Tag Archive | storytelling

Short Story – Concertgoer

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a midwife. A pair of trousers plays a significant part in the story. The story is set at a concert in the present. The story is about balance.

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Riiiiip! Damn! Why now? What was she supposed to do now? Sophia’s trousers had ripped from stem to stern as she took her seat. She had paid a lot for her ticket. By golly! She was going to enjoy this concert. She would worry about her trousers when it was over. The competing scents of expensive perfumes and men’s cologne filled the air.

The orchestra was tuning up. From her front row perch she could see into the pit. A handsome flautist was trilling and running scales. The first chair violoncello was rosining her bow. A bassist with long dark hair was practicing an intricate section. Sophia examined each member in turn trying to glean a portion of each personality from small gestures and how they prepared themselves. A violinist in the middle of the section was so methodical in his preparations she wondered how he was able to cope. Just then a clarinetist sat down next to him and interrupted his ritual by jostling his music stand and scattering the sheets to the floor. Oh my! The violinist looked like he might burst. He said nothing as he put his violin back in the case, carefully placed the bow next to it, closed and locked the case, and then proceeded to gather the music. Then she caught the eye of the clarinetist and saw the mirth. He obviously enjoyed the distress he caused to the violinist. The violinist began his ritual anew. The clarinetist could hardly contain himself, and his shoulders shook with unexpressed laughter as he put together his clarinet and placed a new reed in the mouthpiece.

Suddenly a ripple went through the orchestra and everyone hurriedly moved to be ready. The conductor walked in to the applause of the audience and bowed. Then she turned to the orchestra raised her baton to cue the first violinist. She stood and played a pure “A” which the rest of the players then used to match the tone of their instruments to hers. When the entire group was playing the same note, the conductor cut them off. The violinist took her seat.

The conductor turned to the stage and began to clap. The audience joined her as the world famous mezzo-soprano, Celeste, took the stage.  Dressed in diaphanous robes and a flowing green velvet cape with her long brown hair flowing down her back. She flowed to center stage. The set was minimally dressed with a green velvet chaise longue  and a single green velvet drape tied with a golden tassel that matched her cape. When she reached her mark, she paused and curtsied low. The audience responded enthusiastically and she smiled broadly as she stood and then centered herself.

The conductor raised her baton and cued the introduction. The orchestra began at full volume then withdrew to allow Celeste her due. She began the aria softly, tenderly, then slowly blossomed into the crescendo and softened again. When it was over, tears were streaming down Sophia’s face. It was so beautiful. The audience was on its feet, clapping and shouting “Brava!” Sophia stood with the rest, oblivious to the tear in her trousers.

Celeste curtsied again. Just as she began to rise, she suddenly crumpled to the floor with a scream. The audience slowly changed from exuberant to confused. Everyone was still on their feet and wondering what to do. The conductor ran out of the pit and around to the stairs that took her to the stage. Others converged from the wings of the stage.  Everyone running to Celeste. And suddenly, Sophia realized what had happened. She had noted Celeste’s pregnancy when she had first taken the stage. Something has happened with the baby. She could feel it. She knew it. Her years of experience as a midwife pulled her from her seat and drove her to the stage. She ran toward the fallen diva, pushing her way through the group of people who now surrounded Celeste. “I’m a midwife, let me through.” And they parted to let her approach. She knelt beside Celeste and took her left hand in hers and placed her right hand under her shoulder. In tears, Celeste turned toward the confident calming presence at her side. “My baby!” she sobbed. Sophia murmured, “Ssh, ssh, it’s okay,” as she looked into the beautiful green eyes. Celeste whispered “Help me,” and Sophia assured her that she would. “May I examine you?” Celeste nodded.

Sophia asked several nearby men to grab the drape and hold it up to create a barrier. She called to a woman to find pillows and blankets. Once the famous singer was cushioned and concealed from the crowd, Sophia pushed the cape out of the way and reaching under the multi-layered skirt, moving aside her undergarments (thank goodness the singer was too uncomfortable to wear pantyhose) and felt her way to the cervix while keeping her eyes focused on Celeste. She questioned her in a low voice, pausing to hear the answers. “Are you having pain?” “Has your water broken?” “How far apart are the contractions?” With her experienced hands and nose she knew the answers before Celeste replied. Beneath the singer’s signature perfume, Sophia could smell blood and the unique scent of amniotic fluid. She was hoping the cervix was not fully dilated until her fingers told her the truth.  Oh dear! The baby was crowning! She would have to move quickly.

