Friday, February 27, 2015

Flash Fiction #135: Enchanted, I'm Sure

     Norman, who was never the brightest rock in the box, had picked up the big limb in the forest and though nothing of it until the ogres arrived. It had been a good piece of wood he could cut up for firewood, so he dragged the long, extremely worn piece of wood away from the pile of bones (there were always bones in the forest) and to the cabin where he and his two sisters and brother lived.
Unfortunately, the ax broke when he tried to cut off a piece. The stone blade simply split right across the middle, and when Norman showed it to Neil, who did the stone work for the family, his brother had shaken his head in disbelief.
"That was good stone," Neil said, lifting both halves in his hands. Then he tossed them over to the rock pile. "It'll make good blades for something else. I'll have an ax for you in a couple days. Better go tell Norma."
Norma kept their books for when the tax collector came along. She kept track of every rock they picked up and every fallen limb from the forest. She did such an exceptional job, in fact, that the tax collector had stopped going over the books and always seemed quite happy -- even anxious -- to take her word for the taxes. Norma found this unacceptable, and if she had a chance, she always trapped the man in the kitchen and made him go through the books one page at a time, which was generally five books per month, two hundred pages each, and five hundred entries per page.
Norman found her in the kitchen, counting out pieces of dried grain to feed the chickens and marking the numbers down.
"The ax broke," he said, shuffling his feet. Norma always made him nervous.
She looked up, quill in hand and scowled. "Broke?"
"Yes ma'am. The stone."
"How many pieces?"
She jotted something down in the book --
The ground shook. Then shook again and a moment later they could hear the growling words of ogres.
"What could they possibly want?" Nan asked, looking up from the hearth where she had been stirring the pot.
"Nothing good," Norman mumbled, but he felt grateful for a good reason to go outside. Unfortunately Norma followed him and Nan trailed behind. A dozen ogres were stomping into the yard. They looked like rather unhappy ogres, too. They waved swords, shields and one had the audacity to swing his mace against their wagon, which fell apart, the wood flying around in splinters.
"How dare you!" Norma shouted. She still had her quill in hand and waved it like a weapon. "How dare you break the wagon! Do you have any idea how long it is going to take to list all those pieces!"
The ogre who had broken the wagon looked at her, head tilted as though he didn't quite know what she was saying. Norman realized that most people reacted the same way.
"You took the sacred limb-thing from the dead!" the ogre shouted. The ground shook. "You took and we scent it here! Give back or will be house I hit next!"
"You have a treaty," Norma reminded them, still sweeping the quill back and forth in the air.
"Says no kill humans," the ogre replied. "Doesn't say no kill house and wheeled-thing."
"Ah. Good point. What is it you want?"
"Sacred limb-thing! Old king took when he left to die. We wait ten --"
"Hundred," another ogre said.
"Days --"
The ogre looked over his shoulder. His companions went silent. Then he turned back to Norma. "We wait a long time and go to collect. It gone! Trace to here. Give us back sacred limb-thing!"
"Oh," Norman said. He wasn't used to speaking up, but he didn't want to be counting pieces of house for the rest of his life either. "Was this sacred limb-thing next to some big bones? Kind of long? Odd squirrel marks on it and breaks stone axes?"
"A -- yes," the ogre said.
"I'll get it for you."
"No -- show us -- You must not --"
But the ogre was too slow. Norman had all but leapt over to the wood pile and pulled it out.
"Here it is," he said and held it up.
The ogres went to their knees.
"Hail the new king --"
"Hold on!" Norman said. "I am not your new king!"
"You hold the sacred limb-thing. You are ruler."
"But --"
They were not listening to him as they bowed their heads to the ground. Some looked possibly as shocked as Norman felt.
And it was then that Norman had the most brilliant thought of his entire life. He shoved the sacred limb-thing into his sister's hand.
The ogres looked from one to the other.
"Short reign, that one," the ogre said and shrugged. "All hail the new Queen --"
"No, no, no!"
"But Norma, they need you," Norman said, though he kept well out of reach. She tried shoving the limb at him, but he wasn't going to take it. "Norma, think about it! They have never made a list of anything!"
"That's not possible. How could they survive so long without lists --" She looked at the ogre's designated speaker. "No lists?"
"No lists Queen Human Person."
"These ogres need me!" she shouted. "I'll get my things and we'll start out right away. I fear I'll have to take a couple books and some ink --"
"We'll manage," Nan said with a hand on her sister's shoulder. "Let me help you pack."
The two went back into the house. Norman turned to the ogres and gave a bow of his head. "I'm sorry," he said.
When the ogres left, he knew it was going to be years before they saw them again. Norma was already jotting down notes. "How many ogres? How many pairs of boots? How many caves . . . ."

