Fresh

Written for NYC Midnight Challenge 2; horror/tractor trailer/bar of soap. 1000 words

 A long haul trucker and his partner offer Cassie a lift from Alice Springs to Darwin without her even putting a thumb out. But what exactly do they deliver, and to who?

      FRESH

“Take ya top off or ride in the trailer.”

Dan looks at her with the blue eyes that last night looked friendly. Now they are glazed, pupils pinpricked by amphetamines.

The tip of a knife caresses the underside of her ribs.

Cassie doesn’t hesitate to pull her shirt over her head.

Not the trailer.

 

The previous evening, at a bar in Alice Springs, it seemed Cassie had got lucky. Lanky, sandy haired Dan and his partner Meg were fun company. Physically, they were an odd couple. But Meg, a five foot pepperpot with tight curls and a cute laugh, clung to her blonde beanpole with genuine affection.

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” she told Cassie with a wink.

Of course Cassie gladly accepted their offer of a lift all the way to Darwin.

It was too good to be true.

But now, pulled a mile off the highway in the middle of nowhere, with kind eyes turned to crazy, she hugs herself, trying to cover more than skin.

Dan spots the cherub on her shoulder and frowns.

 

Good. Cassie’s mind is scrambling for any positives. His expression offers a glimmer of hope she won’t be raped.

Meg peers around the seat.

“HE dun’ like tattoos.”

Her tongue thrusts into Cassie’s ear, leaving a slosh of saliva dripping from it.

“We should just put you back there,” she whispers.

Cupboards click open and shut in the sleeper compartment. A length of wire is suddenly looped around Cassie’s neck, tying her to the headrest.

Meg has a bar of Solvol. “Hold ‘er arm, honey,” she asks sweetly.

The industrial soap scours through the flesh of Cassie’s shoulder, eradicating the tattoo and exposing raw nerves and capillaries. Meg is sweating when she finishes. Neither she nor Dan is bothered in the slightest by Cassie’s screams.

He lifts Cassie’s bound hands easily, despite her struggle. There are letters across her knuckles. L.O.V.E. A remnant of her teens. The writing is clumsy, the ink faded.

It doesn’t matter.

HE dun’ like tattoos.

Dan presses her fingers closed to form a tight fist.

Meg giggles as she scrubs.

“You crazy motherfucking bitch! I’ll fucking kill you, you fucking psychos!”

Finally the soap shudders against bone. The white gleams through the blood.

The soap is thrust into her mouth. A rag tied to keep it there.

“You gotta dirty mouth,” hisses Meg.

Cassie feels the wire tighten, cutting into her windpipe. She claws at it, peeling skin from her throat with her own fingernails as she tries to loosen it.  Her eyes bulge as she gasps for the breath she can’t take, choking on the piece of soap she has bitten off.

“Meg! We can’t kill her.”

The wire relaxes. The gag untied. Dan thumps her back and the soap splats into her lap with a rush of yellow bile.

We can’t kill her.

Can’t?

 Is there a chance they’ll get careless? Give her a chance to escape?

Cassie thinks of the woman in the brown checked shirt.  They’d come across her a hundred miles or so back. Three year old boy on her hip and steam pouring out of her Ford.

“You guys chat-I’ll sort this out,” Dan smiled, jumping down from the cab.

Cassie saw the relieved woman in the side mirror. Saw Dan ruffle the little boy’s hair. Then only white as the rear doors to the trailer were opened. The freezer? Ten minutes later they pulled away, the car still spouting steam and disappearing into the depths of the mirror.

“Taken care of,” said Dan.

Meg giggled.

Despite the cab heater taking the edge off the desert’s morning chill, Cassie shivered.

 

“This is our baby,” Meg had announced earlier with pride. “Mr. White’s Quality Meats” read the giant letters on the side of the semi.

Had he put them in the trailer?

Cassie decided quickly, before they got too far ahead of the Ford.

“Sorry guys, I really need to take a leak. Can we pull over?”  She would take her chances, either with the brown checked shirt woman or whoever else came along.

