Legal Theft: A Greedy Thing

His magic had never failed him before, and now a boy was dead. It had to happen at some point. 

Kira looked down and covered her ears. Her palms drowned out the lap of the waves against the hull, and the subtle splash of the charms hitting the water as the mourners dropped them over the side. It did not stop their muted thoughts as the rolled about inside her skull.

And what did they expect, trusting an outsider to teach one of their own? Poor kid, it wasn’t his fault. Maybe his mother’s, possibly the mage’s, certainly whoever had let the whole thing go on so long…

She left the mourners to their rituals. It’d been foolish to think she’d find any solace in them, or in the ugly thoughts of the others. Outside the small gathering honoring the victims of the storm, life continued. The wind died to a breeze and the sun emerged, drying the decks. The rumble of talk filled the spaces between the creak and snap of mast and sail.

…and now a boy was dead

Kira’s thin fingers clenched the fabric of her skirt as she hurried past the easy labor and idle chatter. She desperately wished to reach out and wreck something. Share with them the horrific potential each moment possessed to undo everything. Kira wanted to punish them for waking in the morning to go to their work. For daring to grumble, and chuckle, and gripe about the frayed ropes and waterlogged sails when she was living in an unmade reality.

Except the universe was a greedy thing. It wasn’t enough that it had taken her brother in its flurry of wind and water. Now stirring deep in the petty minds around Kira, it conspired to deprive her of a teacher, this outsider and mage. Working in people’s sideways eyes and whispered words, it would steal the only person who shared a piece of her broken world. Who’d cared for her brother the way people ought to have.

She would not help the greedy thing along.  Kira knew what thoughts would fester in minds, she’d seen their roots.

The man can’t control his own student, and he’s just got the one now. Making bad situations worse. You heard what she did, someone should be held responsible… 

They’d drive him out.

So Kira twisted her skirt in her fingers until the course fabric nearly tore. She fled from the others, keeping her head down and her mind lashed tightly to herself until she could find a place her brother would have liked. Someplace secluded and quiet, away from the loudness of people and their vapid ignorant thoughts.

Legal Theft again. You have The Gate in the Wood to thank for the angst, as I was challenged to steal their first line. 

Flash Fiction: Efficiency and Error

“There were only ten hours left.” Adam sighed through his chiseled nose and leaned down over his office desk at me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen my boss elsewhere. The television I think. I had the absurd thought he must be attached to the sleek wood now, some sort of corporate centaur, half-man, half-polished mahogany. “Ten hours. What did I ask you to do in those ten hours?”

I refused to look at my hands. If I had done something wrong, I might have. Contrition certainly would have eased the temper brewing behind that desk. Adam possessed a formidable one. Behind the practiced calm and pressed suits, a ruddy spitting rage waited. I met Adam’s eyes. “Nothing.”

“And what did you do?” The pressed collar of his shirt dug into his neck. I watched a vein twitch at the corner of his still very full hairline.

He wanted me to say it, I would say it. It brought me some satisfaction, between the two of us, only one had done the right thing. “Something.”

A tight-lipped smile from him, a deep breath from me. “Yes, why?” Adam asked.

“He didn’t do it. Which you know. And he didn’t deserve it. Which you also know. Now you have to manage your own mess. I have no doubt you can.” It was the truth. Adam would salvage this. His honest smile and commitment to family values always went far with the constituency.

I’d sparred the object of Adam’s machinations. Sacrificial lamb, fall-guy, scapegoat, Adam’s youngest brother. That doe-eyed idiot was on a plane to the States by now, alive if not proven innocent. All in ten hours. Adam is efficient, so am I. We’ve worked together for a long time after all.

The rage never came, never boiled over. I pressed my back to the chair, waiting for the rubber band to snap. It did not. Cold seeped under my ribs. Adam matched my calm and with every tranquil second between us, my sense of error grew.

Adam nodded once, accepting my words with the precise motion. He motioned to his office door. I moved quickly, eager to escape the too placid waters. Adam would salvage the scandal, that I had no doubt.

The footsteps behind me in the hall were soft. Barely audible behind the accompanying glide of plastic and gunmetal on suit jacket.

Theif, scoundrel, burglar, bandit, rogue, call me what you will, I’ve stolen a first line and wrote this as a result, all for the Legal Theft Project.   

Nowhere Diner

Her problems faded out of sight in the rear-view mirror and she relished the roar of the highway wind. It carried with it the sunny smell of the cornfields and the biting aroma of potential rain. She pressed her foot down until she smelled gas.

Flatlands occasionally broke into crisscrossed grids of main streets, salt-ridden franchises, and dust-turned-mud parking lots.  She wished for green lights and turned the concrete settlements to shrinking specks in the car’s mirrors.

