Tag Archives: story

Science Fiction, Double Feature

If you’re anything like me (and a lot of other people on this wonderful planet), the moment after reading the title of this post, a very particular melody popped into your head.

Doctor X will build a creature…

You may currently be envisioning a pair of giant red lips.

See androids fighting Brad and Janet…

Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve jumped straight to picturing Tim Curry in suspenders.

Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet…

And any moment now, you’re going to feel an almost unstoppable compulsion to stand up and jump to the left. And then step to the righ-igh-igh-igh-ight.

Oh-oh, at the late night, double feature, picture show.

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show at some point. Very possibly at multiple points. I know I have. But last week I had my first opportunity to go and see the show performed live on stage, with Craig McLachlan starring as Frank-N-Furter. It was, in a word, AMAZING.

Rocky Horror

It was everything Rocky Horror should be, and time seemed to disappear into a vortex and fly by at the speed of a super-sonic mansion-shaped alien spaceship.

When we came out of the theatre, I was grinning and glowing. The world was a different place — slightly less predictable, and an awful lot more exciting. Around me, 1999 other people (the show was sold out) were exiting the theatre with the same loopy grin on their faces. When people made eye contact with each other, no one looked away in awkward embarrassment at being caught staring. Instead, they shared a secret grin. People jostled each other, not in their rush to leave, but in that casual way that friends and intimates make occasional body contact, as if assuring themselves that they’re in good company.

And the thing that stood out to me, even more than all of that, was the variety of dress and age of the patrons.

Costumes; wigs; diamond jewelry; suits and ties; after-five gowns; fisher stockings; bright red lips; pale pink nails; sensible shoes; 3-inch heels; pearls; cuff-links.

Eighteen year old kids, and seventy year old couples who clung to the handrails for support as they walked, and everything in between.

And all of them, all of them, grinning and laughing and smirking and walking with just a little bit more hip-swivel than usual.

My friend and I left the theatre, and wandered down the strip looking for a place to sit and have coffee and cake. And as we walked, we talked about Story.

Rocky Horror Picture Show is almost forty years old. Those frail-looking septuagenarians? They were younger than me when the movie came out. They probably saw it at the picture theatre. And here they are, still moved by the story of innocent young lovers, and the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania. As for the 19 year olds? They weren’t even a gleam in their parents’ eyes when the movie came out. But they’ve paid a small fortune to go to the theatre and see it performed live on stage.

But, why?

What is it about Rocky Horror that makes it so enduring?

What is it about the story that keeps us coming back for more? Is it the sexual liberation? The costumes? The catchy songs and dance numbers? Or just the overall antici–*

There have been so many other movies and stage shows over the last forty years that take the theme of sexual liberation even further. Seeing a man in suspenders is no longer quite as risqué as it used to be. And while the songs and dances are great, if that’s all it was about, we’d just buy the music. Or see a performance of the songs, rather than the whole show. But, no. We don’t do that. We don’t put the movie in the DVD player and skip through the boring bits to the songs.

Well, I don’t.

So what is it about the Story of Rocky Horror Picture Show that continues to draw the crowds?

“It’s timeless,” my friend suggested. “People can still relate to it.”

But… can they? I mean, obviously they can, or the show wouldn’t be playing to a sold-out audience every eight times a week for five weeks. In Brisbane. But what about it is timeless? Brad and Janet certainly don’t represent modern teenagers. And the whole “we have to go to the the spooky castle and ask if we can use their phone” is quaint and possibly completely unbelievable to the 19-year-olds in the audience.

So what is it that makes the story so timeless?

“You’re over-thinking it. It’s just a great show.”

That wasn’t my friend. That was a random lady who just happened to be walking in front of us, also having come from the theatre, and also in search of refreshments.

“Yes, it is,” I said. “But we’re writers. We like to try to work out what makes the story so great.”

