Tag: Fiction (page 1 of 12)

Flash Fiction: Strong Yet Subtle

Slane Castle

For this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at Terribleminds, Picking Uncommon Apples, the random number gods bestowed upon me 28, 18, and 31. Here’s what came out of those choices!

Ravenna slipped through the opened grate with the sort of smooth ease that only comes from years of practice. She heard the soft splashing behind her and closed her eyes for a moment. After a quick check of her surroundings, she turned and knelt by the hole in the floor, reaching down to take the stretching hand. As soon as he could, Barnabus set his other hand on the side of the hole to pull himself up, though he still needed Ravenna’s help. She suspected that, unlike her, he had not spent his childhood running through the forest, climbing trees and rocks, and learning how to hide.

“My apologies,” Barnabus said quietly, trying to kick some of the moisture off of his boots. “I misjudged the height of the run-off tunnel.” The tall, gangly man looked somewhat uncomfortable in the trousers and vest, since Ravenna had insisted his normal attire, a colorful robe decorated with the moon and stars, would be impractical.

Ravenna held a gloved finger to her lips, then took another look around. Coming up in the castle’s dungeon was risky, given that it was patrolled by guards and could contain all sorts of means to betray their position and purpose. However, she had also chosen to come at night. There was soft snoring from a nearby cell, but otherwise no sound. The stone corridor was lit by a torch on either end, and to her left, she saw the stairs spiraling up.

“Come on,” she whispered, walking forward in a deliberately cautious fashion. She glanced over her shoulder as they approached the stairs. Barnabus, for his part, was trying to do the same, his dark eyes wide. He took a few steps closer to Ravenna, making full use of his long legs.

“Are we sure he wouldn’t be down here?”

Ravenna shook her head. “He would have been if that serpent hadn’t slowed us down. Lord Lamborne’s auction has already begun. He’ll be in the grand feasting hall.” Ravenna was going to say more, but she heard a scuff of boots on stone above them. She held up her hand towards Barnabus, then waved him towards the inner wall. The stairwell had no alcoves or decorations, no means to hide. Ravenna set her teeth and braced herself, crouching down even further.

As soon as the slick, polished boots of one of Lamborne’s guards came into view, Ravenna seized it with both hands and pulled as hard as she could. The man, already heading down the stairs, was taken completely by surprise by the loss of balance, and toppled past Ravenna and Barnabus. Both of the intruders looked down at the guard’s crumpled form, and after a moment of ensuring he was not rising to follow, returned to moving up the stairs. Ravenna reached for one of the daggers sheathed at the small of her back, and Barnabus reached up to grab her wrist.

“No killing,” he murmured. “The queen was quite clear.”

“Who said anything about killing?” Ravenna flashed Barnabus a dangerous grin and turned back to the opening into the hall ahead. The small dagger whispered free of its sheath. Another guard was walking on the opposite side of the hall, in their direction. Ravenna began to bounce a bit, timing the steps of the guard, and held out her free hand to Barnabus.

“Wait here.”

Barnabus nodded, folding himself into the wall as best he could. Ravenna sped from the opening to the stairwell, her braid of long red hair coming loose as her boots hit stone. With liquid grace, she seized the guard from behind, the dagger rising to his throat. After a brief moment, Ravenna released him, and then clubbed him with the hilt of the dagger. The guard slumped to the ground.

“The feasting hall has two guards at the door and two walking the perimeter,” she told Barnabus as she sheathed her weapon. “But nothing on the balcony level.”

“Perfect.” Barnabus rested his hands on the pouches hanging from the belt around his waist. “Can we still get there from the wall?”

“If we’re careful and quiet.” She looked at him. “You’re not as clumsy as I thought you’d be.”

He shrugged. “Unlike some others of my profession, I do like to get out and enjoy fresh air now and again.”

