The Thirsty Blade: Flash Fiction Dark Fantasy

Henry paused the metal detector where the beeping was steady, just like he’d seen on the telly, and dropped a button on the ground to mark the spot. 

Then, he carefully set the apparatus down, removed his coat, and set about digging. 

His son had called him a fool for taking from his pension to buy the thing, but Henry had a feeling in his gut that he’d find results. If not a buried Roman hoard, perhaps relics from a more recent century that could be worth a few more pounds than the machine had cost. And what else was there to do upon retiring from forty years of keeping a pub?

The spot he’d chosen, just far enough into the woods from the motorway that the sound of engines were a gentle growl, was mossy and overgrown. It reminded him of a fairy tale. The great twisted tree roots and a nearby babbling brook spoke to him of ancient mages and whispering Druids, although whether they’d been prone to whispers or taken vows of silence like monks, he couldn’t recall. Still, it had seemed the best place to start his hunting. 

When his spare hit something hard, he knew that he had been right to follow his instinct. Bugger his son for refusing to take chances and get the most out of life!

“Well, once you’ve stood behind that counter for another twenty-five or thirty years, perhaps you’ll be looking for adventure, yourself,” he muttered, sinking creakily to his knees. 

Dampness seeped into the cloth on his knees, and he knew the dirt and moss were likely to leave stains on his slacks, but the faint glint of metal in the clods of earth took away that care, too.

Henry reached into the hole to brush the metal clean. To his astonishment, it wasn’t a box or a decorative rod. It was a sword. 

“I’ve found bloody Excalibur!” He laughed aloud. 

Even though the little dell was shaded from the summer sun, Henry was sweating and his chest heaving with effort by the time he’d uncovered the rest of the thing. Whether it could be properly termed a broadsword or a longsword, he couldn’t be certain, but it was — or had been — a beauty. The hilt was intricately designed with inlays and carvings peeking out from under centuries of dirt and tarnish, and the blade was whole, though edged with notches and blackened by time.

“Poor old thing,” he told it, shaking a hanky open to wipe it down. “Not even broken. Put out to pasture and forgotten before your time, eh? Buried away from slaying dragons and rescuing maidens just when life was getting good? Well, I know how that feels. Indeed I do.”

The hilt felt friendly in his hand. Manly. Henry stood up with it and automatically straightened his shoulders, running the fingers of his open hand along its tarnished edge. One callused finger caught on a crack. He started at the little burst of hurt, nearly dropping the sword in shock. 

“Blast, wasn’t expecting that.” 

He leaned the sword on a tree trunk to fetch a thermos of clean water from his pack. It was short work to rinse his cut. Even shorter to realize that the place on the sword where it had cut him was . . . Clean.

Henry stared. “Blimey.”

He moved closer and adjusted his spectacles. Wiped them on the least bit of dirty shirttail, just in case. There was no mistaking, though — that small spot on the blade’s edge where he’d cut himself, a section no bigger than his thumbnail, gleamed as brightly as a polished mirror. 

“How could that be?” Henry wondered aloud. 

A wind rattled the leaves of the tree, and the summer sun seemed to disappear, leaving a dark chill behind it. Time to leave. Henry shivered, putting his coat back on for a moment before taking it off again. He laid it flat and wrapped the sword in it for the walk back to the car park. No need for anyone else to see his finding, after all. There would be too many unnecessary questions, if someone noticed him tucking a great dirty sword in the dented boot of his car.

When he got it home, Henry locked the sword in his old kit from the war, washed up, and had his tea. He knew he ought to go to bed, but his thoughts were still filled with knights and castles, so he sat at the old computer that his son called a relic and logged onto the World Wide Web to see if he could find some answers. 

How did one clean an old sword, anyhow?

He supposed he could call the curator of a museum, or an antiques specialist, but it was in the back of his mind that they might try to take the sword from him. And he simply could not let that happen. It belonged to him, now.

Henry hadn’t felt this good in years. So energized and full of purpose. He barely noticed the passage of the afternoon into evening, or evening into night. When his son phoned in the morning, as usual, he was still at his computer, and he didn’t take the call. 

Which was why Peter came round at 10.

“Dad! Have you been sitting there all night?”

Henry turned in his chair to gaze blearily at his grown-up child. “Oh. Peter. Hallo. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“You didn’t answer your phone. Had me a bit worried, you know.” Peter tsked, looking over Henry’s shoulder at the computer screen. “What’s this nonsense you’re looking at now? Swords?”

“Yes, yes! You’ll never believe what I found!” Henry pushed away from the table and rose with little of his usual difficulty, in spite of the hours he’d sat in the chair, and went to his kit. Peter was close behind, demanding answers in a steady stream of belligerent remarks, mainly the usual claptrap about wasting money and remembering to keep putting extra by, for the sake of the future.

“Well, if it is worth something, ithe sword will be your inheritance instead of bits of my pension!” Henry snapped. He pulled the sword out, his hand comfortably gripping the hilt as though it had always done so, and turned on one bended knee to show his tarnushed treasure to his son.

He underestimated how quickly he could turn. Was used to his bones creaking and his joints aching. Peter was standing too closely, as he’d been wont to do for years, invading Henry’s space in an effort to be helpful. 

The blackened and uneven blade sliced cleanly through Peter’s side, cutting kidney and intestine right up to the ribcage, where it caught. Henry and Peter stared at each other. Then, following his instinct, Henry put his weight behind the hilt, changed his grip, and thrust the blade upward, cleaving his son’s  chest in two. 

Peter’s mouth fell open and then his head dropped down as though he wanted to watch the sword’s gleaming metal sliding free of the sheath of his body. Henry couldn’t take his own eyes off it, barely glancing as his son’s corpse hit the floor. Under the layer of swiftly clotting blood and matter, threads of fabric and bits of skin, the blade shone almost like new. And then, before his astonished gaze, the blood disappeared. He blew the dried bits of material off the sword, marveling at its craftsmanship and beauty.

“Now that’s a way to clean you up, isn’t it?” Henry whistled, long and low. He turned the blade this way and that, noting how the shine ended where the blood had stopped. He rose to his feet, his back straighter than it had been in years. Henry felt like a new man.

But when he experimentally dipped the last of the tarnished bits in his son’s open wound, there was no noticeable effect.

