Family.Dys.Function

”I am going to outside to meet somebody.”

After a second’s worth of silence, Grannie cackles with malicious delight.

“As if.” She is behind me, always behind me, watching and listening. Criticizing and degrading. “You? Meet somebody?” Another cackle erupts from her. I try not to let her get to me. But it is hard.

“I am. I really am.” I get up from the chair and move towards the kitchen holding my coffee cup. Grannie’s cackling follows me.

“You are not. Remember, Gracie. We’ve had this conversation before.” She shouts it after me. In the kitchen, I deposit my cup in the sink, and then walk to the bedroom to find pants. I glance out of the window to check the weather. Blue skies and bright green leaves. Spring. I can almost smell freshly mowed grass on the air and hear ecstatic birds chirp and tweet above. A smile stretches my cheeks in unusual ways.

“Are you going somewhere?” Dad. Sounding worried.

“Yup. Have you seen the weather outside? It is beautiful. I thought I’d take a walk down to the pier, have an ice cream. Stracciatella and Strawberry. Remember?”

The grin on my lips widens. I haven’t been down to the pier in years, but back when I was a kid, dad and I would walk down there every weekend, fishing, talking and eating ice cream. The last time I was there was back when I was fourteen and hung up on Jesse Lipmann, who thought he was a cool surfer dude. I would watch him from the end of the pier. Pining and worried that he might drown.

“Are you sure?” Dad draws out his question as if he doesn’t know how to end it. I roll my eyes and ignore him. I open my closet and look at the clothes hanging there. The cool black jeans that are just a number too small or the gray corduroy slacks, baggy and comfortable.  The jeans of course. In honor of Jessie Lipmann and being cool. I wriggle them on, then check the mirror. The sweater clashes with the jeans so I pull out a shirt, the color of the sky outside, light blue. It is beautiful.

“Take me with you.” Josh says from the edge of the bed. He sounds happy and excited. I smile, but shake my head.

“Nope not today, you little monkey. Today me, myself and I, will go outside and meet someone, and you, you will cramp my style.” I wink at the mirror. “But tomorrow we can go to the park, feed the squirrels.”

“Aww but I want to go today.”

“I know. But tomorrow, monkey. I promise.”

”But why do you need to meet someone. I am right here. And Dad and Grandma and …”

I interrupt his wheedling litany.

“Because sometimes a girl wants more than just her family around.”

“But, why?” Oh, he is so young, so innocent. What does he understand of long lonely nights in a cold bed shared with no one? What does he know of the physical longing for a touch, slow and lingering? Tears suddenly burn my eyelids and I shake my head and don’t answer him.

Instead, I pull off my sweater and put on the blue shirt. It is soft and so, so gorgeous. I think it is the first time I have found a reason to put it on. A giddy feeling of happiness fills my stomach with butterflies, banishing the tears. I can almost see the one I am going to meet. Tall, broad-shouldered, a blond bear with an easy smile and warm, tender hugs. He will be sitting at the end of the pier, his feet casually dangling over the edge while he watches the gulls swoop across the horizon.

“Honey. It will be dark soon. Can’t you wait until tomorrow?” Dad the worrywart is back, almost as wheedling as Josh.

I snort at him. He hates that.

“Dad, it is three in the afternoon.  It won’t be dark for hours.” I look down on my feet. They are bare; I can’t go outside with bare feet. It is not warm enough for that, not yet. I remember hot summers, peeling off my shoes and walking down the pier in my bare feet, feeling every splinter and roughness and loving it. My mom always gave dad this look when we came home and she saw my feet. “What?” he would say back, shrugging his shoulders. “She’s got kevlar skin.” Mum would just shake her head and dad would wink at me when she wasn’t looking.

“Yes, but…”

“No but, dad. Not today. I am going.” I ponder the line of shoes at the bottom of my closet. There’s the trainers, white and boring, the ballerina flats, black and pretty, and the sneakers, bright red and sassy. I grin and grab the sneakers, feeling the colors of my choices boosting my energy. Gorgeous and Sassy. That is a great combination. Another flash of the blonde guy at the end of the pier. He will look at the shoes first, me standing over him, then his gaze will travel all the way up my legs and stop at the shirt. After a second he will finally look me in the eyes and smile this wide happy smile. The butterflies in my stomach quadruple.

“You’ll look like a scarecrow.” Grandma, tutting disapprovingly. I decide not to give her the pleasure of a reply and smirk at myself in the mirror instead. I sit on the edge of the bed, lacing up the sneakers. Josh makes a sobbing sound. He’s probably lying under the covers, hiding and sulking.

“They will not support your ankles right.”

“Dad, stop it. I am going outside, even if my shoes will hurt my feet. I will go outside if it starts to rain or if the sun decides to go down early, I will go outside if the world split at the seams. You can’t dissuade me.”

“I don’t like it. I think it is dangerous out there. The world is filled with dodgy men and criminals and…”

“Oh god! Shut up Dad!” Even though I’ve decided not to let him get to me, he grates on my nerves. I try to shake it off and walk out into the hallway. I’ve got three jackets. A heavy woolen pea coat for winter, a windbreaker for spring and a fleece jacket for whenever neither is good enough. I don’t want to wear either of them; I want to show off my beautiful blue shirt. But it might get chilly down by the pier so I grab the fleece and fold it over my arm.

