Trifecta: Guilty Pleasures

This week’s trifecta writing challenge required us to incorporate the following word into a story under 333 words in length.  click the Trifecta badge to go to their site and check out other submissions, or submit your own!

MANIPULATE (transitive verb)

1: to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner
2a : to manage or utilize skillfully
b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage
3: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose : to doctor
I’ve been thinking a lot about just how processed food is, lately.  Quinoa in a cookie = healthy cookie, no matter how many other, unpronounceable ingredients it has, and it is amazing what you can do to eliminate the health benefits of kale (and make it taste delicious, too!).  Organic seems almost synonymous with healthy, and that gluten-free brownie must be better for you than the plain old contains-flour brownie on the other shelf.  Vegetable juice certainly sounds healthy until you notice the salt content, and gummies are packed with ‘real fruit juice’.  We brandish these labels of healthful, non-fat, zero calorie and pro-biotic to argue that the sweet potato chips (deep fried in coconut oil), vanilla bean cake (made with real vanilla bean!  fair trade!  and no gluten!) and fried chicken (free run) are actually good for us.  I’m not trying to say what is or isn’t actually healthy, but really, what might the future hold?

Salesgirls and boys trolled the aisles.  Their slinky outfits and razor-sharp smiles stood out starkly from the burqas of the shoppers, indecent and unavoidable.

Their bold, kohl-lined eyes seemed to stare right through the anonymous shroud of his face veil.

Sensing easy prey, one undulated over to him, her perfectly manicured hand balancing a delicate tray laden with brussels sprouts.  Darting around her would be an unforgivable rudeness, so Mark stopped, sweaty hands clutching his basket like a shield.

The girl leaned close with a predatory smile.  “You,” she purred, “are going to just love what I have on offer today.”

Mark swallowed convulsively, barely keeping from recoiling from the invasion of his private space.  “Brussels sprouts?  I’m getting broccoli today, thanks.”

“Oh, but these are something you’ve never experienced before, sir,” she replied, bringing one to her nose and inhaling deeply.  “Zero nutritional value, high in fat, sodium and calories, we manipulate our  OINK! pork rinds so you can enjoy your guilty pleasures with none of the guilt and all of the pleasure.”  she plucked a single leaf and placed it on her tongue with an indecent moan.

Mark licked his lips and wondered if the salesgirls’ tactics made women as uncomfortable as they made him.  He knew, absolutely knew, that he didn’t like pork products.  That his contractual partner of two years, Cara, didn’t like pork products.  Faced with an equally anonymous fellow citizen, he could have shrugged off her offer and been on his way with little social interaction.  The citizen would never be standing within his government recommended 1.5 metre diameter column of personal space, practically naked in a translucent sheath dress, either.  She smelled of synth-sexual-hormones and bacon.  More manipulation, but knowing didn’t help.

If he bought them, she’d leave him alone.

***

Cara saw his purchases and sighed.  She pulled an identical package, half-empty, from the pantry.  “I’ve been feeding them to the dog,” she said.

Mark smiled  and replied.  “I bet he’s experiencing all of the pleasure, with none of the guilt, too.”

Write On Edge and Trifecta: It Could Happen

This week, I’m combining the Write on Edge and Trifecta Writing prompts.  Click on the above pictures to take you to one or the other of the sites for this week’s linkup.  Read some of the other submissions, or submit your own, or both.  It’s always interesting to see the many and varied stories that come from the same prompt.

From Trifecta, the following word, whose third definition is to be used in a response between 33 and 333 words:

QUAINT (adjective)

1:  obsolete:  EXPERT, SKILLED
2a:  marked by skillful design <quaint with many a device in India ink — Herman Melville>
b:  marked by beauty or elegance
3a : unusual or different in character or appearance :  ODD
  b : pleasingly or strikingly old-fashioned or unfamiliar <a quaint phrase>

From Write on Edge, we have a quote and a picture to use as inspiration, in any way we choose:

Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.”

