Tag Archive | writing

NaNoWriMo – TGIO

Thank Goodness/Goddess/God It’s Over for another year. I started two novels and wrote a short story to complete my 50K and now I’ve got material to play with.

It’s a funny process. Writing that many words. Since my day job requires writing, it’s not really a stretch to write that many words in a month. Except that they are not all in one main document and they are not (usually) fiction. So fifty thousand words of fiction, many of them related to other words, written in my spare time, is a pretty good start on something.

The first attempt at a novel went well for a week and a half and then I lost interest in them and left them in the woods. Then I had a short story idea that came in and I sat with it for a week and it moved nicely and resolved. And I still had quite a bit of wordage left to go before the month ended. As I typed continuously waiting for the muse to come back, a second novel started working its way through to my fingers. It expanded to fill my remaining time (and word count). Now, I just need to keep it moving even though there is no longer the pressure of a deadline.

For purists, such attempts would not count, since they are not all part of the same novel. However, writing that many words in a month is not an easy task and the muse is often fickle. The whole point is to write without editing and to let it flow. So if they don’t end up in the same place in the end, who cares? I am happy to have them.

National Novel Writing Month Starts Tonight after Midnight

Excited? Yes. Scared? Yes. Can I do it? Oh, yes! I’ve done it twice before (and won), so I can certainly do it again. I have lots of material and plenty to write about. The hardest part for me is butt-in-chair-time. In November, I have an excuse to ignore that pile of laundry and the dirty kitchen floor.

For those of you who may not know, November is National Novel Writing Month. You can find more information at www.NaNoWriMo.org. The goal is to write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th, which is an average of 1,667 words per day.  The best part for me is turning off the internal editor and producing words at a fast pace. The words and grammar and structure can be edited later. The amazing part is what is produced when I free my mind to just let it all hang out.

Join me (and several hundred thousand of your friends around the world) and see what you can make in a month. 🙂

Short Story – Winter

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a collector. A cat plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a blizzard in the future. The story is about loneliness.

*******

Grigor shivered and closed the pod. He could have sworn he’d heard something. And yet, when he opened the pod to look, he saw nothing but driving snow and layers of ice. As always. Or at least ever since he’d landed on this godforsaken outpost.

He thought back to the fatal day his pod had been ejected from the starship. His crime had been considered so heinous, so horrible,  that his punishment was banishment far from civilization. Altarean society considered the death penalty to be cruel and also too lenient. They wanted criminals to reflect on their misdeeds. And so he would have plenty of time and space to think, they had chosen this uninhabited locale so that Grigor could not damage other citizens.

“Damage” – Ha! That was their word. Grigor was taken from his family and friends and deposited here. They had allowed him to take his beloved recordings and books with him. He could read and he could write, although he could not communicate with anyone. They dropped food and supply shipments regularly. They never asked him what he wanted and they did not tell him when to expect it. The pod was equipped with a state-of-the-art communication system. but Grigor was forbidden to use it, and they did not choose to use it.

There! He heard the noise again. It was louder. He wrapped himself against the cold in his ice suit, grabbed an electron lantern, and opened the pod door again. He stepped out into the swirling ice and snow. And he heard it. A cry. He turned and closed the pod door behind him and headed toward the sound. He waded through the drifts. The sound seemed to be coming from the direction of his supply drops. He struggled over a larger ice rift, tripped and rolled. When he righted himself he noticed he had dropped the lantern. He walked over to retrieve it and found it firmly wedged under a rocky ledge. Cursing, he tugged and pulled to no avail. It would be more difficult to get back to the pod without the lantern.

Then he heard the cry again and forgot the lantern. He slogged toward the sound. He stumbled over the supply shipment. Cursing again he maneuvered around the shipment and kept moving toward the sound. It seemed to be coming from underneath the pile of containers. He started digging out the containers and stacking them to the side. He’d have to move them into the pod later.

He moved another container and heard a loud screech. He quickly picked it all the way up and set it aside. There in the snow he could barely make out a small, dark, furry ball . He reached down a hand to pick it up.  It shrank back in between the other containers.

“Now, now…” His voice cracked and the fur ball hissed.

“I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve uttered anything but expletives. Although that doesn’t mean I wish you harm.” He spoke in soothing tones.

He reached in again, more slowly, continuing to murmur.

“Come here little one. You won’t survive long out here.”

The fur ball finally let him pick her up.  She mewed pitifully and shivered. He opened his ice suit to put her in next to his heart for warmth. Then he noticed her leg.

“You’re hurt! Oh precious little one, I’m so sorry. That container must have been heavy. I should have come sooner.” He tucked her safely into his suit and closed it again. He could feel her shiver once more and then start to purr as she warmed up.

Grigor made his way slowly back to the pod.

The wind didn’t seem quite so cold any more.

*******

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 Nursery

Story prompt:   The story’s protagonist is female and not human. An hourglass plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a nursery in ancient times. The story is about loneliness.

*******

The wailing could be heard from the street. Distressed cries from a dozen infants and small children filled the air. Serena drifted among them, immune to the din. The nursemaids scurried and shushed as best they could only to have another child set the whole crew off .

The hourglass on the shelf marked off the time for the nurses. They shared turning it when the last grains of sand slid through. Reminding each other when feeding time was due.

Serena looked into the eyes of the child in the crib closest to her. As the child gazed into Serena’s eyes, he started whimpering.

The nursemaids scrambled to quiet him before he triggered the whole nursery. Again.

Serena moved on. The next child reacted exactly as the last eight had and burst into tears quickly. The nurses hurried over to him.

Serena reached the tenth child, a little girl, and looked into her eyes.

She expected the child to close her eyes to cry as the others had.

The usual time on the hourglass elapsed yet the child remained transfixed. They continued to gaze into each other’s eyes.

The sand ran through the hourglass at its usual rate. Serena waited. Staring into the child’s eyes.

The child stared back.

Finally, Serena stopped staring and looked. Really looked. Into the child’s eyes.

She saw it. A sadness to match her own. Profound melancholy. So deep the child did not scream or fuss.

Serena was entranced by a set of eyes that looked into hers reflecting what she felt.

“What is your name?” Serena broke the spell.

