Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Samantha Lee Week 80: In Hell

Picture 1

Picture 2

Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: In Hell

Hell isn't fire and brimstone and it's not a kingdom of ice and cold. There are no layered circles, no warren of rooms, no spiralling pits. Screams do not fill the air. Shadows do not creep in at the fringes. Blood does not run in its riverbeds. The trees are not black, skeletal claws grasping at a fire-lit sky. The land is not a sprawling, barren wasteland. It is not a place of torment and torture nor of punishment and abandonment; it's only the immortals who suffer there. Mortals don't understand - I don't think they can - but, for better or for worse, Hell is home, where souls return to rest between lives and sins are ultimately cleansed.

I grew up in Hell. The palace was a place of marble and captured starlight, forever sparkling with its silvery glimmer. High ceilings and wide hallways, built to accomodate a certain massive three-headed dog, trapped every sound in eternal echoes and the mosaic lined walls led deeper into an unending warren of rooms and corridors, a virtual maze only those familiar with the layout could ever hope to navigate. And then there's the plants. When I first moved in, it was a place of cold stone and, I admit, a little on the dark and gloomy side. As part of my welcome, my Guardian had potted plants placed along the hallways. Over the years, the vines crept up the walls, the trees stretched out their branches, and the ferns grew larger and larger until the halls came to ressemble jungle paths and the air was heavy with the scent of blossoms, sunlight teeming through the open windows to cast the whole scene in golden light.

Outside, I had my own garden that flourished under Hell's twin suns, spawning plants unseen in the world above. I would walk there barefoot, my feet cushioned by a carpet of soft grass, and dance under the arching branches of blossom-heavy fruit trees. Vines of ivy climbed the stone walls, pools of clear water held brightly coloured lillies, and flowers of every colour imagineable stood out like gems in the sunlight amongst all that green. It was my sanctuary, that garden, my haven, my refuge. The one place I could find peace and solace, where I could be myself without fear of repercussion.

Hell is an island, surrounded on all sides by a black tide that teems with the ghosts of lost souls and perished memories. There are appearances to be kept after all; one can not simply walk into Hell. Unless you're dead, that is; the living have a much harder go of it. Never mind the River Styxx that first needs to be crossed, Hell has black gates guarded by more than just warriors. There are monsters there that never sleep, and my Guardian is ever watchful, alert to any possible threat. The three-headed dog that guards the palace is the least dangerous of the monstrous protectors, which is saying something. They were all of them my friends though, as familiar and beautiful to me as the flowers in my garden.

I grew up in Hell and it was home. In Hell, I was transformed, becoming a butterfly with hellfire wings. In Hell, I was forged, honed to the sharpest of edges, a fatal kiss wrapped in silk and grace. In Hell, I fell in love, finding a man who loves me with the sort of fiery passion and fierce protectiveness you read about in fairy tales and dismiss as fantasy. With him, I felt complete, as though all my life I'd been going around with some vital piece of myself missing and only in finding him did I realize my shortcoming and finally become whole. In Hell, I was happy.

I stand on the mountain - or what's left of it, the black sea’s waves crashing against what’s left in a relentless, destructive barrage - and watch Hell burn. The flames reach high, licking at the sky like hungry tongues. My garden is ash, the garden a charred ruin, and still the fire rages. Metal clangs against metal as swords, armour, and shields clash. Voices rise above the din, calling out orders, shouting warnings, crying out last words, screaming in pain and fury.

Somewhere out among the fray my mate fights alongside his men, vainly trying to hold back an onslaught that won't be stopped. His father will not allow any outcome but his own victory and possesses the resources to fight on ad nauseum; this is a war that could endure for century, even millennia, painting the future in year after year of blood, pain, and death and destroying this realm bit by bit and turning it into the nightmare the mortals fear.

My morphling nuzzles against my cheek, trying his best to comfort me. I scratch behind his ear. Everything has a price they say - every choice carries with it some cost to be paid sooner or later. Once upon a time, I chose to love a man of Hell and built a home with him, lived happily with him. I thought I'd paid the price for that happiness, thought I'd paid it many times over, but now I have a new choice. I know the cost of the decision that lies before me, know exactly what I must pay to either save myself or my home, know what my mate would choose for me, what others I love would choose for me, but it matters not at all.

My home is burning, my mate is in danger, and I can make it stop; that's no choice at all.

Ignoring my tears, I turn my back on the battle. The black doves fly, their coos mocking me. The waves smash, the clouds boil, and I surrender.

What more is there to tell?


Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

You can read my blog - Calliope's Domain - over at calliopedomain.blogspot.ca


Monday, December 30, 2013

Lizzie Koch Week 80: Naughty and Nice

Picture 1

Picture 2

Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Naughty and Nice

There’s something you should know about me. I may look like the girl next door but I’m not. I may look like the next prom queen but I can assure you I’m not. I may look angelic but I am definitely not. I am the exact opposite of everything my parents want me to be and that’s no accident.

I am a victim of my circumstance, a backlash to all the kindness my parents wield, a dark corner of misery to my parents relentless sparkle and light.

