eimarra: (Default)

The Sundark Festival was in full swing, with smoky scents, voices raised in laughter, and music from different instruments clashing in the streets. Irena paused and stepped, weaving her way through the crowd in the not-dance that everyone employed. A cluster of children surrounded a nut vendor, blocking her progress. Her stomach rumbled at the thought of the fresh roasted treats, and she joined the ragged line.

The vendor was quick, and she soon had a leaf-cup of nuts in her hand. As Irena turned away, someone jostled her elbow, spilling the nuts. Nettled, she spun to face the oaf. “Ay–!”

She stared into the blank face of one of the Masks, those who told of the winters to come, a single word of foretelling. Bad luck to yell at one. Swallowing her annoyance at losing her snack, she bobbed her head. “Have you a word for me?”

Silently, confusingly, it extended a hand.

Irena wasn’t sure what to do; she’d never encountered a Mask personally before. When the Mask gestured again with its hand, she took it and found something pressed into her hand. Opening her hand, she found a white disk, round and white, lacquered like the Mask’s face. She looked back up, but the Mask had gone.

She slipped the disk into her bag. She’d think about it later; now she had a festival to enjoy.

The disk slipped her mind until she turned toward home and saw a pair of Masks standing, heads leaning toward each other as if they conferred in whispers. They could talk? But of course they could; they shared words with people each festival. But no one ever heard more than a single word from a Mask in a lifetime. She itched to step closer, to hear what they said to each other.

Her hand crept inside her bag and grasped the disk there. What did it mean? It was like — and she knew the word she had been given. She crossed to join the other Masks, glad that she had had one last Festival before she hid herself behind a blank and lacquered face.


355 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Of Bugs and Family

“Hey, toss me my phone, would you?” Danny caught it in one hand without looking up from his work on the table. Sherry needed to know what he’d found — before he made his report to his boss.

“You going to tell me what’s so special about this bug compared to all the others we’ve found?” his partner Jen asked. “Or do I have to read your report, as usual?”

The manikin splayed on the table didn’t move. Bands clamped its arms and legs in place, and steel pins held its vestigial wings still. “Bugs” was the term the Department used for them — highly inaccurate, but better than the tabloid presses with their “Fairies are real!” and “Whatever you do, don’t clap your hands” headlines. The bugs had been showing up in increasing numbers around the globe for the past half dozen years, and the growing unrest of the public had forced the Department to step in.

Danny didn’t answer Jen. Instead, he spoke into his phone. “Sherry? I’ll be home late — Yes, I know it’s hard on you being all alone — Yes, I miss Troy, too — No, I’m not burying myself in my work. No. No. No — Look, we’ll talk about it when I get home.”

He ended the call and dropped the phone on the table. She hadn’t let him even try to explain. That was okay. He had enough information now for his boss to agree to Danny’s plan, and this bug would lead them to the nest. The nest — a place so far existing only in theory, where the bugs bred, and where they took humans to learn their shapes.

Danny glared down at the miniature version of his missing son’s face. With luck, when he found the nest, his son Troy would still be there.

Then Sherry would forgive Danny for working these long hours. She would see he’d done it for them, for family.

Today, his family would be healed.


319 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Fairytale Household Improvement Service

You’ve had those months where the housework just isn’t getting done, the mildew has formed a group consciousness and is threatening to secede from the house if you don’t do something with the paper monster in the living room, and the books have made their own fortress — twice — to keep everyone else away. Everyone has. It seems all is lost, and you have no choice but convince a passing dragon to burn it down, or perhaps (more drastic, it’s true) walk away from everything and start over in a new town.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

For just the price of your firstborn child (who isn’t doing the housework either, may I point out?) or the low, low monthly payment of two village urchins, you, too, can be the proud owner of the Fairytale Household Improvement Service. This service comes complete with two random elves or brownies (suitable for tasks ranging from shoe mending to custom boot making), one cinder wench (of random gender, suitable for all sweeping, mopping, and cleaning), and one goose girl (also random gender, suitable for work with domestic animals). Your house will never be the same!

Fine print: In the event one or more portions of this service leaves your service, you are still required to continue payment for the duration of the contract. Not responsible for loss due to flood, fire, lightning, goose droppings, clothing for naked elves, acts of fairy godmothers, or psychiatry bills for people caught talking to bloody pieces of clothing. Your service may vary. Satisfaction is not guaranteed.


259 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Something Blue

Cherry blossom petals, drifting on the breeze, caught in Angelica’s hair. She grinned but did not falter in her notes, singing the change of seasons as Drake had taught her. With the orchard full of pink blooms and the hum of bees, spring had come to the hilltop, but the dragon had told her she needed to keep singing until even the apple trees had leafed out — another month at least!

And Verena hadn’t even made a match, like she had thought. Instead, Father had sent her off to some fusty school, and Mother wouldn’t tell her why, only that they would be getting her a new tutor soon. Whatever, it gave her plenty of time to talk to Drake or to go prowling around the forest with Smoke.

Speaking of the mist cat, where had she gone? She had been lying in the sun between some of the trees, soaking up the warmth. Now she’d vanished again, disappearing like the mist she was named for. Thank goodness Angelica wasn’t as flighty as her pet.

A high-pitched sound cut across the buzz of the bees, and Angelica flinched, remembering her trip to the woods with the apples. Something had happened there, but she still didn’t know what. Maybe today, she’d talk to Drake about it. Though he’d probably just give her another song to learn.

Behind her, she heard a crunch. She whipped her head around, worried that Smoke had broken a tree limb, but instead the mist cat crouched over something at the base of a tree, her fur standing rigid all along her back. A whiff of something noxious wafted toward Angelica, and this time, she did break off her song.

A wisp of cloud blew across the sun, making her shiver momentarily.

“Smoke! Drop it.” Angelica pushed to her feet and walked toward the mist cat, hoping it wasn’t too late to rescue whatever robin or songbird had been Smoke’s prey, but the mist cat didn’t move.

Glaring at her pet, Angelica reached down, ignoring Smoke’s warning growl, and twitched something from between the mist cat’s paws. Angelica stared at the piece of blue, sort of like a crab, hard shelled. What was it? Maybe a leg or a spine? She glanced around, but saw nothing it could come from.

“Where’s the rest of it?” she asked Smoke, as though the mist cat could understand her.

Like a typical cat, Smoke sat back and started cleaning herself, completely ignoring Angelica.

