Hopeless Conviction

Image by _Marion from Pixabay

If I could change one thing, it would be sharpening that knife. I had never needed it that sharp before, but then again, the shadows were becoming bolder too.

Dusk was settling into dark, when I handed it to Terra. I barely knew her. She looked maybe twelve. But I sensed the same magic in her as I had. 

She was all arms and legs and not much else. Her hollow cheeks were nothing compared to the protruding rib cage beneath her paper thin shirt. She survived, it seemed, for years on the streets. I’m sure she had a sad story to tell, but I was more interested in how she endured. And how the shadows had not taken her. 

I took her to Marnie’s Diner. The dulled street sign let out a cantankerous hum, challenging whatever electric god it served. Marnie stood behind the counter in the empty restaurant, her hands hidden under the benchtop, probably holding the shotgun I’d given her.

Marnie’s shoulders relaxed, “Boy, am I glad to see you today, Fox! We gotta lotta activity in tha street this evenin’.”

I wondered if Terra was to blame for that.

“Good health to you, Marn,” I smiled at her. “This is Terra.”

“Hey there, sweetpea,” she said. 

I led Terra to my normal spot and let Marnie feed her.

Marnie’s Diner sat on a crossroads. Most businesses closed before this hour, but today, the florist looked open. His robust frame stood motionless in the doorway.

I leaned over at Terra and whispered. “This place is safe, but it has its limits. Keep that blade close.”

Her eyes gave away no terror, only understanding. She glanced at the bar and back at me.

“She’s good,” I explained. “Marnie and her husband were clients of mine.”

“You help people,” she said, stating a fact. I wondered how long she had watched me before asking for my help.

I nodded.

“How?”

“Magic,” I whispered.

Movement caught my eye. Four more shadows appeared at the florist. 

I pushed myself out of the seat.

“Listen, kid. There’s no time. The shadows. They want you. They want you because you’re like me, only you don’t know it yet.”

I could see the gargoyles now. From above, they controlled the shadowmen with puppet-strings. 

“I can protect you, but you have to do exactly as I say, okay?”

A sixth man dropped in the middle of the street. His hunched form and deformed hands told me he was the leader, and the human-puppet he handled had been his for decades.

Terra used her arms and legs to frog-jump off the diner sofa onto the floor in response to my question.

“If you see the strings, cut them. It will sever the link. The shadows’ power comes from the control.”

I didn’t bother to check if she understood. I stepped forward, but before we walked into the street, they transported us to a desert wasteland. 

I wondered what game the shadows were playing. There was nowhere for them to hide.

I clapped my hands, sending a shockwave of blue and white energy towards our pursuers. I knocked most back. With my left hand, I summoned an astral blade and prepared for combat.

The earth cracked beneath our feet.

“Stay with me, kid,” I commanded. 

Terra grabbed my arm. Before I could push her away, our minds melded. Flashes of memories told me of a life I hadn’t lived, and I wished she hadn’t. In the darkness, voices seduced me. No! Her

“I know what you are,” she said to me. “And I know who I am.”

By then, it was too late.

I shouldn’t have sharpened that knife. I shouldn’t have given it to someone I thought was innocent.

Darkness enveloped me. I hoped for – embraced – death.

Only death did not come. 

I woke in the desert, surrounded by shadows, unable to move even my head.

“You will teach me all I need to know,” Terra said.

“No,” I whispered, grateful to have control of my mouth.

“I think you’ll change your mind.”

“My conviction is stronger than yours,” I said. 

But my broken body had other plans. Without want or warning, I stood up, spun, and bowed to her. She clapped. “Actions speak louder than words, Fox.”

That’s when I saw puppet strings on my arms and legs and the body of the previous shadow leader lying in a crumpled heap before me. 

It was at that moment I lost all hope.



Prompt for this week’s fiction grid included the first line and the attached picture. Check out other stories at the link above. 🙂

Death’s Prank

“If you wanted to set your life on fire, there wasn’t a better combination. That‘s what I should have told him. The fool. The day had been long; I was in no mood for violent or rude people. And he was both,” I confess.

“Don’t you think you took it too far, Death?” Father Time asks. His palms rub his glorious beard; long strands fall to the floor with every stroke.

