Friday, November 12, 2010

#FridayFlash: Nano Excerpt - The Fair Ones

3 comments
Nanowrimo continues, and as such for flash this week I offer another snipit of my nano-novel. Spoiler alert – if you’ve been reading my Smashwords novel ( http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/28889) this section has not yet been posted! The full version is more developed, but we haven’t gotten to that point yet :)

I borrowed characters I first created in my story The Magic of Spring... I couldn’t let go of them and felt they might work out here. Let me know what you think!

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Jezina awoke to see Kale heating water over the fire while a man and a woman watched on from the sidelines. They were almost eerily gorgeous. Tall and thin, both had the perfectly symmetrical features rarely seen in reality. Their skin was pale, but seemed to glow. Both had dark hair with a stunning gold stripe through the centre; the woman’s was quite long and flowed freely over her shoulders. The man had the dark portion shaved while the golden portion was formed into spikes, somehow giving the impression of power and confidence rather than ridiculousness.

The man smiled at her blatant inspection and Jezina felt herself blushing, ashamed of her behaviour.

“See,” he said to the woman next to him, “I told you she was the one.”

“We don’t know that yet,” she warned, although seemed to disbelieve the words she was speaking.

“Hello,” the man spoke to her in her own language, “do you yet miss the woods?”

“How can I miss what I never knew?” she asked in response to the strange question.

“Jezina?” Kale interrupted, sounding puzzled.

“Sorry, should I have waited for an introduction?” she asked, sure she had yet again broken some rule of social etiquette.

Kale looked worried, “introduction to whom?” he asked. The woman giggled – a surprising sound from one as elegant as she.

“He can’t see us,” she told Jezina.

“Unless we let him,” the man finished.

“Jezina?” Kale queried. Jezina looked at the pair and back at Kale, who was watching her worriedly. She was coming to believe all the myths were true.

“Kale, do you know any stories about a race of fair people with a golden stripe in their hair?”

Seemingly concerned about the non-sequitor and puzzled as to why she had her mental shields up, Kale nonetheless could see no reason not to tell her. “Sure, although I don’t remember much about them; they’re supposed to be so gorgeous that to see them would be death to any human – although since they’re also invisible, how we could possibly know that, I never understood. Some cultures pay homage to them; they leave offerings in return for being treated kindly. Seems a bit of a waste to me.” At which both the visitors smiled. “Why?”

Sensing this was going to be an interesting morning, Jezina couldn’t see any way to break the news easily, “because we have company for breakfast,” she told him and watched the disbelief steal over his face for a split second before he managed to hide it behind his mask.

“So clearly seeing you is not death, how much of the rest of the story is true?” Jezina asked the fair ones with a smile.

“I’m Az,” the woman avoided the question by introducing herself still smiling, “and this is my twin Goht.”

“Jezina,” she introduced herself, “and my… friend, Kale.” She said, stumbling only slightly over how to introduce him. “Would you like some tea?” she asked, certain that was what Kale had been making.

The stunning pair declined gracefully and looked at each other, the silent communication of those who’ve known each other forever flashing in their eyes. A decision was reached.

“What do you want from her?” Kale asked them cautiously, suddenly able to see the stunning people.

“Come with us and meet with our queen,” Goht requested instantly, “she is knowledgeable in the ways of prophecy and will be able to tell if you are the one it speaks of. She also may be able to give you information that could be useful.”

Kale looked at Jezina and shrugged. The prophecy was hers and so was the choice.

“Why not?” Jezina stated, “it’s not every day I’m invited to meet invisible royalty.”

They walked for a while, making the kind of small talk strangers do; an activity Jezina had little experience with that fascinated her to no end. While she got to know the life story of her new friends, Kale kept his thoughts to himself, watching quietly.

They stopped beside a tree – the biggest by far that Jezina had ever seen. The beautiful people gave them masks, warning them they were needed to pass the spirts.

The tree came to life. It reached down with its upper branches to the base of the trunk, making a giant bow. The massive tree then rocked backwards onto the bow with an ominous creak, revealing a cavernous opening with steps leading underground where one would expect to see roots.

With a wide-eyed look at Kale, Jezina took Goht’s hand and descended, Kale and Az following immediately behind. There was a loud groan as the tree righted itself and the group was plunged into darkness.

And dark it was. In all her life, Jezina had never seen such dark. She touched her hand to her face and at no point could she see even a hint of a shadow of it.

Without her sight, Jezina’s other senses increased exponentially. She could hear every footstep – the confident ones of her hosts and the hesitant shuffle of Kale, as blind as her, behind her. In the distance she heard other sounds. The flutter of wings. A scrambling of clawed feet. And other sounds she couldn’t identify. Sounds she didn’t want to identify.

She could smell nothing. It was as though her nose were as blind as her eyes. She had never considered how much she used scent until it was gone.

Her sense of taste, however, was still strong. Even though she hadn’t eaten a thing she felt as though she’d eaten something incredibly bitter. She felt her cheeks pursing in reaction.

“Tighten your mask,” Goht told her as soon as he noticed her expression. Evidently the darkness really didn’t affect them. Goht let go of her hand to tighten the mask for her. She could feel her heartbeat accelerate in panic instantly when he let go of her hand, but Az, clearly understanding, reached out from behind and held her other hand for both security and stability until he was done.

The path twisted and wound endlessly. They walked for minutes. Hours. Days. Jezina lost all concept of time and space, until all of a sudden, in the distance there was a glimmer.

“We’ll take the masks back now,” Az told them. “We’re through the spirit’s realm. Your vision will also return shortly.” As Az collected the masks, Jezina realized the depth of her mistake. Without a mask and a light source, there was no way to return the way they’d come. She and Kale would be trapped here. She wondered that he who had concerns about her wandering the village with Malla, would let her come down here. And then she realized, he had never tried to stop her from exploring the village, just from doing so alone. Here he was with her. The choice of where to go was hers and hers alone; his only concern was to watch over her while she went. And if the choice was hers, so was the responsibility. She felt an uncomfortable pit in her stomach, and had the horrible feeling that she had chosen wrong.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

#fridayflash: Nano Excerpt - Eavesdropping

3 comments
Alright so due to the adventure that is Nanowrimo, it is looking highly unlikely that I'll be writing any #fridayflash this month! For those who might be interested I'll share snipits of my Nano -- please do be kind, remember there's little to no editing involved and excessive wordiness, the antithesis of Flash, is ENcouraged :)

I cheated a little for my Nano and used the story I started last year in my Flash series. Check out the "Jezina" tags if you want to see the originals. The story has already moved well past that - it can be downloaded at Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/28889 for any who may be interested :) I'd be honoured if you'd consider reading it!

Here's a snippit from yesterday's writing that can stand on its own (almost :). It's even under 1000 words :)

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Eavesdropping:

Jezina rolled her eyes when after several hours of walking the silent watcher stopped suddenly and dropped his gear to suggest they’d reached the place where they’d be camping that evening. “Why yes Kale, this seems perfect. Let’s stop here for the night,” Jezina said not-quite-outloud. He didn’t deign to respond.

Deciding to allow him his sulk, Jezina ignored Kale and started setting up camp while he went in search of food. When he returned they ate the results of his foraging in silence.

“I’m neither sulking nor a child,” Kale told her and Jezina felt her face pale; she hadn’t said it, but it was exactly what she was thinking.

“I’m just considering how best to go about this.”

“Go about what?” Jezina asked, curious now that he was actually speaking to her.

“When we get to the village we should find the professor – he’s an expert in all things prophecy and should be able to answer some questions.”

Jezina shrugged; she had no plans whatsoever once she got there, so it surely wouldn’t hurt to go see Kale’s professor – maybe he’d even tell Kale how ridiculous he was being and then she’d be free of him.

“He’s not my professor and I’m no happier about this situation than you are so you don’t need to be nasty about it.”

Jezina was both stunned and hurt, “I didn’t say anything!” she exclaimed. Kale glared at her, the temperature dropping again. And then suddenly his entire expression changed and he looked at her as though she had a second head. “What?” she asked sharply.

“Think of a number,” he told her unexpectedly. “16!” he stated before she even realized she’d thought of it. Consciously she was still wondering why he wanted her to pick a number. And then she realized Kale was looking rather stunned.

“I can hear your thoughts.” He told her quietly.

“Well stop it!” She felt incredibly violated, and then felt worse knowing that he knew how she was feeling. Somehow she didn’t doubt the truth of his statement even for an instant.

“I’m sorry,” he told her quietly. “I was mad because of the things you’d said – even if they were true, I didn’t think you had any right to say them when I was just trying to help you. It wasn’t until just now that I realized you’d never actually spoken." He stopped, realizing he was babbling, and started again. "It’s a little disconcerting here too you know. Although it does explain how I could hear you when you were with the dragon.”

“How?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” he acknowledged. It’s just like you’re speaking – only you’re not. And it’s not all the time; it’s clearer when your emotions are stronger. When you were so happy playing with the dragon; that was how I found you. And then it was even louder when you were scared by the mother; and of course the many times you’ve been annoyed with me...” he trailed off.

