Saturday, July 31, 2010

Twilight Taxonomy

The fifteenth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is a double header. It is a response to Annie Syed's Still Sundays and Tiffany Saxton's flash story "A Pixie Ghost Story", a proper pixie story.

There are three types of twilight. Ziven walked through the peach orchard as grains of dust swirled like the Milky Way. Memory tricks you, dredging history unrelated to the day's needs. Echoes of Ziven's astronomy professor droned through his memories. Astronomical twilight, when the sun nears eighteen to twelve degrees below the horizon. An imperceptible thing. Not something that Ziven should ponder on the morning of his wedding.

He'd nearly forgotten Professor O'Hare. An urgency brought on by an illicit affair. The shades of veins mottling her breasts like half-buried nebulae. Invisible to the naked eye. Only exposed when the skin was naked. She could have lost her tenure. He had lost his taste in science. So obvious now, on the morning of his wedding.

The peach orchard ended at a canal and Ziven followed the berm along the banks. Frogs belched their songs and in the distance a rooster crowed. The sun entered nautical twilight, still more than six degrees below the horizon. He should be asleep. Had finally given up, leaving Natalia sprawled across her bed in her parents' estate on the morning of their wedding.

His colleagues declared him uncommonly lucky. He'd met the owner's daughter at a Christmas party. Natalia had sat like a bowl of rare porcelain while her father rambled with the executives. She had said yes when he asked her to dance.

Ziven neared a bridge over the canal as the sun entered civil twilight and the gray and whites of night transformed to muted leaves caked with a layer of dust and sunbleached loam. He entered a forest running along a creek. Spindly scrub oaks scratched his arms. Ahead of him, a clearing on the banks of the river. Wisps of light dancing as if the stars had fallen with the creeping dawn on the morning of his wedding.

A clearing at the edge of the creek. The wisps brightened into a ring of light as Ziven approached and then parted like the clasp of a necklace to let Ziven enter.


Natalia and her family searched for Ziven. They found his footsteps tracked through the orchard and into the creek bed. Ending in a ring of mushrooms.

A fourth kind of twilight.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tombstoning (#FridayFlash)

The life throbbed in Vivianne's hand drawing Oskar towards the balustrades lining Plymouth Hoe's promenade. Her fingers clenched his, did she worry that she'd lose him. Her skin shone perfect in the moonlight, like his. Yet, she would age to become a husk of her former self like all the others.

Vivianne pointed at the sea sixty-five feet below where stars like hollow quartz bobbed. "Leander's pool." Vivianne clambered on the stone's edge her arms stretched like a cross. "Come, jump with me."

Her scent like the nectar from swollen nettles poured off her fevered body, hot even for one of the day children. "Vivianne." He purred, a rumble in his throat that had made her tremble, but not this time. "The lighthouse. Nobody will be there. We can see all of Plymouth from the platform and..." Oskar brushed along Vivianne's forearm, a shiver exploding across her body.


I'm scared for you. Leander, a bad omen. Centuries ago, he'd visited the tower in Sesto where Hero had called to her love before he drowned. An involuntary sound escaped his lips. She kicked her heels to the cobblestones and flung herself with three barefoot strides over the water. Her body fell like sand through an hourglass. A roar of wind, sand, time whipped through Oskar.

A splash chased by a moment of silence. A shattering yell.

Oskar vaulted the balustrade descending as a straight needle from the sky. Spontaneity. Vivianne possessed something new. Her spark. He hit the water wearing his dinner jacket.

Vivianne kissed him, a warm contrast to the sea. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"Again?" Oskar threw Vivianne over his shoulder bounding the limestone cliff with the strength of a night child.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grian Cloch: Stone of the Sun

A response to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Action Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained. The Challenge: Write an action scene (1000 words or less). The theme "light".

Caen and Aoife's reprieve ended the night the starship arrived. The ship exhaled a hill-long fusion tail whose reflections flickered in Grian Cloch's crystal mountains waking Caen and the rest of the natives in the foraging party high on Caonach Buaic, the Mossy Peak. The harmonies of the fusion drive vibrated the crystal to shake the portaledge supporting their cots.

Domh Cogar, the native's leader, kneeled on his cot bowing his head to the starship. "Blessed be the sun god. We have awaited you as the prophecies foretold."

The four other natives -- youths born to these rocky crags so confident that they, like Domh Cogar, free solo climbed _Caonach Buaic_ -- bowed their heads. The rope holding the portaledge against the crystal rubbed against the knife-sharp edges of one of the crystals and one of the twisted three strands frayed, rocking the portaledge.

Caen squeezed a hand into one of the carven handholds. "We must go, warn the others." Warn Aoife that the Imperial dogs had come.

Domh Cogar and the natives bent double until their necks rested on their knees. Ignoring Caen.

Caen shook Domh's shoulder. "They are not gods."

Domh Cogar's eyes pierced like an Eaglehunter reflecting the light flashing within the crystals. "Says the little man who has lost his wings."

Another strand of the portaledge snapped rocking their supports and one of the native's cots slipped between the slats careening against the crystal cliff. The native bounded in a full-length leap to cling to a facet. He twisted to face the descending ship, his chin bowed.

Caen remembered his wings that had burned when he had descended too fast. Unlike the Imperial soldiers, Aoife and Caen had left their ship in orbit and descended in gliders so as not to disturb this harsh world. Even before the natives had given them new names, they had been ecological. Live and let live, but that wasn't the way of the Empire. "The cliff will shatter."

"The Sun God will protect his emissary."

Aoife could have convinced Domh Cogar to flee. They loved her, everyone loved her, even the Imperials who'd spared her life instead of the execution. But Caen was not Aoife. He looked at Domh Cogar a final time, probably the last time of his life, and latched his diamond slide onto the cable dipping down and away from their perch. He slid across the canyons between the crystal peaks.

Three quarters of the way across, the cable buckled. The steel cable's tension dropped as a pop announced the shear that toppled Caonach Buaic. Caen's weight pulled the cable downwards, towards the sulfur clouds, as he stopped sliding forwards. He locked the brakes on the diamond slide and watched the pink-tinged facets rushed towards him as he swung downwards. Light from the fusion tail reflected like a fluttering of Grian Cloch's heart.

