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. 

Yet, Unbloodied

He stared at the space where his car had been only four hours before.  A minute passed, his shoes sinking into the sodden grass. It was long enough for him to contemplate the inherent unfairness of the universe and realize no amount of concerted willing would summon the dented sedan back to the muddy curb.

Not in the city even a day, he started walking across it.

Halfway across grids of stained asphalt and concrete neighborhoods, the tow lot was nearly closed. He considered the cars behind the chain link and barbed wire. Concluding he wasn’t the first person to think of it, he entered the office instead. The attendant looked up from her pink-covered novel. “We close in fifteen minutes.”

“Good think I’m here now.” The two stared at each other down across the dirty carpet. This was a battle she fought daily, he was as of yet, unbloodied. He spoke again before she could tell him to get out, “I think you have my car.”

“You think?” Her nostrils flared and she put down the pink book. Behind them the minute hand of the clock ticked up towards ten.

He gave her the license plate number and she roused the ancient computer and its block of a monitor. The hands of the clock twitched towards closing time.

“Four hundred fifty two. Cash or check.” The attendant printed the invoice and slapped it down on the ancient desk between them with a haste that was almost helpful. She pushed a ballpoint pen at him too.

Like the vacant space his car had become, he stared at the assemblage of numbers on the paper in front of him as his thoughts swelled against the banality of his predicament. The universe was so very uninspired in its cruelty. “I don’t have that.”

The woman tapped the laminated pages taped to the desk top. “Fee and charge breakouts are there. A hundred fifty is added for each additional day before pick up. We close in– four minutes.”

“I don’t even have tonight’s amount. How could I pay tomorrow’s?” Disbelief more than anything ruined his ability to act inappropriately. He looked up from the rows of charges. “What happens to my car?”

“It stays until the charges get larger than its value. Then the city auctions it. I’d say you have a week or two” He watched helplessly as the attendant picked up her book and sat down again. “Two minutes.”

Long immune to strangers’ misfortune, she ignored him as he internally worked out the math, and then the rapid stages of grief for the loss of his car. He left when the clock hit ten. Less than a day in the city, and he was already trapped here.

Thievery Abhors

The island’s docks were not entirely as I’d left them. Gulls cried, sailors swore, rope and canvas snapped in the wind as they always had. But the warriors coming down the dockside market street were new. I held up a hand to keep my crew steady. There had been rumors.

Black ink twined around the newcomer’s arms in stylized serpent’s coils. The fresh tattoos were dark and bright in the morning sun. I stepped down to meet them.

“So the old snake managed to take the castle?” This was the archipelago’s largest island and possessed the only fortress among them. Competing families fought for control of the stone castle. The bloody clashes crowned a king for a decade or two before they were ousted in the next spectacle. My own kindred lost the place a century ago. We’d largely given up on it since then,  Apparently, management changed again. I recognized the snake symbol, Rais had made a move.

The leader of the small band sneered, the corner of his nose twisting. “Not so old Fortunatta.”

I shrugged. My eldest brother ran the family now, I’d leave it to him to assure the snake we weren’t interested in his nest. My brothers and I still hunted merchants to bring wealth back to the isles, we had better things to do than fight over a meaningless crumble of stone and mortar. “Take any political matters up with Adan. It’s been a profitable season, I’ve got cargo to unload.”

It would be foolish to turn my back to him, especially with blood running hot from a recent victory. Instead, I waited for them to back down. The leader only smiled. “That’s good as we’re here to collect the tariff.”

I didn’t like his smug reaction to my sudden confusion. “There are no tariffs on Skye,” I said.

“Now there are. Things are going to be civilized from now on.” The leader said through yellow teeth. Behind him, others leaned forward ready. I wondered how many Captains had bought this amateur shake-down. “Twenty percent of the take.”

“Get off my dock. Pirates don’t pay taxes.”  Now I did turn my back on him.

He laughed as I walked back to my ship. “You’re going to have to take that up with the king. He’s quite serious about it,” The leader called.

