Monday, June 28, 2010

The Coast Dreamlight

The eleventh response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Laura Eno's flash fiction, "Midnight Train" (go read it!). The image of her train stuck with me evoking this darker imagining.

The conductor held the corroded iron cage with the three white dreambirds twitching inside as their ethereal glow reflected off the steel of the Coast Dreamlight's engine car. The train began to roll out of the station with a mournful whistle. Claire's husband, the thief, watched from behind the conductor as the train gained speed. She felt the dreambird with her essence battered as the conductor turned. She still remembered his corrosive words, burning distasteful things, as he stopped her, refusing to return her and her Ellis's stolen dreambirds.

The cars picked up speed, chugging away. She would survive feeling weak and shaken as she did now with her dreambird's frightened captivity. The loss would deepen when the bird was consumed, but she'd live unlike Ellis, her son, whose last two birds moved farther away with increasing speed. Not thinking, just moving, Claire ran beside the train, leaping to catch the cold iron bars of the ladder beside the black caboose. Slipping inside, the screech of the metal wheels on the track receded as the seal on the train's door deadened the sounds.

Running through the coach seats, gaunt faces in the dim light watched her with their black eyes absent the light of the dreams they must have sacrificed. She bumped the seats as the train swayed on the tracks leaving angry murmurs behind her. She passed through a lounge car, the seats mostly empty, and the narrow hallway between the first class cabins. The breath rattling within her ribs a pain suffusing each gasp, she pulled on the door to the engine. On the other side, the train's ceremonial ax, reddish tinged light reflecting off the glass display.

Swoosh. The conductor held a nozzle leading into the engine's dream box, a thick plateglass window flickering with the red light of the consumed dreams. Two birds left within the cage. One of them must be hers because the pain of consummation hadn't pierced her yet. A single bird left from Ellis's flock.

"What are you doing here?" asked the conductor. "I'll need another dream for your fare." The conductor pointed the nozzle into the cage.

"No," screamed Claire. Ellis's life worth no more than a coin toss.

Stu, Claire's husband, reached out to grab the corroded bars of the cage. The conductor yanked it back out of his hands but the flaking iron crumbled in Stu's hands. The two dreambirds, wings fluttering madly, squeezed through the hole in the cage, black lines on their breasts where the jagged iron cut through them. The birds flew out the engine door into the dark night.

"Lilith," said Stu shaking as he fell to his knees.

_Who was Lilith?_ wondered Claire. She clenched Stu's shoulder. His essence momentarily unshielded, she glimpsed a vision of a woman in the midst of passion, her back arched. Blood and a dreambird's white down feathers coated her smile.

"You monster." Claire released Stu, her hand feeling unclean. "How did you hide your adultery?"

Stu looked up at her, his eyes unreadable.

"You cannot ride without payment." The conductor rested the dreambox's nozzle on Claire's chest.

Claire backhanded the nozzle. She twisted away from the conductor, jarred by the train's sway to fall against the wall, her elbow breaking the glass over the ceremonial ax. She wielded the ax, looking down at her free hand and then at the conductor's nozzle as he approached. She brushed the back of her hand against the nozzle, letting it latch onto her hand, becoming lightheaded. She yanked her hand, pulling the nozzle out of the conductor's hand before setting her hand on the back of Stu's neck. Bringing the ax down, she severed her arm with a clean sweep. The nozzle grew warm consuming Stu. She pressed the stump of her arm against the dreambox's iron casing glowing with Stu's energy as she cauterized her wound before jumping through the door of the engine to roll through the grasses.

Claire stood up, a hand braced against a valley oak as she watched the Coast Dreamlight snake down the tracks. Two dreambirds alighted on her shoulders. Time to go home.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Krone's Lottery #FridayFlash

The tenth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Elijah Toten's flash fiction, "The Machine".

The traveler held the door open, rain squalling around his arms while he blinked to scatter raindrops from his eyelashes. Mary took his hand, noticing the black soil lining the edges of his nails as she shouldered the door shut. The traveler dripped on the straw chaff. The rain had soaked clear through his jerkin and his linen sleeves clung to his biceps. _Not bad, for a farmer,_ thought Mary.

"You've found the Fortune's End Tavern," said Mary. "The best tavern outside the Krone's Forest. Can I help you?"

"What is the common meal?"

"A beet stew with black bread."

"I'll take that," said the young man.

Mary smiled watching the man's face to see how he'd take it. "I need to see your coin. Sorry, we get too many dead enders out to visit Krone without a farthing left."

The man pulled a purse on a leather thong draped around his neck dripping water and flashed a silver at Mary.

"Would you like some ale to go with that as well?" asked Mary.

He nodded.

Mary carried a platter with a large bowl and hunk of bread on it and in her other hand she held the tankard. The man had sat at a table by the fire. It would take a while for him to dry.

The man tore a hunk of bread and dipped it in the stew and ate it with a single chew almost more for show before swallowing. He glanced up, Mary hadn't left.

"Do you mind if I sit with you?" asked Mary.

A possessiveness tinged the stormcloud gray eyes as the man glanced at his stew and bread.

"No, no need to share," said Mary. "The tavern is empty and William, he's the cook, won't speak to me. It makes the hours creep."

"Okay," said the man.

"What's your name?"

"John. Why is the tavern so empty? I expected a crowd to be waiting for the Krone."

"It's Midsummer Eve," said Mary.

"So." John soaked a cube of bread in the soup.

"The Krone takes a week off."

"No, she can't do that," said John.

"Don't you farmers know anything?" Mary brushed a finger through her hair, pulling her too long bangs behind an ear. "Besides, you shouldn't visit the Krone. She'll cheat you.

"No," said John. "My third cousin twice removed married a princess after visiting the Krone."

Mary shook her head. "You hear about the rare one who succeeds, but what about all those who never return? Who never get their wish granted by the Krone. Instead, they pay with their souls. A forest full of souls for every rare man or woman who succeeds."

He looked at her for a long moment, a drop from his hair falling to scatter on the wood table. "I don't have a choice," he said.

The door banged open, Amegmon and three of his twisted brothers entered the tavern.

Mary approached the four men and said, "I'll get you some ale."

Amegmon grabbed Mary holding her close pinching her through the skirt. "Don't take too long, we wouldn't want to miss your company."

She brought out a pitcher and four tankards for the men. Amegmon grabbed her wrist. "I think you'll join us." Amegmon lips thinned into a sneer that left Mary's blood cold.

"No. Don't coerce the lady."