~ Salman Rushdie

Image courtesy of Unsplash.
image courtesy of Unsplash, click the picture to go to the site

Shoulders hunched, eyes flitting from object to object, flinching from sudden movement, Jeremy couldn’t help but to slink down the city sidewalks.

The pedestrian sign flashed 30…29… System malfunction, opposite light turns green before walk flashed to hand, the screech of tires as a truck speeding down the street tried to stop, failed, the gasps of horror from onlookers, last thing I hear before the agony of impact.  It could happen.  He licked his lips and waited while others crossed.

A couple came up alongside him.  Their dog sat wagging and grinning at her side.  She caught him staring out of the corner of his eye and smiled.  “He’s quite friendly, you can pet him if you’d like.”

Friendly dog, until I reach to pet him and he jumps up, teeth tearing at my face, hanging on, horrible horrible sensation of weight in his face, hot blood dripping down.  It could happen. Jeremy rolled horrified eyes up to the woman’s, shuddered and jerked his head no.  

A man walked towards him on the sidewalk, hands tucked deep into the pockets of his trenchcoat… pulls out the gun hidden there, I don’t give him my money fast enough, it’s not enough, and an explosion of pain blossoming from the center of my chest, it could happen.  Jeremy plastered himself against the brick and flinched away.

Pidgeons… the plague.  

Fire escape… stairs loose abruptly and collapse on top of me, bones crunching.

Jeremy escaped to the new terrors to be found in the grocery store, bought the food least likely to kill him.

“Hey buddy, wanna try our new granola bar?”

Sudden onset of peanut allergy, choking hazard, contamination, “No!”

The man hawking death-bars grinned.  “Come on, buddy, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Eyes darting between deaths around him, Jeremy barked out a bitter laugh.  “Your world seems so quaint.”  He clutched his purchases tight and escaped, keeping an eye on the shelves that might crush him.

“And yours, so small!” the man replied.

Trifecta 109 – A Mickey Mouse Breakfast

WHATEVER
1.   (pronoun)
a: anything or everything that
b: no matter what : regardless of what
Used in questions that express surprise or confusion
2.   (adjective) a: all the
b: any ; any … that
Used to refer to something that is not known
3.   (adverb) Used to show that something is not important

***

“I’ve been reading up on this new two-dee trend – I don’t like it.”

“Ugh, You’re so lame.”

“More of your late 20th century colloquialisms, Minnie?  Couldn’t you have chosen a better rebellion phase to go through?  When I was your age, we went  Twenties – called ourselves Betties, after a chef who wore material derived from mollusks as jewelery. Much more attractive than that.”  Mika Souris flicked a dismissive hand at her daughter’s attire – a stiff blue jacket over a retro Britney Spears concert tee-shirt, neon pink plaid button-down tied around the waist of her striped leggings.

“Whatever, mother.  You’ll totally never understand what it’s like to be a nineties kid.” Minnie rolled her eyes and sneered.

“It’s the 30th century, darling.  These nineties people you so admire had to use static devices to primitively uplink.  And attend archaic educational institutions whose normative procedures restricted their effectiveness.  You can hardly stay downlinked long enough for breakfast.”  She snapped her fingers in front of her daughter’s eyes, recognising the blankness in them for her daughter’s uplinking.  “Let alone an entire educational session, as these people did.  What has you so rapt?”

“It’s a nineties serial drama, and it’s amazing.”  Minnie tried to uplink again, but her mother caught her by one baggy sleeve.

Mika sighed. “At least choose a 3D mod for it – I can’t imagine they’re able to bring something that old all the way up to senso-dimensional quality, but this flat-viewing silliness might mess with your sensory input functions.  You don’t want to fry your up-circut like poor Don Ente, do you?”

“Ugh, mother, Mister Ente downlinked a virus.  And Feeny is totally two dimensional.”  Minnie sighed dreamily and added, “I want you to call me Topanga from now on.”

Willa rolled her eyes.  “Fine.  Finish your cereal… and your serial,” she added grudgingly, “and then I want to see you clock at least forty minutes of educational processes before the next meal.”

