Something Blue

“Something old, something new,” Lively intoned, letting her fingers complete the work while she hummed the rhyme. She folded up her spare shirt and tucked it into her rucksack. A frayed scarf and copper necklace followed it as Lively mouthed the spell’s words, “something borrowed, something blue.”

Lively twirled a coil of her hair around her finger as she eyed the bag. It was barely half-full, sagging on the straw cot Lively shared with her sister. There was nothing else to pack. Everything else Lively owned, she wore now. Her canvas work pants and thick-soled shoes would do well on the road, the warm flannel shirt would hold off the chill when she wasn’t with her new husband.

They were set to leave this morning, before the sun could rise behind the clouds and turn the black night into another grey day. The harvest would continue then, after she left the neat rows of pear trees and near-wild blackberry patches behind for others to work. Lively’s betrothed was anxious to get back to his home.

“A sixpence in your shoe.” She finished the rhyme with a small huff of breath. The spell was supposed to bring a bride luck, a silly assortment of words to protect Lively as she left her fields for his chugging factories and ruins of the old world. Lively pursed her lips and grabbed the strap of her rucksack. It was light. There was room for more.

Whatever a sixpence was, Lively wanted more assurance than a whispered rhyme to an empty cot and a near-empty rucksack. She took the pack with her and left the cabin. The new morning air tasted wet and the path was dark, but Lively knew the way to Ozair’s workshop well.

Flash Fiction: The Hocus

Usually, Momo didn’t have to press her way through a crowd. Carrying a gleaming, sometimes bloody, machete typically cleared a quick path. No elbowing necessary. But the rolling sea of unwashed bodies around Momo did not shy from the metal covering her face, or the wrapped blade on her back.

Someone bumped hard into her shoulder, Momo snarled beneath her mask and lashed out. The offender left a grimy blood stain across her pauldron but continued their gape-mouthed stumble forward, wheezing and transfixed on the distant stage. Momo blinked. She was unused to this kind of invisibility.

No one recoiled or winced or refused to look at the twisted metal obscuring her features, she was just another person to shove as everyone pressed themselves forward against the makeshift stage. Any fear was gone, replaced with a blind and growing fervor for whatever was about to appear on the cobbled-together stage.

A group of hooded people finally broke from the crowd. The bottoms of their pale robes were heavy with mud as they climbed the stage. From their ranks, a short woman emerged. The crowd surged with a collective inhale, breathing out mutters of Always.

White cloth draped off the shelf of her breasts and clung to the wide arches of her hips. This woman, called Always if the chanting of the crowd could be trusted, raised her hands to the sky. She kept her eyes locked across the swelling crowd at her feet though, gazing down at the crowd like a mother at her precocious children. Some of the masses reached grimy hands towards the pristine hem ruffling her brown toes. They were kicked back by the woman’s hooded handmaidens.

“We have a guest tonight.” At Always’ words, silence bound the crowd. The white drapped woman breathed in the hush, a smile unrolling in her curved lips. “From Haven. From the wolves.”

Always lowered an arm to point through the crowd, drawing a line between herself and Momo. The crowd parted from that line, spreading space between them. Always smiled. Momo’s eyes darted behind her mask, searching for a break in the crowd that didn’t lead to the stage.

“Welcome Momo. ” Always’ leaned forward and swept a look over the crowd, weighing their shifting unease and its potential. Her eyes locked back to the sockets on Momo’s mask. “Grab her.”

Flash Fiction: Good and Bad Children

They warned against wandering in the willowwacks. The great rises of wood, fen, and moss-covered stone held dangers for the lone adult, more for an underfed child. But she was a sharp and foolish creature, not yet consigned to being a small thing in a great and terrible world.

Their warnings were routinely crafted and deployed, figments to entangle her with the dreaded lesson of or else. The good children escaped the shadows between the trees, clever yet always abstractly obedient, the bad ones did not, and were rarely mourned.

But she was more cunning than most children, and some adults, and could see the webs they wove with their stories. Be good, be kind, be obedient. All qualities that benefited them more often than her. Soon, she began to wonder if circles of ghosts, their eyes liquid with need, really convened beneath the trees. Or if worst creatures really jumped between the curls of mist, metal glinting beneath their hoods as they lured children astray with memories of chocolate and butter.

