Friday Flash: Sea Life

The following story also appears in my short story collection, An Optimist’s Journal of the End of Days and Other Stories, published via Venetian Spider Press.

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The blue dress uniforms co-opted from the Navy were itchy. The sailors imprisoned within them were tired and hot and couldn’t wait for the ceremony to be over. The captain looked across the water at the setting sun. At least this would soon be over, and they’d get some respite from this day’s infernal heat. But yet…

He looked down into the cool depths of the ocean waters surrounding the metal monstrosity he had called his home for the better part of three years. The setting sun glowed gold and orange upon the waves. He shuddered.

“And do you, Mark Wallace, take this mermaid, Jasmine Petals, to be your lawfully wedded wife? In sickness and in health… forever and ever, by Neptune’s salty bits?”

The young sailor looked down at the mermaid clinging to the ship’s side, gulped, and nodded his head. The red-haired beauty in the crystal blue waters smiled in approval, exposing sharp incisors in her delicate, full-lipped mouth.

“By the eternal laws of the sea, by Neptune’s trident and Amphitrite’s coral crown,  I now pronounce you mer-man and mer-wife. The bride may now—”

With a stupendous leap, the new bride pulled her husband over the edge of the warship, dragging him along with her as she splashed into the waters below. Soon, not even the emerald green of her tail could be seen as she brought the new merman to her lair in the deep, dark waters.

The men and women shook their heads in wonder. There was a reason humans steered clear of Neptune’s children. The mermaid’s kiss might cure their fellow sailor’s cancer, but the cure might just be worse than the disease.

Captain Deadly allowed himself a rare sigh of pity for his former crewman before ordering his crew to hoist the Jolly Roger. Fresh plunder lay ahead, and he might need the gold. Who knew? In his own future, he might need to hire an oncologist.

*originally inspired by a photo prompt from Six Minute Story, but has since been edited and extended. You can find the original here.

**I wrote this today, so I didn’t have time to let it simmer as much as I like before posting. Please be kind. Polite feedback is always welcome and appreciated.

****Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

Friday Flash: Looking Glass

The following story also appears in my short story collection, An Optimist’s Journal of the End of Days and Other Stories, published via Venetian Spider Press.

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The woman chuckled as Lady clawed at the clear window. Pressing her nose against the glass, the dog whimpered, her breath forming small moist ovals of condensation against the pane. Beneath the small table, Princess Puggles whined for a different reason–her frail backlegs would not support her ample frame, leaving her woefully floor-bound. Uncertain what marvels she was missing, she sat, firm in the knowledge she did not want to miss them. Meanwhile, her sister continued to follow the blowing leaf with the same fascination of a quest seeker in the presence of the Holy Grail. Earlier, she had seen a squirrel climb a tree and–Delight of Delights!–an elderly jogger wheezing across the busy street that ran athwart the house that she occupied with her sister, a beneficently tolerant feline, and her human. The woman shook her head again, wondering to herself at the insignificant things canines carried on about.

Winnie-cat shared this sentiment, perched peacefully on the windowsill, serene in her superiority.

Even the human, who had marginally better sight and intelligence than her four-legged companions, failed to notice what was truly important. She eyed the sparkling pest pressing through the glass from a fourth spatial direction. Which was ana, and which was kata? She could never remember. She swiped sharp nails at the tiny beast, but it only continued to wave at her with aggravating friendliness. She batted at the creature again, but the glass continued to foil her best efforts to harm. Exasperating little creep.

The woman snickered. Doubtless at something in her large book of pictures, because Winnie-cat knew no human would dare mock a higher being such as herself.

Meanwhile, Crinkle-puff smiled widely, her shimmering wings beat a joyful tune as she waved. The ghost behind the human finally returned her greeting with a hearty thumbs-up gesture, before its ethereal form leaned once more over the female’s shoulder. Evidently the spirit found the bound papers entertaining as well. When it grazed against the corporeal creature, the woman huffed and smacked the back of her neck in irritation.  “Damn fly! Must have snuck in…”

In an adjacent room, a lone fly sat on the edge of the kitchen trash can, enjoying a free buffet of fragrant and sweet-smelling refuse. Undistracted and undisturbed, it enjoyed a perfect meal in peace.

**Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

Friday Flash: New Genesis

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On the first day, they programmed the terraforming equipment.
On the second, they did routine maintenance, then removed the genetically enhanced lifeforms from the ship’s stasis chambers.
On the third day, the new species were released onto the surface of the newly habitable world.
On the fourth day, the terraforming equipment malfunctioned, causing massive flooding and necessitating the immediate evacuation of the planet by the original three explorers.
On the fifth day, their craft crashed onto the surface of the planet. They re-evaluated their decision to use a robot mechanic instead of a humanoid one, once the mechanic broke down.
On the sixth day, they sent out distress signals, hoping against hope for a rescue party to retrieve them from the remote, ass-end of the galaxy.
On the seventh day, they resigned themselves to being stranded away from the civilization they had known.
Their current practical needs made them bitterly regret their precautions against corporate espionage which had caused then to shroud their mission in such secrecy. 

After a painful encounter with what had first seemed a hilarious stunt, they regretted bioengineering the platypus.

Due to relativistic time dilation, they set their still functioning stasis pods to wake them in alternating century intervals, in the vain hope that future explorers would discover their whereabouts.

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*I realize this is a departure from my regular style, but when I saw the text prompt at the six minute story site, I couldn’t resist.
*written for a text prompt at the sixminutestory site 2/24/16: They were trapped for seven days.
**Image courtesy of BigFoto.com.

Friday Flash: Tempting Fate

The following story also appears in my short story collection, An Optimist’s Journal of the End of Days and Other Stories, published via Venetian Spider Press.

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Clotho inhaled, enjoying the heady aroma of roasted beans and caffeine that permeated the small coffee shop. The temptation to step inside and grab a cup was irresistable. She didn’t know if mortals could actually smell caffeine, but it gave the goddess a deep sense of satisfaction–almost like the burnt offerings humans used to offer the gods in the past. But not now. Now, if they burned her coffee? Well, she’d be pissed.

What’s the worst that could happen?

A little chime sounded on the Fate’s cell phone. In the old days, there had been an actual tiny bell that would appear and disappear, but she savored the advancements that came with the passage of time, just as she savored a good cup of joe. She also liked the little bell sound. Best of both worlds, really.

And why not? She wasn’t trapped by linear time the way mortals were, but she enjoyed watching its passage from their perspective. She sipped her coffee, sighing with pleasure. The little bell chimed again.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Long ago, she’d put a filter on the alert, only taking note of those “great ones” who tempted Fate with those fateful words. Great ones? Ha! Just another term for “more fun to mess with.” As if politicians and celebrities held more sway over the tapestry of life than she and her sisters–or even wandering beggars in the right circumstances. Just pull the right thread, snip another, and whole swathes of cloth would unravel, only to be rewoven in the pattern of their choosing.

Even the gods themselves knew not to tempt Clotho and her sisters, for while they could be generous, they also found a challenge hard to resist.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s see. Buddha and Christ had both been beggars who changed the world for the better. Would she be that generous this time? She checked her notifications to see who had tempted…er, challenged her so often in the past few minutes. Upon seeing the name, she scowled and decided that perhaps this time, she and her sisters would not be kind.

She texted Atropos and Lachesis about their latest challenge. Their reply?
This will be FUN.
Clotho chuckled to herself. Two more mochaccinos suddenly appeared on the counter in front of the startled barista; the goddess grabbed the white styrofoam cups, tucked her cell back into her earth-friendly tote, and headed out the (now) automatic doors.

*Image courtesy of BigFoto.com.

FridayFlash: A Dream Life

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Cat sleeping on the bed by her feet, she dreamt of solitude, and why not?  The man she had given her past, present, and all her future prospects no longer cared for her. Her son would soon leave to start a family of his own, her oldest friend left her long before she died, and her parents were going, going, gone from her life and soon this world.

The background of her mind played soothing melodies as she travelled in empty trains, toured abandoned bookstores throughout the British Isles–wandering their brightly lit halls with noone to hurry her, no schedule nor expectations, just the joy of a world of literature all to herself. She walked with ease, knees and wrists bending readily and without pain; her body no longer betrayed her.

