Flash Fiction Lateness

Chuck Wendig’s challenge last week was to write a genre mash-up of two genre’s picked from a list of twenty. I have said it before, I know, but I hate these genre challenges, they usually trip up my brain no end, but to my utter amazement I actually got an idea that I really liked this time. Without the added bonus of an increased word limit of 1500 I wouldn’t have made it though.

I picked Time Travel and Low Fantasy. Now I am not sure I hit the mark on any of these, I researched Low Fantasy, and I think I’ve got my setting down OK, but I don’t really know about the Time Travel business. I’ll leave that up to you to judge.

Now off to figure out this week’s challenge that I haven’t even read yet.

A Good Cup of Joe

By Trine Toft Schmidt

It was still dark when Maddie made her way down Lexington toward her local coffee pusher. She was shivering, thick strands of precipitation poured out of the dark sky, and since she wasn’t an umbrella kind of girl, she was soaked to the skin.

The streets were empty, though now and then, a car would blast past, as if trying to outrun the rain. One Mercedes, swerving with intent, drove through the puddle formed over a useless drain and soaked her even more. God dammit. She picked up her pace, almost running now. Just one more block, she cheered herself on, she could almost smell the coffee.

She was utterly unprepared when a figure stepped out in front of her and grabbed her. She screamed and kicked out with her heels, but failed to make an impact. The man dragged her effortlessly into the alley and slammed her against the wall, under a weak flourescent light.

“Hello Maddie.”

Her heart stopped, her blood turning to ice in her veins, and her muscles went slack.

Wayne.

But it was impossible. He was in jail. They’d promised her he would never get out.

He stepped closer to her, so she could see him properly, his thin bloodless lips stretched in a sick grin.

“I bet, you thought you’d never see me again.” He calmly wrapped his hands around her neck, squeezing lightly. Then he tapped her head back against the wall, and black spots began to hop and dance in front of her eyes. Her lungs were burning with the lack of air.

She tried to not cry, but tears ran down her cheeks anyway. She hated that her body betrayed her like this, but most of all, she hated that she’d stopped looking over her shoulder for him.

“I told you I would kill you, didn’t I honey?” For a second he eased his hold on her and wild hope surged through her. “And you know I always keep my promises.” He lifted his hand and light glinted off a knife. He twisted it, made sure she knew what was coming. Then he put the tip to her cheek.

There was a thunder-clap and the light above her flickered. Wayne froze, sneering, the knife pressing on her cheekbone. She wanted to close her eyes, but she was paralyzed, her limbs locked in place. The sound of her heart in her ears was gone, the burn of missing air in her lungs had vanished. It was as if time had just stopped being.

Maybe she was dead, she thought, staring at Waynes’s insane eyes. Maybe when you died, time stopped and you were caught in the moment of your death forever. Maybe that was what hell was. Consciousness, but frozen, forever.

Or, she thought vaguely, trying to find a way out of the hopelessness, maybe it was just some new psychological avoidance shit she was doing to herself. Shutting herself down so she wouldn’t feel the pain.

Something moved to her left, and she snapped to, struggling to see what it was out of the corner of her eye. A tall dark figure was making his way down the alley toward them.

He stepped into the weak light, so close she could see the wet spots on his hoodie. Maybe he was a time travelling hitman, she thought as he lifted his hands to her neck. But he didn’t touch her, just started tearing Wayne’s hands away from her, forcefully snapping his fingers back until they cracked. The knife hung suspended in the air, until the man took it and flung it down the alley. Maddie followed its twirling  path until it dropped out of sight. So maybe she wasn’t going to die.

The hooded man stepped around Wayne, and she caught a glimpse of his face. It looked familiar. But before she could dig out the relevant information from her sluggish brain, he grabbed her arm and leaned in close, tipped her over his shoulder like he was some firefighter rescuing the damsel in distress. She hung there like a doll, stiff and immovable, her perspective of the world up side down and skewed.

He turned toward the street and Maddie caught a last glimpse of Wayne. His eyes were glittering with expectant glee and wild rage. Maybe he was conscious somewhere inside too.

