Tag Archives: short stories

Wolves of Sorrow

 

The chalice rested on the stone plinth between them. She took a sip first. Once she’d placed it back down he picked it up and sipped. Some of it dribbled down his chin. As he caught the droplets on his newly smooth skin she caught the drop rolling down the side of the hammered pewter.

“Thanks,” he said, watching her check none had been spilled. She only nodded. She hadn’t spoken since they had entered. He wasn’t sure if it was some sort of reverence. There was no rule saying they couldn’t speak, he had asked. That had raised, well, it couldn’t raise eyebrows. The monks had none to raise. As supplicants neither did they anymore. His legs felt strange without any hair. Like his wife’s on their wedding night. Sweat beaded on his head. He knew it was going to roll into his eyes. He looked down at the long muslin tunic he had on.

“If you want to wipe your head with it you can.” He flinched when she spoke. “I’m sure the monks have seen much worse than sweat stains.” He pushed aside where that comment took his imagination and used the hem.

“I was more concerned with how you would feel.” She shrugged. He glanced at the entrance to their cavern. The byre was just inside, keeping them warm and able to see. He wondered if it was replenished during their vigil or if it was left to burn out. He checked the ceiling to see if any small creatures lived up there. She stood up and began to stroll around, stretching her arms out and rolling her shoulders. He sucked in a breath and glanced at the entrance again.

“Shouldn’t you sit down?”

“Hmmm?” She placed her hands on the wall, sliding them with fingers splayed, across the surface. She moved along the wall around the front of the cavern then came back towards him, her eyes closed.

“You’re going to trip over something. What if you hurt yourself? Will you have to start again? I don’t know the way out of here to get you help.” She smiled but continued back and forth.

“The only thing I could trip over is you.” He crossed his arms and shifted on his seat. A painful tingling began in his toes then moved to his heels, up to his ankle. Looking down he couldn’t see anything but would have sworn that it felt like insects biting him. He brushed his hands over his bare feet and winced as the pain was momentarily stronger. She opened her eyes at some noise he must have made and came to him, hands outstretched.

“Come over here.” He shook his head, hands holding the stone plinth rigidly.

“It’s better over here, I promise.” She prised the fingers of one hand off, then the other, slowly pulling him to his feet. He hissed at the pain in his legs and wondered if there were tiny insects they hadn’t been warned about. She pulled him closer to the byre. She twirled around like when she had danced as a young girl. The hem of her tunic swept closer to the byre. He reached for the hem, grabbing her to hold her still as he looked for flames catching the material. When he found no sparks, he checked for smoke marks.

“You shouldn’t dance so close to the fire.” He knelt, still checking. She stopped trying to dance and laid herself across his back.

“You always look out for me.”

“I have to,” he grunted. She was heavy on his back, he could feel the strain on his knees.

“That’s not true.” She sighed and it felt like she became heavier. “You didn’t have a very good example either.” As he tried to push her up movement from the entrance caught his attention. He was half grateful for some help and half expecting a reprimand, but it wasn’t one of the monks. It was a large grey wolf. It looked between the two of them. He couldn’t breathe. She whispered a soft “oh” and the wolf looked at her.

“Don’t move,” he replied but she was shifting and suddenly sliding off his back. As she landed she didn’t appear to try and break her fall. One hand was stretching out towards the wolf. The wolf dipped its head and stepped closer.

“No, no.” He grabbed her arm and dragged her up off the floor. She ended up kneeling but sank into a sitting position. He went to grab her under her arms and stumbled. He couldn’t feel his legs. The wolf was stepping closer. Another had entered the cavern behind the first. He put his arms around her, pulling her back and flipping them over. He realised as he did so that he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. She was limp in his arms. He tried to drag his legs over hers and covered as much of her body with his own as possible.