She was surprised she was not lonely, but the books themselves kept her company with the silent voices of those long gone. She hummed to herself as she perused each aisle, composing a little poem in her head:

Invisible or
ghosts…does it matter? This world, 
freedom hers alone.

Finally her journey ended in the far north of the globe. She took her paper pulp treasures with her inside the glass igloo, the Northern lights danced above her as she sat padded in covers within the dome–a miniature cosmos heated just for her from machines hidden deep within the earth’s crust. As long as she had food and shelter, books and a view, she could drink in eternity with her eyes.

Contentment filled her. The thought of being alone no longer hurt the hole in her heart but filled it with hope. Her child, the bright spot of her existence,  was fine and would be a great man despite his current growing pains. Her husband neither needed nor cared for her. Didn’t accepting her solitude grant her freedom?

Her eyes were weighted shut, her muscles stiff and unyielding,  but at last she pulled herself from her lethargy and forced herself to swim upwards, through the depths of her dreams, to open her eyes. The cat, the feline that had shunned her so often, lay curled at her feet. The woman smiled good morning, scratched behind the creature’s ears, then went to walk the puppies in crisp, white snow.

*Image courtesy of BigFoto.com.

Friday Flash: Ziggy and Helga

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The door wouldn’t open.

The yawning void of space beyond its metal barrier was nothing compared to the look on Helga’s face as she wielded the torn box he’d given her. Bits of red cellophane still clung by small pieces of tape on its cardboard surface. Lightning flashed in the depths of her eyes, her voice echoed like thunder in the small cargo bay, and her scarlet cape billowed behind her as she approached. The small room had absolutely no wind, not even a small breeze from the air-conditioning vent, but she managed to make it billow just the same.

Ziggy tried the door once more, pounding on the big red button repeatedly, but the fail-safe refused to be overridden while the ship’s AI detected life-forms within the chamber. Then again, the AI wasn’t married to Helga.  Why did he buy his anniversary gift from Hans Olof of all people? Smugglers weren’t known for their expertise in romance, but since they both were in love with strong women…Valkyries weren’t that different from princesses, were they? They both had high standards, were tough as nails, and looked great in brass bikinis.

Still, for all her bravado, no matter how short Hans fell in the romance department, his beloved was still a diplomat whose displeasure would not result in physical violence upon his person. Valkyries were not known for diplomacy. Helga was a warrior maiden, servant of Odin, and kick-ass starship pilot, so her displeasure was an altogether different matter.

“What in the name of Asgard is this?” screamed Helga in the voice that had made lesser men turn to jelly, and she threw the box with deadly aim at Zigfried. It hit the thick metal door, just to the left of his head, and left a large dent.

“You missed,” he said. What the hell was he thinking? He watched her sparkling eyes, the way her nostrils flared, her ample hips and heaving bosom. She was not a tiny woman; her presence was intimidating. Was it any wonder he had fallen for her all those years ago?

“No, I didn’t,” corrected Helga, her voice low with terrifyingly sweetness. “We vowed ‘Til Death do you part’, and I’m not done with you yet.”

Ziggy, adrenaline singing, desperately tried to control himself as he bent to pick up the shattered remnants of his substandard gift. “It’s my anniversary present to the most beautiful-”

“Cut the crap. You know what I want,” said Helga. Then, in a throaty whisper, she added, “You always know what I want.”

Holding the demolished fragments of the ancient sword, Zigfried tossed them aside for the ship’s autobots to clean later. “Fine, you know what I want too.”

“That’s right, baby,” said Helga, quickly stripping down to her brass lingerie. “I do.”

##

Later, in the warm afterglow of post-coital bliss, they discussed other activities and adventures for their second honeymoon. Odin had given her two full weeks off, and they intended to make the most of it. After all, millennial anniversaries were special. Helga’s accrued vacation hours were more than enough time to visit the pleasure planets on the outer rim, as well as battle a few space-pirates along the way. What better way to spend a romantic getaway?

 

 
*Image courtesy of BigFoto.com.

Friday Flash: Holiday Pains

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Pain surged up his arms, and he wished to Hades he’d listened to the healer and not adopted those damned pets. But the holidays were a time for generosity to all lifeforms as well as celebration. Rather than see the homeless creatures euthanized, he took them in, and now those infernal humans would be the death of him. He popped a few more katha-berries, moaned as he felt the rash rapidly spread across his back, then called for the male and female. “Braaaad! Jannnnet!!” Her and her blasted mate had caused this misery; the least they could do was scratch his back.

