Author Archives: Smoph

Continuing a tale: Part II of The Wardrobe Monster

I’m participating in another challenge from Chuck Wendig at terribleminds, but it’s a bit late. This one has been brewing…Part II in a three part colaboration. 

The Wardrobe Monster (Pt I) by Mozelle

The power had gone out soon after the storm started up, and pretty soon after, her e-reader died too.  She looked outside and noticed the whole neighbourhood was in darkness. Sighing, Savannah showered by torchlight and went off to bed.

But not for long… only a few minutes after she switched off her torch, she started hearing noises coming from her wardrobe – noises she had never heard before.

Unnatural noises.

Her folks had told her there was no such thing as monsters when she was a kid.

That was crap.

She knew it.

But then, she had seen this thing destroy people’s lives in a split second, and now she was sitting up in her bed terrified of it.

Savannah knew it was crap, and closed her eyes, “It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real…” she kept chanting to herself to see if it would make the noise in her wardrobe stop.

To make her mind from going crazy…

To make her nerves from being on edge…

…to make her relax again.

She pulled the covers of her bed up to her chin and watched the door handle of the wardrobe as the shadow of the trees moved across it, “Crap, I’m in my twenties and …” she swallowed dryly, “I’m too fucking old for this shit!” kicking off her covers, she pulled on her Ugg boots, dressing gown and grabbed the waterproof torch she kept by her bed when storms like this hit and switched it back on.  Walking toward the wardrobe, she followed the large circle of light.

Five feet out, the noise started to sound like a grunting pig.  She thought it was cute – but weird – seeing it came from where her clothes were stored.

Three feet out, her gut cooled as she heard scratching coming from inside… along with screams.  The grunting was gone.

One foot, and Savannah noticed smoke was seeping from underneath the doors as she reached forward to open the door…

The door handle suddenly rattled loudly… clearly… and…

The whole door shuddered as though somebody bashed against it!

Savannah shuffled back, tripped over her glory box at the end of her bed, and sat on the end of her bed as the two wardrobe doors opened…

Part II (moi)

Silhouetted in the doors, a man in jeans and a leather flack jacket dusted off his sleeves. He looked up, with a sly little half-smile. “Savannah.”

Under the mischievous glance of big green eyes, Savannah found all her words dried up, her lips gaping like a fish.

“I know, I know.” He strode into her room, a bounce in his step. “I’m not what you were expecting. But you should know, that was a monster sent direct from the deepest levels of hell.”

“But…why?” Savannah gaped at him.

His eyes ran over her and Savannah pulled her robe tight, a fiercely hot blush on her cheeks. The smirk said everything. “Not all is as it appears on the first sighting.” He took her hand and the blush felt like it crept further down her body. “You, my dear, are the Turnpoint, the one who will change the balance of power in the spiritual world.”

His earnest gaze unsettled her. “And who do you represent?”

“Myself.” That bright flash of smile again, the mischief in blue eyes. “Me…I prefer the delights of chaos.”

“Are you–?”

The only answer was that smile again, and he inclined his head, the smirk rising from his lips to his eyes. He brushed a lock of dark curly hair out of his eyes. They understood each other, Savannah was sure.

“What does that mean for me?” Savannah asked, peering into the wardrobe.

Elegantly, her guest gestured at the open doors. “We enter the spiritual plane.”

Savannah drew back from the mist that curled cooly around her ankles. The idea made the hairs on the back of her neck prickle.

“I’m certainly not dressed for the occasion.” She drew back towards her bedroom door, surreptitiously kicking some discarded underwear under the bed.

“That won’t be a problem.” With a shrug, Loki clicked his fingers, and she had on her favourite jeans and sweater. He quirked an eyebrow, gauging her reaction with a thoughtful look, before he extended her a hand.

Nervously Savannah smoothed back her hair. Why her?

A beating began at her bedroom door, when Savannah knew they were alone in the house. The door bent inward with the ferocity of the attack as a high-pitched yowling that descended into a deep growl.

“Or you could wait here, to meet the envoy of the planes of Hel.”

With a gulp, Savannah took Loki’s hand. The frenzy at the door intensified, as with quick steps, Loki lead her to the door. Holding her breath, they passed between the planes, where the crossing burned and froze in the same searing moment and the howling fury of life and death rang in her ears.

His hand gently squeezed hers. “Welcome to the other side Savannah.”

Savannah opened her eyes to a darkness of the deepest fog. Flashes of light illuminated standing figures, frozen in a moment of time, the hue of light flickering.

“Who are they?”

“People in the throes of the choices that may cost them their souls…Or free them…”

Savannah looked at the figures with sadness. At that moment, out of the darkness, strode a young woman, her features resolving as she moved closer.

“Here’s trouble,” Loki mused under his breath, his easy half-smile emerging once again.

The Cure

A few bars of electric guitar
Robert Smith smooth
I’m drawn out
And now I’m there

The road is open
Wind curling in my hair
Summer sun beats
Resistance from greenery

Days are conjured back
High on life
High on love
But waiting for the fall

Stripes on my back
Malibu and pineapple
Muggy days and nights
Adventures and safety

Falling apart
Knew it was coming
What could have been
Is it more than a dream

The highway is lonely
All that’s left now
Aching emptiness
And no pictures of you

Breathing Around Our Abandon

Back doing a Chuck Wendig writing challenge for the first time in an age. I’ve actually been working on stories to submit that might get published elsewhere other than cyberspace and might see me getting a living as a writer. Gasp! 

Anyways, this challenge is to roll for a title and write a story of 1,000 words from it. This is what came out of my head.


It can’t be happening, I think, as I drift in the endless void of space. How did it happen?

One small and faulty airlock and here I am. I mean, come on. I had already been crab-walking on the outside of the station to fix the electronics so that the atmospheric conversion systems would get their sweet-asses back online. FML. Seriously.

Tell me again how these magnetic boots actually work and are safety equipment worth a damn. They’re supposed to hold you to the floor in the event that an airlock doesn’t seal properly and the negative pressure of space blows that door wide open. Yeah, I think we need some extra quality control done on these bastards. Even a little warning from the base would have been nice, ya know?

It would help if the hold times on the emergency systems weren’t so long that I dropped out of the reception area while I was still waiting to speak to someone. My only hope right now was that they could track the universal positioning sensor on my suit before I’m too far out for my rescue to be considered a waste of resources. It wasn’t like they had an atmosphere to break through, but I’d seen the calculations before. If only they hadn’t cut so much money from emergency services when the mine had gone bust.

