Friday, December 31, 2010

The Pearl outside Mudan House

Mei Fu huddled on the street. She curled her lacquered fingernails with their gold-flecked dragons beneath her mud-splotched blanket. Holding it close, she watched dark shapes hurrying along the street careful to avoid the sludge-filled puddles as they slunk into the flower houses.

A man paused -- one of the mandarin's bureaucrats and not her target -- and she looked away remembering to slouch her shoulders. When he had disappeared, she smeared more mud on her cheeks. It was too early for the one she wanted.

She wrapped her hands with a blanket to hide the callous-less palms as she waited. A Yiji woman approached from one of the brothels, paint whitening her face and hiding the thin cracks that exposed her as too old for the back rooms. The woman said, "Girl, you've haunted the streets for the last two weeks."

Mei Fu looked away from the woman not daring to say a word and expose her court-inflected tones or perfect teeth.

The woman grabbed her arm. "You're pretty enough. I have a spare bed you could work. You'd clean up well."

The woman frowned when Mei Fu tried to pull away. "I'm offering you something better than the streets." She spat onto the cobbles. She looked about to say something else, but shrugged as a customer approached her doorway. "Change your mind and my door is always open."

Eyelids becoming pregnant with tears, she blinked and shuffled away from the blue light burning liquid fire. The blaze triggered memories of Lanying charring outside the palace. It had been different in the light. Paler. But, no less real; no less deadly.

As the night deepened, fewer men entered the street. A few voices laughed too loudly as they left the buildings and returned to their homes. Satiated, their eyes passed over Mei Fu.

The shadows deepened and Mei Fu nearly missed the figure sliding through the streets dressed all in black, a false Gaquan warrior. She ran to follow him and her foot splashed in a puddle. The sound loud, barbaric, echoed off the houses. She pressed herself into the alcove underneath a lamp and rested her chin on her crouched knees as if she slept. Through half-lidded eyes, she saw the man break his stride while looking behind him. She waited for her heart to slow and then followed him, watching for the puddles.

As he neared an alley, she ducked into an alcove just in time to avoid his glance over his shoulder again. He entered the cross street and Mei Fu hurried to the corner and saw him enter one of the warehouses. It stank with the smell of Emperor Shenzihao's sacred powders. She looked for illusions, but didn't see anything on the street.

Voices from inside the warehouse leaked into the alley. Mei Fu worried they'd have a guard within the door. She needed another way in. She gritted her teeth when she spotted the liquid fire pipework. The pipes led to a cracked window on the second story. She stepped backwards from the warehouse. She hated heights. Did she owe Lanying this much?

Shouts carried from the street. Biting her lip, she tied the grimy shawl around her waist and pulled herself up the pipework. Her nails slipped and she broke a nail. She saw the gold flecks catch the light as it fell towards the street. She scrambled through the window, thankful for the landing inside.

Once her heart had slowed, she heard the voices more clearly. Her brother stood amidst the false Gaquan warriors. She prayed for an illusion. He wouldn't betray them, would he? Her hands became sweaty.

She sneezed.

Faces turned towards her like pink mudan blossoms turning towards the sun. The eyes of her brother, Dengxin, opened as his mouth twisted into a moue that only those close to him in the palace would know. He wasn't an illusion. One of the black-clad men made a chopping motion with his forearm and two of the false warriors drew blades as they ran for the stairs leading to the landing.

Dengxin's eyes remained locked on Mei Fu, but he didn't contradict the man's orders. She shrugged off his glare. Swallowing, there was something in them that she couldn't comprehend and she dared not depend on him to save her from the men.

Her eyes flicked across the room seeing: warriors leap two stairs at the time, bagged boxes lining the attic, her brother's queue, a bluish glow flickering from a light out of sight. The men had climbed three-quarters of the stairs.

Her breath rattled. The bagged boxes had to be full of sacred powder. It had caused her sneeze. She ran, tripping on a ragged corner of her shawl.

A false warrior held the tip of his sword against her shoulder. It pierced the dress.


Dust filled the boards where she sprawled. She knew it wouldn't be pure, but she prayed to Fenghuang there would be enough efficacy. She tossed the powder into the air. An image of her took her shape and charged them. A flimsy illusion. They should see through the deception.

She turned and ran for the bagged boxes. Pulling out a handful of pure powder. She flung it in a circle as images of dozens of women filled the warehouse all trying to escape. All wearing different faces.