I am ready.  The keys hang on their hook just inside the door. I stuff them into my pocket, then realize I need money for the ice cream as well. I rush back to the kitchen and grab a handful of quarters from the cookie jar. I am almost out of breath in my excitement, in my hurry to get out. I run back to the front door and pull the door open. And crash into a man standing on my doormat, holding a brown paper bag in the crook of one arm. I scream, a sound that makes ice water trickle down my spine, and he grunts then takes a step back so I have to grab the door to stay upright. I step back across my threshold and stare at the man.

“Gosh, I am sorry.” He says, looking a little shaken. He’s tall and stringy, with dark curls and dark eyes. I take another step back and hold on to the door handle extra hard, ready to slam the door in his face. “I think this is yours.” He looks down into the brown paper bag and holds out a slip of paper. “You’re Grace Chapowski right? Number 321B?” He glance at the door. The number 1 has been missing for years. It suits me just fine.

“The delivery guy left it at my door. I live right next door.” He smiles and looks past my shoulder into my apartment.

My brain has gone eerily silent and my body is rigid with apprehension. He is a stranger and I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to act. Do I smile and say thank you? Do I grab my groceries and slam the door in his face? Do I scream and make a scene? I don’t know how to handle this.

Air lodges at the top of my breastbone and dark panic starts to unfold itself, threatening to smother me. I must look like a ridiculously dressed deer caught in the headlights, I think to myself while the silence stretches and he shuffles his feet.

“Well. I will let you go. Here.” He holds out the bag towards me and, like I am a robot, my arms reaches out and takes hold.

I want to open my mouth, say thank you and smile at him nicely. I want to invite him inside and offer him a cup of coffee. I want to hug him and kiss him and…

I step back and close the door while he stands there, still looking a little shocked and surprised.

The paper bag splits when the door clicks shut and out tumbles milk and apples, a chocolate bar, a loaf of bread. A can of tomatoes. Half a pound of mince. I slide down the door, as tears starts to stream down my face, sitting among my groceries, sobbing and horrified. Embarrassed and so alone.

“Shhhhhhh. It will be all right, darling. Everything is going to be alright.” Mother’s voice is strong and soothing in my ear. “I am right here.”

“Scarecrow clown.” Grannie doesn’t do pity. She does glee and spite. “Couldn’t even say hi to your nice neighbor. He could have made you handsome babies, that one.”

“I told you honey. It is a dangerous world out there.” The worry is gone from dad’s voice. He sounds relieved and happy instead. “Come inside; let’s go sit in the window. What do you say?”

“Can we build a fort?” Josh shouts from the bedroom. “Oh please Gracie…. Come and build a fort with me.”

“Your groceries will spoil out here. You have to get them in the fridge. You can make pasta bolognese for dinner. You always loved bolognese, didn’t you darling?”

The image of the man I was going to meet starts to fade. I have lost. I know I won’t go outside now. The moment, the momentum is ruined. I have let myself down. They have let me down. They should help me, support me, but all they do is weigh me down, so I drown in the ever-present overwhelming fear.

A flash flood of rage catapults me from the floor.

“SHUT UP. JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP, ALL OF YOU. I DON’T LIKE YOU. I DON’T WANT YOU.”

I stomp into the living room, stopping in the middle of the room. My legs are trembling with pent-up energy, my fists are shaking, my teeth are gnashing against each other. I am about to explode. I want to run out of the door. I want to jump out of the window. I want to barge out into the hallway and throw myself at the dark-haired man. I want to escape. I want to live.

But I can’t. I am in prison. Living room, bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. Mom, dad, Josh and Grannie. They hold me here against my will. And I have nothing to fight them with.

I catch my reflection in the glossy surface of my TV and the rage dissipates. My beautiful blue shirt is wrinkled and splotched with tears. I can’t hear the birds chirping any longer. I can’t smell the spring in the air. I can’t remember the face of the blonde man at the end of the pier.

I move to the window and slouch into my chair. The sun winks in the distant blue of the ocean, almost blinding me, erasing the last few dregs of hope. Alone. I am all alone.

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fragment

I am weak. I hide it, I swallow it and ignore it. I cry shamefully, embarrassed even in my loneliness, spurred by irrational signals from my brain and surroundings. They don’t make sense, these bouts of uncontrollability.

Chuck Challenge – Pick an opening line!

I didn’t submit an opening line for last weeks challenge, but as part of this week’s challenge I sifted through each and every one of the over 500 comments, looking for one that spoke to me. Boy, that was a difficult task. But in the end I made a choice and picked:

“There was a little girl dancing in the graveyard” by Tonia

Here’s the some 1050 words that line inspired.

 

The Dancing Girl

By Trine Toft Schmidt

There was a little girl dancing in the graveyard. Kneeling in the shade, on the soft moss, I couldn’t take my eyes off the tiny form, twirling and swaying among the somber old slabs of weathered rock.

We were the only ones in the old part of the graveyard which was more like a forest than anything else, the pines grew tall and old here among the almost forgotten headstones. The girl danced in the fat rays of sun that filtered down through the trees.

