Friday, October 30, 2009

Flash Fiction #11 - Last Dance

Enjoyed this one, AND kept it well under the word count :) Couldn't come up w/ a good title though -- suggestions???

Happy Hallowe'en!

Last Dance

She felt the power course through her as she danced skyclad between the stones. To those watching she seemed to take on an ethereal glow, particularly eerie in the twilight drizzle. She was young to be High Priestess, and some of the braver souls had muttered objections when she took the post, though none doubted her now.

She had fasted through the three nights of the Samhain feast in order to prepare herself for what only she knew would be her last dance. But this moment, this last festival, was her chance to honour those who had given her such power.

She danced for her clan, giving their thanks for the successful harvest, and in supplication for future gifts. She danced for the spirits of those who had passed since last Samhain, to help the traveling dead reach the otherworld. But mostly she danced for Morrigan, the intensely powerful warrior goddess with whom she'd always felt most connected. Her mind opened and her body moved entirely of its own accord.

As the sun set, the hearth fires were all extinguished, leaving only the druidic fire she danced around to cast its shadows. The ancient stones she weaved between came to life as she passed through, seemingly swaying with the movement of her arms. The drums pounded but she heard them not, lost in the rhythms of her soul.

It was the festival of the dead, and she welcomed their presence as the spirits joined her dance. Even the least spiritual of the watchers could see the shadows of the dead as they passed by the stones. Shadows moving where none should be. And still she danced.

A faint breeze caused the shadows to whisper, and the watchers shivered knowing this dance was going far beyond any they had ever experienced. As with any who dance with power, it changed her slightly, brought her beyond the reach of the ordinary, and caused her people to regard her with awe rather than friendship. But she had never sought friendship. And so she danced.

The light and the dark warred within her as she whirled around the fire and between the stones, her painted body a work of art. As she danced, the head of each family ceremoniously entered her circle, one by one, to light a torch from the druidic fire. These would be carried to each hearth, uniting the entire village with the power-infused flames and protecting them from the spirits of those past. Her young sister Aibhilín, her only blood relative, was the last to approach. The young girl started in bravely, but shied away from the figure dancing. This was not her sister. Not the girl who used to run and play and would dare her to go out in the woods after dark. This was a woman shrouded in power; Aibhilín could sense the one she loved was already half lost to the spirit world. She quickly retreated outside the circle as she felt the dancer look right through her, apparnently seeing something Aibhilín could not and did not want to imagine.

The night was coming to a close -- the last of the stars were setting and dawn was just about to crack the horizon, but still the power did not lessen. If anything it seemed to build. Those still at the circle would later speak of a buzzing on the air, a palpable tension that held them enthralled. Exactly as that new year’s first beam broke the Samhain night, there was a loud crack and a bolt of lightening from the otherwise clear sky reached out to strike the very center of the druidic fire, momentarily blinding all who watched.

And when their sight returned, the eerie tension was gone, the traveling spirits seemed to have crossed, the druidic fire was out, and she who had danced with unrivaled power, was gone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Flash Fiction #10 - A Mindless Wish

Wrote this one a while ago and never got around to posting it. No time this week so it finally gets its chance :)



"I wish I could live forever." It was a foolish statement, an ambitious youth's dream. One lifetime wouldn't be nearly long enough to accomplish all I'd dreamed of accomplishing.

I remember that day so clearly -- it was one of the first true spring day, senior year of highschool and we were on top of the world. All grown up and ready to "be somebody." Michael already WAS somebody -- he'd raised over a million in support for a small African country, built three schools, delivered food and medicine, and changed the lives of thousands. He was 18. He wished for the ability to change the world -- but we all knew he already had it. Jessi had no ambition in life beyond a happy healthy marriage and family. Her dreams were the simplest, but perhaps the hardest to achieve. Karen? She was going to cure Alzheimer's -- and several other diseases while she was at it. Mark's goals were far more immediate -- he was going to find the courage to tell his family he was gay. Stephanie was the political activist of the group and her plans went beyond the scope that any of the rest of us mere mortals could fathom. The closest we could understand was that she intended to rule the world. And know her, she just might do it.