The storm caught her after the state line, shoveling sheets of rain against her windshield and casting the road in kaleidoscopes of headlight, asphalt, and street sign. With sliding tires and a hollow stomach, she turned her little car towards the next glow of neon civilization. Leaning over the steering wheel, squinting into the storm, she found the buzzing lights of the diner at a crossroad.

The busgirl nodded at her to find a seat.

Night came on fast outside. From the window she watched the bleary horizon disappear in the dark and rain. The storm did not lessen. Impatient, she ordered food when the waiter asked if she wanted coffee. Amidst the plastic menus, the plastic seats, and the plastic cheese on her tuna melt, it was hard to imagine the wild crash and howl.

It still raged when she peeled herself off the booth. She walked towards the door keys in hand.

“You should wait out the storm.” Someone said when her fingers were on the doorknob. She twisted to look at the young-ish man in the booth near the door. He had a cup of coffee and a half-eaten veggie burger in front of him. He was the only one in the diner looking at her.

“With you?” She was too tired to properly sneer. The long clear highway was gone, replaced by a blind run through the night and her mood had soured. The last thing she wanted was trouble in a nowhere diner.

“Oh,” He frowned at her insinuation. She noticed his book now, open and propped to the side of his plate. “No. Please don’t, it’s a small table. I mean here, in the diner, like everyone else is. It’s dangerous out there, in that type of storm.”

“That type?” She said, not asking, as her brows knit together. She grimaced her lips into a polite smile. “Thank you, I’ll be fine.”

The man shrugged and shifted himself back to his book. He looked back up again when the bell above the door fell silent. Outside the blur that was her remained for a moment, visible in the diner’s exterior floodlights. As he watched, she faded, rubbed out by the highway storm.

A thief once, a thief always, I stole the first line of this piece as part of the Legal Theft Project

A Surgeon’s Hand

The first slide of her hand was effortless, easy, done before she had thought through just how to begin. Flesh parted like rubber beneath her scalpel. Across the table, Ali breathed heavily through her nose. Tera ignored her lab mate’s distress and continued the assignment.

After another two incisions Tera peeled back the clammy square of skin with a gloved finger. Beneath, the larynx was intact. She noted the bloodless vocal folds and her mouth twitched with pleasure beneath her mask. Faced with their success, Ali stumbled away gasping.

Her lab mate wasn’t the only one experiencing problems. More than a few of the students stepped away from their own cadavers, staring upwards at the ceiling while they fought for bodily control. In the corner of the classroom, an unfortunate young man heaved the contents of his stomach into a trashcan.

Their instructor surveyed his under-performing class with a frown. No amount of encouragement returned the blanching pre-meds to their thawing assignments. He only brightened when he peered over Tera’s shoulder. “Good focus Ms. Rivera.” He nodded to her and moved to the next occupied table.

“You too Ms. Gallagher, lateral incision well done.”

Tera looked up, curious. The instructor moved on, trying to coax the retching man into the hallway. But the other student still at her cadaver, Ms. Gallagher,  met Tera’s eyes. The two shared a smile beneath their respective masks. While their classmates wrestled with churning stomachs and clammy hands, they returned to the task at hand with precision and ease.

Young and Quiet Things

Deep within the yew and cottonwoods, the beast waited. Across the gentle river, a town bolted their doors and did the same, stringing garlands of garlic flowers over their doors.

The beast’s belly was swollen, limbs sore and lacking their normal strength. She was young for her kind and had never experienced the waves of bone-deep pain before. Never had her body betrayed her so, the sharp aches overtaking her like a tide. She sunk against the base of a flowering yew.

Before she’d lost herself amidst the rotting trunks and towering trees, she’d wandered between midwife, inn, and doctor. They shied from her like their horses did from wolves, white around their eyes and nostrils flaring at her scent. When all had turned her away, they closed the gates. Fear, normally a gift to her kind, condemned her. Now, cradled only in moss and mud, she cursed the squat little town and its rank flowers.

The day ebbed away into night, the sky first deepening to amethyst first and then pitch.Her sensitive eyes welcomed the respite and the night air called steam from her burning skin.

In the depths of the woods, the beast gave birth to a son. The babe curled silent but warm as his mother on the forest floor. No longer alone, the took him in her arms and pressed her lips to his brow. He did not cry, as their kind were quiet things.

The new mother cradled her young, cleaning him as best she could with her shift and soiled coat.

Scenting blood nearby, an ambling bear approached the little clearing between the trees. Its head up and nose twitching, the animal stopped when as it came upon the two.

