All posts by Helen O'Loughlin

The End of the Party

The call flashes on the screen, the sound covered by people yelling over loud music. The room is pressed with excited sweaty bodies dancing and laughing, table hopping to talk to everyone. Awards litter the centre pieces or are held aloft. Passed around supportive friends and colleagues. Someone yells a greeting as you step out into the bright hallway. The closed door muffles the noise enough to answer. But your ears are still ringing and you ask them to repeat themselves. A stranger tells you a story. They give you some contact details before signing off. Nobody stops you as you find your purse. A clap on the shoulder and you turn. You force a tight smile onto your face. In the lift the mirrored walls make you look pale.

Your bag is packed and a taxi called. You changed and scrubbed off your make-up, brushed out the elaborate hairstyle and tied it up. The letter you’ve written for your boss is sealed in an envelope. You leave it at the desk on your way out to be delivered later. You see two friends but hold back the impulse to call out when they don’t notice you.

It’s busy for such an early morning flight. An attendant had to walk you onto the plane and guide you to your seat. They try to be thoughtful and attentive but there are other passengers making demands. A message is waiting when you turn on your phone. There’s no need to hurry now so instead you ask the taxi to take you home. As you go inside and turn on a light in the empty house you breath in deeply. It’s familiar and comforting. You know it will never smell like this again.

Featured image from and used under creative Commons.