The soft scuff of paws on the sandy floor came up on either side of them. He watched as the lead wolf snuffled at his face. It licked him with a tongue that was more rough and dry than he had expected. He felt pressure on his back. One had climbed on top of them. It kneaded his back, testing its weight. He sensed another behind his head, investigating them. The one at his face crouched down and shuffled closer to his sister. A noise erupted from his lips. It was meant to be a shout but he couldn’t move his mouth. The wolf pricked up its ears and flicked a glance at him. But it showed no more concern and its attention was soon back on her. The wolf on his back clambered down to join the lead wolf. Then he felt something on his waist. A nudging, then a scrape of something sharp. The belt around his tunic tightened. The last wolf was pulling him off his sister. He tried and failed to move, another noise coming from his throat. A fourth wolf had joined the group and was laying down along his sister’s side. Once he was several feet away the wolf who had removed him stepped over him, returning to the others. He screamed as best he could, a breathy noise that soon died as he lost control of himself. The wolves all glanced at him. The lead wolf snorted and as one they reached for her with their mouths open. His sight was dim, purple around the edges, getting tighter every second until nothing. The last sound he heard was a wet noise.

 

The next thing he heard was the rustle of material and soft murmuring. His body felt tired but his mind was suddenly clear. He tried to listen for his sister’s morning singing. She usually did it when she thought no-one was listening, so he always stayed in bed a little longer, so he wouldn’t disturb her. But this morning she wasn’t singing. The wolves!

He shot up in bed, gasping. He was in a white tent, the sides billowing gently in and out. He was on a cot high up off the ground. His sister was sitting on a similar cot next to him, feet hanging over the edge, a mug in her hand.

“Hello,” she said brightly. He leapt off his cot and aimed to embrace her but his knees couldn’t support him so instead he grabbed her upper arms and looked her all over. Then he shook her gently.

“Are you hurt?”

“Only from where you dropped me. The sand was only thin on the ground so now I have a bruise the size of a house on my hip.” She held up the mug. “Sweet tea. You need to drink.” Slowly he took it, continually glancing at her trying to see if there were any cuts or nicks on her skin. She was back in her travel clothes. They had been cleaned. “Sorry the tea’s cold. You didn’t wake up as soon as I thought you would.” He barely tasted the tea. Giving her back the empty mug he moved to sit back on his cot. She grabbed his hand and guided him to sit next to her. He realised he was still in his tunic. At his neck was a leather tie with a small remembrance on it of a polished stone wolf. He looked at her. She had a leather tie with two remembrances, one a polished stone wolf too. “They were a gift. I didn’t buy them.”

“Did you know about the wolves?” She shook her head.

“They aren’t what usually appear to help those grieving. The monks said they came for something else.” She gave a small smile. “We’re very lucky to have seen them.” He made a noise that disagreed but weighed the remembrance in his hand. He went to ruffle her hair but patted her instead. His arm draped around her shoulders.

“Would you have come if you had known?” She was playing with the other remembrance. It was some grey fur tied with a thin piece of leather. After a moment, he nodded.

“Yes. Did you get what you needed?” She gazed up at him.

“Yes.” They smiled at each other and it was like seeing her after a long absence. He had missed his older sister. He took her hand and pressed it to his heart.

“Good. Can we please go home now?”

 

 

This was written for the Flash Fiction chllenge Ten More Titles Round Two over on terribleminds.com. The picture is by Sandra Petersen and from Pixabay.com, used under Creative Commons Licence.

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One Fell Swoop

 

As Heather walked towards the office her fellow assistant Raif was making screeching noises.

“I can’t turn the key!” she cried as Heather reached her side.

“It’s the weather, the door swells sometimes.” Raif handed the keys over.

“I thought I had the wrong keys. I didn’t know how I could have got the wrong ones since I saw Neve lock up last night and she handed them straight to me…what are you doing?” Heather had put her bag down and perched on the slim doorstep. She tested her grip on the handle.

“When I say, turn the key.” With an indrawn breath, Heather threw herself backwards, one foot on the frame as leverage to help. “Now,” she grunted. Raif turned the key and the unmistakable pop of the lock sounded. Pulling herself up Heather went in.

“Aren’t you worried the handle will come off?” Raif handed Heather’s discarded bag over.

“Not really. It’s solid. I think in a place like this they like to make sure everything is in perfect condition.”

“Like a door that swells?” Raif said over her shoulder as she made her way out back. Heather began removing terminal covers and lifting screens. She listened for the comforting chime of the computer waking up. Stepping back, she waited longer. Then she felt along the edge of each one for the reset depression. Once she had tried every terminal she was back at the front row. No response.

