Flash Fiction: Pilgrim’s Pride

Her son glowered at the truck’s dashboard, fingers curled into fists. The seven year old had won his football scrimmage, and been in good spirits when they’d left the field. But now, as they cruised down pitted highway towards a celebratory BBQ dinner, something had gone wrong. She knew her son. This anger had a righteous bent.

Danielle turned the dusty volume knob, muffling the patriotic bluegrass playing over the radio. “Everything okay?”

“No.” He said, his gaze locked on the windshield.

Without the radio the old truck’s clatter overtook the cabin. She nodded and watched the ever-oncoming horizon. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He leaned forward and turned the volume knob. The song was ending, just guitar melody without the rusted voices of old folk singers. “They’re lying. It’s just a lie.”

The music ended and a commercial for weekend sales overtook the airwaves. He was a bit young for cynicism, Danielle thought, disillusionment was for the teenage years. “Interesting opinion.”

He finally looked at her, frowning. “Mr. Parker told us the actual story, the truth. There’s no pilgrim’s pride, they killed the Native Americans. That song is just lying.” He sputtered with pent up indignation. “Its wrong.”

A month ago the word he would have used was Indian. Danielle suppressed a smile for the sake of her seven year old’s own pride. Mr.Parker was the new second grade teacher. The students loved him, the town’s entrenched parents less so. While Mr. Parker was ignoring the Texas mandated textbooks, warnings of a dreaded political correctness hovered like a miasma over the pop warner bleachers and PTA meetings.

Personally Danielle was going to enjoy the small army of enlightened little leaguers schooling their families on every thanksgiving and fourth of July. “Mr Parker is a good teacher. But calling it a lie is a little harsh, don’t you think?”  Danielle said conversationally, watching him from the corner of her eye as she drove.

He didn’t answer. Children are used to being told they are wrong, and he waited with a stubborn set of his chin for the correction.

“People want to believe it, even if they know it’s not exactly right. Some are just hopeful, they want it to be true. There isn’t anything wrong with that.” Danielle said. Her son settled back into the front seat, still wearing his frown.

She waited for him to deliberate. It’d taken him a month to forgive Danielle and her husband for their part in the Easter Bunny hoax, longer still for Santa Claus. Occasionally Danielle wished her son paid less attention in Sunday school.

“It doesn’t make them right.” He said stubbornly.

“No it doesn’t.” Danielle sighed.

This odd, and particularly difficult, music challenge was posed to me by Raw Rambles who wrote her own piece. Per the rules, I had to write something to, or inspired by Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s rendition of “My Country Tis’ Of Thee”.

Legal Theft: Half the Silver

They never realized the danger of a plodder. The slack jawed things didn’t elicit the same raw terror as the forest’s hungry shades. They did not whisper lies like the pale-fingered demons lurking beneath the tree’s roots. Plodders, rotting shuffling creatures, could be outpaced by swift walk and killed with little effort. However, like most slow patient things, they were quiet.

And ravenous. But everything here was.

Colby woke, fingers twitching to her knife. It was her watch and she’d been sleeping. She squeezed her eyes, trying to wring the bleariness from them. At least the Captain hadn’t caught her and kicked her awake. Colby shifted to look back at their little camp.

Three bedrolls, a smoldering fire, and two grey creatures crouching over her charges. Their mottled skin mostly faded into the dark, but she could see the plodders’ corded arms working over the still lumps that’d been her employers.One of the creatures lowered its head to gorge itself. Colby almost retched at the soft wet sounds.

Her stomach twisted. The Captain would have been right to kick her awake, plodders were only dangerous if you failed to keep watch. Cobly decided to deal with the sick feeling coiling in her gut later. Her pack lay untouched next to the fire with the others. The monsters only cared for flesh and blood.

She’d need her things if she was to get through the forest.

Colby crept softly towards the fire, crouched and moving hand and foot closer into the grisly scene. The plodders were distracted by their meal and paid her no attention. Close now, she could wrap her fingers around the strap of her pack. But not before she gagged seeing the two stained bed rolls.

