Flash Fiction: The Watch

Time ground on. It chipped down on the country of Eristae, its memory, its anger. As the years flowed through them, people forgot their anger at the imperial ships and new rules. They grew familiar with the tithes and the soldiers on street corners. Their daughters married those street corner soldiers, and their grandchildren left for foreign schools. The next generation returned to the ancient dukedoms and quiet fiefs with hard accents, soft hands, and voracious intentions. They abandoned the country groves and seaside villages of their birth to build up cities in the image of imperial metropolises.

And a century after the first imperial fleet landed on their southern banks, with a foreign official in every office, dean’s seat, and city council, the peoples flocked into the streets to celebrate their newfound dependence. Parades and floats coursed through the main cities, streaming banners that snapped in-time to the peoples’ cheers. The empire unfolded its arms and took ancient Eristae into its progressive embrace.

Cole tried to keep to himself that night. While the city of Kallais streamed around him, broiling with dance, drink, and music, he glowered his way into a corner of the most unpopular tavern he could find.

It worked for a time, well into Cole’s fourth ale. But the streets eventually poured their way in to the dirty little bar. Cole shouldered open the tavern door before he broke the nose of a loud patriot. Though he shoved a few shoulders in the process, Cole got into the night air without starting a brawl.

The streets were strewn with the aftermath of the celebrations, but the air was clean and growing quieter by the hour. Cole left the stuffy taverns to the new imperial citizens and used the sound of waves to guide him. He walked, using the winding streets and narrow staircases running the city to burn the alcohol from his veins. Beneath the foot of the bay wall, Cole looked up. The thick stone walls curled around the city protectively, solid and wide enough for three armored men to walk abreast.

Cole climbed a stair and flashed an ancient badge. The old design and crest should have had him stopped and questioned, had the watchman been sober enough to protest. But the outdated token got Cole to the top of the wall, where he set elbows against stone and watched the city settle. As the dark deepened in the sky and then eventually began to glow in the east, the last of the imperial chants and cheers died entirely. The city could have been his again, as it had been before, stretching out at the end of a long graveyard shift.

Flags would come and go, as would the people who sat behind desks and on thrones, but Cole knew he would always come here, to watch over his city, his country.

Terribly late, this thief ran off with More than 1/2 Mad‘s line to serve the Legal Theft Project. This is the result of that heist, prompt, and challenge. 

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Beneath The Breastbone.

His skin was freshly washed and it caught on the latex of her gloves as she arranged his limbs. Familiar scents of soap, bleach, and inert flesh permeated her medical mask. A young man, feathery wet hair, flat brown eyes, twenty-seven with lines around his eyes, waited for her. Laid out, bared, she could see his ribs pressing up beneath his skin. She dropped her hand to hover over the waves. The plateau of his chest was firm, all lean muscle. Perhaps not a healthy man in life, but a beautiful one in death.

A hitched breath caved her mask as she leaned over him.  She paused to check its elastic tight against her cheek and the plastic cap covering her hair. The plastic, paper, and latex kept little pieces of herself from betraying them, their time, their togetherness.

She held herself there, parallel over him, feeling the emptiness of the body under her. He was alone now, a mirror to the lonely ache beneath her breastbone. When he had searing skin and a heartbeat, his smile and soft words hadn’t soothed the emptiness in her, they were only hers to borrow. Someday he would have taken his warmth and left. Now, silent and growing cold, they could be alone together.

Until the chime of the phone broke from the purse in the corner of the hotel room. She snapped her head to the side, breath moving the mask in and out with shallow breaths, a paper heart beating at her mouth.

She rose at the waist and picked her way off him, careful where her body weighted the bedspread. Her plastic wrapped feet crinkled on the carpet. A quick snap of latex, a crumple of paper, she freed her hand and mouth and picked up the phone, dangling it next to her ear. “Remy?”

She used her time listening to calm her breath. “You got the right number, sorry I change it so much, its the travel.” Bent at the knees in a crouch, she held very still so her scrubs wouldn’t rustle. The person on the other side of the line continued.

