Flash Fiction: The Nebelwald

Some flash fiction from Terribleminds.com. This week, write in a setting. I choose the enchanted forest. Everyone loves a good old enchanted forest. Mine has a vaguely Germanic setting, because I’ve been playing Darklands and it seemed like the thing to do.

 

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The pale mist wrapped around Katharina as though it sought to smother her, to choke the life from her. A wave of the haft of her spear drove it back, temporarily. It was all around her, wrapping around the trunks of the towering pines, flowing across the ground like a living river, reaching cool, wet tendrils beneath the collar of her coat and around her legs.

“The mist is alive.” Her first memory was of the warning, spoken to her older brother. Her mother had repeated it daily to her children. “You must never go into the enchanted Nebelwald. The mist will pluck out your eyes, and you’ll wander blind, forever alone.” It had taken on new meaning when her brother had disappeared from their farm on the edge of the forest. Perhaps she would never return, either.

Katharina banished the thought as she had banished the mist. If she didn’t return, she couldn’t bring back the mushroom her brother needed needed, now could she? Waving her spear again to banish the pervasive mist again, she resumed walking.

Soon the sun vanished as the mist closed in and air grew cold. She turned up the collar of her thick coat, but the mist slipped around her clothes like icy fingers and left her clammy and chilled. Icicles covered the branches of the pines, and hoarfrost crunched beneath her boots. Outside the forest, on the farm, it was early summer. At least she could follow her footsteps home.

A soft moan seemed to reverberate around her. Katharina spun, her spear ready, but she saw nothing. Had it even come from behind her? Everything sounded muffled. Her eyes swept the trees, searching, but if anything lurked there, the mist kept it secret and hidden.

Five steps later, an eyeless leapt up from the ground and lunged at her, dirty fingernails outstretched and yellowed teeth snapping. She had been holding her spear in both hands, and now she caught the thing at arm’s length. Its fingers clawed her breasts but it proved unable to penetrate her coat. Katharina let it claw for a moment. It seemed to be a man, but the face above the snarling mouth was smooth and flawless, with a mop of shaggy brown hair covering its brow. Then she snapped her head forward.

Her brother had never taken good care of his helmet and it had been made for a bigger head than hers, but the rusted dome shattered yellowed teeth and the eyeless fell away. The impact jolted her neck painfully, but she ignored it and readied her spear. The eyeless did not come again, though. It lay still in the frost, emerald ichor leaking from the broken mouth. She kept the point of her spear between it and her until she was some distance away, but it did not come again.

She had been walking for perhaps an hour when the moaning resumed. The cold had begun to sink into her bones by now, dampening her all the way to her underclothes, and even seeping into her boots. This time, the groans echoed for all around her, seeming to surround her. Katharina didn’t wait for them. She was the fastest runner in the village, and now her long legs carried her away, shaking the weariness from her muscles. She never saw a single one of the eyeless as she left them far behind, her breath steaming in the crisp air.

She emerged from the Nebelwald as though she had stepped through a door, emerging into a clearing. An ancient, bent tree shaded the bank of an azure pond into which a lazy brook flowed. Green grass grew on the gentle slopes of the bank around the water, and wildflowers bloomed, interspersing the lush green with displays of lavender and rose. She glanced over her shoulder; the frozen forest loomed behind her and all around the clearing, but it was as if the mist could not follow her. It swirled indignantly, as though disappointed.

Wiping her brow, she pulled off her heavy coat and helm, letting her midnight-dark hair fall free. She had made it. Sweat from her run had made the dampness of the forest worse, and so she unbelted her slate-coloured tunic and pulled it over her head, then removed her underclothes to stand naked in the warm, welcoming sunlight.

Pulling her offering from her pockets, she spread her clothes out on the grass to dry in the sun. The old healer had been specific. You needed to make an offering, or the sprites would take you, instead. Sometimes, they did it anyways, to young men and women. So she took the sausage, the apples, and the slices of bread and laid it out on a flat rock. Then she stepped into the warm, clear water to wait. That, too, had been what the healer had told her, but the water felt good on her aching neck, and she kept her spear within arm’s reach.

She didn’t have to wait long. The sprite had been invisible to her eyes until she saw the sausage rise up off the rock. Barely larger than a child, it shimmered in the sunlight, and for a long minute it watched her. Then it began to devour the sausage, followed by the apples and bread. She held her breath, waiting. Would it? She blinked and lost sight of it until her eyes found it again, now beneath the tree. It plucked a trio of red-topped mushrooms, and placed them on the rock where the food had been. Then it vanished. The trade was complete.

Now, all she had to do was get them home, and put them into a stew for her little brother. Rising out of the water, she seated herself on the flat stone and waited for the sun to dry her. She hoped getting out of the Nebelwald would be easier than getting into it.