The man carried her down the street as if she weighed less than nothing. All she could see, bouncing over his shoulder, was the pavement and the way his feet left footsteps in the rain dimpled surface, as if the slick of water was just a layer of solid matter. Every step cast small drops up into the air, where they hung suspended as if gravity had also ceased to exist.

After a little while the man stopped and bent awkwardly, and her view shifted again as he deposited her into a car seat, manipulating her joints until she sat almost right. He closed the door and slid in behind the wheel, flicking on the light. Then he leaned in and she could finally see him.

She did know him. It was the barista from the coffee shop. Joe something. When he spoke she could almost smell the coffee she associated with his deep baritone voice.

“Listen, stopping time is easy, but it has a cost. When time starts… its not pleasant.” His knuckles were white on the wheel. “The longer the stop, the harder the start.”

Yeah, she was going insane, sitting in a car like an over sized doll, hearing a shaggy haired barista talk about stopping time. She was ripe for the mental institution.

“Try and think of something nice.”

Whatever happened it couldn’t be as bad as Wayne, she thought as the world resumed, as rain started pelting down on the car with a roar and she plunged over the edge, like the world was a damn rollercoaster on steroids and speed. She was sucked back into the seat falling down into nothingness. Her stomach pitched and bucked, and her brain felt like it was on fire. Every cell in her body hurt, her heart screaming with pain. It raced, faster and faster, as if trying to catch up to its lost beats, slamming against her ribs and breastbone, deflating her lungs with it’s wild thrashing. Her head spun out of control, like a carousel, flinging her thoughts carelessly to the side.

Joe might have saved me just to kill me again, she thought just before everything went a blinding bright white and she lost consciousness.

 

It was the sound of the ocean that brought her back. The roar and crash of waves on rocks. The swoosh of water withdrawing from coarse sand.

“Maddie?”

She pried her eyes open. Joe was a dark outline, standing over her, haloed by the fiery sun right behind him.

“Gah” Grit was lodged in her throat, like she’d been crying. The skin on her face felt taut and stiff. She coughed and rolled over to her side.

His shadow disappeared and he threw himself down on the sand next to her. He was dressed in red surfer shorts and a green tank top, his legs and arms tanned a beautiful shade of light honey brown.

“Are you OK?” His eyes were a deep dark green that matched his tank top.

She took a moment to take inventory. Her heart was back to a normal steady rhythm, her body seemed to be under her command and she still had access to her brain. At least the basics were in order.

“A little dizzy.” Air rasped her sore throat and she swallowed.

“Yeah. It’ll pass.” He leaned his arms on his knees and looked out over the water.

Maddie turned and surveyed her surroundings. White sand, deep blue water, palm trees, black jagged rocks. Deserted. Gorgeous. It didn’t looke like any beach she knew.

She dug her fingers into the warm sand and watched the waves crash.

“Am I going insane?” If she was, this beach was a pretty nice place to be institutionalized.

Joe shifted, twirled his finger into the sand.

“No. You’re not insane. But I don’t blame you for thinking you might be.” Sand vortex’ed around his twirling finger.

“Where…” she looked up at the sun, high in the sky. “When are we?” She glanced over to see his face, his green eyes were locked on his finger, and he took his time answering.

“Hawaii.”

“But I don’t understand. What the hell are you? Some time traveling superhero Barista?” A lopsided grin flashed on his lips.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I shouldn’t have done this, you know?” She disagreed. She was more than fine with being alive.

“With all that weird shit, I’m pretty sure I’ll believe anything you say.”

He shook his head and dug his other hand into the sand under his little vortex. The gorgeous smell of coffee, warm and delicious, rose from the hole in the sand. He lifted his hand, and handed her a white porcelain cup of steaming coffee. She took it, but stared at the sand between his knees.

“Let’s just say I’m really good with coffee.” He said and brushed sand off his hands.

Summer Reading: The Rowan

Cover The Rowan

So I guess summer must be over, because I have just finished the last book in my summer reading list. The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey is the first book in the Tower and the Hive series, and I’ve read itcountless times, though it has been years since I last picked it off the shelf.

