Category Archives: Flash Fiction

Early-Man Ennui


In my writing this morning, I found myself musing: I wonder if cavemen got depressed?

So… this happened.

(For some reason I imagined the cavemen with British accents. Probably all the Good Omens and Ricky Gervais comedy specials I’ve been watching.)

#####

Int. a dingy, shallow cave. A few unwashed loincloths litter the floor. DAG sits staring into the ashes of a fire that burned out several hours ago at the very least. THOP enters, his shadow stretching long across DAG, who either fails to notice or fails to care.

Thop: Dag?

Dag: Hmm? Oh. Thop. Morning.

Thop: I should say so, Dag. The sun’s been up for 15 minutes. What are you doing?

Dag: What do you mean?

Thop: Are you serious?

Dag: About what?

Thop: Dag. It’s Monday morning. Hunting day. The antelope are waiting.

Dag: Are they?

Thop: What?

Dag: The antelope. Just standing around thinking, gee, it’d sure be great if we got chased, hunted, and eaten today, are they?

Thop: Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a figure of speech.

Dag: Ah.

Thop: It’s time to go hunt, Dag.

Dag: I don’t know, Thop. I’m just not sure I’m feeling like it today.

Thop: Not feeling like it? What are you talking about? We’re hunter-gatherers. Hunting is one of two things we do in life. You don’t feel like it?

Dag: I just feel sort of lost. Kind of … I don’t know. Spiritually icky. You know?

Thop: No, I don’t. If you don’t come on the hunt, you won’t eat. That’s a promise, Dag. The others won’t stand for it and neither will I. So get your loincloth on and let’s go.

Dag: Oh. Well, all right then, I guess maybe I’ll just starve. Waste away. Wouldn’t take very long, we’re all half-dead just waling around here, aren’t we?

THOP sighs in exasperation and heads for the exit. DAG stops him.

Dag: Remember me, okay? Or don’t. It doesn’t matter anyway, in the scheme of things, does it? Nobody will remember any of us after we’re gone. Hunt the antelope, don’t hunt the antelope — what does it matter? This life is meaningless. The hunt is meaningless.

Thop: The hunt is meaningless? Fine, Dag. I’ll just go tell that to Erk and Pog and the rest, then, we’ll hang it up, shall we?

Dag: What’s the point? We bag an antelope, it delays our deaths by a few weeks. But that’s a few weeks more we’ll be suffering, isn’t it?

Thop: Bugger all this, mate.

THOP makes for the exit once more, but DAG isn’t done.

Dag: You remember Egg? Had a tooth rotted so badly he couldn’t eat. Moaned about it for days. Finally he got fed up with it and hurled himself off the cliffs by the river. Remember him?

Thop: Of course I remember Egg. He was our best hunter; we gave him a hero’s sendoff.

Dag: I envy him.

Thop: What, you want an effigy of twigs and antelope dung burned in your honor?

Dag: No, I envy him his end down there on the rocks. He had it right, you know. Took an instant of pain before his sun went down rather than weeks and weeks of the agony of slow starvation. The agony that the rest of us still have to endure, day after day after day. Not such a bad trade, when you think about it, is it?

Thop: (After a long pause.) Dag.

Dag: Yes, Thop?

Thop: Get your prehistoric ass up off that rock, get a loincloth on, and come hunt antelope with us. I’ve had it.

Dag stares morosely into what used to be the fire for a long moment.

Dag: Oh, all right.

Together, DAG and THOP and the rest of the clan would indeed go out to hunt antelope and bring back a feast.

But Dag’s heart wasn’t really in it.

######

And, just because it’s never really exited my consciousness, here’s a blast from the past that may or may not have had a subliminal influence, as well.


Word of Mouth


When’s the last time I tried a flash fiction? It’s been a while. This one’s apropos of nothing; just a little seedling that took root while I was falling asleep a few nights ago.

***********

The man behind the counter is exactly as promised. His face, grizzled and careworn. His beard, long with a braid that dangles just above his belt. His arms, corded steel sleeved in jagged patterns of ink.

