Gentlemen Demons

The thieves hit the Neptune Playhouse during the third act of a particularly affecting rendition of Doctor Faustus.  As the doctor bargained with his demonic muse on stage, three guests left their seats to find their way deep into the labyrinthian bowels of the building.

Once below, the downed lights and scuttle of unseen stagehands covered their steps. In the narrow corridors, the dark swaddled men were shadows amidst other, more innocent, shadows.  No stagehand, costumer, or actor felt an undeserved bite of blade that evening. Wanton violence was the mark of brutes and amateurs, the thieves who slipped smoothly from open dressing room to waiting wings did so with long-collected practice.

Tension grew on stage and lapped over the audience as the fate of Doctor Faustus drew ever nearer. The damned doctor, still arrogant, and now frightened, stared upwards at Lucifer’s puppeted mouthpiece. Faustus realized his stalemate with the infernal forces was broken.

The thieves, now clothed in flashing crimson and twisted masks, waited for the diabolical crow of the lead devil on stage. Crackling laughter rose from the carved mouthpieces, working in tandem with the puppeteer’s cackling voice. At the cue, the thieves sprang onto the stage, cavorting and snarling like the demons whose faces they wore.

They descended on the ruined Faustus, one on each arm, and the last to clear the way to hell, red and black strips of cloth fluttering like wings from their shoulders. The audience leaned back as the thieves dragged the pleading doctor towards the edge of the stage.

The actors behind the mouthpiece missed their counts as their hellish minions began to carry the doctor up the aisle and through their enraptured audience, the maniacal devil at a loss for words. The doctor in comparison writhed and screamed in the most convincing manner as he was hauled up the velvet path by seemingly his fellow cast members. The audience loved the turn and the engaging conflict inches away from their seats. A critic in attendance would write a glowing review of the lead’s performance in tomorrow’s paper.

The third thief, the one with his hands free of the struggling lead, flourished a deep bow to the rows of seats and the distant stage. Faced with the attention of the grinning demon the audience shrank back and more than a few giggled nervously, entirely caught up in the drama. The effect successful, the third thief kicked open the lobby doors for his fellows.

The kidnappers’ impish masks grinned at each other as they dragged their victim past the shocked concessions attendants and into the street outside. No one at the theater managed to form much response, torn between the desire to maintain the audiences apparent glee, the time worn tradition of show perseverance, and the now glaring absence of their lead and titular character. They performed the final bow without him, which confused the crowd as all would have liked to see Doctor Faustus and the cavorting yet gentlemanly demons from only moments before.

It took too many precious moments before anyone realized how truly wrong the situation was, but by that time, the people thieves were long gone.

The above it a result of this Wordle Prompt by Mindlovesmisery Menagerie.

Blight and Bloom

We cut the trees and bled the rivers for our mills. We burnt the green away and harrowed the soil. We built our houses, fields, and lives nestled in the forest’s wound. It is human nature to build.

And build we did. Our settlement became the seed of a great city, though its fulfillment was lifetimes away. First, they came.

From the groves and glens we spared, they slipped from shadow and sunbeam to walk among us. Many things. Dark things, with skin the color the frozen earth. Light things, whose hair fell down their backs like noon sun. Beautiful things, deadly things.

With them the blight and the bloom descended.  Crops died, withering in field, cellar, and kitchen. Others grew. They budded and swelled. Tomatoes grew fat overnight until they broke their stems and burst overripe on the dirt. Wheat rotted in the fields days after planting.

Our bodies, foreign to the wilds and its ravages, perished. Young and old, godly and sinful. Their touch was as capricious as spring rain. As some of us shrank down to bone and skin, other’s grew large with growths and weeping sores.

They played and punished like gods.  And for a time we prayed and repented as if they were. But they were cold and grinning things, and we and the beginnings of our great city had trespassed.

The forest reclaimed our fields and began its work on our homes, retaking its flesh as vines pulled apart window slates and floor boards we’d cut from the trees. Our home was almost unmade.

Still, some hoped. We’d planted seeds of steel, sweat, and stone in the old forest, and those are not easily dislodged. With this spirit, the eldest children of four families remained whole. They would not see their dreams of spires and great walls denied. Three sons, Ward, Wolfe, and Wilde,  and one daughter, Wren,  sought out the beautiful deadly things at the tree’s edge.

Nothing said on that day is known. But a bargain was struck, for Ward, Wolfe, Wilde, and Wren walked past the tree line and were not seen again for some time. With them, the deadly things departed.

Blight and Bloom faded from our lives. We nursed the living back to life and buried the dead beneath our fields. Our harvest was a good one that year, though not overly abundant, which many were softly thankful for.

The years passed and we remade our town. It was odd at first, building the tailor’s shop over the cobbler’s,  stacking house over house and winding stairs about it all. But so we grew, up and never out, lest we disturb the treeline and the things that waited there.

Ward, Wolfe, Wilde, and Wren returned to the town when it was an ugly tottering thing, too afraid to of its borders to grow properly. They were children no more, but decades into life and smiling like the blight and bloom had never come.

There were those in the town who thought to turn them away.  On their left hands, they wore shining rings,  and with their right, they led children to our gates. The toddlers and babes were beautiful people with hair like summer and skin like frozen earth.

The wise did not against the four and their children. We flung the gates open and sung songs for their return. They’d saved us so many years ago, they’d saved a city that would eventually be.

Not sure if I did this right, but I attempted the “Stories By 5” prompt which can be found here. 

Let Me At My Name

My name means pearl, smooth and pale

The treasure nestled in the cleft of slender throat

A soft bow, a weak glow

The collar about a housewife immortalized on screen

No edges, soft simplicity

The pride of sorority, an insidious slur of fraternity.

Let me at my name

The label of my make, my assemblage

Turn those pale orbs to teeth

The sharp things that gleam brightly from dark corners

A grinned promise to cheat behind fanned cards

The warning to those who would pry me from my home

To string me around their necks

The bared reminder that there is bite in me

It has been a long week, and I didn’t have time to finish the normal fiction, so you all get punished with something vaguely resembling poetry. Mindlovemisery Menagerie‘s Wordle prompt is to blame!

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?

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

Flash Fiction: Certainly Harmless

Red lantern light and the smell of edelweiss wine. He breathed deep, enjoying the agitation in his chest. The cobblestone remained crimson, stained in the light, and he could taste the putrid sweetness of drink in the air.

Memory is only a distant descendant of occurrence, he suspected time in its irrevocable advance had smoothed out recollections of the mild unpleasantness he’d encountered here. But that was years ago, he was taller now and better dressed.

Most men, however, never changed. And neither did their choice pleasures. A red lantern hung in every window on the narrow street. The street’s patrons, grimy and grinning, loped between the glass ready to empty their purses on the delights within.

Women though, he thought, catching a doxy watching him askance from her doorway. He’d always found them admirably adaptable. When capturing someone’s heart or coin, the right pout and angle of eye were refined tools compared to knife or truncheon.

The mechanics of these minute transformations remained a mystery to him, one that he occasionally mused over in a ludic light. The doxy sniffed, flicking ash from a cheap pipe in his direction. He decided to keep walking. The dismissal was familiar. Perhaps it was the cut of his coat, or the set of his jaw, but something informed these red-lit women he wasn’t interested in the pleasures they offered most men.

A curse at times, so used to being up for sale, they were wary of any not buying.  Not that he blamed them. He adopted a soft smile, not exactly guileless, but certainly harmless. They had their charms, he had his, and it was time to put them to use.

Couldn’t pass up this Wordle Prompt, once again thank you Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie for supplying. 

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