Fine, then. Angelica slid the bit of shell back into her pocket. She’d talk to Drake about it later, but she knew he wouldn’t give her any answers if she didn’t finish the season song first.


448 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

And if you want to read a little more from me today, you remember when I posted the questions with Alex Fayle that I said I had some drabbles coming up there? Today’s the first one, “A Heartbeat Away.”

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

eimarra: (Default)

Inside the tower, Drake huddled near the coal fire, curled to conserve its warmth. Goose call and robin song had been on the wind for the past week, but it was still too chilly for him. His wings would crack if he attempted to fly. He might make his way up to the roof to sun himself later, after the bricks had had a chance to warm, but for now, he would remain here.

Closing his eyes to slits, he hummed the fire-song his mother had taught him, crooning to the coals to stoke their flames, feel their twisting and turning light, immerse himself in their heat. Orange and red, banked for continuity, filling him.

“That’s not a wind-song, is it?”

Drat the girl! Angelica had no business here; she knew from years past that he would emerge when he was ready. He opened one eye an inch, letting the flame glint off it to spark at her, but he did not stop humming.

She ignored his truculence and sat down with her back against one of his talons. “I think Father has made a match for Verena. She’s as twittery as the birds right now, and no one in the castle has any time for me. Even my tutor has vanished!”

Drake chuckled, interrupting his song. The coals would continue to burn. “And did he vanish before or after Verena began to act so?”

Angelica snorted, a most unladylike sound that could have come from her mist cat. “What does that matter to anything?”

He didn’t answer, instead asking, “Has your father said anything about a match?”

“No, but then, he wouldn’t. I’m too young to worry about.” She shifted to look at him. “As I’m just in the way, I thought maybe you could teach me the next bit of wind-song? Whatever comes after focus?”

“Let me hear that you’ve been practicing first.” He knew she had; he could hear her every time she faltered on a note.

She sighed, but began to sing, softly at first, her voice gaining strength with each note, until they swirled through the inside of the tower, a tonal staircase of magic and sound. His voice joined hers, humming again the basic fire-song, adding warmth to the air, blending it to a place of joy. After a few minutes, they let their voices fade.

“Very good.”

She flushed at the praise.

“Now listen carefully. This next is the song that must be sung at the turn of the seasons, summoning the good to come. You don’t have much time to master it, so you will have to practice it — not just daily, but several times daily.” That should keep her from fretting about what was going on with Verena, and she would have the time to do so if her tutor really wasn’t here to give her other assignments.

He sang it through five times before she attempted to copy it. Then they spent an hour more working on her tones, her splits, and her note carries until he was satisfied that she understood the basics of what she had to do. “Come back in three days to show me.”

She left, and he watched her go, a warm glow in his throat that had nothing to do with the coals. She would make a good singer in time. He closed his eyes and listened to the soft echoes of her song, captured in the tower by repetition. Beyond, he heard again the birdcalls that presaged spring. It was enough.


588 words

I don’t even want to think about how long it’s been since I’ve done my Friday flash, let alone a Smoke and Drake tale. Like Drake, my brain shuts down in winter.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

eimarra: (bunnies)

Autumn Leaves

Leaves crunched underfoot as Angelica slipped under the trees. Father didn’t like her passing beyond the grass, but it wasn’t as if she’d gone out of sight — she could still see the castle quite clearly. And even if Father and his archers couldn’t see her, Drake could from the top of his tower, as could Smoke, who slunk along the shadows, quiet even among the deepest leaves.

And how else was she going to test out what Philomena had told her? A charm to tell what the coming year would bring — who could resist?

Still, it was kind of creepy here with the oak branches reaching up against the sky like so many dead things, blackberry bushes grabbing at her skirt and the bag over her shoulder, and bird calls that vanished mid-note. There was a smell in the air she didn’t recognize, either, layered beneath the moldering leaves. It reminded her of the kitchen and the middens and the straw where Father’s hounds slept, but it wasn’t like any of them precisely. Nervously, she began to whistle the minor wind-song Drake had taught her. He had said it was good for focus, implying she needed that, and she should practice it whenever she felt uneasy or confused. This qualified, although she wouldn’t tell him that.

She pushed between two more brambles that caught at her clothes, exclaiming as a thorn scraped her right arm, and found a pond in front of her, quiet but not stagnant, tiny ripples here and there where a leaf had just fallen to join the others scattered across its surface. A fallen oak stretched along the near bank, white mushrooms stair-stepping up its sides. The trees didn’t block the sky here, letting shafts of sunlight slide through the blaze of leaves and into the green-brown water, hinting at boulders and snagged trees below. Perfect!

Smoke chuffed, the first sound the mist cat had made since they left the castle, then leapt to a branch that stretched out over the water in a patch of sun. Such a cat!

Now what had Philomena said? Yes, the apple first — peel it, eat it, throw away the core, then drop the peel into the middle of the pond.

Seemed silly, and Verena would probably laugh at her for even listening to Philomena. Angelica flushed. Verena was always a proper lady, and Angelica didn’t want her scorn. On the other hand, to do something Verena hadn’t . . .

She sat on the fallen tree, swinging her legs up to cross them under her skirts. Next, Angelica pulled the bag from her shoulder and took out the apple and the knife she’d borrowed from the kitchen — well wrapped in a towel so she wouldn’t cut herself, of course. The towel went across her lap to catch the peel.

The off smell intensified, and Angelica thought she heard Smoke growl — as if the cat would do that! A branch crashed nearby, and she jerked, startled. Sharp pain in her hand made her flinch, and she looked down and realized she’d cut herself when she jumped.

Ow, ow, ow! She shook her hand, and drops of blood hit apple, dress, and tree. No — Mother would notice blood for certain. She blotted the blood with the towel, then wrapped the towel around her hand, leaving her fingers as free as she could. Her skirt would have to do to catch the peel.

If this didn’t work, Philomena was going to hear about it, for certain.

The apple mostly fit into her hand, even with the wrapping, and she began slowly peeling the fruit, stopping as necessary to turn it in her hand. Philomena hadn’t said the peel had to be a single cutting, but it only made sense, right? If she had to drop it in the pond? Without thinking too much about it, she started whistling again, letting her movements fall into the rhythm of the music, feeling the breeze playing with her hair, just being in the moment.