The Chase

“But your Father refused?” Galen used the stick in his hand to hit at the long grass. His friend Jason made a noise. He looked over to see him shaking his head.
“He said it wasn’t honourable.” As Jason spat out the last word he tugged on his tunic as if hot. But Galen knew it wasn’t the clothing or the weather making him uncomfortable. He wanted to reach out and comfort his friend but held back. Lately Jason had been short tempered and impatient. His Father had been talking of sending him away for months but it seemed now that it was going to happen. He didn’t want to lose his friend but your Father’s word was law. Jason would return when he was grown. They would always be friends. Satisfied, Galen nodded to himself and continued hitting the grass as they walked.
He didn’t know this part of the wooded hills but a glance behind assured him the town was still in sight. The more angry Jason became the longer Jason liked to walk. They would eat berries they found up here. Sometimes on a long hike Galen would set snares and catch rabbits he then roasted over a fire. The dry weather had made the wood like tinder so they would have to be careful if they cooked today. Usually nobody hunted here so the animals were easy prey. Better quality and quantities of meat were bought by the townspeople from the sea merchants in exchange for their services as scholars. For such an educated place, it made Galen wonder why Jason’s Father wanted to send him away for his education. He sighed. Walks would be no fun without Jason.
Continuing in silence Galen noticed the ground becoming rockier. His town sandals had less grip on the smooth stone. He had to hold on to trees for balance but even they became sparse. He looked over at Jason who was continuing with determination. Gritting his own teeth Galen matched his pace. He was getting out of breath when a cave mouth appeared from behind an outcrop. Jason strode up to the entrance and stopped, looking inside. Galen lowered himself to the ground and leant back against the rocks. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths. The sun was warm on his face and did little to cool his sweat soaked skin. Once he had his breath back he grinned.
“Let me know if I should make a snare for lunch. I may have to go back down to catch anything.” There was no reply so Galen looked around. He was alone. Standing up he turned, looking for his friend, calling his name. He heard a faint whisper coming from the cave. It was dark but, licking his dry lips, Galen took a few steps inside. It grew cold in the shade and his skin prickled. He heard the faint voice again. It sounded like Jason. He couldn’t see, so with hands held out at face height, Galen moved forward cautiously. His fingertips met cold rock, what must have been the back of the cave. Another whisper came, to his right. Running his hands along and moving slowly Galen kept going until suddenly the cave mouth disappeared from view. Keeping one hand where it was the other explored what was blocking the light. More rock, it was a tunnel leading from the cave which was so dark he hadn’t been able to see it. He could hear the voice better, it definitely sounded like Jason but it was too low for him to make out any words. He called Jason again. Then once more. The whisper stopped. A low rumble sounded.
“Jason, is that you?” A bright yellow flash showed another turn in the tunnel further in. He took a step forward but then another flash silhouetted Jason running back towards him. Jason was screaming for him to run. He turned and ran for the cave mouth. He heard a roar like a wall crashing down. Jason caught up to him outside, overtaking him, grabbing his arm and dragging him down the hillside. Galen tried to keep his footing but he slipped on the stone. He tumbled down, arms and legs out to try and stop his fall. Smooth rocks and tree branches pummeled and sliced at him. He slammed into something. It stopped his fall but his head whipped back and forth and he couldn’t breath. Then air flowed in with a pained gasp. His eyes were watering and he ached. He scrabbled for purchase on the ground. Rough bark against his side told him he’d landed on a tree. The rock was covered in slippery moss and tufts of sharp razor grass bit into his hands. He heard another roar that echoed around him. He tried to look but his eyes were blurry and it felt like the world was still spinning. Two hands clamped down on his arms.
“This way, Galen!” Jason pulled him up and half carried him. They moved back up the hill. Galen could hear loud heavy breathing but it mingled with his own so he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. He heard a noise like pawing at the ground. Like a great hound ready to race. Galen saw the cave again but Jason dragged him past it. They moved round and over it, continuing up further. The land became nothing but stone, with nothing to pull themselves up. Galen pushed Jason off him and despite the pain in his side he climbed up and up until there was nowhere else to go.
Blood was pounding in his ears as he stopped and it felt like his heart was going to burst in his chest. He pushed on the stitch in his side but the skin was so tender it made him wince. Jason was looking back the way they had come. Galen followed his gaze. They were above the treeline and he could make out the town in the distance. Next to it was the sea, the large trade ships that came into port looking like toys. Jason made a strangled noise and gestured below them. Galen saw it, a creature pacing inside the shadow of the treeline. It was on all fours. It appeared to have a large shaggy head, a thin tail that whipped about it’s hind quarters and there was some sort of strange hump on it’s back. The hump erupted in a burst of flame lighting up the forest, igniting several trees. As they burned others caught light. The air crackled around them and the heat beat at their skin, the creature moving through the flame. Lit up Galen could see the hump on it’s back was the head of a goat. The tail had two glittering reptilian eyes.
“A Chimera. I thought it was only a myth,” Jason said in a high whine. He covered his mouth and coughed.
“Me too,” Galen agreed. He blinked furiously to clear the smoke from his eyes. He saw Jason’s mouth move but couldn’t hear him. “What?” he cried.
“I didn’t mean it!” His friend shouted back at him.
“You did believe?” Jason shook his head and they both coughed. Galen didn’t have time to think about what Jason was saying. They needed to escape or they would die from the smoke before the Chimera got them. Suddenly a gust of wind blew the smoke clear. Standing up from the huddle they had formed Jason cried out at the Chimera.
“I didn’t mean it!” The Chimera stopped pacing and all of its faces turned to look at them through the burning trees. The wind was at their backs, the smoke dissipating. With a growl the creature bolted away, straight down the hill towards town. Jason sat down, tears leaving tracks on his blackened face. Galen put his arm around the other boys shoulders.
“It’s gone. If we can avoid the smoke the fire will burn out and we can warn the town.” He gave an encouraging smile.
“No,” Jason replied. “It’s too late already.” Galen was about to answer when something caught his eye. The sun was glinting off a large white band out to sea. It seemed to hover above the water and was getting closer to land. The nearer it got Galen began to recognise it as a wave. An enormous wave that was churning the water it moved through. It was reaching higher than any building he had ever seen. Galen turned and called Jason’s name but his friend was frozen on the ground. He tried to think of how he might be able to warn the town but he knew if anyone had a high vantage point they would be looking up at the burning forest. No one would be looking out to sea. The wave reached the boats first, tossing them into the air carelessly, wood and sails strewn in it’s wake. Moments later it reached the town.

This story began with inspiration from Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge.

The seed I chose was number 5, an impossible animal arrives. I immediately thought about the Chimera and decided to research it’s classical origins. Thanks to Wikipedia (Chimera (mythology)) and reading that at one time the Chimera was an omen of natural disasters it inspired the climax of The Chase.

Featured image from and used under Creative Commons.

