Friday flash: Smoke in the Trees

Smoke in the Trees

Edge of grass and trees, short clear space behind, tall dark ahead. Scent of green and squirrel and a familiar musk, not smelled for seasons. The mist cat pushed into the shadows, following the trail. Brother, here? After so long?

But no — his scent faded. Had touched these shadows, yes, in the underspace, had been so close, hunting the chitters, but gone now. Chitters not gone; chitters spread through trees, hid in spaces only Smoke and other mist cats would see. Even the winged one would not see them unless they came out into the sun.

This was Smoke’s job, one the girl didn’t even know of. Best to keep it so.

Smoke faded into patchy sapling shade, faded out near big rock at center of trees. First chitter there, water clear and cicada-song between the oak branches. The mist cat crouched, haunches tensed, sprang. Teeth closed, bitter black and yellow taste mouth filling as song screeched high into nothingness.

Pain plunged sharp into Smoke’s back, mandible and claw. She spun, fluid cat twist, to sink her teeth into attacker, and two more gouged at her flanks. She slid sideways, shadow to shadow, escape, attack, evade, bite. More of them, always more, until there weren’t.

She held still on thick branch, pads resting on rough bark, tang of tree in her head. Nothing. Chitters gone. Gone, too, all trace of brother, any hope of fading and following him home. Smoke licked fur, washing clean ichor crusting wounds. These had come close.

Back to grass’s edge, fade in, fade out, nip at flowers tickling whiskers. More might come, but girl safe for now. Smoke would stay, keep her safe. When girl had grown, time enough then to find brother, return to family, seek home.

Now, evening shadows. Slip to blankets in cool room. One thought, in grass, next with girl. Now was good.

— The End —

313 words

Better late than never, right? I discovered last week’s cat has a voice of her own. I imagine that means Drake is going to want his say as well. I hope you enjoyed it.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Happy solstice!

Friday flash: Top Five Reasons Dragons Are Better Than Cats

Top Five Reasons Dragons Are Better Than Cats

In her room in the northwest tower, Angelica stood up from her oaken writing desk and crossed to the window. She brushed the vanes of her quill against her cheek and stared out at the gray and green scene, castle and clouds against grass and trees. She was happy, she supposed, that her parents had hired a Tiremish tutor for her; they were supposed to be the best, and Philomena had been positively chartreuse with jealousy. Still, he gave her such inane assignments. What did he mean “Compare and contrast the characteristics of two noble beasts of which she had personal knowledge”?

Below, near the copse of trees that stood to the north, she saw Smoke, her mist cat, fade in and out of shadows, stalking something hidden within — one of her father’s deer, no doubt. That was one difference, right? Dragons didn’t play with their prey. Except . . . there, on the northernmost tower, Drake curled in the sun in front of a chessboard, facing the son of the neighboring barony. Well, at least Drake talked to his potential prey, so he was polite about it!

Drake noticed her watching — his keen sight was a little scary — and nodded an acknowledgment. Definitely polite. Smoke had no idea Angelica was watching her and wouldn’t have cared if she had.

What else? Smoke could travel outside the castle, but she was the guardian spirit of the hill, so she couldn’t go very far. Drake’s wings, in theory, could take him to the corners of the world — except he had given his word to Angelica’s father, which meant he was as trapped as Smoke.

The sun came out from behind the clouds, and gold glinted from beneath Drake. Not his full hoard, of course, just enough to keep him comfortable. Smoke didn’t keep such pretty trophies; Angelica glanced over her shoulder to the corner of her room where the mist cat had left spools of thread stolen from the weavers, broken arrows from the fletchers, and bones that Angelica didn’t want to know any more about.

Drat the tutor, anyway! Angelica couldn’t leave her room until she’d written something, and Drake had promised to teach her wind-song. She crossed back to her desk and glared down at the blank parchment. If only she could think of something to write.