“They call me Mariana.”

“But what is your name?”

“The name they gave me is Mariana.”

“And who are you?”

“I am Iris.”

“Hello, Iris. I am Serena.”

One of the nursemaids paused at the crib. Seeing the child staring, the nurse looked briefly for the object of the child’s stare. Seeing nothing, she moved quickly to another whimpering tot.

The sand flowed through the hourglass. One of the nurses turned it over.  It began again.

Serena and Iris continued their silent conversation.

“Would you like to come with me, Iris?”

“Could we leave this place?”

“Yes.”

“Will we be together?”

“Yes.”

“I will never be lonely again?”

“We will always have each other.”

The sand ran out of the hourglass, Too late.  A nurse noticed the crumpled body in Mariana’s crib and came over to check on 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 – Luisa

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a toymaker. A sceptre plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a bridge in ancient times. The story is about trust.

*******

Giorgio set his bag down at his feet and looked over the parapet at the water. He wiped his brow with his handkerchief. The sun was still climbing, so he took his time, enjoying the breeze off the water.

“Excuse me, Signore.” He turned at the tap on his shoulder to find a young girl dressed in a simple frock  with an apron and wooden shoes. A scarf covered her hair.

“How can I assist you, signorina?”

Per favore, Signore, my mama is sick. I am to bring back the lemons to help her get well, but il mercante will not sell them to me. He calls me ragazza and tells me to go away. But you look kind. Will you please help me?”

What is your name, my dear?”

“Luisa, Signore. Luisa Cantone. I have the money here.” She shows him the piastras enclosed in her apron pocket.

“And where do you live with your mama, Luisa?”

“Via Veneta, Signore.”

“Very well, Luisa. Let’s go see Signor Mercante and see if we can get the lemons for your mama.” He picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder and took her hand.

As they walked, she chatted happily about her family and the many babbinos at home. Luisa was the oldest and responsible for the others. When they reached the vendor, she pointed him out.

Giorgio approached the vendor, inquired about the lemons. He chose carefully,  sniffing each one and giving it a gentle squeeze.  He made the purchase on Luisa’s behalf then he turned and handed her the lemons.

Grazie, Signore! My mother will be so happy.”  Luisa ran for home.

Smiling, Giorgio turned toward the bridge. Thud! He felt the blow on the back of his head and lost consciousness.

When he awoke with a throbbing head, the sun was low in the sky and his purse was gone. His nose and mouth were full of dirt. His bag was inside out and the contents were strewn on the ground. There were pieces everywhere. With a heavy heart he knelt to gather them. Everything appeared to be unbroken. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh, Signore!” Luisa reappeared at his side.  “Are you hurt? I am so sorry.”

Giorgio stood and examined her distraught face. “Why should you be sorry, Luisa?”

“I should never have left you, Signore. Then you would have been safe.”

“But you needed to get the lemons to your mother…”

“She could have waited until I saw you safely back to the bridge. The market is not a good place for strangers. I am sorry, Signore. You helped me and I left you. It is all my fault.”  She hung her head.

“Now, now, Luisa. Please help me pick up the rest of my things and you can show me back to the bridge.”

“Oh si, si, of course, Signore. I will help you.” Luisa dropped to her knees and began to gather the contents of his bag.

Signore?”

“Yes, Luisa?”

‘What are all these things?”

“What do they look like to you, Luisa?”

She picked up a miniature cabinet and tiny belt and held them toward him.

“They look like toys, Signore.”

“Yes, Luisa. I am a toymaker.”

She continued to pick up furniture and clothing, balls and puppets. She marveled at a small doll in a green velvet dress.

“She is very beautiful, Signore.”

Si, she is very beautiful, Luisa. And she is even more beautiful with her crown,” he placed a tiny jeweled crown on the doll’s head. “And her scepter.” He placed a golden scepter in the doll’s little hand.

“Oh, Signore! She is marvelous to behold. How did you make her so perfectly? Look! She is smiling since you gave her back her things.” She turned to Giorgio in wonder.

“Shh! That is a secret.”

“But Signore, she was not smiling before and now she is. You must be a marvelous toymaker indeed.”

Si, si, Luisa. She is happy now, but it is not because of her things. If you promise not to tell, I will share her secret.”

“Si, si, Signore. I will not tell.” And then her face fell. “No. Do not tell me, Signore. I do not deserve to know. ”  She put her head down and sobbed.

“There, there, Luisa. Don’t cry.” He patted her shoulder.

“But Signore. I let you get hurt.” She sobbed harder.

“Luisa, it is mostly my pride that is hurt now.”

“But your money,” she wailed

“I have my toys. They are my treasure and my livelihood. Please, Luisa. Calm yourself.”

She continued to sniffle. He held out the tiny doll. Luisa wiped her nose on her sleeve. Her jaw dropped in wonder.

Signore, she is crying.”

“She is crying because you are crying.”

Luisa wiped her eyes and took the doll. “You are right, she is not crying any more.” And as her smile grew so did the doll’s until both were grinning from ear to ear.

“She is yours, Luisa. But…”

Luisa remained entranced by the doll’s reflection of her mood.

“But you must promise you will never lie again.”

Shocked, Luisa looked up from the doll’s face.

“If you do, she will tell on you and everyone will know.”

Luisa nodded soberly and the tiny version of Luisa in the green velvet dress with the crown and the sceptre smiled.

*******

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 – Honestly

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and an inventor. A towel plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a kitchen in the present. The story is about honesty.

*******

Jeff fanned the steam away from the boiling pot with a blue kitchen towel and then realized he could have turned on the fan. So he did. As the vapor was drawn away, he looked into the pot to see how his dinner was faring. Then realizing his glasses were fogged up, he activated the mini-wipers. Two quick swipes and they were clear again, so he peered into the pot.

Chicken chow mein, frozen in a plastic bag that was prepared by placing the plastic bag in boiling water (AKA boil-in-bag) was his favorite quick meal since he was a child. In his mind, boil-in-bag dinners were the greatest invention even although they were much harder to find these days. He bought them by the case from the Piggly Wiggly® website. He had a very large storage freezer that was way too much for one person – unless that person liked to store five cases of frozen chicken chow mein boil-in-bag dinners. He also had a case of beef stew and one of sweet and sour pork for variety’s sake. Jeff didn’t like to waste a lot of time thinking about what he was going to eat.