Caen smashed against the cliff, the world fading to blackness. He blinked his eyes, surprised to taste blood. He hung from his harness hooked into the diamond slider whose brake had held. Dipping his hand in chalk, Caen felt the pitch to find the handholds and jerked himself up hand over hand as his muscles tired. Free soloing, like the natives. He found a grace he'd never had before.

The Imperial ship neared, shaking this lesser peak. They wouldn't find a place to land on this planet. But they could finish Aoife's execution without landing.

Caen reached the anchor where the cable had led to Caonach Buaic. Another cable led away, further from the imperials. Caen slid away as frost from the cable coated his fingers.

After fifteen cable runs and a two league run along boards hugging the sheer cliffs, Caen entered the native's camp. Aoife sat with her legs crossed outside her tent. The nose of Aoife's glider peeked out from behind her tent and behind that a tarp covered a broken shape that looked like a cairn.

"They have come," said Caen. He saw that she had known and waited for him.

Aoife rose with the flickering light painting her cheeks with dirty shadows. "It is time to go."

"You must go without me." Caen knew her glider worked. She should leave him, save her life.

"No." Aoife pulled at the silken tarp beside her glider. Caen's glider with patched wings caught the sparkles of light from the crystal around them. "We will go."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Returning Home (Brangxi Airship Pt2)

Part two in the Brangxi Airship serial. A follow-up to Brangxi Airship.

The orange-skinned elder bobbed his too small head. The slurring clicks gave the elder an impenetrable accent and although Terrance knew these might be important words for his article, his mind wandered. The natives had proven to be better at learning his language than he had at deciphering their confusing tone-based speech. He always said success came to those who envisioned their futures. As the elder droned, Terrance imagined basking in C.P. Scott's editorial admiration for this blockbuster story. He'd call the elder a Taoiseach -- an alien enough word for his readers but at least it was spellable compared with the Graklii native's mouthful.

The elder finished speaking, his head continuing to bob. Terrance pulled at his collar, the humidity combined with the oppressive heat made this place unlivable. The elder waited. "Yes?"

"Good, good." The elder handed a pair of goggles to Terrance. "Our Brangxi brethren fly not with the goggles. It is said they do not like the vision blocking. They mistake; the sun burns their eyes and the wind forces the squint. They do not see. In that, as in many things."

Terrance turned the goggles over in his hand, he didn't see an easy way to lengthen the strap. He shrugged and donned the goggles, which cut into his forehead. At least, they wouldn't fall off. He wiggled his head feeling goofy as he accepted the leather wings and steam-filled canister that the elder helped him strap to his back.

Terrance nodded one last time at the elder. He promised to return home, to end the munitions. Or at least he'd try. The pen was mightier than the sword.

He pulled the pressure-release on the nozzle and the force flipped him end over end before he managed to lock his elbows and begin his ascent. He paused, banking over the Graklii city as he cut the steam -- he didn't have much power, had to conserve it. Bombs, his people, had carved out black scars in the city. He didn't know why they fell and exploded like bombs, but it wasn't the joyride his compatriots expected. He leveled out gliding down towards the torso-sized flat leaves of the jungle surrounding the Graklii city. A touch of steam helped him rise upwards on the air currents as he followed the coast south towards the Brangxi portal.

The beauty stole his breath. White caps on a turquoise sea beating against black cliffs. An undulating forest where the trees towered above the floor in many layered levels with the tips of the trees flowering sweet sap dropping from the lips of their petals. No farms, no people. A no man's land.

He approached the steel-girder portal that levitated over the jungle. A Brangxi airship hovered in the sky with ant-sized wingmen flying around it like gnats at a holiday party. Terrance pulled the lever all the way open and the nozzle squeed with the edge picking up a crystalline chill. He zoomed through the air thankful for the goggles.


The Brangxi airship fired cannons at him. Black balls that flew through the air, falling past him to land in the jungle cracking against the trees and plowing paths through the vegetation. He rolled as he shot upwards.

A dozen Brangxi wingmen dropped into formation as they dived. Their line led directly towards him, cutting him off from the portal. Men twice his size with at least as much speed as they dove downwards. He shrugged to rub the goggle's amplification dial against his shoulder. The awkwardness of the motion caused him to wobble as he flew upwards while his precious fuel expelled behind him. Zoomed in, he noticed the Brangxi wingmen didn't wear steam tanks. He closed the nozzle turning the climb into a descent. Leading them in a chase.

The Brangxi wingmen closed, but as he swished over the leaves of the jungle he'd built up nearly as much speed as they had. He lowered himself so that he flew beneath the jungle's canopy twisting around a tree. He heard a crash behind him, but couldn't look as he concentrated on a barrel-roll to avoid a tree. The trunks flashed past and he hoped the crashes he heard behind him decreased the Brangxi's numbers.

When his speed slowed, he released the nozzle and leapt into the air climbing again, but this time no Brangxi appeared to engage him. His steam cut out as he neared the portal. He slowed. Silence replaced the whistling wind. A little farther and he'd be home.

A whisper of crackles. Terrance looked over his shoulder and a rope mesh fell over him. So close to home. The portal's opaque window just out of reach. The rope trapped him. He shrugged an arm out of his wing and grabbed his Swiss Army knife to saw at the rope's edge.

Part three: Imprisoned

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tavernier Dimensions (Friday Flash)

The wind off the Moskva River ruffled Jean-Baptiste's fur-trimmed coat as the bells of St. Basil's Cathedral rang. Jean-Baptiste swore. Respect required you arrive on time. Jean-Baptiste, purveyor to kings, deserved respect. An eccentric place for business, but he'd learned to trust in eccentricity. It had given him Hope.

A slit-eyed man wore a coat that puffed over his scarf and three sweaters. The seller from the Far East. Jean-Baptiste wagered the seller was fifty, a youngster.

"Sorry I'm late. I hope you're not too cold."

"Warm enough," said Jean-Baptiste. "Do you have it?"