With a wry smile, Ravenna lead the way from the hall and along the wall that dominated the outer perimeter of the keep. The feasting hall was set near the southwest corner, and its interior was alight and full of noise. Ravenna and Barnabus avoided the guards on patrol and, with the help of Ravenna’s grappling hook and sturdy rope, scaled the wall to slip in through a window on the second story. The feasting hall’s interior had small balconies on the longer walls, and while there were stairs up at either end, all of the activity was on the floor below.

“There’s Crown Prince Rudolph,” Ravenna whispered, pointing towards the dias at the back of the hall where the high table was set. “Do you have your distraction ready?”

“Yes,” Barnabus told her, reaching into one of his pouches. He produced a small, mottled orb, gray with black spots. “Something strong, yet subtle.”

She blinked at it. “That tiny thing? I thought you were a wizard. You said you’d distract the crowd – can’t you do it with fire or thunder or something?”

Barnabus looked annoyed. “I can, but I’d rather not cook us along with our reward. This, on the other hand?”

He tossed the orb into the crowd. On impact, there was a burst of light and smoke, and out of the sudden fog flew a murder of crows, cawing and flapping at the startled nobles. They clamored and ran for the exits. Barnabus winked at Ravenna.

“The Crow Egg,” he told her. “A specialty of mine.”

“Okay, wizard,” she replied with a grin, “color me impressed. Now, let’s get the Crown Prince and get out of here.”

Flash Fiction: You Had To Have It

Courtesy LifeHacker

For this week’s Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge, I chose the sentence written by Vicente L Ruiz. Enjoy!

I have witnessed the end of humanity.

I don’t know how any rational human being could have a different thought at the sight of people lined up outside of the ostentatious glass-walled store. For release after release, I watched them gather in excited little clumps, like concert-goers or the anticipatory audience of a brand new film, but this was for a piece of technology. These are over-priced, gaudy, soulless devices that wrap their purpose in distraction and push their purchases as hard as any pimp or corner dealer, and people are just sucking them up.

They’re getting more than they anticipated this time around.

I’m sitting in a mass-market coffee shop across the street from one of these peddlers of pointless pretentiousness. It sounds funny to say it that way, considering this venue is no better, but it has the best view for what’s to come. My cup of improperly brewed, thoroughly burnt swill sits in front of me, untouched. It is the rent I have paid for my seat; I am under no obligation to actually put the black sludge in my body. I have fresh beans, filtered water, and a flame-warmed kettle back home. I am here for the sights, not the fare.

The glass-walled store finally opens its doors. The first patrons, camped since the night before, lead the assembled in a cheer and saunter through the large glass doors. I check my pocket-watch. It is a simple mental calculation, provided all of my measurements and equations were correct. The patrons start streaming out as others stream in, holding their new prizes high. I watch as one of the happy new owners unwraps the plastic sealant, dives into the ostentatious over-designed packaging, and touches the object of his desire for the first time. It’s time for me to go.

I walk down the city streets, head into the public transit stop, and ride to my neighborhood. The mail slot in the door to my rented basement is stuffed with mail I continue to ignore. My rent, utility bills, and other angry correspondence is not going to matter in – I check my watch – a matter of minutes. All over the country, people are opening up their new devices and letting their skin come into contact with the aluminum. I turn on my radio and I wait, looking over my scattered notes and my practice at writing and translating several Chinese dialects.

My understanding and pronunciation of Mandarin were passable at least, and better than my Wu or Xiang, and clear communication had been a concern. Stowing away with international freight is not difficult if you know where to go and to whom one needs to speak. That necessity to speak is significantly more difficult, however, when it must happen outside of one’s native tongue. With the right words, however, you can convey meaning, especially with clear gestures and items in hand. I bartered more than bought, acquiring what I could in the wild or out of public sight, making trades in disparate sections to avoid detection. Even cash can be traced, if one is clever enough.

I open a can of beans from the stacks towards the back of the basement and spoon myself a mouthful. I am disinclined to go through the process of warming them up, so occupied are my thoughts with what is to come. I have anticipated outcomes, to be certain; one does not embark upon a plan such as this without some proper forethought. It is simply a matter of discovering which of the various sequences of events will play out. I have my hopes, to be certain, but there is a certain thrill in the unknown.

