Tag Archives: flash fiction

Flash Fiction: Sparkle Wish

Yes, you read that right. After popular demand, I’ve written some flash fiction and would love to share it with you.

This story came about based on a writing prompt provided by a friend in a small writing group I belong to. We each had to pretend we only had 15 minutes to live,  set a timer for 15 minutes and write the story that had to be written. The inspiration for the story was to be the following quote:

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

When I started writing, I had no idea what my story would be about. I just relaxed and let the words flow through me; writing the story that had to be written.

I was very pleased with the final result. A quick spit polish later, it was ready for human consumption. My friend Tonia Marie Harris asked if she could share it on her blog, and I happily agreed. So please, click on over there, have a read of Sparkle Wish, and leave me a comment letting me know what you think of my first foray into Flash Fiction in almost a year.

Here’s a little teaser for you.

Once upon a time, in a forest far, far away, there lived a fairy named Sparkle.

Sparkle was tall and willowy, with shiny hair and sharp eyes, and cute little nubs of wings peeking over her shoulders — a remnant of bygone days when fairies could fly. She lived in a cozy little treehouse, and dined on forest fruit and dewdrop wine. She had everything a fairy could want.

Except one thing.

What Sparkle did not have, was courage. …read more…

Picture by Scared-Princess, shared under CC licence.

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Flash Fiction: Solstice Magic

We’re getting into the Christmas season and all the crazy madness that entails. Since I haven’t had a chance to write or post any flash fiction lately, I thought I’d revisit this heartwarming story of Christmas magic.

This was originally written and posted last year, and is one of my favourites. I hope you enjoy it.

Solstice Magic

The kid was sucking on a cancer stick when he walked into the office. I stared at him for a bit, the way you do, and he stared right back at me. He couldn’t have been a day over nine.

“Those things’ll stunt your growth,” I said by way of greeting.

He gave me the bird. Then he sat himself up on the recliner. “I’m here to hire you.”

“Right,” I said. I opened the top drawer and dug around for a cigarette. I wouldn’t normally smoke in front of a kid, but he started it. “You’re the Winter boy, aren’t you?”

“My name is Colin,” he said. “Charles Winter is my father.”

“And is he paying for this… whatever it is? You lose a toy or something? Your dog run away from home?”

I’d been glared at by grown men who had nothing on this kid. He didn’t speak for a full minute. I lit my cigarette and puffed on it a few times while I waited.

Finally, he opened the bag he’d been carrying – plain white, just like the rest of his outfit – and took out a small bottle. “I can pay,” he said. “This doesn’t involve my father.” He stood up to reach the desk, and slid the bottle toward me.

“You’re paying me in bad booze?” I asked, amused.

“It’s good booze.” He dropped the butt of his cigarette in the ashtray on my desk, then climbed back on to the recliner. “And there’s this.”

He reached into his bag again and pulled out a handful of black fabric. I watched him unfold and spread it out until it took on a familiar shape.

“A hat?”

He nodded. “A silk hat.”

I raised my cig to my mouth and inhaled deeply while I considered the boy in white with the black hat in his lap. “And what do you want me to do for this…” I paused to glance at the label on the bottle. “…fine scotch whiskey and that tattered silk hat?”

“I want you to dig up a body.”

“What?”

“I want you to dig up a body,” Colin repeated. Calmly.

A host of questions sprang to mind. After a moment’s pause I went with a simple, “Why?”

“Do you read?” he asked.

“Do you?” I countered.

He reached into his bag a third time, and this time drew out a faded square of paper. A newspaper clipping. Without a word, he climbed down and placed it on the desk. Then he returned to his seat while I picked it up and scanned it.

Under the headline was a photo of children standing in a snow-covered field. “I remember this,” I said. “It was a couple of years ago. A group of rich kids said their snowman came to life and danced away.” I glanced at the boy. “You one of them?”

He nodded. “Yes. It really happened. The hat brought him to life.”

“The hat?”

“The hat.”

“That hat?”

He nodded, and lifted the black silk hat up for me to see. “This hat.”

I didn’t say anything, just finished my smoke.

“There’s magic in it,” he said. “It brought the snowman to life. It can bring other things to life. It can bring the dead back to life.”

“Right,” I said. “So you want me to dig up a body for you to experiment on. Is that it?” The kid was starting to give me the creeps.

“No,” said Colin. “I’ve already done the experiments.”