The Rowan is the sole survivor of a natural catastrophe in a small mining community on Altair. Buried in a mudslide, her plight triggers her telepathic abilities on such a massive scale that every talented person on Altair is forced to listen to her psionic wails for her mother. Recognizing her as a Prime, considerable resources is put into rescuing her. She is brought up to be a Prime, to work for the FT and T (Federated Telepaths and Teleporters) using her telekinetic abilities to send and catch what is transported around the Nine Star League.  Lusena, a child therapist, is appointed as her caregiver, and she grows up in her household. When she is 12 she moves into Altair’s Tower to begin her training, training under Siglen, Altair’s current Prime. Rowan grows up lonely, she has no real family, no real friends, and even as an adult she finds it hard to make a connection with people. Well, that is, until she meets Jeff Raven, a new unknown T1 from Deneb. They fall in love and together have to rally the Nine Star League into action when aliens attacks.

Not for the first time during this summer I feel like I have changed since last reading the book. I didn’t like The Rowan as much this time around. It feels  stiff,  arrogant and detached. Rowan’s emotions are explained but not really felt, there are some inconsistencies and don’t get me started on the whole love story thing. Two mental exchanges leaves Rowan and Jeff with a deep and permanent love for each other. It’s just too easy. But what do I know, perhaps a mental link of the sort Rowan and Jeff shares just expedite things along nicely.

I also have real trouble with the importance the book place on physical appearance. As is the case with many books, body size is used to indicate likability and worthiness. Siglen, Rowan’s mentor/teacher, is unbearable, has horrible tastes, lazy,  overbearing,  and  is described as a slab on at least two occasions. Basically she is competent, but invites contempt more than acceptance. Rowan on the other hand is rail thin, tiny, large doe eyes and sweet, wise beyond her years, well-behaved, knows the right thing to do and say even at age 12. She is exceedingly smart and does no wrong at all and everyone loves her.

I feel a little disappointed that I couldn’t find back to the breath-held frantic page-turning I always experienced before, when The Rowan in the past. But it is still a good story, I like the concept, I like the world and most of the characters. Especially Isthia Raven, Jeff’s mother, and Afra Lyon (though I suspect that is mostly because I know what happens in the other books.) and I am definitely putting the sequel Damia on my bedside table.

But! I also have a long list of previously unread books on hold on my kindle. Books I want to read badly. Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig comes to mind. iD by Madeline Ashby as well. God so many books, so little time!

But I am also going to make an effort to read more of my shelved books from now on. There are some early Patricia Cornwell I can’t wait to get re-aquainted with and I have decided to give John Grisham another shot as well, though The Pelican Brief still rankles my mind, hell I might even dig out my old Stephen Kings. 

Flash Fiction: Random Story Title Generator

I am cutting it close this week, I know.  This weeks challenge was to pick one of five titles generated.  I picked:

(comments are, as always, more than welcome)

Riding The Corpse

By Trine Toft Schmidt

I’ve been calling Lone Island my home for the past 17 years. It’s an island (duh!)  and maximum security facility far away from the mainland, in shark infested waters. My cell mate Manny West, who was a geologist before he cooked his neighbour, say that the island is an old extinct volcano, slowly dissolving back into the ocean, leaving a ring of steep rocks around fertile bowl of land. We’re so far away that supplies and fresh guards are shipped in once every month. So we farm the land, grow corn and potatoes, raise pigs and chickens. We are pretty self-sufficient that way. I take pride in that. If the miracle ever happens, and I get out again, I will find me a pretty girl and settle down on a little farm, raise a herd of those Scottish Longhorns. Maybe even have kids.

But I seriously doubt that I will ever leave this place alive. Lone Island is where they send the most violent, the most incorrigible, the most heinous of criminals. If you come here, you know it’s for life. I can only think of one exception.

Houdini.

