SINGULARITY Character Reveal

SINGULARITY
Real or not, an unspeakable act of violence leaves the residents of Ward C, home of a secret experiment, dead – torn apart. There is only one survivor… a woman calling herself Jessica B. Bell.
What happens when the creation surpasses the creator?
How far will Jessica go to be real?
Find out in SINGULARITY.

Singularity Teaser

Get excited!! It’s the last of the character reveals for SINGULARITY and like the ones before it, Zoe’s story is a twisty one filled with terror that will have you feeling like Halloween came in July. If you’re not familiar with SINGLUARITY check it out here. Not only can you read the synopsis and pre-order SINGULARITY, but a few lucky readers had the opportunity to read and review it. They weren’t disappointed and you won’t be either!

Meet the Characters of SINGULARITY over on T.A. Woods blog PenPaperPad where she has an interview with the writers about what makes them–and their characters tick. You won’t want to miss the character trailers–but watch them with the lights on!

Meet the Writers of SINGULARITY to find out more about the collaborators (including myself) and read some fiction that’s guaranteed to have you checking behind doors and shower curtains for weeks. But don’t let that stop you!

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Waking Nightmares

This is part of an ongoing story that begins with The Initiative

Mina shoved her way through the revolving door and burst out into the street, the wind cool against her blazing cheeks. Damn Delancey St. Clair. Damn him. She hunched her shoulders against the gusts and walked quickly down the street, wanting to put as much distance as possible between herself and Del. It was stupid to meet with him—stupid to put herself this close to Holler, Grim, Alberich & Mors. She had given into a moment of sentimentalism and contacted Delancey when she was a bottle of wine deep and alone in her tiny apartment. Del had no idea she was living in Boston—she was sure of that much. Why would he? She had no doubt he remembered her, but she knew better than to believe he still thought about her. She wished she didn’t still think about him, the arrogant asshole. Mina’s jaw ached and she realized she was grinding her teeth.
She glanced up to see the Boston Public Library looming ahead and walked quickly up the stairs to enter the warmth. The two stone lions at the top of the marble staircase stared impassively at her as she passed them, wandering the marble halls until she came to the Abbey Room, emblazoned with paintings by Edward Abbey depicting the quest and discovery of the Holy Grail. She leaned against the doorway, admiring the vivid works and letting her mind drift.
She had finally begun to feel safe, snug in her creaking, drafty apartment. That was before she saw him—she would recognize that face anywhere. The nightly nightmares kept it fresh, undimmed by time. She heard his name—the name he used in daylight—for the first time as the bartender handed him the bill. She shouldn’t have been in that part of town—but the cobbled streets and gaslights of Beacon Hill drew her in, reminding her of home in that small Russian town, of a simple time before her home meant blood pooling on the wooden floors her mother meticulously mopped and the china from her many times great grandmother’s dowry smashed and smeared with crimson.

The wine bar had seemed cozy, welcoming, and she sat at her corner table letting the flow of conversation around her sweeten her wine. She noticed him after a quarter of an hour, sitting at the end of the bar. His silver hair caught her eye and the expanse of his broad shoulders made her fingers go cold. The slightly crooked nose and pointed chin were unmistakable and the smile that he flashed the bartender almost made her drop her glass. She turned her head to the wall and drank as he got up to leave, scarcely able to breathe until she heard the door shut and saw him walk past the windows as he disappeared into the night. Richard Moretti. The name resonated in her brain. She knew him before only as Sinistrari.
She finished her wine and waited for the tremors in her hands and knees to subside before paying and slipping quietly out of the restaurant and making her way back to her flat. She immediately got out her laptop and searched for Richard Moretti. She had no doubt he would be a man of importance. When she found out the reach of his public influence, however, she was floored. CEO of a large XYZ company, he was known for his generosity and charitable nature. Photo after photo showed him shaking hands with someone and flashing his blazing smile for the camera. She shut the laptop as a wave of nausea rushed over her. It seemed to stretch belief that he could be in the city in which she chose to hide. She did not think he would leave Europe. She cursed herself for not checking—but what would she have used? Perhaps Richard Moretti was one of his many names, just because he originated in Italy did not mean he used his real name. She panicked then and opened her computer again, hammering out an email to Delancey St. Clair—a search for him found his cocky grin smiling up at her from the website of Holler, Grim, Albrecht, & Mors. A name she saw over and over in association with Sinistrari—Moretti. His legal counsel.
Despite that, she clicked on Delancey’s company email and sent him a message from one of her many disposable addresses. It was apparently too much to hope that Del would notice the message within her chosen handle. WilHMurray. Wilhemina Murray. As an alias it was obvious to her eyes, but, apparently not to his. The library suddenly seemed oppressive and she turned away from the intricate Abbey paintings and walked slowly down the stairs and out into the blustery day. She couldn’t believe Del was working for the firm that supported such ilk as Moretti—she had to get used to thinking of him that way. The last thing she needed was to go spill the name Sinistrari to someone. Looking up at the gray sky, all the anger seemed to leech out of her. What right did she have to expect Del’s help? She drug him straight into the middle of her mess ten years ago in Budapest and left him without so much as an explanation. Or a goodbye.

