Internal Fires

Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day.
Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

— Terry Pratchett

Before all of this you never saw the stars.  Before the ruins — before the revelation of the Fell — your night sky carried a safe glow just several shades below daylight.

You remember; but your memory is being eaten as surely as your body.  Family. Friends. Home. Other… things. Going. Going.

Darkness followed flame.  War of intense rapidity. The enemy didn’t come — they were.  And you were among the last standing. Infected, but alive. Not knowing how or why.

After the smoke, the stars.

Empty buildings along empty streets.  You became the forager, a double hunger driving you.  You pieced together a place to Gather and Keep. Night was the perfect time to Range and Collect.  The stars were a wonderment, and the ghosts — others like you — kept their distance and their peace.

Then, in a basement, a sub-basement you encountered them.  These four had escaped the invasion, the invading of the Fell.  The oldest spoke as they surrounded you. “‘And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread,’ hey, Goblin?”

A younger smiled, “Yeah… I guess, Professor.”

The other two remained silent.

“I have to wonder if Yeats had in mind a pair, or one in the same,”  He turned from you and receded into the shadows. When he returned, he carried an axe.  Still in contemplation, he continued, “‘Heart mysteries there… To engross the present and dominate memory…’” he faltered.  “The Circus, damn it!”  

He touched his gloved fingers to his forehead, “Um, ‘Players and painted stage took all my love… those things that they were emblems of.’”  He shook his head, “Not!  He said, ‘Not those things.’”  He looked around at his men, back to you.  “Damn it all!”

With a wave of his hand, the battle began.

You who had never fought, waged war — engaged the enemy as enemy — mercilessly.  The maneuvers your body made — the assaults — were guided by that from within. Ruthless.

The one named Goblin was the first to go.  I winced as you recounted the skirmish. Not carriers, these four had resisted infestation.  Goblin came at you with an improvised lance, and received a face-full of ball fire from the palm of your hand.  He fell as quickly as his weapon. The quiet two came at you in unison. One flew back against a wall, inert as he slumped to the floor.  The other screamed a short scream as you lifted him by the neck. He, too, died.

When the professor lifted his axe, preparing to charge, you ran to him.  The axe flew from his lifeless hands. Standing over him, you… or the Fell within you, whispered, “‘I must lie down where all the ladders start.’”

A fitting epitaph you uttered.  Then you continued to ransack their lair.

I watch you tonight, considering the night sky, and wonder when… and how….

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

This is part 2 of a story.  Part 1    Part 3

Internal Irony

fantasy-3533325_960_720

“There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe.” — Robert A. Heinlein

They watch and they wait.  They are waiting for the time when you slip up.  From the darkened hulks of damaged civilization, they eagerly hunt, sniff for the weakness they presume you’ll one day show.

You appear young; that’s what trips up their hopeful lust.  They are sure you are a neophyte. Untried? Untrue.

It is that unspoken surprise the Fell left you with — the seed you carry in your core — that makes you appear unaged.  You will die looking so. Anyone who tries you will share that seed. The seed of the Fell… parasites of the universe. Although you are strong and versed in personal tactics, you are also being hollowed out by an enemy that came with the unseen ships and the madness that destroyed civilization.  The Fell are a… “a cancer.” It’s best to think of it that way.

That said, while it’s true your days are passing fast, what lives inside you gives you a strength, a quickness, an alertness — a prowess! — that those who dwell in the shadows cannot overcome.

* * *

For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.

Part 2 Part 3

On Being Megan

cheese tray

photo by J. C. Lyman

 

The young guy with the La Closerie des Lilas apron steps out into the courtyard, beret not cast rakishly to the side.  Give him time, I think, he’ll learn.  His gaze scrapes across the crowd, seeking a target.  He carries a beautifully-crafted cheese board.

“Megan?” he calls.  A Spring bird on his way back north.

He steps forward, looking here and here.

Raises his voice over the guitarist playing ‘Round Midnight.

“Megan!”

After yet still no response – and I wait for it – I raise my hand, “Here.”

His look tells me in advance I’m going to win this round.

“You’re Megan?”  He is beautiful in his confusion.

I eye the tray and smile, “Absolutely!  Set it here.”  I’m a big guy; a bit intimidating.

He obeys.

For a cheese tray like this I will gladly be Megan.

“Um, anything else?”

I consider.

“Why yes.  I believe we ordered two glasses of your fine Pinot Noir.”

As he heads back toward the door, I hold up half of a strawberry in salute to our valiant server.

