Back to the 500 Club for this lighthearted holiday story. Nothing dark or sinister. No horror. No magic–well, not much. No villains, ghosts, monsters or demons lurking in the shadows. Just something nice, even silly, for your Thanksgiving Day reading pleasure.

Here’s the prompt:

Write a scene from the POV of the friend of [a] character…who has just discovered he or she has a super power. Is the friend excited? Jealous? Does the character with the super power know the friend knows? This one could get complicated…and fun. Only one rule: don’t make it cliché.

More NaNoWriMo updates to follow next week. I’m still on track to finish all 50K words on time.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! 

the dignity of squirrels

Anne rolled her eyes at Barrett. “That’s not a superpower.”

“What would you call it then?”

“A mildly creative lie.”

“Mildly creative?” Barrett said. “I’m hurt.”

“You lose points for originality,” she said with a shrug. “But it is a lie, and it isn’t a superpower.”

“I can prove it,” Barrett said. He smiled like he’d just thrown his first curve ball.

Anne was many things, but generously gullible was not one of them. She stared down Barrett’s bleeding enthusiasm with a pragmatic, well-practiced indifference. “Of course you can, Barrett. Of course you can.”

“I’m not kidding,” he defended. “Seriously, I can prove it. Here, here–call Dixie.”

“Not gonna work,” she replied. “Next you’ll try to convince me that ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary.”

“What? You think I taught her a new trick? That dog can’t even shake.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Fine, come outside.”

Anne followed Barrett out into the yard. He stood in the mid-afternoon sun squinting into nearby trees and bushes. After two minutes of searching, he found what he was looking for. Slowly, he made his way to the large maple tree on the north edge of the yard. He was talking as he walked.

Anne stayed back by the house. His dedication to this practical joke is impressive, she thought. Normally, he would have giving up by now. But as she watched, he advanced on the tree, his hands out to his sides with his palms exposed and his voice quiet as a whisper. She strained but could not hear what he said.

Shortly, a small squirrel appeared through the leaves of a low-hanging branch. He chittered excitedly at Barrett who continued to move forward, talking all the while. The squirrel cocked his head to the side, considering his human visitor.

More chittering.

A longer response from Barrett.

A final chitter.

Barrett nodded.

The squirrel hopped from his perch into Barrett’s waiting hand and then jumped to his shoulder, his tail fanning out around him as he settled in by Barrett’s right ear.

Back by the house, Anne’s mouth dropped open. A trained squirrel? she asked herself. Is that possible? No, no, no. But how then?

Barrett strode toward his friend with the arrogant swagger of someone about to feed another crow. The squirrel watched Anne, his tiny forepaws crossed before his chest. He sniffed in her direction with a look of contempt. Was he…judging her?

“I think you offended him,” Barrett said. “I mean, first you don’t speak his language and then you call his new friend a liar.”

“I don’t understand,” Anne said. “How did you…? What’s going on? Did you have food in your pocket or something?”

Barrett whispered something to the squirrel who hmph-ed at Anne and flicked his tail. “I told you,” Barrett said, “I can talk to animals.”

Anne was speechless.

The squirrel chittered excitedly. “Oh, and translate for them,” Barrett continued. “Though I think I’ll censor some of his language. You have no idea how crude squirrels can be…”

NaNoWriMo is in full swing and I’m happy to announce that I’ve written 36,456 words so far. At my current pace, I’ll easily finish on time, but my book is almost certainly going to exceed the 50,000 word minimum goal by a good bit. The story is growing as I write, and I know when I’m done I’ll have nothing more than a foundation–a ‘shitty first draft‘–that I’ll have to rework and finesse if it’s to become a publishable novel. 

Still, I’m happy with the progress, as is Vye. It’s a wild ride, writing at this pace, but it’s fun.

For this week’s flash fiction, I’ve returned to a prompt from the 500 Club. The story is a simple one and I’m hardly the first to tell it, but I think it turned out well. Please feel free to give me your thoughts in the comments.

Here is the prompt:

Sometimes the best laid plans lay in ruin due to one simple mistake or happenstance. Write 500 words about that little mistake or happenstance.

