Friday, June 29, 2018

Flash Fiction # 309 -- Buffy Did It

From the day that Buffy the cat accidentally got her wings to the adventures with the flying mice, things had been rather hectic for Serena. So when Serena awoke late in the morning and found the cat wasn't sleeping on the pillow beside her, she began to worry.  Usually, the village's temple bell would have woken her by now.  In Serena's haste to get cleaned up and dressed, a simple spell went awry -- they often did -- but at least this time the entire bedroom looked quite clean.  She'd had worse disasters.

Her mother was making breakfast and yawned a couple times.  The older woman smiled, looked around, and frowned.

"Where is she?"

"I don't know."

"Eat quickly and go find the little troublemaker."

"Yes, mom," she agreed fervently.  Serena ate the delicious food and tried not to worry.  Buffy couldn't have gotten into much trouble, she decided.  After all, no one was pounding at the door.

Stepping outside brought a sigh of dismay.  Selena had been so unsettled by the cat's disappearance that she hadn't so much as glanced out a window.  She walked out into a cold wind and the sight of towering clouds where they grew at the edge of land and sea.

"Buffy!" she shouted hoping the cat would pop up from the brushes or sweep down from the trees.  Selena even waited a moment before she took a deep breath, pulled her cloak around her, and headed down the hill toward the village.

The clouds bothered her.

So did the quiet of the village nestled down the hillside and close to the shore.  With a new wave of worry -- What had Buffy done now! -- she hurried along the path and into the town.

No one around. Nothing moved, not even a stray dog to bark at her or beg for treats.  For a moment, she thought they were all gone, but she soon found dogs, birds, horses, and even people.  They were all asleep.

Sleeping villages were never the sign of anything good.

Serena spun and rushed back toward home, but at the edge of the village she stopped and threw herself to the side of the building. Something was moving -- something substantial that cast wavering shadows and yet did not make the ground shake. And the thing whispered and whispered --

No. They whispered  The odd shadow had sorted itself out into three shadows of women, their long hair floating in the breeze off the shore.  The clouds had stopped growing so high, but they moved even more oddly now, forming a stairstep effect that brought them all the way down to the ground.

Serena dared a look around the side of the building.

"Someone saw us!" one of the women all but shouted.

"Quiet you fool!  Any loud noise could wake them!  Where was the person?"

"This way, I think," one of them whispered.

Serena had to act quickly.  The silence made much movement difficult, but she slid back along the edge of the building, hoping that she sounded no different than the breeze.  Serena found the doorway to the warehouse and there found a few men gathered and asleep.  She settled beside them.  She bowed her head and pretended to sleep.

The three women rushed past.  She dared a slight slitting of her eyes for a brief heartbeat.  Even at that moment, one of the women looked back, but Serena had not moved, she closed her eyes, and took soft even breaths, pretending to sleep.  She'd done so for her mother often enough.

"Nothing here," one of them whispered.  "Let's get the babies and go.  We have many more stops before we have enough to train up for our legions.  Lucky their magic woman lives outside the village."

Then they disappeared around the corner.

Stealing children!  Serena sat up and prepared to run to her mother for help -- but then she realized she might never get that far, or might not get there fast enough.  It was up to her, the person who could never get a spell right!

No, not just her.  A small shaped appeared at the end of the alley, saw her, and leapt into Serena's lap.

"Couldn't wake you," Buffy whispered in her ear. She purred too.  "I don't like these women.  I don't understand what they want."

"To steal the babies!  We have to find a way to stop them.  I can't do it alone, and I can't get to mom fast enough. Can you?"

Buffy looked around.  "No.  I don't think so.  We need the others in town."

"I fear if I went around yelling, they'd just put me back to sleep," Serena said.  "We need a loud noise to wake them."

"Loud noise?" Buffy said.  Her blue eyes widened for a moment.  "I know the answer.  Follow them.  Make sure they don't get away with any babies."