She escaped, hoping the men wouldn't remember her face. But, Dengxin -- the traitor -- wouldn't forget. Returning to the palace, she'd need to be careful and think about how to deal with his treachery.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Escape (A Knack for Powders, pt 11)

Part eleven in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.

A scritch-scratch noise and sand falling in an avalanche down the rear walls of Merph's cell provided a brief warning before the clod of dirt landed on his chest. The Lord's soldiers had dragged him out into the courtyard to a sunken cellar that had been carved out of the earth. The square room was barely large enough for Merph to stretch out on the bench opposite the door and iron bars sunken into stone covered the single window. Except for a guard who had brought him some moldy bread and something to drink, he hadn't seen anyone the rest of the day. He scrambled away from the wall coughing at the dust he inhaled.

He stared at the place where the window was, even with the stars and moon out, the eaves of the building shadowed the window and made it difficult to see. Something moved. Merph imagined a spider with its body as big as his head and eight legs thrusting itself through the bars as it squeezed its head to fit. In an attempt to squash his fears, he reminded himself that he'd only temporarily hurt Lord Calle. They had no reason to kill him. Wait. The only one who could conjure a giant spider would be Tvinnrun, and if he suspected Merph knew, he'd have reason.

The creature, hidden by the darkness, panted at the window. The spider must be forcing its way through. Merph squeaked an unintelligible cry, which turned into a laugh. _Spiders didn't pant._

"Whitey, is that you?"

The dog answered with a soft yip that wouldn't carry far. More rocks fell into the room.

Relief flooded through Merph and he sagged against the wall. "I'm glad you're here, but there isn't anything you can do unless you can work the lock on this door. I've failed Kluvenstrom."

The dog growled.

"There is nothing I can do."

Whitey cried and more dirt fell into the cellar. Merph climbed onto the bench where Whitey's tongue flickered through the bars to lick Merph's cheek. The boy squeezed as close as he could to the window and felt Whitey's wet nose pressed against his neck and he raised his arm to feel the pig bladders.

Merph sighed. "How are the powders supposed to help? They can't unlock the door."

Whitey bumped the iron bars with his jowls.

"I can't bend bars either." Yet, as he said the words he realized he didn't have to bend the bars he just had to remove one of the bars so he could get out of the cellar. He had to think about things. Kluvenstrom had given him the recipe for gelid powder. He unwrapped the pig bladder from around his neck and dropped a pinch on the bench. A pop crackled before the bench buckled and Merph rolled to the floor.

_Strange._ Merph wondered, _Perhaps, the powder will allow me to break the bars._ Merph balanced the pieces of the bench so that he could clamber onto them and reach the window where he rubbed some of the powder. He pushed against the bar, but it didn't budge. However, the iron became so cold he jerked his hand away and his skin nearly stuck to the metal.

_Interesting,_ thought Merph. He found the mug that the guard had brought him with the moldy bread. There were a few drops of water in it still and he poured it around the bars and then switched from sprinkling gelid powder so that the water froze into the crevice around one of the bars and then he'd sprinkle ash powder to melt the ice and repeated it until the stone that held the bars cracked and he pulled the iron bar out of the wall.

Merph squeezed through the space in the wall and collapsed breathless in the dirt. He hugged Whitey. "Okay, if I can escape from that, I can save Kluvenstrom."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cabin

God Julafton (Merry Christmas Eve), the following is my #fridayflash and entry in Loren Eaton's Advent Ghosts series. Check his blog for more.

Drafts remind Corbin to feed the cabin's fireplace. The tinderbox yawns revealing an emptiness marred by scraps of bark. Corbin shrugs remembering the owner's warning to stay inside after dark. Old man's lived in these woods too long. Might freeze if I listen to his crazy talk.

Light slivers around the door. Corbin hesitates. Through the windows, a pack of pines, festooned with garish lights, huddle. He won't wire the cabin but wastes it on the trees? Crazy!

He pushes through the crackling snow. A twig pops. A gnarled branch hangs over him as he falls into the red-tinged snow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mastering Powders (A Knack for Powders, Pt. 10)

Part ten in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.

Merph looked around Kluvenstrom's workroom. A couple packages towered in piles by the door that Merph didn't recognize. The new healer must be using these rooms.