The end of the peel dropped into her lap. She broke off her song. Some blood had seeped through the towel, and there were blotches on the fruit. She grimaced, but took a bite. A little metallic, but the crisp tartness of the apple was stronger, and she quickly ate it. Now came the true test.

She set the knife on the tree trunk, scooped up the peel, and stood. The middle of the pond looked too far to throw the peel, but the tree went out partway. Carefully, she clambered to stand on top of it. Biting her lip, she walked toward the pond.

This time, there was no mistaking Smoke’s growl for anything else — part mrowl of a housecat, part snap of a wolf, it was clearly the sound of an unhappy animal.

Angelica paused and looked around. Everything looked as it had. She tilted her head to look at the mist cat, only to see Smoke staring back at her, the tip of the cat’s tail lashing the branch she lay on.

“Don’t you dare pounce on me,” Angelica scolded the cat. She returned her attention to the tree in front of her. Yes, she could get close enough, she was certain of it.

Five more steps. Bunch the peel into a ball and heave.

The water shimmered blue just before the peel struck, the clearest magic Angelina had ever seen, light lancing upward, clearing the water, striking her in the eyes. Startled, she lost her balance and toppled backward. As she fell, she thought she saw something the same mottled green-brown as the pond, part insect, part shaggy pelted beast, run along the tree trunk where she had just been.

She hit the water, and her eyes snapped shut in reflex. She opened them almost immediately to see Smoke sitting on the tree trunk as if guarding her. Angelica spit out brackish water and dragged herself upright. Using the trunk to steady herself, she waded back to the bank.

“That could have gone better.” She pushed her hair back and wiped her face. The cut hand was bad enough, but to return to the castle looking like this? She would probably be locked in her room with nothing to do but write essays for her tutor. For a week!

Sighing, she picked up the knife. She could at least return it to the kitchen. “Come on. I’m going to go back to the grass, lie in the sun, and hope it dries my dress.”

And do her best not to wonder what that thing was she had seen — or why Smoke had acted as if she saw it, too. No, much better to think the blood on the apple had messed up the charm, or Philomena had been wrong all along.

Certainly, Angelica wasn’t going to tell the other girl about this attempt, nor anyone else. No future here to be seen at the turning of the year. Far better to think about more concrete things.

She unwrapped the towel to look at her hand once more and almost dropped towel and knife both in surprise. Only a faint line showed where she had cut herself — and if the line shimmered with a faint blue hue, that was just the shadows of the forest. No magic here at all.

— The End —

1,222 words — not exactly flash length, I know!


It’s been a while since I wrote anything about Smoke or Drake. I hope you enjoy this little dip back into their world. Yes, clearly, there’s a lot more story here to come. Note that I did add a “Smoke and Drake” tag (you can find it at the bottom of this post) so you can find all the linked stories more readily.


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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The Orichalcum Bride

Elpis tossed the scroll upon the floor next to her brother Theron. “A treaty? A marriage to Kallistrate, daughter of our enemy?”

“Her dowry is the last orichalcum mine of Atlantis. Do you know what we can do with that wealth?”

“What difference does it make what her dowry is? You are married already, and our brother is dead.”

“So you marry her. It’s not like she’s expecting romance.”

She looked down at him, but he had gone back to studying his maps, content to have disposed of the matter. Her lips pinched together, but she said nothing. He would find, too late, that if she took Kallistrate as a bride, Elpis would have the power that went with that orichalcum.

#

The wedding cortege arrived, as gaudy a display as any their city-state could produce, banners flaring and trumpets blaring, courtiers in costume, profusions of petals for the princess to place her feet upon. The bride herself rode at the end of the procession, face hidden within a helmet, her armor traced with the prized metal that only she controlled.

Elpis felt a flame within her. All this would be hers. Her brother saw only the riches. Kallistrate’s home saw only the prospect of peace.

Only Elpis saw both — peace with her in control of both city-states, and the riches to bring that about. It helped that Kallistrate seemed comely, but it was not necessary. Elpis stepped forward to meet her bride.

#

Theron had been right about one thing. Kallistrate didn’t expect romance, and when Elpis retired with her to their bedchamber, Kallistrate strode away to stare out an archway at the hills beyond.

Elpis stood behind her, not touching. “It is not exile. You can return.” Would return, in fact, with Elpis at her side, bringing peace at last. And then? But one home at a time. “You are not lost.”

“No, never lost.”

Was that regret?

Before Elpis could ask, Kallistrate turned, and the makhaira in her hand left no questions. She held the blade even with Elpis’s belly. “Are you with me or against me?”

“This . . . was not how I imagined this going.”

“I’m certain it was not. My army enters at dawn. Will you surrender so there can be peace, or am I to be a widow?”

If Elpis had not expected this, Theron would be even more surprised. And now she would not have to be the one to banish him.

She bowed halfway in submission. “I surrender, my wife.” Righting herself, she asked, “Is the orichalcum mine not real, then?”

Teeth flashed in Kallistrate’s face. “It’s real. It just happens to be underneath your palace — which is now mine.”

— The End —

444 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

The inspiration for this week’s flash came from Chuck Wendig’s Roll for Your Title blog post.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Abseiling the Great Light Wall

Impartiality of sections of this article is under dispute. Please see the talk page for details.

The Great Light Wall is the largest artifact in the solar system, but most people don’t think about why it was created any more, except on XLZ Memorial Day (observed either July 19 or the third Monday of July, varying by country). A transparent Dyson sphere, several miles thick, built outside Mercury’s orbit, the Wall has one purpose: keep the growing solar flares contained. It won’t contain the energy of a nova, but it’s not meant to.

History

In the 24th century, the Eurasian Space Agency and the Indo-Pakistani Agency for Space Exploration joined forces in an effort to move humans beyond the bounds of our solar system. These dreams came to an abrupt halt when XLZ-348, an experimental spaceship that was supposed to “fold space,” thus allowing faster-than-light travel, folded itself into the sun along with an unknown amount of degenerate matter. The resultant plasma jet blew past Venus. Eyewitnesses on Earth described it as a highway of fire across the sky (1). Subsequent flares were not as large, but dangerous levels of radiation accompanied each new burst. (Work on folding space was discontinued, over the vociferous objections of Steve Lee, one of the engineering consultants for the XLZ-348. Rumors have surfaced in the past few years of a shipyard on Triton, far from UN oversight, but these rumors have not been confirmed.)