Best of luck to all my fellow NaNoWriMo writers. I hope you’re enjoying the journey as much as I am. 

brother’s keeper

The rock dropped from his hand.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, he thought.

The sun was low in the afternoon sky. Around him stalks swayed in the breeze, the breath of God rolling over the land. He could smell the earth–the plants, the soil, the cedar trees at the edges of the field. This was his place. This had always been his place. Suddenly, it felt alien and a deep sadness gripped his heart.

At his feet lay the body. It wasn’t moving. He could see blood pooling around the head, the eyes rolled back. The tongue hung out of the mouth, lifeless. He had no word for what he was looking at. No way to categorize the sight. The wound was grievous. It didn’t surprise him that the body lay still, but questions hung about him in the air.

Would he wake? Would he heal? Would this be like so many other scrapes, cuts and bruises? Maybe he was only sleeping. Had it not been for the way his eyelids remained open he might have been able to believe that.

But the chest didn’t rise and fall. Without breath, he began to draw a terrible conclusion. Is it even possible, he asked himself, to destroy a person? To steal life? To undo what God had done?

From a few feet away, his dog whined. She watched him, and he realized she was afraid. He was afraid, too. He could not hide this, no matter how much he wanted to. In his mind, a desperation took seed and he wished it all away. The last day. The shame of embarrassment. The craving he’d felt for validation and acceptance. The jealousy. The anger that gave birth to rage.

He’d only wanted to talk. Between the two of them, he had hoped they could come to an understanding. There needn’t be a good one and a bad one. They were equals, or so they had always thought of themselves, even though he was older. He’d wanted to reaffirm that and restore his place.

His fingers curled into a fist as another wave of enmity washed over him. Silently, he cursed himself, the sky, the day, the field. A still, small voice in his head spoke then: This is what caused it, the voice said. Your own rage. 

Pain overcame wrath, and his fist fell open as the first tears dropped from his eyes.

“What have I done?” he asked the empty field. The stalks waved back and forth in response, like so many heads slowly shaking. He could feel their judgment. All of creation would mark him for what he was. The agony he felt in his heart threatened to unravel his mind and rob him of what sanity he had left.

“Come,” he said to the dog.

Turning from Abel’s body, Cain walked into the woods, hoping that God wouldn’t see his trail as he made his way into the shadows. But he knew he could not hide.

Now that The Kinter House is done, I feel the urge to write something a little more lighthearted. Dark still, but not quite so twisted. 

The piece below was a fun romp. It was written with admitted haste, as I’m also tackling NaNoWriMo this month and I have words (quite a lot of them) to churn out today. This is just a brief reprieve from the book-in-progress. Like so much of my flash fiction, there’s more to this story than the 500 words below. I’d like to come  back to this one and explore what happens next, but I had a 500 word limit this week, so all you get is a teaser. 

The prompt, from the 500 Club, was this:

Write a character in the wrong place at the wrong time. What makes your character vulnerable in this situation? Will he or she use that vulnerability to help in the situation?

Okay, so I could have adhered to the prompt more strictly than I did. Eh, it’s NaNoWriMo. I’m not going to sweat it.

I hope you enjoy this little bit of madness.

the truth about fairies
(or at least one of them)

Fairies are unpredictable at best. That’s the first thing people don’t understand about them. Here’s the second: they are nothing like Tinker Bell. They don’t glitter or shimmer. There’s no such thing as magic fairy dust that will make you fly. You can say you don’t believe in them all day long and not one of them is going to keel over.

Don’t believe the hype.

Take Azulæiø, for example. (Yeah, that’s a bitch of a name to pronounce. I just call her Az, for short.) She’s about a foot tall and has wings. Gossamer wings, even. But that’s where the typical fairy stops and the atypical starts. First off, she smokes. Like a chimney. She rolls her own because, (a) ‘big-person-sized’ cigarettes are unwieldy, and (b) she’s a bit of a tobacco snob. Only Drum Dark Kentucky will do.