And me? I'm ashamed to admit my dreams were far more self-centered. I wanted to travel -- to see the world. I wanted to learn to speak a dozen languages (despite being absolutely hopeless at the ones I had studied). I wanted to be known -- not famous, I never had any dreams of stardom -- but I wanted to be able to visit anywhere in the world and know I'd have a friend there to welcome me. I wanted to know . . . everything. What was and what would be. I wanted to understand. And sure I'd love to help people throughout this but if I were honest w/ myself, that was a happy bi-product rather than the motivating factor.

So it's warm and sunny out and we walked into our writing class to see a sub sitting on the desk. Mark made an immediate u-turn and left to enjoy the sunshine. The rest of us considered a mass exodus but a look from the sub was powerful enough to have us slumping into our seats wishing we'd been as quick to analyze and respond to the situation as Mark had been.

The exercise presented to us that day was childishly simple and, we felt, a complete waste of our time. Our usual instructor presented us w/ thought provoking exercises that encouraged us to think, to analyze, to argue. All things we were very good at. This? This was fluff. However, it was fluff w/ a codicil -- as soon as it was done, we were free to leave. Needless to say we whipped it off in no time and out we went. It was out of our minds by the time we got to the front door.

The assignment -- 500 words to finish the statement: If I had one wish I'd . . .

They say the first step to accomplishing a goal is to write it down. We didn't discuss the writing exercise -- it was nothing and it was spring out. So I never knew exactly what my friends wrote. I do know that Jessi left uni in third year to marry her TA; they would go on to have five children. The rest of us thought they were insane -- but they were happy. Ten years after that Karen won the nobel prize for her genetics research which led to cures for many of the worlds more tragic diseases. Meanwhile, Stephanie had worked her way through several university degrees before earning an intern position at the UN. Blood, sweat, tears and many years later she had worked her way up to the point where when she spoke, the world sat up and listened. And then did what she recommended.

And I? I had the life of dreams. I got to travel the world and meet people on every continent whom I would forever consider friends. I got paid to tell stories w/ my camera. And I enjoyed almost every minute of it. But life went on, as it will, and time took it's toll -- on everybody but me. I watched my friends die, and their children, and their children's children. Eventually, given enough time, I recalled that spring day so many years ago and the paper I'd put no thought into whatsoever.

And I wish I'd never wished.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flash Fiction #9 - Training

"What are you doing here?" Sarah looked up from her desk to see her old boss standing in her office doorway.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" she said, entirely ignoring the woman with him.

"Seriously Sarah, this is a waste of your considerable talent," Agent Dylan told her, "When are you going to let it go and come back?"

Sarah didn't even bother rolling her eyes at the oft-repeated question, merely turned her back on him. It was a petty dismissal but she felt it was necessary. He, of course, entirely ignored it.

“We need your help," he said, indicating the blonde beside him. Sarah wouldn't even look at her.

"I don't do ghost wannabes. You know that."

"This one's different."

"What's different? Did she, or did she not, try to kill herself?"

"She's a level 8 medium with no shields." Dylan told her, completely avoiding the question. The implications of that did give Sarah a slight pause but was insufficient to overcome her long-ingrained disrespect of suicidal people. "We've put her through every kind of training we could imagine and still nothing. Consider it a challenge."

"Carol couldn't help her?" Sarah asked, reluctantly curious. She never could resist a challenge.

"She tried. Alyssa ended up in a coma."

"Interesting." Sarah acknowledged clinically, keeping the surprise out of her voice. Carol was the one who had originally trained Sarah. "Why did you wake up?" she asked Alyssa directly, thinking sleeping forever was an easy way out for one who wanted to kill herself.