“So I have to be calm to keep you out of my head?” she asked, appalled. He grinned at what she didn’t say.

“You’re not that volatile you know. You’ve just been through some stress recently.” He raised his eyebrows and looked down his nose at the immediate thought to pop into her head about his definition of “some stress”.

“I didn’t say anything,” Jezina protested. “And I appreciate that you’re trying to be civil about it. But you can’t get mad at me for the thoughts you eavesdrop on. Especially when I don’t know anything about you.”

He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, quiet enough that Jezina wondered what he was thinking which caused him to smirk at her and her to sigh in frustration.

“Ok look, you can ask me one question and I’ll answer it honestly.” She just looked at him, “ok so I know it doesn’t balance out me knowing everything you think, but at least I’m trying.”

She had to acknowledge the truth of that, so she considered the things she could ask. She knew she’d found one with an interesting answer when the temperature dropped. “Why did you hate me so much right from the beginning? We’d never even met. I was running for my life. The rest of your family was friendly and welcoming and you acted like I’d just ruined your life.”

“You were a legend come true and it meant my life was no longer my own. Of course I’d be less than thrilled about that.”

“I thought you were going to tell me the truth?” Jezina questioned, not doubting what he said but knowing instinctively he’d left a whole lot out.

“Did Riely ever tell you I was going to be married?” he asked her in a complete non-sequitur. Her surprised was obvious even if he hadn’t had insight into her thoughts.

“What happened?”

"She wanted to live in town, but I couldn't because of the prophecy; I was bound by the vow of my family for centuries to stay where I could watch the woods. Alecia decided the prophecy was a myth and set out to prove it. If she went into the woods and returned, we were going to be married and move to town. She never returned."

"When did she leave?" Jezina asked cautiously.

"Two days before you arrived."

“Oh Kale, I’m so sorry.” She said quietly, knowing he’d seen the memory flash through her mind, and wishing she’d never asked. From the look on his face, it was clear who the last kelah she’d seen had been.

“I knew,” he said, “somehow I always knew it would never be. I always kept my distance. Loved her in my way, but not with the same passion she always showed me. I always felt so guilty for that, but she was convinced it was real. And I never stopped her from leaving.”

“You didn’t stop her from leaving,” Jezina restated, “but she never offered to stay either.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

#fridayflash 54: The Photo Album

2 comments
Was feeling a little nostalgic today, so this story has more reality in it than many of mine. But then it also has a reasonable amount of the extraordinary to balance it out. Hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think :)

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The Photo Album

She opened her late grandmother's photo album reverently; she'd found it in the house after the funeral, but at the time had been too devastated to look. "To my children," the inscription read. The album, painstakingly and lovingly crafted, carried a lifetime and a half of memories. Elizabeth flipped to the end first -- two family shots, professionally taken just last year. She smiled at the memory of the chaos having all twenty of them in the photographer's tiny studio.

She flipped slowly back through the pages, seeing herself at graduation, before and after the ceremony -- how proud she'd been that day. The world was hers for the taking -- even if she had no idea what she wanted to do with it. She grinned at the memory of her idealistic self. There were pictures of herself and all her cousins as teenagers, then as children, then infants. She found a page from the day she came home from the hospital with her happy but exhausted mother. The story at this point was not hers, but rather the continuation of her mother's. Sure enough, the page before showcased her parents' wedding.

They looked so happy. And her mum so beautiful. She rubbed at a smudge on the page, disproportionately upset to find a flaw in her grandmother's album. But when she rubbed it, it wouldn't come off. She rubbed at it again, a last futile effort.

And suddenly found herself outside the church from the photo, her mother and father, much younger versions of themselves, standing on the steps preparing to leave for their honeymoon. She rubbed her eyes and shook her head, trying to clear the vision in front of her. It didn't work. Her parents still stood, complete in 1970s wedding regalia, enjoying their moment while friends and family -- some of whom she recognized -- celebrated around them. Nobody seemed to notice her. She could feel panic rising. She reached out to get the attention of the person next to her... But her arm passed right through him causing no more reaction than a brief shiver. She was a ghost. Could she be a ghost in a time she'd never lived in? Puzzling over that little dilemma briefly averted the panic, but all too quickly it returned. She couldn't stay in 1975 -- they didn't even have cell phones yet!

As her eyes darted around frantically, she suddenly realized one person could see her. She met the eyes of her grandmother across the property. Gram smiled a knowing smile and winked briefly before returning her attention to her daughter -- the crazy gram she'd always loved, who was always up for an intelligent prank. Somehow, in some way, she'd managed one last stunt.

Elizabeth worked her way towards her grandmother, who every once in a while would look directly at her, encouraging. It was hard to navigate the crowd; since nobody else could see her, they weren't about to get out of her way. And she just couldn't bring herself to go through somebody. Her world had already gone so far beyond her grasp of reality, she couldn't let that final piece go...

She reached her grandmother and her heart lept to her throat when she picked up a hand and ran it along Elizabeth's face, tucking a piece of hair back just as she always had the whole time she'd been growing up. "Gram, what...?"

"Don't worry Lizzibet, you'll be home soon." The name she'd never thought to hear again, spoken by the woman she knew she'd never again see.

"What was that?" Her grandfather turned toward his wife, puzzled.

"Nothing Dear," she told him, "just thinking out loud." He looked worried for an instant, but it passed as his attention was drawn to his daughter as her new husband opened the door to drive her away. Elizabeth was stunned to see a tear in his eye. Her very formal, very strict, grandfather crying at his daughter's wedding? Nobody would ever have believed it. And indeed, he blinked the tear back before it could shed. But Elizabeth knew what she'd seen.

Elizabeth's 1970s father got in the driver's side and her mother leaned out the passenger side to wave -- a scene Elizabeth had seen before. And a heartbeat later she was sitting back in her living room, the photo album open in her lap, looking at the image of her parents driving away from their wedding, with her mother leaning out the passenger side waving.

Elizabeth jumped up, shoving the album away from her. Unable to sit still, she went to the fridge on the premise of getting some water. It couldn't be. Her mind spun with the possibilities -- holograms made from videos? Just because she hadn't heard of the technology didn't mean it didn't exist. But in her heart she knew what she had experienced. And she knew that crazy Gram hadn't had any top of the line super-technology to play with. She returned to the album and opened it again, paying closer attention this time. And she discovered that on most of the pages, if you looked hard enough, there was a mark of some sort next to the first photo on every page.

She held her breath briefly as she touched another of the marks. Her grandmother sitting on the beach, holding Elizabeth's toddler mother in her lap. Sure enough, she felt the burst of warmth and found herself in another time and another world.

"Hello Lizzibet," her very young, sepia-toned grandmother said.

"Gram what??? How???" Full sentences were beyond her, but fortunately unnecessary.

"You, my daughters, and any women to come of our blood will always be able to share in my story. I hope one day you'll choose to share yours as well. Know that I'll always love you."

"Anne stop nattering at that child and look over here!" the photographer, Elizabeth's great-grandfather, commanded. With a smile that was clearly meant solely for Elizabeth, Anne did as she was told. And Elizabeth once again found herself at home looking at the pair of photos of young-mom Anne with her first-born.

Friday, October 22, 2010

#FridayFlash: Life Skills

3 comments
Have to admit, for the first time ever I dug into the archives for this one. If you've seen this before, my apology for the repeat! If you haven't, I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!

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Life Skills

"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 15, 2010

#FridayFlash 53: Wedding Magic

6 comments
"When I look at you I remember a little girl who believed in magic," my aunt told me wistfully, "what happened to her?"

"She grew up." I told her bluntly. The hardness of my carefully crafted cynicism hiding the stab of pain at the memory of what once was. It was a facade that had been serving me well for years; she didn't see through it.

Leaving me to sulk, she returned to my mother's wedding. It was my mom's fifth. My sisters and I had a pool going -- I, on the realist end, had taken the 6 month to 1 year option. Gloria, ever the romantic had declared this one would last. The other girls were playing it safe somewhere in the middle -- after all, it had been an incredibly romantic ceremony. Suckers. It was all too easy to take their money. I'd yet to lose.

I was not a good enough actress to pull off happiness and excitement for the wedding, but I also had no wish to spoil my mother's night, so instead I a walk along the path away from the house, lit by an eerily vibrant moon. After only a few steps I kicked my feet out of the treacherous heels and continued, feeling moderately rebellious, without them.

The path I found myself on wound its way through the garden, but never far from the moon's rays; while part of me felt a primal instinct to fear the dark, a stronger part of me was so grateful to avoid the farce that it seemed a relief to escape to the shadows.

I sat on a decorative marble bench, my back to the lights of the party and looked out at play of light and shadow. As I watched I realized it wasn’t anger or cynicism or frustration that kept me from being able to enjoy the party; I was genuinely sad for my mom. Perhaps it was my aunt’s comment that did it, but somehow the piece of me that once believed in magic surfaced and I asked of the moonlight: “If love is real, why can’t my mother find it? Nobody tries as hard as she.”

