Today’s flash fiction challenge, courtesy of the brain-power of Chuck Wendig, invites the writer to conjure a short story based on a Completely Unexplainable Stock Photo (see Chuck’s Blog for further info). A random number generator gave me picture #47 – A luchador enjoying his first vacation in several years.  I present to you:

The Man Behind The Mask

El Ardillo Voladora lifted the bottom half of his mask and raised his glass. The straw sticking out of the garishly coloured tequila sunrise wobbled precariously, but then his lips found their target and he sipped the fruity cocktail. After a lengthy sip, he lowered his mask again.

Laughter rang in his ears, and he spotted a group of bikini-clad women staring and giggling at him from the poolside. The bronze-skinned beauties waved to him when they saw him looking. There were smiles, too, an intriguing combination of come-hither and coy.

He shook his head. It had been the same ever since he’d arrived at the resort, eight days ago. Men looked at him in envy, wishing their bodies were as buff, their muscles as perfectly formed as his. Women looked at him with unrestrained longing, wondering what it would be like to run their slender fingers over those bulging muscles… wondering what lay beneath the mask.

One of the beauties made her way over. The pale purple sarong wrapped around her lower body, showing the alluring curve of her hips, swayed as she walked, but it was her eyes which caught his attention; they were green, and made for a stark contrast to her dark brown hair.

“Señor?” she asked, gesturing to the empty deckchair beside him.

He nodded.

“My name is Isabella.”

“I am El Ardillo Voladora. You may call me Ardillo, if you wish.”

A smile started to creep across her lips, smothered quickly. “I’ve watched you for the past six days, señor Ardillo. You come straight here as soon as the pool bar opens. You have the same drink every day. You sit in your chair, never swimming, never talking to anyone, just drinking, and staring into nothing. And I ask myself, why would a man come to Cancun merely to do these things; things which he can do at home? And why does a man who gladly soaks up sunlight by the pool each day, fear to show his face?”

At the mention of his face, his hand rose, and he subconsciously fingered the material of his luchador mask.

“I do not fear to show my face, señorita. I simply enjoy my privacy. I have the same drink every day because I like the colour, and I like the taste. I do not swim because I do not know how, and sitting is preferable to drowning. I do not talk because I have nothing to say. I have come to Cancun because it has been many years since I did anything but work, and if I were to stay home, I would not be afforded the time to sit and drink and do nothing more than enjoy the sun on my skin.”

“And the reason you stare into nothing?”

“I am not staring into nothing. I am staring into my past. Remembering.”

“May I ask what it is you remember?”

He looked into her green eyes, hesitant to speak of his past actions… yet with who else could he speak of these things? He had tried for over a week to overcome his turbulent thoughts, but solitude had not helped. Perhaps this was why he had come here, to Cancun. So that he could talk to somebody who had never heard of El Ardillo Voladora.

“Two weeks before I came here, I killed a man.” He looked for fear or concern in her eyes, but saw only green. At her silent invitation, he continued. “It was the first life I have ever taken, and it made a liar out of me.”

“So you are a murderer?”

“It would seem so, yes.”

“Are the police looking for you?”

“No. They don’t know it was me.” Her eyes asked him to elaborate, so he gestured at his mask with his free hand. “This is my real face. El Ardillo Voladora is not just a stage name; it is who I am. When I take the mask off I become… someone else.”

“You become a killer?”

“No.” He hesitated, then decided he had come too far to stop now. “There are many words for what I become, and which you use would depend upon your perspective. Vigilante. Super-Hero. Protector. I become all of these things, and my face beneath my mask becomes my mask; one of flesh and skin, a mask that nobody outside my family has seen since I was a boy just starting out in his wrestling career.”

“So it was not you who killed a man, but the vigilante?”

“That’s what I have tried to tell myself.” He let a small sigh escape his lips. “Until now, I thought I was two people. Now, the memories of one haunt the thoughts of the other. Now I do not know who I am.”

She leant forward, allowing a view of her generous cleavage. But he sensed it was not an action designed to excite his thoughts. Her green eyes held his for a long moment.