— The End —

386 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday flash: Always


In the smoky interior of the split-log cabin, Karina moved from bed to bed, tending to coughs and fevers alike with poultices and cool drinks. Soon, it would be time to turn the patients again, to help prevent bed sores — a task she usually had help with, but this was not a usual winter. This year, the ague had hit hard, taking not only her Gran and all the babes of the village, but many of those her own age, usually so strong and fit. She paused to wipe her own forehead.

“Are you okay, Karina?” The voice was so weak, she had trouble identifying it, until it came again. “You should rest so you don’t wind up joining us.”

Heidi, the blacksmith’s wife — how like her to worry about others. She’d lost both her son and daughter the week before, the sweetest two year olds Karina had ever seen. Now Heidi lay to the left side of the fireplace, stricken by the same illness.

Karina crossed to her and pulled a stool close to sit beside the cot. “It’s just the smoke. I’ll be fine. Would you like some water?”

“Maybe a little.” Heidi touched her throat. “It’s so warm in here.”

“Gran always swore by heat for the ague.”

“She would know.”

Nodding, Karina rose and fetched a tankard of water. She held it to Heidi’s lips and waited while the other woman sipped.

A crash behind her made Karina spin around, slopping water onto Heidi as she did so. Thomas, one of the young men her own age, had fallen from his cot, knocking it over in the process. Grimacing, Karina set the tankard on the floor.

“I’ll get you a towel in just a moment.”

“It’s all right. I understand.”

The fall had woken Thomas, but he lay on the floor, staring at her rather than trying to get back into the cot. He must be worse off than she had thought. Karina knelt and pulled the cot closer to him, then rolled him against it, pushing upward so that his weight would help right the cot. After three tries, the cot rocked upright.

His face was waxy, and he stared up at the ceiling, unblinking. Karina shook her head; he wouldn’t make it through the night.

She picked up the sweat-soaked blankets that had fallen to the floor and stuffed them into the large pot of lye water sitting next to the fireplace. His would be changed a little earlier than her other patients’. A trip to the blanket chest yielded a threadbare woolen blanket and towels for both Heidi and Thomas. Heidi smiled appreciatively at Karina, but when Karina dabbed at Thomas’s forehead, he caught her hand.

“It’s always been you,” he said. “Always.” Then his hand dropped and he rolled away from her touch.

She stared at the back of his head; she’d never thought of him that way, and now to hear it like this, with others listening, was too much. She almost couldn’t bring herself to reply, but if he was going to die today, she couldn’t be that cruel to him.

Softly, hoping her voice wouldn’t carry beyond his cot, she said, “I’ll be yours when the daffodils bloom again.”

A sigh was his only response, and she tucked the blanket around him and returned to her rounds.


Bodies — too many — had been stored in an abandoned cabin and added to the hillside cemetery as soon as the ground thawed enough in the spring. The laborers trickled back to their homes, glad of the friends and family they had still living. Now Thomas, who had pulled through against all expectation, stood in the cemetery, staring down at Karina’s grave. Looking back, it seemed inevitable that she would succumb to the ague, as she had spent all her time around those who were sick.

He spoke as softly as she had that night back in the smoky cabin. “You said you’d be mine, and now the daffodils are blooming, yellow and cheerful beneath your windows.” A lump caught in his throat, and he looked away for a moment at the pine trees sweeping down the neighboring hills. “I just — it’s still you. Always.”

Silently, he placed a gold ring on the stone marking her grave. After staring at it a few minutes, he turned to head back to the home he’d hoped she would share.

A breeze touched him, whispered, “Yours,” and then was gone.

Thomas looked back. For a brief moment, he thought he saw Karina standing beside her gravestone, hair blowing in the breeze, his ring upon her finger. Blinking back tears, he took a step and reached out one hand to her. Then she was gone.

Only after he stared a moment longer did he realize his ring had vanished as well. He hadn’t imagined her, then — she had taken his ring. She was his.

This time, when he turned toward home, his step was lighter. Karina was with him — always.