Flash Fiction: The Fire of the Gods

Chuck Wendig kindly offered us this flash fiction prompt. 1000 words, entitled “The Fire Of the Gods.” I could easily have written twice this, but here we go.

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Image: ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Kind of macabre.”

Huh?” He had only been giving half his attention to Ensign Edmond Blais, who sat at the console beside him.

The name. Kind of macabre, don’t you think?” Edmond said. His friend motioned with his cleft chin towards the nameplate on the wall of the gunnery bay.

How do you mean?” Jerome turned back to the holographic display. They’d only just arrived on board the The God’s Fire, and was on their first shift. He was familiar with the controls, but he couldn’t find the data from the last missile tube calibration test.

The name. You don’t think it’s kind of ominous?”

Jerome swiped into another menu. The data he needed appeared and his eyes scanned it. All four of the tubes in his battery were  ready. Reassured, he turned to his friend.“Edmond, we’re an orbital weapons station. You don’t think we’re trying to send a message with the name?”

Exactly. Orbital weapons station. With all the damage we’ve done to the Shanghai Seventeen’s ground to space capabilities, they could have called the station The Fluffy Rabbit, and it would still be threatening. You know what this station can do.” They both wore formal dress, and his midnight blue buttons gleamed on his black tunic, in stark contrast to Edmond’s sun-bleached hair.

Jerome just shook his head at his friend, and turned back to his console. They had spent the last six months in Jamaica at St. Andrew Space Force base, working on their tans and training for the then-unrevealed task of crewing this station. In doing so they’d missed the bloody final assault against the Shanghai Seventeen’s space and air superiority infrastructure, a grinding campaign that had cost the lives of a million of the American-European Treaty Organization’s brave men and women.

We’re about to end twelve years of war.” He said after a minute. “It’s the only way. A ground campaign is impossible.” The Shanghai Treaty Organization simply had too many men, too many weapons, and too much strategic depth.

Boots echoed on steel grating. Edmond had been about to reply, but he shut up while wiry Lieutenant Wilkins paced behind them. The dark-haired little man seemed a viper in wolf’s clothing. The gunnery bay was quiet, though, and he passed them by in search of other prey.

When the pressure doors had slid closed behind Wilkins, Edmond looked up from his console. “Assuming the Seventeen surrender.”

They have no choice, now.” Jerome protested. ”With the weapons on this station, we can annihilate them. Hasn’t the war already been bloody enough? They have to surrender.” The memory of the aftermath of the chemical attack on Winnipeg flashed unbidden to his mind. He focused on his console and banished the visions of withered corpses at his sister’s home.

What if they don’t? What if they call our bluff?” Edmond asked, and he leaned closer to Jerome. “We’ve spent this entire war saying that we fight for democracy, and freedom, and that we won’t use the same tactics, the chemicals, the biological weapons. But didn’t we create something worse? You remember what they said the main gun on this station could do.”

Jerome did remember. The weapon needed solar panels six hundred kilometres across to power it… a full-power shot would be hot enough to turn a mid-sized city into glass. In fact, the ultimatum to start doing just that had gone down to the Seventeen almost an hour ago.

I don’t know” he said. “I just assumed they would see reason.” He pulled his cap off and ran a hand through his clipped brown hair, aware that he was sweating despite the cool station air. He’d never heard Edmond talk like this before. “What’s gotten in to you?”

I saw Tampa. I saw what they did at Dresden. But, for the sake of military targets, we killed five and a half million people in Hangzhou. And then, there was Manilla. That was “retaliatory.” His fingers made quote marks in the air. “Suppose it was the other way around, and they had this station. With our way of life and our pride threatened, and the ghosts of our dead screaming in our ears, would we surrender?”

Before Jerome could reply, the holographic controls in front of him flickered. The man who appeared at a tenth normal size, and seemed cut from granite with a laser. “Crew of the Fire of the Gods.” his voice was as proper as his appearance was. “The Shanghai Seventeen alliance has rejected our peace overtures. The Combined Parliament has given me authority to carry out our threatened strike. As you know our target is Moscow. You have your orders. We will all do our duty. Admiral Lawrence out.” There was a half second delay, in which Jerome saw the admiral’s throat tighten, and then he vanished.

Immediately lights flashed on his console. Non-essential systems were powering down to supply the main gun. As a missile gunnery officer, he had no direct part in the firing process. His job was to scan for the missiles that the Shanghai Seventeen no longer had.

Sixteen million people in Moscow, pre-war. More, when you account for refugees.” Jerome kept waiting for Edmond to say something else, but he didn’t. He knew that his friend was thinking, though. With a press of a button, Jerome could direct power towards the missile tubes, away from the firing. It was an emergency measure, designed to re-power his defences in case of attack, but it would delay the firing, maybe by hours. Would it give the Shanghai Seventeen enough time to decide to surrender?