This is the forgemaster, all right.

Jad flicks his cigarette into the gutter and swaggers into the shop. A quaint tinkling bell announces him.

“Evening,” Thierry mutters without looking up. His knotty fingers work delicately away on a blade and stone in his hands, putting Jad in mind of a patient spider.

Jad strides right up to the counter. Lays his hands on the glass. Looks hard at the older man, willing him to look back. Thierry lets the moment linger, then lays down his tools. “Help you?”

“You’re the forgemaster.”

At that, the old man folds his arms and leans way back. He arches an eyebrow as he takes Jad in from head to toe. The ragged hair, gaunt face, sinewy body. All the leather. “Are you asking, or telling?”

Jad’s gaze flicks down to the glass case full of knives set between them. Each one beautiful and terrible, like the teeth of ancient megafauna honed to an evil point. Blades of bone, steel, and materials Jad can’t identify. The master’s work. “It’s you. You made these. You’re him.”

“Sure, kid. You got me. But … ugh. Forgemaster. Just call me Thierry. What do you want?” He asks as if he already knows, and, way Jad figures, probably he does.

“I’m a hunter.”

“Uh-huh.”

Jad flinches. Usually the title carries a bit more gravity. But he presses on. “A damned good hunter. I’ve had the visions. I’ve slain nightwalkers in droves. I am chosen.”

Thierry gives an approving frown. “I’m sure you’re doing just fine for yourself. What do you want with me?”

Jad grins, opens his palms and shrugs. “I need a weapon.”

“Got some fine ones here,” Thierry says. “What’s your fancy?”

“No,” Jad says. “I need a real weapon.”

Thierry’s eyes roll skyward, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. “You’ve done your homework.”

“Yes.”

“You learned I was still alive. Tracked me down. Sought me out. No small feat. I don’t see many hunters these days.”

Jad can’t help himself. His smirk widens. “Wasn’t easy.”

“You must also know I’m retired.”

Jad gestures around the shop. “Don’t look so retired to me.”

“I sell these. I don’t forge anymore. But you know that, too.”

“I know that you gave it up because the hunters let you down.” Thierry’s gaze has drifted off across Jad’s shoulder. Jad shifts himself into the older man’s line of sight. “But I won’t let you down.”

It’s Thierry’s turn to smirk at the kid. “What’s your name, then?”

“Jad.”

“Jad. I like you. You’ve got spirit. But I’m retired. No offense. I don’t work for the hunters anymore.” And Thierry picks up his knife and stone and goes back to sharpening.

Jad blinks in disbelief. “For decades, you’ve made the weapons that keep the shadow at bay.” He starts, then stops, then starts again. “You can’t just quit!”

“I can,” Thierry says, “and I have. You want to fight the nightwalkers? You’re welcome to any weapon you see here. Free of charge, even. Because I like you. But I’m nobody’s slave anymore.”

Jad recoils like he’s been slapped. “Slave? The hunters never –”

“Don’t.” Thierry’s eyes are as sharp as any blade in the store.

“I’ll pay you, of course.”

“No.”

Jad is flabbergasted. “I’m the most talented hunter in an age. The elders have said so. I’ve got a chance to destroy the nightwalkers for good. I need a proper weapon to do it. Not one of these … kitchen knives.”

Thierry looks almost bored, scraping away at the blade in his hand. Shiiiiink. Shiiiiiiink. “If you’re such a great hunter, surely you already know: the greatest weapon is the one in your head, not the one in your hand.” He meets Jad’s gaze one last time. “The answer is no.”

The kid moves like lightning. In a flash, Thierry’s blade is in Jad’s hand, the point of it thrust behind Thierry’s bushy beard, its point drawing a bead of blood at his neck.

Thierry actually chuckles. “You’re fast, I’ll give you that.”

Jad’s eyes bulge a bit crazily as he bares his teeth. “You will make me a weapon.”

The air goes out of Thierry, and Jad can tell he’s won. “Come back in three days.”

