Nature Hates You

“You have something furry on your back.” Simon held up his hands in a calming gesture, trying to get his older brother to hold still. The expression on Simon’s face, however, compromised the effort and Ethan proceeded to not hold still.

Rotten branches and leaves crunched under their hiking boots.

“Furry?” Ethan twisted, trying to see what furry thing had hitched a ride and glare at Simon simultaneously. “What is it? Get it off.”

“Umm–” Simon hovered as his brother pivoted, trying to keep his footing in the forest’s thick undergrowth. “Stop flailing. It has a lot of teeth.”

That actually got Ethan to pause. “Teeth?”

“Yes– so don’t piss it off.” Simon bent slowly and picked up a heavy stick, keeping narrow eyes on the thing clinging to Ethan’s back.

“A stick?” Ethan said through a clenched jaw. “I thought you said not to piss it off. Remember the teeth?”

“I can see multiple rows. You told me to get it off. Have a better idea?” Simon hefted the stick pointedly.

“Go get Liam.” Ethan flicked his eyes to his armed brother, unwilling to move his neck and stuck frozen between steps.  “That’s my idea.”

Simon huffed. “I can handle …whatever it is.”

Simon took a step forward, eyeing whatever was on his brother’s back with enough challenge to make Ethan uncomfortable. Ethan snapped a finger up in front of his brother’s nose. At the sudden motion, claws dug into the back of his shirt. Ethan suppressed a shudder, “Simon, for the love of all that is holy, Go. Get. Liam.”

“Geez. Fine. It’s not my fault nature hates you.” Simon backed off a step. He didn’t drop the stick as he trudged off into the dark spaces between the trees to find their friend and a solution to their furry stowaway.

A thief is rarely good company to keep, but people keep me nonetheless. This week I (may) have stolen the first line of this piece from Apprentice, Never Master. Check out the company she keeps at the Legal Theft Project

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Flash Fiction: A Dry Brand

She almost didn’t answer the call.  The singsong chime cut through the other audio playing from the speakers, interrupting both her game and the show playing in the background. While she found the small application easily enough, with its window vibrating eagerly on her screen, Sara hovered her mouse over the red hang up button.

It wasn’t that she disliked Bell. They were friends of the odd rare sort Bell allowed herself. Sara enjoyed Bell’s stark and off-putting honesty, often simply for the novelty of it.  But the other girl never called to say hi or propose anything normal, and Sara had a CS final project to procrastinate about and little time for Bell’s dry brand of shenanigans.

She pressed the green button instead.”Hey, Bell.”

“Hello,” Bell’s voice, without video, sounded buffeted from the computer speakers. Sara suspected Bell was hovering her chin too close to her phone. “I need a rifle.”

Sara rolled her eyes. Alone in her dorm room, no one saw. “Of course you do. Do I get to know what for?” There was a pause on the other end of the call.

“To shoot someone with,” Bell said.

Sara pursed her lips and exhaled through her nose. That had been a stupid question, not because it was inherently vapid to want know what someone was doing with high-power sniper rifle you illegally procured for them, but because Sara had expected a sensible and un-literal answer from Bell. “Sure. Send me what you want, I’ll see what I can do.”

Lock Hearts

Since childhood, Tristan could discern when he was dreaming. Despite an absent mind and an undisciplined imagination, he’d always been able to acutely determine reality from its watercolor echoes, even while walking a particularly convincing dreamscape.

For Tristan, the two states were hard to confuse. The waking world was ruled by sense and sensation. An apple that felt, looked, and tasted like an apple, was an apple. But in a dream, only belief mattered. An apple was only an apple if you believed it to be one. If you believed it to be a house, it was for the dream’s purposes, a house. Even if it still tasted like a piece of fruit.

It was with this knowledge that Tristan opened his eyes in bed and knew, despite the oldest trick a mind could play on a gullible dreamer, that he was still dreaming. His room was his room, his bed his bed, but in the weighty silence, Tristan knew someone was about to break in.

The lock clicked in a different way when it was opened with a key.  A solid thunk, metal on metal the way its maker intended.  This click was a scrape and a wrench, a knife’s blade deep in the lock.

Caught in the dream’s tide, Tristan’s pulse quickened, beating hard against his throat. The door opened and cloaked figures poured around him with a buffeting sound like the beating of many wings. Faces shadowed by pulled cowls, their dark-swathed hands fastened to his shoulders, his arms, his back. They dragged him from his bed.

Tristan’s shout died in a sudden vastness. The figures were gone, melted and consumed by the changing scene. Tristan looked up and felt his breath stolen by a temple’s looming walls, its arched ceilings, and spiraling peaks. Around him, where pews or benches should be, rows of altars jutted from the floor. Atop them, people sprawled unmoving and unbreathing.

Some he knew, his twin sister’s waves of chestnut hair fell over the stone top of her final resting place. Her husband, a row down, had finally been struck silent in death. Tristan’s best friend was laid out on another, a curved sword held at her breast in warrior’s repose.