Or that it happened before my oxygen ran out. Tapping at my meter makes it look like I have 45 minutes to an hour left. Damn these ridiculous mini-tanks for the short jobs. Surely those health and safety idiots realise accidents happen? Shit.

It’s quiet out here with none of the chatter of the station channels. Or the radio. For once I’d like to hear those bleating radio hosts. Did you hear who won The Bachelor: Moon Base edition this year? Apparently So-and-so was excluded from Wimbeldon because she’s a moon base resident? Sometimes inanity could work for me.

It could be that I could have lived my life differently. Better, in fact. I could not have thrown away the opportunity on that Saturn Mission. Definitely could have treated my mum better. Called her more. She’d probably find out the news well before she’d be expecting to hear from me. Not that she’d expect anything less mind. Been less flippant with people who’d been interested in me. Finished my Masters.

The swirling stars of space is quite hypnotic. I can’t be sure where I am anymore. I mean, I’m sometimes seeing the flash of the Moon Base but the vertigo is really getting to me. That unsure which way is up, stomach churning disorientation. The sims don’t do this any justice really.

Humming Fly Me to the Moon is calming. It’s been on so many tourism ads recently. They’re interrupting my reading, on my commute to work. Seriously, work on the targeting folks. We’re already here. What is there to see anyway? Space walks, which get tired after half an hour. The slowly fading mall, the outdated original settlement that’s slowly falling apart instead of being restored. Again, they blame it all on money, but then spend ridiculous money on tourism ads. I tell you, if I ran this station…

Maybe I could do that, when they rescue me. Take on the system, make it a better place. Hell, I was practically born here, first generation Moonsketeer. I know the base inside out, what passes for truth around the traps. If I can keep that junior record suppressed, it should be ok. A joy ride after all is a part of every teenage rebellion. The other things that happened were beyond my control.

That’s if I can get out of this one. I should have clipped in. Was just so grateful to be inside. It’s Friday after all. Work drinks. I wonder if they’d be sad if I died.

Can’t think about that. I’m not going to die out here. Watching my distress beacon blip slowly. It matches the warning light on my oxygen meter. I’ve got to slow down my breathing. Meditate; think of slow waves sliding on to a beach. Except I’ve never seen a beach, except in the simulation decks. I won’t ever see one now.

Can’t think of that, have to stay calm. Don’t think of those twinkling green eyes of Shannon from work either. Concentrate. Breathe in, breathe out.

Slowly spinning now. I can see the base. Is that some sort of craft leaving the station? Don’t catch breath, you need to hang in there. Don’t look at the meter, or the critical flashing in your visor. Close your eyes. If that ship is coming for you, there’s nothing you can do until it gets here and retrieves you.

Suddenly, it’s all so funny. You with your nothing life. Another failure, an accident, chalked up to the risks of life outside an atmosphere. Focus! Breathing! But it’s all hilarious. Ah, you should have won the award at school for “Most Likely to Die in Urbane Ways”.

It’s all so grey now. Always thought the blue black of the galaxy was so romantic. Now, it only seems bleak and empty and endless. Not so bad to be part of it all again. How apt to remember Sagan right now. The cosmos is within us. We are all made of star-stuff.

Another lyrical trail of old song. For we are all made of stars. 

The grey is swirling, becoming blue-black. The pinpricks of distant stars, too already dead. Pinwheels of light as the suit’s internal computer warns me of imminent failure.

It’s too late. I’m already a failure.

They’re too late.

Finding Foxglove

Another challenge from Chuck Wendig. I really liked this one. It was pick 5 words to incorporate into your story. Mine are: djinn, foxglove, orphan, topaz, whalebone.  I also feel like this could be a longer story, maybe a novella or a novel, I will have to see. Going in the story file…

I really encourage anyone wanting to write to read Chuck’s blog. It’s funny, it’s got great advice for writers, and this weekly writing club ensures that I am writing often. And that’s what you need to become a writer.

Anyway, without further ado, I present…

Finding Foxglove

Her father’s shrouded body was barely in the ground when the Ahdia felt his presence behind her. Ahdia had not told her father that she didn’t need to close her eyes, that she could feel their heat radiating when they were close by, and could see their faces cast in fierce blue light when she looked. It was his blood coursing through her veins that meant she could. A Prince of the People of the Pyre could not hope to contain that power from the blood of his blood. She could not be protected, as she could never be unseeing.

There is always one way for humans to know a djinn, her father had told her, again and again, the feverish grip on her shoulder always too tight. If you can close your eyes, feel for that extra-perception field that is inside you, and when you slip your fingers in that oily and tricky thread, you turn that eye and the djinn will glow with the blue flame of life. Ahdia knew the feel of the perception; it covered her own skin like wet paint, sucking and pulling at her.

“Marid,” Ahdia’s voice took on the resonant inner voice her father had taught her to use and addressed to djinn directly. “Why do you intrude at the height of my sorrow?”

“Ameera Abaza.” The reply was like sand shifting against sand, rasping, warm. “I have come to honour your father.”

Ahdia paused, tilting her head, observing the shadow and feeling for the brightness of the flame the djinn possessed. “No one has come to us since Abi was disowned for loving my mother. Why would the Peoples of the Pyre come now?”

The chuckle was warm, real. “They come not now. I once was a great friend to your father. There is a plot against your life, Ameera, and out of love for him do I come.”

Adhia pivoted, her topaz eyes flashing. “Where was that love when they were slowly draining his flame with the Sentinel’s voodoo? They allowed him to be consumed, against all of the laws of our people.”

“Ameera, I begged for him to run. To leave this land and go across the seas, to older lands, where their power would be ineffective. But he would not leave you, nor the home he shared with your mother.” The tall and solid djinn shifted, staring out towards at the red sands, his loin cloth flapping in the hot desert wind. He was out of his element here. The carved whalebone jewellery he wore about his neck and in his ear spoke of a life of richness and joy, of seas and wet sands; not the hard and bitter life on the edge of the desert.

“You are an orphan now,” his eyes and voice were gentle, protective, as he turned his gaze back to her. “There is no one to protect you.”