She was four or five, with short, tight almond coloured curls. She reminded me of my sister. She had the same ever-round apple-red cheeks and the same joyful smile, the same far-away gaze in her eyes.

She twirled and twirled and I abandoned my futile quest to free Mary Beth’s grave from weeds and instead sat down with my back to her headstone to watch the little girl dance. Something about her made my heart beat it hasn’t beaten since I was a kid.

Eventually the little girl saw me looking  and she stopped, self-aware and perhaps a little frightened at the sight of an old, wrinkled, white-haired man watching her. She put her hand in her mouth and stood stock still for a couple of minutes while her eyes rested on me. Then she looked up into the blue sky, flung out her arms as if to hug the world, smiled and made her way toward me. She stopped at the next grave over.

“Hello.”

“Hello.” I replied.

She looked at me, her eyes scrounged up in an evaluating glare.

“Are you God?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Mummy said that God would watch over me. You are watching me.”

“I saw you dancing. It was very pretty.”

“But are you?”

“No. I am not god. Alas.”

She was quiet for awhile.

“But you are old.”

“Yes. I am. Do you think god is old?”

“Very.” She opened her eyes wide and nodded.

“What does alas mean?”

“Hmm..” I thought about it for a second. “It means unfortunately.”

“You want to be god?” She put her hand on a tilting headstone and lifted her leg out behind her, like she was in ballet class.

“I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.” “I want to be god.”

“Why?”

“So I can bring mummy back.” She brought her leg down and scissored it back and forth in front of herself.

“Your mummy died?”

She nodded and cast a look over her shoulder. I followed her gaze and through the pines I could see a man hunched over a grave. He was partially hidden behind a shiny new white headstone. His shoulders were shaking violently. Once I had seen my mother hunched over like that, clawing at the ground, desperation breaking her apart in ways only bottomless grief can do. I put my head against my twin’s headstone. It was cold and hard.

“I am sorry.” I said.

“It’s okay. She is in heaven now.” The little girl looked up and waved at a cloud, then turned back toward me.

“Did someone you know die?”

“Yes. My sister.” I patted the headstone.

“Was she old too?”

“No. She was young. Very young. Five years old.”

“I am five years and two months old.”

“Really?”

She nodded solemnly.

“Well, just like my sister then.”

“What was her name?” She stood up on her toes and slowly raised her arms above her head.

“Mary Beth.”

“Mine is KimBerly. But my mother always called me KimPearly.”

“Pearly, like a pearl?”

“Uh uh.” She nodded vigorously.

“That’s nice.”

“She said I have to be careful swimming, or the oyster would snatch me right back.”

I smiled. For a minute I could see her life like a little movie in my head. I saw her start school, make friends, have her first kiss under the bleachers, get married, have children. Grow old. Dancing and smiling. Somehow I couldn’t imagine that she would ever be sad. Even if everybody around her died.

“Mister?”

She poked me with her foot, pulled me out of my little reverie.

“Yes?”

“Can you dance?”

I laughed.

“I can. Or, well, I could, before I got old.”

“Well come on then. We have to dance. Mummy will watch us. Maybe your sister too.” She reached down and grabbed my large cold hand with her tiny warm one. Tears welled up in my eyes.

She pulled me past headstones and pines, out into a clearing. When I just stood there, not trusting my clumsy old feet to keep my from falling, she put her hands in her sides and gave me a stern look.

“Come on. You have to spin around. Like this.” She spread her arms wide, tilted her head back and took small steps while she spun around. It near gave me vertigo just watching her, but I did as I was told, spread my arms out, tilted my head back. And then I spun, slowly, mind you, so I wouldn’t fall, closing my eyes and enjoying the warmth of the sun on my cheeks. Instantly I was five again, laughing with Mary Beth in the meadows behind our little cottage.

I don’t know how long we danced like this. But suddenly she tugged on my hand and I was forced back into the present.

“I have to go now. Daddy is calling.”

I looked around until I saw him, making his way through the old pines toward us. He had the same almond coloured hair, but was gaunt and pale. He looked concerned. I nodded to him and smiled down to the little girl.

“Well bye then, KimPearly. Thank you for the dance.”

“Bye bye, old man.” She said over her shoulder, already bouncing toward her father. As I watched, she flung herself at him and he scooped her up and hugged her close.

I stood still for a few seconds, watching them leave. Then I turned toward Mary Beth’s grave. It was surrounded by the graves of the rest of our family, all in the same sad state of overgrown. A little like myself, I thought. I looked up into the sky and did a last twirl before I made my way home.

 

Flash Fiction Challenges: Hellishly late.

I know, I know, I am really really late with this, but last friday, before I could finish my story for The Chuck Wendig challenge: Life is Hell, I was (perhaps true to the subject) smote by sickness and have spent the better part of a week on the couch, hacking up my lungs and fighting off my cotton ball brain. Today, feeling a lot better, I finished my contribution and have decided to pester the world with it, despite it’s lateness. The ending is a bit rough, but I’ve parked this baby way too long as it is. Bear with me.

