Flash Fiction: Good and Bad Children

They warned against wandering in the willowwacks. The great rises of wood, fen, and moss-covered stone held dangers for the lone adult, more for an underfed child. But she was a sharp and foolish creature, not yet consigned to being a small thing in a great and terrible world.

Their warnings were routinely crafted and deployed, figments to entangle her with the dreaded lesson of or else. The good children escaped the shadows between the trees, clever yet always abstractly obedient, the bad ones did not, and were rarely mourned.

But she was more cunning than most children, and some adults, and could see the webs they wove with their stories. Be good, be kind, be obedient. All qualities that benefited them more often than her. Soon, she began to wonder if circles of ghosts, their eyes liquid with need, really convened beneath the trees. Or if worst creatures really jumped between the curls of mist, metal glinting beneath their hoods as they lured children astray with memories of chocolate and butter.

She was sure she could resist both, having tasted neither.

The willowwack’s fog and trees and glens were great towering things, that could bestow a quick death at the bottom of a swamp, or draw a long one of wandering starvation between the endless black trunks, or a lingering addled end from the yellow air that rested along the ground, but those fates came for both good and bad children.

It was with this in mind she watched the fog veiled trees of the willowwacks, with neither reverence or challenge. As other children strove to be good, lest the metal wolves and ghosts pluck their minds away in the night, or darted as close to the dark trunks as they would dare, shrieking all the while, she contented herself with being right. At least until her shoulders grew strong enough for a pack, and her legs long enough to climb the moss covered stone.

Wrote this one from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompt. 

 

Flash Fiction: A Celadon Escape

Thick sunlight permeated all corners the salvage yard, shimmering above the towers of shining metal and cracked rubber in waves. I sagged against one of the rickety piles. The twisted frame of an old car door dug into my spine as I hid from the noon sun. The bit of shade was worth the discomfort.

Not so far off, but barely audible over the grating hum of the machines through which the industrial offal was made useful again, Alan argued with the yard’s owner. It didn’t sound like the negotiation was going well for us, but it was hard to tell. Everything was hazy amidst the bloody tang of iron. The smell was baked into the dust at my feet and the air in my lungs.

The arguing stopped. Alan rounded the scrap tower, his steps clipped and full of a nervous energy I’d never seen before. I smiled at him vacantly, which only caused Alan’s nostrils to flare with worry. “I’m fine,” I muttered, abashment pulling more color into my face than the sun could.

Alan pulled me from my hiding spot to where the yard’s owner drove over a mud-splattered junker. Painted celadon-green beneath the dirt, the car didn’t look as if it could get us out of the lot, and certainly not the hundreds of miles we needed to put between us and this place.

He leaned me into the passenger’s seat, ignoring the narrowed-eyed suspicion of the man who’d sold us the car. Money exchanged hands and Alan swung himself into the driver’s seat. The engine started with a wheeze that shook the car, but it started. I breathed deeply when we passed under the barbed-wire gate, and more easily when the dappled shadows of the forest overtook the road.

A weird piece from a fun Wordle Prompt. Make sure to check out Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s other prompts as well.

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.

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.