“Why would I need protection? They killed my father. There is nothing that they have to fear from me.” Adhia’s breath caught traitorously as she acknowledged the reality she faced; being alone. But she would not cry. Her father would not have wanted that.

The djinn bent his great bulk so that he was eye to eye with her, his face appearing  tinted blue like moonlight to Adhia. “Because you, Ameera, are an upset in the balance of life. In the combination of your father’s blood and your mother’s human blood, a great power was created. Your father knew it, and used his own power to protect you. You will scare the People. That is why they will hunt you.”

Gently, he took her hand. “I extend the offer to you. We will travel across the world, to where your mother’s grandfather came from. Examine his history. Then we will have the truth.”

Ahdia searched his face, seeking duplicity. “How do I know you speak the truth?”

“In the words that your father gave me and that clue which will guide you on our journey.” He opened his dark, meaty hand and inside was a necklace that she recognised; her mother’s. It had been a long time since she had seen this, but she remembered it around her mother’s neck.

With trembling fingers, Ahdia took the necklace and looked at it, at the strange flower painted on the yellowing surface of the ovular china surface. Purple tubes, hanging down, with dark spots like a leopard from her books.

“What are they?” Ahdia asked, tracing the beautiful paint strokes with her fingertips.

“Your father’s words to me were: Find the Foxglove.” Even the giant djinn looked perplexed. “I believe that is the name of the flower, and the insignia of your grandfather’s house.”

Ahdia nodded, staring at the piece, reliving the scattered memories of her mother, who had died trying to give birth to a younger brother, who had also died with her. Her eyes smarting, she looked back at the djinn. “I do not even know your name.”

His smile was broad and beautiful. “I am Emir Hafiz Najjar, Ameera, from the islands of a distant sea.”

“Hafiz, you may call me Ahdia.” Ahdia bowed, slightly to him. She turned back to the open gravesite. “There is one thing I need to do before we can leave.”

Feeling her fingertips warming with the flame, she took out the taper, holding it between her fingers. Closing her eyes, she concentrated, feeling the beat of her heart, the heat of her body and pulling it to that one spot. With a puff, she felt the taper catch, and opened it to see the tiny flickering fire dancing in the wind.

Kneeling by the edge of the grave, she touched the flame to the shroud, and moved away. She watched as the redness crept from the spot she had touched along his body, like a coal, and burst into a white-hot flame. Ahdia watched as the blaze ate through his earthly body, brightening to a blue as his remains crumbled. Ahdia watched the embers lift from the pit, to be carried out into the world, so that somewhere, a piece of her father could live again.

“Goodbye Abi,” she whispered, as the last of his body crumbled to ashes.

Knowing her duty was done, she turned away from the last remnants of her life before, and followed the stranger who offered her answers.

Foxglove flower (Digitalis)

Foxglove flower (Digitalis)

A few small things about the unusual words used (all anglicised versions of Arabic words):

  • Ameera is the word for princess
  • Emir is a title used for noblemen
  • Djinn or jinn are not devil as such in Arabic mythology; they’re pretty complex from the little reading I have done
  • Abi is father

Brave the storm

This idea has been bubbling around in my head for a little bit, maybe as something to submit to a Black Beacon books anthology. But this was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds challenge; 1000 words in 10 chapters. Different! Hope you enjoy it!

Brave the storm

Rolling in like the surf, the storm darkened the sky and electrified the air. Liesel could feel the clouds drawing in the static as the wind whirled sharply. Above her head, spindly eucalypt branches were snapping back and forth as she walked down the steeply sloping Milton street. Tonight’s storm was going to be a typical Brisbane summer storm; hot and heavy and a little overdone. She had to get inside before the storm broke. Over her shoulder, thunder rumbled threateningly and Liesel picked up the pace.

The door tore from her hand and slammed, reverberating the light wooden walls of her Queenslander. Fat drops of rain splattered noisily against the window pain in a tattoo, ringing in the gutters and on the roof, the tang of fresh rain filling the room. It was so dark for 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Liesel sighed as she shed her wrappings, coat, bag to the hook by the door, and walked to the kitchen. A steaming cup of tea later, and she could enjoy watching the storm roil o
outside her window.

With an hissing bang, the house plunged into shadows. Flashes of lightning picked out the crevices and nooks of the darkened inner rooms. Liesel ran from room to room, fastening wooden shutters to protect the windows from the now wildly swinging branches. She found her back-up candles and lit several, their tremulous light giving her back a little calm. That was when the dripping started.

Rivulets of dirty water ran down the walls, pooling against the sills and slipping to the floor. What started with gentle rivers became a flood, the water splashing everywhere. The cacophony of the storm outside, it’s swirling branches and debris, tattooed against the wall and windows. It grew so loud that it became almost a knocking, but Liesel ignored it. She grabbed old towels and shoved them under every streaming wall. As suddenly as it had started, it stopped, leaving her with only the echoing drips. She stood in the middle of her house, catching her breath.

With a loud bang, the door flew open and Liesel shrieked. A gush of air quenched the flames and the dim rooms lost all light. Almost above Liesel’s head, the thunder crashed and she screamed as the bright flashes of lightning lit up a figure standing in the entrance.

She was soaked to the bone, a pastel summer dress plastered against her dark skin. Each burst of light picked out the edges of her face, the fearful whites of her eyes. A black trickle of blood ran from her templed. Outside, splashing in with leaves and twigs, the boiling air howled and Liesel was terrified.

“Hello?” she shouted over the din. “Can I help you?”

A silent scream formed on the woman’s lips as she held out a hand to Liesel. The blood circled into a curl, lost in the black tangles of hair. But she did not answer.

“Tell me how I can help, please.” Liesel’s voice started to crack with strain.

The woman advanced in the moment of darkness, and the next flash found her right in front of Liesel, her eyes pleading, hand grasping. Liesel gasped and stepped back from her, raising arms to protect herself. But the woman didn’t come any closer, just stood, dripping on the floor. Liesel looked down for just a second and could see the skirt moving, as if a heavy material floating in a current. She looked back at the distressed girl’s face and knew that she had to help her.

“I’ll follow you,” she said.

8. Tightly zipped in her rain jacket, Liesel braved the street. Her stairs were treacherously slippery in the monsoonal downpour and she gingerly took her time with each one. She looked down the street and could barely see the girl or her shuddering movement. As she left the protection of her house, green matter dislodged by the storm slashed at her eyes and face. Still she walked on, trying to focus, peering through the misty grey to the end of the street.