“Ah, I think I understand, my sir,” Henry told the blade. “I worked in a pub for forty years. I know a thirsty customer when I see one. And only a fresh pint’ll do, won’t it?”

He stepped over Peter and headed for the door. The young fellow who lived next door, who’d kicked his car and dented it — Henry could often hear him outside, strutting about with his mates. He couldn’t wait to see what the bastard lay-about thought of his new sword.

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Wishes and Fools: my NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge Round 1 Story!

A few months ago, I teased this one because I didn’t want to post it until I knew how I’d done. No feedback just yet, other than two most excellent beta readers (love you, Tar and Jenny!), but it did place 10 out of 15. The story for Round 2 this weekend is under way; I’m currently struggling with an ending.

Here, for your reading enjoyment, is my 1,000 word flash fiction fantasy with a setting of a mountain stream, and milk as my object!

Wishes and Fools

Synopsis: When a hero desires to win another’s heart, the lore of his village says to petition the Wee Folk of the mountain stream with a gift of milk. He completes his journey, but his skepticism, greed, and impatience prove to be his downfall when he unintentionally murders one of the Fae, and he must pay for the crime with his own life — although not in a conventional way.

The old mothers of the village have always said that when you want something badly enough, an offering to the Wee Folk is as sure to help as anything.

I remain skeptical. But every morning the winds sweep down from the mountain and over the fields of flax as golden as her hair, and every evening the sky rises dark and sparkling as her eyes. Her lips are the red of the wine in my cup, and her bosom soft and fragrant as two rounds of bread by the fire . . .

I won’t tell anyone. No-one has to know that I have sought blessings on the mountain, from the Little People. Perhaps, one day, when her golden hair has silvered and my hands are weakened, I will tell her how my longing drove me to the hidden stream near its peak, where no water should flow, bearing a gift for the Fae stolen from my grandmother’s she-goat.

I leave before sunrise. There is enough light cast by the setting moon and the earliest blue of morning to see my way along the slender trail as it winds along the waist of the mountain. So few walk this path, there are places where it all but disappears. I know the way, though.

We all know the way.

My feet tread the ground in time to the beat of my heart. I pass the first marker,  touching the mass of boulders where the muscle of the mountain bulges forth, and I press on, following the path as it ascends through a field of slippery shale. It is here, the old mothers have said, that trolls made their home until the Wee Folk came and drove them all away.

A rope bridge provides passage over the second marker, a cascading waterfall so high above the valley that its waters disappear into an underground river well before they ever reach the village. I check that my pack is secure and grasp the sides of the bridge tightly.

In the middle of my crossing, strong gusts swirl up from the chasm, blinding me with icy spray. The bridge shivers and sways, and I lose my footing, falling to my knees on the twisting fibres. I feel the flesh split and scrape on my legs, splinters digging into the soft skin between the callouses on my hands.

I pass the test, crawling the rest of the way over the bridge. It is tempting to lay still on the solid rock, breathing in the scents of lichen and damp stone, but I am so close . . .

The air is thinner here, where the path is steepest. The sun breaks over the horizon as I keep my weight close to the steps on the near-vertical cliff. It is as though each brief platform had been carved as stairs for giants.

And then, the final ledge ends not in another sheer wall, but opens out into a miraculous plain. Here, the snow field meets the bare rock and the granite is darkened with sheets of water. There are patches of soft grass that grow wider near the stream, and tufts of strange, fragrant flowers.

I stumble forward, my footsteps loud in the stillness — not even the wind dares to blow in this place. The gurgling laughter of the impossible mountain stream makes me shiver. Hurriedly, I crouch by the streambed and work open the leather knots of my pack.

I pour the milk into the bone cup I’ve brought, and say the words. “Please, let her love me as much as I love her,” I add in a whisper.

And then I wait.

What happens next? The old mothers were never clear. I expect a fairy to appear, smiling knowingly; an elf to come forth, nodding sagely.

I am so weary, I put my head down on my arm. I dream of her, dancing, whirling close to me and then away again. Always away.

The bright light of the sun wakes me, now fully over the horizon. The stream gurgles and laughs at me.

I am a fool.

Enraged, I rise, prepared to kick the stolen milk over the precipice. But it wouldn’t do to waste it. Instead, I take the cup to drink it down myself.

Too late, I see the little figure clinging to the edge inside.

I feel its wings flutter madly against the roof of my mouth, sharp nails grasping at my teeth and my tongue. But I have tossed back the drink as I would my ale, and in another swallow, the Fae is gone.

I fall back, stunned. My stomach twists, and I pound at my midsection, willing myself to bring it up, but there is nothing to be done. I lay in a heap, sweating, my heart racing.

I must get home. The old mothers will know what to do.

I try to rise, but my legs refuse me. My pulse thunders in my ears; the twisting in my gut now a burning pain. I shudder, my back arching; I am a fish on a hook, pierced through the shoulders; my gasps and cries come to my ears strangely, as though they belong to someone else . . .

I am spent. Thirsty. The leaping water beside me giggles and beckons, but I roll over, looking for the bone cup. My tunic feels too heavy, falling over my head like a tent; I pull my arms out of too-large sleeves to crawl. The soft grass cradles my naked waist and legs, for I have left my breeches and boots, too.

The cup looms before my eyes as a near-empty barrel, glowing pearly white with milk film. I put out my tongue, laving up drops of the precious liquid.

There are footsteps on the path. I see wisps of golden hair flying free of her braid.

I must hide my nakedness. I make to rise, and a wind aids me.

The thrumming pressure at my back is not the wind.

I have wings.

A little horror flash fiction to sink into your skin

On Deacon Street, two or three of the older buildings had been knocked down and vacant lots with tufts of weeds sat between the struggling dollar store and Bill’s Tattoos and Piercings. The tattoo place had been there for years, even before the structures demolished last spring were built, and it looked it: pits and peeling wood showed in the sign, despite the layer of fresh paint applied to it every year, and the stonework on the corners of the walls had been smoothed by generations of tough guys and sassy girls leaning against them. The sidewalk in front of the parlour was permanently stained by countless cigarette butts, the ends of cigars, and spatterings of chewing tobacco, dropped or mashed or spit in displays of careless nonchalance, studied flirting, or seconds of fury. The original owner of the building had installed a fancy stained glass window over the picture glass, and to the business and patrons’ credit, no-one had ever destroyed it. Bill’s Tattoos and Piercings might have been exposed to all kinds of other abuse when drunks fought or breakups happened, but the window stayed. And so did the business.

