Friday, July 31, 2015

Flash Fiction # 157: Cassie Lies

When still a child, Cassie had often listened to morning storms and heard the voices of the old gods in the rumble of the clouds.  Mighty Zeus would speak with a growl that filled the air and echoed across the land; wise Athena replied with a quick and decisive retort, and finally bright Apollo whispered some last words to send them on their way before he brought the sun out again.

Older now, but she still listened sometimes. The storms told her secrets.  Today they told her to say her truths and move on; there was no reason to stay longer in this place.  The decision gave her strength.  The city had worn her down with so many truths unsaid, so many hurtful secrets lingering in the shadows.  She couldn't bring them all to light and she couldn't make the people believe her anyway.

She packed up her car with everything she owned and told the manager of the apartment building goodbye.  The old woman was sorry to see her go; that was rare, really. She savored those words of farewell.

Then she drove across the city through the dozens of lights while everyone rushed to places they really didn't want to go.  This would be the last day she went to the office with the rude woman who lorded over them all and the mousy girl who never talked back when the head of the firm hit on her.

Today would be a day of change.  Cassie lived for these days, even though they came with pain, regrets and accusations.  She already knew what would happen before she walked into the office and she smiled brightly anyway.  The lies today would not be her own.

"This is my last day here," she announced, drawing silence in around her.  "I'm leaving."

Then she went to her desk and went to work.  Before long, Marie May rushed over, high heels tapping a staccato beat on the hard floor  She put her hands on her trim waist and threw back dyed hair.  "You can't go without two week's notice.  I won't give you a good reference. This is --"

"Mr. Karlin's wife knows."

Marie May blinked and backed up a step with furtive glances right and left.  "You can't know -- You little sneak.  You damned little spy --"

"I never said anything to her.  She's a hell of a lot smarter than you and her husband.  This is the day of reckoning, Marie.  She has already been to her lawyer.  You'll be meeting him soon."

"You're lying, Cassie.  You lie --" Marie May backed up again and then spun and hurried out of the office.  Cassie caught mousy Ellen looking her way, her eyes gone wide and her face pale.

"Things are going to get better," Cassie said with a smile.

Ellen didn't believe her, of course.

Within the hour, Mr. Karlin had stormed into the room, his face thunderous with rage.  People moved out of the way and Marie May pointed to Cassie.  The man stalked over to the desk.  "Come with me," he ordered.

"I don't think so," Cassie replied and startled him.  No one ever said no to the boss.  "You have nothing to say that I need to hear."

"Then I don't think you need to be at this desk."

She smiled brightly and stood.  He took a hasty step back.  "You're right."

Cassie picked up her purse and headed for the door.  She wouldn't get paid for the last few days of work, but that hardly mattered.  The others were so shocked to see her walking away that even Mr. Karlin didn't try to stop her. Stepping out into the bright light of a hot summer day was shocking, though.  How long since she'd felt free to just move on?  Time got lost after a while.

A woman got out of a car just beside hers.  A man got out of the driver's side and gave a grim nod to the woman.

"Ask Ellen about what your husband does in the office," Cassie said.

The woman looked startled, but Cassie was already getting into her car and driving away.

Free.  It was a cleaner break than some.  She'd been at a dinner party once, a long, long time ago and warned the others of something dire. They hadn't listened.  Everyone said she died with the rest, but what good is knowing things are going to happen if you can't walk out in time? She'd moved on and kept surviving against all odds.  She had been moving on for a long time since those old days.  Cassie had also learned that she could tell others the truth and it didn't matter if they believed her or not.  Sometimes she could nudge things to go better than expected, but mostly things simply happened.

She made a stop at a cafe later that night.  Even here she felt the old tension as she followed two teens to the register.

"If you go through with it, you're going to prison," she told them.  They both looked at her, eyes narrowing in anger.

"You don't know what you're talking about," one said, his voice low and dangerous.  His hand went to his pocket.

"You are going to prison," she said. 

"You don't know what you're talking about.  You're lying!"

It wasn't the first time she'd heard those words.  She stared the two down and they cursed as they left.  The woman at the register gave her an odd stare, more afraid of the crazy woman than of the boys who clearly were looking for trouble.

"There's a storm blowing in," Cassie said.  "Be  ready for it."

The woman nodded but she hadn't even really listened.

The storm stood off in the distance, the echo of voices soft on the wind.  She turned towards the clouds and in a brief hint of lighting, she thought she saw the columned halls of home again.  She hit the freeway and picked up speed, following an old, old dream.

(1000 words)


Friday, July 24, 2015

Flash Fiction # 156: Far Stars Saloon

(This Flash Fiction marks the end of three years without missing a single Friday.  I hope you enjoy this one and the others!)

