Most of my flash fiction leans toward dark subject matter, but that usually means horror or suspense or fantasy. Today’s story is a bit different. I blame the prompt from the 500 Club and my own conservative upbringing. Not that I was born into a cult or ever called a compound home. Far from it. But I was born into a world view that was tragically limiting. Like Ester in the story below, I made my escape, but one of the truly horrifying thoughts that sometimes crosses my mind is imagining what my life might be like now if I had never learned to think for myself. If I had never left. If I had been like Rahab.

It illustrates how all the stories we imagine and tell are really just elements of our own stories–the stories of the author’s life. They are our fears, our failures, our victories and our fantasies brought to life. Sometimes the names, dates and circumstances are changed dramatically, but the stories almost always have pieces of ourselves hidden in them. This one, I guess, is that for me as much as any other I’ve ever written. The details are completely different, but the sentiment…I know the sentiment well.

The prompt I chose was simply this:

Write a story about someone fleeing a cult. Not at all inspired by recent, totally insane events in the celebrity gossip columns. No, not at all.

leaving the fold

“Ester, you must go to The Binding. You must. Jedidiah will be sorely vexed if you do not.”

Ester looked into Rahab’s eyes. She’d known Rehab all her life and, until 3 weeks ago, never spent more than a few hours outside her company. That was before she wander away from the group in town while they were buying supplies for the compound. Before she met Eddie. Before she saw how small and constricted her world was and how wide open the outside world could be. How open it would be for her.

“You were named for a whore,” she said to Rahab. “Have you ever thought to ask your Pa why he named you that?”

Rahab recoiled from the words. “She’s in the geneology of Matthew,” she stuttered. “She saved God’s people.”

“And she was a whore.”

Rahab’s lip quivered, her eyes filled with tears.

“The Binding…” Rahab said, still reeling.

“I’m not going.”

“But, you’re promised to Jedidiah. You’re to be his wife.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“But, the elders have decided it. It is God’s will. It is God’s way. It is–”

“Not my choice. I’m not going.” Ester looked up at Rahab. The girl was badly shaken. She sighed.

That first day, meeting Eddie, it had been the same way for her. “What the fuck you dressed that way for?” he asked. Her cheeks turned red at the use of the devil’s tongue, but she talked to him anyway. Perhaps her mind and heart had already left before her feet were willing to follow. It certainly hadn’t taken Eddie long to convince her to part ways with her old life. She only wanted a few things–a necklace that had been her mother’s, a couple of dresses, just until she could get some normal clothes, and her dowry. It was, after all, more than ten grand. Enough to buy her freedom and a new life.

“You can come with me, Rahab. If you want.”

“What? Leave home? Leave the fold?”

“It’s all shit anyway,” Ester said.

“Such profanity!”

“They’re just words. Come with me. Please.”

“I can’t.” Rahab’s tears dried as the very idea of such betrayal scared her white.

“You can and you should. All of this is bullshit.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“Because it is. Rahab, you don’t have to be Bound to Seth. You could make your own choices. Think about it–isn’t that what you think God really wants? For you to choose? This life–the way we are forced to live–this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”

“You’ve become an abomination!” Rahab declared.

Ester closed her bag and shook her head, defeated. She moved toward the door, preparing to slip out into the night.

“You’ll burn,” Rahab said, her voice flat with judgment and finality. “You’ll burn in hell if you leave the fold, and I’ll not weep for you.”

Ester closed her eyes. She wanted to hug Rahab, but she did not. Instead she simply said, “I’ll weep for you,” and left.

I hope that I’ve managed to stick to the prompt more this week than I did last week. Last week’s flash fiction, ‘in hiding‘, was so much fun to write that I didn’t bother too much with coloring inside the lines. Normally, following the prompt is part of the fun for me, but I got started and it just flowed…and, well, I’m a writer. What fun is it being a writer if you always follow the rules?

That said, I’ve made a genuine effort this week, scout’s honor, to fulfill the prompt. (I was never a boy scout, but really, I tried.) And it was no easy thing, either, because SC Green over at The Parking Lot Confessional broke out the big guns when he came up with the prompts for this week. Here’s the one I went with:

Word Choice: Write 500 words conveying one emotion: Confusion. This is trickier than the first prompt. The same rule applies about not using the word “confused” or a derivative thereof (do it without using the word “confused” or any other related words/synonyms), but you also need to get the emotion across without confusing your reader on what they’re reading.