"Dylan." Alyssa stated, with no indication of how she felt about it. "The spirits were quiet, but so was everything else. It was like I was in a void and eventually Dylan showed up and shoved me out. Now everything's back as it was before." At Sarah's look Agent Dylan shrugged off what she knew must've been an extraordinary experience. To enter the mind of one who is not under control is to risk being lost there yourself, and she imagined adding in the visiting spirits would just make it that much worse. Much like exploring the mind of a schizophrenic.

"What do you expect me to do?" Sarah asked, knowing the answer but needing it stated.

"You're an emphatic telepath. Take a look, feel what she's feeling, then build her a shield."

Reluctantly Sarah lowered the shields of her own mind which she used to filter out the thoughts and feelings of others.

She allowed a moment to be overwhelmed by the flood of voices frivolously chattering before focusing her attention on the girl beside her. As soon as she did the sense of despair was almost overwhelming. It was a horrid combination of an inability to help, no way to avoid the pleas, and a feeling of complete failure. And worse, a resigned acceptance that this was how it would always be. Switching senses, Sarah opened herself to experiencing Alyssa's thoughts which were being monopolized by a child crying in the dark, a tall pale man asking where his wife was, and others who were there but appeared unaware of her.

“Interesting.” Sarah repeated as she brought her own shields back up and disconnected from the chaos that was Alyssa's mind. She grabbed her purse and followed Dylan out of the room, silently agreeing with him that this was not the appropriate place for what needed to be done. Alyssa followed the pair, unsure exactly what had been wordlessly decided, but knowing that something had.

Arriving at the Motel 6 Dylan had booked Sarah sat down with Alyssa. "I've never done this before," she told her, "and I can't guarantee it'll go any better than Carol's attempt, but I’m willing to try." Alyssa just nodded. "When Carol helped you, she had you hide yourself inside a diamond?" Sarah guessed. A diamond is the hardest stone on Earth -- and therefore a great way to shield yourself, and one of Carol's favourite training images. Alyssa nodded her assent.

"Ok close your eyes, and wait till I join you." Alyssa's haunted blue eyes closed, and Sarah once again lowered her own shields and allowed the chaos in, having no idea how she was actually going to solve this. She temporarily blocked her emphatic sense allowing her to focus only on Sarah's thoughts -- and through her, those of the spirits with her. Her eyes were open, but the scene she saw was entirely in Alyssa’s mind. She found Alyssa cowering by a tree as some people wandered aimlessly around while others converged on her.

Turning her back on Alyssa, her dimmed emphatic sense could feel her hurt and fear, but she had to allow that for a few minutes. She found the pieces of the diamond shield Carol had helped her create and used that to build far more than a shield. She built an entire castle, with windows and only one entrance. Then she went and fought her way through the spirits to get to Alyssa, and casting her own shield widely enough to cover both of them she got Alyssa into the diamond castle – but once there Alyssa was blank. There was no expression on her face, no acknowledgement of her surroundings. Nothing.

And Sarah suddenly new what to do. She quickly pulled Alyssa back out into the realm of chaos. "Alyssa!" the younger girl slowly focused on her. "Somewhere out here is your knowledge, your feelings, your thoughts, and your memories. We have to find these and put them inside for you." Alyssa nodded her understanding, her eyes lighting with the first glimmers of hope. Using her own unique senses, Sarah was quickly able to locate Alyssa's feelings and thoughts -- hidden in a chest and a rock respectively, presumably previous shield attempts. On her own, Alyssa located her knowledge. Then it was just a search for her memories, which the rather helpful spirit of her grandmother was holding on to. All critical items accounted for, Sarah and Alyssa returned to the diamond castle. Sarah pulled the door shut, keeping a close eye on Alyssa. This time, she appeared to still be under control. "You ok?" Sarah asked. Alyssa nodded. Sarah let all her shields down. "Now?" "I can still hear them, but they're quiet. Like someone has the volume just one step above mute." Sarah thought for a moment and then walked over to the one open window and shut it. "Now?" Alyssa looked stunned.