The beast met the bear’s glassy dark eyes. Her arms were occupied by the now squirming and bloody baby.  The animal’s nose twitched, scenting the thing beneath the gore. It whined deep in its throat, shuffling its swinging body backward. It left as quickly as it could through the dense undergrowth.

She watched the bear go, content to let it leave. There would be time for food later, for now, she smiled down at her son and wriggled her fingers before his face. Already quick and alert, the boy’s face lit up at the movement. She repeated the game and he squirmed with delight.

The beast settled against the flowering yew. Morning would come soon enough. The town would breathe in relief and gather their garlands, they’d go about their short lives and some would forget. The beast would not.

For now though, with her son pressed to her chest and the serene silence of the cottonwoods and yew around them, the beast could wait.

Tenacious Niceness, Reliable Distrust

When mountain ranges cut across the horizon before and behind her and the blue Toyota still hovered in her rearview mirror, Terrin’s better judgment gave way to curiosity.  She slowed the car towards a turnoff.

In the passenger’s seat, Lys twisted and stared at their tail. The weak sunlight glinted off the sedan’s windshield as it approached. Alone, and in Shifter territory, this was the last thing they needed.  “Terrin, what are you doing?”

“They’re following us,” Terrin explained. A small turn out of packed dirt provided a break from the winding mountain road. Their car trundled over the uneven ground, rocking them back and forth in their seats.

“Yah, and now they’re catching us. Why are we stopping?” Sometimes Lys wondered what was loose in her friend’s head.

“They probably just want to see why we are here.” They pulled to a complete stop, heat rising off the car in the morning air. Terrin unbuckled her seat belt. “It’s their territory. We should explain why we’ve come.”

“And a deserted mountain road is the perfect place to do it,” Lys said and followed Terrin out of the car frowning. The cold hit her immediately. She fought a yawn “Not everyone can be won over by your tenacious niceness.”

Terrin couldn’t entirely hide her smile, she was nervous and Lys’ characteristic distrust was comforting in its reliability.  “Worked on you.”

The blue Toyota pulled into the turn off behind them. The two men who stepped outside were covered in vintage tattoos and wore their beards neatly trimmed. One even had suspenders over a rolled white shirt. They looked like outdoorsy hipsters, nothing like the insular pack of creatures Lys had described.

Do not think I don’t regret that occasionally,” Lys said beneath her breath. Terrin ignored the grumble for what it was and prepared a wide smile for the two wary strangers.

This first line (and one of the characters) was provided by The Gate in the Wood as part of the Legal Theft Project.

Audacity and the Arts

The clumsy notes stopped, dropping the music room into silence. Miss Devitt exhaled through her nose. She slapped the small fingers resting inactive on the piano keys next to her. Only one person in the world could make her this angry. Teaching an idiot child the masterpieces was proving aggravating. “Theodore, pay attention.”

The boy winced and quickly resumed his graceless practice scales. Miss Devitt corrected his lazy wrist and a misplaced note with another rap on the knuckles.

Satisfied, though hardly pleased, she swept up from the bench and went to check on Theodore’s sister. The young girl was faithfully copying from a composer’s book at the center table. Miss Devitt sniffed loudly and the girl sat a little straighter, eyes widening in panic as she wrote.

Miss Devitt nodded at the girl’s elegant, if novice, script. There was hope for her at least. She was about to say so when the ungainly piano notes stopped again. Miss Devitt whirled.

With his back to her, Miss Devitt could not see his distant gaze but she knew it was there. His fingers hit a random key, and then another, moving between them dreamily.

“To your scales.” She commanded. The boy, lost in his idle thoughts, didn’t respond and Miss Devitt cursed the day she was ever charged with these impossible children. Next to her, his sister groaned audibly.

“Theodore!” Devitt snapped and charged, causing Theodore to rouse from his daydream and hit the keys with a burst of frantic noise. As Miss Devitt snatched his wrist and loomed, devising a punishment to definitively put the boy’s indolence to rest, he stared up at her in terror, sensing the last of his teacher’s patience dissolve.

The scrape of a chair interrupted them. Both looked over at Theodore’s sister as she stood. The girl leveled a finger at the music teacher. “Leave him alone!” She ordered, then squeaked at her own daring.

Miss Devitt blinked. Theodore took the opportunity to free his wrist while the she stared down the two seven-year-olds and the audacity of the whole situation. This was precisely why this country was going to shite. No respect for authority or the arts.

A long moment passed silently in the music room. Finally, Miss Devitt sniffed. “Very well, but be assured. The reasons for my resignation shall be communicated to your parents. Good day.”

And with that, she swept from the room and the twins were left without a music teacher. They looked between each other, until one nervously giggled, causing the other to burst with laughter.