Flash Fiction Challenge: Twisted Love

This past week’s flash fiction challenge from Sir Wendig was a Valentine’s Day themed one called Twisted Love. It does what it says on the box, and any genre was welcome. So I knew I needed to write about a character from my historical fiction novel. She’s one of the antagonists (sort of) and this is the only bit of writing I’ve done from her point of view. As an aside, I really recommend writing snippets from another character’s point of view which will not be in the final novel. Writing this little piece (which ties in closely to a very pivotal scene in the book) really clarified and expanded some things, and helped me understand the motivations of one of the supporting characters. That greater understanding then helps to inform my writing when I’m working with her in a scene. Which in turn gives her and the scene greater depth and reality. So as much as I generally just enjoy writing for the Flash Fiction Challenges, this one also helped me with my main WIP, which makes it even more valuable. 

Here it is: Twisted Love
~~~~

She crouched behind the small decorative pyramid attached to a House of the Ka, her fists clenched and her stomach  roiling with a mixture of desire and hatred. Her onyx-hard eyes followed the two people walking hand-in-hand among the monuments for the dead. They always slipped away together to come here. She always swore she would no longer follow them, but somehow, time after time she found herself in this same place where they came to be alone. She had never yet been able to watch them once they were truly alone, but she could picture it. His hands would caress the girl’s soft brown skin, his lips explore her sensitive spots, breath tickling and warming, hearts beating together as he tasted her on his tongue.

Henutmire shook her head to rid herself of the painfully arousing images, whimpering softly in her throat. It should be me.  The thought was seductive, no matter how often she told herself it was impossible. She peeked around the corner. The couple had disappeared into one of the chapels nearby. She ought to creep away. She had no business here. Her love was not returned, and there was nothing she could do here except make herself miserable. Yet still she stayed, knees bent painfully and back prickled with sweat from the glory of the Sun-Boat.

She would go. This was madness, beneath her to stay here in discomfort hoping for some scrap of sound or glimpse of flesh to feed her lovesick imagination. She had too much pride to hang on anyone’s shadow like this. Her father was rich, a Foreman of the Gang, and she herself was destined for Training to Serve the Golden Goddess. Who were they? Nobodies. Just kids, playing at love. Hapiwer’s grandfather might be rich, but he himself was nothing. And Meretseger was the daughter of a faithless whore. She was less than nothing.

Henutmire rose and turned to go back down the hill toward the Village when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. A man stood near the gate, looking about as if he had lost something. She recognized him immediately as the father of Hapiwer. Mery-Sekhmet, a successful man in his own right, and yet there were all those rumors about him. Rumors about women. Especially about Meretseger’s mother. Henutmire didn’t know their truth, but the sight of his broad figure in its shining white kilt and festival jewelry raised a horridly beguiling thought in her mind. What if Meretseger and Hapiwer were siblings? What if his father discovered them together? Would he tell them? Would they stop sneaking away like this, torturing her, if they knew? What if she told him where his son was, and with whom? No. She couldn’t.

Yes. She would. Before she had time to think, she was down the hill, her feet answering for her heart. She would tell him where his son was, and he would break up their romance. Then Meretseger would be free. Perhaps, in time, Meretseger would find a new love. Perhaps that love would even be Henutmire. She suppressed the swirl of longing that threatened to overwhelm her, concentrating on this first step. She must show Mery-Sekhmet the way. Later, she could set about wooing her beloved. Surely, with Hapiwer out of the picture, she might have a chance.

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Flash Fiction Challenge: The Shipwrecked Sailor

Chuck Wendig’s flash-fiction challenge for this past week was to choose a fairy tale and  re-write it in a new style, choosing from a  list of possibles on his blog. There’s nothing like procrastinating writing with other writing, so I thought I’d play along again. I thought at first perhaps a Western fairy tale, one of the more common ones. But none really appealed to me, and then it came to me. Of course I should write an Ancient Egyptian one! So, I have taken the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor and attempted to re-write it in the style of Sword and Sorcery in 1000 words. I’m not sure how succesful I was, but it was fun.

The Shipwrecked Sailor is a tale originating in the Middle Kingdom and is preserved entirely in a single manuscript written by a scribe Amen-aa, son of Ameni. It is really a story within a story, but I have only rewritten the interior story, which is the main thrust of the tale anyway. The framing device is the narrator, a sailor in Pharoah’s navy trying to console his superior officer on returning home from a defeat. He is telling his superior of this experience he had on a previous voyage. And so, without further ado, I present:

The Shipwrecked Sailor
~~~