"Ok so this is how it works," Sarah started in her teacher voice, "while you're in the diamond castle they'll leave you alone. If you want to listen, open a window; if you want to communicate, open the door and let only the one you wish to speak to in. If you find yourself outside -- which you will when you’re tired or upset, come back here as quickly as you can and shut the door. And remember, no matter how bad it is out there you can always get back. Got it?" Alyssa nodded and Sarah could feel her doubt and her hope warring it out -- but at least hope was still there. Maybe there was actually a chance. "Ok, when you're talking to Dylan tell him to leave me alone for a few hours. Open your eyes."

When Alyssa opened her eyes it was to see Sarah, incredibly pale, unconscious on the couch w/ Dylan leaning over her taking her pulse. And for the first time ever, silence. "She says leave her alone for a few hours." Alyssa told him. Dylan smiled ruefully "Yeah that sounds like her. So?" he asked -- but didn't need the answer. Even without looking uninvited, he knew from peace on Alyssa’s face that Sarah had met the challenge.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Flash Fiction #8 - An Evening Encounter

For those who actually read the blog for the blog part of things, I had the most amazing lesson today! Superpony had lightbulbs flashing every few minutes. hahaha and that story's on the GRS blog :)

For my Canadian readers -- Happy Turkey Day!!! Have a great Thanksgiving :)

And for everybody else: Friday Flash :) I couldn't decide on the right ending -- I have an extra paragraph that I couldn't decide whether or not to include. I *think* it's better w/o, but not quite sure so I added it in after a break at the end. Let me know your thoughts!

*edited to add: Alright -- the votes are in! Last paragraph is gone :) Anybody reading from now on in gets the edited version! Cheers :) *

Thanks for reading!

An Evening Encounter

It was a dark and stormy night. Oh wait, no it wasn't -- that's somebody else's story. It was actually a stunningly gorgeous night, crisp and cool with the hint of unfallen snow on the air. The harvest moon lit the world with a surreal night-time glow and the stars were so numerous Elsie felt there had to be some uncharted ones visible to those who knew those kind of things.

She was at the cottage for Thanksgiving and had escaped the warmth and chaos of the indoors for a few moments of complete silence. She'd been looking forward to this weekend for a long time -- the complete escape from the reality of her everyday life. She took a deep breath and savored the intense quiet.

"Excuse me," the little voice made her jump and her heart pound unbelievably fast. Her mind reviewed every scary movie she'd ever seen as she debated whether her family would hear her if she screamed. And then her imagination was brought under control as she observed who was addressing her -- a being entirely too fantastic for her somewhat uninventive imagination to have created.

"I was wondering if you might be able to spare a slice of pumpkin pie?" the little man asked. What? Elsie nearly laughed at the disjointed request. He was a squat man, with a face that rather resembled the cabbage-patch doll she'd had as a child. His dark green hair, highlighted by the moonlight, was a shade that was never in fashion -- not even in the 80s -- and was pulled back into a pony tail tied with something that looked like braided grass but was sparkling in the starlight. His voice was high, which made him seem childlike, but his eyes were haunted and belied an age not revealed in his appearance.

"Pumpkin pie?" Elsie asked, bewildered.

"Precisely." he replied, offering no explanation as to the strange request.

It was Thanksgiving -- of course she had pumpkin pie. And as her family had already eaten, nobody would care if she helped herself to another piece; this was the weekend for overindulgence of very good food after all.

"Sure," she decided with a shrug. "I'll be right back." And with a backwards glance at the unusual little man, she returned to the warmth and comfort of the cottage. She cut a generous slice and foamed a significant amount of whipped cream on top -- pumpkin pie was useless without whipped cream after all! Now the interesting challenge would be getting back outside with the pie. Sure enough as soon as she put her jacket on her mother questioned it.

