Tag Archives: short story

Flash Fiction Friday

In Polite Company, by Hannakin and Mr--Jack, deviantART

In Polite Company, by Hannakin and Mr–Jack, deviantART

Obsolete

by Paige Duke

“You know Mom and Dad are going to toss her out and get a new one, right? I mean, I won’t need her, but you will of course,” Tabi said in that new haughty tone she’d been trying out on her sister.

“Toss her out? What do you mean?” Evi squeaked, sounding shaky.

Lonnie stood at the door to the playroom, just out of sight where she’d stopped at the sound of her name.

“You’re so dumb, Evi. She’s old. She can barely do anything anymore without breaking. Her bug eyes are creepy. And she smells—she’s so rusty it’s all flaking off and stinking up the house.”

Blinking her big “bug eyes”, Lonnie looked down at her joints, where her once-shiny green paint was turning orange. She’d noticed her rusty bits, but she hadn’t thought they were that bad, and she wouldn’t know about it smelling, of course.

Evi’s sniffles drifted out from the playroom.

“Well, it’s nothing to cry about!” said Tabi. “A new one will be so much better. You’ve only ever had Lonnie, so you don’t know. The newest NannyBots have all kinds of built-in games, ones you’ve never heard of before, they do sports and music with you, you’ll see.”

Lonnie waited only long enough to be sure Tabi wasn’t picking a fight with her sister before she backed away. She went the long way around to the girls’ room so they wouldn’t know she’d heard.

Not that it matters.

Because she would get tossed out, she knew. She had a purpose, she’d served it, and soon they wouldn’t need her.

The girls’ room was tidy, just as she’d left it. Their beds on either side of the room were made—Evi’s draped in a pink, lace coverlet, Tabi’s in a new pale grey comforter. She was too old for all that baby stuff, she’d told her mother. The shelves were tidied and dusted. And now for the laundry.

Lonnie clunked to the dresser and dropped the basket. The girls’ mother would be pleased; she was always kind to say that Lonnie was doing good work, though she could see the woman was impatient—she had a taste for novelty. And Tabi was right about that. Lonnie was old. And she did break easily now. So she would be more careful.

Not that it matters.

It was only prolonging the inevitable.

Sometimes she thought of the days when she was new, when her programming was nimble and quick and self-correcting. She could fix anything then, solve the family’s problems before anyone even realized them, could impress the girls with her jokes and the tea parties she set for them and the stories she pulled from her internal library.

There was a feeling there. Her generation had such little capacity for feeling … she searched to identify it. I miss it, she thought. Yes, that was it. She couldn’t go back, only forward, and it saddened her. Now she understood why that phrase kept coming to her: Not that it matters. But then why did she still feel it did?

Lonnie grew comfortable in the motions of putting away the girls’ small folded things, trying to make sense of the words and feelings that came to her.

Then she heard one of the girls crying from across the house. She stopped to listen, decide if she should intervene. After so many years with those two, it was nearly instinctual. How she loved them.

Could she call it love?

Of all her feelings, it was the strongest, the most she could feel.

She decided she could call it love.

The cries grew louder, closer, and Lonnie was surprised when she realized it was Tabi crying, coming to find her. The child burst into the room, tears stained her face, and blood dripped down her outstretched finger.

“Lonnie!” she cried, coming close. “I stabbed my finger on my ruler, it’s bleeeeding,” she wailed.

Lonnie took the girl’s finger in her hand. She had always noticed how soft their skin was, how warm it felt against her own stiff and cold metal. Tabi looked up at her, she was still such a child.

Effortlessly, Lonnie flipped her med panel over and pressed the girl’s tiny injury to the glass. With a swipe of light, the wound was clean and sealed, as if it had never happened.

“Good as new,” she said.

But Tabi didn’t hear, she was already bounding back out the door.

The Trade-In

By Dani Nicole

It’s been a year since we got our Dadbot. It was Isabelle’s idea. She’s younger, going through that pre-teen phase where Dad just seemed like an annoying resident of our household, hell-bent on destroying her social life and fashion choices.

She saw a commercial for the new line of Dadbots and came running down the hallway, catapulting into my bed.

“Personal space,” I said, flipping the page of my Cosmo magazine.

“Kiera, look. Look.” She slapped a paper ad into my hands that she’d printed from the Internet. “The new Dadbots are on sale, and they have upgrades. Upgrades Kiera. Do you understand what this means?”

“Come on Izzy, dad’s not that bad.”

“Last week he set my crop tops on fire… in the kitchen. That’s not even legal.”

I roll my eyes. “Well what were you thinking showing off your skin? You knew he’d lose it.”

“They’re in style Kiera. Don’t you ever get out?” She slaps the ad back into my hand. “Think about it.”

After months of Izzy’s persisting, I finally gave in. After all, my friends were all upgrading to Dadbots and they got away with all kinds of stuff. Sneaking out at night. Riding in cars with guys who were a lot older. Maybe having a Dadbot wouldn’t be so bad. Though I couldn’t think of a single guy who’d want to ride in a car with me.

When they delivered our Dadbot, they took our real dad to a vacation home in Hawaii. They sent us pictures of him sipping from an umbrella straw on some sunny beach. He’d be okay. And when we booted up our Dadbot and he gave us each $50, I decided Izzy and I would be okay too.

Dadbot was great. We didn’t have a curfew. Izzy wore whatever she wanted. She could be hormonal and yell and scream and the only person who had a problem with it was me. I’m sure she wished they’d developed Sisterbots.

Things were looking up. I enjoyed my freedom as well, mostly using it to stay at the library all night, which worked out in my favor. There was a hot librarian assistant who took to me and showed me around the library I had so long ago already memorized.

He offered to drive me home one night so I wouldn’t have to take the bus. We hesitated in the driveway as the moon shone down on us. Wes, the hot librarian assistant, reached for my hand, and when I gave it to him he grabbed my knee instead.

“Whoa,” I said, thinly hiding my nervousness.

He slid his hand further up my thigh and I reached out to stop it.

“What are you doing?”

“Just showing you a good time,” he said, smiling.

I heard the front door open, and Dadbot wheeled out to the driveway, pausing near our open window.

“Is everything okay Kiera?” he asked in his robotic voice.

“It’s okay Dadbot.”

That should have shooed him away, but he stood still. Wes smiled and kissed my bare knee.

“I think something is the matter,” Dadbot said.

“We’re fine,” Wes said. “Go reboot somewhere.”

“I cannot do that.”

We both looked up. Dadbots always did what we told them.

“You can go reboot,” I said, thinking he needed it to hear it from me.

“I must protect Kiera.”

“Get lost Short Circuit.” Wes’ kisses rose higher up my leg. I squirmed.

“Get the hell off her, dirtbag,” Dadbot said.

Before I could register what was happening, a fist punched through the open window and wrapped around Wes’ throat. The bare fist was coming from beneath Dadbot’s exterior, which was now ripped.

“What the heck?” I asked.

Dadbot released Wes’ throat, and Wes scrambled out of the car and ran away. Dadbot returned his fist to his broken exterior, and began to pull it away. There underneath the façade of a robot, was my actual dad.

“You okay, Kerbear?”

