The Optometrist and the Dragon #writephoto

photo compliments of Sue Vincent

A man of science, Irvus the optometrist didn’t believe in enchantment. But a dare was a dare, and he wasn’t about to cede his convictions to a bunch of old-timers at the Pickled Sow. It was the 5th century, for Heaven’s Sake. The last known dragon had gone extinct a hundred years ago.

The climb up the scree to the cave was steeper than it appeared from a distance. His borrowed twin-bladed battle-ax weighed a ton, and if the rusted iron weren’t strapped to his back, he would have abandoned it on the dirt track below. Sweat dripped into his eyes and plastered his hair to his scalp. He renewed his determination to begin exercising, again… maybe.

Then he spotted the old skull.

His boot crunched on a human spine twisted like a skeletal snake. Farther up, a rubble of sun-bleached bones littered the loose stones below the cave’s gaping maw.

Irvus paused, tongue idly exploring the gap in his front teeth. A bear or a mountain lion, surely. Had to be since dragons didn’t exist. He wrestled out of the straps crossing his back and hefted the intimidating ax, his pluck rallying with the weapon in hand.

Other than the racket of sliding and tumbling stones, he crept silently up to the cave and peered inside. His breath hitched.

There, bathed in shadow, sat the princess that the wrinkled fellows at the Sow had dared him to rescue. A genuine princess with a perfectly forlorn face, pink lips, and crown of golden curls. She rested on a chunk of stone, her delicate frame draped in azure and emerald silks.

No dragon in sight, he hissed at her. “Psst! Over here.” She jolted up, eyes flashing with surprise. He beckoned with a frantic hand.

She glanced behind her and tiptoed toward him, careful to avoid the sunlight. “Are you a prince?” she whispered.

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

“Oh.”

“I’m here to rescue you; I think.”

“Indeed, you’re very noble. But for me to escape this horrid place, you must first slay the dragon.” She tilted her curly head toward the cave’s interior.

He arched a skeptical eyebrow. “A real dragon?”

She nodded, tears glittering in a pair of startling and beautiful gold-burnished eyes. “I’m trapped by an enchantment, captive here for all eternity or until a brave soul sets me free. Are you truly he?”

Irvus considered her predicament and decided that the whole situation was rather implausible, but there she was, an honest to god princess. She seemed sincere, and so far, he hadn’t seen anything more menacing than a rabbit. Best of all, she’d implied he was “brave.”

He sucked in a breath, stepped into the shadow, and halted. A deep snuffle of warm breath wafted over him from the black of the soot-smeared cave. His eyes adjusted rapidly due to his exceptional vision care, and he gasped. A dragon slept curled in a nest of straw among the jagged rocks.

A magnificent beast, its scales glistened in hues of azure and emerald. A serpentine tail curled around its body and webbed wings folded against its back. Curved claws glinted like shards of ice, and scimitar spikes thrust from its spine. With each restful exhale, puffs of smoke snorted from a horned snout.

The princess threaded her arm through his and gazed up at him with those disconcerting golden eyes, eyelashes fluttering like feathers. In all his years of optometry, he’d never seen eyes so… avian. “Please,” she murmured. “Slay it, free me, and you will win my heart.” She rose onto her toes and pressed her lips to his sweaty cheek.

He swallowed, kissing a pastime sorely absent from his hectic life. He gathered his faltering courage and inched toward the dragon. The slumbering monster shifted and sighed, blasting him with heated air. His hands tightened around the haft of his battle-ax, and he glanced behind him, chewing on a lip. “Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea.”

The princess winced at the pun and crept up behind him, her eyes alight with a strange glow. She waved him onward and pressed her slender hands to her heart. He faced the beast, raised his ax to his shoulder, risked another step, and kicked a stone. It rolled and clinked against a deadly claw. He froze.

The dragon’s eyelid quivered and rolled up. In a tremendous surge, the colossal beast reared. Wings unfurled and thundered against the cave’s ceiling. Its scaled tail uncoiled and swept the cave’s debris, flinging stones and raising the dust. It bared its fangs and blew a stream of fire over Irvus’s head as it scrambled back against the wall.

Irvus shrieked and turned to run. The princess met his charge and heaved him back toward the dragon. “Kill it,” she screamed. “Slay it now! Kill it.” She blocked his way out, stalked toward him, hands raised to force him into a fight. “Kill it, or I’ll be trapped here forever. You can’t leave me here.”