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Flash Fiction #134: Enough is Enough

     "This has gone too far." Andre stared out the second floor window. "It's snowing again."

A dozen calls of dismay came from behind him and turned to find the pixies gathered near the radiator, soaking up as much warmth as they could manage.

Andre, being an elf, didn't particularly like pixies, who tended to be  more than a little mischievous. A few weeks ago, if he'd found pixies in his apartment, he would have opened the window and punted them out, one at a time.

But they'd followed him home in a snow storm two days ago; clearly lost, and afraid they'd freeze. He was an elf and tied to life, so he couldn't abandon them. He hadn't expected they'd live with him indefinitely, though.

The weather had to change soon --

Someone must have really annoyed the Winter Queen. She was pounding the area with enough snow that even the elves had retreated and the trolls were hiding in apartment basements. Humans muttered more and more curses, which might not be helping. Humans lost their little bit of magic as they grew older, but with enough negative energy gathering, even those curses gained power on their own.

This, though, was an attack against the elves. There were elves elsewhere in the country, but the majority were on the East Coast.

This wasn't natural, the storm after storm. The snow continued to grow, inch-by-inch, foot-by-foot.

He heard the squeak on the stairs before sensing the presence of an elf; clean magic, though touched with frustration. Not a surprise given the weather and that elves weren't allowed to use obvious magic here. That made getting anywhere difficult.

Andre crossed to the door as someone pounded. Loudly. He pulled it open in haste before the neighbors complained, and was surprised to find Cathia standing there, red-faced and annoyed.

"I hate this damned weather!"

He pulled her inside. "You have been spending too much time with the humans. Watch those curses."

She snarled something and began to peal off coat, hat, scarf, gloves -- and stopped suddenly.

"There are pixies by the sofa."

"I kind of noticed."

She glared at him, but then gave a sigh and seemed to let go of all her anger. "Yeah, I've got half a clan of trolls I'm ignoring in the basement of my apartment building. I use just enough magic to make certain nothing goes wrong down there so the humans stay out, though they'd probably never notice anyway. I've noticed the trolls are starting to do a bit of maintenance as well, so I guess it's a good payoff. Things are working better than usual."

"And as long as I have the pixies in sight, they don't create too much trouble."

The pixies chirped.

"Martinus went to the Winter Court with the delegation," Cathia said and shook her head. "He told me about it. Are you ready for the bad news?"

"They won't stop the snow?"

"Worse than that: They can't stop the snow. They aren't doing it. Whatever is happening, it's been created right in this realm."

"That's not possible." He felt a strange welling of panic. The pixies cried out in fear and dove under the sofa, which then began go move towards the bedroom as they carried it along. "Stop that. It's safe."

The sofa came to a stop, slightly wedged into the bedroom doorway.

"Let's sit at the table," he suggested.

Cathia stomped across the room and threw herself into the chair. Andre made tea and found cookies, settling across from her. His mind refused to accept what she'd said, though.

"The Winter Court has to be creating the trouble," he replied. "It can't have come from anywhere else. We'd have noticed if Snow Giants or some other force had started tampering here. There's only the humans and us, with a few pixies and trolls, thrown in to the mix. We aren't doing it!"

"I know. But Martinus said it's true and he was upset enough that he isn't playing some sort of game. If it weren't for the magic we can all feel, I'd start to think this is natural."

They sipped tea. They ate cookies. Another inch of snow piled up on the ground outside and the pixies were inching the sofa back closer to the radiator. The wind blew harder and somewhere else on the floor a door opened and closed.

"Yay! Yay!" A little voice cried out. "We can go build Olaf again!" An older, more tired voice answered in a mumble of words, nearly drowning out the sound of the child singing. "Let it go --"

"Yes, yes. We're going to see the snow," the parent said, her voice harried as they passed the door to Andre's apartment. "Anything to get away from that movie --"

". . . storm rage on . . ."