Jeff liked to boil his dinners because he didn’t trust the microwave. He had fried several when he forgot and put an aluminum TV dinner tray or a fork in and turned it on. The sparks were amazing, if a little scary. Microwave ovens were not designed to operate under those conditions and most would quit in protest. Since he could not seem to remember not to put metal utensils in them, he gave up after the fifth one turned in its resignation.

Just as the little egg-shaped timer dinged to let him know his dinner was done, the doorbell rang. Startled, Jeff paused to turn off the burner and the fan. Then he put the blue towel back on his shoulder and headed for the front door. He paused to look through the peephole and seeing a pretty young woman, unlocked and opened the door.

“Yes?” he asked her, hoping she would get to the point so he could go back and eat his dinner.

“Hi? My name’s Amber and I live across the hall?” she replied. She had a habit of raising her voice at the end of her sentences so they sounded like questions.

“What do you want?” Jeff responded.

“Well, I was really hoping I could have a chance to talk to you?” again raising her voice and inching her way into his living room.

“And my dinner is getting cold, so please explain what you want quickly,” as he fell back startled at her bold move.

“We-e-l-l-l, I am new in town and I was hoping I could find somebody to show me around?” as she moved now quickly from the living room to the kitchen.

“As I explained, I am busy. Please state your business or come back at another time.”

“You mean you won’t take me out to dinner?” she pouted standing in his kitchen.

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Guys always take me out to dinner? You could take me out to dinner?” she purred as she started to pull the blue towel slowly off his shoulder with her fingers.

“No, I could not. I have dinner plans.” He grabbed the towel away from her and stepped back.

She sauntered over to the stove, peered into the slightly steaming pot and grabbed a corner of the plastic bag, pulled it up, dangling it over the pot. “This” she pointed at the bag, “is not ‘dinner’ and it is definitely not ‘plans’.”

Swiftly he grabbed the bag out of her right hand with his left and dropped it back in the pot which he grabbed with his right and spun away from her. He set the pot down again and adjusting his glasses on his nose, he looked down at her. “This is MY dinner plans. Your dinner plans are an entirely different matter and you should leave me alone and go take care of them.”

Undeterred, she started to inch closer to him again, giving her best pretty girl pout. “But I’m hungry and I don’t know anyone?”

“Th-th-that is not m-m-my pro-pro-problem.” He was startled by his disobedient tongue and then realized she was rubbing herself against him. Knowing that he would not be able to speak clearly until he was again at a safe distance, he shrugged himself away, stepped around the table, quickly placed a kitchen chair directly in front of himself and kept his hands on its back.

Amber climbed up on the chair one knee at a time and started to reach for the towel again, running her fingers up his arm to play with it. She smiled.

He snatched the towel out of her fingers and stepped away from the chair. “Young lady, I am not taking you to dinner. If you are truly as hungry as you say, I am willing to prepare another meal like mine for you to eat. Otherwise, you should go bother someone else.”

Sensing she would not get any further tonight. She pouted and then stepped off and pulled the chair up so she was seated at the table. “Okay? I would like dinner, please?”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Jeff threw the towel back over his left shoulder and went to the freezer. “Chicken chow mein, beef stew or sweet and sour pork?”

*******

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 – Dreams

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a scholar. A computer plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a bathhouse in the future. The story is about dreams.

*******

Zanter trudged down the street, feeling the weight of the day. The dirt and noise of the city were heavy on his spirit. It seemed to take forever until finally he reached an ancient building and mounted the few stairs to the front portal.

Zanter glided through the opening and greeted the owner briefly before proceeding to the changing area, where he divested himself of clothing and put his belongings into a small pod anchored to the wall. Then he padded barefoot down a narrow passage to the center of the building. As he passed through the ultrasonic shower and into the bathing area, he was awed anew at the sight. The space was glorious and ancient with high pillars, soaring ceilings and sculptures and frescoes of merpeople and sealife. The ceiling could be opened to the stars by a series of louvered panels.

He had once asked about the history of the building and was told that it had been a bathhouse for thousands of years. It was originally built over natural hot springs to take advantage of the minerals and warmth they exuded. The current owner was descended from the last several owners, each taking over in turn. Some things had changed. There were no longer religious rituals required of the bathers. There were showers and saunas in chambers off the large central pool. Computers controlled all the portals, pods, and louvered panels. The processes for regulating the temperature, monitoring bacterial and mineral levels, and filtering and recycling the water were now automated. And yet, the concept of the place remained the same – healing and renewal.

As he slipped into the pool, the humidity and warmth began to work their magic on him. His sinuses and pores opened, his muscles relaxed, and he felt his spirit lift. Given the ubiquitous nature of pools and bathhouses like this one, Zanter thought, “Perhaps we were once sea creatures after all. And the water takes us home.”

As he floated in the water, he closed his eyes, letting his thoughts drift. He reminded himself he did not come here just to wash dirt and sweat from his body. Simple cleansing could be accomplished in the privacy of his domicile. Here he could swim and float and when he left, he would feel completely different than he did after bathing at home.

He had been drifting for awhile with his eyes closed, and when he opened them he was surprised to find that the pool was dark. He stood up in the water and looked around. He listened carefully for the splash or low conversation from other bathers and heard nothing but lapping water in the pool, splashing water from the shower chamber. He spoke quietly, knowing the water would carry the sound, “Hello? Is anyone else here?”

No one answered. He lowered himself back into the water. Briefly he felt panic begin to rise. “What if he was alone in the building? What if he was locked in? What if he could not get out? Where was the owner?”

And then he felt the pull of the water, warmly, gently caressing him, urging him to relax. He succumbed to the motion and started floating again. This time with his eyes open. He allowed the thoughts to tumble and spill away again. As he looked up at the ceiling he noticed that the panels had been retracted and he could see the night sky above with its myriad stars. The view fascinated him and pulled his musings further into the ancient questions that have ever tugged at human minds. The questions of philosophers and religious scholars like him. “Who am I really? How did I get here? Is there something or someone out there that made this world I see? Why?”