At lunch, she had searched the collected and sophisticated face of the young lawyer in front of her for a sign of the impetuous Delancey—little more than a boy—that she thought she knew. She remembered the last day—the last night. Remembered the chill of the hotel room as she slid out from beneath Delancey’s encircling arm and warm sheets and slipped out of the room. They had gone to the ballet that day—she convinced him and he protested in the Louisiana drawl she found so charming. He hadn’t lost that, at least. He was still charming, of that she was sure. A face like his would win the most stable woman over—and she had been so far from equilibrium. She remembered the faintest taste of his cologne on her lips as she pressed a farewell kiss to his bare shoulder and left when the sun was just peeking over the red roofs of Budapest.
Could she really blame him? She dragged him into a world most people still didn’t know existed outside the annals of fiction. She wouldn’t have believed it herself if she hadn’t seen them herself—jaws unhinging like a snake’s and a double set of sharp teeth descending to tear out the throats of her mother, father, her brother Piotr, her sister Nastia—all snuffed out in gouts of hot crimson.
The certainty she was having a nightmare faded when one of them stepped forward, his teeth receding as his face returning to normal. Normal but for the smears of blood around his face. He bent down towards her, his sharp chin catching the dim light. The strange noises that drew her from her bed had given no warning of this—the floating, nighttime drowsiness only enhanced the nightmare effect. And so, she did not shy away from the man who crouched down in front of her, hands and face dripping with her family’s blood.
He greeted her in Russian. “Hello, little one.”
She stared mutely at him, in dreams, one could not speak.
“What is it Sinistrari?” One of the other men asked, wiping his face with a red handkerchief he pulled from somewhere inside his coat.
“A child, Valac. Only a child.”
“What are you waiting for, then?”
“This one lives.” The man in front of her tilted his silver-haired head to the side and regarded her.
“What?” The one called Valac’s voice dropped to a hiss.
“When she wakes again, this will all be as a dream.” Sinistrari’s voice never broke its deep, gentle cadence.
He leaned towards her and opened his mouth wide again. Mina shut her eyes, certain that there would be a snap of teeth and she would awaken, but there was only a rush of breath across her face—strangely cooler than the warmth of the living room—and smelling of cold earth. She opened her eyes and saw the familiar shapes of her bedroom cast into shadow by her flickering nightlight. It wasn’t until the next morning that she saw the bare, bloodied footprints that streaked her bedroom floor and recognized them as her own. The six year old Mina’s testimony of monsters was discounted with much sympathetic headshaking and murmurs of trauma. Her aunt in St. Petersburg took her in and, once Mina was stirred into the mixture of four cousins, treated her no differently than one of her own.

She walked through the Boston Public Garden—where some of the trees still clung to their colorful autumn crowns—feeling aimless. She didn’t want to return to her apartment. She thought she would meet with Del and have all her problems solved. A completely ridiculous notion–born from some lingering damsel in distress fantasy. If he couldn’t help her, it would be just another disappointment she could pencil into the column reserved for Delancey St. Clair.

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Chosen

This is a continuation of short serial story that is told here, here, and here. Without the first parts, this will make little sense.

         Shadowmen. Zion didn’t realize he’d spoken the word aloud until Solas grinned.
         “I knew you were quick, boy,” the assassin said, leaning back in his chair. The coin on the table had ceased its frantic spinning and lay flat, looking innocuous once again. Zion felt like he’d swallowed a mouthful of sand and licked his lips several times before he could answer.
         “What do you want with me?” he asked, proud that his voice did not shake.
         Solas hesitated, looking down at his hands. Zion could see the tracery of scars—lighter lines and scores against his weathered skin. There was a lifetime of stories in those scars. A tally of kills. He shuddered at the thought.
         “Once our numbers were many—a Brotherhood that attracted those who sought justice and the return of balance, the punishment of the wicked and the redemption of the innocent. But the years and wars and the diminishing of the faithful have taken their toll. Our order dwindles and few men take the journey to the Broken Tower to take part in the trials.” Solas steepled his long-fingered hands under his chin. “Few remember we exist at all and those that do,” he smiled mirthlessly, “are in no hurry to join our ranks.”
         Solas refilled Zion’s wine goblet and slid it across the table towards him. Zion’s head already felt furred from his first glass but he took a sip, not wanting to refuse the assassin. Solas did not seem quick to anger, but Zion could sense in him something akin to the darkness that burned in Rael. Such men could keep irritation slowly simmering but when it boiled without warning it scalded anything in its way.
         “Some men are born into it—my father and his before him and on through the ages until the beginning—they were all members of the Brotherhood. Others are chosen.”
         Zion took another sip of the wine and set the glass back down unsteadily. He didn’t understand the beggars that stank of the stuff, it made his head feel foggy and Solas’ face swam before his eyes. The assassin was watching him shrewdly, the candlelight playing across his high cheekbones and high, thin forehead. The room tilted suddenly and Zion barely saw Solas move, only felt the strong hands catch him before he tumbled to the floor. Hoisting him like he weighed no more than a child, the assassin laid him gently on the low couch in the corner.
         “I am sorry, child,” Solas said, his voice seeming to come from miles away, echoing like dripping water in the catacombs. “It may be of some comfort to you one day to know that you were meant for this. Il Avior ak’shur. God wills it.”
         Zion tried to struggle against the heavy sleep that tugged at him, tried to speak, to ask what Solas meant, what he had done. But the assassin seemed to read the question in his eyes.
         “Valerian in the wine—one day you’ll learn to recognize the scent. You will learn many other things.”
         Before the drugged sleep pulled him under, he thought he saw regret on Solas’ face, but it was not enough. Zion fixed a burning hate in his heart, searing the assassin’s face in his mind as darkness consumed him.