They’d taken in a new artist in the past week, Tanya knew — the advertising was all over social media. A specialist in portraitures and three-dimensional skin art. His name was Brown Chimes (she still shook her head at the thought of parents who’d curse their child like that), and he wasn’t from the area. But for what she had in mind, he was perfect, even if the price was a little high. 

Memorialize your loved ones or pets with Brown Chimes’ expertise in lifelike portraits, in colour, sepia, or black and white! Sessions by appointment only — $500 minimum.

Tanya cracked her knuckles as she passed the vacant lots, checking her phone again for the time. It wasn’t the pain of the tattoo that she was worried about, or being late; for once in her life, she was actually early, and this was far from her first visit to Bill’s. It was the risk she was taking, having seen other people’s work. A portrait had to be done with care or else it would look as awful as that time someone had tried to fix Jesus’s picture in that church overseas. If she ended up with something ugly and exaggerated inked into her skin . . . Well, the worst that could happen would be a cover-up, but that would have to wait until the first one healed, and the new one would depend on the size and details of the old. It was all very risky. 

But she had a mission. It had been on her mind ever since Eddie’s funeral. She had her boyfriend’s pictures still, lots of selfies they’d taken together and a nice formal shot from prom. He had been the love of her life, Tanya just knew it. She’d thought about following him into the dark after he’d been killed in his car, hit by a drunk driver, but she’d also known how he would have felt about that. He’d want her to move on. Eventually, she knew she would; she’d date again, maybe even get married, although it still hurt her deeply that it wouldn’t be to him. One day the photos might fade, or be lost in a fire, or deleted if she forgot her Facebook password and couldn’t get to her account, but a tattoo — that was forever. Just like their love would have been. And if she did fall for someone else and get married, he would still be with her. 

The tarnished old bell jingled as she opened the door and stepped inside. Classic rock was playing at a reasonable volume on Bill’s stereo, and one or two young people were lounging on the black leather couch in the centre of the room, mocking their friend as he was getting inked on his back. Tanya approached the counter where a red-haired woman in her twenties was focused on finishing a design by hand.

“Hi! I’m here for–”

“You’re Tanya,” a quiet voice said. She jumped, startled, and turned to her left. 

A tall, gangly man with startlingly pale skin and a brown beanie was smiling at her. He had exotic tattoos covering every inch of the right side of his body, neatly dividing his face down the centre of his slightly crooked nose, over the centre of his Adam’s apple, and descending through his collarbone into the neckline of his tank top. Tanya didn’t usually stare at people with body art, knowing it was rude, but this — she’d never seen anything quite like it. It was as though someone had started in a colouring book and folded the page over to keep half of the picture untouched. 

“I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it?” He beckoned to her, turning as he walked away. He kept talking, despite not looking back to see if she was following him. She liked his faint British accent. “It’s a work in progress. I’m always adding small things as I go. I move around a lot, so I get a fresh tattoo to remind me of every place I’ve visited and everyone I’ve met.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask why he’d chosen to keep the one side of his body pure, but it wasn’t her business. Tattoos were personal choices. 

He led her into one of the back rooms, but left the door open. “Bad Moon Rising” drifted in on their wake. 

“Did you bring the picture that you wanted to use?” 

Suddenly, Tanya’s mouth was dry. She nodded, fishing around in her purse for the snapshot of Eddie half-turned away, his lips partly open at the start of a laugh. She held the photo tightly, tears gathering in her eyes and blurring her vision. 

“It’s so hard to let them go, isn’t it?” Brown said. He sat on a padded stool and scooted it close to her to see. He patted her hand kindly. “Don’t worry. I’ll give you what you want. It’s my personal guarantee.”

The first session would be the sketching, he told her, and that would take about two hours. She’d let that heal for a week or two, then return for the shading (if she wanted it). Tanya considered again where she wanted the tattoo: it had to be a place where she could see it, but not too visible all the time. Private. Personal. 

“Let’s do it on my upper thigh,” she decided. “If my future husband doesn’t like it, screw him. Eddie was my soul mate.”

Brown nodded. “I’ll give you a cloth to cover your lower half, then, and we will begin.”

He gave her a few moments of privacy to remove her jeans and arrange herself on the table, and then cleaned his hands and put on black protective gloves. She watched as he picked up the needle, and sat up, alarmed. “Aren’t you going to make a stencil first?”

“I always go freehand, love,” he told her. “I’ve never had a dissatisfied customer. And if you don’t get what you want, I’ll do a cover-up for free. Oh, and do you mind if I sing while I work? It helps me to concentrate. And I’ve been told I have a pleasant voice.”

Mollified, she relaxed and nodded, and let him begin.

* * *

“Look, Eddie,” she whispered to the stone. “Isn’t it great? I’m going back on the 17th to have it coloured in.” 

As soon as Brown had finished up and put the bandages in place, Tanya had paid him in cash and headed straight for the graveyard. Peeling back the surgical tape was about as annoying as the needle had been, and she knew she was risking infection by exposing it to the air so soon, but she had to show him. Plus, she was glad to see that the forget-me-nots she’d planted a few days earlier were still alive on his plot, and thriving. 

“Baby, I miss you so much it hurts,” she told Eddie’s stone. “But this is helping. It’s helping a lot.” 

She replaced the bandages, patting them carefully into place, and leaned over to kiss the top of his grave marker. The tattoo twinged as she moved, and for a second it felt as though her skin was crawling where the fresh ink was settling in. Tanya slapped her leg with the flat of her hand to kill the itch. 

* * *

“The skin tones and highlights are almost done,” Brown told her at the end of her second session. “But I’m afraid you’re going to have to come back one more time for the final details.”

“How much more is that going to cost me?” Tanya asked. She tried to hide her dismay, mentally calculating what she had left in her bank account.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. It’s included.” He soothed her, smearing a layer of clear jelly over the portrait. “Two more weeks, and you’ll have your Eddie forever.”

Tanya smiled, though she didn’t feel very assured — it was hard to see the face on her thigh without a mirror, and he was working so fast to cover it with a fresh bandage that she hadn’t gotten a good look. She paid the second half of the deposit, her mind already steps ahead and in the graveyard. 

