Recommendations for the Masses

Is your Tuesday plagued by the sense that Monday is repeating itself? Are you looking for ways to avoid doing work/writing/planning a world takeover and inventing a shrinking ray? If you answered “yes!” to any of the previous questions, look no further.

CHUK is a serial story/novel about the Louisiana town of Bayou Bonhomme. There’s BBQ, cults, murders, mystery, and a veritable menagerie of monsters. Penned by Jessica B. Bell (the nefarious, nasty, and not-very-nice alter ego of Helena Hann-Basquiat), this tale is almost at a close–but there’s still time to catch up!

You think your day is bad? Sean Smithson’s probably had worse. He’s self-deprecating in the best of ways as he recounts various tales of woe and humiliation. He also has a book!

Ashley Alleyne also has plenty of stories of his embarrassment for your entertainment, along with general stories that are amusing, poignant, and honest. Jennie Saia (who is clever and funny and smart) likes him, and that’s endorsement enough for me.



Friday Fictioneers: One photo, one story of 100 words.

© Janet Webb

© Janet Webb

There are things you know you’ll miss—for me it was cheeseburgers, that particular satisfaction of drinking a cold beer after a long day out on the lake. Then there are the people; the ones who grow old and fade away, leaving you alone like the last skeletal leaf clinging to a tree when the snow starts falling. That part was harder, watching parents and friends wither into nothing, into food for worms. They didn’t tell me I would miss my reflection, that I would slowly forget my own face. Sometimes, I’m not certain I exist. Then, I get thirsty.