I licked my lips. “What do you mean?”

“The hat can bring things to life, but not all the time. It only works on the Winter Solstice.” He stared at me for a long moment. Waiting.  “Tonight,” he added.

“And you know this because…”

“I experimented,” he said again. I must not have looked convinced, because he kept talking. “There are a lot of dogs on my father’s property.” He smiled. “There used to be. I had to find out when the magic would work, so I killed one and tried the hat each day. When the body started to smell, I killed another one and started again. Last year, on the Winter Solstice, it brought the dog back to life.” He paused a moment, then looked me in the eyes and said, “I need the body tonight.”

He needed a body. I needed a drink.

I grabbed the bottle he’d put on the desk and said, “And in return, you’ll give me a bottle of whiskey?”

He shook his head. “No. You can have the booze anyway. If you help me, you get the hat. After I’m finished with it.”

“Won’t you need it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No. Not after tonight.”

I opened the bottle and tipped a measure into my mouth. Colin was right. It was good stuff. “Whose body?”

“My mother’s,” he said.

And just like that, it all came back to me. Two and a half years ago, the police were called to a disturbance at the Winter house. By the time they got there, Mrs Winter was dead. There’d been suspicions of foul play, but it was eventually ruled an accident. Mr Winter was too rich to be a murder suspect.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll help you.”

And I did. I dug up his mother, and he put the hat on her head just as the town clock struck midnight.

That was a year ago. There’s no need to ask if it worked.

If it hadn’t, he wouldn’t have given me the hat. And you’d still be a corpse.

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Dream a Little Dream of Awesome (Now with Extra Firefly!)

It’s my friend R’s birthday. He’s having a get-together with some friends. I didn’t think we’d be able to make it — my husband has to work — but after lunch I spontaneously make the decision to put the kids in the car and drive to his place.

We arrive at his place, but it’s different to the way I remember it. The property is huge. There’s a big, old barn to one side, a more modern building to house the horses on the other, and a ramshackle old farmhouse smack bang in the middle of the yard. The house has a sagging balcony wrapped around the wooden building, a couple of slats missing from the five-step staircase, and old sofas and bean-bags scattered on the deck and grass.

I take the kids to look for the birthday boy. The place is packed. There’s an indie band playing on a makeshift stage. I don’t recognise the musicians, but their music is familiar. There are people lying around on the sofas, other people chatting near the barbecue, and through one of the open windows I can see a group of guys playing some kind of networked computer game.

After some searching, I find my friend. “Happy birthday!” I say to him. He gives me a hug, makes a lame joke full of sexual innuendo, and tells me to grab a drink and make myself at home. Then he returns to the computers inside.

I spot a group of kids playing together out back and take my boys out there.

“Hey,” says a familiar figure. “I’m Jayne. I’m watching the kids while they kick a ball around. Want me to look after yours as well?”

“Sure,” I say.

I leave the kids to play and head back inside, looking for beer.

I sit on a sofa with my beer and put my feet up. The band is really good. I groove along to the music for a while before I realise I need to go to the bathroom. I walk inside, but can’t find anything. Every time I walk through a doorway, I end up back outside. I can see computers through the window, but I can’t find the computer room inside. I start to get frustrated. And I really need to pee.

“What are you doing here?” someone asks. I look over. It’s a girl I haven’t seen in years. (We’ll call her A.)

“Hi!” I say, happy to see her. “I’m here for R’s party. It’s great to see him.”

She stares at me. She’s angry. I don’t know why. Just as she’s about to walk away, I ask, “Do you know where the bathroom is?”

She scowls and says, “Fine. I’ll show you.” Then she stalks away.

I follow A to the left, along the balcony. We go down a set of stairs, climb through a barbed wire fence, and then scramble over a mound of discarded and broken furniture. On the other side, the air is colder and there’s no grass growing. I look around, but there’s no sign of the house and I can’t hear the band.

“There,” A says. I follow her pointing finger and see a broken, porcelain toilet bowl. “It’s that or nothing.”

She’s gone and I survey the toilet. I wouldn’t even consider using it, except I really, really need to pee. And there doesn’t seem to be any option. I tap my fingers against my thigh. Then I start undoing my jeans.

I stop.

There’s no one around. And it’s not like there’s a door (or walls) to give me any privacy anyway. I look around and realise  there’s a row of trees and bushes over to my left. Why use a broken toilet when there’s plenty of other options available to me? I leave the trash heap and relieve myself in the bushes, and then return to the party. There’s no sign of A.

