Flash Fiction: Based on a true story

I haven’t done any flash fiction in a while, so here we go. This is from Chuck Wendig’s A Game of Aspects flash fiction challenge. In it, you choose three things, a subgenre, an element to include, and a theme/motif/conflict. Mine are Sword and Sorcery, Hotel Bar, and Love Square (because love triangle isn’t enough). One of these aspects that make up this flash fiction is based on a true story. It happened to me! I am not saying which one.

Timothy dove away from the table just as the azure bolt of arcane power shattered it into a thousand flying splinters. He hit the ground and rolled forward, then came up running. Alana would need a minute to begin another spell and the smoke and haze would make it difficult for her to see him. He made it behind a stack of boxes without being hit.

It had begun so innocently, with just a bit of kissing. Now the tavern was on fire. Most of the patrons had fled and no doubt someone had called the watch. Timothy thought he could hear a few people across the room, trying to fight the fire. It wasn’t a big blaze yet, they might still succeed and save the building from burning down. He hoped they would. This was one of his favourite taverns.

There was the sound of feet pounding the floor and Timothy poked his head up over his hiding place, just in time for someone to come diving over the boxes and crash into him. The impact blasted the air from Timothy’s lungs. At least the fleeing patrons had flung open the doors and windows in their efforts to escape; it meant he wasn’t going to die of smoke inhalation while struggling to catch his breath. He managed to focus on who had struck him. Was it…

No, it was Jayden, the one person he didn’t have to worry about. “This is all your fault,” the tall, skinny bladesman told him. His goatee was singed and his wavy hair was had ash in it. There was also a sizeable hole in his green cloak.

“My fault?” Just then, there was another crackle of arcane energies. It didn’t kill him, so Timothy ignored it. “You’re the one who got Alana so drunk.”

“And if you’d properly resolved your relationship with her, she wouldn’t be tossing magic around while sobbing. How was I to know she can’t handle her liquor?”

They glared at each other for a moment before Timothy shrugged. “Maybe we both have points. Have you seen Luke?”

Jayden shook his head. “He’s either hiding from you, or hunting for me.”

“He kissed back. How was I supposed to know he’s interested in you instead?” Timothy muttered, more to himself than to Jayden. Luke was the one who’d actually stared the fire in the first place, with one of his damned smoke bombs. Apparently this one had had not enough smoke and a little too much bomb.

A sound made them both look up. A first, Timothy couldn’t place the noise. Then it devolved into a high pitch whine. He had half a second to glance at Jayden; his friend’s panicked expression must have compared to his own. They took off running in opposite directions.

It was just fast enough to avoid the beam of solid, blinding light that eradicated the boxes, searing everything down into a cloud of dust. Timothy took cover behind the bar. Many bottles lay shattered and the harsh smell of strong alcohols filled his nostrils.

“Alana!” He called, regretting opening his mouth the second he did so. “Don’t you think you’re going a bit far? That one would have killed us both!” He blood was pounding in his ears. Perhaps it was from all the running, but his last drink was really hitting him hard, and there had been too many.

“You pulled your sword on me!” Her voice wavered as she spoke.

“I’m sorry! It was a mistake.” It had seemed like a good idea at the time. She had raised her slender hands towards him first. He’d seen lightning and fire burst from those hands, to the detrimental effect of both beasts and men. His sword wouldn’t have done him much good against such magic, but a lot of things had seemed like a good idea tonight. “I’m going to come out. Please don’t kill me.”

He slowly raised his head above the bar. If he stayed down there any more, the fumes were going to get him before the magic did. Alana was standing there, her arms partially raised. A spilled drink had stained the front of her tunic and her coppery hair was ragged around her shoulders. She seemed to sway as she stood. Damn Jayden, how much had he given her? He knew from the look on her face that the tears were coming.

“Why don’t you want me anymore?” She sank down to her knees and buried her face in her hands.

“I’m sorry, but things weren’t working out.” Timothy protested as he glanced over. Her last spell had put a large hole in the wall, and cool air was streaming in from the night outside. “Why don’t you come outside and have some water? We can talk about it?” He had no intention of talking about it. He could have made a run for it, but even after everything else, it didn’t seem fair to leave her in the burning building. Plus, there was nothing left to hide behind between him and the exit. She might still fry him.

She looked up and for a moment he thought she was going to argue. Then she just nodded. Timothy left the bar and came over to her. It looked like they had the fire under control, so he offered her his hand and she took it and stood up.

Jayden and Luke were waiting when he got Alana outside. Luke was sporting a growing bruise on one cheek, and Jayden was standing well away from him. Beside him, Alana’s eyes were drooping.