She and her friend slowed and joined us. “It’s just great,” she said flippantly. “I remember sneaking into the cinema when the movie came out — because we weren’t old enough to get in and see it, but things were more relaxed back then. So we snuck in and watched it, with no idea what it was going to be about. And it was just… It’s the story of Brad and Janet who are so innocent, and they’re exposed to this world… It’s like they go through this whole experience, and then… Oh… The hug at the end. Where they run into each other’s arms…”

The two women looked at each, and one fanned herself with her hand. “It’s like… After everything they’ve been through, they realise they still love each other, and their love is even greater than it was to start with, because they’ve experienced so much more. And they’ve both done it, and they’re still there for each other, and…” She trails off, her voice full of emotion.

The other woman adds, “It’s like a fairytale.”

And that’s what it is.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a fairytale.

It’s the tale of a young couple, separated by a wicked (and yet incredibly sweet and high-heeled) witch, forced to undergo emotional trials and come face to face with themselves. But in the end, despite everything that’s happened, they run into each other’s arms.

Safe.

Loved.

Forever.

And the wicked witch, a man so desperate to be loved that he would do whatever it took to create the perfect man — and discard the “failures” on a whim — is bested not by an outside source, but by his own excesses and hubris.

It’s a modern fairytale. A coming of age story that is timeless, because as we start to navigate the adult world, one of the most terrifying things we have to face is our own secret desires and appetites.

Also, there’s killer music, costumes, characters, and a whole lot of antici–

“When we were fifteen and we saw the movie for the first time,” my mystery friend said, “we came out of the cinema, and it was like we had been changed. It didn’t feel like we’d watched a movie. It felt like we’d been to another planet ourselves, and we were entirely different people. Like we suddenly saw the world the way it really was. And now…” She trails off and a little smile plays at the corners of her mouth. “Now, every time I watch it, I feel exactly the same way I felt when I was fifteen.”

And that, my friends, that is what makes a story timeless.

Did I over-think it? Under-think it? Why do you think The Rocky Horror Picture Show has such timeless appeal?

*pation.

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Filed under Opinion, The Inner Geek, Writing

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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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: 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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Flash Fiction: Switched Off

This week’s Flash Fiction challenge over on TerribleMinds is a Game of Aspects. What does that mean? I’m glad you asked.

Chuck has provided a list of 10 Sub-Genres, 10 Settings, and 10 Elements. By rolling three D10s (ten sided dice, for the uninitiated) or using a random number generator, you determine the three elements you need to use in your 1000 word story. My random selection meant I had to write a Cyberpunk story, set in a brothel, including tattoos.

Read on! And remember — I love to hear what you think, so don’t be shy.

Switched Off

It was show time.

I swallowed the EMP-Cap and reminded myself this was the last job I would do before I retired. Then I arched my back and rested one hand on my inner thigh, hitching my dress up a little bit more. After six years of practice, I knew exactly how to highlight my assets.

The door was opened by a tall, muscular man in jeans, a black t-shirt and a leather jacket. The bulge under his arm told me he was armed. The bulge in his pants told me he hadn’t visited a Courtesan for a while.

He took a step inside and scanned the room. While he noted the imitation mahogany table, the real crystal goblets and the open bottle of wine, I noted a few things about him. For one thing, his right hand was metallic. He was a Chromer. And Chromers weren’t known for stopping at just one cyber-enhancement.

For another, he had a UV tattoo of a gauntleted fist on the side of his neck. My room may have been dimly lit, but there was plenty of black light. Almost every organization, criminal or otherwise, marked their people with UV tatts and in my line of work it always helped to know who you were dealing with. And that tatt marked him as someone’s bodyguard.

A meaty hand locked on to the guy’s shoulder from behind. “Move it, Drake. It’s a brothel. The only danger is that I’ll use the girl up and need a new one before I’m done.”

Drake took a reluctant step sideways. “Sir—“

“Shut up,” the second man interrupted. Then he pushed his way inside, not pausing to let his eyes adjust before barreling toward the bed. He was shorter than Drake, with a face like melted butter on a broken plate.

“You.” It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me. “Don’t just lie there. Stand up and let me look at you. Gotta make sure you’re not deformed or something.”