One of the plodders looked up at her and she froze. Its food was still warm though, and it went back to eating. Colby breathed out and began to tug her pack away. That is when she noticed the gentle rise and fall of the Captain’s bed roll. He slept, not yet a meal.

She abandoned her pack and leaned forward to rouse and warn him, but Colby stopped. Her fingers hovered an inch from his shoulder, the buoyant swell in her chest deflated. The little band had been thick, she’d silently listened to them talk of old times and jests for weeks now. Now the Captain’s companions were dead. He’d want to know how the slow monsters devoured his friends on her watch.

Colby closed her fingers and withdrew her hand. The Captain wouldn’t let their deaths lie. He wouldn’t let her live. She leaned back, pulling her pack with her, and began to creep away. The plodders let her go.

They’d paid her in silver, half before, half when the four of them emerged safe from the forest. The first payment was in her pack. Colby left the last half with the sleeping Captain and disappeared into the trees.

 The first line of this piece is a stolen one, per the rules of the Legal Theft Project. See the original at The Gate in the Wood. 

Brewing Apocalypses

Sparrow was, not for the first time, annoyed at his friend for being so famous. The current iteration of this feeling came mostly from the security staff’s firm grip on his shoulder, as well as the brewing apocalypse growing beneath their feet.

Struggling against security’s attempts to march him away from the private boxes, Sparrow only succeeded in forcing the large suited gentlemen to sedately drag him. Somewhere in the gilded theater hall Aren was sipping champagne, watching the premiere of some penny-dreadful equivalent, and remaining wholly unaware reality was about to crumble beneath them all. Sparrow was trying to fix that, suspecting that Aren was the only one with the knowledge and resources to do something about the impending devastation.

Unable to fend off security’s hold, Sparrow was quickly shoved stumbling out the theater’s back door and into a crowd of reporters. His arrival elicited a reactive wave of camera flashes. The stelliferous outburst ceased as the paparazzi realized Sparrow wasn’t anyone special, no matter how fancy his borrowed suit was.

This false start seemed to be the death knell to the moribund crowd’s hopes. The cameras and people attached to them dispersed leaving Sparrow alone to stare back at the theater and wonder how much time the city had left.

“How far did you get?”

Sparrow looked to his elbow. Not all the reporters had left. A petite young woman looked up at him, a scuffed camera still ready in her hands. “Not very.” He said.

“It’s impossible to get up the staircases onto the upper floors. They don’t like peasants mixing with the royals.” She looked at him sideways like a bird eyeing a worm. Sparrow felt the urge to wriggle away.

He didn’t have time to discuss this specific episode of systemic classism in the film industry, or to explain he was only attempting to contact a friend who’d turned off their phone. The city was about to collapse under the weight of paranormal cataclysm. For a moment, Sparrow debated the wisdom of enlisting a member of the media for help. Matters of the unnatural were sensitive, and best resolved quietly. Reporters weren’t known for their discretion.

But facing down apocalypse, Sparrow didn’t have much of a choice. “Do you know a way onto the second floor?”

Sparrow looked up when she did. Above them archaic fire escapes dotted the back of the theater. She smiled,”Yes. But I’ll need a boost.”

This piece is written for Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompt

Legal Theft: The Brush Off

“Wait, he doesn’t know, you haven’t told him?” Zach leaned forward over the kitchen island, surveying the stainless steel assembly of ingredient bowls. He didn’t know what half of them contained. Lena handed him a bowl of loose chorizo, which he blinked at until she indicated a yellow dish filled with spices. Dutifully, he mixed the two.

Lena tasted her crema mixture and then added salt. “No, but I’m not hiding it. He just hasn’t noticed.”

“Seriously?” Zach followed her over to the stoves holding up his phone. He watched her drop handmade tortillas onto a popping skillet. It smelled amazing, but everything she made did.

“He’s your brother. Doesn’t he follow you?” He asked, holding up a picture of the two of them on his family’s boat. A soft red flush covered her cheeks, and Zach grinned posing in the bright sunlight. They looked amazing in front of the sparkling blue waters. Others agreed, below the picture rows and rows of likes and comments gushed about them.

