Friday Flash: Black Tea, no Dragon

Black Tea, No Dragon

Ginger tapped the measured tea leaves into the strainer and set it in the mouth of the pot. She hadn’t been able to afford the pricier Keemun Hao Ya tea leaves, but the plain Keemun would do. Plain! With its hints of plum and smoke, the mellowness of this tea was anything but plain. She only wished she had someone to share it with.

She’d been reading MacAvoy’s Tea With the Black Dragon again. It had been a disappointment the first time she read it, hoping for a lung dragon curled up in the San Francisco hotel, balancing a delicate cup in his hand and being careful to keep his whiskers out of his drink. Since then, she had come to love it and re-read it on an annual basis.

Still, she mused as she poured the just-boiling water over the leaves and set her timer, it would be nice to have a dragon drop by for tea, even if he did disguise himself as a human. She looked out the window into the garden and a wistful smile crossed her face as she watched George nibble at a rosebush. The unicorn would so like to know he still had company in the world.

— THE END —

204 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: Collection

Collection

Ganta glowered at the other Scouts. “Don’t touch anything on the table. Don’t breathe on anything. In fact, step back — don’t even come within touching range of the table.”

The Scout leader said, “Why don’t you tell us about your collection, Ganta?”

After another glare to make sure the other Scouts weren’t going to approach, Ganta said, “As you can see, I collect hunters’ weapons. This one here is the pride of my collection, a blessed kukri inlaid with bloodstone. Its scabbard is worked with silver and pearl and shows the moon goddess on both sides. This–”

Altem interrupted. “Where’d you get it?”

“I don’t have to tell you that.”

“I don’t believe it’s real.” Altem nudged the Scout next to it with a pseudopod. “He probably just glamoured it to look like that.”

Snickers ran through the Scouts, and Ganta flushed. His uncle had given the knife to Ganta on his last nameday because his parents had forgotten, again. He wasn’t about to tell Altem that, though.

He pointed at the other end of the table. “These arrows are used–”

“–in the first hunt by the Witches of the East Wind. Everyone has some of those.” Altem again. “You didn’t answer my question about the kukri.”

Ganta ignored Altem. “This hunting knife–”

Altem flowed at the table and wrapped part of itself around the scabbard. “See? I told you it’s just glamoured. If it was really silver, I couldn’t touch it.”

No. Ganta’s uncle couldn’t have lied to him. It was silver. What had his uncle said? “It’s a special silver, moon silver. Most monsters have never even heard of it, and hunters don’t know the difference. Why should they? If they’re hunting by moonlight, it acts just the same. In sunlight, though–”

Ganta let his mouth gape in a grin. “So go look at it over there by the window, you think you’re so smart, Altem.”

“I think I will.”

The Scout leader held out a twinned paw. “I don’t know about this.”

It was too late. The instant the filigree caught a beam of the sun, Altem exploded all over the room. What was moonlight but reflected sunlight, after all?

Ganta turned back to his collection. He’d pick up the kukri later. “Any questions before whoever goes next?”

— THE END —

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.

I promise, there were no exploding Scouts at the meeting I attended last night.

Friday flash: Yesterdays, Tomorrows

Yesterdays, Tomorrows

The maiden watched Landar walk up the hill from the village. He didn’t look at the snowdrops and crocuses poking through the melting snow; he only had eyes for her. That would change, she knew, as it always had, but he wouldn’t remember. Each time, each spring, was as fresh and new as she was.

He came to a stop not quite near enough to touch her. “Are you our new witch?”

“Wise woman.” She stood and looked down at him. Her irritation was replaced by surprise. She’d forgotten that she was taller. “Let’s go.”

Landar caught up with her halfway down the hill. She didn’t turn around to look — not at him, not at the shroud left hanging on the gallows, all that was left of the last year. Maiden would be crone again, soon enough, and Landar would forget her once more.

Now, however, she was still maiden, and would enjoy what was to come.