“Brunch, yes, don’t worry about it. We’ll go another time, its really fine. I’m in town for a while.” She smiled, fondness crinkling the corner of her eyes. “Can’t wait to catch up. Bye Remy.”

She left the phone in her bag, found new gloves, reset her mask and bowed to her feet like a dancer. The man still waited on the bed, still and entirely hers. She returned, gliding above him, never touching, just feeling the profound emptiness she could share.

This weeks music challenge is born from Florence + The Machine’s song Hunger. As I was challenged by Raw Rambles make sure to check out her original here.  

Flash Fiction: Sticky Fire

Flames danced up her sleeve, and she sighed as she put them out. Or tried to, the sickly green fire clung to Sen’s fingers like spiderweb. From there they rushed angrily across her golden skin and up her other sleeve. “Oh bother,” Sen sighed again, this time with real frustration as the top of her gown shriveled away.

The battle still flowed, screams and metal all flashing bright beneath the sunlight. Red had only begun to soak the ground. But she’d collected and stilled a small audience of both enemy and friendly soldiers.

Sen broke her belt with a jerk and tore the remains of the dress away from her skin. The fabric still burned in her fingers, the acrid flames fighting helplessly to gain purchase on flesh that would not burn. She threw the smoldering garment to the ground and looked up, now naked and very annoyed.

The man who’d broken the vial across her arm was shaking his head with dumb denial. She raised her chin to his towering height, stalked forward, reached up, and snapped his neck with her unblemished hand. The circle of soldiers jerked back with a uniform cry.

Sen smiled at them and all, hers and the other side’s, backed away slowly from the naked goddess. The battle offered other, less disconcerting, ways to die. Sen purred with pleasure and carved her own way through the chaos, skin bared.

Another week, another successful heist. I stole the first line from a certain librarian as part of the Legal Theft Project. Check out the original here. 

Sleep Through The Night

And I look to the west, the moon’s in the sky
I wanna get at least that high

My readied smile slipped away once Nuka’s breathing deepened. Sure that my friend was truly asleep, I worked my jaw like an actor warming lines and slipped out of my bedroll, cautious not to disturb his. The care was not necessary, Nuka’s agitation had run him raw all day and he slept solid. I was surprised he’d made it to his bedroll at all, and not simply collapsed on the road in a scowling heap.

The night air hanging over the bog was thick with croaking frogs, rotting green, and a hint of cold that kept off the worst of the thrumming insects. I took the cotton-bound book from my pack and a leather herb pouch from my discarded coat. With the firebugs bobbing along over the grimy water and the moss softening the trees into hazy watercolor, the night was too alive to waste tossing in a bedroll.

Soon reclining over a precious bit of dry root and stone, I lit the twist of herbs and let the fire shrink my pupils. Everything went dark except the glow, until the smoke hit my tongue and I waved the match out. The night unfurled for me in muted greens and blacks, each darker than the last until I was sure the void itself waited in the trees.

I enjoyed the heaviness settling in my fingers by running my thumb down the book’s spine. I might read a little in the sickly light of the fire bugs, or I might not.

Up in the sky, above the weeping branches, the moon rose in the west, surrounded of course, by stars. I frowned at them both. Someone needed to figure this shit out, I doubted it was going to be me.

Been a long time gone, living out on the coast
It’s a long way back from the edge of the cosmos

Some say soldiers find their beds too soft after they return home. This is something like that. I am not used to her breath on my neck, or her fingers resting on my chest. Curled next to me beneath the covers of our bed, my wife radiates heat like a stoked forge. Usually this lulls me into rest quickly enough.

Not always though. Staring up at the ceiling in the dark, tonight I drew her fingers gently off my chest so I could test the weight there. I clutched a hand over my breastbone and searched beneath my skin for reassurance.

My wife curled around my pillow when I left the bed. Clothes retrieved from the dresser, boots on at the door, I stepped into the yard and hissed. The isle gets cold at night and I’m still not used to it. Far away,  almost hidden by the overgrown hills, I saw the top of the manor house. Light flickered in its windows.