As she approached Eddie’s grave, she sighed with annoyance. The forget-me-nots were rampant, no longer a pretty sprinkling over the grass: they threatened to overgrow the stone and spread to the neighbouring plots. Would that bother the mourners who came to the other graves? Tanya hated to do it, but she spent the time on her knees pulling and trimming the flowers back. Kneeling pulled uncomfortably on the skin of her thigh, but she’d left her hand sanitizer at home. No showing Eddie his portrait tattoo today. “I love you,” she whispered, kissing her grass- and dirt-stained fingers to his stone. 

The tattoo itched and crawled, burning under the bandage. 

It bothered her so much, she barely slept that night. After-care rules were generally to keep the tattoo covered up and dry for twenty-four hours, but after tossing and turning until three am, she had to see what was going on. 

“Please, don’t be infected,” she begged, standing in the bathroom with her leg propped up on the toilet. 

To her relieved surprise, when she peeled back the tape and lifted the gauze, everything looked normal. Perhaps a bit more swollen than she was used to — Eddie’s face appeared to have contours and hollows, but she reflected that Brown Chimes did have talent in depicting the third dimension in art. She picked up a hand mirror to look at it from another angle, and dropped it promptly when the eyes in the tattoo flicked and looked back at her. 

“Shit!” she cried. “Seven year’s bad luck!” 

Tanya’s hands were shaking. She told herself it was because of the noise of the shattering glass. She knew she should tiptoe over and around the shards to get the broom and dustpan, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off her thigh. 

On the counter, in her makeup case, was a small travel-size compact. She rummaged for it until she found it, and then, not breathing, held it over the portrait.

It was fine. Nothing moved. Just her imagination, then. A trick of her eyes. 

Tanya laughed to her herself. The air felt good on it, so she ripped the rest of the tape off to let the tattoo breathe, and went to get the broom.

* * *

“Listen to me! There’s something wrong with my boyfriend’s grave!” Tanya pounded on the door to the groundskeeper’s office. “Maybe there’s a broken pipe or something, making a sinkhole. It’s disrespectful! If you don’t fix it, I’m going to report you! Are you even in there?”

Furious, she turned on one foot and stalked away, back toward Eddie’s plot. The forget-me-nots were as wild as ever, but they looked as though they were crawling up out of a ditch: for some reason, every time she’d come to visit over the last weeks, his grave looked for all the world like it was sinking. If the flowers hadn’t been there, she’d have sworn that someone was stealing dirt by lifting the sod and putting it back, but the plants were undisturbed. 

“Don’t worry, Eddie,” Tanya promised. “I’ll look after it.”

And now she was late for her last appointment at Bill’s. Tanya ran the last few blocks, pissed off with herself for wasting time at the graveyard again, and arrived just as the red-haired clerk was fitting her key into the lock of the front door. 

“Wait! I’ve got an appointment with Brown!” 

“We’re closing early today,” the woman said, looking her up and down. “It’s a holiday weekend. You should have been on time.”

A hand appeared in the glass door front. Brown knocked on the window, smiling down at them, and he pushed the door open. “It’s all right,” he said. “I was just cleaning up, and I was waiting for you, Tanya. I knew you’d be here.”

Gratefully, Tanya slipped through the small opening he offered. She didn’t bother to look as he shut the door tightly, heading straight for his back room. The little jingle and the slide of the lock into place echoed through the empty ground floor. 

“So, how does your tattoo feel? Healing well?” He entered the room noiselessly, making Tanya jump. “This last session will be painful, but it will be worth it. It will truly bring your portrait to life.” He gestured widely, grinning.

Tanya’s heart beat faster. Her skin felt cold and sweat broke out on her forehead. “How much more needs to be done?” she stammered. “I mean, it looks pretty good to me.”

“Small details, sweetheart,” he reassured her. “Just get comfortable.”

“Are you going to sing again?” 

“Of course!” He showed her all his teeth. “It’s what I do!”

He was right about it hurting more. Over and over, Tanya gritted her teeth and gripped the vinyl mattress on the table. Her sweaty palms wore away the thin paper covering that was meant for sanitation. Brown worked steadily without a break, grinding lines into her skin with a needle that felt like a razor blade, singing all the while. 

And then came a sharp clap of pain she hadn’t expected at all, a streak of lightning in her skin that seared to the bone. She flinched, crying out, and the next thing she knew, he was dabbing her face with a cool, wet cloth. 

“Is it over?” she asked. Her throat was dry. “Are we done?”

“Yes, my dear, you have what you wanted. Eddie is with you forever, in portrait as well as in spirit.” He helped her to sit up, handing her a plastic cup of water. “Would you like to see before I wrap it up?”

Tanya actually wanted to be sick. “No, it’s okay. I believe you. I just want to go home.”

He shook his head, understanding. 

At the door, she paused, and then took his hand. “Thank you for this. I’m sorry I was such a whiner. I really do appreciate your time and your talent.”

“It is my pleasure.” Brown said, covering her hand with his own. “I’m honoured to be able to do this for you. Find me if you are at all dissatisfied, and the cover-up is free.”

Uncomfortable, Tanya ducked her head, and clumsily opened the lock to let herself out. 

Her thigh burned and leapt under the bandage as much as it had after her second session. More, even, by the time she had reached the graveyard. Limping, she made her way over to Eddie’s stone, where the depression in the earth had gotten so deep, she couldn’t see the forget-me-nots anymore. Moaning, she stumbled over to the plot and looked down to the bottom. 

Dead and withered flowers and their stalks lay twisted over a layer of brown grass. The brass fittings of Eddie’s coffin were visible around the edges of the pit, glinting in the late afternoon sunlight filtering into the shadow of the grave. 

Weeping, Tanya fell to her knees, and once more, the skin on her thigh pulled. It throbbed, actually. She laid a hand over the bandage, feeling the muscle of her leg twitching and jumping. It was turning her stomach. Nails scratching her own flesh, she tore away the tape and gauze, and then she shrieked as the portrait’s nose flared in the fresh air. She crawled back, trying to get away from her own leg, while Eddie’s tattooed eyes blinked and strained to look up at her. His upside-down grin looked like a monster’s grimace. She hit another gravestone and was trapped.

