Dinner is Cancelled

Savory steam rose from the spoon hovering next to her mouth. She pursed her lips, and then took another sip of the red broth. Something was in her soup.

The first note was perfect, a peppery bite of turmeric followed by the woody warmth of cinnamon. Lemon, and ginger came next, exactly as she’d intended.  But clumsily placed, where there should be the quintessential after burn of cayenne, sweetness affronted her tongue. She let the wooden spoon drop back into pot with a splash.

Lenore stepped off the stool and looked around the kitchen. The wide windows let both a breeze and the sun in.  Even if the staff had been here, and Lenore had seen little of them this afternoon, they knew better than to meddle when she or her brother was cooking.

She pulled the apron over her head. The sleeves of her yellow cotton gown had a few crimson spots from splatter, but nothing a laundering wouldn’t fix. Folding the apron over a chair Lenore looked around the kitchen with growing unease. She was alone. Lenore swallowed, trying to work the taste of the soup from her mouth.

Memories of dark horses, dark carriages, and dark gowns accompanied the chill spreading through her chest. She remembered the dew under her shoes and how the grass had looked too green next to the black of everyone’s clothes. Her eyes widened, feeling her stomach churn. Lenore choked on a short sob, a hand at her mouth. Before her knees could buckle under her, Lenore reached out to grip the counter with bloodless fingers.

What she was feeling was fear, Lenore told herself. If the hollow tightness of her stomach was the poison, she was dead and there was nothing she could do about it. So, she reasoned, best to assume she had time.

No one knew of her culinary pursuits. That she and her brother, the remaining nobles of their house, cooked the household’s food as often as not was a fact never advertised to outsiders. An assassin would not know of Lenore’s refined chef’s palate. More so, the poison would have to delay itself to get to dinner and its aristocratic targets there, lest a dead common cook betray the plot.

Lenore was nearly up the short kitchen stairs before she stopped, a single bare foot on the main floor landing. Behind her the soup still simmered on the stove top, warming the already sunny kitchen air.

Now full, the pot was almost too heavy for her to lift. Lenore hissed as she burnt her forearm hauling the soup to the backdoor. A moment later the vegetable laden broth splashed over the stones of the yard. Her breath came a little short. Just exertion, Lenore told herself and hurried from the kitchen.

Like all noble households of the city, they kept their pantries and medicine cabinets well stocked with antitoxins, syrups, and antidotes as politics here were played with cloak, knife, and poison. Two years ago, upon her twelfth birthday, her parents tasked her with memorizing the sparkling crystal bottles and vials kept in their washroom.

Lenore tore open the door now, thoroughly surprising the maid who was within dusting the marble. “Miss—“

“Mary. Find Hann. Now please.” Lenore interrupted and made a mental note to apologize for her brusque tone upon surviving. Mary picked up her already rolled skirts and fled.

Lenore opened the shelves hard enough to make the crystal within shake. The little bottles caught the light from the windows, sending multicolored slivers everywhere. She swallowed a shaky breath and reached for the first bottle, this was going to be unpleasant.

*****

Hann found Lenore half folded on the washroom floor, propped up by a shaking arm. The yellow dress hung halfway off a shoulder and her normally silky hair was sweaty and plastered to her round face. Half a dozen vials lay empty around her bunched skirts.

The lady looked up at her bodyguard, a weak smile on her pale lips. “Someone needs to tell my brother dinner is cancelled.”

Legal Theft: Something to Do

Outside the open apartment gate a small pack of children threw rocks at passing cars. The sun’s darting glare off their targets made the game challenging. So far no one had managed to hit anything.

Unless they picked up something bigger, like a brick or a piece of the crumbling sidewalk, it wouldn’t matter if they scored a hit. The landscaping pebbles they lobbed into the street were not going to do any real damage. But, she thought after watching the game for several minutes, that didn’t seem to be the point. It was just something to do.

Sabella leaned half out a parked car down at the corner and wished she had something to do.

It’d been an hour since her teacher had disappeared. Now, lulled by the hazy afternoon sun, she yawned like a cat and arched her back into a stretch. The plastic and metal of the car door radiated heat under her arm. If she wasn’t careful she’d fall asleep. Sabella rested her head against her arm.

