A writing challenge for myself, and others, to explore options outside our normal writing sphere. I’ve taken to writing flash fiction – free writes, done in half an hour or less with little editing and under 200 words, if possible.
It had been made clear, fraternization was frowned upon, but we had been drawn to one another just the same. He was wise, beyond his years, and he was gentle, and he had the best intentions. His eyes were boundless pools of kindness, and his smile was hesitant, but sweet. I was being groomed to lead. I was almost always at the forefront of all of the major events, and I was the one to make the big decisions. I was being hardened to do what had to be done, and I was afraid that what he once found good in me might one day be lost.
The day had been overly long, and we stood together seeking solace, reflecting in silence. With no one around to take notice, we took advantage of the opportunity we had been given. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his hand draw near, ever so subtly his pinky finger reaching out. I slowly reached out to find the comfort I so desperately needed, and allowed my eyes to find his for the first time in days. My heart stopped in that moment, my cheeks warmed, and my body swayed, longing for more than either of us could give…at present.
Arranged marriages rarely allowed any room for sentimentality, but on the rare occasion, true love could be found. They had been fortunate, although upon their first meeting, neither would have believed it possible. He had had this smug look upon his face, and the arrogance in his overall presence had left something to be desired. She had been a right snob, barely dignifying his presence with a response. It was most fortunate in their case that those first impressions did not represent who they truly were.
When the king asked her husband to lead his troops into battle, the honor of such a request had not failed to instill in their family a deep sense of pride, and fear. They were less than a year into their new life, and he had been away for nearly six months. It had been weeks since she had received any word from the front, and when she heard the knock upon the door late that night, the cold fingers of dread wound their way around her heart and held tight.
She found herself short of breath as her shaking hand reached out to receive the letter. She involuntarily shivered as she began to read the words not in her husband’s hand. She took a long, steadying breath, straightened her back, and offered the messenger a warm meal. She was a Lady, after all.
Do you remember the day we left Earth? Some days it’s all I can think about. That was the day I lost you. I could never have guessed that a simple trip to look at the stars would have led us to this – where we now live among them. Our sky is so dark in comparison, and the stars’ light is often times so faint. Right now I’m staring out a window and I see colors beyond imagining. I am in awe of it all, and it is all I have ever wanted to see, and yet all I want to do is scream at them in the hopes that you will hear me, somewhere out there.
I’m coming for you. I don’t know how yet, but I am. I’ve found myself on a ship with…well, aliens who are currently discussing what to do with me. They found something in my head, a chip, and I am at their mercy. Oh, how I wish you were here.
You are so strong, so much more than I am, which reassures me that you’ll be all right. So just stay that way. If this crew chooses not to help, I’ll figure something out. I’ll find myself a pilot or barter for passage. All I have to do is find a cantina and a handsome rogue with the heart of gold, right?! Oh, gods…we’re so frakked! Sorry. I’ll figure something out. There has to be some sort of human embassy out here, don’t you think? There has to be someone who is willing to help a lost human or two?
Their voices are drawing near. I should go, for now, but I’ll write to you again soon – I have so much to tell you!
The crescent moon’s pale light only added to the already ominous feel of the evening. The fog rolling in from the harbor wound its tendrils along the deserted streets and through the empty alleyways, creating the perfect landscape for a horror story, and a crime. The recent rains made the cobblestones shine, and also helped to wash away the remains of the many foul deeds to be found in this part of town. The pronounced click of the Inspector’s heels on those same stones echoed in the surrounding silence. He was on the hunt.
His long coat kept the chill from the outside at bay, but all he had seen in the past months had induced a permanent chill to be lodged in his spine. He had started to walk differently, more determined. The people were looking to him, but he was finding it increasingly more difficult to look at himself. He needed a clue. He needed answers. He needed resolution. Or he would forever be haunted by his inabilities.
Queen of the Night
She loved the moments just before night fell. Those moments when the world seemed black and white. She escaped into the night, feeling the cool air upon her skin, opening her arms to it, inviting it in. Death followed in her wake, floating behind her like mist. The earth dried up and the trees shrunk back to allow her passage, which pleased her. Despite her absence, they had not forgotten her. All around her was devoid of life, and she reveled in the silence. She was Death’s bride, and if she could, she would scratch her long black nails against the world to sharpen them in the anticipation of her kill. She had slumbered too long, but looked forward to reacquainting herself to the world.