Granted, you, the reader, will likely be a good 350-400 words into this short story before you know what is going on, but by the end you will not be confused, though clearly the same cannot be said of one of the two main characters. It was a challenge, but it made for what I feel is an interesting story. Please share your thoughts on it, good or bad, in the comments.

of the essence

The odd man smiled at Kelly in a way that suggested profound pride. It was a genuine smile, a simple, enthusiastic thing that blossomed across his face ear-to-ear as though the heavens had parted so that angels could sing directly over him. In stereo. And they were taking requests.

Kelly was a receptionist. She was, more to the point, Mr. Harvey Campbell’s receptionist. Mr. Campbell did not take well to surprises, and the odd man standing before her certainly represented an unexpected mid-morning occurrence.

“I’m sorry,” Kelly said, the thick sheen of professional indifference she normally cloaked herself in having melted away. “Could you say that again?”

The odd man was staring off into the middle distance, nodding to himself. It took a moment for Kelly’s question to register, but when it did she became the center of his odd little universe.

This did not make Kelly any more comfortable.

“I beg your forgiveness,” he began. “Where are my manners? First, my name is Theodore Cantor, though Harvey knows me as Theo. Or, he will. No matter. Theo. You can think of me now and always as Theo.”

He smiled and then continued.

“As for what I was saying, I have vital information for Harvey. Mr. Campbell. He’ll know me as Theo. Eventually. In any case, the temporal displacement experiment seems to have been a success. Today is Friday, correct?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Friday, June 22?”

“Yes.”

“2012?”

Kelly nodded desperately.

“Very good. I need to speak with Harvey right away. Time is of the essence!” He chuckled to himself, muttering something about puns and word plays while Kelly struggled to process the situation. Finally, her professional instincts won out.

“I am sorry, Mr. Cantor. Theo. Whatever.” Granted, she was not on her A game. “Mr. Campbell is quite busy today. I’m afraid he won’t have time to discuss your…experiment…with you.”

“No time?” Theo asked. “No time for temporal displacement!” He burst into laughter.

Kelly then remembered that she was, after all, in an office building. Office buildings have amenities. Like, for example, security. She reached for the phone to ring security right that moment, but Theo walked round the reception desk and casually pulled the phone cord from the wall.

“Again, my apologies,” he said. “For the cord and for my behavior. Temporal displacement is an industry term. Technical jargon. I believe you might call it ‘time travel’. You see, I am from the future. Mr. Campbell’s future. And if I don’t discuss his lunch plans with him before he leaves, I’m afraid his future will be quite short.”

Kelly held the phone receiver before her like a weapon.

“Please,” Theo said. “Just let Harvey know I’m here.”

Kelly nodded and, giving Theo a wide berth, made her way round the room to Mr. Campbell’s office door, thereby interrupting his morning with a surprise, which he most certainly did not like.

Of course, she also helped to save his life. He was considerably more amiable about that.

This week’s prompt is brought to you by the 500 Club:

Write a sleepless night. Dismiss your initial ideas and gravitate toward the unexpected.

I ended up going with something stylistically different from what I normally write. I hope you enjoy it.

sleepless nights

“Talk to me about patient 75431.”

“He’s a unique case. What are you curious about, specifically?”

“Behavioral observations.”

The second laughed. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific.”

“His nocturnal behaviors.”

The second nodded. “Yes, very well. He doesn’t sleep.”

The first one made a quick scratch of a note in the file. “And?”

“That’s it. He doesn’t sleep.”

There was a break in the conversation as the two doctors stared one another down. Finally, the second conceded and offered a fuller explanation. “Are you familiar with Peter Tripp?”

The first shook his head.

“Peter Tripp was the first man to hold a Guinness World Record for sleep deprivation. In 1959, he stayed awake for 201 consecutive hours as a part of a publicity stunt for a radio station–he was a DJ. While he did succeed in setting a world record, he may have also permanently damaged his mind in the process. Friends and family say he was never the same man after that. He suffered from depression, was sometimes violent, and his personality was permanently altered.”

“Facinating.”

“More so than you know. Eight days without sleep unhinged Peter Tripp’s mind beyond repair. Patient 75431 has been with us, here at the clinic, for more than four years. In all that time, he has been under 24 hour observation. He has never slept a wink.”

The second looked up from his notes. “Your staff must have missed it. It isn’t possible to live without sleep.”