Assassins’ Academy II

         When the boys were roused from their beds for the trial, stumbling after the Brothers with sleep-shrouded eyes, the tension was palpable. They never knew exactly what the trial would be until it began–although dark hints from the older boys left even the bravest lying awake into the early hours of the morning. They were all surprised and twice as wary when the Brothers led them into the dining hall. It was cold and lacked the comforting smells of breakfast, as the first meal of the day would not be served for several hours yet, but there was nothing threatening in sight. Instinctively, the boys pressed together, scanning the room. Brother Calver moved to the head table where a large, misshapen mound was covered with fabric. He pulled the cloth aside with more flourish than necessary, Zion noted, keeping slightly to the side of his fellow novices. If there was to be some sort of attack, he did not want to be caught up in the crush of their fearful bodies. For a moment, he was back on the docks, ripped away from the protection of his Mother and sister’s hands and unable to escape the mob. He hoped no one could see the sheen of sweat on his brow as Calver began to speak.
         “There will be no swords, no bows and arrows, and no knives, today.” He waited for the rumble of dissent and confusion to die down. “This is the only weapon you need, boys.” He tapped a finger to his temple. “This is the only thing you will use today.”
         He gestured for them to draw nearer and explained that the thing on the table was a scale model of a city–Nyssa, the fabled city of unbreached walls and towers that stretched beyond the clouds–and that their mark was the Emperor of Nyssa. They must devise a way to kill the Emperor without detection and remain alive themselves. Those were the only two rules.
         “Eliminate your target and stay alive,” Solas repeated, stepping forward from the back of the group. “This is the foundation of your training. Do not forget it.”
         Zion did not turn to face his mentor like the other boys but as the assassin walked towards the front of the room to stand behind the table, he paused imperceptibly and Zion caught the flicker of his fingers, hidden from the others at his side. Luck go with you. Zion stood at the table, scanning the model and the symbols painted on it that represented archers and guards and boiling oil and pitfalls and traps. He had never believed the stories of Nyssa, but looking at it as though he was a raven soaring high above its so-called endless towers, he could see the cleverness of the design. It was diamond shaped and two of the four walls were carved directly into the cliffs behind. The cliffs were made of slate if he understood the symbol correctly–sheer stone that would flake at any attempt to drive in footholds. At the back corner a waterfall tumbled down the black walls. Long after the other boys took their seats, sketching and toying with bits of rope and wood, Zion studied the city. He ignored Brother Calver’s sighs and the creaking of the floorboards as he shifted impatiently. When he cleared his throat and announced that they had half an hour remaining, Zion walked over to the table of supplies, mind whirring. He picked up a piece of parchment and several pots of ink and a quill. For the next half hour, he bent over his work, stopping only flex his cramped fingers. He wasn’t certain if they would be given time to explain their methods, so he painstakingly wrote down the steps he would take in addition to his diagram. When Brother Calver announced that their time was concluded Zion put aside his inks and wiped his stained hands on his shirt. Calver and the others stopped at each boy and allowed him to explain his scenario. The Council nodded and shook their heads almost in unison, doling out heavy criticism. A few of the boys received grudging compliments for their innovative thinking, but one by one their plans and mechanisms were torn apart, the gaping flaws pointed out to them.
         When the Council came to Zion, he stepped back to give them a clear view of his work. The painting master, Brother Andrew, made a noise that could have been either a cough or a sign of approval.
         “And what,” asked Brother Calver slowly, “is this?”
         “Monkshood. Or Wolf’s Bane,” Zion said, gesturing to the meticulously painted flower. He had enjoyed leafing through Brother Garth’s herbal on the rare occasions he spent time in the infirmary.
         “What do you hope to accomplish with this?” Brother Mendic asked.
         “The waterfall that runs along the back of the city–it is their main water source.” He pointed to the rough sketch he had made of the city, the way the water disappeared underground to well up again in fountains and cisterns. “Everyone, from the lowliest maid emptying chamber pots to the Emperor of Nyssa himself drinks this water. The forests around Nyssa no doubt contain enough Monkshood to make the water deadly, but an assassin could carry a concentrated supply as well.”
         “But how would you ensure only the Emperor drank the water?” Calver asked. “What about the rest of the city?”
         Zion looked down at his carefully outlined plan, from gathering the plants and distilling their poison to adding it to the water system, how to completely avoid notice from the guards, the townspeople, even the huntsmen and goat herders in the forested hills. He let the silence stretch until he could almost taste Brother Calver’s anticipation of his failure. Then, he raised his head.
         “That wasn’t one of the rules.”
         Two days later, Zion spent his first night in the pit. The pits were small, stone lined holes beneath the foundations of the main buildings. They were damp and cold and there was not enough room to sit or lie down or stand fully upright. A man–or even a boy of fourteen–had to crouch like a beast in agony until everything went numb. Brother Calver said it was for insolence, for other, minor infractions that had been overlooked for too long. Zion knew he was lying, had seen the tremor that ran through Calver’s hands and the flicker in his eyes at the group trial. He knew Calver lied and he knew why.
         Brother Calver was afraid of him.

Assassins’ Academy

This is part of an ongoing story. Read from the beginning so you won’t be confused.

         Zion sat on one of the narrow cots that ran the length of the infirmary, gritting his teeth as he carefully stitched up the thin slices on his arms and legs. One of the first lessons he learned was stitching his own wounds. Brother Garth handed him a bowl filled with a thick brown paste and he smeared the healing ointment over the gashes before stitching them. Brother Garth treated the Brotherhood for serious wounds and illnesses when they arose, though most brothers could equal his skill in healing more minor complaints. Zion wondered if Garth knew of Brother Solas’s penchant for Redheart. It was unlikely. If he knew, he’d be forced to bring it before Mendic and the other Elder Brothers. Garth was silent as he worked with his herbs and salves; the knife that took his tongue left him with no other speech than the sign language of the Brotherhood. Zion finished his stitching and sat for a moment, enjoying the cool quiet of the Infirmary.
        The noises of sparring outside were muffled and the smell of fresh herbs and ungents was soothing.  Zion had imagined once that the building where assassins trained would be dark and dank, but the sandstone floors were always swept clean and the walls freshly whitewashed each spring. The different training arenas–most of which ran underground–were more suited to his imaginings. He shut his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall and letting his mind empty. It was the first lesson the Brothers taught them–to seek the quietest corner of their own mind and enfold themselves in it. Calm and control were the marks of a focused mind and only with that focus could they perform their duties for the Order. It was difficult to believe five years had passed. Sometimes it felt like only moments, other days he could hardly remember his life before Solas and the Order. The nights when he woke bathed in a cold sweat after dreaming that Rael had found him and planned to gut him like the fish he used to steal from nets at the docks came rarely. Zion couldn’t decide which was worse–the nightmares about Rael or the nights he dreamed about his mother and sisters, dreams that left a strange ache beneath his ribs that no amount of food or distraction could erase. He tried to regain the void, but his mind was filled with his most recent past time–imagining Rael’s face when he killed him. He focused instead on the gentle rustling as Garth sorted herbs and folded bandages.