“Because true love generally comes uninvited and unlooked for. Those who try too hard, accept a mere parody of the emotion and therefore, it cannot last.”

I jumped at the voice – at once both angry and embarrassed at having been overheard. Until I realized I was still alone. I looked all around and saw nothing. Called but no one answered. More than slightly freaked out, I turned and headed back quickly towards the lights of the party, moving as quickly as I could without appearing to be running from shadows.

“Why do you run from the truth?” I spun around. The voice was very different, but there was still nobody to be seen.

“What truth?” I demanded angrily. “How can you speak truth while hiding in shadow? Show yourself!” Brave on the outside, shaking within. All the time wondering if anybody would hear me if I shouted.

I heard a sigh, “I thought she could see us?” a younger voice asked, disappointment evident. And somehow I knew I was the ‘she’ in question.

“She used to be able to,” another answered.

And from the first, sadly, “she used to believe in magic.”

“Where are you?” I asked again, less frightened and more annoyed. As though everybody were laughing at a joke I didn’t get.

For a long moment there was no answer, and then somebody deigned to speak: “You look, but don’t see. Open your mind to the possibilities and then look closely at the moon’s beams.”

The moon’s beams my mind raced backwards as I was sucked into a memory. My mom’s second wedding – I was six, wearing the most beautiful princess dress I’d ever seen, and I’d just gotten a new dad and a new brother. And I was ecstatic. “Look at the moonbeam,” my mom said to me, crouching down to my level and showing me the unusual way the single beam shone through the trees. And I suddenly recalled my response.

“There are fairies dancing on it,” I whispered the phrase I had once uttered excitedly. And suddenly I could see.

“Welcome back,” the most regal of the fairies said with a smile and a slight nod. “For a while I thought we’d lost you.”

“So she can see us now?!?!” It was the younger voice again, and I attached it to a fairy who was zipping back and forth almost too quickly for the eye to register.

“Well she can if you sit still!” another responded, irritation evident in her tone.

I was too stunned to comment. I hadn’t had anything to drink, much less smoke, yet I was seeing fairies on the moonlight.

“Others accept us without ever seeing, so why is it so hard for you to accept what you can see in front of you?” one of the calmer voices asked curiously.

“You can’t be real,” I stated; knowing how ridiculous that statement was. If they weren’t real and I was talking to them, I had a serious problem. And if they were real, I was proving myself an idiot. Idiot or insane? I wasn’t sure which would be the worse fate.

“And yet we are,” the one I had deemed to be the leader spoke, “and so is Love.”
Even though I instantly wished I hadn’t, I rolled my eyes. But she didn’t seem to take offence, just smiled an eerily knowing smile, “you just have to open your eyes to it.”

A heavy cloud rolled in front of the moon, breaking the beam, “Gotta fly!!!” the young one zipped in front of me and exclaimed excitedly, “hope we get to see you again!!!!” she seemed to speak entirely in exclamation marks.

“And you,” I replied. But they were gone.

Lost in a world of memories and magic, I returned to the party with a much lighter heart, and open eyes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

#fridayflash 52: A new horse

6 comments
"So who's the new horse?"

"What new horse?" I questioned, giving my student a puzzled look.

"The grey out with Jasper."

"I don't have any grey horses and Jasper's turned out alone," I told her as I headed out to the paddocks to check. Sure enough when I got there, Jasper was grazing quite peacefully on his own -- no sign of any new horses in any of the paddocks. I looked at Kellie and raised an eyebrow.

"I *swear* there was another horse out here when I came to get Swizzle. Gorgeous grey -- and you know I don't usually like greys -- but this one's coat seemed actually white. Had its hindend turned to me, was grazing over in the corner," she pointed to where she'd seen the mystery horse.

"Ok," I didn't really know what to say. She wasn't prone to hallucinations and it was a gorgeous fall day -- too cool to be heat stroke. No signs of drugs or alcohol use. "Are you feeling ok?" She rolled her eyes in dismissal in typical teenage fashion. Ok no worries there. "Well, if you see the mystery horse again, take a pic for me." I told her, only half joking.

We dismissed the incident and moved on -- the whole thing turning into one of those jokes that decades from now would still hold meaning for us and no other. A week later I was turning out horses. The morning was a photographers dream -- our valley was shrouded in mist, and the sun had just crested the hill behind the paddocks, it's beams emphasizing the power of the mist as they failed to penetrate it. The first four horses were already out and I was walking out with the fifth, still half asleep and appreciating the quiet morning, I had the horse in the paddock and was taking off her halter before I realized we weren't alone. I looked in disbelief. There, hidden in the mist, a stunning grey horse was grazing at the end of the paddock. But none of the other horses had given any indication there was a stranger in their midsts. I quickly relocated my mare to another paddock, keeping my eye on the new horse the whole time.

That paddock had been empty, so the gate had been open -- I entered, closing it behind me out of habit. I approached from the side as I would any horse; the mist was playing mind tricks -- the horse seemed to waver in and out of my vision. At times seeming to disappear into the mist and otherwise being as solid as all the other horses around us. The geldings I had turned out first were watching me attentively, but seemed to be paying little attention to the new horse. While she had yet to acknowledge my presence by so much as a sideways glance. What horse didn't at least make note of a strange person in their vicinity?

What I saw next would challenge all I'd ever been taught. The horse lifted her head and looked over her shoulder at me, finally acknowledging my existence, and when she did, I froze. Protruding from her head was a long, thin, crystalline horn. She flipped her head, tossing her mane in a way that only ever happens in fiction, took two canter strides, cleared the paddock fence with perfect form, and was swallowed by the mist. All while my brain struggled to combine what I'd seen with what I knew. A unicorn? Unicorns didn't exist. They certainly didn't graze in my paddock. And yet, I had seen it.

A trick. It had to be a trick. Somebody glued something on the horse's forehead. But then, where had the horse come from and where had it gone? And how come none of my horses had been concerned about it? Cows were regarded as monsters plotting world domination, sheep -- well anything little and fluffy that bounces is clearly pure evil, and even ponies were not above suspicion -- but unicorns didn't get so much as a blink from any of them? How could that be possible?

Over the next few days I started carrying my camera everywhere. Each morning I awoke filled with excitement that I might see her again -- turnout was suddenly a chore I looked forward to. I contemplated leaving food for her, but knew that my horses would just eat it. But I never saw her. Beginning to doubt my sanity I became less careful about having the camera and chores returned to feeling like work until one morning, cameraless once more, she returned. I approached cautiously, stopping a few strides away. She looked at me and I felt as though I were being evaluated, although I had no idea the criteria. She flipped her head in the air, once more sending the mane flying, the rising sun reflecting off her horn. Head held high, she stood perfectly still and looked at me. I approached carefully, keeping my eyes down and moving slightly sideways as though she were a skittish horse. After only a few steps I heard the most musical laugher. I stopped and couldn't resist a glance. She was facing me head on, proud and tall. For all she might look like one, this was not a prey animal. She closed the distance between us, staring straight into my eyes the whole time. It was the most disconcerting feeling. Part of me was concerned -- it was a wild animal, I was alone, and I had no idea what she might do. Part of me was absolutely enthralled with awe. I couldn't have moved at that point for anything. And part of me was wondering if I'd actually lost it. Was I really seeing this? Was I dreaming? Hallucinating?

She bowed her head and her horn gently touched my shoulder as though she were knighting me. And then I knew. The myths were true. All of them. And I'd been chosen.

My life would never be the same.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

#FridayFlash 51: The Call

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I stared at my phone, willing it to ring. And obligingly it did -- but it was just Amy texting me to see if I wanted to meet her for lunch. I fired off a brief message, hands shaking. Wondering if I'd be any sort of company for her that day; knowing she'd forgive me if I wasn't.

The job of a lifetime; a cumulation of years of work and study and scrapping my way up from the know-nothing errand kid. And it was within reach -- they told me I'd find out today.

When I was in highschool my girlfriends waiting anxiously for the phone for some boy to call, and I never entirely respected them for it. If I wanted to talk to some boy, I called him; this was pretty much a non-issue in my world. I'd never before been subject to the power of a silent phone. But now I got it -- the balance between hope they'd call and fear they wouldn't and the wicked emotional shifts that entailed. Only in my case, I knew they'd call, but what worried me was what they'd say. The other candidate was as qualified as I; the job would be based on those intangibles. Who's a "good fit" for the company? Who do they like better? Who'll look best representing them in front of the cameras? I was not a girly-girl, but I definitely took my time preparing for that interview!

The phone buzzed and my heart leapt. And then hope faded as I saw the text icon. "Any news yet?" -- the sender deserved to be shot. It's a shame; he was a good friend till that moment.

My heart settled back to its normal rhythm as I stared at the screen I'd already read eight times that morning and still had not registered, my mind full of those two powerful words: "what if".