— THE END —

157 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: Moonbreak

Moonbreak

Astronomers across the globe confirmed the results as the Earth’s rotation brought the outer planets into view. Moons were splitting open, cracking in a haze of ice, gas, and rock. Titan had been first by more than a day, but Io broke before either Ganymede or Callisto. Now telescopes pointed at Triton, at Europa, and at all Saturn’s moons in case another should split.

News had leaked to the Internet, and people stopped to stare at the Moon in Earth’s sky, waiting for signs of their impending doom.

Meanwhile, a dragon uncoiled from the Sun. Her eggs were finally hatching.

— THE END —

100 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday Flash: Into the Dark

Into the Dark

Golden shocks of wheat stood in the fields, reflecting the afternoon’s blazing sun. Harvest had come, and the year had been good to them. Today, the grain was dry enough to thresh.

Perse shook out her gray wrap. She would be cool on her journey, and the gray would hide the bright colors she wore.

“I brought you some fruit.”

Her mother stood beneath the lintel, a basket of lemons and oranges in her hands. More gold, more sunshine for the trip.

Perse forced a smile. “Thank you.”

She would have preferred pomegranates, but she knew better than to say so. She’d half expected her mother to destroy every tree in existence after Zeus’s decision.

Her mother bit her lip. “The sacks of grain are ready.”

Perse’s mother insisted on sending food for her to eat. Perse wasn’t sure whether her mother was afraid that if Perse took another bite, she would remain forever, or if the food was simply a reminder of the world she left behind each year, a way to comfort the daughter she could not touch. Perse accepted it as a gesture of love.

“I will be back, Mother.”

Demeter merely nodded.

A horn sounded from outside. “It’s time.” Perse wrapped herself in the gray linen and took the basket from her mother, then led the way up to the olive tree on the hill outside.

The sacks of grain sat by its base. Nestled between them, at the roots of the tree, a metal ring lay flush against the ground. Perse set down her basket, seized the ring, and pulled. Six men heaving could not have lifted the door, but for her, on this day, it moved with ease. She glanced west, at her half-brother’s chariot, fading now, the last of the summer light. Orange gold washed everything above; at her feet lay blackness.

She stepped down, pausing to accept each sack and set it inside, unseen at her feet. Last, she took the basket of fruit once more and balancing it on her hip with one arm, then reached up to draw the ground shut behind her as she descended the stairs carved for her use. The light vanished.

It didn’t matter; it was given to her these six months to be at home here in the underworld. Below, a welcome face waited for her.

Perse smiled. “My husband, I’m home.”

— THE END —

397 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday Flash: Last words

They gave Sam 140 characters in which to say goodbye.

“She’ll never know where you are or what’s happened, but you can give her this.”

A single tweet? Sam stared at her avatar and racked his brain for words of great lovers, wishing he could see her one last time.

“It is a far, far–” No, they wouldn’t let him say that, even if he could fit it into a tweet.

“Ditto”?

No. He had to say something that would let her move on.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

. . . if only it were true. He hit send.

— THE END —

100 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Friday flash: Ice cream and butterflies

Ice Cream and Butterflies

Mango ice cream dripped onto the sidewalk, unheeded. Dogs barked all over the neighborhood, and cats raced for high ground to better see the interloper. Julie didn’t care about any of that. The unicorn was every bit as beautiful as she’d imagined, with streaks of orange and black in its mane and tail and a series of gold spots along its sides.

With a cry of joy, Julie dropped her ice cream cone and raced to fling her arms around the unicorn’s neck. She wanted it to nuzzle her hair, to whicker, to somehow show it loved her as much as she loved it. Instead, it pulled against her arms, backing away until she let go. Dismayed, she watched it walk past her to her abandoned treat.

It nipped at the ice cream once, twice, then the sweet was gone. The unicorn swung its head from side to side, but no more ice cream was around. Then came the sound of the ice cream truck, the tinny “Turkey in the Straw” that drove Julie’s mom crazy. The unicorn walked toward the sound as though it knew the source of what it had just eaten. Julie followed.

