Into the Woods

I haven’t participated in Friday Fictioneers in a long time. If you’ve never heard of it, Friday Fictioneers encourages participants to write a 100 word story based on a photo prompt. Click the blue froggy to read the other stories.

© Rachel Bjerke

© Rachel Bjerke

I went to the place where we used to meet, where we shared secrets with sheltering trees. I followed my wandering feet, back to the place where we used to meet. The moss grew thick over the stones and the earth; time thickened air that once was sweet. The well was there, as I knew it would be, the old well in the place where we used to meet. I leaned over the edge and stared into the deep. The water was black and the only face was my own, alone in the place where we used to meet.

Marvel’s Mansion of Macabre

Another Friday Fictioneers offering. Photo courtesy of John Nixon.

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Marvel stared at the item from the back of the crowd. The rest of the bidders chattered excitedly.
         “What a find!”
         “Didn’t know there were any still around. Did you?”
         “Thought they were banned…”
         The legs twitched once. Marvel grinned. It was in pristine condition. This much excitement among people who knew what it was–or thought they did. He pushed his way through the crowd. It parted before him, whispering.
         “Is that…?”
         “Can’t be…”
         “I heard he was dead.”
         “Four hundred thousand Krona,” Marvel said.
         “Sold!”
         This particular soul was the perfect addition, a bargain. His collection at last complete.



Playing With Fire

Flash Fiction Friday Challenge from Chuck Wendig is here again! This time we rolled the d20 dice of destiny and received two well known pop-culture movie/TV-show titles.* Mine ended up being somewhat of a parody, due to the two options I received. I enjoyed writing it, even though this challenge was so open-ended that it was a slow start.

         Brennan winced as the thick curtains of his room were unceremoniously thrown back.
         “What time is it?” he asked, words muffled by the pillow he pulled over his head.
         “It’s time for you to get out of bed, Master Brennan,” Albert said.
        With a groan, Brennan dug himself more deeply into his covers. Albert would go away eventually if he refused to move. He opened one eye when he did not hear retreating footsteps. Albert stood by the windows, immaculate in his butler’s uniform. His lined face was visible in the bright sunlight that streamed through the windows and Brennan knew from the set of Albert’s jaw that he wasn’t going anywhere.
         “What, Albert? Go away.” Seizing upon the first excuse that came to mind he said, “I’m feeling really sick. I can’t possibly get up. You should leave before you catch it, too.”
        He tried to make his voice convincingly raspy, closing his eyes as though they were too heavy to hold open. Albert grunted. Damn the man. What was the point in having a butler if he never listened? Brennan pulled the covers up higher and rolled over. A moment later, the sheets were rudely yanked from his grip.
         “Master Brennan, it is simply ridiculous for you to lounge about in this manner. You’ve been home three weeks and no one has seen you,” Albert said.
         “I don’t want anyone to see me, Albert,” Brennan finally abandoned his charade of illness and sat up. “I thought I made that pretty obvious when I said: ‘Albert, don’t answer the door or the phone and if anyone asks, I’m not here.'”
         “It’s not healthy, Master Brennan,” Albert turned to get the tray of breakfast. “I know it must be hard coming back to Winston Manor after so many years, but your parents—”
         “I don’t want to talk about my parents, Albert,” Brennan said, getting out of bed and slamming the bathroom door behind him.