And as he pondered these things, he felt himself expand, absorbing everything in his path, until the whole city, the whole continent, then the whole planet were inside him. He continued to move outward, taking in everything until his awareness encompassed all he could imagine. He felt the water surround him and envelop him. And he was water, indistinguishable from everything else. Absorbing it all, encircling it all. He was enjoying the feeling. So incredible. So beautiful…

Then as if a drain had been unplugged he started swirling rapidly, growing smaller and pulling back down to his body that had seemed so far away. He ebbed like the tide away from the shore and too quickly found himself back to his normal state. So small. So insignificant.

Vaguely he heard a voice nearby and opened his eyes. He was in the pool at the bath house. The lights were on. He sat up out of the water. Across the pool two bathers were engaged in low conversation. He must have been dreaming…

*******

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 Gardener

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a gardener. A story plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a bedroom in ancient times. The story is about movement.

*******

After it was over, he picked up the pieces of statuary that had fallen, and moved them to a storage shed. He surveyed the damage to the fountains. The largest one was leaking, so he turned the water off and added it to the list of repairs needed. As he passed the ruins of the house, he thought he heard a sound. The house was not his responsibility, still, he had no way of knowing who was left to take care of things. And the sound was small. Like a child. He could not just pass by. So he followed the sound. Up onto the great patio. More smashed statuary and another fountain with chipped cherubs. Past the doors to the great hall that allowed the large parties to flow out into the gardens. The doors were now gaping wide as they did when the great hall was filled with dancers and musicians and food. Only there were no guests, no orchestra.

He paused and then followed the sound along the southern wall until he came to the balustrade that separated the large formal gardens from the private terraces. He worked his way back down to the main garden along the stairs and then back up to the house at the first private patio. The sound lured him on and he found a set of doors that opened onto the terrace. They were broken and stood open with the curtains billowing in the breeze. He paused a moment and then pushed back the curtains and stepped through the doorway.

He had never spent much time in the house, although he wasn’t surprised to find himself in a large bedroom. The house was designed so that all the rooms opened onto a garden. Even the library opened out into an outdoor reading room with little benches and shaded hammocks that called a reader to idle away the hours with a good book.

The bedroom was part of a suite and massive.  Nearly equal in size to the great hall. Ah – this would be the master’s quarters then. Or the mistress’ -she had always liked and commanded a larger space… And the sound was closer now. A whimpering. He started to search the overturned furniture and disarrayed hangings and draperies and tapestries, pulling them aside and peering behind. And finally, he found her. She was curled into a small ball, hiding under the cushions, behind the draperies surrounding the bed. He recognized the youngest daughter, who was called “Mina” by all. She continued to sob softly, her face buried in the silken bedclothes unaware of his presence. Gently, he knelt beside her like he would for the rabbits and deer and swans that populated the garden. Quietly he began to speak to her, reaching out to stroke her hair ever so softly. She was too forlorn to be startled and continued to whimper even as he gathered her into his arms. She smelled of the outdoors and childish sweat and faintly of the soap her mother used to bathe her. Her clothes were rumpled and slightly dirty. He checked her limbs to be sure none were broken. There was no blood on the bedding or pillows where she had lain, only the tear stains from her crying.

“Ssss, quiet now… are you hurt?”

Mina wailed.

He patted her back and held her and waited for her tears to subside again. He sat down on the bed cuddling her and rocking. And then he saw her mother across the room, shattered under an enormous pillar. He pulled Mina tighter to his chest covering her eyes.

“Ssss, quiet now… would you like to hear a story?”

Mina subdued somewhat replied “Thirsty.”

“Certainly, you are. We shall do something to address your thirst presently. For now, I would like to offer you a story, if you wish.”

Mina nodded and he began. “Once upon a time…” as he gently carried her from the room.

*******

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 World of Plants

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and an interpreter. A story plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a farm in the future. The story is about pride.

*******

I talk to plants. It’s true. Actually, they talk to me. I am an interpreter for the plants. I tell their stories. I am the only one I know who does this work. I ply my trade among the planets of the fourth star in the Pleiades. My small interplanetary craft is fast and efficient, so I can cover a lot of territory. The plants pay me in their way, so I am never hungry. I barter some of the produce for my other needs. And the plants are always grateful.

All right, maybe not always. There was a time…

I had traveled farther than usual that day at the request of a local agriculturalist. It seems that a large plant type life form was rebelling and causing some disharmony in the local economy.

My landing was carefully calculated to be within walking distance of the biodome, but still far enough to keep from disturbing the immediate area. Since the vibrations from my ship could add to the chaotic emotions already in play.

The agriculturalist was waiting just outside the biodome. Zefra was obviously agitated when I reached her, so I paused to help soothe her ruffled feelings. She could not introduce me to the belligerent life form if she was not in a good state. She explained that the plant in question had just insulted her intelligence and thrown rotten foliage at her. She had been tempted to kick the plant in its genitalia. Unfortunately, the plant in question was too valuable to sustain that kind of damage so she had managed to restrain herself long enough to leave the biodome before venting her anger. Still pacing, Zefra continued to rant about “Ranc,” which turned out to be short for Ranunculus Vitae, a variation of a plant once found several parsecs from here on a small blue planet circling the star Helios.

“He’s such a self-sanctimonious, self-important, self-aggrandizing, egotistical… did I say self-important?! Well he is! He thinks he’s the most significant lifeform here!”

I allowed Zefra to continue on for several minutes in this vein so that she could gain control of her feelings again. Then I began to massage her aura and bathe it in cooling light. Finally she could speak without spitting. So I asked her what had brought on this latest outburst.

“I offered him some fertilizer,” she replied simply.

“That’s all?”

“Yes.”

“Surely there was more to it than that? It’s not as if he can make his own.”

“Then you will have to ask him. It’s not as if we speak the same language,” she snapped a bit too sharply.

“I plan to do so as soon as you are serene enough to perform an introduction,” I replied gently trying to smooth the latest flare in her temper.

After a few moments working on her, she visibly relaxed. “Very well, I think I can do it now.”