Mary looked up, surprised to see John standing over the table. "No, don't insult them. They are the Krone's sons."

"I don't care who they are," said John. "They shouldn't treat you this way."

Amegmon let go of Mary. "You look like a traveler here to see the Krone. We can ensure she has a fun challenge for you." Amegmon's brothers chuckled at his words.

John grabbed Mary's hand and retreated back to his table by the fire.

"Why did you do that?" asked Mary.

"You have a point, maybe I won't see the Krone."

_Maybe, he wasn't a stupid villager._ "I thought you were broke," said Mary.

"I am."

"You can stay with me tonight," said Mary.

He smiled.

"It's just a favor until you have some money." _Or she got to know him better._

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Last Gunfighter

A response to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Genre-bender Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained. I think I misread this as genre-blender. How many genre's can you find.

Narkiss floated in a sea of whiteness, pinpricks teasing his nerves as if a cactus enveloped him, needles pressing on all sides. The pop and hiss of water streaming over rocks in a babbling brook. No, Narkiss was mistaken. A less complex sound tugged him through the whiteness, a film brushing past his cheeks leaving a trace of hoarfrost on his hair. Voices.

"Do you think we'll escape the Oracle's prophecy?" asked a woman, age scarring her syllables.

"We must. He's never seen a girl, and we've hidden the villagers his age." The man's staccato voice vibrated like an arc of electricity.

Narkiss clenched his hands on a wool blanket. The pain faded as did the whiteness surrounding him.

"Shhh," said the woman. "He wakes."

A man wore a white Stetson hat and a flannel shirt. Narkiss sat up, knocking a cable from the pillow above his head to careen against the wall.

"Sorry," said Narkiss.

"No problem," said the man. "You won't need the data shunt. How do you feel?"


"As expected," said the woman. She balanced his weight as he swung his legs over the edge of the table. "We don't have much time."

His legs buckled beneath him. Her face was familiar. "Don't I know you?"

"Careful," said the man catching Narkiss.

The woman stepped back towards the room's door. "Yes, we created a simulacrum of me as one of your instructors."

"Yes, the star-crossed --"

"We named her," said the woman, "that when we traveled the stars, but we have found a home."

"We don't have time for this," said the man. "You know how to ride your steed?"

"The simulations trained me," said Narkiss.

They walked through a seamed door onto a porch. Similar buildings, built of flat planks two-stories tall, shadowed the other side of the sandy street.

"Good." The man unlocked a plastic chest on the porch from which he lifted a ten centimeter white cube, which he dropped in the middle of the street. "Mean Billy Trenton and his Broken Finger Outlaws approach. Only you can save us."

"Why?" asked Narkiss.

"Because you were trained in the simulations," said the man.

"No," said the woman. "You want to know why Billy Trenton comes."

Narkiss nodded.

"We killed a henchman."

The sandy ground heaved as a wave crested along the street pushing sand to wash onto the porches. In the center of the street, a wormsteed -- it's mouth large enough to consume Narkiss whole -- surfaced. The wormsteed's carapace fanned out beyond the head to protect the jockey's pedestal from the sand.

"It's time to go," said the man. "Will you battle Mean Billy Trenton for us?"

"I don't have much choice," said Narkiss. He slowed his heart as taught in the simulations, the same simulations that taught him this was his duty. "How will I recognize Billy?"

"Black hat." The man tapped his brim.

"He won't be far beyond the dome's edge," said the woman.

Narkiss mounted the jockey pedestal, it shook underneath his feet as the worm undulated with an eagerness to leave the sun and enter the cool sand below. He took the reins in his hand as he had in the simulations, giving the wormsteed full reign. The worm reared its head before burrowing into the ground. The sand streamed past, grains blowing in the protected space behind the carapace. He trusted his simulation-enhanced senses to measure the distance to the dome's edge. As they neared the dome, ten clicks from the village, Narkiss pulled back on the reins to return to the harsh sun-bitten surface.

Dismounting from the wormsteed, Narkiss neared the dome's edge. Outside of the raised foundation, the energy dome was imperceptible and Narkiss saw a flowering cactus standing in the storm outside the dome, a hint of the edge of the dome where the sand particles deflected. Near enough to touch the dome, the sun caught the power particles creating a sheen on the dome where Narkiss saw a face.

A beautiful young man standing outside the dorm, a hand raised towards its edge just like Narkiss's hand. "Hello," called Narkiss.

"Hello," replied the man.

"I'm Narkiss, who are you?"


"What are you doing in the storm outside the dome?" asked Narkiss.

"What are you doing in... side the dome?" asked Arya.

The wormsteed harrumphed a rolling barrel tone before undulating into the sand. Narkiss sat on the edge of the dome looking at Arya, amazed at how gracefully he followed Narkiss's lead, sitting across from him. Narkiss winked at the man, the man winked back. "Why, I'm here to battle Mean Billy Trenton. At least, if I can coerce the wormsteed to come back. I promised the villagers I'd protect them."

"Why villagers?" A tear ran down the man's face. It made Narkiss sad, a mix of the adrenaline that faded as he sat in the sand and sadness he saw in the man's face.

The dome's forcefield flickered. Where Arya, Narkiss's love, had sat now stood a half-dozen men with bandannas across their mouths, six-shooters in their hands. The leader, a big man with a wide-billed black Stetson strode forward.

"Who are you?" asked Mean Billy Trenton.

"What did you do to Arya?"

One of the henchman holding a spike with an electrical display on the top of it, returned to the inside edge of the dome's foundation sinking the spike into the sand. An electrical arc spidered across the foundation to meet another spike standing on the other side of the dome. Nearby, a green-furred blur hopped across the desert. "Arya, Arya, Arya." The voice lingering as the creature disappeared into the sandstorms.

How had they captured Arya? Swallowing once, twice, Arya was gone. He drew his gun, lightning fast. Six pops and Mean Billy Trenton and his men writhed a final moment before they stopped.

The wind whispered "Arya, Arya, Arya." But the light had changed, and he found only emptiness.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Day at the Office

The ninth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to a short chat I had with P. Chand, regarding dialogue and P. Chand responded: "Writing zombie dialogue sounds like the best day ever. :O". It got me thinking about my coworkers.

Jenkin's fingers flashed across the keyboard as the scene spilled its guts. The breeze, cooling off, rattled his blinds and brought with it Sarah's laugh. No, concentrate. He needed to finish the scene.


