Regional Meeting Horror

It didn’t start with a bite. That came later. It started with a groan. Cassie didn’t look over at it, she figured the noise was simply a response to the latest abysmal joke their CEO made about the finance department. Two hours into the regional meeting and she felt more than a groan was in order. She was ready to go home, or anywhere really that wasn’t this hotel ballroom full of her coworkers smiling as their millionaire senior leadership blithely offered them platitudes. It apparently didn’t matter that no one would be getting bonuses this year, after all it was company culture, not money that mattered.

Cassie hadn’t looked over at the groan, but she sure as hell jerked her head up at the scream. Nadine, Cassie’s HR representative, had her teeth buried deep in a mid-managers shoulder and was chewing while the man screamed and thrashed under her. The rest of their table looked on in horror as the ballroom clambered to see what was going on. No one got much of a look before things got decidedly more complicated.

The IT department head on Cassie’s right launched himself at an admin assistant, who subsequently got a large chunk bitten out of her calf as she screamed and tried to run in heels. The VP of the company was overcome as his financial managers tackled him, bloody teeth and fingers bared. Cries and moans filled the air as her coworkers were eaten and then subsequently began eating others.

‘Well, at least I can go home.’, Cassie thought as she stepped up onto a table to avoid the grasping fingers of her contracts manager. He gnashed his teeth at her and she brained him with a glass water pitcher from the table.

Cassie was grateful she’d decided to ignore the ‘business formal’ mandate laid out by leadership. While others were hauled into waiting teeth by fitted suit jackets they couldn’t shrug out of and pencil skirts they couldn’t run in, her black jeans and dull cardigan were perfectly suited to comfortably running for your life. Cassie hopped down off the table and ducked under the office gossips already blood stained hands. She spun away from the lurching woman and jumped dexterously over the corpse of her task lead, who was already beginning to twitch and reanimate.

She’d sat near the ballroom’s back of course, all the better to sneak out had her boss not decided to sit next to her.  But he was currently being disemboweled by the payroll staff, and thus no longer an impediment to her getting out of this meeting.

Twenty feet from the doors. She was going to escape. All that stood in her way was a single zombie. She recognized his tailored suit, viscera stained mouth and gleaming cuff links shining through blood soaked sleeves. Cassie glared down what had once been her CEO and hefted her pitcher. She was going home.

The zombie CEO lumbered forward, fixed on her with hands outstretched, a horrible noise emanating from its throat. “We’ve had our critics, some from within this company. But they are no longer with us, there is only room for those willing to be part of my vision.”

Cassie blinked. Her coworkers were clapping softly, not feasting on each others entrails. The IT department head was looking down the admin’s assistant shirt, not munching on her leg. Nadine seemed perfectly content texting while Cassie’s contract manager tried to keep his eyes open, neither made any attempt to eat her alive. Their CEO was, of course, still talking about company culture while her boss murmured his agreement in the seat beside her.

Cassie looked longingly at the glass water pitcher still on the table. She groaned, there was no escape.

Legal Theft: Weaknesses

He was a thing of time and stone, and quick wits simply confused him. Thus, the less Cyphus had to interact with their nosy landlord, Lys thought, the better. Billy Reed had his share of wits, but also a lean hunger. Lys’ mother had possessed both too and Lys remembered more of her than she liked.

People like them became dangerous if they ever figured out you might have something they want. The landlord’s growing interest in apartment 2-F may not phase her guardian, but it sure as hell set her nerves writhing.

This interest, Lys suspected but never voiced, was in large part due to her. Alone Cyphus would have been ignored, but he’d taken her as a ward years ago and felt no reason to explain her presence with something more conventional. They were odd, and therefore exploitable. It would have been best to move, simply leave Billy Reed with his probing questions and watchful gazes unanswered. But she didn’t give ground. Lys might not be a predator in the way many were, but she wasn’t prey either.

Cyphus ignored attention until it went away, Lys stared it down until it behaved in the manner she wished it would. That was the plan anyway, and the reason she was currently picking her way up a firescape and wishing she’d worn pants.

Not that anyone would be in the alley to get a show or wonder what she was doing. People didn’t settle or even loiter in the alleyways around this block. Human instinct was still worth something. Thus she was able to crouch and pry open the rotted wood of a third story window without an audience.

She slipped inside and crept slowly hand over foot across the writing desk set in front of the window. The floorboards creaked softly as her toes touched them, settling unhappily with the rest of her diminutive weight. Even the best apartments in the building had seen better days. Lys didn’t worry over the occasional sound as she moved slowly around the apartment, Billy Reed was off dealing with the dmv as someone had lifted his wallet yesterday.

Their landlord wanted their secrets, and he’d find them eventually if they stayed here. Lys accepted that. Everyone had their weaknesses, she wasn’t an exception, but then neither was Billy Reed. When their landlord moved against them, Lys would be ready.