Looking up into the eyes of the man across from her, Sophia ordered “Get towels, twine or rope, a sharp knife, and a cigarette lighter. This baby is coming now!”

Startled, the small huddle jumped to obey, and the requested items were quickly gathered.

“Sterilize the knife blade in the flame of the lighter and cut two lengths of twine a few inches long. Bring the towels here, we will need them to catch the baby. Is there something soft we can use as a receiving blanket?”

When everything was done to her specifications, she turned her attention back to Celeste and asked, “Are you ready?”

Celeste simply nodded. “Good,” Sophia replied,”Then get ready to push. I think you’re going to have the easiest delivery in the history of opera.”

With practiced hands, Sophia brought the baby into the world, wiped her off as best she could, checked to see that she was healthy and whole, and handed her to her mother. Someone beside Sophia assisted, handing her what she needed. Then Sophia tied off and severed the umbilical cord, and delivered the afterbirth. Someone placed a warm damp rag in her hand and held a small basin of clean warm water at her side.  She sponged everything clean.

With her tasks finished, Sophia looked at Celeste gazing into the eyes of her daughter. “I’m afraid your gown and cape are ruined.” Celeste smiled beatifically, “I’m sure my cleaners can take care of them. You have taken care of the most important part. Please tell me your name.”

“Sophia.”

“That’s perfect. Thank you, Sophia.”

Sophia moved to the side as Celeste’s retinue produced a wheelchair and packed up mother and child. With the stage clearing and the audience gone, Sophia paused to consider her situation.  Gently, a strong pair of arms placed a coat around her shoulders. Sophia turned to see a handsome gentleman with twinkling eyes and realized he was the one who had assisted with the birth.

“Would you please join me for a cup of tea?”

Sophia smiled and nodded. A cup of tea would be perfect right now.

*******

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.

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Short Story – Clean Trousers

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a historian. A pair of trousers plays a significant part in the story. The story is set at a crossroads  in the medieval age. The story is about movement.

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It happened every time! Just as he jumped down from the wagon, someone went by and splashed filth that soaked his trousers and shoes. The smell was particularly odious today or maybe it was just the fact that fresh horse dung now covered him from his toes to mid-thighs. It would have been less of an issue at the end of the day, but his day was just beginning and he was supposed to meet the Abbott this morning. He could hardly go calling at the monastery in his current state. Although Heaven knows the Abbott must have encountered worse things in his work it was hardly the impression Karl wanted to give.

So he stood there with the fecal matter slowly sliding down his legs debating how to handle the situation. And was nearly run over by the next wagon going through the crossroads. He was splashed with more filth, this time reaching his tunic, shoulder bag and even a small dab on his cheek. Startled, he finally had the sense to step back from the intersection. Seeing a tree on one corner, he headed there to consider his predicament.

He pulled his satchel open and dug to see if he had anything with which to wipe himself. Finding nothing useful, he sat down under the tree disheartened. How could he face the Abbott? If he didn’t appear as promised, the Abbott might not grant him an audience. If he didn’t get an audience with the Abbott, Karl would not get access to the monastery library, which held manuscripts going back to the founding of the monastery and older. Karl had looked forward to this day since he was a young lad. He had learned from the priest in his local village that the monastery library held documents older than the priest, older than the oldest person in the village and he had been filled with wonder. What would such documents look like? What languages were they written in? The priest had taught him Greek and Latin, so he hoped that he would be able to read at least some of them. What secrets would they reveal? He had prayed fervently for the day he would be old enough and learned enough that the priest would give him a letter of recommendation. That day had finally arrived and he was covered in horse manure. He was cursed!

As he sat there “bemoaning his outcast state” he failed to notice the appearance of a young woman at his side until she spoke.

“You appear to be in dire need of a new set of trousers,” she remarked.

“You are correct and unless you happen to have one, I would appreciate being left to my misery,” he replied.

“Well, then today Providence appears to have smiled on you.”

At that comment, Karl raised his head to appraise his companion.