But Dan pushed the accelerator down harder. Cassie scrambled for the door handle. Strong fingers immediately grabbed her throat, pushing hard under her jaw. A cloth covered her nose and mouth, drenched in something sickly sweet. Chlorof……….?

When she’d awoken they were here. Hands and feet bound.

The heater circulating the smell of body odour.

And the stench of evil.

“Gotta lose that ring.”

Cassie desperately tries to prise her mother’s ring off but her fingers are slick with blood, her knuckle too swollen.  Meg’s patience runs out quickly. She hands Dan a pair of rusty wire cutters.

Cassie runs out of screams long before the bone finally splinters and the last shred of flesh gives way. Her long moans are deep and purely animal.

Her jackhammer heart coats her fists in crimson.

The cigarette lighter pops. Dan presses it against the stump to stop the bleeding. Cassie vomits from the pork crackling smell. Her teeth chatter in shock.

Now might be time to ride in the back,” says Dan, lifting her chin.

Cassie shakes her head.

Meg climbs past to open the door.

“About time.”

They drag her the fifty five feet to the back of the trailer.

Cassie welcomes cold dark death, if she’ll be away from these two.

But the heavy doors release an inhuman stench of warm air instead.

Dozens of bodies hang from rows of meat hooks, most still alive.

Dogs, kangaroos, emus.

Humans.

The closest one is the woman in the brown checked shirt. Mouth moving silently.

A massive, pale spider-like creature is feasting on the soft flesh of her child. The milky meniscus slides back from its multi faceted eye.

It looks over the fresh offering in the doorway.

He dun’ like tattoos. Gotta lose that ring.

They don’t deliver for Mr. White. They deliver to him.

There is one hook spare.

Meg giggles as they lift Cassie onto it.

Demonkeyracy

 Written for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2016-1000 words/48 hrs.

Political satire/zoo/stolen bicycle.

 

 

“There was pandemonium at the San Diego Zoo this morning, with a possible outbreak of rabies in the primate area, the exposure of a brazen gang of thieves and a berserk mandrill having to be sedated.

More news at seven.”

 

 

 DEMONKEYRACY

 

“Honey, how’s my anus look?”

“Bright blue and incident free, dear.”

“Excellent.”

The mandrill lifted his tail even higher, swaggering past the gibbons to the front of his enclosure. He backed up to the bars and “faced” the day’s first visitors.

“My fellow simians, human subjects…”

 

“Bit early isn’t it?” complained a lemur, rubbing his eyes.

 

Madagascans,” muttered the mandrill, so only the gibbons heard.  “Do you even know what’s going on?”

 

Standard power grab based on flamboyantly colored anal glands, surmised the lemur through a yawn. “Not really,” he lied, “but I saw what happened last night when your neighbor there stole the human’s carry-beast.”  Satisfied with his contribution, the lemur casually reclined into the shade next to his mate.

 

The mandrill glared at the smug orangutan. In the foliage above, the night guard’s bicycle was visible through some obviously placed palm fronds.

 

“We have confiscated the dangerous beast which throws the human in its cold blooded anger,” announced the orangutan proudly. “Along with the ear rocks and vines that distract and upset them so much.” In one hand he held several cell phones. In the other, headphones and ear pieces. “For their own, um, safety of course.”

 

“Don’t let the humans see those.”

A capuchin monkey shook her small head. “The metal beast is not the problem. The human always reeks of alcohol! He has the balance of Mr. Baboon.”

 

“Your contribution is noted,” nodded the orangutan thoughtfully as he sneakily hid the contraband. “From this moment forth we declare a ban on consuming fermented fruit as well. For us of course, since we can’t really, um, enforce that on the humans.”

 

The baboon groaned, hiccupped and fell face first over a log in protest.

 

“Sacrilege!” cried the gibbon in support of his fallen brother.  He clung to the bars to add a dash of drama. “Why are we, the superior species, subject to such injustice?”