Observations of the flares confirmed that the degenerate matter had carried enough heat to trigger helium flashes in intermediate zones of the sun. Astrophysicists disagree upon whether the sun has actually begun its red dwarf evolution but agree that it has become inimical to life (2).

The United Nations’ Space Oversight Agency gathered scientists from around the world. In less time than anyone familiar with bureaucracy expected, a plan was put forward for a protective sphere around the sun using data gathered from the 2018 Solar Probe Plus, as well as subsequent missions, including the Taitale Project of the 22nd century. The job was opened to bids. (3)

HySphere won the contract for the construction (3) but quickly ran into cost overruns. Initial estimates were based on robot workers, but frequent breakdowns required personnel to be on site. Carbon-carbon shielding and lead lining of quarters increased costs significantly. Unable to attract new financial backing — and well aware of the danger to Earth if the sphere was not completed — HySphere turned to tourism. With the safeguards for the crew already in place, extra space on vessels bound for the Wall was easy to arrange: for a few million dollars, you too could brag you’d been close enough to the sun to see sparks. Repeat passengers were harder to come by, at least until Hyram Freeson realized that the Wall was of necessity three-dimensional.

HySphere extruded the sphere surface to create canyons, following patterns already laid down during construction.

“Display your rock-climbing skill in the most dangerous place known to man” read the first ads. When his wife pointed out to him how sexist this was, Hyram changed the wording to “Bold men and women, come climb in the light of the sun!” (citation needed) The wealthy flocked to the still-in-progress sphere, eager to be among the first to visit the ultimate in man-made entertainment, a labyrinth of walls kilometers deep and so extensive climbers never had to see another person. Communities built up, with spas, permanent base camps, and refuges at strategic locations. Freeson had his funding, and Earth still had a chance of survival.

In the following decade, the United Nations sued HySphere for the return of money paid under the original contract, accusing the company of using UN money to kickstart its own fortunes. (4) The World Court ruled against the United Nations, saying that HySphere had built the protection sphere as agreed upon, and the contract did not forbid using the sphere for personal gain. Hyram Freeson’s elation was short lived, however, as the World Court also held that the sphere, having been paid for by the people of the Earth, was equally open to all. (4) Every government, business conglomerate, or individual with access to space set out to put their own mark on the sphere, or as the media had begun calling it, the Great Light Wall.

Activities

Today, dozens of companies thrive on the tourism business at the Wall, and prices have come down into the reach of the average family, thanks in part to package deals created by Disneyland Sol. (Call 1-800-555-DISN from anywhere in the world to book your vacation.) However, even with the expansion of offerings, the most popular reason to visit the Wall is the climbing, and the most popular company is HySphere. Around the world, people say, “Next year, let’s go abseiling the Great Light Wall.”

See also

Dyson spheres
HySphere Inc.
Mountain climbing
Space exploration
United Nations v. HySphere Inc.

References and footnotes

(1) ^ The Times, London; July 19, 2673
(2) ^ J. Adams, Quachri, T., Williams S. “Solar evolution and external events: A review of the literature.” Astronomy and Astrophysics 7150 (3): 684-795.
(3) ^ UNSOA 2673-99E
(4) ^ United Nations v. HySphere Inc.

External links

Disneyland Sol
Eurasian Space Agency
HySphere Inc.
Indo-Pakistani Agency for Space Exploration
United Nations’ Space Oversight Agency

— The End —

890 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

eimarra: (Default)

Chains of Memory

Alina sipped her cinnamon latte and looked around the coffee shop. A young man had just entered through the open door. A few thin chains trailed from him, ghostly silvered colors of a light life. The pair he passed were something else — the woman, bent double with her dowager’s hump, chained with heavy iron to the man across the table, more links being tossed at him as she spoke rapidly, while his own chains were frayed construction paper, barely holding on to him. As Alina watched, another of his links broke and faded to nothingness.

Heartbreaking, but these were not the people she had been called here to help.

“Frankie in?” Thin Chains asked the barista, a young man with heavy and light chains intertwined, some caught on his piercings, others as ghostly as Thin Chains’.

“Hey, Frankie!”

A young woman stepped out from the kitchen area in the back, her chains so heavy Alina was surprised others couldn’t see them. Ship links, motorcycle cables, rusted iron, dog leashes — Frankie carried a lot with her.

This was why Alina was here.

She didn’t look to see the sights and sounds beyond the chains, simply stood and moved to the condiment bar, where she fussed with the cinnamon and cocoa shakers. It gave her something obvious to do while she sang the chains. Her notes were soft, indistinguishable from someone humming along with the background soundtrack, but they reached out and rippled across the chains, testing the links, weakening the weights, resonating along the lengths.

“I heard about last night. You okay?” Thin Chains’ gentle voice was tossed out as another light strand, gold wheat, but it hit Frankie a length of welded machine chain.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Her voice was stiff.

“But Janey said–”

“If you care what Janey says so much, go talk to her.” This time, it was her voice that whipped like a loose chain. It struck home, and stuck to Thin Chains, the most solid of his links.

Alina’s fingers fiddled with a coffee stirrer. So much to be done! But Frankie resisted the blandishments of the music as much as Thin Chains’ sympathy. The links did not break; the chains did not fall.

“You know it’s you for me, Frankie, not Janey. You chased her off. You chased your brother off. You even chased off Dewey, who’s dense as a brick post. But you can’t chase me off.” The links between them shone, silver moonlight glistening off a chain that softened, lengthened, thinned into a bond.

“Maybe not, but if you want me, you take me, past and all. Even if I don’t want to talk about it.”

She would hold onto her chains, would she? Still, Alina was called to help. Rust and tarnish fell away, weights lightened, darkness faded to let the good shine through. Chains did not have to be prisons.

“Agreed.”

Alina placed a plastic cap onto her cup and turned to go. Her work here was done.

— The End —

500 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

eimarra: (Default)

It’s All in Your Perspective

She wouldn’t look down. Iris told herself that it was just like getting a new pair of glasses, that feeling of discontinuity, not being sure where her foot was going to come down, the stumble-trip of curbs and sidewalks. It didn’t matter that she’d worn contacts for decades, that she in fact had no glasses on at the moment. She had a point of reference, something to keep her mind calm.

Others had told her about the colors, the swirling, the vertigo. Mrs. O’Donnell, from two houses down, had been insistent about it at the last Neighborhood Watch meeting — as if they could do anything about it! And Mr. Jameson, with his aluminum-foil lined baseball cap, had yelled down the street that the aliens were going to get everyone, and they had to band together for safety. Like everyone else, Iris went about her normal life, ignoring the warnings. Who could take them seriously?

