Gaia’s Child

Writing Prompt: Urban Fantasy

UrbanFantasy

One gloomy, cloud-covered day in the small town of Callahan, a tree sprite leapt out in front of Auntie Yolanda. It chittered angrily in treespeak, waving twig arms like an orchestra conductor. It obviously had some urgent need, a warning of some cosmic event that might shatter the world.

Auntie Yolanda rolled her eyes and walked right past it.

She was too old for this sort of nonsense. She was pushing sixty now, battered mentally and physically by years of conflict. She didn’t fancy fighting an oil bogle today, or a mirror bogle, or any bogle, really.

The sprite wobbled after her, legs flailing like thin stilts. It stood to her knees, and no one else could see it — at least, no one without Gaia’s blessing — but Auntie Yolanda was certain it would give up soon. How it had managed to keep a single thought in its head for even this long spoke of its urgency.

The sprite still followed when she reached her modest little home, or not her home, precisely. It was a pleasant single-story with a decently maintained lawn and a picket fence. This was a common house available to all who served Gaia, but Auntie Yolanda was currently its only occupant.

She had come to Callahan to get away from the endless war between Gaia and the bogles who plagued Gaia’s children. She had come to end her years playing Bingo, and watching returns, and feeding stray cats. An ordinary life for an ordinary woman.

Yet Auntie Yolanda was not ordinary, and this sprite sensed that. It whooshed into the home like a falling leaf. It wouldn’t stop chittering, and eventually, Auntie Yolanda knew, she would have to do something about that.

She put a kettle on the stove. She sat and read today’s paper as the tree sprite wobbled about on her table, relating harrowing tales. Once the kettle whistled, Auntie Yolanda poured herself some tea, flavored it with honey, and sat on the worn orange couch. The cushions were covered in cat hair.

“All right, all right,” Auntie Yolanda said. “I’m listening, little one. What’s the emergency?”

The chittering began again, and this time, Auntie Yolanda listened. She tuned out the sounds of the real world and listened for the world beneath it, the secret world that existed beneath what everyone else could see. She nodded, and grimaced, and took one more sip of her honeyed tea.

“Well,” Auntie Yolanda said. “That certainly is an emergency.”

The tree sprite chittered something snarky at her.

“Settle down, little one.” Auntie Yolanda sipped her tea. “Just let me finish this cup.”

They had time. She would call a taxi, because Callahan was big for a small town.

The taxi arrived twenty minutes later, long after her tea was done. The cabbie, a large man with a big smile, greeted her with a wave and a “How’s your day been?”  Auntie Yolanda offered only a token pleasantry before stating her destination and staring out the window.

The tree sprite hopped in beside her — it was a surprisingly single-minded little thing — and they drove across town to Sadie Parker’s sagging white rancher. It was one of several houses off Service Road 80, a path untraveled by most. It was closer to nature than any house in Callahan, which explained things.

“This the place?” her cabbie asked.

“Yes.” Auntie Yolanda paid the man.

“Your granddaughter live here?” Apparently, this particularly cabbie enjoyed awkward conversations.

“No.” Auntie Yolanda stepped out into the cold and drizzle. “Have a safe trip home, young man.”

She stood on the lawn until he drove off. Only then did she walk toward the run-down rancher, tree sprite dogging her heels. She climbed the creaky, peeling steps. She knocked on the battered front door.

Floors creaked, and then the door opened a crack. A frazzled woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties peeked past the door chain. “Yes?”

The tree sprite whooshed in through the door crack, chittering happily and bouncing around the room. It had a strong attachment to this place, Auntie Yolanda saw now. A strong attachment to this little girl.

Auntie Yolanda smiled and breathed out Gaia’s breath. “Your daughter is very sick.”

Sadie Parker’s mother stiffened when Auntie Yolanda said that, but only for a moment. Gaia’s breath was a powerful relaxant. Soon enough, the younger woman unchained her door and invited Auntie Yolanda inside.

“I’m Jessica,” Jessica Parker said, in a way that implied she wasn’t quite awake just now. “And yes, poor Sadie has been ill for the past few weeks. We’re saving for a doctor visit.”

“Is she in her room now?” Auntie Yolanda asked.

“She’s sleeping.”

“I’d like to see her.”

“Okay.” Jessica led her down the hall with slightly drunken steps.

The tree sprite knew the way, obviously, yet it hesitated outside Sadie Parker’s door. It bounced from stilt leg to stilt leg, chittering angrily. A bogle drunk off a child’s energy would be sluggish in the daytime, unlikely to stir for a tasty tree sprite, but the tree sprite couldn’t be sure of that. The fact that it would wander this close to its primary predator told Auntie Yolanda just how much it loved Sadie Parker.

“Could you get me a glass of water, dear?” Auntie Yolanda asked.

“Of course,” Jessica said. They both waited.

“Now, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes.” Jessica turned slowly. “I’ll see if I can find some ice.”

Auntie Yolanda took a moment to center herself before bracing what waited inside. She traced the tiny ley lines stitched into her wrinkled palms with her thumbs. She traced glyphs of protection on her heart, mind, and loins. She stepped into the darkened bedroom and wrinkled her nose at the stench.

Normal people couldn’t smell a bogle, but people like her couldn’t stop smelling them. Its stench was an ancient stench, like pitch bubbling in a methane swamp. Sadie Parker’s eight-year-old form breathed fitfully in her little bed, covers pulled to her chin. Her eyes twitched, and sweat rolled down her brow.

Auntie Yolanda stood silently and let her eyes adjust. Once the room was twilight, she swept its length for possibilities. It was obvious the Parkers didn’t have much, but what they had, they spent on their daughter. Stuffed animals had no wood in them, so those were out. The xylophone had wood, but not enough, and though the desk and chair seemed perfect, those were too obvious for a crafty bogle.

Her eyes fixed on the wooden monkey atop Sadie’s tall bookshelf, a battered representation of See No Evil. Hear and Speak were missing. It was likely Sadie found the monkey while walking, or riding her bike, or in her backyard. That was how bogles entered a home, as innocuous objects discovered by chance.

Its hateful mind shrieked into hers before Auntie Yolanda could glyph anything.

She gasped as the bogle’s unexpected attack tore open her surface thoughts. It wriggled about inside her head, lashing out madly at memories of Auntie Yolanda’s own daughter, and her dead husband, and her parents and friends. It, too, could smell Gaia’s blessing, and that smell made it vengeful and mean.

Auntie Yolanda took a step as her head pounded. She took another as her palms bled. She felt her heart slow and her lungs swell, but she kept walking. This old body still had a few years of fight left.

She fell to her knees at the bookshelf, glaring at See No Evil. The boggle taunted and tormented her, just out of reach. She pulled herself up with a trembling arm. She stretched out one hand as the bogle chewed on her good memories, polluting, corrupting, distorting.

One of her bleeding fingers glowed green. When she touched the wooden monkey, it vanished with a hellish shriek. The smell vanished.

Auntie Yolanda collapsed against the bookshelf, sucking in deep breaths. So much for pushing sixty. She felt at least seventy now. Maybe seventy-two.

Jessica Parker entered the room and gasped. She hurried over, water in hand. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, dear.” Auntie Yolanda glanced at Sadie Parker, who breathed evenly in her bed. “I’d like that water now, if you don’t mind.”