The first shook his head. “We don’t just watch him. We watch his brainwaves. We would know it if he slept, and he has not. Not once. As for whether or not it’s possible to live without sleep, patient  75431 is evidence enough to dispute the claim that sleep is essential to life. However, the state of his mind suggests that sleep may well be essential for sanity.”

“Talk to me about that.”

“I’ve spoken with him. He claims that he stopped sleeping approximately six years ago. According to his account, he came in contact with leprechaun.”

The second raised an eyebrow.

“He claims that the leprechaun granted him three wishes…”

The second sighed.

“…and that his first wish was for riches, his second for fame and his third that he would no longer need sleep. He hoped that eliminating sleep would allow him more time to enjoy his new found fame and wealth.”

“Indeed.” The second made a few more quick notes. “Paranoid delusional schizophrenia.”

The first nodded.

“Okay, patient 75432…”

*          *          *

In his room, patient 75431 rocked in a corner hugging his knees. He wanted to sleep. Oh, how he longed to close his eyes and rest. He could almost remember what it was to dream, to let go of the waking world and to meet with Morpheus. To drink his sweet wine.

But, he could not.

At the foot of his bed, Shamus watched and giggled.

Rich? Yes. His wealth paid for the clinic.

Famous? Yes. Psychiatrists would talk about his curious case for decades.

Restless? Hell yes. And what a bitter, twisted hell it was.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I may be trying to fit too much story into the following piece of flash fiction. I like leading a reader along, playing my cards close to the chest until the end so that you don’t know what’s really happening for a good chunk of the story, but reading over this one, I am concerned that even when you finish it you may not be entirely sure what’s transpired.

I hope that’s not the case. I hope the story works for you and I hope, when you’ve read it to the end (all 500 words), you feel you have a handle on what’s happening. If not, let me know in the comments. If there are a handful of WTH responses, I’ll be happy to explain it.

Truth be told, it should be a longer story, and it may well develop into that.

I’m using a prompt from the 500 Club this week:

Finish this opener: Only one left. The first two were wasted.

Enjoy.

righteous kill

Only one left. The first two were wasted.

“How is this legal?” Jim asked. “Isn’t this duress?”

Rita smiled. “Who’s going to be around to report it, Jimmy?”

The logic was there, but it still bothered him. After all, it was a trick. They weren’t lying outright, but they weren’t shooting straight, either. And using absinthe, well, that was just devious.

But effective, he imagined Rita saying. Very effective.

They pulled to the curb near the third pub. If they could make it a clean sweep, three for three, there would be some happy campers back at the compound. Few teams can pull off three in a single night. Hell, plenty of teams don’t live through the night.

“Okay,” Rita said. “Same plan. I’ll go in first, you hang back and try to be invisible.”

“Invisible,” Jim said. That he could do. He followed her from the van.

He had misgivings about the technicality they were exploiting, but as he walked he tried once more to tell himself they were doing a good thing. A holy thing. A righteous thing. Not just killing.

Inside it was dark and smoky, like the first two pubs they’d visited that evening. It took Rita all of 30 seconds to identify a mark–a loner seated in the corner by himself. Probably a newborn. He sulked while the others in the bar danced and drank and schemed to satiate their base desires.

Rita made her way slowly to the table. Her job was to be an inverted seductress. The marks like to think they’re the ones in charge. She had to get him to see her as prey. She dressed provocatively and carried herself like a confident slut. It worked.

She spoke to the loner, buying him a drink and brushing her fingertips against the exposed flesh of her neck. He began to loosen up and she managed to get him away from the table and onto the dance floor. Jim made his move. It was quick–he walked past the table and dropped 5 CCs of absinthe into the loner’s glass.

Rita led him back to the table, encouraging him to drink so they could leave together. He was soon drunk off his ass. Blood and absinthe don’t mix well.

That’s when she laid the waiver on the table. Smiling, she said all the official words. How it would, of course, be illegal to stake him outright. The VRA protected him from that. But should he elect to embrace the true death, she could legally help grant that request. She used a soothing tone and placed the pen in his hand. He was probably hallucinating from the absinthe, but the fool signed it. Rita folded the document, her get-out-of-jail-free card, and bid the loner to leave with her.

Jim joined them outside.