She almost didn’t hear the footsteps slapping the sidewalk. Sabella snapped her head up. Two teenagers were coming down the street towards her. Sabella resisted the urge to slip out before they reached her, he’d told her to wait.

A baggy tshirt, ragged shorts, and curvy brown legs appeared at her window. A moment later a girl’s face bent down. “Told you there was someone in here.” The long hair around the stranger’s face was the color of dull brass and fried from peroxide.

Sabella froze, staring back at the girl ogling in at her.

The boy paused behind the car. “Sara, dejala sola.” He was older than the girl, probably older than Sabella too. She could hear it in his voice.

“I’m not bothering her Lucas.” The girl, Sara said. Her eyes were so dark they glittered black. “Hi.”

Sabella pressed her back into the seat, leaning away. “Hi.”

Hands on knees, Sara swept her gaze around the inside of the sedan. She was either oblivious or uncaring to Sabella’s discomfort at the close proximity.  “Does he just make you wait here?”

“Sara.” The warning came again from Lucas. Sabella could see him better now. He and Sara shared the same dark eyes. An older brother, she thought. Lucas spat some quick spanish that Sabella didn’t know. His sister made a face at him but didn’t respond.

“So, you have to wait in the car while the grown ups talk?” Sara asked. The question sounded condescending. Sabella frowned, even if it was true.

“I’m watching it.” She lied.

“Sounds boring.” Sara said.

Sabella forced herself to shrug. It was boring. She didn’t know if Sara had been one of the older kids throwing rocks, but that didn’t seem much better.

Sara sent a challenging look at her older brother. “Wanna come hang out with us?” She asked Sabella. The question got the reaction she was looking for. Lucas’ eyes widened considerably and he adopted the stance of someone much older.

“Doing what?” Sabella asked. She should have just said no, and then told them to leave her alone.

Sara shrugged, pushing her badly dyed hair behind a shoulder. “Stuff. Not sitting in a car alone.”

Under Sara’s smug look and Lucas wariness, Sabella thought for a long moment. He would be angry. But he was usually hours. Sabella could follow Sara and her brother around, see what they did, for a little while. It would be better than falling asleep in the car. “For a little bit.”

Sara stepped back to make room on the sidewalk. “You’re his apprentice?”

No one had called it that before. Sabella shrugged, Sara laughed, and Lucas looked worried. The three hiked up the street to where the younger kids had finally tired of their game.

Late, and to my own robbery. No matter, the important thing is that my first line has been stolen by a most nefarious ring of thieves, see all of them at the Legal Theft Project.

  

 

Cold Light

Cold light stretched across his bed, angling from open windows. He breathed in the chill and turned over, laying an arm across his wife’s waist. Her skin was warm. Adel inhaled and closed his eyes.

He opened them at the sound of soft footfalls. A cloaked figure padded past the edge of the moonlight and paused. A gesture from a gloved hand waved him over. He drew his arm back and pushed himself up, extricating himself from the bed and its mussed sheets. Khelo bowed to him as he stood.

Adel went to draw his dressing robe from its hook. Khelo, with all but eyes obscured by her dark cowl, shook her head. He understood immediately, they were going out. Adel moved instead to the wardrobe, dressing as quietly as he could manage. Khelo faded into a corner and waited.

On the bed, his wife stirred. He smiled at her and the way her russet hair fanned across the pillow. Once she’d quieted Adel pulled on his shoes.

Khelo didn’t follow him through the door. His staff didn’t know of her existence and Adel took pains to keep it that way. Servants talked, no amount of wage, work ethic, or loyalty changed that fact.

She found him under the yellow illumination of a streetlamp. The paving stones were slick but her wrapped feet were sure and silent.  Khelo fell into step behind him without a word. He knew the way now.

The paving stones gave way to dirt and then to mud. Adel walked on, keeping the cowl of his own simple cloak pulled well over his face. At the end of a sharp corner Adel moved beneath the overhang. Khelo reached down to haul open the basement door.

Flickering light from lanterns and candles opened into the street. Adel took the steps, hardening his face as his boots cracked against the aging wood. Khelo folded herself behind him, cutting off their way back.

Inside two men stood, while another sat. The man in the chair sagged against the ropes holding him while his head lolled. Adel noted the captive’s eyelids beginning to twitch into consciousness. Khelo handed him a pair of soft black gloves.

