Dating, by the Book

ooc-3

“If you did that during a zombie apocalypse, we’d all die!  Dammit, Misty, get down!” I hissed, trying to tug the girl I’d been crushing on since third grade back into the trench.

“Ugh, calm down, Jesse!”  Misty took a step out of my reach and continued brushing futilely at the green paint spattered across her cleavage and the low collar of her tight cropped tee shirt.  She continued standing out in the open, unprotected and indifferent to her surroundings like the ultimate noob.  She’d ripped off her goggles and the top of her coveralls the instant one of the snipers had taken her out.  Of course, if she hadn’t insisted on leaving her coveralls unbuttoned to the waist… not that I’d really pressed the issue with her looking like G.I. Barbie.

“It’s a stupid game anyways,” her sharp voice brought me back to the moment.  “Is this paint washable?  Why the hell did one of your lame friends shoot me?  Why the hell did we have to come here?  Next time you take me out, make it something fun.

It occurred to me that the girl standing before me and still looking like my wildest fantasy, only greener, was proof that you couldn’t judge a book by its cover.  I should have known better.

“The Op is still live, Misty, get down before you get – ” well… we’ll call that a real… concrete learning experience… I winced in sympathy as pink paint bloomed on the side of her pigtailed head.  Head-shots hurt.  “You should put your goggles back on.”

Misty’s eyes went very wide, and her lips pressed tightly together.  She crouched down beside me, and slipped the goggles back on, smearing pink down her cheek in the process.

“Show me how to use the gun again,” she said, her voice strained.

“What?  Look, how about we just… go?”  I’d tried to give her a lesson about aiming the gun before we’d started the Op, and she’d shown no interest.  I really had thought she’d have fun.  That it’d be a good chance for me to impress her with my skills.  Instead, she’d grumbled and complained through the first half-hour, decided we should leave and gotten shot right in the boob while trying to drag me toward the exit.

Misty finished tying the top of her coveralls tightly around her waist, grabbed my collar and dragged me close.  “SHOW ME” she hissed, eyes full of rage.

I hastily demonstrated the basics and gave her a hushed explanation of aim.  She stared intently at me throughout, nodded, and rose into a crouch.  “Your stupid friends’ rule is 3 shots?”

“Um… yeah?”

I watched in astonishment as she performed a precision tumble across an open area, came up and shot twice.  Kyle yelped from a tree, and Jim cursed from behind a brick panel.  She shot him twice more and stole his cover.  While Jim stalked toward the exit, she sprang up the nearest wall, surprising Amber in her hidey-hole and nailing her with three shots, ran along the top of the wall and jumped down out of sight.

It was chaos.  I could only track her based on my friends’ curses and yelps.  She was ruthless and, based on the people stalking towards the dead-zone, not averse to shooting people in the face.  Not that I could blame her.

I shot Jim when I found him sneaking up behind her, and she shot him again when she turned around.  We exchanged a grin and finished the rest of the crew off as a team.

When I was sure we’d cleared the field, I cleared my throat.  “Misty, I was wrong.  You would totally save everyone if there was a zombie apocalypse.  That was amazing!”

I had plumbed Misty’s unplumbed depths, and they were Aweome.  The guys were going to be so jealous.

Misty grinned at me and replied, “You’re not too bad yourself,” and shot me three times at close range.  She smirked.  “You said last-man-standing, too, right?  Can we eat now?  Winner gets to choose, and I say Thai.”

As she walked off the field, gun raised in triumph, I knew I was in love.  You really can’t judge a book by its cover.

***

In case you didn’t guess… no, I have never paint-balled before.  Click the photo above to read more prompt submissions, or submit your own!

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The Other Side of the Glass

checkersdt

Wesley stared intently down at the checker board, lips pursed in deep thought.  With great deliberation he moved a piece.  He pressed his heavy digit into the worn wood for a long moment, pondering his choice a moment longer before releasing it.  He sat back with a satisfied grunt and steepled his fingers.  Sunlight glinted off the rim of his spectacles, lighting up the dust motes hanging in the air.