“Hey, babe,” said Eddie’s tattoo. “What’s shaking?”

Let’s do a little Rated R, Adults Only horror flash fiction, shall we?

Seriously — adults only! Feeling like having a little naughty fun with horror . . .

Red roses and white wine. Dark chocolates and strawberries with whipped cream. Alex had brought her out on their anniversary for a picnic in the park under the stars. Denver had been a little leery about the idea at first, but he was so hot, so tasty and fun . . . She would have gone with him to a carnival, if he’d wanted her to, or a flea market. He was exactly the man she’d been looking for.

And once she got past the creepiness of the empty benches and soughing trees, and the play of the shadows from the flames of the candles he’d brought, it really was romantic. Romantic, and naughty.

Denver had worried a little about nighttime strollers walking by, and mosquitoes, but by the time Alex was stripping her shirt away, she no longer cared. The balmy night air kissed her naked shoulders with as much intimacy as her lover’s lips, and when the breeze ruffled her hair, it fanned the heat between her legs into a brushfire.

Something felt off, though, in spite of the glorious things he was doing to her. “I’m so hungry for your body,” she whimpered.

“I am too, baby,” he said, grinning at her with a flash of white teeth.

She stretched her arms out, her fingers clutching at the grass on either side of the blanket he’d thrown down behind the cedar hedge. The ground was hard underneath, but not unpleasant. But between the bushes and the trees and his body, she felt strangely confined.

So she drew his head to hers and whispered her need into his ear.

“Okay.” His voice betrayed his reluctance, but he dipped his head to kiss the crevice between her breasts, and helped her to her feet. “Where do you want to go?”

“Follow me, just over the hill. We can be there in two minutes. You’ll have to help me hop the fence.”

Giggling, she grabbed up the blanket around her chest as he picked up the wine and their shoes. There was no one around at this hour of the night to see their playful chase to the edge of the park, but she felt deliciously naughty with the dazzling stars and the full moon watching overhead.

The wrought-iron fence separating the park from the graveyard was six feet high, but Alex was taller, and it was easy for him to throw the blanket over the top of the spade-shaped spines. She laughed as he pulled it off her, spinning away, the movement of her breasts slowed by her bra. With clumsy fingers, Denver unfastened the clasp at the back and let the straps fall down over her arms, waiting for him to turn back to her.

She saw his eyes widen as she spread her hands over the cups and then eased the lingerie down, coyly turning away so he just missed seeing her nipples. Denver laughed over her shoulder, rubbing her thighs together as his hands curved around her waist, relishing the heat of his body behind hers. And then she stepped forward and threw her bra over the fence.

“Now we’re committed,” she told him, dimpling. “That was my roommate’s. She’s expecting it back.”

In answer, he pulled her close and lifted her bodily against the iron bars so he could nestle against her thighs and nuzzle her neck. She wrapped her legs around his, groaning as he pressed his need to hers, the rhythm of his thrusts coaxing the fire in her back to life.

“Not yet,” she gasped. “Over the fence!”

He sighed, letting her down so he could hoist her up and over. Denver watched the play of his muscles in the moonlight as he deftly climbed up and over. Before he could grab her again, she took off among the tombstones, unzipping her pants as she moved.

The place she had in mind lay behind a stand of triple oak trees: a great, oblong granite tomb, flat on top and worked all around with stone cherubs and wreaths. She nearly lost her balance when she got to it, struggling with her jeans around her knees, but then Alex was there again, his swollen manhood pressing against her rear. She let him take her just like that, the cold tomb supporting her weight as he made her senses sing with the motion of his body within hers.

Denver felt him harden, the pulse between them quickening. Eager to match his pace, she thrust him back and turned around so she could face him, perched saucily on the edge of the tomb. She reached for him, and Alex plunged back into her like a force of nature. She clung to him, her cries rising unbidden, her nails digging into his back and his waist as the world spun around her, a hurricane of sensation erasing the boundaries between her skin and his so there were only stars blazing in the darkness, a thousand suns heating her bones and comets streaking the heavens within her loins. Her back arched and her shoulders touched the cold stone; he was leaning over her now, working with her jointly in their climb. The build was so exquisite, she had a flash of disappointment when her muscles sent her over the edge, but the long shuddering climax was worth it. When he stiffened in her arms, gasping his own release, she quivered joyfully again, holding him closely.

“Definitely glad nobody was around to hear that,” she murmured.

“Well, you never know what’s out there in the night,” he told her. “Werewolves and vampires and mummies.”

“You don’t really believe in monsters, do you?” Denver pushed him off of her, laughing. “Come on, we need to get back before those candles start a fire. And I’m hungry.”

“Maybe you need more satisfaction right here,” he leered, pulling her close once more.”

“No, I’m seriously ravenous,” she whispered, raking her nails down his chest. “Come on.”

The other need within her was fully awake, gnawing at her ribs. She led him back the way they’d come, tracing a zigzag among the tombstones, and picked up her bra from where it had fallen. Feeling energized from the sex, she no longer needed his help to mount the fence, but she let him boost her anyway.

On the other side, after his feet were back on unconsecrated soil, she turned to him with a wide smile. “Stop, for a minute. I’m getting an itch. I need you to scratch it.” Denver pushed him to the ground and wrapped her brassiere around his eyes.

“Whoa — you’re stronger than you look!” Alex chuckled and moaned as she straddled him to lick his neck, testing the resiliency of his flesh with her teeth. “Ow! Should I use the safe word?”

“I think it’s too late for that,” she growled. Denver held up one hand to the moon, revelling in the elongation of her nails into talons, wiggling with the tingling sensation of the silky fur sprouting along her spine.

Alex pulled the bra away from his face at the sound of her howl. His shout turned into a guttural rasp with her hand around his throat. She caressed the six-pack he was showing in his struggles, scraping from navel to pubis, and below.

“Hot, tasty man,” she praised him. “I told you I was hungry for your body.”

Horror flash fiction: Phoebe’s Game

Phoebe looked at the knock-off Operation Game. She had to lift a couple of worn stuffed animals off of the box to see the whole thing, but she was careful to avoid putting the stuffies on the ground. No sense in making the people running the yard sale angry! 