Adel rolled the last of the sleep from his shoulders as he pulled the dark leather over his fingers. By the time he pulled back the captive’s hair the man was wide eyed and awake.

“Do you know who I am?” Adel asked.

The man swallowed and nodded, wincing at Adel’s tight hold on his scalp.

Adel took the thin knife Khelo pressed into his palm, “Good.”

Legal Theft: A Trek and a Terragator

The mud squelched under her combat boots as she bent to flip over the corpse. Crouched and breathing in the fumes of the swamp and its new addition, Honey made a small wish. She pushed the stiff body onto its back. Even in the dim of twilight she could see the corpse’s dark eyes, now clouded and stuck in bloated sockets. The hair was wrong too. She spit into the fetid water and stood. “Not him.”

“Told you.” Grand smiled; more pleased than she had a right to be. They were both stuck until they brought back the thief or proof of his demise. Their employers knew enough of them to expect the latter and make peace with that. Grand pulled open Davey’s driver side door and folded herself inside.  She slapped the outside of the door. “Come on. Sid won’t be rotting in a puddle. He was outfitted. Unlike some.”

“Give the boots a rest.” Honey stood and tramped through the sinking ground. Steel lined and heavy as hell, she admitted they were not ideal for navigating the swamp roads surrounding their territory. Neither was the makeshift plate hanging off her shoulders and weighing down her hips. It didn’t mean she was going to take it off. “You never complain about the boots when their stomping in your enemies rib cages.”

Grand didn’t have a rebuttal for that. “Wipe them off. Davey just got a bath.” The tall woman leaned back into the wide seat and started the engine.

Honey rolled her eyes, foot already half way to Davey’s oversized tires to kick off the mud. Leave it to Grand to worry about keeping her seats clean in the middle of the swamplands. Still, tracking dirt into the precious car carried a death sentence for most; as Grand’s friend Honey would simply suffer days of cold shoulders and annoyed sideways stares. Entertaining as it was, their thief-finding venture was turning into a trek. Best everyone be in a good mood. Honey finished cleaning off her combat boots and slid in. “I’m gonna throw one if the bastard got himself eaten by a terragator.”

“Then we bring in the terragator.” Grand said. Davey pulled from the mud with a smooth turn.  Grand eased the gas down and breathed in relief as the trees and open water parted before the road.

Honey rested her arm through the open window. She kept a watch on the swamp as it raced by, gun relaxed in her lap. “Yah, I guess.” That didn’t sound too bad.

No one ever said a thief had to be punctual. This weeks Legal Theft was taken from the The Gate in the Wood, there is combat boots to be had there as well. Check out the rest of the footwear at the Legal Theft Project. 

Flash Fiction: Wolf at your Door

The faint scrape of his claws completely faded under the downpour’s crash. Padding across the mud, he smelled the rain and the fresh wounded wood of their walls. The storm brought an old wildness back to the cleared deadened land. Ridged black lips peeled back from his teeth at the cacophony.

The clusters of shelters here now shuddered under nature’s onslaught. Like their tree-flesh houses, the humans did not like the storm or the things that came with it. For all their blind vicious cutting, the soft creatures still knew to fear the rain and crash. His rolling lope around their borders elicited dolorous sobs from their young and a nervous hum from the grown.

His ire rose, rebuffed by iron worked fence holding strong in the wind and rain. The human’s slow creep into his lands was an act of attrition. Soft skinned and blind to the world they stumbled through, he’d once thought these creatures prey. They had worshiped him and feared his coming. It was not so anymore.

They feared him, and so they’d built walls and stinking metal to keep him out. Though his adversaries quailed at the sound of his paws, he stalked just beyond their thresholds, banished by the rooves made of killed wood.

Amidst the pour and crash of the sky he sat back on his haunches and howled, feeling it reverberate the culled ground. The smell of sweat and fear filled his nose through the rain. He breathed deep their terror and loped deeper into the rolling storm.

Another last minute post. This in response to  Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s  Wordle prompt. 

 

Legal Theft: Bike Rides

Ryan and I had a pretty good childhood, all things considered. Tucked in the corner of a cul-de-sac and surrounded by private pools and booster clubs, it was easy to ignore the war my parents discussed around the dinner table.