— The End —

850 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday flash: Five More Minutes

Five More Minutes

Liam listened to the spiel on the time-travel devices absently. He was only here because of Robin, who said he was too scared to do anything outside his pampered enclave. “You’ve never gone beyond the gates, even for schooling.” He’d show her. He wasn’t afraid — there was just nothing in the current world of any real interest.

Had it been a set-up, all along? He didn’t think she’d mentioned time-travel, but when he arrived at the sales floor, the salesman seemed to expect him, even calling him by name. Maybe that was just part of the mystique — send the records from the end of each day back to the start. It was a neat trick, anyway.

The salesman fixed earnest blue eyes on Liam. He looked vaguely familiar, which probably meant Liam had run into his family in the enclave, even if Liam hadn’t met the salesman himself. With that chin, the salesman might even be a cousin Liam had never met. “You’re sure you understand how the recall works? And the time-delay circuit?”

Liam stifled a yawn. There were exactly three buttons on the device — go, recall, and delay. Go sent him into the past, recall returned him if he wanted to come back sooner than programmed, and delay extended the duration in the past. Simple. He could have operated this when he was still a toddler. “I’m sure.”

“I have to ask,” the salesman said apologetically. “There are rules.”

Of course there were.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”


Now he thought back on that encounter. He hadn’t expected to fall in love while in the past. He’d never heard of such a thing. Yet here he was on a bench in New York’s Central Park, watching joggers and dog-walkers pass, waiting for Angela, and worrying about how long he had.

The programmed return time from the past wasn’t always convenient — it would never do for a traveler to disappear in front of people. Hence the time-delay circuit. The device would vibrate and flash a minute or two before recall, giving the traveler enough time to press the delay button if necessary.

Liam had already delayed twice. He wasn’t ready to leave Angela; he wasn’t sure he ever would be.

He should have paid more attention to the details. Now he turned over the device in his pocket, trying to remember how the failsafe worked, how long he could continue to delay.


He’d been distracted, hadn’t noticed Angela’s approach. He stood up to greet her, smiling as he met her cerulean eyes. “Sorry, my sweet. I was just thinking about the future.”

Her perfectly arched brow raised. “Oh?”

She was too much of a lady to ask whether that future included her.

In his pocket, the device vibrated again. Liam slipped his hand around the device and pressed the time-delay button for the third time. Just a little longer.

The metal crumpled in his hand. He pulled it out and looked at it.

“What’s that?” Angela asked.

He shook his head and tossed it into the trash can next to the bench. “Nothing.”

That was what he’d missed in the salesman’s speech — the device wouldn’t work indefinitely. He’d have to leave an “I told you so” letter in trust for Robin to read. Later. Right now, he had exactly what he wanted — more time.

The rest of his life with Angela.


570 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

This week’s flash was inspired by my desire to stay in bed this morning. (Of course.)

Flash fiction: Mourning Bird

Mourning Bird

I was born beneath a black veil of mourning, a dark bud blooming deep in its shadow. The house had burned down years past, possibly decades or even longer, but Mother couldn’t tell me, her sense of time being . . . well, hers. The garden had fallen into disarray, formerly neat hedges become impenetrable thickets, and onions bearing giant purple globes where they had been allowed to go to seed. Into this, then, was I born, a child of the dark, the sorrow of not belonging bred into my bones, which wept with the sound of water trickling down a broken redbrick wall.

When I reckoned myself an adult, I tried to leave, but the iron of the gates held me as tight as any shackle, though they lay broken across the drive. Father told me it was not so much the metal of them as the symbol, that that was how mankind had always bound us, with sign and symbol, through the magic of words that held no magic.

– But why? Why? They are gone, dead and gone, burned and lost and scattered to the winds! Why cannot we go as well?

– Somewhere, they are not gone. Somewhere, they still call this home, though they may never have seen it. So long as their blood beats in their veins, so long does it bind us here.

– It isn’t fair! They don’t even want us any more!

