Tag: Fiction (page 1 of 13)

Impala Nights: Part 1

I’m not the kind of guy who likes surprises very much.

I never had much in the way of birthday parties to begin with, but surprise parties in particular always rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, you want to celebrate my life by trying to scare me to death? No, thank you. It’s really difficult to prepare for that sort of thing if your friends are any good at keeping secrets.

And for a wizard, especially a professional one like myself, preparation is the name of the game.

The old house creaks under my feet as I make my way through it. I whisper a word to light the wick inside of the lantern I’m carrying, and pale orange light spills out into a circle in front of my on the floor. It’s something Bob the Skull helped me whip up, an old “bullseye” style lantern, with a minor enchantment that let me see ghosts and pierce minor veils. The word is that there have been a bunch of disappearances around the house, which is in a run-down neighborhood situated between downtown Chicago and one of its suburbs. It’s one of those areas you just keep driving past if you know what’s good for you.

But when you’re Harry Dresden, and someone pays you to look for their lost child in a place the police are unwilling or unable to go, you really don’t have that choice.

I make a face as the heat from the lamp starts cooking some of the dust on the floor and in the air. There’s a musty smell about the place in general, and the sudden heat source doesn’t help to abate that. I’m used to foul smells, but I wish I wasn’t. I’d much rather be back in my lab, helping Molly do some research into her father’s sword, Amoracchius, and trying to coordinate some of the activities of the Gray Council of which I was now apparently a founding member. I have a lot of things to deal with in my world, from vengeful vampire lords to ancient magical conspiracies, and this is taking time away from them.

All thoughts of the world outside of the house go flying out of my brain, though, when I step into the basement.

The world goes… weird. I feel off-balance, sick to my stomach, and get a headache, all at once. It lasts for a few interminable moments. Then, it’s gone. I blink, shake my head to clear it, and raise the lantern to look around.

The basement’s a basement. Cobwebs, mostly empty shelves, creepy corners. I turn, and look at the stairs I just walked down.

The stairs are collapsed.

They hadn’t made a noise. I shine the lantern into the threshold. There’s just enough room for me to step back through. I do, and the vertigo slams into me again. Once I recover, I’m looking up the stairs I’d just walked down, whole and intact. My brain finally gets through its warm-up cycle and I realize where I’d felt those things before.

The first time I’d ever used a Way into the Nevernever.

This was different, though. The Nevernever has a very particular feel to it. Stepping through (retch) a second time, it still feels like the real world once I recover. I walk through the basement to the storm doors, up the stairs and out, and look around. It’s the same neighborhood, still a Chicago no-mans-land, and nothing in my natural or wizardly senses tells me it’s an illusion or a construct. It’s real. Just… different.

“I hate surprises,” I say to myself.

As if in response (me and my big mouth), a engine rumbles up the drive on the other side of the house.

I stay low, and I Listen. The night’s relatively quiet, with just a couple of crickets that were silenced when the big car, some classic muscle-style beast, rumbles to a stop on the driveway. The engine sputters to silence, and I hear two doors open and close.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about your anger issues, okay?” The first voice is on the gruff side, and clearly annoyed. “I’m not your damn therapist.”

“No, you’re not.” The second voice is more refined, collegiate, but also exasperated. “You’re my brother, Dean. And you’re the only one I can talk to about this sort of thing.”

“You really want to keep doing this? Huh? In case you’ve lost track because you’ve been too busy flying over the cuckoo’s nest, we have a fucking Apocalypse to stop.”

There’s a pause.

“Then what are we doing here, Dean?”

“The last place we stayed at said that this house is where people have been disappearing. Come on, Sam. Some classic, old-school monster-hunting. Just what you need to put that anger to use. It’s what I do.”

“Yeah. And you’re so well-adjusted.”

There’s an audible shrug. “At least I’m not bitchin’ about it constantly.”

“And that’s healthy.” Sam sighs. “All right, come on.”

They come around the corner, flashlights in hand. Guess who’s standing there out in the open.

“Hi,” I say conversationally. “You boys lost?”

I lift my lantern to get a look at them. One’s tall, over six feet, with a lanky build, stylishly long dark hair, and a somewhat pained expression, probably from the end of that conversation. The other, shorter guy is built more like a boxer, all compact muscle and attitude, with close-cropped hair and narrowing, suspicious eyes. I know what they’re seeing, too – the silhouette of a guy in a leather duster holding a bullseye lantern in his right hand, and leaning on a large staff held in his left.

“Um. No.” The shorter one’s eyes narrow even more. His voice pegs him as Dean. “We’re… just passing through.”

“We saw your light,” says Sam. “We got curious.”

I make a face. One of those you boys are full of it faces. Molly says I’d make a good parent, with faces like that. I shudder to think what I’d be like as a parent.

“Well, then, you can keep passing. This isn’t something you guys want to be involved in.”

“Really?” Sam looks incredulous. I don’t blame him – I would, too.

“Really. There are monsters out here. Ghosts, at the very least.”

Dean nods in my direction, smirking. I can smell the smartass comment coming before he speaks. “So you, ah, watch that Ghostfacers show?”

“I don’t own a TV,” I say. “All I know is, I walked out of that basement in a city that isn’t mine, with my car nowhere in sight, and Goofus and Gallant rolling up here talking about the Apolcalypse.”

The young men stare at me.

“So,” I continue into the silence. “How about you leave the monster-hunting business to the professional wizard, get back in your car, and drive on down the road.”

“Wizard,” Dean repeated. “So… you’re a he-witch?”

I blink. “A what?”

Dean doesn’t let me clarify further.

Instead, he shoots me.

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fan fiction. Harry Dresden and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Jim Butcher. Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Supernatural. Please support the official releases of both properties.

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.”

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