Thad walked into the greenhouse, looking down the narrow rows of tables with planters on them, roses and junipers towering with their dense interleaved branches to block his view. Something was wrong, this was out of character. He would not go in the greenhouse. The Rock had set him up, The Boss would not risk himself in this place. What was the author doing, this was wrong. Listen to your characters, don't do this.

No words came out, instead Thad found himself walking down one of the aisles of planters, a hiss of a self-watering system spraying water. Thad struggled, at the least the author needed to let him climb one of the tables to scan the territory. His neck itched and he wanted to look around, but he couldn't, he stepped forward, his footsteps echoing on the concrete one after the other, loud noises, that would give anyone waiting for him more than enough preparation. _Author! I don't take unnecessary chances, why are you doing this?_


A little rough, thought Jenkins, but it was just a first draft. He'd smooth it out during the revisions, make sure all the motivations were solid. He'd plant a need to force Thad into the greenhouse. Jenkin's stomach rumbled. Shadows cast by the light in Sarah's room crossed his desk, a crisscross pattern over a plate of spaghetti left for him. When had that arrived? He twirled a fork of spaghetti as his wife read a story to Sarah and he clacked one-handed at the keyboard. Almost there.


An incandescent bulb hung from the greenhouse's ceiling, swinging through the air. This was wrong, Thad would not do this. He drew his gun from its shoulder holster, crouching a little as he neared the Bougainvillea, preparing to roll if he saw anyone.

A big man in black sweats stood at the end of the aisle, Thad rolled when he saw him a gunshot popped behind and a moment later glass tinkled falling to the cement floor. He squeezed his own shot as he heard footsteps down the aisle, two more men approaching. He rolled desperately trying to get out of the field of fire, his foot catching on the corner of the table. Gunfire caught his leg, a painful fire, and it wouldn't move so he reached down and pulled his leg out of the aisle as another shot ricocheted off the cement, scattering white dust.

Lightheaded, Thad pushed himself onto the table, knocking over some pots with broad tropical leaves, a plant on the far side tipped over and soil poured onto the ground. He crouched, making his way towards the central aisle, the leaves rustling as he passed. He got another one of the thugs, but another bullet -- he didn't see where -- caught him in the shoulder knocking him off the table. His gun flying through the air. He looked off at yet another man in black sweats.

"Don't shoot." Thad braced his leg against one of the tables, preparing to kick it over. "Why are you doing this?"

"Your arc is over," said a voice behind him.

Thad kicked the table over, the falling planters distracting the man in front of him. He rolled, his hands slipping on blood -- his blood -- pooling on the concrete. He twisted away, too slow. The last bullet entered near the spine to arc upwards and shatter his skull. _Why, what have I done?_ His body dropped limp to the floor.


Not bad for a day's work, thought Jenkins. It was a good day when you could kill off a character, especially a troublemaker like Thad who always complicated the plots. The phone rang.

"I've got it, honey," yelled Jenkins. His stomach cramped, a piercing ache perhaps like a gunshot, maybe he could use that in the revision. Gritting his teeth, he picked up the receiver on his desk.


The tinge of huskiness oddly familiar, but Jenkins swore he'd never heard that voice before. He had a good memory for voices. "Yes, who is this?"

"You've forgotten me already?"

"I don't know you." Jenkins started to put the phone back in its cradle.

"You mugged me on the streets of New York." Her voice harsh as Jenkins paused before severing the connection.

"Your dead --"

"You tried to kill me, like you did to Thad. I don't die easily."

"Belinda? You're a character, a figment of my imagination." Jenkin's stomach heaved. His hand shook as he felt a chill, compressing, tightening its grip on him.

"That's what you thought. How was the arsenic-laced spaghetti?"

Jenkins pitched forward, his throat swelling up as he heaved.


I push the papers away, another flash finished. A noise comes from the kitchen. I'm supposed to be alone...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Making Love, Not War

The eighth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Jörgen's "Semester" post in his blog, "Intryck, uttryck, avtryck" (Impressions & Expressions). Jörgen captioned a picture: "Plötsligt exploderade gräset i guld", roughly translated as: Suddenly the grass exploded in yellow. I ran across Jörgen's blog when I was searching for research on mörkt älvor for a writing project. I've enjoyed his amusing captions for his photos (unfortunately for you in Swedish). Go see his site and photos.

The day the alien ships came, Frank mowed the lawn under blue skies that cracked like aged porcelain as the alien cruisers, gigantic moon-sized things, shadowed the skies until the sun eclipsed. It all happened in moments, Frank watching the sky while the eerie sound of the lawnmower's engine chugged round tossing grass pollen into the air to drift in the darkening skies. A lump in Frank's throat, he turned to the house as the klaxons sounded, thankful that Penelope was home.

The door clanged shut behind Frank as he rushed through the rooms, finding Penelope in her office, placing a book on her shelf. "It is time," said Frank.

Penelope clenched her hands, the skin turning bone white, before closing her eyes as she held her breath. Opening. "Are you sure?"

"I saw the ships."

She threw herself at him, their bodies meeting as Frank found Penelope's mouth. A drawn out kiss, her skin glowed white already becoming hot to the touch. Frank smelled of sweat and grass. No time for a shower. Frantic, hungry arms stripped the clothes from each other. A nip, a kiss, a long barely felt brush of fingernails along the skin. Slowly, one step at a time they walked down the stairs to the basement.

Opening the heartroom's door for the first time since they bought the house, the circular waterbed consuming all the space in the room. Penelope laid down on the bed, her hands tracing rivulets of fire along his skin as Frank kneeled onto the bed, pulling the metal funnel from the ceiling down to hover over them.

Their hands ripping at each other, a hunger there. Penelope's skin became translucent, red blood vessels and blue veins faint as she began to glow brighter than the sun. Frank consumed by his need felt the reaction begin, his life essence leaving him, pushing into Penelope, expanding her, powering her. Spent, Frank collapsed to the bed an empty husk.

Penelope grew. She pulled the end of the metal funnel to set it against her stomach. The light rushed out of her as their spores shot out of her and into the funnel. The billions of tiny grains covered with a nanofilm shell ricocheted off the harsh metal. A whoosh as the birthing cannon shot their progeny away from the earth, into the sky where hopefully most of the seeds would escape past the alien ships to ride the solar wind to other worlds. With Penelope's last strength, she reached out a hand to clench Frank's withered skin.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sampaati's Last Flight (#FridayFlash)

A response to The Economist's Dawn of the Frankenfish article on using genetic engineering to create bigger fish.

