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: 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.

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.


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


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?”


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.


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: 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.”


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: 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.


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.


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.


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.