Tears escaped and I couldn’t slow my racing heart. I was furious, furious that they’d given us our real dad instead of our Dadbot. But I was also kind of grateful that he’d saved me from Wes’ wondering lips.

“I’m okay, Dad.”

He opened the door and helped me out of the car. We lingered on the doorstep.

“Izzy is going to be so pissed,” I said.

“Should I keep hiding out as Dadbot?”

“Just for a day or so, then scare the crap out of her at the right moment. She’s getting annoying these days with all that freedom.”

Dad chuckled.

“It’s good to have you back,” I said. “Sorry about trading you in.”

“Then I would have missed the look on that guy’s face when I started choking him.”

We laughed together as he wrapped his arms around me. And in that moment I realized a real dad hug was so much better than a Dadbot hug.

Flash Fiction Friday

Happy Halloween!

Theme: Creepy, Scary, Eerie

The Mystic’s Price

By Paige Duke

I hope to God nobody sees me here, I keep thinking while The Mystic takes her sweet time. She’s been in that back room for ages, all to get me the little magic pill. I mean really, how hard can it be? Unless she’s like, back there making it from scratch. But that would be some weird, creepy voodoo, right? Joan didn’t say anything about that—“Just go and see The Mystic, you know that tiny shop on the strip. I thought it was all just nonsense before, but I swear that happy pill she made me is working like a charm! I’m down twenty pounds and I just won my Mary Kay Cadillac!”

Ok, this is stupid, I’m leaving. I’ve got my hand on the doorknob when three of my students walk by outside. I twirl out of sight, praying they weren’t looking.

Light splinters on the far wall, there’s a cabinet of weird little glass figurines I didn’t notice when I came in. I duck beneath the windows, and move to get a better look. They’re all human, incredibly detailed, like someone froze time and shrunk ordinary people. Some of them are beautiful and serene, but some look just positively tortured. This one woman is crouched and burying her face in her hands, I want to put my arm around her and tell her I know what she’s feeling, promise her that things can get better. I’d tell her I know what it feels like to try anything to be happy again.

I hear The Mystic shuffling in the back room, so I return to my chair. What is wrong with me? Having imaginary psych sessions in my head. A second later, The Mystic to comes through the beaded curtain. She’s looking right into me with her mascara-caked eyes, she knows something.

“Okay, Julie, darling,” she hands me a tiny green velvet bag, “take this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with orange juice—has to be fresh squeezed, do not skimp on that detail, it makes all the difference.”

Inside the bag I spy a perfectly rounded shiny pill, more like a marble, and a slip of folded paper. “Um, ok. Thanks, fresh orange juice, I’ll make sure. What do I owe you?”

She settles a hand on her generous hip, “Joan didn’t tell you?”

“No . . .”

“I see. Well, dearie, you won’t like it—you pay me in blood.”

Uhm, okay this is sounding more like the creepy voodoo shit. “In blood? Did you say in blood?”

“Mhm, just a tiny drop, no more than a pinprick, right here.” She holds out her copy of my receipt, indicating a blank white box.
Now I’m seriously thinking of backing out, but I hate the way she’s looking at me, like the deal’s already done . . . and I really really want this, I think of that glass woman.

It’s just a pinprick, I can do that, right? “Okay then, let’s get it over with.”

I stick out my finger, there’s a quick sting, I swipe my blood, and I’m ready to get out. But The Mystic stops me with a hand at my elbow,

“Your blood signifies a binding contract. Do not break the terms.” She holds on for a silent moment, her eyes blazing, then lets go and nods to the bag in my hand, “It’s all in there.”

***

“Fifty percent of profits my ass!” I whisper to myself for the third time today. The Mystic’s terms didn’t mean anything to me when I was just swallowing some gypsy pill, but now that my new CEO husband’s bonus is rolling in and I’ve won my school a national scholarship, I’ve got a bill from The Mystic. And I do not want to pay up. There must be some kind of loophole. I mean, all she did was sell me the pill, she’s not responsible for my success.

Except when I went to see her about it, the shop was boarded up and I can’t exactly ask Joan . . . I miss Joan. I wish I knew where she went. It still feels wrong, the way she just up and left. But no one seems to know anything or care. I keep hoping she bought a private island and just went off the grid or something, all that money. Except that now I need her here to help me with the damn terms of this blood oath.

Ugh. No. No. I’m not paying that woman a penny. That’s all there is to it. Plus, how do I even know that pill worked? True, I’m happier than ever. But she had nothing to do with finding the love of my life or growing my career. I’m the one who did all the work. Yep, nothing to worry about, I decide as I crumple up The Mystic’s terms and chuck them in the trash.

***

We’re moving again, I can always tell when it’s about to happen. Things get loud and frenzied. My vision is limited, a glass figurine can’t move its head, you know. But I can see movement, I can still hear the noise. I can’t believe what a fool I was, thinking I could buy myself a new life. I didn’t know happiness was a thing inside a person. That seems obvious now. I’ve learned loads since defying those terms. Acceptance is another one—to see and accept what is. Like that blood oath, God, that oath was binding, yes sir. Amazing how many people try to get around it, they’re my companions now, The Mystic’s little trinkets. Immortalized in colored glass. That’s one thing I try to be grateful for. That I’m not alone. And Joan, dear Joan. She’s here with me. I can see her just from the corner of my eye, standing as tall and graceful as ever. And happy, she looks happy.

Nightmare Queen

by Dani Nicole

The memory still permeated her mind, and Rae shook, curling herself into a ball and pulling the sheets over her head. Just a dream. Just a dream.

But even the words her therapist told her to repeat to herself did not alleviate her terror. For it was at night when all the dreams came to her. When she shouldered the nightmares of the world and took them all in herself, so that others could sleep peacefully.

And she was left alone to put herself back together.

A great chill rolled down her spine as she remembered the suited man from her dream. The man with the auburn eyes. He’d wanted something from her, but Rae couldn’t remember it. She only remembered the man’s eyes and the surety of her terror.

She willed it all away, squeezing her eyes shut, but a memory resurfaced of her very first nightmare when she was just two years old. She sorted through hazy details, her mind reaching to grab for something she should remember. And then she did remember. Her first nightmare had been of a man with eyes the color of dried blood.

She swallowed. Surely she was overreacting. It couldn’t possibly be the same dream. With so many nightmares in the world, she never had to repeat one. That was her only solace. But this one… it had seemed so familiar.

She pulled the blankets from her body and stepped out of bed. When she stood she shook her shoulders and exhaled. She could do this. She was the Nightmare Queen, after all, and it was only a curse if she let the nightmares win.

She stepped toward her bedroom door, which she kept shut so as not to wake her parents with screaming. Turning the doorknob, her heart raced, but she didn’t know why. She was only going to the kitchen to pour a glass of milk, as she did when the dreams were too much. When she needed comfort and didn’t want to wake anyone.

She placed one foot across her bedroom threshold, and the hardwood floor creaked. As she trekked down the long hallway to the kitchen, a thought distracted her.

She should check on her parents.

She was sure of it, but again, she did not know why. She tiptoed to their room, not trusting the creaky floor to be quiet enough. And when she reached their bedroom door, she cracked it slightly.

