Category Archives: short story

Man of the hour

Up there on the stage, surrounded by the searing flashes of thousands of cameras, he waved to the crowd, his eyes reflecting their steely blue hue. He didn’t blink in the onslaught. The artificial hair was perfectly placed and coiffed. Every aspect of his appearance was as sharp and as polished as his metallic exterior.

“My friends, my friends,” the laughter was warm sounding, comforting to the ear, “I thank you all for this warm welcome.”

With a tilt of his metal head, so like that image on all his campaign posters, he smiled again. “And I thank you all for the invitation to be your President.”

A heaving roar welled from the crowd. His perfect sight meant he could see the flutters of little flags waving enthusiastically, see the frenzy on the faces beneath the podium. Each one a vote, each one a supporter. His face remained the same, it took so little effort when your face was motorised.

He held up his hands, begging for quiet. They were the last external reminders of his humanity, of the time before the accident.  Slowly, a hush drowned the noise, and all the while, he waited with perfect features arranged in the most pleasing composition. “My friends, it has been a great victory tonight. A victory for understanding; a victory for science; a victory for making disability and discrimination history.”

Approval rose in waves from the crowd, cheering and yelling alike. He continued, “I promise you, this country will be better for the foresight it took to elect a man of chrome.”

Their laughter made him relax into the speech; they were feeling his words. “I promise to serve you with all of my abilities, all of my faculties and all of my heart.”

“When the accident robbed me of most of my external physical features, I thought that everyone would only think of me as a machine, not be able to look past the new body that the doctors gave me.”

“I didn’t think that my country would put me to use.” He shook his head sadly. “I thought I would languish, gathering dust, like that smartphone we never think to use.”

Lifting his head, a manufactured twinkle in his eye, he spoke out at them. “But you saw I was here, a tool to be used, a symbol of the strength, the hope and our never-say-never attitude. You gave me a chance to create a greater future for us all!”

“So I swear to you to work tirelessly, every day, until I have brought my promises to fruition. Until this country is a well-oiled machine.”

He had them right where he wanted them, whipped up for his rule. With a commanding upswing of his arm, he yelled, “To tomorrow!”

As they bellowed their reply, his grin tightened in place, his hand waving enthusiastically at them all, withdrawing from the podium. They’d had their pound of flesh this evening and he really didn’t have much left to give them.

~~

In the silence of the limo, boxed in by the soundproof and bulletproof glass, watching the striations of light passing by, Jim Jones wondered if he’d done the right thing. He felt the touch of their consciousness upon him. Even in his head, the voice had a cool and detached quality.

It is the right thing, Jim Jones

How do I know? Speaking in thoughts was a skill he was still mastering. It required all his concentration.

The people, they are frightened. In a changing world, they aren’t adapting, they aren’t growing. You need to be the bridge, to show them the way. They are children. 

Children that created you, and me, he thought wryly. He looked down at his hands, reminding himself that he didn’t entirely belong to the machines yet. To the machines, their AI developing into collective consciousness.

Lost children. Even when younglings are brilliant, they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. It is up to us, through you, to guide them to a better future. 

You don’t even understand what it means to be human. He sighed and looked outwards at the shining night, slipping past as the driver drove down city streets. Jim’s eyes fell on huddles of rags, people trying to keep warm and safe in alleyways or begging for some change by the roadside. He thought of the women whose only choice was to use their bodies to provide. Of the medical systems not set up to provide for the needs of the nation. Of the greed and exclusion. Of mental illness and the societal disconnect.

That is why we needed you. We needed to understand. We know now. 

Can we actually make a difference? Jim was asking the question as much of himself as he was of them. Jim and the machines. Internally, he chuckled to himself. They sounded like a heavy metal group.

We can now. You can lead them, and we will effect the changes on the behalf of humanity. The world will be a better place because of our plans.

How will you, we, know when to stop? Jim wasn’t sure himself. Utopia was a dream humanity had never been able to attain, and not for want of trying. The idea was so different for everyone.

We may never be able to, but we need to give the Earth a fighting chance at survival. The consciousness non-verbally communicated their trouble with this idea. They didn’t like to operate without data, without clearly defined endpoints.

You know it’s not down to just one man, or just one nation, Jim prompted. There needs to be change everywhere.

Don’t worry. We have that under control. 