“Can I tell you something I have never told another soul?”

“Of course.”

“I, too, have killed a man.”

A thousand questions swarmed inside his mind, but only one passed his lips.

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“Yes.” She stood up, straightening her sarong. “Tonight. I will come to your room; I have seen which one you retire to every night. And I will tell you about the man I killed. I may even take off my mask, and allow you to see my true face.”

He watched her walk away, her friends clustering around her, no doubt peppering her with questions about the mysterious stranger. Tonight, he suspected, he would learn what had drawn him to Cancun.

 

Chuck Wendig sets challenges via his blog. Sometimes, people take up those challenges. Today, I did just that. Admittedly, I went over the word limit, but I think this is the first time I’ve done that. I won’t tell you what objects I picked to go into my story; I’m sure you’ll be able to pick them out after taking a peek at Chuck’s blog.

The Blue Stone

 

        A great beast dwells in the depths of the Great Sea. We call her Ashala, the Deep Serpent, and from her, all others come. When she is angry she lashes her tail, sending waves to batter the Islands. In her fury she can destroy harbours and sink boats. But we, too, are her children. We prove this when we come of age, and take a piece of her heart into ourselves.

        The small fishing boat rocked as Peval shifted his weight. His hands gripped the whalebone spear, fingernails biting into the lightwood shaft. He would never be able to face his tribe if he dropped his spear into the sea. Only children fumbled their spears, and once he had made his first kill, Peval would prove he was no longer a child.

        A shoal of quickfin darted by; Peval ignored them. A white-tailed seal followed them, performing its aquatic acrobatics as it snatched a quickfin in its strong jaws. This too Peval ignored.

        The Sun-Father climbed to his temple in the sky. The heat he cast over the Earth-Mother made sweat coat Peval’s body. The glare, reflected from the sea, caused his eyes to go weak and his head to go dizzy, but still he clung to the spear, altering his grip only when the wood began to soak up his sweat.

        The Sun-Father’s reign was short, and soon the yellow orb was carrying him down from his temple. Peval’s legs shook, his thighs aching from standing for so long, balancing himself against the waves which rocked his small craft.

        Just as the Sun-Father was preparing to kiss the curves of the Earth-Mother, Peval spotted his prey. It lurked beneath his boat, its sinuous body undulating in the gentle current. Peval’s heart skipped a beat, and he almost dropped his spear in his excitement. The creature was long; longer than he had been expecting. Clearly this was no yearling. A challenge, then.

        As he lifted his spear for the thrust, he sent a silent prayer to the spirits of his ancestors. He had never known his mother or his father; his mother’s brother had raised him, after the Fire Mountain had taken the lives of his parents. Peval was certain their spirits were watching over him.

        He thrust his spear into the water, adjusting for the bend of the waves, but the Serpent’s reflexes were faster. With one great swish of her tail she struck the boat and sent Peval toppling over the side. He held his breath as the wetness of the ocean met him. His fingers splayed and the spear fell from his hands, sinking down to the ocean floor.

        Breaching the surface, Peval shook his head, flicking his dark hair from his face, blinking rapidly to clear his eyes of the salty sea-tears which blurred his vision. Then he wished he couldn’t see; his boat was only a short swim away, but there was a long scar down one side, and it was taking on water too quickly. As Peval watched, it sank along with the spear. The wind picked up, bringing with it the sound of laughter. Ashala was chuckling at the misfortune her sea-child had caused.

        He had lost his boat, but perhaps it was not too late to reclaim his spear. It had been his father’s spear, and it held special meaning for Peval. Taking a deep breath, he dove beneath the waves once more and kicked his legs furiously, powering himself down, into the dark depths of the sea. He sensed it before he saw it, and sent his hands groping down amongst the sandy silt and soft-edged seaweed. His lungs began to burn with the fire that comes when the life-breath is held, and just as he was about to give up and surface, he felt his fingers close around something hard.

        Kicking his way up, he dragged the object with him, and gasped deeply as he was greeted by the Sun-Father. Lifting the object from the water, dismay crept into his heart. It was not his spear that he had grasped, but a round pot made of clay. Being in the water had not damaged it, and it felt oddly warm to his hands.