Jessica handed it to her. Auntie Yolanda drank. When she was done, she handed the empty glass back and watched the tree sprite climb into bed with the little girl it loved.

“Sadie will be fine now,” Auntie Yolanda told Jessica.

“Really?” Jessica didn’t question that, because you didn’t question things while in a dream.

“When she tells you about the little sprites who live here,” Auntie Yolanda said, “believe her.”

“How did you…” Jessica blinked. “How do you know about her imaginary friends?”

“They aren’t imaginary,” Auntie Yolanda said, “any more than I am. When Sadie turns fourteen, send her to 10 Roanake Way, across town. I’ll be waiting. I’ll teach her everything.”

“All right,” Jessica said.

From the bed, Sadie Parker’s tree sprite chittered encouragement.

THE END

About the Story:

Our theme for the month was urban fantasy, and  naturally, my mind immediately went to my favorite urban fantasy to this day, Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks. This story takes a great deal of inspiration from that book and that world. While I haven’t written any real urban fantasy (yet) it was a fun exercise and feels like a world I might want to revisit some day.

photo credit: pontesrocs <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/134177452@N02/32832584952″>Masure</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Vengeance, of a Sort

Writing Prompt: Dragons

DragonsWordpress

The man’s skin showed he hadn’t been dead long — maybe a day — and Sekia recognized him. He was Darhold from Manner’s Ford. He had come for the king’s bounty and had his legs torn off instead.

Sekia’s own legs trembled, her spear and shield heavy in her hands, as she stepped over half a dead man. She stared up the rise leading to Rothalvor’s cave. Her brother’s armor felt too big for her, and its worn padding chafing her skin, but it was warded and fireproof — or so he claimed, before he died in it.

Collecting the king’s bounty on Rothalvor would never bring her father and brother back, but it would make her feel better about losing them. Maybe. The thought that she might die and make her mother’s grief worse hadn’t seemed real until this moment, as she stared at half of Darhold and wondered where his other half had gone. Probably devoured. Probably dragon shit by now.

She should go back. She should tear off this armor and sprint away like a startled rabbit. She should, but she wouldn’t. Sekia was here to kill a dragon, and running away while tearing your own armor off wasn’t how you did that. The comforting words of old Mayer, the retired constable who trained her with bows and spears, echoed in Sekia’s mind.

Shield toward your opponent, always. Stay low. Walk no matter how much you want to run. Only throw if your opponent is running straight at you.

Good advice for fighting bandits. Good for fighting an angry wolf filled with arrows, when it decided it didn’t want to die until it ate your throat. But a dragon? There was no good advice for fighting a dragon. She’d just have to muddle through and hope she didn’t die making a fool of herself.

Walking, not running, meant it took her a good while to reach the entrance to the cave. Sekia braced herself for a deafening roar as she crossed the threshold, a burst of fire that would heat her brother’s magically-warded armor as she crouched, teeth gritted, behind her shield. No roar or fire came, and she knew then how Rothalvor planned to kill her.

He was going to make her walk herself to death.

Sekia walked as the cave descended and water dripped. She walked until she found the great dragon Rothalvor curled around a pile of treasure. The dragon was a winding tree branch of endless brown scales. He might be a snake, if he wasn’t long enough to wrap around her house three times over. Rothalvor opened one foggy yellow eye and snorted.

That single eye rolled as steam rose from the nostrils in the dragon’s triangular head. That eye watched her as she advanced, cowering behind her shield. The dragon was practically daring her to throw a spear she knew, now, would bounce right off those thick scales.

“Well,” Rothalvor said, in a voice that grated like rocks over other rocks. “Get on with it.”

Sekia had not known the dragon could speak like a human — the bounty didn’t mention that — and his greeting startled her. She slipped as she stepped onto a carpet of gold coins of countless sizes and shapes. She kept her balance just well enough to not completely drop her shield.

The cavern shook as coins bounced in all directions. Rothalvor slithered off his giant pile of treasure, an avalanche of teeth and steam and scales. Sekia dropped to her knees, planted her shield, and set herself to throw.

Rothalvor skidded to a stop ahead of her and reared up, towering over her. A single black scale below his head fell open, revealing a red and beating heart. “Throw well, human.”

Sekia didn’t toss her spear. She wanted to, desperately, but none of this made any Gods damned sense. She hated things that made no sense, which is why she had done so poorly in philosophy.

“You…” Sekia hated how small her voice sounded. “You want me to kill you?”

“Dense,” Rothalvor agreed. “You humans always did strike me as dense.”

“You killed my father.” Sekia’s voice grew. “You charred him and my brother like mutton, you sick, sadistic, wormthing!”

“Yes, yes, I murdered your family.” Rothalvor stomped one back foot, and more gold coins tumbled like sand down a dune. “As your hunters slaughtered my daughter. What of it, human? We all kill. Get killing.”

Sekia could not throw until she understood. “Your daughter?”

Rothalvor lunged, and Sekia tossed on blind instinct. The dragon’s beating heart filling her vision. Her spear struck true, penetrating beating flesh in a shower of steaming blood.

Rothalvor roared a deafening roar. Some of his black blood spattered her armguard, steaming and hissing, and Sekia shrieked and tumbled over backward. She struggled with the armguard, tearing off one glove and then tearing at the straps. Her warded, unmeltable armor melted. She ripped the armguard off just in time to avoid losing her arm.

“There.” Rothalvor shuddered as his body collapsed like a sock kite falling to earth. “Well tossed.”

Sekia rose, trembling, and threw down her shield. It was obvious she didn’t need it any longer. She shouted the words that had been clawing their way up since the dragon first spoke. “Why did you want me to kill you?”

Rothalvor bared dozens of long white teeth. “Vengeance.”

“For what?”

“My Aranara was a crown jewel among dragons, the best of us, graceful and sleek and pure. She was meat to your king’s hunters. They lured her in and slaughtered her like a common pig.”

Sekia knew then that might be true. She knew her father and brother died on a noble mission for a king. She knew Rothalvor killed them — knew, because a few survivors told the tale — but she also knew the king’s men triumphantly killed another dragon that day, a smaller dragon, an ally of Rothalvor’s. Or his only daughter.

“Your king,” and Rothalvor coughed blackish blood, “believes he no longer needs us. He believes he can have all his treasure back, that blind fool.” Rothalvor’s body shook as he laughed. “Stupid humans.”

“I’m stupid?” Sekia trembled with rage that felt misdirected. “I’m not the one with a spear in my heart!”

“Fraust is coming for you,” Rothalvor whispered. “So long as I lived, I balked him. That was our pact, mine and your king’s, until your king’s greed overcame his common sense. When I die, my territory dies with me.”

“Fraust?” That name squeaked out of Sekia’s mouth, because it was a name few dared speak aloud. The refugees from the northern kingdoms whispered the great ice dragon’s name like a curse. The king assured them Fraust was a dragon of pure ice, unable to tolerate the southern climate, and Sekia believed their king, then.

“Go home, puny human,” Rothalvor whispered. “Go home and cower.” His body trembled for the absolute last time. “Go … die…”

Sekia did go, eventually. But the walk home took a whole lot longer than the walk to the cave.

* * *

“Sekia!”

Sekia squinted and wrapped the pillow around her ears. Her fresh bed in Mayer’s all but empty inn felt harder than she liked.