#

Three days later, true to his word, Thierry presents the young hunter with his masterwork. The blade, a demon’s flame cast in hexsteel, icy to the touch. Devilishly sharp. A breathtaking weapon. “You won’t regret this,” Jad says. He drops a ridiculous amount of money on the countertop.

“Just remember what I said about the weapon in your hand,” Thierry says. “And try not to get yourself killed.”

“Don’t worry your little heart about me, old man,” Jad says.

That very night, Jad carves his way through a nest. One nightwalker after the next falls before the master’s blade. All the way to the broodmother. Jad sinks his blade hilt-deep in the nightwalker’s chest. She laughs, then tears Jad’s throat out.

Jad expires in a mist of blood and fear, unseeing eyes blinking wildly in the night. His fingers grasp at the blade that won’t help him; a forgery, a fraud.

#

Ellaree, the broodmother, tosses the blade unceremoniously on Thierry’s counter, along with a ridiculous amount of money.

“You’re getting lazy,” she hisses. “I’ve seen this weapon before.”

Thierry shrugs. “The kid hadn’t. Did he die well?”

“Does it matter?” Thierry curls up like a beetle, at that. “Nobody will know otherwise. You can even sell that weapon again, if you want.” She smirks. “Again, again.”

Thierry hefts the dagger, thinks about plunging it right into her heart. It’d be useless, of course, but it might feel good. Might be worth the death it’d earn him. Instead, he tucks it into the back of his belt, safely out of sight. Just in case another upstart hunter shows his face this night.

Wouldn’t want to miss another sale.

**********

 


Rock Salt


This is a story about rocks.

Quinn loved rocks.

It wasn’t such an unusual thing for a young boy to love rocks, although maybe it was unusual for a young boy to love rocks as much as Quinn did. Every day, after school, Quinn would go into the woods behind his house, follow the leaf-strewn path down to MacIntyre Lake, and play with rocks for hours.

He’d seek out thin, palm-sized rocks smoothed by centuries of flowing water to skip on the lake. Largish rocks with flattened edges cracked by time to stack into teetering towers. Tiny, dense pebbles to wing at the occasional squirrel (he hit one, once, and watched it twitching on a bed of pinestraw for almost thirty minutes before it got up and stumble-ran off into the woods again). He even had a special collection of rocks that he just liked to look at.

Quinn’s mom thought his geological fixation was a bit much. But she also knew that her friend, Cheryl, had a husband who kept a collection of rocks in a cabinet in his basement. He was known to take them out and polish them and write the odd column about responsible rock ownership in the slower midweek editions of the town paper. “Quaint, but harmless,” was the thing most often said about him, and she could deal with her son being quaint, but harmless.

That all changed when Quinn took his rocks to school.

The first time, he didn’t do anything with them — just stowed them away in his backpack to prove to himself that he could do it.

The second time, he showed them to a few of his friends. They didn’t really understand why he wanted to bring rocks to school — school was school, after all, rocks didn’t really have much to do with it.

The day before the third time, Will Barrett tripped Quinn in the lunch line (his buddies dared him to trip the weirdo kid bringing his rocks to school). For the rest of the day, everybody called Quinn “Potato Face” (you couldn’t say a lot for the creativity of your average school kid, but what they lacked there they made up in tenacity).

Quinn showed up the third time with a bag brimming with good throwing rocks, waited til Will and his buddies were face-deep in cafeteria Sloppy Joes, and let fly. Will lost a tooth. Terry caught a sharp one in the eye and had to wear an eyepatch for a month. Finn took one in the head and thought he was fine, but later in the day they had to call an ambulance for him when he kept falling over. A little girl sitting at the next table — a third grader Quinn didn’t even know — got her forehead gashed open.