Trifecta – Craft

Trifecta’s writing challenge challenges you to write a piece between 0 and 333 words, with the third definition of the word they give each week.  This week was:

 1 :  skill in planning, making, or executing :  dexterity
2 a :  an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill <the carpenter’s craft> <the craft of writing plays> <crafts such as pottery, carpentry, and sewing>
plural:  articles made by craftspeople <a store selling crafts> <a crafts fair>
Click the link to head over and read some of the other submissions, or submit your own.

This piece is stand-alone, or can be read as a kind of prequel to Castle, Stormed.  The artwork is by my sister, the talented Doodle.  Click the image to go to her DeviantART.  It’s a free-hand pencil sketch, and, not to sound too cocky, but she drew it for me.  I requested an unimpressed goat.  It totally makes sense.

It took hardly any of his craft to get the map.  Its previous owner understood so little of what it meant, this scrap of parchment with the name of a long-forgotten kingdom, that by the time he’d been through, the woman had been glad to part with it in return for a song and a smile.

He’d have called it not enough of a challenge, but he tried to avoid setting himself up for failure.  The most complicated part was dosing the goats just right, so that they didn’t die on the way to the castle.  It was a little-known fact that dragons didn’t eat things they hadn’t killed themselves.  His father had wanted him to go into medicine, had taught Monroe all he knew of herbs.  He suspected the old man would not have considered this a worthwhile use of that knowledge.

The toughest part was hanging by his fingers, over the edge of the bridge.  He hadn’t really considered what would happen if the dragon didn’t take the bait soon enough, not until his fingers were going numb, his arms and back aching as he hung. Hanging over a dry moat full of rusty and broken pieces of armor shook his confidence in the plan.

He’d done it, though.  The dragon slept soundly less than an hour after he’d crossed the moat, and he padded through the empty castle, hopping confidently over the piece of the dragon’s tail that blocked the inner yard.

The highest room, in the tallest tower, he thought, mentally mapping out his best route through the maze of corridors.  I’m going to be rich.

His legs soon joined his arms in aching, as the stairs spiraled up and up.  Even with his goal so close, he stopped at the top landing to catch his breath.

His grin faded as he stepped forward.  He may have been clever in defeating the dragon, but it appeared he wasn’t the only one to get past.  She seemed surprised to see him too.

A Temporary Trip

 This week on Trifecta’s writing challenge, the word is:

 1usually zombi
 a :  the supernatural power that according to voodoo belief may enter into and reanimate a dead body
 b :  a will-less and speechless human in the West Indies capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated
 b :  a person markedly strange in appearance or behavior
2a :  a person held to resemble the so-called walking dead;especially :  automaton

Their rules are simple – 33 to 333 words, use the third definition of the word.  Head on over to submit your own work, or read some other takes on the challenge.  And now I’ve updated mine to put back in all the paragraphs that wordpress apparently decided were unnecessary for my story.  weird.

This photo was taken by Ryan Hyde, and shared on Flikr.  Click on the image to follow the link back to his page and check out some of his other work.
This photo was taken by Ryan Hyde, and shared on Flikr. Click on the image to follow the link back to his page and check out some of his other work.

Jeannie sloshed her drink as she stumbled through the crowd.

He swore as the cold liquid seeped into his shirt. “Jeez, I am so sorry!”  She shouted over the pounding music.

“Hello, Jeannie.” “I’m not Jeannie, I’m –“ She paused and tugged the hem of her skirt down, revealing more cleavage in the process, “SUPER-hic… Supergirl!  Who are you?

“I’m a reaper.” Jeannie tugged the neckline of her costume up. “Great costume,” she slurred disdainfully, taking in his jeans, shabby suit jacket and ancient converse.

“I’m working.  I think a costume would be kind of tacky.”

“Whatever, grim reaper.

“Not the Grim Reaper, just a reaper.”