The Emergency Broadcast System breaks up the flow of the station to which I was listening. It is a general message: remain in your homes, an unknown sickness is manifesting, stay calm, and so on. I change stations to find live news. I come across the right position on the dial just as a crackling voice talks about people acting irrational, even ravenous, clutching new phones as they fended off other owners, attacked those they saw who were not owners of new phones, even using the devices as makeshift bludgeons. I check the time again. My estimation had only been off by a matter of an hour. Still, it had worked out that the effects were being felt on one coast while on the other, people were still in line, or opening up deliveries from their phone companies, or otherwise laying hands on the new phones for the first time.

I had been tempted, while in China, to limit myself merely to one manufacturer. While this day and its release would have the greatest immediate impact, I did not wish to have the outcome thwarted by a boycott or a mandate to not purchase that manufacturer’s goods. I had stayed overseas longer than I would have liked, risking detection and incarceration, but hearing the results, I knew I had made the right decision. Even if they turned away from the newest devices, purchases of substitutes would yield similar, if not identical, results.

Now came the question. Do I transmit my message now, or see if some other group claims responsibility? There were no shortage of religious fanatics who will feel envious they did not implement this solutions. But I have no delusions of invisible father figures whose approval I must attain for eternal bliss. My goals are more pure.

I have revealed the nature of humanity, petty and cruel and self-serving, and brought it into glaring relief for all to see through the means of the 21st century’s most prized possessions.

If you are reading this, you know the answer to that final question. You now know what I did, how I did it, and why I did it.

I do not imagine you will be thanking me, or grateful for the lesson.

But for what it’s worth: you, too, are witnessing the end of humanity.

Flash Fiction: Thursday

Courtesy modern-furniture.com

For this week’s Terribleminds flash fiction challenge, The Opening Line Revealed.

Thursday was out to get me.

I could have written off the last crumbs of breakfast cereal as poor planning ahead. Spilling coffee on my coat, that happens. Traffic being bad is more a rule than an exception. A pile of paperwork on my desk so close to the end of the week is an irritant, but usually nothing I can’t get around or push through.

When the office doors burst open and armed men walk in, it’s a different story.

We all dove under our desks. Most of us had been around guns or the military in some way, so we knew better than to run around or scream in panic. From the small space under my cubicle, I could see Anastasia’s desk. She, too, was holding up the particle board as if it was about to fall on her. She was listening to the banter back and forth from the invaders, looked my way, and mouthed a word.


That didn’t quite fit with what I knew. Sure, many national agencies were curious about what we were working on at the behest of a virtual alphabet soup of government interests, but the Russians had been nothing but cordial with our contacts. I often traded e-mails with one of Anastasia’s cousins who still lived in the Ukraine, so I could not conclude that these goons were government-issue.

I peeked around the side of my cubicle. These guys were wearing heavy-duty work boots, probably steel-toed, but they weren’t polished and showed quite a bit of wear and tear from places other than an urban environment. They were evidence of men and women who trotted the globe as expediently as possible, of contractors chasing paychecks. Mercenaries, then. I ducked back before I could see any faces. No sense in taking any chances.

“We do not want to hurt anyone!” The leader had some bark in his voice. Probably a disenfranchised vet of some kind or another. “We want most senior analyst to speak with us!”

Well, piss. I looked at Anastasia again and shrugged. Her green eyes went a bit wider, as if to warn me of what I was in for. In spite of what I saw in that gaze, I crawled out from under my desk, raised my hands, and slowly stood.

“Then it’s me you want. I’m Arthur Digby. I’ve got the most experience of anybody in here.”

The leader was a tall man of solid build with white hair done with a #2 clippers and the steely gaze of someone who’s seen more than their share of battlefield horrors. He regarded me for a long moment as two of his guys trained their AKs on my chest.

“You are brave man, speaking up so quickly.”