A beautiful young woman smiled and held a pair of clean trousers toward him. Astonished he rose to his feet and tentatively reached toward her offering. She did not flinch and relinquished the cloth when he had grasped it firmly. She nodded toward a wagon parked behind the tree. “You can change back there. Then we will see what we can do to clean the rest of your person.”

Still taken aback by her offer, he paused walking toward the wagon, “What can I offer in exchange? I do not have much money, although you are welcome to what I have.”

She smiled again. “I am not asking for your money, although coins are always useful.”

“Then what can I give you?”

“You are going to the monastery, are you not?”

“That is correct… how did you…”

“You will visit the library, will you not?”

“That is my fervent hope, although I haven’t met…”

She interrupted him again, “Then you will bring me knowledge.”

“But I…”

“The library holds many documents. Some are very old. You will ask to view these documents. One of them is the Scroll of Diana. You will not be able to read it. So you will copy the symbols you find. On each visit, you will copy another set of symbols and bring them to me. Be certain to copy them exactly as they appear and in the same order.”

“But how…”

“It is not necessary for you to understand everything. As a woman, you know I am not allowed in the monastery. Yet, that document was written by a woman and intended for women. The information the scroll contains is of no value to you nor to the monks who added it to their collection, except as a trophy of ancient writing.”

“Goddess knows I would give much more than this pair of trousers to see the scroll with my own eyes. Since that is unlikely in the present circumstance, your eyes will have to serve mine.”

“Now move quickly, or you will not catch the Abbott when he is in his best temper.”

She pushed him toward the wagon with the trousers. He obeyed and exchanged his filthy pair for the clean ones she had given him. He tied his belt and headed back toward her. She had a damp rag in her hand with which she wiped his face, his tunic, his bag and finally his shoes.

“There! You are once again presentable. Now hurry! You must catch him while he is holding audience.”

Karl headed down the road toward the monastery and then looked back. “How will I find you?”

“In the same manner which we met today.”

“Will you at least tell me your name?”

“Sylvine,” she smiled. “Now go!”

Karl reached the monastery within the hour and was pleased to find the Abbott still receiving petitions. He presented the letter and voiced his request to be allowed access to the library. The Abbott was in a pleasant mood and seeing a potential candidate, granted Karl’s request. Then, putting his arm out in a gesture of welcome, he announced, “I will escort you there myself.”

Surprised by his offer, Karl almost refused, and then thinking better, accepted the Abbott’s invitation. Karl followed him down a long hallway to a large armored wooden door with heavy locks. In front of the door, the Abbott whispered to a friar perched at a small desk. The friar looked at Karl and nodded to the Abbott, then gestured for Karl to approach.

“Brother Hermann has taken a vow of silence as part of his penance,” the Abbott noted for Karl’s benefit.

The monk slid off his stool and pulled a large keyring from his robes. Starting at the top of the door, he systematically began unlocking all of the locks. When he had finished he stepped aside and pulled the door open. The Abbott bowed slightly and ushered Karl into the most beautiful place he had ever seen. The air was dry and smelled of leather and must. The light was subtle and Karl noted that none of the shelves were in direct sunlight. It reflected into the room from the clerestory windows.

“So, my child, what were you hoping to see here?”

“Father Abbott, if I might beg your indulgence. I would like to see some of the oldest  manuscripts.”

“Ah! My child, you know that they are written in ancient languages. Something recent would be more accessible… “

Karl stopped him with a gesture, “Father Abbott, I have been studying Latin and Greek. And I had hoped that even if I didn’t understand everything, that perhaps I might glean something of value by seeing the old things.”

The Abbott was in a good mood, and assented. “Very well my son. We will go to the section with the  oldest scrolls. You must be careful with them for they are quite delicate and will tear easily.”

“Yes, Father Abbott. I understand.”

When they reached the bins holding the scrolls, Karl could not hide his amazement. “They are indeed old, Father Abbott. Thank you kindly for your generosity.  But I should not keep you from your duties.”

“It is my pleasure, my child. I can remain to assist you.”

“Certainly, you must be very busy and Brother Hermann can assist me.”