 

NEXT

Whisky and Reminiscences

If you haven’t read the beginning of this story, go here.

          “How about that drink?” Mina turned to face him. “Call it a day. You’ve enough influence in there for that.” She jerked her head in the direction of the Firm.
          Del knew it was a waste of time to argue with her. He dialed the number for the secretary he shared with two other associates and told her he’d be out of the office in meetings for the rest of the day and to hold all calls unless one of the Partners wanted him. She wished him a happy Friday and he halfheartedly returned it. His weekend had been shot to hell since the first email from Mina.
          “Let’s go.” Del strode across Copley Square, ducking his head against the wind.
          Mina kept up easily and seemed at ease as with her short hair whipping across her face. They walked in silence to the prudential center and for once Del didn’t pause to admire the tall glass and chrome edifice. He shoved through the revolving door and was greeted by the stifling heat. They rode the escalator up and wound their way through kiosks and past boutiques, dodging smartly dressed professionals, the inevitable tourists, and sulky salespeople, passing through another revolving door before they boarded the elevator for the Top of the Hub. The elevator shot them to the 52nd floor and Del felt his ears pop at the change in pressure. They were greeted by the hostess as they exited and she led them to a table. Del couldn’t help scanning the bar for familiar faces–people from the Firm were regulars and he dreaded trying to introduce Mina to some guy he knew from daily run-ins at the espresso machine. Luckily, they were still too early for most of the lunch crowd. Del slid the leather-clad cocktail list to Mina and tried not to fidget as she looked over it with obviously false concentration. He looked out the window at the view for which Top of the Hub was known. Boston spread out around him, frosted with haze. The waitress sidled up to them and Del ordered a Johnnie Walker Black, neat. Mina closed the cocktail list, looked at Del, and said, “I’ll have the same.”

          He wondered if she did it on purpose–repeated things from the past like they were lines in a script. The glossy menus and plush carpets seemed to blur for a moment into the stained wooden counter and smoky, low-ceilinged Kocsma Kedv. The Mina that sat across from him in the vision bore little resemblance to the one he saw now. He wasn’t hungry, but he ordered the spicy lobster soup when the waitress appeared with their drinks. Mina ordered a salad. Del took a bracing sip of his drink and felt it burn along his gums and warm his belly. Mina rolled her glass between her palms, staring at the amber liquid as though it held the future.
          “Well?” Del finally asked, leaning back in his chair and taking a good look at her. Her coat hung on the back of her chair and the black sweater she wore hugged her body. It looked expensive–as had the coat. He readjusted his view of her. Again.
          “This was a mistake,” she said, so quietly he almost didn’t hear. “I knew you worked for Them and I still came.” She swore in Russian and took a gulp of her drink. She coughed and her eyes watered. That wasn’t like her; she could usually handle her alcohol.
          Del addressed the skyline, “What does my job have to do with it?”
          Mina’s dark eyebrows rose into the fringe of bangs across her forehead. “You’re joking.”
          “What’s the problem? You were the one who taught me there were things in the dark. Besides, things are different–more people know and there are records and protocol and–”
          “Things are not different, Del.” She shoved her glass aside and leaned across the table. “Not for me. Just because the monsters are out in the open doesn’t make them any less evil.”
          “I don’t–”
          Mina cut him off, “You know the people you work for represent some of the worst…people in existence? You’ve probably represented some yourself. How could you? After Budapest? After–” She fell silent as the waitress brought their food.
          Mina fumbled for her drink and downed it, wincing as she set the empty glass on the table. Her hands were shaking. He blinked several times. There was no mistaking the look in her eyes. He’d seen it the first time they met. Stark, undiluted fear.
          “What happened in Budapest had nothing to do with the Firm–I would know.” It sounded defensive even to him.
          “Would you?” she asked. “You helped me then, when I had no one and I knew it was just a matter of time before I gave up. Before I stopped running and…” Mina shoved some lettuce around on her plate. She looked up at him, spearing him with her blue eyes. “I didn’t think I’d have to run again.”
          Del’s stomach clenched. There was no way in hell this was starting up again, it was his turn to gulp his Johnnie Walker. “Tell me,” he said finally. “Tell me everything.”
          He knew he was repeating the same words he’d spoken ten years ago in the grime and chaos of Kocsma Kedv–a bar like any other in Hungary–leaning over a foaming mug of Warsteiner Dunkel and trying to comfort a complete stranger. She’d grabbed his arm in the street outside and begged for help. Del could almost smell the Szamosi cigarettes and hoppy aroma of the pub again.