She could hear the little stream before she saw the mess it had become. Brown and churning with detritus, it swamped over its little banks. Shadowed by the hill of Paddington and great groaning trees, Liesel found it impossible to see or distinguish any detail. She stood at the edge of the park, beneath a pair of jacarandas, buffeted by the storm.

Appearing out of nowhere, the girl stood in front of her again, a frantic edge to her motions. Liesel followed, trying to ignore the blood pounding in her ears. Up a small, worn-in path, pushing aside some dilapidated ferns and pieces of an old fence, they climbed toward what Liesel could see was a crossing. The stream now rushed over bigger, flatter boulders. Liesel couldn’t see anything.

“Where?” she called out, but the girl had stopped beside the boulders.

If she hadn’t been looking directly at the girl, she wouldn’t have seen the upsurge of pale material in the river. What she thought was a root was a hand, caught and curled in a larger gnarled mess of roots.

Her feet were slipping in the mud and rocks as she ran. “Hold on!”

Tucked into a back-eddy beneath the big tree, the girl had been suspended, but Liesel could see the water was getting higher and more violent. Liesel had to lie on the ground, around the roots, to lift the girl’s head up, to stop her drowning. With one hand she held the back of the dress, bunched tightly, and the other was trying to work the caught hand free. She felt it slip, and all the girl’s weight bore down on her as she started to float. Liesel wrapped her arms around, trying to lift her out, but she was heavy and slippery. Her finger’s dug into the girl’s wrists and with a tug she managed to get her partly on to the bank. Liesel dragged her further out, weeping with joy and fear and elation, before she caught her breath.

Turning the girl into recovery, Liesel was checking her breath when she started to vomit up murky water and cough. Saying a silent prayer, she waited for the stranger to recover enough to walk. Enough to brave the storm.

Devolution (A medpunk story)

Another challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. Good fun. This med-punk came to mind as soon as I read the challenge. Don’t know if it strictly fits, but what the hey!

Hanging back alongside the edge of a building, Angie watched the group weakly struggling through the street. Against the curfew, they were making their way to the Wellness Clinic several streets over. They wavered, their movements feeble. These would be an easy target.

Swinging her legs over the peeling picket fence, she approached on silent feet, trying not to alert them. The dots were prepped and adhered to her fingertips, the stronger adhesive on the other side.

Darting forward, she stuck one to the trailing elderly woman’s neck, and moving on, to the small boy, one to his trailing arm. A cry escaped the older woman and Angie was out of time. She leapt between the man and woman at the front, a touch light as a feather on each arm.

With a spurt of energy, she darted into another alley, hearing a congested grumble from the man at the head of the group. It was not long before his pursuing footsteps faded; all the group were too sick to put up too much of a fight.

It was a relief; Angie was going to need all her energy for the long hours remaining in her mission of compassion and survival.

“The fear,” he’d whispered to them, “the fear my darlings.” His wracking cough had spluttered out then, held back . “They were sold a terror, a portent of death, which they believed with their whole hearts. They were misled.”

Angie had looked over to Veronika then, at the deepening lines and dark circles around her eyes. Her husband Natane, an immunologist who had been part of the underground for more than a quarter-century, was dying of a complication of the eaglepox virus. In the time before the Devolution, Veronika had been a doctor and researcher, which she had kept up in their hidden civilisation.

When the chicken-pox virus had suddenly evolved, it’s virulence remaining the same but adopting the increased risk of the death of its smallpox cousin, the world was decimated. The innocuous name of chicken just didn’t reflect the danger. A presenter from the US had jokingly called in eaglepox and the name had stuck.

With the Devolution, and the hunting down and imprisoning of the scientific and medical professionals, there was no one left able to help the movement address the disease. Vitamin C was upped, fresh produce found in every home, but still people died in their thousands.

The underground survived, largely unscathed because of Natane and Veronika. But how would they protect others and stop it evolving again?

Natane had died before they had the answer. It was Angie who discovered the old dermal patches. Soaking them in a combination of antivirals and the vaccine, they could save the population of their town, and connect with others of the underground to help spread the cure. They found a recipe for a strong adhesive that meant the dots would adhere long enough to deliver the optimum dose.

They’d all committed; but it meant a huge danger. They would have to access to groups of people. They would have to take it to the streets.

Angie and her sister Clare ended up in the paediatric wing of the Wellness Clinic, where patients spilled haphazardly into corridors and out on to the street. And still they came, the children listless and afebrile.

The head nurse, as she called herself, bustled about with alcohol hand wipes and containers of pre-prepared vitamin enriched drinks. “We need all the assistance we can get with this outbreak. Even with the curfew, we are still getting more and more cases.” She paused to touch the forehead of a young girl curled up on her father’s lap, shivering, the angry red welts harsh against the pale forehead.

“So sad,” she murmured to the girls. “So many of them not taking care of themselves.”

Angie and Clare fanned out, distributing the tiny dots to small hands and feet, pressing them against the arms of distraught parents as they comforted them.  At midday, the wards quietened, exhausted families slumped against any available surface with their children. Angie broke off, into the intensive care ward. Her stomach roiled seeing the children wasting from the virus, their poor little bodies covered in open sores. She checked their pulse, smiling wanly at the parents at the bedside.

At the end of her round,  the shadowed overhang of a door bearing a hand-painted sign declaring it Neonatology presented itself to Angie. Looking about the eerily silent ward, Angie could see no watchers, and took a chance. Ducking through the door, she entered the ward.

Lights were low, and it took a second for her eyes to adjust. The nurses turned their eyes towards to her for a moment, before seeing the volunteer badge on her scrubs. Many of the parents were asleep, exhausted. Making sure to use the alcohol, she would drop a tiny dot to a toe or heel, and brush the parent as she left them a drink.

She reached the last room where a pair of twins rested, entwined. Otherwise she was alone. She stepped forward, her eyes on the tiny miniature people. She snaked a hand in, her dots delivered.

“What are you doing?”

Angie turned to see a young woman, her mouth hard and tight. Her sweats were stained and her eyes smudged with tiredness.

“I’m Angie, a volunteer.” She turned her back on the mother, pretending to stare into the humidicrib, and swallowed. “Your little ones are so perfect.”

“You have no right.” The woman moved up next to Angie, eyes blazing. “Get out.”