He couldn't let himself feel guilty about leaving Whitey outside the tower. The dog had found him, more accurately it had rescued him, far from any inhabitants and Merph guessed that the dog would survive on its own. At least until he rescued Healer Kluvenstrom from the runelock.

One of the pig bladders caught on Merph's ear as he lifted it from under his shirt to place on the worktable. He'd filled one bladder with ash powder and the other with steel dust. The two books that Kluvenstrom had left him were pushed to a corner of the table. Merph paged through the powder book looking for powders that required steel dust or ways he might release the healer from the runelock. Outside the window, dawn lit the sky. When he looked back at the book, his eyes touched on the bat powder that he'd previously made.

Merph shrugged and took the runelock out of the burlap bag and set it on the table beside him as he dropped a pinch of the bat powder over his nape and held the runelock close to his ear. He murmured, "Healer Kluvenstrom, can you hear me?"

He concentrated on the box, ignoring the clank of cast iron pans in the ovens as the cooks baked the morning bread for the Lord and the crack of stall door latches as the Lord's horses yearned against their box stalls. An emptiness filled the runelock like the wind racing over his ears on a spring morning. Disappointed, Merph began to set the runelock on the table.

"Merph, is that you?" Kluvenstrom's voice was weak.

Merph's heart beat fast. He could complete this quest. "How do I get you out?"

"I don't know, this type of magic is not my bailiwick."

"You got me out the first time." Merph shook the runelock.

"Don't do that."

"Sorry," said Merph.

"I could rescue you because the ties that bound you to the astral plane were fresh. I've been in here too long, I might not even be able to find my body if I was searching myself. You must find a runeworker. They will know the way these things work." Kluvenstrom's voice became thin.

Merph's words tumbled out. "Tvinnrun set the trap for you."

"Does Calle know?"


Kluvenstrom coughed. "You must not tell him. It'll be your word against Tvinnrun. What powders do you have?"

Merph got excited and told him how he'd made the bat powder. "And I've got some iron filings from the blacksmith."

"Gelid powder, eh?" Kluvenstrom's voice warmed.

Merph didn't know what gelid meant, but he felt like he had at least done something right. "I don't know what other ingredients I need."

"Oenothera oil."

The door squeaked as it opened and Merph dropped the runelock into the burlap bag grimacing as he thought of Kluvenstrom banged about by the falling cube. A man with a close-trimmed beard stood in the doorway wearing a healer's robe.

"What are you doing here?" asked the man.

"I'm... I'm a healer Kluvenstrom's apprentice."

The man's eyes narrowed. "Don't mind me, I just need to get some herbs." The man grabbed one of the benches and stood on it to push a brick in the ceiling out of the way and yanked on the latch underneath to expose a hidden shelf crowded with jars filled with liquids, dried leaves, and sticks.

Merph's mouth dropped open. When he saw the man looking at him he closed his mouth. "How did you know that was there?"

The man grabbed one of the jars filled with leaves. "Lord Calle told me." His eyes bored into a Merph. "Were you truly Kluvenstrom's apprentice?"

Merph nodded.

The man backed toward the door. "Your right to work here is as good as mine. Continue with what you were doing." He waved an arm.

"Wait," said Merph. "What is oenothera?"

The man stopped as he was opening the door. "What are you going to use that for? Never mind. It's the scientific name for sundrop flowers. Mostly used in ointments for older woman."

"Don't tell anyone about me."

"I won't." The healer slunk into the hallway and closed the door.

Merph pushed the table underneath the shelf. He now knew where Kluvenstrom kept his cache of powders. Standing on tiptoe, he moved the jars searching for powders but all he found were jars with liquids and dried leaves. He looked at the thick oily substance with the label "Sundrop" on it and figured it was fortunate that those two words were easy ones that he knew. If there wasn't any powders here, at least he could make gelid powder, whatever that was.

He mixed the iron, some mastic powder, and the sundrop oil. The powder became a brilliant yellow and Merph picked up a pinch tossed it at the wall. Except for some fog that rose off the ground and beads of perspiration that condensed on the floor, nothing happened. Resigned, he poured the powder into the empty pig bladder and placed both bladders around his neck.