No one.

Which was why she didn’t bother asking for help now. No one would take her any more seriously than she’d taken her neighbors.

She lurched another step down the block, closing her eyes briefly and hoping the nausea would pass. The blurring wasn’t confined to her peripheral vision, or to just when she looked down. It had crept toward the very center of her field of view, and while she knew that meant it was getting worse, she found that the expansion made the change easier to accept.

Iris knocked on Mrs. O’Donnell’s door. After a moment, the door opened and Mrs. O’Donnell looked out, her eyebrows raised. Iris stared at her — how had she never noticed the rainbows in her neighbor’s pupils? Or the halo of light that surrounded her white hair?

Mrs. O’Donnell stepped aside. “You’d best come in.”

Iris followed her in. “Is it contagious? What is it?”

“Just a new way of looking at things. Think of it as an evolution. Soon you’ll know who’s affected and who isn’t — and who works for the other side.”

“Other side?”

“Not everyone wants humans to improve.” She nodded at the window, and Iris glanced out to see Mr. Jameson mowing his lawn across the street, his outline wavering like ripples of steam. “We’ll prevail in the end.”

Perhaps Mrs. O’Donnell was right. As Iris attempted another step, she still wasn’t sure that was a good thing.

— The End —

388 words


Yes, clearly, there will be more.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Seeking Blue

The chess set had been put away, and Verena had gone off to her afternoon pursuits of embroidery and painting, in true ladylike fashion. Angelica wouldn’t be along until shortly before dinner; she never saw the obvious, thus making her studies take longer than they should.

Drake stretched, fanning his wings to catch more sunlight, then lay upon the roof, wings splayed as if he were an indolent cat rather than a master of the elements. Three were his to call upon: the air he rode, the earth he sheltered in, and the fire he breathed. Only one remained, and this his mind sought out as his eyes drifted closed.

Deep beneath the castle, within the hill, a pool of purest water murmured to him, calling in a song he did not yet know. Earth-song had cradled his egg, hardening his scales and toughening his bones. Later, fire-song crackled from his mother, heat and light dawning to wisdom. Last, wind-song bore up his wings, giving him the world. He didn’t know what gift the water bore, only that he must seek it.

Air shifted, and tremors carried through the stones of the castle — footsteps. Angelica was early today. Time, then, for her lesson, whisper of a gentle breeze. It would take years for her to learn all the songs, but she was young. She had time.

As did he. Time to hear the water, to make it part of himself, to be more than any dragon before him. He would need it for what was to come.

Now, he raised his voice in song.

— The End —

267 words


Yes, clearly, there will be more.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Smoke in the Trees

Edge of grass and trees, short clear space behind, tall dark ahead. Scent of green and squirrel and a familiar musk, not smelled for seasons. The mist cat pushed into the shadows, following the trail. Brother, here? After so long?

But no — his scent faded. Had touched these shadows, yes, in the underspace, had been so close, hunting the chitters, but gone now. Chitters not gone; chitters spread through trees, hid in spaces only Smoke and other mist cats would see. Even the winged one would not see them unless they came out into the sun.

This was Smoke’s job, one the girl didn’t even know of. Best to keep it so.

Smoke faded into patchy sapling shade, faded out near big rock at center of trees. First chitter there, water clear and cicada-song between the oak branches. The mist cat crouched, haunches tensed, sprang. Teeth closed, bitter black and yellow taste mouth filling as song screeched high into nothingness.

Pain plunged sharp into Smoke’s back, mandible and claw. She spun, fluid cat twist, to sink her teeth into attacker, and two more gouged at her flanks. She slid sideways, shadow to shadow, escape, attack, evade, bite. More of them, always more, until there weren’t.

She held still on thick branch, pads resting on rough bark, tang of tree in her head. Nothing. Chitters gone. Gone, too, all trace of brother, any hope of fading and following him home. Smoke licked fur, washing clean ichor crusting wounds. These had come close.

Back to grass’s edge, fade in, fade out, nip at flowers tickling whiskers. More might come, but girl safe for now. Smoke would stay, keep her safe. When girl had grown, time enough then to find brother, return to family, seek home.

Now, evening shadows. Slip to blankets in cool room. One thought, in grass, next with girl. Now was good.

— The End —

313 words


Better late than never, right? I discovered last week’s cat has a voice of her own. I imagine that means Drake is going to want his say as well. I hope you enjoyed it.

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Happy solstice!

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Top Five Reasons Dragons Are Better Than Cats

In her room in the northwest tower, Angelica stood up from her oaken writing desk and crossed to the window. She brushed the vanes of her quill against her cheek and stared out at the gray and green scene, castle and clouds against grass and trees. She was happy, she supposed, that her parents had hired a Tiremish tutor for her; they were supposed to be the best, and Philomena had been positively chartreuse with jealousy. Still, he gave her such inane assignments. What did he mean “Compare and contrast the characteristics of two noble beasts of which she had personal knowledge”?

Below, near the copse of trees that stood to the north, she saw Smoke, her mist cat, fade in and out of shadows, stalking something hidden within — one of her father’s deer, no doubt. That was one difference, right? Dragons didn’t play with their prey. Except . . . there, on the northernmost tower, Drake curled in the sun in front of a chessboard, facing the son of the neighboring barony. Well, at least Drake talked to his potential prey, so he was polite about it!

Drake noticed her watching — his keen sight was a little scary — and nodded an acknowledgment. Definitely polite. Smoke had no idea Angelica was watching her and wouldn’t have cared if she had.

What else? Smoke could travel outside the castle, but she was the guardian spirit of the hill, so she couldn’t go very far. Drake’s wings, in theory, could take him to the corners of the world — except he had given his word to Angelica’s father, which meant he was as trapped as Smoke.

The sun came out from behind the clouds, and gold glinted from beneath Drake. Not his full hoard, of course, just enough to keep him comfortable. Smoke didn’t keep such pretty trophies; Angelica glanced over her shoulder to the corner of her room where the mist cat had left spools of thread stolen from the weavers, broken arrows from the fletchers, and bones that Angelica didn’t want to know any more about.

Drat the tutor, anyway! Angelica couldn’t leave her room until she’d written something, and Drake had promised to teach her wind-song. She crossed back to her desk and glared down at the blank parchment. If only she could think of something to write.