Angie ducked her head, hands in her pockets, seeking another dot. She offered her hand. “I apologise. I’ll leave now.”

The woman looked at her hand coldly. Angie shrugged and offered her a drink, a dot prepped and ready on her fingertip. As she took it, Angie had to manoeuvre awkwardly to make sure it stuck. A puzzled look crossed the woman’s face and Angie quickly backed out and away.

She crossed back into the paediatric ward, leaving her cart tucked out of the way. She rounded through the different areas, looking for Clare. Angie spotted her in a corridor not far from the main entrance, squatting next to a mother with three little girls.

As she walked towards her sister, she heard the hiss, “Her.”

Angie’s arms were grabbed roughly from behind, tears smarting with the cruel grip, and she was frogmarched down the corridor. “We’ve got you, bioterrorist.”

Angie saw Clare’s terrified stare and shook her head imperceptibly. She’d been caught and Clare needed to get back to tell the others.

Angie’s knees shook as she walked. She’d been around long enough to know that the people caught never came back. Since the Devolution, the Alterna never let the truth get out.


** Just in case anyone is curious, transdermal patches for vaccine delivery could be in our future.**

Going North

It’s been a few weeks since I completed one of my stories from Chuck Wendig’s challenges. I hope this will be one I get back on the wagon with…

Carly sighed and stretched her legs. The humid air wrapped her like a cloying blanket, the damp spicy earth and salt air mixing in the almost non-existent breeze. Sitting in the slightly cooler shade, Carly looked out at flattened wave after wave rolling in off the muddy ocean.

She looked over her shoulder at the car, filled to the brim with her belongings. The little green Mazda was covered with unlucky insects and travelling dirt, but that little car had always helped her get where she needed to go.

Cold drink was a glacier, crawling down her throat. The bubbles made her burp. As she drove, the wind down, her hair whipping her face, she felt fit to burst. A yell came pushing it’s way out and rode out the window on the wind. She tingled all the way from the head to her toes.

The sun rode low on the horizon, and she was driving into the pinks and oranges. She took a side road to a national park, threw up her tent with no fly and lay looking at the stars. Forgetting to get groceries, she’d just eaten the last chips and a banana. Her stomach rumbled but she felt full in a way she hadn’t in a long time. It was nice to be alone.

It was still grey when she woke. She crept down to the rocky pool near the campsite, diving in, the breath sucked out of her and into the cold depths. She broke the surface gasping, her body on fire. Floating on her back, she watched the lazy spirals of leaves falling, the skitter of wind across the silvery pond. The water drowned out the sounds, except for the sloshing on rocks, at the edge, far away from her.  The water rocked her with a gentle, cradling hand and she let her mind drift away.

When the sky had regained its blueness, she swam to the edge and put her clothes back on, tramping back up to the campsite. The coolness of the morning was quickly burning off, the birds a harsh cacophony overhead, and she packed quickly.

Back on the road again, she watched the greens fade into dusty yellows and rust and the ghostly skeletal grey gums by the side of the road reached toward the sky. She drove on, the straight road all merging into one, the twists of a undulating snake she was riding northwards. She like to imagine in the heat shimmer that she was riding the rainbow serpent, back to the beginning, to a clean slate of a world.

That night she slept on a white sandy beach, tying a mosquito net to a tree, sleeping on top of the sleeping bag. The waves crept up onto the sand with a hiss, and the mosquitos head-butting the mesh and whining angrily outside. Carly wriggled her toes and sighed, her thoughts drifting away into the night.

There was a dusty sign swinging on a wire, which declared with spidery handwriting: Help Wanted. Carly turned down the dusty road, passing the trees hanging with greening mangoes. She smirked as testicles came to mind. She scooted in beside a big shed, parking the car beneath a scrap of shade from the shed.

“Hello?” Her voice echoed around the heavy machinery and the dirt floor.

She walked around and spotted a house, white-painted besa block with a tin roof darkly hinting at rust around the edges. The house had a few spindly trees casting some shade on the concrete verandah, on the white wooden steps leading up.

She knocked on an ancient screen door that banged loudly in its frame. “Hello?”

Out of the darkness inside loomed a figure with heavy steps; an older, slight man. “G’day.”

Carly stood back, suddenly nervous. “I’m here about the help needed. My name’s Carly Green.”

The screen door squeaked as the man stepped onto the verandah, the battered old Akubra resting about an equally lined face. “Don’t get too many women wantin’ to do farm work.” He stuck out a broad hand. “Jack Leary, pleased to meet ya.”

She shook the hand as she looked at the palest blue eyes she’d ever seen, crinkling at the corners. He regarded her with a wry smile. “You’re not from Bowen, are ya?”

Carly shook her head. “I’m…on a bit of a tree change, you might say.”

Jack nodded, and took of his hat, a hesitance plain in his stance. “It’s hard work on a farm Miss Green. I don’t have time for lollygaggers here.”

“I’m not a city softie, Jack.” Carly smiles. “I’m from out Armidale way originally.”

Jack nodded. “Wage innit much, but it’s enough to get by.” He looked past her to the car filled with junk. “I’m guessing, you might be needing somewhere to stay.”

When Carly nodded, he said, “Let me show you our old bungalow. Most folks get a place near town these days, but you may have to share later in the season.”

Carly worked hard for the Learys. Mrs Leary was the very picture of a farmer’s wife that Carly had in her head, until she was called out for a grief counselling session. Invited into the house most nights for meals, Carly browsed the bookshelf, learning that Mrs Leary had left an academic city life after falling in love with her once-young man.

The rhythm of farm life was easy for Carly. Up with the sun to a big breakfast, walking amongst the plants looking for the dark spots on leaves that signalled a proneto anthracnose outbreak. Jack had showed her the dark sunken craters of the advanced disease on fruit in the pages of a dusty and discoloured farmer’s magazine, reminding her of flesh eating diseases she’d seen from distant places.

She sprayed the trees with a fungicide, covered head to toe, fully protected. Jack hated the stuff, but he wasn’t going to let anyone else risk their health. She got good at throwing the net, covering up the shortened trees to protect them from the sneaky fruitbats and possums. At night, she would listen to them screeching with rage, unable to get at the fruit with the intoxicating aromas.