I knew I was being ridiculous -- either it would happen or it wouldn't, but nothing I could do at this point would influence it so I may as well be productive. Sadly logic lost the war to emotion, and I continued to stare blankly at my screen, with occasional glances at my phone. My hands were cold, and I could hear my heart pounding. It didn't even usually do that on a 5k run. I looked around at my co-workers -- did any of them notice something was not-quite-right? For all of them, it was just another day. But for me, it might be THE day. But I wouldn't know until they called.

I sat, as the seconds past like hours. Every once in a while moving the mouse so my screen would stay lit. Always thinking of what could be... And what might not.

The phone buzzed again; a quick look at the screen showed a number I hoped would one day be mine. My hands shook and I nearly dropped the phone as I tried to answer it, but I was proud that my voice came out calmly and professionally,

"Good afternoon, Sarah speaking."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

#FridayFlash 50 and Thursday Tales 1: Who says you can’t go home?

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Woohoo! FridayFlash 50! *insert happy dance* Ok so I've separated out stories from the rest of my blog so as to make it more appealing for those who are not so interested in the horse world. Please feel free to follow! The list is looking very sad and empty at the moment. hahaha

This story inspired by the photo below as presented by Thursday Tales. As always, comments very welcome!

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Photo courtesy of Deviant Art

She stood at the foot of the rickety old bridge with her heart in her throat. The mist rose off the water adding an eeriness to an already tense situation. She had left, 20 years earlier, swearing never to return. And having done so, she was dead to them.

She wondered if time would’ve changed them. Her friends. Her family. Whom she’d left behind out of a desperate need to see what lay beyond the bridge. She vividly recalled her mother watching her go. Sad and unable to understand, but willing to accept that the strange girl she’d raised would never fit in. Crossing the bridge was taboo, and strangers from the other side were never accepted.

She’d travelled and she’d learned. She’d seen things the village shaman would never allow her to speak of and discovered that the world was made up of villages not unlike her own. Oh sure, the behaviours and rules changed from place to place. Some welcomed foreigners while others killed them. Some valued strength and courage while others revered wisdom and intelligence. But really, each town set its rules to whatever standards it deemed important, and each town expected its inhabitants to follow them. That basic fact never changed. And try though she would, she never found a town she felt at home in.

She worried that the village so large in her memory, would seem small in comparison. And she wondered if she was making the right decision. She hadn’t even intended to come here. She didn’t recognize the woods around her – it had been another lifetime when she had walked through them as a young girl on a search for a new life. But she knew the bridge. She’d spent her childhood staring at it and wondering. And she knew her one-time home lay on the other side. Where travellers were not welcome.

She knew she should leave. That she had to turn from the village as she had once before. That crossing the bridge would mean death. But never had a family member returned. Surely that would be treated differently from a stranger. She was no threat to them. They had known and loved her as she had them. As she wanted to again.

She crossed the bridge. A feeling she barely recognized as hope propelling her to the place she once called home. She looked thorough the mist to the trees and saw a man she recognized. The shaman had changed little from her memories, and as her second foot hit the ground on the village side of the bridge he spoke:

“You should never have returned.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thursday Tales 1: Who says you can't go home?

3 comments
Ok so I realize it's not Thursday, but I accidentally got a day off and I just found this group and apparently it's still open for a few days and I liked the image so I thought I'd give it a go. As always, comments very welcome!

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Photo courtesy of Deviant Art


She stood at the foot of the rickety old bridge with her heart in her throat. The mist rose off the water adding an eeriness to an already tense situation. She had left, 20 years earlier, swearing never to return. And having done so, she was dead to them.

She wondered if time would’ve changed them. Her friends. Her family. Whom she’d left behind out of a desperate need to see what lay beyond the bridge. She vividly recalled her mother watching her go. Sad and unable to understand, but willing to accept that the strange girl she’d raised would never fit in. Crossing the bridge was taboo, and strangers from the other side were never accepted.

She’d travelled and she’d learned. She’d seen things the village shaman would never allow her to speak of and discovered that the world was made up of villages not unlike her own. Oh sure, the behaviours and rules changed from place to place. Some welcomed foreigners while others killed them. Some valued strength and courage while others revered wisdom and intelligence. But really, each town set its rules to whatever standards it deemed important, and each town expected its inhabitants to follow them. That basic fact never changed. And try though she would, she never found a town she felt at home in.

She worried that the village so large in her memory, would seem small in comparison. And she wondered if she was making the right decision. She hadn’t even intended to come here. She didn’t recognize the woods around her – it had been another lifetime when she had walked through them as a young girl on a search for a new life. But she knew the bridge. She’d spent her childhood staring at it and wondering. And she knew her one-time home lay on the other side. Where travellers were not welcome.

She knew she should leave. That she had to turn from the village as she had once before. That crossing the bridge would mean death. But never had a family member returned. Surely that would be treated differently from a stranger. She was no threat to them. They had known and loved her as she had them. As she wanted to again.

She crossed the bridge. A feeling she barely recognized as hope propelling her to the place she once called home. She looked thorough the mist to the trees and saw a man she recognized. The shaman had changed little from her memories, and as her second foot hit the ground on the villiage side of the bridge he spoke:

“You should never have returned.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

#FridayFlash 48: The Shadows of the Night

9 comments
They say Shakespeare is a plagiarist because most of his stories were first told by somebody else. What they don't usually mention is that until very recently the art in story-telling was to tell a tale everybody knew in a new way. And let me tell you, it's *way* easier to just invent something new! hahaha This is my first attempt at retelling a known tale, and I hope I've given it a life of its own. Let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading :)

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The Shadows of the Night

They say it's always darkest just before the dawn, but I know that's not true.

It's really darkest at that point when you become exhausted from counting sheep, when you realize sleep will elude you, no matter how hard you try. And in that moment, when night is at its darkest, is when your mind registers the shadows the eye cannot see. The horrors of the night – those that instinct would have us fear. Those that science has committed to the realm of myth. But they remain.

For you see, myths are merely truths that time has all but forgotten.

I know this because I am one. And I hope you’ll forgive me for it. My name is Anesidora, Nesi to my friends, and I was born in a time when the Gods wandered amongst the men, playing with them as though they were little more than toys. I was born of the earth out of revenge. The first of my kind. A woman, granted Aphrodite’s powers of beauty and seduction, Athena’s wisdom, and Apollo’s gift for music.

And I have to admit, I loved my life. I wasn’t a myth, or even a legend. I was a girl, blessed by the gods, and in love with a boy. Fortunately for me, in the happy way of fairy stories, he loved me back. My world was a wonderful place to live.

We had a wedding the equal of which has never been seen. Attended by Gods and mortals alike, the wine flowed freely, the crystal sparkled, and the people celebrated. It was a night never to be forgotten. And as was tradition at the time, Epim and I were granted gifts by the attendees. My favourite was a stunning vase – painted with vibrant colours on a smooth surface. You could almost, but not quite, see through it. As I went to pull the stopper out, I was warned – the vase must never be opened. You can’t imagine my disappointment. I was such a silly child. But all my life I’d had anything I wanted, yet now I couldn’t use the one gift I was most interested in.

It sat in our front entrance – too stunning to be hidden from sight. I came to believe it had powers – when I was upset, merely laying a hand on it would calm me. If I was sad, it would reflect the light in a way that would insist on a smile. When it turned out my husband was even more a child than I, being near the vase gave me the patience to deal with him. And, years later, our children.

For years that vase captivated me. And gradually, the warning I’d been given faded in my mind. Epim claimed to have forgotten – he always had some excuse or another, but I knew. I always knew. It just seemed, after so many years, how important could it be? And when, for our anniversary, he gave me that perfect, exotic, stunning flower that seemed to light up next to the vase, I knew it was meant to be. Clearly *this* was why I was not to use the vase; I had to wait for perfection. And maybe the vase did have magic. Maybe it would make the flower live forever. It would be foolish of me not to use it. Or so I convinced myself.

A middle aged woman, yet still a silly child, a plaything of the gods, even after all those years.

The second the stopper moved – I swear it wasn’t even all the way out, only just moved – there was a horrific shriek that chilled my blood and froze me into place. It was only a second, but it was long enough for the shadows to escape. When I regained control I quickly restopped the vase, but it was too late. All the horrors and terror of the world had been unleashed. Plagues and sorrows, crime and pestilence, war and famine, and innumerable others all escaped in the heartbeat before I could stop them.

And my children’s world, and their children’s world, and the world of their children’s children, would never be the same. They would grow up in times of horrible violence and sadness. And I would watch it happen, knowing their pain was my fault.

So in the darkness of the night when you see the shadows move, know I’ve spent a thousand lifetimes trying to recapture them, forever paying for a second’s mistake. And that I know of what I speak when I tell you that myths are merely truths that time has all but forgotten. And I hope you’ll forgive me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

#fridayflash 47: A Sticky Note Life

7 comments
A modern epistolary tale... Does it work? Let me know what you think!

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My parents divorced when I was little. I hardly ever saw my dad while I was growing up, but it was okay because Mom did everything she could to play both roles, and her brother stepped in to help out from time to time. And we managed, in the way families do. The summer I turned 16, in those pre-cell phone days, our schedules often conflicted as I began leading my own life. As a result, my mother and I conversed almost entirely in sticky notes:
It was the last note she ever left.