She looked over at the photo before going back to the hissing oil with a smile. “I like that one, which filter did you use? My brother just follows regional cuisine accounts and weird moody photography stuff. Don’t worry about him, he doesn’t pay attention to what I do. My friends know.”

“Yah, I guess. It was Amaro I think.” He scrolled down, gym selfies, bathroom ab pictures, and light-streaked photos of nights with his friends. But Lena was there too and properly tagged. They were official.

Still, Zach jumped a little when the kitchen door opened. But he wasn’t in Lena’s bedroom anymore, and technically allowed to be here.

The look he got from the newcomer said otherwise. Scorn narrowed the girl’s eyes for a moment. Then she turned away deliberately, like a cat who couldn’t be bothered about something displeasing in their vicinity.

“Hey, Ashlyn.” Lena said, in a tone Zach could now recognize as forced. “Are you and–“

“Photography club tonight.” Ashlyn cut her off, already halfway across the kitchen. Zach noticed the bag thumping against her  “Don’t wait up.”

Ashlyn’s hand was almost on the door handle before Lena positioned herself in the way. “Are you and my brother going to want any food?” She gestured almost violently at the various meal preparations with her spatula.

“Sure.” Ashlyn said slowly, as if realizing exactly what she’d been brushing off a moment ago. Still pride won out, Ashlyn edged around Lena without an apology. “Later.”

The door to the backyard snapped shut and Ashlyn was gone. Lena closed her eyes and breathed out of her nose. Zach took a few steps back, hoping she wasn’t going to throw anything.

“That’s lame. Are you really going to make them food after that?” Zach finally asked, soothing as he could muster.

“Of course.” Lena said, with a smile Zach didn’t trust at all.  “Hand me that chorizo, I’ll just section some out for them and cook it separate. Also those chiles, yah all of them. And the peppers.”

He quickly complied, handing her a handful of deep green chiles and curved peppers that made his hands itch. Zach knew he wasn’t always the smartest person, but at least he wasn’t stupid enough to get in Lena’s way.

He watched her mince the peppers and chiles and mix them into the smaller portion of the meat. “So they’re getting aggressively spicy tacos?”

“No, they’re getting passively aggressively spicy tacos.” She put aside the overly imbued chorizo, kissed him on the cheek and went back to her tortillas. After a few seconds Lena paused and looked over her shoulder. “Want to stay for dinner? Some space opened up.”

Zach put away his phone. “Yah, that’d be cool.”

I stole some aggressively spicy tacos from a critter filled blog. This theft, and many others, are part of the Legal Theft Project.  

Discerning Folk

“The shades don’t come out for just anyone. Discerning folk. The dead usually are.” Ralph says. You smile and drink the beer he’s poured for you. It tastes like the soapy stuff you drank in college. The bar is only half full and the patrons are not demanding, so he talks to you.

“It’s their prerogative to be picky,” Ralph explains. He owns the only bar in Cairnbrook and has never truly met a shade in all his sixty-two years. And he’s just fine with that. A couple times, when driving the west highway, Ralph has seen something in the trees. “Never looked any closer than a glance. A shade got its end at the hands of the living. They have no cause to like us.”

You ask if they are dangerous.

Ralph looks at you while he gathers up old coasters, gauging your age, your clothes, your humoring smile. He nods. “Some more than others.”

You ask a question, then another, and again until Ralph holds up a hand, waving it about like he’s dispersing flies. “Different, same as you and me. They’re still people in a way. Different in what they want, what they do, who they’ll suffer.”

Ralph refills your beer. You drink because you are supposed to, but close to midnight and the bar is clearing out. Ralph doesn’t tell you to leave. “Don’t go looking, they find you if they’re so inclined. But that’s for them to decide. The teenagers try sometimes, getting drunk and scaring themselves.”

You ask what happens to them.

A snort, and Ralph pours himself a beer this time.”Mostly nothin. Shades don’t bother themselves with that foolishness, they know young and stupid when they see it. But you, you should know better, and they know it.”

