Friday, December 27, 2019

Flash Fiction # 387 -- Catchin Bait/1

Note:  I have dropped in on Tana's little scout ship and her crew a few times before.  If you would like to read the sequence here are the previous flash fiction pieces:

Flash Friday # 106 -- The Replacement

Flash Fiction # 141 -- The Outpost

Flash Fiction # 161 -- Illusion

Flash Fiction # 211 -- Teamwork

Flash Fiction # 2999 -- Catchin Can -- 7 Part story starts here:

Tana didn't like being back on a 'civilized' world.  She had taken assignment out on the Belgium, a ship patrolling the edges of Were space, for a reason.  Walking down the streets of Ember made her twitch, especially when she knew they were all three bait.

Actually, Lisil was the bait.  The Catchin stood a head taller than the two humans, his fur gray and black, his head catlike, and his ears back with a sure sign that he was no happier than Tana.

This was day three of walking along the market streets.  They'd done the tour methodically and had lists of needed supplies for the ship they'd gathered in each of the four quarters.  This was sector three -- herbs and even some yeast -- that all sent back to the shuttle.  They also tried another small tavern nestled into the market -- and got kicked out because they had a Catchin with them.

Lisil had better manners and a lot more control than Tana or Krisin.  They'd both ended up in fights while Lisil watched with a shake of his head.

"All for the show, right?" Krisin said as he stepped over a man who didn't look likely to get back up soon.  "And I think the others are starting to get the idea."

"That we are more trouble than they want," Lisil said and sighed.  "I don't think that's really what we want, is it? We need them to take me.  If you two keep knocking them down --"

"Those aren't the people after Catchins," Tana replied with a wave of her hand.  "That group is subtle.  These people are bigoted thugs."

Lisil grunted agreement.

Then he stopped walking.  His head came up, and he sniffed twice before turning abruptly to the left.  Lisil pushed his way through a narrow path between tents set in a haphazard pattern, twisting and turning to the right and left along the maze.

"Lisil!" Krisin shouted in frustration -- they couldn't see him above the tall poles that held up the flapping cloth.  "Lisil, damn it --"

A roar from the right.  It was not a sound either had heard from Lisil before, but neither doubted it was him.  Krisin had drawn his laser pistol -- illegal to carry in the market and liable to get you locked up. Tana drew hers as well.

They could hear a fight not far away, but the sounds were muffled and echoing oddly.  The sounds grew softer.  Tana grew more frantic and pushed ahead of Krisin.  A few merchants yelled and hit at her as she pushed her way past their tables of wares.  They were coming closer to the main street through the sector.  She rushed out into a group of shoppers who cursed her -- and then moved off quickly when Krisin joined her.  His red-faced glare, and the pistol he waved, probably scared them more than her snarl.  She'd hidden the weapon again.

"We missed him somehow," Krisin said. 

She nodded and pulled out her pocketcomp, keying up an exclusive app -- and nothing.  Not a single blip on the screen, even though they'd tested out the tracker only an hour before. 

"Damn," she said and shoved the device back away.

Krisin looked around frantically.  "They could have taken him left or right --"

"You go right.  I'll go left," Tana said.  He looked panicked.  "Go!"

She found nothing, of course.  No sign of Lisil at all, and by the time she had twice circled the area, Tana knew she had lost Krisin as well.

When Captain Dundas had given them his assignment, there had been nothing about others disappearing.  Catchin only, but as she started back toward the port and Belgium's shuttle, she felt as though someone could grab her at any point.

Tana should have felt better at the gate to the port itself.  Guards were in place, but they seemed lax to her.  She was within the fence, though, and that counted for something.  The shuttle still sat two miles away, but now that she was close, she pulled out her communit and keyed into their system.

"Tana --" a familiar voice said.

"I lost them both.  Lisil went first.  We thought we heard him roar.  Krisin and I split up a couple minutes later, and now I can't find him either.  I headed back to port before I called in.  See, I can follow orders.  I want my fighter!"

"So you can go blow the hell out of the market," Captain Dundas said.  "I don't think your missing crew would appreciate it.  The tracker on Lisil didn't work?"

"It had right until he disappeared."

"No sign of it at all -- like it had been cut out and dropped somewhere."

She shuddered a little.  "No.  It just went dead."

"Our people have been monitoring crates going into port -- quietly, but we're certain no Catchin have been shipped that way."

"Not whole ones anyway," she said despite herself.

"We ran DNA -- stay where you are.  I'm on my way."

"Oh, hell, no!" Tana said despite herself.  "I've already lost two people!  You think I should take the Captain of the Belgium out with me to look around?  Are you crazy?"

The connection had gone dead as soon as the Captain announced she was on her way.  Tana wasn't sure she wouldn't have said that anyway.    She had stopped, though, out there in the open without many people around.  Felt safer there, too, though.