She also likes explosives of all shapes and sizes, chaos magic, cheap Chinese take-out and, of course, moonlit walks on the beach. Her favorite band is Nine Inch Nails. Her favorite movie, Shaun of the Dead. And lately she’s been trying to get me into bed with her.

Yeah. I don’t get it either. I would hope to God ‘tab A’ is entirely too big for ‘slot B’, but she just grins and says, “The fay have a way.”

I try to avoid her when she’s on her period, but last month I was working a complex spell with a hint of dark magic to it–raven’s blood, nothing too grim–and I needed her help. I scried her and was met with, “What the fuck do you want?”

“Hey Az. Um, I need some help with a spell.”

“Too good to sleep with a fairy, but ooh, you’ll come begging for help when it suits you, eh? Long shanks, you got balls even if you won’t use them!”

I narrowed my eyes. “Az–are you drunk?”

“I had one shot!”

“That’s like me drinking a full liter.”

“Agh,” she said slurring. “I can hold my…”

Here she seemed to nod off for a moment and then her head snapped up. “Be right there!”

One moment she was an image in my scrying bowl and the next she was beside me. She was wearing leather jeans and a halter top, presumably from the Red Light Barbie collection. And she was holding a small ball of C-4.

I eyed the explosive. “What’s with the boom-boom?” I asked.

“You won’t have me…” she said stumbling to the left “…no one else can, either. Or you. No one can have you. Or me. Both of us!”

“You’re going to blow us up?” I said, mildly amused.

She looked up into my face, her inebriation melting away under a wave of anger that I can only describe as ‘threat level: woman-scorned’. She held a tiny lighter in one hand and the C-4 in the other.

“You think I’m bluffing.” She didn’t slur a single word.

“Clearly, I misjudged.”

She nodded once. “Damn straight.”

Then she flicked the lighter.

For anyone who is wondering, I see The Kinter House coming to a close in the next couple of weeks. I think there will be two more installments. I have a loose idea of what I think (and hope) will happen, but until I see the prompts, I just won’t know. Oh, and if you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

This week’s prompt is brought to us by the gang over at the 500 Club:

Write the moment a character finally gets something they’ve wanted for a long time. Was it worth the wanting? Can you show emotion without going over the top or going with what’s been overdone? 

I think this short piece satisfies the prompt nicely, though you might have to be familiar with the entire series to really see it. Jessica is a simple creature. Okay, simple and twisted, but simple nevertheless. I believe this is something she’s wanted for a long, long time.

Thanks for all the comments on last week’s story. It’s encouraging to hear that folks are reading them and finding them to be scary. As I said in one of the comments, they scare me, too. Kinter and Jessica are, in many ways, my own personal fears at a very basic level. They remind me of people I know…

But enough of that. On to this week’s story. We’ve come this far–only a little further ’til the end.

the kiss

It was a beautiful kiss.

The torch hissed and the skin pulled back, crackling and turning dark the way it does. Every time James gives someone a kiss, it’s like it’s the first time. I always feel like I’m watching something magical.

When we were little and Momma took us to church, the preacher used to talk about sacred things. I remember him saying that when a thing is sacred, it’s holy, and he said that holy means “set apart”, like the good china we only use on Christmas. It’s special. It’s just for certain times.

That’s how James’ kisses are.

I used to hate that James didn’t tell me he loved me more. After he showed Momma the pain, I wanted him to hold me. I was scared. But it made him angry. I think he thought I was sad for her, but I was sad for us. I didn’t know he was planning to show other people the pain, too. I thought when Momma died, that would be it and I didn’t want it to end.

James has kissed me a few times. I have pretty marks to prove it. They are all over. James says I’m the prettiest girl he’s ever seen. He says that’s why I can’t leave the house–everyone would want to know who I was and why I was there. He says it’s like how they follow celebrities around, taking pictures and talking about everything they do. He says he’s protecting me from that, so I have to stay hidden. But I have him, and that’s all I really need. Him and his kisses.

After he kissed the boy’s cheek, he turned to me. “Would you like to…?” he asked, holding out the torch.