         When he first met Garth, he did not understand how Garth maintained his cheerful silence. Now, he sometimes wondered if he would forget to speak.  So many of the interactions between the brothers in the Order were silent–not merely the hand-talk they used almost without thinking, but the body language and facial expressions. They studied these as well. Knowing someone’s thoughts was as easy as reading their face, the way they walked, what they did with their hands. Change your face, your walk, your gestures, and you could become anyone. Zion had learned that lesson more quickly than the other boys in his year–not only because it built on the skills he learned with Rael, but because he soon found that the circumstances in which he came to the Order were unusual and brought a level of notice from the other boys he could have happily gone without.  Most boys came to the Order well before their thirteenth years. Zion had been old for a novice. Brother Calver insisted he be placed with the seven and eight year olds and fought against moving him up to train with the older boys for months, despite his quick advancement. Solas finally stepped in one afternoon during Zion’s third month with the order. He was sparring with the younger boys and barely containing his anger. It had been a long day and fighting with boys half his size and age was wearing on him.
         “You could have killed them all,” Solas had said after calling a halt to the hand-to-hand fighting.
         The younger boys were sprawled, panting, around the training yard. Many were nursing bruises and aching heads and one boy was still cross-eyed from the minutes he spent unconscious.
         The next day, he was moved into the room where the fourteen-year-olds lived. Brother Calver’s expression at breakfast when he sat with his new year almost made the three months of humiliation worth it. Training was more challenging but he also endured months of taunts, of finding his clothing stolen or soaked with water or urine, of having his food snatched away from him. He knew fighting them would only make the tormenting increase, and it was no worse than what he had experienced from Rael and the sewer rats in the catacombs. Eventually the pranks ceased as the training drove all else from their minds and they fell into bed too exhausted to even mock one another. In addition to the individual trials, which took place every few months, they began group trials. These pitted all the boys in one age group against each other and were meant to weed out the unfit before the individual trials. In the first few years of training, boys often died in the trials. As they grew older, those who failed but survived were ejected from the Order. When the time came for his first group trial with the older boys, there were only ten including Zion, left in the fourteens.  The group trials were less likely to end in death or serious injury, but, as the Brothers always reminded them, the trials were still meant to test them to the breaking point.


Spotlight on Secondary Characters

Headlights at night-790596

Photo originally used for “No Sleep Tonight

Writers often talk about how their characters will develop minds of their own, how they’ll do things the author never would have expected when they first started writing them. I think this phenomenon is wonderful but I’m not sure it’s quite happened to me in the way many writers describe. It’s a side-effect of knowing your characters really well–something that is critically important if you want other people (i.e. readers) to see your characters as real people and not as cardboard Flat Stanleys on the page.

I have recently been working on some stories related to Southern Summer Night. I probably know more about Beau (the protagonist) than I do about a lot of my other characters. One of the newer stories was for class and and one element of the feedback I received was surprising–everyone wanted to know more about Beau’s relationship with his father; they didn’t have the benefit of all the information in my head about that particular S.O.B.