Of course, Quinn was suspended, but more surprising, the school board immediately moved to ban rocks in all schools. “Rocks have no place in the classroom,” the press release read, “and their presence can only serve at best to distract from the learning environment, and at worst to pose a threat of tangible physical harm to our students.” But the very next day, Cheryl’s husband (the rock collector) penned his midweek column and argued that rocks did have a safe place in schools under proper conditions, and even made the (admittedly in poor taste) joke that if some teachers had been carrying some good throwing rocks of their own, they might have taken Quinn down before he could do more substantial harm to his classmates.

A heated debate bubbled up in the community. The school board’s office became a regular site for heated arguments between previously civil members of the community. Some were angry that their kids, suddenly enamored with the idea of bringing rocks with them at all times, should be punished for doing so. Others were incensed at the possibility that their child might be in the same room with a rock without their knowledge. Still others argued that access to rocks was a fundamental right not to be impinged regardless of how anybody else felt about it. The ban was lifted, then reinstated, then lifted with restrictions, and there were regulations proposed about how many rocks a student could bring to school, or how long a student had to wait between applying for a rock permit and actually receiving his rock, until very few people actually knew what the specific rules were on rocks in the first place.

While that was going on, a strange thing happened. Kids at the school began bringing rocks to school anyway. Rocks could be found everywhere, after all, and were easy to conceal. And you didn’t have to be a rock enthusiast to recognize the advantage a rock in your backpack could provide in a schoolyard scuffle. Before the month was out, rock-related incidents between students had skyrocketed.

Even worse, the kids were innovating. One student proudly kept a thirty-pound rock, practically a boulder, in his backyard, just for the purpose of dropping it off the roof onto tin cans. Another devised a contraption — basically a forked stick with a bit of rubber tubing strung between its extremities — with which he could fling stones much faster, much farther, and much more accurately than anybody could throw them before. “Why would you ever need such things?” People asked them. They could have talked about the primal urge to domination, the hard-coded mine-is-bigger-than-yours urge, even the simple fact that having such things meant that you could seriously hurt somebody who messed with you, even if you didn’t want to. But all that tended to be ungainly and hard to explain to those asking the questions, so they answered “for sport” instead.

Worse still, an economy had sprung up around the enterprise. Some individuals found it worth their time to go out in search of the biggest rocks, or the most streamlined, or “rocks you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of,” and sell them for a profit. There was no shortage of demand, after all — since everybody, especially bad guys, had access to rocks, it only made sense to consider having some rocks yourself, just in case.

And kids continued to bring rocks to school, not always because they really liked rocks, but because rocks, being well-and-truly everywhere and the focus of so much discussion by now, seemed like the answer to all problems.

But little by little, kids — strangely, it was the kids and not the adults — decided they’d had enough of living with the fear that somebody could just walk into their school and start throwing rocks. It wasn’t fair to them that their education, to say nothing of their health and well-being, was suddenly viewed as secondary to the rights of a handful of students to tote rocks all over the place.

“But it’s for sport,” came the arguments.

“We have rights,” they continued.

“You can’t just –” they protested.

“Bullshit,” responded the students, and they went and laid down in the lawns of very powerful people, hoping somebody would notice them there.

They are laying there still.

But they are not entirely unnoticed.

It’s entirely about rocks, and not about something else. If you think it’s about something else, that’s your problem, not mine.

This story was born from a prompt by my writing spirit animal, Chuck Wendig: “a world without guns.” Even though this story is obviously about rocks, it was inspired by recent events surrounding things which are not rocks. Probably it doesn’t end quite as cleverly as I would have liked, but it’s hard to write endings for things which seem to have no end in sight.

Still, maybe there’s something different this time.


Flash Fiction Horror Collaboration: A roundup


Over the last three weeks, Chuck Wendig has run a sort of round-robin storytelling gig at Terrible Minds. We write 1000 words at a time, then hand the story off to another writer to continue the tale.

I started with A Laughing Matter, which received a part 2 Nate F and by S.L. Wright. My sad clown was off to a couple of roaring starts! Unfortunately, nobody has given it a part three so far. Too bad, but them’s the breaks — the challenge suffered a fair bit of attrition as things crept along (There were something like 30 stories in the first round, about 22 chapter 2’s, and even fewer chapter 3’s).