For a long moment, Jerome’s finger hovered over the button. Then his hand settled back on the console, where it remained as the station shook around him with a force that made his teeth rattle. He waited for another half-minute or so, before the room stopped shaking and a computerized voice announced. “Target destroyed.”

 

 

 

Flash Fiction: The feeling

Here`s some flash fiction from Chuck Wendig`s flash fiction contest this week. You can see it here.

 

He hated the institute. He feared the sensation of the needles sliding into his skin for the injections. He hated the choking sensation of the huge pills he had to swallow.

Most of all, he hated their droning voices. “Freddie.” The voice said. “What word am I thinking of, Freddie?”

Fred knew, of course. “Beast.”

“Very good, Freddie. And what word am I thinking of now?”

“Brooch.” Fred said. “Cape. Dove. Finger. Flea. Gate.” The words came without effort. They were just there, just behind the scientists’ bald head, just beneath the sheen of sweat, for him to know.

“Well done, Freddie.” He reached out and put a hand on the plastic covering of the mattress that Fred was seated on. “You are very special.”

Fred didn’t reply. He didn’t care about the research, and didn’t watch as the scientist slipped out of the white-walled room. There were a few toys in here, some trucks in a box on the ground, a slide, some crayons and paper. None of those toys interested Fred, and the table, the chairs, and the bed were equally boring. He simply sat on the bed and stared. How long had he been there? He wasn’t sure.

He looked up as the lock clicked and the door swung open, expecting another scientist. It was; the fat one who shaved his head and always wore sweaters, even when it was hot. This time, though, he was holding hands with someone else, a woman. She was pretty, Fred realized, with midnight-coloured tresses that hung down to her shoulders, high cheekbones, and a delicate face.

“Freddie.” The fat scientist said. “This is Angie. She’s like you, we think. Why don’t you come over here and talk to her? She would like that.”

Fred studied her face. She had green eyes. No, he realized, they were gray-green, like chips of jade. They felt familiar. Warm. He hopped off the table and walked across the room, then held out his hand. “My name is Fred. Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Angela.” She took his hand and shook it. “Shall we talk?” The fat scientist turned and left the room. They would be watching, Fred knew. They always were.

“I’d like that. Let’s sit down.” He led her over to the table, and pulled out a chair for her, just like his mother had always taught him to do. She sat down, and he slid into the chair across from her. “Did you just get here?”

“Yes.” There was a long pause. “I was brought here yesterday.”

“Ah. I don’t really like it here. But they tell me it’s important.”

Angela shrugged. “That’s what they told me, too. I don’t know why.”

Fred didn’t know either. There was a flash of memory; faded like an old photograph, of children playing here. Then it was gone.

“Military.” Fred shook his head, trying to clear it. “Military research.” The memory had shaken him. Why?

“I remembered it too.” Angela said, and for the first time, there was emotion in her face. She leaned across the table. “Freddie. You liked trucks.”

“Trucks.” He repeated. “Angie.” He said, the memory of a raven-haired little girl emerging from his mind. “You liked to draw. With crayons. We were here.”

The realization didn’t shock him. Why not? He wasn’t sure. “So we were.”

Angela was waiting for a reaction. Some kind, any kind. When she didn’t get it, she settled back into her seat. “Is it only us?”

“I don’t know.” Fred told her. He could remember lots of children, his age, older, younger. Some had even been teenagers. He had never met anyone else since then that he could remember. “Can you feel me?”

“Yes.” The corners of her mouth dropped. “You feel sad. Empty.”

“You feel the same, but there is something else. Like a ray of light inside you.”

She took a deep breath. “Hope. I feel hopeful. I found you. The others could be there.”

“I hope they are.” There was no clock in the room, so he had to cast outwards. Outwards behind the cameras and the mirrors, reaching into the watching scientists. They knew what time it was. It was nearly seven thirty.

“I’m sorry.” Fred stood. “I have to go. I’ll be back tonight.”

Her fingers reached for him. “Wait. I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want to go either, but I have to. I’ll be back. I promise.” Those words, that promise. It meant more than anything else he had told anyone in a long, long time. But he avoided her fingertips. Instead, he went through the ceiling.

He emerged out onto the rooftop. They always tried to take his briefcase, and his coat. Maybe they thought that, if he didn’t have them, he wouldn’t go. But he had to, and he could always find the coat and briefcase. Yesterday, he’d hidden them on the roof, inside an air vent, and now he reached inside and retrieved them. The morning air was cool and crisp in his lungs, despite the city rising up around him. It would be a warm day, but he swung his coat on anyways.

He dropped off the side of the building, and passed through the fence. The guards shouted at him, like they always did, but they couldn’t stop him. It was time to go to work. All day, though, all he could do was think about Angela, with her dark hair and her haunting green eyes.