He picked up the mortar and pestle to clean as Kluvenstrom had exhorted him. A clean workshop was a safe workshop. The door opened and Detlef and one of the Lord's guards hurried into the room with the healer standing behind them. Merph placed the mortar on the table and pushed the burlap bag onto the floor hoping they wouldn't notice it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gods Playing Games

I nestle in my bed as her body spoons against me to cradle the swell of my belly. Her touch promises a gentleness that I know is a lie. Yet, I savor the moments I have to spend with her. Our vibrations leave us chattering in a private conversation.

My skin tenses as the god's footsteps approach. Our chattering grows hasty. Her caresses tell of love, but the god separates us. She slides away and I shake. I know what comes next. Her fist.


The door spins as I crash through. Stars revolve around me and light the kickers with blasts of cherry color, the crashes coming faster. Her punch drives me faster, rebounding in our world as I spy god through the grease-smeared plexiglass. I feel the wound she dealt to me more painful than any of the electrical jolts or off-kilter crashes as I careen about my day job.

The god slaps the flipper and keeps me from the black hole where I want to go. The hole that ends it all and brings me back to my love. Regardless, of what she's done, I'm drawn to her.

I pray.

The god nudges and traps me. The music squeals with a counterpoint rhythm from the digits of the scorecard flapping.

The god is good, but not good enough to keep this pinball from my love. I evade the flipper and head home.

This scene was partially prompted by Tron; but then I went a slightly different direction. Your comments and constructive criticism appreciated.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Desperate Plans (A Knack for Powders, Pt. 9)

Part eight in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.

Merph lie on the leaves on the edge of the forest where he could see the midden but upwind where he wouldn't have to smell it's stench. He had a good view of the courtyard around the tower and the stables. On the far side of the stables, a small cabin with a chimney pouring out black smoke pinged with the sounds of a blacksmith hammering iron. Merph sighed. Sitting idle in the forest was worse than sitting on a bench pounding mastic into powder.

His cheeks felt warm in the breeze that raced through forest as he watched Katja leave the tower carrying a bucket and clay pot toward the middens. She swung her arm in long arcs. Merph worried that someone from the tower might see what was carried in the bucket and it might give away the transfer that she had planned. Windows in the tower were dark, but nothing moved. The wind caught snippets of the ditty Katja hummed. She dipped into a smooth motion to place one hand beneath the bucket as she lifted the rope handle high to pour out a dark liquid with foam catching the light. _What had happened to the pig bladders that she'd promised to secrete_, wondered Merph. Had she just poured them into the midst of the midden? If so, she probably thought it was a proper revenge.

He had to wait until the light faded and then he worked his way to the midden. Whitey stopped ten paces from the edge. Merph held his nose as he approached. He'd never liked cleaning the barn and this was much worse. Pools of water gleamed against the darker piles of earth. Merph gritted his teeth thinking that he'd have to sift his hands through the refuse. His foot clanked against a clay pot. He remembered the clay pot that Katja had carried to the midden. He'd only noticed it briefly and realized that her exaggerated swinging of the bucket had been to mislead any watchers. He grinned. It had worked on him and he'd known an exchange was going to occur. Inside the pot, he found the pig bladders and one jar of ground mastic powder. His heart stopped pounding quite as fast. She had successfully gotten the items that he needed.

He hurried back towards the forest and Whitey flinched away from Merph keeping a distance between the two of them.

Merph released his nose. "Don't like the smell, do you?"

The dog wagged its tail.

Merph stopped when he was far enough into the forest that a hummock hid the tower. Selecting pebbles from a pile he'd gathered earlier, he dropped them into a pig bladder and then poured a pinch of ash powder in with them and knotted the end. The clearing began to warm with the heat given off by the stuffed pig bladders.

Merph took the last three pig bladders and sprinkled some of the pure mastic powder into the bladders and rubbed it in so that the pig bladder would become inert. He then poured the remaining ash powder into one of the bladders, the mastic powder into the other, and knotted the ends to each others that they made a long necklace that he could wear beneath his shirt. He looked at the third bladder and remembered the blacksmith's cabin.

Whitey inched closer and pushed his head underneath Merph's arm. The dog's tail swept debris back and forth in the clearing.

Merph would feel a lot better if he had an offensive weapon. It was too bad that he didn't have Kluvenstrom with him who could help guide him on some better powders. The iron filings in the smithy would have to be good for something. Merph thought it would be convenient if they would create a powder that when thrown turned into small darts. Whitey growled.

"Don't worry, I'll be careful," said Merph.

