I recently found myself with an hour or two of spare time, and decided to not only partake in Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge, but also to continue my story from last week. In a very “OMG, what did you do to my fairytale/fable?!?!?” way. In 1991 words, too, which is a whole 9 words less than the word allowance!

Back by popular (?) demand, is Detective Roxanne Hood, on the case of the three dead Pigs. Alas, poor coppers, we hardly knew ye.

Heart Stopper

        Echoes bounced around the unlit alley; the slurred singing of a group of drunks on the main street was punctuated by the screaming of two fighting tom-cats and the constant hum of the nearby Chinese restaurant’s extractor fan. Every now and again a cacophony of car horns drowned out the other sounds—road rage was symptomatic of the ill mood which had settled over the town.

Roxanne pulled the collar of her raincoat up as she stood silently observing from within the deep shadows. Once, a younger, more oblivious Roxanne Hood would have  pulled her coat up to keep out the rain. Now, twelve months since she’d crouched over that first dead cop’s body and sworn to herself she’d find the killer no matter what it took, she knew there were worse things than rain to protect your neck from.

After an eternity of standing in those shadows, breathing in the dank stench of decomposing food and stale vomit, Roxanne made up her mind. She deactivated the Shadow-ring on her finger and become visible to the human eye once more. Her eyes, violet beneath the hood of her scarlet raincoat, were fixated on the heavy iron door set into the wall of a building which had a definite air of ‘abandoned’ about it. Though she had seen nobody leave and enter by that door in all the time she had been waiting, she knew it was the right place. The Oracle had been very specific about the location… in his own vague, poetic way.

Her knuckles wrapped on the door three times, stinging with the pain of the cold and the iron. Nothing. No sliding grille to show beady-looking eyes, no voice calling out ‘password’, not even a whisper of a breath to show that her knock had been heard. The night was not silent, but the building was.

Taking a step back, Roxanne laid her right hand palm against the door and closed her eyes. Here, she had to take care. Morganna had taught her many spells, some of them a little too powerful, but the wrong spell here could upset the inhabitants of the building, and severely hamper her chances of success. Although she knew a chant powerful enough to age the iron of the door enough to rust it entirely, she also knew that you didn’t stick an iron door on a building to keep out humans.

“I beseech one of the Ten,” she said, her will focused inwards, her mind oblivious to the ennui of the alley. “I call upon Olorinen, God of Travellers and Pathways, of Portals and Hidden Roads. Lay the path before my eyes now before my feet.”

She opened her eyes and was not disappointed. Olorinen was the one she called upon most for help during her quest; he and Skathara, Goddess of Hunters, walked by her side. Now, Olorinen saw fit to warp the iron, and as Roxanne watched, it began to swirl, as if pulled in all directions at once.  A gap opened up, and through this Roxanne stepped through, to be greeted by a large man who smelt of sweat and earth.

He stared at her, and she stared back. She couldn’t help it. Though she had, over the course of the past year, heard of many strange things, the Rashka were amongst the strangest of them, and she had never seen one in person before.

“You may pass,” the Rashka intoned, its voice a deep rumble, like the earth moving before a volcanic eruption. “But be warned. Violence is prohibited within the bounds of Shanith. More powerful magicks than yours protect this place, witch.”

The creature held out its arm, gesturing for her to venture within. Her dark-vision enhanced eyes were just able to pick out the green moss of the Rashka’s hair, and the craggy limestone of its biceps, before she was forced to walk on.

The corridor was dark, and long. Longer than it could possibly have been, to fit within the building she had been observing. Reality-warping magic. Warlock-level stuff. Someone seriously powerful owns this place… or built it. She filed the information away for later consideration. As she walked, she smiled to herself. If only her former colleagues could see her now. If only her former Chief knew what she was up to. Would any of them even recognise her? Her new eyes were only a small part of her new self. The dark tattoos across her forehead and down her cheeks made her look like some devil-worshipping gang member to the norms of society, but half of the inks were protective and the other half  power-enhancing symbols. In a way, Detective Hood had died the moment she’d discovered this other world, of magic and monsters, mystery and myth, existing alongside a largely oblivious humanity.

At last the corridor terminated in a large room filled with tables and seats, half of them occupied, most of the occupants sub– or supra–human.  At a glance, Roxanne thought she saw three vampires, two demons and a half-dozen spirit-possessed bodies. She wasn’t at all surprised that there were no fey present; nothing kept out the mischievous fey-folk like a good iron door. The whole building was probably laced with the stuff.

Several of the bar’s inhabitants glanced up at her as she stepped into the room, but most, upon seeing her ink, looked away fast enough. One didn’t, though, a lone man in the corner who let his gaze linger over her, as if hungry for the mere sight of her. Roxanne felt a chill run up her spine at the predatory glance, but she ignored her flight-instinct and instead approached the bar. There, the bartender, a large man with hands that looked too strong too handle fine glassware, looked up at her, and nodded briefly.

“What can I getcha?” he drawled.

“Surprise me,” she replied, sliding into one of the tatty seats at the bar. She watched as he poured a shot of dark liqueur into a cocktail shaker, followed by a half-glass of ginger beer, a capful of vodka and a scoop full of ice. He spent a good thirty seconds shaking the concoction, before pouring it into a deep, round glass.

“Heart Stopper,” he said, before she could ask what he called it.

She fished inside her bag for some loose change, but he gave a dismissive wave.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s on your tab.”

“I didn’t know I had a tab.”

“Reggie clocked you coming in. Now, you have a tab.”