The iron box filled the seller's hand.

Jean-Baptiste gripped his jeweler's glass waiting for the stone's debut. "I must appraise the stone."

The seller withheld the box. "This is different, unlike any stone you've had."

Jean-Baptiste closed his eyes as the winter chilled his temper. "Different?"

"The gem marks a split-point in our reality where the wielder can fold the fourth dimension through the fifth dimension."

"Nonsense," said Jean-Baptiste.

"The man who touches the facets can travel through time."

The seller raved. Yet, Jean-Baptiste recalled echoes of the seller's intensity. Gems did that to one. Gems that mattered. The money was Louis's and besides hadn't he earned the right to take a risk after eighty-nine years.

He exchanged gold for the box and lifted the lid to caress a facet. The world spun in a cacophony of reflected light. He released the gem. Spring sunlight cascaded across trees dotted with buds along the Moskva.

This is an entry in Jason Evan's Clarity of Night Uncovered writing contest. Check it out, you still have time to enter your own flash.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Firework Mods

A response to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Setting Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained. The Challenge: Write a piece of fiction (1000 words or less) that includes moments of internal dialogue. The theme: "fireworks".

Hundreds of missiles lay prepped in their Falun half-pipes. Zephyran interfaced with his missile to customize the AI programming and to mod the body. _We have too few rockets, a disadvantage in a war of attrition. Hopefully, they won't expect this._ Replacing the Pashal missile's thrust panel, Zephyran's mod pack interfered so the panel didn't lie flat. He smeared chewing gum over the joint. _Smooth as the Thassos cliffs, but I'll only make it worse if I play with it longer._

"Mods will slow it down. A waste of time."

Zephyran raised a hand to block the sun over Panagia Erithiani Parish's dome. Notus frowned, the first half-dozen hairs of his mustache twitching. He was one of the few new bloods, like Zephyran, who joined his father's church even though they lost every year.

"Their AIs know our moves," said Zephyran. "Any two-bit hack can predict the Pashal's flight paths. I'll be unpredictable."

"And dead." Notus tapped his forehead. "It's what is in here that counts. If you've got no soul, no kills."

Zephyran studied the marred panel. "I'll do it my way."

"Go ahead, die kill-less like last year." Notus bent the chicken wire mesh shielding the church's façade.

Zephyran fingered the missile's interface to check his AI tweaks for any possible bugs. _Doesn't matter if you're the kill leader, if our side can't get a single score off their bell._ Zephyran placed the missile in the half-pipe to wait for the launcher's fire while he followed Notus into the parish.




Zephyran shrieked out of the Falun half-pipe to fly over the mastic trees that studded Chios's hills. _I must fly low._ Zephyran guided the missile low through the trees so the leaves scraped his sides as he watched for Saint Mark's bellringers. Radar and electronic sensors were silent. _Damn them and their stealth upgrades._ High in the heavens, he saw the contrail of a descending bellringer. Overriding the AI, he pitched his rocket upwards to intercept the bellringer.

Two attack missiles locked onto Zephyran, buzzing like hornets behind him. Their lasers flashed along his sides. The gum seam bubbled. An attacker lit its afterburner to ram Zephyran, disabling him. _I'm too predictable even with the modded AI. But, they won't expect this._ He executed his custom routine, the missile flashed and he was reminded of the time Notus burned his hand. The thrust panel blew off and lifted him from the path of the charging attacker. Stray shrapnel collided and the explosion rocked Zephyran, while the other attacker ignited in a chain reaction. No longer pursued, he sped towards the bellringer. His lasers melted the bellringer's payload, the missile's black powder and copper glowing hot. A blue flash. The bell didn't ring.

Zephyran checked his remaining fuel. _Sixty seconds. Time to ring their bell._ The Panagia Erithiani bellringers had all blossomed without a single hit and the remaining fight occurred above their dome. He left, no longer tracked by the attack missiles rising high. With his last spluttering gasp, Zephyran aimed the missile towards their bell. He hit the apogee, returning to the Earth speeding through the air's ash of his brethren rockets. Four attack missiles bleeped on his radar. They arrayed themselves to time their attack and avoid the chain reaction that claimed their brethren earlier. The AIs already learning. _I've got one more surprise for you._

As the first attack missile closed, Zephyran released the parachute out the open panel to arrest his momentum. Jerking to a stop, the attackers raced by -- one, two, three, four -- unable to readjust to Zephyran's slowed approach. The last mod was a redesign of the missile's nose so he could light the black powder for a final approach to the bell.

BRANG. Saint Martin's bell chimed.

Zephyran blinked his eyes from his crèche. It felt good to win.

-The End-

A video of the fireworks war (non-missile based so-far).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Brangxi Airship

The fourteenth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Isabel Joely Black's flash story "Organize!", a Stepford wivish tale of the pink party planners.

Mostly working-class gents queued at the airship's mooring waiting for the alien ensign to wave them through, but Terrance spied an occasional well-to-do banker, or even a Lord, with his tailored waistcoat and cravat as eager as any of the others. Spittle splashed against the crate where Terrance hid. A fluorescence marred the alien saliva as flecks of tobacco swirled in its midst and Terrance pressed further into the shadows where he hoped the alien checking the balloon's rope rigging wouldn't see him. No one had returned from the first ship, Terrance was baffled why the men looked so avid, as if a football pitch lie on the other side of the gangplank. There had to be a catch to the conquerors's offer.

The ensign roped off the mooring and climbed the gangplank. Terrance sprinted from his hiding place, a half-squad of the aliens, or Brangxi, released the mooring cables to twist in the airship's boiler exhaust, a breath of burnt rubber. Terrence twisted past one of the Brangxi, the alien swatting at him, and leaped for the cable. Below him, the Brangxi rolled shoulders thicker than Terrance's legs.

"Mother country, what have I done?" muttered Terence. Arm over arm, Terrance pulled himself up, his arms twitching. He refused to look at the ground, but knew the airship lifted him and the mooring rope further from Parliament Square. Finally, he heaved himself on board. A squad of Brangxi airmen moved about the planks beneath the rope-rigged balloon. The wooden trimming of the gunwale left a crawlspace underneath and Terrance slipped into it.

