To Thank Her For Holding My Hand

 

(Writing challenge: romance/battlefield/sailboat.)

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

I met a boy in France when I was thirty-four years old. I won’t say he taught me how to love again, but he did teach me to hate a lot less. And I’ll take that.
Not in a cafe or gallery. Not wearing a beret, painting on a bridge. Not even the flickering lamplight we shared was romantic.

I met him in a field hospital tent at the Somme. I’d been there long enough to despise everything. God averting his eyes while teenagers died by the thousands to gain ten feet of mud and rock. Of course I detested them, but I’d also come to abhor us. An endless trail of stinking, pant pissing soon to be corpses. The endless waste had hardened me to a numb, consuming hatred. He saw it in my eyes straight away.

“Don’t hate them,” he pleaded. “I don’t blame them for wanting to live as much as me.” His thin chest heaved, riddled with grenade shrapnel. Somehow he managed a smile. I sat.

“We’re nearly out of morphine,” I apologised.

“That’s OK. It would be a waste anyway.” Perspiration on his forehead vaporised as steam in the cold night air. His jaw was visible through the ragged tear below his cheekbone. His right arm completely gone, a crude tourniquet seeping pink. A collapsed lung.

Just die already, kid.

Still smiling, he looked me over with eyes of calm silk-satin green.
“You’re b…” he started, before the blood in his lungs sent him into a racking, gasping, bubbling cough lasting a full two minutes.
“…breathtaking,” he finally finished with a grin.

A pun? How could he make a fucking joke?

“You sh-should go. Maybe you can help someone else.”

“I’m staying right here,” I surprised myself by saying. “What will you do when you get back home?”

He played along.
“I’ll b-b-build a sailboat,” he said thoughtfully. “Eventually,” he added, nodding at the missing arm. “And I’ll sail across the Atlantic to see my pretty nurse again.”

“And whisk her away like a pirate’s wench?”

“N-no.”

He actually fucking blushed.

“To thank her for holding my hand.”
I hadn’t realised I was.

“And,” he mumbled, “If she wanted, take her sailing around the Mediterranean. To see her hair not in a tight bun, but messy, wild, sun bleached and fr…” He exploded into another coughing fit. A rain of blood spattered against my uniform.

Mercifully, a syringe was slipped into my hand.

“No!” he gasped, his grip maniacally strong in mine. “Others………someone else.”

“No one needs it more than you,” I protested, surprised at the girlish pitch of my own voice.
But those damn silk-satin eyes held tight.
“It might take her away,” he rasped.

”Who?”

“My b-breathtaking sailboat nurse, of course.”
That fucking goddam smile.

“Don’t cry,” he whispered. And was gone.

From the door of the tent, the familiar bark of the sergeant. “Incoming!”

I met a boy in France. A seventeen year old boy I couldn’t save.
So long ago. And yesterday.
Sometimes, in dreams, my hair is not grey, but sun bleached and free. As I sail the beautiful blue of the Mediterranean with the boy who does nothing but smile.

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Seeking Spring

 

(Written for NYCM Short Story Comp: 8 days/2500 words/fantasy/neighbours/an outlaw.)

 

An ambitious king sends a ruthless hunter to capture a small girl in the winter winds of Midland. While two brave brothers seek to keep her safe, Lali knows of only one calling-to the game.

 

The king removes the bell shaped lid of a tiny glass terrarium. A single, frail teadaisy folds its petals against the sudden bite of winter air.
“This is the scent.”
At his feet languishes a massive Nightwolf; with oil black fur clumped in sharp scales. Eyes of glitter green. It pushes itself up, first onto all fours, then completely upright. Cricks it neck. The creature bends carefully to the flower and gently sniffs the aroma. The daisy dies when he exhales.
“Find her. Bring her to me.”
The wolf sneers down at the king, then like inksmoke bursts through the tower window and into the frozen night.
The king rushes to the window and bellows into the snow storm.
“ALIVE!”