“Well. I guess we’d better find another tavern. Let’s all get separate rooms tonight, shall we?” he said. Everyone nodded. All in all, it wasn’t the worst night of drinking with his adventuring mates he’d ever had.

Flash Fiction: Hyper-intelligence only goes so far

This week’s flash fiction challenge made me think of the recent paper that ended by supposing that we would be better off not meeting super-intelligent dinosaurs. I tend to agree with this idea, but perhaps you should read the article that explains this baffling ending to a serious paper. You can find it here. This inspired the following.

————————–

“I say, I do wish to reiterate our opposition and indeed disgust of these comments,” said Rararaphnalmasia Adoluphina, otherwise known as Rex. He adjusted his monocle as he stared down at the monitor featuring the puny primate president.

“Indeed!” said Karlasasataaanait Vaaroulophinn, who was usually called by his nickname “Steg.” We resent the idea that your humanity would be better off not meeting us. Why, think of the potential cultural exchanges alone! The learning could be terrific.” Steg’s top-hat slid down to cover his eyes just then, and he adjusted it back onto one of his kite-shaped armour plates.

“But instead, we have to deal with these paranoid suggestions. And we would also like to protest this idea that we are well-advanced versions of your dinosaurs. We did evolve millions of years ago, its true, but in an entirely different star system, which circles two white dwarfs and a blue hyper-giant, wholly different than your Earth. We share nothing in common with your dinosaurs, or their avian descendants!” Rex pounded his fist onto the console. All these baseless accusations made him so mad. He was barely able to contain himself.

The primate president started to open his mouth, but Steg cut him off. “And furthermore, we would like to protest the prolific, problematic characterization on your internet of us as red-wine swilling, for health or otherwise. Like all civilized creatures, we enjoy a wide variety of alcohols in moderation. I enjoy a nice brandy from time to time.”

“I prefer a good white wine to red, myself.” Rex had just finished pouring himself a glass of scotch. “We do not appreciate the characterization of us as potential alcoholics. We are very responsible when it comes to consuming alcohol and piloting our vast space craft. Drinking and driving is a very serious crime.”

“Indeed, I can personally vouch that Rex did not have a single drink before he piloted our vessel into orbit.” Steg told the president.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself? After these grievous insults?” Rex demanded, and they both started into the monitor.

The president inhaled visibly. There was moisture on his forehead. “I fear that we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, and given you the wrong impression of us. We meant you no insult through these comments. In fact, they were published as something of a joke, as we had no idea that your kind actually existed. Still, I would like to convey my deepest apology for any insult that you’ve suffered. Certainly, the person who published these comments does not speak for the government of the United States, or for the world. Nor do the people who have made further comments on the internet.

Furthermore, I know that our peoples could learn from each other. You mentioned the possibility of cultural exchange. That would be something we would be very interested in, and I wish to convey the hope for peace and prosperity between our planets.”

“Well.” said Rex, as the haze of anger lifted. “Your heartfelt words are appreciated.”

“I think we can accept your apology. We thank you. I hope you will excuse us. We should return home, or else we will miss happy hour and the appetizers.” Steg turned off the monitor before the president could reply. “I think that went well.”

Rex punched the coordinates for home into the computer. The ship rumbled as the engines powered up and began to break up the Earth to extract the fuel they needed to return home. “Yes, I think they will think twice before insulting other races again. As well they should.”

“Well done, old chap.” Steg patted him on the back.”We’ve struck another blow for decency. But perhaps you should let me drive.” He pointed at the drink in Rex’s hand.”

“Oh, of course. How thoughtless of me. Yes, please do.” Rex slid into the co-pilot’s chair and sipped his scotch. Their ship was now leaving this solar-system, and he enjoyed a well-deserved glow from both the alcohol and the feeling of a job well done.

Flash Fiction: The Huffy Assassination

The latest flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig has us generate five random military operation names, and then pick one to be the title. Here were the ones I generated.

Huffy Assassination

Don’t Mess With Our Foreign Policy

Everlasting Kitten

Nuclear-tipped Lilac

Flaring Cobra

 

I had a real struggle between choosing Everlasting Kitten and Nuclear-tipped Lilac, but eventually I went with Huffy Assassination.

———————–

 

“What do you mean, I’m being assassinated?” The President had been shot. Special Agent Eric Johnston lay on top of him. He’d seen the glint off the rifle scope too late to avoid the first bullet, but now he shielded the President with his own body.