Roxanne merely nodded, took a sip of the cocktail—dark and spicy, she thought—and turned to survey the rest of the room. Most of the patrons were sat in groups. Vampires over by the east wall, spirits in the centre, a cadre of ghouls beneath a spluttering torch… but a few of the folks were alone. As well as the leering man over in the corner, there was a woman who did nothing but stare at her drink as it went down on its own, and another man further down the bar who quietly sipped what looked like a plain old beer. He would not have looked out of place at the local yuppie bar, save for the fact that his eyes were black as the night sky, and his suit shifted colours, as if unable to settle on a particular one. Roxanne felt her lip curl; Skin-Dancers were one of the few creatures she had little care for. They forsook their humanity the moment they took their first victim. And all in the name of fashion.

“What brings you to Shanith?” the barkeep asked as he poured a round of drinks—something dark and red from the tap, which Roxanne tried not to think about—for the group of vampires by the wall.

“I’m looking for a man,” she said, as her violet eyes scanned the crowd once more.

The barkeep grinned. “Well, I get off at two, if you don’t mind waiting.”

She shook her head, swivelling her stool back around. The barkeep pulled another pint of blood as Roxanne leant forward.

“The man I’m looking for,” she said, lowering her voice, “is newly arrived here. Within the past couple of months. When he comes, he sits alone, and drinks alone.”

“Lady, that could be half our customers,” he scoffed. “You know what this guy looks like? Got any tattoos? Fancy jewellery? Identifying marks?”

She briefly ran her eyes over the bartender’s own scar, which ran down the side of his face, as if someone, or something, had raked a talon from his temple to his jaw, and shook her head.

“I don’t know what he looks like. All I know is that he’s a loner. And he’s quiet. Probably won’t try to make small-talk with your regulars.”

The barkeep set a pint of red aside, and leant down on the bar, his arms resting on the hard wood.

“You don’t know what he looks like, but you know he’s here? You know how strange that sounds? What’d you do, smell him? ‘Cos I didn’t think a witch’s sense of smell was that keen. No offence, lady.”

“No, I didn’t smell him,” she said. “But I was told he’d be here. Tonight. And I must find him.”

He shrugged. “Hey, as long as you’re buyin’, you can sit here as long as you like eyeballin’ the customers. But don’t come crying if some take offence. Magick-folk don’t exactly have a great rep around here.”

“Why not? Wasn’t this place safeguarded by a warlock?”

“Oh, sure,” he replied, nonchalantly flicking one of the taps. “But still, your kind and their kind… no offence, but you’re hardly Shaman. If you weren’t claimed by the Otherworld from birth, then you were inducted into it, and that’s a choice many here would kill for. Literally. How’s the drink, by the way?”

She took another sip. “Sweet. And spicy.”

He nodded, the torchlight bouncing off his dark hair. A moment later, a barmaid fluttered along—literally, on dark stone gargoyle wings—and flew the tray of red over to the vamps.

“So. What’d this loner guy do to you?” he asked.

“To me? Nothing. I just want to talk.”

“’Bout what?”

“Business. Mine, and his. Not yours.”

“Ahh. Personal business, right?”

“Right.”

She took another sip of the drink.

The barkeep gave her a small smile, and leaned further across the bar. “D’ya mind if I give you a piece of advice?”

“Sure,” she said with a shrug.

“Sit down on the floor.”

Roxanne frowned. “What?”

“The floor. Any second now, the nightshade’s gonna kick in, and you don’t wanna hit your head on the way down. I’ve worked too hard to get you here to lose you now.”

Too late, Roxanne realised her mistake. She reached for the bracelet on her arm, the powerful Charm of Olorinen, but the man grabbed her wrist.

“Ah-ah, none of that,” he warned, with a toothy smile. “You’ll not go teleporting out of here, not while I draw breath.”

Feebly she stood, trying to pull her wrist out of his grasp, but already the nightshade was coursing through her veins. Several of the vampires and the hungry-looking man in the corner looked up as she tried to struggle, but none came forward to help.

“Congratulations, Red,” the barkeep said, taking her in his arms to facilitate her fall to the floor. “You found me. I was starting to think the hints I left with The Oracle had been too vague. But you’re everything I dreamt you’d be; everything, and more. Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of you. From now on, my love, we’re never going to be apart.”

The world spun and started to fade. As Roxanne lost consciousness, she thought she saw the glint of torchlight on the barman’s long canines, but by then it had blended into a dream of happier, simpler times.

It’s been a while since my last Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge, so I thought I’d try and keep it short and sweet this week. I admit, I cheated a little; was meant to pick a fairytale and apply to it a random sub-genre. Instead, I picked a fable, applied a random sub-genre, borrowed an idea from Roald Dahl, and engaged in fabletastic (yes, it’s a word!) detective fun. I hope you like this short story, which clocks in at a piddly 681 words.

The Three Little Pigs

        Red. Glistening. Blood. It coated the walls in pretty scarlet spray-patterns, pooled beneath the tattered body lying supine on the floor, dripped through the minute gaps in the wooden floorboards. The lampshade on the table was decorated in the crimson liquid, as was the forty-two inch TV screen and the Dali print hanging upon one of the walls. Nothing in the room had escaped the carnage.

“Detective Hood, over here!”

Roxanne Hood abandoned her examination of the scene as the coroner called her name. In the background, one of the forensics team went about photographing the evidence. He was going to be here a while.

“Give me the run-down, Tom,” she said, standing just on the edge of the crimson pool.

The coroner shrugged. “You’re looking at what used to be Officer Grant Melkin. Thirty-two, single, a good guy, from what little of him I remember.”

Roxanne crouched down, getting a better view of the former officer’s glassy eyes. “Cause of death?”

“Throat slashed with a kitchen knife. Forensics have bagged it already. As you can see, the heart’s been removed, probably after it stopped beating.”