Not to worry, though, because I also continued a story started at Line Meets Sand, and that chapter two received another two completing chapters — one by Runner Skye and another by Vicente Ruiz.

In the business world, we’d call that a significant return on investment — people put more into writing the stories I contributed to than I ever did myself — so I’d like to thank those authors for allowing me to take advantage of them! If you like what I put up around here, you just might enjoy clicking on some of the links above.


Flash Fiction Horror Collaboration: The Dark Fairy


This week: the conclusion of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction horror collaboration.

I’ve gone with the supernaturally bent The Dark Fairy, started by Rosemary Carlson and StarNinja (feels like there’s a Guardians of the Galaxy joke in there somewhere). For ease of reading, I’ve plonked their text down here, but I highly recommend that you visit their sites too, as they’re taking new stories in new directions this week — and who knows, one of them might even finish one of the two others I’ve worked on here.

Anyway, the conclusion of The Dark Fairy is below; my part comes last. Enjoy! (And if a fairy talks to you, just run. STRANGER DANGER.)

****

Part 1 by Rosemary Carlson

****

Evan wondered what to do, if anything, with the information he had just received from his grandfather. Evan was only 17 years old. Most of his family was gone. His mother had recently passed away. His father had left the family when he was a child. He was living with his grandfather, who was dying. Evan was taking care of him. Evan could hear his rasping breath, even though he was in the next room. They didn’t have the money to hire any help. Evan was exhausted from the 24 hour shifts, grabbing sleep here and there, that he was pulling taking care of Gramps.

Gramps was napping and Evan was wrapped up in a wool blanket, sitting beside his bed. The old house was cold and drafty and he had just heard the most fantastic story. He wondered if Gramps was just sick and delusional. He even wondered if he was so sleep-deprived that he had imagined it all. Suppose it was true? What should he do?

As the old man lay sleeping, Evan thought about the story. Fairies. Could fairies really exist? If Gramps was telling the truth, they did exist. Evan started to drift off to sleep while thinking of the fairy story but something hit his head. He jumped up, looked around, but there was nothing there. What was it? He must have dreamed it. He had to stay awake in case Gramps needed him.

Once again, he started to think about the fairy story. Gramps told him that, all of his life, there had been this creature, a fairy, that had accompanied him everywhere he went. The fairy, a female, thought of him as her pet. Evan had always thought of fairies as funny, light, fairy tale things. Gramps said this was a dark fairy, really a mean fairy. Gramps was confessing to Evan because he felt guilty. This fairy had made Gramps do many bad things.

Gramps told Evan about a book he had on fairies, so Evan went downstairs to find it. As he started down the stairs, he tripped on broken wood and started to fall, but suddenly he wasn’t falling. The fall stopped and it felt like something grabbed him by the shirt collar.

“That’s weird,” Evan thought. “What broke my fall? Felt like something stopped me. Oh well, best consider myself lucky.”

Evan went on down the stairs and into the living room to the bookcase. He found the fairy book and reached for it.

“Ouch,” Evan said, as it felt like something hit him on the hand. Then, as he tried to get the book out, it felt like it was stuck. As he tugged on it, he fell backwards and hit his head on the wooden floor.

Evan started wondering what was going on, but he picked up the book and walked back upstairs so he could read and sit by Gramps. He leafed through the old, tattered book until he found the page on dark fairies. The more he read, the more frightened he became. Dark fairies do just what Gramps said. They make people do bad things. They treat them as pets. They are malevolent creatures. Evan started to shake all over. Gramps continued to softly snore.

Evan tried to calm himself by deciding that Gramps’ story was just the ramblings of a sick old man. He was so sleepy that he gradually drifted off in his chair.

Evan woke with a start. How did he get outside? He wasn’t just outdoors but he was in the sky. He was flying and something was holding him up. He heard a whisper in his ear, a female voice, that said her name was Ramona and she was his fairy. Evan started to scream and squirm and Ramona put something over his mouth. He could hardly breathe. She told him in a very stern whisper to shut up or she would make the noose around his neck, with which she was holding him up, even tighter.