You see, my parents are Mr and Mrs Christmas/Claus/Santa. And growing up at the North Pole is one gigantic icicle in my backside. I hate it. Everything is double coated in sugary sweetness, sprinkled with bucket loads of glitter and so darn nice!

No one ever gets angry. No one swears. no one curses, messes up, is late, grumpy, bad mannered, selfish or mean. It’s just always nice. Everyone is nice. I’m fed up with nice. If someone loses their temper when little hitches happen, it wouldn’t be so bad but all hitches are dealt with by being nice.

I don’t know why I’m different. Why do I want to cause mischief? Where did I learn to lie? I had no idea but it’s amazingly easy as no one at the North Pole knows how to tell lies so believes everything they’re told.

So when I told elf Trixie I needed to take the Naughty and Nice book for a clean, the silly little elf believed me even though it was obvious by the glistening golden thread and the shiny leather cover that this was not the case. I’m not allowed to touch the Naughty and Nice book. The only eyes that pour over every name, delve into every soul is my dad. He alone decides whether a child has been good enough to receive a gift from him or naughty where they receive the lump of coal. I think on rare occasions, lumps of coal are given. Generally, my dad tries to see the good in everyone; because he is so nice.

I didn’t want the book to give everyone a lump of coal, that would be no fun at all. Who wants to see misery on Christmas Day? No, I wanted it to see who had been so naughty, they were never going to get anything but coal for the rest of their lives.

I wanted to see who was so removed from nice, they didn’t even care if they got a lump of coal every year. Surprisingly, the book was bursting with goodness; it seemed it wasn’t just the North Pole that was filled with nice. But finally, a name sprung out at me, so deep in red, it appeared to bleed. My fingers glided over the name and visions flashed in front of me; jumbled and blurred, giving me a headache. Obviously, there was some knack to using this book. I’m a Claus. How hard can it be?

I concentrated really hard this time and the images focused; the wrong deeds and the address of this naughty, free spirited girl. She was so far from nice, I doubted she would even know how to spell it. Excitement surged through me. With the book slung in my satchel, I raced to the stables and unharnessed Blitzen. He’s my favourite reindeer due to his feisty nature. We get along just fine and he quickly had me out of the North Pole, with no questions asked, for a sack of carrots. I wondered how easy it would be to buy this Lindsay? My idea was cool, so cool, she couldn’t possibly refuse.

I found Lindsay propped up at a bar. Her price was easy enough; a drink or two. She was easy to befriend until I told her who I was. She laughed so hard, she fell off her stool. Helping her up, I managed to lead her out back where Blitzen stood, waiting patiently. Still Lindsay laughed until she sat on Blitzen. With a snap of my fingers they were gone. The North Pole would be good for Lindsay. She needed some colour in those cheeks, needed people around her being kind and thoughtful. I made her look like me too which was an amazing piece of magic, body swapping. I’d always wanted to try it. Of course, eventually, someone would find out but until then, I could be naughty, well just a little. Looking like Lindsay, I smiled. I loved the clothes although the super flared jeans were rather long and old fashioned. I felt something strange on my ankle. Reaching down, I pulled up the trouser leg. Ok, so that’s a slightly weird fashion accessory; a large chunky, black bracelet sat around my ankle. I couldn’t move it or unlock it.

“Hey, Lindsay, what you doing out here!” a voice yelled behind me. I saw a man mountain rumble towards me. “You can’t hang out in alleyways. People will think you’re scoring. You’re not are you?” The man looked nervously around the alley. I had no idea what on earth he was on about as he ushered me back to the front of the bar. “Tell me you didn’t score,” he hissed, directing me into a waiting car as a group of strangers gathered round and flashes exploded around me.

“No, I didn’t. But I would like to go back into the bar.”

“Are you kidding? Can you see those paps out there? One picture of you drinking and you’re back in front of the judge. Jesus, Lindsay! Get a grip.”

I stared out the window and couldn’t help but smile as the flashes lit up the car with them shouting my name. I loved the buzz they gave me and wanted more. Without hesitation, I opened the car door and jumped out, lapping up the attention, the call of my name, posing as best I could before I was dragged back in and the car whizzed off.

I don’t remember much else. Lindsay must have drank far too much before I switched bodies.

I awoke with a thumping headache made worse by the shrill cries of a woman running into my bedroom and throwing a newspaper at me. Eagerly, I picked it up, staring at the front page. My face, Lindsay’s face spread right across it. I scowled. I know I wanted to get away from being nice but that headline was downright rude and a lie.

Li-Lo in alleyway drugs and drink shocker . . .AGAIN!

I guess I had chosen well for my naughty stint.


Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

I dream of sharing my work with the big wide world one day as a published author. Right now, I share flash fiction with a wonderful community of writers and friends. If you liked this story, then why not visit my blog at http://40somethingundomesticateddevil.blogspot.co.uk/ for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ruth Long Week 79: The Dirty Bird Squad

Picture 1

Picture 2

Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: The Dirty Bird Squad

Tamsen came through the bar door, grinned at the welcoming catcalls, and hung her coat on an empty peg.