Another successful heist. This line was stolen from The Gate in the Wood as part of the Legal Theft Project.

Click

Click. That was the sound of a gun’s safety switched off. I opened my eyes. Two people, a man and a woman, neither looked pleased. But that could have been the regulation glocks they leveled through my driver side window.

I blinked quickly, sleep half sticking my eyelids together, and put my hands up slowly. “Hello.”

The woman was older than the man, maybe in her fifties with deep lines fanning from dark eyes. Some of those lines could have been scars, most people get those before they have a chance to get wrinkles now.  The man wore a brown button down work shirt, something you’d used to see on gas station employees, and jeans. He wasn’t out of his twenties, I was sure of that. The trick was to look at people’s hands, they showed true age better than anything.

“Get out. Slowly” She ordered. Her gun dipped slightly, easing the threat. I still complied, pushing open the door and stepping onto the packed dirt. My jeep didn’t deserve bullet holes any more than I did.”What are you doing here?” The woman asked.

The man, who I guessed was her son from their identical dust brown eyes, stayed silent with his gun trained on me. They were smart. I’ll give them that.

Simply answering with sleeping would sound too flippant. “Passing through, started nodding off so I pulled over. Thats all.” I kept my hands up.

The son’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. The woman’s thin lips twitched. “You just pulled over.” It was funny to her. “In the middle of otherside territory.”

I nodded. “Falling asleep at the wheel would kill me just as easily. Does he ever say anything?” I smiled at the son. He was cute in a corruptible farm boy sort of way.

“Doesn’t need to, he’s here to shoot you if you move too quick.” I believed her, he was also cute in that knows how to handle a six shooter sort of way. “You said you were just passing through. You ready to keep doing that?”

“I’m almost out of gas, and I haven’t eaten in a while.” I said, it was the truth but not the right answer. The right answer was ‘Yes ma’am. I leave now, have a good evening.’

She eyed me, from my dusty walking boots to the white t-shirt that fit a bit too snug. Both had possessed a few owners before me. I guessed I could say the same thing about the guns trained on me. Wasn’t for anyone to judge, people survived as they could.

The son sensed his mother’s thoughts. “Mom.” It was the first thing I’d heard him say, and it was a warning.

She didn’t take her eyes off me. “You don’t look like an othersider.” She said with another twitch of her mouth. I amused her, or she found my stupidity funny.

My hands were still up, I wasn’t gonna move until those guns did. I wasn’t that stupid. “Neither do you.” I said back. It didn’t mean anything, othersiders could look like whatever the hell they wanted to. I figured we both knew that.

The son shook his head when his mother lowered the gun and extended her own hand. It was weathered and rough as cats tongue when I shook it. “Come on, we have some food to spare and a couch, if you’d like.” An offer of hospitality. Those were rare, and all the more powerful because of it. I nodded.

“I accept, thank you.”

She still didn’t turn her back on me, she’d want to hear my story first. But her son lowered his gun and waited for me to climb back into the jeep. “That thing have enough to get another twenty miles or so?” She asked, brown hands on narrow hips.

I nodded. “Barely.” That was all they needed. The two made their way back to a rust dappled truck. When it startled its rollicking trundle across the bank and back to the highway I followed.

Legal Theft: Drought

On the hottest day of the year, the skirt of my red dress flutters against my thighs in the breeze manufactured by the fan. The hem is ragged. I can see little red threads against the sweat sheened skin of my knees.

I want to be done. I’m bored, so is Helen. She fidgets next to me, rocking back and forth from heels to bare toes. I should tell her to stop, remind her what mother said about solemnity, or that the skirt of her own red dress is not for wiping the dusty snot from her nose. I don’t. Her skirt is already grimy, I don’t see the point.

The wide back porch is mercifully shielded from the sun but not from the heat. The fan isn’t really helping, not with the iron heavy heat thick in the air. But we pretend as we have to be here.

Bent and knobbly under their red shawls, the grandmothers murmur to themselves before clearing their throats. I look at them, Helen does not, she’s scuffing at the uneven floorboards with her toes now.

The grandmothers stare at me with dim disdain. They know my attention is elsewhere and I drop my head in apology. I should be paying attention, this is important. I don’t need the admonishment to tell me this, the dryness in my throat is enough. Helen doesn’t flinch under their affronted looks though. Or even when I add my own.

They turn away and we shuffle from the porch, the young ones hobbling themselves to walk behind the older. Our skirts, sleeves and wraps trail behind us, snapping like crimson flags in the real wind. Baked by the sun the packed dirt and sand under my sandals radiates a miasma of haze. Helen, with her bare little feet, hops back and forth like a lizard as we walk.