Yup, it looked almost exactly like the real thing, except that it wasn’t called “Operation” and it didn’t look like it had been store-bought. The cardboard looked like it belonged to a boot box, and when she rubbed her fingers on the lid, it felt like something laminated. She took the lid off all the way and her mouth dropped at the detailed mannequin inside. 

“Wow,” she said. 

The game board resembled the copyrighted one that she couldn’t afford unless she did a ton of chores, but it wasn’t made of plastic. It looked like it was made out of carved wood. And where the fun little pieces should be — the water bucket for the knee, the broken heart, all those things — there were miniature, realistic organs. She put out a finger to poke the worm-like intestines. They were so shiny, she almost expected them to feel squishy, like gummy candies, but piece was hard. So were the stomach, the lungs, and the brains. 

“It’s all hand-made,” the kindly old lady told her over her shoulder. Phoebe jumped, nearly dropping the box. “Oh, be careful there, dear. That’s a one-of-a-kind, that is.” 

“It’s really cool. Way better than the one in the toy department.” Phoebe reluctantly put the lid back on and set the box on the table. “Probably really expensive, too.”

“That depends. Why do you want it?” The old lady paused to accept a handful of change from another visitor to the yard sale, tucking it into her apron pocket. “I know the one you’re talking about, it’s very popular, and really not that much money.”

“My Uncle Joe has one of those, and he’s really good at it,” Phoebe said. “Like, an expert. I thought maybe if I got my own, I could get really good at it, too. Then he wouldn’t beat me all the time, and call me a bad loser afterward. Even though I’m not one.”

“Ah, I see.” The old woman smiled. “How much do you have on you?”

Phoebe took out her change purse and carefully counted the coins inside. “Four dollars and fifteen cents.”

“Oh, dear, I really couldn’t let it go for so little.” The old lady crossed her hands in front of her, shaking her head. “It was a gift from my late husband. He knew how much I liked games, but rest his soul, I can’t bear to play them without him.”

Just then, Phoebe was hit with a sudden inspiration. “Maybe, if you keep it, I could come to your house and play with it!”

“No, I’m trying to declutter so I can move into a smaller place, sweetie.” The old woman paused, biting her lip. “But I could use some help with the packing. I’ll tell you what: If you can come and help me with boxing up some of my things, after school this week, you can earn the game for yourself. Sound good?”

“Yes please!” Phoebe was practically jumping up and down with excitement. 

“You go on and ask your mother. I’ll hold the game for you until you have an answer.”

* * *

The old lady, whose name turned out to be Mrs. Rekcstir (which Phoebe found hard to pronounce, so she just called her Mrs. R.), welcomed Phoebe every day after school with a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, to “fuel her up,” she said. It was almost fun to help her pack up her figurines and books. The old lady — Mrs. R. — would tell her little stories about them as they wrapped each piece in bubble paper and tucked it safely into a box. And after a while, Phoebe would tell her stories, too, about that rotten Uncle Joe who never let her borrow his game, but who always made her mother let him take her to her swim lessons that fall. She didn’t like that he wouldn’t let her change out of her bathing suit. Every time, she had to sit in his crummy old car all cold and wet until they got back to his place, because he said he had to be quick to let his dog out, but then he’d make up for it by playing the game. Except he never let her win. Mrs. R. was very understanding, and said she wished she could take Phoebe to swimming instead. 

But the best moment came at the end of the week, when Phoebe was ceremoniously handed her game. 

“You’ve definitely earned this, dear,” Mrs. R. smiled at her. “Just be careful when you play with it. Some of the bits and pieces tend to fall off, but you can glue them back on again if you have to.”

Phoebe wanted to race home, but it was hard to run with the large game box in her arms, so she settled for an awkward fast-walk instead. And it was working, until she got to the curb. She didn’t see the step-down and tumbled forward, dropping everything onto the pavement and scattered dead leaves. 

“Oh, no!” she cried out. “No, I haven’t even gotten to play with you yet!”

“What’s that you’ve got there, Phoebe?” 

She froze at the sound of her Uncle Joe’s voice, calling to her down the sidewalk. 

“Do you need a hand?”

“No, I’m okay,” she told him. She quickly grabbed up whatever she could see, not caring if gravel and twigs ended up in the box with the game pieces. “I’m late for supper, I have to go.” 

“I’ll come along with you,” he said, jogging a little to catch up. “Your mom’s doing me a favour tonight and giving me a trim.”

Phoebe looked sideways at his jiggling belly, heaving after his little run, and the drops of sweat on his thick forehead. “Can’t you go to a barber?”

“Oh, now, don’t be rude.” He wagged a finger at her, keeping pace with her now. “I’m trying to be frugal. Do you know what that means?” 

Phoebe knew, but she didn’t want to say anything else to him. So she let him give her a lecture about what being frugal meant, all the way home. 

* * *

Because Phoebe had been late, her mother had held dinner, so Uncle Joe sat with them and had supper, too. It was a long time to sit, and Phoebe didn’t feel very hungry with her fat uncle sitting across from her, watching her play with her food. Finally, though, everyone was done, and she was able to run up to her room away from him.

“Hey! You still have to help me with the dishes,” her mother called up the stairs to her. 

“Oh, let her have some time to herself,” she heard her uncle say. “I’m tired of my hair on my neck. Ready to practice your barber skills?”

Phoebe closed the door so she wouldn’t have to listen to boring grown-up talk and stupid grown-up jokes, and settled herself on her bed to take a good long look at her new game. 

It was a mess. She almost cried when she saw that some of the the polished flat fingernails were missing, and when it had fallen, some of the doll’s hair had sheared off on the ground. It wasn’t perfect anymore. Still, after she wiped the pieces with a bit of tissue , it looked nearly as good as the first day she had seen it. So life-like. The last piece of the game, the heart, even fit into a tiny indentation behind the lungs. Phoebe had never seen anything so . . . perfect.

Knock-knock-knock.

“Phoebe, your uncle is leaving now,” Her mother said through the closed door. “I want you to come down and say good-bye.” 

“I don’t want to,” Phoebe told her loudly. “He’s sweaty and he always hugs for too long.”

“That’s just because he’s out of shape, and he hugs you for a long time because he loves you,” her mother said. “Come down right now. You’re lucky to have such a good uncle, you know.”

Phoebe sighed and got off her bed. 

