Archives

Short Story – Doubt

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a shopkeeper. An dog plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a dock in the industrial age. The story is about doubt.

*******

Sylvia looked around the shop. No one left. Good! She went to the front and locked the door, turning her sign to indicate the shop was now closed.  Then she went to the back room and traded her apron for her coat and hat. She tucked her reticule under her arm, took one last look around and headed out the back door, locking the door behind her.

It was a pleasant spring evening, so she took the longer route home that took her past the docks. As she ambled along enjoying the warm spring breeze she pondered on her life. She had a small pleasant apartment facing the river that she shared with her mother. Her mother would have dinner piping hot and waiting for her when she got home.

She paused on a bridge to admire a tall ship sailing into port. The crew looked so tiny in the distance as they scrambled to furl the sails. She continued across the bridge to the dock. She waved to the harbormaster and to the stevedores she knew as she passed.

Commotion just ahead along her path caused her to wonder about its source. Shouts and curses and a couple started screams seemed to be making a beeline for her location.

Stop him! Get him! Quick!

Then she watched as several people seemed to be upended and dropped on their keisters.

Oh! Oooh! Ouch!

Then she saw it. A small dog no more than a foot high was running and dragging a rope behind. She paused and then instinctively stooped down holding out her hand. With her other hand she felt in her pocket for a piece of cookie she’d plucked from the barrel as she was tidying up the shop. As the pup suddenly turned and ran straight to her, she held her ground with her eyes cast down so the dog would know she meant no harm.

The brown and black mutt slowed in its tracks and suddenly its tail was wagging so hard the dog seemed to be dancing.

Come here, she coaxed. I’ve got a treat for you.

The pup finally reached her and hesitantly took a bit of the cookie. As she was looking it over, she determined it was a female and appeared to have been through some hard times with multiple scars and matted fur that was partially worn off around her neck by the thick rope tied around it.

Just then a man burst through the edge of the crowd nearest her. He was panting and sweating profusely. When he saw the dog he advanced slowly as if hoping to surprise her. Sensing his purpose the dog ran behind Sylvia’s skirts and cowered.

“You there! Gimme back m’ dog!”

“Pardon me, sir, but how would I know it was your dog?” she inquired sweetly.

The man paused, surprised by her forwardness. Then sputtered, “Whadaya mean how’d you know the bitch is mine?”

“O’ course she’s mine, I’m chasin her ain’t I? Who else would chase her mangy carcass this far?”

“Well sir, many people have reasons for chasing dogs and not all of them are because they own the dog.”

“She took my blasted sausage!”

“That fact does not imply ownership, it merely implies a possible encounter over food.”

What is her name?

‘What!? Are you crazy?! Gimme my dog!”

No, she said simply. I have no way of ascertaining your ownership and you appear to mean this poor mongrel harm. If she is indeed your dog, you must have named her?

Why would I bother naming that bitch? She’s a worthless mutt! Now, gimme my dog!

“No,” Sylvia replied calmly.

The man started sputtering and appeared to be considering lunging for the rope, but Sylvia held her ground and the crowd around her watched curiously.

A voice in the crowd hollered.

The man glanced around at the growing crowd and reconsidered. Tucking his shirt back into his pants and pulling his belt back up he, grunted and turned. “Aaah you’re right, she’s a worthless bitch – she’s all yours,” he mumbled as he stomped off.

As soon as he was out of sight, Sylvia bent down and picked up the rope.

“Well, Dolly, I guess we can go home now.”

And they turned back toward the apartment.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Courage

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a grocer. A dress plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a cave in the far future. The story is about courage.

*******

Purevan, took one more look out over the precipice. No. No way down from here. She looked across the horizon. Nothing but rocks. No sign of movement. She ducked into the cave she had spotted on her way across the wasteland. There wasn’t much here. Hard to tell when it was last used. She estimated it had probably been millennia since anyone had been through here based on the knee-deep dust that covered everything.