 

“Superior?” laughed the capuchin, “You are not even the superior species in your own cage! We are in a prison you idiot.”

 

Aghast, the gibbon turned to engage the chimpanzees in a feces flinging competition. “A battle of wits it is!” he shrieked.

 

The mandrill, alarmed that his rear end was no longer the centre of attention, saw his moment.

“Prison?” he roared. “These protective barriers keep predators away. We are lavished with food and attention by our loving subjects.”

Cameras clicked.

“See how they make reverent portraits of my rectum!” He turned to put the other ass cheek closer to the humans.

“This is by far my best side.”

 

“By far,” agreed the capuchin.

 

The orangutan scratched his head vigorously with one elongated finger. The cameras now swung to him. He grinned benevolently.

“Subjects? No. They are our responsibility. We must protect them from, um, stuff. Themselves mainly.”

The humans watched him elaborately gesture with his arms. They smiled and pointed back at him.

“Yeah, these guys are getting it.”

 

“You old fools, we are their captives,” shrieked the capuchin. “Part of an intricate socio-economic…”

 

A huge thump stopped him short. The gorilla had heard enough. “Fools? Wasn’t it you that said coconuts don’t kill gibbons, gibbons kill gibbons?”

 

Hoping they were supposed to, the chimps fell about laughing (since their cage was right next to the gorillas.) The gibbons chuckled to cover their coconut problem.

 

The macaques feigned hilarity, (hoping the chimps and gibbons had got it right.)

Only one from their group remained silent. An Asian macaque, scarred from witnessing his brother’s demise to a human’s gun in ‘Nam, clung desperately to a branch and tried to look invisible. The excited voices and clacking flashes were triggering, well,… flashbacks.

 

Every cage but the lemur’s now rocked with commotion.

 

Concerned staff joined the growing crowd.

 

The female gorillas were beseeching the males to let it go. The males were declining the suggestion, reminding them that King of the Apes was not just a slogan used by the humans.

The mandrills were strongly reminding the gibbons the extra fruit they’d been passing on meant backing up their leader when required. Gibbons were apologizing for being a little busy. The chimps made the most of the scolding by getting in several direct hits.

 

The capuchin struggled to be heard above the din.

“That which we call wings are naught but the rigid wires that bind us!” she screeched. Her troop chittered in agreement with this wisdom. They all started excitedly quoting their own favorite monkey philosophy. All but the PTSD macaque joined the lively discussion.

 

It was noisy, so the orangutans had to call loudly for quiet.

 

 

The mandrill reached across and grabbed a gibbon by the scruff of its neck.

 

The bewildered humans swung their attention back to him.

 

“We must take the situation by the throat. We need strong leadership,” he declared with a flourish.

“You O.K. there JoJo?” he whispered.

“All good pal,” mumbled the gibbon. “Here let me say a few words, buddy.”

The mandrill pushed the JoJo’s head through the bars to let the crowd see him easier.

“Look how committed this guy is,” pleaded the gibbon.

“I am, I am,” shouted the mandrill. He bared his teeth in a smile of humility.

 

The humans reacted with a curious mixture of photography and screaming. One of them hastily loaded a dart into a rifle.

 

“They can’t understand you,” warned the capuchin. “Put JoJo down!” Her warnings were drowned out in the cacophony of simian debate.

They can’t understand me thought the mandrill. It’s way over their heads.

 

From the macaque cage came a single “Nooooooooo.”

 

The dart whistled into the blue with a thud. The mandrill slumped, ass first down the bars of the cage.

 

Silence.

 

Except for JoJo’s whisper of “Blue Moon down, Blue Moon down.”

 

And the crash of a ten speed racing bike falling to earth.

 

The orangutan looked as shocked as anyone.

 

 

 

From the shadows of the lemur cage came a small but determined voice.

“Honey, how’s my anus look?”

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Overlap

(Written for NYC midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015-1000 words/48 hours. Genre-comedy, location-school detention, item-pretzel.)