“That’s the third cop in three weeks,” she said, a shiver running up her spine. “A cop-killing serial killer. Great. The Chief’s gonna hit the roof.”

“You’re going to love this, too,” he replied. Gesturing for her to follow, he led her away from the body of Melkin and into the bedroom. There on the wall above the bed, painted in the victim’s own blood, was the killer’s calling card.

Roxanne sighed. The cartoonish red wolf grinned down at her.

“Seems our guy considers himself an artist,” said Tom.

“A son of a bitch is what he is.” Her words came out as a growl, and she reached into her pocket for the pack of smokes. Sparking up, she took a long drag, savouring the first toxic breath. Every morning she woke up intending to quit. And by every evening she’d seen enough shit to drive her to lighting up another white stick of comfort.

“That stuff’ll kill you,” Tom admonished.

“What are we missing, Tom?” she asked, ignoring his warning. Coroners; what did they know anyway?

“Whaddya mean?”

She tapped the floor with her foot, smudging a little ash from her cigarette into the carpet. “These killings. First there was Robards over on Straw Lane. Then McKenzie on Stickland Drive. Now Melkins on Brick House Avenue. We’re not talking about just anyone; they were cops. They worked out of different offices, all of them lived alone, we never find any sign of a struggle, yet I find it hard to believe these guys would just let their killer into their homes, and stand there like cattle for the slaughter whilst he slashed their throats.”

“If it even is a ‘he’,” said Tom. “All the hearts are missing. That could be telling.”

“So what, these guys are all seeing the same chick, and for some reason she gets the urge to murder them and cut out their hearts?” She shook her head and put the cigarette out on the dresser. “I don’t buy it. You don’t rip your lover’s heart out and then fingerpaint on the walls with his blood.”

Tom shrugged, offered a helpless look, and led the way back to the living room. “I’m just a coroner, Detective. I’ll leave the motives and opportunity to you.”

“Yeah, thanks anyway. You’ll send me a copy of your autopsy report?”

“I’ll fax it to your office as soon as it’s ready.”

“Thanks.” She pulled on her dark red raincoat and prepared to step out into the downpour. “I’ll be on my cell if you need to get hold of me.”

“Where are you going?”

“To the lumber yard.” She pulled her belt tight, knowing it would do little to keep out the rain. “Their company logo’s a timber wolf. Seems as good a place as any to start.”

Tom gave a brief nod. “Good luck. And be careful out there. The last thing I want is the wolf getting his paws on you, Detective Hood.”

 

This week’s flash fiction thingy is a continuation of last week’s challenge. I’ve nabbed the first 200 words of Fatma Alici’s story, given it a title, and written the next 200 words. I hope it’s enjoyable!

The beginning:

Another shot glass slammed down as Toops flashed her big, black eyes at me.  “Are you going to black out.”  Her tone as dry as the desert planet we had left.

“I never black out. “  I grinned motioning for another shot.  “I’m only resting my eyes.”

Toops rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.   “Yeah, I believe you, Lancer.  I really do.”  Her scarred fingers pushed her still full glass back and forth across the metal bar top.  “Didn’t you say we have a man coming in to offer us a job?

“You handle all the contracts.  I’m your simple minded muscle.”  I winked at her.  “Me big man.  Me hit things hard.”  The burning fire scalded my throat as I took another shot.

Her hand snapped out faster than my eye could follow.  Those strong fingers crushed mine into my palm.  “Do not call for another shot.  I swear I will break your fingers right now.”

A hearty chuckle rumbled up my throat.  “Alright, alright boss lady.”

My fingers were released.  “We are partners.”

“You say that now, but once the client gets here you’ll change your tune.”  She couldn’t deny it.  It was true.

 

My continuation:

They strolled into the tavern, a nobleman and his bodyguard. The tough-man’s eyes met mine, and I felt a growl rise in my throat.

“Dammit, Lancer,” Toops hissed quietly at me. “If you change now I swear I’m going to leave your sorry ass in this piss-hole. See how long you last once everyone in this room sees what you truly are.”

The rumble died away in my throat. I knew Toops’ words were not an idle threat. She had much to risk by associating herself with a man… a thing… like me.

“Sorceress?” the noble said quietly, standing in front of Toops’ chair. Sorceress. Her trade name and job description.

She nodded, conjured a tiny fireseed, and rolled it around on her palm before the life flickered out of it. When she gestured to the empty chair, the noble sat but his muscle remained standing.

“I’ve been marked,” he said, little eyes darting nervously around the tavern, seeking assassins in every shadow. “I’ve been told it will happen before the end of the week.”

Toops smiled, and leaned forwards, flames dancing in her eyes.

“I think we can help you,” she said, her smile deepening. “Let’s talk price.”

I haven’t been around much recently, and that probably won’t change for the next couple of months, but today’s Flash Fiction Challenge, courtesy of Chuck Wendig, was short enough that I thought I could cobble something together that other people may wish to use next week.

Might not be around to continue taking part myself… but we’ll see!

Joe’s Bar

        “Buy me a drink,” he said, bloodshot eyes meeting mine from further down the bar, “and I’ll tell you how I broke the world.”
I gave a snort, took a long swig of my G&T, and turned my attention back to the game being shown on Joe’s decrepit TV.
“Go on,” he insisted, in a voice ravaged by years of strong alcohol. “It’ll be worth it.”
Glancing around, I looked for help, but none of the other patrons of the grotty bar were paying attention to me being pestered by the old loon, and the bartender was very focused on cleaning a glass. The old man’s eyes bored into me from beneath his dirty mop of hair, and in the dim light of Joe’s Bar I saw the dark red stains on his grey trenchcoat.
“Alright.” The game was dull anyway. “What’s your poison?”
“Scotch on the rocks.”
I nodded at the barkeep, and the old man watched hungrily as the amber nectar was poured.
“Go on then,” I prompted him. “Tell me how you broke the world.”
He took a sip of his drink, gave a happy sigh, and looked up at me with those blodshot eyes.
“It all started in 1939…”

This Friday I cheated with Chuck Wendig‘s flash fiction challenge—I actually wrote this story last week. But it fits the prompt (cliffhanger ending) so perfectly that I couldn’t resist using it again. In my defence, I’m being environmentally friendly by following the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle!)