 

 

Wishing Star

 

Two hours down Bonita Klondyke Road in Arizona summer heat, sun cooking through the ragtop of his classic Chrysler.  Air conditioning long dead.  The sign read, “Wishing Star Saloon, turn right.”  He cranked the wheel.  It was right there in sight.

* * *

                “Dang!” said the woman behind the bar, “Windows down in this heat?”

“AC’s broke.  Heinie.”

“Tuff.”  She slid the bottle over.

“‘Wishing Star?’”

She motioned with her head.  “Every wish granted.”

“Right.”

She shrugged.

He stepped over to the painting.  “Wish I was someplace cooler.”

* * *

                Colder than hell, snow blowing.  Teeth chattering.  A sign.  “Klondyke River, Yukon Territory.”

 

Posted to The Carrot Ranch, December 28 Flash Fiction Challenge — Wishing Star.

Interview

 

bridge of death

Imgur.com

Jonathan sat in one of the black vinyl chairs, badly padded, badly contoured, and as uncomfortable as they were meant to be; no doubt an object lesson inflicted by some HR gnome just before she or he became expendable.  The vacant-eyed woman behind the counter had returned her focus to the screen off to one side.  If the entirety of ISIS came through the glass doors, assault weapons on full auto, they would overrun her counter before she’d have the presence to ask, “How can I help you?”  Of course she wouldn’t be saying it anyway, because she’d be dead, still facing her inter-office emails or her unauthorized game of Spider Solitaire.  Jonathan silently bet on Spider.  Her attention was too… rapt for it to be anything less.

He glanced around the lobby of HR – glass walls on two sides, a huge wall-mounted screen spewing corporate propaganda on the third wall, a huge print of positively representative members of the workforce smiling out at prospective clients because they damned sure were having fun working for… The Machine?  The Meat Grinder?  He shuddered and decided on The Machine; the alternative was too in touch with… accuracy.  They were having a wonderful time working their jobs in The Machine.  And you knew it, too, by the way they looked out at you and smiled their smug, knowing smiles at you as you came through the big double glass doors.

Why all the glass? Jonathan wondered, looking around again.  Was it meant to convey a sense of transparency?  There was no transparency here, he thought.  Four times he had gone through this process.  Dress for success.  Be sure your hair appears freshly cut.  Use positive, appropriate colors when choosing your wardrobe.  Appear young and perky, no matter your age.  Be ready to answer questions the logic of which eluded Jonathan every time.  The job interview process was the very antithesis of the metaphorically open and transparent lobby; there was no seeing in.  It was the Bridge of Death in that Holy Grail movie.  The bridge trolls allowed you to approach within eyesight of the other side – within view of the blessed end of the quest.  Then came the questions.  Each time you interviewed, they slipped in a final, damnedly deceptive question (“What… is the capital of Assyria?”).  Fail to answer immediately… strong-heartedly… and, perhaps, even correctly, and you’re instantly flung into the abyss of despond and failure.  God!  To be The King for just this once!

Here he was yet again; proof that his applications at least attracted the attention of one of the trolls.  His references and qualifications impressed someone enough to have him back in these god-awful chairs awaiting yet another ordeal.

As in previous visits, he watched the clock tick off time well past his appointment.  Please arrive fifteen minutes early, they always advised.  So we can rub your nose in it by making you wait a half an hour past… just for giggles.

Jonathan fumed.  He hated wearing a suit coat, detested the noose about the neck.  The smile plastered on his face caused his cheeks to cramp.  The screen zombie behind the desk never looked up, right nor left, even when answering the phone.  Was it all worth this, he wondered, irritated by the sweat rolling down his ribs under the crisp no-iron dress shirt.  He wanted to strip out of his discomfort.  He longed to tell the receptionist, “Red Jack on the Black Queen,” even it just messed up her concentration.  Or tell her, “I’m going out to get a cold beer.  Tell the powers to be if they want to interview me, I’ll be at The Crush around the corner, okay?”  Instead he sat silently and fumed.

“Mr. Green?”

He followed the bridge troll with the well-rehearsed smile and the clipped on ID that sported the troll smiling the exact same smile.  A few words of instruction, a rough idea of what to expect during the interview, and “Good luck,” were uttered before entering the conference room.

Jonathan shook hands, heard and forgot names, and took his seat.  The questions came at him….