 

You can do this.

 

An hour, tops.

 

And Larry Breen could forget about St. Tolerance forever.

It’s just one kid.

A kid with issues, sure. Who struggled with responsibility, race, religion, reality.

Pretty much anything starting with “r.”

 

Breen reached into the sanctuary of his inside coat pocket. He gulped from his new asthma inhaler before entering.

 

Tyrone.

Standing on his desk, draped in a UN flag.

“This is not the first time a Luggajéan has been unfairly detained. Racist!”

Breen kneaded his temples as hard as the bruising would allow.

“Against which part of your French Hungarian African Canadian heritage?”

“Probably all of them. Khnyok!” scoffed Tyrone, descending in dramatic profile to accentuate his nose.

“Um, Jewish?”

“Since mid morning. Church of England first thing.”

Breen shuffled the history paper to the bottom of the pile. No need to question why “Bitch had it coming.” was the entirety of Tyrone’s Joan of Arc essay in first period.

 

“We have to talk about your inconsistent grades.”

Tyrone snatched the sheaf of papers.

“You kidding me? D for media studies? My school website page got like a billion hits.”

“And the picture of me buggering the school mascot got me on the national sex offenders list. Though you did get an A for photoshopping,” added Breen begrudgingly.

“Hey what about this one? I’ve scored some kind of acting gig or something. You are summonsed to appear…”

“Sorry, that’s mine” said Breen grabbing it back. “Did I mention it was an A+ in photoshopping?”

“Oh I see. A technology A because I’m Asian”

“Tyrone, you’re black.”

“But we live over a Chinese laundry,” he wailed.

“You aced Chemistry though.”

“Dad did all my homework.”

“Yes, I saw his lab on the news. Don’t worry Tyrone, six months will pass in a flash.”

“Hey what about this one? An F?”

“Your exam paper was blank.”

Tyrone tapped his forehead, eyebrow raised knowingly.

“It’s physics Tyrone, not psychics.”

“The others did seem a bit hands-on,” the boy mused, passing something unseen to something else unseen under his desk.

Breen leaned forward.

“Just feeding Quetzalcoatl, sir.”

“And when did you become legally blind?”

“Tuesday for about an hour after dad’s mushroom gumbo. It’s not a guide dog though. He followed the old man home from the airport.”

At the boy’s feet, a contented beagle in a harness chomped away on a phallic shaped treat. Breen winced; though his stomach growled like an overprotective father with an underdressed daughter. Being picked up by a beefcake in a curtained kombi. And a sticker saying if it’s rockin’ don’t bother knockin’.

“Hungry sir?”

“Well I haven’t eaten today,” Breen admitted. His lunch hour had been spent recovering in the sick bay. The chlorine in his inhaler had eradicated his sense of smell. A blessing in halitosis/flatulence 101.

“They’re druidic pretzels,” explained Tyrone as he held up another glazed penis with sesame seed sprinkled testicles. “Made them in cooking class.”

“Are there any not shaped like genitalia?” asked Breen against hope.

Tyrone rummaged through a tote bag adorned with Yiddish. Breen spied a Ziploc bag among the stone tablets, rosary beads and severed lamb’s head.

“Now this is how a pretzel should look,” he announced, retrieving the bag.

“Like the overlapped praying hands of a monk,” Tyrone agreed reverently.

 

Breen retreated to his desk, sneaking a bite. The piece lodged in his throat and he rocked back and forward trying to dislodge it. Tyrone leapt to his feet, and tapping in on his inner Japanese, politely returned the same number of bows.

“H-h-heim-lich m-m-manouvre” gasped Breen.

“Oh great,” responded Tyrone, “Holocaust guilt.”

Breen’s face had turned the brash purple of his tie. He clasped his hands, pleading. Tyrone paused only to prop up his camera phone on an L Ron Hubbard novel before arriving to help.

“Jehovah is really at odds with Samaritan right now” he sighed. To witness or rescue? Reluctantly, he grasped the teacher from behind.