— The End —

386 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Always

In the smoky interior of the split-log cabin, Karina moved from bed to bed, tending to coughs and fevers alike with poultices and cool drinks. Soon, it would be time to turn the patients again, to help prevent bed sores — a task she usually had help with, but this was not a usual winter. This year, the ague had hit hard, taking not only her Gran and all the babes of the village, but many of those her own age, usually so strong and fit. She paused to wipe her own forehead.

“Are you okay, Karina?” The voice was so weak, she had trouble identifying it, until it came again. “You should rest so you don’t wind up joining us.”

Heidi, the blacksmith’s wife — how like her to worry about others. She’d lost both her son and daughter the week before, the sweetest two year olds Karina had ever seen. Now Heidi lay to the left side of the fireplace, stricken by the same illness.

Karina crossed to her and pulled a stool close to sit beside the cot. “It’s just the smoke. I’ll be fine. Would you like some water?”

“Maybe a little.” Heidi touched her throat. “It’s so warm in here.”

“Gran always swore by heat for the ague.”

“She would know.”

Nodding, Karina rose and fetched a tankard of water. She held it to Heidi’s lips and waited while the other woman sipped.

A crash behind her made Karina spin around, slopping water onto Heidi as she did so. Thomas, one of the young men her own age, had fallen from his cot, knocking it over in the process. Grimacing, Karina set the tankard on the floor.

“I’ll get you a towel in just a moment.”

“It’s all right. I understand.”

The fall had woken Thomas, but he lay on the floor, staring at her rather than trying to get back into the cot. He must be worse off than she had thought. Karina knelt and pulled the cot closer to him, then rolled him against it, pushing upward so that his weight would help right the cot. After three tries, the cot rocked upright.

His face was waxy, and he stared up at the ceiling, unblinking. Karina shook her head; he wouldn’t make it through the night.

She picked up the sweat-soaked blankets that had fallen to the floor and stuffed them into the large pot of lye water sitting next to the fireplace. His would be changed a little earlier than her other patients’. A trip to the blanket chest yielded a threadbare woolen blanket and towels for both Heidi and Thomas. Heidi smiled appreciatively at Karina, but when Karina dabbed at Thomas’s forehead, he caught her hand.

“It’s always been you,” he said. “Always.” Then his hand dropped and he rolled away from her touch.

She stared at the back of his head; she’d never thought of him that way, and now to hear it like this, with others listening, was too much. She almost couldn’t bring herself to reply, but if he was going to die today, she couldn’t be that cruel to him.

Softly, hoping her voice wouldn’t carry beyond his cot, she said, “I’ll be yours when the daffodils bloom again.”

A sigh was his only response, and she tucked the blanket around him and returned to her rounds.

#

Bodies — too many — had been stored in an abandoned cabin and added to the hillside cemetery as soon as the ground thawed enough in the spring. The laborers trickled back to their homes, glad of the friends and family they had still living. Now Thomas, who had pulled through against all expectation, stood in the cemetery, staring down at Karina’s grave. Looking back, it seemed inevitable that she would succumb to the ague, as she had spent all her time around those who were sick.

He spoke as softly as she had that night back in the smoky cabin. “You said you’d be mine, and now the daffodils are blooming, yellow and cheerful beneath your windows.” A lump caught in his throat, and he looked away for a moment at the pine trees sweeping down the neighboring hills. “I just — it’s still you. Always.”

Silently, he placed a gold ring on the stone marking her grave. After staring at it a few minutes, he turned to head back to the home he’d hoped she would share.

A breeze touched him, whispered, “Yours,” and then was gone.

Thomas looked back. For a brief moment, he thought he saw Karina standing beside her gravestone, hair blowing in the breeze, his ring upon her finger. Blinking back tears, he took a step and reached out one hand to her. Then she was gone.

Only after he stared a moment longer did he realize his ring had vanished as well. He hadn’t imagined her, then — she had taken his ring. She was his.

This time, when he turned toward home, his step was lighter. Karina was with him — always.

— The End —

850 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Five More Minutes

Liam listened to the spiel on the time-travel devices absently. He was only here because of Robin, who said he was too scared to do anything outside his pampered enclave. “You’ve never gone beyond the gates, even for schooling.” He’d show her. He wasn’t afraid — there was just nothing in the current world of any real interest.

Had it been a set-up, all along? He didn’t think she’d mentioned time-travel, but when he arrived at the sales floor, the salesman seemed to expect him, even calling him by name. Maybe that was just part of the mystique — send the records from the end of each day back to the start. It was a neat trick, anyway.

The salesman fixed earnest blue eyes on Liam. He looked vaguely familiar, which probably meant Liam had run into his family in the enclave, even if Liam hadn’t met the salesman himself. With that chin, the salesman might even be a cousin Liam had never met. “You’re sure you understand how the recall works? And the time-delay circuit?”

Liam stifled a yawn. There were exactly three buttons on the device — go, recall, and delay. Go sent him into the past, recall returned him if he wanted to come back sooner than programmed, and delay extended the duration in the past. Simple. He could have operated this when he was still a toddler. “I’m sure.”

“I have to ask,” the salesman said apologetically. “There are rules.”

Of course there were.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

#

Now he thought back on that encounter. He hadn’t expected to fall in love while in the past. He’d never heard of such a thing. Yet here he was on a bench in New York’s Central Park, watching joggers and dog-walkers pass, waiting for Angela, and worrying about how long he had.

The programmed return time from the past wasn’t always convenient — it would never do for a traveler to disappear in front of people. Hence the time-delay circuit. The device would vibrate and flash a minute or two before recall, giving the traveler enough time to press the delay button if necessary.

Liam had already delayed twice. He wasn’t ready to leave Angela; he wasn’t sure he ever would be.

He should have paid more attention to the details. Now he turned over the device in his pocket, trying to remember how the failsafe worked, how long he could continue to delay.

“Liam?”

He’d been distracted, hadn’t noticed Angela’s approach. He stood up to greet her, smiling as he met her cerulean eyes. “Sorry, my sweet. I was just thinking about the future.”

Her perfectly arched brow raised. “Oh?”

She was too much of a lady to ask whether that future included her.

In his pocket, the device vibrated again. Liam slipped his hand around the device and pressed the time-delay button for the third time. Just a little longer.

The metal crumpled in his hand. He pulled it out and looked at it.