“Sekia!” the voiced shouted again, shrill and exited.

It was that annoying girl who worked for Mayer, Ane something. Anebel or Anebeth. Sekia would remember if her head wasn’t pounding from last night’s mead.

“Come look!” Anesomething grabbed Sekia’s hands and pulled her from the bed. “It’s a miracle! You’ve brought a miracle down upon us!” Gods, this woman could haul a horse around.

“What?” Sekia blinked as reality suffocated her.

What happened last night was no dream. Rothalvor was real. That spear in his heart was real. His horrifying last words were real, but they were just a hateful lie to taint her victory, a bluff from a defeated foe.

Ana-whateverhenamewas dragged Sekia off. She followed, but only because fighting might send them both tumbling down the stairs. They burst from the inn together, and Sekia only then realized she was still in her smallclothes. Goosebumps rose on Sekia’s arms.

“It’s a miracle,” Mayer whispered, staring up at the cold gray sky. He lifted a hand and caught one of the many glittering snowflakes descending from the heavens. “Your miracle, Sekia.” Mayer smiled, proud as her father might be if he was still alive. “The Gods cry over your victory.”

As the goosebumps spread, as Sekia stared up at falling snow in the middle of a warm summer, a chill took her. That great chill was colder than knowing how her father and brother died. It was the chill her mother, her village, and her kingdom would all feel soon, as they froze and died together.

Fraust was coming.

And Sekia couldn’t even find the tears to cry.

THE END

About the Story:

I’ve actually never written a single story about dragons, before this one. They’re one of the most iconic creatures in fantasy, and that may be why I’ve shied away from them for so long. It just feels like everything that can be done with dragons has been done with dragons, but dragons was our writing prompt, so I did what I could with it!

Ultimately, this story came together very quickly once the name of the great ice dragon popped into my head (Fraust, LOL) and once I hit upon the idea dragons of staking out their territories (or losing them to other dragons, upon death) Rothalvor’s vengeful plot became clear.

photo credit: garryknight <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/8176740@N05/16692987962″>Chinese New Year London 2015 – 08</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Patent Pending

Writing Prompt: Time Travel to 1750

1750

“All rise!” The bailiff’s shout announced the arrival of Judge Miller, ruler of Delaware’s small court.

Bill Demidov stood among people wearing everything from moth-eaten suits to threadbare rags. The judge, a short man in a long powdered wig, entered and sat. Bill swallowed his nervousness. It wasn’t every day you filed a patent application that changed your life.

To his left, a woman in soot-stained clothes coughed into a handkerchief. Behind him, Bill sensed workers from the factories and canneries eying his fine clothes and judging him. Thinking him soft.

He was not soft. All these people had to deal with was other immigrants and low wages. They had never labored under a hot sun on an island farming camp.

“Be seated!” the bailiff boomed, and Bill sat with the others in a massive creaking of seats.

The courtroom was drafty, the windows frosted. To Bill, the very idea of “cold” was bizarre — in his time, the tiny islands remaining on Earth no longer experienced “cold” — but he knew he didn’t like it. Cold was annoying. It chewed on your skin and made your insides hurt.

If all went right today, he would never return to the cramped working islands of 2182. People presented claims as Bill toyed with his pocketwatch that wasn’t a pocketwatch. The reason he was here.

Two tenants accused each other of stealing firewood. One man accused another of misrepresenting the age of a packhorse who dropped dead. A woman in fine clothes claimed another stole her prize hunting dog. Through it all, Judge Miller listened, questioned, and dispensed justice.

Before the judge got to his case, Bill heard the double doors at the back of the courtroom creak open. He turned with many others to evaluate the newcomer. Who was coming into the courtroom late?

It was a tall, thin man with gold-rimmed glasses and a fancy suit. He eyed those in the room like one would eye a paddock of growcows, then sat on the edge of a bench. Probably some rich man’s lawyer.

“Bill Garrison!” The bailiff’s voice boomed. “Approach the bench!”

Bill stood. This was the day he finalized his patent application, the single most important event in his sad life. He couldn’t screw this up, could he? The patent was reviewed and approved. This was a formality.

Bill approached the bench clutching his own small suitcase. All he had to do was present the paperwork and get the judge to approve it, and then he would have his patent. He would finally be rich.

“You have your paperwork in order?” Miller asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Bill said, reaching for his briefcase.

“Ah, uh, excuse me.” The man with the gold-rimmed glasses stood. “May I approach?”

“Why?” Miller sounded bored.

“My client, a Mister Franklin of Philadelphia, wishes to contest the patent filed by Bill Garrison.”

Bill’s heart sank. How was this possible? How had Franklin even learned he was here?

“Approach,” Miller said. “This might actually be interesting.”

“Your honor,” Bill started, but Miller raised a hand to shush him.

“Your name,” Miller demanded.

“Thomas File, sir.”

“Why are you in my court today, Mister File?”

“It is my contention,” File said, narrowing his eyes behind his thick lenses, “that Bill Garrison, a former employee of Mister Franklin’s, stole Mister Franklin’s work.”

“Now hold on!” Bill said, as that was ludicrous. “I never worked for Benjamin Franklin.” Two years in this muddy backward time was more than enough. “I’ve never even met him. Whatever this man claims—”

“Mister Franklin has been researching his pointed lightning rod conductor for more than four years,” File said, “and I have correspondence dating back to 1746. You first filed your patent in 1748, did you not?”

“Still filed before you,” Bill said, his stubborn streak kicking in. “If anyone stole anything, he stole my idea.” That was almost true.

File opened his briefcase. “Your honor, here is a diagram Mister Franklin drew for his invention. Note the date and details.”

The bailiff passed the document to Miller, who squinted and frowned. “What is this, a weathervane?”

“It’s a lightning rod!” Bill said, because he couldn’t let this frustrating little man steal his idea — or rather, his idea to steal this idea. “It protects buildings from lightning by channeling it to the ground, instead!”

“If you would kindly compare Mister Franklin’s diagram to that provided by Mister Garrison,” File said.

“What?” Bill frowned at him.

“You will find them identical,” File said.

For the first time, Bill smiled. This man was just making things up! The lightning rod design was his own — he had drawn it based on designs on the worker tents — which meant File had no case.

“That’s completely untrue.” Bill opened his briefcase and produced his diagrams. “If you’ll review my design, your honor, you’ll clearly see … that…”

Bill stared at the papers. The papers that weren’t his papers. These were Benjamin Franklin’s originals.

What were they doing in his briefcase?

The bailiff plucked the papers from his hands before Bill could do anything more than gawk.

“Now wait a minute,” Bill said, but Miller was already comparing. “Your honor, those aren’t mine!”

“That’s obvious,” Miller said, shaking his head. “Next time you steal your boss’s idea, Mister Garrison, you might consider blotting out the initials.”

“But I didn’t—”

“Your patent claim is denied.” Miller hammered his gavel. “Mister File, are you bringing charges?”

“No, your honor,” File said.

“You sure?” Miller looked dubious. “Didn’t he steal your client’s design?”

“In my client’s opinion, justice has been served.” File closed his briefcase and bowed his head.

“Very well,” Miller said. He glanced at his bailiff. “Next case!”

Bill hurried after File, who was already leaving. He caught up with the man outside the courtroom, grabbing his arm. “How did you do that?”