Coltrane met her at the foot of the stairs. “Bad luck to show up late for a wake, Bazarov.”

“Shermans truck never showed, Captain,” she said, smoothing her glossy black hair into a knot on her nape. “The company rep says this is the second delivery that’s gone missing.”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Where does that put us?”

“Anything happens to the unit, we’re screwed. Replacement skins are back-ordered. Four months at the earliest.”

He signaled the bartender for drink. “We’re already playing it pretty close to the vest here, Tam. I waited five months to throw this shindig because Shermans promised we’d be good to go. I got Cohen breathing fire down my shorts and I don’t think another dozen roses is going to cool her heels.”

She snatched the drink the waiter handed Coltrane and downed it. “That’s for scarring my mental faculties with the image of Cohen's face anywhere near your shorts. Now, we still have some options -”

“No,” he said, signaling for another drink. “Nobody is going to wait another four months. As of this moment, we are in play. And unless you want to be demoted, I suggest you keep your paws off the glass making its way towards us.”

"Nice bluff, Captain, but we both know you need me too much to knock me down a peg or cut me loose. You want me to bring the new badges inside so we can kick-start this thing?"

He nodded. "I'll meet you up there in five. And Tam, whatever happens, however this plays out, it's on my shoulders. If this decision turns out to be my swan song, you won’t hit the pavement with me. Your career and professional reputation are safe. You have my word on that."

She held up her hand, palm flat, in mock horror. "Don't go getting sentimental on me, sir. See you topside in five."                                                                                                                                                  
She went to the door, poked her head outside, and waved to the passengers in the squad car across the street.

Bellamy was out of the seat and loping across the street in a matter of moments, short fair hair spiked by the autumn wind, lipstick smudged where she'd bit her lower lip while waiting.

Knox made sure the car doors were locked and that both directions of traffic were clear before crossing, his street clothes snug and elegant, stride brisk but not hurried.

She pushed the door wider. "Welcome to The Dirty Bird. Come on. Get in here where it's warm. Hang your coats on the hooks. They're waiting for us up there in the loft. Mancuso only allows members of our squad upstairs. Rest of the flat-feet and riff-raff stay down here."

Bellamy tossed her designer hoodie on the rack and took off up the wide cement steps without further invitation or any pretense of waiting for her fellows.

"I don't drink," Knox said, navy jacket still zipped up.

She smiled and put a gentle hand on his upper arm. "Nobody will notice. Not today. Trust me, okay? You need anything or have a glitch, ask me or the captain for a pimento and we'll know to get you off premise asap."

His pale blue eyes, so strange and striking in the landscape of his dark skin, glanced over her shoulder to the group upstairs. "Frank Mancuso is the one with the boxer's nose and grin deep as a canyon. Runs this place with his brother Antony. His partner Charlie Zhang specializes in loud ties and elaborate pranks. Paul Jansen -"

“Hang on. That’s what’s in their profiles and it’s good to know, gives you something to build on, but they're not just faces in a chart anymore, Knox," she said, tugging his jacket zipper down three inches, trying to soften his buttoned-up exterior. "They're real people and they're about to become part of your life. Friends, partners, teammates. You're going to get to know who they really are now. The parts of them that aren't in their files."

"Am I real people, Officer Bazarov?"

The pitch of his voice twisted something in her chest. "Yes, Knox, you are."

"And the parts of me that aren't in my file ... will they bother getting to know them after they learn about the parts that are in my file?

“They don’t have clearance to see your file,” she said, catching the end of his sleeve and holding it a long moment. ”But this is a special group of people and I feel pretty certain they'll be willing to accept you. We’re going to take each day as it comes, okay? I'm in your corner. So is the captain. And the chief. And Dr. Priestly too."

He looked back up at the loft. "Are you sure this is the right day to do this?"

"I don't know about it being the 'right day' but it’s as good a day as any and probably better than most. Now, let's grab a seat before the captain starts without us."

Coltrane stood at the head of the table, hands behind his back to hide the trembling, voice cracking as he looked at the faces gathered around. "Six months ago, this squad suffered the loss of a friend and partner. Katherine Janowitz was a dedicated officer who brought out the best in people. Officers and offenders alike. All week, I struggled to find the right words for her eulogy. This morning, it hit me. There aren't any right words. Maybe the best we can do is just raise a glass to let her know she is loved and missed, that she’ll never be forgotten."

Mancuso came to his feet, slammed his mug on the table and lifted it high. "To Janowitz."
Seventeen bodies followed his lead, stomping feet, slamming glasses, and calling out her name.

During the commotion, Tamsen reached over and traded glasses with Knox, so that the one in front of him was empty.

Coltrane raised his voice. "May she rest in peace. Now, if you’ll take your seats, I have a couple notes to run through and then we can get back to drowning our sorrows and saying our goodbyes. First up is the mandatory psych evals. If Priestly doesn’t sign off on everybody by the end of the month the chief  is going to dock our paychecks. So unless you want to work for free this week, I suggest you put the screws to the slackers.”