I settle back down with my beer on a sofa and watch the sun shining in the brilliant blue sky.

“Hi,” a girl says. “Mind if I sit here?”

“Sure,” I say. I sit up and leave her enough room. There’s something very familiar about her. “Do I know you?”

She looks me in the eyes with a startling intensity and says, “I don’t think so.” Then she smiles again and holds out her hand. “I’m Sasha.”

We shake hands and I introduce myself.

“What do you do?” I ask.

“Lots of things,” she says. “I just started work as the editor of Speculate, a new Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.”

We talk about books and stories and the appeal of speculative fiction for a while. Then she asks if I’d like a free subscription to the magazine. “Since you’re R’s friend,” she explains. I agree and give her my business card. She leaves to go talk to the band.

It’s late afternoon. I’m lying on a sofa thinking I should go find the kids and go home when Sasha returns. This time she’s followed by half a dozen other people. “Hi again,” she says with a strangely seductive smile. “You didn’t tell me you were a writer.”

I’m surprised. “How did you…”

“I always google people I meet,” she explains. “I’ve just been on your blog, reading your flash fiction. It’s really good.”

“Wow,” I stammer. “Thank you. That’s… that’s great.”

I feel weird and anxious, but she smiles at me again and all those feelings disappear. “I was wondering,” she says. “That story you wrote about Captain Aldo… There’s a lot that’s not explained.  Let me ask you a question: Is Aldo a good man or a bad man?”

I struggle to remember the story she’s referring to, but can only recall the bare basics of it. “Well, I left the ending ambiguous intentionally,” I say. “So people could make their own decision.”

Her expression doesn’t change, but she’s disappointed. Some of the other people turn to leave. I’ve said the wrong thing. I speak up quickly, “But my intention… He thinks he’s a good man, but he often has to do bad things to protect the people around him.”

Sasha smiles. Everyone else smiles. Someone starts to applaud. “That’s great,” says Sasha. “I’m also a movie producer, and I’d like to make a movie of your story about Captain Aldo. I need you to write the screenplay. And I know exactly who will make the perfect Aldo.”

She looks past me to the man lying on the sofa behind mine and Nathan Fillion shakes his head. “Uh-uh. No way, Sasha. I’m not interested.”

He sits up and starts putting on his boots.

“Come on, Nathan,” Sasha says. “You haven’t even read the screenplay yet! It’s perfect for you. Trust me!”

“No,” Nathan says, drawing out the word. “Too many times, Sasha. But not this time.”

“But–”

“No,” says Nathan. “This isn’t like the other times. You left me standing at the altar. I’m not taking your word for it again.”

Sasha closes her eyes and looks away. Nathan finishes tying up his boots and stands up. It’s now or never.

“Nathan?” I say.

“Yes.” He’s angry and hurt, but when he looks at me, he shoots me that familiar smile. I smile back. I can’t help it.

Sasha’s right, he’d be perfect for Captain Aldo.

“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry we won’t be working together,” I say. “I’m a big fan.”

I stand up and walk off the balcony. A few minutes later, they join me together. “I’m in,” says Nathan. “When do we start?”

Sasha smiles at both of us. “Right now,” she says. “I’ve got my people getting the barn set up for the first shot. Nathan, make-up is waiting for you.” She turns to me. “I hope you can get the first scene written and ready to go quickly. We start filming in half an hour.”

We all head towards the barn, and…

…and I woke up. Come on, you knew this could only end one way, right? Yes, it was all a dream. You can’t possibly tell me you’re surprised.

(Although, just to be on the safe side, when I woke up and phoned R to wish him a Happy Birthday, I asked if Nathan Fillion was there. You never know.)

I woke up feeling happy and at peace, confident that I’m on the right path to fulfill my dreams. Sure, that path may not involve writing the screenplay for a movie starring Nathan Fillion (in half an hour, no less!), but it’s the right path for me. And that’s all that matters.

Have you had a dream that changed or reinforced a decision you made? Do you pay attention to your dreams, or is that just me?

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Flash Fiction: Crime of Passion

The Flash Fiction Challenge over at TerribleMinds this week was to write a Five Ingredient Story. Mr Wendig provided a list of ten possible ingredients, and we had to choose five to include in our 1000 word story. The list of ingredients are below. I’ve highlighted the ones I chose in pink.