I paused at the rail of the ship, watching as the stone quay receded and the city dwindled behind us to be replaced by rocky red cliffs. My eyes blurred, and I whispered a quick prayer for protection to the Great God Min. The captain roared and I scurried about my duties, bare feet slapping on the heaving wooden deck. The Great Green heaved beneath us, as men swung through the rigging and men strained at their oars below until at last the wind filled the great sail and we cut through the waves. Our Captain’s swarthy face creased in a frown. I remembered that the fore-seers had said there would be very little wind, but already it whipped the heaving water to white froth. Our crew was experienced and our ship sturdy, but I prayed again for good weather.

The squall, when it came, appeared suddenly, almost by magic. It engulfed the ship with a whoosh and a wet thwump of sodden canvas. Timber groaned and men yelled panicked and contradictory orders at each-other. I caught hold of a rope as it whipped by and hauled on it, my skin tingling like lightening crawled across it. Magic for sure. With a deafening crack, the deck gave way, breaking in two nearly beneath my feet. I held tight to my rope for lack of a better option, and eventually it tossed me onto the spar it was attached to. There I clung as the gale raged above us, turning our faithful ship into kindling-wood and sending many good, brave men to the bottom of the sea.

My salt-rimmed eyes cleared a bit and my feet scraped on sandy bottom. An island wavered before my eyes, green and inviting. Bits of wood, cloth, and other debris littered the shore. I turned my eyes away from the emptied husks of my fallen fellow sailors, a few of whom had washed up on shore. If I ever reach home again, I will give an offering at the temple for their souls. Stumbling ashore, I found a large water-proof bag caught in a tangle of ropes and linen sail. Inside I knew I would find weapons. I armed myself with a curved sword and felt slightly better. My courage a bit restored, I sent a prayer of supplication to Lord Seth of Foreign Lands, and set off into the trees in search of…something. Some sign. Some human habitation.

Three days I wandered, drinking water from many small springs and eating a few dates here and there. On the afternoon of the third day, I discovered a valley that looked as though it were tended by the hand of man. My heart rose. I’m a sociable fellow, and wandering alone in the wilderness did not appeal to me. Perhaps there were people here. Perhaps they could help me return to my homeland. But as I wandered through fields of melons, grain and cucumbers and beneath groves of fruit trees of all sorts I saw no one. Waterfowl rested in large flocks on ponds filled with darting fish, but no hunters did I encounter. I ate and finally nestled myself into a small thicket to while away the hours of the Sun-God’s Death.

He was sailing his Divine barque low on the horizon when the shadow enveloped me, blinding me for a moment. Smoke and hot rock filled my nostrils and made my eyes water, heat as of the high desert blasted across my skin, and the earth trembled beneath me like the sea in a gale. My eyes wavered into focus, and I shivered. Standing before me, looking down from a great height out of jeweled eyes was a dragon. Each scale shone gold-tipped blue and his beard waved gently in the breeze of his great wings. My heart hammered in my throat and my mind screamed at my arms to reach for my sword — pitiful as it was in the face of such power and majesty — but my limbs would not obey me. As I lay, gasping and gaping like a stranded fish, the great creature spoke.

“What has brought you to my island, little one? Speak quickly or I shall burn you up in my fiery breath.” His voice was like thunder and hurt my ears.

“Mercy, my Lord! I am a sailor in the Great Lord’s ships bound for the mine-lands. A great storm rent our ship asunder and cast me up here, the last survivor.”

He smiled, showing all his great curved teeth. “Fear not, little one, for you are blest by the Great God. This is an enchanted isle, where nothing is ever wanting. Bide here but a few months and another ship shall sail past these shores. Then you shall go aboard and they will carry you back to your own lands. Fear not, for you shall not die here, but in your own village in your own time.”

A great weight lifted from my chest and I scrambled to my knees to grovel. “Oh great Dragon, thank you for your kindness. I will tell of your greatness to the Great Lord himself and all His court. I will bring back offerings as if to a god for you, I swear. Only do not let me die here in foreign lands.”