“It gives an old man comfort to see one such as yourself expressing an interest in our library. Very well. I am working on a translation and will be just over there,” as he pointed to an alcove with a high desk and stool. “When you want to look at a scroll, carry it carefully to a table before attempting to unroll it.”

“Yes, Father Abbott. Thank you, Father Abbott.”

There were so many scrolls, and Karl was excited to touch them all. Then he remembered the young woman’s request and began to search among the scrolls. He carried one after another to the table, unrolled them slightly and then carefully rerolled them and returned them when he realized they were not what he was seeking.

The Abbott noted his diligence and frequent trips back and forth, so paused in his task. “My child, what is it you seek? You do not seem to be satisfied with any of them.”

Startled, Karl hesitated. Should he ask the Abbott for the Scroll of Diana?

“I was looking for some ancient Roman text to see how well my Latin might fare.”

“Then the Marcellinus you pulled and put back should have been an adequate test.”

“Of course, Father Abbott. My apologies for disturbing you.”

The Abbott returned to his work. Karl continued his search more quietly, spending slightly longer with each scroll so that he did not attract the Abbott’s attention. He had reviewed two dozen when he saw it. Smaller than the others it had fallen to the bottom of the bin. It appeared to be more ornate with gilt handles and neatly trimmed edges. He reached for it gently and cradled it to the table. As he began to unroll it he noted it was more beautiful than anything he had seen. There were delicate engravings in the margins. This must be the scroll Sylvine was describing. He searched through his satchel for his copybook and a  quill. As she had requested, he started to copy the symbols he found, and then realized he did not know whether one would read them across or down, left to right or right to left? So he decided he would copy the symbols as if they were in a table. That way, Sylvine would be able to rearrange them or read them in whichever order was necessary.

Karl became absorbed in his efforts and did not hear the Abbott’s stool scrape on the stone floor. He started when the Abbott’s hand landed on his shoulder.

“I beg your pardon, Father Abbott.”

“My child, you are quite good as an amanuensis. Brother Hermann will be jealous. You have really captured the text well.”

“Thank you, Father Abbott.”

“Would you like to return another day to continue? Perhaps you can copy some things for me.”

Karl did not disguise his pleasure at the invitation. “Oh yes, Father Abbott! I would gladly return and even more gladly provide my services to you.”

“Very well! Please return tomorrow morning and report to Brother Hermann directly.”

“Thank you very kindly for your generosity, Father Abbott.”

Karl left the monastery walking on air and made his way back to the crossroads to share the good news with Sylvine.

*******

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 – The Guardian

Story prompt:  The story’s protagonist is female and a guardian. A light plays a significant part in the story. The story is set at a crossroads in ancient times. The story is about illness..

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The wait seemed interminable. She had been charged with her burden for centuries. In that time, nothing much had changed, or so it seemed to her. She watched the people come and go. They could not see her, and if they could, they did not see her. A woman was still an invisible thing. A possession at best. A burden most of the time. She was chosen for her inconspicuous nature.

And her innate talents. Invisibility was the most notable of her skills. The rest were less called upon. She could bedazzle and confuse. She could divert and distract. And she could eliminate a threat if needed without calling attention to herself or to the object she guarded.

Day after day, Year after year. Century after century. She waited. She was charged with protection and must remain at her post until she was discharged and replaced by another like herself or it became no longer necessary to protect it. She wondered which would come first. She had been chosen and sent to discharge the previous guardian by taking her place. She did not know what happened to her predecessor. When she appeared at the appointed place, the other acknowledged her presence, saluted and disappeared.

It was a good thing she was patient. And immortal. The object she protected gave off light which provided sustenance to the guardian. She did not age as humans do. She had no need for food. She used the light to create shadows. The object itself could not be moved. It had been placed there so long ago that no one remembered who had made it much less how it came to be there. The crossroad in front of her was much newer although she had diverted it from being square in order to protect her charge. And she regularly had to push away inebriated men who wandered too close. They never knew what happened. They would be stumbling in one direction and next they knew they were stumbling in another. She used the shadows to make the place inhospitable, so no one in their right mind approached it. She could cause shivering and invoke ghost bumps in anyone who even looked in her direction, so most would hurry on after a single glance.

Until today. He was persistent, this one. And he was not under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Which meant it was a little more difficult to push him off. She tried her usual tactics. She lobbed flashes of light in the opposite direction. She resisted him when he attempted to walk straight. Although he did not seem to see her, he seemed to be determined to walk toward the object.