          He was twenty-two, fresh out of LSU, and enjoying his whirlwind tour of Europe on the money his grandfather left him. Hungary wasn’t originally on the itinerary, but when he and his roommate Lucas met two girls in Germany, there was no choice but to accompany them. In Hungary, Chrysta made it clear she only cared about the view inside Lucas’ hotel room and Chrysta’s friend melted away before Del could decide if he was interested or not. He was walking by himself to a bar recommended by some locals when a petite blonde grabbed his jacket and demanded in heavily-accented English that he help her. At first, Del thought it was a scam–he envisioned scenarios in which he was led into a dark alleyway and mugged or woke up the next morning with no kidneys in a bathtub. The look in her eyes finally convinced him and she let him lead her to the bar. He reasoned that a room full of witnesses and a drink would be the best thing for both of them.
          “They’re after me,” she said, lowering her husky voice as they wedged themselves into a table against the wall.
          “Who’s after you?” Del looked around for Lucas–he wouldn’t put it past his roommate to pull an elaborate prank in a foreign country.
          The strange girl wrapped her fingers tightly around her glass and looked at him helplessly. “I can’t say.”
          “Where are you from? Here?” When she shook her head, he repeated, “Where are you from?”
          “Russia.”
          “And your name?”
          Her long lashes flickered once and he could tell she was thinking quickly. “Mina.”
          “Well, Mina, I’m Delancey. But my friends call me Del. If someone is…after you, I can go with you to the police–or your consulate?”
          She shook her head her head, wide-eyed, her lips moving as she muttered in furious Russian. “No, no. Not the politsiya,” she said.
          Del took a deep breath. “Are you running from the police, Mina?”
          Her blue eyes were huge as she met his gaze. “I’m running from everyone.”

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Old Friends

 

© Hannah Sears

© Hannah Sears


continuation of the story begun with the Initiative and the Firm, if you wish to avoid confusion, at least read the Firm before this one.

          Del knew the office emails were swept periodically, but nothing in his message or the spam emails should give anyone pause. No one knew about Budapest–the emails could be a past fling, or a disgruntled acquaintance. He grinned wryly at the thought. When it came to women, there was the good kind of crazy and the bad. He had no problem with the first, but he knew dabbling in the second was a good way to burn. His inbox dinged–a message from his boss. Marcus Colubra wanted to see him at 8:30 a.m. Del checked his Rolex–a gift from the Firm for earning his spot as an Associate Partner–and saw it was 8:20. The walk to Marcus’ office would take him that long. He straightened his tie and nodded to his colleagues as he walked down the long hallways that led him to the massive double doors. People joked about getting company golf carts to navigate the office. Marcus’ doors were supposedly taken from an ancient temple in Ethiopia. Del wouldn’t be surprised; Marcus was a self-proclaimed procurer of rare objects with astronomical price tags and equally complicated pasts. Del opened one of the heavy panels and peeked in.
          “Ah, Delancey. Come in, come in, son.” Marcus’ lips twitched in a small smile.
          Del gritted his teeth and tried to keep his face pleasant, Marcus was the only one who could get away with calling him “son”–and only because he paid Del disgusting amounts of money and held power over his basic existence at the Firm. He stepped forward to shake Marcus’s hand, feeling the papery skin shift over the Executive Partner’s bony fingers. Marcus waved at one of the hulking leather chairs in front of his desk and Del perched on the edge. He knew from past experience that settling back made one sink into the chair, and he wanted Marcus at eye-level.
          “Scotch?” Marcus held up a faceted decanter.
          “Ah, no thanks,” Del said. He was from Louisiana, and it was five o’clock somewhere, but in Boston it was before 10 am and he had to draw the line somewhere.
          “Not a scotch drinker?” Marcus poured a generous amount into a Waterford crystal glass.
          “Not before I have my coffee, sir.”
          “To each his own.” Marcus lifted his glass slightly in a toast before sitting in the throne-like chair behind his desk.. “I haven’t spoken to you since you wrapped up the Parkhurst case. A decisive victory, wasn’t it?”
          “Yes, sir,” Del shifted slightly under the effusive praise. “The prosecution didn’t stand a chance. Mr. Parkhurst was…very appreciative.”
          “I’m certain he was. I hope you understand the great amount of trust we placed in you, allowing you to handle Parkhurst. They are one of our oldest clients.”
          Del swallowed before answering; the switch to the “royal we” was rarely a good sign. “I appreciate your confidence in me and, if I may speak honestly, sir, I enjoyed the opportunity to work with such an important client.”
          “You exceeded our wildest imaginings, Delancey. I don’t mind admitting to you that my expectations were exceptionally high. I’ve been keeping an eye on you, my boy, since we first dredged you out of your Louisiana swamp.”
          Del knew his boss meant no offense, but the joke fell flat and he forced a smile, waiting for the older man to continue.
          “We’d like you to take on more responsibility, if you’re willing,” Marcus said.
“I’d like that very much, sir,” Del said.
          “Glad to hear it. Since you became an Associate Partner, you have been briefed on some of our…special cases.”

          Del nodded his affirmative, everyone higher than the mail-room knew about the special cases–whether they were supposed to or not. Marcus set down his glass and folded his hands on the desk, his dark eyes fastening on Del as he cocked his head to the side. Del sighed inwardly; every attorney had a flair for the dramatic, but not many enjoyed it quite as much as Marcus Colubra. Del could imagine stage directions as Marcus pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. Get on with it, Old Man he thought.
          “We’d like you to take on a very special case, Delancey. One that will be different from anything you’ve worked before. All other cases will be delegated to your associates–we want you focused. This is one of the Big Ones.”
          Del heard the capital letters and tried to sound awed as he responded that he was honored by their notice, of course he would do whatever they asked.
          “It’s a very unique case–even for us–and it’s imperative that you exercise the utmost discretion. You’ll submit your budget, expenses, progress updates, and billable hours to my office. We’ll discuss your pay once the ink is dried, but I can assure you, Delancey, it will be well worth your time.” Marcus leaned back in his seat.
          “Yes, sir,” Del said. “Thank you sir.”
          “Very well,” Marcus’ teeth flashed white against his dark skin. “Thank you, Delancey.”