The old clapboard farmhouse sat well back from the road, surrounded by fields now tended by their children.  The dry red dirt of their livelihood sifted through the cracks and coated everything, no matter how often they dusted.  With four kids grown and out of the house, the empty rooms were heavy with the silence and the red dust.

A draft stirred the thick dust on the windowsill, lighting sparks into a beam of light.

Wesley frowned across the board.  “What’ye laughin’ at, woman?” he growled.  “Caint fool me with your psychological games, and you ain’t won this one yet.”

The morning sunlight beat through the window, dusty light flashing across the board. Maggie moved the pieces like she had all the time in the world, light and quick and without any uncertainty.  Wesley snorted, but stared for a long moment, trying to see what her end game was.

“Y’don’t need to give me that look, I know when  you’re laughing at me, with or without sayin’ a thing, sugar.”

He took his turn decisively, regretting his move almost immediately.  Maggie looked far too smug.  Wesley flexed his gnarled hands, rough fingertips scraping the stained wood of the kitchen table in a nervous drumbeat.  The sunlight was kind on his arthritic knuckles, soothing deep aches.

An engine rumbled in the distance.  Wesley peered through the dusty kitchen window, even though it faced out back toward the barn and fields.

“Must be Jerry with a couple a dinners for us.”  Hands gripped tightly on to the arms of his chair, Wesley hoisted himself upright with a low groan.  “Gettin’ old, Mags.  Cain’t let Jerry hear me talking like that, though,” he added with a chuckle.  “He’s already gettin’ ideas.”

Wesley pulled his walker closer and switched his grip to its arms.  His slow shuffle had him wheezing heavily at the front door just before the old Chevy made it to the end of the long rutted driveway.

Maggie twitched aside the living room curtains to watch her eldest son step down out of his truck, tipping a cowboy hat onto his head and walking around the back to pull a cooler out.  She smiled warmly at the man he had become, long and lean and weathered from the sun, just like his father.  The sunlight caught in the stained glass decorations in the window, casting beams of blue and green and red across the faded carpeting.

“He grew up good,” Wesley said with a smile.  “He’s a good boy.”

Their son had put the cooler down by his truck and was testing the hinges on the old gate.  it had come loose from the top hinge a while back, and Wesley felt ashamed he hadn’t gotten around to fixing it just yet.  With a glance up at the house, Jerry retrieved a can of WD40, a hammer and a few nails from his toolkit.  In short order the gate was swinging freely.

“He’s a real good boy,” Wesley repeated, voice sad.  He felt every one of his years like a weight around his neck.

He unlocked the door and shuffled slowly to his easy-chair, settling in with a sigh.

Jerry came in, cooler in his arms, and hip-checked the door closed.  “Pops?  It’s me, Jerry,” he called down the dim hallway.  “POPS?”

“I ain’t deaf, boy,” Wesley grumbled.  His son startled at finding him so close, and Wesley exchanged an amused glance with Maggie.

Jerry glanced uncertainly past his father into the living room.  “Don’t normally find you in here lately, Pops.  Amanda made up some extra chili and meatloaf and stuff for you – I’ll go put it in the fridge, eh?”

He disappeared down the hall and Wesley listened as he puttered in the kitchen. “Bin workin’ on your checkers skills, Pop?” Jerry called out.

“Your mother ain’t gonna beat me this time,” Wesley replied, glaring fiercely at his smiling wife.

The fridge door opened and there was some muffled movement and muttering in the kitchen.

Jerry returned to the living room and passed Wesley one of the beers he’d brought out.  He set his hat on the coffee table and sat down, expression serious.

“Pops, you ain’t et…” He paused and cleared his throat.  “You haven’t eaten hardly any of the meals we left you last week.”

Maggie leaned against the back of the recliner, pressing her hands into Wesley’s shoulders.  Wesley smiled gratefully up at her and patted her hand reassuringly.  “Ain’t been much hungry, son.”