I hope you enjoy…

Trouble³

        I must be fucking nuts.

        It wasn’t the first time the thought had entered Hachiro’s mind, but as he stood in alley’s dark mouth, heavy rain pelting him from above, plastering his long hair to his scalp, it was the first time he meant it. But it wasn’t as if he had a choice. When Eneko told you to make a pick-up, you damn well made the pick-up. The last member of the Red Fist to decline one of Eneko’s requests had been found floating face down in the harbour three days later.

        There was movement from the street. A silver car had pulled over, four men stepping out from the vehicle. Three of them were typical Yakuza toughs, tattoos creeping up their necks and down their arms, splashes of colour visible despite the professional suits they wore. The fourth man was slender, his suit obviously hand-tailored. One of the toughs pulled out an umbrella and held it above the slender man, sheltering him from the freezing downpour.

        “That’s close enough,” Hachiro said, when the group were several paces away. He didn’t like this one bit. His only weapon was the pistol-sized lectrigun tucked down the back of his pants, held loosely in place by his belt, and he wasn’t sure that using it in the rain was a good idea. In contrast, two of the toughs were carrying uzis. Good, reliable weapons. Hachiro would have given his left arm for an uzi, right then.

        “I say when it is close enough,” the slender man replied. He took another two paces just to prove that he was the one in control. “You’ve brought the money?”

        Hachiro nodded, handing over the cash in a waterproof bag. It was the most money he’d ever held, and probably ever would hold. Eneko had needed to hit three banks to get this much money together.

        “The item?” Hachiro prompted.

        The slender man nodded at one of the uzi-wielding toughs, who reached into his pocket. Hachiro tensed, but when the Yakuza thug merely brought out a small cube-shaped object, he relaxed a little.

        “Tell Eneko that he is still in our debt,” the slender man said. “We have no need of money. This was simply a test, to see how serious your employer is about becoming a major player in Tokyo. I will contact Eneko from time to time, and he will do favours for me.”

        “I will tell him,” Hachiro promised, and he held out his hand.

        At another nod from the slender man, the thug handed over the object. As soon as the cube was pressed into his hand, Hachiro felt heat emanating from it. It was warm despite the coldness of the pouring rain. That was enough to make chills run up his spine. Whatever the cube was, it wasn’t natural.

        The air was pierced by a blinding flash, several high-intensity floodlights casting harsh white beams over Hachiro and the Yakuza. Holding onto the small cube, Hachiro squinted and tried to use his free hand to shield his eyes as he heard voices call from all around.

        “Nobody move! Drop your weapons and get down on your knees!”

        The slender man let out an angry hiss. “He has betrayed us! Shoot him!”

        Hachiro reacted on instinct. As the uzi-wielding men turned to open fire, he bolted into the alley, using the shadows to his benefit. He heard bullets ricochet off the walls of the buildings around him, heard more shots fired by police weapons as their calls for surrender were ignored. As screams of agony tore through the air, accompaniment to the song of gunfire, Hachiro flung himself behind an overflowing dumpster, his heart pounding in his chest, the sound of his own rushing blood filling his ears.

   He felt cold now for a different reason. This had been a set-up. Even if he made it back to Eneko, the Yakuza would never do business with him again. They’d put a price on his head. And Hachiro himself would die as soon as he made it back. The blame for this would rest squarely on his shoulders. Unless… unless he could find out who had betrayed them. It must be another member of the Fist; if Hachiro could learn which of Eneko’s men had betrayed them, he might just save his own life.

        Something cold and wet began to soak into his trousers where he knelt on the ground. He looked down and saw a rivulet of red washed along by the rain which continued to fall. He had no doubts about who the blood belonged to; there had only been four Yakuza on the street, no match for two-dozen or more armed police.

        “There he is! Over there!”

        The call was accompanied by the beam of a flashlight roaming the ground, and police appeared in the mouth of the alley, armed with automatic weapons. Hachiro closed his eyes. If the police got their hands on him, he was as good as dead. Eneko would assume he’d talk and simply pay someone to arrange for an ‘accident’ to befall him in his cell. Perhaps it would look like a suicide.

        I wish I was far away from here, Hachiro thought.

        The cube, forgotten in his hand, began to heat up, and then it started to glow orange. Before he could even react, a brilliant yellow light filled the alley, like the morning sun appearing over the horizon. It enveloped Hachiro, filling him with its warmth. He closed his eyes, and only when he felt cold once more did he dare open them again.

        He was standing in daylight, in a forest of cherry trees, pink blossoms falling gently to the ground. There was no sign of the police, or the bloody alley, no indication that a slew of rain had been pouring here. Confused, he looked down at his hand, and felt his skin turn to goosebumps.

        The cube was gone.

After several weeks of RL-inflicted silence, I return thanks to an irresistible Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge.

You shouldn’t need me to tell you which of the twenty conflict scenarios I wrote about. Hope you enjoy!

The Road to St Ives

        “It says here that the Apocalypse has been predicted.”