Picking time came, and that was what Carly began to love best. Her skin was brown, and she had a muscular frame from the heavier work. Other hands arrived to help; many new immigrants. To hear them sing in their own languages and chatter. She helped Jack organise them all. She loved the acidic tang of the sap as the stems were cut, that rolled down her arms and got sticky. Up on the ladder, with the leaves scraping together with their papery sounds, and the soft hum of others, she found the industriousness peaceful. Sometimes when the rain poured and the thunder rolled overhead, she’d take off to the beach and watch the ocean change, grow full of rage and thrash at the sand. She’d come back soaked, but feeling the ocean’s fury and the wind whipping around her made her feel alive.

The season finished, the other hands trickled away, returning to some other work, and she helped Jack pare back some of the trees for their next growing season. After a day of hard work, they reclined in wooden deckchairs beneath a tree, enjoying a cold beer, and Carly could feel the weight of a conversation coming.

“Jack,” she turned to him, catching a guilty look on his face. “It’s alright. I know the season’s over. It’s time for me to move on.”

That weekend, she packed up the car, took the last pay, and hit the road again. She looked at the photograph of her family, stuck to the dashboard, a little bit discoloured and faded from 6 months in the Queensland sun. She sat at the entry to the Leary’s farm, looking at the Bruce Highway in front of her, and tried to decide. South was back. North was…

She turned left. Home Hill…..100km. Carly smiled and wound the window down. She was still looking for herself, and for the moment, she still needed to be free.

This story is inspired by a favourite song of mine by a great Australian artist Missy Higgins, Going North. If you’d like to hear it, here it is!

The Little Matchgirl: Zombie dreaming

I decided to attempt The Little Match Girl with a zombie apocalypse twist, after Chuck Wendig’s challenge last week. Fairytales, so delightful. So here it is.

Chloe was down to the last three boxes of matches. It was only three boxes, but Chloe knew that three boxes was not the same as no boxes to her father. Those boxes were the difference between a pat on the head and yet another beating. She didn’t have much flesh left on her now to cushion those blows, not since Father had lost his job and there had been so little to eat. He always smelt like brew now. And he was always angry.

Chloe was the eldest and the one fairest of face. He never hit that, said it was her best hope. But the fog rumbled in off the river, and in the dark and the cold, no one looked at her or stopped for a moment to buy. She’d tailed after several gentlemen who had the tang of pipe smoke about their persons. A woman who was clearly the head of a household had brusquely brushed her aside.

Pulling her rags tightly about her, Chloe snuck into the dark corner of a crumbling step and sat, her big owl-like eyes watching the square, the little pools of streetlights reflected in them. The stone’s chill stole into her bones, shaking them pitifully. Chloe toyed with one of the matchboxes. If she said she lost some of the money, would her father be as angry? She’d be better just not to go home.

With her shaking fingers, she lit a match, enjoying the dancing of the light on the end of the stick. It warmed the tips, and the light made her remember her grandmother, who had held her on her knee and knitted her clothes. She missed her. Chloe felt sleepy and surprisingly warm.

The light flickered and suddenly she could see her grandmother sitting by the fire. And that willowy figure, her hand on Grandmother’s shoulder. They turned to her, and she could see their faces that she’d imagined so many times since they’d left her life. The kindnesses, the softness Her mother held out her hand, inviting her in.

With a soft sigh, the flame extinguished. Chloe’s hands shook badly and it took her many tries to light another. She tucked herself further into the corner, behind the archway of the building, watching the match light.

“Mama,” she breathed through her blue lips.

The match dropped and went out on the cold stone, the bright light gone from Chloe’s little corner.

Under the cover of the fog, no one noticed the small body wavering through the streets. Many of the good people of Copenhaegen were warm in their beds. Her step was unsteady, halting and shuffling. She wended her way through slick cobbled streets, slipping and falling along the way. The small injuries did not seem to bother her, and she would just get slowly up again.

Eventually, she returned to the slums, where the houses were falling down, untended, their minimal comfort and protection reviled. What use was it to rebuild that which was already decaying.

Down a small back alley, the air heady with the stench of human and animal piss, she came to a battered and incomplete wooden door. It creaked as it opened and the little figure crossed the threshold. Heavy steps charged to the door and an equally heavy hand slammed against her, buckling her to the floor.

“Wherrre have you been?” His words were slurred, his eyes glazed. He towered over her but dragged her by the arm to the main room, slamming the door so that the whole structure shuddered.

He pulled her in and shook her. “You didn’t sell all them matches, did you?” The remaining boxes dropped on the floor, the open box spilling across the stone floor.

“Three?” The strain of his anger made his voice high-pitched. “And you opened one. What good is that?”

He backhanded her, and she crumpled against the wall. Her hand scrabbled unseeing against the floor,  her hands clasping the thin sticks.  With a barely coordinated movement, she lit a match. The growl from the corner as her father saw the flame was not fast enough for her toss of the match. As she repeated the movement, he was dragging her up by her hair and the next match dropped to the floor.

It was then he looked at his little girl, at the blue lips and the deadened eyes. At the hand that could be made of ice holding on to his wrist.

Her voice was like the whistle of the wind through a chink in the bricks. “Hello Father. I’m home.”

She swung across to his arm, and the sound of her hair ripping from her scalp was like a ripping wet towel. Her teeth sunk in, and he dropped her. She slithered away out of his vision.

Smoke was rising from the wall paper, too long dry and peeling. The edges were blackening, cinders were floating past his eyes. He heard the children coming bleary-eyed down the stairs.

“Outside!” He ordered, ignoring that their nightgowns were so thin and their feet uncovered. The two little girls held hands and did as commanded. They knew better than not to.

The man stumbled around in the smoking house, shoving furniture out of the way, and muttering angrily. His arm throbbed and he could feel a trickle of blood down his arm. The smoke was getting thicker, and he felt unsteady. He crashed into a wall and started coughing. He went towards the door. Damn the girl. She’d bit him. She was no good to him anymore, not selling all the matches.

He was trying to remember where the door was, when a small hand clamped around his ankle.

“Don’t leave me Father.”

He looked down. At her smile, filled with blood, gap-toothed where he’d knocked out some of her teeth, her hair and some scalp hanging askew. Her cold, dark eyes looked up at him. He tried to kick her off, but he was getting sluggish and tired. He stumbled and fell. He scrabbled on the floor, but he was too drunk and the fumes were too thick.