The truck had pulled up in front of a house on the next block where three boys stood with their mama. Julie didn’t know any of them; they were too small to go to school with her. The unicorn sped up, trotting to reach the stopped vehicle. The boys stepped back, afraid of the creature. Their mama stood transfixed. Julie ran after, sure that if she tried again, the unicorn would love her.

The unicorn shoved its head through the window in the side of the truck. The man inside yelled something, but the words were unintelligible. When Julie got there, she saw the man beating the unicorn — her unicorn! — about the head, trying to get it to back off. It ignored his efforts, chewing through everything in reach — which, since the man had had a freezer compartment open, was a considerable amount. Finally, sated, the unicorn backed away from the truck and stood with its head swaying slightly.

Julie grasped its mane and tugged. It followed her until they reached her home, where it lay down on the grass in the front yard. It began to shimmer, and Julie stared in fascination as a cocoon surrounded the unicorn. When the shimmering stopped growing, she reached out to touch it; it felt as smooth as a pearl. She sat down and leaned against it. She didn’t know what could be any more beautiful than a unicorn, but with any luck, she’d get to ride it.

Tomorrow, she’d have ice cream.

— THE END —

450 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Flash: Going to get you

Going to Get You

Thursday was out to get me. Sure, it was probably my fault — one too many cracks of “Just the Telex, ma’am,” or maybe it was the bit about Jasper Fforde’s latest book. Whichever. Jim Thursday had clearly had enough.

It started off as little things — salt in the sugar bowl that only I used (everyone else in the office was on a diet), pens loaded with invisible link left on my desk, exploding powder mixed with the copier toner. I couldn’t even complain to others in the office. Not after having used similar tricks myself for so many years.

“Do you know what your trouble is?” he asked me. “No sense of humor.”

I forced myself to smile, kept quiet, and waited for the perfect opportunity to get him. If it wouldn’t have aroused suspicion, I would have stopped needling him completely.

He escalated things. Whoopie chair sewn into my chair in the conference room right before my annual review. Mints on my desk switched out for some that stained the teeth blue. We won’t go into the peek-a-boo panty incident.

I tried to bring it up at the performance review, but Ms. Calendar thought it was just sour grapes because he was being promoted. I wouldn’t care if he got promoted — not if he went somewhere else, some other department, some place where we didn’t have to work together. But no such luck. I’m to report to him now; he’ll be my direct supervisor.

It’s time to pull out all the stops. He only thinks he knew practical jokes. I can’t work for him. I just can’t. The day before he takes over my division, everything will go at once, including my pre-programmed resignation e-mail.

I can’t wait to see his reaction when I drop to my knees and pull the ring out.

Yes, Thursday’s been out to get me — and he’s going to succeed. I hope the neighbors have good senses of humor.

— THE END —

326 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

The prompt for this particular bit of flash came from Chuck Wendig’s blog.

Flash: Invalid bed

Invalid Bed

Sigrid shifted the bundle of linens into the crook of her left arm so she could open the door. On days like this, when the summer heat poured through the glazed windows, the smell of pine rose from the planked floors, the wooden furniture, even the posts and pillars of the hall to recall the carefree forest of her childhood, before she had come to High Roost to care for its occupants.

The door opened to reveal two such occupants, one living and one — she wasn’t sure what.

“Good morning, my lord,” she chirped, forcing a smile as she looked at the man who sat on the plain stool beside the bed.

Jannik had once been the largest man in the kingdom — seven feet tall, as big around as a bear and at least as strong. Now he sat hunched over, shrunken in on himself to take up less space even than Sigrid in the room.

His voice, when he spoke, was the the querulous tone of a much older man. “It’s no use flattering me, you know.”

She pressed her lips together tightly to keep the words in that wanted to spill out and wash his spirit of the darkness that had claimed him. Such an attempt would only make things worse. Instead, she turned her attention to the other occupant of the room.