        When he came out wrapped in his robe, his breakfast was waiting on the table. Grudgingly, he sat down to eat it. Halfway through the plate of toast and scrambled eggs, he saw a yellow legal pad covered in Albert’s neat writing. Messages from every day since his return. He shoved the plate of food away with a groan. He flipped through the legal pad, practically tearing the pages off as he skimmed them. Parties, galas, fundraisers, premiers, restaurant openings. Then there were the other messages: robberies, escaped criminals, organized crime bosses causing trouble, the usual.
         “Vultures, all of ’em,” he muttered, throwing the yellow pad on the ground.
        These people couldn’t let him have a few weeks of vacation could they? If you could call being locked up in the monstrous Winston Manor that was filled with nothing but bad memories and ghosts from his past a “vacation.” The police force had handled everything just fine those years he’d been away, there was no reason for them to come clamoring at his door like a bunch of groupies now that he was back. Brennan actually enjoyed waking up in the morning without bruises and cuts and broken bones. Maybe they thought he was an adrenaline junkie, that he liked hunting down the scum of Rothsham City. Well they were dead wrong. Suddenly seized with an idea, he changed out of his bathrobe and hurried down the stairs.
         “Albert!” he called, his voice clanging against the suits of armor on the landing.
        He rolled his eyes–the suits of armor, the secret passage in the wine cellar, it was all a bit much.
         “Albert!” he yelled again, just before colliding with the man himself.
         His bushy white eyebrows raised in exasperated curiosity, Albert smoothed his tie and cleared his throat.
         “Master Brennan, this is your house and I am your humble butler, but there’s no need to go dashing about like some sort of—”
         “Never mind that,” Brennan interrupted. “Where are my keys?”
         “Which keys, sir? The Ferarri, the Porsche, the Aston Martin…” Albert ticked them off on his fingers.
         “No, no, no, THE keys, THE keys, Albert!” Brennan practically bounded down the last few stairs, searching through the pile of unopened letters on the table in the hall.
         “Oh. Those keys .”
         Brennan looked up at Albert’s tone, “Just give me the keys, Albert.”
         “Of course, Master Brennan, but I don’t just keep them where anyone can find them. They’re in the wine cellar with…everything else,” Albert barely finished speaking before Brennan was racing down the wood-paneled halls.
         Brennan burst into the dusty room and twisted the bottle of 1785 Chateau Margaux to the left. One of the wine racks slid to the side to reveal a gaping hole. He hurried down the hallway, ignoring the weapons and high tech gear that lined the wall. Of course it was down here, how could he forget? He found the keys where he always left them in the past, opening the case with a fingerprint and retinal scan. Jingling the keys as he strode down another hallway, he began to whistle. He reached the vehicle and stared for a moment, grinning. It was sleek and shining and as vibrantly colored as ever. Just the way he left it. Brennan opened the gleaming red butterfly door and slid in. He sighed as he sank into the custom leather seats, perfectly contoured to his body. He put the key into the ignition and turned it, feeling the purr of the engine run like a lover’s fingers across his spine.
        Brennan pushed a button and a giant door slid open with the faintest whisper of cables and pulleys. He put the vehicle in gear, released the clutch and shot out of the underground cavern. Glancing at the passenger seat, he saw his his old Ray-Bans sitting there, as if no time had gone by. He slipped on the sunglasses as he drove out the secret gravel drive, past the ancient trees, and into the sunlight.
        Hell, even the Firebird needed a day off.