The Nightly Grind

By Trine Toft Schmidt

Azu closes his eyes and attempts to get a line to the priest. The signal is weak and broken. A voice, all fire and pain, intercepts the signal with annoying clarity.

“Do you know that for twenty souls extra each month, you can upgrade your subscription to 666 minutes of mind-to-mind or eye-for-an-eye, a day?” Azu cuts the connection, his lunch break is only an hour long and if he can’t get hold of the priest now, he has to make the call on the commute home. If he had 666 minutes it wouldn’t be a problem of course, he could do it while he worked, like the lower-downs. But twenty souls? That’s steep. It’s hard enough bringing home the brimstone as it is. Lately the bosses have put the screws to the higher levels, demanding a thousand souls a month and unpaid overtime in the torture chambers and still the stingy angels only dish out a measly four hundred a month. Azu simply can’t afford any more expenses until he gets a raise.

Which is why he’s saving all his minutes on this priest. Father O’Leary, catholic, devout and fiercely virtuous. If Azu could bring home that soul, he would get the attention of those on the lower levels, he would be on the fast track for the pits down below, which, of course, means getting a larger slice of the soul-cake each month.

Azu waits a few minutes and then tries the priest again. He’s surprised when he gets a rare crystal-clear connection, no static, no pray-interference, just a straight line to the priest’s innermost thoughts. He doesn’t have eye-for-an-eye, but he can sense the surroundings of the priest, mostly from the free-flying snippets of thoughts and sensory input that clutter the mind-space. There’s singing in the background, probably the nuns, so it must be early morning, which fits the foul minty smell of toothpaste, that sends Azu’s lunch rolling in the pit of his stomach.

He’s been dialling up Father O’Leary for a week now, laying the ground work for the take-over, and he’s got the priest rattled. Last night, using his remaining 11 minutes to check in before dinner, the priest had the unmistakable smell of whiskey about him. There are chinks in his religious armour.

Chinks Azu now begins to crack further apart. He starts out gently, conjures up an image of a nun, nothing too specific, so the priest can fill in the blanks himself.

“Look at that black habit. What do you think hides underneath?”

He can feel the priest’s attention waver slightly. It doesn’t matter that Azu can’t see what Father O’Leary is seeing. Azu has never met anyone devout or pious enough to not attach their eyes to someone they think fit the suggestion.

“Imagine what is under there. The soft skin of her legs, how warm and moist it must be under all those layers.”

Father O’Leary tries to flood his brain with the text of his sermon, pushing Azu behind some gobbledygook about not coveting your neighbour’s wife. It has been his tactic for the last couple of nights, so Azu just turns up the volume, projects more skin, moving up the calves, toward white rounded thighs, slowly. He adds a little sensory input as well, suggestive smells and sounds.

Testosterone floods the priest’s system and Azu grins to himself, lathers on more skin, suggests more warmth. Whispers ‘what harm can it do?’ like a mantra in the priest’s head.

In the background the singing has stopped and Azu senses movement around the priest. The nuns are leaving and Father O’Leary must be talking, because half his brain is suddenly awash in flimsy religious sentiments, boring sermon details, something about coffee and cake and flowers. But the other half is pushing the image of a black habit about as if he’s playing hide and seek with it. The thought of the nun is growing by the second, and finally Azu catches a glimpse of her.

She’s small and disgustingly clothed, but she’s got a nice little round face and sweet innocent blue eyes. Azu grins to himself and pounces, latches on to the priest’s image of her, projects hands onto it, creating something like a 1.st person shooter game, only all about seduction, not killing. He moves the hands over the nun’s body, pulling clothing out of the way, lifting up black skirts. He adds sounds, moans and whispers of consent.

Azu is being pressed to the sides of the priest’s brain by fast reproducing images and emotions, shame mingling with an excitement, lust with reason and above it all, the almost tangible sensation and anticipation of plunging into a warm wet hole. Azu doesn’t have a heart, but if he had it would be thrashing about with the thrill of the win. He’s so close now, one little move or word from the priest and Azu is on the fast track downward.

Azu senses movement, the light is changing from gloomy shadow to something sunnier. They are moving into back rooms, where doors can be shut and locked. Where curtains can be pulled. There’s the distinct sound of a door shutting.

All religious sentiment and harmless chit-chatter has left the priest’s brain. Images now form and multiply on their own volition and Azu slides into the background, adding only a little ambiance by letting out his patented sub-level white-noise moan. This is what seals the deal eight out of ten times.

The two are talking, Father O’Leary’s voice butter and cream, the nun’s strawberries and sugar, by the window, standing close. Father O’Leary is sliding out of his vestments and Azu feels the victory jitter of his non-heart, the sound of rustling clothes is as exciting as the act of sex itself. The soul is practically in his hands already.

“AZUREAN!”

The nails-on-blackboard voice of his boss, pull Azu out of his call just as the priest puts his hand on the nun’s shoulder.

“MY OFFICE. NOW.”

Azu jumps to his feet, grins and starts the trek down to the sixth level.

Chuck Challenge – Five Random Words.

It is that time again, and, lo and behold, it is the second week in a row that I manage to write a story well within the allotted time. Wonders never cease to exist.