When Houdini came to Lone Island, he’d already escaped five prisons, one more secure than the last. Of course he became instant prison royalty. Everyone wanted to make friends and get the inside scoop on how to escape. Its been almost ten years since he left, but his name is still whispered reverently. When letters from home cease to come or when you are going insane with the endless screams from the demented at night, he is the tiny flicker of hope you try to comfort yourself with.

The guards, not surprisingly, didn’t like Houdini one bit. A cough or a wrong look warranted punishment, which on Lone Island means he was set to do the worst jobs. He weeded endless rows of potatoes alone on his knees, cleaned out slop troughs in the pigsty for weeks in a row, he cleaned toilets over and over again. But nothing ruffled his feathers. Not even when he got sent down the chute.

The chute is the worst. Since Lone Island has no mainland connected sewage system or a water treatment plant, our waste is sent straight into the ocean via the chute. It’s a long steep tunnel, hacked into the bedrock until it breaks through the rock just over the sea. A couple of times each winter seawater build an icy layer on the grates at the end, blocking egress, and inmates are sent down to clean it up, hacking away at frozen shit and piss for hours. Needless to say Houdini got sent there often. After he escaped it became my job.

It took me months to put together, but I think I know how he got away. I have never told anyone though, if I do, I think start a riot. You see I think he rode Evan Thomas.

When people die on Lonely Island, bodies are prepared and stored, waiting for the next supply ship to sail them back to whatever family is left. But that summer was hotter than hell. Hot as in 100 degree days and 80 degree nights. Inmates got heat strokes left and right. The electrics went haywire, the lights flickered on and off constantly and the refrigerators couldn’t keep the food cold. We were all going crazy. Tempers flared easily, and one morning Evan Thomas got shanked over a bar of soap and died. There was no contingency freezer then, t in case someone kicked the bucket and the ones in the kitchen were on the blink. So Evan was stored in a shed, almost stinking up the whole island.

After three days with unbearable heat and stench, Warden Casius made a decision. He declared that Evan would be given a sailor’s burial of sorts. He would be sent down the chute and into the sea. It was unfortunate, the Warden said, but could simply not be helped. Tempers flared more, even Houdini seemed to lose his cool, and got in a shouting match with a guard. So he was the one they picked when the chute had to be prepared for Evan’s last ride.

I am sure that is what Houdini had planned for all along. I think maybe he messed with the electrics and I am pretty sure that he messed with Evan Thomas and Charlie Kokoma as well.

Houdini created a chance and then he took it.

The funeral was a quick affair. A brief sermon and a quick prayer by the chaplain, and then Evan, clad in heavy canvas tarp tied with old belts, was sent on his way through the chute. No one waited for the sound of his body hitting the sea, the stench was making everyone sick by then. The warden hit the levers controlling the trap door and the grate at the far end and then it was all closed up.

It wasn’t until the nightly roll call that they discovered Houdini was gone. They searched high and low, for days, and found nothing. They hauled me in for interrogations, since we’d shared a cell. But I had nothing to tell them. I was as confounded as the them. They didn’t believe me though, and soon they gave me the same shitty jobs Houdini had gotten, including sending me down the chute that winter.

There’s this lip of rock that finishes off the chute, hanging out over the sea, safeguarding that the sewage and garbage doesn’t end up on the rocks. Just within reach of the grates, on the side of that rocky lip I found an old shirt snagged on a branch of something long dead. Its arms and neck were tie in knots. A makeshift bag of shots. It was empty, tattered and disgusting, but I was curious and examined it. 548 it said in faint black numbers across the chest. Houdini’s number. He’d had escaped through the chute. And the only way that was possible, I think, was if he rode something big enough that needed the grates opened. Evan Thomas.

I don’t know. I don’t think he survived it. It’s a big damn ocean, and a long way to swim. I don’t see how he could have made it. I really don’t.

But when I have trouble sleeping, I fantasize about Houdini.

About riding the corpse.

Summer Reading: The Danger

The cover of The Danger by Dick Francis

It’s only been two days since I posted my thoughts on A Town Like Alice, and here I am, the next book in my summer reading scheme already devoured. It isn’t very surprising though, The Danger by Dick Francis’s was hard to put down, easy to read, fast paced and great.  Dick Francis never disappoints.