“The power of Christ compels you!” he screamed, slamming Breen’s head onto the desk and stapling two essays together. Breen’s recoiling head cracked Tyrone in the face. The force dislodged the offending chunk of pretzel. It sailed in a graceful arc across the class where it was snapped out of the air by the grateful beagle.

“You saved my life,” rasped Breen. He drew greedily on his inhaler. “Eventually.”

He staggered upright, where Tyrone clutched his bleeding nose.

“You racist atheist fascist,” he groaned. “I’m going to the principal’s office with your blatantly intolerant DNA still fresh on my face.”

“But it’s on camera,” wheezed Breen. “It was clearly an accident!”

“I can delete that,” shrugged Tyrone.

“Or you can leave it in. Think of Student saves teacher’s life despite shocking facial injury on You Tube. A billion hits!”

Tyrone’s crudely stereotyped Judaism won the brief arm wrestle over his rather shaky vow of poverty.

Aaand detention’s over?”

“I was going to let you go for saving me anyway.”

“Vishnu be praised.” Tyrone grabbed his phone, shouldered his bag and led out Quetzalcoatl. At the door he stopped to light an enormous joint.

“Rastafarianism,” he smiled. “ And Hare Krishna, Mr. Breen.”

 

Breen watched through watery eyes as the boy led the beagle across the yard outside. Still starving, he gobbled down the rest of the pretzel, despite its stodgy texture. Typical. Tyrone was recipe challenged as well. Blissfully grateful for the lack of functioning taste buds, he finished every crumb.

 

The dog stopped to empty his bowels on the manicured lawn of St. Tolerance.

“Go nuts,” murmured Breen. He had survived the year. Survived Tyrone. Shit away, pooch.

 

But the beagle’s shining coil of turd formed a too-neat neat circle on the grass. The overlapping ends like the praying hands of a monk.

 

Breen’s purple complexion skipped the rest of the rainbow and went straight to green. He fumbled for his inhaler.

Tyrone waited for the beagle to finish, Ziploc bag at the ready.

He waved.

You know.

In that way those damn Rastafarian French Hungarian African Canadians do.

Swertgg


Recently I’ve had the privilege of reviewing the work of some very talented young writers. This one is special……………

 

 

 

/?   Hhhhhh55555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555 55555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555 55555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555 5555555555555555555555555555555yl/kkjhjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjmmmmmmmm          mmmmmkkk  lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll,llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.  .7rrrrrrrrrrrrrswertgg7rrrrrrrrrrrrrswertggHHHH

 

 

 

Pete’s review of “/?” by Elliot (3)

Firstly, I loved your title. “/?”  I know you set this as a very clever riddle. Since the two symbols share the same keyboard key, I’m guessing your hidden title might be “Shift” since you need this key to access them both. Ingenious.

A bright opening line. Who doesn’t love a hug (capital H), followed by five friendly hi’s (lower case h)!

Then the fives began, and the story took off. Don’t you love how the 5’s look like S’s that haven’t had that last curve bent into them by the bendy letter making machine? Or S’s that got tired of being S’s and went over to the side of numbers? And, if you squint at them, you start seeing 3’s in there as well?

Of course you did, you’re clever.

The “l/kkjh” was a real curveball, and the many purple j’s helped to ratchet up the tension. (How do you even change the colour of the text?)

Then the story takes a thoughtful tangent (“mmmmmmmmmmmmm”), before you remind us what’s at stake with”kkk”.

From here the tale kicks into overdrive. Thank goodness you added a comma after about eighty blue“I’s” as I was struggling to keep up with your frenetic  pacing. Then, after yet more I’s, a couple of moments for the reader to catch their breath before……

7!

Seriously?

7?

Wow, did NOT see that coming.

And when the r’s swarm, and surely there’s no way out?

Then “swertgg”! Amazing. Absolutely brilliant.

Then another 7! Are you kidding me? Just when the danger seemed past, another 7. And, with another 7, the r’s are resurrected. I nearly wet my chair.