File pulled his arm away. “Do what, Mister Garrison?”

“How did you sneak those papers into my briefcase?”

Gradually, File’s flat face curved into a satisfied smile. “You really should be more careful with your things, Mister Demidov.” He produced a silver pocketwatch that wasn’t a pocketwatch. A pocketwatch just like Bill’s.

Bill gasped as the man used his real name. “You’re from…”  He lowered his voice. “The future?”

“Did you really think you could steal from one of the most well-known personalities of the 1700s?”

“He stole the lightning rod design from my ancestor!” Bill said, standing up straight. “Akinfiy Demidov designed the lightning rod years before Franklin filed his patent!”

“You can’t change the timeline because Benjamin Franklin beat your ancestor to court.”

“But he stole the design first!” Garrison said. “Who sent you?”

“Who do you think sent me?”

“No one knows how to build time machines! I only developed the design two years ago!”

“And your first action, having invented time travel, was to try to conduct patent fraud?”

Bill grimaced. “It was a first step! Did you steal my design?”

“Your design,” File said, “was uncovered in 2294, over one hundred years after you mysteriously escaped from your island work camp.” File opened a pocketwatch with luminous numbers and dials that looked much nicer than Bill’s own, primitive time machine. “We have, of course, made improvements.”

“But how?” Bill demanded. “I only left two years ago!”

“You must understand, Mister Garrison, that once time travel was invented, the concept of ‘years’ became irrelevant. Once we could defend the timestream, we would always defend the timestream.”

“What do you mean, defend the timestream?”

“Two-hundred forty years after you invented your device, President Ivanapolos founded the Bureau of Time Management to stop plots just like yours. Our experts believe tampering with the established timeline is simply too dangerous.”

“People know I designed a time machine?” Perhaps his fortune could be made in the future, not the past. “I’m famous?” Bill felt hope again.

“Your name is now taught in all orbital universities. You are known across the solar system, Mister Demidov, as the inventor of time travel.”

Bill couldn’t believe it. “Am I rich in the future?” Could this all be true?

“No, Mister Demidov.” File clicked his pocketwatch. “You are in jail.”

Bill blinked. “Huh?”

“Timestream tampering is punishable by life in prison,” File said, and that’s when the world dissolved.

When it returned, Bill’s word was a small cell with a soft-looking bed, a tiny window overlooking a blue planet covered in water, and a single metal toilet. Bill’s pocketwatch was gone. So was Mister File.

“Wait a minute!” Bill shouted. “You can’t do this to me! I’m the inventor of time travel!”

Vents hissed as gas filled the room, and then Bill didn’t feel upset. He felt happy. His little white cell was the best little white cell in the world.

He settled on his bed, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. He dreamed of warm skies and open seas. For the first time since he’d been born, he was content.

He forgot all about his time machine.

THE END

About the Story:

I’ve actually never written a time travel story due to the glaring scientific problems with it, not the least of which is the Earth, its solar system, and everything else moves in space, so most time travel stories would end up with you sucking vacuum. Historical fiction is one of my least favorite genres, soinitially, I wasn’t excited about this month’s theme at all. However, after toying with time travel plots, I did like the idea of someone using time travel to file a patent application before the original owner. It was silly and petty enough that I hadn’t seen it elsewhere, and then I just needed to find a patent.

After doing some cursory Google research on inventions patented near 1750, I came across the history of the “pointed lightning rod conductor” and the various claims about it’s inventor (whether Afinfiy Demidov or Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea first or independently) and found the perfect subject for my patent claim. Obviously, I’m sure this story is rife with historical inaccuracies (another reason I don’t write historical fiction often is because I am lazy :p) but I hope it was entertaining nonetheless.

Photo Credit: Tadie88 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/68748051@N06/32742605572″>26.01.17 Flash Gun..</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

The True Origins of Bjord the Commanding, Washer of Sheets, Undisputed Ruler of Absenthia

Writing Prompt: Potions and Elixirs

Potions

“Psst.”

“What?”

“Pssssst.”

“You don’t have to psst me, Neesh. There’s no one here, and I can see you just fine.”

“Just keep your voice down.”

“The library’s empty. I’ve checked.”

“You can’t be too careful.”

You can’t be too careful. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

“I did it.”

“Did what? Why couldn’t this wait until morning?”

“I’ve mixed the potion, Artur! The Potion of Command Galidor mentioned in his historical journals.”

“You did not.”

“It’s right here.”

“Let me see that!”

“Well? Look at it!”

“Sure, this looks like a potion, Neesh. So do all the flasks we mixed last week.”

“It’s not a potion. It’s the potion. Don’t ask me what I had to go through to get my hands on a Yuk-Yuk’s heart.”

“What did you have to go through to get your hands on—?”

“I told you not to ask!”

“It probably wasn’t even a real Yuk-Yuk. Old King Harold killed all the Yuk-Yuks, after his son’s nose fell off. Every noble in Absenthia assumed he was snorting faerie dust.”

“Look, I have it on extremely good authority that it was a Yuk-Yuk … I mean, the flying possum from which the heart was cut … and the instructions said that adding it would create a poof of green smoke that smelled specifically of mint and goat.”

“I think one of those smells will overpower the other.”

“Not for a nose like mine. The smoke was green, a nice poof of it, and the smell was minty goat.”

“When have you ever spelled a minty goat?”

“The weight’s just right, too. I checked it against the figures Galidor left in his journals.”

“Did you remember to add a half-crown for the weight of the flask?”

“Of course I remembered the half-crown. I’m not an idiot.”

“Well, you did tell Alchemaster Palu that the difference between a Potion of Short Flight and Long Flight was the length of the feather you ground—”

“That was an honest mistake! And besides, you mixed up green sand and red in reagents class.”

“That’s because I’m colorblind, you insensitive dolt.”

“Oh, right. Sorry, Artur. I just don’t like it when you belittle me. Alchemaster Tonjold always belittles me, and you know what he thinks about smallfolk becoming alchemasters.”

“Look, Tonjold’s an old prick, and I’m not belittling you, Neesh. I’m just being realistic. I just don’t think anyone is ever going to be able to replicate Galidor’s Potion of Command.”

“But I just did.”

“Well, if you think so, how do you plan to test it?”

“That’s why you’re here.”

“Oh, no.”

“I’m going to drink the potion, and then I’m going to tell you to do something. If you do it—”

“Absolutely not happening.”

“—then we’ll know the potion works!”

“What were you going to tell me to do?”

“I don’t know, um … hop on one leg, maybe?”

“How would you know I’m not just messing with you?”

“Because you wouldn’t do that! How long have we known each other, Artur?”

“Too long. Far too long.”

“I know you wouldn’t mess with me like that. You’re nothing if not brutally honest.”

“Well, I suppose that’s true.”

“So, stand right there, and I’ll—”

“Stop!”

“Hey, let go!”

“You can’t just drink it, you dolt. What if you got the formula wrong?”

“I didn’t.”

“You could end up attracting slugs, or turn into a purple mushroom and migrate spores all over the library, like that second year that ground up a tree frog.”

“There’s no tree frogs in this potion.”

“Or you could end up burping crickets.”

“Name one time that’s happened.”

“Potions Exhibition, last year. Dilution training, four months ago. Smell control, last—”

“Name one time recently.”