          Del nodded, knowing he was dismissed and stood, trying not to hurry out the door. If he had to say “sir” one more time, he was going to need a glass of scotch. Back in his office, the day ticked by more slowly than he would have thought possible. It was Friday and he had nothing on the books, nothing to occupy him except the tingle of unease as the clock inched closer towards 3:00 p.m. and letting his imagination run rampant about his new case. Without a name, Delancey could only guess it was one of the so-called “Big Five”–a mixture of companies, individuals, and families–who received top priority. He gave up trying to guess after a quarter of an hour combing the internet for the few names he knew. For all he knew, there were people even higher than the Big Five. Just thinking of the levels and layers of secrecy that were part of daily life at the Firm made his head ache.His clock was stuck at 11:30 a.m. and he suddenly couldn’t stand his office for another minute.
          Pulling on his coat, he slipped out of his office and down the silent elevator to the ground floor. He nodded at the security guard and pushed through the revolving door. The air that hit his face was damp from the rain the low clouds promised. Del flipped up his collar and shoved his hands in his pockets, striding down the street until he reached Copley Square. Dead leaves whirled in eddies created by the icy wind and he hunched his shoulders, staring up at the Romanesque front of Trinity Church with its stone facade, columns, and archways. The roof of the church was red and he couldn’t help but think of Budapest. It wasn’t Marcus or the new case that made him tense. It was those damn emails. He didn’t want to wait until three. He wanted to see her now so that he could wring her scrawny, little…

          “Hello, Del.”
          Fingers of cold crept down his coat collar and into his bones that had nothing to do with the biting wind. Del turned to face her.
          “Hello, Mina.”
          Mina Volkov, standing in front of him in Boston. He could hardly believe it. Her slight frame was swathed in a stylish black coat with a collar like a stovepipe that reached her chin. Her hair was black this time–he’d see it blonde, red, and even blue–and angled at her jaw, making her high cheekbones stand out. It also emphasized the stubborn jut of her pointed chin. Del grimaced.
          “This isn’t the Top of the Hub,” he said as she stared up at the church.
          “Obviously.” Her accent was barely noticeable compared to the first time they met.
          “Did you think I wouldn’t come?” he asked, resisting the urge to grab her shoulders and shake her.
          “I didn’t know.” She was still looking at the church and he wondered if she, too, was remembering their last night in Budapest.

          She was blonde then and her hair was long. They were just leaving the ballet and it was snowing and she was laughing. laughing at him, at his confused awe as the white flakes came drifting down. It was the first time he’d seen snow falling. If he didn’t know Mina, didn’t know the curve of her cheek, the set of her mouth, he would hardly have recognized her today. He could think of nothing else to say. The obvious questions–Why are you here? What’s this about?–were questions to which he already knew the answer. Budapest.

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Street Rats Part I

Hi, hello, in case you’ve been worried, I’m still here–one semester of graduate school done and finally remembering my poor, neglected blog. If you’re still reading, thank you. If you’re new, thank you as well! It’s not Friday, and this challenge of Chuck Wendig’s was from months ago, but I liked both the challenge and the story that came from it. In this challenge, we picked 5 words from a list. My words will be at the end so you’re not on a scavenger hunt for them throughout the story. If you like this, check out more Flash Fiction Challenges I’ve done, especially Circus. As always, comments and suggestions are encouraged!

©Hannah Sears

©Hannah Sears

          “You know why we have so many gods?” The beggar’s sightless eyes gazed to the left of where Zion stood, his face pocked as by disease or acid. “There’s a god fit for everyone. The Emperor and his like have their Warrior and Virgin in their golden temples.”
          “Who listens to your prayers, old man?” Zion asked, squinting towards the market.
          “The Hermit’s the only one for the likes of us’ns.” The blind man tilted his head, shaking his tin cup hopefully.
          “There are no gods,” Zion said. “And if there were, they wouldn’t care for us.”