“Amanda and I think it’s time, Pops.”  Jerry leaned forward on his elbows, face lined with concern.  “Time for you to come live with us.  Or at least let me hire a home help nurse.”

Wesley’s shoulders sagged briefly.  “Yeah, I recon you’re right.  It’s about time.  That’s why my suitcase is packed.  It’s in the main floor bedroom, mind helpin’ an old man out and takin’ it to the truck?”

Jerry, at a loss for words at his father’s sudden agreeableness, nodded and strode from the room.  He rushed out, suitcase banging down the porch stairs, as though sure his father would change his mind if he didn’t move fast enough.

“He’s a good boy,” Wesley said softly.  “They all are.  I hope one of them moves in here.  It’ll be nice to have some younguns runnin’ around the place again.  I know how much you’ve missed that.”  He patted his wife’s hand again and let out a deep sigh.

Long shadows stretched across the empty yard by the time Jerry left.  Wesley stood and offered his wife his arm, feeling a real bounce in his step for the first time in he didn’t know how long.  “How’s about we go finish that game, sugar?  And after that, maybe I’ll take you dancin’.”

***

Visit Our Write Side to read more prompt responses by clicking on the photo above!

 

Doing Business

bearcrossing

The photo is from “The Darkroom” writing prompt… click it to check out other responses!

***

When the aliens first arrived on Earth, there were… misunderstandings.  Highly intelligent though they were, the beings were extraordinarily literal.

Martha did her best to accommodate them for her tours – she really did.  She arranged things to start an additional half-hour early so that they would have time to read – in excruciating detail – the entire waiver and ask questions.  So. Many. Questions.  She’d reviewed her spiel and removed euphemisms, word-play and jokes from the notes, because, frankly, a day-trip to Algonquin Park didn’t have time for a two hour debate on whether a bear did indeed do business in the woods, and what that business might be, and what customs might be involved.  She’d learned to switch between parent of impressionable child and tour-guide for Travellers speak, because they were slightly more likely to understand the expression “Does a bear do business in the woods?” if she used more adult language.  Slightly.

So her business of an ex informing her that actually he wouldn’t be taking their son fishing like he’d scheduled months ago was just SUPER.  She loved her son dearly, but he had the verbal filter of an 8 year old boy and the subtlety of a battering ram.  And she didn’t have time to find someone to look after him for the next two days of Traveller tours.

***

“As you can see, the Park is heavily forested with a wide variety of tree species, including Jack Pine, birch and Sugar Maple.  The booklet goes into further detail of all tree species found in the park, and methods of identifying them.”  Martha drove down the highway, chatting her way through her on-the-road information, knowing from past experience that the eight Travellers in her tour van were alternating between staring intently out the window, staring intently at their informational booklets and staring intently at the various parts of the interior of the van, all with equal intensity and interest.  Feedback on her tours didn’t give her a hint about what she could say that they would be more interested in, and she suspected that if she rattled off stats about the 1982 Superbowl or about the tour bus’s maintenance history they would be equally interested.  Since starting Traveller tours, she’d had to do research on the tour bus, in fact, to accommodate those who wanted to know about plastic used in the old bus instead of about birds that migrated through the park.  They were just plain interested.

Ben draped himself over the back of the passenger seat, grinning a gap-toothed grin, and crowed, “You don’t know JACK!”

OH business, Martha thought.

There was a discordant buzzing in the back, as the Travellers carefully dissected this statement.

One reedy voice after another arose, each politely waiting until the previous one had finished their sentence before adding their own rebuttal.

“I have met a Jack, but am understanding that this was not the only Jack, and am unsure if meeting is adequate to equate to knowing.”

“I have indeed, never met a Jack.  Is this a matter of concern?”

“I have met more than one Jack, and feel confident in the 81st percentile of knowing one of them, though his full name is Jack Perkins and lives at 43 Seventh Street in the town of Toronto.  Having worked closely with him for 257 working days between March 23, 2016 and today, I believe I know him well enough for that descriptor to apply.  If this is the Jack of which you speak, I feel confident in refuting your statement.”