        A small island lay not far away, barely more than a mound of sand in the archipelago chain. Peval set off towards it, knowing in his heart of hearts that the spear which had been handed down through the family since the time of his father’s great-father was gone forever.

        The beach welcomed him, the land-child of Ashala, and he crawled up its golden shore, dragging his exhausted body past the purple foxgloves and golden buttercups which had somehow colonised the small strip of beach. There he set the pot on the sand, and lay panting for a while, recovering his life-breath.

        Exhaustion finally left him, and as the Sun-Father was swallowed by the Earth-Mother, he turned onto his belly and picked up the pot. He could see symbols etched into the surface, so he used a corner of his long shirt to brush away the grains of sand obscuring the picture.

        The pot began to shake. With a cry of alarm, Peval dropped it, and jumped back. Smoke began to pour from the lid of the pot, and he made the sign with his hands to ward off evil spirits. Still the pot shook, and the sand around it began to make popping sounds. Then, just when Peval was preparing to run back to the safety of the sea, the smoke began to swirl, and a tall man stepped out from the billowing grey.

        He was a strange man, with pale skin and eyes which were so dark they were like the deep sea at night. The clothes he wore were as strange as he, all sorts of colours which shimmered in the failing light of the Sun-Father.

        “Mortal,” the man said, in the tongue of the Islanders, “you have freed me.”

        Peval’s mouth worked, and he finally found his voice. “Freed you from what? Who are you?”

        “Who I am does not matter.” The man smiled, showing sharp teeth. Like a seal’s teeth, Peval thought, all pointy and pin-like. “All that matters is that I have been imprisoned for a very long time. I have it within my power to grant you a single wish before I depart this plane. Tell me your heart’s desire, and I shall grant it.”

        Peval gave the statement the consideration it deserved. He didn’t know if he was dreaming—what else could explain this strange series of events? Or perhaps he was dead, his soul still clinging to the Earth-Mother. Had his body been claimed by Ashala? Was it forever beyond the reach of his soul?

        Then, the stranger’s words truly sank in. He was being granted a request for freeing this… man?… from his pot. His heart’s desire? A thousand thoughts passed through his mind; the almost-forgotten faces of his parents; The smile of Kirra, who had promised she would one day wed him—if he could first prove himself worthy; His father’s spear in his hand once more; The beating heart of a Serpent, warm in his hand.

        The breath of the wind, whispering in his ear, brought back a memory. It was night, and the hearth-fire was large. Ganor, the wise-one, was telling the youngsters a tale of Ashala. Peval listened just as closely as the other children of the tribe. Ashala is the ruler of the Ocean, but she sees more than she controls. Her eyes are large, and far-seeing. When the Fire Mountain growls, Ashala knows. When the Great Winds sweep in from the far-away lands, Ashala knows. When the quickfin shoals stay deep and our people go hungry, Ashala knows.

        If he had the eyes of Ashala, Peval would not need a Serpent’s heart to prove his maturity. He would not need to hunt like the other men of the tribe. If he could see disasters coming from far-away, then he would be the wise-one, and the whole tribe would follow him. His tribe would become the strongest of all the Islands.

        He turned to the stranger. “What I would like will not be easy to get.”

        The stranger gave that same disconcerting smile. “What may be difficult for you, is not necessarily so far me.”

        “I would like the power to foresee disasters,” said Peval. “I would like… one of Ashala’s eyes.”

        The stranger blinked his dark eyes, which made Peval shiver. “Who is Ashala?”

        “The Deep Serpent. Ruler of the Below.” He gave the stranger a sceptical look. “How is it you do not know of her?” He felt his eyes narrow. “Are you some sort of evil demon spirit?”

        The stranger laughed, a hissing noise, like the wind sighing through the trees. “Of course not, boy. But tell me; are you sure about your request? I can grant anything.”

        “I’m sure.”

        The man disappeared—one moment he was there, and the next he was not. Peval waited. The Sun-Father’s light disappeared. The buttercups and foxgloves swayed in the evening breeze.