While Tana waited, she wrote up everything she could remember from the moment when Lisil -- smelled something in the air.  Nothing that she had noticed -- but then she wasn't a Catchin.  Tana pulled up all the memories of those crucial moments when he took off -- the way he had been going before they lost all sight of him, the sound of the roar -- was that even Lisil?

Tana looked back at the port town.  She had no idea what was going on, but she wanted her people back.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Flash Fiction #386 -- Everything Changes

I was nine when the world changed.  I remember my mother looking at my father, shaking her head in quiet dismay while pictures of disaster and destruction flashed on the television screen. I didn't understand. 

"Are we safe, Ted?  Are we safe here?" she asked.

"Safer than most places."

"What's happened?" I asked, watching my parents' pale faces.

"Changes, Tyler," Mom finally said.  "Everything changes."

The world crumbled around us.  Little pieces went first -- things I didn't notice so much.  Communications outside our own area became difficult and then impossible unless someone went outside the valley.  The roads grew less traveled, and cars stopped moving.  During that first winter -- only weeks later -- no one came to clear the roads of snow.  That winter was worse than usual.  Drifts rose as high as my neck.  Mom, Dad, and I went no farther than from the house to the barn and back.  Power failed, and no one came to fill the tank for heat.  We spent the daylight hours near the fireplace, reading and sometimes playing games.  We kept busy.  We kept quiet.

That first winter was hard.  Mom became obsessive about sewing, while Dad cared for the animals.  He worried about planting crops the next spring.  I read and wrote and sometimes drew, but finding paper, I realized, was going to be more difficult soon.

We had no real news about anything after that first few days, not about the world at large, not about Carlyle, the town ten miles away.  Our nearest neighbor had gone off to Arizona in late autumn, a month or more before the trouble.  Dad didn't figure they'd be coming back, so he raided their place for a few things -- mostly farm equipment and every book he could find.  And paper -- glorious paper, just for me.

See, it wasn't like in the cities.  I learned about them later, about where the riots started, the buildings burned down, and people went crazy.  We lived quieter here. Annoying for a child who no longer went to school and didn't see another kid for months.  We became insular and self-sufficient.  Dad rode a horse to town once a week when the weather got better.  Mom worried each time, but he came back with the only news we got, plus things he'd traded for while there.  I knew there were things he told mom that he didn't tell me, though.  Not until I was older.

The honest truth?  No one ever really knew what had happened on the coasts, thousands of miles away from us.  There was talk about war and armies marching our way, but the most we ever saw was a handful of National Guard who helped around the farm for a few days and moved on.  They'd had no answers, either.

Lonely years, those first few.  Traders passed through the area, but everyone kept a watch on them, and there were a few that the locals ran out.  School started up again in town, but it only ran for a few weeks at a time, and we had to stay there, boarding with local people and working for our stay.   Only a few of us were still around, and no one spoke about the old days.  Dad turned out to be really good at fixing, adapting, and making things.  I helped him and became his apprentice -- a future for me, Dad said.

In the summer of the fourth year -- I was 12 -- we heard about the hordes coming our way. 

"We have plans," dad said.  He'd grown steady over the years.  Mom still seemed dazed and lived in her own world of cooking and sewing.  She never asked about life outside the house anymore, but she paid attention now.  "Don't worry."

"How far away?" I asked.  I'd never feared strangers before.  "How many?"

"They're still at least ten days out, at least for the main group.  A couple thousand," Dad said, and I felt a shiver go through me.  "They're dangerous because of their numbers.  As far as we can tell, there aren't many weapons left, though.  They've been moving for years, heading from the big cities of the east.  Like most of the other places, we're going to try to buy them off with supplies as long as they move on."

"What do they want?" I asked.  "Where are they going?"

"They don't know anymore," Mom said.  "They're just moving to keep moving and not look back."

We both looked at her, startled.

"She's right," Dad agreed.

"They'll need clothes," Mom added with a nod.  "We can spare some."

Mom had, in fact, piles of clothing she'd mended and made, and I had the odd feeling she'd been preparing for this from the start.

I watched from the highest hill the day the mass passed through town and settled in a field beyond for the night.  I tried to remember the last time I had seen so many people back in the past before the change.  That time was lost to me now.

Amid that crowd, Dad found two men with almost a dozen kids they were caring for, including two babies born on the long walk.  Dad talked to them for a couple days, and they stayed when the others moved on.  They took over the neighbor's old house -- and Mom sewed more, visited often, and smiled again.

Dad and others picked out more people from other groups that followed, all of them families of one sort or another.  Most did well in their new homes, and the valley started to prosper. 

By the time I was fifteen, we had a certain normalcy in Haven Valley.  We had guards that helped keep strangers away, and we lived in our own little world.  Everything had changed since that first day ... but we had our place, and we survived.  What does anything else matter?

Friday, December 13, 2019

Flash Fiction # 385 -- Forest Sounds

The wind changed; what had been a pleasant autumn breeze through the pines shifted without warning to a cold northerly blast of Arctic cold.  Lee stared into the wind for a moment, his eyes narrowed against the cold.  He'd hoped to go farther, but he wasn't stupid enough to risk a winter storm in the Sierras.

