Category Archives: Flash Fiction (and Other Bits)

Excerpt from Servitude (Work-in-Progress)

“Evaline, it is unfathomable that you should find every pattern in this shop objectionable,” said Eva’s mother.

Eva understood her mother’s point. The shop had no shortage of the latest silk patterns and new colours for the season. More birds and flowers and sea shells and butterflies than she could dream of festooned each set of new selections. Most of the fabrics met well with her approval, and stood above the items she already owned. But the beauty of the silks was not the problem.

“Maman, it is not the fabric which is objectionable,” replied Eva.

“I don’t want to hear it,” snapped Elizabeth, lowering her voice.

“Why don’t you pick something suitable,” Eva flung back at her. “This entire arrangement is for you and Papa’s interest. I have no say in it at all.”

Eva ducked out of the reach of her mother’s arm and ran out the door of the shop into the street. She shivered in the cold spring morning air, having left her overcoat inside the shop. She looked back at it through the glass, deciding whether the risk of its retrieval was worth more than her discomfort. She caught her mother’s glare fixed on her, and turned her back to the store. Why could her parents not have found a husband less horrific? Why in all of London was there not a handsome well-to-do gentleman willing to liberate her from this predicament and insist on making her his?

Eva could see her own breath as she exhaled. She rubbed the cold from her arms. In her distraction she missed an approaching couple who jostled her aside. Their rudeness interrupted her daydreams of marital rescue. Eva noted that back inside the shop her mother had decided to indeed take matters into her own hands and was poring over several new imports and a variety of laces.

Across the street, a crowd had gathered around a new print shop. Cartoon prints filled each window pane from the inside. Eva could hear gasps of surprise and loud chuckles from where she stood. She looked back at her warm cloak but decided that its retrieval would be an invitation to entrapment once again. She shivered and set out in the cold to have a look at what was so funny in the window across the street.

Eva was much smaller than most of the crowd—and not only because she was not yet a full adult. With two slight parents she had not much hope of ever being of average size. She attempted to squeeze through a break in the crowd, but a heavy, roughly dressed man beat her to it, shutting her out. Determined, she moved around the crowd to the other side of the print shop. The crowd swelled as greatly on this side, pushing her into an adjacent alley. This was too much for Eva, who despite a sheltered upbringing had spent enough time around her family’s various shops to know that alleys were the cesspools of dangerous vagrants.

Eva looked down the short stretch of covered cobblestone to see a hang-dog group of men strutting towards her. In the dim light of the alley, which opened up to another bright road at the far end, Eva could not make out more that their silhouettes. Still, she could see that most of the men appeared worn and broken, except for one of them who walked upright and strong with the pride of youth. Perhaps he was a son of a member of the gang, or perhaps he led them. Either way he would be the last one she’d want to face. As the group bore down on her, Eva didn’t know which way to turn. She froze in the mouth of the alley.

The men burst into the sunlight, their faces as frightening in daylight as her imagination had made them in the dark. They moved around her as if she were nothing more than an inconvenient post. The smell of sweat and coffee lingered in the air as they passed. Unlike the others, the young one stopped directly in front of her, only inches away and standing a full head above. Her heart fluttered against her closed throat. She forced her gaze up to meet his, across his half-open linen shirt, his bare chest which glistened with sweat, under his chin with its faintest fuzziest shadow of a future beard, finally reaching the barely familiar face of her long-lost Sam. Relief burst from her with such force that she threw herself into his arms.

“Sam!” she cried.

“Please don’t,” said Sam, peeling her arms off from around his waist. His voice was colder than the air.

Eva swallowed her flush and began to straighten out her skirts as a distraction. She shivered with the removal of his body warmth.

“Why don’t you have a cloak?” asked Sam. He sounded annoyed, as if her lack of warmth obligated him to take care of her, and this were the worst of outcomes.

“I do,” she defended. “But I left it in the shop with my mother. She’s purchasing a new outfit for me.”

Eva’s gaze stretched back down the other side of the street to the silk shop. She saw no sign of her mother, but knew there was not much time before Elizabeth expected her to return to have her measurements taken—she had changed so much lately. If her mother came out looking for her and found her talking to Sam…

“How nice for you,” groaned Sam, moving out into the sun to get passed her. “I guess you’re showing your appreciation by removing yourself from the process?”