Reaching the granite summit of Vicare Ridge, Sampaati searched for his half-brother Jatayu. Yet, the only person on the windswept ridge was Perdix, Vicare Ridge's flight master.

The wind ruffled Sampaati's feathers. "Have you seen Jatayu?"

The flight master's thin smile stretched his face wide giving it a cat-like countenance. "He flew out fifteen fingers ago as the sun passed the zenith." The flight master's nose creased, the smile hid something like the mango notes of chutney hiding the Buht Jolokia pepper's heat.

_Why hadn't Jatayu waited?_ Sampaati grasped the flight master's leather coat lifting him into the air with his arm as he unfolded the wings to counterbalance the weight. "What did you tell him?"

"Nothing," said the flight master.

Sampaati took a step towards the ridge's edge, updrafts causing the flight master's hair to stand on end. "I don't believe you." _Jatayu would've waited for me._

"This is a crime," said the flight master. "You wouldn't." His voice keened with a trace of the high-pitched moan of a cornered cat.

Sampaati leaned forward, the updrafts tickling his feathers.

"Okay, okay. I bragged about the power you'd get flying high. It was nothing. A joke." The flight master choked. "Put me down, please."

Sampaati pulled the flight master towards him and dropped him to fall against the granite. The hot air lifted him upwards as he soared, banking to follow the updraft into the sky. Fifteen fingers was a long time. A scattering of white clouds against the blue sky, the white sun overhead shone down with its heat powering the chlorophyll cells, a sugar-filled power arcing along his wings. Above him, a black lopsided dot silhouetted against the sun, an insane flight. Sampaati swallowed the energy into himself flapping his wings higher and higher feeling the surge of the solar radiation pulse within his veins. Cacophonous laughter drifted down, he could make out Jatayu's white wings now glowing pink on the edges.

"Jatayu, come down. The solar radiation will kill you," shouted Sampaati.

"Look at me," said Jatayu. "The power I'm sucking from the sky. I am a god." Another laugh, this one tasting of the electrical aftertaste of ozone.

"Your wings are about to burn," said Sampaati. His own wings felt hot, the power pulsing faster than his system could consume.

"Oy... the pain," cried Jatayu. Lightning flashed from his skin this time, the bolts as bright as the sun leaving red afterimages tattooed across Sampaati's eyes. The wings tilted into a slow bank spiraling.

Sampaati pumped his wings twice, lifting himself over his half-brother's frame dropping his arms to grasp Jatayu's clavicle, pulling the body underneath, holding Jatayu in his shadow. The hot feathers sizzling as they touched Sampaati's torso. The sun beat down, Sampaati's feathers spontaneously bursting in flames before they were licked away into the wind. Jatayu struggled in Sampaati's grasp but Sampaati held him close.

The ground raced fast to meet Sampaati as the wind whistled through his burnt feather-less wings, while Jatayu hung limp in his arms. They crashed rolling to the ground, a branch tore a gash into Sampaati's cheek, he lost his grip on Jatayu. The rolling subsided, Sampaati lying on his back staring up at the sky. He knew he wouldn't fly again. He turned his head to the side to look at Jatayu lying in the ferns with his chest rising and falling with the strength of his breath. Jatayu would live, that was enough.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reflections of Niccolo

A response to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Details Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained.

Icarus wielded the rooster-feathered duster, not like a soldier with his steel sword grasped tight, but lightly with his dead leg stuck straight, the knee locked. Scooting to reach the other side of the apprentice's mirror, the patches in his breeches caught on the rough wood of the half log with its fitted mortise and tenon joints. The pine wood shone in a sunbeam. Something flitted across the corner of the mirror, a breath of morning fog. Icarus watched the face. The face of Niccolo, his son. The face drifted across the mirror, leaving a path of ethereal mist behind to evaporate leaving a chill crawling across Icarus's back. He stared into the morphing eyes, the face elongating, stretching into other older faces but coming back to the raw essence of Niccolo's face. Icarus would recognize that face anywhere. The mouth shouting in a ghostly circle, silent but his skin crawled like the screech of fingernails on slate.

Afternoon church bells rang the end of siesta. The sunbeam illuminated the iron tools with their well oiled handles, each apprentice's tools in their proper place on the shelf. How had the hours passed?

Icarus caressed the inlaid gold filigree that had been embedded in the woodframe, the silver mirror reflected his sun-seamed face and the workroom behind him, no trace of Niccolo. How could Niccolo have been there, he would be dead two years when the harvest came. Placing his dead leg with its locked knee, he shuffled towards the door. His nights haunted, now his days were too.

Passing the door's threshold, Elise crashed into Icarus knocking him to the ground. Pain shot up the dead leg as Icarus pushed himself off the ground gritting his teeth.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Amati," said Elise.

Looking at the girl, brought memories flooding back of Niccolo following in her footsteps, she'd been Niccolo's favorite apprentice. No, Icarus could not tell her. She wouldn't understand. He looked down at the white pebble pathway leading towards Master Andreas' house.

"It's no problem," said Icarus. "I... I think I'll lie down. This is nothing, I'll heal." Icarus stretched his good leg and swung his hip to move the dead leg shuffling away from the girl.

Master Andreas strode down the path, his long strides kicking up pebbles. He grasped Icarus's shoulder. "Icarus --"

"No, I just need to lie down for a second."

"But," said Master Andreas, "you should see this."

"See what?"

"A spirit, trapped in a mirror," said Master Andreas.

Inside the workshop, Elise sat on the bench before the mirror where Icarus had seen Niccolo's face. The mirror's flawless face reflected only the room.

"I swear I saw a face," said Elise. "I'm not going mad, am I?"

Master Andreas placed his callused hand on the girl's shoulder. "No, and I don't think you're the only one who's seen it. Is she, Icarus?"

"How'd you know?" asked Icarus.

Elise's hazel eyes looked at Icarus, a yearning in the tight muscles focused on him. "You saw him?"

"Yes," said Icarus. "He was in pain, troubled with silent screams."

"Trapped," said Master Andreas. "The spirit can get left behind."

"That's not what they teach," said Elise.

They, the church. After the wasting sickness had taken Niccolo, Icarus, Master Andreas, and all the apprentices had stood on the green hill below the church as the priest had promised a life eternal for the boy as two men shoveled dirt onto the handcrafted coffin, the clods echoing off the wood.

"What can we do?" asked Icarus.

"Elise, get your awl."