And on, and on.  Most of them had, at some point, met a Jack.  Only two thought they could probably consider their relationship with the Jack in question as knowing.  

Martha then listened in astonishment to her son’s reply.  “The Jack I’m talking about is a Jack Pine tree, and the phrase, you don’t know Jack, is one way of recognizing them, because the phrase is usually paired with this gesture,” he paused for demonstration, and Martha winced and made a note to have another conversation with her son while the Travellers hummed.  “And if you look at a Jack Pine, that’s kind of what it looks like they’re doing.”

The buzzing hum rose again, and again, they spoke.

“It is an offensive expression meant to show disrespect towards another’s knowledge base.”

“But trees on this planet cannot be disrespectful due to their intelligence level, so they are not, in fact, being disrespectful.”

Another buzzing conference.

“It is funny because no disrespect is actually being shown.”

“It is funny and informative”

The vehicle filled with the sound of crickets chirping, the Traveller equivalent of applause.

Martha wished Travellers were more appreciative of 21st Century Earth humour, as she’d love to hear them at a comedy show.

***

Travellers noticed everything.  So, as happened at least once on every tour, they wanted to stop and see an animal crossing sign.  As Martha was about to go into her prepared explanation of the fact that the signs were representations, her son laughed.

“You’re funny – that’s just a picture of a moose.  It’s just to let you know that moose like to use this part of the road to cross.”

The normally highly sensitive Travellers took this in stride, apparently not concerned that a small human had come very close to calling them unintelligent (or an equivalent word, all of which were highly offensive in Traveller culture, a trait shared by most human cultures).

The rest of the day was peppered with her son’s saucy explanations of things, given in such a direct and simple manner that they cut through what could well have been hour-long debates about the various meanings of ‘bark’, or a seriously concerned Traveller anxiously explaining that it was not calling Fairy Lake a derogatory term for homosexuals, but that someone else may have intended that in naming the lake, or may not have.  Martha had never had such a smoothly run day with Travellers in the year she’d been touring them.

As they cruised out of the park and back to the Traveller’s hotel (Deerhurst, whose deer had not yet been noted, near the possibly-derogatory Fairy Lake) for the weekend in the waning light, one of them spoke up.  “Ben, son of Martha.  For one so young in years, you are rich in knowledge pertinent to the Algonquin Park, and accurate in your speech.  Do you spend a very large percentage of your time there?”

Ben grinned and glanced at his mother.  She saw the look and knew he was about to push his luck.

“Does a bear shit in the woods?”

Quilt of Fate

What? Participating.  I feel like I keep having to start-up again, but at least I’ve always got some great prompts to start the gears turning.  Check out the rest of the responses at the link below, and add your own:

inmonsterpromo

Also check out the artist AquaSixio, otherwise known as Cyril Rolando.  His work is below, one of many works of art painting a picture of a story I want to know more of.  What I love about this particular piece is the eerie colour of the scene, and the way it makes me wonder if this person is running away from something or towards something.  Either way, sometimes making a choice, right or wrong, can feel like leaping from a moving train.  The artist also includes a piece of writing that perfectly describes that stagnation of routine, the reward of jumping from the train.  Read it at Train Train Quoditien.

train_train_quotidien_by_aquasixio-d8pvunq

My mother spent her life on scraps, collecting the discarded leftovers of other peoples’ lives and putting them together in new ways.  I spent my childhood desperate for the things that others took for granted.  Patches disguised the holes in my jeans from everyone but me, and the hand-made cardigan wasn’t at all like the GAP sweatshirts of my peers.

Just once, I begged, just once might I have a blanket all in one tone?  Monochrome, I pled, to the bafflement of my family.  New.

I rejected the colours, the patterns, recycling and making do.  I ran away to the real world,  and relished my drab wardrobe, cookie cutter condo and processed foods.  I became the happiest of cogs in the machine.