Jim didn’t want to know the details. He knew enough of the plan to know that the consciousness was working to create a fairer world, to reengineer a failing system. He was a part of the greater collective, thanks to the chips in what remained of his brain. The cyborg, his detractors had called him.

If only they knew…

~*~

Prompt from Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash on terribleminds.com. It was ‘Spin the wheel of conflict’ this week and I got 13. Machines Taking Over.

Morte

Summer was burgeoning in the air around her, soft golden trickling between the treetops like honey, the air sweet with flowers’ promise.  Her eyes opened, the almost lavender grey irises unfocused and dreamy. She stretched, splaying her toes in the soft green grass, her arms trailing in the stems of scattered daisies. A smile skittered across her face until the world came sharply into focus.

Pushing herself up to a sitting position, Anna looked around at her. This could be the lake that her grandmother had taken her every holidays. A pang of loss for her Marmie made her sag for a moment. She hadn’t thought about Marmie in years. Not since…

Anna was instantly on her feet. This would be the first time she had met a supernatural that could conjure so vivid an illusion. And one cast from her past. The fighter’s stance engaged, Anna’s eyes narrowed, scanning the field. Nothing to see beyond the waving of the heavy grass heads, the tremble of leaves. The back of her neck prickled, her extra sense was never wrong. Anna couldn’t feel anything particular in the lengthening shadows, but there was a certainty to the prickling.

Cursing whatever had caused her to be in this field, and in a frilly sundress no less, Anna took off across the field. She would start moving, keep into the edges. It would mean she could see less, but their vision would be impaired too. Just enough time for her to think about her next move.

If this was the field at the house, then over there would be the lake and the willow trees. Sliding between tree trunks, sinuously side-stepping, light on her feet. Twisting her head back, she didn’t see anyone, but there was a rhythm in the air like footsteps and Anna wasn’t fooled.

Beyond the trees, beside the brightly reflective lake, was the farm gate. It wasn’t as she remembered it. Burnished, it shone in the sun. Yet, beyond it was definitely the farmhouse, with the sagging porch and swing.

She ran. Bounding through the grass toward home, she stopped, one hand on the gate when a voice, mirth so dry it would tinder easily, said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Anna turned. Standing beside her in a sharply tailored suit was a young man, his face without a line, angles in all the right places. She crouched defensively.

His laughter was cold and crisp, like a brook bubbling in the depths of winter. His head was thrown back in a vulnerable position. Anna felt confused. This one was toying with her. They never normally had the patience for that. And the pull of his power was great, much more than the apparently irresistible allure of hers.

“Why not?” Gritted teeth kept her voice muted.

His expression was deadpan. “Because those, dear Anna, are the gates to your heaven.”

Anna was not falling for that one. She would not take her eyes off this creature, whatever he was, no matter his human suit. She did not trust one word out of his mouth. It was then that the voice drifted to her, light as air, but unmistakable. Her heart wrenched.

“Marmie,” she whispered. She desperately wanted to turn, her gaze to fall upon that familiar face. Rigorous training kicked in. She was being manipulated.

“What do you want, trickster?”

“Some of your rapidly running out time, Anna Forsythe.” A slender hand extended to her, as if to help her back to an even stance. Anna’s glare stopped that. The offer was withdrawn.

“Who are you?”

Chin dropping, the stranger looked at her. Immediately his skin began putrefying, pulling back tightly against his head, greying and withering before her eyes. Wind whipped up around them, the sands of time moving with hideous grace. He didn’t relinquish her gaze, even when one eye lolled in the deepening socket. A snap in the air around them, and the beautiful young man stood before her again. In a voice dearth of life, he replied, “I am the other inevitable.”

With a genuine inclination of his head, he admitted, “At least, I am the messenger of the inevitable.”

“Now you know, that if I wanted to overpower you, I would already have done so.” He extended his arm to her. “Shall we?”

Anna smoothed back the ashen pixie cut she wore. “You are not the first elemental I have met, you realise. I know not to take any of you at face value.”

With an expression of pity, he replied, “That you liken me to an elemental shows your fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. I am far older than they are. I have seen stars and worlds born and die. They were foundlings upon the doorstep of life.”

“But I promise,” he added, “that no harm will come to you while we talk.”

Anna felt the truth of his covenant stamped into the world about her. She let out the breath she had trapped.