Most were strangers. He wandered through them, noting a cop’s badge around a man’s neck, a travelers pack laid at another’s side, a hunting hound curled as dead as its master atop her feet.

Though Tristan knew he was dreaming, it did nothing to warm the ice in his veins. The people on the altars had little in common with each other, except the very apparent cause of their death. Each had been sliced from throat to bottom rib, their open chests gaping upwards into the vast air of the temple.

He did not have to look to know, because knowing is enough in a dream to make it so, that each was missing their heart. Tristan stumbled away, feeling the edges of the scene blur as he panicked and faltered. He felt the wrench of the knife in his bedroom lock, used like a key, he felt the wrench of a knife deep in his chest, and someone, somewhere trying to open something.

Tristan awoke screaming in a strange bed at the Lion Rock Medical Hospital. Machines blinked at him, the sterile yet sickly smell of plastic filled his nose, and the scratch of starched sheets annoyed his skin. The sensations, unaffected by his residual terror, remained. Tristan fell back against his pillow but did not close his eyes.

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. 

Against Your Teeth

Woodsdown fog was a menace all by itself. It didn’t roll in like the normal stuff off the water. Creeping and stretching, the mist grew from the ground and up around tree trunks like vines. A traveler didn’t need to meet ambush or storm to find bad ends in Woodsdown fog. All it took was a wrong turn. So sure where the path was a moment before, then a step, stumble, and fall into white nothingness.

Walls don’t keep the crawling mist away, and it smothers a fire quicker than rain. Those who scrape out lives at the edges of Woodsdown learn to weather it. They close their windows and sing little songs to themselves until it recedes, seeping away always much slower than it comes.

The wise do not go to Woodsdown. The people have a quaver about their eyes and speak too loud. The forest is odder still, and the fog that rolls in is better left to its own creeping devices. But if one finds themselves in the place, amidst the towering whitebarks and hemlocks, and the fog comes slithering, hunker down and sing a song quiet-like against your teeth. It won’t be over soon.


 

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: Over Troubled Waters

Everything started with a complaint. The university had one main walk. It ran the length of campus and students, staff, and faculty alike traversed the smooth concrete. So did everyone with a message, cause, or chip niggling at their shoulder.

Someone got annoyed with one another, maybe it was a Jesus-freak, or a feminist, or a frat boy, or a associate professor tired of being harangued on the way to a class she wasn’t being paid enough to teach. No one knows, but many suspect it was really the university. Fed up with neon flyers and screaming students marring a noble institution of higher learning, they fabricated the grievance and banned the protesters and promoters.

Barred from the walk, a motivated group of activists, amateur architects, and delinquents decided they required a creative vantage point on the issue. They built a bridge.

Massive but rickety, the thing stretched over the walk near the center of campus. By design, those informing and dissenting from its heights were not on the walk, merely above it and now with a pulpit.

Cobbled together with shattered dorm furniture and young zeal, anyone passing beneath and looking up could identify a bed frame, a vandalized desk, and an unfortunate amount of duct tape. Shortly after its haphazard assembly, a group engineering students lent a Saturday afternoon improving the design. Now moderately stable, the bridge hosted every cause, zealot with a sign, and Greek promotion on campus.

The university condemned the structure immediately and deployed a force to take it down. What they expected to be a simple job turned into a day long standoff between facilities and the bridge’s occupants. As the river of students traveled beneath, those on the bridge refused to move. Jesus-freak,  feminist, and frat boy stood together and asserted their right to proclaim.

Facilities came back that night to find occupied sleeping bags camped over the bridge. The next morning held a new shift of students. As one left for class, another would replace them. There were those who looked up at the bridge and shook their heads.  Psych majors theorized on the protesters’ addictive vie for attention. Philosophy students sipped their coffees and commented on a movement built around a bridge that literally went nowhere.

A week passed, then another. The bridge withstood a school holiday, stubborn students staring down helpless construction workers on an otherwise empty campus. Paying tuition and still attending class, the university couldn’t call the police on them, and liable for their safety, could not destroy the bridge with them on it.

Intrigue, bribes, or betrayals. Few knew exactly how the bridge defenders were eventually undone after months of vigilance, and none of them were talking. All that is known is that someone didn’t keep their watch or call a replacement, and so the bridge was left empty on a moonless Thursday. The university took their chance. They tore the bridge down in the middle of the night.

Early classes brought the first batch of students to the site of the late bridge. All who looked upon the splinters strewn across the concrete felt something. Many shrugged away the discomfort in their chests, others sniffed and went quietly to their classes. A few protested, but their cries didn’t last. Those who’d manned the bridge walked away with fingers curled and jaws tight.

Friday night, Greek parties stilled, a take-back-the-night event was rescheduled, young-adult bible study and bowling placed on hold. Under the slightest sliver of a moon they arrived on the empty concrete walk and passed around sledgehammers.

Legal Theft returns (I think). I stole the line They tore the bridge down in the middle of the night from Apprentice, Never Master. If this crime spree continues, you can find the thieves ….