When she went down the stairs, she noticed that her mother had swept the cut hair into a pile, but it hadn’t been picked up yet. There were big gross nail shavings in there, too. She made a face at them. 

“Your mom and I were playing hair salon,” Uncle Joe laughed. He swatted her mother on the rear, and she jumped, giggling. “She gives a pretty fancy pedicure, but I didn’t let her use any of your nail polish, don’t you worry.” 

“I wasn’t.” Phoebe said, sullenly. She put her face up for a sweaty kiss and let him pick her up and swing her around, his fat belly and boobs squashed against her chest and belly. “‘Bye, Uncle Joe.” 

“Don’t forget, I’m picking you up for swimming tomorrow,” he rumbled. “I hear you’ve got a brand new two-piece swimsuit, too! I can’t wait to see it!”

He put her back down, and Phoebe moved away, around the other side of the table, careful to avoid stepping in the pile of hair and toenails. 

And then she got an idea. 

She could use Uncle Joe’s gross hair and toenail clippings for her game! That way, she reasoned, she wouldn’t have to cut any of her doll’s hair, or use yarn, which would just look stupid. So when her mother’s back was turned, she quickly grabbed up a handful of the stuff and raced back up to her room, taking the stairs two steps at a time. 

She wasn’t sure if the craft glue on her little desk would stick on the carved wood, but it did. She worried at first that the clumps and pieces of hair would look silly, but after she was done, the figure almost looked like a miniature copy of Uncle Joe. Well, a copy if you could see inside his body . .  but it was funny, even the outline of the game board looked chubbier. It might have been a trick of the light after she’d cut some of his nail shavings to fit the little hands of the board; the real nails looked fresh and white, almost like they’d been painted. 

She washed her hands while she waited for the glue to dry, and then picked up the tweezers that had come with the game. This was the part she had most looked forward to trying, because instead of there being a buzzer if the tweezers touched the sides, fishing line had been threaded throughout the game board and attached to a bell on the side. So it wouldn’t be scary if she missed. 

It was getting close to bedtime, so Phoebe knew she wouldn’t have long before her mother would make her have a bath and brush her teeth. She might be able to pull one organ out, maybe, just for practice. 

Phoebe decided to try the heart. The lungs were in place, but she could see how the heart was mainly underneath the left one, so if she plucked the other one away, it would be almost like picking a berry off a bush.

Carefully, slowly, she slid the tweezers in between the lungs, lifting the right one slowly and gradually until she could put the points around the valves of the little wooden heart.  It was so funny how it didn’t even look like the proper shape, all round and lumpy and veiny, but Phoebe knew this was good training for the other game. The little white plastic heart would be easy-peasy if she could master this . . . 

The bell rang. Phoebe sighed in giddy frustration; under the rules of the game, she had to try again. 

And again.

And again.

Downstairs, the telephone rang. There was a flurry of footsteps, and the door banging open and shut a few times. But nobody came to bother Phoebe, so she paid it no mind.

The sun slowly went down outside her window as she patiently poked and prodded around the silly lungs, trying to get the best hold on the heart she could. Finally, just as the streetlights were coming on, she felt the end of the tweezer hook itself into one of the holes on the side of the heart. 

“Yes!” she whispered to herself, triumphantly — and slowly — pulling the heart free. She did it so neatly, the lungs opened like a door and fell smoothly back into place. 

She held it up to the light, marveling at its perfection. The phone rang again, and this time,, a set of soft footsteps came up the stairs. 

“Phoebe? It’s Mrs. R., dear,” came a familiar voice. “Your mother had to rush out earlier, but she asked me to look after you until she could come home. She’s on the phone for youynow.”

Phoebe got off the bed at once, the tiny heart clutched in her hand. She opened the door wide. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

Mrs. R. handed her the phone. “Talk to your mother.”

Phoebe listened to her mother tell her through sniffles and sobs that her Uncle Joe had felt sick when he was on his way home. He’d fallen down on the sidewalk and someone passing by had had to call an ambulance.  “He had a heart attack, sweetheart,” her mother cried. “Your Uncle Joe is . . . gone.”

Phoebe knew she should feel sad, but she couldn’t help smiling. When she pressed “end” on the phone, she saw that Mrs. R. had settled herself onto the bed next to her game. 

“Oh, my,” Mrs. R. said, clucking. “The hair is coming off again. This won’t do at all.”

“That’s okay,” Phoebe told her. “I heard Mr. Wilson is shaving his head in front of the whole school next week ’cause he lost a bet. He’s a real meanie, too.”

“Tell me all about him, dear.” 


Sci-Fi/Fantasy Flash Fiction: Heart-Right’s 100% Guarantee

Worried that your child may not choose the best life partner? Concerned about a potential Romeo-Juliet tragedy? Why take the chance? At Heart-Right, our professional DNA Design team can ensure that your precious bundle never has to worry about heartache or heartbreak in his or her adult life. With our patented system, falling in love with the right person is no longer an uncertainty — it’s a guarantee!

I stared at the contract in my hands. By the stove, my mother cleared her throat, her hands busy with the frying pan and the spatula. 

“You bought me a life partner before I was even born?”

She studiously pushed the bacon around. “That’s not how I would put it. Your father and I didn’t have a very stable relationship. We knew so many people, too many people, having problems. We just wanted to make sure that you wouldn’t have to go through that. I mean, it’s not like we paid for you to have enhanced vision or extra digits, you know.”

“But, Mom . . .” I flipped through the pages again, re-reading the terms. “This is . . . totally different than picking my hair colour and leg length from a catalogue. I mean, how on earth does a company even make a promise like that? This was twenty-odd years ago! Have they been tracking me?”

“Honey, everybody is tracked. You know that.”

Frustrated, I slammed the papers down on the table. “That’s not what I meant! You paid money to these people for some crazy scheme to make sure that one day I’d have a perfect love match, something that you’d approve of –”

“No, not just for our approval,” she replied testily, turning to face me. She brandished the spatula, ignoring the drips of fat onto her clean bamboo floor. “To save you from the problems of trying to find someone right. I don’t want you to end up being abused, like your grandmother did, or all alone like your Aunt Mitsy.” Her voice broke and she threw the spatula on the stove. “I don’t expect you to understand until you’re looking to get pregnant yourself, or until you actually are expecting a child of your own. That’s when you start to wonder what your baby’s future is going to be like. Wouldn’t you do the same?”