He thrust the ax at her. “You kill it.”

“I can’t,” she cried, shoving it back. “The enchantment won’t permit it. It must be you. Please.”

He faced the dragon, sweat drenching his body, his hands slick on the ax. The dragon writhed against the back wall, massive chest heaving. Its tail thrashed and slapped the rocks of its nest. Fire flared with each breath, burning the walls. It extended two sets of razor claws, poised for an attack or… Or warding one off?

“Kill it,” the princess urged over Irvus’s shoulder.

Irvus hesitated, mesmerized. The dragon blinked at him with wide doe eyes, the most beautiful nut-brown, liquid eyes he’d ever seen. The beast probably had a family history of healthy eye care, a diet rich in dark leafy greens and fatty cold-water fish. The smoke wasn’t good, but the cave’s shade provided protection from the sun’s damaging rays.

“What’s the matter?” the princess cried. “Kill it! Hurry! Don’t leave me here. Break the spell.”

He hefted the battle-ax. The dragon looked at him with those soft chestnut eyes. The heavy ax head slipped in his sweaty hands. He tightened his grip and raised it over his head to fling at the beast. As much as he cringed at the thought, he couldn’t forsake the princess to a cave-bound eternity.

“Yes,” the princess hissed behind him.

The dragon shuttered its sublime eyes, lowered its scaled head, and stilled as if awaiting the fatal strike.

“No, I can’t.” Irvus’s arms relaxed. Suspended behind his head for the killing blow, the heavy weapon sagged. The weight of its iron blade pulled him backward. His balance teetered, the haft slipping through his fingers. He lurched over the stones, struggling to find his footing, and the weapon slid free. A gasp and thump behind him loosed a shudder that rattled his bones.

He spun around and gaped at the dead princess, the ax blade embedded in her forehead. He slapped his hands over his mouth in a panic.

Then her body began to bloat, clothes splitting at the seams. Irvus stumbled backward as scales erupted on her skin and a spiked tail snaked from her back, elongating across the rubble. The princess’s fingers lengthened, joints swelled, and nails curled into crystalline claws. Her face contorted, nose and jaw jutting into a horned snout. Limbs bulged and crooked, every inch of her transformed except the sightless golden eyes staring at the ceiling.

“Thank you.”

He yelped and pivoted. A brown-eyed woman sat on the black stones of the dragon’s nest, her human nakedness wrapped in a blanket of glittering azure and emerald scales.

“You broke the enchantment,” she said. “You set me free.”

“You’re the princess?”

“A librarian,” she said. “Are you a prince?”

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

She gathered the serpentine skin around her and stood. “And the kindest man I’ve ever met.”

He smiled, puffed up his chest, and offered his hand. “Are you ready to go?”

They walked to the sharp rim of sunlight at the cave’s entrance where he rearranged the dragon’s pelt to shade her face. The gray-beards at the Pickled Sow might accept his tale about accidentally slaying a dragon, but they’d never believe those perfect brown beauties, not until they spied them with their very own eyes.

***

This rather long and silly story was inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday #writephoto prompt: Shelter

 

Dusk: #writephoto

photo from Sue Vincent

I dreamed this story Saturday night in response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Something a little different.

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I can’t remember much bout that time, cept for the crazy animal fear. Like you weren’t in yer body but thrashing around outside yer skin, a thing gutted and clawing at some god to lift yer sorry ass outta there. Bombs pounded on our camp, and the screaming lay over the roar and rumble like I was trapped with a flock of gulls, and a pack of wolves were tearing at our throats, only it was worse than that.

And the reek of all them loose shits and us pissing in our pants, including mine. We were burrowed deep and bunched like rabbits, and it was blacker then death with yer eyes pinched shut. Already buried alive, I think. A funny thing how that situashun was better than being out there—tho I weren’t laughing. No, not at all.

Mason kep talking in that flat, butter voice of his thru the whole thing like he was telling lullaby stories come lights-out. I think Mason’s stories saved our asses on those days. Powerful stories bout life after the Reclamayshun, after the killing is worn out and we can go home.