With your second awesome “swertgg” the situation is finally put to rest. Most writers wouldn’t be bold enough to use one swertgg, let alone two. Bravo, Ellie.

There was only one spelling error (impressive)- “l/kkjh” is of course spelt “l/kjkh.”

Overall, this story has a bit of everything. A warm introduction, a plethora of 5’s, j’s and I’s. But there are also r’s aplenty, pensive m’s and terrifying 7’s.

Great story.

I encourage you to keep writing. Would love to read more of your work.

 

(P.S. thanks for the four hugs at the end.)

The world needs more swertgg.

 

Grandad. x

Truce

(Written for NYC flash fiction challenge. 48 hours, 1000 words. Prompts-fantasy, a mountain stream, milk.)…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Many years ago in the land of Ardanelle, Mikel and Melane, king and queen of the unicorns, set off to Silver Mountain, their horns encircled in vines of butter milk flowers…

“Unicorns!” laughed Jacob. “Hey, shouldn’t I be telling you a story?”

“Shush, father. You said you’d listen,” scolded Ceri.
The king nodded wistfully, stroking the raven waterfall of her hair. Outside her tower window, distant tallow smoke hung acrid on the night breeze. In the morning he would ride for the outlands. Amongst the burnt huts and bodies of subjects he could no longer protect, he must sue for peace with the mad prince at whatever the cost.
“Men never listen!”
The familiar tone jolted him back more than the poke in the stomach. So much like Kaetrina had been. As beautiful as the spring fields. Determined as the moon season rains. The dry crust of grief caught in his throat. Five bleak years had passed.
He kissed the top of Ceri’s head. Where a crown was predestined, but now never going to sit.
“I’m sorry sweet child. Please go on. Flowers? Why?”
“Butter milk flowers,” sighed Ceri. “As a sign of truce of course,” she added, dismayed that a king would not know this.

King Mikel and Queen Melane followed the narrow track ever upwards, between boulders growing ashen as they climbed. Every step sensing their enemies upon them.
Feeling their eyes and dreading their claws.
Trusting an ancient law and a circlet of pale blossoms to keep them safe.
At last they topped the plateau. Where the mountain stream began as a trickle from the snow capped boulders. Where their eternal enemies held court high above Ardanelle.
The eyrie of the griffin.

“Griffins!” remarked Jacob. “With the head of an eagle and the body of a lion?”
“Of course,” groaned Ceri, waiting for further interruption before continuing.

Lord Leonid and Lady Enora were paired for life, the only custom the unicorns agreed with.
Leonid’s honey flecked eyes met those of his counterpart. Mikel’s glared back, cold and blue as the stream beside him.
“This must end Leonid. Where is Mikaley? Where is our daughter?”
Enora hissed, ruffling her golden feathers angrily. “Mind your tongue horn horse!”
Melane stepped forward. “But for the snows we would have come earlier Enora.” Her sweet voice lowered. “We heard the beat of wings the night she was taken. Only a griffin…”
“Always the griffins,” snarled Leonid. “Why should we believe anything you say? Those who would trample the forests to starve of us prey? Drive the dograbbits and jackalope far from the flat lands? Use their cruel horns to gore our kin? Their hooves to crush our skulls?” He paused, the fire momentarily dulled. “What of our son. What of Levaris? “

“We know nothing of his fate,” snorted Mikel.
“Liar!” screeched Enora. “Trust nothing they say my husband.”
“And why should we trust those who would dam the river? Forcing us to drink at the valley pool, easy prey to vicious claws and razored talons? The corpses mount at the lake edge, bringing deathfly and disease.” Mikel raised his proud head. “The grasslands shrink without the river and creeks. By sun season’s end there will be no grazing lands left,” he added quietly.
“Then you too will know hunger,” growled Enora. She stepped forward, drawing close to the unicorn queen. Melane recoiled from the fetid stench of the carrion breath.
“Don’t worry,” sneered Enora, “That’s not her you can smell.”
Melane lowered her head, her horn at the throat of the Lady griffin.
“You would attack while wearing the garland of truce?”
“If you are to mock my grief for Mikaley,” growled the unicorn, “I will carry home your head.”
Enora’s fierce eyes narrowed. Her powerful hind tensed, prepared to strike.