I shifted in my chair, slumping down. “Yeah, but this whole idea — it’s not possible. It can’t be.”

“The technology has been tested and it’s been successful for twenty-five years,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes. “We did our research before we registered and paid our money. We considered it an investment, like your college fund.”

“So how does it work?” I gestured around the kitchen, empty except for the two of us. Her pet canary sang a cheery tune in the sunlight. I wanted to throw it, in its cage, out the window. “Where’s my Prince Charming? Do I get a note in the mail or something? ‘You are cordially invited to meet your soulmate.’ I mean, what if I already met him — or her — how would I know? What if that person got killed or died from sickness before we even met?”

“Page six of the contract: if the party of second part is deceased at any time before contract fulfillment, or within five to ten years of the party of the first part’s birth (according to the parents’ discretion), a replacement partner will be selected and conditioned for the partnership agreement.” She turned off the stove. 

“It sounds like you’ve memorized the damned thing.” 

“I’ve read it over often enough,” she shrugged. She strained the bacon pan into the bio-energy generator. “More, lately. You were supposed to have met your husband by this point, but we hadn’t been notified of it.”

Damnit. Fucking tracking! I got up, not bothering to put the chair back under the table. There wasn’t a lot of space to pace in my mother’s food prep area, but I managed, even while avoiding the fat spot on the floor. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this before?”

“I did! Well, I tried,” she protested. “Don’t you remember the stories I used to tell you?”

“Yeah, but I thought those were . . . fairy tales, Mom!” I snatched a piece of bacon and sucked on it furiously. “Jesus . . . I started dating in high school!”

“Yes, you did,” she sighed. I watched her pat the dishcloth around the bacon to soak up the grease. “Every time, I thought, ‘this is it!’ But then you’d break up. I was actually thinking of suing the company. I mean, the whole conditioning of the fetus through DNA manipulation is to make sure you’re only compatible with one other individual. But you — you’re compatible with everyone!”

I almost left the kitchen at that point. “Don’t make it sound like this is my fault!”

“Well, I don’t know whose fault it is.” She thrust the pan into the sink to soak. “The procedure is foolproof, 100% effective. They were getting down to three weeks left in the agreement to set up your first date with your ideal partner, genetically matched and psychologically designed to be the right one for you. If it didn’t happen, I was going to sue them for false representation. But it did! Your match arrived this morning!”

I watched my mother reach into a drawer and pull out a sealed envelope. A relic from another time, printed on real paper just like the contract. She offered it to me.

“I  . . . I have to pee,” I said lamely. I left the room, moving awkwardly down the narrow hall. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. 

What if I refused to go on the arranged date?

What if I went, just to satisfy my own curiosity (and her nagging), and it turned out we weren’t compatible after all? She’d definitely sue them at that point.

Because there was one thing I hadn’t told her. I didn’t know how to tell her. I was already in love, had been for years, and it was a precious jewel I kept close to my heart, away from her prying eyes and gossipy tongue. 

Cold prickles washed over me. 100% effective — what if I met this guy, and I did fall for him, just like my designers had planned? Biologically and psychologically matched from pre-birth . . . could I handle being in love with two people at once? Was that even possible? 

It wasn’t fair. The whole point of the program was that I wouldn’t have to choose. 

I locked the door the bathroom and studied the window, debating whether I’d be able to fit through it as well as I’d been able to when I was fifteen.

The Director and the Dragon: Flash Fiction!

Okay, here’s the low-down: Ever since I completed and submitted the flash fiction yesterday, ANOTHER idea has been dancing around and teasing me in my brain. So I’m putting it here for your entertainment (and feedback). I won’t tell you which three criteria had to be met in the original, although a couple of close friends I spoke with already know. Can you guess what the criteria were? Hint: genre, location, object. Go!

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The director was happy with some of the shots that his crew had gotten that afternoon, but something was always a little off in the overall mise en scene. And now they were losing the light in the pretty mountain meadow. 
“Okay, let’s try the redhead,” Alex ordered his assistant. “Get her into costume. We’ve only got about an hour left here.”

As his minion scurried off to do his bidding, Alex sipped at the fresh latte another one of his lackeys had provided, flicking back through the day’s footage. 

It was a simple advertisement for lady’s skin cream, a high-end company that wanted quaint but exotic, nostalgic but contemporary, and fresh but familiar. Also, it had to reflect one of the ingredients in the lotion — the very rare and expensive milk of the dragon. 

Alex’s business, Almanac Advertising, had provided.

They’d found a gorgeous dell on the edge of an Irish mountain (although Alex had a hard time calling it that, lacking an actual snowy peak and rocky cliffs), complete with a ruined castle built up on one side and a distant cluster of thatched-roof stone houses on the other. They had to keep replacing the sheep that the damned dragon snapped up out of boredom, though, and it was a pain in the ass to send interns for repeated truckloads. 

Why they couldn’t have gone with a symbolic dragon . . . or something metaphorical. Did they have to drag the scaly beast all the way from the company barn just for a 30 second spot? It wasn’t as though the commercial was for the Superbowl, after all. Alex shuddered to think what his superiors would have demanded of him for that. 

As it was, he hoped that the great fat pointy-arsed cow had its belly full by now. They were down to the last replacement maidens, too. Sure, they were all fine and doe-eyed when they first came out in costume, hair combed out nicely under a flower tiara (three of his interns now had fingers dyed green from all the picking and braiding of natural Irish flora), but take after take of the close-up shot — the milking of the dragon — not one of them could keep a pleasant smile on their faces. He wondered whether the CGI department could turn their clelnched-teeth grimaces and panicked expressions into more cheerful or interested looks. Maybe, with a tweak here and there, the blonde could look like she was concentrating? The brunette’s footage couldn’t be used at all; she’d barely sat on the milking stool before the stupid beast had snapped her up in her jaws, and then there had been a disgusting spatter of blood all over. They’d nearly had to find a new location altogether, until his assistant had pointed out that simply moving all their lights and equipment fifty feet to the left would solve the problem.

Alex sighed. Fifty minutes until sundown. “Okay, people! I think Brunhilda’s got a fairly full stomach by now –”

As if in response, the dragon belched. Alex coughed over the smell of raw flesh and sulphur. 

“Let’s roll tape! Where’s my maiden?”