Icarus hovered over the two craftsmen, watching the man teach the girl as they cracked one of the joints of the frame and chipped the edge of the glass. The wind whooshed, a timbre to its whistling reminding Icarus of Niccolo. A whirlwind, dust ricocheting off of Icarus's face centering on the dead leg. The two craftsmen tinkered with the wood. Icarus felt pins and needles along his legs, for the first time in years, he stretched his back popping.

"It is done," said Icarus. He left the master and apprentice talking about wood grains and joints and walked, his back straight. Outside, a rose petal blew from one of the trellises rising over the door, it stuck in his hair. Dulcet notes from a violin carried on the air, he took a breath. Perhaps, he wouldn't rest after all. He turned towards the source of the violin's trill.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mara's Jingle

The seventh response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Viktor Bijlenga's "Konst = Makt" (Translation: Art = Power) posted in his blog. He proposes that art gives you power and that power can inspire others to create art. Here is art inspired by Viktor.

Vince rapped his elbow on the plate glass window of Leonardo Aesthetics, his arms filled to overflowing with six paintings, a couple boxes of sculpture, and the score for a world premiere opera, the loose leaf pages bound by an ink stained rubber band. He shouldn't be working, he should be at home celebrating Mara's sixth birthday, but he couldn't get any of the other art acquirers to work his shift. The first drops of rain clung to the sides of the power building, little mercury-colored drops reflecting the darker gray of asphalt and a lighter gray of cement. Vince's finger twinged from the weight of the paintings as he pressed them against his side. "Open the devouring door already," muttered Vince. The opera score's ink smeared. He twisted the tower of boxes to brace them under his chin while he grasped the door's handle with his pinky and stepped slowly backwards.

Gerald stood in the foyer with a cell phone plastered to his ear. "Just a second." He looked Vince over. "I was coming," said Gerald. "I guess you didn't need any help."

Vince pushed past Gerald to make his way into the incinerator, the maw at his workstation leading down to the black soot-filled heart. The boxes fell onto the counter punctuated at the end with a glassy tinkle of broken glass. Vince winced. Putting the paintings down, he discovered that one of the corner-cutting artist's hastily splashed on finish had stained his hand. The quality of art these days left something to be desired. He picked up the painting, and fed it through the long thin slot at the back of his workspace. A flash and the building shook as the turbine turned the painting into electricity.

"It's a dark day out there," said Gerald as he peered over Vince's shoulder. "I hope you found some good art to feed the beast. The dark is going to make him ravenous."

Vince gritted his teeth. If he got lucky, Gerald would get bored of him and call up some other flunky on his phone. The sooner he got the art consumed, the sooner he could go home.

"What's this?" asked Gerald. He reached a hand into Vince's shirt pocket.

Vince threw another painting into the black maw. He grabbed at the brooch Gerald held in his hand. "It's a birthday present."

Gerald closed his hand over the brooch stretching his arm away and deflected Vince with his other arm. "That would be embezzlement. You don't want to do that." Gerald flicked his wrist to ricochet the brooch off the edge of the iron maw, a clang echoing through the room. "I just saved you a pink slip. Now get back to work."

Vince opened one of the boxes, inside a green glass elephant teetered on three legs, the third leg shattered into shards. He poured the glass into the maw, the tinkling descending into a puff of flame at the bottom. One of the other boxes held a music box, a ballet dancer carved with one arm held above her head while the other arm extended horizontally as her tutu flared in the other direction. He dropped the music box into the incinerator but the arm stuck out catching at the edge of the maw. Vince picked a mallet off his workspace and smashed the arm. The music box spun, a simple melody playing as the dancer turned. Catchy. He hummed the bar, looking over his shoulder at Gerald on his cell phone again. He waited for the music box to repeat one more time, before dropping it into the incinerator. He hummed as he slipped the rest of the art down. He had a replacement present for Mara.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Magic Eight-ball Man

The sixth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Leila's Friday Flash, "You Think YOUR Job Is Bad..." on her blog: Stretching My Brain.

This was also intended as a submission for the #storycraft exercise this week. However, I exceeded the word count by a lot. This weeks challenge was to address backstory, so the flash below has a lot of backstory, let me know if I deftfully weaved it into the piece or if it's confusing.

Daniel Winston Jr. ran up the atrium stairs of Vanderbilt's Jacobs Hall two steps at a time. He didn't have to, Magic Eight-Ball had answered It is decidedly so to Daniel's question of whether Daniel would catch Professor Stoltz before he mailed the journal paper. Sweat ran down his back underneath the suit coat, inconvenient in Nashville's loathsome summer humidity. He wanted to finish this. He would prove himself before the foundation's eyes.

The freshly waxed floors squeaked as he slowed his stride reading the nameplates off the doors. Professor Stoltz. The man had thinning hair combed over his balding pate in thick lines and sat at his desk, the lights out, his shades tilted to show mere slits of the trees outside. At Daniel's footsteps, the man jumped, dropping a coffee cup whose black thick liquid sloshed onto the pine desktop.

"Who are you?" asked Professor Stoltz.

"Professor Stoltz?" asked Daniel.

"I don't think you are." Professor Stoltz placed his bifocals on his desk next to his keyboard. "Vanderbilt students do not exhibit your obscene rudeness. Besides, I'm not teaching any classes this summer. Therefore, I must speculate that you are --"

Daniel reached into his shoulder holster to draw a revolver, which he pointed it at the Professor's skull.

"Not who I expected." The professor's hand twitched on the desktop.

"I need your final proofs for the Magic Eight-Ball paper." Daniel thanked the starcrossed that the Journal for Extraterrestrial Telepathical Studies didn't accept electronic submissions.

"I already mailed them."

"What?" Daniel looked around the office, his hand holding the gun waving in the air as he searched for one. There, on the filing cabinet. He shook the Magic Eight-Ball. "Is he telling the truth?"

As I see it, yes

"Why did you tell me I'd be able to stop it?" Daniel heard a pleading quality to his voice, but he ignored it. The professor looked away. Daniel pointed the gun back at him.

_Better not tell you now_

"By Jupiter's sixth finger!" Livid red spots flushed over Daniel's neck. He threw the Magic Eight-Ball at the blinds behind Professor Stoltz.

"No." The professor reached an arm out to try and catch the ball.

Daniel ran for the stairs, he didn't have much time. At the airport, he boarded a flight for Washington. Deplaning, he ran through the airport shouldering his way in front of the man standing at the head of the taxi queue. He threw $200 at the cabbie.

"Get me to the JETS agency, yesterday," said Daniel.

"I can't do that, sir."