Her aura had traces of pink but no more red. I continued to surround her with serene vibrations until I was sure she was settled enough to enter.

“Then let us proceed,” I said quietly.

Zefra walked beside me to the portal and then opened an airlock to allow me to enter first. As I stepped in, the aromas of damp soil, grass, and a faint smell of rotting vegetation assailed my senses. It was warm and moist and I was still in the airlock. It must be a jungle inside. I pulled a biosuit off one of the hooks and put it on, while she did the same.

The biosuits on this planet completely covered the wearer from head to toe so that there was no chance a stray cell or organism could shed from the wearer and contaminate the ecosystem. A single cell with its strands of DNA could cause incredible changes in the lifeforms in here. And humans are notorious for shedding skin cells and hair constantly. And to think some humans once worried about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in their food. They would shudder at the rapacity of the lifeforms here, eager to glom onto even the smallest fragments of DNA and RNA and incorporate them into their own.

The newest versions of biosuits were seamless and form-fitting. They were a shimmering silvery pearl color, which stood out against green, red, blue, yellow and most other hues, to make the wearer easier to locate once inside. Although the suits also had a chameleon option that could be activated if necessary to protect the wearer. The air system and filters no longer distort the voice, and the suit can read vibrations from the vocal chords. So everyone sounds “normal” even when they are completely encased in biofiber.

Zefra initiated the decontamination cycle. Luckily, the suits also help maintain body temperature. When we went through the second airlock the temperature was just over 317°Kelvin, which is easily 20 degrees warmer than most humanoids find comfortable. My personal comfort zone is right around 297°K, so I was doubly grateful for the biosuit.

This biodome was small enough that we could walk from one end to the other in 30 minutes. Zefra pointed out the interactive map on the right arm of my biosuit, which handily showed where each biosuit was located, in addition to the other more stationary lifeforms. My biosuit appeared to be indicated in the map by a tiny replica of me. I could watch myself moving about the biodome in a small four-dimensional version that floated just above my forearm. From the noise and Doppler vibrations in the interactive map, I could find my way to Ranc without Zefra’s guidance, but protocol still dictated that she lead the way and introduce me properly.

Much of the vegetation was blue although the flowers they produced were every color of the rainbow and often more than three colors at any given moment. I heard a little heckling from some of the smaller lifeforms, plenty of chatter, and one particularly pretty pink, aqua, and silver plant form wished me well. Zefra did not react to any of their talk so I assumed that she, like most humanoids, could not discern it from rustling foliage. I used to be that way, too. But once I learned the basic plantoid language, I heard gabbing everywhere. The soft rustling of poets became incessant chatter. Eventually, I learned how to turn the babble into a conversation and my opportunities expanded to support my current interstellar reputation. And at that moment, I was sure I was the best and the only way to resolve the conflict here.

We moved slowly as I did not want to add ripples to the pool of vibrations swirling around us. It seemed to take forever until we reached Ranc’s location. Although we could easily follow his distorted wavelengths, I had no desire to increase his agitation.

When we were finally facing each other, the waves of red and black streaming from him were almost violent enough to knock us down. Without meaning to do so, I started trying to still the pulsations flying in our direction. When Ranc felt the pushback he became angrier. I realized what had happened and ceased my efforts immediately, hoping he would back down.

Ranc was not going to be pacified that easily. He turned his focus on me throwing all the vibrations in my direction. Zefra had already put up a shield. She wasn’t taking any more plekth from a non-humanoid.

It was so loud and so bright, I was going to have to put up a shield, or risk losing my senses all together. I dropped to my knees and finally laid down flat on my belly with my arms covering my head and ears. I didn’t know how much more I could take before I would be forced to raise a shield. I tried to send the signal of introduction and then I blacked out.

When I came to awareness again, I was still lying face down on the ground, but the vibrations were calmer and no longer buffeted my senses. I risked uncovering my ears and lifting my head to look in Ranc’s direction. He had assumed a military bearing, unbending and unemotional. So I started to get to my feet. A loud crack dropped me back to my hands and knees and made it clear Ranc did not want me standing upright. This was not going to be as easy as I thought it would be when I first got the call.

I attempted to signal my introduction again, and was rebuffed. Still on my hands and knees, I waited. What did he want me to do? How was I going to get his attention? Wait! I already had his attention, how could I get him to listen to me? As I was considering my options and trying to figure out how to reach him, I missed the change in his aura. Ranc was laughing at me!

Keeping my head down, I signaled, “Service.” Ranc roared with laughter.

Head still bowed, I tried again, and signaled, “Beneficence.” Ranc doubled over with hilarity. Not an easy feat for a plant form twice my height and four times my girth.

When Ranc finally calmed down, I tried a third time and signed, “Honor” and set Ranc to laughing again.

Zefra messaged me through the map to start backing away while Ranc was distracted. Unsure how to proceed and still shaking from the sound and light waves that had originally knocked me off my feet, I went to chameleon mode and did as she suggested. Moving slowly, I crawled backward, still on my hands and knees, I did not look up until I was out of reach of his force field. Then, still camouflaged, I raised myself to a crouch and slowly moved to the airlock and out into the chamber. When Zefra had closed the inner seal and decontaminated the chamber again. I sagged onto the nearest bench with my head in my hands.

“I have failed you,” I told her dejectedly.

“Not at all,” she replied.

I looked up, puzzled at her response.

She explained, “Ranc is now in a fabulous mood.”

“Yes, but, I never found out what he wanted,” I protested.

“Oh yes, you did,” She smiled.

I gave her another quizzical look.

“You are the court jester.”

*******

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 – 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.

*******

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.

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.

*******

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..

*******

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Short Story – Cover Story

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a jeweler. A story plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a journey in the present. The story is about deception.

*******

She left the shop in the hands of her assistant and promised to be in touch as soon as she landed. She’d been dreaming this trip since she was a teenager and planning it for the last two years. She had told no one except her staff and her landlady fearing if she admitted any thoughts about this trip to family or friends someone would try to talk her  out of it or otherwise prevent it from happening. And she couldn’t risk it. Not after this long. They would worry about the jewelry store. They would worry about her safety. They would deplore the expense.  No, she told herself, this was the best way. She planned to tell them after she returned safely. Then no matter what anyone said the experience was already hers and could not be taken away. She had managed to evade all the social requests  from her friends for events during the time she was gone. She even had a convenient cover story worked out to tell them.

