Practiced Excuses

“It’s not my fault, there was a sale.”

Lane lifted her nose from the textbook. Her mother’s voice murmured something else from the bedroom, muffled from across the mobile home. “Mom?” Lane asked aloud. There was no answer so Lane abandoned her homework on the kitchen table.

The scratched laminate crackled under her diminutive weight as she padded over to the ajar door. Inside her mother practiced excuses in front of the mirrored closet. “I’m going to return most of it anyway,” she cooed, running a hand down the front of her pearl-buttoned blouse.  Shopping bags covered the bunched coverlet on the bed.

“Who are you talking to?” Lane asked.

Her mother jumped, hand vibrating over her heart. She pursed her lips when she saw Lane. “Baby. What the hell? You need to stop sneaking around like that.”

Lane stepped half into the room. She flicked her eyes to the bags and new clothes.

“There was a sale, and it’s been forever since I’ve done anything for myself. I’ve been so busy taking care of you. But I got you something.” Her mother grabbed one of the shopping bags and brandished it at Lane, the woman’s gray eyes fever bright and dilated. Lane didn’t move, though her expression crumbled. Her mother huffed and dropped the bag. “And you’re always ungrateful.”

Lane’s fingers went white and bloodless curled around the bedroom door. “There’s no food in the kitchen mom. There hasn’t been any in days.  How much did all this cost and what are you on? Ms. Alders–.”

Her Mother interrupted her with a furious wide eyed stare, like an enraged bull. “–Your caseworker can’t tell me how to be a mother. I’ve seen her handbag and those Coach boots, who’s she to tell me what I can spend my money on? I’ll just explain.” Lane’s mother went back to the mirror, smoothing her blouse again and angling her narrow chin at her own reflection.

Lane watched the woman mutter agitated replies to some unknown critic before Lane gave up, massaging blood back into her fingers and leaving the bedroom.

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.

Flirting with Normalcy

The Ninth Circle Club opened at eight, but no one of any consequence arrived before eleven. Ashlyn Abel showed up at midnight.

The bouncer outside took the time to shine his penlight between her face and her ID, multiple times.  Unable to deny her or the fifty she’d tucked under the plastic card, he pressed the door open and the bass inside wafted over the line just long enough for Ashlyn to slip through into the dark interior. “Happy Birthday.” The bouncer said before the door snapped off the sounds of the street

Ashlyn descended down the twisting hallway, her heels coming down heavy against the slanted floor. The hallway ended, leaving her on the upper level of the club proper. Here, bottle service booths and the bar overlooked the pit below, where most of the clubs dancers pressed against each other in a sea of arms and shoulders.  She watched them for a song.

The bar was easy to find, lit with icy blue light and surrounded by club goers trying to catch the staffs’ eyes. Even with her heels, Ashlyn had to lean up on her toes to set her elbows on the high bar. She ordered something through the din, hoping the bartender could read lips.  While she waited, Ashlyn took the opportunity to soak up the noise and appreciate the solitude of the crowd.

Being here was, at best, foolish, and at worst, dangerous. Alone, without friends who were bodyguards, or siblings who acted as bodyguards, or just people her father hired to be plain old bodyguards, Ashlyn was vulnerable. But it was her twenty-first birthday, and she wanted that first legal drink normal teenagers and early college students fantasized about.

While others’ teen years were reduced to raiding parents’ cabinets and begging older siblings for cigarettes and plastic bottled vodka, Ashlyn had personally overseen her father’s shipments into and out of the city, watching over boxes and flats filled with every illicit substance a teenager could ever want. Long before her twenty-first birthday, she’d strolled through bordello, den, casino, and other houses of ill repute and no one had been stupid enough to look at her funny, much less ask her for an ID.

Now, mere minutes into that birthday, Ashlyn wanted the rite of passage, even if it was meaningless.  The bartender set her drink down and she placed a twenty on the bar, taking the symbolic glass of rum and coke with her to the railing. Below her, other, normal people enjoyed themselves. Ashlyn sipped her drink slowly, savoring the unremarkable taste.