Cathia looked up. "I see you have one as well. I have four, just on the floor of my apartment. Cute little girls, but honestly I can't take much more of the song. I haven't seen the movie and I know the words."

"Let it go! Let it go!" the pixies sang out and fell silent at a snarl from Andre.

"I hear it everywhere. Little girls --" Cathia began. Then stopped. Her face paled. "Little girls watching Frozen, singing the songs. Little girls who still have some magic."

Not just a large number of elves in this area. Also thousands and thousands of little girls inspired by the movie, and winter already primed --

"We are in so much trouble," Andre whispered.

They could do nothing except wait for some new craze soon took over. In the mean time, Disney had a lot to answer for.

"Ah well, he mumbled. "The cold never bothered me anyway."

Cathia dragged Andre across the room, opened the window and tossed him out. When he rose out of the snow bank the little girl pointed and jumped with delight.

"Olaf! Olaf!"

They were going to have a long winter.
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Merry-Go-Round Tour 2015/2: The Perfect Writing Retreat

       Yes, I am late again. Sigh.
I've been busy with the writing stuff. I just finished the last big edit of a novel (In the Shadow of Giants) and just have to wait back on stuff from the editor. This is going to be my first release for 2015. It's been difficult work, but I love the story.
Which brings me to the subject of this month . . . The Perfect Writing Retreat.
I would have a problem with something like this. I really would, and not because I can't write away from home. I can write anywhere and at any time. The idea of a retreat appeals to me for a change in scenery more than for a place to get work done.
And that's the problem. I'd have to take my cameras. I don't care where the retreat was -- mountains, desert, middle of the city -- there would be new photo opportunities, and I'd spend more time doing pictures than I would be writing. Not take the cameras? I'd be miserable because those opportunities would still be out there and now I could do nothing about it.
For the record -- I'd vote for mountains with lots of scenic views.
Would there be others there as well? I'm not really big into the 'read your piece and we'll tear it apart' stuff. I'd rather have critiques on line because I do have bad emotional responses sometimes to perfectly legitimate things and on line puts a bit of a barrier between things. I would think that the retreat would have to be genre-based for it to be helpful as a writing-improvement gathering.
On the other hand, I've known a couple different people who have booked rooms at local hotels for a weekend when deadlines were looming and they simply needed to get the writing done. That always sounded like fun to me, but since I'm not on a traditional path any more, deadlines are a lot more fluid for me.
Besides, I average about 3k a day anyway, so I don't think I truly need to write more.
Okay, then how about people to gather around the fire at night and discuss writing (but not THE writing)? Yeah, that wouldn't be too bad. I've nothing against people, as long as they're writers. Non-writers are sometimes difficult to deal with because they don't quite understand why I find the odd rock their son found far more interesting than the discussion on window dressings. (Clearly, they have never been in my house.)
I suspect I am simply not the writing-retreat kind of person, though on several occasions I've pointed to old motels in small Nebraska towns and said that would be a perfect place to buy for an on-going retreat. Middle of Nebraska? Am I crazy?
No. Small town with limited distractions: That's what most of the writers I know need. A place where there is simply nothing else going on would be perfect to really settle in and write. A motel so each person had their own little space and maybe a microwave and small fridge might be the retreat a person really needs, and not somewhere fancy with lots of people to talk to and lectures about writing. In the end, many of us simply need to just sit down and write.
Including me.
It would be nice if there were some good sunsets for pictures, though.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Flash Friday #133 The Note

      Johan had never given up hope. Every day he thought he felt a little brush of Lynna's magic, a reminder of their pact. They would be together again.

Even so, when he saw the enchanted bird flying towards him, her wings sparkling with unnatural light, he almost couldn't call out.

"Amella," he whispered.

She swept to him, a beautiful dove even without her magic, and landed on his upraised arm. She dropped a folded piece of paper into his hand, neatly tied with a bit of ribbon. His fingers wrapped gently around the gift.

"Thank you."

The dove bowed her head and flew away.

Johan sat on a woodpile and untied the ribbon. He rubbed his fingers against his shirt, trying to clean away the dirt. It did little good, so he finally caught the edge of the paper and shook out the fold, holding it to the waning light of late afternoon.