Her parents’ bed was empty and perfectly made.

What the hell? She kicked the door open and turned on the lights. They flickered on slowly, revealing a certainly deserted room.

Rae walked to the bed and ran her fingers over the smooth comforter. Where are they? Why did they leave? She pressed her nose to her mother’s pillow and could still smell the perfume she sprayed after her bath.

They had been there last night. They had slept in that bed. And now? Now they were gone. Rae couldn’t help the tears streaming down her cheeks. The dream had been too real, too familiar. She couldn’t distance herself from it. She needed her parents. She needed her mother to stroke her hair and her father to hum her a song.

She turned back to the hallway, wanting to get her phone from her bedroom and call the police. But when she turned into the hallway, she froze.

For there at the end of the rows of doors, at the end of the creeky floor, stood a suited man with auburn eyes.

 

Flash Fiction Friday

Apocalypto by 88grzes, deviantART

Apocalypto by 88grzes, deviantART

Rookie Move

by Paige Duke

I set my feet like he taught me, tighten my grip, and nod. All too fast, the ball is flying at my face and I’m swinging with all my might. At nothing. Again. This was fun the first six times, but the novelty is wearing off.

“Okay, rookie.” Mateo says, walking toward me, doing his best to hide that smug smile. “I’ll show you one more time.”

“Nuh-uh, I don’t want your pity coaching. Throw it again.” I play tough girl to show I’m not mad, pretend I don’t mind looking ridiculous.
Three more failed attempts and I can’t keep up the act anymore. My back is burning, and the adrenaline rushing through my tensed muscles is screaming for release, willing me to take flight.

I drop the bat and walk in a little circle to calm myself. I’ve mastered my impulses. I’ve learned to suppress my powers day after day, and this is the thing that’s going to unhinge me? That I can’t hit a baseball. Pathetic. Mateo walks to me across the dirt field and with each of his steps, my frenzy loses ground.

He picks up the bat and holds it out to me, “Come on, let me show you one more time, I think you’re getting there.”

I roll my eyes, “Right.”

But I take the bat anyway and walk to stand in front of him. Maybe I’m missing on purpose, I realize. Because when he puts his hands on me to fix my grip on the bat, to guide my arms in the swing, to hold me against him a second too long—I can forget myself. Forget myself utterly. Inside his arms, I’m not a creature who slipped through the Veil, this forever caged and crippled halfling, I’m just a girl falling for a boy.

But it’s dangerous to forget. Selfish to let my guard down. And yet, I don’t know any other way. I can’t go back to those friendless, terrifying early days. Mateo is my only light in this gray and foreign world. I can’t give him up, but it’s not fair to hold him back either.

“Like this?” I say, swinging one more time, letting his arms guide me.

“Mhmm, all the mechanics are there, just gotta keep your eye on the ball.”

“Yeah, it’s that easy,” I say, ready to pull away, but he’s still got hold of me and his breath is hot on my neck.

He’s kissing the curve of my jaw and I’m just letting him, drifting into that fog of oblivion.

“Pax, you suck at baseball, but you are a goddess. Anyone ever tell you that?”

My eyes snap open, “Not in so many words.” I pull away, but his fingers are insistent against my elbows.

He turns me gently to face him. “Why are you fighting me?”

The world is chirping crickets and cool wind all around and the electricity of Mateo’s fingers against my skin. And there’s that absurd thought again, Just tell him. You can trust him.

Right, because a girlfriend who suddenly sprouts wings won’t be a problem. Love conquers all . . . all you need is love . . . all that human optimism will break down in the face of the Other.

But his eyes are so insistent, so pure, and then he’s kissing me, and I’ve lost myself. And against my will, I’m kissing him back. His fingers are restless, at my cheek, my back, my waist.

Alarm bells go off.

I tear myself away. I am aching and guilty and selfish. The hurt on his face is unbearable.

“Pax—”

I take two steps back, ignoring my better judgment, willing myself to do the right thing, to cut this off before I can hurt him any more. “I have to tell you something—show you, I mean. I’m sorry I’ve hurt you. But we can’t—I’m not—you won’t . . . ugh.” I don’t have the words to do this. So I turn and run, lightning fast, unleashing my power for the first time in so many months. I pull my jacket off and feel the wind at the open back of my shirt, soothing the fire that’s raging there at the unfurling of my cramped wings.

I’m airborne, I am free. I’m gaining height, soaring over the empty fields. Just get out of sight, far enough not to see him. I won’t have to face him again, he won’t come knocking at my door after this.

A whooshing fills my ears, and suddenly I’m spinning out of control, my arms pinned to my side. The sky is tumbling.

I’m falling. Plunging. But I can’t get at my wings. And the ground is too close—

The impact never comes. I’m floating, right side up again, set down gently onto my feet, looking impossibly upon another winged creature.

“Is that all?” He says, grinning.

“How—?”

“What, Pax? You thought you were the only one who ever wandered through the Veil?” Mateo laughs, “And here I was thinking I smelled bad or something.”

He is a thing of beauty, his bare skin in the fading light, the gloss of his wings jet black. But the sight of him is blurring through my tears. It’s all catching up to me: I’m not alone, I don’t have to hide, I won’t have to hold Mateo off.

His arms are around me again, his laugh is soft at my ear, “Aw, Pax, you’re such a rookie.”

Once Before

By Dani Nicole

Sunlight.

That’s all I see when I open my eyes. When I blink away the veil of my previous life and inhale the breath of a new one. I scan my memory, searching for clues. 

How did I die? Who am I now?

But as I think of my life so far, it answers me in haze of darkness. Nothingness.

I am nothing except what I am now. I stand up in a field of grass, hills rising up all around me. I’m in a valley, where the setting sun casts shadows that dance across the green.

One foot in front of the other. One exhale after each inhale. This life smells like fire. In the distance, smoke swirls up toward the sky, consuming a falling building.

Did I die in a fire?

I try to remember the sensation of burning. Of my skin consumed with flame. Did I choke, or scream, or try to put myself out? Did I die instantly, or did it take millions of seconds impossibly compressed in the span of minutes?

More steps toward the smoke, away from the place I was reborn.

Cold air frosts my bare arms. The tank top I wear does nothing to shield me from the ruthless wind. I wrap my arms across my chest and duck my head as I walk into the gust, away from comfort and warm and… knowing things.

As I walk, a song comes to mind. One that I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to keep.

In the sun,
In the sun she fades
Gone is the girl, the angel brave

She rides toward the earth
And rests upon her grave
Gone is the girl, the angel brave

And yet, there is a familiarity around me that shouldn’t be there either. The electric feeling in the air, the looming presence of danger.

I’ve been here before.

Impossible, but surety ripples through me. Assurance. I know these hills. I know that fire, that smoke and when I look at it, that desire. That desire to burn, to watch whatever’s inside crumble to the ground.

It was me.

I set the fire.

Memories prickle in my head like goosebumps on my skin. Flashes of ash and light and heat and sorrow and screams of death. The sun shifts in the sky and out of my peripheral vision I catch my shadow. Two eloquent, long wings extend from my shoulder blades, the feathers waving in the wind.

But when I reach behind me, I am greeted with only flesh and bone.