So, no third night out in the woods.  With a shrug of his shoulders, Lee resettled his backpack and turned to return the way he had come.  Despite always feeling a draw to the wild places, he was no fool.  He would not risk staying with the weather making so drastic a change.

He remembered a side trail about four miles away that he'd take going back, a new path into trees and rocks he'd never seen before.  The trail would add about five miles in length to his trip, but ran mostly downhill from what he'd seen on the topography maps.

The wind continued at a steady blow, a soft moan through the trees, a bitter edge of cold that made him stop and pull out warmer coverings. He hadn't gone into the woods for a few days without preparing for cold weather.  Snow could hit even in summer.

Just as he was pulling on his hoodie -- he heard music.

Not just music, but someone singing.

Lee had only rarely met others out on the trails.  He chose the primitive wilderness areas for a reason, and it wasn't to share the peace and solitude with day-trippers into the edges of the forests.  He had certainly never heard anyone singing -- a woman's voice, he thought, though she had an odd range.

He didn't recognize the language.

Lee listened -- he wasn't certain for how long with the wind blowing colder and him without gloves on.  When the music stopped, Lee felt a chill that had nothing to do with the cold.  What he had heard had been ... he wanted to say unnatural, but perhaps it had been too much of nature.  Lee had the odd feeling that humans had not been meant to hear those sounds.

Time to go.

His fingers felt stiff, and bits of ice clung to his clothing.  He shoved his hands into his gloves, having trouble even with that little action.  His legs didn't want to move, and he almost walked away without his backpack.

"Get control, Lee," he told himself.  "Get  --"

The song started again.

A wolf moved past Lee on the path, glanced his way, and kept going.  Two more followed.  Lee stood still in shock rather than fear.   Other creatures began to move around him -- birds from the trees, rabbits and squirrels, a half dozen deer.  They all headed in one direction.

Toward the music.

Lee started to walk away, moving at a near jog, avoiding more creatures that only looked askance at him as he headed in the opposite direction.  Kept going --

But at some point, Lee had stopped and turned and didn't even realize he'd started heading toward the music like every other living thing around him.  Lee tried to fight the draw, but the music called ... it called even to him.

Lee forced himself to turn away ... once ... twice ...

The third time Lee gave in to the lure and went with the rest of the creatures along the path that led to a natural stone pavilion up against a mountainside.  Animals had gathered along the edge, settled in twos and threes of their own kind:  deer, fox, rabbit, elk, wolves, and dozens of types of birds.

Standing before them, with a large cave at her back, stood a huge brown bear, swaying hypnotically on her back legs -- and the bear sang.  Lee should not have known what she said because it wasn't a human language, no.  The beautiful tale she told, though, was one with nature, and for that moment, he stood there with the others and understood.

 She bade farewell to the fruitful summer and welcomed the long rest of winter.  She named each of the creatures by their true names, and she blessed them all, each one in turn --

And found him standing at the edge of her grounds.  Her massive brown paw raised, the claws catching the glint of the light as clouds moved in overhead, and the first snow fell.

Lee did not fear her.

"You should not be here," Bear said, but there was no hint of anger or menace in the words.  "I should have felt a human in the woods, and yet you are so akin to nature."

The dark brown eyes stared at him, blinking.  Lee still didn't feel afraid.  None of the other creatures had done more than turn to glance at him, as though he belonged as much as any of them.

"What do you want, human?" the bear asked.

"I want to hear you sing."

Lee sat, and he listened, long into the dark, cold night until he drifted to sleep.

Two days later, Forest Rangers found him asleep in the arm of a fallen tree, covered in his blanket and warm.  Lee awoke, startled first by the humans, and then because he was not still on the mountainside with the others.

"We knew you'd make it back out," Dan said.  They'd met more than once went he headed up into the wilderness.  "But take a look at those prints!  That bear must have come damned close, Lee!"

"And that was after you bedded down," Mark added.  "Not a single print from you, so the storm blew in afterward.  There are even a couple wolf prints not far away."

Lee looked back at the prints after they helped him over the broken tree.

"I think you were damned lucky, Lee," Dan said.

"Very lucky," Lee agreed, but they were not speaking of the same things, and this was his secret to hold.  He'd be back though to listen for the song on the wind when the seasons changed again.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Flash Fiction # 384/The New Street (Drabble)

The city cut a scar into the hill across from her home and created a new bypass. Ms. Glinda Ozland watched as cars roared where once she'd watched a lovely bit of nature.

She brought yard gnomes -- at least that was what the neighbors thought -- and settled them strategically across her yard.  These gnomes were a sure counter to technology. The accidents started immediately.  Nothing serious, but cars hit cars with alarming frequency over the next week.

The city tore up the street, rebuilt the hill, and planted dozens of trees.

Being a good witch, Glinda sent the gnomes home.