He took most of the ash powder and pebble bladders and left them curled up in the clay pot, which he set beside a fence post on the edge of the stables. He grabbed some of the iron filings and placed them in the third bladder he wore around his neck.


The following night Merph waited in the forest and watched the doorway into the tower. He slapped at a mosquito. And then, the door opened. The guard slipped out of his vest and used it to fan his face. Katja's idea to warm the foyer had worked. The guard had left his post.

Merph patted Whitey's haunch and the dog slipped through the edge of the trees to emerge from the opposite side of the courtyard and bark. The guard looked at the dog and took a step forward. Katja had said everyone in the tower was talking about the dog that Merph had with him. Whitey stepped into the forest and the guard followed him.

Merph didn't run, that would make too much noise, but hurried towards the door. Inside, the foyer was empty. He climbed the stairs hoping not to run into anyone before he arrived at Kluvenstrom's workshop. He hoped he could find something in the book that would help him break Kluvenstrom out of the rune-lock.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Last Mailman

The '34 Starbird's horn blared as it hovered over Malcolm's stumbling steps. The car's exhaust coughed bits of debris leaving a miasma of coffee grounds and burnt banana coating the mailman. A chorus of teenaged hacks laughed while Malcolm grumbled. No one appreciated postal workers.

He waved at Mrs. Tulare but she looked away as she descended her craftmans house's stairs two steps at a time and forced Malcolm to dodge. Several allidogs leapt to snap toothy snouts at Malcolm's terry bag holding the mail. He glanced at the half-dozen fliers addressed to Mrs. Claudia Tulare. The maildrop in her door had one of those "No Advertisements" stickers on it with the letters in large blocky type. He sighed. He was paid to deliver the mail. Neither hurricanes, nor blizzards, nor firerot, nor biopet beast would block his rounds. Let alone an illegal refusal.

His head down, he walked towards the next craftsman house and collided with Mr. Sheron. Malcolm stepped backwards and the watch grass shivered as the notched edges pierced his boot's LeatherSteel™. His stomach roiled like two-week-old yogurt. Malcolm jumped back onto the safety of the sidewalk. Shaking he realized that the shoe salesman had cheated him. True LeatherSteel™ would defend against watch grass.

"Sorry, didn't see you." Mr. Sheron's eyes were puffy and a blackness colored his cheeks.

"No problem." The eyes didn't look right, but the rulebook was explicit about not involving yourself in their lives. He looked at the rust-tones of the sky and then back at Mr. Sheron. He was the last mail carrier and the rulebook was more about guidance than a federal law. "You okay?"

"Nothing." Mr. Sheron pushed past Malcolm.

The footsteps stopped and when Malcolm turned he saw a tear running down the man's cheek. A sign of the times that joy rarely visited.

"I... I won't be living here any longer."

Malcolm flipped through the mailbag to find one of the address change forms.

Mr. Sheron pushed Malcolm's hand away. "No. I don't need that. Do me a favor and continue to deliver my mail here."

A cold wind blew through the neighborhood and carried a scent of rain. Malcolm paged through the Sheron's mail. He opened the mailbox and prepared to drop the mail and stopped. There had been something in the man's voice. Not the sound of a wounded allidog. No, there'd been a note that reminded him of grade school and bullies.

Malcolm held the mail and put it back in his bag. All junk. He couldn't help the Sherons, but he decided as the rain picked up that it wasn't worth delivering ads. What could the city council do anyway? He was the last non-robotic postal worker. He poured his bag into a recycling bin and whistled as he walked home.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Returns (A Knack for Powders, Pt. 8)

Part eight in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.

As Merph and Whitey neared the top of the knoll, the gray blocks of Lord Calle's tower could be seen over the trees. Merph stopped, his breath coming in rough wheezes that accompanied the pain in his leg that increased with each breath. Detlef shouldn't have abandoned him. Merph scrunched his hands in the dog's coat. It didn't matter now because Merph would return a hero. Inside the bag stolen from one of the farms, he had the rune-lock that caged Kluvenstrom.

Whitey yapped.

"Yes, yes. Time to return." Without the dog, Merph knew that he would have never made the journey. He'd needed the strong back to lean against. "You're a hero too."

Merph emerged into the cleared area that surrounded the tower. One of Lord Calle's guards oiled the leather hitch on a wagon parked next to the stables. Merph walked towards the tower's entrance.