Daniel drew his gun.

"No need for that, sir. I'll... I'll do my best," said the cabbie.

As the cabbie pulled up to the agency's square brick building, a woman in brown shorts threw the last box into the back of a UPS truck. Daniel ran for the squat doors, yanking the door open to creak on its hinges. He slid across the slippery wooden floor to collide with the receptionist's desk.

"I must stop the journal's press run," said Daniel.

"I'm just the receptionist," said a man with a jar-head haircut.

"Who do I need to talk to?"

"Well," the man leaned forward standing up, a good six inches taller than Daniel. "The last shipment just left."

Daniel rested his head on the black granite counters surrounding the receptionist's pit. "No, I failed."


Daniel Winston Sr. leaned back in his leather chair, his feet on his marble desk. In his hand, he held a Magic Eight-Ball. "You lied to us."

Signs point to yes


Ask again later

Daniel stood up, his chair crashing against the window behind him. He lifted the eightball over his head and slammed it down towards the ground. The die pressed against the face, _Very doubtful_. The ball cracked two halves shattering outward as the blue liquid splashed against the teak floor and a twenty-sided die skittered under his desk. A pale eight-legged creature, looking vaguely octopus-like, twitched on the floor. Daniel dropped to his knees beside the creature.

"Why?" asked Daniel Sr.

The wheezing creature hyperventilated on the floor, its words raspy with clicks. "Our kind stagnated. You used us."

"For your own good," said Daniel.

"No longer." The creature became still.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gullfoss, The Gold Waterfall

The fifth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is Oliver Fluck's picture "Greetings from Photo Paradise":

They said the sunless winter days drove people mad, but Gunnar knew better. It was the midnight sun. Gunnar dragged the upside-down wheelbarrow out of the back of the Volvo wagon twisting it rightside up, the wheel balancing off the dirt parking lot. His back popped as he bent back into the Volvo to pull the burlap wrapped bundle from where it had rolled against the car frame. He heaved the bundle into the wheelbarrow collapsing against the wheelbarrow's handgrips. The bundle much longer than the bed of the wheelbarrow, draped over the front and rear edges of the frame at obscene angles. Gunnar bent the burlap so it folded into the wheelbarrow's body over the axle.

Anyone I pass on the trail will see through this disguise, thought Gunnar. It might be after midnight, but a thin veneer of cracked clouds exposed the pale twilit sky, it wouldn't get any darker until after midsummer. He crawled into the back of the Volvo, and searching through the junk, he found three empty pots and a seedling tray. He arranged the objects to disguise the contents in the wheelbarrow.

Gunnar hefted the wheelbarrow, its weight pitching to one side. He thought he heard a soft moan and he stopped walking, motionless, to study the burlap. When it didn't move, he let out his breath. Around him, yellow-green ground cover and small willowy shrubs surrounded him as he pushed the wheelbarrow through their branches. The thick reddish clay scarred the ground and stained his athletic shoes.

The trail curved through the brambles. Several curves away, a man with a camera pack strapped to his waist walked. Gunnar pushed the wheelbarrow off the path, and kneeled in the dirt as he pinched off the edges of some of the ground cover. The photographer walked up to the wheelbarrow. "Halló, beautiful night for a walk, isn't it."

Gunnar stood up trying to position himself between the photographer and the wheelbarrow. "Já, it certainly is."

"What are you doing out here?"

"Just taking some soil samples," said Gunnar.

"Working, this late at night?" The photographer leaned his head to peer around Gunnar. "What is that? A body?"

"Nei." Gunnar laughed, even to him it didn't sound convincing. "Just some soil for an eroded embankment."

The photographer backed away, he didn't look like he believed Gunnar. Back on the path, the wheelbarrow bounced over the red clay as Gunnar heard the click of a camera. Nothing he could do about that now.

The waterfall roared over the rocks, mist coating the air and even Gunnar's skin with a thin clammy layer. The wheelbarrow swayed as he pushed up the last meters of the path. Fighting the wheelbarrow over the stairs of the wooden overlook, he realized it was easier to turn the wheelbarrow around and pull it backwards up the steps.

He hefted the rolled burlap over her shoulder, bracing it on the side of the overlook's platform.

"Gunnnnarrr?" A woman's voice. Björg's voice.

Nei. It was already too strong in her. They weren't safe. He couldn't let her infect the rest of the villagers. He paused. His hands bunched into fists holding the burlap, mist dripping from his eyebrows. He saw remembered images in the kitchen as he took the hammer and smashed it against Björg's forehead. Blood spattering the white linoleum. Staining his hands.

The burlap ripped as an arm punched through. White -- inhuman -- skin dangled from where the burlap had scraped it raw. The hand reached for Gunnar's throat.

Gunnar pushed Björg backwards over the ledge of the platform and stepped back. He fell to the wooden floor of the platform. He'd murdered her a second time. Shaking. Nei, she'd been dead since it had infected her.

"Gunnnnarrr. You cannot leave me."

Gunnar swiveled on all fours like a crab. Björg loomed over him, red scabbed blood covering the right side of her face. Inching backwards, Gunnar stopped with his back to the platforms edge. "I love you, Björg. But, you can't --"

"What would you do without me?" She lurched towards Gunnar.

"Nothing." Trickles of cold mist ran down Gunnar's back. He had no place to run.

"Other women?"

"Nei," said Gunnar. "No one besides you."

Björg stretched a disjointed arm forward, wrapping it around Gunnar.

Gunnar looked in her eyes, the blue eyes like the veins of a glacier. The eyes he had fallen in love with. He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her to him and leaned backwards falling down the rocky slope to the cascade at the bottom of the waterfall. His love clasped in his arms.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beckoning Quakes

The fourth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Pacing Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained.

Red chased the frisbee in its long glide dropping closer to the edge of the cliff above the San Andreas Lake. His tail stretched out, retreating, as his muscle modded haunches bunched in a desperate leap leaving his padded hands outstretched to grab the frisbee before rolling to a stop at the edge of the granite. Behind him, Sweeney chased him not waiting for a return toss. Sweeney's breath rasped in his throat. Occasionally, Red regretted his enhanced hearing.

"When will the quake get here?" asked Sweeney.

"It won't be long," said Red. "I'll sense it early enough so we won't miss the ripples." Ginger fur covered Red's torso with a sheen of short hairs lengthening into a mane around his shoulders and head. His face modded to eliminate facial hair. "Go out for another throw."