Friday, August 13, 2010

#fridayflash #46: Freedom Fantasy

3 comments
This one's for Anna and Paula :)

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As I watched the clouds drift away to be replaced by a stunningly blue sky, I couldn't help but wish I were outside. "The grass is always greener," my mother's sing-song voice chimed in my head. But in this case the grass WAS greener. Literally. And the sky blue. And I was inside a big cement room with a small window that let me see a sliver of what I was missing. I put my hand to the window longingly. But no matter how hard I wished, I couldn't transport myself to the other side.

I watched through my window as a child, oblivious to my suffering, played outside -- savoring the last weeks of summer. A bird flew towards me, but veered off at the last second -- clearly repelled by the evil radiating from my prison.

A man looked in. I was all excited, thinking he would see me. Human contact! I smiled, and lifted a hand in half a wave. But he ran a hand through his hair and barred his teeth -- checking the mirrored glass for any remains of lunch. I could've told him he looked fine, but he'd never hear me.

My eyes drifted shut as the stuffy air began to affect my consciousness. I shook my head to force myself awake. I couldn't afford to sleep.

People entered and left my building. None came to my cell. I was abandoned. Forgotten. And outside my window, life went on without me.

I wondered where those outside were going as I dreamed impossible dreams of freedom.

Time stood still. One leaf fluttered off a nearby tree, drifting on the breeze. The kind of breeze my sealed window would never allow in.

And then, finally, my dreams came true. With the big hand on the twelve, and the little hand on the five, I was free to escape the office.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

#FridayFlash 45: Facebook Friends

5 comments
Yeah new "Truly Intelligent People"! I'm so excited :) Welcome!

Today's story is a work of fiction. Any resembulance to actual peoples or occurances is purely coincidence. >;-P

Anybody have any Facebook Friends experiences to share?

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Facebook Friends

She saw him on Facebook. The boy she'd once loved. She did a double-check when his name appeared as a "people you might know" suggestion. Might know indeed. Facebook -- the ultimate highschool reunion. And as she looked at his photo, she realized he'd gotten old. And she didn't want to click because, well, what if he took one look at her photo and thought the same thing? And then she felt foolish because why should it matter? She hadn't even seen him in fifteen years. She was an adult. A successful one at that. Or so it seemed on the outside. On the inside she was still a kid trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life.

She hit refresh and his picture went away -- but the memories stayed. The night of her 18th birthday. Their cave, lit by dozens of candles. The sound of the ocean in the background. She was excited. Intoxicated on love and life as much as the wine she'd had earlier. It was the last night of her childhood and he'd done everything he could to make it special. And special it was. That night and the weeks following it seemed as though time stood still for them. Surely it would last forever.

But as for so many, forever was just a momentary blip in time. Soon enough they were at different schools on different sides of the country. And life went on.

When they met again the next summer, he had changed. He'd grown up. Become a man. While in her heart, she remained the girl who'd loved a boy. Although were she honest, she could see that time had changed her in his eyes too. And so they drifted. Friends with benefits. Then just friends. Then not even that.

She heard, at one point, that he'd gotten married. And had convinced herself she was happy for him. And wondered, when she married, if he ever thought of her. And life went on.

She got caught up on all the news: Carol was doing laundry, Jason's team had won the football game, Marissa was avoiding reality. And when she'd wasted half an hour learning absolutely nothing of interest she gave in and searched his name. "Send friend request." How pathetic was it to request somebody's friendship? But she clicked the button.

She spent a few minutes updating her profile. Not because he might be looking, but because it was time. Relationship: "It's complicated." No it's not, she thought bitterly to herself. Her husband cheated on her with his gorgeous blond secretary. She was living a very bad cliche. Nothing complicated about it. And she felt closure as she changed it to "Single". Facebook was much cheaper than therapy.

Deciding she'd had enough of the past, she shut down the machine and went out for the evening. But when she got home she broke her self-imposed rule and signed into Facebook for the second time that day to check for updates. "Friend request accepted."

And life went on.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

#fridayflash 44: The Kitmvat Ritual

3 comments
As we floated idly down the river, our guide pointed out the large tree-branch overhanging the river forty feet up.

"That," she told us, "is the tree that was used in the Kitmvat ritual of the original inhabitants of this space." We all obligingly looked up, none of us having the remotest idea what a Kitmvat ritual might be.

"The Kitmvat ritual," our stalwart guide illuminated us, "is a manhood ritual. Boys would climb the tree at sunset on the eve of their fifteenth year, spend the night balanced on the branch, and just as the sun crossed the horizon, would dive into the river."

We all nodded and looked suitably awed, although to be honest, it didn't seem like all that big a deal to me. Until our guide continued, "look at the water here -- it's barely deep enough for our boat. Most of you could stand in it." Suddenly the test seemed far more of a challenge. One I certainly wouldn't want to undertake.

"The night spent balanced in the tree was a test of balance, patience, alertness, and strength. The dive in the morning to courage, swiftness, and coordination. Men would be expected to hunt and fight for the tribe. These skills were mandatory and without them a man would be considered a liability -- little better than a child, with no possibility of outgrowing it. For that reason, they deemed the loss of any boy to the manhood ritual to be a blessing to the tribe. Better to lose the child, then risk the man failing at a critical moment and lose the tribe. A harsh reality, perhaps, but one they lived by."

As she wound up her story and moved on to something else, I turned to look at the branch now behind us, and could see the ghosts of children past staring at me. Two boys, twins. One hard and fit, already a man in all but ritual, excited to no longer be a child. And his brother, softer, quieter. A thinker rather than a athlete. Happy for his brother, but quite certain it would be his last night. It was midnight, but not quite dark. There was a bright moon reflecting off the river far below. The boys did not speak; it was forbidden. They listened to the night sounds and thought their own thoughts.

Their mother, home at camp, also lay awake knowing she would never see her second son again. She would be shunned too, for producing a failure, but not badly for it was already evident that one day her other son would lead as chief. She would be oblivious; no punishment induced by the tribe would be worse than the death of her son. Her boy, who saw things nobody else did. Her boy, who found the fire stones; stones that just by striking them together, could start a fire. Her boy, who changed the angle of the posts holding the tents, and stopped the tents from flooding. Her boy, who would never be a man.

In the dark before dawn, the camp awoke. Men left to observe the ritual. Women and children were not welcome.

On the tree limb, the one boy was calm. He had always known the moment his life would end, and he had accepted it. The other boy though, had been wrestling his thoughts all night. All their lives he had scorned his brother. His brother could never keep up with the boys, was next to useless with a bow or a spear, and he bitterly resented all the times he'd had to work twice as hard to protect him while still earning his own place at the top of the pack. It was time to be free of him. He held them all back. But, a tiny part of his brain twigged, he had skills. He had skills that could be of use to a hunter. He could call the animals. Hunting with him, they always found the animals faster than anybody. All assumed it was his tracking skills, and he encouraged that belief. But he knew, deep inside, that without his brother he'd be a far less successful tracker. And not only could he call them, but it was more than that. None of the others knew, but there was that day the boys had been out alone. The wild boar had charged. They should both have been dead. But his brother stepped in front of him and simply stared at the monster. Astonishingly the boar stopped mid-charge, tilted his snout slightly sideways, as though considering, and then had turned and meandered away. How mad he had been when his brother had shoved him, throwing off his aim. Bringing home a boar alone would've been an unequaled feat. His brother stared at him, and his anger cooled. The boar was meant to live, and so were they. It was the only time his brother had ever argued with him -- and he did it without a word or a weapon. His brother was weak; he would never be a man. But he could still be useful to the tribe. If only they knew.

In the last second the boys looked at each other. Both thought they knew what the other was thinking. Neither did.

The light broke the horizon and they dove.

Their mother, home at camp, heard the men shouting in the distance. The anger in their voices broke through the haze of her grief. They should've been celebrating the manhood of her son. Or if the worst had happened, come back feigning gratefulness for the sake of the tribe. But anger had no part in the day's ceremony. One of the little boys who'd been spying on the ritual, another tribe tradition, raced back to the camp with the news. The stronger one dove a second before his brother, stood, and caught the other one. Both went into the water a second time, but it was enough to slow the plummet of his brother and both were alive. The men were divided -- some wanted to kill him as nature intended, others argued that if it were intended no man would've been able to interfere. Then the shouting abruptly stopped.

At the river the stronger boy faced the men he respected and feared, for the first time as one of them, and raised a hand for silence. His brother stood beside him, surprised but calm, and looked across at the men. Under his cooling gaze the men turned. Their anger still radiated, but silence reigned. Locking his gaze with the chief, his father, the new man spoke. He spoke of his brother's hidden skills; he reminded them of all his strange ways of thinking had brought; and using a logic he knew was not his own, he argued for the life of his brother. He recommended he be accepted into the tribe not as a man, a hunter, a fighter. But as an advisor, one who could see and think of things the rest of them could not, for the betterment of the tribe. He would bridge the gap between the women and the men and between the people and the animals. He could hunt, if necessary, but far more importantly he could tell them where to hunt. He could find food in bad times. He could save the tribe.