          He turned and trotted down the dusty alley, feeling the stones grow warm beneath his callused feet as he approached the sun-drenched square. The cacophony of sounds assaulted his ears, yells of merchants and hawkers speaking a variety of languages, squawking chickens and bleating sheep, and the chime of the bells sounding midday prayers from the temple on the hilltop. He slunk between merchants; one of hundreds of orphans skulking hopefully around food carts and begging on corners. He thought of what the beggar had said and curled his lip. He’d seen paintings of the Hermit and puppets dressed in his gray rags, often carrying a shuttered lantern. Old men in rags were not gods, he thought. He turned away as the fat man whose pocket he was picking halted in front of a stall. Gold coins disappeared from Zion’s skinny, bronzed fingers into various pockets in his loose tunic and the shirt beneath. He looked innocently up at the merchant and held out a cupped palm, murmuring for a copper or two for some bread and mimicked the coarse, broken beggar tongue spoken by thousands in the city.
          The man sneered down at him, pulling his robes away as though Zion was infectious, “Away, street scum.”
          Zion turned his face towards the merchant’s guard. He was as different from his elephantine master as two men could be. He was tall and thin—but Zion could see that his wiry arms were muscular beneath his shirt and leather vest. Two swords hilts showed above his shoulders and Zion poised himself to disappear, flexing his bare toes against the sandy stones that paved the square, as the guard looked him over.
          “What’s your name, boy?” he asked.
          Zion stared at him. The guard had spoken Zion’s language, one none of the cityfolk knew, and spoken by only a handful of refugees.
          “Zion,” he answered finally.
          A smile plucked at the corner of the tall man’s lips and he reached into the leather pouch at his belt, pulling out a flat copper disk. He grabbed Zion’s wrist and turned his palm to face the blazing sky. Zion was too surprised to struggle and the man released his arm after laying the disk in Zion’s hand. The fat merchant was staring, his fleshy mouth parted in confusion.
          “Come to the Inn of the Broken Staff tonight, after the evening prayers, and bring this with you,” he said, closing Zion’s fingers over the metal circle.
          “A friend of yours, Solas?” the merchant asked.
          Zion saw the look of hatred that flashed across the strange man’s face before he turned back to his master and gestured that they should move on. Zion ghosted through the square, not bothering to pick another pocket, feeling the copper disk growing warm in his fingers. When he reached the safety of a shadowed doorway down another alley, he opened his hand and looked at the piece of metal in his cupped palm. It was much larger than a coin, but it had a face carved on each side like some of the foreign coins he had seen. He tried to bend the thing, it was little thicker than his thumbnail, but stronger than it looked. The face carved in profile was not one he recognized. There were statues of the Grand Merchants and the Emperor everywhere but this face was different—harsher, somehow. The way a wolf looks beside a hound. Zion slipped it carefully into an inner pocket sewn into the breast of his tunic. The tall man would not expect him for hours, but Rael would not be pleased if he arrived later than dusk.

          He jogged through the warren of streets, skirting the refuse on the ground and narrowly avoided being splashed by the contents of a chamber pot as it was upended from a third floor window. No matter the shade of your skin or the amount of coin in your pocket, everyone shits the same, Rael always said. Zion doubted the Grand Merchants would appreciate the sentiment. There were more beggars the farther he went from the grand bazaar but fewer bothered him. They knew he was one of Rael’s boys. Everyone in the beggar world knew of Rael—though few would ever be unlucky enough to see him. Zion ran a hand over the pockets beneath his clothes. He had done well today at the market, but he could have done better. He reached the grate in the side of the old temple and glanced around. The only one to witness his actions was a scrawny dog that had trailed him hopefully for several streets. Zion knew better than to encourage the dog to linger by feeding him. When he first joined Rael, he had smuggled a kitten down to the catacombs and fed it milk-soaked bread and fish heads. He still remembered the kitten: black as oily smoke from the torches in the catacombs and glowing, yellow topaz eyes. When he cuddled it next to him at night it purred so hard both their bones seemed to rattle, When Rael found the kitten, he had snapped its neck and cast it onto the refuse pile, daring Zion to remove it, to show any emotion for the little thing. Zion slid the grate aside and ducked through it. In the darkness, time ceased to have meaning, but Rael would know if he was late.

          Somehow, Rael always knew.

Words: Hermit, Acid, Orphan, Hound, Topaz

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Empty Windows

Friday Fictioneers led by Rochelle is back for the new year (and so am I)! If you’re new to Fictioneers or this blog, the idea is to write a story with only 100 words inspired by the picture posted each week. Feel free to read along—just click the blue froggy at the bottom—and join in!

         “It was different then,” she said tremulously.
         I shared a pained smile with my older brother. Mom remembered everything differently now. I didn’t see anything special about the roofless wreck with a set of stairs leading straight into the murky water.
         “I double checked,” Trip said to me in a low voice.
         “He brought me here before the war,” Mom said.
         Trip and I shared a look.
         “Who?” I asked.
         “Richard asked me to marry him here. He said he couldn’t wait until after the baby.”
         I swallowed hard. Trip was a nickname. He was legally Parker Ian McCoy III.

1,000 Word Story in Five Parts, Part III

For Chuck Wendig’s 1,000 word story in five parts, I continued Urban Spaceman‘s and Infinite Skies‘ tale about Joe’s Bar and the man who broke the world. Check out the challenge here–it’s not too late to join!

Part 1

         “Buy me a drink,” he said, bloodshot eyes meeting mine from further down the bar, “and I’ll tell you how I broke the world.”
         I gave a snort, took a long swig of my G&T, and turned my attention back to the game being shown on Joe’s decrepit TV.
         “Go on,” he insisted, in a voice ravaged by years of strong alcohol. “It’ll be worth it.”
         Glancing around, I looked for help, but none of the other patrons of the grotty bar were paying attention to me being pestered by the old loon, and the bartender was very focused on cleaning a glass. The old man’s eyes bored into me from beneath his dirty mop of hair, and in the dim light of Joe’s Bar I saw the dark red stains on his grey trenchcoat.
         “Alright.” The game was dull anyway. “What’s your poison?”
         “Scotch on the rocks.”
         I nodded at the barkeep, and the old man watched hungrily as the amber nectar was poured.
         “Go on then,” I prompted him. “Tell me how you broke the world.”
         He took a sip of his drink, gave a happy sigh, and looked up at me with those bloodshot eyes.
         “It all started in 1939…”