He let out a rumbling laugh. “Foolish mortal. This land is rich in everything I could want. In any case, once you leave these shores you will never be able to find this island again. It will vanish as if it has never been.”

My face burned with shame, and I bowed lower, fearing I had angered him. But he only said “Come, I will show you the wonders of this island. You shall refresh yourself, and be easy until your ship comes to bear you away.”

So I rose and followed the great serpent further into the heart of the island.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Opening Line

Another piece written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenges. This one is simple: Choose a sentence from the options he posted here, and write a story with that as your opening line. I chose ‘I never trusted that statue in the garden behind the house’ and wrote this.

I’m calling this ‘Garden Idol’

~~~

I never trusted that statue in the garden behind the house. It brooded on a pedestal against the back wall, hunched like a gargoyle, darkly weathered, and menacing. Its eyes always seemed to follow me about the garden on dreary days and it faded into the brick-wall when the sun shone cheerfully on the bright profusion of the old English Garden. But despite my dislike, there the statue remained while my mother lived. She never spoke about it, but the one time I tentatively suggested putting it in the dustbin, she nearly blew a hole through the roof. I never mentioned it again, and neither did she, but neither did she seem to pay the statue any special attention.

The day she died, I caught her whispering urgently to it, her attitude one of a supplicant to a capricious god. She was weakened and frail from the cancer, but she could still walk about with her cane on the good days. I watched her through the kitchen window, my hands submerged in the mundanity of soapy dishwater while I watched my clever, pragmatic mother beseeching a hunk of old weathered stone. When she was done, she glanced about surreptitiously and then propped her cane up against the plinth, on the back-side where it was hidden by the wall.

Three hours later, she had breathed her last while I held her thin, purple-veined hand. She looked me in the face, smiled, and said “Don’t worry, love. You’ll be fine. I’ve taken care of everything.”

“Yes Mum. I love you.”

“I know. You’re a good girl. You’ll be alright.” She drew in a deep breath. Her eyes drifted closed. She murmured, “I’ve seen to it. You’ll be-”

~

They took her body away immediately, whisking her to the funeral home to primp the husk for burial. The house echoed emptily after the men left. Mother was never very loud, soft-spoken and gentle except when angry. Still, her absence resonated from the attic to the kitchen, and drove me out into the sunshine of the back garden. Here the wind murmured and whispered, filling the silence in my heart a little. I wandered among the flowers until I found myself standing in front of the statue. A sudden anger gripped me and I snatched Mum’s cane up and used it to push the ugly thing off its pedestal. It lay among smashed stems and crushed petals, glaring malevolently at me. I turned my back and marched up to the house, laying Mum’s cane across her favorite couch, where she had lain earlier that very day. Somehow, it comforted me while I cleaned the house, ate my solitary supper, stared blindly at a book, and finally went up to bed. I slept badly, dreaming strange dreams of terror and anger and sadness and loss, all featuring the garden statue.

The next morning, the cane was gone. I stared blearily at the couch, wondering if I had moved it and forgotten. Shaking my head, I stumbled into the kitchen to put the kettle on for the morning’s first cup of tea. Staring absently out the window, I suddenly realized the statue was back on its plinth against the wall. I left the door standing open, ignoring the heavy dew drenching my slippers and the hem of my dressing-gown. The statue was as menacing as ever, glowering from its plinth as if it never moved, with Mum’s cane propped against the plinth. Only the crushed flowers assured me I hadn’t dreamed my fit of pique the day before. I glowered back, hands on hips as I contemplated the thing. I picked it up and marched through the back gate. As always, the feel of the thing made my skin crawl, and I gladly deposited it into the dustbin. I returned to the house to finish my tea and prepare for the visitors I knew would arrive later — Mum’s friends, our few relations, our neighbors. I slammed my finger in the door on my way inside and burned the tea.

~

I slept badly again that night, haunted by dreams of misfortune and memories of all the little mishaps which had plagued the house throughout the day. This time I wasn’t surprised to find the statue back in the garden and Mum’s cane beside it. I set my mouth in a grim line and loaded the thing into Mum’s old car, driving towards where the river curved away from the village into the countryside. The garden statue sank with a satisfyingly final ‘KERPLOOSH’ and I drove home to dress for the funeral.

The plague of mishaps returned with a vengeance during the funeral, from the hysterics of one of my female cousins to the minister using the wrong name in the service, to one of the wreaths catching fire from a candle. Each one grew gradually worse building up to a grand fiasco. As they left the church, bearing Mum’s coffin, somehow the pall-bearers grew tangled and fell. The casket tilted crazily, flew open with a bang on a man’s head, and Mum rolled out in an untidy heap on the stone steps. Her stiff limbs flapped and her funerary garment went askew, showing her knickers to all the assembled mourners. Gasps, sobs, and one muffled titter greeted the sight of my mother’s inert indecency. I shuddered and looked away as people scrambled to load her back into her casket and continue the procession to the grave-site.

That night, the familiar dreams barely impinged on my exhaustion. I woke early and glanced down into the dawn-gilded garden fearfully.

The statue crouched, dripping river-water, in its place. I trudged down in my dressing-gown to stare silently at it. Fear, exhaustion, and resignation warred in my breast. At last I whispered my concession.

“You win. You stay, and so does Mum’s cane.”

The statue smiled slightly.

I never trusted that smile.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Random Sentence Generator

Yep, I did it again, I took up the Flash Fiction Challenge thrown out by Chuck Wendig last week. He sent us to a random-sentence generator and challenged us to use one of the random sentences to create a story. I think technically we were supposed to use the sentence in the story, but I didn’t do that. However, I did find a sentence that inspired an entire piece.

“Can the damaged Queen pace?”

This one caught my imagination, and inspired me to try a little experiment. If nothing else, writing this has been an exercise in “Subtle.” I’m still not sure I’m there yet, but practice is always good.

Anyhow, enjoy!