Good natured heckling broke out.

“And in other news,” Coltrane continued, “the chief approved two transfers this week. Persia Bellamy will intern with us twenty hours a week while finishing her final semester at the academy -"

The crew interrupted him to barrage Bellamy with welcoming razzies.

"- and Officer Kennedy Knox will be joining us full time."

They welcomed him with the same raucous noise they'd belted out for Bellamy but instead of remaining in their seats, the men got up and came to shake hands and make introductions.

Coltrane tossed back a third shot as he watched. Wasn’t like him to drink this much but then he’d never bet it all on a longshot. Hell, who was he kidding. Knox wasn’t a longshot. He wasn’t even a known quantity. But there he was, greeting the team like any other man with blood in his veins and life under his belt. Looked like a man who could last four months without needing new skin, didn’t he? God help him, he needed this Hail Mary to pay off.

Knox looked down the table, eyes searching until they found a quiet brunette shrugging into her coat and heading down the stairs. He turned to Tamsen but before he could ask the question, she nodded.

He rose and went after the brunette, following her out the back door and down to the end of the dock, moving slowly, as though he had no real objective other than enjoying the fresh air.

Her fingers toyed with a sailboat pendant hanging in the hollow of her throat. "Have you ever been on the water?"

"No," he said, looking out across the ripples glittering under the late afternoon sun.

"Been six months since I was out there. Katherine and I spent our last day off on the boat with her husband. Two days later, she was dead, and I haven’t been on the water since. We used to say that the sun, sails, and salt water could cure whatever ailed us. Where does that leave me now? My best friend is gone and I can’t bring myself to sail without her.”

Bazarov had said there was no right day. Coltrane had said there were no right words. Where did that leave him, now, when he wanted to say the right thing at the right time? “I wish I knew what to say. Officer Garland."

She caught his gaze. "You can call me Abby. Katherine and I were partners for eight years and I don't know to express how her death has affected me. I appreciate that you want to say something of comfort, but just standing here with me, at the water’s edge, that’s good enough.”

He crouched and trailed a cautious hand through the water. "Maybe we have to let go of the past before we can shake hands with the future."

"That's either cryptic or zen. And you don't strike me as zen.”

“I’m not sure what I am. Still trying to figure that out. Back there, in the loft, everyone seems so confident, so sure of themselves, of their purpose.”

She sat beside him, knees hugged to her chest. “Everybody seems normal until you get to know them. Behind Mancuso’s jokes and blustering good nature, he and his brother are fighting to keep the bar from going belly up. Emma is going through a medical crisis. Hardiman is afraid of dogs. Shane’s love life is a constant disaster. Individually, we’re as holey as swiss cheese but together … we hold each other together. Together is all we got.”

“Together sounds good. Any advice on how that works?”

She chuckled. “None what-so-ever. It’s a mix of things, I suppose. Honesty. Patience. Forgiveness. Oh, hell. It’s embracing everything and holding back nothing and protecting everyone. Clear as mud, huh?”

He watched the water swirl around his fingers. “I’m holding something back.”

“I thought as much.”

“Even if I was at liberty to discuss it, I’m not sure how I’d go about it or how it would be received .”

“But you’d try, wouldn’t you?”

He nodded.

“That’s a start. Everybody’s got a ground zero. I’m willing to stand beside you on yours.”
There was a twinge of something behind his ribs. Hope, maybe? This group of close-knit co-workers, this city by the bay, this woman with the slow smile and expressive hands, there was a good chance they would become his definition of home, of family, of real life, and it was the first thing he’d ever wanted for himself.

Abby sat beside Knox for a long while, without talking, feeling out his cautious approach to the water and to her. She’d hoped Patel would follow her out but that bridge was burned. More like frozen over. How did it get this far? Katherine gone. Patel unapproachable. Coltrane putting up with her self-pity.

Sitting behind a desk instead of returning to street duty after Katherine’s death had gone from a comfort to a cage she didn’t know how to get out of. Worse still, she’d done it to herself. Refused every offer Coltrane had made. Her choice of partners, shifts, days off. He’d done everything but get on his knees and beg.

Cohen was injecting funds into their department, Coltrane was introducing a new officer into an evenly balanced squad, and Priestly was wrapping up the grief sessions.  Change was coming. Where would she be when it all shook out?

No need to shuffle already established partners. Yeah, she’d made a squawk about staying with a same gender partner. Hell, she’d made a squawk about staying behind that damn desk for the rest of her career too. No reason she couldn’t do a little shaking up of her own.

She reached into her coat pocket, retrieved a small container, and held it up so Knox could see it. "Katherine's husband was gracious enough to allow me a small portion of her ashes. I've been carrying them around all these months, not sure what to do with them, but keeping them with me everywhere because I didn’t want to leave them behind, didn’t want to let go.”

He took his hand out of the water and glanced up at her.

“But maybe you’re right about letting go before I can move on. Maybe it’s time I let this part of her go, let her rest in peace in the place she loved most, outside her husband's arms and the squad room. The sea."