  • A mysterious rabbit
  • An unborn child
  • A missing corpse
  • A broken music box
  • An ancient curse
  • A half-burned notebook
  • A sudden storm
  • An indestructible tree
  • A venomous creature
  • An impossible doorway

This story started out going in one direction, and then veered sharply in another. I hope you enjoy it. As always, I’d love to know what you think.

A Crime of Passion

A man wearing a suit approached the desk where Selena was waiting impatiently. “Ms Scott?”

“Yeah?”

He slid into the seat opposite her. He was cute, in a Seth Green kind of way. Not at all her type. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting,” he said.

“You’re sorry?”

“Yes, Ms Scott. I’m sorry. We just had to—“

“I don’t care what you had to do. You’re the cop here, not me.” She grabbed the backpack at her feet. “Can I go?”

“No, Ms Scott. I’m Detective Craig McCutchins. I need to ask you a few questions.”

“I’ve already answered a few questions,” Selena snapped. “I answered a few questions when your boys picked me up on the street and I answered a few more questions when I got here.”

“Yes,” Detective McCutchins said. “I know. But I’m sure you understand how serious this is. You were found in an alley with a dead body.”

“No I wasn’t.”

“It says here…”

“Show me the body,” Selena interrupted.

“Pardon?”

“If I was found with a dead body, where is it?”

“Well, there appears to be some confusion—“

“Really?”

“Ms Scott—“

“Selena.”

“Selena, then.  I’d just like to clarify some of the information I’ve got in this report. It says here that you were found in the alley with…” he paused to look through his notes. “The body of a deceased woman, a notebook, a music box, and a scorpion.”

Selena didn’t respond.

“Two officers heard raised voices and approached. They saw what looked like a murder scene. You threatened them and then set everything on fire. Is that correct?”

Selena snorted.

“Selena, this is serious. Surely you want to tell your side of the story. As it stands, we can charge you with arson, assault, trespassing, and murder.”

“No you can’t.”

“Excuse me?”

“You can’t charge me with anything. If you could, you would have already done it. You’re just hoping I’ll confess to something if you keep me here long enough. Well, fuck you.”

“Selena—“

“For a start, you can’t charge me with arson because nothing’s burnt. Right?”

“There is some confusion regarding—“

“And you can’t charge me with assault, because no one’s hurt.”

“Actually, you threatened the police officers. That’s a felony.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Prove it.”

“Pardon?”

Selena leaned back in her chair, a smug smile on her face. “Prove it. Prove I threatened them.”

The Detective peered at his papers again. “It says—“

“—What? That I threatened to put a curse on them?”

“—that you threatened to…” He stopped. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Selena grinned. “Let’s see you talk about that in a court of law.”

“Regardless, you set the area on fire. That put them at serious risk of injury.”

“Nothing’s burned.”

McCutchins reached across the desk and opened the archive box he’d brought with him. He plucked out a plastic baggy and tossed it on the desk. “There’s this,” he said.

Selena peered down at a half-burned notebook inside a plastic bag. “What about it?”

The Detective’s brow furrowed. “It’s burned.”

Selena shrugged and leaned back. “So? I burn a lot of candles at home. The book caught fire a few days ago.”

“And you just carried it around with you?”

“Yeah.  Is that a problem?”

McCutchins licked his lips. “And this?” He pulled out another plastic bag, this one containing a broken music box.

Selena peered at it. “What about it?”

“How did it get broken?”

Selena shrugged again. “I don’t know. It belonged to my grandmother. She didn’t tell me before she died.”

The Detective sighed and pulled out the third and last bag from the case box. “Then perhaps you could explain why this scorpion is burnt to a crisp?”

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

“No, I can’t explain why that scorpion is burnt to a crisp. Why would I know anything about burned scorpion?” She rolled her eyes. “Fuck.”

“So you’re saying this isn’t yours?”

“No, it’s not mine. It’s an insect.”

“Nevertheless—“ Detective McCutchins began.

“Look, you can’t charge me for arson, because there’s no proof of a fire. You can’t charge me with assault unless you want to tell a judge that your cop friend was scared of me saying I’d put a curse on him. You can’t charge me with trespassing, because I was on a public street. And you can’t charge me with murder,” She paused to give him a triumphant smile, “because there’s no body.”