“You say you don’t want to hurt anyone. I’ll hold you to that. Ask me what you want, I’ll answer what I can, and maybe we all go home happy tonight.”

“You tell co-workers not to call for help. Let us keep this private, yes?”

I nodded. “Everybody turn off your cell phones. These men are going to collect them, and when this is over, we’ll get them back. I’ll go first.” Slowly, I reached into my pocket, produced my government phone, and turned it off. The leader took it and handed it to a subordinate.

“Let us talk in conference room.”

I nodded, following him into the glass-walled room. I finally got a count: seven-member team, five men and two women. The leader and two of the men lead the way into the conference room while one of the women kept a rifle on the back of my head. That left two men and a woman holding down an office of almost twenty analysts and consultants. I glanced at Anastasia as I was pushed into the room.

“Have seat, Mister Digby. Let us talk about Project Ajax.”

I blinked. “Maybe you mean Operation Ajax, the CIA operation that deposed the prime minister of Iran in 1953?”

The woman smacked me in the back of the head with the butt of her rifle. I saw stars.

“That was rude. Now I need to recover from serious head trauma to answer your leader’s questions.”

“Please, Mister Digby. Project Ajax.”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath. I could see Anastasia was slowly moving towards the other three in the office. Sam, who had apparently recovered from the six-pack we’d split Wednesday night, was coming op on their other side. “Project Ajax is a government initiative to develop a short-range remote-controlled device to deliver intelligence on, and possible detonate within, enemy cave formations.”

“For your Afghan campaign, yes?”

I rubbed the bridge of my nose. All three of the leader’s cronies tracked the movement. Which meant they didn’t see Sam and Anastasia working over the others in the office. “No, for the frat parties the crackpot militias in Colorado keep throwing. Yes, for the Afghan campaign, numb-nuts.”

If Thursday was going to beat me, it’d be now. The woman behind me wound up for another hit. Sam and Anastasia, now with AKs of their own, converged on the conference room. I kicked out from the chair, going to my knees as the wheeled executive leather hit the woman behind me. I reached up, finding her AK right where it should have been, and pulled.

She had a strong grip. I pushed up with my legs, putting her on the table flat on her back. Sam and Anastasia subdued the other two men as I knocked the woman out. The leader had his hand on his sidearm, but with three rifles on him, he wisely raised his hands.

“Sam, call it in. You, on your knees.”

Glaring at me, the leader of the mercs sank down.

“This will not go unanswered.”

“Yeah? By whom? Who are you working for?”

I tried to ignore the way Anastasia was watching me – damn, she’s got pretty eyes. The leader said nothing, so I smacked him with the rifle.

“Yeah. Sucks, doesn’t it?”

Flash Fiction: Enter the Bishop

Bishop's crozier

Over on Terribleminds I’m playing The Numbers Game.

He’d fought his way through her fortress, her brainwashed goons slapped aside as gently as possible.

They were innocent, blameless. The silent plague they’d caught had done this.

He entered the throne room at last, finding her on the wide dias, sampling ripe grapes.

“You did this.” The Bishop narrowed his eyes. “It was your enzyme.”

“Perhaps.” Ivy stretched across her throne, indifferent to the holy man’s indignation. “What, exactly, will you do about it?”

He gripped his staff and called on his inner righteousness. The sword caught fire immediately.

“May God have mercy on your soul. Because I certainly won’t.”

Flash Fiction: The Torch

Linked from Terribleminds

Terribleminds made me do it.

The news was the same as they walked into the restaurant as it had been all day: rumors of some sort of natural disaster followed by talking heads alternately saying everything was under control and everybody was doomed. Linus shook his head as he removed his wife’s fur coat.

“I wish they would make up their minds. Either it’s under control or it isn’t.”

“Well, if it were under control, someone in charge would say so, if anybody in charge was worth a damn.”

Linus pursed his lips, saying nothing. He didn’t want to get dragged into another political argument with her. They’d been looking forward to this for too long. She looked damn good in her slinky black dress, her hair done up in a coy pile of ringlets on top of her head.