Evan was so scared. He was scared of Ramona and of flying. He couldn’t stop squirming and he was screaming behind his gag. Ramona pulled the noose a little tighter. She whispered that Gramps was a much better pet than was Evan.

Suddenly, Evan could tell they were going down toward the ground. Before they got there, Evan fell. All of a sudden, he was on the ground. He could hardly move since he had hit the ground hard. There beside him stood a creature. She was maybe a foot tall. Evan noticed that she had a long black cape on and sported long, flowing black hair. She had piercing blue eyes. He couldn’t look away from her eyes.

Ramona laughed uproariously. She asked Evan if he had enjoyed the ride and the fall.

Evan said, “No. Take me back to Gramps. He’s sick and he needs me.”

“That old man is dying,” said Ramona. “He doesn’t need anything but to be left alone. We have a job to do.”

“Who are you and what do you want with me?” Evan asked.

“I told you. I’m Ramona, your fairy. I was your Gramps fairy and now I’m yours. You’re my pet. You look like a fine boy.”

Evan replied, “I don’t want a fairy. I want to go home. I’m cold and sleepy and I need to be with Gramps. He’s my responsibility. You’re a horrible fairy. I must be having a nightmare.”

“You are going to have a nightmare if you don’t shut up,” said Ramona, as she hit  Evan with a stick. She hit him over and over again, until Evan was almost unconscious. Then, she woke him up.

As Evan sat up, Ramona said, “Do you see that house over there?”

Even shook his head yes.

Ramona said, “There are three people who live there. A man, woman, and female child. The woman needs to die and you are going to kill her.”

****

Part 2, by StarNinja

****

Evan didn’t want this. He didn’t want this with every fiber of his being.

“I’m not a killer. I don’t kill. I won’t do it.”

The fairy sighed, pondering the stick in her tiny hand.

“The stick worked well for your grandpa. Perhaps for you it will be the carrot instead,” said Ramona.

“There’s nothing you can say that will make me do this,” said Evan.

“So confident,” Ramona said knowingly.

“Okay then, why? Why does the woman need to die?”

“Need is a strong word,” said Ramona.

“Answer me,” said Evan.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Why, because my feeble human mind couldn’t possibly comprehend?” Evan asked angrily.

“Close. No it’s less a matter of comprehending than it is a matter of context.”

“Stop playing around with me and answer me straight! What did she do to deserve death?” Evan asked.

“If you want the whole truth, we’re going to be here for a while and neither of us have that kind of time. Wouldn’t it be easier to be a good pet and do what I say?” asked Ramona.

“I refuse. I won’t do it no matter how much you hurt me,” said Evan.

“Would it be easier if she was an abuser?” Ramona asked.

“No. She should be reported and go to jail for that,” said Evan.

“What about if she was a child molester? Hmm? What if she preyed on the children of this neighborhood? On her own daughter? Would that change your mind?” Ramona asked.

“Well… no. She still wouldn’t deserve…”

“And!” Ramona said, cutting him off, “what if she herself had killed? What if she was going to kill again?”

“Killing her wouldn’t be the answer.”

“Why not?” Ramona asked.

“Because everyone deserves a chance to own what they’ve done. To make up for whatever it is you think ought to get them killed. They deserve a chance at life,” said Evan.

“Oh, my precious pet. No one deserves to live,” she said with a dark smile. Evan felt himself shiver, or maybe it was the cold night air.

“That’s insane. Of course we do,” said Evan.

“We? Are you putting yourself in the same boat as that monster? No no, she’s got to go. She is a plague upon this earth, my pet. She ‘deserves’ everything you’re going to do to her. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry. I’ll teach you. I’ll show you how. But I did not misspeak when I said we had a job to do. It is a job. A most important job. Do you believe in Karma?”

“What?”