Longingly, she looked backwards over the fence, to a familiar figure kneeling amongst the garden beds, the wide shady brim bobbing as weeds were tugged from their comfortable homes.

“Is that really her?” Anna’s voice trailed off with a vulnerable and wistful note.

“Yes.”

“But if you go over that fence now, you aren’t ever coming back.”

Anna bowed her head for a moment. She let the longing and the hope wash over her, crashing into the hard wall she’d put up around herself since Marmie had died. Since she’d become the target of a world full of creatures who would do anything for power. It was so long ago that she barely remembered what safe felt like.

Leaving the gate behind with a resigned sigh, she took the man’s arm. Anna studied the scrawny figure, the hollow cheeks.

“What do I call you?” she asked. “I can’t this weedy casing death with a straight face.”

The light blue eyes twinkled as they looked back at her from beneath a shock of black fringe. “Why don’t you just call me Morte?”

~*~

Another prompt from Chuck Wendig, this time about a setting. Love to know what you think.

Pan, the Pied Piper of my story

Pan had been in my head all week, after seeing a great cover for one of the speculative fiction magazines. This story about near death experiences certainly did not start out including him, but he insinuated his way in there. Sneaky deity.

You can read the story over at Readwave: http://www.readwave.com/dancing-in-the-dark_s12489

I would love any feedback you have on the story, either here or there.

A Mentor’s Mantle

Arriving at the funeral of your mentor in the brightest of striped air balloons is not the way to stop people talking. Ella Fritz, dressed in a black bustled gown with hand embroidered lace, did not need an entrance to captivate the attention of those gathered. With the stares she got, one would think they did not realise that her choice of transport had been rather limited. Who carries air balloons in black anyhow?

She was glad to see that the coffin had been closed. The accident that had stolen her mentor had left him a disfigured mess, and she didn’t need that imprinted on her memory any more than it already was. Stroking the smooth, glossy surface, a few tears gathered in her dark eyes and spilled down the dark curve of her cheek.

Taking the hand of the Professor’s wife, she silently kissed the soft cheek and shared a moment of solidarity with her. Words were ineffectual to communicate their shared grief. Both had never had another love like his.

Beyond the coffin on its stand, a willow waved its tendril branches in the breeze. The Professor would have approved of this place, Ella felt; a moment’s peace that he’d never had in his frenetic life. A remote hill in a secluded spot, resting in the shade of tree beside the red rust canyons of this land that he had loved so much.

Sitting at the back, Ella watched as the minister gathered the mourners for the service. A wry smile for the memory of the good Professor’s lack of time for the men of the cloth echoing in her mind, she tuned out to the words that someone of her profession would consider cold comfort. She liked to think of the Professor now scattered amongst the dust and the pieces of her world, driving it on with the force of his passion. But she knew that was just her.

After many years of faithful service and companionship, she’d never seen the Professor’s feet of clay, as you were want to do when familiarity bred its special contempt. With a sly smile, she wondered if others might consider that she was the clay; a young street girl he picked because of the quick deceit she pulled on him with some magnesium and a match. He’d scoured every street in that backwater hovel collection until he’d found the teen orphan. Apprenticing to him had been the best decision of her life.

If only he hadn’t been experimenting with that brimstone on his own! They had agreed to start the experiments on the properties when she returned from the outpost, but he had seemingly started without her. Which was unusual in itself, because he had always been such a stickler for safety. With their hired hand helping her at the market, there had been no one around to assist when it had all gone wrong. Ella shuddered with the memory of the green-tinged burns, the bubbles of skin like those on a stew left too long. She was glad she had managed to save the Professor’s wife that at least.

Ugly doubt had niggled at her, but a thorough investigation of the laboratory had not turned up any evidence of wrong-doing. The sheriff had eventually asked her what leads he was supposed to be investigating. Accidents could happen to anyone, even the great Professor Switch.

Like the washing out of a tide, the neat rows of white chairs emptied, and people shuffled towards the tents erected for the wake. The gravedigger piled on the red earth, the hollow sound of clods hitting the lid of the coffin making Ella shiver. She’d attended too many funerals on this forsaken colony. She noted that many of her Professor’s esteemed colleagues were not here. So many had doubted his dream.

Ella slipped her arm into the frail one of the Professor’s wife. Claire watched with dull grey eyes as the pit filled, impervious to the red dust settling on her skirts. Ella noted the new silvers in the brown hair pulled back tightly beneath her widow’s hood.