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

“Wake up, wake up!” the brothers pleaded.
On a ledge; a potted plant, little more than a stick sprouting smaller sticks, leant toward them in pathetic challenge.
“Go away. It is nowhere near time to start the seek,” groaned Lali from beneath the deep furs. “Quite un-neighborly,” she mumbled.
The skeleton of the plant formed a small mouth shape and snapped at Lom’s sleeve.
With a flash of Erv’s bladeglass, the angry stick was relieved of duty. Lali’s head rolled over, her flat grey eye fixed on the tall Midlander. The floorboards groaned beneath him, threatening to break their iron cleats.
“Very un-neighborly.” She rolled back to the wall. “Go…… away.”
The bedposts groaned as they bent to form a protective X over her.
Erv grabbed an exposed ankle and yanked. The small girl was pulled out from under the blankets, her nightdress of yellowed leaves dissolving to detritus and dust as she landed on the floor. She blinked, seamoon skinned and unbelieving at them. An unsteady, three feet three of confusion and angry brambled hair.
There was no precedent for this.
Lom averted his eyes as he held out a bundle of warm clothes.
“We are also your guardians during the long sleep,” reminded Erv briskly. “This is not play. Dress quickly little one. Danger comes on flying feet.”
“There is only play,” harrumphed the girl.
Grumbling, Lali pulled on the leggings and vest. The heavy jacket and scarf. She hated the boots, but shrugged her thin legs inside them. Lom helped her to feet unsteady from many months of inaction.
“The king has declared you an enemy of the crown. Fabricated charges. Ten thousand gems to bring you in alive. And that’s not the wors….”
“Is that lots?” asked Lali with a sudden grin. The boys did not grin back.
“We have a friend at the castle. She sent us a message by crowclaw,” explained Erv. “The king has a plan to capture you. To keep you.
“It’s not Lali he wants,” whispered Lom. “He knows who you really are……..and he’s sent the Varriken to hunt you.”
“The V….the Nightwolf? Ha! He’s just a story, boys,” Lali snickered as she started to unbutton her jacket. “And the villagers? Why they couldn’t….”
With a sigh Erv scooped her under his arm as Lom held open the door. Lali kicked her feet as they carted her out into snowfall. Erv hoisted her onto the wicker saddle of a golden herlion, where she pulled faces until, with horror; she saw the boys’ house aflame from flagstone to feeple. Erv ran to it, lighting a torch from the inferno and flinging it into Lali’s open doorway. He leapt onto the mount beside her.
Lali’s brow furrowed. The trees surrounding their homes leaned into the blaze, beating at the flames with their winter stripped branches.
“No Lali! Let it burn. Leave it nothing but ash to find.”
She looked, wide-eyed to Lom, who answered with a small nod of his cap.
“Apparently you’re not the only myth that’s not a myth.”
They pulled their herlions away as the small windows of her cottage began to glow like eyes of greenglitter.

 

“Why would the king want me?”
“He seeks to invade Northlands,” explained Lom. “If he controls you, he can give an advantage to his army. Control the harvest, the freeze and flow of the Norriver…”
Lali shook her head. Feeling had trickled back to her limbs. But for a moment, an unfamiliar stone sat cold in the bottom of her belly.
“We’re taking you to Friar’s Fortress,” announced Erv. “You’ll be safe there.”
He pushed them faster, but knowing that if all the myths about the Nightwolf were true, there may be no such thing as a safe place.

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

Varriken rose onto his hind legs, waiting for the taste in the swirl and sweep of the winter wind. There was nothing he couldn’t find if he had the taste.
He thought of the squirming flymonkey, bound in the palace. A dweller from the Grey Mountains, in trees so tall even a nightwolf could not reach them. The most succulent of treats.
“I have eight more,” the king had boasted. “If you help me.”
There it was. Faint on the tide of the shifting breeze. The scent of elmfire, fear… and her. Moments later he was flying south again, the ground a rushing sea of white beneath the blur of his claws.