At the end of my master’s program, I have to present a thesis. So, sometime before that, I have to write said thesis. I originally thought I’d do a novel—I always wrote more novel-length stories than short stories–but that’s looking less likely. Short story collections are another option. However, if you know anything about short story collections, they’re like a fashion runway collection. Everything has to fit together somehow, it has to be cohesive. It has to have a theme. There’s another kind of short story collection where the stories are linked. Whether by place (Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson is one well known example) or character (Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout — there is some argument over whether this is a novel or short story collection, but for the sake of argument…work with me), the stories have a link that’s more solid than a common theme.

I started thinking about perhaps writing linked stories about Beau and his hometown and his family. The obvious first choice was Beau’s father, Mason. Everyone wanted to know why Beau hated him so much–and was there more to Mason than just being an abusive, alcoholic caricature? I started writing about Mason after figuring out what could have happened in his life–what disappointment, what slings and arrows (as it were) drove him to be the miserable, foul person he is in Beau’s life. The funny thing is, knowing as I do where he ends, I feel bad for the guy as I write about his younger days. I wonder if there was anything he could have done to change his fate. And then I realize while technically he has no choice because I am his Creator (insert maniacal laughter), it is his choices that turn him into the “monster” he becomes–and that’s his real downfall. That he chose poorly again and again.

What about you? Do you ever write about secondary or side-line characters and learn new things about them AND about your main character? Do you know or write the “back story” for characters–even if it isn’t included in your stories? Do you ever feel like you’re torturing your poor characters and should cut them a break?


In the Cards

Chuck’s Flash Fiction Challenge was to “smash” superhero fiction with another genre. I went with Noir and as for my “hero”, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

         The yellowing glass made the street outside look sepia, like a photograph peeling at the corners. Not that anyone would want to capture this place forever, Cas thought, leaning away from the warped window. The shop of curiosities had a stale smell—like the inside of an old tomb where the bones had crumbled into dust. The old man who ran the shop had inherited it from his father, as his father had before him. For all Cas knew, the curio shop had been there when Haven was founded. The old man was in the back sleeping. He slept a lot these days. After the mugging the only escape from the knifing headaches and waking nightmares was a healthy dose of oxy and sleep. Cas understood a thing or two about nightmares. He touched the thick, ridged scar that ran around his neck, blotched purple and red–angry, like a burn. Knotting his scarf around his neck, he retrieved his hat from the head of a dusty cat statue and stepped out into the street, locking the door behind him. Garbage clumped along the outside of the building. It was too dangerous for the so-called civil servants to make it down to the Point these days.
         Something moved on the corner, just at the edge of his sight and Cas tensed. But it was only a cat, a one eyed, ragged tom whose malevolent yellow eyes watched him as he turned his collar up against the wind. Curtains in the barred windows above twitched occasionally. You’d think everyone in the Point was blind by the way no one ever saw anything when a crime was done, but Cas knew that the Point was one of the few places where people saw everything. Cas glanced around before slipping down the stairs into the subway station. The ammoniac scent of urine made his eyes water and he waited for his eyes to adjust to the intermittent flicker of the fluorescent lights. There was no point in checking his watch. The trains stopped keeping to a schedule when half the stations were closed, the other half barely maintained. The Mayor announced new plans for an above-ground tram that would be the height of innovation and safety—“a shining beacon of what is to come for Haven”—but the rusting iron framework for a station near City Hall was the only sign of progress well into his second term. Cas pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket. He shuffled them, tapped them against his hand, and shuffled them again.
         “Hello, Lee,” he said, not bothering to turn his head.
         “One of these days you’ll tell me how you do that.” Lee’s laugh sounded nervous as he crossed the platform to stand next to Cas.
         “How about today?” Cas didn’t look up from his cards, his hands moving almost too quickly, shuffling, straightening, shuffling.
         “Yeah?” Lee’s hands shook as he lit his cigarette, throwing the spent match onto the dirty tiles where it sputtered out.
         Cas turned, meeting Lee’s eyes for the first time. “I thought we were partners, Lee. The last two guys on the force whose hands were cleaner than our consciences.”
         Lee’s eyes widened and his doughy face paled to gray above the red glow of the cigarette. “I don’t know what you mean. We were—are—what’s this about, buddy?”
         “I’m talking about you and Nico Capello. I’m talking about you and a yacht out in the bay with enough coke to sink the Titanic. I’m talking about the Mayor’s above-ground railway project that just so happens to be the perfect mode of transport for all the pies you’ve got your dirty fingers in.” The sharp snap of the cards in Cas’s hands made Lee flinch. “Drugs, human trafficking, stolen goods. You’re a damn fine cop, Lee Marlowe. The citizens of Haven will sleep soundly in their beds knowing a guy like you’s out there protecting and serving.”
         “Cas, come on,” a wheedling note crept into Lee’s voice. “You know me. You know me.”
         “I do, Lee. I know you.” Cas ran his thumb over the edges of his cards and watched his partner’s big shoulders slump in relief. “Do you know what this is?” Cas held up one of the cards.
         Lee leaned forward, squinting. Cas smelled the rotten tang of his sweat, his barely restrained fear.
         “It’s one of those tarot cards, yeah?” Lee pronounced it like carrot.
         “Tarot. Yes. This is Le Pendu—the Hanged Man.” Cas returned the card to the deck so quickly that Lee blinked.
         “I didn’t know you were into that, whatchacallit, occult stuff,” Lee said.
         “My mother used to deal the cards and tell fortunes sometimes.” Cas said, remembering the last time she dealt for him, when she dealt the Hanged Man. It could mean anything from sacrifice to inner harmony, but for him it was all too literal.
         “You know how I got this?” Cas tugged the scarf away from his scarred neck. “Some of Nico Capello’s guys strung me up one night, left me hanging from the struts of the new construction of the good Mayor’s new railway.”
         Lee’s cigarette hung from his fleshy lips. “I didn’t…. How’d you get away?”
         “I didn’t.” Cas flipped over the next card in the deck. The skeleton with the scythe: La Mort. “I hung there until it all went dark. But, I came back.”