"Where are you going?"

"I left my book in the car -- just going to grab it." It wasn't entirely a lie, she *had* left her book in the car and did want to have it for the evening.

"With your pie?" damn, her mother never missed anything.

"Well I don't dare leave it here!" Elsie stated emphatically with a deliberate look at her uncles and her younger brothers. Her mother smiled in acknowledgment while her male relatives loudly defended their honour and Elsie slipped out the door.

She returned to where she'd left the little man, but nobody was there. She looked around and was beginning to feel more than a little foolish when he materialized beside her. He lifted the entire slice with one giant sized hand, somehow keeping the pie intact and the whipped cream on top and leaving her with an empty plate. "Thank you," he said, and with a little half-nod, half-bow, he was gone.

"Well I guess that's that," Elsie thought, somewhat bemused, as she returned to the house, remembering to stop at the car and pick up her book.

"Polished that off pretty quickly, didn't you?" her brother was quick to point out as she walked into the cottage w/ the empty plate.

"It's good stuff." Elsie said with a laugh and fell back into the camaraderie of extended family gatherings.

Late that night when she finally went to sleep, she dreamed. She dreamed of summer in the nearby meadow and fairies, for they could be nothing else, dancing around the tree. Most ignored her completely, but one came and gestured to Elsie to follow. Quickly they came upon a pumpkin patch that, in the way of dreams, Elsie accepted unquestioningly. As she watched, Elsie saw the little man very like the one she met earlier appear to tend the patch; he seemed oblivious to her and the fairy's presence.

Elsie looked at the fairy quizzically. "Garden gnomes," the fairy answered her unasked question in a lilting voice. "Their lives rely on their gardens; this year the trolls wiped out the plot. If they couldn't recreate it by next year, the entire pack would die. It was out of desperation that Finzig approached you -- having spoken to you, law prohibits his return, but the pumpkin source you provided will save his family and the white gold on top will make them incredibly wealthy. That was very generous of you to include." The fairy said with a smile.

"What of Finzig?" Elsie asked, moved by the plight of one who'd risk all to save his family.

"He's going to travel," the fairy told her. "He'll be as the minstrels of your history once were -- welcome everywhere briefly and nowhere forever. He'll carry news and stories and discoveries from one garden to another, perhaps occasionally posing for photographs with those of your world. Don't look so sad," she told Elsie, "it's a life he'll embrace. As a child he was forever wandering and as an adult never settled in the pack. This will give him a chance to do what he's always wanted to do, and a valid reason for doing it. He's one of the few to ever leave with pride and his story will be sung for generations. And what you did made his leaving worthwhile. I brought you here so you could know that." And on that note the dream faded and Elsie opened her eyes to find herself lying in bed with her mind still in that place between sleep and awake where you still remember dreaming.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Flash Fiction #7 - Just Another Day

Just Another Day --

As her dinner companion's head exploded, Mary took a last sip of her espresso before sliding out of the booth and using the chaos that had erupted in the coffee shop to become disassociated with her unfortunate companion. There would be no point in sticking around for the cops -- she had nothing that could help them, and they would only hinder her.

It hadn't been one of her better days, she reflected as she slipped out the back door and blended in with the other pedestrians hunched to avoid the drizzly grey weather. But, she supposed, still better than some. At least she'd had time to pick his brain before it splattered so rudely across the table. Personally she didn't think his knowledge was worth killing for, but maybe she was becoming insouciant. Perhaps it was time to find a new career.

She followed the herd down to the subway and traveled three stops before emerging to flag an anonymous yellow taxi. She picked a random address she could've walked to, but habit had her instinctively make the job of those following her as difficult and inane as possible. Several cab changes later, she headed to her target location.

She slipped into the back of the lecture hall to hear the aged professor finishing up his under-graduate level talk. She waited as the students gathered their items and exited the hall with the extreme speed that only students escaping mandatory classes are capable of.