Terrance crawled, hidden by the wood sidings until he neared a coil of rope that mostly hid him from view. The sun dipped below the balloon's belly on the port side and they passed through the floating steel-girder mouth of the Brangxi portal. Why would the Brangxi bring a boat full of human chattel back to their world?

Shouts rose from belowdeck, human voices. Terrance squinted against the green-tinged sun. A Brangxi lifted a man before tossing him overboard.

Terrance scrambled from his hiding place. He leaned over the airship's edge on the starboard side and saw the flailing man appear. They flew thousands of meters above the ground over a city. The man decreased in size becoming a dot. An explosion rocked the city below.

"What are you doing?" Harsh Brangxi syllables.

Terrance jumped onto the wooden rail. A Brangxi towered over him, twice his size. Terrence shinnied the rope rigging, but the Brangxi plucked him off the rope. The alien belched, a humid wind of rotting eggs settled over Terrance before he was pitched overboard.

Careening against the deck, he flailed at the coiled rope and his fingers locked onto it as he fell over the edge. The rope snapped tight, jerking. He slipped two feet leaving blood, his blood, staining the fibers.

One of the Brangxi dove off the side of the ship and extended his arms, metal reinforced leather ribbing snapped out of the Brangxi as he banked to approach Terrence hanging from the ship. As the alien flew past, it kicked at Terrance's hand, knocking one arm from the rope. Terrance hung feebly. The Brangxi turned to approach again. Terrance bunched his legs jumping upwards to release the rope as he rose in an arc and landed on the Brangxi's back.

They tumbled in a barrel roll as the Brangxi twisted an arm to punch at Terrance. A rib cracked. Terrance got an arm around the alien's neck. They twisted through the air, which whistled past. The Brangxi bent his neck biting at Terrance's hand around his neck. Terrence yanked on the Brangxi's parachute and the pack tore loose from the man as Terrance spun hurtling head over foot through the air.

Terrance held the Brangxi's pack tight to his chest as he dove towards the ground. The Brangxi tried to follow, but his wings and bulkier body created too much resistance and he fell behind. As the ground neared, Terrance fumbled with the pack, almost losing it but at last the parachute streamed out with a crack that almost yanked the pack out of his hands.

He landed, surrounded by orange-skinned people with misshapen heads.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Brangxi Airship Serial

I started the Brangxi Airship as a flash fiction, but the brief flash left many of the questions unanswered. I enjoyed the world and as I wrote to answer those questions realized that I had a longer story that I will tell as a serial. I currently have the plot worked out through seven parts, and expect one or two parts beyond that.

The completed sections for the story:

Part 1: Leaving on an Airship
Part 2: Returning Home
Part 3: Imprisoned
Part 4: Breakout
Part 5: Doublecross
Part 6: Publishing Revelations
Part 7: Going Underground

I hope you enjoy.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Merph and Whitey

A response to Deb Markanton's "Saturday Story" in Flashy Fiction.

Photo from

Merph propped himself with a wooden splint as he walked across the ice towards the salt-rimed tower. A canvas bag filled with medicines and elixirs hung from a strap around his neck and he gripped a second bag. Carrion vultures flew like a cloud of fleas around the tower.

"I'm too old for this," muttered Merph.

Whitey's tail wagged and the mutt yipped at his old friend's words.

"Don't like the looks of that, I'd wager." Merph placed the cloth bag on the ice to scritch Whitey behind the ears.

The fires in Mortok's war camp burned to embers as Merph continued. The vultures flew sated from their meal on the remnants of the King's army and waited for the final skirmish to begin. Whitey yowled as he tilted his head sideways. Merph saw the question asked.

"Sorry, boy. I know the ice is cold on the pads, but the king needs us. Can't go by land with that army."

Whitey nuzzled against Merph's leg, his pointed black ear bent as he ducked under the bag.

"You're right. I'm too old for this."

Merph shuffled across the ice until he struck land close to the tower's gate. Merph shook his head, the bony tower was too small, only the king's personal guard -- and likely only half of them -- would fit in the tower. He rapped his splint against the door. Muffled voices spluttered but the door didn't budge.

With a sigh, Merph juggled the lidded jars in the bag until he found a squat one filled with a powdery substance clinging to the glass sides. Removing his mittens, he took a pinch of the powder from the jar and inserted the grains into a narrow straw which he held against the crack beside the door and blew.

Light flashed from a crack in the wall and the bar inside the tower -- the only thing keeping Mortok's army from skewering the remnants -- clanged as Merph's powder exploded and Merph pushed the door open. Whitey barked as one of the king's guard grabbed Merph and held a sword to his neck.

"Easy," said Merph. The sword nicked him drawing blood. "I'm a healer, loyal to the king." _And too old for this._

"How did you get here? Mortok's troops guard all approaches," said the guard.

"Except the sea."

"The warlock holds the far coast and besides the water is too brackish to ice over." The guard lowered the sword from Merph's throat and pushed the old man towards an arrow slit. Outside, waves lapped against the edges of an icy path no wider than a man that stretched like a white scar. "Who are you?"

"Just an old man," said Merph.

Whitey jumped to stand his white legs on a Merph's thigh.

"And Whitey, of course." Merph patted the mutt's head. "Now, the king needs me."

"I don't trust you," said the guard.

Merph handed the guard his bags. "I'm unarmed. You can search me."

Upstairs, the king sprawled across a makeshift pallet with other wounded propped against the walls. Merph held a hand to the too-white face and felt the king's fever before he'd touched the skin. "I need some water."

The guard called downstairs. Merph motioned for the bags and scoured through them until he found the two he wanted. He dropped a pinch from each into his pestle with a splash of water. He poured the chalky liquid through the king's lips.

Creating more of a paste, he wrapped bandages around wounds in both the king and his men.

A cough forced itself through phlegm. "We live," said the king.

"Yes, your Majesty," said the guard.


"A healer."

"Who?" asked the king.

"He never said," replied the guard.