Andrew Douglas is a partner in Liberty Market Ltd., a firm specializing in kidnap-prevention and negotiating with kidnappers once a kidnapping has occurred. At the start of the book he is in Italy, helping Paolo Cenci get his beloved daughter, Alessia, back from the kidnappers, who have been holding her for the past six weeks. Though the local police botch the ransom drop, in the end Alessia is released, shaken but physically unhurt.

When Andrew goes back home to England, Alessia, who is a professional jockey, decides to travel with him, to get away from the memories and to recuperate with a friend.  She wrestles with the psychological aftermath of her weeks as a kidnapping victim, and Andrew does his best to keep her from sinking too deep into depression.

But then a little boy is kidnapped and it becomes evident that his kidnapping is related to Alessia’s.  Andrew, with the help of his partners, and the police, must find the boy and stop the man orchestrating these kidnappings.

I couldn’t put this book down, which is testament to how great a writer Dick Francis was. The characters are believable and likeable and the writing is clear and compelling. As a crime story it concentrates much more on the mechanics of Andrew Douglas’s profession, and the psychological consequences of having been held against your will, than it does on the excitement of the chase. My only real complaint with the book is the bad guy, his motives were a little fuzzy, and he was, perhaps true to the story, not very sinister after all.

And this means I am about to start the last book of my list, The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey. Can’t wait!

 

 

Summer Reading: A Town Like Alice

Cover Town Like Alice

I have a very vivid recollection of being in my grandparent’s spare bedroom, 10 – 11 years old, sitting on their black and blue checkered sofa-bed, arguing with my father about Bryan Brown. We’d just seen him in a movie and I adamantly claimed that Bryan Brown had also been in A Town Like Alice, while my father strongly argued that he had definitely not. In the end, we made a bet and I won a trip to the movies for me and my siblings. I thought Brian Brown was rather hot, and, I think, to prolong the experience of him in A Town Like Alice I went out and borrowed the book, though I have no clear recollection of reading it until when I was around 16.

Bryan Brown. I still think he’s hot actually.

Re-reading it now  -mumble-cough- years later I found that I remember most of it quite well, which didn’t ruin the experience  in the slightest. It is still a great book, though the love story between Jean Paget, a British shorthand typist and heiress to a sizable estate, and Joe Harman, Australian ringer doesn’t make me go all gooey anymore.  In fact I am not sure I would even call it a romance, as the cover claims it to be. Yes, love absolutely drives the actions of the Jean and Joe, but it is also a story of war and hardship and courage and kindness, and it features a strong and strong-willed woman who is not afraid to take risks. A rarity even in 2013.

The story is told by Noel Strachan, a solicitor from London, and trustee of the estate that Jean inherits.  Jean is quite overwhelmed by her inheritance, but ultimately decides to travel back to Malaya where she was a prisoner of war during WWII and where she briefly met Joe Harman. In Malaya she learns that Joe is still alive and she flies to Australia to find him.  When I was a kid the book started a whole Australia-mania that I have never truly let go.

I was actually surprised how well I found Jean to be written, even though the book only offers a second-hand view of her. The only thing that really rings false is Nevil Shute’s portrayal of Jean’s attitude to sex. Times were different, and sex was viewed very differently back then. I do get it, but there are a few phrases in the book, that makes me think that Nevil Shute wrote them with an idolized version of how women were supposed to be in mind and not so much how they would be in reality.  Jean gives Joe almost total control over her willingness to have sex, as if she doesn’t want sex for herself, but would submit to it for his sake. I don’t believe for a second, that even as sexually suppressed as women might have been back in the late forties, that Jean wouldn’t feel aroused when making out with a man that she loves and respects, on a virtually deserted island far from prying eyes. But of course, that is just my opinion, I wouldn’t really have a clue.