“I have six more speeches to give today! And I’m visiting a cheese factory!” The President squirmed underneath him, as if oblivious to the bloodstain spreading across his blue shirt.

“Please try and stay calm, sir.” Johnston had developed a tin ear for the President’s bluster. Other agents were between them and the church tower now, and Johnston sat up, his automatic appearing in his hand. “I repeat, the President has been shot.” He touched the lapel of his suit to transmit through the microphone there.

“Roger that,” came the reply in his ear. “’Ambulance is on the way. “ That was the mobile command that accompanied the President everywhere. “What is the President’s condition?”

Another gunshot rang out, and Johnston wrapped himself around the President and dragged him down again. There was a third shot. Then the agents around them responded, with a hail of gunfire. The few people from the crowd who’d remained behind now scattered.

“I don’t have time to be assassinated!” The President was still protesting, still trying to sit up. “It’s an election year, you know.”

“Irate.” Johnston replied into his microphone before he could help himself. “He’s been shot in the chest. He’s speaking and attempting to sit up. I don’t yet know…”

Hands grabbed him, tugging at him. “Come on. We need to get the President out of here.” Other agents. “We think we got the assassin.”

“I hope not!” The President told them. “I’m going to wring his neck myself! Don’t you know how many terrorists I killed in Iraq? And then, in Afghanistan?” He kept up his protests while Johnston and the other agents lifted him up. They carried him as fast as they dared, a quick walk, towards the edge of the town square. They’d  been heading for the stage before the first shot. There were no more bullets now, and Johnston thanked God for small mercies.

“We’re at the north end of the square. Near fifth street.” He told his microphone. “Where’s the ambulance?”

“It will be there in a minute,” the voice replied. “Just hold on.”

“Hold on sir. Everything will be alright.” Johnston reached over and ripped the President’s shirt open. The bullet had taken him in the left side, just beneath his ribs. The wound bled freely, but the President was still squirming, so it hadn’t hit his spine.

“That shirt cost more than your salary, you know.” There was some blood on the President’s lips, now. That was bad.

“Try not to talk, sir.” The wail of an ambulance’s sirens was suddenly loud in his ears, and there were paramedics all around him.

“I don’t think the wound is serious” One of them told him after a minute. “The bullet went through him, and I think it may have missed most of his important organs.”

“Assassin down.” The voice in his ear told him. “You are safe to proceed to the hospital.”

They were loading the President into a collapsible gurney when he waved a hand towards Johnston, who approached warily. “You tell my wife,” the President said, his voice quiet. “I don’t want to.”

“Yes, sir.” Johnston agreed.  Was it worse than he’d thought? Was the man he’d sworn to protect, the fiery fighter, really worried? The ambulance doors closed, and other agents hopped into cars to accompany it. Johnston pulled out his cell phone.

From inside the ambulance, he heard the President shouting. “Where the hell do you think you’re going to put that? I’ll have your whole hospital bulldozed! Take this bullet out, so I can feed it to you!”

Johnston relaxed. There was the man he knew. He flipped open the phone and began to dial.

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.

 

—————-

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.

—————-

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.

The International Monetary Bank of Transylvania

An entry into the weekly flash fiction contest at terribleminds.com. This week’s contest, 1000 words while also using three of the following; Cockroach, Fountain, Tax, Bottle, Box. Also, you must include vampires somehow.

“Welcome to the International Monetary Bank of Transylvania, Mr. Clemens.” Mathew Clemens accepted the handshake, the banker’s long fingers wrapping around his hand. It lasted just long enough to seem awkward, holding the banker’s dry, cold hand.”Please, have a seat.”

“Thank you.” Mathew managed, pulling out one the ornate, high-backed carved chairs and settling into it, shifting in a vain effort to get comfortable despite the lack of padding. The banker moved behind his desk, and then made a show of shuffling his papers. Mathew glanced around the office, taking in the ancient-looking wooden desk, the thick velvet curtains that blocked all traces of the setting sun and the numerous filing cabinets that filled the walls. A out-of-place looking Macbook sat humming on the desk, the pearl-white in sharp contrast to the dark tones of the rest of the room. At the front of the desk sat a name plate that read “Count Grigor Alistar.”

“Well, Mr. Clemens. What brings you here today?” Grigor’s voice had nary a hint of nastiness in it, but the man’s thin-lipped smile seemed calculating. It was certainly calculated to hide the fangs that Mathew knew lurked there.

“I’m hoping to get a loan.” Mathew told him. “I’d like to buy a house with my fiancée, Erin Campbell.”

“It is a good time to be buying into the housing market.” Grigor mused. “The price of housing is very low in many parts of the country.”