They Fight Crime

Selene barged through the doorway knocking Mags out of the way.
“Wait!” Was all that Mags could yell before Selene began throwing switches and pressing buttons. As her amazonian companion started the engine all Mags could think of was her own beloved. She was going to be parted from him forever if she didn’t find a way to stop Selene blasting them off into the time jump. She picked up one of the paper ornaments littered around the work stations, gifts she had made for Selene and now the way she was going to thwart her. She brought it behind her back and started refolding it. She kept her eyes on Selene, skin flushed red with anger slamming hands along the controls forcing the antique equipment to groan at the onslaught. Mags sidestepped around the panels to reach the dial controls. She toed open the hatch in the floor and stroked along the folds of the paper in her hand imbuing it with purpose. Releasing it over the fuel gauge it got straight to work. Flipping the hatch closed Mags moved closer to Selene. She could hear her muttering to herself. Mags’ own horror at what had happened made her sympathetic to her frenzy.
But she also knew that Selene wasn’t thinking. She was feeling and reacting on her first impulse and would regret it later. Mags had to stop her. Finally the lights flickered. Selene didn’t seem to notice but Mags made straight for the control panel.
“You haven’t got enough power,” she pointed at the dial. Selene’s head flew up and Mags felt certain the other woman had forgotten she was even there. Selene flew over to her side and she was pushed unceremoniously aside.
“There was loads of fuel earlier.” Selene grabbed her long hair at the roots scrunching her hands in frustration and making a strangled noise. Mags gently put her hands on Selene’s arms.
“We just have to refuel and while we do that you can tell me the plan and how I can help.” She gave a small smile but Selene whirled around her eyes wide.
“I’m going to go back to when that bitch is at her most vulnerable and…” Mags let her hands fall.
“And what, Selene?” She took a step back and pulled her face into what she hoped was a pained expression. She thought about losing her own love and the lock of hair disappearing from her locket as they changed the timeline. It worked because Selene’s breath caught at her friend’s expression.
“I just want…I want…”
“I know. At least I think I know what you want. But I’m worried about how you’re going to go about it.”
Selene let go of her breath and her hair and looked around the room. The walls were covered with pictures. Mostly of Selene in classic catalogue poses in her other life as a model. But there were other photos, artwork made possible by the catalogue pictures. The photographer was the same and displayed altogether Mags could see the similarities where the artist shone through in the catalogue pictures and where the professional came through in the pure art. A series of candid pieces of Selene in their shared home were next to each other. A first anniversary present. Mags wondered what that would be like, sharing that kind of life with someone. She knew it wasn’t what was in store for her future but it didn’t matter. You didn’t choose who you fell in love with. You just hope they’re worthy. And Selene had someone like that. But if they weren’t careful they could both lose.
She let herself sink to the floor. The fuel gauge was making beeping noises that reminded her of a heart monitor. It must have done the same to Selene because she turned it off the joined her on the floor. Mags took her hands and clasped them between both of hers.
“We need to be smart about this. And fix what won’t destroy…everything.” Selene nodded but kept her eyes on the floor. She was deflating. Mags considered for a moment. Sitting taller she shoved Selene’s shoulder.
“Hey, c’mon. Where’d you go?” Selene bit her lip. “Look, what do we have that the Stirling woman doesn’t?” She gestured around them. “A time machine. So we can find something, sometime, on her. Some dirt. And bring it back to the police. We can destroy her before she has the chance to hurt anyone.” Selene was shaking her head.
“We hadn’t seen her for weeks. It looked like she was going to leave us alone. What if that’s exactly what caused her to do this? She’s retaliating against our retaliation?”
“Hmmm, wouldn’t doing differently cause a paradox?”
“Yeah, this plan sucks.”
“And your lack of a plan was so great? Are you forgetting she introduced you to him?” Selene leaned away from mags.
“Of course I remember. But if she doesn’t exist then she also can’t hurt him.”
“Exist? What were you going to do? Kill her?” Selene’s silence confirmed it and Mags scoffed in disgust. “Stooping to her level, great plan.”
“Well, what do you suggest?” Selene voice dripped with disgust of her own.
“Well, maybe give me a few minutes,” Mags drawled sarcastically as she pushed herself up and began pacing. She wanted the movement but it didn’t actually help her concentrate. Instead she perched on the edge of a seat and imbued purpose into another paper ornament. As it fluttered in front of her and she lost herself in it’s movements she had the spark of an idea. Jumping up she tore open the fuel gauge hatch and removed the paper tool she had created. Power flowed into the engines again and the lights flared brighter. Selene scrambled off the floor.
“You?! What?!” she screeched. Mags held her hands up in front of her and grinned.
“Be mad at me later. I’ve figured out how to fix everything.”