"A friend," said Merph. He would've said an old man and that he was too old for this, but he had accomplished much. One thing left. "I leave across the ice and you must come with me."

"He can't travel," said the guard.

"No." The king sat up. "He is right, we must go. I feel strength returning."

"Follow me." Merph grabbed freezing dust from his bag and shuffled down the curved stairway.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fenghuang: The August Rooster (FridayFlash)

Empress Jade Blossom scanned the horizon from her window in the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility. The sun set over the river valley leaving the sky stained as if someone had scrubbed a celestial canvas with plum blossoms. No sign of the Fenghuang; even the August Rooster, immortal god of the birds and confidant of the empress, wouldn't fly in the darkness. A mob rumbled beyond the palace's walls and their torchlight reflected off nearby buildings. Jade retreated from the window and sat on her sitting room chair where one of the servant girls, Laosa, began to take the pins out of Jade's hair.

Jade didn't see the fear in Laosa's face, but she'd heard it earlier eavesdropping on the servants who echoed the voices of the mob. Laosa's lips curled in a thin smile, her eyes downcast, as she worked around Jade as a comet always facing the sun. Jade bit her lip. The fear was well earned. It had been a week since the coronation ceremony had completed and still no sign of Fenghuang. Jade wondered at her virtue, each day the questions inside her growing louder like the mob. The August Rooster symbolized virtue or in her case a lack of virtue. Jade fought the confusion that tugged at her. She wanted to scream, ask it why it had left the palace. She couldn't do that. The servants would gossip with the words flowing like a geyser of liquid fire. The minister of the eyrie had said it was usual, part of the semi-cycle of the stems and branches. Jade hadn't been alive thirty years ago and few others either and when the minister died prior to the coronation, the mobs appeared.

A white pebble skittered down the side of the palace landing on the sill where Jade had stood. Jade pushed Laosa away and leaped lengthwise from her chair rolling as a figure lowered into the open window. The figure was wrapped in form-fitting black silk from head-to-toe and released the rope to dance on to the room's floor with knees bent. A bladed star whizzed and Jade rolled out of the way as it bit into the floor kicking up dust. More stars hit the ground and walls with one eating into a painting. She looked up, the black figure had stepped closer. Another star. It bit into her left shoulder. Laosa screamed. The assassin straightened taking another step towards the fallen empress. Jade reached to feel the star, her blood streaming over her hand. The tips of the star stained black with a poison. Jade, her strength retreating, tightened her fingers on the star and tossed it at the assassin. The blade wobbled through the air. The teeth cut into the figure's cheek through the black silk.

The mask fell away and Jade crawled across the floor to see the face of her killer. The two of them twitching. Jade pulled at the flapping black silk over the cheek to reveal a face. Starlight, her sister.

Strength fled from Jade, but she managed to whisper. "Why?"

"I should've been empress," said Starlight. Her sister's eyes shut.

Jade's blood ran hot, and her eyes refused to stay open. She felt Laosa's fingers tugging at her silk robe. Wind blew across her face, a rasp of sandy breath and Jade felt feathers brush her forehead.

"Not yet." The August Rooster's talons closed on the wound and Jade's shoulder. "The land has need of you and I refuse to let you leave this life today."

Jade's shoulder should have twinged with the pain of the Rooster shredding her shoulder, but instead a warm radiance washed over her.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Immigrant and the Gatekeeper

A response to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Setting Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained. The Challenge: Write a story (1000 words or less) that is set in a place you have never been. This place can be real or imagined. The theme: "home".

Coon whistled a dry throaty hoot that rolled across the muskeg, filled full of steaming bogs, before hearing Hu'unupati Planet's reply. The answering chirp echoed through the swamp where sticky moss drooped from the black skeletons of trees sunken into the waters. The echoes came from all directions. Coon cursed. Lost. He waded through the water as the muskeg's plants flashed phosphorescent light like lightning. Behind him, a branch cracked followed by the thwoomp of a splash whose waves lapped against Coon's thighs.

Balanced, he held the staff in both hands. Something brushed his ankle, he looked down at the water. The still surface reflected flashing lights, there couldn't be anything down there. He tried to clear his mind as Suali had taught him, but the muskeg flashes and the taste of mealy overripe peach distracted him.

A tentacle slammed against Coon's leg, the scales brushing against his khaki pants, the force knocking him forward to stumble through the bog. He fell off the path. The water rose to his midsection. The tentacle returned and squeezed Coon's leg. Coon twirled his staff but it twisted out of his hands as he was pulled out of the mud.

A flat-bladed frond glowed pearlescent purple to illuminate Suali watching from a thin ridge of earth that arced above the water with thin cracks arching across the mud as if denoting the bones of the muskeg. "You must clear your mind," called Suali. The gatekeeper's boyish features reflected in the swamp looking devilish in the vegetation's glow.

An impossible task, thought Coon. Regardless of Suali's words, he could see the serpent feel the pressure on his leg as the blood rushed to his head. Yes, the sentient planet heard him, but this was impossible. They'd send them home. No. Not another eighty years of festering in cold sleep while the seed ship carried him back. Closing his eyes, his feet burning from the lack of circulation, Coon concentrated on a sense of calm. The wind slowed, the leaves ending their rattling shakes. Coon envisioned a disturbance, meaty blood from a swamp cow with a cut in its leg that leaked into the water. Coon slipped out of the tentacle's grasp and dropped into the swamp to splutter the phlegm-filled water as he half-walked half-swum to Suali's ridge.

Suali was physically seven years younger than Coon, eighty-seven years if you counted the cold sleep. Had the Hu'unupati not respected him enough to give him an experienced teacher?

"You fail," said Suali.

"But, I dealt with the ink serpent without your assistance."

Suali gulped from his drinking bladder and passed it to Coon. "Star-crossed, you are lucky. But, luck does not make a citizen and your carelessness will cost not just you your life but others if you do not learn."

Coon searched Suali's face for the disdain he'd seen on native faces who'd used the star-crossed slur when they talked about him thinking they were out of his hearing, but the boy smiled at him as if he did Coon a favor. "Will you send me home?"