My heart beat so hard, then. James has never let me kiss anyone. Sometimes he lets me cut things. Small things, like fingers and toes. One time he even let me dissect one, but she was already dead. It looks like more fun when James does it. They’re still moving and screaming then.

But a kiss. I’ve never given anyone a kiss. It’s a sacred thing, a kiss. Holy. Set apart.

He handed me the torch and my hands shook.

“Be careful with it. The end is very hot. Point the flames toward his skin and only hold it there for a short bit.”

James had kissed the right cheek, so I decided to kiss the left. I leaned forward with the torch, but there was so much blood on the floor. My feet slid and I fell into the boy. The torch pushed into his face hard and he passed out or died. His body just stopped moving.

James tried to help me up, but the torch was so hot. I spun and dropped it. He caught it as it fell, but the flame was twisted toward him. It kissed his arm and lit his shirt on fire.

“I’m sorry, James!” I cried.

And then something hit my legs from behind.

First, a disclaimer: If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s flash fiction. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

The prompt this week (from the 500 Club) is a perfect example of how unpredictable the development of this series can be, even for me. This prompt was, I assure you, the easiest one to weave into the fabric of this series available this week, and it was no easy thing to fit it in. (Feel free to let me know in the comments if it feels forced or if it works for you.) And yet, I loved writing it…because I had to be creative and work to make it fit. (It helped that Vye was definitely by my side today. She’s a helpful girl when she wants to be.)

While I’m talking about the series, another thing I’ve enjoyed about writing it is that the point of view changes with each installment. That makes each piece feel totally different to me, and allows me to capitalize on the knowledge, experience and ignorance of different characters. (Also, since it’s what Stoker did when writing Dracula, it makes me feel just a little bit–a teeny, tiny bit–like I’m following in the footsteps of one of the greats.)

Okay, the prompt was:

Luck Would Have It: Pick a common lucky item, good (horse shoe, penny on heads, rabbit’s foot) or bad (black cat, monkey’s paw, cracked mirror) , and give it an uncommon story. In 500 words, turn luck on its ear.

the wishing stone

It’s a little thing–something I’ve never even told anyone about for fear of embarrassment. A couple of years ago I was out on a walk, thinking about life and some big decisions I had coming up. I was worried and anxious. I knew what I wanted to have happen, but I felt like it was a long shot. All the stars would have to align, that kind of thing. While I was walking, I found this small, round stone on the street near the curb. It looked like the kind of stone that should be on a beach somewhere, having been worn smooth by the constant churning of water. And yet, it was on my street, less than half a mile from my house, nowhere near a beach of any kind.

I picked it up and, without realizing I was doing it, began to rub my thumb against it as I walked and thought. I thought about what I wanted to have happen, how I wanted the turbulence in my life to settle, and made those quiet, secret wishes we all make but pretend we don’t. When I got home, I set the stone on my dresser.

Within days I knew the outcome of the issues I’d been fretting over. Everything came out just as I’d hoped it would. The superstitious side of me attributed my good fortune to the stone, which I decided must have granted my wishes that day on my walk. Since then, more days than not, I carry the stone in my pocket. It’s small–only about the size of a silver dollar–and I remain convinced it somehow helps. Call it my rabbit’s foot. My lucky pair of socks.

It’s my personal talisman.

As I came to, the first thing I felt was that stone in my pocket. I should have felt my hands, still bound to the chair, or the ball gag, still stuffed securely in my mouth. I should have felt the drool running off my chin or even the tears I’d cried earlier, now dried on my face and leaving crusty reside around my useless eyes. But no. I felt the stone, it’s meager weight reminding me that it was still in my pocket.

I hear steps and sobbing. There were more people in the basement now. I heard a child’s whimper and Mr. Kinter announce that he intended to teach someone how to remove a human ear with a pair of scissors. Then I heard sounds. Horrible sounds. No screams, but cutting sounds mixed with sploshes, splats and hacks.

I closed my mind to the sounds and focused on the stone. Maybe it was just a stone. Maybe it had no power at all, no magic to it. Maybe it was silly or stupid or desperate of me, but I started wishing. I called on it to hear me again. I wished to be out of that basement and somewhere safe.