The woman at the camp plied the boys with treats to keep bringing the information back. They dared not go to the river; it was taboo. But their sources were good so by the time the men returned, they knew what had been decided.

They knew without asking what had occurred when the new man walked powerfully into camp, having proved definitively that he possessed the strength, bravery, and wisdom required to one day be chief. And they also understood the role of his brother who followed him. The first shaman.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#friday flash 44 and WAG: Broken

5 comments
Double posting this week for WAG and fridayflash. The prompt was: "This week write about something broken: toys, bones, hearts: it can be anything that just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to any more."
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Breena's Wand

The fairy's eyes widened in dismay as she looked at her wand. Broken. That was it. She was sure to be expelled. This time. How does one even break a wand? Aren't they supposed to be indestructible?

Two of the other fairies glided past. Gracefully, the way fairies are supposed to be. But the comments they made were hurtful.

"Oh dear, what have you done now?" Breena turned, knowing the voice behind her all too well. Her sister Celie. Gorgeous, graceful, magical. All the things fairies should be. She even already had glitter on her wings! Breena feared she would never earn her glitter, and Celie took every opportunity to reinforce that fear. "Have you broken your wand? I didn't even know that was possible!" Celie's voice rang loudly with false surprise. "Well just look at us girls breaking all kinds of records -- I get my glitter younger than any fairy in history, and you become the first fairy ever to break a wand." Having drawn the attention of all the fairies in hearing distance to her sister's failure, Celie turned with a musical laugh and floated away, followed as always by her flock.

Breena looked down, avoiding the eyes of those who watched with pity or superiority, and wished fervently that she could disappear into the ground. Of course if she hadn't broken her wand, she might've had a chance at making it happen. But no, if she was honest with herself, she'd never even really mastered the most basic skill of invisibility.

Breena, come see me. The voice she heard in her head was that of her queen. It was not one to be ignored.

She walked to the palace, too upset to put the effort into floating. It took her longer, but she figured that since it might be her last time it was ok to stretch it a little.

The gates opened as she approached. She thanked them automatically and continued through to the crystal palace, stopping briefly to right a little plant that had fallen.

The throne room was crowded but it fell silent as she entered. Word had spread, the way it will, and everybody wanted to see what would happen.

"Bree," the gentle whisper had her raising her eyes briefly, "it'll be ok," Elvina told her. Elvina was the only friend Breena had. She had spent hours trying to help her learn the most basic magic, and when she was around the other fairies were less cruel; Elvina was powerful enough that she could befriend whom she wished. But even her presence wasn't enough to lift the weight from Breena's heart.

She forced herself to float, it would've been rude to walk in the presence of the queen, and made her way up the aisle. At the queen's throne she bowed her head and waited to be addressed as she'd been taught. The silence stretched on. Breena was tempted to risk a glance just to check that she was really there, but before she could do it and get in even more trouble, the queen spoke.

"What is it you want to do most?" the queen asked. Breena looked up at her puzzled, her fears temporarily allayed by the unexpected question. The queen did not elaborate and Breena took her time considering the answer. Her immediate response was that she wanted to be allowed to stay. But she knew the queen already knew that, and it was never a good idea to insult the queen's intelligence or waste her time. So she thought before speaking.

"I want to be a good fairy. I want to help people," she stated. And quickly dropped her eyes again as the crowd started tittering. Helping people was not something fairies were supposed to aspire to.

Silence fell, and when Breena risked a sideways glance, all the fairies were gone. Only she and Elvina remained in the presence of the queen.

Breena, look at me. The voice was in her head again. When she looked up, the queen smiled -- a powerful sight, and one rarely seen. "You're not going to be expelled," she told the fairy out loud, "but we do have to do something about this. Give me your wand." Even from the queen, and even with a broken wand, this was an exceptional order. To possess a fairy's wand was to control them; giving it up was almost unheard of and asking for it a line never crossed. Breena felt Elvina's presence behind her, silently supporting and encouraging. And she gave her wand to her queen.

Thank you little one. That shows a great deal of trust. Breena's eyes remained fixed on her wand. It was though somebody had borrowed an arm or a leg; it was physically painful to be so far from it, and very scary. "Now let's just see if I can mend this," and the queen did something Breena had never seen before. She very carefully removed a strand of glitter-covered gold from her wing. Only the fairy queen had gold in her wings; that was how one became queen. A fairy queen earned her gold after earning her glitter, but how was a closely guarded secret evidently known only by those who had done it.

The queen held the two pieces of the broken wand together and wrapped the golden strand around it multiple times. In the end it looked like a wand wearing a really thick belt in the middle. Then, with a tap of the queen's wand, the belt disappeared and Breena's wand appeared healed. It floated back into Breena's waiting hand, and her eyes widened as she held it and felt the power flow through. She looked at the queen, amazed. "It's stronger."

"Often things that have been broken and survived are. Use it well," the queen told her. And with a nod, Breena was dismissed.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

#FridayFlash 43: Would you have popped the bubble?

4 comments
As the first of the large drops hit her she rolled her eyes. She'd been completely oblivious, walking along in her own little world; she hadn't even noticed the ominous black clouds taking over the sky. She should've checked before she left home. Or at very least, paid attention while she was walking. But she hadn't, and so she'd be soaked in seconds, and it was her own fault.

And because she knew better, she figured she had no right to whine -- even to herself. Besides, the weather suited her mood. So she returned to her daydream in which she'd been able to say everything she wanted to her obnoxious coworker, fire the useless employee, and generally run things the way she wanted to. The way she knew she could.

If only. The rain stopped as abruptly as it began, and Amy couldn't help but be awed at the sight of the rainbow left behind. Did wishes made on rainbows come true? No, that was shooting stars. Rainbows had gold at the end. Although in this case, that'd probably have the same effect, Amy mused. Unfortunately the end of the rainbow was well out of reach. That pot of gold was safe from all but the birds -- or perhaps a strategically flown plane.

Amy walked a little faster towards home, shivering slightly at the damp despite the warmth outside. She found herself paying far more attention as she walked, now that she'd burned off her original anger. After the storm, the world had taken on an eerie orange glow -- very much like you might see at sunset on the ocean, but it was hours from sunset and farther still to the nearest ocean. The world seemed very still. She could hear the buzz of running air conditioners, and the odd bird that ventured to break the post-storm silence, but there was a lack of people or movement. Even the leaves hung still, as though exhausted from the storm. No cars drove by. No kids played in the yards. Basketball nets hung empty and bikes lay forgotten on their sides.

Feeling suddenly anxious, for no reason she could describe, Amy broke into a jog chiding herself all the way for her inexplicable behaviour, but unwilling to let rationality override her instincts. Seeing her home she added extra speed, a true run now, and nearly tripped over the box by the front door. But the feeling of being watched, of being followed, was too intense; her curiosity couldn't overcome it, so Amy darted in and locked the door behind her.

Her heart thudding she stood quietly and listened to her house. Her cat greeted her with a purr and a meow -- it was time for his dinner. Everything was as it should be; she sensed nothing amiss. Even still, while mocking herself every step of the way for her childish fear, she went around turning on every light and checking every closet.

She fed the cat, poured a glass of wine, and settled down in front of the tv. Gradually she relaxed; slowly her senses returned to normal. And eventually she remembered the box on the porch. Funny, she hadn't ordered anything.

Retrieving the standard cardboard package she was puzzled to note that it had no mailing address. It was light, felt as though it could be empty, and written on top in childish scrawl was one word: Surprise!

Amy's vivid imagination immediately flipped through the range of possibilities: from flowers from an unknown admirer to a terrorist attack she thought of and rejected dozens of ideas in the second she stood there. The rational side of her brain took over control and it told her to bring the box inside and open it.

Inside was a lone square of bubble wrap - a perfect grid of nine unpopped bubbles. Bemused by the strange package, she followed the childish urge and popped two. Then she noticed the note lining the bottom of the now empty box:
The storm holds power, and the rainbow more.
We watched, and we heard.
All that you dream can be yours.
If only you have the courage to pop all the bubbles.


She peered at the bubble wrap, half relieved and half disappointed she hadn't popped them all before seeing the note. While the imaginative side of her mind hummed in the background, insisting on reminding her of the eerie light, the run home and the reason for it, the rational side of her mind quickly realized it had to be a psyc project of Pete’s.

How often had he lectured her that "most people are by nature cautious; they fear change and won't risk the unknown" implying that she too belonged in that group, while she prided herself on her adventurous nature. Hadn't she left school in third year to travel Africa, alone? Who does that? And left her cushy office job with benefits to work with kids in dangerous neighbourhoods? She was all about change and the unknown. And yet she hesitated. Over something that couldn't possibly be real. He would never let her forget it. And she would resent him for proving something about herself she didn't care to know. And it would destroy the friendship of a lifetime. So clearly, she had to pop the remaining bubbles.

