Tag Archives: 1000 words

Story-Matic #63


Lately I’ve been feeling the urge to write short fiction again. Stories that I can dip my toes into and move on from without feeling like I have to explore all their murky depths. Stories that I don’t necessarily feel strongly about, or feel the urge to finish, stories for stretching the legs, for limbering up the ol’ bean, for exploring. That maybe don’t go anywhere, or end satisfyingly, but that tickle my fancy anyway.

Here’s one of them. The prompt: “Bodybuilder, revenge”.

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This is the last straw.

Dimitri slams his locker in disgust, snarling at his phone as he thumbs through his feed. That damned Kurtis. It’s not enough that he’s got the biggest deadlift in the gym (and everybody knows it), that his girlfriend is better-looking than Dimitri’s (and everybody agrees — even Dimitri), or that he drives a nicer car than he should even have access to (an unreleased next-gen Maserati, not even on the market for this year or next, apparently handed down from some Arabian prince. How Kurtis ended up in it is anybody’s guess).

And now this.

In the video, a jubilant Kurtis mugs for the camera. He calls out his haters. He points right into the lens, shouting words of encouragement. He reaches down, locks his meaty hands around a barbell. The camera pans slowly out to reveal that, on the ends of the barbell, superimposed over the weights (but not superimposed so well that a viewer wouldn’t notice that the amount of weights is extravagant, Kurtis, you colossal bastard), is Dimitri’s face. Not a flattering picture, either, but a picture snapped by Erik and Josef some months prior as they burst in on Dimitri in the shower after flushing the nearby toilet. The face is a face full of shock, of pain, of a man betrayed and in doubt over whether there is any goodness at all in the world.

The picture had made the rounds in crude memes slapped together by the crew at the gym, and Dimitri’s embarrassment and anger were tremendous. But as with all things in social media, the picture had run its course — or so Dimitri thought. But here it is. Kurtis has resurrected it on his motivational weightlifting account for thousands to see.

The snarl on Dimitri’s face deepens.

The Kurtis in the video presses the barbell once, twice, five times. It’s a Personal Best for Kurtis (you hell-spawn, you absolute rat-chomper). He howls in triumph, drops the barbell to the mat (Dimitri’s superimposed face wincing as it hits) and runs to the camera, his perfectly symmetrical face filling the frame.

“You can do it too, ja?” says the Kurtis in the video, eyes wide with intensity. “You push the haters around, show them you are strong. That we are strong. Throw them around like they are nothing, ja? You make the power in yourself. You take the power from them.” He flexes. Sneers. Then smiles. He even winks. Goddammit.

It’s nonsense, every word of it, but somehow in Kurtis’s imperfect English and his heavy (if vague) eastern European accent, it sounds like pure honey. In real time, Dimitri watches the likes and the upvotes ticking upward like the numbers on a gasoline pump at the height of the oil crisis.

“What you think of my video, ja?”

Dimitri whirls. There stands Kurtis, leaning against the far bank of lockers, sculpted arms folded across his cast-iron bare chest. Perfection personified, damn him. Dimitri says nothing.

“Your face was so funny in that picture, ja? I had to use it.” Kurtis crosses, plucks the phone from Dimitri’s fingers, scrolls down. “Look at all the comments, ja? ‘Keep pushing, Kurt.’ ‘Don’t let them get you down, Kurtis.’ ‘We do it together, Kurt.’ ‘Kurtis, you’re amazing.’ Isn’t it great?”

Dimitri reaches for the phone, but Kurtis keeps it neatly out of reach.

“And the views, Dimitri. Did you see? Over a hundred thousand this time. That’s a new record too, ja? A personal best for views to go with my personal best for lifting. Ha, ha. It is irony, ja? Think of it, my friend.”

Friend?

“Think of the exposure for the gym, and for us. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Dimitri finally snatches his phone away. He imagines all the things he’d like to do to Kurtis. Many of them involve heavy weights and various sensitive parts of Kurtis’s body. These thoughts make him smile, and Kurtis smiles back.