Back at the van, they helped the loner, now totally wasted, into the back with the other two. “Hard part’s done,” Rita said with satisfaction. “Now we just gotta stake ’em and burn ’em. I hope they don’t scream too much like the ones last night.” She smiled.

Oh, how they could scream, clutching at the stake. No one goes quiet into that night. It gave Jim nightmares.

That, he thought, is the hard part.

This week’s flash fiction prompt is brought to you by the good folks over at the 500 Club. It goes a little something like this:

Deus ex machina: Where a seemingly unsolvable situation is neatly wrapped up by an intervening god, character, event, object, etc. A device better avoided… except this time. Write 500 words from the view-point of that intervening god, character, event or object.

I decided to write about something I’ve been considering for a while. The character that I’ve identified as a solution in this piece is someone/something I’ve thought about a lot in recent years, but not in a morbid way. I believe ‘she’ is misunderstood. We see her as an enemy. Is it possible that she would be better seen as one of our greatest friends?

tender embrace

“You’re mucking it all up,” he said.

“That’s a point of view,” she replied.

“No, that’s a fact.”

She sighed. “I forget how difficult it is for your kind to distinguish perception from reality.”

“Perception is reality,” he said.

“Thank you for making my point.”

He opened his mouth to speak and then thought better of it. After a moment’s reflection, he wagged his index finger and said, “None of that. None of your riddling. I’ll not allow you to turn this into a war of words.”

She smiled benevolently on him. “What sort of war would you prefer, sir?”

He blustered, his hands forming fists and his cheeks turning red. Along the left side of his forehead, just above the eyebrow, the thick thread of a single vein could be seen clearly. It looked ready to burst. He held a book in his right hand. Reflexively, he lifted it and began to sift through its pages.

“That trinket will do you no good here, sir,” she said casually.

“Trinket? Why, this is–”

“I know full well what it is. I don’t come to your home and insult your intelligence. I’ll thank you to show me the same courtesy.”

“No,” he said. “You merely come to my home and kill people.”

She signed deeply. It can be so difficult to explain to a human, she thought. “I don’t kill.”

He hefted the book before his face with two hands as though its weight required a double grip. “I said in the cutting off of my days,” he read, “I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.

She made a small gesture with her hand and the book closed on its own. He stared at the cover, awed and terrified. She made a second gesture and the book lifted out of his hands and floated into hers. “What makes you think I’m the one who deprives you?” she asked.

His eyes remained transfixed on the book. “This,” she said looking down at it. Her fingertips ran along the leather spine. “Yes, this is sacred. This is truth. This is so much more and so much less than your kind understands. What it says about me most of all. Sir, answer me, why do you blame me? Why seek me out? Why try to stop me from performing my duty?”

“You are the enemy of man,” he said. “You must be stopped.”

She smiled at him again, not unkindly. “Let me ask you a question. You say you sought me out?”

“Yes.”

“To stop me?”

“Yes.”

“Under what circumstances would I meet with a man face-to-face, do you think?”

He recoiled in shock. “No…

She moved forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. Looking gently into his eyes, she said, “Yes, my dear, sweet, noble man. Yes. It is already done, else you would not be here.”

And then Death, the unsung savior of mankind, wrapped her arms around him and held him tight in her tender embrace.

After a couple of weeks of writing from prompts published over at Flash Fiction Friday, I’ve decided to head back to the 500 Club this week. I’ve really enjoyed using an assortment of prompt sources in the last few weeks, so I’ll probably keep right on juggling them. If you know of a good place to get flash fiction prompts, feel free to tell me about it in the comments.

As is so often the case with me and prompts, I’ve decided to interpret this one with a little bit of creative liberty. I hope you enjoy what I’ve come up with. (And, Nim, please note the name of the pixie.)

The prompt I’m going with for this week is:

Start with an omen. A raven, a black cat, a shining light haloing someone’s head. Just make sure your omen foreshadows the opposite of what we expect (halo = bad! Raven = good!)

the omens

Mr. Buckley ran the backside of his hand across his chin. The stubble made it feel like sandpaper. He grunted, annoyed that he would have to shave again soon.

“Red sky,” Beeble said. “Could be bad.”

Beeble is a pixie. Like all pixies, he’s quick to speak and slow to think. Mr. Buckley would have done away with him years ago had it not been for the fact that pixie dust is powerful. He used it in a number of his concoctions, and acquiring pixie dust from an unwilling pixie is…a hassle.

“That’s a sailor’s warning,” Mr. Buckley said. “We’re not at sea.”

