Help: Flash Fiction #Flash4Storms

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The hurricanes season delivered destruction across Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the Carribean. But that’s only a piece of the suffering that rips through the world and not the latest or the last. Sarah Brentyn is donating $1 for every flash fiction story around the theme of Help, up to $50.  Entries need to be in by October 14 if you want to join in. Just include a link to her site Lemon Shark so you get counted. I’ll match her donation, so let’s max her challenge out!

Help

Audrey climbed the steep, narrow stairs to the third floor and switched on the light. She kept a tidy attic, dusted, everything in labeled boxes from shoe-box rectangles to the one that had delivered her new washer. Many were stuffed to the brim, and some she filled gradually. She had empties too, waiting for the next wedding or birth, the next death, the next act of brutal terrorism, another war or earthquake, or a hurricane like the ones that spun across the ocean and left thousands in need of help.

There was so much despair that for a long time she felt guilty if she smiled, horrible for a burst of laughter. To appreciate an autumn day or lunch with a friend seemed selfish and careless as if all that suffering meant nothing to her, just another day of rain down life’s gutter. So, she compartmentalized, pared fragile layers from her heart and filled her boxes with fragments of a mangled world. And each day, she spent a few hours after work lifting lids and letting the emotions sweep her into fits of hilarity or weeping. Her boxes spared her from drowning in helplessness and kept her happiness safe. In a world gone mad, they kept her sane.

13 STEPS TO EVIL Writing Competition Winners

Yesterday, Sacha Black announced the winner of her
13 STEPS TO EVIL Writing Competition.

The assignment was to write a short piece (exactly 208 words) with a “seriously kick-ass villain.” Fortunately, I’d just read Sacha’s book: 13 Steps to Evil, which is full of awesome tips about creating dastardly bad guys.  Now, I swear I’m a nice person, but this challenge was irresistible, and I’m honored that my story placed first in evilness. Congratulations to Charise de Becker and Judy E. Martin for their winning submissions. Pop over to read their evil writing at 13 Steps to Evil #Writespiration Writing Competition Winners.

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Barus

The woman studied him in silence. Barus sensed her eyes on his face, begging for a glance, on his hands as he cleaned the delicate needles and polished his blades. He possessed exquisite hands, long-fingered, soft and nimble. Hands for caressing the cheeks of children and lovers.

His preparations complete, he faced his charge. “Are you comfortable?”

Her brow furrowed, and he sighed, for how could she answer such a question? “An unfair inquiry. My apologies. Are you in pain? Thirsty?”

She shook her head, the gag preventing all but a muffled reply.

“You must understand the empire’s need for a flaying, a warning to all who flirt with rebellion. Your ordeal will save hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives.” He took a stool beside her chair, brushed a bright tear from her eye, and stroked her iron-bound arm. “I shall be quick.”

Her fingers curled into a fist. He withdrew his touch, the time for compassion ended. The life of his young son depended on unbearable pain, and he, the emperor’s latest executioner, would comply.

He unbound her gag, and she spat in his face, cursed his spirit to the shadowlands. He smiled at her prophetic appeal. Needles first, then knives. The entire city would hear her scream.

Scattered: #writephoto

Thanks to Sue Vincent for a beautiful photo prompt. I went a little off-world on this one. Hope you enjoy.

*

“I’ll take the risk.” Captain Galles scratched the stubble graying his jaw. “If something happens to me, Corso’s in charge, not that you’ll have any decisions left.”

No one argued. What was the point? Forty chrons without food and water, we ran shy of options. We’d searched the black bowels of the alien freighter, a salvage operation by the looks of it, and found nothing but twisted and charred metal, every scrap incinerated clean. Our damaged shuttle lay on its side amidst the sea of relics.

The exception to the vast darkness was a panel of fractured light, a patterning of sublime beauty suspended over a polished dais. Our mechanical captors had wedged the unit against the compartment’s grated wall shortly after we found ourselves prisoners. Primitive cyborgs, the aliens lacked facial articulation and translation capabilities, the robotic language in all forms indecipherable. All our words and gestures proved futile, and our captain’s demands for basic sustenance went unheeded. They’d installed the contraption and left, its function a mystery.

The eight of us stood at the fringe of light as Galles stepped onto the dais. The array of lights above him hummed in a slow spin and increased in speed until they appeared to hurl backward. His mouth gaped in a silent wail, eyes pooled with terror. He struggled to escape the machine, hammered fists against an invisible barrier he couldn’t break. The lights blurred into a white star and he froze like a holograph set on pause.

His body began to disintegrate, clothing and skin breaking apart and floating like mist, then deeper, his whole shape loosening and scattering. He dissolved into swirling vapor, a haze of bright particles. A burst of blue current blinded me, and when I opened my eyes, he was gone.

I gasped and licked my parched lips, stifling an urge to vomit. Someone to my right heaved a dry sob. We sank to the floor where we’d stood, doomed. A day or two, we’d all be dead.