And as crazy as it sounds, the stone heard my wish.

Once more to the Kinter house, but first, the standard disclaimer: If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s flash fiction. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

The prompt for this story is brought to you by the 500 Club. It is, honestly, very similar to the prompt I used for the third part of this series (‘raiding party‘) in that it’s all about back to school. But, as we already know, Mr. Kinter is a teacher–in more ways than one–and the trio of kids are living out their last day of freedom before another tour of duty in the classroom. (At least, they hope it’s just their last day of freedom and not their last day.) All that to say, the prompt worked into the series nicely.

The prompt:

Write a story about a teacher and his/her students. What are they studying? Are they learning how to slay a dragon, or is this the first day of space camp? Feel free to write about your own hobbies or interests, with a twist.

I assure you, I did not write about my own hobbies or interests, though there could be a twist. I hope you enjoy it.

lesson one

When Mr. Kinter arrived at the bottom of the steps he found the children only a few feet beyond, their eyes fixed on sweet Jessica.

“Ah,” he said. “You’ve met my sister.”

At the sound of his voice, the girl whipped her head around and glared at him. She was the fiery one, he surmised. The dangerous one. She pivoted and charged him, her tiny fists clenched. Her pony tail bounced behind her head like a banner–the girl knight of the golden locks. Mr. Kinter smiled.

The girl gained an impressive amount of speed in the few feet between her and Mr. Kinter, but he was much bigger and much stronger than she. Also, he had dealt with this sort of thing before. Whereas her adrenaline was on overdrive, he was nursing a comfortable epinephrine high and was resolved to avoid a second instance of rash over-reaction. When she was only inches from him, he side stepped and slipped his arm behind her, his palm locking onto the small of her back. All he had to do then was pull his shoulder blades together, capitalizing on her momentum. She very nearly flew into the staircase.

Her head made solid contact with the third step and her body crumbled to the floor.

The two boys watched in horror. Without her, their unspoken leader, he doubted either would even put up a fight.

“School begins tomorrow,” he said. “The first day of term. However, I think an advance lesson might be in order for you two young men. Perhaps something that will encourage you to avoid breaking into a neighbor’s house in the future.”

He took two big steps toward them and knelt, bringing all three of them to eye level with one another. Behind the boys, Jessica cooed.

“You’ve made a mess for me, frankly. I had intended to settle here. To stay here for some time. Now I have to pick up and move on…again, this time much sooner than I had planned. I cannot let you go, you understand.” He clucked his tongue. “Still, the more the merrier, they say. Now Jessica and I have four…projects…instead of only one.”

He looked past the boys to Jessica. “We’ll have some fun,” he said conspiratorially and winked.

Then, without warning, he grabbed Max by the left arm, stood and jerked hard. Max spun on his toes and his shoulder popped, the jointed dislocated. He howled, which won him a brutal backhand. Mr. Kinter pulled him to an empty chair near the foot of the stairs and pushed him down into it. He used duct tape to secure his arms and legs, and then slapped the boy again across the face, for good measure.

Turning back to Kevin, he smiled. It looked alarmingly like the smile Lucifer might have worn just after Jesus died on the cross.

“Lesson one,” he said. “How to remove a human ear with a simple pair of scissors!”

Max fainted.

Once again this week we revisit the Kinter house. If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, be sure to check them out here before reading this week’s flash fiction. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.) The prompt for this story comes from the gang over at the 500 Club, and it fit quite nicely with where the story left off last week. (As an aside, the 500 Club is hosted by The Parking Lot Confessional and I had the honor of writing a guest post for them which was published earlier today. If you’d like to read my thoughts on the craft of exposition, you can find that post here.)

Now, on to the prompt:

Write a scene in which a character is given the worse news ever. Avoid clichés. Avoid being overly sentimental.

I do believe this story manages to fulfill the prompt in a way that is not cliché and not at all overly sentimental, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. Tell me what you think, of this installment and of the series, in the comments. Any one out there rooting for Mr. Kinter?

bad news

Kevin awoke to some startlingly bad news. It was, he believed, the worst news he could have possibly gotten. Had he known how the next 2 minutes would play out, he would have been grateful for how good he had it, but he didn’t know the future so he woke up believing he was already pretty damn close to rock-bottom.