“Still,” Beeble continued, undeterred, “That makes three. First the black cat that walked right in front of you on the way. Then that raven.” Beeble laughed. “He was sitting right in the spot, Mr. B. Right where we were going to draw the circle! You can’t get more ominous than that! And now a red sky. It’s a warning, Mr. B. I’m telling you, a warning. Best to sit this one out.”

Mr. Buckley’s attention remained fixed on the field. It was a plain field, dirt and more dirt, expect for a circle he’d made in the dust earlier that morning. The circle was 10 feet across. Along the outside edge were rough drawings of runes and symbols meant to either keep something in or keep something out. Mr. Buckley wasn’t sure which way he’d use the circle yet.

Beeble fluttered directly in front of Mr. Buckley’s face. “Mr. B? I’ve been talking to you.”

“Beeble, you never stop talking. Most of the time I don’t listen.”

Beeble nodded with understanding and then went right on talking. He was saying something about the possibility that the stars might not be appropriately aligned when Mr. Buckley held up a hand.

“What?” Beeble asked.

“Do you see the roof of the barn? What’s that hanging off the edge?”

Beeble raised a hand to his brow and strained his eyes. “Mr. B, that’s a snake.”

Just as Beeble said it, the snake dropped from the roof to the ground.

“Very bad sign,” Beeble said.

Mr. Buckley nodded. “Yes. It’s decided, then.”  He reached down and plucked his bag off the ground. An assortment of bottles bearing everything from common herbs to unspeakable oddities jostled, the glass clinking together in a strange chorus. Mr. Buckley strode forward to the circle. Beeble watched in shock and then flew as fast as his wings would carry him, working to catch up.

“You’re still going through with the ritual?!” Beeble asked.

“Never gave that a second thought.”

“But, what about the omens? The signs?”

Mr. Buckley stopped walking and regarded the pixie hovering a foot in front of his face. “Beeble, every bad omen has taken place outside that circle. When I summon her, I intend to be inside the circle.”

Beeble cocked his head to the side. “Oh.”

Mr Buckley began walking again. “You coming, Beeble?”

Beeble didn’t even answer. He just flew directly to the only safe place for miles–Mr. Buckley’s summoning circle.

I’m a fan of flash fiction. I write some every week because it’s fun and it also helps to keep me sharp. For the last April writing challenge, I’m going to invite you to try out flash fiction, yourself.

Here’s what you do: Head on over to the most recent 500 Club post on the Parking Lot Confessional. As the kids over at the PLC will explain, there is a new 500 Club post each week. It contains two prompts for flash fiction. A prompt is like a starting point–a loose guideline to follow. The goal is to write 500 words of fiction based on one of the two prompts you find there.

Now, at first glance flash fiction can be intimidating, but it really shouldn’t be. It should be, above all else, fun. So pick the prompt that sounds like fun to you and run with it. If neither of the two most recent prompts grab you and this is your first time trying your hand at flash fiction, go to the previous week’s post and try one of those prompts. Then, let your mind go and just write. 

If you take me up on this challenge, and I hope you will, be sure to post your fiction on the PLC blog (they have instructions there) and include a link to your writing in the comments below, here. Remember, this should be fun. Don’t stress out about it. Just let your hair down and have a good time.

Most of the time when I’m writing flash fiction I have no idea where the story is coming from. I just start to write and something unfolds before me. Usually, at around 250 words, I kind of have an idea of what’s happening and how to bring it to a close. Then I tinker with the end until I have it near 500 words, within 20 or so, and I’m done.

Today was absolutely a normal flash fiction writing experience. I have no idea where this story came from or why Frankie only speaks in Lord of the Rings quotes. I only know that it started with the prompt from the gang over at the 500 Club. Prompts, actually, as I decided to try to squeeze both into one piece. Here they are:

1. Write a suspenseful scene, using tone, setting and dialogue as your building blocks. Avoid being heavy-handed and obvious. Whether or not you resolve the tension at the end of the scene is up to you.

…and…

2. Write a cafe scene. Avoid any and all clichés.

It’s always trouble when I try to satisfy both prompts. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But since this is, perhaps, even more stream-of-consciousness than my normal flash fiction stuff, maybe you can cut me a little slack. 

one does not simply walk into mordor

Jack set his coffee down carefully. “Frankie, I swear if you don’t stop quoting Lord of the Rings I’m going to take this coffee mug and break it on your nose.” He looked to Lucy.