“Whatever.”  Jeannie stumbled, jostled by the crowd.  When he steadied her she smiled and sloshed more of her drink on his arm with her over enthusiastic salute.  She leaned in, smiling flirtatiously.  “Thanks.  I’m so trashed right now, I’m probably eighty percent zombie, you know?”

He wrinkled his nose at the sickly sweet of her breath.  “I know.”

“Wanna get out of here?  I could use some fresh air.”

“Yes.” Jeannie giggled and grabbed him by the hand.  They wove through the crowded yard under orange and green twinkle lights, through the black streamers hung at the gate, past the incredibly drunk hulk dry heaving in the bushes, past female Woody and a maskless gorilla making out on the front porch and out into the relative quiet of the street.

She wobbled in her heels and swung their clasped hands playfully.  “So, where are we headed?”

“Your place.”

Jeannie giggled and tugged his hand.  “Then we’re going the wrong way, silly.”

He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair, turned back to face her. “Jeannie, don’t you think it’s time we stop pretending?”

She looked out at the rows of cardboard headstones on the lawn, a glossy red boot emerging from the shadows cast by tree and house.

“It’s just so stupid, y’know?” she whispered, completely sober.  “Such a waste.”

“I know.”

Haven

This post is a response to Write on Edge’s Write at the Merge # 6 (stained glass, and the lyrics to Fun’s “Some nights”), and Trifecta’s word (Path – 3a : course, route  b : a way of life, conduct, or thought).

If you’re looking for some great short stories, I highly recommend checking them out by following the links below and reading a few of the other submissions.

Concrit always welcome, I hope you enjoy!

“Our path should take us through the high pass. That’s what all the records indicate.” Ruby alternated scowling down at the grubby map in her hands and the weathered building before them.

“I’m telling you, this is it. This is where it lead.”

“The map is supposed to take us to a Haven.” Ruby’s voice cracked and Jim moved to put a hand on her shoulder, only to have it slapped away.  “You must have read it wrong.”

“Let’s just go and check it out.”

“Fine.” she strode across the boulder-strewn yard and through the arched doorway, Jim trailing behind her. Halfway down the aisle, she snapped, “See, nothing but a church from the before-time.”

Jim walked past her, entranced at the sight of the stained glass mosaic rising up from the shadowy hall, lighting the motes of dust in fiery hues. “It’s fully intact! Can you believe it?”

“What are we supposed to do now, Jim?” Ruby barely glanced at the glass.

“How could it’ve survived for so long, unbroken? I mean, Ruby, have you ever seen anything like it?” Jim felt a painful squeeze at his heart, understanding now what his mother meant about the exquisit pain of seeing something truly beautiful with your own two eyes. “It’s just so much better than that picture in Mrs Em’s book, y’know?”

Ruby smacked Jim in the head. “You know what’s better than a bunch of glass? Surviving. How about you come back out of the clouds and focus in that, huh?”

“But Ruby -”

“We’ll find the right path in the morning. Do something useful for a change and break up some of those chairs for firewood.”

Jim sighed as his sister stormed out into the dying light of day.

“… how could stained glass still be whole without protection?”

“How, indeed?” The man at the pulpit had a cruel gleam in his eye.

The church doors crashed closed.

“Ruby?” Jim whispered, backing away from the red-lit man.

Property Lines

This week, we’re picking up with Agata.  You can probably read this one alone, but I’d suggest reading Crush, the previous one in this series of stories, just to be clear on how things got to this point.  If you want to read the entire series, click on the Fiction Tab above, and you’ll find all the links to the story under Which Witch.  As always, let me know what you think – and how you think it ought to be improved!

I’m using the prompt from Trifecta, and from Write on Edge for this.

Trifecta’s word was

MOUTH

1a : the natural opening through which food passes into the body of an animal and which in vertebrates is typically bounded externally by the lips and internally by the pharynx and encloses the tongue, gums, and teeth   b : grimace <made a mouth>   c : an individual requiring food <had too many mouths to feed> 2a : voice, speech <finally gave mouth to her feelings>   b : mouthpiece 3: something that resembles a mouth especially in affording entrance or exit: as
This week on Write at the Merge, the picture of a crumbling castle was what I took as inspiration.
I highly recommend checking out both sites, to submit your own prompt response or to read some of the great responses other people have submitted.