Flash Fiction Friday

920 by scheinbar, deviantART

Originals

by Paige Duke

The tall man in the fedora walked brusquely through the library’s lobby, unaware that every eye turned to follow his progress. He had become accustomed to being watched because, well, shifters weren’t usually hired to impersonate normal people. But it wasn’t that. He was still thinking about what he’d seen. About the knife in Mr. Calvert’s desk drawer and how he just wanted to be holding his box of originals in hand as soon as possible. He hadn’t meant to go snooping, it was a rule he upheld at all times. No snooping into clients’ private business. That was the quickest way to get into trouble in this line of work. He’d only meant to find some paper to take down a note from Mr. Calvert’s secretary, and there it was. The thing was lying in the desk drawer, covered in blood, sealed in a sandwich baggie. It was a miracle he’d managed to get the secretary’s note down at all after that little shock.

So he’d made some excuse and got out of there fast. That was the second biggest rule: Don’t run out on the job. But he thought this might be an exception. Dean wasn’t squeamish. He had been willing to look the other way, that was practically part of the job description. You didn’t hire a shifter unless you were into something on the side, it was always shady. But Calvert’s desk was like a crime scene now or something. He’d called to tell Mr. Calvert he was terminating the job early. Had redialed so many times he’d lost count. Why won’t he pick up?

Dean was sweating, he realized as he stood in line at the front desk. He prayed the two people in front of him would be quick. Usually he didn’t mind shifting. It was fun—being someone else for a few days, driving nice cars, flirting with beautiful women, stuff like that. But this was crossing the line. He was not gonna let the likes of Mr. Neil Calvert III get him caught up in something illegal.

The thought made him go cold. No, he had done that to himself already. He was underage. He was only trying to stash some money away for college, but the courts wouldn’t care about that. He was shifting illegally.

Oh my god.

If I get caught, I am in the shit.

Hurry up!! He pleaded under his breath. Miraculously, it worked. The person at the front of the line stepped away from the counter. Only one guy left, then Dean would just get his originals and go.

Most of his colleagues kept their originals, as they called it in the business—clothes, keys, wallet, ID, the usual effects along with their DNA pills—at banks or other high-security companies that dealt exclusively with shifters. But, as Dean was trying to keep his operation under the radar, he’d had to go with something less institutionalized. The local library rented out lockers for community members and guaranteed they were vigilant about security. It seemed suddenly ridiculous, irresponsible, he felt so exposed—keeping his originals in the library!

Dean forced himself to calm down, to be reasonable. John Malcolm has the only spare key. It’s alright, you’ll be back in your own skin in no time. Yeah, he was being ridiculous. He would hand John his key, the man would go back to the lockers, return with his box as usual, he’d make a quick trip to the bathroom to shift back, and he’d be out of there. Home free.

The man in front of him moved, and the scene played out just as Dean had seen it in his mind, as he had done it hundreds of times before.

But in the quiet of the bathroom stall, as Dean was finally calming down, lifting the lid to his box of originals, he began to shake.

The box was empty.

The Dark Witch’s Dagger

by Dani Nicole

17 was the worst one.

50 was better.

When I got to 100 I stopped feeling the pain. But it came back at 200.

920… 920 lashes. 920 piercing cries. 920 fingers breaking and forging again. 920 times my body will be taken apart by the Dark Witch, and 920 times it will be put back together again.

She hovers over me, her face delicate and pale. I wonder how it would bleed. Would her blood be the same violet hue as mine? Or would it be something wretched and ugly as her heart?

She cursed me to this, and oh… the things I would do to her… as she –

901.

That one stung. It was a lash. She likes those. The sound of the whip on my bare skin, the crack of flesh, the oozing blood. She delights in it. She chuckles, giggles, with a hint of mania bubbling beneath the surface.

905.

My curiosity peaks as we get closer to the final number, but 906 feels like I’m dying. She breaks four of my left fingers. They shrivel, turn gray. Then I breathe life into them and they heal, the bones poking the tender flesh, the nails piercing beneath cuticles.

Do this, let her do this, and you will get yours on 920.

As she cuts my arm with a blade, number 914, I wonder if the words I hear chanted in my mind are just false hope. What if this prison of torture is my permanent home? What if I’m not even alive?

917 is more lashes.

918 is a broken shin.

919 is the sound of my mother’s voice when the Dark Witch murdered her. Her screams fill the cavern. The chains which bind my wrists and ankles quiver. Or maybe it is me. Shaking with the fury of 919 strikes, cuts, broken bones. 919 moments of pain.

She circles me once, looks into my eyes. “Let me try something special. Something to change things up. I’ve lost count by now, but it seems as though I’ve been doing the same thing… over and over… and yes, how I’d love to see a new look of pain on that pretty face.”

She takes her dagger from the stool, places it near my heart. “For someone so indestructible as you, I wonder if a blade to the heart would finally bring you down. You see… you see at first,” she laughs “at first it was just a game! The look of pain on your face was just too much fun. And the way you reacted to your mother’s screams… oh yes, you gave me quite the show. But now…” she yawns, “now I grow tired.” She grips the knife, presses it against my skin. “Now it’s time to end this.”

She smiles, her teeth perfect and white, then drives the knife into my heart.

Pain rips through my body, cuts me in half. I fight to sew my sides together, to keep my soul rooted in my being as it begs to drift elsewhere. When she removes the dagger, the hilt starts to glow violet – the color of my blood.

A voice fills the room, this time not my mother’s. The same voice that’s chanted in my mind all this time. And in the moment of the Dark Witch’s greed, the one she captures will be freed. The victim’s blood will pay the price, the Dark Witch shall end her gruesome fight.

The purple swirls up the hilt, onto the Dark Witch’s hands. It stains her skin and sears into it, causing smoke and the smell of burning flesh to permeate the air. It spots her skin in hundreds of places, until she falls to the ground writhing.

The knife she holds turns on her, and drives itself into her heart.

As the sizzling stops, the smoke fades, the chains around my hands break. I walk over to her, tapping her body with my shoe, but she falls limp, the dagger still stuck in her heart.

Number 920.

 

Flash Fiction Friday

br, deviantART by DelilahWoolf

br, deviantART by DelilahWoolf

Counting

by Paige Duke

Ten cherry red fingernails.
Two bruised knees.
Twelve succulents in a crate.

My finger halts its counting, resting above the prickly bunch . . . succulent. That’s a word used somewhere else, isn’t it? A succulent roast, maybe. The two ideas stand together in my mind, totally incongruous. So absurd—the roast and tiny cactus sprouting stick-figure arms and clasping hands in my mind—that I can’t stop giggling.
I bury my face in my elbows until it passes, I don’t want anyone to find me and spoil the whole thing, my five minutes of privacy, this glorious and rare distraction.

Four pristine white walls (painted last week).
Six tall windows.
Eight zigzag boot prints (Mom’s rain boots) across the slat wood floor.
Mom . . . in my mind I see her out in the rain yesterday, drenched, but still insisting on the boots. She can’t have kept an inch dry, the way it was coming down. I count to cope; Mom plants. Despite the fact that everything she puts in the ground dies shortly thereafter. It’s something of a joke—has to be, I suppose, otherwise it’s just too sad. Too ironic.