Fair or not, it was the way of our life and I could not leave. I had already explored the garden, every inch, every speck, every pebble, every decaying rib of leaf in the fall. I knew the land, knew its ways, the thoughts of the trees, the whispers of the breezes, the drifts of snow that melted last in spring. I realized I would become like my mother, one with the land, no memory or separation of time, if I could not escape. There was only one other thing to try.

No one had ever forbidden me to enter the ruined house. As far as I knew, Mother saw it still clothed in flames, and Father — he probably assumed I wouldn’t want to. I was bound to the land, after all. What could something set apart in such a way have to offer me?

But it wasn’t set apart any more. Brambles grew through into what had been the kitchen, birds nested atop tottering walls, and I knew at least one fox family had a den in the basement. The house had become an extension of the garden, and I had become old enough to claim it as my own.

I entered through the front, dancing along the rose petals that drifted through space once filled — with a window, a wall? Mother would know, but she wouldn’t understand why I asked — but now bereft of anything but drifting dirt, charred timbers, and plants reclaiming the land. I felt the threshold as I crossed it, a thought, a line, a “this is home” feeling of belonging that sealed in as effectively as did the iron gates — but it was too late for me to go back. I was admitted into the house, but it had claimed me.

How long, I wondered, would humans consider this their place? How long before the blood diluted and set us free? Too long, I knew. I would be one with these walls, drawing the veil of mourning deeper about myself, and lose myself more completely than even Mother had.

I sat down on a pile of leaves to watch the sunset through the broken walls. The ghost of a sparrow flitted through one wall and out the other.


608 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

This week’s flash was inspired by a flash fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog, “Choose Your Opening Line.” In fact, I chose two lines, one for the beginning and one for the ending:

I was born beneath a black veil of mourning, a dark bud blooming deep in its shadow. — 
Gina Herron

The ghost of a sparrow flitted through one wall and out the other.
 — CJ Eggett

Friday flash: Neat freak

Neat Freak

Once upon a time, there was an organized young woman. She always brushed and flossed twice a day, precisely at 7 o’clock. Every dish was washed and put away immediately after being used. Her closet was organized both alphabetically (the shoe styles) and by color (everything else). And, of course, her taxes were always filed by 5 p.m. on January 31 (earlier if she had all the paperwork).

Her neighbors muttered and moaned. “She makes us all look bad.” But what could they do? An audit wouldn’t faze this woman. There must be something! They labored to summon a demon, a fairy, anyone who could help them.

Which is when my muse stepped in and said, “Clearly a fictional character. No one will ever miss her,” and fed her to the kraken in the basement.

The neighbors celebrated their freedom from feeling inferior . . . until they realized that if she was fictional, then so were they. Like Douglas Adams’s God, they disappeared in a puff of logic.


162 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Why yes, I am still working on my taxes.

Friday flash: Neither One Thing, Nor Another

Neither One Thing, Nor Another

Gillian shushed Hal as they climbed into the rickety treehouse. She’d outgrown the play area years ago, so she’d thought, but now, as Hal wrapped his arms around her waist, she thought that it did still have its uses.

“We have to be quiet, or Aunt Ruth will hear.”

He nuzzled her neck. “I thought you said her name was Rosa.”

“Sometimes it is.” She twisted away to look at him. “I’m serious. You don’t want her mad at you.”

He laughed loudly. “What’s she going to do, turn me into a frog?”

“That would be too easy.” The quiet voice came from a dark corner. “She’s more likely to turn you into something that isn’t, or isn’t always. Do you think I was always a shadow?”

Hal snorted, let go of Gillian, and strode to the corner — no doubt to prove that there was nothing mysterious going on. When he got there, he started poking around. “All right, where’s the hidden speaker?”

Gillian just shook her head.

“You know, Gillian, if you didn’t want to do this, you could have just said so.” He pushed past her to the ladder and quickly descended.

She watched him go, torn between tears and rage. A hand settled on her shoulder, and she spun around. “How could you do this to me?”

“At least I didn’t actually hurt him.” Aunt Ruth changed the subject. “I notice you only told him two of my names.”