She shoved a layer of dust off a higher surface to use as a seat. She needed to think and she thought best sitting down. When she had cleared enough of the detritus of time to seat herself without falling into the miasma, she made room for her feet and gently lowered her backside onto the newly cleared, now stable surface. Thanks to her spaceskin and internal breathing apparatus, she was immune to the powdery earth. Although a fall would have been inconvenient, it would hardly have been fatal.

Now, where was she… Currently, she was seated in a cave on a planet in an unknown galaxy in D sector.  She had been on this planet for awhile, although with binary suns it’s more difficult to discern the passage of time. Based on the length of her hair and fingernails which had grown several millimeters, she had been here for many days although not months.

She was not hungry thanks to the recycling system built into her spaceskin that could convert almost any elements into basic sustenance. And since the suit could also extract water or if necessary construct water, she was not dehydrated.

Mostly, she was lonely. Although she did not want to try engaging in conversation with her pursuers, since she did not want them to know where she was.  She missed her customers. The other shopkeepers who used to greet her in the morning as she opened the little store on a narrow street in a small village now many light years away.

The day had started like any other. Turning on the lights, checking the produce for spoilage. Restocking the shelves. Funny how even in such modern times when replicators were everywhere, people still felt a need to seek out fresh food. Or maybe it was the chance to see other people. It certainly was not about money. With trade and barter exchanges, everyone was able to acquire anything they needed or wanted.

Near lunchtime she had closed the door and walked across the street to a little clothing shop. There was an interesting garment that had caught her eye. She had never seen one like it. Bright, deep colors. An iridescent sheen. Flowing folds of fabric. A completely decadent item in a time when everything had a purpose and nothing was wasted. It took up so much space – even in the shop window there was no room for anything else. She had asked Emaya to let her try it on. Space knows where Emaya had found such a thing. And when Purevan put it on over her spaceskin as the ancient image had depicted it, she felt magical. It swirled about her as she swayed and turned to view her reflection.

She was just about to ask Emaya the exchange, when suddenly a pair of armed strangers entered the shop.  She slid backward into Emaya’s office hoping they had not seen her and ran for the back door of the shop. She heard Emaya demanding an explanation, and realized she could not leave her friend to face these intruders alone. She carefully slid out of the dress and marched to the front to stand next to Emaya. She caught Emaya’s warning look and steeled herself. She was not going to abandon her without a fight.

Emaya refused their demands, although what those demands were was not exactly clear to Purevan. Finally, the two had bound Emaya and were coming forward in an obvious attempt to take her out of the shop, when Purevan stepped in front of Emaya to hold them back. Emaya was yelling. Purevan was pretty sure Emaya was cursing them although Purevan did not recognize the language and the words did not register in her translator.

Suddenly Purevan found herself sliding toward the floor and the next thing she knew she was here on this lonely planet being pursued by hungry-looking humanoids.  She pinched herself again and the pain confirmed she was real. She kicked the dust layer in front of her just to see the powder form a cloud.  She was about to kick it again when a voice firmly said “Stop kicking me.” It was not plaintive or whining. It was not an order, but it was definitely not a suggestion either.

She was about to demand an explanation when she felt her arms and legs being surrounded and held. She started to struggle and the voice said “Stop.”

Her heart rate was elevated, her breathing was rapid and shallow, she felt like she would explode and then she felt a gentle hand patting her face and repeating her name. “Purevan. Purevan. Stop struggling and wake up.”

She awoke to see Emaya bending over her with one hand patting her face. When she recognized her friend, she smiled. “You are not harmed? But I thought…”

“Ssss, sss. All is well, Purevan.”

“But the strangers, they were going to hurt you…”

“My brothers?! Hardly. They would be answering to my mother if any harm came to me.”

“I do not understand…”

“Do you remember trying on the garment in the window?”

“Yes, it was so beautiful”

“You spun and spun to see the colors swirl”

“Yes, I remember. It felt so magical”

“You had vertigo and when my brothers got here they thought your eyes were unmatched so they were shouting at me to help you. You ran over to me and then suddenly you fell to the ground. I have been trying to rouse you for several moments.”

“Oh thank you! I am so relieved.”

“Let us close our shops and go to a restaurant for dinner. My brothers will cover the exchange since they believe they have caused you trouble.