Reading A Town Like Alice with 2013 eyes also reveal one major issue with this book, one that I probably wouldn’t have thought about at all, if I had read it back in 1950, when it was written. It is full of jarring derogatory phrases about aboriginals, not in a deliberate malicious way, but as if it is standard, normal, whites are great, abo’s are second class. They don’t talk english well, they don’t cook well, intermarriage is weird, segregation is a must. You get the picture. I had a hard time ignoring it, but made a conscious choice to not let it sway my opinion of the book. It is wrong and mind-boggling stupid,  but back in 1950, that was how the world was.

My issues aside, I still think it is a great book, and I will probably re-read it again in a couple of years.

Next in line is The Danger by Dick Francis

 

Flash Fiction Challenge – inventing a punk.

Yup. This week’s challenge was inventing a new -punk, a la steampunk or cyberpunk… Mr. Chuck Wendig’s got a sick sense of humor, is what I thought when I read the challenge, all because he’s played inventor and have made a reality of cornpunk.

I suck at genres. I read it all the time, but whenever a genre challenge emerge, I feel lost. Write superhero, Chuck says, and my mind go blank… how was it superhero went again? Do house of horror! I run for my bed and hide my head, cue sinister music.

Ah.. but inventing your own genre, hey that’s easy. It would be all yours, nothing epic to live up to, no expectations. Except punk… what the hell defines punk?

So, I did some thinking. If cornpunk is a world run by the echonomic of corn (haven’t read Under the Empyrean Sky yet, it is on hold on my kindle though.) and if steampunk is a world where everything is run on steam, well then I just have to find something that could fuel my newly invented world.

I chose dragons. TA DAAAA!

Dragonpunk

which makes my story Fantasy, and I found out, is not a new invention.

I’ve decided I don’t care. If I fail in the art of punking my story, then at least I do it in the company of dragons, and that makes up for everything in my book.

So I give you:

Burrower

by Trine Toft Schmidt

I was following the raiders through the woods close to the vast open prairie, when suddenly my left foot was yanked out from under me. I landed in a stagnant pool of stinky water. Something was holding on to my ankle, hard enough that it was already going numb and I thrashed and kicked furiously, blinded by the water in my eyes. I didn’t hit anything, but someone snickered maliciously. A snicker I recognised.

Crash.

I relaxed, cursing, and the grip on my foot was released.

Crash, Raven, Wasp and Wing scowled down at me. Wasp was already in my face, grabbing the front of my shirt. He pressed his tattooed face close to mine, but it was Wing who talked.

“What are you doing here, Mole?” She hissed the words through her gritted teeth. The point of her spear was pointed at my heart. I squared my shoulders, as much as I could.

“You know what I want. I want to be a raider.” Raven snorted, and folded his arms across his chest.

“We told you no, you’re just a snivelling little kid.” He sneered and turned away, showing me his disregard. Crash giggled and Wasp let go of my shirt and I plonked back into the water.

“I’m not a kid!” I sounded like a sulking babe, but I couldn’t stop myself. “If you’ll just let me run with you I could show you.” Wasp’s filed pointed canines glinted, and I knew I shouldn’t be pressing it. “Please, let me run with you. Just once.” Wing leaned down over me, put her foot on my chest and pressed me down.

“You’ll never be more than a burrower, Mole.” She grinned at me and old resentment made me want to hit her. It had always been like this. When we were kids, playing, she was always dragon and no matter how much I fought and cried and begged I was always the prey she bloodied with stick claws. I was about to open my mouth and curse her when something passed under the sun and my arguments dissipated like mist under a burning sun.

“They’re coming!” I pointed to the sky. Huge dragons swooped over us, the air suddenly filled with the sound of flapping wings and screaming men. The caravan was here.

Raven cursed and started running, and one after one they sprinted away. Wing hung back a second and bend down over me one last time.

“If we don’t make it in time, I’ll cut off your hands and feed them to the dogs.” Then she was gone too.

I rolled around and got up. I was drenched in mud, twigs and dry grass. Great. Now I even looked like a burrower. Maybe they were right. I couldn’t run fast or silently enough, I was crap with a spear and dad always told me I couldn’t hit a sloth bear with a boulder, when I practised my sling. They all hated me. Wing wouldn’t cut off my hands, but she would tell the elders and they would send me underground for disrupting the raid. I shuddered.