“It’s not nice for me,” declared Eva. “She’s buying an outfit to flaunt me, like a fancy horse. They are marrying me to an old man!”

Eva’s voice cracked in its crescendo. She felt her eyes fill but choked back her tears. For whatever reason she suddenly needed Sam to understand what she was going through, and how desperate her situation really was.

“Help me, Sam,” she cried, grabbing his hand and holding it up against her face. His skin felt rough but warm against her cold cheek. A drop spilled over from the pool in her eyes and rolled down across the back of his hand. She kissed the tear away.

“What can I do?” asked Sam, snatching his hand away and rubbing it against his breaches. “What am I to you?”

“You’re my only true friend,” explained Eva.

“If that’s the truth, it is a sad one,” said Sam. He turned his back and started off in the direction his crew had gone. One of the men stood waiting for him, long down the street at the far corner.

“Wait!” called Eva. “Where can I find you?”

Sam’s back stiffened. When he turned back to her the anger in his eyes scared her.

“At the Parish where my mother and I receive our poor rations,” said Sam, before turning again and heading down the road. Sam’s tone hung heavy with finality. That he didn’t mention which Parish told her he had meant his statement as a warning to leave him alone, to let her know that he was destitute and out of her reach. His information was not an invitation to future acquaintance, but Eva stored the kernel of it away for future use. She had a vague idea where Sam and his mother might be living, or guessed at least that they would not be far from where her father had cut Sam’s widowed mother off from her livelihood and thrown her and Sam into the street.

Eva watched Sam walk away until he reached the far corner of the road. Once there the elder man waiting from his crew boxed Sam’s ear before the two of them carried on out of sight.

At the throes of another shiver, Eva shook off the incident and turned back to the silk shop. This time her mother was standing outside, a cold hard stare fixed on her daughter. Eva’s warm cloak hung over one arm, while in the other she carried a wrapped package of niceties from the shop. When Eva reached her mother’s spot across the street, her mother slapped her wrist.

“Did you get your fill of smut?” hissed her mother. At first Eva thought her mother had seen the entire exchange with Sam, but when her mother then wrapped Eva’s cloak around her cold shoulders, Eva realized her mother referred to the cartoons in the print shop windows. Had her mother seen Sam, she would have demonstrated no evidence of kindness.

My favourite was the caricature of the parents selling their daughter on an auction block, Eva wanted to say. But instead she chimed, “No, Maman, I couldn’t get close enough to the windows to see any.”

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Paris, je t’aime. Et moi, aussi.

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This is a birthday card I bought on Friday, before the attacks.

Apparently I am unable to continue with any new writing or carry on promoting my first romance until I sit down and work out my thoughts following the attacks on Paris, which really rocked me.

 

I’ve been asking myself why, but the answer is pretty obvious. For all kinds of reasons this one feels personal. And not only because I was just there (in the areas attacked) this summer—for the third time in my life, or because it’s a favourite city (which it is), or because I have friends there, or because one of my novel’s characters is a Parisian. This one was personal because I could have been any one of those people out for a drink or an evening meal or seeing a band. I started reading the memorials of those killed and knew that any of them could have been a friend or colleague—from the music promoters and musicians to the design professionals and journalists to the urban farmer.

Nor is the attack on Paris only personal for me. For Parisians themselves, this was a direct attack. Outside of France, Paris has an international identity—not only a place we dream about but a city that many of us have  friends, family, or colleagues calling home. Paris is a destination, a beacon across the globe—an international symbol of culture and romance. For all these reasons and more, Paris has a place in our hearts. And so while the other Isis attacks last week in Beirut and Baghdad are equally unforgivable and deserve the same attention and condemnation, the decision to attack Paris was a game-changer because if home is where the heart is, then this was an attack on home. And there is a high likelihood that there will be more.