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. 

Legal Theft: Reserved

Ada Bellamy looked up from her phone, drawing her perfect blonde eyebrows together in a little frown. The lodge’s pinnacle suite was only for the select. Its views of the virgin mountain and its white slopes reserved for those with the tastes to appreciate them. The course giggling coming from the barroom had no place here.

Two women in year old Gucci hung themselves on the bar. Someone, his back to her in an acceptable Burberry jacket, was buying them drinks. Ada’s lips thinned to a line, even her kind could lapse in judgement.

The two nouveau riche stopped their braying when Ada slipped herself into their benefactor’s arm. “There you are.”

The man’s reaction was slow, caught between the women around him and what Ada suspected was not his first glass of whiskey. His cologne was too subtle to entirely hide the sour reek emanating from his skin. Ada flicked a glance down her nose at the interlopers before he could encourage them further. “The club is on the bottom floor.”

Their overly crimson lips gaped at her, until one of them found their voice “We–”

“Do you need someone to show you?” Ada interrupted. She snapped her fingers towards one of the thick-necked polyester suits hovering along the walls. The guard jerked to attention. Ada didn’t bother with pretense. “These women are lost, kindly show them downstairs.”

Everyone in the lounge watched as the two women were herded towards the door and the elevators outside. Ada ignored them, she wasn’t one for scenes, but it had to be done. Potential scandal averted, Ada looked up at the man who’d let the vermin in.

Like her, his features possessed a narrowness that displayed good breeding. His short gold hair and pale green eyes complemented a mouth currently set in rigid annoyance. No, Ada corrected, noting the hard vein disappearing into his collar, not annoyed, furious.

He loosed himself from her. “I do not enjoy meddling in my affairs.”

“And I do not enjoy affairs in my lounge.” Ada sniffed and leaned in front of him to give the bar staff a pointed look. In less than twenty seconds they placed a martini before her. Ada picked it up and sipped.

“Your lounge?” He set his back against the bar, still glaring down at her over sharp cheekbones “My father donates, pays his dues. Our guests are allowed here. ”

“Do you know who my father is?” She asked, smoothing her platinum hair over her shoulder of her sheath dress. Ada didn’t miss the look he drew up her narrow hips.

“Should I?” He asked.

“Well, you’re bringing parvenu to his lounge, so yes, you should.” Ada tapped the bar again and the staff set another glass of whiskey down for him. “He’s obsessed with the mountain, very intent on keeping it safe from millionaires, their tacky ski cottages, and their tacky wives too.”

The vein at his throat disappeared as he took the glass. He raised it to her, “My mistake then.  Is there anything I can do to make it up to you and your father, Ms…?” He took a large drink.

“Ada Bellamy.”

He nodded. “I’m Dalton Orellio. Do let me know.”

Ada nodded and took her drink back to the window. She had a few ideas.

 I am loyal thief to the Legal Theft Project. This week I have stolen the line “Do you know who my father is?” from Bek’s piece, The Truth, and written my own with it.

Legal Theft: Collapse

There was no hiding from sleep. It found him and threatened his work with shaking hands and bleary eyes. And so he fought it away with tea, then coffee, and when the respected tools failed him, pills. Those worked for a time.

Empty mugs crowded the surfaces around him like wards. Every so often he would force them farther to the edges of the workbenches for another sketch, a bit of prototype, or tool. It was a bad sign when a mug finally tipped over the edge to shatter over the concrete floor, and he could only blink at the dregs and broken ceramic, wondering what to do about it.

The mess stayed where it was. He was too tired to leave his work, a bent knee was close to the floor. And everything looked comfortable at this point.

He could not hide from sleep, but he could glare at it, and curse the heaviness threatening to collapse his eyelids, and fear what it would bring when sleep finally overtook him.

Short heist this week for the Legal Theft Project. The first line came from More than 1/2 Mad.