As he coughed and the fire took hold in the old timbers of the house, his head turned. He could just make out her silhouette, a dark shape through the smoke ringed by the flickering of flames. It was just then he heard her voice, as his eyelids grew heavy and fluttered closed.

“Oh Father. For the first time in so long, I’m warm…”

The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa: Dystopian worlds

This week Chuck Wendig called us out on fairytales and subgenres. I chose a little Russian fairytale called The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa, written with a little dystopian flair. It came in with a bit over 1300 words, but I don’t think I can cut it without losing the thread of the storyline. I also think I might write another one; this is a fun challenge!

“All that glitters is not gold.” Konflikt snorted, pawing at the ground.

Both he and the Royal Huntsman Nikolai stared at the feather that shimmered like the dying light of coal.

Konflikt turned his great grey head, looking at Nikolai with one dark brown eye. His ear twitched irritably. “You cannot take that back to the Tzar. You know what the tyrant would do.”

Nikolai shushed the horse. “You know that he has ears everywhere. There is no shadow without a raven.”

Dismounting, the huntsman bent to pick up the quarry.  As it shimmered in his hand, he whispered, “Firebird.”


Konflikt trotted beside the Huntsman as he scattered corn on the Tsar’s fields. “What did I tell you?” he huffed. “Don’t tell the Tsar.”

“Hush!” Nikolai started stroking the nose of his friend, surreptitiously glancing around. “If anyone were to hear you, you’d become just another rarity.”

Konflikt’s nose flared haughtily as he snorted. He tossed his head, swinging his mane up and over the smooth curve of his neck, before falling into a slow plod beside the man.

Together they sat against an empty water fountain and waited. As the light began to fail, the fluttering movements at the edge of the field caught the eye. It was liquid, flowing and fluttering over the scattered kernels, darting and bobbing. The bird was truly beautiful to behold. It hovered at the darkest edges, flitting back and forth. It entered into the open field with cautious footsteps.

With more courage, it unknowingly followed the trail to the centre of the garden, to the fountain. The trail led into a small space, laden with foliage, and the safety of darkness. It was too late when it realised the safety was a disguised golden cage. The door shut tight with a clang.

The Huntsman looked in on it, and the bright blue eye looking mournfully our at him. The gold bars reflected the shifting spectrum of the bird. It opened its golden beak and let out a piteous wail.

Nikolai’s mouth twisted with remorse. “I’m sorry.” He dropped a cover on the cage and picked it up to deliver to the Tsar.


“What more can he ask of me?” Nikolai waited at the door to a golden tent, laid with fresh delicacies and tempting wines.

Konflikt lowered his head to Nikolai’s shoulder. “I know that you are doing all this to protect me, and others like me, but there has to be a limit. We have to have a plan.”

A voice behind them, fresh and sweet as a tinkling stream interjected. “That, gentlemen, I think I can help you with.”

Princess Vasilisa stood, resplendent in her gown of silver moonlight, her pure gold tresses twisted into intricate plaits. With a smirk in her golden eyes, she stood holding the point of a sword on them. “You were waiting for me, weren’t you?”


Nikolai had to admit, she had played her part beautifully. Damsel-in-distress, she’d let loose a flood of tears. Her first stroke of genius was to call for the firebird to keep her company in her apartments. It allowed them to meet secretly, so he could care for the bird. She’d demanded the wedding dress from the bottom of the sea. No guesses who had been tasked with delivering that. Luckily for him, the crab kingdom owed her a favour. But this latest task, to bathe in boiling water was ingenious. Until she pointed at him and said that the Huntsman would do it if the Tsar was afraid.

This was not part of the plan. When he slammed the door to her apartments, the Princess looked up from the chaise and her book, her eyebrow raised. “My, my. You are in a temper.”

“You are going to boil me alive,” Nikolai hissed. “This was not part of our plan.”

“It was, but I needed to know you trusted me before I told you.” The Princess sighed, closing her book. “You will not be boiled alive.”

She lead him across to the cage. “Did you know of the firebird’s magic?” Her fingers curled against the cheek of the bird, stroking it as its eyes shut in contentment. “It can provide protection from the fires.”

Princess Vasilisa turned back to Nikolai. “If you give it a few drops of your blood, the bird will turn into you, and it will go into the boiling water, and no harm will come to either of you.”

“My blood?” Nikolai cleared his throat.

“Yes,” Vasilisa smiled. “It needs a piece of you to reproduce you. I thought a few drops of blood might be a part you were the least attached to.”

“How do you know this?”

“A witch,” Vasilisa replied calmly. “I have met many in my travels.”

Boots tramped up to the door. “Huntsman!”

“Quickly,” Vasilisa hissed, darting to her embroidery. “Use this!”

The shining point glittered dangerously in her hand. Nikolai considered, looking back at the door. She was right, this would be their only chance.

With a quick jab at his finger, the needle did the job. Blood welled and he offered it to the bird. Cocking its head at him, the bird stared at him with its dancing blue eyes. When he didn’t move, it bent its head neatly and the drop of blood was gone.

The door shuddered as a huge fist pounded against it. “Huntsman. The Tsar wants to see you now.”

Nikolai exchanged a long look with the Princess and left to accompany His Highness to inspect the tub for the boiling water.


Nikolai looked on as the body double dipped into the water. He hid where Vasilisa had directed him, snuck in behind an ornate armchair, wrapped in the lightest of wraps. He could see through a gap, saw a young man descending into the steaming copper kettle. The man emerged untouched, and left the room. Beyond, he could hear Vasilisa encouraging the blustering Tsar to be as much of a man as his manservant. Nikolai bristled, a prickling along his back.

He seemed to be getting closer to the floor as the Tsar hovered at the edge. He seemed to teeter, before he turned away. But as he went to step down, he slipped, on what Nikolai could not tell. He tried to call out, but all that came out was a squeak. Nikolai panicked, and tried to get up, but was surrounded by a buffeting as he slipped about.

Vasilisa scooped him up, scrambling with his new body. She held him tightly but gently. “Hush now.” She walked him through the castle, tears cascading down her cheeks, not disturbing the perfect picture of the wedding dress and intricate hair dressings.  She took him through to the garden, out to the fountains, as if to cry over the disaster.

She sat on the fountain’s edge and released Nikolai. He strutted away, his feathers fluffed and ruffled. As she released her hair from its bounds, she watched him. “You’re clearly not familiar blood magic.”