If you have money. Mathew thought. It used to be that the tax men and the bankers were just like Vampires, and not actually undead. Who would have thought, five years ago, that the solution to the American debt problems, the European bank crisis, the Greek financial collapse, even the unexpected Chinese economic slowdown, would have been Vampires? Apparently, they had been quietly investing for centuries, building up gigantic fortunes, buying real estate and controlling interests in corporations and companies. And then, one day, they’d seen an opportunity and decided to get involved openly.

It had been quite a shock to the world, when they had put out a press release announcing the formation of their International Monetary Bank, but they’d been willing to lend trillions to the United States and Europe and China at such low, long-term rates that it had solved all the short-term instability problems. Now economic growth was finally starting to look up, but the cost of servicing all that debt was still high, and unemployment was creeping up, thanks to government austerity.

And regardless of all that, Mathew Clemens just wanted to buy a house, so he’d come to the only people who still had money. The Vampires.

“Yes.” Mathew finally managed, realizing the banker was waiting for a reply. “It makes financial sense for us to stop paying rent and start building equity in a home.” To him, as long as there was no blood drinking involved, he had no real problem being there. It was just a little creepy.

“What do you do, Mr. Clemens?” The banker picked up a long, black fountain pen and pulled the tip off.

“I’m a software engineer. I work in program development.”

The pen scratched something down on a sheet of paper. “Can you estimate your income?”

“About fifty thousand a year.”

“How about your fiancé? Will she be named on the loan?” Mathew nodded, and the pen scratched again. “Her occupation?”

“She’s a fitness instructor. She makes about forty thousand a year.”

“That’s a very respectable income for a family at your age, Mr. Clemens. How about major debts? Car, credit card, anything else?” The pen tapped Grigor’s thin lips.

“I drive a used vehicle. Erin has a car loan of about $8,000 that she’s paying off. We both pay our credit cards. We have a few things we’ve financed, but nothing over $5,000.”

“Your financial responsibility is excellent for such a young couple. Many people I’ve seen carry far more debt.” Mathew nodded at the compliment as Grigor put his pen down and retrieved a metal water bottle, uncorked the nozzle, and took a long, leisurely drink. Mathew watched his adam’s apple bob before looking away. When he finished, Grigor wiped his mouth with a tissue, then stored the water bottle away. “Shall we go through your financial documents?”

“Yes. I brought everything you asked.” Standing, Mathew walked back to the office door where he’d left the box containing everything from his tax forms to his pay stubs to receipts for every major purchase for the last three years. Say what you would about the International Monetary Bank of Transylvania, they seemed determined to avoid taking on any sub-prime mortgages or toxic debt. When he picked up the box, something small and black scuttled away towards the wall. He hoped it wasn’t a cockroach.

Going through all the documents took nearly two hours. It was well after eight o’clock when Mathew finally glanced at his watch. “Well, Mr. Clemens, I think everything looks very positive.” Grigor finally told him. There is still some paperwork to do, but I think I can conditionally approve you.”

“Thank you!” Mathew shook the outstretched hand eagerly this time. He knew to read the small print, but he would have taken the loan from a werewolf if he’d had to, so long as it wasn’t more than two points above prime. He left the office humming tunelessly to himself, eager to get home so he could tell Erin the good news.

Ordnance QF 25-pdr on Carrier Valentine 25-pdr Mk 1

I found this week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig was much easier to write than last week’s. It was also ten times shorter!

 

“Charlie, how does a tanky end up with a blister?” The American sergeant jerked his thumb at the boxy tracked vehicle.

“Actually, sir, I’m with the Royal Artillery. Our Bishop is a self-propelled gun.” Charles Bradford winced as he pulled his boot back on.

“That’s swell.” The American said. “Now get back into your tank. Messina awaits!” The sweltering, damp heat hit Charles like a lorry as he stood and stepped away from the ivy-covered wall. Sicily in July was a far cry from Bedfordshire.

“No rest for the wicked.” He told his crew mates as their engine roared.