Part 2

         “Wait,” I said. “1939? That was over two hundred years ago!”
         “This is the story you paid for,” the old man grumbled. “Let me tell it.”
I nodded for him to continue.
         “I could see what was coming,” he said after another sip of his scotch. “It was obvious. So I did what I did to cut it short.” He shuddered. “I forgot about consequences. No, that’s not right; I thought about consequences, I just didn’t think they’d be this.” He waved behind us.
         I glanced at the only unique feature of Joe’s–the window–and jerked my head back. Everyone looks out that window, and no one can stand the sight of the shattered planet hanging above the lunar surface for more than an instant.
         I drained my drink desperately and waved at the bartender for a refill. He cocked his head at the old man and I nodded for his refill too.
         “Do you believe in magic?” the old man said quietly.
         “No, of course not,” I said.
         He jerked his head at the window.
         “That’s not magic,” I said, “that’s just physics we haven’t discovered yet.”
         He snorted his derision. “That’s what everyone says, but no one has yet explained the physics.”

Part 3

         “You’re saying magic broke the world?” I wondered how long the old guy had been drinking before I started buying.
         “It sure as hell wasn’t science.” His voice was filled with rancor.
         The bartender looked over and I saw his hand drift under the bar for the old baseball bat he kept there. I shook my head slightly.
         “Anyway, I knew how to read the signs. The Second World War was brewing and that was all anyone was paying attention to. They didn’t know that all that mess was just the bigger stuff bubbling up. They used to say where there’s smoke there’s fire.”
         I gave him a blank look and he shook his head.
“Forget the metaphors—what I’m saying is that there was something big going on and the war was just a side effect— a symptom, if you will,” he said.
         “World War II was a symptom of whatever you say broke the world?” This was getting out of hand, I thought.
         “That much evil—that much raw darkness—it spills over. One man can’t hold onto it, can’t contain it.”
         I leaned closer to hear his next words and they sent a chill up my spine.

A Twist on “Telephone”

I haven’t done a Flash Fiction Friday Challenge from Chuck Wendig in a while because…well…see previous post. However, this one is just too fun to pass up. It’s a written version of the game “Telephone”–One person writes 200 words of a story and links it to the challenge. Next week, we will pick someone ELSE’S story and add 200 words. For the next 5 Fridays, this will go on until a 1,000 word story is created. Seems like fun! Although, it was really difficult to stop at 200 words…

Easy Street
        Marcel was certain that the pounding beast in his chest was audible to the entire city as he leaned, panting, against the wall of the alley. Just out of sight, back in the blistering sunlight, the city rumbled on; he could faintly hear the ding of a trolley and the clackety-clack as it thudded over the iron tracks and the intermittent sounds of a saxophonist hawking his street-corner jazz to the tourists. Marcel gulped in a mouthful of the heavy, still air, and slunk further into the shade. It was slightly cooler, but no less humid. New Orleans was seething in the heat, oozing the smell of baked concrete, creole cooking, and the faint tang of the murky Mississippi from every pore.
        Marcel wiped the sweat off his face with the back of one shaking hand, noticing the way the moisture slicked his dark skin—like the flickering mirage off asphalt. He leaned over and vomited, the acidic contents of his nearly empty stomach splattering the alleyway. He coughed at the acrid taste of his own fluids and scooted down the wall, slouching down until he sat on the pavement. He gripped his head in his hands.
         It’s all over

Just a Little Jazz

Another smashing subgenres Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. Two subgenres chosen at random, one story, 1500 words this week. *