“Karma. Not a lot of people believe in it anymore. Not around here anyway. Not really. They give it a lot of lip service, but they live their lives like it doesn’t exist. But the great wheel cares not whether you believe in it. It’s kinda like the rain, or earthquakes. It just is. But the problem with people, especially people around here, is that they’ve found a way to get around good old fashioned Karma. They’ve dumped it on other people. Across space, across time.”

“You’re not making any sense,” said Evan.

“See? Context. Maybe you’ll understand after I tell you a little story. Once, little Suzie was a good girl who wanted to become a firefighter. But that didn’t last very long. Her family moved away when her uncle died, they had to get away from the stigma around the whole thing. So Suzie grew up, studied Literature, married a lawyer, had two kids, aborted one because reasons. She was living the American dream. Is this America? You still call it America, right?

“Anyways, Suzie moved into a nice two story home here in the suburbs with her family. She doesn’t do anything with her degree. She wants to, but it just hasn’t turned out that way. Instead she bides her time, waiting for her moment to be relevant. Maybe she’ll write that book she’s always wanted to, or maybe get a job at a magazine, or hell maybe her blog will take off. I mean something’s gotta happen, right? Guess how many people Suzie’s killed to get where she is.”

“Killed? She’s a murderer? Maybe, I don’t know, lead with that next time?” Evan asked. Ramona hit him with the stick again.

“Guess.”

“Ouch! Okay! Um, I don’t know. If she’s a serial killer, like four or five?”

“Three hundred thousand,” said Ramona.

“What? How?”

“Two people died in the forest cutting the trees down, another in the lumber yard that processed the wood for that house. Five commited suicide who’d worked in the factory making the smartphone in her pocket that she’s going to throw away in a week or two when the new model ships. One hundred people died in the mines getting the precious ores that went in her phone and computer and car and…”

“Stop! She didn’t do any of that! That was just…”

“If you say ‘It’s the system’s fault’ I swear to everything that is holy… ha, never mind. Little pet, I didn’t say she was directly responsible for all those deaths. She is a grain of sand on a scale, tiny and insignificant on her own. But. There’s a lot of sand. A LOT. Tipping things in favor of her and all her friends which means we have a lot of work to do tipping that scale back towards balance.”

“But that doesn’t mean…” Evan stammered.

“People she’s never met suffer every day, die, grow ill, working themselves to the bone to make her life so comfortable. But like I said, Karma doesn’t care about her ignorance, it reacts all the same.”

“I’m not going to kill her because…”

“Because what? She doesn’t know any better? Of course she does. She has the entire span and breadth of human knowledge at her fingertips. It wasn’t her fault she was born into these circumstances, but then neither was it the poor little girl’s fault who made her shoes. So how to make this right? What to do, what to do,” Ramona said, pushing Evan forward.

“I’m just as guilty as her for all those things. I deserve death just as much according to that logic,” said Evan.

“Logic: a system of thought developed by Ancient Greeks that didn’t save them from their own destruction. Don’t be like them, my pet. This is nature. This is the world. The universe doesn’t care what you think. The wheel keeps turning, gears crush and grind the dreams and hopes of every living thing that can dream and hope.” Ramona stroked Evan’s hair. “Tonight, it’s going to get a little more grease.”

****

Part 3, by me

****

Evan looked up and found himself face-to-face with the door of the house Ramona had pointed to only a few short moments ago. How had he traversed the distance? The house had looked impossibly far away, and yet here it was.

Here, now, Evan felt more doubt than ever. It would have been better if the family had turned out to be some disconnected, isolated, living-in-opulence sorts, but no, the house was entirely like his grandfather’s: not run-down, but in need of maintenance that the owner didn’t have the money, time, or energy for. Peeling paint. Drooping gutters, heavy with leaves. Windows smeared with children’s fingerprints. It was, in short, the all-too-familiar home of a family working hard to get by.

Evan turned to walk away, but found his feet would not budge. Ramona, riding weightless on his shoulder, droned in her tinny, urgent voice about balance and right and wrong. Gritting his teeth and summoning up every inch of resistance in him, Evan growled: “I won’t do this!”