The first thing he noticed was Carrie’s voice. It was strong, even demanding, and still somehow beautiful. She was urging him to wake up, and the idea that she wanted him in any state at all made him smile lazily. The next thing he noticed was a cooling sensation radiating from his crotch. For the briefest of moments, he thought maybe Carrie was touching him there, but then his nose caught the scent and he felt the moisture and he knew what it was. His joy evaporated. He plunged headlong into the deepest pits of shame.

He’d pissed himself, and now here was Carrie shaking him awake–seeing him for the little baby she surely thought he was.

He opened his eyes, already prepared for things to be bad, and took in his surroundings. There was Carrie, her face frantic, and Max a few feet behind staring over his shoulder. They were both jumpy. The room was strange to him. Foreign. It smelled of cabbage soup, like his grandmother’s house, and half the stuff looked like it belonged in a museum.

Then it hit him. Holy fuck–Mr. Kinter! Mr. Kinter saw him outside the window. He said he was going to rip him open and look at his spleen. His spleen! Oh, God!

“He’s awake,” Carrie whisper-yelled.

“Get him on his feet and let’s get the hell out of here. I can hear Kinter moving upstairs.”

Carrie pulled Kevin to his feet. In spite of his embarrassment, he knew the most important thing at that moment was to get out of the house. Mr. Kinter scared, well, the piss out of him, and whether he meant his dissection threat or not, Kevin had no desire to encounter him again. He stood and, following Carrie’s lead, moved toward the kitchen.

That was when all three kids realized Max’s mistake. They hadn’t heard Mr. Kinter moving upstairs, but rather down the stairs, only he wasn’t coming down the front staircase that led into the living room. He was coming down the back staircase. His shadow was already big on the kitchen floor and from the sounds of his footfalls he would arrive in the room before they could cross to the back door and make their escape. Looking for an alternate path to safety, Kevin discovered they were standing next to a door. It was open only a crack, but he could see stairs leading down.

The basement.

Without another thought, he swung the door open and rushed down the stairs. Carrie and Max followed. At the bottom of the stairs Kevin discovered just how bad his day had gotten.

This story is a continuation of the flash fiction I wrote last week for Flash Fiction Friday, though this one has been written based on a prompt from the 500 Club. (If you haven’t read “those screams” yet, you might want to check it out first.) It’s funny–I thought last week’s piece was particularly dark, but that wasn’t the feedback I got on it. And, as I mentioned in one of the comments, no sooner had I posted it than I wanted to go back to it and see what happens beyond the end. 

I knew, even before I looked at any prompts this week, that I would revisit Mr. Kinter and poor Jack. Then, when I saw the prompts at the 500 Club, it was clear I was meant to keep this story going. One of them fit so perfectly with the idea I already had, how could I pass it up? Vye was positively giddy.

Here’s the prompt:

Write a scene with a ticking clock. Figurative or literal, this scene must have a countdown, a deadline, a looming axe about to fall. Go.

Now, let’s see how deep this rabbit hole goes.

make it pretty

James told me not to make any noise. It’s hard, though–like when we were kids and he would make me laugh during church. Momma pinched the back of my arm if I embarrassed her, so I tried to hold it in, but that only made things funnier. James liked to make fun of the preacher. Sometimes we pretended that he was talking about sex instead of Jesus. That was dirty but it always made me laugh, and momma would pinch my arm and put her hand over my mouth to keep me from screaming.

James says that’s where we both learned about the pain.

That was when we were little, though. Sometimes I had bruises on the back of my arm after church, but it wasn’t too bad. James liked it when they were deep and purple, but usually they hardly showed at all, so sometimes he’d help them. When he first started doing it he had to hold me down, but the colors were so pretty and it made him so happy, I ended up asking him to do it. “Make them pretty.” That’s what I said to him.