While the not so distant conflict made demands of adults, Ryan and I had other more immediate concerns. Since I can remember, we’d meet at the bottom of the hill at the trailhead. The manicured lawns parted there and rarely seen dirt was allowed to creep onto the pavement. The canyons ran behind our houses, undeveloped land that probably belonged to someone but was allowed to remain empty as it provided creeks and running trails the affluent liked so much.

Neither of us were particularly outdoorsy, at any age a living room full of legos would have entertained me happily. But the canyons were vast and a world apart from the mundane trials of childhood.

One sneaker on the dusty ground the other on the pedal of her bike, Ryan was usually at the trail first. She never spent much time in her house. The reason for this is obvious with hindsight but I never questioned the way she’d follow me back for lunch.

The arrangement suited me fine. It suited my parents too. My parents, both engineers before I became one, had five children and didn’t mind an extra or two around. It meant that we had friends, that we were normal, that we’d do well in a few years when it became all about who you knew instead of what. Of course, that was another something I had to look back to realize.  Back then, being one of five, and the middle kid at that, I was just grateful to have someone solidly in my camp. Ryan always was.

Her parents divorced when we were fourteen, a year before my family ascended into the upper class and moved out of the neighborhood. We still saw each other after that, but it was different. There was no canyon bike rides or exhausted lunches afterwards. More than that, high school brought with it the realization that at some point, we’d exist within the world around us.

When Ryan enlisted it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. My parents, now indispensable in the tactical development sector, even wrote her a letter of recommendation. Ryan was gone the next month for basic. She was sixteen.

I don’t remember the day she left, but I remember the day before. It was summer, but I had so many college prep courses it may as well not have been. Desperate for a distraction, I picked up my phone the moment the screen lit up.

Two hours later I pulled up to the trailhead. Ryan was waiting for me, her dad’s bike leaning against the wooden fence. She made a comment about my car, which was ostentatiously new, and then about the bike I pulled from the trunk, which was also new. I defended myself, my old bike was long gone in the move, even if I could have still fit on it.

The dirt paths were far from even, but we still knew them. Our teenage invincibility set a speed too reckless for chatter. It wasn’t until we reached the creek, bikes dropped unceremoniously in the dirt that we talked about basic training, college, her dad, my then-girlfriend, our weird families, each broken in their own ways. And finally, we talked about the war.

Neither of us were going to ignore it any more. It was a choice for her, a reality for me. We rode back as the sun set, less sure of the path but just as fast.

I am a thief, on so many counts. The first line was stolen from Bek, and the character of Ryan was stolen from More than 1/2 Mad. Check out them and the rest of the thieves at the Legal Theft Project.   

Flash Fiction: Swamp Roads

This piece of very short fiction is in response to  Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle prompt

The savory smell of gasoline filled the humid air. I inhaled until I could taste it and set my boot harder against the pedal. A histrionic wail rose from the tires, unable to gain purchase in the deep mud.  I clucked my tongue and patted the dash, easing up on the clutch. “Shh, come on Davey.”

Nothing, he whined, I cajoled, and the swamp sucked us back.

The gauge dipped even as I watched, quarter tank left. Barely enough to get us back to the garage if I was rolling forward free now. I eased off, flicking the ignition and pulling the key. Davey quieted and I kicked open his door.

Perhaps a downfall of early rain? The road had been solid a fortnight before. I drew my hand over the doorframe, feeling the iron reinforcements under the paint. He’d need a new coat soon.

Rotting trees dotted the tenebrous water as far as I could see. My boots sunk as I walked to where the water crept over the road. I knelt; the water’s faint toxicity swarmed from the placid surface and filled my nose. My skull seemed to constrict on my brain and my sight flashed. This wasn’t rain water. Flooding then, I decided, from somewhere bad.  That meant something, but I didn’t know what. My job was to find the swamp roads, the why of things wasn’t my domain.

I stood, not giving whatever bided its time beneath the surface more of a chance at a meal. Davey was still firmly entrenched in the black mud but not sinking. The sun would be rising in a few hours. If we made it until then without rain or worse, Davey and I’d be cruising back to where we belonged with only some dried mud on his tires to remember the night by.