She looked up at the security cameras. There was no blinking red light to indicate they were on. She moved quickly to the light switches. They didn’t work. Leaning closer she tried again. There wasn’t even the crackle of electricity.

The power was out.

She didn’t remember running to the back room but she crashed into Raif coming out, who was babbling.

“The outer door wasn’t working. I couldn’t get in. There was no air recycling, no noises! I was worried about the night guard but he wasn’t there. The door was open-”

“What? No!”

“I know!” Raif covered her face. “I heard a noise and ran. I think she’s loose.” Heather shoved Raif behind her and reached for the door. As she pulled it closed Heather thought a shadow moved in the murky corridor. The latch clicked and she gasped in relief. A scraping sound came through the door. Jumping back, she swallowed.

“That’s a metal door, it should hold her.”

“What about the rear exit?” Raif was stepping back and clutching at the edges of her jacket. Heather tried the office phone. There was no dialling tone.

“First we need to get Head Office on the phone.” Heather pulled at the fastenings on her bag, hands shaking, and rummaged inside.

“Where is it?” She hissed. Tipping the contents onto the floor and scrambling through the items frantically she remembered someone asking her why she carried these things with her. For emergencies, she had answered.

“Heather…” Raif whined quietly.

“Do you have your phone?” Heather started patting down her pockets. “Ah!” she cried, finding it in her side pocket. She unlocked the phone screen, finger shaking, making her attempt it three times before it opened. “C’mon, c’mon. Got it!” She pressed ring. Her speaker turned on as her fingers grabbed at the phone.

“PRISM GM.”

“This is site 43223, staff ID 195683 Hotel Mike. We have a power outage and containment breech. Asset is no longer secure.” There was a pause on the other end. Heather heard the buzz of the hold line then another voice spoke.

“A TEAM ARE ON THEIR WAY. CAN YOU GIVE ME MORE INFORMATION ON THE STATE OF THE ASSET?”

“Out of containment sector. Only regular doors securing it.”

“ARE YOU SAFE?”

“No,” came the answer from above where Heather was crouched. She looked up at Raif’s reply, the other woman was watching the ceiling. Following her colleagues gaze she saw the panels shifting up and down, the movement crossing the ceiling. Taking the phone off speaker Heather hissed into the mic, “negative.”

“GET OUT NOW, HEAD TO MAIN SECTION.” The line went dead.

Standing up Heather reached for Raif’s arm. Before they could move to the front door the panels shifted again and with a crash, shattered glass rained down outside, the window shaking from the impact. The asset landed on the street outside, shaking its head and beginning to turn towards them. They dived behind a terminal. There was another crash and Heather felt vibrations run through the floor, up her arms and into her shoulders. Heather slammed her hand over Raif’s mouth when she made a panicked noise. She pulled Raif in close and they clung to each other. The only sound she could hear was her breathing. Eventually Heather relaxed her hold. She signalled that she was going to look. Raif didn’t try to stop her. Creeping so slowly that she could feel her muscles quivering with the effort, Heather peeked out from behind the terminal and looked through the front window. The street was clear. Taking a calming breath, she crawled closer. Pain lanced up her arm but she ignored it.

“Heather!” Raif hissed.

“It’s ok.” Raif stood up slowly. “Careful,” Heather added whilst looking at her shredded hand, “there’s glass on the floor.”

“We need to make our way to Head Office for a debrief.” Heather looked for her keys, careful not to knock her hand.

“And get you some medical attention?”

“That too.”

Leaving by the front door, Heather tried the key. It still wouldn’t lock so, with an exasperated look at Raif, Heather perched on the doorstep and pulled on the handle again. As Raif reached to turn the key Heather felt herself falling. She landed hard, her head smacking on the concrete. Wincing and trying to take in a breath she brought her hand up, the handle still in it.

“Fu- ugh, we need to secure the door.”

“I think that’s a minor problem.” Raif was looking in through the window. It took Heather a moment to realise. The window was gone.

 

 

This was written as part of the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge, Ten Titles From You, over at terribleminds.com. Also, the thing about the door handle might amuse my friend Laura.

Featured image from pixabay.com 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. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/24/flash-fiction-challenge-five-random-story-seeds/

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 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 http://www.terribleminds.com. 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 pixabay.com and used under Creative Commons.