“No. Er… yes. Ms Scott, you’re not doing much to help your situation. If you’d just cooperate—“

“Cooperate? With what? A witch-hunt? You’ve got nothing. I don’t even know why I’m still here. Are you going to charge me with something?”

McCutchins looked at his notes again, at the account of a fire that burned blue, a vanishing corpse, and a woman screaming that she’d curse any man who stepped through her circle. He sighed. “No.”

Selena smirked and picked up her backpack. “Goodnight, Detective.” And with that, she walked out into the night.

Outside the station, the street looked empty.  And then  a tall, blonde woman stepped out of the darkness.

“Diana,” Selena said, embracing the other woman. “Did you have any trouble getting rid of the body?”

Diana rested a hand on Selena’s belly. “None. How are you feeling? Are you okay?”

Selena smiled and put her own hand on top of Diana’s. “I’m fine.”

“Did it work?”

Selena nodded. “I think so, but I guess we’ll know for sure in a few weeks. The ritual was pretty simple. A body for the flesh and blood, music for the soul, writings for knowledge, venom for strength.”

The two of them finished together, “And fire to create a life.”

Diana wrapped an arm around Selena’s waist and drew her close as the two women started down the street. “Pity about the cops getting involved.”

“Yeah,” Selena says. “But it still beats getting pregnant the old-fashioned way.”

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Flash Fiction: Scared

The challenge over at TerribleMinds this week was to write a three-sentence horror story.

Writing a three-sentence story is always hard. But after much deliberation, I came up with one. There was but a single problem: although it’s about fear, it’s not really “horror”. As such. So although this isn’t an entry into Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenge, I hope you like it.

Scared

Maude smoothed the crisp white sheet on her lap and said, “When I was a girl I was scared of monsters, but now I’m more scared of Alzheimer’s and dementia and losing my mind so I don’t remember what I was saying two minutes ago. I want you to promise me, son, that if that happens to me, you’ll do whatever it takes to help me die quickly and with dignity. Because when I was a girl I was scared of monsters, but now I’m more scared of Alzheimer’s and dementia and losing my mind so I don’t remember what I was saying two minutes ago.”

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Flash Fiction: Bright Dreams & Clock’s Revenge

The flash fiction challenge over on terribleminds this week was a little bit different. Chuck Wendig gave us five titles to choose from, and then gave us the added option of mixing up those titles and using the words in any order to create our own title.

I vacillated about which option to go with for quite a while. Then I picked one (Dead-Clock’s Revenge). Then I changed my mind and picked another (Bright Stars Gone to Black). Then I wrote my story. That’s when I realised the story I’d come up with didn’t fit either of those titles.

I had no choice but to make a new title out of the offered words.

I give you:

Bright Dreams & Clock’s Revenge

Have you ever listened to a ticking clock? I mean, really listened. Try it. Close your eyes and listen to the dead spots. The spaces between the tick, tick, ticks.

###

“Marvin! Marvin, wait up!”

I ignore her and keep walking. What is it with little sisters? Every time I turn around, there she is. Marvin, Marvin, Marvin! I’d be happy if I never heard her shout my name again.

“Marvin!”

She catches up and grabs my backpack. “Marvin!”

I spin around. “What?”

“Can I walk with you?”

Rose is six years old, which is five years younger than me. I want to tell her no. I really do. But there she is, in her pink dress and pigtails with a hopeful look on her face.

“Please?” she asks, drawing out the word.

I sigh. “Fine. Just… don’t talk to me.”

Her expression brightens. “Okay!” Then her eyes widen and her hand flies to her mouth. “Oh. I’m sorry, I talked. I did it again. Oh, no. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Marvin. I just… I just can’t—“

“Just stop,” I say, but I can’t hold back my laughter. She laughs too. Then she takes my hand. I’m too old for hand-holding. But I don’t let go.

“How come you left early?” she asks.

“No reason.”

“But you never go to school early.”

I pull my hand away. “I said, no reason. Okay?”

She clasps her hands together and looks at the pavement . “Okay.”

And now I feel bad. “I’m just meeting some of the guys. We’ve got a… thing. You know?”

“A thing?” She looks up at me. “What kind of thing?”

“Just a… thing thing.”

She keeps looking at me. I look away. The sky’s blue. No clouds. It’ll be a nice day. I glance back. Rose is still looking at me.

“What?”

“What kind of thing?” she says again.

Having a little sister is hard work.  “If I tell you, will you shut up?”

“Okay.”