“They love us,” Kurtis says, and leaves.

Dimitri watches him go, knows he won’t do any of those things to Kurtis. But he can do one thing.

He downvotes the video.

This, too, makes him smile.


Story-Matic #46


Lately I’ve been feeling the urge to write short fiction again. Stories that I can dip my toes into and move on from without feeling like I have to explore all their murky depths. Stories that I don’t necessarily feel strongly about, or feel the urge to finish, stories for stretching the legs, for limbering up the ol’ bean, for exploring. That maybe don’t go anywhere, or end satisfyingly, but that tickle my fancy anyway.

Here’s one of them. The prompt: “Librarian, reunited.”

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Alise reaches for her mug of tea, brings it to her lips, braces for the scalding bite. It doesn’t come. She looks at the digital desktop clock; an hour has passed, and she’s barely registered it. She looks around the empty aisles, sniffs the comforting, musty air, swigs her cold tea, grimaces at the cool grainy mix sticking in her teeth. She stands up.

Seems like her bones crackle and pop and creak more than they did even a week ago. She presses a hand into the small of her back as she begins her familiar plod through the library. This she can do without thinking, and with a glance she confirms that all is as it should be. Too many years spent making this circuit, too many years without a change. The biographies have always been there, the kids’ section there, nonfiction there. Why not switch it up?

Because she doesn’t have the energy for it anymore, she tells herself. As she has told herself before. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not going to happen. At least she has the place to herself; no unshelved books to sort through, no messes at the card catalog station, no strewn toys in the kids’ section. Not unusual for a Thursday, but welcome. Ah, but it’s Thursday, isn’t it? She goes to check on Gary.

She likes Gary. Likes him a lot, actually, which she tells herself must be a little odd since Gary is homeless. But she does. He’s good at conversation, he smiles when he speaks, and he looks at her in a way that makes her feel actually seen, which is a nice change from most of the people she encounters. Still, liking Gary is the problem, because in fifteen minutes’ time she’s going to have to send him away, back out onto the street, knowing that whatever is in his backpack is all he has to get him through the night. And it’s getting colder. Maybe she has enough in her purse to offer him a few dollars for a sandwich, at least. But maybe he’d bristle if she offered him money. She’s thought about it before, but never done it. Doesn’t seem right. Might ruin the relationship they have, whatever that relationship may be.

But Gary’s not here.

His backpack is, though, leaning like a storm-smashed tree against the internet station (ten cents a minute, but she lets Gary use it for free). She looks around — he’s nowhere to be seen.

“Gary?”

No answer.

With a note of worry in her step, she visits all his likely spots — the restroom, the periodicals, the stoop outside the employee entrance — he’s not anywhere.

He must have just forgotten it.

Forgotten his pack that contains, presumably, everything he owns?

She returns to the backpack, eyes it like a dieter eyeing a piece of cheesecake at a buffet. She takes it to her desk, has a brief moment of doubt, and unzips it.

The first thing that hits her is the smell — an unmistakable fog of spoiled food and rain-fouled clothing. She shoves aside some hastily-folded shirts and balled-up socks (slightly damp, she shudders to notice). And then her fingers close on a book. A hardback book with a distinctive plastic covering.

A library book.

Gary never checks anything out, he just reads in the library. For hours at a time. Books would just be more weight to carry around. She lifts it out.

And immediately drops it, her breath catching in her throat.

With trembling fingers, she reaches to pick it up again.

It’s a bit weathered but in good shape for riding around in Gary’s pack. Good shape for being impossible.

It’s a first-edition copy of her unpublished book from twenty years ago. Same title, the same cover she had always envisioned, the pen name she’d planned to use emblazoned on the bottom. Impossible. She opens it, reads the opening lines. Her opening lines.

Lines she never shared with anybody.

“You weren’t meant to see that,” Gary’s voice says behind her.


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.

**********

 


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.)

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Part 1 by Rosemary Carlson

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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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