I met a perfectly ordinary girl and fell in love with her family’s staid ways, the generations of suburbanites and shiny new IKEA furniture.

My fiancée forced a strained smile and gave me a sidelong glance when I introduced my mother in her draped shawls and bangles, and I felt embarrassment.  My mother’s eyes sparkled with pride and love.

My bright-coloured family capered and laughed and drank, young and old dancing late into the night in celebration of my wedding to this woman they’d never met, in celebration of my future happiness.  A reminder of my fond memories of home on the open road, each wedding, funeral or crossing of paths a reason for joyous revelry.  My family brought us gifts handcrafted and brimming with love and pride.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my new wife suggested that their gifts would fit best in our storage locker.  I was surprised I hadn’t suggested it myself.

But not the quilt, I said, stroking the colourful tree my mother had hand-sewn for us, a symbol of good fortune and happiness in marriage.  Every leaf stitched with a member of my family and hers, with room for new additions.  My wife gave me a strange look out of the corner of her eye and pressed her lips together.

Her mother had gotten the burnt umber bedspread on our registry.  Had no one in my family thought to look on the registry?  She clucked her displeasure at their selfishness in denying us a KitchenAid stand mixer in taupe, and I looked at this stranger and questioned myself.

I tucked it away in my closet and brooded.  I wondered if I’d actually intentionally bought 4 pairs of near-identical navy slacks.  Why I ate so many beige foods.  She, meanwhile, cut her eyes in disapproval of the introduction of brightly coloured dress-shirts into my wardrobe.

We scheduled date night in the same way as we scheduled dental work and with as much enthusiasm.  Every moment of my parents’ lives was a breathless run through the deluge of their affection for each other and for life.

When she left me, my first thought was for my mother’s quilt.  I took it down, spread it out and smiled.  My family spread out in beautiful chaos, with blank spaces for my future wife, her family and room to grow.  My mother spent her life taking up the discarded pieces and putting them together anew.

I left with only the necessities, including a vibrant purple shirt in need of mending.

A Sinking Feeling

Inspiration Monday is back, so I am too.  Check out this week’s prompt and other responders here.

I used the prompts Canned Music and Sink Chronos.  And, not going to lie, I’ve been watching a large amount of Leverage lately.

“Where were you?”  The five members of their crew were at the docks.  The duffels full of cash were not.

“I know, I know, my timing was off.” Doug stared at his feet, engrossed in his chosen task of scraping sand into a perfect square.  Gulls cried overhead.

Miranda snapped her fingers under the getaway driver’s nose to get his attention. “But we synched our chronos for that exact reason! So how come your timing was off? You screwed the entire team over, we nearly got nabbed and we had to ditch the goods!”

“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘sunk’, M.” Doug smirked. He was always happy to be able to correct Miss high-and-mighty. She was always acting like she was better than him, but really, how could any job go according to plan, no matter how good her plan was, without a good getaway driver. And Doug was great. Most of the time.

“What?”

“The past tense of sink is ‘sunk’, Miranda. Say what you may about your higher education, but I learned plenty in high school.” He snorted. “Sinked, ha!”

Miranda’s face darkened and Doug gulped. Maybe right after a botched job wasn’t the time to rub it in. “When did I use the word ‘sink’, Doug?”  Her voice was a warning, but Doug was riding the high of correcting her, and didn’t hear it.

“You radio-ed in and told us the time was 12:01, and said sink chronos on my mark, 3, 2, 1, mark.”

The rest of the crew’s expressions had become stormy. Miranda’s expression was homicidal. “And you…”

“Threw my watch in the lake.” The entire crew took an ominous step forward, and Doug shifted nervously, adding, “If I’d known we were getting rid of our watches, I’d have made sure the clock on the getaway van was functional. I just had to kind of wing it, y’know? After you guys went radio silent. I really did my best, you guys, but it’s hard to time things without anything to measure off of. I based the 40 minutes off how many songs got played on the radio.  Luckily all this canned music they play on the radio is pretty standard at 3 minutes.  Though the commercials kind of threw me off a bit.  I think that’s where I went wrong.”