Flash Fiction: The Torch

My entry for Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge “The Torch.” This one was quite a struggle. And sadly it is not at all based on Monty Python. You can see the image prompt at the link above.
The torch burned hot. Albert held it high as a beacon. He could feel the heat on his scalp as he cast it about, observing the crowd who had gathered on the sticky-hot prairie summer’s night. Farmers, smiths, militiamen, millers, housewives, even a few nobles had come, their colourful silk or well-tailored suits and fine hats contrasting with the simple cloth of the other folk visible in the torchlight.
It was a good crowd, he decided. He turned his gaze to the mountains in the west, where dusk still glowed. It was late and he expected no others.
“Friends!” Albert called to them, and they pushed a little closer. Emotion had brought them here, and his goal was to stroke it, stroke their curiosity, and stroke the fear that gripped their hearts. `We have come tonight… because of a warlock!”
The mutter that ran through the crowd was ugly. People crossed themselves. Those holding pitchforks raised them into the air like spears. But Albert couldn’t feel the anger. Pistols remained in their holsters. Rifles were still strapped to backs. Many had brought torches, but only a few were alight. The crowd wasn’t ready yet.
“We have feared this! We have seen the signs!” Albert turned his eyes on a man near the front of the crowd. His suit was earth-toned, and patched at the elbows and knees. Thick black stubble coated his cheeks. Albert had counted on this man being here. “Tell them, Frederick!”
He needed little prompting. “The warlock stole my wife!” his voice near breaking. “She walked off into the middle of the night! Left my bed, left our sons. She was tricked with magic, her heart enslaved. And when we found her… it had been cut out!” Albert nodded at the assertion, though he knew it wasn’t strictly true.
“Our animals!” Another man, his voice deep and rough, shouted from somewhere further into the crowd. “Dead dogs, cats, deer, pigs. We find them downstream of his house!” “There are strange lights at night. Evil lights!” A woman added, her voice shrill.
A hatless gentleman, his necktie askew and his shirt sweat-soaked, raised his voice from the front of the crowd. “My daughter. The warlock… he put a hex on my wife! So my daughter was born wrong. All twisted. She didn’t live.” He raised both his hands towards the sky, as if appealing to the heavens. “We must have justice!”
“Justice!” Albert repeated, and he whipped his torch back and forth. “We accuse Joshua of being a warlock, of having a pact with the Dark Lady. Does anyone speak in his defence?” The mood had grown uglier. More torches had been lit, and hands rested on pistol butts.
“Calm yourselves.” Someone pushed her way to the front of the crowd. Eventually, she emerged, a woman with a long ponytail, wearing a long coat. “This is madness.” Albert kept his face neutral, but he mentally cursed the arrival of the town’s doctor, Elizabella. She should have been seeing to the birth of Mrs. Crowly’s baby. Why was she here? The woman had been schooled in the east and many held her opinion in high regard. If she urged caution, the crowd might quiet.
“We have warlocks in the capital.” The doctor spoke in normal tones and the crowd quieted as it strained to hear her. “Charlatans and beggars, we give them our pity, and perhaps a few coins. Who has proof that Joshua has done any of these things you mention, let alone of having made a pact with the evil god?”
The crowd had calmed. Albert risked losing them. But he had another trick to play. “Alma? Are you here?”
The crowd parted around a gangly, brown-haired teenage girl as though she was a stone in a river. It took her a long moment to notice, and when she did she covered her face with her hands. “Tell them all what you told me.” She was his niece, a well-liked, church-going girl.
“Well… I saw mister Joshua.” When she didn’t elaborate, someone gave the girl a gentle push. “I saw him in the forest, dancing without any clothes in the night. And singing words I couldn’t understand… except for the Dark Lady’s name!”
Someone in the crowd gasped. In an instant, the ugly current was back, a racing, raging river of unthinking hate. Albert waved his torch, and it was joined by dozens more, pushing back at the darkness. Pistols and rifles had joined the pitchforks in the air. He could hear doctor Elizabella arguing for calm, but she was ignored. A decision has been made.
Of course, it wasn’t Joshua that Alma had seen at all, but that didn’t matter. “To Joshua’s home!” Someone yelled. “Burn it!”
From the fescue prairie to the north of town, Joshua’s home was just over a small hill, near to the river that rushed through low, furious rapids. It didn’t take the mob long to reach the river, and then it was only a few minutes to the simple log cabin with its little garden.
That was where they stood, crushing tomatoes beneath booted heels and grinding lettuce into the dirt, while men tossed torches. It took several tries to get one atop the roof, for no-one wanted to approach too close. The summer had been dry and the small cabin was soon alight, as fire danced between the logs. The roof fell in and fire stretched towards the diamond-dust sky. Joshua never emerged from the inferno, but Albert thought he heard a scream over the roar of the blaze.
The crowd remained until the building collapsed. The thick logs would burn for hours, but no-one could live in that heat and smoke. Their anger sated, the mob became a crowd again, and they broke away singly and in small groups.
Albert left before the crowd had shrunk too much. His work here was done. He would lie low for some time, for the people foolishly believed that they had solved their problem. But it was Albert who was the warlock.