There is a rustle. The scrub brush in the corner of my vision shivers and loses a dry bit of twig. I see the edge of cracked boot leather, a crown of thick hair.  Boys, not wary enough to be men yet, sneaking about and trying to catch a look at women’s magic. They’d be caught and switched before they saw anything. The men would see to that, they knew better than to meddle when the red clothes were shaken out of drawers and closets.

The grandmothers toddle past the last of the dead yards, we follow in dutiful little clumps. I was still bored, but at least we were getting to it. Helen too is in a better mood, busy lizard hopping and avoiding the burrs that would stick painfully into even the leathery skin of her soles.

There is nothing to mark it, but we stop. Its far enough from the comforts of our homes, no shade or fans to hide with, pretending that the world outside isn’t baking itself.

The others take hands and I grab Helen’s, shushing her until she pants silently at my side. They speak and I try and listen. This land is drying up. Soon it won’t be just the earth thats dead with only dust where its blood should be flowing. I nod. This makes sense, I’m thirsty and my skin is dry and salty where my sweat used to be.

We converge, a circle of red against the hard burned ground. The land’s lost its lifeblood, But that’s a woman’s magic, more than anything, we know red.

Still stealing stuff, but at least I am in good company. See the rest here. This line was stolen from Kathryn, check out her stuff. 

Cambodian Devourer Boxes

This is in response to a wordle prompt from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

The bell above the front door chimed. Lys glanced up at the sound, pencil poised above calculus homework. Two girls, maybe a little younger than her and probably still in high school, whispered and laughed as they picked around the store. She didn’t bother to put any venom in the ineffectual glare towards their backs. Teenagers could be largely ignored as long as neither tried to lift anything.

Lys went back to her work. She wasn’t going to let something as mundane as advanced mathematics get the better of her. Thus when a low moan of warped wood echoed through the antique shop Lys looked up at the interruption first with annoyance which quickly turned to alarm..

She knew that sound, that was the back storage door. Lys cursed under her breath as she hopped from her perch behind the front desk and hurried past corridors of themed kitsch. This was bad, Lys wasn’t even allowed back there unaccompanied by store’s owner. She arrived at the open door breathing a little hard.

The low ceilinged room was dark, shadowed and blocked by rows of crates, books, mirrors, paintings, carvings and clothes. Lys didn’t see the girls. She kept as large a distance between her and the narrow shelves and their dusty looking inhabitants as possible. They were here somewhere.

Audible giggling gave them away. Lys schooled her expression before moving around a kimono dressed mannequin. The two girls had plucked a carved puzzle box from its home and were making all attempts to pry it open by the light of their phones. As Lys gaped one of the snapped a fingernail on the wood  and swore, she sucked the injured digit and looked up. The girl froze. “Shit. Abbie.”

The other, Abbie, looked up face going slack when she saw Lys, who did her best to keep from glaring. “You can’t be back here.” Lys warned, taking a step towards the girls. Another minute alone and there could have been serious damage.

Abbie looked Lys up and down, a small smirk forming on her darkly tinted lips.

“Sorry, we didn’t know.” Abbie replied, wide eyed and a little sing song. Lys narrowed her eyes at the insolent response. The door had been closed and marked off limits, but the girl could have at least made an attempt seem innocent. “Is this stuff for sale?” Abbie  asked, gesturing to the box in her friend’s hands.

“No.” Lys said, definitely not to them. She glanced to the door. “You should leave.”

Abbie’s smile was thick as she looked down at the much shorter Lys. “We’re paying customers and we want to buy this.” Abbie grabbed the puzzle box from her friend and held it up. The pale wood shone as it caught even the dim light.

“Its not for sale and you aren’t supposed to be back here.” Lys repeated.

The two girls, especially Abbie, looked at her like she was kid sister trying to order around older siblings. “Soo we aren’t supposed to be back here, which means ….you could get in real trouble?” Abbie’s blue eyes shone triumphantly and her friend stifled a shriek-like laugh.

Lys closed her mouth before she reacted to idiocy they were spouting. There was a few ways she could handle two teenagers with inflated senses of durability.  But she wasn’t paid enough to deal with adolescent stupidity. “Yah.” She said curtly. It wasn’t a lie, her boss finding any number of them back here would be very bad. But she also wasn’t going to let two amateurs extort her.  “So how about we make a deal?”

The two girls blinked at her and Lys continued before one of them tried to reassert themselves. “You take that, its yours free of charge. But you get out of here. Now.” She paused eyeing Abbie, who of the duo seemed most intent upon throwing her weight around. “Deal?”

“So we just take it? You won’t call the cops?” Abbie’s friend finally spoke up with a sardonic sneer, obviously too world wise to be taken in by such a simple trick..

The thought had not occurred to Lys. “And have to explain where you got it to my boss? No thanks. Do you want it or not?”