Unravelling the clues that led them here to this room had taken several days. But this meeting was the reason Stirling had planned her attack. Selene clutched her hands together in front of her mouth as Mags placed the electronic bug inside a paper beetle she had folded and imbued with purpose. She let it loose to jump onto the room service trolley going to Stirling. In their room they waited mostly in silence, Mags folding and refolding a piece of paper.
“Will you stop that?” Selene hissed.
“Yes, once we have anything to listen to!” Eventually they heard a knock on the speaker and a door opening. The server was paid by an unknown woman and after another squeak of wheels the paper rustled as the beetle moved to hide closer to their target. Stirling’s voice came over loud and clear as she complained about there being too many cups for their tea. Mags could see equal confusion on Selene’s face as it became apparent the two women were having a stilted social call. But then the conversation turned. The other woman began describing shapes in the tea. Stirling was seeing a clairvoyant. They looked at each other in shock as their names came up. The clairvoyant was telling Stirling that letting them live the last time they had come close to her operations had been a misstep. One she needed to rectify immediately. The session ended soon after and Stirling left. Mags sat back in her chair
“So we didn’t do anything, yet.” Selene gave a little bark of laughter.
“Don’t you see though. She’s the cause of her own downfall. We would be leaving her alone if she hadn’t come after us and hurt someone I cared about.” Mags laughed as well.
“Wow. Time travel is actually quite funny.”
Suddenly there was a sound of rustling paper from the speaker and the clairvoyants voice came through.
“Could the pair of you please come to my room?” Five minutes later the clairvoyant was offering one of those extra cups to Selene who was glowering at her.
“Not really seeing why I shouldn’t smash it in your face since you just sent Stirling on an attack that puts my boyfriend in a coma.” Mags put a hand on Selene’s arm as the other woman waved her hand dismissively.
“He’ll be fine.” She replied. Mags frowned.
“How exactly do you know? You’re looking an awful like a charlatan to me.”
“Says the friend to a time traveller who can magically charm paper statues to life.” They froze at her statement. The woman leaned forward. “ My powers are real, as real as yours. I hate working for Stirling but she has leverage over me. If I help bring her down I want your promise to get that leverage back. I know which pieces of evidence will bring a conviction plus where and when to find them. Do we have a deal?” Mags and Selene looked at each other and by unspoken agreement rose, moving to the other side of the room.
“Think we can trust her?” Selene whispered.
“Not as far as we can throw her. But we can always keep her leverage for ourselves.” Selene looked down ather friend.
“And do what Stirling does? Tut tut.” Mags shrugged.
“I’m against killing someone. But I have no problem with blackmail.” Selene just pulled a face.
“Sure.” With a nod they both turned back and spoke.

Another Flash Fiction challenge from

The challenge was to go here: (possibly one of the most brilliant sites I’ve ever seen!) and refresh until a duo came up that you could write about. I got “a time travelling underwear model who’s aboutta open a can of whoop ass” and “a devious paper folder who is in love with the Honey Monster”. Together, they fight crime!!

Featured image from and used under Creative Commons.


Inspired by Over The Edge by Adrian Dudziak.

Ankle deep with dampness creeping up her dress where it skimmed the frigid river water Grace held her hands out in front her in the traditional pose of supplication. She couldn’t feel her feet anymore. At first the cold had been painful. The daytime had been moderately warm but the river was fed by the glacier further up the valley making it icy year round. The first snow melt was always going to be the coldest the river would get. She had travelled a full day north from the village to be as close to the head water as possible before it became the stream. Grace camped for four days as she fasted, drinking only river water and applying holy oil. Before putting on her robe she had scraped her skin clean with a strigil. She stepped barefoot into the rapidly moving water as the sun began to shine through the trees on the fifth day. The white wool of her dress was getting heavier. Her back and scalp were damp as she concentrated on standing still. She wondered if she stayed there during the night would she freeze to death. She had only told her betrothed where she was planning on going. Would he be able to guide them to her if she did not return? How would he react if he found her body? Or would she wash down towards the village and be found by the early morning washer women? But the suffering for the rite was required of all brides if they wished to be blessed with a glimpse of their future children.