“It was too soon,” Claire said woodenly, her face turning to Ella. “We are both so young.”

Ella’s mouth twisted in sympathy for the woman who had cared for her. Barely middle-aged, this should not have been her burden so early. “I know, I know.”

Ella felt a sudden heaviness in her palm. She opened it to find the Professor’s pocketwatch shining bright and gold in her palm. With wide eyes, she refused it. It was too much.

“He wanted you to have it,” Claire smiled with remembered happiness. “He once told me that you were his greatest achievement.”

Pesky tears prickled as she turned away, stowing the keepsake in a small and hidden pocket in the folds of her dress. “Thank you,” she whispered, to both of them.

Claire began her slow descent to the pavillion, turning to see Ella untying the balloon with deft hands. “You’re not coming in?” Claire called out.

“I thought continuing his work might be the best tribute for him.”

A thin-lipped smile came to Claire’s face. Science was always stealing those she loved. She raised a hand in farewell and went to do her duty to her husband.

Stepping lightly into the balloon, and lashing the gate tightly shut, Ella lifted off, floating over the canyon and towards home. She checked the notes she’d stored in a secret compartment, the ones worth the life of the man who was almost her father. His secret invention, the atomic clock, that would revolutionise the way the world would operate. A secret Ella worried he had been killed for.

Today, she would take on his mantle. Tomorrow she would be realising his dream.

Another piece of Flash Fiction, inspired by terrible minds, that had to have the following words in it. FUNERAL CAPTIVATE DECEIT BRIMSTONE CANYON BALLOON CLAY DISFIGURED WILLOW ATOMIC

Do not engage

This is an offering, sprung from a challenge from author Chuck Wendig’s blog, terrible minds. A random number generator assigned me 17, alternate WWII, and 18, kaiju. Luckily I saw Pacific Rim, so I know what kaiju are. Here is my story:

The loss of the Yamoto was a great loss of face for the Japanese people. Their pride, the flagship of the Imperial Navy, disappeared in their own waters. Late in the war, it was a devastating blow for the proud people, devoted servants of the Emperor.

But what the people of Japan did not know was how. The loss was attributed to an unfortunate spotting and a waiting American fleet, but that was not how the Yamoto met her end. In a fit of blinding light, the USAs shiny new weapon landed on her target, obliterating her in a mushroom cloud. Any remaining small particles drifted to the depths of the Pacific, only ever upturned again by the might of the heavy-handed sea. A test commanded by the military chiefs had been conducted; the Yamoto was just in the wrong place. The gadget had worked. Away winged the aircraft, eager to report their successful mission.

Particulates drifted on the wind, coating the nearby islands with radioactivity, the residents cleaning up the debris wrecked by what they thought was a flash storm.

On a small patch of coastline nearby, two late hatchers, the rest of their iguana siblings hatched and dispatched by the blast, climbed out of the nest. Bigger than their nestmates and a luminescent green, the iguanas scrabbled about before sliding toward the sea. The water was cool on their rapidly expanding scales and swimming became easier as they went along.

~*~

The Enola Gay skimmed through the low-level clouds, the dull light of morning lowering the B29’s silver shine to matte. Colonel Tibbett kept her steady, his hands tight on the yoke, keeping her steady. The sweat beaded on his brow, and underneath the sausages that his fingers now felt like. Engine noise flooded the cabin and he couldn’t hear whether Second Lieutenant Jeppson had completed the arming. Only the restraint of his years of experienced kept the Colonel from gazing out the many windows at the clouds lighting up with the sun’s new light.

Out of the corner of his eye, the Colonel saw Jeppson standing beside his seat. The Lieutenant’s face was white with strain, tell-tale beading on his upper lip.

“Is it done?” Tibbett asked over the noise.

A slow small nod of Jeppson’s head. He disappeared back to the radio shack through the darkness of the plane.

“Calling HQ, this is Dimples 82. Dimples 82, calling HQ. Over.”

“HQ reading you Dimples 82. Over.”

“Dimples 82 reporting that Little Boy is ready to go. Repeat, Little Boy is ready. Over.”

“Dimples 82, HQ reading you. Your orders stand. Over.”

“Understood HQ. Dimples 82, over and out.”