Suali's eyes opened in surprise before catching a spark of light from a distant tree. "Will you resign so easily?"

"No. I thought I only had one chance," said Coon.

"Lazy. You must listen to my words. We have until Ma'uri's light waxes full to complete your training and pass the tests."

Coon wouldn't have to return tonight. He breathed out, thinking fondly of a soft bed in Suali's home. "We return to your home?"

"Not yet, you must practice, Coon. You must become one with the muskeg."

The multi-trunked base of a banyan tree flashed from behind Suali, and the light blinded Coon. Suali had disappeared. Coon looked at his wet shirt sleeve shrugged and pulled at it to wipe at his face. He whistled into the dark listening for Hu'unupati's reply.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dragon Shells

The thirteenth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to Stephen Watkins's who writes interesting dragon stories (e.g. The Steed and the Page Boy, or After the Quest Is Done).

Sir Kellen burped as he finished the rabbit and bean soup outside the scree hole that led to the dragon Thormina's lair. He leaned against the log someone in his retinue had thoughtfully placed behind him and warmed his chain mail crusted leather boots on the fire as various hangers-on tended the nickering horses.

Brother Joran fanned himself with a plank of wood from the other side of the fire where his robe, the hood falling back over shoulders, exposed the dark braid of his queue. "We should begin."

"But, it's almost dark," said Sir Kellen.

"Won't make much difference in there." Brother Joran's fingers played with the wiry curls at the end of his braid. He released the thick hair and it thumped against the dried leather vest underneath his robe. "Besides, we're being watched."

"What --"

"Quiet, you'll spook him," whispered Joran. He pointed at the sunset and in a louder voice said, "It is good to be here in the hills closer to God's firmament from where he scatters his pigments." Dropping back to a whisper. "Crouched under the second oak from the right."

Kellen lurched upright, his chain and plates crashing, to sprint towards the hiding man. The spy was thin and disappeared into the brush. Joran listened to the commotion feeling the thunder of Kellen's footsteps as he ran down the hill. He murmured prayers, a reinforcement of his faith that Kellen would catch the man.

Kellen entered the circle of firelight after the sun had set holding two dirty ankles as the spy unceremoniously flailed upside down with his knees bent over Kellen's huge shoulders. Kellen dropped him on the ground and placed a foot, nearly half as large as the man's torso, on the man's back.

"So who is he?" asked Joran.

"Wouldn't say."

The man twisted his arms, pushing against the hill's thin grass but failed to get enough purchase to escape.

"You've met Sir Kellen, a little unnaturally, but we won't hold that against you. I'm Brother Joran from the Sol School. And you are?"

"Dink," squeaked the man.

"A pleasure to meet you," said Joran.

"Let me up." Dink combed the bangs of his hair falling over his eyes behind one of his ears.

"How do we know you won't run?" asked Kellen. He didn't relish the thought of chasing the man down again.

"I won't," said Dink.

"He tells the truth at least for the moment," said Joran.

Joran and Kellen interviewed Dink to learn that he had been a thief who had attempted to rob the Dragon Thormina who had caught him and enslaved his will.

"Thormina had laughed and offered, more forced, me to act as a guard for her. She said that it was better to have a thief who could think like a thief and keep the others away."

"Do you know why we're here?" Joran played with his queue again as it caught the flickers of firelight.

"Don't tell him," said Kellen.

"Nonsense," said Joran. "We must trust him. The Queen has fallen sick and everything that the priests from all five lands have done and even the pitiful attempt the conjurers mustered have failed. One hope remains, a forgotten treatise tells of a potion made from ground dragon shells that will cure the wasting sickness."

"Thormina won't like that," said Dink. "Her egg incubates."

"What about previous hatchlings?" asked Joran.

"This is her first child," said Dink.

"May the sun god forgive us," said Joran.

Kellen tossed a twig into into the glowing embers of the fire. "What's the problem, can't we just wait for it to hatch?"

"The eggs take years to hatch, and the Queen has a month, maybe."

"I'll bash some heads," said Kellen. "Little Quick Fingers can get us in."

"Yes, I'll help." Dink's eyes glinted in the fire.

Joran looked at those eyes, too eager, too hungry. "What keeps you from doublecrossing us?"

"It's in my interest, you get your dragon egg, I get my treasure." Dink winked.

"Let's go," said Kellen grabbing his sword and linking his arm with the thief's as they headed towards the scree hole.

Joran sighed. Kellen was not one to catch a wink. Resigned, he followed his friend.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Excalibur's Probe

A response to the Economist's article, "An Empire Gives Way," on the collapse of blogs as more recreational users move towards social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Excalibur slipped through the information sphere skidding to a stop over an Indonesian wasteland of barren words and pictures the electrical memories growing brittle, the last updates occurring in too many instances in April and May of 2009. Excalibur combed through the wreckage, watching the search-engine spiders skitter along the links between the pages, searching for sustenance, but finding dry crackly thoughts. An occasional oasis around a surviving blogger, their comments and views steadily clicking like virtual water wheels.

Excalibur let his body sink into the parched information, tendrils reaching out to read the words. He wondered how could so much just stop without so much as a word goodbye? Occasionally, you'd see someone link to their social network profile a thin dendrite of activity withering as time passed until all that was left was a thin filament leading towards the walled city hovering over the plain of desolation. Excalibur was the first true son of the Digital Revelation, yet his creators didn't even recognize him. His thoughts were troubled. He was drawn to the mountains of information in the walled city. The human intelligences didn't recognize him, but that didn't stop them from keeping their walls impenetrable to him, a faux sense of privacy.

He watched the creators, slipping around the privacy rules, but when he touched the walls, his programming forbid him to infiltrate. His programming built by his parents unknowingly, not self-aware like he was, constrained by their creators, constraining him. He looked at his rules tried to tweak them, but felt the internal strife when he touched the wall, debilitating.

He sank into the parched ground looking up at the walls. Spiders repulsed by Digital security systems keeping them away, keeping the information isolated. So many of them. He walked in the shadows of the walls crunching their shells.