As the dusk turned to night her knees began to shake but she renewed her resolve, palms down to the water. She thought of her mother describing her rite. She along with all the other women who were betrothed were taken to the priestess on the far edge of the village. In seclusion they fasted and applied the oil. Then on the longest day of the year they went out into the fields to stand and await their vision. She had heard variations of the rite from women who had married into the village. One woman had never done it as her father had forbidden it. He had decided that with her mother dead and no other children she was too valuable to risk the rite. No one was surprised when she was barren. The rite was performed during summer in high heat, their grim determination in the scorching sun blessing them with hardy children who could work the land from sunup to sundown. But during her rite, Grace’s mother had seen her daughter having a winter babe. A child who could handle lack of warmth and forge their own path. Grace had always wanted to be that child. The jealousy she felt was always there. Even now as she dared see her child’s future.

Her whole body began to shake. Eyes closing against the starry sky her vision turned inwards. Opening her eyes the light was so bright she had to squint. Looking around she found herself on a swaying platform surrounded by a field of glittering jewels. Grace looked down and didn’t recognise any of the clothing she wore. She did recognise a wedding band around her wrist. She stepped towards the rail and realised it wasn’t jewels out there but sunlight hitting the ripples on a vast expanse of water bigger than she had ever seen. It was just water and sky as far as she could see. The size of it frightened and thrilled her equally. Wind whipped around her pulling at her hair and clothing bringing with it a strong salt smell and something else warm and inviting. There was a call from above. She turned to it and saw clouds captured in webbing. Focusing she saw they were just enormous sheets, bleached white in the baking sun billowing out and pulling their vessel over the water. She ran along in the direction they raced. She leant forward over the rail almost to her tipping point, closing her eyes when the wind made her eyes water and it felt like she was flying. This was where her child was going to go and she felt that pang of jealousy. She sensed someone beside her and turned to find a man holding a child. She couldn’t see his face but the child had dark hair like the raven, like hers. The man was looking forward and pointing. A dark mass was looming over them now. Dark grey cliffs speckled with green and peaks so high they were hidden by dense white cloud. Suddenly Grace was on a small boat. She leapt out and helped pull it onto crisp golden sand. The water that soaked into her boots was warm. She moved away from the boat not caring that her clothing was getting soaked. The envy she felt at her own child’s future was a dull ache. She knew it could grow into rage and destroy her relationship with her daughter. She sighed and hung her head but the reflection in the crystal water by her feet wasn’t of her child.

It was her own face, older, weathered. She gasped but the air that entered her lungs was bitingly cold. She coughed it out and tried to hold onto the trance but the harder she tried to stay the faster she felt herself return to the river. Stumbling out of the water Grace made it to the bank as a sob escaped her. Laying back she saw the moon still hanging over her but pale dawn light beginning. Eventually her sobs lessened and she smiled up at the sky. She was going to see more sky, soon.

Two days later Graces betrothed found one of his camping bedrolls missing and their betrothal band sitting on his kitchen table. Muddy footprints led to the river’s edge. She must have travelled by night through the water. Which way she went they never discovered.

Today’s story has come about because of the random image inspiration Flash Fiction challenge over at

The picture I chose is Over The Edge by Adrian Dudziak:

If it doesn’t show up you can search with the title and artists name.

Featured image from and used under Creative Commons.