Yes. It has been a very long day…

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Balance

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a prostitute. An eye plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a bridge in the industrial age. The story is about balance.

*******

She looked over the edge. The water was a long way down. She turned around to see the way behind her. To one end of the bridge, there was a stone gate that appeared to be locked. And from the other end, she could hear footsteps. Thank goodness for the fog. She had a little time, although she had only one option if she didn’t want to get caught. She needed her arms and legs as free as possible. She had to rid herself of all extra clothing, so she stripped off her cloak and her boots and stockings, her petticoats made a nice bundle and she used her belt to hold it together.  Knowing it might be a problem if she didn’t move quickly, she tied the bundle to her waist. And then slowly lowered herself over the side. Steel bridges were a marvel of beams and wires and thanks to her circus upbringing, they were just another playground for Cornelia Del Arte — also known as Highwire Nell.

She quickly  swung from the main beam to the wire and then the next until she was concealed under the main bridge by one of the beams. She heard the voices above her and knew they were looking for her. As long as they couldn’t see her, they should not be able to find her.  She held still and waited for them to tire of their search. She didn’t look down. Her parents had trained her well to look where you want to go. If your eyes looked down you would go there, and successful trapeze artists and high wire walkers assuredly did not.

How far she had fallen since those days! Her parents would not recognize her painted and perfumed to please the men who paid for her company. This line of work was not her first choice, and she had finally seen an opportunity to leave both the occupation and the men and women who had first forced her into it and then kept her from leaving. It was a daring move – many of the other girls had died or been killed trying to get out. And she was at the point that she could accept death if it meant she never had to endure another groping, drooling fool.

After the footsteps faded and she could be sure they wouldn’t come back, she contemplated her next move. The underside of the bridge eventually led to shore in either direction, so it was a matter of which side could be more easily mounted when she got there.

She looked down river to the next bridge and examined the shore on both sides. She could probably scale the next one a bit easier, so she started working her way along the beams and cables. She moved slowly so as not to attract attention, although it was unlikely between the fog and the dark and  anyone on the bridge would be partially blinded by the streetlamps. She paused to listen and shivered as a chill wind caught her. Then she saw it. Right in front of her. An eye. Staring straight at her and only a few feet away peering between a beam and a cable.

She held still. The eye blinked once. She felt no animosity and so she moved forward slightly.  The head turned and she saw both eyes.  She sighed with relief.  It was only an owl. She quickly moved past it to the far end of the bridge and picked her way along the wall to the next bridge. She repeated her tightrope walking act back to the top of the next bridge.  Peering over the edge, she saw no one approaching so she quickly dressed and heaved herself over the wall onto the bridge. Then she made her way to the opposite side of the river. Ahead she saw a bakery and a woman sweeping the street. Rubbing the rouge from her face, she made her way toward the woman,  keeping her eye on freedom.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Movement

Prompt is:  The story’s protagonist is female and a ruler. A book plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a blizzard in the future. The story is about movement.

*******

She sighed. Snowing again. How was she supposed to feel motivated when she couldn’t even go outside much less stroll through the village. Her advisers didn’t want her to go out into the snow since they had more trouble protecting her when they couldn’t see.

She picked up the book again then threw it down in frustration. Books were no substitute for being able to meet her subjects and talk to them. She had yet to learn what people really felt from books. She needed her interactions with shopkeepers and mothers and schoolchildren. She yearned for a chance to stop at the candy store and load her pockets with sweets before heading to the park. Sometimes she walked the path. Often she sat down next to someone on a bench and simply engaged them in conversation. They all knew who she was, so no one was truly surprised to meet her. Some people actually went to the park looking for her to tell her what they thought or felt on a particular issue. Since her visits were sporadic and based on having a two hour slot in her calendar, there were usually enough different people around that she got a fairly broad perspective – at least of the kinds of people who went to the park. She sometimes went in the evening and one time convinced her guards that a midnight stroll was perfect on a warm summer night. They were not happy but they managed to keep her safe. And she was grateful.

