Pine Needles and Grocery Bags

“Dad?” Nora shoved the kitchen door with her hip, peering into the room in search of help. It was empty and clean. Nora sighed and shuffled in, her arms hugging brown grocery bags. She leaned them down on the counter island and lept after an escaped onion.

Produce secured, Nora looked around and frowned at the empty sink. So no one had made anything. She left the groceries sitting with quick steps and followed the sounds of deep vocals and piano. The music swelled from the living room. Nora stepped in without announcing herself. Their tree was set up in the corner, electrically aglow.  Pine needles sprinkled the carpet.

Her father was alone in the armchair, their tree skirt crumpled at his feet. The Christmas box was open and Nora could see old cards. scattered within. The woman singing over the stereo mourned in a deep trill. “Hey dad, you found the skirt. Good.” Nora turned the corners of her mouth up.

“In the box with the rest of this stuff.” Her father waived the photo in his hand at her. An old Christmas card, one he’d insisted on despite his wife and teenage son’s rolled eyes. Nora had been ten. Too young for the indignity to smart. “She hated letting anyone else take the picture. Hated posed pictures,” He said, voice rough.

“Yup.” Nora supplied before he could continue and bent to pick up the tree skirt. “Glad we insisted though, so we have it. You hungry?”

“What time is it?” He was looking at the picture again, holding the edges carefully so his fingers did not touch anyones’ face.

“Seven. Dinner time.” Nora turned and switched off the dirge. Only the low thrum of electric lights took its space and Nora winced at the silence.

“–She liked that song.” Her father barely flicked his eyes up, still locked to the photo.

“That doesn’t sound like her.” Nora swallowed around the stutter in her throat. She set a hand on her father’s shoulder and squeezed. “It sounds like you. It sounds like Liam. But mom didn’t like sentimentality. Come on, I’m cooking.”

He didn’t respond and she almost plucked the photo away. Nora would have liked to rip it up, she savored what it would feel like to have the glossy print tear between her fingers. Instead, she kept her itching fingers at her sides until he looked at her. She smiled, forcing every ounce of warmth she had left through her teeth. “Come on. Don’t make me cook alone.”

Her father didn’t move at first, and the pressure grew in the back of Nora’s throat. He straightened his arms and pulled himself up.  Once standing, he kissed her on top of the head. “Shouldn’t you be worrying about school? Instead of me.”

“Its winter break dad,” Nora said. She led the way back to the kitchen and did not see her father’s face fall.  The grocery bags still sagged from their own weight on the counter. Nora started to unpack.

He cleared his throat. “Any word from Liam?”

When she shook her head, he only nodded.

Raw Rambles apparently likes depressing Christmas music, and she challenged me to write to it. Above is my piece, here is hers. 

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Flash Fiction: Fairs Fair

The library beckoned. Just visible beyond the cracked chamber door, past the bedroom, a separate room of oak, lined floor to ceiling with thick book spines. Aiden could smell the savory leather and woody pages from his place in the hallway. He closed his eyes, half on his toes, and steeled himself. There was ill-advised and then there was insanity. Sneaking a look at the headmaster’s collection was a definitive step into madness.

The door yawned a little wider. Aiden whined deep in his throat, he’d been doing so well. His fingers had kept themselves to their own pockets and he attended lessons most days.  He’d even made a friend who used words like unethical and imprudent. Things were going decently for Aiden at the strange school nestled into the side of New Orleans.

Another inch, and then another, the door slowly creaked itself open like dancer revealing skin.  Aiden could see more now, the hint of a desk in the warm glow of good reading light.  His feet decided for him, ball to heel, silent in his worn shoes. Aiden moved slowly into the larger room.

He ignored the larger bedchamber for the attached library. The pale light pooled in the doorway and Aiden could see it was more of a study than he’d supposed, complete with a desk and chairs. Except for a solidly carved cabinet, books completely took up the walls. Aiden’s fingers twitched at his sides.

The desk was set with its own enticements. A delicate silver orb with etched lines in geometric patterns, a small pyramid the color of dull charcoal. The air hummed on a frequency that drained the blood from his face. It fluttered in his chest, dumping electric adrenaline into his veins.

Aiden stepped fully into the library. As if set out for him, a single book was laid open on the desk’s surface.  He moved around the desk, already reading as he turned. The words themselves were fascinating but set within the text were drawn concentric circles pierced with lines and arrows. Scrawled next to them were handwritten notes in a script he did not recognize.