She hurried to the bus stop and caught it just in time. As she slid into her seat she mentally reviewed the items on her to do list. Passport – check. Tickets – check. She was already packed. Had laid out her traveling outfit. Yes! All in order. As she left the bus stop and walked the few blocks to her apartment, she dared to picture herself arriving. Lost in thought she grabbed the mail, unlocked her door, stepped inside and turned on the lights.

“Surprise!” They yelled.

Oh no! This gathering was not part of her plan. Her sister stepped forward and grabbed her arm, turning her back on the crowd in her living room and pressing a glass of champagne into her free hand.

“You could at least look pleased to see us, Sis. We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this party for you.”

She quickly gathered her composure. “I know, it’s just that I’m beat and was planning a soak in the tub with a glass of wine and a good book. Not exactly social.” She smiled hoping to disarm her sister and it worked.

“Just let me go freshen up and I’ll be out in a flash to enjoy your efforts.”

“Okay, but if you take more than five minutes, I’ll come in and drag you out, naked or not.”

“Promise! I’ll be back before you know it.”

She smiled at the gathered crowd and begged to be excused long enough to change into her jeans. As she walked by the catered spread she swiped a couple hors d’oeuvres and popped them in her mouth. Mmm! That was tasty! They had indeed gone to a fair amount of trouble. Now how was she going to get rid of them before midnight?! She preferred to travel when she was well rested. Of course, she could use the excuse of having to work in the morning… which is where she would normally be going in the morning… That should work to divert them and cover her tracks.

She changed into her jeans and shoved the packed suitcases into her closet, hoping no one had come into her bedroom tonight. Thank goodness the weather was mild so they didn’t need a place for coats, although they could use the guest room or the office.

She gathered her thoughts and put on her party face and went back out to mingle with her guests.

“Here’s the guest of honor, finally!” her brother said to the crowd. “Now for a toast.”

She had no idea what to expect so she smiled and held her champagne glass ready.

“Here’s to my sister. A woman who always gets what she wants.”

A chorus of Here! Here! reverberated around the room as everyone raised their glasses and drank.

Her sister pointed to a table in the corner. “Hey Sis! Why don’t you open your presents?”

She looked quickly at the pile and then at her sister, and then it was her turn to drag her sister away from the party guests.

“What’s all this about?” she hissed. “Christmas was months ago and it’s not my birthday. Why am I getting gifts?”

“I think you better open them,” her sister replied.

With a another suspicious glare at her sister she turned back to the party and smiled.

“How kind of all of you. I am sure I haven’t done anything to deserve all this attention.”

As she made her way across the room to the table smiling and greeting each person as she passed, she wondered what had inspired this party.

She paused in front of the table. The mound of gifts was impressive. Better than any birthday she remembered. Larger than any Christmas since her childhood. She surveyed the pile and turned back to the room. Her sister gestured for her to start opening packages.

“We know you need to get up early tomorrow,” she said simply.

“You are all so thoughtful and I am overwhelmed,” she paused and then picked up a small box from the front of the table. The paper was familiar. And then she realized there were pictures of luggage and travel related items. She hesitated again. They couldn’t know. How could they know? She had been very careful to cover her tracks and her staff were under strict instructions not to divulge her destination.

Then she opened the box. An adorable set of purple luggage tags with a pawprint theme was nestled in the tissue paper. They were perfect! She smiled widely. Then she looked around the room.

“Thank you very much. How did you know?”

Her sister smiled a secret smile. “We have our sources.”

*******

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.  Mary is on vacation this week, however, she is with us in spirit and provided a laugh for David without knowing it.

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 Scroll

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a tax collector. A barn plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a library in ancient times. The story is about aging.

*******

She rambled down the aisles of the library, randomly looking at scrolls and tablets. She wasn’t expected here and the librarians occasionally scowled in her direction. They weren’t fond of women — educated women were considered to be particularly troublesome. And they were even less fond of tax collectors. Since  she was both, she knew they watched her more closely, and with more animosity than any of the other patrons. And since she was no longer young, she could not distract them with her beauty as she once had. She was still striking although her once jet black hair was streaked with silver and soft lines had appeared around her eyes. The advantage from her perspective was that she was no longer intimidated by their glares. She knew they couldn’t hurt her and they could not stop her. In spite of her gender. It was not a great time to be a woman, although with enough money and power one could still exercise some freedom in Alexandria.

The manuscript she sought was old. Older than anyone here and older than the parents or grandparents of anyone here. The author had been dead for centuries, but she remembered seeing the scroll when she had visited with her father. It seemed like a lifetime ago. She was young then and just starting to realize the power of her looks on those around her. Her father was proud to have a daughter so eager to learn and so pretty.  She still missed her father even though he had been gone for more than 10 years.

She dragged her thoughts back to her task. She tried to remember the general area in which he found the scroll. What was the angle to the librarian’s station? How many rows? How many tables? Based on her memory of that day, she calculated that she had to be pretty close, but how would she recognize the document? Just then she noticed one of the librarians moving an armful of scripts quickly out of the room as if he didn’t want to be seen. He seemed to be checking to see if he was being watched so she looked quickly away before he noticed her gaze. After he left the room she furtively moved down the aisle to see where he had gone. She followed at a distance as he went through two other rooms and then down a set of stairs. She crept down the stairs not knowing what was at the bottom and not wanting him to know she was following. Just as she reached the bottom and peeked over the balustrade, he lifted a trap door with one arm and held it until he had stepped into the hole and replaced the door above his head. She knew she didn’t dare follow him down so she looked for a place to hide and waited until he came back out. Once he came up she knew she wouldn’t have a lot of  time to explore the trap door before he returned with another armful, so she moved quickly. Peering down through the trap door she saw more stairs leading to a tunnel and decided to risk it. She descended quickly and ran down the torchlit tunnel as soundlessly as possible until she found another door. Holding her breath, she eased the door open to peek in and saw a chamber with more doors.  Since no one seemed to be around she slipped into the chamber and was approaching the first door when she heard voices behind her. She darted through the door and closed it noiselessly behind her hoping they would not follow her. Luckily they were distracted by their conversation and didn’t notice as she dove behind a partition, when they entered through the same door. She waited while they discussed the movement of the works from the library to these chambers, holding her breath when they gestured at the urns in her direction. She held back a sneeze and then stopped breathing altogether when they paused.