        Mavis Merryweather glanced at her husband, his grey comb-over just about visible behind the top of the newspaper held aloft before his eyes.

        “That’s nice, dear.”

        “The honest-to-God Apocalypse, it says.”

        Mavis nodded. “Which apocalypse is it this time? The Global Warming Apocalypse? Nuclear Winter Apocalypse? Obama Healthcare Apocalypse?” She clucked her tongue in frustration. “Not another of those Gay-People-Destroy-Society Apocalypses, is it? You know I hate those.”

        “No, I think it’s real this time.” Despite his words, there was no edge of excitement in Albert Merryweather’s voice. Forty years ago, the thought of an Apocalypse would have had him hoarding tins of beans and rushing for the musty old WWII bomb shelter. But he’d raised four children in the last forty years, three of them daughters. That had been an Apocalypse in itself.

        “Fire and brimstone and the four horsemen,” Albert continued. “It says there’ll be floods and earthquakes and famines, too.”

        “Oh, a general all-purpose Apocalypse, then,” Mavis replied. “Who’s predicting this one?”

        “Reverend Simon Pomfret. He’s the minister of a church in Aberdeen. He says he’s received a vision from God that the world is going to be cleansed of sinners!”

        “A religious Apocalypse, eh?” Mavis scoffed. It seemed there was one of those practically every other day, what with everything that was happening in the middle east.

        “We should have emigrated to America two years ago, Mave. You know the Yanks have the best stockpiles of weapons.”

        “And just what would you do with a gun, Albert Merryweather? You’ve never even so much as fired a water pistol before.”

        The melodic chime of the doorbell interrupted Albert before he could speak. Mavis put down her freshly brewed cup of tea and shuffled out into the hallway. Opening the front door, she was met by a very odd sight indeed. A man was standing on the doorstep wearing the most ridiculous of costumes. Shiny breast-plate, thick leather trousers, spurred boots and a metal helmet covering his head, leaving only his face free.

        “Can I help you?” Mavis asked, because even though the man was dressed outlandishly, she believed in good manners.

        “I’m very sorry to disturb you,” he said, scratching awkwardly at a short greying beard, “but I was wondering if I might trouble you for a bucket of water.”

        “What on earth do you want a bucket of water for?”

        The man stepped aside, revealing a large chestnut horse tethered to the gate at the bottom of the garden path. The saddle and reigns looked heavy and old, ornately patterned. Not at all modern.

        “I’ve been riding for hours, and Bertha’s very thirsty,” the man explained. Then he lowered his voice and leant forward, towering over Mavis. “She’s not as young as she used to be.”

        “Oh. Well.” Flustered as she was by the looming stranger, she’d never been able to ignore an animal in need. Albert called her a softie, which had earned him one or two thumps on the arm over the years; proof that she wasn’t really soft at all. “Certainly. I’m sure Albert has a bucket in the shed that we can fill for you. Please come in, Mr…?”

        “Barry. Just Barry,” he said, shaking Mavis’ proffered hand with a tight grip. “Thank you very much.”

        She took Barry through the hall and into the kitchen, introduced him to her husband, and the men then set about hunting in Albert’s bomb-shelter-cum-garden-shed for a bucket. It didn’t take them long to find one, and fill it with the garden hose.

        “Would you like a cup of tea whilst your horse is drinking, Barry?” Mavis offered.

        “Thank you, I’d love one. I’m parched.”

        “If you don’t mind me asking, where are you riding to?” Albert asked, as Mavis handed a delicate china cup to the huge armoured man. “And in such odd clothes? You look like you’ve come from one of those mock joust things they sometimes do for the kids.”

        Barry smiled and removed a sheathed sword from across his back before sitting down on an empty chair. When he noted the eyes of the Merryweathers lingering on the sword, which he’d propped against the table, he quickly shook his head.

        “Don’t worry, it’s just a prop. Part of the outfit. Nobody uses swords these days. It’s all guns and chemical weapons. No class.”

        “I see,” Albert said. “And you’re going where, exactly?”

        “St. Ives. I’m meeting up with some old friends, and we’re having a bit of a ride out.”

        “But St. Ives is over seventy miles away!” Mavis replied. “Why don’t you just drive there? If you take the motorway, you can be there in an hour.”

        “Oh, I couldn’t possibly drive a car!” Barry said. He looked shocked by the very suggestion. “Horses are traditional. I’ve had my Bertha for what feels like forever, and she doesn’t get to ride out as often as she used to. By the way, Mr Merryweather, I was very impressed with your bomb shelter. I don’t think I’ve seen so many tinned goods outside of a supermarket before.”

        Albert’s chest puffed up with pride. “A man has to take care of his family.”

        “Indeed. Could I make a suggestion, though?” A pause whilst Albert nodded. “Bottled water. It’s going to be a life-saver.”

        “I’ll keep that in mind.”

        “Good.” Barry smiled, and downed the last of his tea, gently placing the delicate cup on the china saucer. “Thank you very much for the brew, Mrs Merryweather. I’m sure Bertha will be done now, and I don’t want to keep my friends waiting.”

        The elderly couple escorted Barry to the front door, and watched as he strapped his sword back on, then hauled his bulk into the saddle. A few minutes later the chestnut horse had disappeared from sight, its hooves making a clip-clop noise as it trotted down the quiet road.

        “What a nice man,” said Mavis.

        “Hmm.” Albert’s reply came absently as he patted his pockets, and pulled out his car keys. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes, Mave.”

        “Where are you going, Albert?”

        “I’m just going to nip down to the grocery store. I want to buy some bottled water.”