I rolled to the edge of the bed and stood up. “Roland?”

“Who else would I be?” He frowned and gestured impatiently. “Well? Take your gear off. I didn’t pay good money to see your clothes. Let’s see if you’re worth having.”

I unzipped my black leather mini-dress from neckline to hem, then let it fall to the ground. The black light illuminated my own UV tattoo – a PCB covering everything my dress had been hiding.

“I’m Switch,” I said.

“I didn’t pay to hear you talk either,” Roland said. “Turn around.”

I did so. “Would you like some wine before we get started?”

Something heavy hit me in the back of the head. I staggered forward and fell to my knees. I looked up at the man who had dared hit me.

Roland was massaging his right knuckles. “I told you to keep your mouth shut. Next time you open it, you’ll get worse. Now stand up.”

I fought down my pride and did so, almost wishing he’d taken the time to decipher the Printed Circuit Board on my body. It marked me as an assassin just as surely as Drake’s fist tattoo marked him as a bodyguard.

Roland pushed me toward the bed. “On your stomach.”

I climbed on to the satin sheets and slid my hand under a pillow. My fingers closed around the hilt of the nano-blade I kept hidden there for emergencies, but I didn’t draw it. Not yet. Stabbing was messy and came with a whole host of extra problems. For one thing, I’d have to kill Drake as well. And then I’d have two bodies to hide.

Not worth it unless there was no other option.

Roland struggled out of his clothes climbed on the bed behind me. My mind wandered as he grunted and thrust and sweated his way to climax. Men were all the same once you got them naked. Some just tried harder to please.

When he finally collapsed next to me, I slid off the bed. Then I froze. Drake was watching me. I’d forgotten he was there. We locked eyes for a count of three. Then I shrugged and looked away. I had a job to do and if he suspected what it was, he didn’t do anything about it.

I poured two glasses of nano-laced wine and returned to the bed. Roland heaved his bulk into a sitting position and took the goblet I offered. He drained it in a single gulp. Then he grabbed mine and did the same.

Apparently I’d taken the EMP-Cap for nothing.

Roland was as good as dead. Within an hour, the nanobots he’d swallowed with the wine would make their way through his bloodstream and into his heart. Then they’d happily do what they’d been programmed to do — build little walls to repair leaks. While that was helpful in a leaky sewage system, it was less so in the arteries around someone’s heart.

From Roland’s perspective, anyway. From my perspective, it was a silent, untraceable way to make sure he died while I was far, far away.

With that in mind, I left him on the bed and retrieved my clothes.

“What are you doing?” Roland said.

“Getting dressed.”

Roland’s brows lowered. “Get back here, whore. I haven’t finished with you.”

I ignored him and zipped up my dress. Then I slid on a pair of mirror shades and walked out the door. I could hear Roland yelling behind me and Drake trying to calm him down. I didn’t care. I just kept on walking.

I had a contract to collect on and a retirement to plan. But first, I needed to get somewhere safe. I had about half an hour before the EMP-Cap I’d swallowed detonated, killing any nanobots I’d inadvertantly consumed and everything electronic within a two foot radius.

I was in high spirits. There was something profoundly satisfying about a job well done.

Maybe I should do just one more.

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Flash Fiction: The Game

This week’s prompt on TerribleMinds was an opening line challenge. There were three opening lines to choose from:

(1) Everyone else remembers it as the day the saucers came, but I remember it as the day a man in a suit shot my father.

(2) Three truths will I tell you and one lie.

(3) Thursday was out to get me.

They were all quite intriguing, but in the end I decided to go with option 2.

The Game

 “Three truths I will tell you and one lie. That is how the game is played, is it not?” I smile and seat myself at your table.

You crush a paper napkin in your left hand and stare at me. “Game?” Your voice shakes in the most delicious way.

“Yes. A drinking game.” I signal the waiter. “I will provide you with four drinks and four statements. When the game is done, you will tell me which three were truths and which one was a lie. Yes?”

“I don’t think—“ you say, starting to stand.