Before Serena could ask, Buffy went bounding off.  Cats were naturally quiet.  Serena was not, but she did her best, following the faint sounds the three strange women made.  What could Buffy possibly have in mind?

She almost came within sight of the women and stopped in haste when she realized she could hear them whispering only a few yards away.  Her heart beat so hard she feared they would even hear it.

"Get the baby. The spell won't last forever!"

"I thought I heard --"

"Just get the child --"

And then they all heard something.

The dozen different bells of the temple, never rung all at once, began to ring, first one, then two, then more --


People, dogs, cats, birds -- all began to wake. The women screamed as Serena rushed at them and one carrying a baby threw it to her -- she barely caught the child, but by then the three women had disappeared.

Later, the townspeople gathered to thank Serena, but she couldn't take the credit this time.

"It wasn't me with the bells," Serena admitted.  "Buffy did it."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Flash Fiction # 308 -- The Forest

Guardian stood before Mother Tree, his hand on her warm bark, the feel of life coursing through his body as she fed him strength.  These were trying times for humans and for others like him.  Evil had touched the world again and drove humans to hide in the sacred forest, which was more dangerous for the forest than for the humans.

He hadn't expected the ancient dryad to leave her tree.  She had only done so once in his long life, and to see her slip out into the world now took him by surprise and sent a chill through him.

Guardian bowed to her, aware of the honor she gave him and afraid of why she did so now.

"Strangers in the woods," she said with a whisper of sound like leaves in the wind.

"Yes, my lady," he said and dared to meet her leaf-green eyes.  "I go to see what is happening if I can.  Things have been unsettled in the distant city, I fear.  Something is wrong with the humans."

"Not unusual," she said with a slight sigh.  That was true, and it did not account for why she came out into the world.  Guardian knew it and waited.  "Their gods are uneasy, Guardian.  Darkness is coming to the world, and we must do what we can to move against it.  One group with power goes to the north and east."

"Yes, I have sensed them --"

"Do not bother that group.  They go with a purpose.  They go to try to make things right.  But others wander and are lost -- and afraid.  Remove them where you can.  Back to the trails, back to the south and the villages -- but out of my forest.  Their gods do not watch them so closely, do not show them the right.  Such humans are dangerous to anything wild and free.  They don't understand the harm they can do."

Guardian would much rather have raced after those with the bit of power; they might be interesting.  However, Mother Tree had a good point.  Humans were often destructive even when they knew what they were doing.

Mother Tree gave him one last nod and went back into the wood. The tree seemed to shiver slightly.  She feared far more than she had said.

For the next three days, he carefully (and invisibly) herded small groups of humans off toward safer lands.  He began to understand that they liked being here under cover of the trees where they were less likely to be noticed.  He did not step out and show them that they were not hidden at all from anyone with power.

They turned out to be fascinating people, even these plain humans carrying all they had in the world on their backs or in carts drawn by recalcitrant donkeys who did not like the woods nearly as much as the humans.  Guardian found that he could best help thereby calming those beasts and even making the paths easier for them.

So, day by day, he helped the groups find safety, and he even enjoyed the work.

But he had lost track of one larger group -- and in a moment of dismay, he realized they were true trouble.

He was so far away that even running with speed humans could not attain, it took him all of one night and into the next morning to reach them.  By then, they'd cut down a dozen trees and cleared a wide area.

As he broke into the opening, people gave startled shouts.  He counted seven men, five women, an undetermined number of children -- all of them rushing toward the line of defense they'd made with downed branches and savaged bushes.

"What are you people doing?" he shouted, more frustrated than angry.  "Are you crazy?  Do you have any idea where you are?"

Guardian glanced to his right.  Only a couple trees still stood between him and Mother Tree, her vast bulk all the more obvious.

"Who are you?  What are you?" one of the men demanded.  He had a bow in hand and ready to fire.

"I am Guardian -- that's who I am and what I am," he said.  He waved his hand.  The wooden bow snapped in two.  "And you are on sacred ground, human."