When she had escaped her jailers, she swore to herself that she would never again fall victim to the whims of man. She cut her hair, changed her name, and did what she could to distance herself from her old life. She did not seek out those she once knew, she did not let anyone know of her fate, but instead chose to protect herself. Everyone knew of the Guild, and what they represented, but what their ignorance could not understand was what it meant for those who were a part of it; it was indeed a brotherhood. She would first have to prove herself, and then they would find her. They only sought out those who were truly worthy. She moved to a new town and began her training. She took whatever work she could find, each a learning tool, a lesson towards her goal. It took some time, but she finally received her invitation, and then her real training began.
Shrouded in shadow, swathed in the garb that held both reverence and fear, she slid down the embankment with arms outstretched enjoying the thrill of the freedom in those moments just before she found her mark. With her face masked, they never knew that the girl they once thought a traitor was now their executioner.
It was said there was a tree as old as the world itself. Traveling in the shadow of the great tree that stood before me, it was easy to believe that such an idea could be possible. This tree stood out from all the others around it. Suppose this was the mother of all trees? Her roots were thick and entrenched in the earth, and it created mounds of emerald green to dot the landscape around her. Her base had grown straight for years before bending to search for the light; her branches were many and had long been reaching for the sun.
It was the kind of tree you would seek shelter in. It was the kind of tree that offered a weary traveler refuge. It was the kind of tree that the wildlings must revere, and therefore, so must I. The eerie silence and the responsive nature of the earth beneath my feet let me know that I was indeed in a place of reverence. I did my best to avoid digging my walking stick into her soil, not wishing to leave my mark, although I did lean upon it and stare up at her in wonder.
First there was a lurch that made everyone grasp for something to hold on to. Then the lights flickered and screams echoed. Finally, the engines roared as they tried to compensate. I never heard the fighting outside. The ship was like a floating planet. It took a day’s journey to travel from one side of the ship to the other. It was rare to see a crewman from another level. I had never even seen the captain in my 10 years of service. I hadn’t seen much of anything beyond the metallic walls of my level.
We were rarely given shore leave, because a ship of this size did not have many a port to come into. There were also many components to be aware of in order to keep her running smoothly, and that is why I found the current situation so bewildering. There must be an explanation for why we were turning on our side? The walls moaned as they buckled under the pressure and the loss of velocity. It would take a number of failures to cause such a chain of events.
As I sat outside on the frozen planet, the rebel fleet overhead, I found myself overcome with grief as I stared at the state of her. She would never fly again.
It’s a common misconception that only the desperate seek me out. The greedy, the vain, the shallow, the scared, the lonely, and even the righteous have found their way to my door. Take a look at the world around you. Do you truly believe that all those people you envy got where they are on their own merit? No, my dear. Actually, that is quite laughable. And before you say a word, let me ponder what category you fit into and what it is youthink you want.
Another misconception – the price. It’s never the same. So worry not that you may need x-amount of dollars, or a first born. My stocks are full and money hardly has its uses where I’m from. No, I will know the exact payment to accept from you.
You’re sweating. You’re worried. You should be. You have but mere moments to retreat. You won’t. I suppose it is the desperate that seek me out. They think they have no alternative. They lack the capacity for hard work, perseverance, mediocrity. That is why you are sitting here yourself…your own shortcomings. So let us strike the deal, and in the blink of an eye you will have all you ever dreamed of. I can’t wait to meet you again, to hear if it was worth it.
We stood on the battlements side by side as we had every day for the past three years. It was going to be a beautiful day. The sun was still low on the horizon, but the sky was clear and the air was crisp. I turned my face skyward and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath hoping to smell the lavender planted in the garden, or the citrus trees that lined the path. The image of my love flashed once before my eyes, as it usually did, a bewitching smile upon the most alluring lips. Had I not looked down, it could be mistaken for any other day.
“Is this one of those times you want me to lie to protect your delicate emotions?” My queen asked slyly. She stood tall with her hands behind her back, her chin defiantly jutted outward, and yet there was that gleam in her eye. She was a clever one, and it was one of the reasons I had stood by her. I unsheathed my sword and stretched my arm, feeling the weight of it. I lowered my gaze to the imposing army marching through the valley. I replied with my own air of nonchalance, “Seems as good a time as any.”
He sat alone in “their place”. The tentacles of dread weaving their destructive way through his mind. It didn’t stop there. The tingling continued down his spine, while it’s icy touch lingered around his heart. She had never been late, even when he expected her to be. After the many long months of separation, he was certain he would have found her running across the field in the hopes she would be running into his open arms. He stared out to the horizon for what felt like hours, trusting that one of those dots would grow larger and take her form. No such luck.