An array of clocks cover the expansive room from the floor to the walls and the ceiling. While a thick sheet of plexiglass protects them, the sound is far from muffled. Grandfather clocks chime, seconds, on the analog clocks, tick, and digital clocks hum. What might happen if I smash one? I make a mental note to carry my scythe next time they bring me here. Mother Earth knows, no punishment can rehabilitate me.

I snicker at his question, “I don’t! He totally had it coming.”

#

I thought about the fool. His jerk face made me so mad I wanted to punch it.

Earlier that evening, I sat on a bench outside the Fish ‘n Chips shop waiting for my order, when I heard him slap his wife. He stumbled out of his house and demanded, “Keep the door unlocked, ya slag, I won’t be long!”

I watched him kick a leashed dog on the footpath and push the owner out of his way.

#

Father Time, the old bugger, shoots me a disgusted look.

“I honestly don’t know why you’ve got your panties in a bunch. I didn’t reap him,” I say with a sigh.

#

The fool crossed the road and walked into the shop the same moment my order was ready. He snatched the wax paper package from the shopkeeper and threw a $10 note at him. I grabbed his arm and demanded he hands over my meal, but he spat at me as he pushed me away.

“Fuck off, cu-”

Before he could finish the detestable word, I blew dust into his face and sent him stumbling across the street. He was oblivious to the minor changes around him. He walked to his house and turned the knob only to find it locked.

#

A giant grandfather clock appears in front of me. Father Time opens the lower door. He pushes the bob, and the pendulum clangs so loud it echoes through my whole body.

“Do your worst,” I shrug, as I recall the rest.

#

The fool banged on the door, screaming obscenities, until it opened, revealing a large, tattooed man. “Who the fuck are you? Where is my wife?” he yelled.

“This is my girlfriend’s house. Kindly remove yourself from her property,” the tattooed man demanded.

A woman walked to the door. Her eyes grew wide as she recognized him; then she burst into hysterics, “You‘re a bit late. Only took you five years to bring home dinner.”

#

I hold my stomach and let out an boisterous laugh. “See? It was funny because she had already moved on and forgotten the trauma of him disappearing.”

Father Time’s nostrils flare. “I gave you access to time so you could do your job and be in multiple places at once, not pull pranks on unsuspecting innocents.”

He ushers me inside the clock. I lower myself down the hole in the bottom and take a final look at Father Time’s angry face.

“Twenty Earth years, Death. Let’s see how you like that.”

I indulge in one final laugh as he slams the door, “Totally worth it!”

 

 

Image: Source


An Unexpected Visitor

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Source: Andrew Fleming Florist

Rachael stood behind the small sales cabinet; sweat beads trickled down from her brow. No customers again!

Her hands were hooked in her belt, as though she could prevent them wanting to roam.

Do something, silly!

Rachael grabbed a pair of pruning sheers. Rows of flowers needed daily care in the shop. For a week, though, business had been slow, and as Friday crept closer, she had neglected her little beauties more with each passing day.

The mundane task did little to settle her growing anxiety. Vic had insisted, “Friday, or else.”

* * * * *

Rachael turned the car down her street and saw a Buick parked in front of her house. A tightness covered her throat. Lilli should be home by now!

The lawn chair beside her screen door was occupied. Rachael let out a strangled yelp. Lilli was sitting on Vic’s leg. His smile was warm, but his eyes were focused. He didn’t need to say a thing; she knew the question, “Where’s my money?”

“Mommy!” Lilli said as Rachael stepped out of the car. “Lookie! Uncle Vic’s here! I told him all about my birthday last week.”

“Sounded expensive,” he said with a whistle.

Rachael gave a forced smile. “Hi, Vic.”

He put two hands on Lilli’s shoulders. “I saw Lilli here when she was gettin’ out of school and thought I’d give ‘er ride home instead of ‘er catchin’ tha smelly bus.”

He pinched his nose and made a duck face.

“Eww!” Lilli said. She gave an innocent giggle. “Mommy, can I watch a movie?”

“Yes, dear. I’ll get it for ya.”

Lilli jumped off his lap. Rachael passed Vic. His hand reached out and grabbed her arm. “I’ll join ya.”

His grip tightened; Rachael flinched and opened the front door.

“Here you go, baby,” Rachael said in a shrill voice once she had turned on the TV.

“Why do you sound so funny?”

“No reason, baby. Sit close to the TV, m’kay? Uncle Vic and Mommy hafta talk.”

“Okay, Mommy!”