“Mack – you know Mack? – Mack found this weird clock in the woods when he was hiking, and it’s got weird marks on it, and Jason says they’re Egyptian writing and he thinks it might be magic.”

She looks at me. “You’ve got a magic clock.”

“Yeah. No.” I sigh. It sounds stupid when she says it.

“That’s dumb,” she says. “And anyway, you’re not allowed to do magic. Mum says.”

“What?” I stop walking and face her. “What are you talking about?”

“Last summer when you tried to cut Fletcher in half, Mum said you weren’t allowed to do magic anymore.”

“That wasn’t real magic,” I say. “That was just magic tricks. And besides, I didn’t try to cut Fletcher in half. He was supposed to squash up in the box. It’s not my fault he got hurt.”

“Yes, but—“

“But nothing.”

She shuts up. That surprises me. When we get to school, she says, “Marvin?”

“Yes?”

“What are you going to do with the clock?”

I shrug. “I dunno.”

“But what if—“

“Go to class.” I use my best grown-up voice and she does what she’s told. I watch until she disappears inside, and then I race to the clubhouse and let myself in. The shed used to belong to the groundskeeper, but now it’s ours.

“Thought you’d chickened out,” Jason says.

“No,” I say. “Just had to take Rose to class.”

Jason makes a rude noise and Mack laughs. They don’t have little sisters. “We doing this or what?” I say.

Mack grins and pulls the clock out of his bag. “Let’s do this.”

We sit in a circle and Mack puts the clock in the middle. We think it’s a clock. It sounds like one, with the steady tick, tick, tick of time passing. But there are no hands and no numbers. Just weird symbols in a spiral starting – or ending – in the centre of what would normally be the clock face.

“What now?” I ask.

Jason says, “I stole one of my Dad’s books and looked up the symbols.” His father teaches history at the high school, and knows all sorts of cool stuff about Egypt. “I wrote down how to say them. I guess we just say them out loud.”

He hands us both a sheet of paper torn from an exercise book. There are thirteen words, but they’re not words I’ve ever seen. “What do they mean?” I ask.

“Dunno,” says Jason.

“Who cares?” says Mack.

Mack starts reciting the words, and Jason and I join in. Thirteen words. Thirteen words, and the ticking stops.

Silence.

The room goes dark.

“Who summons me from my slumber?” The voice is dark and deep and heavily accented.

Someone screams. It might be me.

Light blooms. There is no groundskeeper’s shed. There is just the sky, with bright stars and a crescent moon. And man who spoke. He’s a tall man with the head of a long-billed bird.

“Who summons Thoth?”

Mack starts to cry. Jason babbles. I say nothing.

The bird-headed man looks to the weird clock and then to us. “You have cast the heka of the Clock of the Dead. Why have you stopped the passing of time?”

We didn’t mean it! We didn’t think anything would happen! I try to shout, but the words stick in my throat.

“Time must go on,” the man says. He reaches with the rod in his hand and touches the clock.

It stutters then starts to tick.

Darkness.

Light.

“Marvin! Marvin, wait up!”

I ignore her and keep walking. What is it with little sisters? Every time I turn around, there she is. Marvin, Marvin, Marvin! I’d be happy if I never heard her shout my name again.

###

Have you ever listened to a ticking clock? I mean, really listened. Try it. Close your eyes and listen to the dead spots between the tick, tick tick. To the place where the past and future lay trapped, waiting for the present to set them free.

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Flash Fiction: Revenging the Rhythm

This week’s challenge from Mr. Wendig over at TerribleMinds was a good one:

Use the sentence “A novice revenges the rhythm” in a 1000 word story. At the beginning, at the end, somewhere in between… It doesn’t matter.

Well, I did it. And I enjoyed it. So let me know what you think.

 

Revenging the Rhythm

 There was a group of children playing a skipping game in front of the Temple. Alix watched them with a smile, until he heard their song. Then he shuddered. He was probably the only man alive who knew what the words meant.

“Alix?”

No, there was at least one more. “Hello, Bale.”

The other man fell into step, and they started toward the door at the rear of the Temple. “How much longer do you think we’ll have to do this?” he asked.

“You ask me that every year.”

 “Doesn’t mean it’s not valid. I’m not getting any younger, you know.” Bale shot a glance at his friend. “And neither are you. You look ancient.”

“Thanks.”

“So? How much longer?”

“I don’t know, Bale. As long as it takes for the debt to be paid.”