Then my ears is ringing, and I’m breathing dust like I’m drowning. Some little kid’s keening so shrill it slices thru the exploshuns. And my heart is jumping on my ribs hard, and I know I jus gotta get out a there. It’s real bad, that feeling. My mind is so beat on like an old rug that it comes to me clean and clear—I got no choice in this life but where I’m gonna die. And I don’t wanna die jammed in a hole.

Then it all stop. All of it stop. The bombing and screaming and coffing up dirt. Mason makes us sit for seems a week until we gonna die from jus sitting still, already buried in our grave and starving to boot. When he say to give it a go, we dig out, and the world don’t look the same at all. It’s a hell place like the devil took a shovel and turned up the whole land for spring planting.

Mason stands atop the wreck and stares up at the dusk sky. There ain’t one single bomb raining thru the air. Little white puff clouds look fresh-washed and soft on that gold and blue, like a summer dress on a pretty girl. The world ain’t all broken up after all, and I think maybe Mason was right when he was telling us stories and promising hope.

Sanctuary #Writephoto

I shook off the transportal’s disorientation and trembled with the cold. Authentic cold. Maybe not what I’d expected, but a clear signal that I’d arrived. I’d grown sick of my shipbound existence, the sensory constancy, the monotony of routine, the same faces, same pastimes, same food. The same, same, same. After six cycles, the head of Assimilation approved my placement. And here I stood.

Time to face my new world, my chosen sanctuary, I squared my shoulders, hauled in a breath, and marched through the gray arch into a landscape felted in white. I halted. Warning bells clanged in my head and reality punched me in the chest. Something had gone wrong.

In a panic, I checked my chrono. I had minutes before the ship barreled out of range. Hands fumbling, I opened my comdeck, desperate for a connection.

“Connection established. Audra receiving. You have one chron before communication terminates.”

“Audra, this is Cloe. There’s been a mistake. You need trans me back to the ship.”

“Cloe? Give me a second.”

“Hurry!” I pleaded. A gray-haired alien in a charcoal coat strolled between the white trees, and I turned my back, hiding my dread.

“Your entry was a success.” Audra’s voice crackled with interference. “…didn’t show one irregularity. What’s the matter?”

“This planet,” I whispered, “it’s not the one I approved.” Tears blurred my vision, and I couldn’t stop shivering. “The locators guaranteed an 89% match to my parameters. I saw the images. They sent me to the wrong place!”

“I’m sorry, honey. You certified your choice. The portal’s closing.”

“Audra, you have to help me. Don’t leave me here!”

“All right, I’ll try. Tell me what’s wrong with it? I’ll issue a…” The comdeck fizzled and died.

I throttled the useless thing and smashed it on the stone steps. Face raised to the milky sky, I shouted, “I wanted colors! You sent me to a black and white world.”

The gray-headed alien in his charcoal coat glanced up from where he threw black seeds on the white ground. Gray-feathered birds pecked around his black shoes.  “That’s what you get for arriving in winter.”

I frowned at him. “Winter?”

He angled his head toward the gray buildings in the distance. “They didn’t tell me either. Let’s get a cup of coffee, and I’ll fill you in on something called spring.”

***

Another gorgeous photo and fun Thursday prompt from Sue Vincent. Join the fun. 🙂

Woodland #Writephoto

My husband and I head out in our hiking boots when the dawning sky slides from lavender to blue. He treks up the hill ahead of me, and we squint when the sun twinkles through the trees.

“Stop!” I shout, too late.

My husband shrieks and bolts behind me. “What?”

“Oh my God, you stepped on it.” I suck a breath through my teeth.

“On what?” Nature boy peers over my shoulder and then checks the soles of his boots for dog turd or deer duds. But poop isn’t the problem.

I creep forward and squat down for a closer look. The thing is squashed, imprinted with his zig-zag tread, opalescent wings mashed into the pine needles. I poke it to see if it’s alive.

“What is it?” he asks from a safe distance.

I look up at him, the horror of our situation congealing in my chest. “We’re in such big trouble. You stepped on a fairy!”

“A what?” He inches forward as if the fairy’s going to leap up, whip out a wand, and shrink him into a toad. “Is that bad?”

“Of course, that’s bad!” A wing flutters, and we share a glance. “It’s not dead. We have to do something.”

“Throw it in the bushes.”

“No! We have to help it.” I gently scoop the fairy onto a fern, and we head downhill. “We need to call someone for advice.”