My animal brain wants to draw a circle around the two suburban neighbourhoods of Paris and Brussels that foster such hateful radicalism and burn everyone inside. No doubt the assholes that committed these murders only used their reptilian brains. Why shouldn’t I? Continue reading

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Vicious Circle

The following is a short tale spawned by a random phrase generator care of Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

Beneath the shadow of powerful windmill blades, a tiny flying insect flitted from leaf to leaf searching for dollops of juicy fungus. The she-bug ate only the one kind of fungus, like her mother had before her, and her great-grandmother, and many oodles of grandmothers before that. Bug lore passed down through the generations told of a time when the fungus latched onto their hard shells and ate away at the rock hard exterior. But not lately. This little bug’s shell, like that of so many of her hundred thousand contemporary cousins, could not be compromised. A constant overbearing vibration in the air had killed off any soft-shelled offspring. Those born with rock-like protection looked forward to a great future. After a hundred or more successive generations, nothing, absolutely nothing, could make the slightest dent in the outer layer of the windmill’s native tiny flying insects.

Not even a passing thrashing human that tasted sweeter than fungus.

This human, a roving wind energy researcher named Dr. Clyde Zimmer, lashed out after the shock of a bite from a near-microscopic spot of black on his sleeve. He hit the offending bug at such an angle as to knock her sideways through a crack in the smooth vibrating base of the windmill and into the path of a heavy cog. The bug landed upright, shaking herself off to get her bearing in the dark. She paused before flight, long enough for her foot to catch under the turning cold steel wheel. The unflinching cog squeezed her soft parts out through every possible cavity and left nothing but a tiny lump of hard shell which shifted the steady turn of the wheel on a similarly microscopic level.

Doctor Zimmer nursed his wound back at the lab, and then carried on with his research. All would have been well except for one disastrous hiccup.

Doctor Zimmer would arrive at work the second Monday of every month to discover all of his hard work of the previous two weeks erased and overwritten in a mindless scrawl mysteriously akin to his own handwriting. He proposed to his colleagues that they install security cameras but the resulting footage never demonstrated anything beyond what they already knew – that the mindless scrawl of damaging notes appeared to have been written by they themselves on the spur of the same moment.

The cyclic repetition of spurtly brain farts carried far beyond the walls of the regional sustainable wind energy foundation. Car accidents, failed exams, embarrassing moments, bizarre incidents, and sudden shattered dreams all skyrocketed in the same repeating pattern that coincided at the same moment.

The same wave of idiocy struck every other week with such force that much of the work leading up to the moment simply unravelled by the time the moment passed. Progress in general came to a standstill, and Dr. Zimmer began to shift his priorities from sustainable wind power to solving the riddle of this collective mental hiccup. He developed a suspicion that the he’d find the culprit at his own research foundation due to two factors: one, that the geographical area of incidents centred on the foundation’s pet project – the powerful 300 foot windmill generator; And two, that because the human brain operated via electrical impulses, the chance of the geographical coincidence pointing to a giant machine that created energy via electrical impulses was not actually coincidental. He concluded therefore that his life’s work was in fact the cause of the fortnightly undercurrents of electromagnetic stupidity. Dr. Zimmer came to this conclusion at the end of every two-week cycle, and after suffering a dumbification relapse would start his reasoning anew.

Doctor Zimmer left one critical aspect out of his research. He refused to visit the site of the windmill generator. He had avoided the station since mid-summer when he had experienced the misfortune of suffering some very bad bug bites. The bugs hadn’t been an issue, but this year the little flying specks had been exceptionally fierce. On his last visit, Dr. Zimmer had taken a swatter with him, smashing away at the hard flyers until the volume of them overpowered his determination and he ran away to his air-conditioned car.

And thus the eternal cycle began.

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A Magician’s Winter

(Tada! My first piece of Flash Fiction, as prompted from Chuck Wendig‘s Flash Fiction Challenge of March 8, and derived from the random generated sentence: The pointer hunts our winter.)

 

Winter whistled through the thin gaps between the windows of the house, creating ill music to accompany dinner. They chewed through the last pieces of salted meat and rotten potato. Hamish noticed the look the boy gave his father, who had not said a word through dinner. The boy’s father glanced at Hamish. Not in the eye, but at Hamish’s torso, then slid down the length of Hamish’s arm before hiding back in the safety of his sparse dinner. Hamish gripped his fork tighter, grinding the tines across the porcelain in an unfortunate scrape. The father shifted in his seat; the kid began tapping his own fork against the table. Hamish felt unwelcome for the first time since winter had landed.