The sound of flapping wings lessened and I looked up. Young dragons, only starting to come into their colours formed the rear end of the caravan. There were emerging greens, blues, and reds, and I even spotted one that might be a silver. A rearguard, a massive deep red, was growling and snapping it’s teeth impatiently at the last stragglers, hardly more than yearlings, struggling to keep up with the pace of the caravan.

And then they were gone, the sound of flapping wings fading and I leaned back against a tree. All I’d ever wanted was to be a raider, to hunt and provide for my family like Wing did, to raid the caravans, when they came to graze on the wild herds on the prairie. I wanted to be big and strong and wild and adored like Wing. I didn’t want to be a burrower, I didn’t want to spend my days in the dark narrow tunnels, wrestling slime worms and harvest mushrooms. I fought the tears that were starting to form childishly in the corner of my eyes.

There was a crashing noise above me and I looked up. Something tumbled out of the sky, coming toward me. It was grey, flapping leathery wings frantically, inexpertly, as it crashed through the canopy, falling without control to the ground. It landed with sick thud a few feet before me, the ground shaking and branches and leaves raining down on me from above. The dragon made a keening noise and then it collapsed.

I stood still for a long time watching the small dragon. This was the closest I’d ever been to a dragon. Normally we only see them flying above or when the Sky Lords come once a year, demanding tithes and men for their armies. Grown dragons are monsters, tall as trees, wings like houses, stinking of sulphur and roaring like volcanoes. Mother always pushes us into the hut when they come, but I’ve watched through the cracks in the hut, admiring the long slender necks, the burning eyes and the pointed teeth. And I’ve envied the men who can control these animals, who ride them like they are winged horses.

And now there was one in front of me. Small, and broken, but a dragon none the less. Plans started to form in my head.

If I came home with a live dragon, I would be the hero none of the raiders would ever be. And I wouldn’t have to burrow, the elders would never send a dragon finder underground. I nodded to myself, satisfied with my new destiny. I could see myself riding this dragon. I would be fierce and awesome. I would be respected and feared.

I walked closer to the dragon, circled it, watching carefully for any signs it would wake up. It was probably female, I thought as if I knew. Still grey, but already it’s wedge shaped head was longer than my arm and her body was three or four times the length of mine.

She looked unhurt, except for her right wing, which was folded under and behind her in a unnatural angle. Bones had snapped and protruded through the thin membrane of her wing.

I stepped even closer and she opened her eyes and looked straight into mine.

I was lost.

 

 

Flash Fiction: Four Random Items.

This entry to Chuck Wendig last challenge was so hard to write for some reason, I apologize for being late to the party. I’ve written and rewritten a million times, and I’ve given up again and again. But for once determination won out.

My Items were: A dead man’s guitar, a rocking chair, an iron horse shoe and a police officer’s badge.

I would love some constructive criticism, I know the ending is a little abrupt, but I am already way over limit, and I don’t know where to cut stuff out. If you’ve got some ideas please let me know.

 

Runaway

(crappy title, first thing I thought of.)

By Trine Toft Schmidt

I was emptying the bottom drawer of my father’s dresser out into a bag, when something hard clunk’ed against the dusty hardwood floor. It was metal, shaped like a shield, tarnished and dusty. I picked it up from the floor and rubbed it against my jeans. ‘Police’ it said at the top, and ‘Fargo N. D.’ on the bottom.

My head started spinning, and suddenly my ribs seemed too small for my lungs to inflate. I stumbled up from the floor and out into the landing, scrambling past my mother’s rocking chair, sending dad’s battered old guitar to the floor with a hollow clunk and a twang that echoed through the empty rooms.

Callie, who’d been rattling with pots and pans in the kitchen, came out into in the hallway, her arms across her chest. I skirted a pile of old furniture and boxes of table cloths and old china, a whole childhood’s worth of memories waiting to be thrown away, and stopped in front of her.