         Lee’s mouth still hung open when his body crumpled, cigarette fallen to the ground when the tarot card sliced through his neck.
         “I came back, but you won’t.” Cas flicked another card onto Lee’s body. It fluttered to his chest, just below the gash that leaked black blood out onto the grimy tiles. La Justice.


         Cas hopped down onto the rails. A tremor in the earth signaled a train approaching. He began to whistle as he walked, cards flickering in the dark. It didn’t matter if the train was on time, he thought. Lee wouldn’t need it.

It’s Good to be King

Friday Fictioneers is short and sweet: one photo plus 100 words equals a complete story. As always, we are led by Rochelle. This week’s photo courtesy of Marie Gail Stratford.


         Chaz lounged in his newly-acquired throne, entirely made of tiny ivory sticks, and watched his subjects clear the battle rubble from the room. One body left a deep red smear across the floor as a white-faced man dragged him out by his feet. Three women began scrubbing at the viscous pool. He looked up at the hulking beast that crouched behind his throne. Its yellow eyes followed the bodies out the door.
         “Go on, then,” Chaz said and the beast rumbled away in the wake of the carrion. It’s good to be the Supreme Emperor, he thought with a grin.

I went a little abstract on this one with the chopsticks and Siracha, and less abstract with the idea of superiority.

Bonus story: a sci-fi short about a rebel alliance planning to rebel against a tyrant.

Dirty Secrets

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge from last week involved tweeting @YouAreCarrying to receive a list of random inventory. This list of items must be integrated into the story in as literal or abstract a way as you want. As usual, my list will be below the story.