It amazed her that in a time with everyone nanochipped and cataloged there were still those who managed to slip through the cracks undocumented. The tracking center, Enterprise Validation Indemnification Level,  knew where every citizen was at every moment. They had pictures and current video from the ubiquitous cameras in every surface and it was all linked to the nanochips which were linked to the data on each person. Every relative, every friend, every encounter carefully and eternally documented. There were no secrets. Not really. Except for unmanifested desires. If someone looked up a topic or searched for a word, the data centers tracked their biological response to the request and to the answer – heart rate, pupil dilation, breath – there were no tendencies that were not tracked, coded, and outcomes were predicted.

Freedom was an illusion. It seemed that everyone was free to go wherever they wanted and do whatever they wanted. But everything was already known. The questions a child asks his mother or her teachers. All tracked. The curious were encouraged. The more questions, the better EVIL personnel could categorize the child, predict the best career paths and steer – No! They would say “guide” the child to an appropriate outlet for her or his energies and predilections.  Not every child is a superstar, but those that were had every advantage science could provide. Education was a duty of the state, just as food and shelter and healthcare.

The late bloomers sometimes lost opportunities, but that was the price exacted for the good of the state. Every child was well cared for. Every child was loved equally. While almost anyone could have a child and every child was carried to full term, the actual caregivers were men and women genetically and mentally suited to the task at each age, not the biological father and mother who had other duties. Every child was a sibling to every other child.  Certain people were of course sterilized soon after birth based on genetic abnormalities that would not fare well during procreation. Others were altered at a later age if unwanted tendencies such as addiction or aggression manifested. There were still babies with chromosomal abnormalities – XXY, XYY, Down Syndrome, etc. These aberrations in the genetic code did not make a person useless to society and were considered to contribute to the overall good of diversity. Only the characteristics that would prevent the person from reaching full potential based on wilfulness or perversion were considered for elimination.

She picked up the book again, sighing heavily as she gazed out the window at the snow. She couldn’t leave and she didn’t want to stay. And yet… maybe she should… She considered for a moment longer and then tossed the book on the table and reached for her cloak.  As she hurried toward the door she recalled a quote from an ancient source named Farragut:

Damn the torpedoes! …Full speed!

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Hunger

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a tinker. A dog plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in an inn in ancient times. The story is about hunger.

*******

As she came to the crossroads she noted the sun would be setting soon. She glanced over at her cart. Her dog had obediently seated himself as soon as she paused to gather her thoughts. The cart wasn’t that heavy – she only had basic tools. And he was a big dog, so she wasn’t afraid of overworking him. However, neither of them had eaten since yesterday and while it was hard on her, she knew she had to find something for him soon. Business had been slow – it seemed no one needed a tinker.

She spied an inn not far ahead and decided it was worth the risk. She didn’t normally approach the larger businesses for fear of being recognized. She headed toward the back door near the kitchen hoping there might be something she could repair in exchange for some food.

As she neared the entrance she heard the laughter from the front room. Someone must have told a great joke because the entire place had roared with mirth. The noise raised a longing she had almost forgotten. She quickly turned from the sound and approached the open back door. An older woman was seated on the stoop wiping the sweat from her neck with her apron.

Good day, Mistress! Do you have anything that needs mending?

The woman eyed the dog warily and grunted.

“Oh, you needn’t worry about him, as long as you don’t mean me any harm.”

The woman didn’t respond so she continued, “We were only hoping to do a little work in exchange for bread and a bit of meat.”

And then she was babbling, “We could use something to eat and only want to earn it honestly…”

And finally sobbing, “We’ve not had any takers since yesterday noon and I’m getting worried for him. He’s all I have in the world and I just can’t lose him.”

She broke down and fell to her knees in front of the woman…“Please?”

And then there was silence punctuated only by her sobs and an occasional guffaw from the front of the inn.

Finally, the woman spoke to her gently with a crack in her own voice,“How long have you been away from home?”

Surprised at the question, she paused to think – how long since she had felt the welcome of her family and friends? How long since she had slept in a comfortable bed? How long since she had laughed with her brothers?

She stammered, “I-I-I don’t know… We’ve been traveling…” she broke off, afraid of revealing too much.