She was sure she could resist both, having tasted neither.

The willowwack’s fog and trees and glens were great towering things, that could bestow a quick death at the bottom of a swamp, or draw a long one of wandering starvation between the endless black trunks, or a lingering addled end from the yellow air that rested along the ground, but those fates came for both good and bad children.

It was with this in mind she watched the fog veiled trees of the willowwacks, with neither reverence or challenge. As other children strove to be good, lest the metal wolves and ghosts pluck their minds away in the night, or darted as close to the dark trunks as they would dare, shrieking all the while, she contented herself with being right. At least until her shoulders grew strong enough for a pack, and her legs long enough to climb the moss covered stone.

Wrote this one from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompt. 

 

Legal Theft: Momo

He probably won’t actually kill me until after dinner. I stared down at my plate, taking stock. Green things and dead meaty things for sure, maybe poisoned things. But I was hungry, if I was going to die, I wanted a full belly.

“Child, what are you called?”

I jerked my head up. The man called Uncle watched me from across the table, his knife poised above his own food. He is not actually my uncle, his jaw is square, mine is sharp. Uncle is just what he is called.

I’m called a lot of things. Child. Brat. Oi you. Girl. Nothing had stuck yet.

I mumbled one of those things and looked back to the plate. Poison didn’t make sense anyway. When Uncle’s soldiers crushed my father’s skull and kicked his body until it didn’t even look like him, they didn’t use poison. If Uncle wanted to, he could just tell his soldiers to crush my skull and kick my body.  Besides, he looked like someone who didn’t like ruining dinners.  I speared a bit of green and ate it.

“You’ll need something better, child”  Uncle said.

I frowned at Uncle when he wasn’t looking and started eating quickly in case the crushing and kicking came sooner than I expected.  My brother called me sister, and my mother never called me anything. But, according to my dead father when he’d still been able to talk, they were far away and of no concern to us. But I don’t like being called child.

“Momo.” A nonsense sound, repeated twice. And simple, like me.

“Hmm.” He made the sound deep in his throat. “Childish, but alright, Momo.” I didn’t care if he liked it or not. If he was going to kill me, he was waiting until after dinner, and that was good enough for me. Momo.

A victim-less crime at the moment, I stole the first line of this post for the Legal Theft Project. 

Wrong Things, Wrong Man

Gall and Wormwood’s night was just beginning. Two days’ hard ride from that miserable holding with no signs of pursuit, it was time to pause the getaway. They intended to enjoy freedom and the spoils taken along with it. Wormwood was already drunk, halfway out of his trousers and singing to the radio, while Gall danced twitchy-like in front of the sunken hearth.

They passed the things back and forth, ancient eyeglasses and yellowing pamphlets. Gall ran her fingers through a horsehair wig, Wormwood cinched a vintage belt around his naked waist. They toasted themselves and the haul, veritable gold from the golden age.

The keeper of the divey one-room inn watched the two sniff up oblivion and drink themselves into stumbling messes without comment. They’d paid him. Two apple barrels and a keg of cider, now safely locked in his grimy kitchen. As gun-toting thieves went, they seemed a decent sort. He retreated to the sole bedroom as Wormwood lost more clothes.

Outside the night deepened until the ground, forest, and sky all became pitch. The hearth’s fire burned down to embers. Gall broke into another bottle and offered Wormwood the first swig.  She shoved him when he didn’t take it. He shoved her back and continued to stare out the window. Behind the rain speckled panes, they could hear the wind tear at the trees.

Gall and Wormwood were not stupid, just drunk. He gathered his knives while she grabbed her rifle with swollen fingers. They set themselves at the door. Without the fire, they could feel the frigid air seeping through the walls and window glass.

Their nerves frayed by powders and herbs, it was not long before one suggested the other go out. Gall lost the hissed argument, and she left out the door, rifle bared. Wormwood lost sight of her in the black. He counted minutes and upon a quarter of an hour, he barred the door.

