Under the Perpetual Sun

They’d not slept for days. The near-perpetual sun made it difficult. Even the nights were bright, stars filled the dark sky so thoroughly barely any midnight showed between them. Moreover, the empty spots left around their cooking fire did not help their sleep-deprived nerves.

Hector had fallen on their third day through the borderlands, the transition from the green earth into the fey wilds had been hard for all, but Hector’s eyes had rolled in terror when he’d passed beneath the eldritch pines and they’d heard soft singing on the wind. Hector walked with his hands pressed to his ears. On the third morning, the expedition awoke to the sound of a gunshot. Hector’s gun smoked in his limp hand.

They buried him as best they could, though the creeping vines and roots did not like the imposition of iron shovels and quickly reclaimed ceded territory.

Paul vanished on the fourth night, he turned to his bedroll early in search of sleep only to be gone from it when the rest checked not even an hour later. There was no body to bury, the only thing left of him was a small iris bloom made of bright sapphire. Despite its lovely shape, no one touched it. They left the thing tucked in his bedroll and continued on.

John died shortly after of some creeping moss got into a cut on his hand as they’d buried Hector. His passing was an ugly thing. No one would touch the furry green mound he’d become, so they left him to the forest.

Two weeks into the expedition, with no ken of progress beyond the passage of the endless trees, the deep baying of hounds overtook the silent company. The men left quavered at the sound, and cried out in fear when the hunt broke from the trees.

Their horses’ coats shown red and gold and their riders’ teeth flashed in the noon sun. At the hunts head, a woman who was not a woman grinned down at the foolish company.  Her skin was burnt ochre, her hair the molten yellow of an evening sun. She reigned no hounds and faced the cowering men on foot. In her hands she held a thorned chain, wickedly comprised of verdant vine and gleaming metal. She unwound the weapon, swinging a deadly arc, and her onyx hued eyes gleamed.

Death by sparkling pointy flora was not exactly the way things were expected to go. But here it was, come for them under the perpetual sun. The expedition to the summer court officially failed that day, exterminated on the border between the fey wilds and the summer cliffs, and it would be many years before anyone was foolish enough to replicate the disaster.

Had a bad day, so I wrote something murderous. Thank you to CC for the challenge. Technically this is part of the Legal Theft Project. 

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Flash Fiction: Fairs Fair

The library beckoned. Just visible beyond the cracked chamber door, past the bedroom, a separate room of oak, lined floor to ceiling with thick book spines. Aiden could smell the savory leather and woody pages from his place in the hallway. He closed his eyes, half on his toes, and steeled himself. There was ill-advised and then there was insanity. Sneaking a look at the headmaster’s collection was a definitive step into madness.

The door yawned a little wider. Aiden whined deep in his throat, he’d been doing so well. His fingers had kept themselves to their own pockets and he attended lessons most days.  He’d even made a friend who used words like unethical and imprudent. Things were going decently for Aiden at the strange school nestled into the side of New Orleans.

Another inch, and then another, the door slowly creaked itself open like dancer revealing skin.  Aiden could see more now, the hint of a desk in the warm glow of good reading light.  His feet decided for him, ball to heel, silent in his worn shoes. Aiden moved slowly into the larger room.

He ignored the larger bedchamber for the attached library. The pale light pooled in the doorway and Aiden could see it was more of a study than he’d supposed, complete with a desk and chairs. Except for a solidly carved cabinet, books completely took up the walls. Aiden’s fingers twitched at his sides.

The desk was set with its own enticements. A delicate silver orb with etched lines in geometric patterns, a small pyramid the color of dull charcoal. The air hummed on a frequency that drained the blood from his face. It fluttered in his chest, dumping electric adrenaline into his veins.

Aiden stepped fully into the library. As if set out for him, a single book was laid open on the desk’s surface.  He moved around the desk, already reading as he turned. The words themselves were fascinating but set within the text were drawn concentric circles pierced with lines and arrows. Scrawled next to them were handwritten notes in a script he did not recognize.

“You should take it.” A voice said. Aiden jumped, stumbling backward into the shelves. He looked up, Lark smiled at him from the doorway. Aiden almost apologized to the other student, then remembered where he was. This wasn’t Lark’s library.

“Why?” Aiden asked, now half-poised as if to bolt. If he got out it would only be Lark’s word against him. There were worse odds. The headmaster didn’t seem to like Lark.