         Cale tried to breathe shallowly as he crouched on a narrow ledge in the mouth of the outflow pipe. Slime coated his boots and even though he felt the fresh air ruffling his hair, it did little to combat the foul smell. A rotting apple bobbed by him in the trickle of oil-slicked water and, despite the surroundings, his stomach rumbled in protest. He had eaten nothing in thirty-six hours—not that he’d been hungry stumbling around in excrement and garbage for thirty-two of those hours. Varren should be here by now, he thought. They were supposed to meet here at sundown. He did not want to spend another night cramped and shivering, watching the unnaturally large rodents and wraithlike inhabitants of the canals skitter by. The canals were no place for updwellers like him. It was the only time he was thankful for the stench of rotting food and human waste mixed with the acrid chemical blend dumped down the sewers to “sterilize” the soupy muck—they hid his scent. A clang and a muffled curse echoed from behind him and he peered into the gloom, reaching for the cudgel hanging at his side.
         “Mary, Jesus and Joseph, I’ll not be taking a job like this again without learning a wee bit more about it.” Varren stumbled into view, panting.
         “Saints, you scared me half to the grave, Varren,” Cale said, reaching a hand to pull the heavier man onto his perch.
         Sweat gleamed on Varren’s bare forehead as he set down his lantern and put his hands on his knees, struggling to catch his breath.
         “Oh good, you’ve held onto your lantern.” Cale eyed the heavy brass-cased light. It was slick with sludge like everything else. “Lost mine when I fell somewhere in the west tunnels. Thought I was like to drown.” He shuddered at the memory. Drowning itself was no way to go, but drowning in shit was the stuff of nightmare.
         “Almost lost that bloody drill bit, though.” Varren patted his various pockets, producing a packet of miraculously dry cigarettes, wrapped in oiled canvas. Varren lit both cigarettes and flicked the glowing match into the mire at their feet where the fire was immediately sucked down into the ooze. The tobacco helped take the edge off Cale’s hunger and he inched to the edge of the drainage pipe and leaned out.
         “Nothing,” he said, scooting back into the gloom. “Bloody abandoned us to this shite-hole most like.”
         “Think your brother’d do that?” Varren asked around his cigarette.
         Cale scuffed the toe of one boot against the side of the other, trying to dislodge some of the filth crusted on the leather. His brother wouldn’t leave them, but not because of any sort of blood loyalty. They needed Cale and Varren—despite what his brother said about them. Dash had laughed when Cale joined the rebel Alliance. “Barely old enough to be in trousers and wanting to join the cause to get away from his mum.”
         He called Varren the Lord of Lard and said that if he didn’t eat himself to death, he’d cough into the grave. Cale resented Dash’s ridicule. They were only four years apart and Dash had been the one saying that the rebellion was a hopeless cause, a dream no more enduring than a ring made of smoke—always blowing out a smoke ring and demolishing it with a wave of his hand to prove his point. Fancy words and parlor tricks, that’s all Dash was. Cale saw through Dash’s arrogant smile and flamboyant Rebel speeches and Dash hated him for it.
         “Hear that?” Varren nudged Cale and stubbed out his cigarette.
         Cale felt the low thrum through his boots and it set his molars buzzing against each other. With one hand on the wall, they made their way down the sloping ledge to the mouth of the outflow pipe, sucking in lungfuls of fresh air when they reached the edge.
         “Hello, comrades,” Dash said cheerfully, grinning up at them from his perch in the stern of the hovercraft. “Get in, get in, but keep your muck to yourselves, if you please.”
         Cale waited until the hovercraft held steady and hopped the gap into the bow, feeling the lightweight craft sway slightly beneath his weight. He moved to the far side and braced himself as Varren boarded. The hovercraft dipped slightly before Dash regained control of the tiller. He sent the craft skipping along the top of the reservoir and as the distance from the sewage output grew, the water became almost clear. Not that any amount of money could persuade Cale to drink it. He pulled off his gloves and stuffed them in his pack before shoving both to the side and sitting down on the narrow bench. Something came flying out of the air from the back of the vessel and he deftly caught the aluminum-wrapped package Dash launched at him.
         “Quick fingers, brov,” Dash said with mock approval.
         Cale ignored him, ripping the package open with his teeth and biting into the crunchy mixture of oats, nuts and honey that was pressure-packed into a brick. A full meal, they claimed. He’d eaten three once and still been hungry. Trying to savor the first sustenance he’d had since they set out on their little mission, he eyed Dash. His older brother lounged back in his seat, boots polished to reflect the clouds scudding above them, immaculate blue jacket buttoned up to his throat. They shared a build—tall and lanky—and the same grey eyes but where Dash’s hair matched the rows of gold buttons on his coat, Cale’s was the color of bootblack.
         “Well? How did it go?” Dash asked after Cale and Varren finished their meal bars and passed Varren’s flask of whisky back and forth a few times.