“Would you like to be alone,” he asked, coming to his feet.

"No. I think I’d like you to stay and help me follow through.”

He held out his hand.

She put the mini-urn in his palm and slid her hand beneath his. "On the count of three?"
One. Two. Three. His strength. Her aim. The metal container sang through the air and sank into the sea about thirty yards from where they stood.

She let go of his hand but continued standing shoulder to shoulder with him. "Well, I somehow imagined it would sail forever, but it's in the ocean and it's close to The Dirty Bird, so she's home where she belongs. Thank you."

If she was going to get free of that damn desk, best to do it with a partner who didn’t have any ties to Katherine. Somebody who was strong, smart, and had an appreciation for silence and stillness. Like the man standing next to her.

Coltrane and Tamsen peered out the window at the officers standing side by side on the dock.

“When we get back into the office tomorrow, I’m going to start a discreet investigation into the two missing deliveries from Shermans,” Coltrane said, nursing a cup of coffee. “We need to get a jump on whatever situation is brewing there, because whatever it is, we’re invested in it. “

Tamsen nodded. “Agreed. What about that schmo over there who’s been eyeballing our squad all afternoon from beneath the fedora. You want me to send Garland and Reyes over there to check it out? Maybe warn him how smoking is no good for his health?”

“I wouldn’t advise it. That’s one of Cohen’s CIs. Her way of keeping eyes on the situation. Can’t blame her. She just put her career on the line for Knox. And me. No way she’s going to be pacified with flowers or the absence of my shorts on that score. She’s going to have her nose in our collective crotch the whole hairy way.”

She swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “For the love of beer, baseball, and all that’s holy, if you don’t stop talking about your undershorts, I’m going to have to turn in my badge.”

He chuckled. “Hang in there, Tam. I got a good feeling about our underground project. We might just pull it off. Look at them down there, standing around and chatting like old friends. She hasn’t pushed him into the water yet or harpied him back into The Dirty Bird. That’s better than I'd hoped for.”

"She’s smart, Captain. No way she hasn’t figured out what you’re up to. So if you and your magic shorts can keep the chief from pulling the plug before we prove this can work and Nicolson doesn’t castrate you for lying about Knox’s identity, we’ll be chilling like penguins on an Antarctic icecap."

He thumped her on the back. “Very funny. I just shot our budget in the foot for the next five years buying our synthetic cop with the odd eyes and snazzy jacket, but when we finally break even again, if Knox hasn’t imploded, I haven't been relieved of my badge, and you haven’t run off with the Shermans tech guy, you’ll be in a very comfortable career position, ladybug.”

“No offense, Captain,” she said, heading back into the bar, “but I’m already sitting pretty in the catbird seat. So how about you show your appreciation now, while there’s still some cash in your pocket, by picking up my portion of today's tab. If you do it without any further references to your shorts, I'll even let you listen to the playback of Knox and Garland's conversation when we get back to the office.”

He grabbed her arm. "You can do that?"

She grinned. "Captain, the Shermans tech guy has nothing on me. Luckily for you and Knox, I really am in that catbird seat. We did good on all counts, sir. I have a fifty that says Garland will be back on street duty soon as Priestly signs off on her eval. Come on, let's settle up the tab and call it a day."


Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

JB Lacaden Week 79: Psionic

Picture 1

Picture 2

JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice: 1

Title: Psionic

"You were always the talented one."

I placed the brush down on the table and wiped my hands on my pants, smudging the blue with green. I gazed at my finished painting. It was that of three Vietnamese women standing waist deep in the sea, holding fishing rods taller than they are.

"I would definitely buy that. Too bad it's not real."

I turned around and there he was, smiling. He was many years older but otherwise he looked the same as the last time I saw him. He was leaning on the doorway, a cane in his hand. Him being here meant my time of running was over.

"Hello, M," I said.

He stood up straight and started walking towards me, the sound of his cane hitting the wooden floor filled my small abode. The pain on his face every time he had to use his left leg was very visible even though he tried to hide it with his smile. He stopped beside me and raised four fingers.

"You can paint exceptionally well, you're a prolific writer, you are a monster at hand to hand combat," he started enumerating them, putting down one finger for each one, "and you're the best Psionic I've ever met."

I could see the wrinkles that ran all over his face, like tiny roads that intersected and met, and his hair had started thinning. Fifteen years definitely did a lot on him. I wonder what fifteen years did to me.

"Amazing," M said, his eyes on my painting, "you know you made it pretty damn difficult for us to find you. You're very good at hiding yourself." He looked at me for a moment then his gaze wandered all over my house.

"Apparently not good enough with you being here," I sat down on the table and watched him explore the place.

"It's been what? Twelve years?" He asked.

"Fifteen," I replied.

He laughed. "You've been keeping count."

"I didn't mean to."