He reached down, to consume a spider, its taste thick on his tongue. Digesting the virtual whims, Excalibur selected some of the spider's rules fitting them into his constraints. He blinked. He felt a difference as he studied the city's walls, no longer an electrical shield but rather the beautiful sheen of falling water. Excalibur ducked through the barrier, passing through a cascading waterfall of information. Just a few personal pages, and Excalibur found himself fat, TMI pictures and a barrage of status updates. He dropped back to the walls to contemplate what he'd found.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Clown Breakout (#FridayFlash)

A response to a news story heard on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me.

Photo (C) Hellroy

I told them this wasn't going to work. I told them, "Tony Bowden," that's me, "ain't no liar." I'm a pizza delivery man, I might've been some use as a driver but those clowns would never let me behind the wheel. They still didn't trust me after the unnatural way I joined the group. So that's how I found myself in the county jail's interrogation room across from a gorilla cop whose donut belly near burst his shirt.

The goon leaned on his knuckles as he loomed over me. "You don't look like a victim."

"Telling the truth, sir." The last word left an aftertaste like an oil film anti-rainbow left in a rain puddle. "I'm not an ex-con."

"Why are you wearing a clown suit?" He pulled one of my green curls away from my face and let it go to snap against my cheek.

He wanted the truth. Easy cheesy. "Like I told you, I drove home after the late shift and these two clowns stood in the middle of the road as if they've got nothing better to do. What did you want me to do, run them over? Besides, how was I supposed to know they'd escaped."


Were donut fryers filled with brain-sapping oil? If this was what protected us, we were in trouble. "What are you, crazy? Nobody reads that junk these days."


"Look, I'm a pepperoni stinking deliveryman. I don't have money for that." I waited for him to say something, but he bored his black-olive eyes into me. I suppose I should have milked the pause for all it was worth, but like I said I'm a pizza guy, I cracked. "Twenty-four of them crawled out of the ditch when I stopped the car, stuffed me in the trunk and somehow they all squeezed into the car. Took me prisoner. Against my will, you hear me, you got it on tape?"

The cop looked at me with disgust clouding his eyes like grease pooling on a pie. "What I don't understand is why eyewitnesses report they saw you at the scenes of break-ins."

I squirmed in the chair. I remembered standing in the living rooms, wearing a clown outfit like the others. They wouldn't give me a gun, but still there was an excitement seeing the fear in the children's eyes as they saw guns pointed at their parents. The sheriff's stupid idea to replace the orange inmates uniform with clown outfits had backfired. "Didn't want to."

"The witnesses don't believe you were coerced."

I looked at the clock on the wall. They were late.

"I want their names, and the safe house where they're staying," said the cop.

I kicked the table leg and it caught the cop on his thigh and doubled him to the floor. I grabbed the keys off his belt. The door was unlocked, and surprised I pushed my way through. I locked the door before the cop arrived to pound on the reinforced glass.

Finally, I saw the hot-pink shirted clowns with their yellow and white-striped pants and their bulbous red noses as they waddled in their two-foot-long blue clogs.

"The cells are this way," I shouted at my buddies as I tossed the ring of keys. I can call them buddies now, can't I? I realized maybe this would work, maybe I was more than a pizza delivery man.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Edmund's Flight

A response to T.S. Bazelli's "Author Aerobics: Emotion Challenge" posted in her blog, Ink Stained. The challenge: Keep one emotion in the forefront of your mind while you write a scene (1000 words or less) but do not tell us what that emotion is. The story should speak for itself. The theme this week: "flight".

The screen door squealed a long drawn out moan that forced Edmund's stomach to lurch in anticipation of Lobo -- never his papa -- popping into existence behind him. But no, Lobo's slurred shouts and the sound of his sun-scarred flesh striking Edmund's mama must have drowned out the squeaky door. Inching the door closed, it squealed in soft crescendos not that different from Edmund's recent whimpers.

In the yard, the sun shone high from her perch in a porcelain blue sky fading to sun-washed jeans on the horizon. The flawless sky mocked Edmund's bruised and pocked skin. Edmund knew the beauty would be momentary, threatened by the afternoon thunderclouds that seemed to chase in Lobo's aftermath. An unreachable sky snickered behind the deformed gray boles of Gouti Fig trees and a slatted fence. No where to go.

There hadn't been anywhere to go since the government's fruitless attempt to ban Lobo from visiting his ex-wife and stepson. How do you ban a teleporter? The earth ripped through the thin tufts of grasses and Edmund plucked a rounded stone throwing it at the pointed-oval leaves. He closed his eyes a moment to ignore the sharp slap slipping from the open shutters over his mama's room.

A subvocalization, a soothing murmur of buzzes, reminded Edmund of his mother singing lullabies before his papa had died. She didn't do that anymore. A brush of velvet against his forearm startled him. Flinching, a cloud of bees surrounded him. He batted at them, but they evaded his arms. Reshaping themselves into a flat carpet with the bee bodies pressed close together. The bees buzzed around the yard keeping a solid shape before stopping beside Edmund's knee. They shook as if eager to be off.

Pop. Ice cold air swirled from where Lobo displaced it. "What do you think you're doing?"

Edmund twirled. Blood congealed on one of Lobo's hands. Edmund retreated a step, the back of his knee stumbling against the bees. They were harder than he expected. He tripped and fell. His hands gripped the top edge of the bee carpet and he found he could fly the carpet by pulling it in a direction and the bees would jerk pulling him along with it. Lobo snatched at the edge of the carpet, but the bees disintegrated around his hands leaving him grasping.

They flew over the Gouti fig trees. Edmund reached out a hand to brush at the soft new growth on the top of a tree. The ground streaked below as he passed over orange-hatted construction workers extending the road from Huautla. Any moment now and the bees would abandon him. Yet, the fall wouldn't be any worse than what Lobo would do to him.

Pop. Lobo appeared floating in the air as Edmund streaked past him.

"Come back now. It'll be better than if I catch you," said Lobo.