"Ah, Mary Mary quite contrary," he started seeing her sitting alone in the auditorium. To which Mary outwardly smiled and inwardly felt any respect she may have had for him disintegrate, "how may I assist you today?"

"Trevor Peters" she stated, watching him closely. The professor's face transformed from friendly-grandfather to one who has seen and known too much.

"I'm sorry, my dear, that name means nothing to me," he said.

After the day she'd had, she had no patience for the conventional games. "Spencer Matthews was killed a little over an hour ago. There's a very good chance Trevor will be next. Where is he?" The older man blanched slightly but otherwise gave no sign the news of his former student affected him.

"We haven't spoken in a while," he said inanely, "perhaps you'd like to come over for a coffee?" Several sharp retorts about the outcome of her last cup of coffee jumped instantly to mind, but resolutely she stifled them, knowing he was her only link to the information she required.

"I'd like that," she lied blatantly, and followed the professor out to his car. She was suspicious but not overly concerned when he drove to a stately old home instead of the nearest Starbucks.

The door was slightly ajar and the professor was cautious in opening it -- his movements betrayed an ingrained knowledge of tactical maneuvers not learned in the classroom. Mary was forced to reevaluate her opinion of him as she followed him in, sweeping left while he went right, her Springfield XD 9, previously concealed, now held confidently in front of her. As Mary shadowed the professor into what appeared to be his home library she was not particularly surprised to see him retrieve a Glock and magazine from a hollow book and load it; as her mind registered the significance of the practiced movement, she wondered idly what else might be in those books.

A quick sweep of the rest of the house proved what both instinctively knew -- they were alone. And nothing, so far as Mary could tell, had been touched. She wondered if the old professor had simply forgotten to lock up that morning, but as he was appearing less and less like an old professor by the second, she kept that thought to herself.

"What is it you want with Trevor Peters?" he asked bluntly.

"Information," she replied. "Information of the type people would kill for.” While she didn't particularly care one way or another about the life of the hacker who’d learned one secret too many, she had long since learned that playing the 'help safe a life' card motivated most civilians.

"What makes you think I know where he is?"

"If you didn't, I wouldn't be here." she stated, neatly avoiding the question. She knew better than to reveal sources -- even dead ones.

The look he gave her was that of a disappointed parent. "You don't know nearly as much as you think you do, young lady." Surprisingly she was more intrigued than insulted by his patronizing tone.

"Educate me," she challenged.

"This morning," he started, "I knew exactly where Trevor Peters was." Mary nodded -- she'd already ascertained that much. "He was here." That worried her briefly, maybe she really was slipping. She'd been certain the old professor knew where to find him, but had had no sign her quarry had been in the immediate area.

"I’ll help you find him," the professor stated.

"No thank you," Mary said, knowing even as she said it that the offer hadn't been an offer so much as a command. "You'd be putting yourself in danger. These people kill indiscriminately; just for talking to me, you could be at risk."

"Then I may as well be involved," the professor argued with a disturbing twist on logic. "And they're not that indiscriminant, otherwise how do you come to be standing here when Spencer is dead?"

"What makes you think I was there when Spencer was killed?" Mary asked focusing on the detail he shouldn't have known.

The professor gave her that withering you're an idiot child look again before pointing out that she had unmistakable flecks of brain matter staining her shirt. Ok so she should've picked up on that. Definitely time for a career change. But then, a math professor, on the verge of retirement, should not have.

"I will find Trevor." he started, taking advantage of her momentary discombobulation. "I can find him on my own -- in which case you'll never get to ask your questions, or we can find him together and see what he says." Mary’s tension rose as she envisioned her weeks of searching, not to mention a significant amount of money, being wasted due to a rogue professor

"There is one more thing that you don't know,” the professor stated, piquing her reluctant interest. Her raised eyebrow encouraged him to continue:

"Trevor Peters is my son."