“All I’m saying is, if you really think this does what it does, we should test it first. On someone else.”

“Oh. Well … let’s think. Who do we know who’s stupid enough to drink a potion without asking what it is?”

“We’re at a school of potion makers, Neesh. The stupid ones never make it through the first year.”

“Haha, true. Oh hey, do you remember that long-nosed guy from Estonir, the one with the ponytail? What was his name?”

“Lejo something.”

“Lejori?”

“Yes, Lejori. That’s the first and last time I’ve ever seen anyone projectile vomit their own tongue.”

“Okay, fine, let’s say we do it your way. We still need someone who’s not part of the school.”

“A mundane?”

“Why not? We’ll just tell them it’s a love potion or something.”

“Love potions are illegal, and if he reports us—”

“He won’t report us, Artur. They don’t even let mundanes in the guild anymore, not since the last peasant uprising. Steward Snodgrass had to order eight-dozen new vials from the Illusion Embassy.”

“Didn’t they get into the reserves as well? Some rumor about strength potions they could use to bash through the king’s guards?”

“Honestly, I think that’s where all the new statues in the hedge maze came from.”

“All right, so, we’ll go find a mundane. But we’re not going to tell them it’s a love potion. Maybe a truth potion, instead.”

“Ha! That’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?”

“Not if you know what that word means.”

“I like this plan. I like it a lot. So, first thing tomorrow?”

“Yes. Fine. But we should only offer the mundane a single drop. Assuming Galidor’s old journals aren’t all donkey scat, a single drop should give him the power of command for … ten minutes, tops.”

“Say, um … what if he commands us to give him more?”

“That’s why we take a dropper, with one drop, and hide the rest of the potion in your room.”

“Ooh, good idea.”

“Mix up a bit of ForgetMeSo. We’ll both take a drop before we leave tomorrow. That way, neither of us will know where the potion is, so even if he commands us to give it to him, we won’t be able to. ”

“But … how will we find it again?”

“When the ForgetMeSo wears off. Assuming you mix it right, that’s less than a day.”

“Oh, good idea! That’s why I always call you, Artur. You have all the good ideas.”

“Well, Seven forbid, if you have managed to somehow replicate Galidor’s Potion of Command, you’ll be the one with all the good ideas, Neesh. They’ll promote you to alchemaster for sure.”

“Gosh, you really think so?”

“They promoted Bujor, and all he did was turn the Potion Master’s cat into a slightly larger cat.”

“Alchemixed milk, wasn’t it?”

“He’s lucky the cat didn’t explode.”

“Okay. I’ll hide the potion tonight. Tomorrow, we prove it works, and tomorrow afternoon—”

“Alchemaster Neesh becomes the new head of the Galidor Restoration Project!”

“With his new Steward of Potions, of course, Artur Rainwater.”

“I like the sound of Steward Rainwater. He sounds very rich.”

“I could be Galidor, Artur! They could speak of me like Galidor someday!”

“Just remember to hide the potion better than the Potion of Flatulence you mixed last year, for Jester’s Day. Old Bjord always turns down the bunks. If he turns down your bunk—”

“Seven take me, I couldn’t go in the dorms for a week after that! But he won’t find it.”

“He’ll drink anything he sees, Neesh. It’s a compulsion he’s had since he mixed up the ingredients in his Dietary Elixir. That’s why they demoted him the Dorm Master.”

“Head sheet washer, you mean. I still don’t see why they don’t just fire him.”

“Honestly, how do you pass anything? He’s the last member of Galidor’s tenure track.”

“Tenure track?”

“That’s why you become an alchemaster, Neesh! So you get tenure. So no one can ever fire you.”

“Oh, right.”

“No one can fire Bjord even if he lacks the wits the Seven gave a caterpillar, which is why they have him turning down bunks.”

“He won’t find it. Besides, we’ll be back before turn down.”

“Just don’t hide it in your bunk.”

“I told you, Artur, I’m not an idiot!”

“I know. I know you’re not an idiot, Neesh. I’m with you.”

“Really?”

“We’re doing this. We’re going to be the toast of the Absenthia, thanks to your alchemical brilliance, and my political brilliance.”

“But mostly my brilliance?”

“Whatever you want to put on the wall.”

“Seven take me, Artur, we’ll be famous!”

“And rich, remember, but only if your potion works.”

“It’ll work! I know it’ll work!”

“Well I suppose we’ll see tomorrow, won’t we?”

THE END

 

About the Story:

This month’s theme, “Potions and Elixirs” was open, and didn’t initially inspire me to write any specific story. I eventually decided to try to do something I believe I always have trouble with: comedy. Once I’d decided I was going to try to write a “funny” story I then, just for the heck of it, decided I’d also try to write a story that was all dialogue … no descriptive prose whatsoever, and no dialogue tags.

Could I tell a complete story, using only the dialogue of two main characters? That was my experiment! You can judge if I pulled it off.

Finally, for those curious about the ending of this story, just go read the title again. Hopefully, that should make it rather clear what happened.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/51771794@N07/5238433505″>Dry Ice Experiment 1</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

The Frozen Glass

Writing Prompt: Story Generator

TheFrozenGlass

It was past dark when Ren came in sight of old Prophet’s Church, and the local militia were gone. Perhaps in the first days, when the fires of revolution still burned in the minds of the people, those guards had not shirked their duties. Those days were decades past now, the great people’s revolution now reduced to boring history.

No one had worshiped in this building in decades, since it was abandoned by royal decree. Newly crowned King Darenth had not ordered it burned or torn down—that would imply the land’s newest monarch thought the Prophet’s rantings meaningful—but had instead ordered it left to decay in obscurity. Forgotten, like the Prophet herself.

Still, the church was in better shape than the Prophet. You could not behead a church.

Ren’s trusty velociraptor, Shrike, hunkered down as Ren reined him in at the stone fence. Time and opportunistic villagers had left its stones depleted. Shrike hated the church, hated what waited inside it, but that was because raptors were, by nature, distrustful of magic. What had brought them into the world could easily send them back out again.

“There now, girl.” Ren slid off Shrike and stroked his hand down the raptor’s long neck. “Don’t fret. I’m going in alone.”

Tonight, Ren knew, he would finally hold Elen into his arms. He would free her from her magical prison and bring her home to his father, to marry. He would tell her he loved her.

The inside of the church was in worse shape than the exterior. While stone and mortar had weathered the years gracefully, the wood inside was peeling, broken, and rotting. Ren chose his steps carefully. He was going down to the cellar, but he preferred to take the stairs.

He felt his way down stone steps in darkness, using the wall as his guide. Only once concealed by the cellar did he produce his wand and light it with a word of power—Solyr. Long ago picked clean by scavengers, the cellar was empty of all valuables save one—the full-length mirror with the golden frame and frosted glass. The mirror that had called to Ren from his dreams. Elen’s prison. A prison for the woman he loved.

The scavengers hadn’t touched the mirror. They hadn’t even been able to see it. Ren could see the mirror because he knew the old words, like Solyr and Vanis, because he had learned those words from his father. King Darenth’s mastery of those words had allowed him to seize the throne. All Ren wanted was to free Elen.