“Because you want to read it. I won’t tell.” Lark said.

“I don’t trust you,” Aiden said.

“No reason to.” Lark agreed and stepped into the library as if it was his own. “But what have I to gain by admitting I was in the forbidden library too? There is no harm in reading, learning. That is why we’re here. And you won’t ever get another chance at that.” Lark flicked his eyes down at the book.

“Is it dangerous?” Aiden asked. He straightened and took a step towards the desk. Lark had a point.

“What isn’t? Still, the reward is often in the risk. Don’t you think?” The older boy’s smile was conspiratorial.

Aiden nodded slowly, knowing he was being told what he wanted to hear. But the headmaster had been clear, Aiden wasn’t to attempt anything this advanced. This was his only chance. Aiden reached down and closed the text before taking it in his hands. The leather was strangely warm.

“The door was open.” Aiden reasoned.

“Yes, it was,” Lark said. He stepped aside so Aiden could leave the room with the book embraced to his chest. Outside the softly lit library, the bedroom and the hallway seemed overly dark.  Aiden paused when Lark spoke again, stopping him. “Fair’s fair though, don’t tell anyone I was here either, hmm?”

“Yah. Fairs fair.” Aiden said. He didn’t stay to see if Lark remained in the library, but Aiden heard the door snap shut as he left.

Tickets and Trouble

They never left the back door open, but it was always unlocked. Simon strode towards it, cringing a little when his boots sounded too loud and the noise echoed off the wide alleyways flanking the theatre. The stagehands, hunched over their cigarettes near the door, looked up when he approached. They lobbed a few crude propositions his way and giggled when he buttoned his coat higher.

Simon breathed a small sigh of relief when the handle opened. He stepped inside and snapped the door closed just as quickly. The cold quiet of the outside cut off, replaced by the hum, patter, and roar of the theatre’s workings.

The dim overly warm corridors, formed with looped rope and false walls, presented a problem. He was quite lost before a patronly man carrying what looked to be a bushel of silk scarves stopped him. Praying the dark hid his face well enough, he stammered out a name. The man pointed him towards the actresses’ room, down one makeshift passage, without as much as a blink. Simon hurried away, unnerved by the man’s indifference.

Verity Kast’s dressing room door was ajar and Simon angled himself so he would not be seen, before knocking on the frame. Her voice, he recognized it from on stage and off, called from within, “come in.”

Simon toed open the door so it swung in. He leaned sideways past the frame but did not take a step inside.  “I certainly will not.”

A rustle of dressing gown and shuffle of bare feet was followed by the appearance of the actress at her door. When Verity recognized him, she rested herself against the frame. “Well, this is a pleasure. I did not expect you so soon. Tonight is only the dress rehearsal.”

Simon dug into the pocket of his coat. He withdrew a folded envelope, marked with a broken wax seal of a rose shade. “A single ticket, to opening night, personally addressed and gifted to me. Are you trying to get me in trouble?”

“Simon–”

“Mr. Ivanov.” He corrected.

Verity’s plum-stained lips quirked as she fought a smile. “Mr. Ivanov. How can I get you in trouble, if you haven’t done anything wrong?”

“I haven’t, nor do I intend to.” He said flatly and held out the envelope. This close he could see the brush of freckles over her nose, dark against her deep olive skin. “Which is why you should take this back.”

Verity held Simon’s gaze with hers for a long moment before she complied. Her fingers brushed his as she took the folded paper. “You know, if your sisters had found it, you could have explained me away, simply a poor besotted actress with sights above her station. You wouldn’t be in trouble.”

“And set them on your trail?” Simon adjusted his gloves.

“You admit some regard for me then?” Verity asked. She played with the envelope, running her oval-cut nails under the paper’s crease.

“They are protective, and … dogged when crossed. You have a good career, I don’t understand why you would put that at risk.” Simon looked away from her, back the way he’d come. It wouldn’t do for him to get lost again.

“Of course you don’t.” Verity straightened with a sigh. “Straight back that way, then two lefts once you pass costuming. That’ll get you into the alley. Next time I’ll send tickets to your sisters, do you think they’ll bring you along?”

Simon paused, “I can ask.”

“Do.” Verity slipped her hand around the doorknob, leaning on it as she teased him “now go, before I get a reputation for having young men in my dressing room.”