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

By midspell they reached the Hill of Stones, dusted in snowpowder. Erv eased the herlions to a walk, their broad footpads silent in the talc as they made the steady climb. Lom looked over at Lali, her face tight with displeasure.
“What did you mean by there’s only play?”
Lali glanced at him. Pitying him and his brother for having to worry about anything else; food, drink, disease and especially, death. They had been her long sleep guardians for more than twenty years, probably a significant time for them. But really only half the blink of an eye. Erv and Lom were much smaller once. Every year, she awoke on an icy morn and donned the warm garments they provided. They would bow, she would smile. Sometimes a few words, but not many, were exchanged before Lali strolled cheerfully out into the snow. They didn’t know what really happened between then and her return; dejected, in a tattered dress of leaves.
As long as she could remember, she’d wake two weeks past Midwinter and seek the Blue Queen. Through the whitewashed fields of Midland. The Grey Forrest. Sometimes as far as the steep slopes of the Dellens where the Norriver starts as a trickle. The longer the search, the longer the winter.
When found, Madame Winter would pass her crown to Lali, who would wear it until the Summer Lord came for it in turn. Some guy called Redleaf was the only other player in this eternal game of hide and seek.
“So the ice crown becomes flowers when I put it on,” she finished explaining patiently. “Then it is my time.”
“And if you could never find Madame Winter, it would stay forever cold?” asked Lom.
“Well, that is the game,” shrugged Lali. “I could bring the green anytime,” she mused, biting her lip. “But, upsetting the Blue Queen is not a great idea. Only the Summer Lord is grumpier. It’s absolutely fankwhistle when he finds me!”
They crested the Hill of Stones. An armoured paladin sat against a flat rock, an enormous glassblade beside him. He tilted back the visor of his helmet, revealing fierce honeygold eyes. Lali giggled. The man looked like a dregdillo in his greypewter suit. He greeted the trio with a raised gauntlet.
Erv tossed down a coin pouch without slowing his mount. “Thank you Jor,” he smiled grimly. “Do your best.”
“None will pass here Ervryn,” declared the knight. “Not even a fl…”
But the travellers were gone, continuing down the other side. Their herlions’ ragged breath, fading cottonwool clouds.

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

Varriken snorted, clearing soot from his nostrils. There were no bodies in the rubble, no tracks in the fresh fall of snow. The delay angered him. Kept him from a flymonkey feast. He circled, snarling, until he caught the scent again.
A windcrow, drawn to prey from the effects of the fire, swept low over the smoky ruins. Varriken leapt in a ripple of midnight, twisted with the evasive movement of the bird and plucked it from the sky. He crunched through its thin bones before spitting the long beak to the ground. The wolf took up a mouthful of snow. As it melted in his mouth, he tipped back his head to wash down the bitter taste of the stringy bird.
With a final crick of his long neck, he bolted away from the smouldering houses, inksmoke, towards the Hill of Stones.
Contemplating the taste of the teadaisy child.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A lavender robed friar met them half a mile from the fortress. His raiment clunked with ornamental pendants. His girth suggested winter had not been a struggle so far. His eyes narrowed on the tiny frame of Lali.
“Praise the Long Gods,” he smiled.
Lali didn’t like the smile. She tensed, ready.
“Indeed,” replied Lom with little conviction.
Fankwhistle, thought Lali.
“You are the three that seek the protection of our deities?”
“We seek only the stone of your walls,” answered Erv, shifting restlessly in the saddle.
Lali sensed a new chill, beyond the blush of winter. She peered into the white mist from which they’d come. There was something, a growing speck of black coming impossibly fast across the valley floor.
“The king has issued a warrant for a childling. Tell the little one to unwrap the scarf.” The friar widened his stance, resting his chubby hand on a jewelled hilt tucked into his waistband.
Lali swung to face him, her irises, flattened grey discs. An applevine sprung from beneath the friar’s feet, swiftly encircling his legs and arms. Pushing an apple into his mouth. With a dull thud he fell face first into a snowdrift.
“No one plays if I can’t,” muttered Lali as they prodded the exhausted herlions into the faint shadow of the fortress.

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

Jor had battled many men, werehawks and even the monstrous macebears of Westland. But none like this. None that moved quicker than the wind could carry, seeming to dissolve and reappear as if by the cast of dark magic. The phantom beast raced up the slope, seeming to gain speed despite the gradient.
He raised his blade as the Nightwolf exploded past him. His swing carved through the air, cleaving nought but fading courage and false hope.
Jor felt a thin sting at his throat, despite the chainmail collar. His head slid down the angle of the clawcut and stained the snow to plumflower.