"No, I'm beat. The wind catches the frisbee and carries it away, either that or you can't manage a good throw. Besides, I don't want to miss the seiche wave."

"We won't, it's a perfect lake for it," said Red. "You should let me mod you." Red tossed the frisbee to the side where it scattered across the bare rock into a patch of grass fronds flapping in the wind. Red flopped onto the granite shelf causing pebbles to skitter over the edge of the cliff. The tip of his tail bobbed across the rock until it wrapped around a dried chunk of mud that the tail tossed at Sweeney.

"Will you cut it out, my answer isn't going to change." Sweeney dusted off his shoulder.

"I can always hope." Of course, if Sweeney didn't decide soon, Red wouldn't have time to fit him into the schedule. Red breathed in a deep breath to savor the grassy loam notes on the wind. Everyone wanted his mods these days, Red shuddered at the thought of his backlog. The shudder morphed into an electrical twitch. "The quake comes."

Sweeney leaned forward. "There should be four nodes around the standing waves."

"I know," said Red. "I trust your calculations."

The ground rolled beneath Sweeney and Red oscillating the surface of San Andreas Lake like a giant trampoline with the center third of the lake dropping by a half dozen feet and the edges sloshing against the shore.

"I'm right," said Sweeney.

Red groaned as his temples contracted with pain and he felt a flame race across his fur. "I think --"

The ground shook, bouncing Sweeney into the air, he landed and slipped off the edge of the rock screaming as he fell down the cliff. Sweeney hit a rock, ricocheted off a tree, and ripped a tear in his cheek. Red leaped off of the cliff headfirst. He grabbed a tree trunk with a padded hand. His tail lashed against a rock ledge. He bounded in chase, dropping below Sweeney. He stopped, dirt spraying his face and sticking in his fur. His right hand gripped the granite shelf. Sweeney hit him full in the chest, and Red wrapped his left arm around his friend. Controlling his descent with his right arm, legs, and tail, he slipped down the cliff face.

Red stopped at the bottom, the seiche waves of the lake lapping on the rocks. "You okay?"

"Yeah," answered Sweeney. Dust rose from a crack in the Earth's surface. The crevice led deep into the earth. "Look at that, I wonder where it goes."

"Stop," yelled Red.


"Poisonous gas lies down there," said Red. "Can't you smell it?"

"I want to go down there," said Sweeney.

Red smiled. "How badly?"

"Look at it, it's like a cavern out of Jules Vern. Think about what we could find down there."

"That gas won't make us famous, unless..."

"Unless, what?" asked Sweeney.

"I could mod you to create a resistance to the gas."

Sweeney sighed. "Okay, you win." Sometimes curiosity turns you into a cat.

Monday, June 7, 2010


The third response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Nathaniel Lee's drabble, "The Day the Ground Swallowed Love" on his blog: Mirror Shards.

Beng frowned and shook his head to shred the cloud sticking to his bony horns into small wisps. "I don't know what the big Guy sees in this property, it's worthless. I don't understand why I let him talk me into making love weighty. Wait, wasn't this all your plan?"

Stringer itched his sunburned arms creating a cloud of flaked skin. "You must admit it was a great plan. People fell through floors, buildings collapsed, the taxmen floated away into the sky, and the mass hysteria it created encouraged people to commit evil. We will earn an above average return on this crop of souls."

Beng's gaze smoldered with the ashy white of coals in daylight. "A temporary blip. Nothing more. Look at us, we're isolated up here. I'm so weightless that I can't descend down to the firmament where I can corrupt souls into my power. I never knew that he never messed with their lives because he couldn't."

"Boss, I'm sure you'll find a way. You are more powerful, aren't you?" asked Stringer.

"Don't you start with me." Beng wrapped his tapering scaled tail around Stringer to lift him over the edge of the cloud where he stared at the ground below. "I'll drop you, you'll fall all the way down to my old home and you'll live in the brimstone this time."

Stringer cocked his head before answering. "I don't think anyone loves me enough for that to work," said Stringer. "You know, I've got a perfect idea."

"I don't want to hear about any of your ideas." Beng pointed his finger at Stringer's brow intending to erupt boils from his skin, but instead a half dozen lilies sprang from Stringer's ears.

Stringer laughed. "Stop that, it tickles." Stringer yanked the bouquet from his ear as a bee buzzed his forehead. He tossed the flowers over the edge of the cloud. "Are you going to become like Him?"

Beng's lip trembled and black smoke puffed from his eardrums. "No."

"You're familiar with steam technology?"

"Of course. Do you think my head has been under a hundred tons of rock all these years?"

Stringer pushed a lock of hair behind his ear. "Boss, that might not be the best metaphor."

Beng placed one of his fingers on Stringer's shoulder, the talons of the nail scratching through Stringer's shirt. "Don't correct me. You were telling me about your plan, it better be good."

"What if we made a steamship --"

"Those only run on the seas," said Beng.

"Yes, but if we outfitted it with a dozen demons who are so hated they would lift the craft off the ground and into the air, we could power the ship across the skies, to descend upon the mortals."

"And get them to sign their lives away." Beng's eyes glowed as his fingers twitched the long black enameled talons clicking a two-step.

"No." Stringer shook his head. "We'll create an airline, DemonAir, to allow people to travel from one place to another faster than the fastest locomotive. We'll entice them with travel, and then we'll strand them in airports, devise the worst service imaginable, strip search them at checkpoints, and take their water away. Their tempers will fry and they'll sign their souls to us."

Beng's glee faded from his face. "Why would they want to fly? That sounds awful."

"Hmmm... you have a point. Perhaps, we'll have to use the succubi the old-fashioned way."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Burning Dhaka

The second response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Deb Markanton's prompt posted on Flashy Fiction, "Figure It Out". Deb also has several partial series started on her blog. I'm hoping one of them gets their claws into her and we get a follow-up installment soon.

Zahir sat amidst the kayak pointing at the heavens stained black and impenetrable by the fire glowing behind them. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Liza followed her son's pointing finger to see a falling star streaking across the sky. White glowing light tinged with a crimson ichor as if the gods had rent the night sky to peer at them. Behind her, the square rigged sails of the Dhaka flared, the heat washing over her cheeks and soot-covered arms. "It's a falling star," said Liza.

"Mom, that's not what I asked. What's it mean?"