I stopped, wishing the bruisers would have attacked me. It would have been a proper fight instead of shouted absurdities. I turned back around, conscious of my crew waiting still and ready to see what I would do. “Then the king can take it up with me.”

Their departure did nothing to quiet the brewing unease in my gut. Something had changed, and it wasn’t just the flags flying distant on those castle walls.

A brief continuation of the Thievery Series I started back in December.


A Brazen Charm

The wind was, like everything else in the city’s sprawl, artificial. It rushed up from the baked freeways to blister the hillside homes of the rich. There it rippled indigo pools before cutting itself on the jutting angles of glass and concrete.

Stepping from the car onto the drive, she looked up at the pale planes and grudgingly admitted there was a brazen charm to the monstrosity hanging off the brown hills. The car rolled away, leaving her and her men on the drive.

Upon entering the white walls, those men lost themselves in the glittering crowd. They would enjoy themselves among the other guests until needed. She could not disappear so easily.

A sea of bronze legs, vicious clavicles, and ombre hair parted for her. She told herself it was the confident cut of her chin, the jut of her shoulders, the pale planes of her face. That the contoured faces noted a brazen charm that came from being where one shouldn’t.

The angle of their plump lips said otherwise.

The host found by the sparkling pool, having abandoned the conditioned interiors for a view of the illuminated grids below. Like her, he did not seem to belong here. His clothes were his own, rough, practical, and fashionable only two hundred miles to the south. The ugly gun at his hip would quickly offend any West coast sensibility.

But this was his home, carved out in the hills to overlook a kingdom.

She dipped her head in greeting and complimented the appeal of his house. He waived away the compliment, explaining it brought pretty women. It was probably the truth, but also a courtesy to her presence as he delivered the line with a rogue’s smile.

He knows she is a newcomer. An unknown mostly, except that she seeks to carve out her own place. A place on the hills perhaps. He asks how she is finding the city so far.

She admits that she doesn’t and that in kind, the city does not seem to like her either. They look out at the glow of the valley together. She smiles at the darkening hillside and the lights stretching beneath them. She intends to grow on it though, and tells him so.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles to write something to or inspired by Disclosure’s Magnets, which features a personal favorite of mine, Lorde.  The above piece, and last weeks post on Raw Rambles, is the result. 

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

Sick Strange Darkness

She’d always resided behind his eyes. In the darkness floating above his bed, the space between his waking thoughts and the blurred abyss of sleep. Since his twelfth birthday, when his father had passed the binding to him, she’d found him in his dreams.

Now watching his own son turn fitfully beneath the bed covers, plagued perhaps by her warm sepia eyes, he turns away. “Come home.” Her voice hums deep inside his skull.

He’d thought to be free of her. He’d even thought himself clever. If the cursed cuff, that evil twist of metal, was her call, her beacon, surely it’s departure would free them? He’d pushed it over across that velvet table himself when the cards had spoken. Won by another in a poker game, he was done with the thing, with her.

That night she came to him as she’d never before. With hair like webs and skin that burned at its touch, he drowned that night in his sheets. Three days later he was able to wrest himself from the warm depths of her arms. He woke up to a brilliant morning in a hospital bed. The doctors did not understand, but his father, now old and white-eyed, did and would not speak to him.

He leaves his own son’s room and walks the hallways to keep her at bay. One by one they’ve succumbed to her. Half his house sleep. He no longer bears her alone, she spreads like the inky silk of her hair into everything.

He comes to his bedroom door. It is locked, barred from within so the bed cannot tempt him. It does. He is tired, every blink is a small fight to stay away from her warm black depths. “Come home.” She whispers, her breath against his cheek.

His sheets would be cool, unused and soft. She would be so very warm. He leans against the door as if he could fall through the wood and into the hazy depths of her realm.  “Come home,” says the voice inside his head. He closes his eyes.

Raw Rambles picked this amazing cover by PHOX for us to write to for the Music Challenge this week. See what she wrote with their rendition of “I Miss You” in mind here.