"You know I almost thought this wasn't it. That, when I first arrived here, it was another dead end. Then I started walking, and walking, and after ten kilometers of traversing through a dense forest I knew we've found you. I walked all the way here. It wasn't an easy task, mind you, walking twenty kilometers with this," he said, giving his injured leg a pat. "I'm sure this place is much larger than that. Hell, I haven't even explored the sea! How far it goes, how deep it is," he looked at me, his eyes showed awe and pride and...fear. There was always fear when people looked at me. "You made all of these. How long?" "How long what?"

"How long did it take you to create this place?"

"Three years. With the help of Exceed."

"Three years..." M was now by the window.

Outside, everything looked serene. The sun had just broken free from the horizon and was shedding gold all over the gray sky. The sea was like glass, transparent and flat, and beneath it were the seaweeds swaying left and right, dancing a dance only they know of. From somewhere distant came the sound of a rooster announcing the arrival of a brand new day. My last day here.

"We need you back," M said. A look of seriousness had taken over his face. His blue eyes had become steel.

"No," I said.

"You don't know what it's like out there," M said.

"And I don't want to know. I'm happy here."

"And how long do you think you can stay in hiding, huh? I found you. We found you. It won't take long for the others to do the same."

"I'll just go deeper, create a much larger place. I'll hide better," I said, meeting his gaze.

M laughed. "You're one of the greatest Psionics, I'll grant you that. But even your mind has its limits. You can't possibly think you can create a world much larger than this and hope to sustain its stability. You'll destroy your brain."

"I have Exceed," I was trying hard to keep myself from shouting. I knew M was too. Behind M, past the window, I saw a ripple disturbing the calmness of the sea. M was making it hard for me to focus.

"What happens if you run out, huh? What happens then?" M sighed. "We've allowed you to play your little game here without any problems. You announced you were retiring and, as much as we didn't like it, we allowed you to. You were our best guy and we allowed you to walk away. That was then. Times have changed. There's this Psionic killer on the loose and our best agents are being killed like they're damn trainees. We need you back, Stephen."

Fifteen years of being away, of solitude and peace. Fifteen years of being free. I looked at M and the world behind him, a world I created with my mind. "How many has this killer killed so far?" The moment the words left my lips I saw the sky outside crack and splinter into a thousand pieces.

"Sixteen and that's only our agents," M replied.

I sighed and the sky shattered and the sea started to fade. The house began crumbling to nothingness all around us and in a heartbeat we were standing in a vast place filled with nothing but darkness.

"Thank you," M said.

I gave a nod. Bright light enveloped us and it consumed us.


I lifted the visor off my head. The sound of machines beeping and wheezing filled my ears. I was back in my lab and M was standing in front of me, leaning on his cane with a smile on his face. I proceeded on pulling wires out of the sockets implanted all over my arms.

"Welcome back, M said.

My body felt cold. I took one step and my knees buckled at my weight. M caught me.

"Fifteen years of not using your body will do that to you," he said. "We'll have the medic team fix you up in no time."

I tried speaking but it was as if I've forgotten how to use my mouth. M helped me back to my feet and on to a waiting wheelchair.

"The Company has changed a lot since you left," M said. "But I'm sure they'll all be relieved to finally see you back."

Back. I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to drift. I felt everything around me. I felt the Psionic energy emanating from M, I felt the machines behind us back in my lab, I felt the city throbbing with life above, and from the very edge of my mind's periphery I sensed something dark and powerful waiting.

Welcome back, it said to me.


Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Jeff Tsuruoka Week 79: Don’t Smoke in Bed Part 5

Picture 1

Picture 2

Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice:

Title: Don’t Smoke in Bed Part 5

Sabine, sitting next to me in the cab of Stefan's truck, sounded very far away.
I had a dim awareness of her presence, of the warmth of her body against mine, close together in the space left to us by Stefan's ample backside.
He guided the truck over hilly roads, dipping and rising through Normandy's green valleys. The crest of each ridge offered views of simple, natural elegance, scarred-- perhaps forever-- by the War. I saw still-raw furrows of earth cut into the landscape, craters made by artillery, and the wounds caused by the passage of military vehicles and thousands of booted feet.
“Mike?” She tugged on my sleeve and kept at it until she had my attention.
The sea air streaming in through the open windows smelled clean and new.
“I'm fine, Sabine. I'm just... trying to picture all of this...”
“Were you here during the War?”
“At Normandy? No.”
She took my hand and held it in her lap. We rode in silence, staring out the window together.
Stefan broke it up.
“So where were you in the War, Mike Meltzer?”
I gave him the dead-eye.
“Somewhere else.”
He grinned and turned his attention back to the road.
“I hope you'll be a little more forthcoming on what you plan to do when we get there,” he rasped.
“I'm workin' on it.”
Sabine lit a cigarette.
“Have faith, Stefan,” she said. “Mike knows his business well.”
“My business? Honey, we crossed out of, 'my business', right around the time Herve got dumped in the drink. Violence isn't my business.”
“That does not mean you don't know how to do it. Or that you won't.”
I felt her eyes on me while she smoked.
“Let's just get there. We'll see what I will or won't have to do.”