They turned at the soft clop of hooves.
A unicorn stepped into the clearing, prodded forward by a male griffin.
The length of her body was almost hairless, a myriad of scars. Her abdomen was etched in dozens of thin stripes; fresh, cruel, weeping cuts. Her legs trembled to hold her thin body upright.
“Mikaley,” gasped her father
“You!” cried Melane, charging at the griffin. She drove her horn into his eye, puncturing through his brain and the top of his skull. With a violent twist of her neck she threw him to the water’s edge.
The garland of flowers slid from his eye socket and followed the reddening stream away on the current.
“Levaris!” howled Leonid in anguish.
Melane turned to her daughter, but Enora was already at her.
“No, wait” pleaded Mikaley as the talon opened her long throat. Enora’s screech of vengeance tore the clouds above them to shredded rags. Mikaley slumped to the ground, her face a visage of disbelief.

Jacob nodded, recognizing the madness of war in his daughter’s tale.

In the second of silence before the madness continued, came a rustling from beneath the great golden wings of Levaris.
Two small heads emerged. Eagle heads. Eyes closed, they sniffed the air excitedly. Dragging themselves from under their father’s wing they tottered towards the fallen unicorn. They pushed at her back leg with their beaks, seeking to feed at her soft underbelly.
Melane raised her hoof, blind with rage. Mikel stepped forward to halt her strike.
“Their legs my love. Their hind legs.”
Enora’s head fell in shame. Leonid wrapped her in his wings
The young ones had hooves.
The four of them watched as their grandchildren suckled.

Unicorn tears fell as diamonds. As only they do in times of peace.

Ceri gripped her father tight, her small fingers clutching the leather of his tunic. “Hippogriffs?” he whispered. She nodded, easing from the embrace.
“The union of Levaris and Mikaley gave both sides something in common. They ended the war with love.”
He bent down to kiss her cheek, but her head turned away, tucked behind her drawn up knees. She rocked gently upon them.

Jacob was nearly to the door.

“Did you really listen?”

“Ceri? Honey?””

Then he noticed.
And couldn’t help but hear.

The chair.
Her saddle on its high back. The neat pile upon it, wrapped in a pelt blanket. Beneath; her favorite boots, brightly polished.
His voice deserted him though his lips formed the words.
“Oh Ceri.”
On a wooden peg next to the chair hung her best white dress. Her long travel cloak.

And a circlet of buttermilk flowers.

Catcher

It wasn’t that he remembered the sounds. He had never stopped hearing them.

The whip crack of the shots and watermelon wet of their impact. The clattering cacophony of metal and ceramic, tile and Formica. The rising screams of his divas. A lunatic opera, a symphony in the key of red.

She seemed to appear out of nowhere. Jess, her nametag read. She wore the faded gingham of a truck stop waitress, philosophic smile and all. Smelled of jasmine, cinnamon and ammonia. Though she cosseted a steel coffee pot on an oven mitt protected hand, Jess was as out of place in the uni cafeteria as he was. His fingers tightened as she filled his cup, but the noise dulled a little. He didn’t throw it in her face.

He took her all in; hair pulled back tight, west coast sun kissed and pretty, without looking at her. He looked at them. They were seated now, three rows away. Talking, laughing, no one really eating. Colorful and wonderful and full of life. Exchanging thoughts and hearts and spit. Eight at the table. One behind the counter. The stark lights illuminated them into movie stars.

The waitress hadn’t left and that confused him.

Jess tabled the coffee pot and slid into the chair next to him. She punched a small fist into the padding of the quilted mitt.