        In a puff of smoke the man reappeared, and in his hands he carried a blue gemstone so large that it took both of his long-nailed hands to cup it. Peval stared, his mouth open. He had seen gemstones before; his tribe traded with the Kelp-Tribe for precious stones. But never before had he seen one so large and perfect. Each face of the topaz was without flaw or inclusion. Just the sight of it made Peval’s breath catch in his throat.

        “Here you are,” the stranger said, handing over the gem which was probably worth more than all of the wealth of the Islands combined. Peval accepted it, tentatively holding it to his chest, as a mother holds her newborn child. “You should have asked me to blind Ashala’s other eye,” he man continued. “She won’t be pleased about what you’ve done.”

        Peval looked up from the gem and opened his mouth, to tell him that he wasn’t the one who had taken the Deep Serpent’s eye, but the man was gone. So was the pot, which had lain in the sand. With another shiver, Peval realised there were no tracks, to show where the stranger had stood. Only his own footprints marred the pristine gold of the beach.

        He turned to face the ocean, his own island a mere speck in the distance. Tomorrow he would have to light a signal fire, to tell his mother’s brother to come and get him. And then… then, he would become wise. He would lead his tribe, and warn them of disasters. The Fire Mountain would make no more orphans.

 

How Not To Tell A Story In Ten Chapters

by The Urban Spaceman

Chapter 1 – Bearded Madness

Ten Chapters. How am I going to write a whole story in ten chapters? With only 1000 words? It sounds impossible. Implausible. Mad. Chuck Wendig is a crazy beard-wearing madman. Hmm, maybe I can make a story about that… ‘Chuck’s Beard.’ ‘Revenge of the Beard – Part II.’ ‘Beard Wars Episode 1 – The Beard Strikes Back.’ Nah, that’s just silly. I can’t write a story about a beard. Maybe I could get away with it in Movember, but not now. Still, my brain-space is a veritable pit of crazy mind-pictures… surely I can find something to write about.

Chapter 2 – The Virtues of Fresh Fruit Juice

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s procrastinating. Half an hour later I’ve taken a handful of phonecalls, half of them not even for my department, and poured myself a glass of orange, mango and passionfruit juice. It’s sweet, but also sour, and almost thick enough to be a smoothie. Mmm, fresh fruit juice (not from concentrate). Still don’t know what to write about. Maybe I’ll just browse some news websites for inspiration…

Chapter 3 – News Of The Day (and Chris Brown is a Thug)

Missing planes, baby-killing pet dogs, greedy Russian officials, Chris Brown getting done for being violent. Again. Don’t know why they don’t just lock him up in a cell or put a muzzle on him. Oh look, I have an email! I’ll just reply to that. Maybe it’ll give me an idea for a story. Hmm, nope. Nothing even remotely story-worthy in here. Back to the news websites, then.

Chapter 4 – The Best Story Idea In The Whole World (and possibly whole Milky Way galaxy)

Hey, I know! I could write a story about a plane that goes missing, and it crashes on a mysterious tropical island that’s filled with unseen monsters and hostile native people! What? That’s already been done? Oh, poop. Now I feel like I’m clock-watching. Almost dinner time. Or lunch time, as they say in other parts. Stupid clock, TICK FASTER! I wish I had a time machine so I could go into the future and eat my spaghetti bolognaise and garlic bread, and then come back to this point to write my story.

Chapter 5 – Eat My Shorts, David Tennant!

No, wait. I wish I had a time machine so I could go into the future and learn tonight’s winning lottery numbers, then come back to now and buy a ticket. I’ll get filthy rich, quit my job, and hire somebody to write the story for me! Muahahah. This is an excellent idea. The only problem is, some scientists believe that even if time travel was possible, you wouldn’t be able to use a time machine to go forward, only backwards. So would that mean I’d be stuck in the past if I went back? Or could I come forwards to the point at which I set off? But what if that took years? I’d disappear and reappear in the same instant but I’d be like… older. And people would be all like “whoa, how did you get so old so fast?!?” I don’t think I could plausibly explain that.