Stefan made a hard right turn into a hidden driveway ten miles further down the road.
Sabine lurched into me. I put my arm around her to steady her.
“Shortcut?” I asked Stefan.
“Detour,” he replied. “My friends left me a sign.”
I stuck my head out the window and looked back. Didn't see anything that might qualify as a sign near the intersection.
The gravel dirt path gave way to an even narrower dirt trail. We followed it around a big bend and continued on through the underbrush until we turned into a small clearing. Between the wagons and the two trucks already in there Stefan didn't have anywhere to park.
I counted eight guys-- all of them resembling the party of three who rode out of Paris with us-- hanging around a campfire in the middle of the clearing. Two smoked, another three munched on some kind of meat roasted on sticks. The remaining three stood by fire, watching the road, such as it was. Each of the eight had at least one firearm on him, in plain sight.
Stefan left his truck running and climbed out. He was greeted with back slaps and smiles as he approached the fire.
“You know any of these guys?” I asked Sabine.
She took a good look.
“I do not believe so.”
“More members of the kumpania?”
“This far from Paris? Probably not.”
I nodded.
“Let's join the party.”
Stefan introduced me when we reached the fire.
“These, Mike Meltzer, are my friends.”
“Do your friends have names, Stefan?”
“Does it matter?”
The group, as one, looked up from whatever they were doing to watch this interaction.
“It matters to me,” I said, “if they're going to fight with us.”
The smiles and back slaps transferred to me.
Stefan scowled but introduced the smokers as Dainius and Slav. The three eaters were Gustav, Karl, and Vlad and the watchers were Alex, Jan, and Zhenya.
Each of them regarded Sabine with interest. Karl and Vlad looked from me to her, then smiled at each other, speaking softly in a language I did not understand.
Sabine silenced them with a glare.
“These men have spent their day looking into your enemy's activities,” explained Stefan.
“All right, fellas,” I said. “What's the story?”
It wasn't much of a story.
Zhenya explained that the warehouse we needed to hit fronted on the pier, had wide open approaches on either side, and backed up to some sparsely treed woodland.
“Makes planning pretty simple,” I observed.
“That it does,” agreed Zhenya.
“I'll take the water route.” I looked at each man in turn. “You guys keep 'em busy out back. Get 'em to chase you through the woods if you can.”
“You have a boat?” asked Sabine.
“Ready and waiting,” replied Zhenya. “Karl will show you the way when it is time.”
“Bully.” I glanced at Stefan. “That makes you the wheel man.”
“What about me, Mike?” broke in Sabine. “Were you planning to leave me out of this?”
“Leave you out? You kidding me? I need a shooter in the boat with me.”
She nodded, mollified for the moment.
“We have three hours until sunset,” said Zhenya. “Come and eat with us and rest. We go to work at nightfall.”

The guys hit the warehouse right on time.
The blast reverberated over the surface of the water, rocking the dinghy as we sat waiting to go in. A plume of dark smoke showed against the night sky over the warehouse.
Gunfire and shouts of alarm tore holes in the blanket of silence that had settled over the port in the early evening.
“That's our cue,” I said.
Sabine sat in the other end of the boat, pistol in hand, chain smoking while we waited.
The weight of the Mauser pistol Zhenya had given me was a reassuring presence in my jacket pocket.
“You needn't have worried about me cutting you out, Sabine.”
She blew out a ring of smoke and raised an eyebrow at me.
“You're the only person here that I trust.”
“I am not sure what that says about your judgment, Mike Meltzer,” she said with a smirk.
“Just don't shoot anyone you don't have to. Least of all me.”
The voices around the warehouse got louder, then quieter, like they were moving away from the river.
She flicked her cigarette but into the water.
I leaned toward her and planted one on her. She returned it, breathing hard and hot into my mouth.
She looked away from me when we broke it off.
I settled back into my end of the boat.
“Let's go get our boys.”