Father died. Come quickly.

Johan had expected a summons; he hadn't expected this to be the reason for it. Lord Kurt dead? He found that harder to believe than that Lynna had sent to him, as she said she would, a decade ago when they'd been forced to part. He'd waited anxiously through the first weeks, thinking she'd find a way to call him back to court.

The anxiousness died with the first winter as he fought for survival. He knew how to cut wood and how to start a fire. He'd had just enough coin to buy food to keep alive.

Eventually he found work in the little village of Riverside. No one there connected him with his mother who had been caught stealing from Lady Misana and sent to serve her time in the capital jail. She'd never dare come back here. He'd never spent much time with his mother meant he had not been jailed as well. He'd been well-liked and helpful when he was younger and the others stood up for him.

Lord Kurt sent him from the castle instead. He tried to believe it had been a kindness. Lynna had wept and promised when they parted . . . But she'd been twelve and he was fifteen, and he had almost stopped believing.

They'd grown up together, he and the Lord Kurt's bastard daughter who was treated slightly better than the servants, and only because she had a touch of magic.

Lord Kurt dead? Word would spread quickly. There would be death dues to pay for his funeral . . . and that gave Johan an idea of how to get back to the castle with little notice. He could be helpful again.

Late the next afternoon Johan rode into the courtyard in a wagon bringing grain. He shivered as he looked around where nothing seemed to have changed.

"No time to gawk boy," Rusen said with a slap at his shoulder. "Get the grain to the kitchen. Quick now. I'll make our condolences to the Lady."

"Yes sir," he said.

He hefted a bag of grain to his shoulder and headed to the kitchen without being told the directions. The door was partly open this time of day, and he stepped inside.

"What's this then?" Brinda, the head cook, demanded.

"Grain from Riverside, ma'am."

"Ah. Good. Yes, we can use it with all the guests coming. Over there in the bin, boy. Is this all of it?"

"Four more, ma'am."

"Praise the gods. We need all we can get."

"Yes, I imagine so."

He put the grain in the bin, remembering how hard it had been for a twelve year old boy to do the work. He didn't know whether to chuckle or shiver and turned --

"It is you. Johan. Karsi, go find Lynna. Quietly."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I --"

The girl left at a run. Johan started away, but Brinda stopped him with a hand on his arm. "We worried about you boy. Lynna worried the most, poor girl. But you look good. A little thin."

He laughed. Those were her favorite words to the children of the castle, just before she would produce some little treat. Which she did now, pressing a piece of cake into his hand.

He ate it with a smile. "I better get the grain. Master Rusen will be mad."

He went out and got the next bag of grain and brought it in, his heart pounding. Lynna wasn't there. So he went out and back in -- out and in, thinking she wasn't going to --"

She arrived just as he finished pouring the last of the grain into the bin, her dark hair flying, her face bright with unexpected joy. He hadn't expected Lynna to throw herself into his arms.

"Hey there, Lynna," he said softly and started to brush his hand over her hair. He drew his dirty fingers back in haste. "Hey there, are you okay?"

"I feared you wouldn't come back," she whispered. "And if I had to leave before you arrived, how would I find you again?"

"Leave?" he said, startled.

"My father is dead. Lady Misana has already hinted that she'll marry me off. Her sons are still too young to rule, you know. It's her choice. I think she even means it as a kindness. But you came back, Johan. I waited. I waited for you."

"And I waited for your note." He hadn't allowed himself to think beyond her call to return. "But Lady Misana --"

"You leave her to me," Brinda said with a laugh. "And I'll handle Master Rusen, too. We're going to keep you close boy."

"I was ordered --"

"Shush now. Lord Kurt is dead, and he never put it to paper, you know. You just go back to work here for a while, and I'll deal with the Lady. Welcome home, Johan."


He stayed. A month later he married Lynna and they moved to a cottage in Riverside where she used her little magic to help others. Amella came with them, a touch of magic always in their lives.