***

Amak studied the monitor. An unexpected reaction. It appears they are unfamiliar with teleportation. The fear response was extreme.

They are primitive. Rohla absorbed a wave of compassion emanating from the companion. They lack translation capabilities and do not understand the most basic of trinary languages. Their arithmetics are rudimentary. We have no means of communicating with them.

They choose death over the unknown. Amak shared the bafflement, their logic incomprehensible. Are we certain of the teleportation coordinates?

Without question. They were retrieved from their ship’s logs prior to processing.

Thoughts?

Rohla’s aura went silent, and Amak ceded to the desire for contemplation. Once completed, Rohla opened a channel and set the dilemma forth. Either we honor their choice as sentient beings and let them die, or we defy them, apply force, and save their lives.

Alone – #writephoto

The child stood on the threshold of morn, his gaze to the dawning sky. “I am off to find heaven,” he said and beckoned Friend Wind to wander with him.

Grandfather Sun stretched his ancient fingers across the Earth. “I will light your path, my child.”

Grandmother Moon yawned and dipped her toe into the sea’s blue rim. “Safe journey, my little one. I will greet you at the close of day.”

The child launched his wooden boat. Friend Wind blew taut the sails and laced the waves with seafoam. The whales crooned love songs and mercurial fish glittered like schools of silver coins.

On the distant shore, the child paused where flowers dripped from trees in pink tresses. He traversed bamboo forests while Friend Wind slithered through the narrow leaves with the sound of rain. He climbed the terraced paddies carving the hills like dragon scales, and stood at the precipice where endless rainbows arced from waterfalls and painted the hills in vibrant hues.

And heaven eluded him.

Come the heat of midday, his goal carried him south to the land of pomegranates and tea leaves, and he rode camels beneath the palms. Friend Wind shared a whiff of fragrant spices and blew patterns in the shifting seas of red sand. The child gathered orange daisies in the desert, watched clouds mirrored in salt mines, and cooled his feet in fairy-pools. He hiked pastel hills and serrated shorelines looming over turquoise waters, sandstone pillars, and limestone islands jutting from the sea like fat thumbs.

And heaven eluded him.

In the afternoon, the child knelt at ancient temples, rode swans by the ruins of frosted castles, and climbed in ice caves. He capered with winter foxes in crystal fields of snow that turned into fields of tulips and lavender. He scaled giant redwoods and napped among the buffalo while Friend Wind whispered lonesome music through hollow reeds. In the twilight, he looked down into the canyons carved by water and Friend Wind laughed for he had carved those canyons too.

As the day’s end drew near, the child climbed a stone mountain that rose wondrously high, and his hopes soared. At the top of the bald dome, he looked for heaven and beheld nothing but Grandfather Sun in the mellowing sky. “I have searched the day through, Grandfather, and heaven has eluded me.”

“I have lighted your path,” Grandfather Sun said. “Now is your time to sit alone and reflect on all you’ve seen.”

The child nodded, too well-mannered to complain further. Friend Wind ruffled his hair and drifted down the mountain. Grandfather Sun winked a wise eye, and as he shuffled below the horizon, he dusted the world with gold.

“Little one, did you find heaven?” Grandmother Moon whispered over the child’s shoulder.

“Yes, Grandmother.” The Earth child smiled. “It was beneath my feet all along.”

***

The descriptions in this piece were gathered from looking at photos of the Most Beautiful Places in the World – Link Here. And Here.

Thanks to Sue Vincent for her Thursday #Writephoto Prompt.

Mask – #Writephoto

The dreamer’s room faded. Stars pricked holes in the velvet darkness as a crescent moon sailed over the restless sea, a bat with silver wings. Tucked between the shore’s boulders, twigs of cedar snapped in the nightfire, scenting the salted air with smoke. The plaintive calls of dragons whispered across the waves.

The crone peered at her latest visitor through slit eyes. Unafraid, the dreamer stood before her circle of flames, silent and sound as the distant mountains of home.

At the fire’s edge, the old woman sat atop her weathered stone, swaying, rocking, singing to herself, chanting words from ancient mouths, words lost, though their power she retained. The fire cracked and cackled, shaking fingers, sending sparks curling, singing, reeling into unsteady darkness. Soon the sea-rains would gray them, rise over cowled peaks and fall with the wind, heavy cloaks of snow coating her magic in ice. Her runes called, choose, choose, the time has come to choose.

The World spun faster, drawing the sky down, the earth up, bidding the waters to eddy and ripple in overlapping circles of light, bringing the forest to sing low and hum, smelling of leaf and loam. Expectation swelled with the tide and clawed at the sand, beckoned her to choose. From the embers’ bright edge, she drew a rune and studied the markings. The sea stilled, and she read the stone:

A call from the sliver moon and realm of imaginings. A strange Way gapes open, make ready for new beginnings. Resolve old myths to seed the soil for deliverance. Ah, the World transforms; emerge from the chrysalis, casting off false faces and old forms of knowing. Prepare for release from time-worn forces. Surrender and soar to the revealing of the World.