Sam, the crew’s heavy, guffawed. Doug was relieved that someone in the crew could appreciate the humour of Miranda’s screw-up.

“I’m going to kill him,” the weapons expert said, drawing his gun and moving forward.

Doug lost his smile and backed away, madly waving his hands in denial. “Guys! Sam no! Isn’t anyone going to stand up for me?”

Miranda folded her arms. The other two took a step back.

Their safe hacker, normally anti-violence, said, “Let me put my ear plugs in first, I can’t afford any hearing loss.” She didn’t even look at Doug as she pulled a box from one of her vest pockets.

Doug burst into tears. Miranda sighed and he felt a brief moment of hope. “You won’t let him do it, will you? I’m so sorry, I don’t know why you guys are so angry at me!”

She stepped forward, her face calm. “We’re not going to kill you, Doug.”  She took him by the shoulders and stared into his eyes.  “S-Y-N-C-H.  But I hope you’ll S-I-N-K.”

“Hah, Oh, geez, homonyms, eh?  Whatcha gonna d-” Miranda shoved him, hard, and Doug yelped as he cartwheeled over the short curb on the top of the dock wall.

Miranda and the rest of the crew headed back towards the getaway van.

“Guys?” Doug called, treading water with difficulty and trying to find a grip on the tall sheet piling dockwall. “Guys, you’re not gonna just leave me here, are you?  It’s not my fault, it was homonyms!”

An engine started nearby and a vehicle drove away.

“Guys?”

A Big Change

I found a new prompt!  For me, anyways.  Check it out inspiration monday!

If this isn’t a prompt destined for dragons, I don’t know what is. An interesting thing to stumble upon immediately after my previous post – obviously someone’s got plans for my writing, but I like it, so that’s ok.

I’m going to take the ‘no rules, seriously’ side of ‘the rules’, because my story ran through that 200-500 words and then just kept going.

I used the prompt phrase: Skin and Scales.

*****

“Who are you talking to, honey?”

Lydia glanced up from the animated conversation she’d been holding with thin air on the back porch. “Fred.”

An imaginary friend? Marsha exchanged a glance with her husband. This wasn’t exactly normal for a thirteen year old.

“On the phone?” John asked, hopeful. Phones are normal.

“No.”

“Is Fred… is Fred sitting in front of you?”

Lydia gave her parents a look that clearly questioned their sanity. “Of course not.”

“Then… where is he?”

“Well, firstly, Fred’s a she, DUH,” Lydia said, proving her mastery of the expected teenager snark. “And secondly, also obviously, she’s talking in my head.”

“… Oooh…” her concerned parents replied in unison. “And… and what is she talking about?”

“The change.”

“What change?”

Their daughter smiled, an eerie heat in her eyes. “I will be forged in skin and scale.”

The child psychologist agreed that this was, indeed, unusual behaviour. Marsha and John decided to leave out the last bit. No need to make her seem too strange.

***

“When did Fred first start visiting you, Lydia?” The mousy man asked, his soft voice meant to engage children and make them feel safe.

“She showed up last month.” When the psychologist just waited, she added with an eye-roll, “And hasn’t left. Why would she?”

“And what do you two talk about?”

“What to expect, mostly. And aerospace engineering.”

Doctor Williams had heard a lot of strange things, but this was certainly unique. He forced himself to focus on the first part. “What to expect?”

“I’m thirteen, Dr Williams,” Lydia condescended. “I’m going through changes.”

“Puberty?”

“Sure, that too.”

“And… does it worry you?”

“Well I can’t say I was expecting it, but I’m more excited than worried. It helps that Fred came early to talk me through it.”

Dr Williams crossed his legs uncomfortably. “Don’t you feel comfortable talking to your parents about this? These changes, I mean? What insight does Fred have?”

“This is a bit outside of my parents’ experience. Why talk to them when I can talk to a professional?”

“What role does the aerospace engineering play in puberty?”