"Merph?" called the guard.

Keeping one hand on Whitey's shoulder, Merph lifted the burlap bag. "Did it. One step closer to rescuing Healer Kluvenstrom."

"Don't matter," said the guard. He twisted Merph's arm behind the boy's back.

Merph yelped in pain as his left leg twisted and the bone shards rubbed against each other. "Hurts. Why'd you do that?"

"I heard from Detlef what you did. Be glad I'm not treating you worse."

Whitey ran from underneath Merph's grip. The boy sagged until the pain in his arm pinned behind his back balanced the pain in his leg. The dog circled and leapt with both forepaws landing on the guard's chest to knock him against the ground.

Merph limped into the woods. Behind him, the dog's scuffle was punctuated by barks and the guard's shouts. Merph felt for a second container of the ash powder and sprinkled it on the dead leaves and branches that covered the ground. They crackled and smoked a black impenetrable cloud. Merph collapsed into a hollow in the forest and leaned against a fallen tree while he waited for Whitey.


The stables stunk of horses, but outside rain fell in the darkness, which made his alternatives even less desirable. Merph plucked the straw from his vest as he waited for Whitey. He might've misunderstood. He didn't know if he should trust the dog. Yes, Whitey had saved his life at least twice and supported him back to the tower, but perhaps now that Merph had shelter over his head the dog felt that its responsibility had ended.

Whitey entered the stall with Katja's sleeve in his mouth as he pulled her towards Merph. She stopped. The dog gave two quick jerks against her sleeve but she leaned against them so she wouldn't be pulled forward.

"I should've known," said Katja. "Call your dog off me. You better hope that the mutt has only slobbered my sleeve. You know how much trouble you've gotten me into?"


The dog let go of Katja's sleeve as she rolled her eyes. The dog circled once and lay down to face Katja with unblinking eyes.

Merph ignored her question. "I need your help." Merph tried to keep the wheedling note out of his voice, but failed.

"Can't you do anything yourself?"

Her words burned like hot ashes and he looked down at his legs and the mud spattered cuffs. He pulled the rune-lock out of the bag. The box shimmered in the darkness, the markings on the sides glowing orange. "I got this."

She took one step forward. "What is this?"

"Kluvenstrom is locked inside."

"Then let him out." She shook her head. "I'm not sure his reappearance will be enough to get you out of trouble. But, you wanted to save him. He'll be saved, you can go home."

"It's not that easy." He couldn't admit to her that he didn't know how to get the healer out of the box.

Whitey growled.

"It's not going to be easy to get you in either. They've stationed one of the Lord's men in the tower's foyer at all times." She looked at the dog.

The hair on the back of Merph's neck stood up as he realized Whitey glared at him, baring its teeth.

Merph swallowed. It was impossible. The dog couldn't read his thoughts. Merph looked away. What did he have to lose? "I don't know how to get Kluvenstrom out of the rune-lock. I'm hoping one of the powders will help."

The dog's tail wagged and its head swung back to Katja.

"Can't you take this to Tvinnrun? He knows about runes."

Merph picked at the yarn threads of his vest. "Tvinnrun is the one who locked Kluvenstrom away." Merph's voice squeaked.

"No... no." Katja retreated towards the stable's door.

Merph lunged forward to catch her arm. "You must believe me."

Her face had turned white. "I... I do. I've seen some things when cleaning his room that I shouldn't have."

"You must help me. We can't let Tvinnrun succeed."

Whitey's cold nose pushed against Merph's hand.

"I don't know how to get you in."

"We'll think of something."

A smile crept onto her lips like the first crocus through snow. Hope warmed Merph's cheeks.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Management: Aidan's Fiction Selections

The last half-year, I have posted my writings on Friday as part of the #fridayflash community that J.M. Strother established and helps to maintain. It's a great community of writers and part of the experience is posting your own writing but it's also providing feedback to some of the other writers within the community.

I recently started keeping track of my three favorite flashes from the week and tried to post these in a single 140 character twitter post. I often had to get creative about the titles. This week, I discovered that had added a new feature called bundles and this seemed like it would fit my fiction selections well.