The beady gaze was piercing. She shrugged. “Never give up your blood. Ever.” She ran her fingers through her hair with a joyous sigh. “Especially not when blood magic has been used to trap my twin brother.”

“But I’m not heartless,” she iterated, collecting Nikolai, and walking towards the stables. “You will have your freedom, which is more than the kingdom was willing to give me. Abduct me…”

Vasilisa strode to Konflikt’s stable, and opened the gate. The horse lifted his head, eyed the bird, dropping the head to shake it mournfully.

Vasilisa smiled and turned to leave. “But don’t test my patience. I don’t want to see you two casting your shadow on my ascendence to the throne.”

Konflikt snorted. He looked at Nikolai, and nickered. “What did I tell you? All that glitters…”

With an indignant squawk, Nikolai hefted his wings and lifted unsteadily into the air, and the horse came trotting happily after.

Chinatown rebels

Another flash fiction challenge over at terrible minds! Detective, Ghost, Chinatown, unsolved murder were what I rolled.

Randy didn’t even know he’d gotten out of bed this morning. He ran a hand over his grizzled jaw in frustration. He hadn’t even remembered to stop for coffee. And he wouldn’t be able to get a double-double and breakfast at least until the body was in the bag. If he could even get through the endless lines and the computers at Tim’s hadn’t broken again.

His partner, Detective Dave Turner, bent over the faceless figure against the wall, deep in discussion with the ME. Jane Grant was talking animatedly pointing to the peaked roof of the Millennium Gate, before returning to the body. A shooter then, from the roof. In the middle of Chinese New Year celebrations. This was going to be a messy case. The Chief walked over to them, her hand on Dave’s back. That was interesting…Both had been divorced in the last couple of years. Maybe…Nah, it was none of his business what two consenting adults got up to.

He was musing when a soft voice behind him said, “I saw it.”

Randy turned to see an old friend. “Mr Foo!” He pumped the hand of restaurateur. “Long time no see.”

Foo smiled. “You’ve been a stranger, Sergeant Miller.”

“It’s Detective now,” Randy said with a grin, “and that’s because you closed the store. How’s Toronto? You just back visiting?”

The old man looked perplexed. Randy’s brow furrowed; the old man had retired, maybe he had been diagnosed with dementia. Still, he was prepared to hear the old man out.

He flipped open his notebook. “So what did you see Mr Foo?”

“In the morning there was a cleaner, climbing up with ropes. It was strange, because it would be bad luck, cleaning out all the good built up during the maintenance last week. But they didn’t stop, just climbed to the top, and then the ropes were pulled up.”

People were gathering around them. The news had spread. Randy lead Mr Foo to a shadowed alcove. “Did you notice anything else closer to the shooting?”

“While we were waiting for the blessing of the lion dance, I saw a reflection. I thought it was a photographer.” Mr Foo’s face fell. “Then there was the shot.”

“Did you tell any of the officers on the street?”

Mr Foo’s expression had desperation in it. “I tried! There was chaos. No one listened.”

“Did you see where the person went?”

“Yes. They slid down behind the pole and ran down toward the park.”

“A terrible omen for the new year.” Mr Foo shook his head sadly. “Attempting to kill those who were going to bring some life back to Chinatown.”

A chill ran down Randy’s body. His girlfriend Mai was working on the redevelopment and she was here. He vaguely remembered her in the shower as he left. He had been here too. Why couldn’t he… Randy shrugged it off. He needed to focus.

He gave Dave a slap on the back. “I have a witness describing our shooter heading down Carrall Street. I’m going see if we have any more witnesses.”

Dave turned and glared. He always hated to be disturbed when contemplating a crime scene. He looked particularly haggard today.

Randy took the hint and backed off. He looked down at the streamers and bits of cabbage littering the street and trudged around Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s classical garden, which was locked up tight today. He snuck up to the one of the ornate wall decorations and looked into the cool and green space. He overheard some angry whispers in Chinese.

“They’re saying that a target was missed. That they got the boyfriend instead.”  Randy swirled around to see Mr Foo beside him.

He held a finger to his lips and shook his head. Mr Foo continued, albeit in a whisper, “The shooter is being sheltered by Chen, who hired him from Shanghai. He has family connections to the Triads at home.”

“They say he will be brought out of hiding tonight and fly home. If he can’t finish the job first.” Foo spread his thinning and still dark hair back over his head.

Chen ran the Chinese Cultural Centre. He’d been outspoken about not destroying the heritage of the area, even when the shop fronts were to be updated but remain in tact. Randy had witnessed more than a few of Mai’s heated exchanges in Mandarin with Mr Chen.  He had a few businesses on East Pender that stood to be shut during the closures and he was unhappy. Randy wouldn’t have thought it was worth killing for.

Randy looked up to find Foo had gone. He sauntered casually around to the cultural centre, past the red rimmed doors and windows. He doubled back and quick as a lick, jumped a metal fence beside the centre. Quietly he crept into the back, which adjoined the garden and was cool and quiet. He spotted a man exhaling the smoke of his cigarette, the garden filled with the spicy fragrance. This man was a stranger.

In front of him was a tablet, and on it was a face Randy was overly familiar with. He reached for his radio, but found it wasn’t responding. As silently as he could, he retreated, climbing back over the fence. The wind gusted and shook the mesh, but Randy was already off and running.

He raced to the crime scene, to find only the techs still finishing up the cleaning. He swore. Where had Dave gone. Up the street, he saw a familiar dark blue truck. He sprinted up there.

Dave sat curled in the front seat, his eyes glassy and unseeing. Randy knocked on the window. Dave looked right at him but didn’t acknowledge him. He looked down to his hands. He was rolling Randy’s badge over in his fingertips.

Randy’s hand went to his belt, but there was nothing there. He looked down, and noticed the dark spreading stain on his shirt. The world whirled and suddenly there were flashes of images. A dancing of colour as the dancers moved past. The pop of what he knew was a gun, and Mai’s boss crumpling to the ground. Moving to get directly in front of Mai, get her into a protected doorway and the sudden aching in his chest. Mai, white and screaming at him, her hands soft as ever on his face. Then the darkness.

He remembered now. Mr Foo had died, a few months after leaving for Toronto. A massive coronary. He remembered the flowers out the front of the store, the white streamers.

It was so cold to suddenly realise he was dead. And that there was nothing he could do to help Mai now…