Agata rolled painfully to her feet, scattering debris.  Dust swirled through the maelstrom of berserker barbarians.  Agata caught glimpses of the ogre, green-gray skin covering boulder-like muscles, eerie catseye gleaming yellow in the dimness.

The battle wasn’t going well.  She sighed, narrowed her eyes, and, with intense focus, shook out an imaginary blanket.

As the barbarians painfully clambered to their feet, dazed and confused at their sudden fall, Agata strode purposefully towards the now-frozen ogre.

“Gragh, is it?”  The creature stared down at her, dumbfounded.  “Yes, you.  Gragh?”

Its voice rumbled thunderously.  “Ya, me is Gragh.  Who you?”

“Agata.  What do you want here?”

“Gragh-”

“It wants to eat us!  Kill it!”

Agata whirled and glared them into silence.

“GRAGH CRUSH!”  The ogre snarled at the barbarians, fighting the invisible bonds.

“But why?

Gragh’s brow creased in thought.  “Gragh want…”

Agata found herself nodding encouragement to the hulking creature.

“Gragh want No Bother GRAGH!”

“You came here.

“Dey is come first to Gragh sleep place and try hurt Gragh!”

At Agata’s accusing glare, the barbarians broke into a cacophony of denials and explanations like children caught with their hands in the mouth of the cookie jar.

“It took the castle on the mount!”  A blonde-haired hulk in a skunk-fur loincloth stepped forward.

“Did he kill the owner?”

“It’s, um, been abandoned for centuries, actually.  Terrible location, no water, no trees…”

“So what does it matter where he lives?”

“It eats people.  And sheep.

Agata turned her scowl on Gragh, who shook his head in denial.  “Gragh no eat animal-things.” He curled his lip in disgust.  “Gragh vegetable-arian.  And rocks.  Rocks crunchy yum.  Fuzzy Baaas no yum.”

“Here’s the deal – you leave people alone, and” she turned to scowl at the barbarians, “people stay away from your castle.  Shake on it,” she barked, commandingly.

Agata watched and spelled every hand-shake before approaching the ogre with a proposition.

In short order they were headed off, a witch and her ogre-guide through the mountains.

Creeping In

I’m doing my best to get back into writing – apparently the holidays were so exhausting that I have no imagination left.  Or I just lost all ability to plan my time out.  One week free of it, and I find myself overwelmed with how much time I spend walking the dog and entertaining him.  Not that I’m complaining – we’re getting some pretty walk-friendly weather lately, and less than a month after the solstice, I’m getting so much more daylight.

This week’s word for Trifecta’s writing challenge is:

INTENTION
(noun)

1: a determination to act in a certain way : resolve
2: import, significance
3a : what one intends to do or bring about
b : the object for which a prayer, mass, or pious act is offered

Check out the other submissions HERE, or submit your own.

It was never my intention to stay so long.  I took advantage, I’ll readily admit.  It isn’t my proudest moment.

They were an easy mark.  How could I resist an open door?

I just can’t bear to leave, quite yet.  Maybe a day or two more.  Not that I’m getting attached, or anything.  I could see myself getting used to it, though, y’know?  I’ll stick around and enjoy a bit more free food.  Not much of a hardship – company’s not too bad – they give me my space, and they’re real good listeners.

I need my freedom – I need to stretch my legs, feel the grass under my feet, breathe deep of the great outdoors.  I’ve got instincts, primal instincts, and they can’t be ignored.  I don’t want to get rusty.  I’ve gotta hit the road.

It is a pretty scary place out there, though.  My pal Fred got scooped up by the nastiest bugger you’ve ever seen.  Guy swooped down out of nowhere, and now Fred’s nowhere to be seen.  It’s kind of nice to be big man on campus, just for a few more days.