Lydia gave him a wide eyed look. “None, I hope. Aren’t you supposed to know these things? You’re a doctor.”

“Then why are you talking about it with Fred?” the doctor asked, bewildered.

“I’m thirteen, I’m going through changes.”

“What changes?!” The little girl was too self posessed – it was like talking to an adult who was doing his best to confound his psychiatrist, but it was just a little girl, giving him dribbles of meaningless information.

“I will be forged in skin and scale.” Lydia’s eyes flashed red, and the doctor flinched.

He dabbed anxiously at his sweaty brow and swallowed his growing discomfort. This was a little girl, nothing to be afraid of.

“What… what do you mean by that?”

After a long and thoughtful pause, Lydia shrugged and smiled. “I’m thirteen, I’m going through changes.”

***

Lydia ran a high fever for over a week. Any attempt by her parents to take her to the emergency room was met with a snarled no and an unnerving glare. Her eyes gleamed in the light from the open door when her parents looked in on her late one evening.

“Like cat eyes,” Marsha muttered, fretfully pulling balls off her sweater. It was the middle of winter, but they couldn’t seem to get the house temperature below 30C. Marsha sweated through her knitwear in a firm act of denial that anything odd was going on.

“What was that, hon?” John changed into shorts and a tank top the moment he came home from work. He shivered constantly in his office, unused to the cooler air. He tread lightly around both his wife and daughter. The former wound so tight he worried she’d snap, the latter bubbling over with restless energy, like a caged tiger.

“Nothing. She’s awake.” Marsha continued to fidget with her sleeves, watching her daughter’s shadowy form out of the corner of her eye.

“… yeah,” John sighed. “Heya kiddo. How are you feeling?” He flicked on the light in the room and stepped into the dry heat.

“Good,” Lydia rasped, “Gooood” She spoke with a sibilant hiss to her tone. Her hair was matted and damp against her brow, her eyes unfamiliar and restless.

“It sure is warm in here.”

“Heat is… gooood.”

“We’re worried about you, kiddo. What’s happening?”

“I will be forged in skin and scale.”

“Is that dangerous?”

“Not for me.” Lydia’s eyes focused on the here and now for a moment and her brow creased in worry. “I think I should probably go away until it’s over.”

“Away where?”

“The mountains.”

Her parents exchanged worried looks. Finally, her mother asked, “Is that what Fred says?”, in her first acknowledgement of her daughter’s strange new friend. Or whatever it was.

“She says only if I like you.” Lydia lurched to her feet and gave her parents a considering look. “And I do, so… could you give me a lift?”

***

John and Marsha were unprepared for this new development in child-rearing. They had packed their daughter a sleeping bag and tent, a pile of protein bars, chocolates and fruit roll up snacks, and a change of clothes. They argued over what food their daughter ought to bring, but in the end, decided that they preferred to leave her wired on sugar than teach her how to use a stove while also suffering from… something.

When they dropped her off at the head of the most isolated trail they could find – the parking lot was empty, thankfully – she was burning up. Marsha leaned in for a hug and got her hand scalded when she tried to feel Lydia’s forehead one last time.

She smiled at them, the same old smile she’d always had, but more… toothy… and trotted off into the woods like she wasn’t running a fever that ought to have put her in the hospital and was just off to a friend’s house for a sleepover.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Marsha said.

They sat in the front seats of the family van, staring into the darkness in uncomfortable silence. Had they really just let their baby wander off into the woods alone?

“Should we go after her?” John whispered around midnight. “This is crazy. She’s sick.” He reached to unlock his door.

At that moment the ground beneath the van rumbled ominously. Tree branches fell on the hood and in the distance they could hear the clatter of tree trunks crashing down to the forest floor. The rumble eventually stopped and John and Marsha sat very still, their animal instincts screaming danger.

The sky glowed red and indigo in the distance.

Marsha reached over and squeezed her husband’s hand. “I think we should listen to Fred.”