“He’ll do it, Frankie. Please, just give it a rest.”

Frankie made loop-d-loop motions in his oatmeal and blew bubbles in his orange juice. He seemed entirely unconcerned about the prospect of a violent encounter with Jack’s mug. Lucy waited a few seconds and then lay her hand across Jack’s. He didn’t pull back. “Jack, baby, let it go. It’s just Frankie being Frankie.”

Jack nodded. It was a curt, quick motion. Then he pulled his hand back from Lucy, careful to squeeze her fingers once before disengaging, and reached for his cigarette.

“You smoke too much, Pip,” Frankie said.

Jack took a drag and then turned to face Frankie. “I smoke too much what?”

“Old Toby. The finest weed in the Southfarthing.”

Jack took another drag. Still looking at Frankie, he said, “I don’t smoke weed. Haven’t in years.” Then, to Lucy, “You know what the hell he’s talking about?”

Lucy shook her head.

“It is folly,” Frankie said.

Jack nodded to himself and then scooped up his coffee mug. He drank the last of it and set the cup down. His arm flexed as he lowered the mug. Next it was another long, slow drag of his cigarette, the inhale lasting a good 3, maybe 4 seconds. Before he exhaled, he set the cigarette down on the ash tray and placed his hand, palm down, on the table. Then he breathed out slowly.

But before he could speak, Frankie said, “The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.”

Lucy wrung her hands together. “Frankie, please. Jack’s getting real irritated. We don’t want to have to cut the day short, but you gotta watch what you say.”

Jack looked from Lucy to Frankie. Frankie was busy stacking sugar packets on the edge of his plate. He had at least 15 of them teetering on the lip when he stopped and looked up. He met Jack’s stare, meeting his intensity as well, and with absolute conviction said, “One does not simply walk into Mordor. There is evil there that does not sleep.”

Jack’s jaw clenched. He inhaled sharply and Lucy didn’t know if he would hit Frankie or yell at him or perhaps do something worse. But he did none of these things. Instead, he grabbed his cigarettes, dropped a twenty on the table and marched out of the café. “Take the kid back on your own,” he said as he walked away. “I don’t care when. Now or this afternoon. Just don’t make me spend any more time with him. He belongs in that loony bin.”

Lucy looked at her son and began to cry, but Frankie remained calm. “What Grace is given me, let it pass to him,” he said. And then he finished his breakfast.

I think good, engaging action can be tough to write. In spite of that, I’ve chosen the following prompt (from the 500 Club) for this week’s flash fiction: “Write an action scene with just enough dialogue to establish character. Whatever action you choose — car chase, fist fight, peeling a potato — use the physical world to solidify the blocking/movement of your character(s). Avoid making your piece read like a list, e.g., he did this and then this and then this…”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing exactly what this prompt says not to do when writing action–to make it a list. I’ve tried to avoid that in the piece below, and I still feel like it leans in that direction at times. Ah, well. That’s what I love about flash fiction. It’s like a writing workout, something to build those hard to develop muscles. And this set of muscles is one I’d like to strengthen.

words and whispers

Glass exploded inward into the cottage, showering Mack, Lisa and Gus in shards that caught the firelight and sent beams dancing along the walls and the floor.

“Hand the me the conduit,” Mack said calmly.

Lisa held out her hand, trembling, and offered Mack the small leather pouch. She began a question. “Are there–”

“No. I don’t think so. Gus, take up a defensive position. Lisa and I will finish the ritual.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

Mack motioned toward the circle of salt on the ground. Gus’ exit had broken the circle. Lisa was pricking one of her fingers to close it again when they heard Gus scream from the backroom. His cries were followed by a scuttling sound, like so many cockroaches in the walls. Lisa clasped a hand over her own mouth to stifle her scream and Mack snatched the knife out of her fingers.

“Close the damn circle,” he said.

The walls bulged in at that moment, drywall literally bending inward. The room crackled with static electricity until the first drop of Mack’s blood made contact with the salt circle. And just like that, there was peace. The noise stopped. The pressure eased. The world around them seemed like no more than images on an incredibly realistic TV set, the screen of which was wrapped around them on all sides.

They watched, speechless, as the walls were penetrated by scarabs and three bane magi entered from different sides, forming an unholy triangle.

Mack clenched the conduit in his palm. “The words, Lisa. Say the words.”