He did not fidget. He sat immobilized with the thoughts of the unknown. What if she did not return? How would he find her? He didn’t even know where she had been. What would he do…without her? His body felt heavy, crushed under the weight of the despair that had quickly materialized. Why did he not give her more credit? Clearly she had been able to take care of herself all this time. He swallowed back the lump that threatened to choke him, when he felt her warm touch. His whole body went slack with a relief that was almost as crushing.
It was quiet, quieter than I expected. Without the engines humming, the normal sounds of operation, or even the sounds of life, it was as if we were walking into a crypt. Perhaps we were. The emergency lights gave off an eerie red glow, while some overhead lights flickered, each played with our vision equally. I swear I could see things moving in the shadows, but I knew it to be a trick of the imagination. We decided to split up, search the vessel for survivors and what may have happened to silence an entire ship and her crew.
I decided to head to the command deck in the hopes of retrieving the captain’s journal and the flight logs. The team would search the rest of this level before we headed further into the belly of the ship together. As I ascended the ladder that would allow me access to the upper deck, I called back in a harsh whisper, “If I need you I’ll give you a signal.” My companions all looked up with inquisitive eyes. “What signal?” “I’ll imitate the scream of a terrified little girl.” To that I received obligatory snorts and the shaking of heads. I winked once and continued upward.
He knew from the moment they had met that he would eventually find himself here – standing in a cell the other had once occupied. They had been playing a game of cat and mouse for years, years beyond comprehension, so it was no wonder one of them had eventually found themselves in such a place. He had lost track of the other sometime in the Victorian era, this must have been where he disappeared. There had been rumor of the man who did not age; he was the inspiration for a number of myths and tales, because he had the unlucky fortune of being caught. It was discovering the source of those stories that had brought him here.
The world continued to move forward, yet this place held the remnants of the world it had once been a part of. It still smelled and felt like it had hundreds of years ago, when it was new. He stood in the center of it, feeling the warmth of the setting sun streaming in upon his face, and smiled to himself. There in the stone, a set of markings had been painstakingly carved. The game was on, again.
I had heard their gentle knocking for some time, but the warmth of my bed continued to lull me into that semi-conscious state of euphoric bliss. There was no knowing if five minutes had passed or five hours. I danced a fine line between the dream world and the waking one, wishing there was something more to be found there. I couldn’t grasp the thread of the pleasant dream that I had been reluctant to leave, but with the sunbeams rippling in strange patterns about my room, I knew I could no longer ignore the beginnings of a new day.
I opened the window to find my friends in a spirited mood, swimming to and fro, talking in excited tones. Something was happening beyond our peaceful shoal, and they were eager for me to join them.
The Long Walk
She had always loved the early morning; the mist that hung heavy in the air, the silence that lingered while the world still slept. Fall was upon them. The leaves had turned their lovely shade of red and had fallen from the trees in pools of rosy splendor. She would purposefully walk amidst them just to hear the soft crunch beneath her feet. She generally awoke before everyone else, it was her time to enjoy her land, her time to enjoy the little things that most people took for granted.
Today was unlike most days. Today she walked with purpose, without paying much attention to those things that usually brought her joy. The mist went unnoticed, the silence, unheard, the crunch of the fallen leaves, ignored. Only the rhythmic beat of her heart, which had a unique sound of its own, was what she heard this morning as she walked the path of the sacrificial lamb.
One Small Step…
“Short? Short?” He exclaimed out of breath.
“I thought so.” The other replied nonchalantly.
“By no means was that a short jump. Look at my legs. You thought I could clear it?”
“C’mon. Just one more.”
“Tell me the truth. What’s it look like?”
The other one looked over the ledge that stood between them and their exit. “It’s just a short jump.” He smirked.
“I hate you.”
In the final days it was said that the horsemen would ride across the earth, bringing with them the scourges that would rid the world of the unworthy. What they didn’t say, or perhaps didn’t know, was that they were already living among us. A delusional state to be in, to be sure. How could one, otherwise, account for the degree of Pestilence, Famine, and War?
The stories had been altered over time, of course – human nature’s vanity changing details to suit their own purposes. It was their way of putting those seen as their subordinates in place, among so many other fallacies declared on the Maker’s behalf. So it was no wonder they were so taken aback when Death finally made her appearance. The unavoidable. The last truth. She stood at the center of her storm, admiring her work, without having placed her hand upon her blade.