She blew cold wind and made him shiver. He shivered and came forward. She attempted to induce fear. He felt it only for a moment and pushed on.

She put up a wall. He pushed against it. Felt its height. Tried to ascertain its width. Stood back to reassess and pushed again. He was very strong. She could feel his resolution. The force behind him. He wanted to come in and he was aiming for the object she guarded! I

n the millennia she had been there, no one had attempted deliberate entry. This was uncalled for… She did not want to eliminate him. He was young and strong. It would be a waste to take his life force. She did not like waste. And she did not want to use her powers now.

She walked through the wall and appeared beside him as an old woman.

“Young man, will you take a moment to assist your old mother?” She tugged on his sleeve.

He glanced at her, “Not now old woman!” and shook her off.

She morphed into a beautiful young woman in the attire of the harem and tried again.

“Master, please assist me” she pleaded coyly as she stroked his back.

For a moment, he hesitated. “Please return to your master. I do not have time to dally with you.” And he turned back to the wall.

Her resources depleted, she disapparated and returned through the wall. As passersby started to notice him, she thoughtfully disguised him by placing another wall behind him. This was going to take some time.

She reappeared in front of him in her current form. She was taller than him and in the garb of the guardian she was an imposing figure. He stopped probing the wall when he saw her. “Please let me in!”

“No one enters.”

“I must enter.”

“Why do you wish entry?”

“I must enter.”

“That is not sufficient validation to support your request.”

Realizing she would not bend, he dropped to his knees. “I am begging you, please let me in.”

“Again, you have not provided justification for me to disregard my duty. No one enters.”

“But you can let me in…”

“I cannot. To do so would violate my oath and the trust placed in me.”

“He never told me there would be a guardian.”

“That is not my concern.”

“There must be a password or a code” he muttered to himself. Then to her, “There must be some circumstance under which entry is allowed. Surely, you have gone through the portal?”

“That is not part of my duty. I am here to prevent entry until my replacement arrives.”

“That’s it! I could be your replacement. So you need to let me in.”

“Unlikely. All the guardians are emissaries of the Goddess.”

“That’s it! I am here on behalf of the High Priestess of She-lor.”

“State your business.”

“My grandmother has sent me. The Temple has been desecrated. The priestesses are dying. Someone must go through the portal to obtain the wisdom to heal them and return the Temple to the Goddess.”

“And why would they send you? You are not an emissary of the Goddess.”

“Because I am the only one strong enough to go through the portal and return. My grandmother, Hel-es-ia, consulted the ancient texts. The Armageddon is upon us. She told me to find the portal and gave me this location. I have instructions to enter the portal and go to the Pleiades, to Maia. There I will locate the Temple and ask for the wisdom as foretold in the ancient texts.”

“And yet, they did not give you the information necessary to pass by me.”

“My grandmother did not mention any obstacle to entering the portal.”

“She did not read carefully then. Surely she must know that no one enters?”

“She gave me this medallion to exchange when I arrived at my destination.” And from a pouch around his neck he pulled an ancient coin.

At the site of the gold piece, she dropped to her knees and bowed her head. “Holy Mother! I am at your service.”

“You will let me enter?”

“Yes. Come quickly. I must cover your entrance.”

She let down the wall between them, still keeping the wall behind him in place.

“Wait! I must create a diversion.”

“Why?”

“The portal is very loud and bright when it is opened, so I must create a ruse of light and sound to distract any passersby from learning of its existence.”

She raised her arms to the heavens and called forth a thunderstorm from a cloudless sky. The people near the crossroads heard the distant rumble of thunder and hurried to reach their destinations. When the storm was in full effect, she gestured to him to go behind her. As he passed her he saw a bright light and heard the roar of swirling space and time. With a small gesture of thanks, he stepped into the abyss. The portal closed behind him. The storm gradually abated.

The guardian resumed her post.

*******

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 – The Map of Family Honor

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a surveyor. An eye plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a council chamber in the medieval age. The story is about family.

*******

Ivan cleared his throat and waited. The man across the room continued to read through the large scroll in front of him. Ivan’s knees were getting stiff and his back was starting to ache from standing still.And he knew there was nothing else he could do but wait.