***

John and Marsha’s weariness had overcome wariness sometime around dawn. They didn’t walk down the trail as they’d planned, so they didn’t see their daughter walk down the trail stark naked and steaming in the cold winter air, pause beside a bush about 50 m from the trail head and pull out the gear bag she’d left behind, and don the change of clothing. She ate three chocolate bars and a fruit roll up, wrapper and all. She also, as an afterthought, ate one of the metal tent pegs and found it agreeable.

Lydia’s knock startled her parents awake. They rushed out like they hadn’t seen her in years instead of merely a day. They were thrilled to see her acting her usual self. Maybe this was all it would take to get their baby back.

“Well, kiddo? How was it? Were you warm enough?” John smiled down at his daughter. He casually checked her forehead and confirmed that the fever was gone, draping an arm over her shoulder at the same time. He squeezed his wife on his other side and enjoyed the feeling of having his family in his arms.

“Yes. I made the lake boil, but I chose one that only gets melt runoff, so I didn’t kill any fish.”

Only John’s arm around her kept Marsha from hitting the ground.

“That’s … super, kiddo. Just super. How about all that junk food, eh?” John decided his wife’s state of delusion seemed like a nice place to be.

“I ate a grizzly bear.”

Marsha chuckled weakly, pulling herself upright and plucking at the balls on her sweater. “Well that’s lovely, dear. Does that mean you’re too full for pizza?”

As Young as you Feel

Master Class is mixing things up, and doing a somewhat elaborate month-long challenge in which you get to pick and choose from a variety of challenges that will update regularly.  The one-word challenge of the first week is:

Hooligan

It’s such a great word, how could I resist?  click on the link below to go to the page and read the other submissions or post your own!

“Mildred!  If anyone asks, I been out here with you all day!”  Ernie cackled delightedly and pushed the screen door shut with his cane.  He had a newspaper under his arm and two beers.

His wife of sixty-three years was weeding the vegetable garden.  It was a strange garden, with stout banisters  running between the rows.  Their son had patronizingly explained wireless technology to his poor backwards mam when she’d asked how he liked his provider, and, since getting her set up with the device, had received  cellphone calls from across town to ‘help his poor old mamma up from her gardening’. Mysteriously, and entirely unconnected to the fact that he had accidentally made his Outlook Calendar public to his contacts, he was always on his way in for a massage when she called.  He built the fences so that Mildred could pull herself up, and she had thanked him profusely, eyes twinkling.  They made excellent trellises.

Mildred joined Ernie in the shade of their porch.

“Heya toots,” Ernie deposited a sound kiss on her lips and offered up the bottles, “Give us a hand?”

“Your damned arthritis, what good are you anymore?” she chortled, popping the caps off the two beers with a sharp tap to the edge of their cinder-block table.  “What have you really been up to, you old hooligan?”

“Me?  Why, I’m just a feeble old codger.” Ernie took a swig of his beer.  “Not much could get up to, is there?  But might be that the dog walker who called you an ugly old witch and doesn’t pick up after his dogs left his van windows cracked.  And on a completely unrelated note, I cleaned up our front lawn and all down the street, kindly soul that I am.”

“Kind indeed – cheers to being so old that we couldn’t possible have done anything wrong!”

SciFriday – Salt

Post-apocalyptic City, by Peter Siegl, on DeviantArt. Follow the picture to see more of his work!

In the hunt for immortality, there are always fads – the ‘real’ way to stay healthy would sweep the nation, be disproved, discarded and replaced.

Some things stick, though, to the point that the government takes it to heart.  The connection between sodium intake and blood pressure was clear.  Heart attacks were nearly eliminated, along with fast food chains.

Too bad our civilization’s salt addiction was all that had kept the snails off our backs.

The remaining officials strongly encourage the surviving populace to relocate to the coast – and remember that a high-sodium diet is a healthy diet!

***

This is a piece in response to Chris White Writes’ new SciFriday posts – he provides a piece of art, you provide about 100 words of sci fi.  win-win.  Head over to read the other submissions and submit your own piece!

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 – 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.