Yet she hesitated.

Finally, annoyed with herself for the amount of courage it actually took, she rolled the bubble wrap into a column, took a deep breath, and with a quick twist popped all the bubbles together.

And absolutely nothing happened.

A quick laugh escaped her, born of relief more than humour; she booted up the computer to send a brief note to Pete telling him his little experiment had failed and headed to sleep. It was early still, but she'd had enough of that day.

The next morning, Amy smiled to herself as she drove to work, amused in the light of a new day at all that had transpired. Too little sleep, too much caffeine, and serious frustration led to all sorts of weird and unusual things.

"Amy, I need to talk to you about the basketball project," her boss said as soon as she walked in the door. The basketball project? But that had been shot down by the Obnoxious One. She wasn't about to turn down the opportunity though. Her day continued without a break -- everybody seemed to want her opinion on something, and both the Obnoxious One and the Useless One were conspicuously absent -- making her life significantly easier.

Exhausted at the end of the day, before leaving she signed in to her personal email to see a succinct response from Pete: "I have no idea what you're talking about."

As Amy considered the significance of that in light of the day's activities, a small part of her, the rational part, couldn't help but wish she'd been daydreaming of winning the lottery when the storm had hit.

Friday, July 2, 2010

#FridayFlash 42: Truth or Fiction?

3 comments
Do you create your stories or do they come to you? Let me know what you think :)

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I stared at the blank page having absolutely no idea what my character would do next. I was enjoying the story, as it came to me, and like my readers I looked forward to reading the next chapter. The problem was, whatever part of my brain it was where the stories lived, was silent. I had not the slightest idea how the psychological thriller would end and I knew from bitter experience that if I tried to make it up, to "just write something" as my oh-so-helpful spouse suggested, it would be garbage. Completely unworth reading and therefore completely unworth writing.

I was contemplating the silence in my mind when it was shattered by the scream of a passing police car. Only the car didn't pass -- it stopped, right outside my house. Followed in quick succession by several others.

Interested now, I left my rather hopeless task to stare unabashedly out the front window at the scene unfolding. There was no stealth or subtlety to the affront, but somehow there was finesse, as a significant number of cops -- my mind saw dozens, but in reality it was probably less than ten, stormed the house.

I continued to stare out the window, knowing it was none of my business and that I should look away and discretely pretend nothing interesting was going on, but deciding I didn't particularly care about that page of the etiquette book.

Quickly it was over. Or seemed to be anyways. And when two officers crossed the street and approached my house, I met them at the door. No point in making them wait when I knew they knew I'd been watching.

They quickly ascertained that I knew nothing of use -- I almost wished I did, just so I could be important -- if only for a moment. Although the rational side of me realized that wasn't the kind of importance I really wanted.

I continued to watch the scene through my window as nothing much happened -- but really, what else did I have to do?

It was when I saw them bring the body bag out that I knew. I knew exactly what my character had been up to and how the next chapter would go. It would be brilliant. My editor would be thrilled. And I would be forever grateful that the cops has already decided that I knew nothing of interest.

Friday, June 25, 2010

#FridayFlash 41: Ransom

4 comments
Eyebrows were raised when I said @ 9:30 this eve that I was going to write my Friday Flash. Apparently that seemed to be leaving it to the last minute or something. Clearly not as I still have a whole HOUR left in Friday! hahaha. Even more impressive -- I wrote part of this one twice. Started it, got about three paragraphs in, decided I hated it, deleted all but the first line, and started over. Then I finished this one but the ending didn't match the tone of the rest of the piece, so I rewrote that. Still not entirely sure about it -- suggestions?

Definitely not my usual style, but I hope you like it! Let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading :)

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Ransom

I could've avoided all that trouble if only I'd taken the ransom note seriously.

But I mean seriously, who ransoms shoes? I mean yes, they were super-cute summer sling-backs that matched my sexy dress perfectly and made me just tall enough to seem petite rather than short. And yes, they cost me an ENTIRE paycheque. Which, by the way, I'd appreciate you not telling my mother. So yes, when I took them off at Lissa's party and couldn't find them in the morning for the walk of shame, I was more than slightly disappointed. But I had to get home and changed for work, so I left with nothing more than a cursory search.

Lissa, being the awesome friend she is, swore to me she'd tear the place apart to find them. She understands how hard it is to find the perfect shoes. Arguably a more important find than the perfect man. And to lose them just as easily. Harsh. Very harsh. So when her text came in a few hours later, I expected a joyous "Found!" or even "U owe me!" -- either of which would've been entirely reasonable. But "Call me asap!" was a bit of a puzzle. Lissa always speaks in exclamation marks though -- that same message could apply because she's being rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery or because she's not sure which shade of nail polish to apply.

I didn’t even bother to make an excuse to my boss as to why I was stepping out of the office, just took my phone and went outside. I was reasonably certain this would not be deemed a professional conversation. “What’s up?” I asked when Lissa answered her phone.

“They’ve been ransomed!!!!”

Even for Lissa, that was excessive. “What? Who’s been ransomed?”

“Your shoes!” There was a moment of silence while my brain tried to process that information and form an appropriate response, but Lissa didn’t wait for me to catch up. “I found the note stuck to the closet door. ‘If you ever want to see the shoes again, you’ll meet me at David’s Pub on 44th street at 8:00 on Saturday evening.’ You have to go rescue your shoes!”

“Uh Lis,” I wondered how to point out the obvious, “whoever has the shoes probably thinks they’re yours.” Dead silence from my usually verbose friend. “They came out of your closet, at your party. Points for the most creative pickup line ever – but they’ve directed it at the wrong person.”

“No way!!!” Lissa stated vehemently, “I would NEVER wear shoes like that!”

“Hey! What’s wrong with my shoes? I love those shoes!”

“Oh I know you do, and they’re great for you. But for me? I’d look like an elephant walking on stilts if I tried to wear those.”

I considered this briefly before conceding the accuracy of the analogy. “But it doesn’t negate the fact that whoever the shoe thief…”

“shoe kidnapper!” Lissa interrupted, “or shoenapper? They do intend to give them back.”

“Ok whoever the shoenapper is, probably thinks they’re yours.”

“All the more reason for you to go then. You get your shoes back AND foil their plans in the process. Perfect!”

“Perfect except that I’m left meeting a strange guy in a bar to rescue my shoes.”

“Aren’t they worth it?” She had a good point.

And so it came to be that on Saturday night I was at David’s Pub, wearing totally uncute running shoes and looking decidedly short rather than sexy, wondering how I would know who was holding my shoes hostage.

“I'm glad you came,” the voice spoke from behind me. I turned to see the man I’d spent the first half of Lissa’s party trying to work up the courage to speak to. “I believe these are yours?” he asked, holding up my shoes. My eyes lit up; a petty girlish reaction but I couldn’t help it. They were amazing shoes. But as I reached for them, he held them out of reach. “The ransom is that you have to let me buy you dinner. Then you get your shoes back.”

I raised my eyebrows and looked down my nose at him, trying to do my best Mrs. Smith scary middle-school librarian impression. Let me tell you, it’s hard to look intimidating when you’re wearing running shoes and are a foot and a half shorter than the person you’re trying to look down on.

“And desert,” he added to his list of demands. Clearly my intimidation attempt had failed miserably. I pretended to consider the situation.

“I suppose I can live with that,” I agreed as he led the way to a window-booth. How could I help but be flattered that he’d apparently gone to all this effort for me. Not gorgeous TALL gregarious Lissa. Me. I was starting to regret the uncute running shoes.

I should’ve known then. I should’ve realized that anybody creative and dedicated enough to go to all that effort for a first date would turn my world upside down. If only I’d taken the ransom note seriously, I would’ve entirely avoided all the trouble that followed. All the practical jokes. My wedding shoes disappearing (heads nearly rolled for that one!). Learning to fear April Fools Day. But then I would also have missed out on the one man more important than even the best pair of sexy sling-backs.

Friday, June 18, 2010

WAG and #FridayFlash 40: Fish Out of Water

6 comments
Originally posted for WAG, I'm sharing for FridayFlash too mostly becaue it was one of those ones that left me shaking my head wondering "where did that come from?" and thankful I don't have a shrink to analyze it *g*

For those who are interested in such things, the challenge was: Sometimes it’s easy to tell when someone is out of their element. It can be their clothing, their manner, what they’re carrying with them… so many things give them away. This week, observe (or create) someone who is out of place and describe what tells you they’re a fish out of water. Your target can be a tourist, someone who is in an unfamiliar place/situation, someone at a new workplace, or any of a million times in our lives we can end up somewhere we’ve never been before.

Let me know what you think!

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A Fish Out of Water

“Like a fish out of water,” the woman said as she walked by. As if she couldn’t hear. As if it wouldn’t hurt.

She knew she was different, of course, but would it really be so hard for them to accept her? She expected it from her peers. Children are cruel, and teenagers evil her mother had told her, but when it came from the adults it made the situation seem particularly hopeless. Even if she did outgrow it, there would never be acceptance.