"We claim this place," the man said.  "We'll build our village here, safe from the rest of the world --

Anger had started to take him.  Then he heard a sound from Mother Tree, the trembling of leaves, the movement of limbs.  The others heard as well, and he saw them all cower in fear, knowing this didn't come from any breeze.  Guardian turned, bowing his head as the dryad appeared.

"My profound apologies, Mother Tree," he said and even went to his knees.  "I lost track -- so many humans in the sacred forest, and I did not sense --"

"There was a reason for that, Guardian," she said, he voice sounding like life itself this time.  "They are here for a reason."

"Here?" Guardian said, startled.  "But they endanger you --"

"Not as long as they realize who and what I am," she replied.  "Stand up.  All of you stand up.  Listen to me.  Humans shall build their small settlement here.  It will be a place where all can learn about the sacred duty to protect the forest.  I shall help to keep you safe.  You will help Guardian in his work.  The world changes, my friends.  That does not mean we must give up all the old ways."

So the world changed.  The humans built a dozen huts, a longhouse for meetings and meals.  Others wandered in, and left again, wiser for having learned respect for the forest.  Beyond the safety of the trees, wars came and went, but rarely touched them.

Mother Tree and Guardian watched over them.  The gods even smiled their way sometimes, and in a world gone mad with change, the little village remained and guarded the ancient ways.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The new book is out!

Mark had known his life would change after high school, but he had expected the changes to wait until graduation, at least.

Then he killed the sheriff's son in self-defense. Sheriff Creston wasn't going to believe that his son had turned into a monster with fangs, fur, and claws, so Mark rushed to escape through the gate into Elsewhere and hide for a while. However things turned worse from the moment he reached the gate, and now it seems as though everything in the magical realm is out to get him -- and it has nothing to do with what happened back in the human world.

Originally written as three flash fiction serials on my Joyously Prolific Blog, this new version has been expanded and (I hope) the inconsistencies corrected.

So welcome to the crazy life of Mark Ward, his fae-employed cousin Maggie, and Edmond, the talking cat. They -- and you -- are in for an adventure or two.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Flash Fiction #307: Another Day, Another Drabble

Thomas Day was surprised when the college asked to speak about his past.  

After all, he'd had a mundane life and he hadn't even married until his 40's when he'd chanced to meet a distant cousin of the famous Laura Doller, whose marriage to his own distant cousin had been quite a drama a couple decades before.

That wasn't his life.  He told his tale of life selling shoes, and of a quiet family life.

"But what about the feuds?" someone asked at the end.

"Ah," he said with a quick nod.  "That was another Day and another Doller."

Friday, June 08, 2018

Flash Fiction # 306: Book Goblin

Have you ever gotten a book from the library and enjoyed it enough that sometime later you reread it -- and found the book wasn't quite as you remembered it?  There is a reason, and it isn't your faulty memory.  Nearly every library has a book goblin who loves to work little magics to change stories.  I suspect that they're all frustrated writers.

In general, this wasn't a real problem.  Annoying and sometimes troubling to readers with excellent memories, but not a bad problem.  Most Book Goblins don't have much power, and at most, they might only change a line or two here and there, and only occasionally will they change a plot line so that someone notices.

However, I learned that there is another type of Book Goblin; a dangerous creature, indeed, but luckily very rare.

They only read nonfiction.

So, you ask?  Well, every time a book goblin changes even so much as a word of fiction, they are toying with reality.  With fiction, it doesn't amount to much.  With nonfiction, and especially history, the changes of even a single line can have more consequences than you might think.

The first I realized there was something odd going on was the day I walked to my job at the library and noted there were no cars at all on the roads.  Lots of bikes and people looking befuddled and confused, but they didn't seem to know why.

I had a stone in the pit of my stomach.  I feared I did know why.  I had been reading a book on the history of automobiles and just gotten to the chapter on the effect cars had on the environment, from roads pushing through everywhere to emissions --

The book still sat on the front desk.  I picked it up.  The cover was the same, but the title was not The History of the Automotive Industry.  Now it read How the Bicycle Outmaneuvered the Car.