“Take it to the vet,” Mr. Helpful suggests.

“The vet?” I shake my head. “I’m calling Colleen Chesebro. She knows about fairies.”

“The swamp-fairy whisperer lady?”

“She doesn’t live by a swamp anymore. I think her fairy knowledge has expanded.” We push through the screen door, and my husband fills a shoebox with toilet paper as if he’s adopting a gerbil.

“Really?” I blink at him. “Toilet paper?”

“It’s soft and fluffy,” he explains.

I rest the fern on the soft, fluffy toilet paper and call Colleen. With the phone on speaker, we chit chat our greetings and get to the issue at hand. “Colleen, my husband crushed a fairy and—”

“He what?”

Hubby jumps in, giving me the skunk eye. “I stepped on it by accident.”

“Anyway,” I say, “It’s still alive, but it’s sort of squashed, and we don’t know what to do.”

“First thing,” Colleen says, “leave it in the woods where you… squashed it.”

The hubby and I wince in unison and look down at the shoe box. “Umm…” I say into the phone.

Colleen sighs. “Okay, scrap that. New first thing, bring it back to where you found it and leave it there.”

I grimace at the phone. “That doesn’t seem very compassionate.”

“Fairies are magical,” Colleen explains. “Trust me.””

“What if the raccoons get it?” my husband asks.

“The raccoons won’t bother it?”

“Cougars?” he asks.

I worry he’s going to list off the entire contents of the animal kingdom, and apparently, Colleen does too because she nips that recitation in the bud. “Animals don’t harm fairies. Nature is symbiotic. You probably have a forest fairy, part of the same ecosystem as the ferns, moss, and trees. The Earth will heal it or transform it.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, I guess that makes sense. Are you sure?”

“If I’m wrong you’ll only be cursed for life.” She chuckles. “Just kidding.”

Great, a comedian, but I have to ask, “How will we know if you’re right?”

“We won’t be cursed,” my brilliant husband replies.

“You’ll know.” Colleen smiles through the phone line. We give her our thanks and hike back up the hill with the shoebox. The sun shoots spears of warmth through the evergreen, and we gently rest the fairy and her fern a little to the side of the path. The least we can do.

The next morning, coffee in hand, we climb the leafy path to check on our charge. The fairy is gone, but the forest is alive with butterflies.

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Thanks to Sue Vincent for her Thursday #Writephoto prompt, and to Colleen for letting me insert her in my story.  I hope you enjoyed my fairy tale.

At the Mirror: The Quill’s Magic

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I only connected with D. Avery a couple months ago. I loved this story and the beautiful fairy tale quality. I think it would make a beautiful children’s book (hint hint). I hope you enjoy.

The Quill’s Magic

by D. Avery

Once upon a time there was a king who had everything necessary and much that was imaginable and who always wanted more. He had a great many servants, among them a girl who tended to the horses in the royal stable.

One day she was surprised to find that the king’s men had captured a large bird, which was kept in a locked stall in the stable. It fell to her to look after this strange creature.

She observed that every day it pulled its own feathers to make a writing quill, and every day drew its own blood to use as ink, that every day it might write its own story.

“Oh, Bird, doesn’t that hurt?”

“Yes, it hurts.”

“Then, why?”

“Because”, the bird squawked, “At this time, in this place, I have no song.”

And the girl could not get the bird to eat or drink and could not get it to stop pulling its own feathers and drawing its own blood. She could not get it to stop writing. And she could not bear the pain of its silence. She stole the king’s key and unlocked the stall door. “Go”, she urged it, “While you still have feathers enough to escape.” The bird thanked her and took flight and as it did, its written words took feathered form, and took flight, and became a great wheeling flock of birds, each one a purposeful song that filled the sky and filled the girl’s heart with joy.

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The great bird circled back and landed in front of the girl. Already, with its words singing in the treetops it looked replenished, its feathers grown back in. “You did a brave thing, for the king will be very angry with you. How can I repay you? Name it.”

“Oh no”, said the girl. “You have brought birdsong back to the kingdom. That is all I need.”

“Take this.” The bird pulled a white feather and handed it to the girl. “With this quill your words will sing and your spirit will soar. And yes”, the bird said as it flew away, “There will be pain.” The girl held the quill like a white flower; she held it like a sword; she held it as the key to her own escape.