 

 

Welcome to flash fiction… Monday? Well, I’m a little off-schedule at the moment. Spent all weekend replacing one of the atmospheric engines on the ol’ spacecraft, and then the cloaking device started glitching, so I had to go pick up a spare from Tau Ceti IV. Dull trip. Very dull.

Anyway. Normally I do storying on a Friday, but this week I couldn’t make my abduction story fit in with Chuck Wendig’s prompts (*shakes fist at Mr. W*) so I’ll see how it goes next Friday, and if it still won’t fit I will WRITE IT ANYWAY! Because I am 12% rebel.

In the meantime, here’s a small flash-fic I wrote for another challenge, the topic of which was ‘escape.’ This piece was inspired by something that happened in the office today, so if we were still inventing something-punk, this might be officepunk.

But it’s not.

Just Press Send

        Gilbert straightened the tie of his suit and stepped into the offices of M.K. Insurance Services. It was his second week on the job, and he was still trying to make a good impression with his boss, Mr. Potts. It wasn’t an interesting job, or an exciting job; twice a day he did a coffee run to the Starbucks on the corner (but always the east corner, never the west corner, because Miss Sandringham didn’t like the way the west corner Starbucks frothed up their cappuccinos), and when he wasn’t fetching coffee he was filing away documents (alphabetically, which suited him fine, because numerical systems confused him) and sending the occasional fax to the Finance team downstairs, or Head Office,  or sometimes even The Police.

        No, it wasn’t the best job in the world, nor the most glamourous, nor the best-paying job either. But it was a job, and so far he was coping with it. Ever since he’d left school, it was difficult for him to keep a job. He’d never been the brightest student, achieving below-average grades even though his attendance record was perfect. He didn’t really like Maths, computers confused him, and though he enjoyed English, he’d struggled to understand what was going on in some of the books that had been set as school exam pieces.

        Inside the office, he took the elevator to the fourth floor, to the Customer Service department where he worked. It was a small team; just Mr. Potts, Miss Sandringham and Gilbert himself, and Gilbert enjoyed the quietness of the office, except when Mr. Potts was shouting at a customer. He did that a lot. Customers, he said, were like plagues of rats; the moment you got rid of one, another came along.

        Gilbert was first in the office. He was always first. He made a point of being here before the rest of the team to show that he was Eager and Dedicated. He’d put those things on his CV, so it seemed only right that he do the things that it said on paper. If something was written down, you had to obey it. That’s why laws were written down, and safety instructions. Because if you didn’t do what it said on paper, you could get into trouble. His mam had told him that, when he’d been just six years old.

        “Morning, Gil,” said Mr. Potts. He came striding into the office, grey hair slicked back, navy suit all freshly ironed and smelling of expensive cologne.

        “Morning Mr. Potts,” Gilbert. He didn’t particularly like being called Gil, but Mr. Potts was The Boss, and you did not argue with The Boss.

        “I have to attend a meeting with the head of Marketing,” said Mr. Potts, and he handed a piece of paper with numbers all over it to Gilbert, who tried not to flinch at the sight of all those digits. “Fax this down to Finance then fetch the coffees. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

        Mr. Potts disappeared with his shiny briefcase, and Gilbert turned to the fax machine. He didn’t like computers, but the fax machine was okay. You just dialled the number and pressed send.

        0–2-0–8–2–5–5–2–3–5–6 — SEND

        “Hello?”

        Gilbert jumped out of his skin at the sound of the voice coming from the fax machine. It was bleeping ominously. It didn’t usually bleep like that.

        “Hello? Is anybody out there? Can anyone hear me?”

        “Miss Sandringham?” he asked.

        “Hello? Hello? If there’s somebody there, please pick up!”

        With no better idea, he picked up the receiver on the side of the fax machine and held it to his ear.

        “Hello? Miss Sandringham? It’s me, Gilbert.”

        “Oh, thank God! Listen, Gil, you have to help me!”

        “Where are you?”

        “I’m inside the fax machine.

        Gilbert’s eyes widened, and he took a step back, almost dropping the receiver in the process.

        “How did you get inside there, Miss Sandringham?”

        “I was using the fax before I left the office last night, when I got sucked inside. I’ve been in here for hours! My roommate must be so worried about me not coming home… God, I hope she hasn’t called the police. Listen, Gil, you’ve got to get me out of here.”

        Gilbert, recognising the difficulty of getting someone out of a fax machine after they’d been sucked inside, began shifting from foot to foot, trying to decide what he should do. What if he made the problem worse, and got Miss Sandringham stuck in there forever? He’d definitely lose his job over that.

        “Um, Mr. Potts will be back in half an hour. We should wait until he comes back.”

        “But I’m so cold and alone, and it’s so dark in here. Please, Gil, I want to be free. If I have to wait another minute, I swear I’ll go insane.”

        “But Mr. Potts said I have to go for coffee!” he wailed. Why did these things always happen to him?

        “No, don’t leave!! Please! Yours is the only voice I’ve heard since last night. Please don’t leave me alone in here.

        “Okay, Miss Sandringham. I don’t know how to get you out, but I won’t leave you alone.”

        “Thank you. Will you… sing me a song? To cheer me up?”

        “What should I sing?”

        “Do you know ‘I’m a little teapot’?” Miss Sandringham asked. “It was my favourite when I was a child.”

        He did know it, and as he broke out into the first verse, he heard Miss Sandringham crying. The poor woman. Her sobs sounded almost like choked-back laughter, but of course, nobody would be laughing if they got trapped inside a fax machine.

        When he reached the end of the song he sat down beside the fax machine and started again. He would sing for as long as Miss Sandringham was stuck in there. He just hoped Mr. Potts wouldn’t be angry when he got back from his meeting and found no coffee waiting.