“And one of mine,” Gillian said bitterly. “So? Can you imagine how he’d react if I told him sometimes I was Gerard? It’s been hard enough to mask it at school.”

“It’s okay, sweetie. Someday, you’ll meet someone who can accept you for all the yous you are.”

“Going to be mighty lonely in the meantime.” Gillian crossed her arms.

“You want me to change him? I could.”

Gillian shook her head. “No. Just, can I be alone for a while? I’ll come in for dinner, I promise.”

“All right.” Aunt Rosa dropped a kiss on her head. “Just remember — sometimes one thing, sometimes another –”

“And never really either.”

“No. Always you.”

Gillian stood without moving, watching her aunt who was also sometimes her uncle head down out of the tree and into the house. She wouldn’t want Rosa/Ruth/Ryan to be any other way. She supposed it was time to accept herself, too.


380 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

This odd little flash was inspired by discovering a typo in one of my published works. Oops!

Friday flash: Egg Hunt

Egg Hunt

The brown hare huddled beneath the hedge, nose twitching. The children had started their annual egg hunt, with the oldest girl quickly grabbing all the shiniest eggs. Typical. Her younger siblings resented it, of course, calling “Selfish!” and “Don’t be so grabby,” but their parents just rolled their eyes and said, “Everyone will share equally.”

The watching fey tweaked the hare’s tail. Surprised, it bolted in front of the children.

“The Easter Bunny!” They chased it, the oldest girl leading, so she got most of the candy-filled eggs.

The tooth fairy smiled evilly. Soon, she would have a rich harvest.


100 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

I wish you a happy Easter, if you celebrate it.

Friday flash: Ready for Spring

Ready for Spring

Unger stood in the shade of a copse of trees on the hill to the south of Milltown, leaning on his walking stick. None of the townsfolk would notice him; they never did. Their inattention hid him better than shadows and magic ever could.

Their inattention was why he was here today. Unger didn’t know whose bright idea it had been to launch paper lanterns to mark the arrival of spring — they’d be far more visible in winter — but every year, the children of Milltown colored bright papers that their parents made into lanterns for them. At noon, when the sun was highest, every family let go of their lantern, letting the heat of the candle inside waft the lanterns higher and higher, up from the valley floor, into the woods and maybe even over the hills. It was a joyous time, a celebration of the return of color and cheer.

It was also a fire hazard and a danger to every animal downwind of the town.

Just last year, he’d had to climb up to an eagle’s nest to put out a fire started by the candle before it cooked the fledglings. He didn’t even want to think about five years back, when they’d had the mild winter after a year of drought — but try to get the mayor to listen to reason! “That’s your job. What else are you going to use your magic for?”

As if Unger should shorten his lifespan, working magic just so these simpletons could have a party. No, he would only use his magic when there was grave need.

The clock in the town square struck noon, the bell’s sound rolling out into the hills. It was time.

Unger glanced up, sharpening his eyes to see the wind — not quite magic, but an unusual ability, to be sure. Over the town, a light breeze was blowing from the east, about at the pace a man might walk if he wasn’t in a hurry. Higher up, past hill height, the strength picked up, and he knew that if any of the lanterns rose that far, he wouldn’t be catching them today.

The lanterns rose in all their gaudy colors, a mass that the people of Milltown no doubt found charming. A few rose faster — those would be the families that could afford extra candles, or larger ones — while some lagged behind, made of heavier paper, perhaps even homemade. Cheers came from the town as the first lanterns cleared the houses below, continuing to rise.

Unger turned to make his way down the hill. The lanterns weren’t traveling fast, but they were many and he was just one. A glint in the corner of his eye made him turn back to stare at the lanterns again. One of them was floating south, toward him, rather than west with the breeze.

Frowning, he took two steps to the east and watched the lantern struggle to match him, though the breeze dimpled its paper. Magic, then, and meant for him. He set off down the hill again, heading closer to the lantern and to the west at the same time, to make the lantern’s course easier. No reason to tax someone else’s magic, make them use more of their strength and life when they’d already gotten his attention.