Linus pulled out a chair for her as he looked around the room. The wait staff looked as good as ever, the men in tuxedos and the ladies closely resembling cigarette girls, despite the fact smoking was prohibited. The band was playing something smooth and atmospheric, as if time had left the club untouched since the 20s. He sat across from her, straightening his cufflinks and adjusting his jacket. The club insisted on the black-tie dress code, which was probably part of the appeal for her. He never thought he’d miss humping fifty or more pounds of gear through harsh conditions.

“You’re not here.”

His wife’s words forced a smile as he waved for a waiter.

“Sorry. Guess I’m still not sure about these cufflinks.”

“Please. They look fine. Try to relax, would you? I’d rather not have you wound up for our evening out.”

She loved this look, this period, the way women dressed and acted in books and films. It was an escape for her. She got away from her tiresome reports and the condescension of her superiors and the wandering eyes of coworkers. Linus understood that.

What he never understood and never asked about was how she treated him at times like this. It was like she didn’t stop being a boss. He knew she meant well, telling him to relax and all, but her tone just put him more on edge. He was already edgy after a day of taking engines apart. She picked up on this, smiled, and touched his hand as the waiter approached. She was ordering their appetizers – the most expensive one, of course – when the TV volume picked up.

“This just in, government officials now saying that rumors of quake damage to Progenitus Labs facilities are overstated. Nevertheless, citizens are advised to stay in their homes…”

Linus didn’t hear the rest. He was already on alert. There was commotion at the front; someone was banging on the door. The staff was locking it. The last time Linus felt this way, he’d stopped a Hummer five feet short of an IED.

“Wait here. I need to use the men’s room.”

“At a time like this? The crab bruchetta…”

“It’ll keep.” He stood. “Stay here.”

She furrowed her brows at him. “Where do you think I mean to go?”

“Just do it.”

She crossed her arms and frowned. He headed for the restrooms but walked past them to the back door near the kitchens. It was unlocked and not alarmed. He made his way through the rows of cars to the sedan. He was rummaging through the trunk to find his stowaway case when he saw them.

They shambled rather than walked. Men and women in lab coats, hazmat suits, uniforms and street clothes. They seemed to be skirting around the lights, keeping mostly to the darkness. Their eyes stared, bleeding from the corners. Arms twitched and legs spasmed. They drooled pinkish bubbles and moaned one to another.

They were the ones banging on the front door.

A few peeled off to head towards the parking lot. One of them reached the junction box on the outside. Fingers curved like claws reached for the metal and began to yank. It only took a few tugs to pull the box free of its moorings and wires. That’s when the screaming began inside.

Linus stuffed his pocket with double-ought shells. The Colt went under his belt at the small of his back, and he ditched the suit coat and cuff links. Rolling up his sleeves, he grabbed the boomstick and a couple of road flares. He wished he had sturdier shoes on as he broke into a run towards the darkened back door of the club.

One of them lunged for him. He whirled and let it have a barrel of buckshot. The fire put it on the ground ten feet away with a gaping hole in its chest. They smelled awful. He got inside, slammed the door and popped a flare. The kitchen staff gaped at him.

“Barricade this door. Nobody gets in.”

They scurried to obey. He walked back through the kitchen to the dining hall, getting up on stage near the stunned band. He turned to the crowd. Every face looked up at him, illuminated by the glimmering torch in his hand. His eyes moved from person to person, and then he found her. She was, like every other person there, terrified. All of the bluster and haughtiness that kept corporate dogs at bay fell away by the light of the torch, and in that moment, they were the only two people in the room.

The woman he loved had been strong for him when he’d been at war, and had clung to that strength. Now it was his turn. What he’d done for his country, he’d now do for the woman he loved.

“All right, people, listen up.” Linus made his voice heard over the banging at the front door. “You’re going to pay attention and follow my lead, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get out of this mess alive.”

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