The challenge this week was to pick five words of a list of ten and use them all in the story. I randomly picked Foxglove, Whalebone, Orphan, Acid and Topaz.

I’ve been binge-watching White Collar on Netflix a lot lately, so my inspiration for this story is clear, though my miss Shirotori is hardly a Neal Caffrey and Foxglove is definitely not a Peter Burke. But, there’s a heist of sorts. The title is a little off, considering the time period for the story. I’ve decided that I do not care.

Oh and I’ve used a a little more than my word allowance. A good 20 percent. Sorry.

The Heist

By Trine Toft Schmidt

The door clicked and then opened up an inch. Kyouki pocketed her tools and stepped away from the door, sketching a tiny curtsy in the direction of the man behind her.

“After you, Mr. Foxglove.”

Mr. Foxglove bowed slightly at the waist, but made no attempt to enter the door.

“No, milady, after you.”

Kyouki rolled her eyes at his insecurities and slipped through the cracked door into the Orphan Emperor’s Treasury.

The room was huge, at least fifty feet across, and as impressive as it was rumoured. A colonnade of white marble columns circled it, holding up a glass-dome. It bathed the room in a million fractured rays of moon light, highlighting the treasures, displayed on hundreds of pedestals, in the most appealing way. Kyouki could see statues from Grecaia, ancient ceramics from Zhengui, lustrous oil paintings from Ardentania, precious jewels from Ai’Aba. The thought of making away with any one of these pieces made her heart beat faster, but her order was clear. Steal a small silver ring set with topaz. No more, no less. She held her life dear and did not voice her doubts, though it seemed unlikely that the Orphan Emperor would even own such a worthless little thing.

“We have not all night to dilly-dally away, gawking at pretties, miss Shirotori.” Mr. Foxglove stepped past her. Kyouki watched him weave his way through the pedestals. His steps whispered along the rounded walls and she shook her head. Foxglove was big and ungainly and apparently could not move across a room without announcing himself. It was utterly unclear to her, why the Hidden man had lumbered her down with this useless idiot, a master thief he was definitely not! She almost flew past him on silent feet.

The ring was surprisingly easy to find. It was hidden on the finger of a carved likeness of an Ardanian woman, wearing a stunning dress covered, hem to bodice, in tiny pink tear shaped diamonds. The ring was set with an ordinary pale blue topaz, hidden among splendid diamonds and sapphires on an oaken finger.

“I have it.” The gentle tones of her hushed voice carried far in the room.

“Good.” Foxglove was less careful and his hoarse gravel voice multiplied and drifted back to them from several directions. Kyouki swore under her breath.

“Keep your voice down, Foxglove, or do you really wish to bring the imperial guard upon us?” She looked up to shadows moved around the rim of the dome.

Foxglove shrugged and held out his hand.

“Let me see it, I want to make sure it is the right ring.”

“It is the right one.” She held it up in a ray of moonlight, but quickly snatched it away again, when Foxglove made to take it from her. With a deft move of her fingers, she slid the ring into the hidden pocket in her sleeve and then made a show of putting her empty hand into her pocket. Anger and fury moved like thunderclouds across Foxglove’s face and Kyouki braced herself for a show of force, but, to her surprise, Foxglove’s features smoothed out and he nodded and turned back toward the distant door.

Kyouki had passed him again, was already half way across the room, when she felt a burning sting on the back of her neck. She slapped her hand over the burning spot and felt something small and hard protruding from just under her hairline. She stopped and yanked out a tiny arrow, no longer than half her finger and as thin as a needle. Around the small puncture wound her skin burned like acid and tongues of fire licked at her nerve endings. She cursed and put a wide pedestal to her back. Foxglove appeared, smiling an ugly toothy smile.

“I need the ring. Give it to me.” A small blowpipe poked out of his sleeve.

“You poisoned me.” The acid flow was washing over her shoulders, climbing up her neck. Already her upper arms were numb and breathing was getting difficult.

“Yes.” He dipped his hand into his pocket and came up with a tiny vial filled with a murky violet substance. “Maybe I will give you the antidote. Provided that you give me the ring, of course”

“No. What did you use?” It felt like a numbing poison, but the burn was unfamiliar. A combination of several poisons perhaps.

“It is irrelevant, miss Shirotori. No ring, no antidote. No antidote…” His grin widened. She just shook her head. Who did he think she was? A simple, little novice, on her first job? Did he think she’d never been poisoned before? The thought alone confirmed her suspicions. That he was not Guild, had not been trained by the Hidden Man and his associates. She slid her hand to her trusted dagger, nestled against her spine. The poison was trickling down her arms and made gripping the hilt difficult. It would only be a matter of time before she wouldn’t be able to use her hands either.

“You’re just a clumsy back-alley mutt. If you think I will hand over the ring, you are even more of an idiot than I thought… which is quite a feat. I guess you do deserve a little credit for that…”

He leaned forward on the balls of his feet, as his fist shot out and connected with her chin. But she was ready for him, as he drew back his hand to hit her again, she drove her trusted whalebone dagger deep into his gut. He crumbled around it, dropping the vial, as he fell to his knees. She pulled out the dagger, held it in her hand, just in case he decided to want more.