“Yes, but—“

Alix rounded on his friend. Every year, they’d had this discussion. Every year for sixty years. “I don’t know, alright?”

Bale looked hurt. “Alright,” he said. “Just trying to make conversation.”

They reached the door in silence and Alix pulled an iron key from his pocket. He took a deep breath and slid it into the lock. It turned smoothly. “Ready?”

“Ready.” 

The men went inside, and passed through the kitchens and servants areas before coming to the Temple Proper. It was brighter there, illuminated by the Eternal Flame.

It was said that if the Eternal Flame was extinguished, all life in the city would cease. Back when he was an Initiate of the Temple, Alix had questioned Master Vidas about it. “What if it goes out accidentally? What if there’s a gust a wind? What if someone lights it again straight away?” He didn’t get any answers, but he was forbidden to work in the Ritual Space without supervision.

Elder Ceren had tried to reassure him, told him it wouldn’t be forever. The old man was right about that, at least. Four years later, he’d been stripped of his Novice rank and told he wasn’t welcome to return.

Well, what they don’t know hasn’t hurt them yet.

Both men paused to bow their heads to the Flame. Then they looked around the Ritual Space. Drums and cymbals lay in a Circle, and a large basin of water sat in the centre. In a dozen hours, the Temple Priests would conduct the Ritual of Healing, a Ritual designed to improve Sun’s health and bring Her warmth back to the world. But first, Alix and Bale had their own Ritual to perform.

Bale sat in front of a drum at the top of the Circle. Alix stood in the centre and rested his hands on the edges of the pool of water.

They waited.

They waited until their bones stopped aching and their muscles grew strong, until their spines straightened and their vision grew sharp. They waited until they heard screaming.

Elder Ceren knelt at the foot of the Circle. His head was thrown back and his chest was bare and bloody. On the stone floor in front of him was his still beating heart.

Alix started to dance.

Bale’s drumbeat was fast and furious, loud enough to drown out the Elder’s screams. Alix matched the rhythm with his body. He danced like he was young, his Novice robes whipping about him as he turned and twisted, leapt and spun.

Once, he’d been the Novice chosen to dance the Ritual of Healing. Now, he danced that day in reverse. Now, he danced the Ritual of Undoing.

The screaming stopped. Elder Ceren’s heart fell into his chest, and his flesh and robes were made whole. Ghostly figures appeared around the Circle. Initiates and Novices, Masters and Elders. All the Priests Alix remembered from his youth were watching.

He danced.

At the foot of the Circle knelt a boy in Initiate robes. Like the, his heart beat a rhythm on the cold stone floor. Alix danced toward the boy, a knife in his hand. He thrust the bloody blade into the boy’s wound. Once. Twice. The heart fell back to its place. A final thrust and Alix danced away, his knife clean and new.

The drumbeats stuttered.

Something was wrong with Bale’s drum. The rhythm was broken. The rhythm was wrong. And if the rhythm was wrong, the dance was wrong. If the dance was wrong, the Sun wouldn’t Heal.

The rhythm must be revenged.

A sacrifice must be offered.

The drum slowed. Alix danced to the sluggish beat. The Ritual was drawing to its beginning.

The drum stopped.

Alix stopped, his hands on the edge of the pool.

His thoughts turned to Master Vidas. It was Master Vidas who gave Bale the faulty drum, Master Vidas who failed to bless the Initiate Sacrifice in case something went wrong, and Master Vidas who made amends by exiling Alix and Bale.

But it was Elder Ceren who had been taken as Her punishment.

Sixty years. For sixty years, Alix and Bale had danced the Ritual of Undoing on Bane Night, doing penance for the wrong that had been done to Sun and to the Elder. But now they were old.

How much penance did She need?

“Did it work?”

Alix looked over to answer him, but the words froze on his tongue. Standing behind Bale was the ghost of Elder Ceren.

“Thank you,” the Elder said. His body filled with golden light, shimmered, and disappeared.

“Yes,” Alix whispered. “It worked.”

The sun was up when they left the Temple. They said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

The children were back at their game when Alix reached the main road. For a moment he considered telling them to change the last line of their rhyme. Then he laughed, the first laugh he’d had in a long, long time, and kept walking. Behind him, their song went on.

An Initiate gets what he’s given
A Novice revenges the rhythm
A Master pretends
That he’s made amends
But an Elder is never forgiven

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