Lisa’s lip trembled, but Mack’s voice grounded her and she began the chant. Mack would have done it himself had he known Latin.

As she spoke, the magi raised their hands and began a chant of their own–a obstruction incantation. Mack recognized their posture, the cadence of the words and the dark gleam in their eyes. This was how it had been when they took down Lauren and Bernard. He had watched as their protective circle collapsed and their bodies twisted and broke under the magi’s dark magic.

He willed Lisa to chant faster.

As the magi’s chanting reached its climactic point, there was a sharp cracking sound. Mack feared it was his circle breaking, but a steady warmth emanated from the conduit and a rich power flowed through his fingers, filling his senses and easing his fears.

The world grew quiet, insides and outside the circle. All the chanting stopped. A hush settled over all, and there was a quiet whisper that seemed to come from the conduit in Mack’s hands, from the rubble that had been the walls, from the stars above and the fire in the hearth and the wind and the river and everywhere at once. It said simply, “No.”

The magi shook and the collapsed. All three of them.

Mack smiled at Lisa. “I guess it worked,” he said.

“Yeah,” Lisa said, seeing the magi unconscious around their circle. “I guess it did.”

I don’t know that, strictly speaking, this one fully fulfills the 500 Club prompt it was written for: 

Take two easily relatable points and connect them in a way that you would NOT expect. Examples: Your house to the neighbor’s house via submarine; Your house to China via the center of the Earth; childhood to adulthood via a wormhole through Pangea.

Also, the ending is more than a little ostentatious. Yes, even more so than normal. It either works or it doesn’t, and having just written it I can’t quite decide. I lean toward thinking it’s just a bit much, but feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.

restricted

“I don’t understand the problem,” Val said. “You’re in the library–just get the book.”

Carter rubbed the thumb of his right hand into the palm of his left. The bluetooth headset tucked in his ear made it seem like Val was in his head.

“I can’t,” he said in a whisper.

“Speak up. I can’t hear you when you mumble.”

A few feet away there was a girl. Maybe twelve years old. Carter regarded her with caution. Clearing his throat, he leaned in close to the shelf giving the appearance he was looking for a book. “I can’t.”

“Is someone there?” Val asked.

“Yes.”

“Within earshot?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Threat level?”

“High.”

“Of course. Why the hell wouldn’t it be? I want that book. Can you engage the threat? Bypass it?”

“Negative.”

“Are you trying to make it obvious you’re not a teacher? Just talk normal. Stop acting like a noob.”

“Sorry,” Carter said.

“It’s okay. Listen, can you give me any specs?”

Carter moved along the aisle, still examining book spines. “Maybe. I can swing by the store later and pick up a gift for her. How old is your cousin? Eleven? Twelve? What does she want for her birthday.”

“Much better.” He could hear the smile in Val’s voice. “Twelve year old girl, right? Does she have pigtails?”

Carter glanced toward the girl. “Yep. That’s what I was thinking.”

“Uh-huh. Okay, I’m looking it up…” He could hear the clicks of her keyboard and then a disturbing silence. “Carter,” she said. “Don’t freak out.”

Carter pulled a book from the shelf and looked at the back cover. “What?”

“I think that’s the new anti-virus they were talking about. She’s still in beta, but shit. Um… she’s replicatable, environmentally malleable…you see one, there could be twenty…and she can do a scan in about 45 seconds.

“How many other people are in the library?”

“I don’t know. Maybe 10.”

“Is she still close enough to hear you?”

“Yeah.”

Val exhaled. “You’re pinned. She’s scanned you by now. Just grab the book and run. Maybe if you can make it to extraction before she nabs you–”

Carter screamed. His head felt like it was being pulled apart from the inside. His connection to Val broke and everything went black.

A moment later, he sat across the table from her. He pulled his bio-usb from the terminal and retracted it into his left forearm.

“Sorry,” She said.

“Why am I always the one to get caught?” he asked.

A librarian walked around the corner and approached their table. In an authoritative whisper she asked, “Which one of you just tried to access the restricted section?”

Carter signed and raised a hand. “Me.”

“Detention.” she said. “For both of you. And if I catch you in there again I’m sending you to the principal for disciplinary reprogramming.”

She walked away.

“Well, we tried,” Val said.

“Yeah,” Carter agreed, “but there’s got to be an easier way to get our hands on a copy of 1984.”