The king was angry, very angry with the sorrel-maned girl who had freed the great bird. The king was quite unused to being defied, of having anything taken from him, even things he had no right to.

“Throw her into the bird’s stall”, he commanded. “Melt the key in the forge.”

The thin morning light that slanted through the barred window illuminated her tear as it dropped. Remembering the bird, the brave and stoic bird, she reached for the white quill pinned in her hair. Her tears would be her ink. No sooner had she dipped the nib into her own teardrop than she was transformed. As a small white bird she was able to flit through the window of the stall door. Unsteady with her wings, she perched on a shelf in the stable, uncertain of what to do next.

“The spell will wear off soon. Fly down from the shelf.”

She fluttered to the straw strewn floor and sure enough, as soon as she did, she was herself again, a girl holding a white feather, facing a sorrel horse that spoke to her over the half door of his stall. “Good timing”, he said.

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“But shouldn’t the magic of the quill last forever?”

“The magic does last forever”, replied the horse, “but do you really want to be a bird forever? You’re too young yet. You don’t get out so easily. But I can help you with the next part of your journey.”

As the kingdom was just beginning to rouse and attend each to their roles, the horse carried the girl rapidly away, she clinging to his mane, her own sorrel hair winging behind her. Finally the horse stopped in a wooded glade and they rested. Only now did the girl ask how it was that a horse could speak.

 

Continue Reading: The Quill’s Magic

Fallen Angel

The Carrot Ranch flash fiction contests came to an end in December, and I’m delighted to share my final entry. This last challenge involved 5 steps! Don’t feel you have to read them all, but… it’s a good example of how different 1st drafts (step 1) are from final drafts (step 5). You can see how crappy my first drafts are. Gak!

Challenge #8: 

In 5 steps, write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis. Each step is its own flash fiction, but it is the evolution of a single story.

The Rules

Step One: In step one free-write for 5 minutes. Stop even if it’s incomplete. No Editing! 

Step Two: Edit your free-write into a 99-word story.

Step Three: Edit your 99-word story into a 59-word story.

Step Four: Edit your 59-word story into a 9-word story.

Step Five: Transform it into a 599-word final story in three acts: beginning, middle, and end.

Step 1: 5-Minute free write – no editing allowed

Tris stood before the archangels, with his plea. “How can I truly know love, if I have nothing to compare it to?” To know something, doesn’t one need to know it’s alternatives?”

“You wish to be reviled?” asked Gabriel.

I wish to understand love in its fullest form, and if that is to be scorned, then scorn me.”

“As you wish”

Tris plummeted through the air, white feathers in flames, this skin blazing, cracking, charring, sloughing off all that was beauty. His eyes filled with fire and he plummeted to the sea with a trail of smoke.

The woman wading in the waves saw his fall and ran into the waves to save him. But when she saw the charred pinions of his skeletal wings, the blackened bloody flesh and the scarlet eyes, she screamed and ran panic driving her to flee. Webbed wings, quilled pinions.

He stalked her, haunted her, black wings unfurling in the corner of her room. What do you want? She screamed. “What do you want from me?

“Love he croaked, and the sound of his voice scared even him.

She held her pillow, curled in her bed. “If you love me, you would leave me alone.”

The demand stunned him. How could he love her under such restrictions? He knew then what it meant to be reviled and his wings curled around him, relegating him to shadows.

Step 2: Edit it into a 99-word story

He plummeted through heaven’s void, white wings in flames, skin blazing. Sloughing his beauty, he plunged into the sea.

A woman beheld his charred pinions and fled the waves. He haunted her moonlit nights, wandered her dreams until she survived on pills and prayers, woke in a sea of sweat, and screamed, “What do you want from me?”

“Only love.”

She curled around her pillow. “If you loved me, you would leave me alone.”

His breath caught. How did one love if banished by love? His burned wings enfolded him, condemning him to shadows, for love her, he did.

Step 3: Edit it into a 59-word story

He haunted her moonlit nights, wandered her dreams until she survived on white pills and prayers, woke in a sea of sweat, and screamed, “What do you want from me?”

“Only Love.”

She curled around her pillow. “If you loved me, you’d leave me alone.”

His burned wings enfolded him, condemning him to shadows, for love her, he did.

Step 4: Edit it into a 9-word story

For love, his burned wings enfolded him in shadow.