“Yah.” Abbie shoved the puzzle box in her purse. “C’mon.” She grabbed her friend by the hand and the two tore out of the storage room, squealing with more laughter. Lys barely heard the front door’s bell over the noise. She sighed deeply and made sure nothing else on the shelves had been disturbed. Then she carefully picked her way out of the room and closed the door with a definitive snap.

******

“Lys.” Her boss walked over as Lys counted cash from the register, .The shop was closed, door locked against the dark outside. They were the only ones here.

She looked up, “Huh?”

“Have you seen my Cambodian devourer box?” He didn’t look her in the eyes, half turned towards the back of the shop and obviously in thought. “Carved, about so big.” He held up his sharp fingers in display.

“The one from storage?” She asked and then answered her own question. “Not recently.”

“Oh.” He frowned, not at her, just at the notion of the item being unaccounted for. “You didn’t move it?”

“Its called a Cambodian devourer box. I am not stupid enough to touch it.”  Lys said, still counting money.

He sighed. “I didn’t think you were. The covenant is going to have a fit. If anyone asks….”

“It didn’t come from here.” She finished with a flash of a smile.

“Exactly.” He nodded. “Finish up that and then you can go home, give my regards to Cyphus.”

She nodded and went back to counting.

Legal Theft: Women like her

Silas was rarely awake in time to see the sun come up, let alone up, dressed, and walking outside in the crisp last moments of darkness. Maybe she was good for him.The cold stung his nose. He rubbed it as she emerged from the cafe. “Are you really up this early every day?” He asked.

She nodded and passed him a paper cup. It warmed his hands as they crossed the empty intersection into the expansive park. She breathed in the coffee smell before taking a small sip. “Just normally in running shoes.”

He let his surprise show. “Dedicated. You didn’t strike me as the type.” That’s why he liked this. He didn’t have to worry about offending her. Far away from the complicated morass of high society and the spoiled girls there he could just say what he wanted to.

She smiled, dark chocolate eyes warm and bright when she looked at him. “I’m not. My roommate is. I’m only in shape by association.” She said and Silas nodded. That made sense. She was thin, toned but without the mass of a woman who spent too much time in a gym. That was good, too much muscle often ruined otherwise attractive women.

“I’m surprised you have a roommate. Young working woman like yourself.” With what he’d just paid she could easily have a nice uptown apartment to herself. He wondered if she was lying, if she had a boyfriend. He wrapped an arm around her waist and tugged her closer. She leaned into his pull, if his possessiveness bothered her she was smart enough to hide it.

“I like being around people, always have. It works out for both of us.” She said.

He followed her gaze to the horizon where the sun was finally making its appearance. He didn’t have to be at the office for hours. “Come back with me. Stay another night” He turned her so they faced each other. With her heels she was an inch or so taller than him. He would have to speak to her about that. “You can stay at the hotel today and I’ll bring you to the gala tonight.” He bestowed the offer with a squeeze of his hands. An event like the Donovon Gala would be the chance of a lifetime for a woman in her position. He smiled, waiting for her grateful yes.

Her dark eyes softened. “That sounds wonderful, but I have to go.”

“What?” Silas’ smile held. She was playing coy. Women like her lived for these moments.

But she still leaned back from him, sliding a little from his grasp. “I have plans tonight, but perhaps another time? You have my number.” She kissed him, lips brushing against his cheek before she stepped away.

He didn’t have time to demand an explanation or to call her an ungrateful whore. She was already walking away, more quickly than he thought she could in those heels. But then, she probably had practice. He felt his mouth twist, she was in no position to refuse him after how much of a gentlemen he’d been, especially to someone like her. He turned back to his hotel with hard steps. Idiot girl, he would have treated her well.

Not that anyone’s surprised, but I am a thief. This line was stolen from Apprentice, Never Master. Check out the rest of the heist here.

FlashFiction: Oddities in the Air

The night wind livened the warm air of the dance hall. Those within glared at the offending cold as it ruffled jeweled skirts and embroidered coats.

Theo watched the curtain’s swell and the shiver move across the floor. Someone cleared their throat. He had been in the middle of a sentence when he’d trailed off. Theo smiled in apology and ducked from the conversation as gracefully as allowed. The departure earned him veiled glances, which he was accustomed to. The older generations would content themselves with looks. Whispers behind hands and fans would come from those his own age. Theodore was an Ashlock, the ancient name synonymous with flawless breeding, unspeakable wealth, vast holdings and a strong penchant for eccentricity.

But there was a reason for that. Theo managed to get out one of the many glass doors before the servants shut them against the growing gale. The gardens flower bed’s, impeccably trimmed before the party, now strewn across the marbled walkways, crunched under his shoes. Air whistled in his ears and Theo grinned. He didn’t mind the conversation of his peers but this…. he liked stories. And the winds always had the best ones.