You look at the clock. After midnight now. Ralph follows your eyes to the clock. “Stay, next round is free.” He knows what you are planning, and it makes him nervous. You smile again and promise to be careful.

He watches you finish your beer, jaw tight and nostrils flared. Ralph doesn’t touch the money you place on the bar.You thank him and leave the bar, ready to wander the streets of Cairnbrook until you find her.

This week I challenged myself and Raw Rambles to write to Patsy Cline’s Walkin’ After Midnight. Check out the piece here. 

Legal Theft: The Scars of Winter Woods

She woke up deliciously warm. Sabel’s skin radiated like flame, burning the cloth over her limbs as she smoldered beneath. Last stage of freezing, she thought thickly, a malfunction of the brain. The rush of blood vessels when the body was too confused to save itself. Delicious, disorienting warmth.

The fear cleared her head, adrenaline tearing its way through the haze of dying brain cells. Though her skin burned, she did not rip away the cloth covering her. That would be death alone in these woods.

She opened her eyes. The dark interior of the barracks was still, her unit breathed evenly in sleep on the cots across from her. No snow, no naked pale wood, no endless sky framed by bare branches. She was not dying.

Sabel sat up, breathing in gasps. She kicked the musty regulation blankets down to her knees. Her skin still felt warm enough to cook her insides.

Frost had crystallized at the edges of the barrack windows. The memory of it at her lips, in her nose, waited. If Sabel closed her eyes she was back in the woods, black fingers pulling herself through the snow.

She pushed the rest of the bed coverings off and stood. Sabel looked down and wiggled her toes. The digits were healthy and whole, she could feel the cold from the floor seeping into them. Modern medicine was a marvelous thing. They’d fixed so much of her.

Not enough though. At night she returned to those dead woods. Like her burning skin, Sabel thought, a malfunction of the brain. She found her boots and left the barracks.

I am a thief. More than 1/2 Mad wrote the original, and I stole the first line for myself as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

Contemptuous Waters

The smell wafted up on the tidewaters. It stung Hal’s nose, and he made sure to wrinkle it when Katie was looking.  She stared at him mutely, and then went back to picking careful steps through piles of seaweed. The rotting mounds buzzed with gnats and tiny crabs. Hal watched the creatures climb over the black and green mess, thinking that Katie just might be right. The ocean was sick, heaving its verdant guts all over their pristine beaches.

He called to her, wondering if she could hear him over the waves. Hal hopped a bit, pulling emerald strings off his ankles. Katie didn’t respond. She was calf deep in the water and letting the waves soak the rolled cuffs of her jeans.

Hal reached her side. The breeze had pulled bits of hair from her ponytail. The frizzy little strands framed her face, which was red and tight from the wind. Her windbreaker was an ugly shade of dirty purple. She’d bought it for her research here, replacing the bikinis and bohemian shifts she’d worn to the beach before.

Those clothes were only memories now. Hal remembered when she’d smelled off wisteria and hairspray, instead of brine and rotting seaweed. He’d loved the beach then. They’d met on a beautiful white-sand shore, right next to a cultivated private green. Their parents introduced them on the sand, and Katie had favored him with a small shy smile. He knew now it’d been a fake thing, something demure and softly contemptuous.

He would welcome that sly dislike now. Even it would be better than the blank windswept girl waiting for him in the water. Something had occurred, something here had stolen Katie from him and the perfect white beaches where they’d shared sharp smiles. Hal looked out over the dark grey water, knowing the white capped stretch hid greater expanses beneath. Next to him, Katie also watched the waves, her eyes fixed on whatever penetralia she’d found there.

Chilled fingers found his, clammy and slick. Hal shivered at her touch, and tried to draw her away from the water and back to the stinking shore. She did not move, and would not loose his hand. He pulled at her but the tide tugged back, sucking their feet into the sand as water churned about their legs, rising.

He opened his mouth for some purpose, a demand or curse, but her cold lips found his before words could form. Hal choked as she kissed him, brine rushing into his mouth as the tidewaters claimed them.

Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie provided the Wordle Prompt for this piece.