  Jack wedged himself tightly against the wall in the corner, drawing his knees protectively to his chest.  He was still safe.  It hadn’t found him . . . yet.

He tried to avoid looking at the pictures scattered around him on the floor, but they pulled at his gaze, unwilling to be ignored.  Portraits of powerful men with hollow eyes posed before raging vortexes of color.  Some thought the photos were clever creations of art, but it wasn’t art – it was the camera.

When he’d figured out what the swirling colors in the photographs contained, it was like winning the lottery.  Every lie, every act of larceny, adultery, or murder the subject had committed was recorded in those swirling colors.  If you blew the images up, you could read them like a sordid bedtime story.

Jack had made a fortune blackmailing the world’s most powerful men with their dirty laundry.  Best of all, the ‘charitable’ income from his new benefactors left him more time for his own . . . hobbies.

When the vintage 60’s Kodak came to him, he’d thought the camera and its warning message a prank from one of his buddies.

The eye of the lens is the eye of judgement.

See only that which you wish to be judged.

            In this fishbowl world of social media, everything was judged – every action – every word – every picture.  But the camera did far more than judge. One-by-one, his blackmail victims started to vanish.  At first, Jack thought they were trying to avoid paying up, but then he’d seen Mayor Townsend sucked into the camera’s lens by a writhing mass of black tentacles.

Jack whimpered and pressed his face against his knees.

He’d burned it – smashed it – thrown it in the ocean – but no matter how many times he tried to destroy the camera, it always came back to him.  And they came with it – more and more of them every day.

Jack raised his head with a start as the desk chair beside him squeaked.  The seat spun slowly to face him and the camera sat upon it, glaring at him with its one glass eye.

It had found him.

Black plastic with little inlays of bone along its casing, it looked perfectly harmless – pretty even.

He laughed, the sound tainted with an edge of insanity.  Laughter quickly turned to sobs as the lens continued to glare unblinkingly.

It wasn’t alive.  He knew it wasn’t – but yet somehow it was here and not at the bottom of the ocean where he’d tossed it less than an hour ago.

“Why won’t you die?” he screamed, kicking the chair across the room to crash into a display case.  The camera bounced across the floor, its unscathed eye staring relentlessly back at him.

The floor shook and bucked, boards clattering as angry swirls of colored light sprang from the camera’s lens and went careening around the room in a howling vortex.

Jack ducked as a still-life photo of an onion jumped off its hook and came hurtling toward him, smashing into the wall above his head.  Papers and pictures swirled around him in a blinding tornado as file cabinets spat their contents into the air.

He scrambled to his feet and stood in the center of the howling maelstrom with clenched fists.

“What do you want?” he screamed.

The pictures and papers slowed their mad dance and fluttered to the ground forming the letters Y. O. U.

Jack fell to his knees, frantically tossing the papers aside until the word was no longer visible, but he couldn’t escape the hovering lights which encircled him, nor the staring eye of the camera.

“This isn’t my fault,” he told the lights.  “I didn’t know what the camera would do to you!”

“Why?” He glared at it, eyes wide and bloodshot. “Why me?”

The desk beside him cracked open with a sound like a thunderclap, and disgorged the contents of his hidden drawers.  Pictures of young, naked girls pelted him as they rained to the ground.

He pointed at the camera with a trembling hand. “What right have you to judge me?”

Someone pounded on the studio door.

“Jack Brown, New Orleans P.D.”

Heart pounding, Jack frantically scooped the photographs into a pile.

“Open the door Mr. Brown, or I’ll open it for you,” the voice threatened.

Jack flicked open his lighter, prepared to set the evidence ablaze, but the colored lights snuffed out the flame as they spiraled back into the lens of the camera. With a splintering thud, the door slammed open and a beautiful woman with caramel-colored skin strode inside.  Jack stared hard at her familiar features, and at the badge and pistol clipped to her belt.

“My, my,” she drawled in a Cajun-spiced accent.  “What a fine mess.” She picked up the camera and held it lovingly in her hands.  “What’s a matter, Mr. Brown?  Aren’t you enjoyin’ my gift?”

“Your gift?” he croaked.

“You don’t rememba me, do you?”  She knelt down and picked up a picture of a young girl with caramel-colored skin and frightened eyes.  “You used to call me Sweet Adelaide.”

Jack felt the color drain from his face.  She had been one of his favorites.  One of the ones he’d spent ‘extra special’ time with – until he’d found out her uncle was an Obeah Man.  “Adelaide Leveau,” he croaked.

“You do rememba.  Good.” She smiled at him, her brown eyes taking on a scarlet glow. “I thank ya kindly for helping to clean up my town.”  Adelaide lifted the camera.  “But now it’s time for ya to join all your new friends.”

“No,” Jack whimpered as she pointed the camera’s unblinking eye at him.

“Smile pretty for me now.”

“No!” he screamed as the eye of judgement opened and its hungry tendrils sucked him in.

 

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