         “There were guards at the Archive, but I got through all right. The stones are held in by a little glue and coal dust—a good dousing and the passage will be open again. Your boys will be able to get out in a hurry, long as they don’t mind the smell.” Varren took another swig from his flask and smacked his lips.
         “You do both smell rather worse than a privy,” Dash said, wrinkling his nose.
         Cale rolled his eyes. One minute his brother was speaking rebel slang like he’d been born in a blue coat, the next their upbringing would come to the forefront and he’d sound like one of the King’s Men.
         “How did it go with you, then, brother dear?” Dash asked.
         Cale shrugged, then saw that wasn’t answer enough for Dash. “The sewers leading from the cells follow the map—your man had it right the first time.” He didn’t say that he knew his brother sent him to slog through waist-high shit for the fun of it.
         “Must check all possible outcomes, mustn’t we?” Dash said, idly steering the hovercraft with one foot on the tiller.
         “Whatever you say, Captain.” Cale slouched down into his seat and crossed his arms, trying not to breath in the smell coming off his clothes. “I’m going to get some sleep before we get back to the compound.”
         Cale considered it a small miracle that he fell asleep with the way Dash flew. Varren shook him awake when they entered the hangar and Dash powered down the hovercraft, hopping over the side and calling back over his shoulder that he expected to see both of them in Command after they washed. Cale’s eyes felt packed with sand and there was a cramp between his shoulder blades, but he hoisted his pack and walked on leaden legs to the cube of showers. He dropped his damp, stinking clothes into the bucket designated for his laundry, thinking they might be better off in a wastebasket. The five minutes of rationed water felt shorter than usual and the lukewarm trickle turned icy after two minutes. He toweled dry and retrieved his belongings from his pack before dropping the canvas bag on top of his discarded clothes. His bunk was in one of the many cubes that honeycombed the walls, accessible by iron rungs set into the walls. The higher-ranked members of the Alliance got the lowest quarters—less chance of losing someone important to a drunken misstep on the ladders. Cale hauled himself up to his cube and barely resisted sinking onto his narrow bunk and going back to sleep. The narrow closet held two blue coats and the rest of his uniform. He dressed and combed his still-damp hair away from his face, tucking the red scarf into the high collar of his coat. He wondered if the rebels intentionally copied the outdated clothing from the Royalists’ ancient history. One of many questions he dared not ask. His dress boots felt stiff, but his others were still coated with muck and he didn’t have time to clean them. He took extra care descending the ladder since the soles were slick from under-use. Varren met him in the corridor, his coat straining over his chest and belly. For all his size, Varren moved lightly—one of many reasons he’d been chosen for their mission.
         “Could’ve used twice the water ration with all that filth,” he said.
         Cale agreed but didn’t say so aloud. They snapped to attention and stepped to the side to allow one of the Captains to pass with a troop of new recruits. Cale eyed them as they passed.
         “Can’t be much more than fifteen,” he said.
         Varren snorted. “You weren’t even that when you joined up. Fourteen, fifteen—what’s it matter. Alliance will send them all off to get killed one way or another.”
         Cale grabbed Varren by the front of his coat and shoved him against a wall, taking his friend by surprise. “Keep talking like that and they’ll shoot you for treason.”
         Varren shrugged him off and quickened his pace; Cale let him put distance between them before trailing him through the warren of tunnels. It amazed him that the Royalists had no idea there was an entire Rebel compound built into the side of the cliffs and stretching underneath the Capitol. They entered Command to see that everyone else was already seated. There was a palatable hum of tension in the air and Cale slid into an open seat at the far end of the table. Varren took the seat next to him, but avoided his gaze. Cale couldn’t tell his friend that he agreed with him. The Alliance was little better than the Royalists, but it took joining up to find that out. Dash stood and dropped something onto the table. The thud silenced the room as all eyes turned to him.
         “Thanks to our loyal comrades,” his eyes flicked briefly to Cale, “We have recovered one of the personal journals of the Emperor from the year of the Purge. It states that the Emperor released infected vermin into the poor quarters of Capitol—effectively killing thousands of ‘undesirables.’” Dash tapped the cover of the book. “This is all we need to take the Emperor down.”
         Cale’s heart sank. That’s what his brother wanted from the Archives—the evidence to wage war against the Capitol itself, to bring it down in a bloody blaze that would earn him eternal glory. Cale’s foray into the tunnels probably provided Dash a way in. Cale stood, ignoring Dash’s glare.
         “What are you going to do? Wipe out an entire city for the crimes of a few?”
         He knew what Dash thought—they chose to be Royalists, none were innocent. Some of the Council murmured in discomfort but no one spoke. Cale stared at the assembled faces in disbelief. Yanking the red scarf from his neck, he threw it onto the table and unbuttoned his coat so quickly that several buttons popped free.
         “You’re not as bad as the Royalists, you’re worse.”
         Dash’s voice echoed through the corridors, shouting his name, but Cale didn’t look back.