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Flash Friday #132: Shark Attack

     Izain ran the sequence through his mind again as he stared blankly at the screen before him. The random numbers there had nothing to do with what he thought about, but everything to do with survival. Once the shark code finished running through the ship's computers, they'd be dead in space and the hunter that had infected them would come in and round up crew and passengers for sale and strip out whatever they needed.
Izain knew what was happening in the computer and how the shark code worked, having run on the other side for a while. No one on the Quest knew about his less reputable past. They did know he was exceptionally good with computers and that was how he'd gotten a first class spot on a good, new ship. He'd grown tired of living on the edge with people who treated their captives no better than livestock.
He tried to chase away the image of himself as part of that livestock and focus on the code again.
"He's not going to do anything, Captain Lawrence!" Kanda said from the seat beside him. Kanda swung around in his chair and stood. "Why the hell do you think he can save us? He's just going to sit there --"
Kanda shoved at the back of Izain's head.
Izain turned his own chair but didn't stand. "Don't do that."
"To hell with you, boy --"
Captain Lawrence took a step forward and shoved Kanda into his seat. She stood over them both, glaring. "Do something."
Izain turned back to his station. He had the code back again and could almost see --
He felt more of the ship's power start to fail and grimaced. No time to be careful. He reached towards the keyboard.
Kanda caught his arm. "What the hell do you think you are doing!"
"I'm going to save us," Izain replied, pulling free of the man's pudgy hold. Kanda had never been his favorite, and he was fast working his way into the 'if you are this useless, should you live?' category. "Sit still. Watch. You might learn to be a tech if you pay attention."
"You little bastard --"
Kanda reached for him and Izain simply didn't have time. He grabbed Kanda by the wrist and shoved his hand down on the upholstered arm of the chair. Then, with a quick flick of his right wrist, he brought a very sharp permaglass blade into his hand and drove it straight through the back of Kanda's hand and into the chair.
"Shut up and stay still. Don't bother me."
Kanda had gone white. Then he fainted.
"Yeah, that works, too."
"Izain --"
"I have it. I need -- to work."
He frantically typed. There wasn't much time. He hoped he had the key to this code. They changed, but once you found the right link --
The medtech arrived. She went to work on Kanda, saying nothing about the knife and the wound. He caught a glimpse of her in a reflection in the monitor; white-faced and afraid, but steady at her work.
"We don't have much time," Izain said. "I think I have it contained. We need to shut down and then --"
He started shutting down everything he could, doing it in the systematic order that would come with a shark code. Captain Lawrence started to say something,but Kanda awoke with a moan and a curse. Izain was going to be in trouble later -- if they survived --
"You bastard! You're working with them!"
Kanda grabbed the blade from the medtech's hand and shoved it straight into the back of Izain's shoulder before the medtech could put a shot to Kanda's neck and he dropped like a rock. Izain tried to ignore what was happening to his body because if he didn't get this right, they wouldn't survive anyway.
"Captain," he said. She leaned over, her face set in anger. "Closed down everything. Let them think they have us. Wait for them to lock on."
"Lock on," she said shaking her head.
"Lock on," he repeated. "Airlock -- wait until they connect, then blow our lock and run like hell."
She blinked. "Dangerous. That means a flash start for our engine."
"Yes. They'll -- stopped and damage if not ready for airlock to blow."
"Huh. No time to make other decisions."
"Sorry," he said, though he wasn't really. He knew how to handle this one. "Not long. Only this station live. You take it --"
"No, you handle this," she said. "Now isn't the time to hand off the controls and let me second guess what you've set up."
Wiser than some he'd served under. The medtech had numbed the wound, making his shoulder and arm feel funny. His fingers tingled. He watched them to make certain they were doing what he wanted.
The code that had been sharking through their system stopped. His screen went dead, but he'd expected it and already had the other controls in hand. What he hadn't expected was for the station beside him to go live.
"Oh, now that's interesting," he said with a nod. He cut it back to his position. "Need to trace who sat that spot --"
Something thumped against the ship. He watched his screen, read the code, waited for the moment -- and didn't wait for the captain's permission. He did an emergency blow of the airlock and fired the engines at the same time.
The ship shuddered and the engines howled, but they moved and kept moving while he keyed everything back up. The captain gave him a nod, suspicion clear in her face.
The price of doing too well, but at least they'd survived.
Kanda was the one they arrested, though. He'd been paid in advance for planting the shark, and it turned out he'd done it before. Captain Lawrence took Izain back as comp tech. They didn't mention how he knew too much. And she didn't ask him not to carry the permaglass blade.
They were going to do well.

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