After nearly an hour, the man turned to Ivan and nodded once. Ivan stepped forward and presented the scroll he had been holding. The man accepted it and then unrolled it. Glancing through the contents he harrumphed and then quickly rerolled it loosely and handed it back to Ivan and went back to reading.

My lord, what shall I do?

Go.

Go where, my lord?

Do you know what that scroll represents?

Yes, my lord.

Then go.

But the council needs to review it, my lord.

I represent the council.

My lord?

I have reviewed it.

Begging your pardon, how does that resolve the problem, my lord?

It does not resolve it.

With no disrespect, my lord, my family can not continue under this cloud of ignomy.

Why not?

My lord, it is imperative that we earn our living honestly and without recrimination.

Why should that be so?

We have always been able to make our way without harming others and it is a matter of honor to us that we continue doing so, my lord.

And if I tell you that you must leave?

I dare not leave until this issue is resolved and our good name cleared, my lord.

I am a busy man, I don’t have time for petty squabbles.

My lord, the land granted by the king and the honor of family are not small matters.

They are unremarkable if I say so.

My lord, I am hopeful that you will change your consideration.

And why should I?

Because this map also affects the border of your estate, my lord.

What???

Perhaps you would like to review the map again, my lord?

Give it here!

Gladly, my lord.

The man behind the desk snatched the scroll from Ivan’s hands and smoothed it out on his desk.
After several moments he gasped and looked up.

You have told the truth. My God in heaven, how could this be?

My lord, perhaps you are familiar with Lord Mandraker?

Of course, of course… go on…

Then, my lord, you may also be aware of the accident that befell him some months ago?

Yes, what of it?

He lost an eye, my lord.

And? Will you get to the object of this reference?

Yes, my lord. It is well known that Lord Mandraker’s remaining eye was not his good one.

Must I pull every detail from your lips one by one?

No, my lord. I did not wish to presume upon your good nature nor to speak ill of Lord Mandraker.

Then why bring up his name?

My lord, if you would please observe the signature on the corner of the map.

My God!  The signet is that of Lord Mandraker, himself!

Yes, my lord. And the date.

Why, it is only 3 months ago.

Exactly, my lord.

Well that does change the nature of this discussion. Now, go.

My lord?

Can you challenge Lord Mandraker openly?

No, my lord.

Then leave me to my thoughts and trust that I will handle it appropriately. As you know, the council meets tonight. I will present this issue before the council for discussion. And as you know, I must tread carefully so that we can resolve the boundaries without loss of face for Lord Mandraker.

Yes, my lord. I will take my leave of you now.

Godspeed!

*******

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 – Divided

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a fortune-teller. A sword plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a swamp in the future. The story is about hatred.

*******

Esmelda lifted her skirts and stepped across another wet area. The swamp was dark and getting darker. If only she’d refused to tell that couple their future. If only when the card came up she had  palmed it. If only she had lied to them about its meaning. If only… if only…

But that wasn’t the way it went. She was too forthright, too honest… like the card…. although apparently not as astute as the card itself or she wouldn’t be in this mess now.

Shit! She swore as she sank into a mud puddle and lost her shoe. She knelt down and snatched the muddy slipper back from the ooze that was trying to absorb it whole. Then she took off the other one and put both shoes in her bag. It was easier to proceed barefoot.  She could feel more with her toes and avoid sliding into the worst slime as she continued through the swamp.

When she finally saw the light glimmer through the vines and trees, she sighed. Thank Goddess! She was almost there. She started to move forward and felt something slither from under her step so she quickly retracted her foot. No sense getting careless now that she’d almost reached her goal. She needed to proceed cautiously. Swamps were notorious for sinkholes and quicksand and creatures best left to their own devices. Another shuffle of movement off to her left and again she held her breath and her pose, waiting. Something big lumbered away and she breathed again. Moving tentatively so she could retract each step if needed. She slowly swayed forward one carefully placed foot at a time. Lifting her skirts as needed to avoid the slimier things and the burrs that would snare them.