He met up with the lantern as he forded a small stream. It was made of onionskin paper, and only bore two decorations — the seal of Milltown and a magemark. Unger reached out to catch it in his hands. As his hands enfolded the candle tray, the candle went out.

A voice whispered, “I will help you when I am old enough. You are not alone.”

He waited to see if anything more would happen, but the young magic-user evidently had enough sense not to waste magic making the lantern disappear in a puff of smoke or anything flashy like that. Unger nodded thoughtfully as he folded up the tray and lantern and stowed them in the pouch he’d brought along for collecting bits and pieces. He’d never had an apprentice; he wondered when this one would come — next year, two years?

No matter. It would happen as it would happen. Right now, he had to go protect town and forest alike. As he strode off in the direction of the floating lanterns, he was surprised to find himself smiling. Maybe spring did bring some cheer after all.


730 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

I personally love spring, of course. So right now, I’m holding to the cheerful thought that not only do I have croci, I have hellebores blooming and daffodils budding. I must remind myself of this, as there appears to be some flurries of white stuff outside my window.

Are you ready for spring?

Friday flash: Pet Trouble

Pet Trouble

“The cheese was talking again last night,” Gilda said.

Instead of answering her, Henry used his reacher to pick up his left shoe. He carefully checked inside it to make sure their pets hadn’t left any surprises for him, then set it on the floor and placed his foot inside. He repeated the process with his right shoe.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

One of Henry’s regrets in life was that he had never gone deaf. He still loved his wife, but there were days he thought it would be easier if he couldn’t hear her.

She punched him on the arm. He rubbed his arm reflexively, although it didn’t really hurt.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I’ll go check on the kitchen. Just let me get my shoes tied, woman.”

Mollified, she leaned back against the pillows. “We’re going to have to do something one of these days.”

Henry used his reacher to fasten the Velcro flaps on his shoes. He’d hated giving up laces, but between his arthritis and the pets, the laces had been more trouble than they were worth. Finally, he reached for the cane he’d left next to the bed and pushed off the bed to stand.

His shoes scuffed a little on the low pile carpet — enough to let everyone know he was coming, but not enough to generate static electricity. The home nurse had been after them to replace the carpet with tile to help prevent accidents, but she was paranoid. It wasn’t thick enough to trip him. Besides, he liked the warmth.

The kitchen appeared deserted when he entered, but Henry knew better. He opened the fridge and got out some cream to pour into a dish. The home nurse didn’t like the cream, either — kept talking about cholesterol — as if he drank it! He set the saucer down on the kitchen table and waited for his pets to climb up to drink.

When they did, he grabbed each one by the scruff of the neck. “What did I tell you about charming the food?”

The brownies kicked and squirmed, but he didn’t let go yet. He’d live with the pain. Or take an extra Aleve this morning. He couldn’t release them until they’d agreed to behave. If he did, there was no telling what they’d get up to.

“It wasn’t me.” “The cheese was asking for it, looking at me with those blue veins!”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Gorgonzola can’t look at you until you’ve charmed it. Now fix it. Fix everything. And don’t let me catch you doing it again.”

“Or what?” Both of them glared at him belligerently.

“Or I add vinegar to your cream.”

They traded looks, somewhat skeptical. In the end, though, they didn’t dare risk it. “We’ll change it back.”

“And?” he asked.

“And we won’t do it again.”

“Good.” He dropped them to the table, where they rushed to the cream, sniffing at it to make sure he hadn’t added vinegar already. “See that you remember it.”

He fixed a tray with breakfast on it for Gilda and himself, then carried it back to the bedroom, ignoring the brownies. Once they’d promised to be good, they kept their word. It should be at least a day or two before he needed to reprimand them again.

Or maybe not.

He stopped in the doorway of the bedroom, staring at the bed.

“Henry?” Gilda said. “Now the pillows are talking, too.”


570 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.