A tiny little cackle in his ear. “You’re already doing it.”

Into Evan’s vision, his right arm drifted. Closed in the fist was a rock. When had he picked up a rock? With a yelp of terror, Evan spun and hurled the rock away — or meant to. The rock left his hand and sailed through the porch window, shattering the glass with a horrible sound. Evan was sure it would wake the neighborhood.

Again, he turned to run, but the fairy floated into his view before he could take a step. “You’re a fool about a great many things, and that’s not your fault, but don’t be a fool about this. Fingerprints on the rock you just used to break into the house. Do I need to tell you how guilty a young man fleeing from the scene of the crime in the dead of night looks?” She pointed. Lights had gone on in the house across the street.

He hated her, but she was right. Evan punched out the remaining shards of glass, reached through the window, and gingerly eased himself into the house. Maybe he could wake the family, explain all this away. If the fairy would just shut up. But no sooner had he stepped on the scuffed hardwood floor than he heard a commotion of footsteps upstairs. He froze, torn between bolting and hiding. He glanced around; there, in the cast of moonlight through the broken window, was the rock.

Get the evidence and go, he told himself. He grabbed his rock and ran back to the window, and then the room was flooded with light.

“Daddy?” The voice was sleep-thick and innocent. At the top of the stairs stood the child; a scrawny girl of no more than four. She stared at Evan oddly, her head cocked to the side.

“She’s not the one you want,” Ramona taunted. “Of course, if you wanted to…”

“Shut up!” Evan hissed. The girl took a timid step backward. Evan pressed a finger to his lips, but it was too late.

The girl screamed.

Evan ran. He only got one step before Ramona flitted into his vision again, screeching: “you’re not finished, Evan!”

He swatted her aside like a gnat and ran to the window. He threw one leg over the sill and gasped in pain; a gleaming shard of glass protruded from his thigh. He seized it and yanked it out; the blood gushed out in a thick gout.

“DNA evidence,” the fairy tsk, tsked, from behind him.

“SHUT UP!” Evan screamed and spun, lashing out with the dagger-sized shard of glass. There was a mist of blood, but the resistance was considerably more than he expected. He hadn’t sliced the fairy in half; he’d opened a gash in the throat of the man from the photograph.

Where the hell had he come from? Evan hadn’t even heard him approach.

The man held a baseball bat aloft, his face stretched wide in surprise. The bat fell to the floor with a clatter as the man clutched at his throat, blood washing over his hands in a thick sheet. He fell to his knees, then collapsed on his face in a growing red pool.

“Mistake, Evan. You want the wife, not the husband. God, you’re making this difficult.” Evan could no longer tell if Ramona’s voice was coming from her perch on his shoulder or the inside of his own head. Another scream echoed from upstairs. “His wife is getting the gun. She’ll use it on you unless you kill her first.”

Evan shook his head fiercely. “I won’t. I’m leaving.” He made for the window again —

And he felt himself flung across the room. Ramona stood on his chest as he blinked at the ceiling. “Not until you or she is dead. And I’m starting to doubt your usefulness. Now get upstairs.”

Dizzily, Evan got to his feet — the blood draining from his thigh clouding his vision — and stumbled up the stairs. Weak and injured as he was, it was easier than fighting. The fairy’s voice guided him.

“Right, now. End of the hall. Second door. There.

There she was, hunched over a little safe, just opening the door.

“Wait!” Evan lunged for her, not even really meaning to — but still, of course, clutching his dagger of glass. He tripped and fell toward her as she brought the gun about and fired.

Heat and pain bloomed in his chest as their eyes locked in horror. She reached up and pulled the shard from her neck, and the blood rushed out in a great fountain. It sprayed, smoky and thick, across Evan as he collapsed on his back.

The last thing he saw was the little girl watching from the doorway. Not screaming in terror, but nodding in understanding at the words of the tiny fairy on her shoulder.

 


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