Finally she stood on a clear spot of dry land a short distance from the small cabin. As she struggled to make her breathing more even, she planned her entrance. This situation wasn’t going to be easy to explain, although luckily she knew the cabin’s inhabitant very well and could anticipate which answers would cause the most consternation. And as she collected her thoughts she went back to the day that started this whole nightmare.

It was almost a year ago now. The young couple had come to her seeking advice as lovers often did. And as many before them had been, they were from families locked in ancient tribal feuds with each other. Their love had crossed the biggest boundary and now they wanted to be together permanently. And yet the animosity between their families made both of them afraid to tell even their closest friends. No one knew they had come to her. No one knew they were together at that moment consulting her. She had taken out the cards as usual to assess the situation. She had laid them carefully on the small table in front of her. Most of the cards were predictable, the Hanging Man, portent of change, didn’t worry her. None of the figures indicated a major barrier until the very last card. The Queen. And not just any queen. The Queen of Swords. She could have been salvation itself except for one small problem — she was reversed.

True to her calling, Esmelda had advised the young couple to wait. Things were not as they appeared and the time for change was not yet. The Queen of Swords was clear and astute and forthright. All admirable qualities.  Except that when turned on her head, she was vengeful and dangerous. She told of hidden things and dishonest dealings.

The young woman recognizing the card’s import had gasped in horror and thrown an accusatory look at her beloved. “How could you?!” she cried as she fled out the door. The young man, shocked at the young woman’s outburst and rapid departure, had reacted badly. He had grown angry; and Esmelda watched the murderous rage rise. She had urged him to caution and he had cast her aside and stomped out the door.

Because of her ability to sense his thoughts she knew she would have to act quickly to avert a major disaster and possibly another reason for the two families to continue their feuding. So she cast the spells her grandmother taught her and ran out the door after the young man. She had no idea how long it would take but she needed to stop him.

It had taken much more work than she had anticipated. She quickly reached the young man and bound his anger away. She regretted the amnesia she forced on him (and subsequently the young woman, as well), but it was necessary.  The two families were centuries deep in curses and retribution. She had spent months just unwinding the threads and ropes to pave the path so that the couple might find their way back to each other. She had to be careful as she worked that she didn’t undo the fibers that would bring them together and she had strengthened the bonds that would ultimately tie them.

Now she had to go forward to the beginning. She tapped on the door of the cabin and heard a chair scrape back and a rush of movement as the cabin’s occupants greeted her at the door. They were not surprised – the dog didn’t bark and the cat remained on her perch in plain sight. Even the bird continued to sing prettily in his cage. The woman who answered the door did not even blink as she invited Esmelda in. Noting her bare feet she brought over a basin of water and a warm clean towel after Esmelda was seated. Then she produced a steaming pot of tea and poured a mug for Esmelda.

So, the work is done then?

Yes, it is complete.

Then we are ready for reunification?

Yes.

Good! I have everything in readiness.

All right, please proceed.

A short while later a young couple arrived at the cabin door. They were obviously deeply in love and seeking her advice as young lovers often did. And in her usual fashion, Esmelda laid out the cards on the small table in front of her. The Hanging Man appeared again. Ten of cups. Five of pentacles. Two of wands. And there she was. The Queen Swords. Only this time, she was standing on her feet.

Esmelda breathed a sigh of relief and the couple turned to each other with joyful expressions.

*******

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 – Mercy

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a shopkeeper. A door plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a ship in ancient times. The story is about mercy.

*******

He stretched and yawned and sat up. Being in hyperspace always made him sleepy, so taking a few years nap while the parsecs sped by was refreshing. The ship should be leaving hyperspace and reaching spaceport soon. He got up and looked around. Everything seemed to be humming along smoothly just as it had before he laid down. He ambled forward to the con. All systems were running smoothly. He checked to see how long before they docked and was pleased to see he would not need to wait much longer. After milennia traveling through hyperspace he had gotten pretty good at estimating how long a nap should last and usually woke before the alarms,

As if in answer to his thoughts, the ship began preparing to exit hyperspace. The hum of the engine changed frequency and soon became a low drone. The downshift was smooth and would have been imperceptible to many lifeforms, As an immortal with hypersenstive hearing however, it might as well have been a space cannon at close range. He removed the earplugs he wore during hyperspace jumps and put them back in his pocket.