“Did you just hear something?” the younger of the two men asked.

“No. These chambers will make you crazy if you allow your imagination free rein. There are echoes from the stable above us and the grain in the bins will shift suddenly. Just ignore it. There’s no one else here,” replied the elder man.

As the men were silent again and then left taking the torch with them. She waited in the dark as long as she could.  She could hear water dripping and she heard the echoes of the hooves of the animals above. Then she started to feel for the door she had glimpsed on the opposite end of the room. She found the handle and slowly opened the door a crack  – Light! She decided to go through and soon found herself at the foot of a ladder leading to an opening in the ceiling. As she climbed she realized she was climbing into daylight although still inside a building of some sort. She poked her head through the aperture and looked around – seeing only the animals she finished her climb and looked around the barn as she straightened out her clothing and dusted herself off. Then as casually as she could she walked out the door of the barn and into the street. Now that she knew where the tunnels led, she could come back another time and explore the contents.

When she was a block away from the barn she heard the cries and turned with the crowd to face the library. Fire! The library was on fire! People were running from the building screaming. As the realization came to her, she turned and headed for home. She would never see the manuscript now, so she resolved to recreate as much of it as she could from memory.

Many years later as she lay dying she passed what she had recorded to her daughter with the words, “Never grow too old for adventure.”

*******

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 Trader

The story prompt is: The protagonist is female and a trader. A gate plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a barn in the medieval age. The story is about fear.

*******

She gathered her skirts and picked up her bag to see if everything was still in it. Good! Nothing is missing. She looked around.  She appeared to be in a barn.  She could see the stalls and straw and hear the horses. The structure was made of stone and wood and appeared to be fairly solid. She didn’t feel any draft so the doors must be closed. She made her way cautiously forward. A board creaked and a horse nickered. She paused. Without knowing what she would encounter, she preferred to move slowly. It was still light outside so the barn wasn’t completely dark although there were no lanterns or torches. She could see the barn door ahead and glanced back to the gate through which she had recently gone. There was no one around. Just the horses and perhaps some other livestock at the other end of the barn. The horses were usually kept toward the front since they were taken in and out more frequently.  The cows and swine were toward the back where the door led into the barnyard and out to the pasture. It had been a pleasant spring day, so there would be no need for heat, although the night would undoubtedly be cool. She continued making her way toward the door when suddenly it flew open and a large man stood in the doorway. She ducked behind a horse stall and waited. He moved quickly to the first horse stall and was bringing the horse out when it whinnied. “What’s the matter, Blackie? You seem uneasy.” The horse followed obediently, but kept turning his head toward the rear of the barn. He had tethered the horse at the mounting station and was getting the saddle and bridle when he noticed the horse’s repeated glances behind him. “What’s going on, old boy? You act like you’ve seen a ghost.”

She held her breath. The last thing she wanted was to have him find her there. She had hoped to make a quick exit and make her way along the nearest road to a village. If he found her she might have to go back through the gate to escape and she was not looking forward to that. The gate was problematic. She used them when she had to, but each trip seemed to take something from her that she never regained. And who knew how long she could keep using them until there would be nothing left of her to give. Still, if that was what she had to do, she would do it. The gates had allowed her to keep her freedom and her sanity. Otherwise her father would have had her married to some man – a peasant, a butcher – and tied to one time and place. By using the gates, she avoided her father and controlled her own fate. She would go to the villages and trade her needlework for food and fabric and thread to make shirts. Sometimes she traded for wool that she carded and spun for warmer garments.  Occasionally she traded her sewing and mending skills for a place to sleep. But since she had been using the gates, she hadn’t needed as much sleep, so those stops were rarer. Perhaps that was the toll the gates exacted – her sleep.

He came very close to her location and she prepared to flee, but suddenly he turned and went back to the horse. “I don’t see anything, Blackie, and we’ve got to get done before dark.” He finished saddling the horse then led him out of the barn and closed the door. She waited until she heard the horses hooves fade in the distance and then let herself carefully out of the barn. Then she moved quickly to the road and hurried on her way. Grateful that she wouldn’t have to use the gate again so soon.

*******

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

Story-A-Day Challenge is courtesy of Forward Motion for Writers http://www.fmwriters.com/

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

Story-A-Day Challenge Post 7: The Historian

I’ve recorded a lot of thoughts and opinions over the years. It’s an occupational hazard when you are in my line of work.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is try to write this letter.

Words have always come easily. Of course, I was busy recording life as it happened. It’s not so hard to write down what you see and hear.  Just the facts. Most of the time anyway. Okay, yes, I did embellish on occasion. Just for fun. Just to make it more interesting for the reader.  I’m sure James Thurber was recording a historical event in “The Night the Bed Fell on Father” and that every word was true in the best sense.  There’s been such a flap lately over storytellers and whether they should be held to the same standards as reporters. Why should they? Storytellers serve a different purpose than reporters.  Historians are more like storytellers than reporters. And as Machiavelli says, “History is written by the victors.” Doesn’t bode well for Truth, does it? I don’t want storytellers to give me the Truth. I want a tale that’s on the edge of belief. I want to be transported. I want my imagination stretched. I want my boundaries tested. I want to see what might be instead of only what is.

This letter has to contain the Truth. It has to convey the information without making it more than it is. If I make too much of it, she’ll panic, and I don’t want that. If I say too little she will also panic. So I’m struggling to find exactly the words that will make it okay for her.  So she won’t be alarmed. She will know it’s all right and that we will go on. She’s busy you know. She has the kids and her husband and her job. For all I know she’s not even home now. Her job requires a lot of travel. She may not even get the mail for a week. And she lives so far away. We’ve kept in touch. She calls. She emails. I write letters. I hope she shares them with her kids. I think it’s a lot easier to hand a piece of paper to someone. Although the newer technology allows sharing with lots of people all at once. It’s not the same. If you hand someone a piece of paper they may feel more obliged to read it. I mean really read it.  Not just skim over it like part of the din of ever-present media. It’s easy to skip over a post – blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. If someone pauses and presses the “Like” button you’ve made an impact. If they stop and comment you’ve really made a dent. If there is nothing, it’s a whisper drowned in the roar of the ocean.