“You bi…” She kicked out with her left foot and hit his chin. He tilted right and hit the floor like a kicked-over doll. Kyouki sneered at him. What an amateur!

She spotted the vial against a pedestal. Her arms were almost completely dead now, so she flipped onto her side, like some crippled snake, and scrabbled along the floor until she could grab it with her teeth. She pushed herself up against a pedestal, held the tiny vial between her knees, while she worked the stopper off with her teeth. The she clamped down delicately around the glass rim and threw her head back, almost choking on the vile bitter brew inside. It might not be the antidote to the poison in her body, but it sure tasted like it was. Without waiting for the effects to set in, she managed to get onto her feet and make it back to the door. With fingers buzzing and tingling she pulled it open and looked back. She could barely see the outline of Foxglove in the distance. He wasn’t dead, at least not yet, though you never knew with gut-wounds. To make sure he wouldn’t come after her, she aimed a kick at one spindly thin pedestal that crashed to the floor.

She grinned and closed the door, listening to the guards above yell and shout, before she slipped into the shadows and disappeared.

Flash Fiction – Ten little chapters.

Chuck’s challenge this week was pretty simple, at least on the surface. Write the customary 1000 word story, but this time add scope, by adding chapters. 10 of them to be precise.  A rather impossible thing, I thought friday afternoon when I read the assignment here.  But then a title appeared to me out of the blue… or out of nowhere as it were, and the story almost wrote itself.

Dividing the story into 10 parts was both easy and hard. There were fewer details to worry about and a greater sense of completion, because I could finish off small sections at a time, which is a great motivator. Writing was faster and more straight foreward + Editing has never been this easy.

But lets face it, an average of 100 words is not much to set a scene, drive the story forward, write engaging dialogue and show character growth. Keeping to the word limit took some serious self-discipline and records shows I am sorely lacking in that department.

But here it is. My 10-chapter, 1002 word story.

The Out-of-Nowhere Man

By Trine Toft Schmidt

Prologue

The man appears out of nowhere, next to a dumpster. Without ceremony he reaches inside and pulls out a crying bundle. A little girl, skin the color of malted chocolate, barely a day old. He wraps his scarf around her, tugs her against his shoulder under his black woollen coat. She stops crying, looks at him with big brown eyes, immediately calm. She doesn’t start crying again until he puts her carefully down on the hospital steps, swathed in his coat.

“Don’t you worry, little thing. I’ll keep you safe.” He strokes her tiny cheek and then disappears again.

4

Henrietta clumsily kicks out and, by sheer luck, her little foot connects soundly with the red ball. It flies out into the street, bouncing off a parked car.

“Uh oh.” She sings to herself. “Gotta catch the ball or Daddy will be mad.” She runs between two cars and stretches out her hands toward the ball.

“Hey there little thing.” A man in a black coat squats down in front of her, barring her way.

“My ball.” She points to the ball and he nods.

“And what a nice ball. Stay here and I’ll get it for you sweetie.”

16

“Come on Henrietta, live a little.” Maggie and Leo wave at her from the car. Henrietta is torn. They’ve been drinking and Leo’s definitely been smoking his mom’s pot stash. But it is friday night and mum’s at work. And besides, they are just driving down to The Burger Joint. It’s not even a mile. She grins and runs down the steps to the car.

 

The siren blasts behind them just as they turn right onto Howard.

“Shit.” Leo wails.

“I told you to slow down, you idiot.” Henrietta screams from the back seat, bathed in blue flashing light. “Pull over.” She punches Leo’s shoulder and Maggie moans.

 

An officer steps up to the car. Bends down and looks inside. Even though she’s never had dealings with cops before, he looks familiar. Henrietta leans forward between the front seats and looks at him.

“Hey! You’re the Out-of-Nowhere Man.”

22

An old movie is playing. Black and white. Ancient. A man is singing about some girl coming from out of nowhere. Henrietta giggles at the tv-screen and takes another sip of the rum and coke.

“The Out-of-Nowhere Man. He’s singing about the Out-of-Nowhere Man.” She says over her shoulder.

Mike, her on-and-off boyfriend, shakes his head and light up the crack pipe in his hand.

“You’re one crazy bitch.” is all he says.

The phone rings and Henrietta stumble out of the sofa and picks it up.

“Hello?”

“Henrietta.” The voice is like a thick woollen blanket wrapped around her in the cold.

“Out-of-Nowhere Man.” Henrietta looks around. Opens the door to the hallway. It is empty. “Where are you?”

“I am not here. Some things only you can yourself from, little thing.”

28

There’s knock on the door.

“Come in.” Henrietta stops pacing and turns toward it. It opens and all her butterflies settle and the nausea dissipates.

“You.” She smiles at him, then looks around, alarmed. He senses her sudden apprehension and holds out his hands.

“Don’t worry, little thing. Today is a happy day. I just came to congratulate you.” He smiles and she picks up the skirt of her white satin dress in her hands and run to him. He steps back, out into the corridor, avoiding her hug.

“No. Don’t leave. Please stay.”

He shakes his head and gives her a last smile before he disappears again.