Three orphaned shoes no one ever bothers to toss out.
Two towering stacks of books, Dad’s overflow.
I squeeze back tears—for the first time today, that has to be a record. It’s just that overflow . . . it’s so opposite of everything DAD right now. I count; Mom plants; Dad stares. Sits and stares, where he used to sit and read. Where can a mind go for so many hours? Nowhere good. To blame or darkness or self-loathing, surely. Wherever it is, it’s not here.

Two identical frog umbrellas for two identical boys.
The twins, a godsend of noise and busyness, the forgivable interruption to our collective grief. They force us to be normal again in a million everyday ways. And break our hearts in the same breath because they can’t understand, will never know who they’ve lost.

I search the room—this mudroom, the time capsule of our house—for anything else. But I’ve counted everything already, everything but one.

One growth chart, its six penciled names glaring, conspicuous for the truth that we are now only five without Michael.
Michael. Our light, our miracle. The boy who was supposed to die but who lived seven years, seven years of borrowed time.

But death forgives no debts.

Phase to Phase, and the Words That Get Us Where We’re Going

IMG_1851.JPG

The other night, as I walked out of Barnes and Noble with a woman from my writing group I’d only met once, something profound happened to me.

The woman, whose name I’d just asked, shook my hand and smiled. “You really are a great writer.”

“Thank you,” I said, trying my best to accept the compliment gracefully and not be my normal, awkward self.

“You really will make it,” she added.

She walked away and left me contemplating what had just happened.

I played the scene in my mind the next day, tossing around the words she’d said. I really will make it. I really will.

Each word had its own weight in my heart. That woman had vocalized what keeps me writing – the idea, the belief, the chance that I’ll make it in the end.

It’s not always the feedback of others that keeps us going. It’s not always our successes that keep us trying. Sometimes, it’s just a few simple words. I can do this. I will.

The hardest part of pursuing a dream of any kind is having faith in yourself even when it seems stupid. Even when you’ve been rejected or criticized. Learning to use your setbacks as opportunities for growth and change is an essential part of the process. We must not lose those words, those mantras that keep us going as we transition from phase to phase.

Sometimes those words come from a new friend outside the bookstore, but most often they come from within. Relying on our own internal cheerleading can make the creative journey a difficult one. One that demands something from us that we are not readily willing to give.

Faith.

– Dani Nicole

Flash Fiction Friday

magical lamp, deviantART by MaithaNeyadi

magical lamp, deviantART by MaithaNeyadi

The Perfect Gift

by Paige Duke

Under cover of darkness, a girl ran to the dumpster behind the beat-up Shell station. She looked around to be sure she was alone, but she needn’t have worried. There was no one out yet at 3 a.m., and the gas station clerk was snoozing. No one watching to see her bruises, the tear in her hoodie, or the curious thing she pulled from her bag to toss in with the other garbage. And after she was free of the thing, still no one to see her sprinting away, away, away.


 

Today was the day, Ted could feel it. Today he would find the perfect Christmas gift for Alison. As he walked down toward the strip of boutiques on Main Street, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his puff coat against the November chill, he saw how it would be. Christmas morning, she’d wake beside him, after a night at his place of course—she’d be staying over by then, definitely—and pester him about her present, the twelfth one, the perfect one. He had the other eleven picked out and wrapped already, sitting in a cheery pile beneath his Charlie Brown Christmas tree they’d put up together after Thanksgiving. So Christmas morning, wearing her vintage kimono robe (Day Four’s present), Alison would lean into him and beg him for her perfect gift with that way she pouted at him.

Ooh, he shivered just thinking about it. That’s where the vision stopped, though, because of course he didn’t have the perfect present yet. But he would. Today was the day; he could feel it. Something about his hair. It was the first good hair day he’d had in more than a month. The static electricity just messed with it at this time of the winter. He’d brush it, not brush it, wash it, not wash it; nothing he tried made a difference—not even his Brooklyn pomade—it would stick straight up like he’d rubbed a balloon over it. But not today. Today when he’d put the brush to it, it lay down perfectly and stayed that way.

So, his unshakable optimism led him through one store after another. He first tried the boutiques, because he’d heard Alison and her girlfriends talking about them over their long lunches. He hated how those things just dragged on, but there was usually a pretty intense make-out session at her place after, so he just powered through. But what the girls failed to mention was how damn expensive everything was in those shops. He couldn’t afford more than a comb or a nail file after all the other eleven presents. No, that was not perfect present material.

Ted tried the antique shops next, his spirits still holding. Alison loved antiques. Nothing in her apartment was from Target, except maybe a basket or something. She had a thing about baskets—organizing in general. He’d tried to start picking up his own place more, hoping that might encourage her to come over more. To stay over.

But the antique places were a bust too. They weren’t as expensive, but everything was just . . . old. Right, but not the right kind of old. Like cracked plates and dusty magazines and shit. No. That wasn’t right for the perfect present. So Ted kept walking and looking in windows, feeling his hopes draining with every step. Then it was sleeting and he felt his hair frizzing and he was about to call it quits. He must have misread the perfect-hair-day sign.

He was headed back to the car when he saw it—the old Shell station. He couldn’t believe the place was still open, it looked in such bad shape. Back in his freegan days, Ted and his buddies from the Meetup.com group would dumpster dive there for the overflow from the vegan place next door. They’d come across some good stuff there sometimes, Huck had even found an old Lomo camera once that was in perfect condition. People didn’t know what they had, just chunked that stuff. Plus, he’d met Alison at the Shell. He’d stood in line behind her, overheard her trying to buy a pack of American Spirits, but she’d left her card at home. He saw again how he’d stepped up beside her and said to the clerk, “I’ll take two packs,” as he laid a bill on the counter. She’d smiled up at him, blonde, pretty, and those full lips.

Ted found himself walking toward the dumpster. He felt stupid, sure. Dumpster diving for the perfect gift? But this was the day and he’d tried every place else, after all. He looked around to be sure no one was watching him, slipped inside the rickety fence, and peered in at the trash heap. There were boxes turning soft with the sleet, mounds of takeout wrappers, food scraps. He stretched on tiptoe to see if he could catch sight of anything else. And he did see something. A glint of metallic light, glistening with a sheen of wetness. As he strained to see further, he saw its curved shape. It looked promising. He reached in and hooked a finger around the thing, it had a kind of loop.

Ted pulled it out, feeling by its weight that it was right. The thing lying in his hand made his chest grow warm. It looked like an antique! Like a gravy boat, only fancier and with a spout on it. Its copper-colored lid had scrollwork-type decorations and foreign script on the sides. He tried to pry the top off, but it was stuck. Even when he brushed the sleet off with his flannel shirt, he couldn’t make it budge. But that didn’t matter. He felt it. He grinned and turned to go home, clutching the thing in the crook of his arm, oblivious to the unnatural heat of it against his puff coat.

It was perfect. Alison was going to love it.

Genie Not Included

by Dani Nicole

Ten years and the lamp hasn’t moved. I watch it, polish it, and leave it just like I’m supposed to. Just like the king told me to.