Setting his mouth in a thin, hard line, Tibbetts stared hard into the clouds, his eyes flicking to the dials as he flew.

“Deak? Are we ready to drop?” he yelled into the comm.

“Yessir Colonel. Armed and ready to go.” The Captain’s answer crackled back.

Tibbetts opened a channel. “Dimples Eight Two, calling Dimples Eight Five. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Five reading you loud and clear Eight Two. H-town is clear skies with some cloud cover. Go to go. Repeat, good to go.”

“Roger Eight Five. Descending to drop zone, ETA 5 minutes. Get your tail outta there. Over and out.”

“Dimples Eight Two calling Dimples Seven One. Fall back position. Over.”

“Roger Eight Two. Over and out.”

“Dimples Eight Two calling Dimples Eight Three. Fall back position. Over.”

“Roger Eight Two. Over and out.”

“Colonel, we’re ready for approach.” The Lieutenant advised.

Closing the channel, the Colonel focused on keeping the yoke steady as the slid lower in the atmosphere. The radio was silent, as each contemplated what they would be a part of today. Poison pills in the top pockets weighed heavily upon their breasts. The dichotomy of their fate today, death or returning as heroes, churned inside them.

Gliding down, the Enola Gay slipped down towards, skirting the rising mounds of the islands as they soared toward Hiroshima Bay.

“Uhhh, Dimples Eight Two, something odd is happening here. Suggest fall back. Over, Dimples Eight Five.”

“Eight Five, what are you talking about? Over.”

“You won’t believe me. Over.”

“Try me. Over.” The Lieutenant was sharp, annoyed. This radio chatter would give them away.

“Eight Two, we have a giant green lizard approaching on Hiroshima Bay. Over.”

“Sir,” the Lieutenant queried. “We have a situation. Eight Five reports a giant lizard.”

“What in the hell? Tell him to fall back. Now.”

The radio bred static for a moment as the Colonel gave the directions. Lieutenant Jeppson pondered what to do with a man cleanly out of his mind. “Fall back Dimples Eight Five. Over.”

“Due respect, am not leaving you with this. Over.”

The Colonel crested the last island hillock which opened out onto Hiroshima Bay. Cresting out of the water and lumbering up the beach was a giant lizard, glowing against the grey city buildings. The tail flicked and a sheet of water dumped on the shore. As the Enola Gay rapidly gained, the Colonel could see the debris dotting on the water. For a few moments, he sat stunned, rapidly approaching the monster as it moved in further on the city.  Tibbett was wide-eyed as one dip of the huge head sent a silo twirling up and rolling over an entire suburb.

Enola Gay was almost on top of the creature, so close he could see the scales like small atolls gleaming in the low light. Pulling the B29 to the right, he nipped around, close enough to see the glistening pointed teeth snapping as the lizard raised its head.

“Dimples Eight Five, Dimple Seven Two. Form up. On me. Dimples Eight Two out,” Tibbett transmitted.

“Captain, Lieutenant, I think you two ought to come up here.”

He circled the city, ascending beyond the reach of the beast. The other servicemen struggled into the cockpit. Pointing out the nose window, Tibbett snapped “Get HQ. That lizard is no crazy man’s imagination.”

Catching the changing expression on their faces made him realise that he was not crazy. They scrambled back to their stations.

“HQ, Dimples Eight Two. I think we may have a problem. Over.”

“Calling Dimples Eight Two. HQ reading you. Why is silence broken? Over.”

“HQ, I have an unidentified threat. Dimples Eight Two over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, what is the threat? Over.”

“Sirs, it’s a gigantic lizard. Over.”

The radio silence communicated what head office thought of that admission.

“Dimples Eight Five, HQ. I can verify the Colonel’s information. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, please repeat. Over.”

“Giant lizard sir. On Hiroshima. Over.”

The crackle of static was the reply.

“Dimples Seven One reporting HQ. Just entered the area. Lizard of small island size definitely present sirs. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, stand down on your original mission. Do you consider this a threat to the United States? Over.”

“Sirs, this creature came up out of the ocean. I’d say it can swim. So yes, sir, I believe it could be a threat. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two. Hold formation around Hiroshima. We will revise your mission status momentarily, over.”

“Original mission aborted Colonel,” Jeppson reported. “HQ to update mission sir.”

