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.”

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.

The Strange Heft of Paper

Spiget chose her escape carefully. Concord’s entrance was clogged with pilgrims, now carefully being admitted through the gates by Calistoga. Her brother could handle any trouble, but he was more likely to get it should the newcomers see an enforcer leave. Best everyone think she was still on the grounds, rifle resting comfortably across her back.

She slogged through the forest parallel to the road, shuffling through the undergrowth and fighting olive mud. Scents of rose, gardenia, and sulfur faded from the air as she walked. The remnants of paradise were replaced by the seething smell of drowned roots and rotting green.

When the sounds of the overpowered the wood’s birdsong, she knocked off the mess from her thick rubber boots and smoothed her hair.

Rain hit tent tops like fanfare. Fishmongers, diabolists, and scavenge men hawked their respective wares, leaning over table and each other to force guts and brass talismans under her nose.  Spiget politely declined a wetwork offer from a rheumy-eyed woman with a bandolier of rusty knives, and another for intimate session with two painted doe-eyed men.

Spiget hurried, shoving her shoulders through the mass of travelers, vagrants, and mercenaries towards the end of the market. Colored glass and strung lights hovered above the entrance of the gambling hall, its sunken doors set down from the street at the bottom of chipped steps. The likeness of an apple was carved deep into the door’s wood.

Someone flicked a stub of twisted herbs and paper at her feet.

Spiget reminded herself who she was dealing with and softened her expression before she looked up. Dealing with the den’s owner required a cool head.

Proper grinned at her in greeting, seemingly unbothered by the dark hair curling and dripping in front of his eyes. His shirt was soaked through and sticking to him. Tucked under to his side under an elbow was her package, safely wrapped in oilskin.

“So punctual,” Proper said, making the comment sound like an insult as if she should have kept him waiting in the rain. He held out his free hand and she dropped three heavy pouches into his long fingers. With what could have been flourish, but was more likely adroit misdirection, Proper vanished the money.

Spiget’s breath caught when he handed over the package. Proper hovered, watching her face as she unwrapped the corner of the slick cover. Beneath the oilskin, thick leather and the barest hint of gold lettering shown warm in the lights overhead. More than anything, Spiget liked the strange heft of its pages.

She hastily rewrapped the book before the rain could get at it. Proper was still watching her when she looked up. “Can you even read it?” He wore his smile at an unkind angle.

Spiget could not. But this was real, she knew it when the papery ancient smell had filled the space between them. Too happy to care about the mockery in his question, she shook her head. “Nope.”

She didn’t need to see his smirk flicker to enjoy his confusion as she walked away. Spiget wrapped her arms around the book and hugged it to her chest.

Thank you Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie for the great Wordle Prompt

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