***

Thanks to Sue Vincent for another inspiring Thursday #Writephoto prompt.

Peace – #Writephoto

In the end, I returned to the sanitarium. This time by choice and without the reams of commitment papers, the hustling of orderlies, and motherly coaxing of nurses. The baby-blue walls and polished linoleum shine with familiarity, and the bars feel less restrictive than I remember.

I wander the halls with a certain air of freedom, considering my state. The same doctors make rounds in their cliched white coats and spectacles. Clipboards hang on hooks bolted to metal doors, and fluorescent lights hum in group-counseling like a chorus of wasps.

Despite the harsh glare of the world inside these walls, I’d found healing here. It came with compassion, by listening to stories with a crack in my heart, by risking a touch, a tear, an act of kindness. Not toward me, but toward others. Healing wasn’t about banishing my demons, a goal that had led me astray for years. It was grounded in the audacity to love, and I’d found my courage like a tidal wave.

I pass through the locked doors into the yard, and no one minds. The heat doesn’t bother me anymore, nor the cold, though today’s a brilliant day. At the rear of the grounds, a leafy glade snuggles up against the stone wall separating us from a less forgiving world. It once was a place for smoking or sex, but cameras curbed that urge, and now a bench offers a place for solitude and reflection.

This place suits me, and I plan to stay. I could travel anywhere in the world I wish, but my calling is here. Alone on the bench, I wait.

A woman heads my way. She’s thin, her skin sallow and eyes so tired they appear bruised. One arm wraps her body, and fingers twitch on chapped lips. She doesn’t see me, but I witness a cloud of despair encasing her like a thunderhead and a soul as bright as the sun. She sits beside me, and I enclose her in my arms, sate her need for love and peace. I open a crack in her heart.

In doing so, I receive more than I give and begin to heal my last regret—that my life’s purpose manifested with such sublime clarity only upon my death.

**

Thanks to Sue Vincent for another wonderful Thursday Photo Prompt.

Tunnel #Writephoto

Azalus teetered on the bluff’s edge, warded sword wheeling for balance against the brilliant sky. The mountain beneath his feet offered no reprieve, a sheet of obsidian sleek as spilled oil.

Below him, the massive dragon shot up along the mirrored wall, its neck and talons extended. Slit reptilian eyes reflected the inferno erupting from its throat. The beast blasted through its own blaze, and its maw gaped, scorched shards of the last armsman wedged between rows of serrated teeth. In a heartbeat, chances of escape had dropped from doubtful to dismal.

Gaylen’s whip coiled around the vambrace shielding Azalus’s forearm, and he clasped it as his feet slipped into the heated air. His body slammed against the rock wall, and the dragon altered its flight to pick off the newly dangling prey.

“Dragon,” Azalus shouted to his fellow fugitive and pointed the tip of his sword at the ascending beast. Jade scales glimmered like sunlight on still water, and webbed wings beat with the snap of wind-caught sails. Beautiful and deadly.

Above him Gaylen hauled. “Reavers are closing.”

Suspended on the whip, Azalus kicked against the cliff’s sheer face. Gaylen heaved, and when Azalus reached the lip, he thrust his sword arm across the rock, fighting for leverage. Movement at the forest’s rim caught his eye. “Reavers. Behind you!”

Gaylen staggered. His face morphed into a fusion of disbelief and despair as his flesh yielded to their enemy’s iron bolts. The whip’s stock eased from his hand. Azalus slipped into the air.

The monstrous dragon’s throat yawned, jaw bones split, and fangs hyperextended. Azalus straightened, arms overhead, sword in a two-handed grip. The beast’s gullet stretched open, air drawn in for another explosion of fire. He speared between the teeth, slid over the forked tongue, and descended into darkness. The welling heat and sulfurous reek burned his lungs as he glided down the blackened throat. With a vengeful howl, he thrust the blade forward and carved as he fell. Steel sliced through flesh, thudded against bone, and blood gushed, dousing the rising flame.

Azalus’s careening descent ceased, or the dragon plummeted with him. He braced himself against the blood-slick wall, sword jammed deep between the vertebrae. The creature writhed and spasmed, and Azalus swallowed his gorge as they plunged toward the vale.

He woke with a gasp, disoriented, heart pounding. His body felt trampled, but nothing of his pain foreboded death. He gulped a breath and listened, willed his nerves to stillness. The dragon lay motionless, he lodged in its throat in a pool of congealed blood. Rising to a crouch, he yanked his sword free of the flesh, and with fingers tracing the throat’s charred wall, he staggered down the tunnel toward the light.

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Thanks to Sue Vincent of The Daily Echo for another fun #writephoto prompt. Check out her site and join in the weekly fun.