I sat for a moment in silence.  Bikes were a lot quieter out there, but there would be more significant problems before long.  If cars were gone, were trucks as well?  How could we get supplies into town?  How far had this already spread?  If other Book Goblins thought it a good idea, it might spread across the world in a single day, and then we'd be stuck.  Look what happened with the coffee.

I knew what to do, though I'd never done it before.  I got the small, hand-bound copy of Book Goblins out of my purse where I was careful to keep it with me at all times.  I placed it on the counter and tapped it three times.


The local Book Goblin appeared on the counter, and she looked slightly startled, with her flyaway purple hair, large reddish-brown eyes, and green skin.  She stood only two feet high, and the book in her hand looked too large.  I took it away from her.

"I am Mary," I introduced myself. "And you are?"

"Cranne," she replied and then gave a start. "You tricked me!"

"Yes, I did," I said.  Having summoned the goblin, I had to work quickly to get her name before my power over her waned.  Now that I could name her, I had one link over Cranne that would help in the future. 

She sat down and reached toward the small book I'd used.  I took it up and put the book in my purse, closing it with a zipper.  Nice metal there.  I'd reinforced the inside with tinfoil and a covering of plastic.  Cranne wouldn't get the book back out, and I would not leave the purse in the library.

She sighed and sat down with a thump. I saw the look of annoyance in her eyes, but so far she had been reasonable.  I suspected we could come to an understanding.

"You have to bring the cars back," I said.

"This is better," she replied and sat up straighter.  "That's not the only book I've read, you know.  I did a careful study of this mode of transportation and the environmental impact made within a short one hundred years.  Humans are much better off without them."

"I appreciate that you care," I said and gave a bow of my head.  The book on the creatures had explained that the last thing you wanted to do was get in a shouting match with a goblin of any kind.  "But how are we going to survive?"

"You can still travel around on bikes.  Much better for you, you know --"

"What about supplies?  How are we going to eat?"

That stopped her for a moment.  She frowned.  "Well, you can still grow things and raise food on your own.  I probably need to get right back to work on that, shouldn't I?  I know I read about city gardens."

"Yes," I agreed.  But I had one last more chance to win her over.  "And I suppose it won't be so bad, not getting new books every week.  We're kind of overfull now.  There will be a few local, handwritten works, of course.  That should do."

Cranne stared at me, her eyes blinking more rapidly with every breath.

"No books," she whispered.

"There are plenty here to keep us busy, don't you think?"

She stared at me in shocked dismay.  Then she grabbed How the Bicycle Outmaneuvered the Car and began to frantically go through the pages, her blunt fingers running over phrases here and there, the words changing so quickly that I couldn't read what she'd done.  When she snapped the book closed I felt a jolt.  Outside cars rushed by, everything back to normal.

"I hope you're happy," she sighed.  "The nasty things are back."

"I think we'll both be happier."

She sighed and stood, looking me straight in the face.  "I'm not going to stop trying to make a better world."

I smiled, startling her.  "Little steps, Cranne," I said.  "We'll do it with little steps."

Friday, June 01, 2018

Flash Fiction #305: Catchin Can/7

Tana preferred lifts or ladders, but right now the descending corridor was the fastest way to reach engineering, which sat just above the engines.

Captain Dundas did not say anything.  Tana had wanted to curse, but she held that feeling inside and even let Lisel help her when her leg threatened to give out.

Dundas glanced her way and then slowed.

"No.  We need to go faster," Tana said.

"We need to decide what we're going to do," Dundas corrected. She ran her hands through her hair.  "I never thought we'd have this sort of trouble on the ship."

"Why would humans work with them?" Lisel asked.  He sounded as though this really bothered him.

"Promises of something better," Dundas replied.  "Wealth, power ... it's rarely for the betterment of humanity.  People who go to an enemy rarely have any consideration for others."

They went in silence for a few more yards, already drawing near to their destination.