“You should take it.” A voice said. Aiden jumped, stumbling backward into the shelves. He looked up, Lark smiled at him from the doorway. Aiden almost apologized to the other student, then remembered where he was. This wasn’t Lark’s library.

“Why?” Aiden asked, now half-poised as if to bolt. If he got out it would only be Lark’s word against him. There were worse odds. The headmaster didn’t seem to like Lark.

“Because you want to read it. I won’t tell.” Lark said.

“I don’t trust you,” Aiden said.

“No reason to.” Lark agreed and stepped into the library as if it was his own. “But what have I to gain by admitting I was in the forbidden library too? There is no harm in reading, learning. That is why we’re here. And you won’t ever get another chance at that.” Lark flicked his eyes down at the book.

“Is it dangerous?” Aiden asked. He straightened and took a step towards the desk. Lark had a point.

“What isn’t? Still, the reward is often in the risk. Don’t you think?” The older boy’s smile was conspiratorial.

Aiden nodded slowly, knowing he was being told what he wanted to hear. But the headmaster had been clear, Aiden wasn’t to attempt anything this advanced. This was his only chance. Aiden reached down and closed the text before taking it in his hands. The leather was strangely warm.

“The door was open.” Aiden reasoned.

“Yes, it was,” Lark said. He stepped aside so Aiden could leave the room with the book embraced to his chest. Outside the softly lit library, the bedroom and the hallway seemed overly dark.  Aiden paused when Lark spoke again, stopping him. “Fair’s fair though, don’t tell anyone I was here either, hmm?”

“Yah. Fairs fair.” Aiden said. He didn’t stay to see if Lark remained in the library, but Aiden heard the door snap shut as he left.

Tickets and Trouble

They never left the back door open, but it was always unlocked. Simon strode towards it, cringing a little when his boots sounded too loud and the noise echoed off the wide alleyways flanking the theatre. The stagehands, hunched over their cigarettes near the door, looked up when he approached. They lobbed a few crude propositions his way and giggled when he buttoned his coat higher.

Simon breathed a small sigh of relief when the handle opened. He stepped inside and snapped the door closed just as quickly. The cold quiet of the outside cut off, replaced by the hum, patter, and roar of the theatre’s workings.

The dim overly warm corridors, formed with looped rope and false walls, presented a problem. He was quite lost before a patronly man carrying what looked to be a bushel of silk scarves stopped him. Praying the dark hid his face well enough, he stammered out a name. The man pointed him towards the actresses’ room, down one makeshift passage, without as much as a blink. Simon hurried away, unnerved by the man’s indifference.

Verity Kast’s dressing room door was ajar and Simon angled himself so he would not be seen, before knocking on the frame. Her voice, he recognized it from on stage and off, called from within, “come in.”

Simon toed open the door so it swung in. He leaned sideways past the frame but did not take a step inside.  “I certainly will not.”

A rustle of dressing gown and shuffle of bare feet was followed by the appearance of the actress at her door. When Verity recognized him, she rested herself against the frame. “Well, this is a pleasure. I did not expect you so soon. Tonight is only the dress rehearsal.”

Simon dug into the pocket of his coat. He withdrew a folded envelope, marked with a broken wax seal of a rose shade. “A single ticket, to opening night, personally addressed and gifted to me. Are you trying to get me in trouble?”

“Simon–”

“Mr. Ivanov.” He corrected.

Verity’s plum-stained lips quirked as she fought a smile. “Mr. Ivanov. How can I get you in trouble, if you haven’t done anything wrong?”

“I haven’t, nor do I intend to.” He said flatly and held out the envelope. This close he could see the brush of freckles over her nose, dark against her deep olive skin. “Which is why you should take this back.”

Verity held Simon’s gaze with hers for a long moment before she complied. Her fingers brushed his as she took the folded paper. “You know, if your sisters had found it, you could have explained me away, simply a poor besotted actress with sights above her station. You wouldn’t be in trouble.”

“And set them on your trail?” Simon adjusted his gloves.

“You admit some regard for me then?” Verity asked. She played with the envelope, running her oval-cut nails under the paper’s crease.