A Rather Inconvenient Day

workshop

Image from Pinterest

“…the tangled skein of commotion….” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Twelve minutes into the day shift I knew it was going to be one of those days. The wrapping servants came, bonnets and hats in hand, to tell me the packaging materials had not been delivered. “I’m terribly sorry, your worship,” Thomason, the lead subordinate whined, acting as superior of the group. “It didn’t arrive during the night shift as it ought. We have only enough—”

“Yes, yes, Thomason!” I replied in my usual imperious manner, waving him off. “I will see to it. Do what you can with what you can until you hear from me.”

Once Thomason ushered them out of my area, bowing and simpering in something approaching unison, I turned to Harris, my adjutant, “See to it, Harris.”

“But I thought you—” my withering glare stopped him short. “Yes, your worship,” he nodded, obviously chastened, “I’ll see to it at once!”

As he left my area, he left my mind, taking the problem with him as he went. An hour later I was called out to assembly; a place I rarely attend voluntarily. The smell of the servants in assembly is fouler than the stench that wafts through the craftsmen’s rooms.        The servant sent to beseech my presence was as ill equipped for the practice of communication as many of the craftsmen’s tools. It was soon revealed that my presence was made necessary by one of the female servants having come upon her time. Now let it not be said that I am not without kindnesses, for when I discovered the woman reclined on a bed of sacks and cloaks, struggling with child, I did not follow strict guidance which requires a day’s allowance docked when resting from labor. Irony is not lost upon me when I encounter it. However, it required my valuable time, and the dull cooperation of about ten laborers to bring that woman – and, eventually her newborn babe – away from assembly. We finally had her rest in a corner of delivery. I said irony is not lost on me.

Harris returned to me about midday with news that the wagon that was to have delivered the wrapping materials had broken an axle on the road through Charsbury. It was now nearly mended and would be reloaded with haste. We could see the wagon perhaps by the third bell. As I was considering how we would make up for the lack, Harris supposed that the second shift would have to make up double for our lost time. I took that as my solution and made a notation in my journal as to my inspired decision.

Around the time we were looking for the wagon, the Vandals were sighted, approaching from the north. “Bugger,” I puffed out, “Can a day be any disordered than this one has been? Harris,” I said, turning once again to my subordinate, “hurry off and tell my mistress that I may not be able to make our afternoon appointment.”

“And may I suggest we evacuate the mercantile?” Harris muttered, keeping an eye out the window to the north.

“Hmm?” I considered for a moment. “Well, yes, I suppose we rather should. Good head on your shoulders, Harris! Remind me to increase your allowance.”

“Yes, your worship. At the very next convenience.”

What a day it was to be.

(551 words – not counting title or Rilke quote.)

This is my second (posted) attempt at flash fiction.  See the link below for my first post.  I would like some honest writer’s feedback: Does the story stand as a story?  How is the voice?  Anything genuine you can provide would be appreciated.

https://lifeinportofino.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/smooth-as-silk/

Smooth As Silk

Dark Alley

 

Silk.  He mulled over the possibilities, and smiled.  Hiding in a darkened doorway off the crooked, crippled alley, no one stood as witness to the tortured, tormented workings of John’s mind.  Alley creatures kept their distance from his malevolent being as a matter of course.

For throttling he had never considered the devilish irony of silk – so smooth to the touch – as a garrote.  He held the remnant of the outer garment captured from his latest victim, still warm no doubt, although well away near a mile through the tangled twisting byways he knew as the hairs on his forearm.  The soft smoothness of the swatch and the deceptive strength of it, so well made; possibly high-end.  For a moment he regretted not lifting her purse.

“Not for mammon,” he muttered.

“No, by God!” cried he, glancing skyward as though he feared retribution at the mention of that name.

“Not for bleeding, damned mammon!”

He wrapped the strip of black silk about his left hand, threading it between thumb and forefinger.  Again he wrapped it around his left.  He repeated the process with his right.  Pleased with the feel he snapped it tight, loosed it, and snapped it again.  To try it!  The thought filled him, revived him as liquor.

A sound.  A scuff.  A step.

Poised, he stood waiting.

A sigh.

A woman’s sigh – perfection!

Stepping out to meet her in the dark, silk at the ready.  He was met with a plaited cord cast like lighting about his neck.  A knot that met his Adam’s apple.  Deviously marvelous innovation that!  As she jerked the cord tight he looked into her eyes.  Familiar.  Red mark about her lovely neck.  Her black frock missing an expanse about the hem.

He began to descend into darkness.  How devilishly smooth it was about his neck.

Silk.

(304 words – not counting the title.)