I still look at the entrance to the cave like some gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking woman is going to walk through it. I would ask her on a date, but she would probably say no considering I don’t really shower anymore. The lake water in the cave is all I can use. But after I asked her on a date and she said no, I might ask her if she could watch the damn lamp and give me a break. Maybe she would feel sorry for me and say yes.

This is what my mind resorts to in the dark hours of the dark cave of the dark life of being the dark lamp watcher.

All the king’s orders are because of some stupid myth that one day, maybe, just possibly, there is a slight chance that the lamp will shiver and a big ass-genie will come popping out of it.

Holy hell, I would love to see that. I kind of wish he’d wait until the hot girl shows up and surprise the crap out of both of us, just before we were about to kiss. Then when he asked me what my three wishes were, the first one would be just another damn minute so I could finish the job. It’d be pretty awesome to show off my wooing of the ladies in front of an all-powerful genie.

But I have a feeling genies aren’t the type to cater to your every need. After all, they only give you three wishes. They’re not going to sit around until you make up your mind. So I’d have to have all three wishes ready. But I’ve only thought of one wish so far.

Ah, to hell with it. It’s not real anyways. And I’m just some stupid kid sitting on the floor of a cave covered in mold. I’m not sure if I smell like mold, or if I’ve been here so long the mold smells like me.

What I need to focus on is dinner. A rat skitters across my feet and I stab it with my blade. I used to flinch at the sight of blood, at the sound of bones crushing. Now it’s an everyday feat, and a necessity to staying alive in a cave full of rodents and fish.

I reach in my sack for the box of matches. When I pick it up I know I’m in trouble. It’s entirely too light. I slide the box open. Yep. Empty. Fantastic. Now I’ll just have to wait for the king’s lackeys to deliver more supplies in the morning.

Maybe Archibald will come. I like that guy. He always sticks around to chat. Kind of gets that whole isolation thing and how it makes you batshit crazy and whatnot.

I inhale, holding the rat carcass in my hands, letting the blood run to the ground. I really don’t like rat sushi. But I really don’t have a choice. I inhale, bring the rat to my lips, and swallow bile. I hold my breath and bite down.

Disgusting.

Revolting.

I never–

What was that?

I suspend the rat carcass in mid air. It hangs in limbo as I stare at the small golden lamp, sitting beneath the light on its stone sanctuary. Nothing about the lamp looks different. It hasn’t moved. Pivoted. Broken. That means that my ass is still covered, and also that I’m seeing things.

Great just more proof that I’m batshit cra–

There it is again.

I throw the rat on the ground. Stand up. Walk to the lamp. After ten years I’ve never touched it. I’ve never dared to break the king’s rules. But suddenly I am filled with an overwhelming urge to pick up the lamp. I want to hold it. I want to trace the intricate scrolling with my fingertips.

I stop inches from it, squatting so I’m at eye level.

“Hello,” I say to it, because when you’ve been in a cave for ten years, sometimes you talk to inanimate objects.

The lamp sits there mockingly, glimmering under the light.

“To hell with this,” I say.

But just as I turn to walk away, the ancient lamp starts to shake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday

Nevermore, angelarizza  DeviantART

Nevermore, angelarizza DeviantART

 

 

Battle of Names

by Paige Duke

“You live up to your name, Dage,” Amarjaa shouted toward the fallen warrior, “you stood firm. Admirable. But even your might cannot alter the Vision. I have foreseen the end. If it’s to be a battle of names, yours is no match for mine.”

The priestess was closing in on the piled bodies, her armor scraping, catching on the refuse of battle. Her sword hung sheathed by her side, its case still wet with blood. In the predawn light, she saw Dage smirking at her with what little strength he had left to hold up his head. The insolent fool! “You wear the grimace of death, old man, can you not feel it?”

“Death, aye. He draws near. I smile not at death, but at your fate.”

Amarjaa’s laughter rang over the smoking ruins, rebounding off the cliffs that had trapped her enemies through the night, and rolled back to her in a wave of clanging mirth. “What do you know of my fate, Dage? Let me tell you what I have seen, lend me your dying ear. Let me tell of you how from your birth you were meant to die at my hand. Let me show you the futility of your life.”

“The Vision shows my frame rising gloriously forever, the victor over my enemies, drenched in their blood, the smoke of their defeat rising to greet the day. The world is mine. Who remains to parry my blow?”

She smiled her cruelty down upon Dage, the last and greatest of her foes. “Look about you, if you have sight left in those eyes. Is it not as I have foreseen? When you pass into death, it will come to be. Amarjaa, Forever.”

Now it was Dage who laughed. Long and ragged. The sound chilled Amarjaa and she resolved to hasten his end. But his words halted her,

“Pity you know not my true name. Then you would not have misread what you saw.”

“Fool. I know you. I have known you for all these ages past.” Her voice was unyielding as iron.

“Nay, you are the fool, Eternal One, you shall live forever, indeed, but mine is the name that triumphs. Turn your eyes upon me, gaze the rest of your days upon the Stone who has conquered you in his final hour—for it is I, Chimwala Dage!”

With the swift uncurling of his clenched fingers, Dage revealed a stone. It was smooth and white as milk, pulsing at the sound of its namesake. The laugh that was perched on Amarjaa’s tongue turned to a scream and she tried to flee, but her feet were already turning to rock, her knees were stiff and gray, the shining breastplate hardened, and her lips trembled as they whispered “the Stone.”

Then they too were cold stone and spake no more. Dage indeed wore the smile of death now, as he looked upon his final conquest for one glorious moment. His head dropped and the stone fell from his lifeless grasp. The sun peaked over the horizon, gilding the battlefield. A fearsome figure stood gazing out over the carnage. The statue of Amarjaa, the Eternal One.

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
– Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Prowl

by Dani Nicole

She perches on a branch, just below the moonlight, scanning passers by. Some midnight visitors are drunk with moonshine, others drunk with sorrow. They rest flowers on tombstones and take away memories in the form of tears.

Her helm is heavy on her head; her neck tires of the burden. But still she perches, waiting for the one to end the curse.

“Is he coming tonight?” she asks No One.

“Indeed, he shall,” No One answers.

“And the curse will be forgotten?”

Nothing.

She can only wait. For people to pass by. For leaves to fall. For the sun to rise and end her reign.

Banished to the night,
delight in collected souls,
until you find the thread that binds,
to free you from your plight.

“Is it you?” She whispers in the direction of a man with stained pants and a ripped shirt. He sways when he walks and belches loudly. “I’ll take that as a no.” She scratches behind her ears as the raven rests upon her shoulder.

“I wish you would just tell me,” she says to No One.

“Better for you to see.”

She waits for hours as the dawn threatens to break. The graveyard is still and empty until, faintly, she hears the sound of gravel beneath shoes. She stands alert, leaning as far over the branch as possible without losing her balance.

A man stops at a marble stone, falls to the ground, and weeps.

She lands softly on the ground beside him, as gracefully as if she had wings. He doesn’t hear her approach.

“Tears do not resurrect the fallen,” she says.

The man jumps up and withdraws a knife from his pocket, wiping his tears with the back of his other hand.

“Who are you?” he asks.

She can hear panic in his voice. “They call me Raven Girl.”

His eyes widen. “That’s impossible.”