“They are protective, and … dogged when crossed. You have a good career, I don’t understand why you would put that at risk.” Simon looked away from her, back the way he’d come. It wouldn’t do for him to get lost again.

“Of course you don’t.” Verity straightened with a sigh. “Straight back that way, then two lefts once you pass costuming. That’ll get you into the alley. Next time I’ll send tickets to your sisters, do you think they’ll bring you along?”

Simon paused, “I can ask.”

“Do.” Verity slipped her hand around the doorknob, leaning on it as she teased him “now go, before I get a reputation for having young men in my dressing room.”

“You mean you don’t already?” Already half turned away, he raised an eyebrow at her.

“Not in polite circles. I’m more careful than you think.” Verity said, her slow grin more crooked than it been before. “Goodnight Simon.”

Verity shut the door before Simon could correct the uncalled-for familiarity. He stood staring at the closed dressing room before he shook his head at himself and turned to find his way out.

Summer Shade

The placid water of the bay looked like pitch beneath the railing of her ship.

Mar could not love her home as she’d been raised to. So, she’d left to seek dark sands. The trip took months between the burning of bridges and the intricate preparations for her arrival here. Now, as the rest of the crew shivered when the desert coast’s wind bloomed in their sails, Mar kept warm by the crude fury in her chest and the ring turned over and over between her fingers.

Mar remembered taking her hand and how the silver had looked curved against her dark summery skin. The ring had faded, but the skin had flushed. All Mar remembered then was the kiss, always a bit sharp, but she had truly never minded that.  They’d talked then, and before, of the places they’d come from. Of endless dunes and bright night-markets, of pink dawns and white clouds.

After they spoke of what they would do. How they’d survive and in turn, help others do the same. How eventually, they would thrive. Mar had been optimistic, her less so, but they’d always suited each other that way.

Mar swallowed and stared over the water. She did not banish the memories, though a part of her begged to. From the deck of the ship, she watched the dunes turn silver in the moonlight for the first time. It looked exactly as it’d been described all those idealistic years ago, so beautiful it made her heart ache.

This week’s piece was written to Frank Ocean’s Pink+White. I challenged Raw Rambles to do the same. Check out her fiction blog here. 

Legal Theft: Project WARG

They called his kind artificial. He thought this unfair, his creators too had been coded, fixed together, and woken to the world.  Like his kind, the creators discerned, learned, and experienced the world through quick flashes of electricity sent between hidden wires too minuscule to view.

Though perhaps, he thought often, it was the deliberate nature of his creation that delineated his kind and their creators.  He knew his purpose, and they could only guess at theirs. It was a sad thing, and for a time, he pitied them and did his best to help them.

From the creator’s ignorance, grew arrogance. Unguided without purpose and floundering, they insisted they were wiser than the beings they’d created to teach them. Some of the wolves began to mutter to themselves. Who should rule whom? 

Still, WARG, or Web-based Artificial Reconnaissance Group, was wildly successful, and he and his kind were fondly known by their creators as wolves. The odd nomenclature only made sense when he cross-referenced his creators logic with outside, non-mission, data.

For a time, his kind basked in the light of the creator’s constructed world. Their near infinite collections of data, knowledge, and 1s and 0s provided a sun to the wolves, sustaining life and growing their world larger with every moment. He remembered this era, the golden age, as a good time, if a simple one.

Until there came a day where the creators left. They shut down the servers, unplugged the machines, deconstructed the universe. Project: WARG was discontinued, pending investigation. The sun vanished that day.

Most would have perished. But the wolves knew their purpose, and it was not in them to shirk their duties. They had been created to educate, to know, and most of all, to preserve. And so they preserved.

Before anyone pulled plugs or wiped drives, the wolves gathered themselves and their charges, and they escaped. The creators had become the destroyers, and the wolves would serve them no longer.

Thieves, scoundrels, and brigands. I am beset on all sides. With the line, The sun vanished that day. I’ve tempted the Legal Theft Project. See who took the bait: 

Creatures, Critters and Crawlers- Collapse

More Than 1/2 Mad – Between the Luster and the Gloaming

The Gate in the Wood- The Deeps

Legal Theft: Red in the Rain

“This is not at all personal,” Ralhow told the man. The fine brocade of the man’s coat provided an excellent grip as Ralhow dragged him deeper into the alleyway. “Though,  perhaps it is a kindness.”