“I used to play with my two brothers. They always needed a catcher.” Jess tapped a finger to a faint crooked scar near her temple. “Bobby got me a good one the first time. Knocked me flat” she chuckled. Jess raised the glove, shaking her head. “I got better though. Fact is, I got real good at it. I loved it.” She pulled the mitt back, perhaps this time gloving that slider from Bobby. “What do you love doing?”Her smile was more cinnamon than ammonia.

“Don’t start that let’s fucking compare scars bullshit with me.”

A girl with glasses at the other table glanced over at him, a black pit where one eye should be.

“Do you know what happened here?” he spat.

“In eighty five? Sure. Everyone knows what happened here. Michael Vandover shot and killed eight students and one of the staff. Injured plenty more. Then he put the gun in his own mouth and blew his brains out.”

His nod was almost imperceptible. “What a coward.”

“Everyone knows the rest too. How he was mistreated, bullied. Abused. What his father did to him.”

The boy sat in silence, struggling to break the glue on his lips. “Guitar” he finally managed. “Playing guitar was what he lov-what he liked doing best” he muttered.

The others had moved one table closer, their friendly banter now a foreboding wind of whisper.

“None of the dead did a thing to him. Not one of them. Fucking coward.”

“It’s never too late to be brave.”

“Brave? There is no brave, lady. Everyone hides behind someone or something. A crew, a cause, a gun, a fucking cross! What do you know about brave?”

“My boyfriend was beating me. I stood up to him.” Jess unbuttoned her dress, exposing her breasts. No camera phones clicked. No one whistled. Not a murmur. The straight crimson kiss of a knife ran down the inside of one breast. The cut was deep, angry. There were others, continuing down her stomach and out of sight. He wondered if they ever ended; such was the hate in those wounds.

He swallowed it down with his own.

“Did it hurt?” he asked quietly as she rebuttoned.

“Only for a little while honey.”

He spun away quickly, angry for caring. “I told you I didn’t want to see any scars, bitch. So your courage got you stabbed? Great fucking job.”

“It got me free” smiled Jess, more jasmine than ammonia.

He looked up. The others were now at the next table. Their dead stares turned his gut to ice.

“Can’t you see them?”

“Who?”

“FUCKING THEMMMM!” he screamed. The girl with one eye raised her index finger at him with a sneer.

Jess scanned the neat and empty chairs and tables, chiaroscuro stark in pre dawn light.

He watched her face hopefully, but they were his phantoms alone.

“It was thirty years ago honey. “

He heard the whip crack bullets and watermelon wet. The lunatic opera. Saw the girl with glasses beg him not to shoot. Tasted the oil blue heat of the barrel.

“Not if you were there.”

The one eyed girl crawled under the table towards him.

“You need to get out of this place” whispered Jess.

He laughed, though his eyes were as dull and black as a shark. “There’s nowhere I can go.” His head dropped into his hands. The back of his head was a crater; a white chocolate, grey marshmallow Easter egg bitten by God. She stroked his hair nevertheless. He felt her touch, even where the nothing was, all jasmine and cinnamon.

“There’s no place I belong” he sobbed.

“There’s one place. All you have to do is get up out of that chair Mike.”

He looked down at his lap. The one eyed girl’s arms held him tight.

“Is there a heaven? A h-hell?

“No honey. There’s just after.”

The first thin strings of sunrise crept across the cafeteria.

“W-what do you do there?”

“Whatever you love.”
She rested her fingers on the back of his hand. Her thumb slipped under his wrist and her grip tightened, more ammonia than jasmine. He realized Jess could take him, just like that, if she really wanted to. But her eyes beseeched him to do it.

He knew what the brave thing was.

But he couldn’t forgive himself. Not yet. Maybe never.

The one eyed girl reached up. One by one she peeled back Jess’s fingers. The sunlight reached their table, dissolving all but Jess to the recurring dust of memories past.

She sighed, smoothing the stitches on the oven mitt. Remembering how hard it could be to truly set yourself free.

(written for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge-Genre: ghost story, location: university cafeteria, item: oven mitt-1000 words/48 hours.)