She twirls her blonde hair around her finger. “Not a fan of stories?”

“Those are fairy tales. The soul collector. The girl with a raven upon her shoulder that searches through souls.”

“And yet here I am, a girl, with a raven upon my shoulder,” she says.

“A cruel joke to a grieving man.”

She takes a step toward him and reaches for his hand. “On the contrary, I am here to comfort you. I watch many pass through these stones, and I have never seen a man weep as you. Tell me, who is the one you’ve lost?”

He retracts his hand so she cannot touch it. “My daughter, Avalyn.”

“Would you like to see her again?”

This does not seem to be the answer he expects. “Excuse me?”

“I can bring you back to her.”

“You’re insane.”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps I am telling the truth.”

He looks into her eyes, searching for sincerity. She can tell he does not trust her, but may be miserable enough to try anything.

“How can you do that?” he asks.

“Give me a drop of your blood. And I will carry your soul to the next world.”

“Next world?”

“The beyond… where Avalyn rests. I am the only hope you have to find your daughter again.”

“And you know this will work?” he asks.

She hates that question. “I was supposed to meet the one who breaks my curse tonight. If the raven scans your soul and finds that you complete the thread of the curse, your soul will pass on to the next world.”

“And if I’m not?” he asks.

“Your soul will rest with the others until it is released.”

He stares, waits, thinks. She is patient. He is skeptical, but desperate. He will come to her in time.

“For your Avalyn, do this,” she says.

At last he takes his knife and opens a cut on his forearm. The raven on her shoulder begins to squawk.

“Never mind him, he doesn’t like the smell of blood. Come press your wound to my marking,” she says. She extends her arm tattooed by the dark silhouette of a raven.

He presses it against the ink, and is bound to her. He is immobile. As is she.

The world spins around them. A thin, golden thread appears before them, knotting itself into a braid. The raven on her shoulder begins to speak.

“The bond created never severed, for all the pain you both have weathered, a gift of the world beyond is given, for your soul the curse has striven,” says No One.

The man disappears, as does the raven tattoo.

“Where is he?” she asks No One.

“The world beyond,” he says. He flies from her shoulder for the first time in twenty years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday

Lost and Found

by Paige Duke

“Pass through town and keep walking ‘til you feel you’ve gone too far; there you’ll find Harrow House,” I repeated the old hag’s words to comfort myself. I had already felt, more than once, that I’d gone too far, but the house was nowhere in sight. Only endless, empty fields. Now I just felt foolish. For believing some hogwash about a destiny. For chancing the precious few coins I had left to a gypsy’s word. For running from the sorrow that will forever cling to me. As my doubts swelled, the daylight disappeared, all too quickly.

Hopeless, I thought.

Hannah, I heard in the next heartbeat. My name coming to me across the long grasses, spoken by no human tongue. I shivered and could make my feet move no further.

Winking at me out of the dusk was a ramshackle house, where before there was nothing. What sort of trick was this? I spun around but found no one to answer me. No sound but the breeze and the whisper of my name again, no soul in sight but the Man in the Moon.

Hannah.

I felt a sharp prick against my wrist, an insect’s sting. But I looked down to see only the old trinket the gypsy had pressed into my hand at her glassy-eyed divination. A charm she’d hung on a chain, but the thing was too small to fasten round my neck, so I wore it as a double-wrapped bracelet. It didn’t look like much, little more than a chipped or halved coin. But from the moment I wore it, the thing seemed to hum there against my skin. Its strange energy coursed through me, pulsing at the emptiness, the raw ache at the center of me, that place where the child had left me but its soul still lived.

I looked between the charm and the house—its siding grayed with dirt, the roof as threadbare as an old dishrag, the doors hanging from their hinges.

Where else could I go? Even if the old woman had cheated me with her talk of fate, it was shelter for one night.

Hannah.

Suddenly weary, I surrendered. My tired feet slogged through the tall grass as if it were mud, but the gypsy’s trinket thrummed louder with every step. I felt the burst of new life, fresh purpose, though all around me was the stench of mold and decay. The porch creaked, and I tried not to imagine what creatures might be lurking in the darkness of that house.

As I passed through the door, a ray of moonlight sneaking through a patch in the roof illumined the house. All around me was dust and ash glittering in the silvery light, a curious sort of beauty. My hollow womb grieved at the sight, another emptied and abandoned room, and still the charm’s magic pulled me forward.

A weak cry startled me. Now it was my heart thrumming in my ears as I turned to find the source. Just beyond the moon’s spotlight I saw a wriggling mass of blankets I’d mistaken for a trash heap. I approached, my limbs alive with fear. Before me lay a tiny babe, tucked inside a blanket. It couldn’t have been there long, so healthy and perfect it looked. The poor thing was hungry, though, it suckled its fist and squirmed.

I called out, I searched the whole place, but of course the thing’s mother was nowhere to be found. I came back to the wailing child and longed to take it in my arms. As I lifted the tiny thing, the blankets fell back and around its neck hung the thinnest chain of gold with half a coin, whose mate still pulsed at my wrist.

The Case of Beatrice Burns

by Dani Nicole

Beatrice Burns disappeared near Wicker Place at dusk. She was victim twenty-six.

The old house got its name because of its burn marks. One match, and the whole place would ignite like wicker.

No one remembers how the house got its burns. There are no news stories covering an accident. No wildfires. No discarded cigarette butts.

Most people of Blanket, Texas choose to forget, but I’ve made it my focus in life to not ignore the abnormal, for it will always catch up with you.

I set my newspaper on the table and grab my banana, peeling it slowly as I read the bolded headline.

NEW REPORTED DISAPPEARANCE NEAR WICKER PLACE

The victim was only twelve, and new to town. She was walking her dog Toto near the perimeter of 766 Destiny Lane and never came back. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

“Another depressing headline?” Jennie says. My wife comes into the kitchen, her hair a bird’s nest on top of her head. The camisole she wears is thin enough to see through.

“You know, just another victim to the house.”

“You’re not still on that are you?” She yawns, stretching her arms above her head. I pull her close to me.

“It’s the only answer. Every time someone disappears in this town they are last seen near the perimeter.”

“It’s a house, Ray. It doesn’t just eat people.” She laughs, but it’s never funny to me. “Are you going to have a real breakfast, or just a banana?”

I kiss her on the cheek. “Have to run. Be home at 6.”

She smiles and smacks my butt on the way out of the house, but all I can think of is victim twenty-six.

#

“Victim, Beatrice, female, twelve, last seen near Wicker Place,” Sergeant Waters says. He slaps a folder onto his desk. “This is the twenty-sixth disappearance in five years.”

Since the burn marks appeared on Wicker Place.

“I want to put an end to this. We need to find the common thread.” His eyes hesitate on mine. “And something I can use in court, not a superstition.”

He moves to a chalkboard and starts writing details. We hypothesize about the connection, but my mind travels to past cases. It took three for me to put it together, to start associating the house with the disappearances. Once I did, I visited the house after each victim. But I never found anything.

“… Dakota? Are you listening?” Sergeant Waters says, staring at me.

“Yes.”

“Good.” He tosses me the folder. “I’m putting you on this one. You can start by interviewing her family.”