Hamish and the kid had killed the cow last month. Hamish had held the axe above the cow’s head, ready to drop the death-blow, but stopping at the hesitation in the kid’s eyes.

“Are you sure?” he asked the boy. “She is your last cow.”

“Have to,” the kid said, swallowing a dry lump of saliva and scuffing the moldy hay at his feet. “It’s us or her.”

This was true. He and the family had eaten all their stores. A few potatoes remained, and their last skinny cow that could no longer provide milk. Winter had set in early this year, and refused to leave. The family survived as they had done every year, storing the autumn harvest below the house in the cold storage, and feeding the few cows, goat, and chickens from the hay in the barn loft. They would slaughter a few of the animals and salt the meat, but the rest of the stock provided milk and eggs and the family would survive on that and what vegetables and grains made it through the winter without rotting.

But this year was different. This year they had rescued a lost and starving stranger and taken him into their home. Him. Hamish hadn’t asked for their help, but instead had floated to their doorstep semi-conscious, near death from starvation, without the strength to say no. The kid had found him sleeping in the barn, hidden behind the goat pen. Hamish had shooed the kid away. This barn was nothing more than a stop on the road to oblivion. The kid had run for his dad and the two of them had carried Hamish into the house and nursed him back to health. They asked him once how he had arrived there, to which he responded, “I am a magician without magic.” The questions faded.

Three weeks after the discovery of Hamish in the barn, the first storm of winter hit, making escape impossible. The kid watched Hamish closely for signs of magic. The kid’s father avoided the subject and instead expected a hand now and then, once Hamish recovered, with chores around the farm. The kid told Hamish how his mom had died in childbirth along with an unnamed younger brother. The elder brother had left the farm the year before to work at a pulp mill closer to the city. Now only the kid and his dad kept the farm.

Hamish had killed the last cow with a blow to the neck, the kid holding a basin beneath to catch the shower of blood. The kid stripped the cow once she had bled out, well-practiced with the butcher knife. He’d done this before, Hamish noted. The kid glanced at Hamish, mid-skinning, catching his eye. After they consumed the meat from the cow, the three of them would have nothing.

Hamish retired to his room after dinner, determined to leave in the night. He had no belongings and therefore nothing to pack. He would take the coat the father had loaned him, and the pair of old boots, wrapped in burlap. There would be no food to carry. He should take a knife. Hamish lay in bed listening for the sounds of the other two preparing for sleep… sounds which never came.

Hours later Hamish crept through the silent house to the kitchen. The father and the kid sat at the kitchen table, their empty plates unmoved since dinner. Hamish‘s eyes shot to the empty place on the wall that normally housed the butcher knife, then back to the kid who now held it. The blade of the family axe glinted at the father’s feet. Stillness dominated as the blood raced to Hamish’s head, the pounding of his veins drowning out all other sounds in the room. Hamish knew that none of them was in any shape to fight, but that any of them was hungry enough to kill. He pointed at the father, hoping to instill fear, reminding them that he was a magician, knowing that he was without magic.

“Don’t,” he squeaked from behind the absent power of his finger.

The kid cut first, a damaging slice to Hamish’s outstretched hand. But the upward motion left the kid exposed and Hamish slammed his booted foot sideways into the kid’s fragile ribs, crushing them. The kid slumped back in his chair, the butcher knife skittering across the floor between Hamish and the kid’s father. The father emitted a sound halfway between shock and rage. He rose from the table, gripping the axe at his side. Hamish fought the instinct to bolt, instead running at the father who now held up the axe to defend himself. Hamish gripped the axe between them, and while the father grew distracted by the tussle over the axe, Hamish drove his head into the man’s skull, knocking him out. Hamish felt the axe come free in his grip, but before he could step away a dull burning sensation filled his lower back. His legs gave out and as time froze the sound of the kid’s wheezing swelled beside Hamish’s ear. Hamish felt the cold edge of the butcher knife rest glide through the soft skin of his throat. He savoured the taste of his own blood, a last meal before his power faded to nothing.

“Goodbye, Magician. Take your winter with you,” the kid rasped.

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