When we were 12–we’re twins, even though he’s a boy and I’m a girl–James started making the cats pretty. There were tons of them around our house. Most of them were strays, but there was this widow across the street who had at least twenty cats, James said. Sometimes we would make one of hers pretty. As much as I liked the purple on my arms, the red was even lovelier. James was like an artist.

Usually when we made a cat pretty we took it down to our basement. Momma was real sick by then and she didn’t pay any attention to what we did. Besides, that’s where James kept his tools–a pair of pliers, a file, a tack hammer, a funnel, some wire, like the kind they used to hang pictures, and a couple of screw-drivers. Plus, there were lots of bottles of stuff down there. It was always fun to see what would happen if we made the cat drink some.

One time James decided he wanted to make one of the widow’s cats pretty in her own backyard. I carried his tools for him. My job was to be the lookout and to keep quiet. James made my arm pretty before we went to help me remember.

We made the widow’s back porch red. It was beautiful–James said so–and then we hid behind her shed so we could see her when she came out.

She cried for a long time. I’d never heard anyone cry like that. It made me sad, but it made James very happy. He said he liked the sounds of her screams.

He’s going to make this one scream, I think. He can’t see me because James made him blind. I’m just supposed to watch him until James comes back. His tools are all here.

It won’t be long now.

I have serious reservations about writing what is, in essence, a fan-fiction piece associated with Mary Shelley’s brilliant and gripping Frankenstein. That didn’t stop me from doing it, but it’s worth noting that I had serious reservations about it.

I don’t really feel there’s more to this story, per se, certainly no more action or content, but I do feel the end just sort of drops off. I struggled to know how to end it, but, given the limitations of the prompt (500 words), I decided that the abrupt ending would work, at least for now. I may try to polish it up more later or I may decide I was crazy to ever mess with Shelley’s story. Who knows, really?

(Vye probably knows, but she’s never been one to be straightforward.)

The prompt for this week came from the 500 Club:

Someone comes to town, someone leaves town. Both of today’s prompts are about running away, or coming home. Breaking out of jail, or being incarcerated. Falling out of love or into it. First day of school, or graduation. A birth, or a death. Pick one that sparks you, and get ready for the catch.

Write a scene of leave-taking or homecoming that contains ten words or less of dialogue. Be cinematic.

For better or worse, here’s what I came up with. Particularly if you’re a fan of Shelley’s beautiful work, feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.

in the mist and smoke

Hawthorne was cold. He was always cold of late. His travels brought him to the mountains again, now headed northeast, his quarry having gained significant distance while he was dealing with the aftermath in the previous town: 3 goats, 1 horse, a rather large number of chickens and, regrettably, 1 boy of six.

The boy looked like William, and perhaps that was a much reason as anyone would ever know.

His arrival in a near identical town two days later was anticlimactic. None of the townspeople were in a state of panic. No livestock was dead or missing. No harm had fallen on anyone. In fact, he questioned if he was in the right town at all, for there was no sign of any kind that a monster had been here.

When he entered the town’s inn asking about an 8 foot tall grotesque and a doctor, they nearly threw him out. He had to beg to be allowed the privilege of a room. These were quiet people. People who were suspicious of strangers and superstitious about bad omens. Hawthorne probably made the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end. In fact, he might have been…strongly encouraged…to leave town that very night had it not been for the fire.

It started in the stables. Hawthorne saw its glow from his room and rushed out. Several townspeople were running back and forth from the well with buckets of water, trying to extinguish the flame before it leap to the nearest buildings. If not contained, the entire town could have burned up.

Hawthorne instructed the men and women to form a line, passing the bucket from one person to the next. They were soon moving twice as many buckets with half the water spilled, and the fire quickly came under control. As the last of the flames were dying out, through the mist and smoke, Hawthorne saw a huge form lumbering towards the woods and, following closely, the ragged figure of a much smaller man chasing him.

“They’re here,” he said to no one. Without thought, he ran to his room and scooped up his things, thinking to chase them into the woods, hoping to overtake the doctor and put an end to this madness. Hoping, perhaps, to find some way to reconcile man to beast, creature to creator.