“Sit down,” I say and you do. I bestow upon you my best smile. “I apologise, my dear. I do prefer not to be so forward, but the game has not yet begun.”

The waiter arrives with a drink. I slide it towards you. “We will start with a G&T, shall we? Something simple, innocuous, seemingly harmless.” I smile as you pick up the glass.

“Once we have finished the game, you will be free to leave.”

You nod and sip the drink. Your free hand is still worrying the napkin. You stop drinking after a moment and I draw my attention away from your hand and back to your face. “Drink up, my dear. Your next is on its way.”

You do and the waiter returns. He places another drink on the table. When he is gone and we are once again alone, I slide it to you. “Let us move on to something more interesting, shall we? A Tequila Sunrise they call this. Is it not beautiful and fresh and bright?”

You take the tall glass without hesitation, abandoning the shreds of napkin in your haste.

“This is not an ordinary bar.”

You stop drinking and look at me, meeting my eyes. It is a long time since I’ve looked into eyes as blue as yours.

“What do you mean?”

“Come now,” I say with a smile. “Do not pretend ignorance, my dear. I see you wearing your finest clothes, carrying an over-sized purse, all dressed up for an evening of pleasure in one of the shrines to dance and alcohol that litter the streets of this fine city. And yet here you are,” I wave my hand in a broad arc, “in a bar with no name and not even a placard on the door to mark its existence. You found your way here because this is no ordinary bar and you are no ordinary person.”

“It’s not like that,” you say, your words tripping over themselves in their haste to make my acquaintance.

“No?” I don’t try to hide my amusement.

“No.” You place the Tequila Sunrise to the table. “I was meeting a friend, but–”

“—but here you are,” I interrupt. “Drink up, my dear. The game is afoot.”

I wonder if you will attempt once more to leave. A frisson of anticipation washes over me at the thought. But you do not. You raise the glass to your lips, look into my eyes once more, and finish the drink.

The waiter returns and places a glass in front of you. Your expression slides from annoyed to perplexed and then amused.

“A Bloody Mary?” you ask.

“Oh yes,” I say. “It is a favourite.”

You pluck the celery from the glass and bite the crisp stalk. You chew slowly, the flesh crunching with every bite. My mouth waters. When I can bear it no more, I tell you to drink. My voice is huskier than I would like, but still irresistible. You lay down the stalk and raise the glass to your lips.

“I am a vampire.”

You choke. I wait while you cough and splutter and catch your breath. Then I go on. “Where I am from, they do not call me by that name. They call me drakûl. But vampire is a word more familiar to you, yes?”

You gulp down the Bloody Mary. “You’re insane.”

“Am I?” I smile, fighting my desire to reach over and wipe the thin line of tomato juice from your upper lip. “That is what you will need to decide when this game draws to its inevitable close. Three statements have I given now. One remains before the game is done.”

The waiter is back, clearing the table and depositing your fourth and final drink. This one looks like sunset in a hurricane glass, a sprig of mint on the rim. You look at it with curiosity.

“What is it?” you ask.

“It is called a Zombie, but it is merely a colourful concoction of fruit and rum . It will not literally transform you into one of the shambling undead.”

You nod and lift the glass, placing the straw between your lips.

“You will be transformed into a vampire this night.”

You do not pause. You drink, drawing the sweet liquid through the straw and into your mouth with a rhythmic sucking motion. My fangs extend in response and I look away.

“I’m finished,” you say. “That’s the end of the game, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then I know which three are true.”

I look back at you and smile, revealing my fangs in all their glory. “The first is a lie, of course. You were never free to leave.” I smile and stand. “Are you ready for your transformation, my dear, or shall I chase you first?”

You stand. My skin tingles in anticipation.

“You’re wrong,” you say. “It was your last statement that was a lie. I won’t be a vampire. Not tonight or ever.”

You reach into your purse and draw out a device that may have come from an episode of Buck Rogers. “You were right about one thing,” you say. “I’m no ordinary person. I’m a hunter. And this is my UV gun, you blood-sucking motherfucker.”

You pull the trigger.

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