My “inventory” from @YouAreCarrying: an apple, a waste basket, a bar of food, a brass lantern, a book, an outflow pipe, a large drill bit, a smoking gun.

The large drill bit was the hardest to integrate naturally and I used the Emperor’s journal for the figurative smoking gun.

Internship at Wolfram & Hart

One photo + one hundred words = one story for Friday Fictioneers.

If you’re unfamiliar with Wolfram & Hart (or the TV show Angel)…shame on you. For the sake of the story, imagine a law firm that serves the needs of all the creatures that hide in dark corners and under beds and in stories told around campfires and you’re there.


Photo by Adam Ikes

Photo by Adam Ikes

         Finn jumped back with a yell, upsetting the box of invoices from 2007.
         “What is it?!” Sara, the other intern, clutched his arm.
         “It’s a ram’s head.” Finn began to breathe normally again.
         “I thought sacrifices were done on level 5?” Sara peered around him.
         “They wouldn’t preserve the head if it was a sacrifice,” Finn said, setting the overturned box upright.
         “Let’s find the box and get out of here,” Sara said.
         Finn quickly agreed–he felt like the severed head was watching–they’d be envying the beast if they didn’t get the box of depositions to the Partners before lunch.

**If you like this check out Betwixt and Between for the beginning, serialized story of my own version of supernatural Attorneys at Law.

That World

Friday Fictioneers. One leader to rule them all, one photo (by Claire Fuller this week) to bind them, one hundred words to lead them all and…what? Oh, wrong challenge. We do have a fearless leader who is more than just a figurehead in Rochelle, who captains our venture as we set stories adrift in our online spaces–one hundred words before the mast. Look at the photo, write a story, link it back, and try to read and comment on some others’ pieces as well!

         “Why do we always come to this beach?” Marina whined. “No one ever comes here. It’s boring.”
         Caly sighed, shifting the beach umbrella on her shoulder. She couldn’t help wishing her daughter inherited more of her father’s temperament. Owen always sat placidly and let the storms of their daughter’s tantrums wash over him. Caly remembered him once telling her that was why he loved them.
         She looked up at the statue, covered in lichen and seagull’s droppings and wondered if this was how her many times great-grandfather once felt. Calypso sighed, thinking: Triton had it easy.


I’ve seen a lot of things about fairy tales on different forms of social media today so Little Mermaid popped up as soon as I saw this–the Disney Version, not the depressing original.