A letter makes people stop. It holds their attention. It doesn’t have to compete in the same way as other media. That’s why I have to be careful to make sure this letter is just like all the other missives I’ve sent to her. I suppose I could just post it and hope it gets lost in the cacophonous sea of updates, but then one of her friends will be sure to see it. And they’ll tell her. And we’ll be back where we started. No, I have to put it in a letter, in the same manner I usually do. At least this way she’ll have the letter that tells her all about the cancer and the treatment. And even though I’ll be gone, she’ll be okay. And she’ll know I love her.

*******

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

Story-A-Day Challenge is courtesy of Forward Motion for Writers http://www.fmwriters.com/

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

Story-A-Day Challenge Post 6: Eddie The Prophet

Eddie took another toke and exhaled slowly. The smoke rose and cleared and Eddie put the  roach away. As he lay back into the easy chair, he felt the familiar haze start to swirl and spin as he once again slipped into the space-time continuum. (Or “STC” as he lovingly called it – when you’re as familiar with something as Eddie was with the space-time continuum you often have a shorthand way to reference the familiar.)

As it ebbed and flowed he felt the pulse of the underlying vibration that he usually followed and eased into it. There are lots of vibrations, lots of levels, lots of frequencies, and in his early days, Eddie had experimented with many of them.  The disruption to his corporeal self as a result was hard to endure and gradually he learned which route felt the most comfortable and cause the least after effects.

The sound and color became stronger and then enveloped him and moments later deposited him gently on a staircase.  The stairs were stone and highly polished and led to a landing a short way above him.  Eddie climbed the short distance and found a table laid with an elaborate meal. There was a single chair near the wall facing out.  Eddie looked all around and off the edge of the landing over the railing and saw no one. There was no one in what appeared to be the town square below. No one on the staircase. No one visible in any of the windows or doorways.

The munchies were coming on strong and Eddie’s mouth started watering as he surveyed the table. There were many things he did not recognize, but the fruits and vegetables were similar enough to what he was used to eating that he felt safe in nibbling bites here and there as he circumnavigated the large table.  Finally, he reached the chair with his hunger mostly sated and he felt the fatigue that often beset him after his journeys. He sank into the chair and realized that it was much softer and much more comfortable than anything he’d felt in a long time. As his head nodded he was vaguely aware of another presence watching him.

When Eddie awoke from his nap he was not surprised to find himself surrounded by a coterie of beings.  They were similar to humans from most time periods, except that these people seemed to glow with a soft light that came from inside them.  “Kind of like seeing auras,” he noted they had different colors and intensities. The one nearest him seemed to have a soft purple glow and also seemed to be gazing him expectantly.

“Oh wow! Like nobody was here, man, and I was kinda hungry cause I traveled a long way to get here…” he broke off as he realized that they did not seem to be angered that he had eaten from the table. Their expression seemed welcoming and even joyful. The beings around him seemed to glow more brightly.

So he started again, “Food is like happiness, man. No one can be happy on an empty stomach.”

And the crowd below cheered.

*******

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

Story-A-Day Challenge is courtesy of Forward Motion for Writers http://www.fmwriters.com/

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

With gratitude

To everyone who has read a post here or liked a post or commented, my sincere thanks.

This blog is an experiment for me. A way to start having my name out in the world attached to my writing. So anyone who helps me as I grow and change and still manages to follow my meandering posts is my hero, and I am grateful to you.

My parents found me challenging, my siblings probably more so. It’s not that I’m trying to be difficult, it’s just that I see things differently than most people and I will point it out. Probably when you least expect it. And you will think long and hard about whether the things I ask you to consider are worth the difficulty of thinking about them. Some of you will give up and leave. And I am still grateful that you gave me what you could.

Story-A-Day Challenge Post 3: It Hit Me

It went something like this:

“Look out!”

“What?”

“Duck!”

“Huh?”

“Never mind….”

“Splat!”

Because then it hit me. The most disgusting, slimiest, yuckiest spitball ever created. It was the size of a baseball and nearly as hard, except the spit caused it to slide downward quickly… drenching my shirt. I looked at it and then vomited.

**********

Story-A-Day Challenge is courtesy of Forward Motion for Writers http://www.fmwriters.com/

Thanks to D Anthony Brown http://danthonybrown.me/ and Mary C Sutton for the challenge and the company while I wrote.

The Loss of a Mentor

I lost a mentor this week. He didn’t know me and wouldn’t recognize my name, and yet, I thought of him as a guide, a teacher and a friend.

He was influential in our neck of the woods, and not only through his audience with the local newspaper, but also through his neighbors, his activities with local sports and politics, his garden, his church and his family.  He took the concept of community seriously and devoted himself to our city with a passion that’s hard to match.

I’d say “Rest in Peace” although I can’t imagine he would recline on his (plentiful) laurels even now – there’s too much to do!

Fare thee well, Greg! We miss you.

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Motherly goats (for David)

There are things that happen when writers start talking… random things that reflect a certain state of mind (or lack thereof)… tied into procrastination and FB and other places that tell of a trail of thoughts winding with the evening breeze through a busy restaurant and past a cup of coffee or two.  And you arrive at “motherly goats” which make you giggle every time.

So much for monthly goals… that Trello board (www.trello.com) will never be the same now that David has re-christened it.  (I hope Mary won’t be too offended since we share that particular board…)

On Duality

Like you, I often feel torn in two directions (sometimes more).

Wanting to be more available to spend time with my mom and wanting to spend more time writing.

Wanting to grow my hair down past my waist like it was in my college days and wanting to chop it short and dye it purple just to shock people.

Wanting to spend more time on my music and wanting to read more novels.

Wanting to look for a new job and wanting to create that new job.

Luckily I never want to spend more time cleaning  (although I sometimes wish I wanted to spend more time cleaning).