“Come here, child. I have one just your age that I haven’t heard from in a long time. The world is not a kind place and I worry for her sake that someone will show her how downright mean it is. Let’s get you and your dog some food and then we can see what work is available. You’re in no shape to work now.”

The kindness of the innkeeper’s woman was too much. She sobbed harder and then the woman put her arms around her and gathered her in.

“There, there. No need to cry now. There, there,. it’s going to be all right. You’re safe for now.”

Safe! Of all the hungers she felt, she had forgotten the one that meant the most…

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story: Afraid

Story prompt:   The story’s protagonist is female and a baker. A tree plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a deserted highway in ancient times. The story is about cowardice.

*******

She carefully covered her baskets of bread to keep them from getting dusty as the horses went by. Dusty bread doesn’t sell as well and she needed to sell all her loaves today.  She had seated herself under a tree at a busy crossroads. The day was hot and dry, so the tree provided a small measure of shelter from the heat of the sun. There had been very few passersby today so she had sold only a couple loaves. She had hoped for a better place but the choice of location was not hers to make. She could only follow what they told her to do. In another time and place she might have more power to control her fate. Or maybe if she had more strength of character.

It was useless to wish for what she didn’t have. She was born in this place, in this time and she was considered to be of little value. Her father was a baker and so she learned by watching him. She was forced to work as soon as she could follow directions. There is no time to be a child when you are born poor. When her father died she kept the bakery going so her mother and brothers could continue living in the hovel behind the ovens. Her brothers were usually the ones selling the wares while she did all the baking. That way no one saw her.

Until last week…

The soldiers came through the village and took every bit of food they found and everything of value. She had been too afraid to beg for her family. They begged. She hid. Afraid of what the soldiers might do to her if they found her. They were big and their shields and weapons clanked ominously as they moved through the village securing it for the empire. There was very little time and when the soldiers reached her family’s market stand, she had secreted herself in an old flour urn. And her family faced the soldiers without her.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story: Dark

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and an artist. Darkness plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a nursery in the present. The story is about discovery.

*******

As the setting sun glowed red, she finished adding touches to the fabric and started cleaning up. She preferred to work while it was daylight, so the sun’s demise was her prompt to put things away. In the northern states, the sun stays up very late in the summertime. It was almost nine o’clock as the radiant orb sank through the haze on the horizon. It was still a good half an hour until dark, but the mosquitoes tend to like dusk and dawn for their foraging, so unless you like the sticky feel and chemical scent of insect repellent (and she didn’t), it is best to let them find another food source.

She had learned that many places don’t have screens on the windows – her first apartment in Chicago was a revelation. It was a third floor walkup in an older building with a grand marble staircase leading up from the ground floor. There were no screens and no air-conditioning, so she kept the windows open and propped a fan in one to try to move the sweat-soaked air into an illusion of coolness. The only bugs she had to worry about were the cockroaches that marched incessantly from the neighboring kitchen through the cracks in the boards into her space. She killed as many as she could personally. She put down a border of boric acid around the entire perimeter. She bought ant and roach spray and used it generously. (Many years later a new fragrance would be released that reminded her of the roach spray – and the scent would take her back to that summer in Chicago. She surmised that the women who wore the fragrance had never had to fight cockroaches personally.)

Back inside her screened porch, she sat in the swing and contemplated the growing darkness. Listening to the crickets and frogs waking. Watching the stars in ones and twos become uncountable in short order. The nursery spread out from her back porch in all directions. Trees to the north so they wouldn’t shade the smaller plants. Pots of fragrant flowers, herbs and tomatoes on tables closer to her house.

The fireflies were rising like little stars themselves. She had always been fascinated by them. Their mysterious light glowing and throbbing in the dark. She remembered a trick she had heard an old farmer tell about many years ago and grabbed a sweater and her keys. She pulled her pickup close to the backyard and turned the headlights on bright. After a few minutes she turned the lights off again and watched from the cab.

It only took a moment of darkness as she held her breath… and then she discovered the old farmer was right. Every firefly in the yard simultaneously lit and went dark in unison. Hundreds of little glowing bugs synchronized all across the landscape. She sighed with pleasure.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.