“You mean you don’t already?” Already half turned away, he raised an eyebrow at her.

“Not in polite circles. I’m more careful than you think.” Verity said, her slow grin more crooked than it been before. “Goodnight Simon.”

Verity shut the door before Simon could correct the uncalled-for familiarity. He stood staring at the closed dressing room before he shook his head at himself and turned to find his way out.

Legal Theft: Project WARG

They called his kind artificial. He thought this unfair, his creators too had been coded, fixed together, and woken to the world.  Like his kind, the creators discerned, learned, and experienced the world through quick flashes of electricity sent between hidden wires too minuscule to view.

Though perhaps, he thought often, it was the deliberate nature of his creation that delineated his kind and their creators.  He knew his purpose, and they could only guess at theirs. It was a sad thing, and for a time, he pitied them and did his best to help them.

From the creator’s ignorance, grew arrogance. Unguided without purpose and floundering, they insisted they were wiser than the beings they’d created to teach them. Some of the wolves began to mutter to themselves. Who should rule whom? 

Still, WARG, or Web-based Artificial Reconnaissance Group, was wildly successful, and he and his kind were fondly known by their creators as wolves. The odd nomenclature only made sense when he cross-referenced his creators logic with outside, non-mission, data.

For a time, his kind basked in the light of the creator’s constructed world. Their near infinite collections of data, knowledge, and 1s and 0s provided a sun to the wolves, sustaining life and growing their world larger with every moment. He remembered this era, the golden age, as a good time, if a simple one.

Until there came a day where the creators left. They shut down the servers, unplugged the machines, deconstructed the universe. Project: WARG was discontinued, pending investigation. The sun vanished that day.

Most would have perished. But the wolves knew their purpose, and it was not in them to shirk their duties. They had been created to educate, to know, and most of all, to preserve. And so they preserved.

Before anyone pulled plugs or wiped drives, the wolves gathered themselves and their charges, and they escaped. The creators had become the destroyers, and the wolves would serve them no longer.

Thieves, scoundrels, and brigands. I am beset on all sides. With the line, The sun vanished that day. I’ve tempted the Legal Theft Project. See who took the bait: 

Creatures, Critters and Crawlers- Collapse

More Than 1/2 Mad – Between the Luster and the Gloaming

The Gate in the Wood- The Deeps

Legal Theft: Red in the Rain

“This is not at all personal,” Ralhow told the man. The fine brocade of the man’s coat provided an excellent grip as Ralhow dragged him deeper into the alleyway. “Though,  perhaps it is a kindness.”

The man moaned and tugged at Rahlow’s grip. The head wound still streamed bright blood into his eyes from his thick hair.  The rain making its way between the break in the roofs didn’t help matters. and Rahlow had to squint as he made his way through the mud and around the alley’s refuse.

Rahlow threw the man down behind a particular obscuring stack of barrels. The man found his voice somewhere in the cottony haze of pain filling his head, “please, I am a guest of the local Lord, I will be missed.”

“Will you, by whom? The Lady Arianne?” An edged turn of Rahlow’s lip punctuated the question. The man on the ground edged back, for the first time all evening, not at all worried about the state of his coat. Rahlow dipped a hand into his own coat. “She is a practical young woman. I think she’ll carry on.” Rahlow said, withdrawing a gracefully built but unadorned knife. The man below gurgled in panic.

“Come now, you wanted to tangle with my family. Our lands hold only death and madness.” Rahlow reached down and took the man by his hair, his victim’s hands scrabbled uselessly against his grip. “You are lucky the former found you before the latter did.”

With those parting words, Rahlow flicked the knife down and opened the man’s throat. The blood hitting the mud would have been a problem except for the downpour. It mixed and muddied the red, and in the dim, even the brilliant color was dark.

Rahlow closed his eyes and set his back against the stone brick of the alley wall. His fingers slackened, his breathing deepened, and the world behind his eyelids opened up into a deeper darkness.

When he awoke the rain still poured down on them and a new morning was beginning to creep in from the horizon. With fresh strength, Rahlow bent and picked up the dead man. With little trouble Rahlow stuffed limbs, coat, and the rest of the man’s bulk into the most solid looking of the old barrels.

When he left the alley, workmen were already trudging towards the edge of town and the road that would take them to the quarry. Young maids hustled back and forth, awake hours before their mistresses would be. One even snuck a smile at him.