I filled my lungs with the cold and made my way to the forge, certainty growing with every step. No leash, taut or slack, tied me anymore. No distant man, lord, or god held my soul hostage.  Even stuck on an island lost in the sea and assembling a new life from the wreckage of centuries, the only thing coiled angry in my chest was me.

You chained my life to an ancient master
Will the curse be reversed if I say it backwards?   

Purple seeped into the pitch of the night sky. With the glass balcony doors thrown wide, I could see the full canvas, from the tips of the gold-domed city to the black heavens. My tower afforded me an aerial landscape of  city, provided I stood from my desk and wandered out to the balcony to receive it.

Tonight though, the balcony doors were open so the night air could cut the damp warmth of early summer. I had work to do before the sun rose and the empire’s armies began to march. The gods did not concern themselves with train-car capacity, tides, or how many lemons kept mortals from getting scurvy over long voyages. They left that to us, and so we oversaw their soldiers, their worshipers, their cities. And the return for this service, an eternity to do it.

The narrow bed still waited for me in the corner, stuffed unlovingly between two monstrous bookshelves. Sleep was always an intruder here, forestalling breakthroughs and progress with paltry biological demands for rest. I may have welcomed the respite had someone called me to it, perhaps gently or hungrily taken my hand and drawn me down with them, then I would have abandoned my work for the night. But no one would do so tonight, or possibly ever again.

The pages began to blend as my eyes blurred between application, transcript, and docket. Above, the sky lightened and beneath the palace stirred.

[Good Morning, Raven. Have you slept?] The voice touched down in my head. The gods were awake.

You told me you’re never gonna die
How am I supposed to sleep through the night?

Raw Rambles and I are seeing Lord Huron live in only a couple weeks, so our music challenge this week is to the song Secret of Life, off their newest album, Vide Noir. Check out Raw Rambles blog for her post.  

 

Rules and Opportunity

Maj flew into the room, thin arms tensed like steel cables. She stopped on the rug, torn between throwing herself on the bed or shattering the vanity’s ornate mirror. She didn’t get a chance for either as Desri hurried in after her.

“So,” Desri started and reached tentatively for her half-sisters shoulder. “That could have gone better.”

“Could have gone better? It couldn’t have gone worse.” Maj ducked her shoulder like a cat that didn’t want to be pet. She stepped back and faced Desri, trembling. “You were there, you heard them. I have no talent. That’s it.”

“Maj you’re brilliant, it’s not it.” Desri persisted, catching Maj’s delicate hand. She was stronger than her petite half-sister and able to pull her close into an embrace. Maj’s curls tickled her nose but Desri held on until Maj slumped and gave an ugly sob. “Shh, you’ve gotten top marks in everything else, what are they going to do?” Desri hummed.

The answer came the next morning when Maj’s things were packed for her. Her crisp plain frocks were folded into suitcases, but the servant left any evening gowns and dancing slippers in the closet. She was told to change into sensibly-soled boots, as her soft embroidered shoes would not survive the mud and damp of the lower districts.

After five years in her father’s home, Maj was escorted to a carriage that would take her down to her mother’s house. Desri watched her go from the upstairs window, round eyes helplessly trying to catch Maj’s gaze. The carriage door shut and the horses started their clopping pace down the drive. Desri’s harsh sigh fogged the window.

“Don’t sulk,” Desri’s mother said from the study’s chair behind her. “We gave Maj more opportunity than most in her position ever have in their lives. She couldn’t stay here as anything other than a servant. Could you imagine wounding her pride so?”

“This has nothing to do with your pride?” Desri asked, not turning from the window.  Maj had never given much respect towards Desri’s mother, the woman who’d overlooked her husband’s indiscretion to let a bastard girl learn alongside her own daughter. But even the best books and tutors the city offered could not force magic aptitude and its protections. Still, banishment seemed harsh to Desri, even if Maj had been born and grown in the lower districts.