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

The fortress guards shouted down to the gatekeepers as the three riders approached. The grating sounds of handlecrank echoed from the great doorway as the massive drawgate began to lift from the ground.
Erv’s herlion, burdened with the most weight and relentless pace, now lagged behind the other two. Erv’s neck hair prickled. A flash of night erupted from the whiteness, tearing down his struggling mount in a roiling storm of black, gold and growing crimson. Erv was thrown clear, landing just behind Lali.
His glassblade whistled as he tore it from the scabbard. He slapped the flat of it against the flank of the girl’s herlion. It leapt in response, crashing into the retreating edge of the drawgate and hurling her forward. Lom sprung from his saddle, catching the gate with his fingers and scrambling over. They tumbled down the sharpening slope and into the fortress as the huge slab slammed into place behind them.
Men came running past them to reinforce the gate. The guards at the top of the wall bellowed demands for weapons and boiling oil pots. Lom scooped up Lali and ran the other way; through a series of doors and steps to the centre of the fortress, a square courtyard surrounded by spear topped walls. He barred the door, wedging it with barrows and spades.
Lali looked around but saw nothing but greystone.
Lom struggled shakily with his pack, finally withdrawing a shortsword with an unmarked blade. His hands trembled as he stood ready.
Her small voice startled him. “Where’s Erv?”
“My brother is b-busy.”
“Hmm… Your blade looks very light. Why are you shaking?”
He didn’t turn.
“Lom?”
She’d never called them by name before.
“Lali, people….people who aren’t like you…sometimes get …scared.”
“Oh.”
A burst of sounds emanated from the outer gate. A screeching like blade on ice pierced the air. Crossbow strings thudded. Men screamed; at first, with defiance. One by one the voices were extinguished like bedtime candles.
Lom tightened his grip in the eerie silence. He could hear his heart thumping, the blood humming through his veins.
There was a gentle sound from the top of the wall, little more than a falling leaf on soft earth. A long dark shape hung from the spearshafts.
“Stay back Lali!”
The Nightwolf eased apart the spears. It perched atop the wall, its chase complete. Its mouth, a razor slash of red, pulled back slowly.
“La-li.”
The girl tilted her head, studying the creature curiously. It was old. Not Neverold, like her. But much older than the boys. Beneath the slick, blood drenched fur lay powerful cords of muscle capable of terrible destruction. Its claws and teeth, long and bladeglass sharp. The green glitter eyes, cunning and intelligent. Always hungry.
Lom stepped forward, sword raised. “I see my brother took your ear, puppy dog. Allow me to even that up for you.”
Lali whirled around. Lom wasn’t like Erv. How could he challenge and joke when obvious death awaited him? Confused, she pressed her hand to his stomach, feeling for the cold stone. She pulled away sharply, understanding it wasn’t himself he feared for.

Lali’s eyes plunged into seas of blackwater. “Please forgive me, Madame Winter.”
As the Varriken launched itself at Lom, a crack louder than thundershot rang from the coldstone.
The Nightwolf hung there a moment, inches from Lom’s blade tip. Then it rose, impaled on a tree summoned fresh from the earth. The trunk and limbs pushed on, bursting through the creature’s flesh and tearing it to ragribbon. Its foul head lolled on a low branch.
Open mouthed, Lom snicked off the wolf’s other ear.
A tomdrum rumble began beneath them. From around the tree, a carpet of grass rippled across the courtyard, spreading in all directions. Creepers scrambled over walls. Vines ravished flag poles. Bubbles of flower buds appeared and bloomed moments later. Spring unbound vaulted the fortress walls and maniacally danced its way across the Midlands.
Lali, moongreen naked, held out the pile of warm clothes. Lom quickly looked away as he took them back.
“Thank you Lom.”
She smiled and he didn’t smile back.

Lali pressed her back against the wall. Slumped down it. A wave of Spring rolled over her legs, wrapping her in a nightdress of fresh leaves. The green climbed her thin body, creeping finally to her exhausted face.

“The Summer Lord will never find me here,” she grinned.

Below & Beyond

Written for NYC Midnight Flash Fiction; 1000 words/48 hours.

Prompts: crime caper/a hotel car park/sleeping pill.

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

Paul caught his reflection in the back window of the battered Ford. He’d had black eyes before. No big deal. He rubbed his tender jaw. Expensive dental work would soon be no issue.

He reached in and checked the glove compartment again. The fake I.D.s and plane tickets were of course, still there.

He should have taken care of it the night before. They should already be on their way to the airport, laughing and looking forward to the future.

With the Worthington diamond.

He tugged on the leash, but the small dog continued urinating on his tyre. Paul slumped against the side of the car, the inglorious night before fresh in his mind.

 

Fast acting sleeping pills crushed into her dessert. The gluttonous Mrs. Worthington feeling faint. And the waiter and maid heroically being there to “assist her back to her room.” The lump of lard would be snoring her head off while he and Yvette casually sauntered out with the priceless necklace. With that chunky strand of pearls around her flabby neck, the woman may not even notice the diamond gone.