~~~

Checkmate

The Black Queen limped across the checkerboard battlefield, her footsteps smeared in blood. She walked slowly to her new place, head bowed over her battle-axe and shoulders slumped. With an effort, she straightened and kept a wary eye as the battle raged across the board. Watching for lulls she might take advantage of, directing her children in the protection of their most important asset.

Their lord.

Their King.

Weariness caused her attention to waiver for a moment, and with a scream of triumph, her nemesis swooped into the breach. The White Queen rushed across the battlefield, sword raised high in a clear threat against the King. He swore and scrambled back out of the way of her swinging blade. Black shrieked in anguish, constrained from rushing to her lord’s aid.

“No! Please,” She pleaded. “Spare him! Take me instead!”

Her voice was harsh with raw emotion, but her dark eyes were watchful, waiting her opportunity, whatever it might be.

White crowed, ignoring Black as she moved sideways, intent on her prey.

Black swung grimly into action, charging the unprotected back of her foe. Her ebony ax crashed down on the ivory sword, sending it flying away into the chaos of the battle. Black pressed her advantage, pushing White into the waiting arms of the king. He deftly wound a garrote about the neck of the struggling queen. At an imperious gesture from his dark Queen he stopped, not yet tightening the slim line fully about her pale neck. White snarled and swore when Black gave a sharp order to a nearby pawn.

“Bind her arms and legs.”

“You fool, you’re supposed to kill me!” shrieked White.

Black regarded her pityingly. “I offer you a chance. An amnesty. A courtesy you never gave me. Will you reject it, as you rejected my pleas?”

The remaining White pawns paused in frozen horror, waiting for their Queen’s answer. She remained silent, pale eyes darting frantically about, seeking some out. Finding none, she returned her gaze to the face of Black.

“State your terms,” she whispered.

Black smiled in triumph. “You and your King will become my prisoners. Your kin will depart the field peacefully, and I will let you all live.”

White glanced once more about, then slumped her shoulders in defeat and nodded. “Alright. I concede. Spare my children, please.”

The White King roared in outrage, but Black swooped in and disarmed him neatly, her victory complete.

The two prisoners lay trussed up at the edge of the bloody field as the remnants of the Black army watched their defeated opponents depart the board. The Black Queen stood over them, battle-axe held loosely in one ebony-mailed fist. She looked down, a strange expression crossing her face, and addressed her opponent.

“We fight this eternal War, the one or mothers fought, and our grandmothers. We train our daughters to fight it too. But what has it ever gained us?”

The White Queen shook her head. “It is just the way it is. We must battle. You have won this round, but one of my daughters will attack you soon and free us. There is no choice. That’s just the way it is.”