 

*Image courtesy of BigFoto.com.

Friday Flash: Gifted

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Delphine threw her arms around Don, grabbed his hair, and pulled him into a deep, heated kiss. Laughing, Don withdrew the oversized Teddy Bear she crushed between them before resuming their passion. Finally, she broke away. “I just can’t believe you remembered!” she said, breathless from their exertions. “I mean, I told you that story months ago.”

“What can I say?” Don grinned and swatted her butt playfully with the giant bear. “I’m the perfect boyfriend.”

Delphine giggled, then pointed at a small box thrown haphazardly onto the bed. “But do you like my gift?”

Her perfect boyfriend put his jacket back on, withdrew the bright silver cuff links from the box and attached them before inspecting his appearance in the nearby vanity. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they make me look even more handsome.”

Delphine guffawed and threw a pillow at him, then sobered. “But do you have to go now?”

He bent down to give her a surprisingly chaste kiss before replying. “Yeah,” he said. “Sorry, babe, but that meeting with the investors can’t wait. I’ll be back later.” Then he picked up his briefcase and walked out the door.

 

#

In the parking lot, he adjusted his tie, beeped his car door, then consulted his phone as he sat down. The nanny cam he’d planted in that stupid bear turned on, and he saw his beloved Delphine as clear as day–clear as black and white, anyway. It was a ridiculous formality, but he dealt with shady people daily; his rules were the key to his survival, and he hadn’t lived this long without following them.

Soon he would have proof of what he already knew in his heart: she was the perfect woman.

 

#

The woman pulled her silk robe over her smooth, dark shoulders, tied the belt, then walked to the computer and sat down. A few keystrokes later, a face appeared on the screen before her. “Is it done?”

“He fell for it, don’t worry. He’s such a clothes horse, he’ll wear those tacky cuff links everywhere. We’ll hear where the deal goes down.”

“Good work, Penny.”

The woman smiled, a grin that faltered with three sharp knocks upon her door.

 

#

“Did you forget something, hon’?” she called. Turning off the laptop, she adjusted her robe off the shoulders, carefully mussed her hair about her face, then opened the door.

Don stood before her, grinning wildly before pushing her into the apartment with a passionate kiss. “Turns out it was rescheduled, the meeting can wait after all.”

The couple slowly made their way to the bathroom, a trail of clothing in their wake. Once the shower was on, steaming the mirrors and filling the small room with the pitter patter of hot droplets, the man leaned in and bit her ear gently before whispering, “Now that we can’t be overheard, I have some things to tell you.”

The woman stiffened in his grasp, but he held her still inside the shower stall. She looked into his eyes, stretching all over like a cat, then moaned. “Oh, I didn’t realize you liked to roleplay,” she whispered. “That’s fine.” She extended the word fine so it ended as a breath in his ear. “What roles are we playing, Don?”

“My name’s not Don.” She smiled, and the man’s grin deepened. “And I know yours isn’t Delphine.”

She looked at him again, her eyes widened almost imperceptibly before regaining her cool. He could feel her mind spinning, trying to decide if he was on to her or not: was it some new fetish or did he know her secret? He knew she would keep up the act as long as possible; she’d had him fooled long enough for him to recognize she was an expert, gifted in the art of deception–just like him.

She was his perfect woman, after all.

 

 

*image courtesy of BigFoto.com

 

Friday Flash: Final Performance

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The old and respected Shakespearean actor had taken his last bow. With a final farewell to his audience, he raised his hand and exited the stage for the last time in his long, distinguished career. Behind the scenes, he patted the pocket where he kept his lucky quill, a solid, silver writing instrument topped with a brightly colored feather. Throughout his long career he had kept it on his person during every performance, and it had always brought him luck.

“What, that’s it?” cried one of the foremost groundlings. He shook his head and muttered, “I can’t believe it.”