Most people wouldn’t consider a piece of furniture to be an occupant, even a bed as beautifully carved as this, of a dark wood unknown in this land. Its sides were shaped like dragons with the wings swept back. Twin heads looked forward from the foot of the bed, and tails entwined to form the headboard. Sigrid, however, felt the weight of its presence, which crept up on her like smoke, sensed before you could see evidence it was there, felt it pushing her back like a headwind. Then, too, there were the eyes. She knew they watched her; she didn’t know why.

Repressing the urge to curtsy, she said, “Washing day. Time to change the linens.”

The sense of menace lifted and she stepped forward to catch her balance, as one did when the wind faded.

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t help,” Jannik said.

“Hold these.” She placed the linens in his lap without looking at him.

The pale quilt in blues and greens came off first, set carefully aside to hang in the sunlight and air. The sheets received shorter shrift, being piled on the floor as if nestled under the dragon’s wing.

After taking a deep breath, Sigrid leaned forward to grab the mattress, careful not to touch the wood itself. On those occasions when she did, more than a dim sense of presence entered her mind, thoughts and feelings not of her making. She didn’t know how Jannik could bear to sleep with these clouds oppressing him. Perhaps that had as much to do with his state as the accident; she’d never had the courage to ask.

Three shakes and the mattress was fluffed again, ready for the linens to be spread upon it. Sigrid reached for the sheet on top of the pile and was startled when Jannik’s hand closed about her wrist.

“It’s almost time,” he said, “and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

Her eyes met his in concern. Though he’d been crippled by his fall down the Long Stair that led from High Roost to the town below, none of the physickers who’d seen him had indicated that his condition now was life-threatening. Yet he talked as her great-granda had. Should she tell someone?

But who was there to tell? Most of his attendants and hangers-on had left after his fall. Besides the three of them in this room, there were only two servants at High Roost — Farran, who cared for the horse and goats, and his wife Hilde, who tended the garden and occasionally came out her elderberry win stupor long enough to cook a meal or two.

As if he’d sensed her hesitation, Jannik leaned forward, his gaze pressed upon her. “You have to know. The whole truth.”

The intensity of his eyes worried her, and she jerked away, reaching behind her unthinkingly to catch her balance. She grasped the bed.

Darkness rushed into her, swirling and popping, like sparks from a log turned over in the fire. The roar of a wind filled her ears, then words came, a half-familiar voice. “My husband would never know. Please, I must have a child.”

Jannik’s voice — as it once was, deep and resonant, answered. “I cannot do as you ask. You are bound before God and man. I will not do this.”

An inarticulate cry of rage, a sharp pain slamming into the lower back, then pain after pain after pain until the darkness and the pressure faded to leave Sigrid sitting in the bedroom of High Roost, staring at Jannik with her mouth open.

He was like this because he had been honest? And honorable? The world should cry forth for justice and healing!

Slowly, she released the edge of the dragon’s wing, realizing as she did so that the bed held no more terror for her.

She got to her feet, wishing she could do something to right the wrong that had been done. “Is there nothing?”

“It is enough.” His voice was soft, but it no longer sounded as broken as it had. He reached out his hand to her. His eyes still shone with intensity, but now it was not pity they stirred in her.

She took his hand.

— THE END —

932 words

This bed actually showed up for me a few days ago in a very different story. Now I’m thinking it may be the center that an entire collection of stories revolves around.


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Flash: Losers Bracket

Losers Bracket

Paul Fowler hunkered down over his coffee at the kitchen table. Darlene had left the news running in the other room, but he did his best to tune it out. His new book had been out a week. So had Vincent McCarthy’s — the only man around who could give him a challenge for the bestseller slot. Oh, sure, there were the historic top sellers, the Clancys, the Kings, the Christies. Those would always sell. There were also the writers in other towns, other states, even other countries, but he wasn’t worried about those brackets yet. Right now, all he cared about was what was selling locally, here in Reno, Nevada.

He’d worked hard to put a lot of local color into his latest book, Silver Dollars and Change, all about werewolves being driven out of modern-day Virginia City. It had everything — a nearby setting, mockery of the tourists who came to Nevada so full of themselves, plus the magic and supernatural elements that had been selling well for decades. This book was his ticket to beating McCarthy once and for all. What did McCarthy have to offer, after all, but another trite plot about gangsters and casinos, the ’50s heyday of Vegas?