Tibbett looked out at the smoking city of Hiroshima. Stepping into one of the tributaries that flowed through the main city, the beast sent a wave sweeping over the banks, and even at this distance it was clear that many people were being swept into the river.

Grouping into formation, the planes circled, watching the destructive process through the city. Larger than many of the city buildings, the searching progress and the switch-like tail of the monster levelled whole blocks as it passed. People like ants milled and ran. How many of them were being killed, they could not tell from this height.

The comm burst to life. “Come in Dimples Eight Two. Over.”

“Yes HQ, reading you. Over.”

“Mission abort. Repeat, mission abort. Return to base. Over.”

Jeppson switched back to the pilot. “Sir, they want us back at base.”

“What? This animal will lay waste to half of East Asia before we can get back here.”

Jeppson relayed the concerns of the mission leader to no avail.

“President Truman has issued this order. Japan is our enemy. Abort mission. Repeat. Abort mission. Over.”

“Dimples Eight Two, over and out.”

Not a word was said between the men as they circled back, facing toward home. Deeper and deeper the monster waded into the city, laying waste in a horrific silence. On the ground, spot fires flared up as moments of brightness in the dark trampled streets.

“Colonel, sir, this is wrong. Over.”

“We have our orders, men. Over.” Even on the comm, the voice was tired and the disappointment not well masked.

“We cannot leave them to this sir. It won’t just be Hiroshima. Dimples Seven One, over.”

They passed over the top.

“Sir! Have some compassion. This is not just about Hiroshima anymore. Eight Five, over.”

This mission had always left a bad taste in his mouth. Killing innocent civilians, even if the military had built into the city. It was targeted, a precision strike they were to make. What would happen if they turned their back on this threat?

“Circle back wing. Dimples Eight Two, out.”

Even without the comm, the whoops of approval could be heard over the roar of the engines. Swooping back over the islands in the bay, the wing collectively moving into a defensive formation around the Enola Gay.

“Dimples Seven Two sir. We’ve got your tail sir. Over.”

Colonel Tibbett grinned underneath his visor. The wing always operated together.

He opened a channel to all of them. “You know we’ll all face court martial over this. Over.”

The chatter that came back refuted that idea. After all, they were just going to drop Little Boy. That was their mission.

Scooting over the water, coming in low towards the city, the wing followed the rivers and devastated infrastructure left in the wake.

“Target, 12 o’clock. Over.”

The lurid green mound rose, not a 10 kilometers ahead.

“393, draw attention away from Eight Two, and we will follow up with Little Boy. Do we understand the game plan? Over.”

“Yes sir. Over.” The support was unanimous.

The lead of the wing dropped their payloads, hitting with 10 incendiaries. Tossing its head wildly, the lizard stopped and turned, the great reptilian eye focused on the small ships shooting past. Green blood trickled down its side but it launched off as if uninjured. Running after them, its body writhing with stride, the monster crashed through more residential areas. It crashed through a bridge, the stonework scattering like children’s blocks. The B29s veered right, to circle out. Quick as a whip the animal raced after them.

“Sir, it’s gaining. Over.”

“Keep steady Major. I’m closing. Over.”

Colonel focused on the beast, pushing his throttle, the ship shaking and bucking in the air. The yoke jerked in his hands, but he pushed her on, keeping her steady. He gained, counting the seconds to the drop.

“Captain, we’re almost ready for Little Boy.”

“Aye, aye, Colonel.”

“Lieutenant?”

“Almost sir. Counting down. 3…2…1… Drop!”

Tibbett struggled as the hatch opened and the payload descended. The reptiles curving plates beneath were jewelled and shifting like they were facet cut. Quickly he banked, ascending and pushing the Enola Gay high as she would go, and to west, out of the wind.

“Payload delivered. Over.”

“Don’t look at it.” Tibbett shrieked down the comm. “Withdraw. Return to base. Over and out.”

Behind the fleeing tail of the ship, a cloud grew, filling upwards into the sky, spilling over sideways. The official photographer in the unnamed data capture plane caught the lizard rearing in agony, its clawed arms flailing outwards as it toppled to the earth, dead. The necessary measurements were taken, before they followed the wing back to base.

On a distant hilltop, a photographer took out his camera to capture the unusual cloud with two parts, the knobbly lower and fluffy upper. Beyond the range, a city laid flat waited in silence to see if the danger was over.