30

“Mrs Gonzales. These just came for you.” The nurse carries a bouquet of cornflowers and poppies in her hand, already in a vase. She hands Henrietta the card and puts the vase on the nightstand. Then bends down and gurgle funny sounds at the small boy lying in the crib.

“Oh he’s such a doll.”

Henrietta reads the card.

If you should go back to your nowhere
Leaving me with the memory
I’ll always wait for your return out of nowhere
Hoping you’ll bring your love to me

She smiles. Even in her happiest moment he looks over her.

30-45

All is well.

46

Henrietta looks down on the streets below her. People mill about like ants, all alive and with lives to live. She leans forward, hopes the wind will take her.

“This is not the solution, little thing.” A familiar voice says behind her. She turns and there he is. Looking not a day older than on her wedding day. She holds out the picture in her hand.

“A mother isn’t supposed to outlive her child.”

The man shakes his head.

“I know, Henrietta.” He sits down next to her, smooths out the crumpled picture of her boy. “Tell me about him.”

Tears rise, finally breaks through the core of ice that was once her heart.

68

She hands the small shovel back to the pastor. Walks back to the chair. She looks up into the sun, tries to stop the tears that have spilled for days now. A movement catches her eyes. There, by the sycamore tree. He is leaning against it. Watching her. He sends her a small sad smile and for a brief moment the pain lifts from her heart. Even though it feels like she will die now, it is not her time yet.

74

“No more saving me, Out-of-Nowhere man.” Henrietta smiles at the man sitting next to her bed. A clock is ticking on the nightstand.

tik-tok

He smiles and shakes his head.

“No, little thing. Now it is time.

“Has been many times before.” Henrietta closes her eyes. She is ready. As ready as she will ever be for the ever-dark to take her. She draws a deep breath and lets herself sink into the darkness. A snatch of a song sends her off. Ella Fitzgerald. Singing about her Out-of-Nowhere Man.

 

Chuck Challenge: Must Contain…

…according to a trusty random generator (aka my husband) a time machine and an escaped prisoner.  (Link to challenge here)

Which became the continuation of a previous flash fiction piece A Good Cup of Joe.

 

Not a Regular Joe

By Trine Toft Schmidt

Maddie stares at the twisting, swirling tendrils of coffee vapor in the air. The smell of coffee makes her drool, but her arms have lost the initiative to move and her brain has turned to pink bubblegum froth. Words forms in the sticky pink bubbles and rise sluggishly through the froth, popping with a hollow smack before she can work her mouth around the weird, fantastical words they hold.

Magic

Time Travel

She opens her mouth.

“Gah.”

She closes it again and puts the cup down on the sand, from whence it has come.

Joe has resumed his relaxed pose, arms resting on knees, his face turned toward the sea and doesn’t say anything else.

Time stretches and warps, the ocean whispers on the sand and rocks, the sun moves in tiny increments across the blue sky. Gulls hover and disappear.

Finally a word grabs hold of her tongue and claws its way out.

“Hawaii.” She says, insanity still a concept very much on her mind.

“Yup.”

“That’s like a million miles away from…” She frowns and can’t come up with the name of the place she’d started out her morning. “…home.”

“More like three thousand miles.” He says, sitting like a sculpture next to her, golden brown instead of alabaster white, but just as immovable. As if saving her, transporting her to this secluded beach, has been his single irrefutable goal in life. Save the neurotic whinge on the verge of getting killed and thou shall have fulfilled your destiny.

“I don’t believe you, you know? You said I wasn’t insane, but I really think this is Insanity Induced Reality. It’s all too perfect, you, the beach, the water, the sky.” She hesitates, realizes she sounds rather ungrateful. “I like the sentiment though, so thank you.”

“You are not insane.” He says matter-of-factly. Which doesn’t do anything to alleviate her fears at all.

Over his shoulder, she watch the beach stretch forever. Where the blue, green, white and black melt into the horizon, something, maybe a bird, moves in the haze of the midday sun.

Another thought occurs to Maddie, something she would have reacted to immediately if she hadn’t been so fucking shell-shocked.

“How do you know my name?”

He shifts in the sand.

“Sorry?”

“You said my name when I woke up. I’ve never told you my name.”

He shrugs, perfect shoulders moving a fraction toward his small and neat ears.

“Lucky guess, I suppose.” He sounds indifferent.

He’s willing to pull coffee out of the sand, like some magicians party trick, but won’t explain how he knows her name. It doesn’t make sense, but instead of calling him on that, she flings him another question, now that the bubbles seem to freely deposit them into her mouth.

“What about Wayne?”

Joe turns his head and looks at her.

“Who?”

“Wayne, the guy whose fingers you broke when you pulled them off my neck.” She touch the tender skin where Wayne’s fingers pressed into her windpipe. “The guy who was about to kill me?”

“Oh him.” Joe rolls his eyes and shrugs. “What about him?”

“Does he remember? Was he…” she pauses to find the right word. Looks at the tiny black dot moving at the far end of the beach. Maybe it’s a dog. “Was he aware like I was?”

“I don’t know. I doubt it though.”

“Why?”

Seconds go by. He’s looking at her with his green eyes, evaluating, a tiny frown causing a surprisingly deep wrinkle between his eye brows. Then the wrinkle smooths out.