* * * * *

Rachael walked back to the bench and unlocked the sales cabinet. Without looking, she reached into the top shelf, hand grazing filled plastic bags, and clutched an envelope labelled “TIPS.” Rachael counted, 100, 120…280. I just need $20.

Rachael placed it back inside just in time to hear the entrance bell ding.

A man in his twenties stood there, eyes wide with terror. With a sigh, Rachael dusted her apron. She knew that look. It was the same when a man walked into a lingerie store. Too many options, too many chances to mess up, it was all a little overwhelming for some. Rachael prepared herself. “Good afterno-on,” she said, voice cracking. Ugh. Great start, Rach.

“Hi,” he said, with a smile. “I hadda fight with my lady. What flower says I’m sorry but also says I want sex and cake.”

A pinkness rose in his cheeks, and Rachael smiled with triumph. Cake. Oh, thank goodness!

After some discussion, she put six long-stem roses into a box.

Rachael opened her cabinet and pulled out a bag filled with a green herb and placed it into the box under the wrapping. She smiled at the young man, and he winked back at her.

“That’s $150,” she announced.

He hesitated. “More than I expected.”

“I gave you the extra nice roses,” she admitted.

With a raised brow, the young man thought for a moment. “Better be good.”

“Guaranteed to knock her socks off,” she said.

He paid and left. With a wide smile, Rachael placed a fifty in the envelope and put the lot in her purse with a chuckle. Charged extra all week for the same product, and they all fell for it!

She grabbed one of the lilies off the shelf to take home and decided to close up shop for the day. Vic would receive this week’s and last weeks’ earnings within the hour.

We square? Good. I’m ready to stop dealing, Vic. How do I get out? Her internal monologue continued. She wouldn’t see the shadow outside at the edge of the storefront.

“Lying cunt!” she heard as a flowerpot collided with her temple.

Rachael crashed onto the pavement. Blood trickled into her eyes. Delirious, she stared at the lilies. Tiny bubbles of crimson freckled the pristine white flower until they were soaked up, turning into misshapen circles. She wanted to apologize but had no idea why, so instead, she closed her eyes and let the darkness take her.


The Spirit Warrior

Obsidian goblins – faces tortured and motionless – watched our trek. As a young one, I swore I heard their chatter in the catacombs. Their ghosts would give me night terrors until my father took me to the Ritual of Spirits.

The sound of water trickled from the stalactites above us. The sulfuric scent in the cavern was masked only by the amber crystal I carried in my hand.

I stopped at a fork in the cave and turned to the young ones behind me. For our yearly pilgrimage, we all would take the path to the right, warning: “never take the left.” Every few years, one would dare it and not return. It was a lesson that none forget.

I smiled and turned toward the left corridor. Their faces bespoke no fear, but their posture became rigid. My mate nodded to me at the end of the group and ushered the young ones towards me.

Trista ugar nabulosum. Trista ugar nabulosum,” my mate and I chanted.

Our crystals lit up showering light upon the spirits surrounding our party. We had entered their land. Without the chant, without the amber, we would be lost here.

A shriek echoed through the cave, and the spirits shrank away. The eyes of the young ones widened.

“Tavykha,” I heard my name called. I looked back upon Tav’i, but she shook her head.

I followed the path as I always had until we reached the throne room. Here the spirits did not enter. With the young ones inside, Tav’i closed the door and we circled the perimeter – our chants lighting the chamber. The group gasped at the remnants of the Troll Dynasty before them. Beast-skulls lined the walls; our sigil hung over the throne. In the centre of the circular room was a raised platform bearing a large fountain.

The door to the chamber rattled. I heard my name, but it was best I ignored it. Spirits were not allowed to speak with the living.

I ushered the young to sit down in front of the fountain and placed my hand inside it. I drank from my cupped hand.

“Long ago our troll ancestors lived in this cave,” I began.

“One Winter, the Obsidian Basilisk could see our people dying and invited us into the cave to live until summer returned,” Tav’i said.

“The basilisk protected us from our enemies, the goblins, and turned any that entered into obsidian. The troll dynasty built this throne room for our Troll-king. But after a whole winter in here, the Troll-king started to show signs of madness. The basilisk realized that we could not see what she could see and fed one of us her milk.”

“That’s when the first Spirit Warrior was born. He saw what the basilisk saw.”