“Is he still there?” I hardly had air to speak. The badge was white hot in my hand.

“Who?” It was the first word she’d said to me all day. I just shook my head. She still didn’t believe me. I really needed to get away from this hell hole. But first I needed to do something, something I should have done twenty years ago.

“Sarah, where are you going?” I turned and tossed her the police badge, it hit her shoulder and fell to the ground.

“I am going to dig up a body.”

When we were kids the barn had been a magical playground, filled with amazing things and places to hide, but now it was a ruin. The sun filtered in from holes in the roof, a tractor was rusting to death in a muddy puddle, and birds had taken possession of everything, droppings and feathers were everywhere.

Air wheezed in and out of my lungs in short shallow bursts, and I was seeing tiny flashes of light in front of my eyes, as if I was about to pass out. I hadn’t been back here in twenty years, but it felt like minutes. I always thought that when dad died I would stop being afraid, but every muscle in my body was seized up, urging me to get the hell out of here. Instead I pushed a piece of bloated fiber board to the side and made my way toward the back of the barn. Behind me I could hear Callie’s hesitant and slow footsteps.

The storm shelter was hidden under old crumbling sacks of cement, and before I could think too carefully about it, I started to haul them off to the side. Callie hovered behind me, I could feel her presence like a cold wind against my neck.

“You can’t go down there. Dad said the ceiling was caved in. It’s dangerous.” Her voice was trembeling, but I ignored her. It was not my safety she was worried about.

The first step creaked under my weight, but held. I ran my hands over the cinderblock wall, brushing  garlands of sticky cobweb away. When I flipped the light switch a flickering yellow light lit up further down.

The storm shelter was much smaller than I remembered. A long narrow room, lined by two bunk beds on one side and by sturdy wooden shelves, still stacked full of canned food and half empty, warped jugs of water, on the other side. I looked around, tried to spot the place, but the dirt floor was smooth, with no indication of where dad had buried him. I slid to my knees and looked under the bunks, and there it was.

I tugged at the heavy moldy madras, and the dust clouds that erupted like volcanoes made me cough. Callie stayed on the last step. She looked scared.

“Sarah, please don’t. Let it be, its been so many years.”

“I’ve got to. I need to make it right” I said and finally managed to haul the madness off the bunk.

The weak light revealed a six-foot patch of lumpy loose dirt.

My heart stopped, and I held my breath.

For almost twenty years officer McGregor had filled my nightmares. Guilt had festered in my conscience, like a cancerous little black mass. Words started to tumble out of me. Words I thought I would never tell anyone again.

“It was my fault. I shouldn’t have told him about daddy. About the…” For a short moment our eyes met and Callie looked away, her fingers twisting her shirt, pressing it against her stomach. “But I couldn’t take it anymore and he was nice and I felt so relieved when I told him.” I started to brush at the loose dirt, close to the wall.

“He promised he wouldn’t tell anyone. But the next day he came walking up the drive way looking grim and determined. I bolted down the stairs to stop him, but when I came to the door he was already dragging dad into the barn.”

I’d sat at for what had seemed like hours, waiting for them to come out, my eyes glued to the door. But when it opened, only dad came out, pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt toward the west fields. Somehow I knew right away, dad had killed him.

“When I was sure dad was really gone I went into the barn.  Callie, the pick axe was full of red smears, and there were drag marks in the dirt, just like in the movies, you know?” I had rushed back into the house, into Callie’s room and told her the whole story, tears pouring out of my eyes. But she just laughed at me. Called me insane. And when I begged her to run away with me, she had hit me across the face.

My fingers struck something hard and cold in the soil, I pulled it out and brushed the dirt of it.

“A horse shoe?” Callie said behind me. I nodded and held it up in the feeble light.

“The sheriff came out a few days after you ran away, asked questions about a missing police officer. Dad acted like he didn’t know anything, but I could tell he was lying.” Callie stepped close to me. “I was so mad at you. You left me here all alone.” She was quiet for a couple of minutes. I leaned my head against her leg, and her fingers brushed my hair.

“I should have run away with you.”