Black crouched with a grimace as her injured leg protested, and murmured for White’s ears only, “But what if it wasn’t? What if we had a choice? Would you still fight me?”

“Yes! I must protect my King. Nothing else matters.”

“And yet…what has that ever gained us? We fight their battles, protect their persons, and train our daughters to do the same, but what has it ever really gained us? You and I, we are not so different you know. We each wield enormous power, and yet we don’t use it to our best advantage. We should be allies, not opponents.”

An angry retort died on her lips, and White’s pale face grew introspective. “Allies…against whom?”

Black smiled a small smile, her eyes intent on the other woman. “Battling each other for some Kingly agenda only serves to weaken us. Together, you and I and all our sisters and daughters, we could push back against those who would use our strength for their own ends while keeping us weakened. Even when they’re our own Lords.”

Dark eyes met light, and two pairs of lips formed the word in unison.

“Checkmate.”

Epic Flash Fiction Challenge

I had so much fun writing the last story for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge, I decided to go again when he made the Epic Game of Aspects: Redux Challenge. This time we were given lists of 20 choices for Subgenre, Conflict, and Element to Include. I rolled (d20s this time) Black Comedy, Assassin!, and Poisonous Snakes. After much cogitation, and some struggle at being funny, I give you:

Bloody Snakes!

~~~

The sound of the window-sash sliding gently open woke me. That noise is never a good sign, but I didn’t panic. Perhaps it was only a thief. I kept my breathing slow and even, careful not to betray my wakefulness. I strained my ears for every faint crumb of sound but I could still barely hear the rustle of a body sliding over the window-sill. I shifted aimlessly in the bed, as a sleeper stirring might. One flick of a finger, and the room glowed pale-green within my goggles. A figure stood motionless just inside my window.

We breathed slowly, listening to each-other. I counted heartbeats until my nocturnal visitor was satisfied by my feigned slumber. The figure moved further into the room, one careful step at a time edging toward my bed.

CRASH!

I nearly gave the game away by laughing aloud at the muffled swearing. They had tripped over a half-built prototype on my floor. Clearly, this thief was either inexperienced or extraordinarily idiotic. No night-goggles, carrying a bulky box on their back, and very little preparation.

The figure waited for me to settle into “sleep” again. I waited for their next move.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

The second-hand on my pocket-watch sliced the night’s silence from my dressing-table. Finally, she moved, revealing an outline of breasts as she slid closer. She shifted the box off of her back and reached inside. My hand  tightened on the tiny revolver beneath my pillow. To my horror, she withdrew her hand from the box clutching a long thrashing creature behind its head.

Tossing the snake toward my bed, she snarled “A message from Lord Taylor. Die wench!”

“Awk!”

Crack!

My bullet went wild as I scrambled desperately to untangle my night-dress from my bed-clothes. The viper struck, hissing, and rebounded off the metal of my prosthetic right arm. At last, I escaped my treacherous bed. I steadied myself with several ragged breaths, aimed, fired.

Bang!

The snake thrashed among the tumbled sheets. I fired again, for good measure, then adjusted my aim. My fourth shot took the assassin high in the shoulder. She squealed and scrambled backwards toward the window, abandoning her box of vile creatures to their fate. I hit her once more, in the bottom, as she escaped. I hoped she wouldn’t sit comfortably for a month.

Snakes. Why does it always have to be snakes?!

I turned up the gas and shouted for my landlady. Then I climbed deliberately onto a chair and waited for someone to arrive and dispose of the bloody box of bloody snakes, keeping my revolver trained on them.

~~~

Flash Fiction Challenge: Accepted

So I decided to participate in Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge, A Game of Aspects. I’ve never written flash before, and the choices appealed to me, so I thought I’d give it a go. It proved unexpectedly fun, and fulfilling too. The way it works is you choose, either deliberately or randomly (I was totally a nerd and rolled 3d10s), an aspect from each of three categories he provided. The categories were Subgenre, Setting, and Element to Include. Mine were:

Alternate History
The Hollow Earth
Weapons of Mass Destruction (though as it ended up, I also included Dragons)

After some cogitation, inspiration hit. If my story were to be a question on Sheldon and Amy’s game, Counterfactuals, it would be something like this. Read the rest of this entry »