On his way out the door of the inn, he bumped into a priest–an old fellow who worn his wisdom in the creases of his face. “My son,” he said, and then, seeing Hawthorne’s urgent expression, his arms full with his luggage, he put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Wait until morning.”

Something about the way the man spoke halted Hawthorne. It was a warning. He returned to his room.

The next morning Hawthorne collected his things and left, heading further northeast, a peace having settled in his heart.

And somewhere in the mountains, he lost Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.

Somewhere in the mist and smoke.

Given my post just a couple of days ago about about the need for dark content to have a redeeming quality, I have mixed feelings about how this piece turned out. In my mind, Jonathan and Aramis are trying to accomplish something they believe (perhaps misguidedly) is good. However, I simply didn’t have enough space to squeeze that into 500 words.

Okay, I probably could have, but I have a 3 hour drive ahead of me (going help a friend move) and I really need to shut down my computer, pack and hit the road. Maybe I could, with more time, indicate the intent of these two within the confines of 500 words. That would add another layer to the story and, at least in my mind, give it some more depth. 

What could have been, right? Anyway, my writing time is up and I’m determined to post some flash fiction every Friday of this year, so this is it, folks.

The prompt for this dark little romp came from the 500 Club this week:

Not everything needs to be spelled out. Sometimes deliberately not saying something will best convey your meaning to the reader. Write 500 words about something or someone without mentioning him/her/it specifically in the piece.

Please feel free to tell me what you think, good or bad, in the comments. (Really, that always applies.) Your compliments encourage me and your criticisms help me grow as a writer. I win either way.

the name

“Don’t say the name!” Aramis said.

Jonathan recoiled. He wasn’t yet accustom to the secrecy. The ritual. The perverted sanctity of the world he’d entered.

Seeing that he’d succeeded in staying Jonathan’s tongue, only one word–five letters!–away from disaster, Aramis explained: “It acts like a beacon, for him and for others. You must never speak the name.”

Jonathan’s face screwed itself into an expression of befuddlement. “But, people say…that word…all the time. No one thinks anything of it. It never calls to anything when other people speak it.”

Aramis nodded absently and returned to the elixer he was brewing. He plucked two dried basil leaves off the counter top and crushed them by rolling them between his old hands. He dropped these in the small cauldron and then smiled at Jonathan. It was a fatherly smile, warm and assuring. Still smiling he said, “Now, a rabbit’s foot.”

Jonathan turned to the shelves behind him and reached for a jar on the fifth shelf, all the way to the right. Aramis tisked. “No, it must be fresh. Very fresh.”

Nodding, Jonathan walked to the far side of the lair and carried back a cage. Aramis retrieved a live rabbit from the cage and pinned it to the table with his left hand. He held a knife in his right. First the paw, which he added to the brew, and then the neck. Handing the body to Jonathan, he said, “Dinner.”

Jonathan took the dead animal in hand and asked, “About the name?”

“Ah, yes. The name. Names are special, you know. They have power. True names have the most power–the name spoken over you at birth–but any name you answer to will wield some degree of power over you. Even a nickname. Even slang.

“The power of a name is power over the being who answers to it, assuming you can sufficiently subdue that being. Some spirits we can bind. Some we cannot. We most certainly cannot bind him.”

Aramis stirred the thick contents of the cauldron.

“But what about my question? People speak his name all the time.”

“Indeed, they do, but without intent. Most people don’t even believe in him. Jonathan, understand what we’re doing here. We’re using small amounts of his power, trace amounts, through ritual and potion, through sacrifice and residue of his presence. But we don’t want to actually encounter him. Boy, neither of us would live through it!”

“I don’t understand…”

“The name,” Aramis said. “His name. He would hear it, and, knowing we cannot possibly bind him, he would consider it an invitation. You’ve seen the power of these incantations. Last week we burned a man alive–from the inside. We did that with nothing more than a few words from his book and the sacrifice of three crows. Can you imagine what his actually presence would do to us?”

Understanding spread over his face. “My God…” Jonathan said, steadying himself against the wall.

“Not that name, either!” Aramis snapped. “Do you want to start Armageddon?!”