 

fax

 

 

In case you were wondering, the incident in the office involved someone sending a fax, and a girl on the other end picking up the receiver and saying “Hello? Hello? Hello???” each time sounding more and more desperate, to the point where I thought, ‘My god, she’s actually stuck inside the thing.’

…you had to be there.

 

Hello and welcome. Today’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge, courtesy of cornpunk creator Chuck Wendig, is to click a ‘random title’ link, pick a title that tickles your fancy, and write a flash-fic based on it.

Today’s story is the fourth instalment of my abduction trilogy (now a tetralogy, I suppose). I hadn’t intended for the story to last this long, but I have fun writing it, and apparently people have fun reading it, so I hope this latest addition doesn’t disappoint. It’s more dialogue-heavy than most of my other pieces.

Anyway, I’d like to know what you think! (This comes in at 1000 words exactly)

 

             The Days Out of the Body

        I woke up. That, in itself, isn’t unusual. After all, I wake up on most days, unless I’ve gotten overly familiar with a bottle of scotch, or overdone the codeine. Both are known to happen, from time to time.

No, it wasn’t the waking that was unusual, but the fact that this is the second, or possibly third, time that I’ve awoken today. And I’ve woke up on an alien spacecraft.

Again.

The little fuzzy purple alien is looking at me, each of its three eyes blinking in turn as it watches me push myself to my knees and wibble incomprehensibly a bit as my brain attempts to catch up with my body. Since my body is probably orbiting the Earth at 90,000 feet, it takes a few minutes.

“What happened?” I ask eventually.

You passed out, the alien thought at me. Your shell had almost reached its termination point.

“Is that just alien-speak for ‘you’re dying’?” I demand. Anger bubbles inside me. The aliens have been taking me from my bed since I was seventeen years old, and now they’re about to take my life. Granted, it’s a pretty shitty life, full of weird places and cheap scotch, but it’s the only life I’ve had and I’m proud of all I’ve done with it. Do you know how hard it is to keep a steady job when you wake up in different parts of the world three or four times per year? ‘Oh, sorry I’m late Mr Jones, but I’m in Andorra,’ just doesn’t really cut it as an excuse for not being at work.

“What have you done to me, you little purple bastard?!” I lunge for the alien, but suddenly, it’s no longer there, and I’m looking at empty space. Or rather, looking at what I suppose are stasis chambers, housing the myriad ‘shells,’ as my abductor calls them.

I have done nothing which you have not volunteered for, the alien thinks. I turn, and find it standing behind me. I really want to punch its lights out, but my motor control is still a bit wobbly. I suspect I might fall over if I try for another grab.

“You’re trying to tell me I signed up for this?” I scoff. Damn alien’s crazier than me.

Yes. Exactly. You and I are the crew of this ship. It blinks its green eye at me. Our mission was to come to Earth and observe the humans. To preserve as much of their lives as possible. To achieve this, your consciousness was downloaded from your body into a shell. This was the first. The alien lays a purple fuzzy hand on the stasis chamber of the Neanderthal man. Each shell is given false memories of a childhood, but is sent to Earth whole, in adult form. They only last twenty Earth-years. Thirty at most, if we’re lucky. Then we have to download you into a new shell.

I stand up and look at the hundreds, nay, thousands of stasis pods lining the walls of this cavernous room.

“Bullshit,” I say. “You expect me to believe I’ve been all of these people?”

It is the truth. You have been many things, over the past thousands of Earth-years. You have been an Emperor, a Queen, a priestess of Ma’at, a Roman soldier, a Greek physician, a Chinese philosopher, an Anasazi chieftain, an African-American slave, a Victorian Eunuch, a—

“Whoa, slow down, fluffy. I was a Eunuch?”

Well, a Castrato. A very famous singer, as a matter of fact. The alien looks apologetic. It was your idea.

I rub my fingers against my aching head. “Alright. Say I believe this. Any of it. Answer me this; Why? Why come here, and have me pull the strings of some marionette shell? Why abduct me from my frigging bed?!”

All good questions. The alien blinks each of its eyes in turn. I think it’s trying to decide which question to answer first. The reason why we do this is simple. Our species… you could call us chroniclers, I suppose. Galactic archivists. We preserve the historical and sociological aspects of primitive species.

“Why? The folks back home get their jollies watching Fred Flintstone bash Wilma over the head with his club and drag her back to his cave for sweaty caveman sex?”

Do you have any idea how many sentient species die in their infancy? The alien asks. I don’t know whether the question is rhetorical, so I keep my mouth shut. The answer is ‘a lot.’ And it’s not just in this galaxy; it’s in all galaxies. So, millions of years ago, we took it upon ourselves to preserve as much of these species as possible. So that some record of them exists. So that in another million years, those which survive their infancy and make it into space, can see what we have created and continue our mission.

Despite the warmth of the ship or whatever, I shiver. I’ve never been much of a believer in God, but these aliens sound as if they’re playing at being the big creator fairy in the sky. I wonder what the Pope would say, if he could hear all of this.

“Okay,” I say, feeling like I’ve just managed to wrap my head around what Fuzzy’s telling me. “So you send someone down to the planet all incognito to watch what’s happening… then what?”

Several times per year, you are returned to the ship and your memories of your time on Earth backed up in case of critical brain-failure.

“Oh. Right. Of course.” Critical brain-failure. I should have guessed. “So, you’ve got my millennia of memories. I get that. I don’t really believe it all right now, but I get it. So… what’s with the collections of dead-people stuff?”

Ahh. Yes, that. I was rather hoping you wouldn’t ask about that, just yet. The alien blinks its red eye, and turns to the door. Please follow me.