The Missus relies on me to taste-test her cooking.

Plus, they’ve got some wildlife in this place.  They buzz around bothering the people here.  Tough suckers, too – seems like no matter how many times I land a killing blow, they’re up and jingling about.  Can’t leave quite yet – Ieast I could do to repay them is to get rid of this infestation they’ve got.

The old guy and I haven’t gotten much chance in the past few hours to hang out, either.  I’ve got this wicked kink in my neck, and he needs help reading the newspaper.  Now that’s what I call an equitable exchange of services.

I’ll be leaving soon – best get in some warm-laundry napping while I’m still around to spread the fur.  Creeping into their lives was exhausting.

cat bum

Crush

This week on Trifecta, the word was:

CRUSH (transitive verb)

1a : to squeeze or force by pressure so as to alter or destroy structure   b : to squeeze together into a mass
2   : hug, embrace

Head over to submit your own response, or read some other takes on the prompt.  There are some fantastic authors who submit weekly to the Trifecta challenge, and they’re always well worth the read.

This story is a continuation of the Which Witch series of stories.  It is pretty much entirely stand-alone, but you are certainly welcome to read back through the story pieces, by following the Fiction tab at the top of the page and clicking on the links under the title Which Witch.

I try to include a piece of artwork that I think goes with the story, and this week is no different.  Only I put it at the bottom of the story, because it’s not just me that thinks it goes with the story – my sister drew it, in response to reading this story ahead of time.  She didn’t even roll her eyes too much when I changed the original, accidental deadline of friday to “um, no seriously, you have to have it done Wednesday night, because I have to post it tomorrow”.  You can check her out at her blog, Drawn in and Quartered, or over at DeviantArt.  She doesn’t have too much of her personal artwork up on DeviantART yet, but I’m working on it – peer pressure is key!  This is one of my favourite pieces she’s done – it hangs on my wall, and when I eventually have the option of painting rooms in my own house, will likely the colour-inspiration of one of them.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I could totally kick her ass at drawing… when she was 4… and I was 10.  She claims it probably had something to do with the development of fine motor function, but that’s just a cop-out.  She’s just a sore loser.  What sibling rivalry?

Comments and critiques are always welcome, I hope you enjoy the story,

“GRAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Agata clapped her hands over her ears as the howl reverberated down the canyon, followed by the distant thunder of landslides.  Dust from the ceiling settled on her meal.

Removing the hand cupped protectively over her own pint, the barbarian woman took a swig and continued, “There are some nasty beasties out there, Miss, so you really ought to hire on a guard to get through the pass.”

Gunilla brushed her short blonde hair back, the heavy musculature of her shoulder and arm rippling, and jerked her head towards the rest of the barbarians.  “And I suggest you hire me, ‘cause some of the lads have trouble hearing ‘no’ when they want to hear ‘yes’, if you know what I mean.”

Agata shuddered.  Such large, heavy-set men.  Such tiny loincloths.  Barbarians are quite barbaric, she decided, firmly averting her eyes from the manly display of body hair and scarring.

“What do you hear when you want to hear ‘yes’?”

Gunilla let loose a full-bellied laugh.  “Me?  Depends on how much I want to hear ‘yes’, I’d imagine.” She grinned and winked.  “But my tastes don’t lean towards scrawny pretty little things like you, eh!”  She produced a small painting of a statuesque woman wearing a horned hat and a bustier that left too little to the imagination.  The barbarian woman stroked the side of the picture in a surprising show of tenderness.  “My Vilhelmina is an opera singer!”

“Very nice.” Agata cleared her throat.  “So what is so dangerous in the pass?”

The inn-door burst off its hinges and slammed to the ground.  A gigantic figure shouldered its way into the room, towering with its one-eyed head amongst the rafters.

GRAGH CRUSH!” It swung its club down hard in a shower of dust that had once been a solid oak table.