I wasn’t certain what had startled me awake – the unsettling sounds coming from the dark, the throbbing of my head, or the deep chill upon my skin. I awoke to find myself in Alistair’s protective embrace, on the cold stone floor of a prison cell, in nothing but my small clothes. Looking up to his face, past the bare expanse of his chest, I said teasingly, “It’s a shame we are unable to take advantage of this privacy, given our situation is so dire.”
He laughed in spite of himself, and responded with a wink, “Yes, unfortunately, this is no time for romance.”
The advert had promised “sights not to be missed,” and the showing had not disappointed, but there was another advert, one meant to be understood only by the one it was intended for. She had read it and arrived early to ensure she would not be taken by surprise. There was nothing about her that would give her away as anything but a proper Victorian lady, but for the one who waited for her across the gallery, she was as deadly as she was well dressed.
After watching the birth of yet another system, they were surprised to find that it still gave them chills. There was nothing quite like the explosion of color and the dazzling display of light. Knowing that life would soon be springing forth made them each excited for different reasons. The demon’s smile was smug with all the temptations waiting to be explored. The angel nudged the other knowing that after countless millennia, nothing had changed.
For some time I thought it was my own heartbeat. It was my first expedition after all, and I was both nervous and excited.
Ba bum. Ba bum.
The sound was faint at first, and no one else seemed to hear it but me, but as we delved further into the unchartered territory, the thumping only increased.
Ba bum. Ba bum. Ba bum.
Weeks traveling in an unknown, desolate land and the incessant heartbeat that I felt belonged to it slowly ate at my nerves. I became obsessed with learning the origins of the sound and would often wander into the depths of the surrounding forest alone in the hopes I would find the source.
Ba bum. Ba bum. Ba bum.
It called to me. I could hear it in my dreams. When I slept. I could feel it drawing me ever closer until the beating of my own heart fell in sync and the sound was just as much a part of me as my own skin.
Ba bum. Ba bum.
The others whispered…in shadows, and offered me sideways glances. When we found the long forgotten ruin and I felt my skin sing, I knew then that this was for me alone.
I stood before the blood red orb, crimson stained hands shaking in anticipation, my heart ready to break from my chest. My reflection…I didn’t recognize what I had become.
He almost felt like a character from a fairytale. Wasn’t there one about kids following breadcrumbs? That’s what he had been doing for days, without even deciding to do it. He had entered the forest for a pleasant day’s walk amidst nature, but became compelled to seek this place out. He neither ate, nor slept. He could only walk.
The tiny house, surrounded by dark, still water and towering trees, despite its quaint nature, seemed oddly out of place. It was the only structure of its kind in the area; he hadn’t come across another in his travels. He was awash with tranquility, and yet, at the back of his mind, in the deepest recesses of his soul, he knew something was wrong, but he continued forward.
The dried leaves crunched under foot, alerting the lady of the house who appeared in the doorway like a shadow. She beckoned him, and he did as she commanded.
Sadie had never been to New York City, but she imagined it must look something like this – buildings that extended to the sky, neon lights so bright it resembled day, and a limited view at what might lie beyond. Sadie enjoyed the mornings here; they were quiet, and the air smelled sweet, which seemed a contradiction all considering. Since this whole journey had begun, this was the only place they had visited that reminded her of Earth, and she found herself oddly comforted with just a hint of longing.
The strange winged creatures that slightly resembled birds were rather friendly and perched themselves upon her balcony. She spoke to them in hushed tones, whispering her secrets, her hopes, and her fears, like she used to with seashells she had found upon the beach. When they returned to her each morning, she found solace in the idea that perhaps they had carried away those thoughts and helped to lighten her burden; although not fighting harder to protect her sister was one she would never be free of, not until she found her.
The hallway was dark. Hannah, barefooted, tip toed toward the daylight that awaited her at the other end. She ran one hand along the wall to feel the old, rough stone bricks while her gown swished at her feet as pace hastened.
Without knowing why, her heart swelled at the thought of what lay beyond.
The hallway had brought her to the rear of an English manor nestled in the country. Stairs led down to a well-kept garden and a sweet surprise she dared not believe. Cautious that the leaves would be sure to give away her presence, she took careful steps until she could nearly reach out and touch him.
Evan turned simultaneously and captured her in his warm embrace. His exhale of relief at holding her in his arms caused his arms to tighten.
Hannah couldn’t recall how she had come to arrive here, or why her heart recognized the man who held her when her mind didn’t, but at the moment, it didn’t matter. She felt like she had just found home.