“The cave was touching the underworld,” I said. “And the spirits were maddening the king. The basilisk and the first spirit warrior made a pact. The Spirit Warrior would protect all peoples from the spirits, and the basilisk would stop any spirits from speaking to the living. If ever they did, she would turn their spirit to obsidian.”

“And thus we have remained protected since. The amber and the chant stop us from losing our way during the ritual.”

The door rattled once more. Voices echoed within.

“Tavykha!” I heard.

“The basilisk is dead!” another cried.

Suddenly the door swung open.

Jumping over the fountain and the young ones, I swung my weapon at the spirits pouring in with Tav’i at my side. We swung at foe after foe, but spirits kept coming in. Unable to stop the onslaught, I watched in horror as our group met the spirits’ touches. Defenceless, their souls were snatched from their bodies.

“Run!” I cried as I pushed through the door, grabbing Tav’i’s hand. We had to warn the others. Tav’i and I hacked our way through the mob, but still they pulled on our souls.

Tav’i shrieked, her hand going limp. I dared not look back, but I knew the truth. My mate was gone.

I kept running towards the obsidian goblin entrance. If I could reach it, I could protect my clan.

The amber crystal glowed bright as I reached the goblins. The spirits grabbed hold of me.

I slammed the amber crystal into a stalagmite. The igneous stone exploded. Stalagtites crashed down, trapping us inside. As my soul was pulled from my body, I smiled. The crystal’s magic had worked. The spirits could not escape here today.


The Warehouse Mob

IMG_20170822_121016.jpgThe small group huddled in the corner of the postal warehouse. Undelivered packages lay open on the floor alongside blankets, eaten food packages, and flies.

The last of the afternoon light dwindled.

“I can’t spend another night in the dark,” Sarah said with a tremble in her voice.

She wrapped her arms around her legs and wept into her knees. Around her, married couple Lance and Glen put their hands on her shoulders. On the other side, Priyanka and her son, Ashwin, reached up to touch the fading light.

The warning sirens started their nightly ritual, “Woo-woo-woo.” For five straight minutes, it would continue until the timer turned off – a relic of those first few days. It didn’t cover the sound of the agonies of the living, the half-living, outside the tin walls that protected them.

“Make it stop, Mommy,” Ash cried. Priyanka pulled the toddler close and hummed a sweet lullaby. Her gentle rocking settled his tears for a moment.

“Don’t you worry, Ashwin,” Glen said with a slight gruff. “We’ll be saved soon. The army will be here any day now.”

“No, they won’t,” the boy said. “The monsters will get them too. Just like Daddy.”

“Shh, shh,” Priyanka said, covering Ashwin’s ears. “Don’t fill his head with such nonsense. We know we will have to make our own luck if we’re going to survive.”

She picked up her son and laid him down on one of the blankets. She continued to sing a song until the boy’s breathing became steady and slow.

Priyanka inched back to her side of the makeshift bedroom and sighed.

“Dads?” Sarah whispered.

“Yes, sweetie?” Lance and Glen said.

“Can we try the radio again?”

“Only if you keep it down,” Priyanka said with a hiss.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Lance answered.

The teenager fumbled in the dark for a moment before the sound of static filled the room.

She moved the dial, the frequency of the static changed with each turn. She moved it fast and slow from one end to the next for several minutes.

“Don’t leave it on too long, hun,” Glen said. “Conserve the batteries.”

“Okay,” she turned one last time and heard a voice on the other end.

“Repeat, if there are any survivors out there, you are not alone.”

The group gasped in varying states of surprise. Survivors!

They listened intent on the transmission and the words said: their names and their location – an abandoned army base and a laundry list of ways to survive on the outside.

“The key is light. They hate light.”

The transmission ended and Sarah turned the radio off. The group sat in silence for a moment.

“How are we going to get all those items?” Sarah asked.

“I know where some batteries are,” Glen said. “Mr Saunders – ”

“The man with the little dog?” Lance asked.

“The very same… He used to keep a jar of batteries… for the apocalypse.”

“But Dads… he was one of the first to turn.”

“Then he’s long gone now,” Glen said.

For the first time they ignored the cries, the gurgles, and the bangs around the warehouse. They had hope.

It wasn’t until they all stood, like a giant mob, at Mr. Saunders’s door the next morning that they realized the truth. Overgrown grass and weeds covered the once immaculate lawn.

He greeted them from under the front porch. Batteries and a tiny dog head stuck out of the bulbous form.

Their screams were hushed as they became one with the host.