Step 5: The final 599-word story – a hero’s journey

Fallen Angel

He pled before Hadraniel. “How does one value love if one has nothing to compare? How does one know light without darkness?”

“You choose to be reviled?” the archangel asked.

“To experience love in its fullest form.”

Thus, he plummeted through heaven’s void, white wings in flames, skin blazing, cracking, sloughing his beauty in a trail of ash. A shooting star, his eyes brimmed with fire, and he plunged into the sea.

A woman wading in the waves ran into the surf to save him. But when she beheld the charred pinions of his skeletal wings, blackened scabs of skin, and irises licked by fire, terror pooled in her eyes. Her screams echoed the shrill keen of circling birds.

She fled the sea, drove with the wind’s howling, and spun through the city’s roiling anonymity. He hunted her with wings unfurled, bristling with burned quills. And each time he drew near enough to speak his heart’s yearning, fear prevailed and she failed to hear.

He spurned the sun to haunt her by moonlight when wounded souls melded with the dark. Cloaked in smoke, he inhabited the seams of her room and whispered love’s longing in her sleep. He wandered her dreams until she survived on white pills and prayers and woke in a sea of sweat. “What do you want?” she screamed. “What do you want from me?”

“Only love.”

Thunder rumbled in his voice, and she curled around her pillow. “If you loved me, you would leave me alone.”

His breath caught. How could this be? How did one love if banished by love? What had he chosen? Burned and broken wings enfolded him, condemning him to shadows, for love her, he did.

For years, he watched her spiral in shouting matches and botched marriages, estrangements, peals of pleading, and regrets for promises shattered. He kept his word and hid in antiseptic halls with chemical restraints, through prescriptions that muted the sun and blurred the hours into strings of dull-seasoned days. Through vodka and heroin, overdoses and scars carved into her skin.

Until fear surrendered its grip.

He lingered in the corner when she lay on her deathbed, downy hair a soft cloud on her pillow, the callous blinks and bleeps of machinery her only company.

“You’re still here, aren’t you?” she asked.

His head rose from his chest, and he dared speak, “Yes.”

“You’ve followed me all these years?”

“Yes.”

“Well, there’s no sense in hiding anymore.”

By inches, he unfurled a shadowed wing, revealing his blackened form, the sharp contours of bone, and embers of his eyes. Congealed darkness swirled aside, traces of old smoke dissipating into the night.

“Why did you haunt me?”

“To learn of love.”

“And did you?”

“I learned that love and pain and forgiveness are companions in this mortal world.”

“So, they are.” She closed her eyes, breath a murmur, and reached out a hand. “If I could live this life again, I would choose differently, my loyal demon.”

“Forgive me,” he whispered, and with skeletal fingers, careful of his claws, he caressed her hand. The yearned-for touch peeled away the char and ash of his skin, the scars that were his wings, and extinguished the blaze in his eyes. As she exhaled her last breath, he plummeted through heaven’s void, white feathers in flames, skin sloughing its beauty in a trail of ash. A shooting star, he plunged into the sea.

The woman wading in the waves ran to save him and halted at the sight of his seared pinions. Undaunted, she plunged into the surf and seized his hand.

 

***

To read Liz Husebye Hartmann’s winning submission and the honorable mentions for this mega challenge, click here: Carrot Ranch

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Murder Mysteries

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The winner of the Carrot Ranch challenge #7 was announced this morning. A little murderous musing before the holiday cheer sets in.

Challenge #7: Murderous Musings.  Write a flash fiction in 109 words, no more, no less and weave a murderous vibe through an every-day setting, either in thought or deed.

Murder Mysteries

Margaret loved murder mysteries, anything with forensics, cops making sense of clues, how the most minute residue or oversight unlocked a case. Recently published books served her best, ones scribed by someone in the “industry.” Those pages taught her about poisons, carbon monoxide, overdoses, DNA, sanitation, those darn receipts that could follow you forever, surveillance cameras on every corner… At times, it overwhelmed her.

Herbert didn’t understand the fascination. He insisted real life wasn’t like books, and murders frequently went unsolved. Well, that depressed her. The whole point was creating a finely tuned reality. When she finally got around to murdering herself, she wanted Herbert to take the fall.

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To read a fabulous winning story by Marje Mallon and the judge’s picks, click here: Carrot Ranch