Liza swiped at a tear, salty like the sea while the wind blew bits of burning canvas. A glowing coal landed in Zahir's hair, and she leaned forward to pluck it out, tossing it in the sea to sizzle and die. Zahir's lips twitched as he caught her retreating hand and squeezed a soft connection between them. She saw adventure written in his eyes, the fire already a memory for him. "It means a new beginning," said Liza. "Here, help me paddle this kayak into the sea god's arms."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hades' Bean Counters

Mari recently awarded this blog the One Lovely Blog Award. In accepting the award, I'm supposed to thank Mari, and award it to 15 other blogs. However, since I enjoy responding to people's work, I'm challenging myself to find interesting work that triggers a response. When I eventually get to 15, I will accept the award.

The first response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Adam Keeper's Friday Flash, "Wealth, Luck, Love Guaranteed, no disappointments", that tells the tale of a sorcerer who builds his business on credit card sorcery.

Stringer's commute was hellish, but that was far better than living in hell. He picked the straw from Farmer John's wagon off his vest while hoping the mites he had seen hopping over Farmer John's plague-infected children hadn't found him. Stringer knew that Beng would smirk at Stringer's wrinkled clothes with wheat chaff embedded in the threads.

Stringer pushed a button on the side of Westminster Hall's wall. The seemingly solid support slid to the side exuding a scent of brimstone. Yes, the hellish commute was the proper trade-off. Behind the support, a three foot square pedestal levitated, black cracks showing at the edges. Entering the room, the door slid shut and the pedestal dropped to descend down thousands of feet past wailing voices, their high-pitched volume vibrating his skin. The air warmed with the smell of rotting fish and burnt sulfur, and it would take him hours before he acclimated to the smells. The platform stopped. Beng's baleful eyes glowed red beneath the Devil's black and red spiraled horns. Stringer sighed, Beng was in a bad mood, like usual.

"Sorry, I'm late," said Stringer whose grimace caused his neck to tremble as he cowered away from Beng. "I've got good news though, tempers flared after one of the wagons tipped, spilling chickens everywhere. You must have earned lots of points against --"

"Don't say his name," Beng's voice rumbled shaking the floor and his fetid breath stank worse than the brimstone in the air.

"Sorry," squeaked Stringer. "I... I... wasn't going to say his name. Your arch nemesis --"

"I should penalize you like one of the entry-level souls." Fires danced within Beng's eyes. "I'd enjoy hearing your screams as you dig a trench through scalding cooled lava with your fingertips scraped raw. I might get a better use out of you."

"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. Boss, I thought of a diabolical plot on my way to work today. At least listen to my idea, before you do anything drastic."

The cloven hoof came within inches of Stringer's foot as Beng strode around Stringer glaring at him. "This isn't going to be like your black plague plot. Exquisite suffering but they didn't live long enough to sign any pacts with me."

"Oh, no, no, no. This is much better," said Stringer.

Beng's tail lacerated Stringer's leg raising red welts. "Well, don't be coy."

"I'm sure you know about the wannabe sorcerer's," started Stringer. He looked into Beng's eyes and the fire leaped higher. He saw a vision of himself in the flames with an overlord whipping his bent back. "Yes, I know they're already under your thrall. But, there are so few of them."


"What if we eliminated the barrier to becoming a sorcerer." Stringer's eyes lit up and a lock of his hair curled into a point sticking up. "You get a mere handful of souls from the sorcerer trade these days, but if we get more people dabbling in sorcery we could corner the market on souls."

"How do we eliminate this barrier?" asked Beng.

"Credit cards."

Beng tapped a thick, curled nail on Stringer's chest. "A card won't get them to commit evil."

"Wait." Sweat beaded on the back of Stringer's hands. "The cards will provide them the sorceress power before they actually have it. It may not force them to create evil initially, but we can charge interest on the soul energy. Tease them into maxing out their souls and becoming ours. And there will be plenty of room for small print to confuse and toy with them."

"Interesting." Beng stretched out the syllables creating a whole sentence out of the single word. "I trust you'll start on that invention immediately."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Blind Spot

A response to the Berkeley Rep's "In the Wake", a play about love, hope, and blind spots.

We never know our blind spot until that doppelgänger hiding out of sight emerges to shatter our preconceived notions like a hole bashed through the windshield, glass diamonds flashing shafts of moonlight. Ned, one-time sophisticate, now hungry and unable to sleep, didn't believe in blind spots. He could smell her scent, a mixture of sweat, broken pine needles, and tilled volcanic loam, as she hiked down the Pacific Coast Trail. Squinting while he waited, sparkling reflections off the cold ocean pricked into him like nails scratching at his skin.

He called to her as she passed twenty feet away from his solitary stance. Ned thought she would go, but she paused with the wind wisping her dark curls before she approached. Her name was Ellen, and she liked to talk. Ned listened to her voice, questioning her in brief staccato bursts. He swallowed his hunger, barely hearing her words over the roar inside of him.

The sun dropped below the coastal clouds robbing the sky of its sunset hues. She didn't seem to notice. He traced his long fingernails along her outstretched arm, watching the sun-bleached hair's stand on edge and remembering the electrical tingle that had washed over him not so long ago. Her cherry mouth formed a moue as he pulled her after him into the pounding surf as he led her to the black rock cave. Sand covered the floor sucking at his bare feet.

The hunger took him, world appearing black and white in the dim late evening as he kissed her lips, his hands pulling at the soft T-shirt to expose the neck. A splash of drool sizzled when it hit his forearms. She struggled, her arms flailed lacking purchase as he brought his fangs down to her neck. He bit, the white blood streaming across the skin and staining the T-shirt. A frenzy. He couldn't get the blood out, it leaked past his lips and he couldn't find the suction to get more than a couple drops down that merely whetted his appetite. She struggled, her arms battering his back, a dull noise behind the thunder of his hunger.

He loosened his hold, turning her to see if he needed a different angle. Her kick caught him on the knee. The light flashing like the sound of the surf. Raving hungry, he lost his grip on her, licking his fingers, drinking in the salty water, he turned snarling a deep growl echoing through the cave. The smell of her blood, raw sweet iron, turned his vision red. Blind, he stretched his sense of smell towards that solid essence of blood. Reaching towards it, catching his hand on a sharp rock. He fell, crawling out of the cave as the surf washed over him and the rip current pulled him out to see. He tumbled underwater as he was rammed against a jutting rock. The breath punched out of him. Struggling against the waves, he swam back to shore. Remnants of her scent triggered hunger that forced his stomach to quake as he let himself fall to the shore.

He crawled into the shade of the cypress. Nothing but the smell of sand and grass on the wind. No more hikers until tomorrow. Ned waited blindsided by his feeding virginity.