Chapter 6 – Save the Children

Since I don’t have an idea for a story yet, I’ve decided to build myself a time machine whilst I wait for my muse to help me out. Taking stock of available materials. A box of 200 paper-clips, some of them with plastic colouring on them. About fifty rolls of cellotape. Lots of bottles of tip-ex, but it’s crappy stuff, watery as hell, and it doesn’t smell right. I think they took the chemicals out so kids can’t get high off sniffing it. Hmm… I’ll need some sort of power source. I charged my Blackberry up this morning… will the battery be strong enough to propel me through time? I don’t know. But I’ve just remembered that over in the engineering building they have this substance which is hard, but when you run an electrical current through it it becomes soft and fluid-like. I need to get me some of that for my time machine. But how to get my mitts on it?

Chapter 7 – Of Mice and Puppies

I’ve figured out a distraction technique but I’m going to need a puppy. Its cuteness will lure the guardians of the fluidy material stuff away from where it’s kept so I can pinch it. But I don’t have a puppy at the moment. Instead, I’ve made a pair of ears and some whiskers and stuck them on my tip-ex mouse. Tee-hee, now it’s a real mouse. Maybe I can use the little cogs inside it in the construction of my time machine. They look to be made of plastic so they’ll prevent catastrophic chronology overload by impeding the flow of temporal particles. I’ve also found a screwdriver that the photocopier man left the last time he came to fix our machine. Now I’m one step closer to mastering time.

Chapter 8 – WWAD?

What happens if I go back in time and alter things, and we all end up speaking German, or worse; French? What would Captain Archer do? Well, he already has a cute dog, so he probably wouldn’t have any problems getting the fluidy material stuff, but I don’t think he’d approve of me using time-travel to get rich and eat spaghetti. Maybe I need to rethink this time-machine plan.

Chapter 9 – Not A Cartoon Villain

Soooo bored. It’s a slow day. Fridays are always quiet, here. Someone jammed the shredder a few minutes ago, and called me over to fix it. Shredders are much easier to fix than time-machines. Wish it wasn’t so quiet. I have paperwork, but I hate paperwork. I’ll just sit on it for a while. Save it for a rainy day. For God’s sake, why do people save all their shredding in a massive pile and do it all at once, instead of doing it as they go along? Stupid people.

Chapter 10 – If At First You Don’t Succeed, Pretend You Never Cared

It’s nearly dinner/lunch time now. Can’t wait. Then not long until home time. Got a sax session after work, and Sid Meier waiting for me at home, so I doubt I’ll get time to build that time machine after all. Probably won’t even get time to write a story. Oh well, I didn’t want to write anything today anyway.

 

Happy New Year!

I just realised I missed saying HAPPY NEW YEAR to readers at the start of the new Gregorian Calendar. Which is just as well, since I hate New Year. It’s a stupid holiday full of people paying too much for booze and taxis, clogging my phone-waves up with their silly H4PPY neW Yr text messages which they insist on sending to EVERYBODY they know, and a time of “resolutions” which only last as long as willpower is not undermined by too much alcohol (which it frequently is. I mean, why wait for a New Year to make a change? If it’s that important, change it Now!). Not to mention the ridiculous amount of fireworks which scare my earth-bound pets no end… honestly, the only holidays WORSE than New Year for fireworks are burn-your-effigy-night, Diwali and Eid.

So, HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of my readers who’re not celebrating some silly Gregorian calendar thing today. I find this particular year quite poignant, having been an avid horse-rider (or equivalent of horses on my home planet) for the past 12 years. I would post a picture of me riding my favourite horse-type beast but it’s a well-known fact that Urban Spacepersons are immune to photography.

PS, pls no fireworks. I totally respect that setting off highly combustible things are customary, but they worry my animals terribly. Plus, have you ever tried horse riding whilst there’s fireworks going off around you? I frequently ride Arab-crosses, and I can assure you, it’s no fun at all, with the booming and the highly-strung-ness.

Anyhoo, rant over, and I hope everybody celebrating tonight has a good (and safe) night!

 

 

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.”