The aim of the fiction selections is to identify a couple works that I enjoyed over the week. In particular, I'm including my three favorite flashes from #fridayflash but I retain the rights to add other free fiction I find on the web to my list. I decided to start doing this based on a comment I ran across one of the writing sites about reading slush piles and although I don't read for a competition, I saw the value in trying to decide which out of several stories is your favorite. Unlike a slush pile, #fridayflash has a lot of good writers and so that makes my job difficult.

I don't read all of the #fridayflash stories (most weeks there are more than 80 of them), but I do try to read those in the genres that I write (fantasy, magical realism, science fiction, and steam punk). The stories that I pick speak to me in some way, whether that's a character that stands out or a premise that I enjoyed. By only picking three, I'm leaving out many good stories (favorites for some other people), but it means that those stories that I do pick should be proud that I really enjoyed their story.

You can find this week's selection here.

P.S. I'm trying a new theme after Lara commented that she finds the black background more difficult to read and after reading some of the comments about the amateurish look of a certain publisher who recently purchased a certain magazine and has a dark background as their website's homepage. Let me know if you don't find this easy to read.

P.P.S. Don't expect to see too many management posts. My focus is still on getting published and that means writing short stories and novels and I measure my word count to see how well I'm doing (80,000 words since mid-September, not necessarily that much compared to nanowrimo participants) and blog posts don't count towards my totals.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tunnel of Love

Sun smote the ground between the soles of Síofra's feet and his shadow. Erin shook her head wondering why he bothered to tolerate her and her vestigial wings if his status meant so much to him. She should be happy. The blue-wing had augured that Síofra would propose to her today. If it was such a good match, why did he have to show off?

The wooden dragons-head laid on the grass beside the xylophone bridge. Paint dripped from a wooden sign announcing the "Tunnel of Love". Erin didn't remember it being so close to the bridge, but things in fairyland had a tendency to drift. She'd never ridden through the tunnel -- never had a lover before -- and the sign looked a little amateurish. Yet, the scales on the dragons-head sparkled in the sunlight and it looked so life-like. Erin let the grin blossom across her lips in diamond twinkles. Those who flew were more susceptible to claustrophobia.

"Why are you grinning?"

Erin grabbed Síofra's arm and let the tingling sensation zip through her blood as a glow surrounded them. "We should ride the Tunnel of Love."

"Why?" A flash of lightning sparked between them as Síofra pulled his hand from Erin's grasp. "We're not even promised."

Yet, thought Erin. "Haven't you ever pondered what wonders lie hidden within the tunnels?"

"It's not about the wonders." Síofra's eyelashes became heavy in the sunlight.

Erin raced forward and he flitted close to her always at least a hands-breadth away. She arched her back as she squeezed her hand into the folds of her blouse, searching for a gold coin. His eyes dropped to her exposed cleavage. At least there was something he wanted. Droplets condensed on the blackened edges of the coin drop in the dragons-head's nose. The yellow-green liquid stuck to her fingers and she shook them while making a face.

"I don't think we should do this," said Síofra.

Erin crossed the dragon's wooden tongue, it was moister than she would've expected, and clambered into the trolley. "You're not going to force me to go by myself, are you?"

His wings flashed mother-of-pearl as he perched on the edge of the trolley.

"See, that wasn't so bad. Everyone does this."

"Why aren't there any tracks for the trolley?"

Plaque stained the edges of the dragons-head's teeth. The maintainers of this ride should have kept it in better shape. "Magic, silly." Erin pulled Síofra from where he balanced on the wooden rim.

Warm wind belched over them with a stink of sulfur.

Síofra fluttered his wings but he couldn't budge Erin's weight over him. "We've got to get out of here. Now!"

The mouth closed and the car lurched backwards falling down the tunnel. Síofra screamed. His wings tore as he beat them against the car's walls.

Erin swallowed the fear in her throat. Tearing his wings like that, he wouldn't fly for weeks. Scratch that. They were unlikely to survive. She clenched her hands on one of the boards on the car. It wiggled as she realized the nails were loose. She pulled and it came away. "Hold tight," she shouted at Síofra. She punched the board into the warm esophagus. Erin clung to it.

The trolley struck Síofra's shin and pulled him from his grip on Erin's waist. His hands slid down her leg and caught on her foot. Below them, light flashed in an explosion as the trolley disappeared into the gullet.

"If we get out of this alive, I'll marry you," said Síofra.

A response to Emily J. Griffin's prompt, "Oh No!", on Flashy Fiction. Constructive criticism and comments appreciated.