He walked to the mirror and set the wand aside. He focused and waited until a blue tint grew at the edge of his vision. He said the words that brought him to Elen six weeks ago, on the first of many nights they spent talking, commiserating, falling in love. “Revel.”

The frosted glass melted from top to bottom, revealing a surface beneath like the side of a soap bubble, transparent but always shifting. Elen waited beyond the frost. Her brilliant smile when she saw him lit Ren’s world brighter than the glowing wand.

“You’re back!” She was everything he wanted. “I thought I’d never see you again!”

Elen was close to his age, old enough to marry but only just, with golden hair to her shoulders and a green dress—the same dress she always wore—that rose to her neck and fell to mid-calf. She had soft curves and a nose that was just a bit rounder than his. She owned his heart.

“I found the word,” Ren said, and Elen’s eyes grew wide. “I can free you. We leave this church tonight, together.”

“You found it?” Elen clasped her hands together at her breast. “Oh Ren, I knew you wouldn’t fail me. I love you! I love you! I love you!”

Each repetition made the words more powerful, and Ren felt his face flush and his body heat. He thought of all the nights they had spent talking in this cellar, her on one side of the glass and him on the other, and the bond that grew as they learned they shared the same dreams, and beliefs, and hopes. Her to be free once more, and him to free her.

“I need you to stand back,” Ren said. He couldn’t wait to touch her, to hold her, to kiss her, at last. “Stand well back, Elen, and I should be able to make a hole in the mirror.”

“Will it hurt?” She swallowed and stared from behind the glass that kept them apart. “The Prophet told me it would hurt. She said I would die if I went free.”

The Prophet again. Ren worked to hide his anger. The Prophet deserved to lose her head for all the awful things she had done, least of which was imprisoning her own daughter in this mirror when King Darenth took power. No one deserved to suffer forever in a mirror.

“It won’t hurt,” Ren said, because he wanted to reassure her. “And you won’t die.” That he did know, having researched every book in the old king’s library regarding enchanted mirrors. “You’ll be free, we’ll be together, and we’ll rule the kingdom as husband and wife.” He smiled. “In a few decades, of course. After Father passes.”

“I’m ready.” Elen stepped back. “I trust you, Ren. I know you’d never hurt me.”

Ren focused on the golden frame, on the bubble glass, and waited until the blue tint came. It was all around the edges of his vision now, crackling more than normal. Was that a warning? Ren didn’t care. He focused on the word, fixed it in his mind so he could think it as urgently as he said it, and spoke. “Liber.”

The surface of the mirror shimmered like a still pond struck by a heavy stone. A wind grew inside it, tossing Elen’s blond hair and pressing her dress close against her body. Frost appeared at the edges of her hair, and her teeth chattered. “Ren!”

“Come out, Elen!” Ren shouted. “Walk toward the wind!”

“I can’t!” Her eyes were wide now, the frost spreading across the glass. She reached for him, struggling. “Help me, Ren! Help me!”

Something was wrong. He had said the word of power wrong, but he couldn’t let her die in that mirror. He couldn’t let her freeze.

Ren dashed forward and, for the first time, reached through the mirror. He strained for her and Elen for him. Their hands touched, warmth upon warmth, and for the barest of moments time ceased to be. There was just Elen, her hand in his, her smile and her love.

The world melted around him.

Ren stumbled into hard stone, except it was not stone, not any longer. It was glass, clearer than any he had ever seen and tall as the sky. A golden frame surrounded a mirror shape in the wall of glass, and behind that glass and endless sky was a dark cellar and a glowing wand. Elen stood in it, staring at him, smiling, her hair still tipped with frost.

“Elen?” It was cold in this world of sky and glass, and Ren saw his breath mist as goosebumps rose on his arms. “Elen, what’s happened? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine now, Ren.” Elen’s smile grew as she watched him through the glass that had once separated them. “No, beyond fine. I am perfect. I am avenged.”

“What?” Ren didn’t understand any of this, and he pushed his hands against the glass that separated them. It was no longer a bubble, and it was hard and cold. “Elen, what are you doing out there? How am I in here? What is this?” He loved her!

“Your father’s reward.” Elen’s smile turned chill. “My mother’s gift.”

She was the Prophet’s Daughter. The Prophet had imprisoned Elen, hidden her, damned her, and King Darenth had killed the Prophet. Elen should be grateful!

“Elen, no. I love you!” Had she lied about everything? He realized he didn’t care. “I’m not my father. We can overthrow him, Elen! We can rule together!”

“My mother can’t rule without her head.” Elen picked up his glowing wand and turned her back on him. “And your father can’t pass on a kingdom to a son that doesn’t exist.”

She was mad! She was going to leave him here, in this mirror, where no one would find him, because he loved her. Because he wanted to save her. “Stop! Please! Don’t do this!”

Even as he shouted, even as his heart pounded and his head thumped, Ren knew she wouldn’t listen. He knew, because he remembered those words. The Prophet had uttered those same words, in that same tone—before King Darenth chopped off her head.

“Farwell, Ren Darenth.” Elen climbed the steps. “Farewell, you blind fool.”

Ren was still screaming when the cellar grew dark again.

THE END

 

About the Story:

This month, the mods made their own “story generator” and everyone rolled a set of random numbers to determine what elements they would have to incorporate into that month’s story. This resulted in a number of stories with similar elements, but those stories ended up being very different. It was a remarkably fun exercise, and I was surprised by how much of this story “wrote itself” as I worked to incorporate all the elements I had rolled. Below, the story generator matrix:

934irgw

My roll ended up as the following:

Paranormal Romance
Royal Heir
Church
Wand
Too Trusting
Evil Wizard/Witch

AND…

DINOSAURS

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/25494789@N02/27894292603″>Chapelle de Cazeneuve</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

The Strangled Heart

Writing Prompt: Fairy Tales from a Different Point-of-View

StrangledHeart

The blood rites were finished, the words of power chanted, and the potion prepared. A drop a day would save the afflicted babe, but Ana felt ravaged from the inside out. This spellwork had stolen years of her life, but what alternative did she have? If she did nothing, she might as well murder the baby herself.

The sobbing parents arrived at dusk, motivated, Ana assumed, by fear. Everyone feared Dame Ana Gothel, and Ana bore the loneliness without complaint because the alternative was chaos. Her words of power would be used to kill, her runes to imprison, her magic plants to plague and poison.

No one else remained to protect the Walled Garden from men.

When the miserable couple reached the edge of her verdant estate, the mother’s sobs matched her babe’s. The smell of rotting leaves rolled off this mother, the stench of despair. Ana understood despair – she understood the pain of losing her only child – but this mother would not see her child die.

The father stank of frustration and regret, the stench of a bog mixed with the smell of iron and blood. He blamed Ana for this, of course, but Ana’s focus remained on the babe, on the squalling her parents assumed was natural. It most certainly was not. This babe was in agony, spiky roots tightening around her heart.

The mother wailed and clutched her newborn daughter to her breast. “Why must you steal our child, Dame Gothel? How have we wronged you?”

“The babe was never yours.” Ana maintained the stately pose she had cultivated to hide doubt and pain.

“I carried her!” the mother wailed. “I birthed her!”

“If you believe our bargain unfair, your quarrel is with your husband.” It was the greed of this father, after all, that sentenced his child to death.

“A bargain is a bargain.” The father motioned, impatiently, to the mother. “Give her the child, Nan.”