Paul was sure to win this time.

The waiting was killing him, though. He took another sip of his coffee, breathing deep, hoping the scent of hazelnut would soothe his jangling nerves. From the other room, he heard the chords of music that signaled a commercial break, almost masking the teaser for the upcoming story, “Tell-all interview with an author’s wife on why his competition is better than him!” Filthy vultures. He hoped the author had already filed for divorce.

He glanced at his laptop, open to the rankings. The only changes in the past three minutes were East Coast cities. Sherri Fugard, a member of his writer’s group, had beaten Dubowski for the Eastern Pennsylvania region — first taking her local zone of the Lehigh Valley, then beating out Philadelphia, Poconos, Berks County, and other eastern locations. Good for her. Not so good for Dubowski, but he’d had a good ride on top.

Challengers weren’t faring as well in places like Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. The readers there knew what they liked and weren’t about to change. Pretty soon, these states would follow the Carolinas into the Writer’s Monopoly Guild. Sweet for the one who came out on top — and less painful for the would-be writers out there. Paul thought maybe there should be a second tier bracket in those states, a way for new voices to be heard without head-to-head competition against the established heavies. However, that would require the agreement of the bestsellers, and they didn’t have a stake in changing the system.

Colors on the map changed as stats updated, and names filled in on brackets. Sherri had lost to Grey, the heavy-hitter from Virginia, for the Mid-Atlantic bracket, but her name had been noted. She’d probably pick up some readers from outside her state now — even a few nationally, as people tried to spot the new up-and-comers. Sherri was doing all right for herself. Maybe in a couple of years, when they both had more books under their belts and had earned national reputations, they’d even wind up in a head-to-head.

First, though, he needed to beat McCarthy. Updates had made it all the way across the Mountain Time Zone. Nevada was up next.

Words from the TV caught his attention — “And now, our guest, Darlene Fowler” — and Paul twisted around in his polished wooden chair as if he could see the screen from where he sat. That was definitely her voice. He rose to go see and almost missed the flicker of color from the corner of his eye.

Nevada flared green on the map; one of the writers had taken top honors by a margin of at least twice as many books sold. His eyes flicked to the bracket: McCarthy.

This couldn’t be happening. Paul had known the risks, of course, knew that one of them would pull ahead eventually, but he’d been certain that this book was his breakthrough. Numb, he walked into the living room to stare at his wife’s image. She had known this was coming, had to have to be on TV the same day the rankings came out.

“It was an easy matter to switch the names of his files,” Darlene was saying. “He didn’t submit the book he thought he did.”

“You made him turn in the wrong book?” The interviewer didn’t look shocked at this news, but rather eager for the sordid details.

Darlene laughed. “Something he wrote during high school. His new book — well, it will find an audience eventually.”

“Why?” Paul’s broken voice overlapped with the interviewer’s asking the same question.

“Why?” Darlene cocked her head to one side, her perfectly coiffed golden hair tilting to expose her swanlike neck. “Because with Paul, I would always be just his wife. With Vincent, I’ll be just as notorious as he is.”

He reached forward and turned the TV off. His books would sell better now. His name had been in the news — would be again, before nightfall. However, he would never write another word.

The knock on the door didn’t surprise him. The squad had probably been watching the interview, too. Nothing beat gossip about would-be bestsellers except past bestsellers. When you fell, you fell hard — and the wider the margins, the worse the penalty.

The knock came again.

“Come in,” Paul said, looking around.

The squad leader held up the warrant. “Paul Fowler, your competitor outsold you by an order of five.”

Paul couldn’t catch his breath. He’d expected to have his computer confiscated, even been ready to face the compulsory retraining. Five times, though?

“May Webster have mercy on you,” the squad leader said as he raised his gun. His squad followed suit.

Paul heard the shots, and that was all.

– THE END –

999 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise. Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.