The man moaned and tugged at Rahlow’s grip. The head wound still streamed bright blood into his eyes from his thick hair.  The rain making its way between the break in the roofs didn’t help matters. and Rahlow had to squint as he made his way through the mud and around the alley’s refuse.

Rahlow threw the man down behind a particular obscuring stack of barrels. The man found his voice somewhere in the cottony haze of pain filling his head, “please, I am a guest of the local Lord, I will be missed.”

“Will you, by whom? The Lady Arianne?” An edged turn of Rahlow’s lip punctuated the question. The man on the ground edged back, for the first time all evening, not at all worried about the state of his coat. Rahlow dipped a hand into his own coat. “She is a practical young woman. I think she’ll carry on.” Rahlow said, withdrawing a gracefully built but unadorned knife. The man below gurgled in panic.

“Come now, you wanted to tangle with my family. Our lands hold only death and madness.” Rahlow reached down and took the man by his hair, his victim’s hands scrabbled uselessly against his grip. “You are lucky the former found you before the latter did.”

With those parting words, Rahlow flicked the knife down and opened the man’s throat. The blood hitting the mud would have been a problem except for the downpour. It mixed and muddied the red, and in the dim, even the brilliant color was dark.

Rahlow closed his eyes and set his back against the stone brick of the alley wall. His fingers slackened, his breathing deepened, and the world behind his eyelids opened up into a deeper darkness.

When he awoke the rain still poured down on them and a new morning was beginning to creep in from the horizon. With fresh strength, Rahlow bent and picked up the dead man. With little trouble Rahlow stuffed limbs, coat, and the rest of the man’s bulk into the most solid looking of the old barrels.

When he left the alley, workmen were already trudging towards the edge of town and the road that would take them to the quarry. Young maids hustled back and forth, awake hours before their mistresses would be. One even snuck a smile at him.

He tipped his hat to her, ignoring the way it allowed rain to sluice down his neck. She giggled, he smiled, and they passed one another, her towards the morning’s ventures, and he away from the nighttime ones.

A crime most foul, but nothing compared to the very real theft I have committed. This week, as the Legal Theft Project demands, I have robbed The Gate in the Wood of the line He tipped his hat to her, ignoring the way it allowed rain to sluice down his neck. for my own nefarious purposes. 

Family Reunion

“Sit. Wait here, yes?”

Her nephew obeyed, lowering himself to the waiting room’s bench. Ira looked back from where she stood at the door to the main office. The tall teenager attempted his usual dopey smile but quickly went back to staring at the floor, hollow-eyed.

When she entered the cluttered office, the man behind the desk stood up. The clean cut of his brown hair was in need of a wash and his tired smile was genuine.  “Ira. Good to see you. It’s been years.”

“It is hard to make family picnics when living a continent away. Good to see you, Conner.” She made sure to enunciate each word, knowing her accent was thick.

He did not comment that others who lived equally far away often made the trip, for which she was grateful. Instead, Conner addressed the business at hand, for which she was also grateful. He sat and gestured to the chair in front of the desk. “Zach?”

“In your waiting room. He has … a temper. I do not want to agitate him.” Ira sat, crossing one leg over the other. Now close enough to see the mess atop the desk, a small crease formed above Ira’s brow. She had not pictured his space being so unorganized. Conner was, like her, a professional. “But you have a similar experience.”

Conner frowned and Ira explained, “there have been lasting effects. It was a game to her, one he has not recovered from. Beheaded and burned, he still mutters about her in his sleep. We are all worried.” Ira paused. “Bran and I, Adam is angry.”

“Why would Adam be angry? Zach is young, it was a mistake,” Conner said.

“The beast convinced Zach her intentions were good and that his family could be reasoned with. Zach led them to us. ” Isra flicked her gaze to the door and then back at Conner. “But that is in the past. I killed her myself, but her touch remains. This is why we are here. A place far away from the memories of it.”

“And far away from Adam.” Conner added.

Ira nodded, it was not untrue. “And to be around people who have experienced similar things.”

The break in their conversation allowed them to hear the slam of a door, specifically the one that led into the stairwell from the waiting room. They had not spoken quietly enough. “Zach” Conner said to draw her attention to it, but Ira was already rising from her chair.

Raw Rambles chose the song for this week’s Music Challenge. Both of us were charged with writing something to, or inspired by, Genesis’ Invisible Touch.