The sudden draft blew her hair into her face, the displaced air announcing Ali’s arrival. As hands slipped around her waist Steph smiled.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Lips brushed against her neck.
“Can’t I just come to enjoy some time with you?” That was met with a chuckle.
“You were due to be at the HQ all day and possibly into the evening so I repeat my question.” Turning in Ali’s arms Steph placed a kiss on soft lips before Ali sighed.
“I just needed to get out of there for a little while. I went home first but you weren’t there.” Steph frowned at the surprise she heard in Ali’s voice.
“It’s on the family planner. I have a shift all day.” Ali nodded but then gave a little shrug.
“It’s just…what with…”
“The end of the world as we know it?” Steph supplied. Her raised eyebrow was met with Ali giving her the puppy dog eyes that had ensnared her in the first place.
“Babe,” she sighed in frustration. “It’s not the first time something like this has happened.” Ali stepped back and leaned on the racking across from Steph.
“This time it’s different.”
“Yes, you were very emphatic about that last night when you were disobeying orders and telling me everything. I remember. I was there.” Steph pointed at her own face. “I have the bags under my eyes to prove it.” She turned and picked up the scanner she had been using and consulted her stock list again. She heard the growl of frustration Ali made but refused to turn back around.
“And what was it that drove me to spill my guts?”
“Yes, Ali. Your mentor lied to you.”
“So how can I trust him now?” Slamming down her work Steph spun on her heel.
“Maybe because he’s never let you down. Even when you told me what he did you managed to make it sound like he did you a favour. Because of what he did you couldn’t do something stupid that could have gotten you killed. So I’m really sorry if I’m not actually feeling betrayed by a man I’ve only known existed for nineteen hours!”
“You’re supposed to be on my side,” Ali said through gritted teeth.
“He kept you alive. How can I not be happy about that?”
“Steph!” Came a shout from somewhere else in the racks. Ali was gone, another draft the only evidence of movement. Stephs manager came around the corner a moment later. Steph had already picked up her scanner and list,
“What do you think you’re doing?” Steph just looked at her in confusion.
“You’re fully aware that there are no phones allowed during work hours. They are to be kept in a locker.”
“I wasn’t on the phone. It is in my locker.”
“I could hear you yelling,” her manager said with a look of smug satisfaction on her face that scrunched her features.
“Ah, I was going over lines for a reading my partner and I are taking part in next week. I must have got carried away.” Steph pulled a face of contrition. “I didn’t realise how loud I was being, sorry.” Her manager wasn’t convinced and after turning her pockets out and being marched back to her locker to prove that her phone was in fact in her locker she was finally allowed back to work with a warning to keep her line running to an inside voice only.
As Steph got back to her task she felt another draft.
“I could make her disappear for you.” Steph rolled her eyes to herself but didn’t turn to face Ali.
“Better the devil you know,” was her reply. “Now can I please get back to my job? You’ve almost gotten me in trouble once today. I’d just like to get on with it.” When Steph got no reply she looked over her shoulder to check if Ali was even there. Ali was leaning against the racks again looking at the floor. When Ali finally looked up Steph put her hand out but Ali had moved just out of reach, sighing before speaking again.
“I’m sorry for that. I guess…I just don’t get why you put up with this shitty job when you know what’s going on out there? When you could be at home with your daughter. Spending time with her.”
“Or you?” Ali looked up at Steph but didn’t deny her accusation. Putting her work things down Steph took a tentative step toward Ali.
“This job puts food on my table. A roof over mine and my daughters heads and allows me the time to study so I can get a vastly better paid shitty job. And I can’t afford to lose it.” Ali started to speak but Steph held her hand up. “I know something big is happening. But you’ve also told me that you could do something about it. And more importantly that you have done so several times before. My real life hero.” She smiled and saw Ali’s face begin to brighten. “So I came to work because I know that you’re going to make sure that it’s still here for me tomorrow. And the next day.” Steph ran her hands up onto strong shoulders and around Ali’s neck. “So I don’t need to go be with my daughter. You’re going to make sure nothing happens.” Ali just stared at her. Steph waited as the puppy dog eyes looked for any sign that she was lying. Seemingly finding none Ali let out a huge breath.
“You’re putting a hell of a lot of trust in me.”
“I know,” Steph replied with a grin on her face. Ali enveloped her in a hug and kissed her.
“Dinner at mine tomorrow night?” Steph asked.
“Love to. I’ll text you to let you know I got back safely.”
“You better.” With another rush of displaced air Ali was gone.


Featured image from pixabay,com and used under Creative Commons

Two Skulls

Here is the first in what will hopefully be many flash fiction stories. You can find the challenge at Enjoy!