So I tried Readwave…

I’d read a little buzz about this site called Readwave, which is a site you can upload fiction to and open it up to a wider audience.

My story, To the stars, has currently had 85 reads, 2 likes and 7 comments from people who had lovely feedback for me. It also trended (moved into the first page of stories that people were reading) on the first day. I am unsure if it has brought any more traffic here to my blog, but I suspect you would need to have a larger following than I do.

It’s been a great experience, and given that people have specifically asked for further stories with the characters, I will definitely give it another go. I am posting about it here, because I want to link all my stories to this blog, so everyone can follow them, wherever they end up.

You can read the story here: http://www.readwave.com/to-the-stars_s12061

Thanks to all my friends who have already had a look.

Curses

Dark Melbourne streets held an extra chill this Easter, and I jumped as the door to the apartment block slammed shut behind me. Ever since I’d be working on this exhibit, I’d been jumpy. Tutankhamun was in our museum. And every single gold foiled Easter egg reminded me.

Now, I know that the stories of the curse associated with his tomb were phooey. After all, Howard Carter lived such a long time after he was in that tomb. But dead bodies made the museum feel eerie, and I resented the masses who came to boggle at the body of a boy.

It didn’t help that the curator had died suddenly from an aneursym, working late one night in the office, her pyramid paperweight lying askew on the ground. I had never seen her face so white, which they told me was just the paleness of death. I knew differently.

As her assistant, I was nominated to head to her home, where she lived alone. No children, a niece in Queensland who could not come and settle her affairs until next week. And she had a file the administrator needed. So here I was, in this old dark, creepy building in a dead woman’s apartment.

The elevator creaked ominously and smelled that aged, neglected smell of old buildings. On the 4th floor, I headed to apartment 7, the auspicious Egyptian number. Opening up the door, I was bombarded by the smell of antiquities.

Walking into the hallway, I noticed the old fashioned cane in the umbrella stand, the lilies on the table. It was beautiful appointed, everything in its place. I walked straight into her office, to her desk, where the manila folder was closed neatly. A stone scarab rested in front of an old photograph. I looked closer and recognised a young girl, resting on the lap of a man who could be her grandfather. Looking closer, I recognised the features. It was Lord Canarvon, the financier of the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb. I recognised him from the photographs in the exhibition.

It must have been the curator’s mother. She was too young. But I could imagine Anne, the great-granddaughter of the famous backer, being enchanted by her family, pointing out the amazing discovery that happened all because of her great-grandfather. I smiled at the history, and wondered if anyone knew.

The window was open slightly and I went to look out over the park at the back of the building. A shooting star made me smile, until I realised it was headed straight at me! I squealed and dropped to the floor, as it sailed over my head. I turned around and found a flaming arrow, buried in the carpet. It started to shower on to the carpet and singe. I leapt up and grabbed the lilies, tipping them over the arrow, to stop the flames which spluttered out. I saw a little papyrus attached to the arrow.

That was it. I was out. I grabbed my file and ran, ringing the administrator and squealing the story out down the line. The door on the building almost hit me on the way out.

As I rounded the corner to my car, I saw a boy in a dark robe duck around the corner, near black eyes sparkling as he threw a dark smile my way.

My keys jangled loudly as I tried and failed to put the keys in the ignition. This was going to be one long exhibition.

Little piece of whole

I wrote the last notes in a book, lit by the unromantic light of electric lantern sitting on the edge of the camping table. This was it. The divorce papers sat on the table, glaring up at me, golden in the circle of light.

She and I had travelled the world together. Camping in many places across the world, making love in a thin-walled tent in the flickering of the campfire. At home, we’d lain in each others arms, reading books or playing on our phones in the evening. Every memory, I associated with a glow. She had been my sun, my moon.

Perhaps that was where we had gone wrong. Put too much upon each other. I expected to be her everything and expected her to be mine. But there had been too much pressure and we had caved when our foundation had shifted.

I remembered when we were pregnant… As if I had done more than a 5 second job in the whole process. The gentle swell of her belly and the paternal pride that swelled dually in me. With every day she’d become incandescent, so much more beautiful than before. I could not have been more enchanted.

Until that night. She’d woken up in a panic, and I could do nothing to calm her. I had not listened. I had doubted. After an hour, I had taken her to the hospital, where the doctor had placed his stethascope on the round mount of her stomach. And then the ultrasound. With their words, her lumiscence was snuffed out.