“No. This has to do with rules.” The whisper of skirt on rug indicated her mother leaving the room. Desri closed the curtains and left as well. She took the stairs down towards the their house’s great library. Her own examinations were upcoming, and she had almost as much to lose as Maj.

This is a post for Legal Theft as I have stolen the line “That could have gone better.” from More Than 1/2 Mad. 

Or A Morning…

Dawn called, and he wasn’t going to answer. James watched her smiling face agitate his phone’s screen silently for the obligated twenty seconds. He looked up at the tap of footsteps.

“Avoiding someone?” The waitress said when she placed his fruit speckled oatmeal down with silverware. She flicked attentive eyes around the table, her gaze lingering on the phone, the protein shake from the place down the street, his journal.

She didn’t leave and James felt the response pulled from him. “She’s my cousin.”

“So you don’t get along? My family is the same.” The waitress cocked a hip and set a hand on an empty chair back, settling in. James eyes widened in alarm as her fingers curled comfortably over the metal. He was the only customer on the restaurants patio, there was no one to call her away .

James held his breath through a forced smile. “No, we get along. Dawn is just– talkative.” When this didn’t seem to satisfy the waitresses desire for conversation, he pressed the point, “I like my family. But I also like time to myself.”

“I’m the same way,” She said. James’ distrust intensified. He twitched his fingers towards his pen and unfinished thought waiting on the journal page. The waitress spoke to the air, eyes cast distantly to the other side of the restaurant’s low, ivy-covered gate, “Sometimes you just need those nights, all by yourself, a show to binge. Totally get it.”

“Or a morning.” James said.

The waitress nodded like a woodpecker until the smile slid off her lips. She hummed a quick sound in her throat and turned away from him. Her footsteps safety tapping away, James shook his head and returned to his journal.

I’ve stolen the first line from The Gate in the Wood‘s original adorable piece and did something else with it. All part of the Legal Theft Project.   

Hidden in History

Like birds flushed to the sky by a hunting horn, whispers swelled as Raven entered Luna’s most prestigious University by the main walk. The muffled discontent followed her sharp footsteps up through its halls.

While some students watched her go with hungry reverence, she preferred those who met her eyes with firm jaws, whose hands slid to hide the spines of the books they carried. Violent books on violent empires, collected essays on breaking gilt cages. They objected to her presence in their halls. Raven did not remind them who’d designed the sweeping staircases, towers, and stained glass displays centuries ago, who eagerly funded their thesis fieldwork on dissent, revolution, and the undersides of history. Instead, Raven maintained the imperious tilt to her chin as she climbed the staircase up to her office. Nothing squashed rebellion more swiftly than official sanction.

Raven was pleased to see no broken glass when she entered her office. It’d been a week since anyone had managed to lob a brick through her window, impressive in itself considering her office was located on the top-most floor of the library.

As much as Raven appreciated student engagement with the current political discourse, the rain from the ruined window had destroyed several borrowed and irreplaceable ancient texts, then open on her desk. Raven had found the pulpy mess a day too late. Their original owner, the University’s true founder and Raven’s master, had responded with predictable fury. Raven winced at the memory as it pulsed anew in her mind.

Rolled within the raging mental onslaught came his demand, do something about the brewing disrespect at the University. Raven was to find the culprits and stamp out any insurrection before more priceless knowledge was lost. Someone was spreading dissent in Luna.

Raven sighed and went to her personal bookshelf, kept in the corner and locked away from the University’s library books and her master’s borrowed texts. This collection was hers. Most were violent books on violent empires, collected essays on breaking gilt cages. She was proud of them, written under different names she’d tried on over the centuries, hoping one replace the one stolen. But among those bold and popular texts, were soft first editions of hidden histories. Understudied and in Raven’s delicate spidery hand, they spoke of bearing tyranny, surviving servitude, and keeping hopelessness at bay with small resistances.

I am obsessed with the song Death of Communication by Company of Thieves, so I challenged myself and Raw Rambles to write something to it. Check out what she did here.