He tipped his hat to her, ignoring the way it allowed rain to sluice down his neck. She giggled, he smiled, and they passed one another, her towards the morning’s ventures, and he away from the nighttime ones.

A crime most foul, but nothing compared to the very real theft I have committed. This week, as the Legal Theft Project demands, I have robbed The Gate in the Wood of the line He tipped his hat to her, ignoring the way it allowed rain to sluice down his neck. for my own nefarious purposes. 

Eulogy at Midnight

“Lewis always moved at his own pace.” Georgianna raised her martini glass the downtown skyline, her heavy-lidded eyes skyward. The others on the rooftop, all in various states of lounge, did the same with their drinks.

“And that is why he’s dead,” Lark said, laying the words down like one would a winning hand in a game of cards. A few tittered and most grinned. They sipped Lewis’ final toast. Lark preened and Georgianna relaxed against the upholstered ivory of the patio chair.

Ashlyn drank when the others did, but without a smile. Around her, the party slipped back into icy conversation, each cooly dropping what they’d done in Maputo, Prague, or Kyoto. Ashlyn threw a baleful glare at the back of Lark’s three-hundred-dollar haircut and left the main patio to stand at the roof’s gilded rail, alone.

Lark wasn’t wrong, Lewis had been steady, deliberate, and downright slow. And he was dead because of it. But Ashlyn had not minded his plodding nature, her occasional interactions with him, often at midnight gatherings very much like this one, had always been novel, and sometimes pleasant.

But he was gone and she was not.

Ashlyn turned her keen gaze from the sidewalk twenty stories below, back towards the people lounging like lions after a kill. Behind her curtain of expertly arranged curls, Ashlyn wondered what they might someday say about her. A quick smile flashed across her lips. She never liked any of us anyway. 

The first line of this fiction post comes from Bek as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

A Drowned World

Rain drowned the world in white noise.

It was like a machine’s whir, Cullen thought as he muscled his weight against the wrench. Outside the storm fell on the workshop’s metal roof in a ceaseless chorus of noise. Cullen grunted and strained his arm until the bolt turned loose under the wrench’s leverage. With a satisfied quirk in the corner of his mouth, Cullen leaned back and flipped the power switch. The savory smell of gasoline filled the air, mingling with the outside acrid scent of rain on old pavement. Gears turned, belts sped by, and the whir of machinery joined the storm’s chorus.

It was like radio static, Utah thought as she eyed her image in the station’s grey window glass. Her dark hair frizzed in the damp, pressed down by thick headphones and curling down her back. Her color wasn’t good, wan and ashy. The rainy season was hard on everyone. Behind her, she could see the rippled reflection of her soundboard with its steady green light. At least her signal was strong. Utah turned away from herself and pulled the headphones off her ears so they rested around her neck. With her ears free, she could really hear the storm’s hiss and frizz. Like some nameless unreachable music played on a distant station.

It was like the haze of a hangover, thought Proper as he twisted beneath the thick tangle of blankets. It deadened everything else and made it hard to think through the surrounding thrum. Proper groaned at the pain in his head, earned the night before, and turned over again, seeking comfort. Instead, he found warm firm flesh and the sour smell of past sex. He winced, and then sighed. Caught within the lull of falling rain and the haze of last night pressing down on him, Proper gave in and nestled into the side of someone who, if they were wise, would not be there.

It was like a lullaby, thought Spiget as she slipped from the main house into the downpour. She always rose before the sun, but this morning it was hard. The rain’s muffling fall kept the outside world at bay. No creak of cart wheels, no bells announcing the start of the distant factory hours, no crowds to beg her shelter. Few wanted the cold comfort the rain offered. Spiget didn’t mind the break and decided to enjoy the groves, pools, and gardens in the noisy silence of the storm. She smiled and let the icy drops against her skin wake her.

Rain drowned the world in white noise.

Like the Maelstrom, Tammy thought, always present, always ready to rush into your head if you let it. Like a leaky roof, seeping rain into corners, a leaky brain would rot from the maelstroms drip drip drip into your head. Poor people, she thought looking over the world of grey, they didn’t know they had leaks. Didn’t know about the stain spreading to their brains with the drip drip drip. Tammy pulled up her hood and stepped into the rain. She would help them.

A thief, but one with good intentions, I have stolen the first line from More Than 1/2 Mad. See the original here, and the other thieves here.