Shane and Cara stood across from the Far Stars Saloon and watched the steady stream of traffic through the doors.  The building was one of the oldest on Flame and boasted being the oldest tavern in this sector, the stone exterior contrasting with the modern city around it.  Old-fashioned and well-known.

The place thrived on trouble.

 Four ships had ported today and Shane suspected everyone had headed to the saloon.  The place was a problem on days with just locals; the influx of outsiders had gotten rowdy enough that someone called in the Port Guard.  It wasn't even sunset yet.

Cara shifted from one foot to another, still not used to the gravity.  She barely reached his shoulders and he wasn't a particularly large man.  Shane hadn't taken her seriously until he saw her in the practice field. He'd requested her for a partner.  The others thought he was crazy.  They weren't paying attention.

"What are we supposed to do?" she asked and shifted again.

"We're supposed to look scary." Shane lifted his head as another group of spacers came down the street.

"Scarier than them? Not going to happen, Shane."

He grunted agreement.  This group must have been hired by size and weirdness rather than ability.  Oh, he'd seen weird ones before -- spiked purple hair and tattoos really didn't count for much.  However, the sheer mass of this entire group of ten put them off the scale.

One gave a friendly nod as they went inside.  They all had their hands on their laser pistols.  Oh yeah, that looked like trouble.

Cara looked at him, her eyebrow raised.

"We can't do anything until there's a problem.  Those are the Port Guard rules, Cara."

"But that last group -- why do we have to wait until they start shooting?  That's going to get us killed."

"They didn't look any crazier than everyone else who went inside, just a little more colorful."

"And that makes it better?"

"This is an open port.  They're allowed to carry weapons because there are dangerous creatures on Flame.  You're new here but you've seen the files and the vids."

"Glad they don't get into the city much any more. But these guys --"

"We can't tell the ones looking for trouble from those looking for fun, Cara. If we go in and start demanding weapons, we'll start the trouble.  We have to wait.  I don't like it much either."

"There's another group.  How many can they pack in there?"

The trouble started soon after with one huge shout that shook the windows.  A heartbeat later they heard the sound of laser fire and an explosion.

"Well damn," Cara said.  She didn't slow as they headed straight into trouble.

Smoke billowed from the door.  Good.  They'd be less likely to be seen and the smoke could disrupt lasers, though not much in such a small area.  First job was to find the trouble though from the shouts and grunts it was pretty much everywhere. That put them at a disadvantage --

Someone huge plowed into both of them and sent the two sprawling off to the right behind an overturned table.  Shane started to grab the guy, but the man with tattoos, spiked hair and metal in his nose rested on his knees with both hands held out.  "Needed out of the door," he explained.  "Fool is shooting at anyone who tries to leave without buying him a drink."

Shane noted a couple people down by the door but no one looked dead.  "Thanks."

Purple Hair nodded.  Then he winced when his comm went off but he flipped it on with a sigh, holding it to his ear.  "Ma'am?  No Ma'am, I haven't gotten your wine yet.  Yes ma'am.  No ma'am.  Of course we didn't start the fight, ma'am -- no ma'am."  He stopped and sighed, then turned an interesting shade of pink.  "No, ma'am, I wasn't making a bored sound.  Yes, ma'am." He lowered the comm.  "Honest to god, if she wasn't my own sister, I'd mutiny -- but dad would hang me up by my ears."

The comm was still on and the woman on the other end laughed brightly. How much was a game?  Shane wasn't sure, but while he'd listened, he and Cara had been scoping out the trouble.  Cara pointed -- with her pistol -- towards the far corner of the bar.

"Little pudgy guy in a dark suit," she said.  "You're right.  You can't tell the crazy ones from the sane ones.  I wouldn't have tagged him as the troublemaker."

"I didn't even notice him go in," Shane admitted.  The guy shot a game board and it exploded while he gave a weird, high-pitched laugh.  Several people yelled in game-ruined frustration and someone fired hitting him in the shoulder.  The fool laughed louder.

"Damn! He's wearing a shock suit under his clothing! He planned this!" Cara snarled.  "We'll have to tackle him."

Maybe not such a good plan to make her his partner.

"He's going to kill someone," Purple Hair agreed.  "My crew will distract him. That's the best we can do."

Shane gave a nod.  He and Cara crawled away to the right. This was going to go bad if they didn't get the guy down.  They had to move fast.

A roar like wild beasts let loose filled the building as Purple Hair and his people stood and fired.  The little guy ducked out of habit at facing something so fierce.  They tackled him, Cara a bit more viciously than needed.  Shane grabbed the weapon and Cara powered down his suit.  Wasn't long before someone came and picked him up.

So they went back outside and stood watching the door.  Purple Hair and his crew left not much later.  He had a bottle of wine nestled in his arm and gave them a wave.

"Sorry to see them go," Cara admitted.  "This is going to be a long night."

"Welcome to the life of a Port Guard," he replied.