“OGRE!” the barbarian woman yelled, sweeping Agata out of harm’s way.  Potential client safely stowed, she let out a berserker yell of her own and leapt to join the fray.

crush

<– Quack! ||

Foxed

Trifecta’s writing challenge this week was:

BLACK

1a : of the color black
b (1) : very dark in color <his face was black with rage>

(2): having a very deep or low register bass with a blackvoice>

(3) : heavy, serious <the play was a black intrigue>
2a : having dark skin, hair, and eyes : swarthy
b (1) often capitalized : of or relating to any of various population groups having dark pigmentation of the skin

(2) : of or relating to the African-American people or their culture

(3) : typical or representative of the most readily perceived characteristics of black culture
3: dressed in black

Head on over to submit your own or read some of the other responses.  Also, if you missed last week’s prompt, the characterization of Death, I really recommend going back over to read the responses for that.  So many hilarious and unusual portrayals of death, and all of them (to my mind), with the rich and ominous voice of Ian Richardson ringing in your mind, just like he gave life to Death in the movie version of Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather.  I was certainly attempting to channel a bit of Pratchett in my own response.  If you have no idea who Terry Pratchett is… well… Get thee to a Library!  Crivens!

For this week, I’m back working with my Firefly story.  If you want to check out the rest of it, head on over to the Fiction Tab (top of the page).  I think I might write it as a full… well… story for Nanowrimo this year.  It starts off right after our leading gal’s aunt makes her a cup of tea and then heads on back to bed in Hearth and Home.  For those uninterested in reading the rest of it, the key thing to note here is Laga = ritual leader or leader of coven for the purposes of my story.  Though they aren’t witches.

The artwork I found to go with the story is a drawing by Raven S. Fox, known as Culpeo-Fox on DeviantArt.  It’s pretty sinister, made even more so by the poem included as the description of the piece (click the picture to follow the link and read!).  I love the texture of it, and the way the only barely drawn in background still makes me think of being lost in the deep dark woods at night, wolves howling in the near distance.

He’s amazing – some of his pieces look like photography, to the point that I’ve had to check the medium to confirm that it isn’t.  He’s a German designer, illustrator and artist, with a clear love of foxes, though they are certainly not the only thing he draws beautifully.  Check him out at DeviantArt, his portfolio.

Rachel sat by the banked fire, lost in thought.

The flames roared abruptly to life and Rachel’s head snapped up just in time to watch the Ember fox, the same one she’d seen in the fire ceremony vision, daintily step out onto the hearth stone.

“You… you can’t be here.  I didn’t summon you.”

:I go where I please.:

The deep ember-glow of the fox dimmed as it stood in the cool air, soot cloaking the creatures’ fur in black.  Its burning eyes showed frightening intelligence.

“Elementals can’t talk… they’re just…” Rachel waved her hand vaguely in the air, “Elemental.”

:How very astute of you.  If we are done pondering my existence, shall we begin?:

“Begin?”  Rachel’s head was reeling

:Your training to be a proper Laga, of course.:

“I’ve been Laga to my people since I was seven, I’m already a proper Laga.” she snapped defensively.

The fox cocked its head and said, deadpan, :Indeed?  I could have sworn I walked you through a vision last night.  Must have been some other kit with too much confidence in her own poorly trained gifts.:

Rachel gasped, “That was you?  Was it true?  Is it going to happen?  How?”

:Too many questions for one so young.:  the fox hissed, tail lashing.  It stepped its front paws up on her knees, opened its mouth and exhaled in her face, the smell of burning wood rich in the dry heat of its breath.

Rachel found herself again in the hell of a fire that burned her.  The smoke dragging her towards unconsciousness, she struggled forward, staggering and full of pain. 

:The door: the fox commanded.  : Remember the door, and remember your gift.  Fight fire with fire or it will devour you.:

The door shimmered with ice, untouched by the heat.  It felt unnatural, a bone-deep cold that made her body ache even as the fire devoured her. 

“What’s behind the door?”

:Your destiny.:

Rachel touched the handle and screamed as ice burned through her.