His emotions now smelled like spoiled oranges – guilt. Ana knew then he had not told his wife what the stolen rampion had done to their child in her womb. Men like him did not admit fault.

“All we took was a plant!” the mother wailed. “Why must I trade my child for a plant?”

“Ask your husband.” Ana stared at the man until his eyes fell.

“You’ll kill her!” the mother shouted. “You’ll sacrifice her in some blood rite! I won’t let you!”

“Your daughter dies already. Do you not hear the truth in her cries?”

The mother gasped. “You ensorcelled my child?”

“The rampion you stole from my garden did that. The plant you so foolishly gorged upon is strangling your child’s heart.”

“That can’t be true!” The mother’s eyes welled as she glared at her husband. “Eddard! Tell me it isn’t true!” The smell of her betrayal hung on the air, sickly and sweet.

The father’s downcast eyes damned him more than any word from Ana ever could. Ana stared at the mother. She stared at the dying babe. And with one more sniffle, that babe was hers.

* * *

Fortunately for young Rapunzel — named, Ana decided, for the enchanted rampion wrapped around her tiny heart — drops of Ana’s potion slowed the plant’s growth and kept the baby alive. As years passed and the babe grew into a young girl, who grew into a young woman, Ana began to hope this child — her child, now, because she could no longer think of little Rapunzel as anyone else — would one day venture beyond the Walled Garden. If Ana could find some way to unwind those hungry roots from her heart.

The answer came on a fresh spring day, Rapunzel’s twelfth birthday. As Ana helped her daughter trim the ivy choking their garden’s walls, she saw its true nature. Tendrils around Rapunzel’s heart.

As ivy grew in the direction of water and light, so might the roots of the hungry rampion. Ana could not destroy the rampion, but she could lead its growth elsewhere. Ana would coax the magical plant out through her daughter’s brilliant blond hair.

That night, after Rapunzel slept, Ana returned to her mother’s tower. She carved, and scribed, and chanted, sacrificing decades of her life so her daughter might one day be free of the rampion curse. Ana knew when she was done, breathless and quivering with pain, that this blood enchantment would draw the rampion out of her daughter — but only if Rapunzel remained in the tower until the healing was complete.

Given enough years in this enchanted tower, the roots strangling her daughter’s heart would grow into luxurious blond hair, strong as hemp rope and long as the ivy clinging to the Walled Garden’s stones. Why strangle a heart when you could spread your blond roots, drinking in sweet sunlight and fresh air?

Ana would not live forever, certainly not as long as Rapunzel, not now. She had sacrificed so much of her life, and when she died, who would conjure the potion that kept the rampion from strangling her daughter’s heart? This tower was her only daughter’s salvation.

Some day, Ana would make Rapunzel understand.

* * *

The moon was bright when the prince climbed the strong blond curls that had once strangled Rapunzel’s heart. When he saw Ana waiting for him, he almost fell right off the tower, and Ana was sorely tempted to let him fall. He was the reason her daughter hated her.

“Dame Gothel!” The prince’s eyes narrowed as his hand brushed his sword hilt. “Where is Rapunzel?” Like all outsiders, his first solution to conflict was violence.

“Not here,” Ana said.

“Foul enchantress! What have you done with her?”

“I haven’t made her pregnant, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I’d never…” the prince began, but his flush gave him away. “We didn’t … we only…”

“Rapunzel is gone, you fool.” The air shimmered as the rage Ana restrained writhed inside her. “She hates me, and will always hate me, but she is now free.” This prince had filled Rapunzel’s head with lies, seduced her, used her, but he would not kill her. “You will never see her again.”

“You imprisoned her!” The prince pointed an accusatory finger. “You kept her in this tower against her will!”

“I saved her life, foolish boy.” Ana’s grief and despair smashed against her mental gates, shaking the tower and forcing the prince a step back. “I loved her, protected her, taught her, and now you have poisoned her heart against me. Yet you failed to kill her. I stopped that.”

“What do you mean? Why would I kill her?”

“If you had dragged her from this tower before her healing was complete, the decades I’ve sacrificed would be wasted. I sheared Rapunzel’s fatal curse from her head this morning, even as she shrieked at my cruelty and demanded her release. I love her, I will always love her, and so I set her free.”

Rapunzel’s curses and threats had ruined Ana worse than rampion around her own heart, strangling, crushing, feeding. There was no pain like the hate of one’s own daughter.

“Where is she?” the prince demanded.

“Why do you care? You’ve already sown your wild oats.”

“I love her, Dame Gothel!” The sincerity of his emotions rolled off the prince in waves. “We are betrothed!”

His love was the smell of cherry blossoms in bright spring, a fresh rain on clean grass. It might not ease Ana’s grief, but it could ease Rapunzel’s. “Prove it.” Could Ana save her daughter one last time?

“I will do anything to find her. Anything! Please, help me.”

The prince craved magic. They all craved magic, just like Rapunzel’s birth mother craved that stolen rampion. So be it. Ana was done protecting these fools from the garden’s magic, done sacrificing her life for people who feared and hated her. Her own daughter had cursed her and left her alone, to die.

Ana clapped her hands and said the words.

Where once a prince stood now flapped a bird, small and blue and chirping with outrage. As Ana approached, it fluttered and squawked around the room. Ana spoke loud enough for the bird to hear.

“Fly to your Rapunzel, little prince. Fly far. If you truly love her, and if you can find her, her touch will restore your form. Find your betrothed and bring her, and her child, the happiness I never could.”

The transformed prince fluttered to the window sill, glanced back. Then he was off and flying before Ana’s legs gave out, before she collapsed on the cold stone floor, exhausted. Her life drained.

Dame Ana Gothel would never see another sunrise. She had given everything for Rapunzel, and now her tower, her garden, and her legacy would crumble to dust. She would die alone, wrapped in her daughter’s hate, but Rapunzel would live on with her prince, happy and alive.

If Ana left nothing else to the world that hated her, she left that.

THE END

 

About the Story:

This theme was incredibly similar to that of Fairly Wicked Tales, the anthology of twisted Grimm fairytales that published my short story “Rum’s Daughter”, so I was initially a bit unsure where to go with this one. I’d already twisted one fairytale into knots (Rumplestiltskin!) and no others jumped out at me as obvious propaganda from the winning side of a conflict.

That changed when I read the wikipedia entry for Rapunzel, specifically some of the older versions and variations. Pretty much immediately, I knew that Dame Gothel had been on the wrong side of history, maligned and misunderstood, and a much different version of the Rapunzel tale popped into my brain. At that point, all I had to do was write it down.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7156765@N05/24572547029″>Spokane Washington ~ Spokane County Courthouse ~ Central Tower</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Nightmare Man

Writing Prompt: Nightmares

KabukiMask

The outsider arrived on an overcast day in shelter season, wrapped in furs of black and brown. A mask of blood-stained wood obscured her face, a demon visage with leering eyes and bared teeth. Metal rods ending in small balls jutted from her boot tips, thumping the ground with each measured step.

From the moment she entered Papa’s smoke-filled tavern, I couldn’t stop staring at her. She journeyed freely without servants or a husband or anyone, really, a life I’d live if not for Papa’s condition. The common room grew silent save for the woman’s boot tip rods thumping the wooden floor. A sword remained sheathed on her back.