Dermot leapt over the summit edge and finally looked upon the two skulls that had previously been the heads of the King and Queen of the first ruling Royal family. He turned to Serena, pulling herself to the summit on hands and knees. He started unfurling the scroll that had led them here while he waited for her to recover on the ground.
“So,” she sighed. “Now all you have to do is pick one.”
“The correct one,” Dermot grinned as he waved the scroll in front of her face. Taking a deep breath she nodded and rubbed her side.
“You’re really not worried that anyone who has tried to pick …went mad?”
“That’s why you’re here. So come on.” He clapped his hands. “Shouldn’t you be looking for clues?”
“Give ‘er a chance!” said a distinctly female voice. Serena sat upright. They looked around but seeing no one else in the darkness looked at each other. “Ain’t you here looking for us?” The pair looked at the plinth that housed the skulls. “There we go, lovies,” said the voice. “I’m the one on the right.” Serena swallowed to stop the squeek that rose inside her as she realised she wasn’t hearing with her ears. It was as if the voice were speaking directly into her mind.
“Your right…or ours,” she asked breathlessly. Dermot narrowed his eyes at her. She bit her lip and shrugged. He frowned and turned to face the skulls.
“Oh, err…yours.”
“Does it really matter?” came a male voice. Serena got up and stood next to Dermot at the plinth. She leaned forward and gave a small delighted laugh.
“May I ask, are you the King and Queen?” Dermot put his hand on her arm and gave her a shake.
“Don’t speak to them. They’re cursed objects.”
“‘Scuse me, we’re magical,” replied the female skull. “And your girl’s not the first to giggle when she realises she’s talking to a bone.” The skull cackled as the other voice made a disgusted noise.
“You make that bloody joke all the time.”
“It’s always new to the people who come ‘ere.” she replied sniffily.
“It’s a bad joke.”
“Never ‘ad a problem with my jokes before. A few ‘undred years in a cave and you’re all ‘you’re not funny’ and ‘none of ‘em like your jokes’. Makes me wonder why I stay with you.”
“You don’t ‘ave a choice.”
Serena was grinning as she looked back over at Dermot who had moved to the edge of the summit. When she came over he gripped her upper arm and pulled her closer.
“It’s a trick,” he whispered. “Listen to how they speak, they can’t be the King and Queen. It’s some sort of…”
“Trick?” Dermot nodded. Serena shook her arm to loosen his hold. “There’s a reason you brought an expert on the first Royal family.” She pointed at the scroll. “That prophecy says whoever brings the bones of the first ruler to the citadel will become the next monarch. Now you told me you wanted my help to become that monarch. Let me do my job.” She marched the few steps back to the skulls who were still talking. “Your Majesties, could I ask you a few questions?” They stopped and Serena felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise.
“You may,” said the female voice.
“Where were you born?”
“I was born in the a village called Mosson in Carinda province. My husband ‘ere was from two towns away. We met when I was taken by slavers to the market there. He bought me.” Serena walked around the plinth as she listened.
“So how did he end up you husband?” Dermot made an impatient noise. Serena held up one finger.
“Romantic sod fell in love wi’ me.”
“You were a looker,” he joined in. “Why’d you think I bought you in the first place?” Both laughed.
“And whose idea was it to take the kingdom and become ruler?”
“Well it was somethin’ we sort of…had to do.” he replied. “I ‘ad the power to free a slave but not to marry one. Not by law. So I started gettin’ in fights with anyone who said I couldn’t do what I wanted. An’ it went from there.”
“Told you he was a romantic,” the Queen whispered. Serena chuckled, looking up just as Dermot strode toward the plinth and handed Serena the scroll.
“I’m ready to choose.”
“No, wait-!” She reached to stop him but Dermot had already set his hands on the skull of the King. His whole body went stiff, his face went slack and the focus left his eyes. She ran to catch him as he crumpled and they landed on the ground awkwardly. She called his name and checked if he was alive. She thought he was talking but when she listened he was uttering nonsense.
“Oh lovey, I’m so sorry.” The Queen said.
“Did the cave close behind you when you entered?” the King asked. Serena choked out a yes.
“You’ll have to choose then,” the Queen said. “It’s the only way out.”
“I know,” Serena said shakily. She stood and brushed herself off.
“Did you love him very much?”
“What?” Serena looked down at Dermot. “No. Not at all. But he was the first person who had listened to my theory. The only one willing to help me see if it was true.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Of course, he was hoping to get something out of it too.” She walked over to the skulls.
“Don’t be scared.” The Queen said. “We’ll talk to you. Keep you company.” Serena looked confused for a moment then smiled.
“What most people don’t do is look at the back of the plinth. It has an inscription,” she whispered.
“Does it now,” said the Queen but her tone didn’t seem surprised.
“‘As in life so shall they be in Death. As one.’” Serena placed her hands on the two skulls.


Featured image from and used under Creative Commons.