The ship was an ancient model although still serviceable The replicator could reproduce any parts he needed and since he was familiar with every sonic weld and atomic bolt, it was easier to maintain it than purchase something “modern.” He had upgraded the shielding and the hyperspace drive so the ship was deceptively fast and easy to hide in plain sight.

As the spacedock appeared on the emulator, he moved toward a door at the rear of the craft. The door would have appeared to be completely anachronistic to anyone he encountered, but since no one ever saw the inside of his ship, he chose a model that pleased him. It was black and shiny and slightly ovate with squared corners at the top. The polished brass handles gleamed in the light of the instrument panel. He pulled it open and stepped through. The atmosphere was cooler and drier than the main cabin. The infrared lighting activated when he pulled the handle so he could easily see the neatly labeled cubicles. Almost full – plenty to offer the patrons he expected to greet in spacedock.

He felt the ship settling into position and the docking mechanism engage. Good! He was hoping for brisk business so he could get back underway quickly. It did not suit him to linger anywhere for long. It aroused less suspicion from the species he met if they didn’t have too much time to think.

He walked through the room to the far side and opened the airlock. Everything was ready so he opened the portal and turned on the sign that indicated he was ready for business.

The first customer was tall, blue and tentacled with seven eyes encircling its elongated head.

Using the universal translator, he signaled his greetings remembering not to smile. This particular species considered smiling irrelevant and highly suspicious. Old habits are hard to overcome and he was unable to prevent his eyes from lighting up. Luckily, the patron was looking at the shelves and he quickly hooded his gaze.

The creature pointed with a warty appendage.

“Ah, yes! A rare vintage. Marvelous notes of iron and carbonate.”

The creature hesitated and pointed to another shelf.

Keeping his eyes on all the appendages to avoid shoplifting, he nodded.

“Silica and boron with a lovely undertone of titanium.”

The creature nodded.

“Shall I wrap it for you?”

The creature nodded again.

“Very well that will be seven bars of idremium.”

A tentacle reached forward with the appropriate currency while other appendages reached for the package.

“Thank you for your business.”

The creature sloozed away.

A moment later a hooded being glided forward.  This time Sven smiled. For he understood this one well.

“Ah you have a refined palate. I have a lovely vintage for you.”

He slid open a drawer to its full length. Beautiful blonde hair and a delicate face emerged as the drawer slid open, followed by her body clothed in a pale pink bustier, then matching panties and garter belt followed by pale pink stockings and finally tiny feet tucked into pink stilettos. The hooded being inhaled deeply.

“I told you this one was something special. The price is 1700 idremium bars.”

The hooded being bowed in assent and passed the currency across the counter.

At that moment the delicate creature in the drawer stirred and her eyes fluttered. The customer sighed in satisfaction.

Sven watched the exchange and felt something stir inside him. He pushed the currency back to the customer quickly with a brief apology, slammed the airlock shut and signaled the ship to leave spacedock immediately.

In moments they were once again in slipstream. He could not take his eyes off the beautiful creature in the drawer. And watched as she came out of the suspended animation state in which she had been kept for several thousand years. She turned to him confused. The world around her so different than anything she might have encountered in her lifetime.

She had no idea he had saved her yet again. In all his dealings over the past 7,000 years, he had never been able to give her over to the creatures who sought his services. Creatures just like he was – doomed to feed on the living.

He smiled at her and she smiled back. With the current state of technology it was so much easier to keep her. To hold her in hibernation so she would not suffer, would not age. And this way she was almost as immortal as he was himself. He had found her in a place no mother would want her daughter at an age when she was still too young to be there. And he couldn’t destroy her beauty even then. So she traveled with him until she reached the perfect age. And then he had discovered the early art of cryogenics. So he had been able to suspend her, perfectly ripe, perfectly delicious, and as the technology changed he had upgraded the systems that maintained her at this perfect point. But he had never had the heart to sell her nor to take her for himself.

He was not sure how she had awakened now since he had not started the process which would reanimate her. Although it hardly mattered. She was here. She was alive.  She was so beautiful.

“I’m hungry,” she murmured.

“I’m sure you are, my dear. What would you like to eat, Mercy?”

*******

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. (You should also know that they double-dog dared me to write a vampire story since it’s not my genre and that I needed to include stilettos…. )

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

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.