*Batman and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

A Dress for Any Occasion

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       A pink dress. That was just like her, choosing something so ostentatious. Something she would never wear. The fire escape clung to the old building with iron fingers. The dress fluttered halfheartedly, a butterfly with a bent wing.
       It looked strange, so clean against the old soot-stained stone. He knew she was up there, waiting. Avoiding the puddles, he walked across the cobbled street and came to the bottom of the ladder. He stared up at the dress, whirling in the damp breeze. The steely sky overhead promised rain.
       He grabbed the bottom run and swung himself up. He grinned.

Another Friday Fictioneers challenge from Rochelle. This week’s photo by Janet Webb.



The Fall of the House of Hawkins

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South Carolina – 1840
      Joshua Hawkins pushed his driving goggles back on his dirty forehead and unwound his grimy scarf. There really wasn’t much he could do to avoid dust in July in South Carolina, but it surely was a pain in the nether regions nonetheless. Joshua handed his scarf and long duster coat to his valet, Twiggs, whose dark skin was coated with a layer of grime that made his face look powdered except around his goggled eyes. He stared up at the plantation house. The paint on the once pristine white exterior looked like flakes of skin peeling away to reveal dingy gray bones. The autocar wheezed slightly, emitting a puff of steam. Joshua handed his gloves to Twiggs and stowed his goggles in the special case he kept in the glove-box. They were Italian leather and brass, made by one of the best lensmakers back in England—Jasper & Jessups.
       “Twiggs, take the autocar into the old stable–you remember where it is–and see if the regulator has come loose from the steamshaft,” Joshua turned back towards the plantation house.
       “Yessah,” Twiggs said.
      The autocar let out another large puff of steam and a frightful bang as Twiggs put it in gear and Joshua shook his head. Blasted piece of machinery. The dust kept clogging the regulator and the cogs weren’t catching properly due to all the grit. He never had this problem in Charleston, but luckily Twiggs was not only a perfect manservant but an effective machinist. No one he knew had a slave who knew his way around an autocar from cog to chrome like Twiggs.
      The stairs creaked beneath his feet as he walked towards the front door, stepping around a large hole. Joshua shook his head. He pulled a key from his waistcoat pocket and turned it in the lock with difficulty. The stench of dust and decay assailed him as he entered the foyer. No butler stood at the door to offer him a glass of water or bourbon, more was the pity. His boots echoed hollowly in the hallway. Moths had eaten the magnificent rug from Persia to nearly nothing. He could buy another in Charleston now that they came over on the dirigibles. He had never flown in one himself, but they were marvelous things. He preferred his autocar. Another bang echoed through the open door and he winced. When the confounded thing worked.
      He hesitated before opening the door to his father’s study. Even before the house was closed, this room had been shut for years. He glanced at the wall behind his father’s desk. The hair on his scalp prickled even though the painting that had been spattered with blood and brains had long since been removed.
      The plantation was in deep financial trouble and after the autocar accident cost Joshua’s father his leg, Mason Hawkins had never been quite the same. He refused the offer of a new cogwork leg.
       “I’m no piece of machinery made of gears and metal and pistons!” he shouted. “Worse than being a negro—being half a machine.”
      Joshua remembered his father’s face turning purple; the stump of his leg had seemed to twitch in revulsion and indignation at the thought. Two weeks later, a loud bang shattered the still night air. Joshua made it to the study first, keeping his mother and sisters out. They collapsed in the foyer, clutching each other and wailing fit to wake the dead–which, of course, they couldn’t.
      Joshua walked to the bare bookshelves, resolutely ignoring the stain on the floor that lingered even after the house slaves scrubbed it with sand. He knocked his knuckles against the panels until he heard an echo. Sliding the wood aside, he saw the bottle of dusty bourbon just where he remembered. Now, to find a glass.
       “Well, Mr. Hawkins, I declare, I’m sure pleased to see you.”
      It was the last voice he expected to hear. He turned to see a beautiful lady with auburn hair tucked under a burgundy silk top hat. The net veil covered half her face, but he would recognize that voice anywhere. Her voluminous skirts seemed to fill the hall and the brass driving goggles around her neck gleamed in the late afternoon sun that lit the dust motes on fire.
       “Miss Isabella Polk,” he said. “It is still Miss Polk?”
       “It is indeed, as you very well know,” she laughed, pulling the net back to reveal her long-lashed green eyes. “You called on my mother.”
       “I’m afraid you’ve discovered my deception,” he laughed.
       “Share some of your bourbon with me and we’ll call it square,” she said.
       “I do believe that can be arranged,” he offered her his elbow. “I fear there won’t be any ice.”
      They made their way down the hallway which creaked deplorably. To Joshua’s delight, two tumblers sat in the dark recesses of a cabinet. He wiped them out with his handkerchief and splashed some amber liquid into each. With a clink, they toasted one another.
       “Welcome home, Mr. Hawkins,” Isabella said.
      Joshua lifted his glass to drink but cursed suddenly. Bourbon splashed onto the floor and the bottom of Miss Polk’s dress. He sank to the floor in humiliation as his leg gave out. Isabella shrieked and set her glass down on the edge of the table where it toppled to the floor in a spray of tawny liquid and smashed on the floor.
       “Joshua, what ever is the matter?” Isabella cried, white-faced.
      Twiggs appeared and pulled Joshua over to the side of the room to lean against the wall. He unbuckled Joshua’s left boot and rolled up his trouser leg. Isabella gasped, wavering on high-heeled boots. Twiggs pulled a tool from his pocket and began tightening one of the screws in the gleaming apparatus that began where Joshua’s knee used to be. Joshua leaned back, remembering his father’s last words, scrawled on his desk.
       “Better to die as a man than live as a machine.”
      He started to laugh.

From the Smashing Sub-Genres Challenge, where I “rolled” Southern Gothic and Steampunk.

*The southern Gothic style is one that employs the use of macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South (wikipedia)

*Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery,especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century (wikipedia)

photo also courtesy of wikipedia