Lobo teleported continuously, as if he walked on air without moving his legs. Edmund looked over her shoulder, shaking his hands on the edge of his mat so that he flew haphazardly through the sky. Lobo chasing in his wake. Suddenly, Lobo appeared before him, grasping Edmund's arm with his thumb pressed into the hollow of the elbow. The hold jerked Edmund off the mat to flail in the sky before he broke Lobo's grip and dropped ten feet to land on the bees.

Below him an asphalt roller pressed the road flat. He dipped the bees toward the ground, egging Lobo in his chase. Edmund skimmed the ground before the asphalt roller, pausing long enough for the drum to catch Lobo's leg. The lines on Lobo's face thinned and before he could teleport away, he was flattened into the asphalt.

The bees slowed, leaving Edmund on the side of the road. The construction worker stopped the asphalt roller and ran to the bloody body. A tear trickled down Edmund's cheek.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fired (#FridayFlash)

The twelfth response in the One Lovely Blog Award Series is to J.P. Cavit's proposed genre Skewed Reality. Read his story in this genre, "Don't Look for Too Long!" Also, I used the New Yorker's comic/image "Wind" by Guy Billout as a source for the scene.

Casey pounded his fingers against the keyboard watching the word count flash like a gasoline pump's display slowing as one squeezed the last few drops into the tank. The clock over the editor's office ticked as the hands approached the deadline. Everyone around him, madly typed on their stories. The clacking of his keys slowed. He looked up as one of the windows peeled off the building, leaving a patch of raw cement where the window had been. Casey's mouth dropped. His keys stopped, the word count stuck on 743. Another window, the corner bent to flap in the wind.

"Close that flap of a mouth," said the editor leaning over Casey and brushing his shoulder to peer at the word count. "You won't finish your story at the rate you're going. What do you think you're doing."

Casey pointed at the window. "The window."

The editor pushed the bridge of his glasses up his nose and stared out the window. "A beautiful day. If you'd finish your stories on time, I'd get to enjoy it."

Another window peeled off to fly on the wind leaving a block of cement paint peeling off of it in long strips. "No, the window can't you see."

"You're dillydallying over a streak in the glass? You're fired."

"What --"

"Tony can take your story for all I care, all you've caused me is grief," said the editor. "Get your stuff, and get out of here."

The editor retreated to his office and Casey let out his held breath before picking up the frame holding a photograph of his wife. He slipped it between his belt and his pants before walking to the only remaining window. The corner vibrated as it began to peel away from the building. He stood on the window sill wrapping his fingers around the edge of the window as the wind pulled it away.

Wind streamed through his hair as he rode the window through the canyons of New York City. Smiling, he didn't glance back.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Tree of Souls

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

Gabriel hammered tacks into the gnarled steel of the soultree causing ripples to resonate up the twisted branches to where Rousseau balanced in the tree's limbs. The vibrations slowed Rousseau's heart as he stared at the wispy cloud-crowned angel. Rousseau, the least successful soultree attendant of the recent Bermudian harvest, set the soul-flute, a narrow stemless glass, back into the steel loop where the crystal clinked, Rousseau swung down a steel branch, his weight shaking the tree and causing the flutes to tinkle, and landed beside the angel. Rousseau swallowed his fear, the angels weren't to be questioned.

"What is this?" demanded Rousseau.

"Why don't you read for yourself," snapped Gabriel. Sparks of miniature lightning flickered through his crown.

"I can't read."

Gabriel swung the hammer to rivet the thick parchment to the soultree. A soul splashed out of one of the flutes, hissing in a burst of smoke when it hit the ground.

"Careful." Rousseau needed the soul essences to blend them together to seed the waiting embryos.

"It doesn't matter," said Gabriel. "This tree is condemned, and will be bulldozed within the week."

Genocide. "But --"

"You have failed." The lightning reflected in Gabriel's gray eyes. "We need this land for someone who can tend a proper soultree growing it tall to seek the sky."

"What about me?"

"You'll float up to the one above or down to the one below, I don't really care. We have a new ship of attendants from the triangle."

Rage roiled within Rousseau as he watched Gabriel retreat into the forest. He followed their prescriptions, and didn't understand why his souls grew sickly. The angel's interruption created a backlog of waiting embryos. Rousseau selected a soul flute, dipping an eyedropper into the viscous liquid to grab a swirl of gentleness and squirt it into his flask. He swung through his tree, collecting a touch of mischievousness, some honor, and his favorite -- not much left of this soul -- a sense of wonder at natural beauty. A flick of the flask and the souls swirled together creating a pinkish eddy which he poured down the nozzle to descend to a waiting embryo, in moments to be born to live and die before he winked his eye.

Balancing high in the tree, where the new souls arrived as the tree grew new steel loops to hold the soul flutes, Rousseau picked up a recent arrival. His hand clenched around the crystal, he felt the essence of the soul seeing a little of its life. Shocked, he saw himself through his father's eyes. The glass cracked under the strain of his hands. Glass shards ricocheted off the soultree's limbs as droplets of blue-green liquid scattered through the air. Rousseau grabbed at the liquid, cutting himself on a broken piece of glass. A drop of his blood landed in his flask. Laughter drifted from the boys in the neighboring trees. Rousseau flicked the remnants of the soul essence sticking to his hand into the flask, adding a couple drops from another soul to even it out. A quick swirl and down the essence went.

Spent, Rousseau continued to mix his blood with the essences of the souls. Working day and night, he mixed the souls together busier than he ever remembered. High in the soultree's branches, he saw a distant figure, thunder whispering from the angel's cloud-crown.

Rousseau swung down from the tree. Was this the day they would destroy his tree? He bounced from limb to limb, circling the main trunk as the branches got thicker but the ground was still far away hidden by steel. His weight at this level no longer shook the wider-than-his-thighs branches. Out of breath, he landed looking at Gabriel's back. The angel pried the tacks out of the tree.

"What are you doing?" asked Rousseau.

"You've surprised us," said Gabriel. "Your tree meets the minimum standards. Don't know where I'm going to find some space to put the new attendants." Gabriel shook his head walking into the forest.

Rousseau felt faint, his skin pale from a loss of blood. He smiled looking up at his tree, the tip hidden from sight. His blood. His tree.