The leering eyes on her demon mask passed over my sullen patrons, the sad fire sputtering in my hearth, and fixed on me, standing behind the beaten bar. Excitement filled me that I’d not felt for almost a year, since the last outsider arrived. That same excitement faded once he fled, babbling, down the mountain.

“My name is Kinto Kusaragi,” the woman told me, “and I’m here to kill your Nightmare Man.”

I looked to Papa, staring at nothing, and then at Will, my towheaded younger brother. Will nodded, face solemn. He could handle things while I was away. He could handle Papa if the necessity arose.

I prepared myself for another long trek up the lonely mountain, another day of listening to boasts and threats. Another bitter disappointment. “Very well then. Let me get my coat.”

* * *

There was no delay once Kinto Kusaragi stated her purpose – this was not, I suspected, a woman who tolerated delay – so we set out together despite the overcast sky. For those who still lived in Stone Hamlet, a blizzard was the least of our worries. We had thick furs, sturdy homes, and sturdy hearths, and enough salted meat and porridge to last through the winter. What we did not have is sleep.

Our waking lives were repetitive, exhausting slogs through necessities and chores. We put off sleep for as long as we could, fighting exhaustion until we couldn’t. Some of us, like my poor Papa, had lost themselves entirely in the visions that raced down the mountain every night.

It was the Nightmare Man who shoved those horrors into our heads, who sent the things that drove us awake, screaming, and suckled on our fear. Worse yet, once you’d suffered through enough gifts from the Nightmare Man, waking just continued the dream. That was why Papa stared.

“Tell me of your village,” Kinto said, as she followed me up a narrow mountain path of packed dirt bordered by rocks and scrub. “Tell me of your life here, before and after. I wish to know everything.” The bulk of the lonely mountain towered over us, jagged edges and snow-capped peaks.

The last outsider to answer Mayor Rollin’s plea for aid, a big dark-skinned man with his huge axe and clinking mail, had asked nothing as I led him up the path. He had called himself Rourke the Crusher, a hero of great importance, and a lonely tavern keeper like me was beneath him.

Kinto was different, interested, so I told her of how things had been before the Nightmare Man came. Of the festivals and dances we used to hold during Harvest Months, the chalk art my mother made before she died. I told her how the nightmares drove Mayor Rollin insane, how Lady Rollin grew mad with grief and fear and ended her children before ending herself. I told her the names of those who fled or died.

I told Kinto of my Papa before he lost his mind to fear, the way he could stop a brewing fight with a stern glare and set a room to laughing with a single bawdy joke. The way he treated me and Will the same, always. None dared question a woman working behind a bar, not in front of it, while Papa watched.

Papa protected me until he couldn’t, and I was determined to protect him too. That’s why I remained in Stone Hamlet despite the horrors that ripped me apart in nightmares every night. That’s why I risked my sanity and safety despite my urgent desire to do anything but run a tavern and tend a bar.

As we ascended Kinto mirrored my every step, metal bars thumping, along with her boots, into the snowy imprints of mine. Odd behavior, but I put it off to paranoia about traps. Perhaps I was not so friendly as I claimed, or in league with the Nightmare Man. A woman who fought demons would not survive without being cautious.

We found the Nightmare Man’s two-story cabin at the end of the mountain path, the one so many of my people trudged up and down every day. The smell of bags of rotting fruit was awful, gifts our sheltered tormentor ignored as he often ignored us. Bribes and pleas.

These desperate attempts by the people of Stone Hamlet’s to purchase even one night’s uninterrupted sleep were as unimportant to the Nightmare Man as we were. Our screams and our terror kept him fed, not these rotting sacks of fruit, and he took that gift whenever he wished. What need had he of fruit?

“Close your eyes, child,” Kinto said softly, and I complied. The way she called me child was not dismissive – it felt protective, even – and I had no desire to witness the horrors that sent Rourke the Crusher fleeing down the mountain. I was willful, but I was no trained fighter. I could only get in her way.

“Palor Sellius!” Kinto’s voice thundered up the path. “Your time here is at an end! Leave, or die!”

Nothing from the cabin. Nothing but silence on the wind. Then the sound of the Nightmare Man’s mad laughter, echoing off the rising walls of the mountain path and digging into my ears. His laughter was the worst of it – the glee he took in driving us slowly insane – and I bared my teeth and clenched my fists. Yet despite my closed eyes, my endless shudders, I would not turn and run. Not until Kinto ran too.

“Leave!” Kinto thundered. “Or die!” And though my eyes were closed, the ring of her sword leaving its sheath came so clearly I could practically see the blade glistening in the fading sun. Red as blood.

“Fool of a woman.” I heard a door open and the Nightmare Man’s heavy footfalls as he stumbled out. I pictured a wheezing man grown fat on the nectar of our nightmares, and what bribes he deigned to eat. “You really wish to lose your mind?” And with that, a monstrous scream chilled my blood.

“Pathetic,” Kinto replied, and I heard those metal bars clanging forward. “Anything else?”

For the first time in a long time, I dared hope. I did not know what had produced that roar – I dared not look, for fear of losing my sanity – but that roar had driven Rourke the Crusher back down the mountain, hollering at the top of his lungs. Evidently, Kinto Kusaragi was made of sterner stuff.

“Unexpected,” the Nightmare Man whispered, excitement twisting his words. “Face this!”

A mournful keening set my muscles rigid and brought sweat to my sides. Yet Kinto strode on, metal balls thunking in the dirt, and I heard his wooden stoop creak as the Nightmare Man stepped back.

“Impossible,” he said, and I heard the first hint of real fear. I wondered if he had forgotten what fear was like as he lived in his cabin all these years, ruthlessly inflicting terrors on my people. “No! Get back!”

A roar arose that stole my ability to think. I could not imagine what sort of horror had made it, what sort of horror Kinto Kusaragi must be confronting with her glistening sword, but I did not hear her run.

“You cannot frighten me, Sellius,” Kinto told him, and then I heard a meaty thunk and the Nightmare Man’s gurgling. “Go in peace.”

I opened my eyes – I had no choice but to open my eyes, hearing those impossible words – and found Kinto withdrawing her bloody blade from the middle of the Nightmare Man’s chest. He collapsed, eyes wide and words slurred, as blood spread around him like a stuck pig. His nightmare power was broken.

I stared at the man dying on his stoop. “How?” I stared at the woman who ignored a horde of horrors to murder him. “How did he not terrify you?”

One of Kinto’s hands rose to her wooden demon mask. She removed it to reveal the weathered, golden face of a woman about Papa’s age, a woman whose milky white eyes stared at nothing. She was as blind as I was when I squeezed my eyes shut, guided only by her metal rods and her sharp ears.

“We all have our gifts,” Kinto said, a satisfied smile spreading across her face. “Mine is killing rogue illusionists.”

THE END

 

About the Story:

This contest’s theme, “Nightmares”, obviously lends itself to stories with a darker bent, and initially, I pondered going right down the horror route. However, while brainstorming ideas, I ended up randomly coming up with the idea of a “Nightmare Man”, which then sent me down all sort of thought experiments as to what a Nightmare Man would be.

This story flowed naturally from there, coming together very quickly.

Photo Credit:

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/25045966@N05/2381835393″>Kabuki Mask – Noh , Oni(Hannya)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;