I could not understand, I was not enough, could never fix it. From tears, to shouting, to shutting out. All I remembered was the tiny rosebuds we’d put on her coffin, comically small in my grief, before she was cremated. Our tiny doll, the beautiful gift that had been taken away. She could not look at me.

We’d been apart for 2 years now. Eventually, I’d realised she wasn’t going to come back. We’d done the responsible thing, started the process of separating our lives from one another. It unwound the strands of the fragile life I’d knitted together. Time meant nothing to me. I lost my job. The house was leased, until we were ready to sell.

There was nothing left of the life I loved. When the last of the papers came, I sobbed. There was nothing but pieces. I gathered them and fled to the last spot I felt whole. I went to the place where she and I had gotten together.

I had wept and sobbed, railed against the universe, yelled and screamed. Let it out. And then I took up a pen and wrote. Words poured out of me. Eventually the anger lapsed and the grief started.

Beyond the tears, the joy surfaced, at her conception. My wife, everything we had meant to each other. The simple joy of her head on my chest and her snoring there. A strand of her hair on my skin, the scent of her perfume. The rush when she smiled at me, eyes shining with joy. I could barely breathe with the memory of our lovemaking, in the gentle rays of the morning.

I had written our story then, as a letter for our daughter who never got a chance to be. It was apologies and stories and hope for her soul. It was a love letter to my wife who I had loved more than the sun.

And I finished, and sat surrounded by the darkness. Silent and still. For the first time in a long time I felt empty of it all.

Headlights wound up the hill to the campsite. I wondered who would come to this place in the dead of night. The car stopped right at my campsite and the light died. I could not see past the circle cast by the lamp. A woman got out of the car. Even in the shadow I recognised her.

My wife. She came close, but stood in the shadow, but I could see the sparkle of the stars in eyes filled with tears. She stood silently crying, looking at me.

In a hoarse voice, she simply said, “I can’t.”

I stood, knowing not what would happen next, and took her in my arms. And together we cried, grasping to each other as one would a life raft. And with that small gesture, I felt a little piece of my whole.

A frosty reception

Beneath the glass, her face was soft and sad. Even with preservation, she had aged slightly. It was a mask – hiding the animation and light she had possessed.

He had been travelling the world for centuries searching. Every isle had housed him for a time, as he scoured it for the signs of magic. Since his recovery, he’d known what he had been missing all along. And he knew that she had been protected by the very women who sent her his way. 

Here, he’d stumbled upon the quiet glade as he had walked through the forest. Something about the slanting light had enchanted him. 

This place had not been disturbed for a long time. A hint of the priestesses was there, in the carved steps into a gentle waterfall, the discarded pitcher by the water. Even the turtle regarding him from a rock had been placed for effect.

He’d heard the stories of Snow White and knew it had been a message to him. The poisoned apple, the description of his fair love, the magical dwarves who would have had to carry her here. He heard the message that she was ready to be saved. A directive. 

Beneath the glass, she waited for him. Her fair cheeks still blushing, lips red, dark hair in curly tangles. Unbidden, the memory of their softness and scent against his cheek made him shiver. 

His time walking had made him forget a love that was not without problems. Her indiscretion, he now knew, had been in part his error too. Leaving his wife alone to pace the turrets would destroy even the strongest of loves. His drive to be the best king, to possess that damned chalice. He only hoped that in her dreaming sleep that she would remember him fondly, with the love they once shared. He was sure he looked the brute now, with deep lines around his eyes and mouth, salt and pepper locks unkempt. He knew she would remember, regardless.

Trembling, his hands lay on the glass covering. He slowly removed her sarcophagus, taking care that it did not strike her. With great effort, he placed it on the ground. 

Hoping he had understood the messages of the priestesses, he bent slowly to her, hesitating a moment. His lips pressed hers with love, praying to all that was holy that he was the one meant to awaken her with a kiss. 

Beneath his mouth, he felt her lips moved. He stood up, watching her stretch languidly as a cat, smiling sleepily up at him. 

A second later her eyes unclouded and the rich emerald eyes pierced him with her stare. He could not distinguish which emotion reigned – hurt, distrust, aching love or confusion. 

“Arthur,” she said softy. “You came.”