“What’s that?” Angela asked.

He shook his head and tossed it into the trash can next to the bench. “Nothing.”

That was what he’d missed in the salesman’s speech — the device wouldn’t work indefinitely. He’d have to leave an “I told you so” letter in trust for Robin to read. Later. Right now, he had exactly what he wanted — more time.

The rest of his life with Angela.

– THE END –

570 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.


This week’s flash was inspired by my desire to stay in bed this morning. (Of course.)

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Mourning Bird

I was born beneath a black veil of mourning, a dark bud blooming deep in its shadow. The house had burned down years past, possibly decades or even longer, but Mother couldn’t tell me, her sense of time being . . . well, hers. The garden had fallen into disarray, formerly neat hedges become impenetrable thickets, and onions bearing giant purple globes where they had been allowed to go to seed. Into this, then, was I born, a child of the dark, the sorrow of not belonging bred into my bones, which wept with the sound of water trickling down a broken redbrick wall.

When I reckoned myself an adult, I tried to leave, but the iron of the gates held me as tight as any shackle, though they lay broken across the drive. Father told me it was not so much the metal of them as the symbol, that that was how mankind had always bound us, with sign and symbol, through the magic of words that held no magic.

- But why? Why? They are gone, dead and gone, burned and lost and scattered to the winds! Why cannot we go as well?

- Somewhere, they are not gone. Somewhere, they still call this home, though they may never have seen it. So long as their blood beats in their veins, so long does it bind us here.

- It isn’t fair! They don’t even want us any more!

Fair or not, it was the way of our life and I could not leave. I had already explored the garden, every inch, every speck, every pebble, every decaying rib of leaf in the fall. I knew the land, knew its ways, the thoughts of the trees, the whispers of the breezes, the drifts of snow that melted last in spring. I realized I would become like my mother, one with the land, no memory or separation of time, if I could not escape. There was only one other thing to try.

No one had ever forbidden me to enter the ruined house. As far as I knew, Mother saw it still clothed in flames, and Father — he probably assumed I wouldn’t want to. I was bound to the land, after all. What could something set apart in such a way have to offer me?

But it wasn’t set apart any more. Brambles grew through into what had been the kitchen, birds nested atop tottering walls, and I knew at least one fox family had a den in the basement. The house had become an extension of the garden, and I had become old enough to claim it as my own.

I entered through the front, dancing along the rose petals that drifted through space once filled — with a window, a wall? Mother would know, but she wouldn’t understand why I asked — but now bereft of anything but drifting dirt, charred timbers, and plants reclaiming the land. I felt the threshold as I crossed it, a thought, a line, a “this is home” feeling of belonging that sealed in as effectively as did the iron gates — but it was too late for me to go back. I was admitted into the house, but it had claimed me.

How long, I wondered, would humans consider this their place? How long before the blood diluted and set us free? Too long, I knew. I would be one with these walls, drawing the veil of mourning deeper about myself, and lose myself more completely than even Mother had.

I sat down on a pile of leaves to watch the sunset through the broken walls. The ghost of a sparrow flitted through one wall and out the other.

– THE END –

608 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.


This week’s flash was inspired by a flash fiction challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog, “Choose Your Opening Line.” In fact, I chose two lines, one for the beginning and one for the ending:

I was born beneath a black veil of mourning, a dark bud blooming deep in its shadow. — 
Gina Herron

The ghost of a sparrow flitted through one wall and out the other.
 — CJ Eggett

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Neat Freak

Once upon a time, there was an organized young woman. She always brushed and flossed twice a day, precisely at 7 o’clock. Every dish was washed and put away immediately after being used. Her closet was organized both alphabetically (the shoe styles) and by color (everything else). And, of course, her taxes were always filed by 5 p.m. on January 31 (earlier if she had all the paperwork).

Her neighbors muttered and moaned. “She makes us all look bad.” But what could they do? An audit wouldn’t faze this woman. There must be something! They labored to summon a demon, a fairy, anyone who could help them.

Which is when my muse stepped in and said, “Clearly a fictional character. No one will ever miss her,” and fed her to the kraken in the basement.

The neighbors celebrated their freedom from feeling inferior . . . until they realized that if she was fictional, then so were they. Like Douglas Adams’s God, they disappeared in a puff of logic.

– THE END –

162 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.


Why yes, I am still working on my taxes.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Neither One Thing, Nor Another

Gillian shushed Hal as they climbed into the rickety treehouse. She’d outgrown the play area years ago, so she’d thought, but now, as Hal wrapped his arms around her waist, she thought that it did still have its uses.

“We have to be quiet, or Aunt Ruth will hear.”

He nuzzled her neck. “I thought you said her name was Rosa.”

“Sometimes it is.” She twisted away to look at him. “I’m serious. You don’t want her mad at you.”

He laughed loudly. “What’s she going to do, turn me into a frog?”

“That would be too easy.” The quiet voice came from a dark corner. “She’s more likely to turn you into something that isn’t, or isn’t always. Do you think I was always a shadow?”

Hal snorted, let go of Gillian, and strode to the corner — no doubt to prove that there was nothing mysterious going on. When he got there, he started poking around. “All right, where’s the hidden speaker?”

Gillian just shook her head.

“You know, Gillian, if you didn’t want to do this, you could have just said so.” He pushed past her to the ladder and quickly descended.

She watched him go, torn between tears and rage. A hand settled on her shoulder, and she spun around. “How could you do this to me?”

“At least I didn’t actually hurt him.” Aunt Ruth changed the subject. “I notice you only told him two of my names.”

“And one of mine,” Gillian said bitterly. “So? Can you imagine how he’d react if I told him sometimes I was Gerard? It’s been hard enough to mask it at school.”

“It’s okay, sweetie. Someday, you’ll meet someone who can accept you for all the yous you are.”

“Going to be mighty lonely in the meantime.” Gillian crossed her arms.

“You want me to change him? I could.”

Gillian shook her head. “No. Just, can I be alone for a while? I’ll come in for dinner, I promise.”

“All right.” Aunt Rosa dropped a kiss on her head. “Just remember — sometimes one thing, sometimes another –”

“And never really either.”

“No. Always you.”

Gillian stood without moving, watching her aunt who was also sometimes her uncle head down out of the tree and into the house. She wouldn’t want Rosa/Ruth/Ryan to be any other way. She supposed it was time to accept herself, too.