The others exit the room as I weigh the folder in my hands.

The afternoon consists of a visit to the Beatrice’s house, where her mother is hysterical and difficult to talk to. Her father is calmer, and is able to verify that his daughter was out walking Toto and never came back.

“Someone took our sweet girl,” said Beatrice’s mother. “Who would do that?”

“We don’t know that yet,” I say, scribbling notes in the folder. “Let’s just start with what we know.”

Beatrice’s father assures me that she had no enemies, no suicidal thoughts, and had never talked about being bullied or followed.

“It was completely unexpected,” he said.

That’s what they always say.

I pack my briefcase and drive to Destiny Lane. I step out of the car and walk in the street, only able to glance at the house from afar. Its white walls are splattered with ash. Its roof caves in. Weeds poke up all over the dead yard.

This place is a gravesite.

The metal door is hanging off the mailbox, secured by only one screw. It looks as though it hasn’t been filled with mail in a long time – perhaps five years. I scan the rest of the scene, not finding anything that grabs my attention.

I turn to walk back to my car, and stop.

“Hello,” says a little boy with blond hair, standing near my door.

“Are you lost? Where are your parents? It’s not safe out here.” I squat down so that I am at his eye level.

“My camera is broken,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Maybe I can fix it. Where is it?”

He walks through the weeded grass to a small camera resting on a child’s sized tripod. “It’s right here. It won’t take pictures.

I push a few buttons. It doesn’t even turn on. “I don’t know if I can fix this.”

He starts to cry, but the camera flickers on. “Yay! Yay! Now I have to take a picture. You stand over there.” He points at a space in the grass.

I take a few steps back and smile.

“One, two, three–”

He clicks the button, there’s a flash, and I am moving.

I land on hardwood, the smell of ash filling my nostrils. There are walls on every side of me, burn marks splattered across them.

On the wall there are twenty-seven pictures.

Mine is the last.

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday

Prompt: “Be careful with that one,” she said, “it’s got blood on it.”

In Hiding

By Paige Duke

“Be careful with that one,” the nurse barked, “it’s got blood on it.”

Far from the horror Gen was intended to feel, a little thrill snaked up her arm as she took the crumpled sheet.

She kept her face impassive when she looked down at the bright stains, blooming in one place, splattered in others. “Blood? That’s impossible. Hasn’t everyone gone Anti by now?” She looked pointedly at the faded poster dominating the room’s one blank wall:

No blood. No beast.
Do your part and go Anti-Vamp today!

Her eyes were back on the nurse’s face, but her mind recalled those garish stains, her fingers itching to trace them. A fact that both astonished and terrified her. Going Ex meant giving up the hunt forever, didn’t it? “No going back,” the others had told her, even if they could find blood again. It was the only way to survive in a world of Anti-Vamps. The cowards were so enthralled with their discovery they never considered it might help the beasts they so desperately wanted to eradicate. And they had almost managed it. Almost. But the Ex revolution had come just in time to save a lucky few.

The nurse’s voice tugged her back from her bloodthirst. “You’ll be seeing a lot of impossible things around here. If you want to stick around, you’ll learn not to ask.” She paused and looked hard at Gen, “Double wash after you dump that thing. Can’t be too careful.” Then she was gone, on to the next patient.

Gen sealed the door and set to work. Unfolding the sheet as if it were priceless silk, she let her fingers hover over the blossoms, as fragrant as if freshly spilled. She touched them. And she trembled, the frenzied thirst so long denied racing through her, a pulse of another kind. So alive in a way she thought she could never be again. The nurse was right, she should be careful. She would lose control if she weren’t careful.

Though it pained her, Gen peeled her fingers away. Reason immediately returned, and she took a minute to think. This was crazy. She was risking everything. We can still make a life, but this is the only way, they’d told her. But what if? What if they were wrong and there was blood . . . ? The patient would still be in the building somewhere, whether dead or alive. It would be risky . . . but it would be worth it.

She’d turned a corner in her mind, made her decision.

Gen went to the console on the far wall that housed the instruments. Swiping her badge beside the largest one, the clouded glass yielded to her. In another moment she was standing over the sheet again.
The laser made quick work of the largest spot, cutting a clean line around the blood. Gen held the oval in her hand, light as a feather, red as a garnet. She didn’t dare press it to her face as she wished to do. Not here, not now. She would lose her shit for sure.

Instead, she tucked it into the pocket of her uniform. Instantly she could feel the thing beating there, against her hip, as if it still pumped through a heart, a navel, a neck. She had to get out of here. She was going to get herself into trouble.

Gen forced her legs to move, forced her hands to do what they must. She found the room’s single biohazard bag, blood red, and folded the ruined sheet into it. Then she was out the door, blending into the business-as-usual of the hospital hallway. She slipped unseen to the incinerator shoot and dropped the bag in unnoticed. She smiled at all the busy little Anti-Vamps bustling around her, unaware an Ex-Vamp still lived and breathed among them. Satisfied, she turned to go.

She had prey to hunt.

The Blood Tally

By Dani Nicole

A thin line trickles down, into the pit.

A single drop.

Ripples, ridging towards the edge of the pool.

The Watcher does not flinch. She only tallies the drop on the cave wall. Seventy-four thousand, three hundred and five.

#

Evra has never died before.

All of her friends have. And of course they woke up the next day, with hangovers and migraines. Xen told her it feels like you come back with less of yourself.

But Evra has never truly considered her own death until now, as she stands in the woods hunting on her own for the first time. Not that she has to worry; everyone who dies wakes up the next day.

Except… well there are legends of the Vanished.

But Evra doesn’t believe in fairy tales.

#

The toll drips by the hour now, coming faster than ever before.

The search continues.

With each drop, the Watcher tallies.

#

The bear comes closer, landing on damp earth in front of Evra. He sits on his hind legs and roars into the midnight sky, the whole world shaking in response.

Evra steps backwards, moving slowly and keeping eye contact, the way her father always told her. Hunting the Great Bears is dangerous, but Bearflesh can feed her family for weeks.

Evra’s skin prickles as she reaches for her spear. She grips it in her slick palm and readies her body to throw it. She’ll only get one chance to land it in the bear’s heart, else the bear will land his teeth into Evra’s.

She inhales and starts to launch the spear, just as the bear shows his teeth. Evra freezes.

There between his sharp incisors, is a single speck of blood.

#

The names are whispered.

They are sung.

The Watcher waits for the one she wants.

#

Evra has never seen blood. She has only heard of it in the stories of the Vanished—the fairy tales about people who die and are never reborn.

They are said to bleed before they disappear, just a single drop.

Evra is backed against a wall, and the bear stares at her with ravenous eyes. It will protect its cubs as Evra would protect her family. Her hunt is the bear’s hunt, and the bear’s is hers.

They are still for a moment; then they are moving.

Evra drives the spear into the bear’s heart, but the bear clamps his teeth on her arm.

The single drop of blood travels from the bear’s tooth to her skin, and trickles to the ground.

#

The Watcher counts the next drop —  a large glob of shimmering burgundy. It thuds into the pool and the surface shivers.

The name carries across the Vanished.

And the Watcher stops the tally; for it was the name she’d been wanting.