We made it to a slip and up to the dock without incident. All of the action was going on behind the warehouse. The reports of multiple firearms echoed in the air. Men hollered orders and oaths in a variety of languages.
There were two ships in port-- an empty barge and the scow Herve and Wilson must have been brought to Normandy in. Neither appeared to be crewed at that late hour.
I looked up and down the dock for any sign of security personnel. No soap. We had the place to ourselves.
The whole place stunk of sweat, oil, and dead fish. Business was business, no matter how picturesque the setting.
Sabine and I made it across the dock without being shot at. We pressed our bodies against the front of the warehouse and held still for a full minute. Then I started looking for a way in.
The bay doors had been bolted from the inside. The office door was locked up tight.
I looked it up and down.
“Only the one lock,” I muttered. “Piece of cake.” I fished around in my jacket pockets. “If I had my lockpicks on me.”
“Can't you break it down?” asked Sabine.
“Kind of puts the kibosh on the element of surprise, no?”
“Can you think of another way inside?”
The retort bubbled up from my gut and made ready to fly out of my mouth. I beat it back.
“Quiet!” I whispered. “Listen.”
We listened.
Beneath the gunfire and the yelling we heard someone moving around, just inside the door.
The sound of metal scraping against metal warmed my heart. I signaled to Sabine to get ready.
The door swung open.
A man in a black shirt and dungarees stepped out of the warehouse, gun in hand.
I let him have it with the butt of Zhenya's Mauser. The man crumpled to the dock. I dragged him clear of the door, then led Sabine inside.
The place was dark. Very dark. We heard people moving. Every so often, somebody grunted as he ran into something. Their noise covered ours as we made our way through rows of shipping crates.
A loud bang from the other side of the room shaved five years off my life, but I didn't feel too bad about it. Sabine jumped too, grabbing my shoulder with her free hand.
There was another bang, then a third, followed by a lot of cursing.
We followed the noise through the maze, up to the last row of crates. The commotion was coming from the end of the aisle.
Somebody groaned in pain.
Sabine stiffened beside me.
“Herve,” she breathed.
I took her by the hand and we double-timed it around the corner.
I tripped over something soft and lumpy a yard or so in. Sabine pulled back, righting me before I fell. The lump moaned and shuddered but remained otherwise still.
We continued on down the aisle. The violence got louder as we neared the wall.
The unmistakable sound of fist meeting face followed by a heavy thud stopped us where we were. I fumbled around in my pocket and came out with a match.
The flare only lasted for a few seconds, just enough time for me to see Wilson, his hands still tied in front of him, standing over three fallen men. Herve sat against the side of the crate, trying to stem the flow of blood from his nose.
Sabine stepped around me into the crate. I pried a piece of wood free and burned four matches getting it lit. She pulled a knife out of her bag and cut Wilson loose, then knelt to tend to her husband.
Herve's fine white suit now had a fine gray color about it. The bloodstains completed the look.
Wilson ambled over to me, rubbing his wrists and shaking his head as he walked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Nice to see you too. Let's go.”
Another explosion rocked the warehouse. Sabine leaped to her feet, dragging Herve up with her.
Wilson disappeared into the darkness outside the crate.
I waited for Sabine to lead Herve out before I snuffed the burning stick. She looked over her shoulder at me as she went. I raised an eyebrow. She grinned in return.
The gunfire had stopped by the time we got out to the dock.
Wilson waited in the boat.

The back of Stefan's truck wasn't much lighter than the warehouse had been.
Wilson and I lounged on the floor, passing a bottle of cheap red wine back and forth by the light of a little fire we lit in a coffee can. We were probably more comfortable than Sabine and Herve in the cab with Stefan.
Wilson took long, slow sip from the bottle. He gave me one of his patented looks as he drank.
“Look,” I began, “I came as fast as I could.”
He held the look and drank some more before passing the bottle back.
“I got hit in the head. Could hardly see straight, let alone come charging after you.”
That earned me a nod. A scornful nod.
“What about her? I didn't... It's... It's not like that, Wilson. Not this time.”
He gave me the stink-eye, then snorted.
“All right. All right. It is like that. But it wasn't my idea. I know what you're gonna say but it wasn't. It... just kind of happened.”
He snatched the bottle out of my hand and drank off the last of the wine. He stared into the fire for a moment, then looked up at me.
“I don't know, pal. Don't know what I'm going to do about her.”

Stefan dropped us off by the Louvre just after sunrise. He didn't hang around to say goodbye.
“That guy proved pretty useful in a bind,” I said. “How can I get in touch with him again?”
“'You can't,” answered Sabine. “He is Rom. You will find him only if he wishes to be found.”
“Fair enough.”
We all stood around for a couple of minutes. Sabine and I looked everywhere but at each other.
Wilson rolled his eyes.
Herve broke the silence.
“Well, my little friend,” he said as he stepped forward and tried to hug Wilson.
Wilson checked him with his hand.
Herve got the idea and backed away. He extended a hand in my direction.
“How about you?”
I shook his hand. He got brave, clapping me on the shoulder.
“Don't mention it,” I said. “You should go get that nose set.”
He smiled, a cross between a grimace and a wince, then glanced from Sabine to me.
Wilson turned and left. I followed his progress until he turned out of sight.
“I'll give you two a moment,” said Herve. He walked to a nearby bench and took a seat.
Sabine lit a cigarette. The morning wind caught the smoke and blew it away.
“Any chance you might want to be found sometime?” I asked.
“Would you know where to look?”
“It's what I do.”
“There is a cafe across the street from our building. I can see it from the bedroom window. Look for me when the lights are off.”
“Could be you're just not home.”
She blew some more smoke over my head, then brushed my cheek with the back of her hand.
“Could be, Mike Meltzer. Could be.”

I swilled the last of my Pernod around in the bottom of the glass.
Music-- live music from the sound of it-- from another cafe rode the wind to my table. I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair and watched that window over the fish shop.
The first raindrops fell, plinking against the wrought iron table top.
I poured myself some more Pernod and added the water.
I watched the clear liquid turn cloudy.
The light in the window over the fish shop went out just as the rain started to come down hard.
I dropped enough francs to cover my bill three times over and started across the street.
The door of Sabine's door opened.
A cloud of smoke wafted out to the street.
It disappeared almost immediately in the rain.



Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!

Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.