        It started like any other day—the coffee was cold, the newspaper wet, and I forgot my umbrella. To be fair, the coffee was my fault—I couldn’t keep a secretary around. I’d say something to upset the dame and she’d hand in her notice, poking a red lacquered fingernail into my chest and storming out on heels several inches too high. The temp company wouldn’t send anymore—claiming that I had “unreasonable working requirements and an uncertain temper.” So, the coffee was cold and no one was there to grab the newspaper out of the rain that graced New York for the fourth day straight. All I asked was that the girls make coffee, put the newspaper on my desk, type up case notes, and answer the phone. What was unreasonable about any of that? Besides, there hadn’t been a case in weeks. I hung up my trench coat and hat and saw my umbrella sitting right where I left it yesterday. I scowled and took a gulp of the cold, tarry substance in my cup without thinking.
        I looked at the sign on my office door with disgust. Flynn Parker, P.I. Some P.I., I thought. I hadn’t had a case since the Di Giovanni fiasco last month. There are things every good P.I. knows: never get involved with a female client during a case and never get involved with the mob. No one has ever called Flynn Parker an underachiever, so damned if I didn’t go and do both at once. I didn’t know Bianca Di Giovanni had mob ties, and by the time the guy she asked me to look for turned up at the bottom of the Hudson wearing concrete shoes, it was too late. I pushed away thoughts of Bianca, the way that white silk dress felt as it slipped through my fingers, the cloud of dark hair that fell down her back.
        The office was stifling suddenly. I thought I could smell the stale scent of her perfume—gardenia. I tossed out the coffee, threw the paper in the trash, and put my wet coat and hat back on. The streets seemed grayer than usual, I thought as I shoved my hands deep in my pockets. The people that passed kept their heads down, and no one smiled. This was New York, though, people rarely did. Before I quite realized where my feet were taking me, I was outside a particularly dingy building. The gaslight above the door flickered fitfully and I knocked—three long and one short. A hidden panel in the wood slid aside and a pair of eyes peered out at me.
        “Password?” he muttered.
        “Benny be good, man,” I said back.
        The door opened and I followed the doorman down stairs as draughty and rickety as the ones outside my hole of an apartment. Another door swung open—this time the man wore white gloves and full tails. He whisked my hat and coat away. Inside, the dim lights shone on red brocade. Sweet sounds of jazz and the clink of crystal met my ears like a familiar melody. The taste of the coffee lingered and I walked up to the bar. I ordered bourbon to wash it away and looked around at the gleaming wood and brass and the shadowed faces that filled the corners. I was no stranger, but I rarely came here at this time of day. It was just past ten in the morning. The bartender noticed.
        “Third time this week,” he said, sliding my drink across the bar.
        I tipped it to him in a salute and pushed a hefty tip across the bar with my payment. I sat at a little table just off the dance floor. The band played like it was Friday night and the place was full. I never brought Bianca here. This place, at least, was still my sanctuary. I watched the way the lights from the chandeliers sparkled off the amber liquid as I tilted it back, feeling that old, familiar burn. I tried to think of the good that came out of the Di Giovanni case. I wasn’t in jail, I wasn’t dead, and they’d paid more than any other client. I was glad of the first two, but that money was still sitting in a bag shoved behind my dresser.
        “Excuse me,” a soft voice interrupted my contemplation of my bourbon and I looked up.
        A pretty dame stood next to the table, twisting her hands together. I sighed inwardly. People here might recognize me but it was bad manners to bring up business.
        “How can I help you, darlin’?” I asked, painting on a smile.
        “Could I sit at your table? A man might come here and give me some trouble if I’m alone,” she looked up at me with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.
        I gave her a quick once over. She was tall and thin, with blonde hair that hung in loose curls just to her shoulders; easy on the eyes. I stood and pulled out the chair for her.
        “How can I refuse?” I tried my smile again.
        She smiled back weakly, her eyes flickering over my shoulder towards the door. I realized then that her skin was pale underneath the rouge on her cheeks and that her bottom lip shook. I held up a hand and a tuxedoed waiter appeared out of the shadows.
        “A drink for the lady,” I waited for her to order, but she just stared, lost. “Martini, extra dry.” I said.
        “You don’t have to—” she broke off and smiled more convincingly. “Thank you, mister.”
        “Sure, darlin’. Now,” I hesitated before sliding my card across the white tablecloth. “Do you need real help?”
        She glanced at it and looked back up at me, “You’re a private investigator?”
        “I am. And I’ve helped with situations like yours before,” I paused as her martini arrived. “I can help keep you safe.”
        “Mr. Parker, it’s very kind of you, but I doubt very much you’ve handled a situation like mine before,” she took a deep drink of the martini and some of the color came back into her face.
        “No?” I was curious despite myself.
        The Di Giovanni spectacle had me in a real slump, but there was something here. I could feel it. It’s not just another pretty girl, I told myself. And it had nothing to do with the last pretty girl I helped turning up dead. The blonde dame shook her head, sending her hair swirling around her cheekbones. I leaned back in my chair and took another sip of my drink while she toyed with her glass. I noticed she still had on her coat—it looked expensive—and the watch on her wrist was gold. I also observed there was no ring on her left hand. So, the mystery man wasn’t a husband. Or, she didn’t want to think of him that way.
        “The truth is—” she broke off, her face turning white.
        I looked over my shoulder and saw two big men in suits and coats; I spotted the holsters bulging under their jackets.
        “Come quietly now, Brigitte,” the tall blonde man said, surreptitiously opening his coat so she could see the gun, too.
        I was about to reach for the gun at my side when the other thug put his meaty hand on my shoulder.
        “Not so fast, Mister,” he said.
        “What do you want with my friend, here?” I asked, trying to keep my voice friendly.
        “She’s not supposed to be here,” the first man said.
        I had to laugh at that. It was a speakeasy—none of us were supposed to be here.
        “You think that’s funny?” Blondie turned his attention to me.
        “As a matter of fact, I do,” I said. “Brigitte and I were just enjoying a quiet drink when you two fellas interrupted. I’d like to continue my conversation with her. Alone.”
        The blonde thug smiled an ugly smile, “That won’t be happening.”
        He pulled out a dark object quicker than my eyes could follow; I flinched. A white flash blinded me and set my ears ringing. I waited for the pain of the gunshot that never came. There was a terrible roaring and I landed hard on my knees on what felt like wet stones. I blinked until my sight came back. Motorcars streamed by on either side, the klaxon sounds of their horns penetrating the blazing day. Except, it wasn’t day; I could see the night sky above my head. The light came from billboards that stretched over buildings taller than any I had ever seen. They flashed like the lights of a thousand cinema marquees. The roar of voices was deafening; I clapped my hands to my ears. The blonde thug wrenched me to my feet and laughed at the look on my face. His partner held up the blonde, Brigitte, who appeared to have fainted.
        “Welcome to the year 2013, Mr. Parker.”

*I used Noir and Time Travel (obviously with more emphasis on Noir)