The decision bought him a moment. Wormwood used it to consider the possibility they’d stolen from the wrong man, or perhaps the wrong things, but probably a combination of the two. It was all he was afforded.

Glass shattered, crude metal flashed in the dark. In the dim of the dying hearth, he marveled at the broken window, and then the thick blade wedged deep in his chest. Wormwood slumped to the floor, his body ripping the machete from his assailant’s hand as he fell.

Wormwood looked up, eyes rolling, as the stranger placed a boot on his stomach. From behind the rough scrap mask, he thought he heard a deep and annoyed outtake of breath. The stranger twisted the blade with a wet wrench of bone and tendon and Wormwood died before he could think anything more of them.


Did I ever mention how much I enjoy Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompts?

Legal Theft: Order in the Wilds

Every message took an hour to decode. Carved into rotted planks and posts, reclaimed by the forest, the work began when he found them. Its trail was long gone and its stake subsumed by a particularly impressive pine. But he was able to wrestle the plank away from the undergrowth.

He dug at the moss covering it, hands turning grubby and green, until he found its message etched deep with specks of leftover yellow paint. With the fog rolling in and the light fading, he tucked the plank under his arm and trudged back the way he’d come. small camp, he strung a tarp between two trees and pried open a can with his hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

His small camp was only a tarp strung between two trees and a dry patch of ground for the fire. He settled in, picking a can from his pack and setting to work on its lid with a hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

The little letters arranged in horizontal lines and clusters meant nothing to him. Uncle had yet to deliver on promises to teach him the old script, and he couldn’t wait. There was work to be done.

He withdrew a folded bundle from his coat’s inner pocket. Aware of the destructive raindrops pattering against the tarp overhead, he unfolded each crease deliberately and smoothed the paper under his fingers. The map had letters and words marked on its green expanse, some of his making but most in the ancient script of the golden age.

With the words from the plank in his mind, as one held the image of an object you’d lost,  he scoured the map and its pale lines. The process took time, words were repeated, the plank’s script was wet and rotten, and he checked each find with meticulous attention.

But an hour passed, the rain continued to fall, and he slowly began to understand what the plank had indicated. A diverging trail, and what he suspected were increments of distance. He’d go back tomorrow and find a new post for the sign. The trail was long past saving, but its marker, now recorded on his map,  provided a bit of order to the wilds.

If not a thief, definitely a scoundrel. This piece is part of the legal theft project and the first line comes from Apprentice, Never Master, who invited the project to steal it. 

Legal Theft: Powder-Blue Beauty

Blue as skies in summer, pouring out exhaust, and attracting a small crowd, he’d never seen anything like it. Neither had the small band of kids shoving each and daring each other to touch a pearly headlight. Whoever the driver was, they were frustrated, turning over the engine and flooding it, trying to get something to catch.

As predators watch limping prey, the children grew bold. A girl with thin dirty braids picked up a rock.

Culled grabbed her shoulder and shook his head. Pale eyes narrowed to slits, and her tiny fingers tightened around the stone. The others waited, frozen between flight or concerted assault. He waited for them to decide. A good strike to his remaining kneecap would have him down and on their level. If they could swarm him fast enough, they had a chance.

A few jeers were muttered in his direction. They were too aware of the machinery making up his left leg to say anything loud. He should be dead. Instead was walking around fine as anyone on metal and gears and keeping them from their fun. Their fear at his strangeness kept things amicable.

The girl dropped the rock and shook off Cullen’s grip. He let her and her little gang slink away, eyeing him and the lux car with equal hatred. One problem solved. Another becoming bigger. Cullen watched dark smoke start to rise from beneath the hood. Much longer, and the powder-blue beauty would be scrap.

Rabid children, decent adults, didn’t matter who you were, no one like meddling. But the car was a rare thing, sleek and timeless amidst the yard’s rusted leavings. He could help, so he would offer. With a tight-lipped sigh, he moved over to tap on the driver’s side window.

Not a thief this week, but definitely late. I may have been robbed. If so, check out the Legal Theft Project to see what others have done with my first line.