Today is Friday, which means Chuck Wendig mysteriously pulls an idea for a flash-fiction challenge out of some mysterious hat of mystery, and other people write things.

The theme of today is “something-punk”. So that I may continue my story from the past two weeks, I have created abduction-punk. I hope you enjoy it.

Half-way to Home O’Clock

        My eyes flicker open.

I expect to see all sort of strange torture-technology; probing devices, mechanical arms terminating in saws and drills, little grey men wearing hygienic surgical masks and wielding 12-inch needles.

I don’t expect the comfortable bed. I don’t expect the same faded pinstripe wallpaper I’ve been falling asleep to since I was fourteen years old. I don’t expect the Dark Phoenix poster fixed tenuously to the wall by clear tape. It looks like my room. It smells like my room (40% damp, 20% unwashed clothes, 40% last week’s decomposing pizza—so sue me, I’ve been in Guatemala of late, and it’s not like I can afford a maid). I’m not used to waking up in my room after an abduction, though. Aliens are inconsiderate bastards. So, just to make sure, I perform a visual scan.

Clock on the wall which is always four minutes slow no matter how many times I set it; yes, that’s mine. Curtains of differing lengths because my poor old mom couldn’t sew to save her life; check. Decrepit alarm-clock on the chest of drawers which sounds like an air-raid siren when it’s going off; it used to make my neighbours nervous, until they realised our town didn’t have an air-raid siren. Strange purple alien stuffed toy in the corner; new, but feasibly mine. Ancient oak wardrobe with a wonky door—

At that moment, the purple alien stuffed toy moves. It walks forwards, its three eyes watching me, and I notice it has eight fingers on each hand. I close my eyes, and utter a magical mantra to myself; thisisn’trealthisisn’trealthisisn’treal.

I open my eyes again. And it’s real.

The alien is standing beside my bed, all of three feet high and covered in fluffy fur, like some sort of Ewok that’s been maliciously tie-dyed by hippies. It has no ears that I can see of, and each of its eyes, spaced evenly in its head, are a different colour; one green, one blue, one red. I say the first word which come to mind.

“Wagh!” I utter, as I shoot backwards across my bed, scurrying like a terrified four-legged spider.

Do not be afraid, I hear, though the alien hasn’t opened what I assume to be its mouth. I will not hurt you.

“You’re an alien!”

That is relative.

“And you’re not green or grey! Aliens are supposed to be green or grey!” I realise that I’m pointing at the alien, making wild and hysterical claims, but I don’t care. This one fact I know; aliens are not supposed to be purple. And I cling to that fact as my lifeline.

I could change my external colour if you would feel more comfortable with green, the alien thinks at me, its blue eye blinking slowly.

I laugh, because I’m crazy. I’m talking to an alien, so I must be crazy.

“More comfortable? Do you know what would make me feel more comfortable? Not being abducted from my bed several times a year and not being dumped halfway across the goddamn Earth! And what are you doing in my bedroom?!” Not that I regret the Phoenix poster. She’s hot.

This is not your bedroom. It is a replica of it. I thought it would make the transition easier for you. It has always helped in the past.

“What transition? And what past? I’ve never been here before. I mean, well, I’ve been here, but I’ve never been here. If you know what I mean.” The alien looks at me in what I think may be a curious manner. I can’t blame it. I’m not even sure I know what I mean.

You have questions. You always have questions. Before I answer them, however, I will tell you of our history, because this will answer many of the questions you have, although it will inevitably raise more. It always does.

“I’ll listen,” I say, “but no funny business. I can do karate, you know.”

You attended four lessons when you were nine years old, and quit after you broke your little toe, said the alien, with its weird brain-voice. It didn’t sound particularly impressed.

“How do you know that? Did you download that information from my head?”

Quite the opposite. I uploaded it into your head in the first place.

I blink. “Come again?”

I know of your memories because I am the one who created them. You are not actually a human being; the body you inhabit is merely a shell, and it is not the first shell you have occupied.

I realise I’m not the only one who’s nuts around here. Maybe the little purple alien is high on space rocks, or maybe this is just their M.O. – how they get humans to fall for their lies.

“I’ve heard enough. Send me back home,” I demand.

The alien… sighs. You are home. Come with me, and I’ll show you what I mean.

I don’t trust the alien, but I don’t have many options. I can stay here in this facsimile of my bedroom and stare at my Dark Phoenix poster, or I can follow the purple guy and maybe get some answers. And as much as I enjoy the curvy hotness of the Phoenix, I’ve been looking for answers since I was seventeen. I follow the alien out of my room, or my not-room, whichever it is, and down a long, dark, eerily lit corridor.

We come to a room that reminds me of display-case cavern, only this time it isn’t items displayed, but people. It’s like walking into a cheesy costume store; there’s everything here from Victorian ladies to toga-wearing Romans, from Native Americans to scantily-clad Pygmies.

I shiver in my bunny PJs. Despite the fact that these people seem to be sleeping peacefully, there’s a macabre feel about the whole thing, like I just walked into an alien version of Madame Tussauds. I hate mannequins and their ilk; they give me the heebs.

“What is all this? Did you abduct these people?”

The alien shakes its head and blinks its red eye. These are not people. These are shells. Specifically, they are your shells. You don’t recognise them now, but these are all the people you have been. These are your past lives on Earth.

I stand in front of one; a man with a heavy brow, wearing a fur loincloth and carrying a cudgel. An ancient Neanderthal man. It’s laughable. Ridiculous. It looks like some museum display piece. But as I stand there, a flash of something comes to me; I see a herd of huge, red-furred elephant-like creatures—mammoths, I realise—slowly cross an endless plain of golden dried grass, and I suddenly know what these flashes of visions are.

They’re my memories.