But he should have put the pills in one of the other five courses. For Mrs. Worthington succumbed to the pleading eyes of Mitzi, her equally rotund Maltese Terrier, and the little bowling ball with fur lapped at the chocolate ice cream with gusto.

“Noooooooooooo!”  Paul dashed to the table, bending low to snatch the dog away from the bowl with the flair expected of a Palazzo waiter.

“Ch-chocolate is dangerous for dogs Madam.” To prove his point, Mitzi slipped into a coma.

Mrs. Worthington mistook the waiter’s watery eyes for canine concern and rose as quickly as size allowed. The dining table cannoned into Paul’s head, cracking an eye socket and loosening teeth.

Yvette, seeing opportunity in the confusion, dashed in to “help”, but slid in the spilt dinner drinks and suddenly found herself wedged face first in the woman’s fathomless cleavage.

Her attempt to sound sympathetic was muffled in the abundant flesh and sounded more like contented grazing.

Mrs. Worthington seemed to appreciate the concern anyway.

“Above and beyond the call of duty,” she remarked.

 

Later in the night, Paul lurked in an alcove near the woman’s room while Yvette triggered the fire alarm. Guests stumbled past, opting, as he’d hoped, for self preservation over material possessions.

He emerged from his hiding spot, just in time to encounter Mrs. Worthington, clutching Mitzi, at a full gallop. She collected the lightly framed waiter like a bug on a windscreen, engulfing him and riding him toboggan style down the opulent hallway as though she were at Aspen.

They eventually ground to a halt; Mrs. Worthington stunned but spared further injury by Paul’s obligingly cracked ribs. The diamond cruelly swung millimetres from his face, but her girth pinned his arms. It took a moment for Paul to realise that not only was Mitzi well rested, but male.

He humped away happily at Paul’s unprotected head.

 

“This time below and beyond,” laughed Mrs. Worthington when she came to.

 

Now Yvette was their last hope.

“She must take it off to wash” Paul had reasoned. “I’ll offer to walk the stupid dog while she gets ready.”

Mrs. Worthington would be ending her traditional week’s stay this morning, and Yvette begrudgingly accepted this final chance.

 

Now there she was, spinning out of the Palazzo’s revolving door.

 

Yvette staggered toward him.

He dropped the dog leash and ran to her.

“You bastard!” she hissed.

Her slap was just as vicious, ensuring Paul would resemble a racoon more than the picture on the fake I.D.

“What happened? Didn’t you get it?”

“Oh I got it all right,” sneered Yvette, fixing him with a hateful stare. “I used my key to let myself into her room, like you said. But there was no sign of the necklace, so I crept into the bathroom.”

“You what?”

“It was so steamy I figured I could find the diamond. Get out before she knew what had happened.”

Yvette shivered, despite the warm morning.

“Mrs. Worthington opened the cubicle door and saw me.”

“What the hell did you do?”

“I gave her a Palazzo smile and offered her a towel.”

“And?”

“She pulled me into the shower. Where I learnt two things. That Mrs. Worthington is used to getting her own way. And that there’s probably no Mr. Worthington.”

“Oh you poor..”

“Don’t touch me!” screeched Yvette.

 

She was still trembling when the limousine pulled up next to them. Mitzi gleefully scrambled into the open back door and onto the lap of his owner.

“There you are!” announced a delighted Mrs. Worthington. “You two really are wonderful.”

She unclipped the string of pearls and casually dropped them into their hands.

“A small token of my appreciation.”

She winked at Yvette. “Above and beyond.”

Mitzi appeared to shoot Paul a wink as well. His swollen eyes couldn’t be sure.

 

As the limo pulled away, they struggled for the pearls. Yvette demanded them as compensation but Paul refused to come out empty handed. They wrestled each other to the ground, where the strand gave way. Horrified, they watched as the pearls, funnelled by the angled drain, marched briskly away like a line of soldiers before plopping one by one through a grate and into the sewer below.

Paul tore off the cover, and with a primordial scream plunged headlong into the muck. He rose sludge covered and triumphant fifteen minutes later, grinning up at Yvette with a single pearl.

 

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

 

The driver held open the door and Mrs. Worthington struggled out of the back seat. “None of my business of course Madam, but should you have given your pearls to those people?”

“Those? Fakes, my dear. I sold the originals last year. You don’t get rich giving away real ones, sweetie.”

Pulling her dress from her butt crack, she carried Mitzi toward the beaming smiles of the cruise ship staff.

“You wouldn’t get ten bucks for the lot!” she laughed.

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