“Don’t go near the river.” It was the only truly unbreakable law. But how was she to know that? They’d only just moved in. Oh sure, she’d been told, but how serious a rule was it? I mean compared to don’t take drugs and stay away from strangers, going to see the river hardly seemed tragic.

And it probably wouldn’t’ve been if it hadn’t been for the other kids. Teenagers now, but mere children at the time. Picking on the new kid and flirting with danger all at once. What could be better? When they pushed her in, nothing was hurt but her pride. She could swim – and it was only a few inches deep anyways. She’d only swallowed a mouthful.

She’d been pleased by the horror on the adults’ faces; thinking for sure her tormentors would be punished. Until she realized the horror was directed at her.
She went home wet and alone. Her parents dried her off and assured her it’d get better. They might’ve even thought they were telling the truth.

That night she awoke choking. Her lungs screamed as she gasped desperately for air. She faded gratefully into unconsciousness as her father desperately applied the little CPR he could recall from a long ago first aid class and her mother ran for any assistance she could find.

They would tell her later what had happened. They would tell her about their elderly landlady insisting they fill a bath tub and put her in it. About how they were so scared of losing her, they tried it. They would tell her how terrified they were by her first transformation and how the wise woman warned them to be there at daybreak to get her out of the water.

They had to tell her because she couldn’t remember. And then she remembered all too well, as every night and every morning was met with terrifying suffocation and her days and nights were spent in fear.

It lasted until the gills broke through behind her ears. Once that happened she could manage the transformation far more smoothly. With that ability she began to venture out on her own; swimming and exploring the aqua world that was rapidly becoming home. Before long, she was spending her human days longing for her aquatic nights in the river where she was, if not entirely accepted, at least not shunned; she could move about the various social classes being claimed by none but accepted by all. Such was the way of the sea. By day, however, she was treated as though she were less – rather than more – than human. To them, she would forever be nothing more than a slightly unusual fish out of water.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

#FridayFlash 39 - Just Another Day - Conclusion

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So I know technically this isn't a flash on it's own, but it IS the requested conclusion to a flash I wrote a while back. So I hope you'll read and enjoy :) Just Another Day started with "As her lunch companion's head exploded, Mary took a last sip of her espresso before sliding out of the booth..." and ended with Mary considering a career change as she was unwillingly saddled with a partner. Here we have the conclusion :)

Comments very welcome! Thanks for reading :)

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Just Another Day - Conclusion

Mary’s day had started out poorly. Her main lead had been shot before she’d gotten any information from him and the math professor she’d questioned turned out to be the father of her missing person…

“Trevor Peters is my son.”

“Which is precisely why I came to speak to you,” Mary said with just enough derision in her voice to almost cover her surprise. The professor managed to convey his complete disbelief with just a look. He stalked past Mary out of the house leaving her to follow. She got in the passenger side of his car just before he pulled out of the driveway.

“You know where he went?” she asked.

“There’s only one place left.” He didn’t elaborate. “So what has Trevor done that would attract the attention of your employers?” the professor asked after a few minutes.

Mary didn’t even bother to give the standard confidentiality speech. “He wrote some code that can hack our systems,” she told him outright, “which makes him a threat to national security.”

She considered leaving it at that, but her internal code – sometimes at odds with the agency’s – wouldn’t let her. “What makes Trevor different,” she continued, “is that he gave it to us. He’s a brilliant hacker, but he’s using his skills to help his country. We have a vested interest in finding him before the killers do; not only for the sake of international relations, but because we can offer him protection.”

“Protection he doesn’t want,” the professor stated.

“No way of knowing until we find him,” Mary argued.

“He’s my son. I know.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence. Mary noted the twisted circling route the professor took; very much the way she would’ve driven. She wondered briefly what he’d done before he decided to teach undergrad mathematics.

Eventually they found themselves on a dirt road heading up into the mountains. After some time, the professor pulled off the road fairly deep into the bush and parked, a quick look around confirmed his car would be entirely out of site of the road. They hiked a short distance to a clearing; Mary was surprised to see a Kinkade style cottage with an elaborately landscaped garden in front of it. Somehow she’d been expecting a rundown shack, not something quite so elegant and effeminate.

“It belonged to his mother,” the professor muttered out the corner of his mouth, accurately reading Mary’s surprise. “It was her dream cottage.”

“That’s not his car,” the professor told her of the beat-up green Jetta in the driveway. “Trevor would never bring somebody here.” The warning was unnecessary; Mary knew from his body language that the car was a bad sign.

“I’ll go look,” Mary told him. The professor started to argue, but here Mary was in her element. “I’m faster and more flexible,” she told him. “I can get in and see what’s going on and get back unseen.” Acknowledging the validity of her point, he showed her the blindspots that would enable her to approach the house safely and suggested the best window to eavesdrop under.

Following his advice she darted forward. Her heart pounded in the loud but slow rhythm it always entered when she was in a tense situation. The shades were open – a novice mistake. She risked a glance and ascertained there was nobody in sight. Carefully, she crept to the back door, opened it a crack and ducked to the side. With no response from inside, she widened it enough to slip through and found herself in a hallway.

She could hear voices upstairs, but took the time to peer quickly into each room on the ground floor before focusing on them. She was alone for the moment, and judging by what she could hear it would seem that Trevor was still alive.

Her back to the wall, she crept slowly up the cottage steps, testing each stair to avoid a fatal creak. She cautiously approached the room. Risking a glance, she was relieved to see there were only three people in the room. Her quarry was sitting at the computer typing, his body radiating all kinds of stress. A man stood behind him watching the screen, left hand on his shoulder, the right holding a gun loosely at his side. Beside the door, but fortunately not paying quite enough attention was the last man, armed but also appearing entirely relaxed.

Mary took a second to consider her options. One against two, with a hostage. But she had the advantage of surprise. And they were relaxed. No problem. Of course she should call for backup, or at very least go get the professor. But by the time she left and came back who knew what state Trevor might be in? She hoped he was working slowly to prolong his value to the captors, but she couldn’t count on it.

She entered low, fast and loud, using her second of surprise to land a powerful side-kick to the groin of the man by the door while shooting the right shoulder of the man by the hostage. Maybe she wasn’t slipping, she thought with a grin. In the next second she snagged the gun the man writhing on the floor was reaching for and pointed it at the one she’d shot . “Don’t even consider it,” she told him as he went to reach his gun with his left hand; he was stronger than she’d given him credit for. A novice mistake. Definitely time for a new career. “You ok?” she asked the hostage, not sparing him a glance as she focused on the other two men. He grunted something she took for assent. She was debating whether she could trust him to do anything useful to help without causing more trouble when a creak on the stair alerted her to more company. Decision made, she kicked the last gun towards her hostage, suggesting he keep it pointed at the man she’d dropped, freeing her to point one at the shot kidnapper and one at the door. It placed her in a precarious position and she knew it, but it was her only choice.

Mary’s reflexes were fast enough that she managed not to shoot the professor when he entered the room, his own gun leading. “Not bad,” he told her on a split second assessment of the situation. “Trevor put that gun down, you could hurt somebody.” He admonished his son who appeared astounded at the appearance of his father. “Cuffs?” he asked Mary.

“Back pocket,” she told him. He tossed his son a cell phone with instructions to call 911 while he proceeded to cuff the two criminals.

The young man eyed his father warily while he called the cops; Mary figured this was a side of the professor he’d never seen before. “Thanks,” he told them, somewhat belatedly. “Who are you?”

“Mary Lipsitt, INR,” she told him, showing her badge for the first time. “We were hoping to talk to you about the code you provided us with,” she told him. “And offer protection against those who aren’t as civil as we are.”

“Protection offer’s just a little late,” he pointed out, “and besides, I already sent you everything I have.”

“That’s good to know son,” the professor said before calmly turning the gun on him. “When I suggested you were incapable of hacking the INR, I’d expected you to bring me proof I was wrong. But no, you had to go giving it to them instead. There’s entirely too much of your mother in you.” He stated, his disappointment evident.

Trevor sputtered to his father, disbelieving, but Mary instantly understood how thoroughly she’d been played. “Mary, if you still want the chance to speak to him, you’ll put your weapons down.” The professor commanded.

One against three, one hostage, and all alert. Less favourable odds. “You’re not going to let him go,” Mary stated the obvious, desperate to buy herself time to think.

“Why not? He has nothing left, so he’s nothing to me now,” the young man cringed visibly at that, evidently more upset by his father’s rejection than by the gun pointed at him. And the moment he cringed, Mary saw her chance. She shot him in the leg, causing him to drop screaming. When all else fails, shoot the hostage. She darted sideways towards the door at the same instant, barely avoiding the professor’s shot. He never had time to get off a second shot.

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye; turning she fired wildly at the man who the professor had only pretended to cuff. Her aim was off and as she straightened she heard a second shot. A rookie mistake, not accounting for all the weapons. Definitely time for a new career.

But it was one mistake too many.