“I can’t tell you. Like I said before, I really shouldn’t have done this.”

“But why?”

He shakes his head and closes his mouth. Looks away.

“Oh come on!” The anger is a surprise flash flood of raw heat thundering through her veins. Before she knows it, she’s on her feet, kicking into the sand, pelting his side with flecks of white. The coffee cup tumbles unto its side and the perfect whiteness is stained a delicate brown. The pink bubbles burst all at once and questions spill out of her like sand through her fingers.

“You owe me some answers. Real answers. Like, how you’ve transported me to fucking Hawaii? Like how you knew to save me from Wayne? Like how can it be midday when it was morning, only an hour ago? Like how do I even know if this is Hawaii? How do I know you didn’t somehow drug me and this is a sick weird abduction scheme? I don’t have my phone or my bag. I don’t even know what time it is. I am on a deserted beach, alone with some weirdo stranger, who acts like he’s a bloody cross between Ghandi and David Copperfield. Like who the hell are you?”

He looks at her. Doesn’t move a single over-perfect muscle. She bends down, picks up the coffee cup, still warm from the spilled coffee, and flings it at him while she stomps her foot into the sand. The cup glances off his shoulder and falls with a dull thud back onto the sand. He doesn’t even flinch.

“Fine. Don’t answer my questions then. I’ll go find someone who can tell me where the hell I am. And then I am calling the cops!” She stomps off, toward the moving dot at the end of the beach, figuring that if there’s a dog, there must be an owner somewhere as well.

She doesn’t get more than ten feet before she realize two things.

One: the hazy figure her is human. Has arms and legs and a misshapen head on top of a barrel chest.

Two: that her suspicions are right, she really is totally off her rocker. The guy is, by no stretch of the imagination, human. Not only does it look like he is eight feet tall and wide as a mountain, he’s also got horns curving from his forehead down past his ears. His skin is ridged and black as night, like he’s stepped out of one of the volcanic rocks that litter the beach.

“What the fuck is that!” She turns toward Joe, who takes his sweet time looking up.

“What?” He’s looking in the right direction, following the line her arm and finger is making.

“That thing, that beast, running toward us. What is that? Is it another figment of my imagination or is it real?”

Joe gets up. Brushes sand from his ass. Look down the beach. To the monster free end.

“Yo, Ghandi. Other direction. You can’t miss him, big fucking hunk of black. Horns.”

He turns his head and looks toward the monster. Maddie looks over her shoulder. It is closing in fast.

Joe nods as if he confirms some truth to himself.

“I can’t see it, but maybe…” He lifts his hand and touches her cheek.

It is like the ground kicks the soles of her feet, a shock wave moves up her feet and spreads upward through her body. It feels like she’s that glass of water in the Jurassic Park movie. Her insides wobble and shudder.

“We’ve got to go.” Joe grabs her arm and hauls her toward the belt of vegetation behind them. “This is bad.”

“The monster…”

“…is hopefully having trouble moving at the moment.” He pushes through a wall of something dark green and broad-leafed and Maddie takes a last look at the beach behind her. Everything has stopped, just like it did when she stood under that flourescent light in the alley being killed by Wayne. The waves are flash frozen in place, caught mid-break, a gull hangs a few inches off the water like it is a puppet on a string. And the monster is mid-stride, it’s vulcanic rock chest has cracked apart and fiery orange lava glows underneath. As Maddie watches the lava starts to turn black, to form a new crust. As if in slow-motion the monster’s head starts turning toward them.

“He’s still moving.” Maddie shouts at Joe’s back and fights the urge to burst into tears.

“Yeah, he’s not a minion of time.” As if that is supposed to make any sense.

“But, we can’t outrun him, can’t you do some time hocus pocus travel again?”

The first sign of human inhabitation, a black asphalt road, appears ahead.

“No.” Joe points toward a car parked on the side of the road. A mustard colored old Honda Civic.

“We are going to drive away in that?” Laughter starts bubbling in her stomach, prickling in her throat. Tries to displace the terror threatening to lock her limbs, as if she’s a spent wind-up toy.

“Yes.” He opens the driver’s side and throws himself into the car, leans over and shoves the passenger side door open for her. A crash behind her send a flurry of birds into the air. She jumps into the car and slams the door. In the wing mirror the monster emerge on the road some thirty feet behind them.

Joe turns the ignition, slams the car into Drive and they lurch forward, gravel dings and clangs in the wheel wells. Behind them a tree burst into flames when the monster shoulders past it.

“What the hell is that thing?”

“I think it’s a balrog.” Joe sounds remarkably calm.

Slowly the creature falls behind.

“A what?” She leans back, sinks into the seat as the adrenaline drains away and leaves behind a bone deep weariness. Keep her eyes locked on the mirror. “What does it want?.”

“You.”

“Great. Another psycho who wants to kill me. You know there really should be a limit to how many near-death encounters a girl can legally have in a day.”

“Oh he doesn’t want to kill you. He just want to use you.”

“Use me. Now that sounds real assuring. Do I dare ask why?”

“Well… he’s trying to escape, and you are a Chaos Child after all.”