– THE END –

380 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.


This odd little flash was inspired by discovering a typo in one of my published works. Oops!

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Ready for Spring

Unger stood in the shade of a copse of trees on the hill to the south of Milltown, leaning on his walking stick. None of the townsfolk would notice him; they never did. Their inattention hid him better than shadows and magic ever could.

Their inattention was why he was here today. Unger didn’t know whose bright idea it had been to launch paper lanterns to mark the arrival of spring — they’d be far more visible in winter — but every year, the children of Milltown colored bright papers that their parents made into lanterns for them. At noon, when the sun was highest, every family let go of their lantern, letting the heat of the candle inside waft the lanterns higher and higher, up from the valley floor, into the woods and maybe even over the hills. It was a joyous time, a celebration of the return of color and cheer.

It was also a fire hazard and a danger to every animal downwind of the town.

Just last year, he’d had to climb up to an eagle’s nest to put out a fire started by the candle before it cooked the fledglings. He didn’t even want to think about five years back, when they’d had the mild winter after a year of drought — but try to get the mayor to listen to reason! “That’s your job. What else are you going to use your magic for?”

As if Unger should shorten his lifespan, working magic just so these simpletons could have a party. No, he would only use his magic when there was grave need.

The clock in the town square struck noon, the bell’s sound rolling out into the hills. It was time.

Unger glanced up, sharpening his eyes to see the wind — not quite magic, but an unusual ability, to be sure. Over the town, a light breeze was blowing from the east, about at the pace a man might walk if he wasn’t in a hurry. Higher up, past hill height, the strength picked up, and he knew that if any of the lanterns rose that far, he wouldn’t be catching them today.

The lanterns rose in all their gaudy colors, a mass that the people of Milltown no doubt found charming. A few rose faster — those would be the families that could afford extra candles, or larger ones — while some lagged behind, made of heavier paper, perhaps even homemade. Cheers came from the town as the first lanterns cleared the houses below, continuing to rise.

Unger turned to make his way down the hill. The lanterns weren’t traveling fast, but they were many and he was just one. A glint in the corner of his eye made him turn back to stare at the lanterns again. One of them was floating south, toward him, rather than west with the breeze.

Frowning, he took two steps to the east and watched the lantern struggle to match him, though the breeze dimpled its paper. Magic, then, and meant for him. He set off down the hill again, heading closer to the lantern and to the west at the same time, to make the lantern’s course easier. No reason to tax someone else’s magic, make them use more of their strength and life when they’d already gotten his attention.

He met up with the lantern as he forded a small stream. It was made of onionskin paper, and only bore two decorations — the seal of Milltown and a magemark. Unger reached out to catch it in his hands. As his hands enfolded the candle tray, the candle went out.

A voice whispered, “I will help you when I am old enough. You are not alone.”

He waited to see if anything more would happen, but the young magic-user evidently had enough sense not to waste magic making the lantern disappear in a puff of smoke or anything flashy like that. Unger nodded thoughtfully as he folded up the tray and lantern and stowed them in the pouch he’d brought along for collecting bits and pieces. He’d never had an apprentice; he wondered when this one would come — next year, two years?

No matter. It would happen as it would happen. Right now, he had to go protect town and forest alike. As he strode off in the direction of the floating lanterns, he was surprised to find himself smiling. Maybe spring did bring some cheer after all.

– THE END –

730 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.


I personally love spring, of course. So right now, I’m holding to the cheerful thought that not only do I have croci, I have hellebores blooming and daffodils budding. I must remind myself of this, as there appears to be some flurries of white stuff outside my window.

Are you ready for spring?

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

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Pet Trouble

“The cheese was talking again last night,” Gilda said.

Instead of answering her, Henry used his reacher to pick up his left shoe. He carefully checked inside it to make sure their pets hadn’t left any surprises for him, then set it on the floor and placed his foot inside. He repeated the process with his right shoe.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

One of Henry’s regrets in life was that he had never gone deaf. He still loved his wife, but there were days he thought it would be easier if he couldn’t hear her.

She punched him on the arm. He rubbed his arm reflexively, although it didn’t really hurt.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I’ll go check on the kitchen. Just let me get my shoes tied, woman.”

Mollified, she leaned back against the pillows. “We’re going to have to do something one of these days.”

Henry used his reacher to fasten the Velcro flaps on his shoes. He’d hated giving up laces, but between his arthritis and the pets, the laces had been more trouble than they were worth. Finally, he reached for the cane he’d left next to the bed and pushed off the bed to stand.

His shoes scuffed a little on the low pile carpet — enough to let everyone know he was coming, but not enough to generate static electricity. The home nurse had been after them to replace the carpet with tile to help prevent accidents, but she was paranoid. It wasn’t thick enough to trip him. Besides, he liked the warmth.

The kitchen appeared deserted when he entered, but Henry knew better. He opened the fridge and got out some cream to pour into a dish. The home nurse didn’t like the cream, either — kept talking about cholesterol — as if he drank it! He set the saucer down on the kitchen table and waited for his pets to climb up to drink.

When they did, he grabbed each one by the scruff of the neck. “What did I tell you about charming the food?”

The brownies kicked and squirmed, but he didn’t let go yet. He’d live with the pain. Or take an extra Aleve this morning. He couldn’t release them until they’d agreed to behave. If he did, there was no telling what they’d get up to.

“It wasn’t me.” “The cheese was asking for it, looking at me with those blue veins!”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Gorgonzola can’t look at you until you’ve charmed it. Now fix it. Fix everything. And don’t let me catch you doing it again.”

“Or what?” Both of them glared at him belligerently.

“Or I add vinegar to your cream.”

They traded looks, somewhat skeptical. In the end, though, they didn’t dare risk it. “We’ll change it back.”

“And?” he asked.

“And we won’t do it again.”

“Good.” He dropped them to the table, where they rushed to the cream, sniffing at it to make sure he hadn’t added vinegar already. “See that you remember it.”

He fixed a tray with breakfast on it for Gilda and himself, then carried it back to the bedroom, ignoring the brownies. Once they’d promised to be good, they kept their word. It should be at least a day or two before he needed to reprimand them again.

Or maybe not.

He stopped in the doorway of the bedroom, staring at the bed.

“Henry?” Gilda said. “Now the pillows are talking, too.”

– THE END –

570 words


My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

Originally published at Erin M. Hartshorn. You can comment here or there.

July 2017

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