"No clans," Lisel said suddenly.  "No prides.  Individuals, even when you are named crew."

"Took you a long time to figure that out," Tana said.

"Maybe so.  One more turn and we'll be there.  I need to go first.  They won't know me."

"You are rather famous on this ship, Lisel," Captain Dundas said.

"My name is known, but most people can't tell one Catchin from another, you know.  We'll use that to our advantage.  All I need to do is get in and find our person.  We'll need to improvise from there, depending on where he is."

The Captain nodded agreement.

"Be damned careful, Lisel," Tana added.

Early on in the history of the fleet, those who created the designs had been forced to make one significant concession to those who ran the ships.  Engineering dared not be sealed away in an area where people could not get through a locked door if they needed to.  They'd lost three ships in four years to crew who turned out to be rabid earthers who thought they should not be out in space, let alone out fighting aliens.

Now anyone could walk in, but the controls were under strict code and palm locks.    Only fifteen people on the entire ship had access to any of those stations, and the Captain was the only person who could open up all five.

Or close any one of them that might be a problem.  The ship apparently had trouble, but Tana could tell Krisin still had his hand in it.  She hoped that would have unsettled whomever they were after here.

She hoped Lisel found the person fast.

"I prefer to do battle with a fighter," Tana said with a bit of a growl.

"I prefer to have you and your crew on a fighter and not creating havoc on the ship," Captain Dundas replied.  "But I am glad to have someone here I know I can trust."

Loud voices quickly turned to shouts.  No more time.

The next few minutes were so frantic that Tana couldn't believe that only six minutes had passed since she and the Captain rushed into the chaos Lisel had created.  He did so on purpose, and he did it well -- yowling and knocking people aside as he worked his way toward the station where the last of their were-friends was busy pounding at a keyboard with a look of such frustration that he must not have even noticed the Catchin at first.

He did notice when Lisel leapt over the top of the station and onto him.   Tana rushed around the side to help, but Lisel had the man in hand -- but he didn't look happy.

"Communit," he said, tearing the unobtrusive equipment from around the man's neck.  "He was reporting to someone.  Short range, on this ship.  We're still missing someone."

"Damn," the captain said.  She turned to the others.  "Back to work!  Krisin can't keep everything going from the control deck.  We're transferring all controls to here.  Martin, come to this station and tell me what the hell this fool did."

Martin was the chief engineer, and she knew her stuff.  They had everything sorted out quickly enough, but I was watching the sensor screen where the line of were craft and something much, much, larger edged in along the far quadrant.  I was not the only one watching.

We had no power to move.

Krisin arrived at a run, security guards behind him -- but they were warning others away.  Krisin darted straight to the board the other man had worked at and threw himself underneath, Martin kneeling beside him.  I felt the growing tenseness.

Then we had power.  Captain Dundas directed the flight from there.  Krisin kept working at making certain we had power and Lisel held onto the enemy.  I was feeling pretty useless until I saw a woman lift a laser pistol and aim at the Captain.

I plowed into her.  Yeah, that was better.

We got away.

Several hours later, Krisin, Lisel, and I had breakfast with the Captain in the cafe near the control deck.  They didn't see Catchin up there too often, but they were polite, and a few even smiled.  We had saved the ship, after all.

"We are bound to have more troublemakers on the ship," Dundas said.  "And until I'm sure we've located them all, we're going to keep our own company.  No new crew, no meet up with other ships.

That gave Tana a little shiver, the thought that they were out here on their own.  Ah, but it really wasn't so different.  They'd been out on the edge for a few years already.

"Some people are due to go back home," Krisin said softly.  "They're not going to be happy."

Tana wondered and worried that he was one of them.

"We are here to protect the earth," Dundas replied.  "We'll do what we have to.  We're not going to let anyone connected with the weres infiltrate elsewhere through us.  Eat up, my friends.  We have work to do."

(The End -- for now.  I'm sure Tana, Lisel, and Krisin will be back for more adventures!)