The actor’s ears, specially tuned to hear criticism, singled out the ne’er-do-well from the boisterous and otherwise happy crowd with one long finger. Years onstage had trained him not only to pick out the murmurs of unhappy theatre-goers, but also to command their attention with minimal effort. “You.” He said it quietly as he returned to the stage, without electronic enhancement, yet the tourist in front heard him clear as day.

The man pointed at his own chest. “Me?”

“Yes,” said the old distinguished actor. “You.”

“What about me?” said the groundling, looking around in quiet desperation. He hated being singled out.

“What about my performance did you dislike?” asked the actor.

“Well…,” hedged the tourist, unaccustomed to being called out. “I mean, I flew all the way over here to see some culture, and yeah, Big Ben was cool and I liked the wax museum but your acting was just so…”

“So what?” asked the actor, all smiles. He seemed to find the man’s discomfort amusing.

The groundling floundered.

“Listen, my good man,” said the actor, leaning down and motioning the tourist to approach the stage. “This is my final performance. I would have liked it to please everyone, but an artist should be willing to take constructive criticism. What about my performance displeased you?”

“Welllll…” floundered the man again.

“If you are suddenly shy,” said the actor, smiling as he remembered the man’s incessant stream of comments throughout the show, “you may whisper in my ear. I promise to pay attention.”

The man, leaned in conspiratorially. “Just between us?” he confided.

The actor nodded.

“I thought your acting was kind of over the top.”

“Really? And that’s…” He watched the man intently. “No, that’s not it. Is there more?”

“It was still so boring!” He looked up sheepishly. Criticizing the actor in the anonymity of the audience had been easy, but to his face? That was a harder, even though the old guy did seem to be rather personable and had, in fact, asked for it.

“So ‘over the top’ should at least be exciting?” said the actor pleasantly. “Like this?” He flourished his lucky quill from the depths of his costume, and said in a soft, dangerous voice,”Is this a dagger which I see before me?” Quick as thought,he leaned over and plunged the feathered instrument’s point into the startled critic.

The man reeled back screaming from his attacker, then ripped the blood-soaked plumage from his shoulder, gasping in pain and fear as a mass of men tackled the actor onstage. The older gentlemen did not resist but regarded his captors benignly, then returned his gaze to the victim still standing before the stage. “Was that exciting enough? After all, I told you this was my final performance.”

“What, I, you…,” the wounded man held up the crimson-covered quill. “‘Is this a dagger which I see before me!’” He shook the weapon in the air. “‘Is this a dagger which I see before me!’ What, are you kidding me! It is… the bloody business-”

“Ah, you were paying more attention than it seemed. How nice,” said the actor as they hauled him away, a grin plastered across his broadly beaming face.

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*image courtesy of BigFoto.com

**written for the prompt “hero: Thou” and “villain: tourists” on the six minute story site, though I did not post there.

***I’m dedicating today’s post to Summit Art Space, and Rubber City Shakespeare which is performing Shakespeare’s MacBeth tonight!

Friday Flash: LOLA

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Lola, she was a dancer… something about flowers in her hair or was it silver underwear? He couldn’t actually remember the lyrics to the song or who sang it, but the melody pounded in his brain like a ball-peen hammer. What the hell was he going to do? What the HELL was he going to do? Lola was a crappy name anyway. What the hell did it stand for? Lolita? Margola? Some sort of anagram, or whatever the hell it was when you smushed the first letters of a bunch of words together for the sake of brevity. All he knew was that Lola, whatever it stood for, meant trouble.

Standing over the open grave, he reconsidered his life choices. The wind howled through the post apocalyptic landscape, whistling through the cement cracks of mausoleums, blowing debris across the barren soil. The cemetery’s location outside town limits had spared it more damage than major cities, though grave robbing was now more dangerous than before. Ever since the bombs, others had resorted to what he had always done professionally. What need did the dead have for their possessions when they could help the living continue on in this gods-forsaken world?

He gripped the shovel’s handle tightly with his gloved hands, staring in horror at the metal canister, LOLA painted in stark, black letters across its top. Shivering in the warm evening air, he swallowed, then slowly and carefully began shovelling dirt back into the hole. This time, he decided, some things were better left buried.

 

 

*image courtesy of BigFoto.com
*written for the prompt “Lola” on the six minute story site. If you are curious, the original draft can still be found on the site here.